Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona for his strong support for Ukraine.
The HMCS Fredericton is participating in a joint NATO training exercise with warships from several allied and partner nations in the Black Sea. This strengthens not only our operational readiness, but also our ability to work with NATO allies and security partners in the region.
Since arriving in the Black Sea, Royal Canadian Navy sailors have been confronted by Russian warships and buzzed by Russian fighter jets. Indeed, the HMCS Toronto entered the Black Sea last September, to be circled by Russian military aircraft as well.
We are there as part of Canada and NATO's steadfast commitment to our allies and security partners in the region in the face of Russia's continued aggression toward Ukraine.
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Status of Women.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Elmwood—Transcona for his excellent work in fighting for the families of Winnipeg and asking for family tax fairness, which we are delivering through the family tax cut.
Together with the enhancement of the universal child care benefit, we are delivering real, tangible financial benefits to 100% of the some nine million Canadian families with children under the age of 18, who will benefit by an average by $1,200 a year, two-thirds of which will go to low and modest income families.
Finally we have a government that is respecting the choices families make, rather than taxing them for expensive bureaucratic programs that would only benefit 10%—
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to address the Ebola crisis in West Africa and to update the House of Commons on our government's actions to date.
I will be sharing my time today with the member for Elmwood—Transcona.
The outbreak continues to be a very serious situation and our thoughts are with those affected by it. Recent statements from West African researchers, scientists, clinicians and health officials underscore the fact that families and entire villages have been shattered.
Canada remains at the forefront of the Ebola response, contributing funds, expertise and equipment to the international efforts to fight the Ebola outbreak. Our government continues to work with domestic and international partners to ensure the most effective response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We also continue to take steps here in Canada to further protect Canadians right here at home.
I will start off by reiterating that there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Canada. However, Canada must be prepared for a case to come here. Provincial and local health officials are the lead on any Ebola case in Canada, but the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to assist.
The Government of Canada has a number of systems in place in Canada to identify and prevent the spread of infectious diseases like Ebola. It will continue to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that we are prepared to protect Canadians in the unlikely event that a case were to arrive in Canada.
We also has five Ebola rapid response teams in place, which include epidemiologists, lab expertise to quickly confirm diagnosis and emergency supplies from our national strategic stockpiles, such as masks, gloves and gowns. These rapid response teams would support the provincial and territorial authorities in their response should a case of Ebola occur.
Internationally, we are supportive of the leadership role being played by the World Health Organization. We remain committed to working effectively with it and other key partners, including Médecins Sans Frontières and the Red Cross to respond effectively to this public health emergency.
Canada has been providing financial and in-kind support of humanitarian, security and public health measures since April to address the spread of the Ebola virus disease in the West Africa region. On October 17, the government announced an additional $30 million to support international efforts led by the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, to help strengthen global efforts to stop the outbreak, treat the infected and prevent the spread of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa.
With this most recent announcement, Canada has committed a total of $65.4 million to the global efforts to support health, humanitarian and security interventions to address the spread of the disease. The government continues to assess the needs identified by the WHO and to explore what else Canada can do to support global efforts in response to the outbreak.
As members are aware, the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg is on the cutting edge of global research and testing capabilities for Ebola. The lab recently sent a second mobile laboratory to help provide on-the-ground rapid diagnostics and testing infection control measures.
In response to the World Health Organization's appeal to member states for the donation of personal protective equipment to support the ongoing Ebola virus disease outbreak response in West Africa, the Government of Canada offered the WHO a donation of over $2.5 million in personal protective equipment, including gowns, masks, respirators and gloves. The government has already delivered two shipments to West Africa, in part by Royal Canadian Air Force Hercules aircraft. This personal equipment will make a difference on the ground in helping to reduce the risk of transmission and infection.
The Government of Canada is also donating up to 1,000 vials of an experimental Ebola vaccine, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, to the WHO to support the response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Government of Canada owns the intellectual property of this vaccine. It is the product of more than 10 years of scientific research and innovation by the Public Health Agency of Canada scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory and could be an important tool in curbing the outbreak.
The experimental Ebola vaccine has never been tested in humans but has shown great promise in animal research. This donation represents up to two-thirds of the total vials of this experimental vaccine currently in the possession of the Public Health Agency of Canada. The remainder will be kept in Canada for further research and in the unlikely event that it is needed for compassionate use.
The Government of Canada has begun to ship 800 of these donated vials of its experimental Ebola vaccine to the WHO. The first shipment left yesterday by air from Winnipeg to the University Hospital of Geneva. The vaccine vials are being sent in three separate shipments as a precautionary measure due to the challenges of moving a vaccine that must be kept at a very low temperature at all times. The vaccine must be packed in dry ice and kept at -80°C, which is similar to the conditions required for transplanting human organs.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is supplying the vaccine to the WHO in its role as the international co-ordinating body for the Ebola outbreak in the hopes that the vaccine can be made available as an international resource.
The Government of Canada views this experimental Ebola vaccine as a global resource. In the interest of global public health, we are sharing it with our international partners to help address the outbreak. The WHO, in consultation with partners including health authorities from the affected countries, will guide and facilitate how the vaccine is distributed and used. There are both ethical and logistical challenges with the use of experimental vaccines and treatments in humans. The WHO will need to consider those carefully before using this vaccine in this outbreak.
We are mindful that the vaccine is experimental. There have only been a handful of people in the world who have received it to date. It has not yet been tested in humans for safety or effectiveness. We expect the WHO to deploy these doses as ethically, quickly and safely as possible.
To this end, the WHO organized an expert consultation in late September to assess the status of work to test and eventually licence this Ebola vaccine along with another that was developed in the United States. More than 70 experts, including many from affected and neighbouring countries in West Africa as well as Canada, attended this event. Participants had varied backgrounds and were able to provide expertise ranging from the virology of emerging infections to regulatory requirements, medical ethics, public health and infectious diseases. Some participants came with more than three decades of experience working in Africa on other infectious diseases.
In order to clarify the safety of the vaccines, the WHO, these experts and other partners have helped to facilitate the expedited evaluation of the two vaccine candidates in order to generate phase one safety and dosage data for decision-making. A series of co-ordinated phase one trials is currently under way and others will soon be initiated with international partners at more than 10 sites in Africa, Europe and North America.
These trials, which are being conducted in healthy volunteers, will provide critical information about the safety of the vaccine and the appropriate dosage required to stimulate a person's immune system to produce Ebola antibodies. Results from the clinical trial are expected in December 2014.
Our government is committed to supporting the efforts of our international partners to control the Ebola outbreak and hopes that the experimental vaccine will be able to address this global crisis.
In conclusion, we recognize that the Ebola outbreak currently ravaging parts of West Africa is the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times. Canada, with its partners, is well-prepared and ready to support international efforts in West Africa.
Mr. Speaker, that was a rather sad and unfortunate speech, given the high quality of debate that we have heard over the last couple of days.
I have been in the chamber and I have heard a number of members, including myself, highlight the fact that we have a difference of agreement here. With respect to this particular mission, the NDP has been clear from the outset that it was not going to support the motion that was brought forward. A number of members on this side have enunciated that.
We also heard the Minister of International Development talk about the importance of Canada providing, and continuing to provide, humanitarian assistance. We have talked about the fact that Canada is among one of the highest contributors in the world. We have been doing this for many months.
The member for Elmwood—Transcona talked about some of the important initiatives that Canada has taken in the past with other allies.
Not specific to this motion, because we understand the NDP is not going to support the motion, but in the future, under what conditions would the NDP ever support a Canadian combat mission in times of world strife? Under what conditions would the NDP support Canadian Forces moving abroad to protect communities or countries that need our help?
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Elmwood—Transcona for his leadership in this regard.
I can confirm that Canada is sending a large electoral observer mission to Ukraine to monitor the upcoming parliamentary elections. Furthermore, today we announced that Canada would impose additional sanctions on entities and individuals in Russia.
Canadians can count on our Prime Minister to stand up, to do the right thing. They can count on this government. The people in Ukraine can count on Canada to stand with them against this naked aggression.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Okanagan—Shuswap for bringing this bill forward. As he mentioned, this was a bill that I introduced in the first session of this Parliament and because of my appointment as parliamentary secretary, my bill had to be withdrawn, although it did make it to committee. Therefore, I would hope that members will expedite this process so we can get this to committee, where it was a year ago.
Sitting here listening especially to the Liberal member really was disappointing. At no point did he mention the victims, not once. It comes back to this whole ideology of the Liberals about hugging the thug, about trying to protect the criminals rather than protecting Canadians and those victims.
The title of the bill is “respecting families of murdered and brutalized persons act”. It is work that I started some time ago, and I am very happy that my friend from Okanagan—Shuswap has taken on this task in the House to ensure that families do not have to go through unnecessary Parole Board hearings and be re-victimized time and time again. Let us ensure we have our hearts in the right place, that they are with the families that have already lost their loved ones and now have to relive the horror of the most heinous criminals who have not only murdered their child or family member, but may have abducted and sexually assaulted them.
The bill would amend section 745 of the Criminal Code. I have to stress that Bill C-587 is about empowering our courts with the ability to increase parole ineligibility when sentencing individuals who have abducted, sexually assaulted and killed our innocent and often most vulnerable Canadians from the current 25 years up to a maximum of 40 years. It is at the discretion of the courts. They make the decisions on whether to take it up any higher.
The bill is not about creating stiffer penalties for these sadistic murderers. These depraved convicts do not qualify for parole. We have already mentioned that. The worst case criminals who are in prison, these half dozen individuals who have been alluded to, never make parole. They never ever get out of jail. However, the reality is that families still have to go, every two years, starting at year 23, to hear the tragedy of their child or loved one being abducted, kidnapped, raped, sometimes tortured, and then murdered. We want to put an end to that. The bill is about saving the families of victims from having to go through this agony of attending these unnecessary and traumatic experiences at Parole Board hearings.
Again, we have said that this is not about mandatory minimums. This is about empowering judges and juries in coming to reasonable decisions on parole ineligibility.
Let us talk about this. Is this constitutional? Does it comply with the charter? The fundamental principle of sentencing is that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The seriousness of the offence as set out in the bill would ensure that parole ineligibility, period, would only be applied in cases where the murderer's moral blame worthiness would be very high for abduction, sexual assault and murder. This would allow for judicial discretion and would ensure charter compliance because it would not be mandatory minimums.
This goes back to Bill C-48, which used the same principle, protecting Canadians by ending sentence discounts by multiple murderers act. It is important to note that the NDP supported that bill back in 2011. That, in itself, is noteworthy. If it was okay to support it in Bill C-48 back in 2011, I would hope the NDP would support that same principle when it applies to these most heinous criminals.
Jim Maloway, who was the NDP member at that time for Elmwood—Transcona said:
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to what is now is Bill C-48 [...]. I essentially support the bill, which our critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has already indicated that our party supports. In fact, all opposition parties support the bill. [...]
I guess one of the good things about the bill is that it does leave discretion to the judge, which opposition members have been consistent in supporting in the past. Perhaps the government recognized that by allowing the judge discretion it made it certain that the bill would actually go somewhere in the House.
The compliance section that we are concerned about is section 12 of the Charter, and by going the route that is presented in Bill C-587, providing that judicial discretion makes it charter compliant. That is key.
As we are saying, this is about the most heinous and horrendous individuals we have in Canada. We are talking about Robert Pickton, Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams, Michael Rafferty, Terri-Lynne McClintic, Clifford Olson, Donald Armstrong, James Dobson, David Shearing and, just recently, Luka Magnotta. These individuals are repulsive in our society. They have committed the most tragic criminal acts on an individual that people could ever imagine. Yet, there is argument coming forward that they should only have to sit there for 25 years. We know that they sit there longer because they never ever make parole eligibility. They are never put back into society.
In the sentencing of David Threinen, in 1975, Justice Hughes, who was the judge at the time, stated he should “never again should he be on the streets and roadways of our country”.
If judges already see how repulsive and dangerous these offenders are, then they need to make sure that they are never released back into society.
When we look at Robert Pickton, he was convicted of multiple murder charges, 25 counts, but unfortunately they were only second degree murder charges. That means 10 years. In 10 years, he can start attending his parole board hearings. He will probably never be released, but that means that 25 families are going to be reading victim impact statements at parole board hearings every two years, in a matter of a couple of years from now. That is sickening.
One of the reasons I was thinking about this case is that a few years ago I was in my riding listening to the Tori Stafford case. She was the little girl who was abducted, raped, and murdered. It broke my heart. It involved Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic. After they stole her from school and sexually assaulted her, they killed her with a hammer. Terri-Lynne McClintic got a life sentence, in 2010. Michael Rafferty got his life sentence. Tori Stafford's family, in 25 years, should not have to start reliving that murder, that abduction, that sexual assault, every two years from there on in.
We talked about Russell Williams, who abducted, raped, and murdered Jessica Lloyd and Marie-France Comeau. We talked about Clifford Olson.
I have to thank Sharon Rosenfeldt. I got involved with her and her organization, Victims of Violence. She supported the bill right from the beginning. Her son Daryn was murdered. My friend has already talked about how Daryn was killed and how they were retraumatized.
I also have to thank Susan Ashley, who also provided me with support and ideas for the bill, and Yvonne Harvey, from the Canadian Parents of Murdered Children, for their work on this bill as well, and ensuring that Canadians are aware that this was coming forward.
Finally, I want to thank Senator Boisvenu, who founded the organization Murdered or Missing Persons' Families' Association because of his own person loss, for his support in ensuring that the bill will go forward on the Senate side.
Again, I would ask that members of this House to support the bill and get it to committee so it can be given the proper study.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Elmwood—Transcona for his hard work and his question.
In fact, I cannot comment on the specifics of this case, but I can tell the member that our government has acted. We have introduced the not criminally responsible reform act. This proposed legislation would create a new designation to protect the public from high-risk accused individuals. Such a designation means that those found not criminally responsible and designated high-risk will not be released unless their designation is revoked by a court of law.
Unfortunately, the Liberal Party has been standing in the way of these entirely reasonable and important reforms. We urge the Liberal senators, former Senate Liberals, to get on with it and pass this important bill.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona for that excellent question.
Unlike the opposition, which voted against our consumer protection regulations, we are committed to putting consumers first. Our government has cut taxes over 160 times, saving a typical family of four nearly $3,400 in 2014 alone, but we did not stop there. We have helped to reduce wireless rates by almost 20% since 2008, and we better protected Canadians using prepaid credit cards.
Stay tuned. Today, when the world's best Minister of Finance tables economic action plan 2014, there will be more to come.
Order. Before we resume debate with the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona, I have just a reminder for all hon. members.
There is a great deal of interest in the questions and comments portion this evening. With usually only five minutes available, I think it would be helpful to all members if those who are putting questions would keep their questions to a minute or less, and perhaps in the same way if the member who responds could keep that to less than a minute, then we would get more members participating in that segment of the debate.
Resuming debate with the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about my private member's bill, which I call “Discover Your Canada”.
This bill seeks to amend the Income Tax Act in order to make travel within Canada more affordable for Canadians by providing income tax deductions on the expense of purchasing tickets for taxpayers and their children, for non-business travel by airplane, train or bus, if travel covers at least three different provinces.
During the many speeches we will be hearing on this bill, some members of Parliament will erroneously discuss the potential high cost of the bill. However, this bill is intended to be about unifying Canadians and not about finances. As an accountant and former chairman of the finance committee, I am usually the first person to want to ensure that the numbers add up. I have written Bill C-463 in order that the federal treasury would not be impacted and that this bill would be revenue neutral, while perhaps even being an economic generator.
Therefore, the primary focus of this bill would not be financial. As is evident in the name “discover your Canada act”, I want more Canadians to have the option to travel across this country, something that is usually only an option for the more affluent. I want as many Canadians as possible to be able to visit other parts of their great country, and not as a layover to a foreign destination, not as a two-hour drive up to the cabin, and not as a business trip, where all they will see is an airport or perhaps a conference room. We want Canadians to see a part of Canada that is as distant and as different from their own little corner of this great land as possible.
I first got this idea years ago while I was in Vancouver chairing the finance committee during its pre-budget consultations. Anyone who has been to Vancouver can tell us that there are some impressive sights to behold. As a visitor walking the streets after a long day of witnesses telling us how the government should spend its money, I looked up and was astounded by what I saw. I thought that if more Quebeckers would see what I am seeing right now, none of them would want to separate. It was every bit as beautiful as my hometown of Montreal, but it was also very different. The vastness of the Pacific Ocean was different from the charm of the St. Lawrence River. The grandeur of the Rocky Mountains was different from the soothing humility of Mount Royal. The modern architecture was different from the classic beauty of Old Montreal. Pictures can never do justice to Canadian scenery, and one can never truly appreciate and feel like it is part of his or her natural heritage until he or she can see it and touch it in person.
In the past, even prior to being a member of Parliament, and afterwards of course, I have been to places in Canada as far east as Newfoundland, as far west as British Columbia and as far north as Yukon and the Northwest Territories. I have found in each place a newer and deeper appreciation for Canada. I am certain that all Canadians would have a better sense of their own national identity if they just had a chance to see parts of this country that are out of reach for some of them now. This is why I have chosen to refer Bill C-463 to the heritage committee instead of the finance committee. The discovery of Canada act would not be about dollars and cents; it would be about allowing Canadians to take ownership of their national heritage by providing them with a bit of assistance and incentive to see their own country.
Having said all this, it would be unlike me not to discuss costs at least a little bit. The deductions I propose in the Discover Your Canada Act are not extravagant. The deductions are also capped, and conditions to ensure that the deductions are not abused are written into Bill C-463.
As a result, the upper threshold of deductions will not be reached by most eligible travellers, as was confirmed by a Parliamentary Budget Office study I requested for this bill soon after it was introduced.
According to newspaper articles, the government says that this bill will cost money. However, even if the government is able to justify its estimate of the cost of this bill, nothing can compare to the $5.2 billion that Canadians spent in the United States in 2012.
During the second quarter of 2012, during trips to the United States, Canadians spent $3.4 million, the most money in 20 years. In June, they spent a record $1.9 million. This increased spending is a result of the increase in duty free allowances, which went from $50 to $200 for a stay longer than 24 hours, and from $400 to $800 for a stay of 48 hours. We are talking about travel abroad.
According to the government, this will result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in 2013-14. This is another gift for the American industry.
It is easy to add tax deductions. Administering them will cost the Canada Revenue Agency nothing extra. The Parliamentary Budget Office said so as well.
The last thing I want is for this bill to create more red tape.
When a new income deduction is proposed, there is always a measurable cost, but it is not so easy to calculate the economic spinoffs.
The Parliamentary Budget Office acknowledges that Bill C-463 will generate economic and financial spinoffs, but it cannot calculate those with certainty.
Generally speaking, I can say with confidence that increased travel within Canada is bound to generate positive economic and financial spinoffs.
Increased revenues from provincial and federal sales taxes are one such fiscal benefit.
I know that when I travel, I need to stay somewhere, I need to eat, and I want to take in some local attractions. I like to enjoy a night out on the town, and I enjoy bringing souvenirs back to family and friends. All this costs money and all this will contribute to government revenues in the form of federal and provincial sales tax.
Increased economic activity from more Canadians travelling domestically will also benefit the tourism industry in Canada in addition to industries that see spinoff benefits from increased tourism.
According to Industry Canada, almost 600,000 jobs in Canada are directly generated by tourism in every province and region of the country.
If that is not specific enough, I encourage each member in this chamber to visit the Tourism Industry Association of Canada website, where a breakdown of tourism jobs per riding is available.
I took examples from the ridings with the largest cities in the country. Tourism represents 4,905 jobs in Elmwood—Transcona, 5,460 jobs in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, 9,445 jobs in Vancouver South, 10,080 jobs in Calgary Centre, 11,150 jobs in Trinity—Spadina, and 11,170 jobs in Laurier—Saint-Marie in downtown Montreal. These are just a few examples. There is a list of all the ridings across Canada.
These are real jobs for real people in each and every one of our communities. We need to be cognizant of what stimulating this industry can mean to local economies and the national economy as a whole. The possible benefits are too big to ignore in my opinion.
I could go on, but as I stated earlier, the bill is not about dollars and cents.
Since I introduced the bill back in November, what has struck me most of all is how much Canadians have rallied around this idea. According to a Harris/Decima study released on November 7, 2012, total support for the discover your Canada act stood at 70%, and it enjoyed strong support throughout the country.
For example, the Atlantic region registered 78% approval, Quebec registered 68% approval, Ontario registered 69% approval, Saskatchewan and Manitoba registered 66% approval, Alberta registered 76% approval and British Columbia registered 74% approval.
The same study showed that 39% of Canadians would be more likely to consider travelling within Canada if the discover your Canada act were to become law, while only 5% would be less likely to consider travelling within Canada if the discover your Canada act were to become law, for a net gain of over 34%.
The same study also notes that the bill has the potential to address Canada's growing international travel deficit, which grew by $91 million in the second quarter of 2012 alone.
Beyond the numbers, I have been humbled by messages of support I have received from Canadians from all over the country who want to see the bill pass. One lady from Alberta wrote to tell me that “Despite not being one of your constituents, I am writing to tell you that I support your recent private member's bill, the discover your Canada act. I live in Alberta. However, I have strong ties to Quebec through my maternal grandparents. In such a vast country as Canada, I would welcome this initiative in assisting my travel within our own borders. Canada has so much to offer”.
I cannot go on all day quoting letters and emails, but this is just one of several letters of support I received. They all have the same theme: a desire for us as Canadians and as parliamentarians to implement this idea.
It is not because they want to save money or because they are looking for a handout, but simply because they love their country and like the idea of more Canadians visiting more places within Canada to strengthen their bonds to this country and to each other, especially when we have a travel deficit in this country.
It has long been said that Canada has too much geography and not enough history. In 2017, Canada will have precisely 150 years of history behind it. Our nation's history is no longer in question, but our geography remains both a source of pride and a challenge to our nation's cohesiveness. Facts are facts: there is no inexpensive way for people to traverse such a massive country as Canada. As parliamentarians, we should recognize this reality and react accordingly.
I have chosen 2017 for the coming into force of the bill, because I believe that for Canada's 150th birthday, we should give Canadians the greatest gift we could possibly give them: we should give them Canada.
The government will be investing all kinds of money in celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary, so I am asking the government to think about offering Canadians a choice of where they choose to spend their money and not have the government decide for them.
We do not know how much money the government will put towards the anniversary, but this investment is minimal. There will events across Canada, as I just stated. We should have Canadians plan today where they want to travel to get to know Canada much better so that they will not be watching the events on a TV screen because they cannot afford the trip. They will be able to watch and participate in these events, up close and in person.
We should remove some of the financial barriers that stop them from exploring this great land and tell them to go out and discover your Canada, because one thing I have learned is that financial incentives are one way to get people to change their behaviour.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Speaker. I am open to questions.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to highlight the action our government has taken to support Canadian communities and to create jobs. Our government has played an important role in strengthening Canadian communities. It helped drive economic development well before 2009 when the world's economy took a turn for the worse.
Because of our quick and decisive action, today Canada boasts the strongest rate of employment growth among the G7 countries. The timely support of the Canadian action plan and Canada's solid economic fundamentals have enabled our country and our economy to weather a period of continuing global uncertainty. Our government will continue to focus on creating jobs and growth for Canadians across our great nation.
Thanks in part to our strategic community and economic development programs, we have seen the creation of 900,000 net new jobs since the end of the recession. To continue to encourage economic growth as part of economic action plan 2012, our government announced the creation of the community infrastructure improvement fund, commonly known as CIIF.
CIIF builds on our commitment to further modernize Canada's infrastructure by committing $150 million over two years to support repairs and improvements to existing community facilities. The program supports the beating hearts of Canadian communities, such as community centres, libraries, parks, museums and sports fields, from coast to coast to coast. They are the places where families, friends and neighbours gather.
It is also an important part of our plan to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadians right across the country. In Saskatchewan, my colleague, the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced significant funding for the Kenaston swimming pool. That was made possible thanks to funding from this federal government.
In total, the minister announced $46 million in funding across western Canada. I am delighted to see that the funding has met with the same enthusiasm right across the country. We are going to be working on approximately 300 projects that have already been announced throughout the west.
As of today, in British Columbia, we have already announced 80 of these projects. They are under way and are benefiting Canadians across the province. For example, Castlegar and District Public Library will have improved energy efficiency through the replacement of the library's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. In addition, our government has helped the district of North Vancouver rehabilitate Maplewood Farm to increase visitor use and to improve accessibility. Since opening in 1975, Maplewood Farm has become a hub of community activity and is one of North Vancouver District's most popular visitor attractions. It receives over 90,000 visitors per year.
In Alberta, nearly 90 projects are helping to revitalize key community infrastructure. For example, upgrades to the Walsh and District Community Hall will improve the accessibility of the kitchen for mobility impaired individuals. The renovations will ensure that members of the community can easily and affordably access the hall.
Federal funding under CIIF is also supporting the expansion of soccer turf at Calgary's Foothills indoor soccer centre as well as the installation of protective boards and netting.
In Saskatchewan, there are over 60 jobs, including extensive renovations to the Learning Disabilities Association of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. In addition to mechanical and electrical upgrades, clients and staff will have a new kitchen, automatic doors to the foyer and three new washrooms that meet accessibility standards.
In the village of Paradise Hill, our government is supporting upgrades that will enhance public safety. Renovations to the arena include the installation of new posts and tempered safety glass on the boards surrounding the ice surface.
In Manitoba, my home province, over 70 projects have already been announced. A CIIF investment is helping the Royal Canadian Legion Charleswood Branch in Winnipeg become more energy efficient by replacing its roof, two rooftop heating and air conditioning units, and the lighting system.
We have also invested in the Army Navy and Air Force Veterans facility to improve its parking lot. We are investing in the St. James Civic Centre Pool to help with renovations. We have provided money for the Assiniboia Curling Club and the Charleswood Curling Club. These are all community-run organizations that would not have been able to make the changes necessary if it were not for the grants from the federal government.
While we are on Manitoba, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Plessis underpass. The federal government, through the building Canada fund, has put in a substantial amount of money, fulfilling a local campaign promise to make transit much better for the people of the Elmwood—Transcona area. I would like to thank the member for Elmwood—Transcona for all his hard work on that project.
I could go on and on. There has been $146 million for recreational infrastructure projects in the four western provinces.
Over the last seven years, $33 billion has been invested in the building Canada fund, which was introduced in 2007 and was Canada first long-term infrastructure plan. It will continue to deliver results until 2014 and beyond.
As my colleague mentioned, we made the gas tax permanent. We have ensured that projects can be accelerated. We have cut down on red tape. We have done many things to ensure that the quality of life of Canadians is improved through infrastructure programs.
RInC, the recreational infrastructure Canada program, members will recall, the communities component, invested $500 million in recreational facilities across Canada over two years. This was a temporary economic stimulus that helped create jobs while renewing, upgrading and expanding recreational infrastructure in Canadian communities. It was hugely well received, as were the other portions of the building Canada fund and the other infrastructure programs this government brought forward. We brought them forward at a time when Canada needed them. What we have done has been well received. People appreciate it. Lives are better. The NDP voted against it all.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the great member for Elmwood—Transcona.
Today I am here to give some perspective for hon. members opposite on measures that have been introduced by the government to the EI program.
The purpose is to ensure the EI program is working for Canadians. The design of it is to help find work and get people back to work. Our government is committed to supporting workers and ensuring that EI enables a strong and competitive workforce. This is in line with our government's focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. Many of the clarifications to the EI program are designed to make it easier and to better connect unemployed Canadians to the jobs in their local labour market.
The government has announced several targeted common sense clarifications to encourage Canadians to stay active in the job market and to remove disincentives for individuals. These changes include better connecting Canadians with available opportunities in their local area, clarifying their responsibilities while collecting EI and establishing a new pan-Canada approach for calculating EI benefits. Those living in regions of comparable labour market conditions should receive similar benefits.
Canadians may not be aware of local jobs within their skill sets and that is why, as a government, we will be providing enhanced job alerts. They are there to inform Canadians of where the local jobs are. Therefore, as of January 2013, recipients can sign-up to receive two emails a day through the enhanced job alert program. This is a vast improvement over the previous program that sent out alerts once or twice a week.
However, the opposition continues to argue that these changes will limit access to EI. Therefore, we need to be very clear about what EI is. An individual who is on EI has a responsibility to undertake an active job search. All these changes do is further clarify what that job search should be like, but this does not affect access to the EI program at all.
The new definition for a “reasonable job search” includes a wage that is significantly better than the benefits paid out by EI. It cannot be said that these changes are pushing Canadians into poverty. In fact, it is quite the opposite. With greater workforce attachment, Canadian families are always better off.
Our government has introduced many other EI measures that are designed to support Canadian families, the fundamental units of society and the backbone of any successful country.
For example, foster parents adopting foster children into their care now have access to parental benefits earlier on. Eligibility to the compassionate care benefit has been extended to include additional family members and others considered as family by the person who is gravely ill. The self-employed, which I have been all my life, will now have the option to opt into EI programs, which has never been offered before, to receive maternal, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits. As for military families, there is now improved access to parental benefits.
Our government also recognizes that it may difficult for people who have full-time jobs to care for family members with serious illnesses or injuries. That is why we want to help families balance their work and family responsibility with the financial difficulties that happen during those times. Specifically, the Helping Families in Need Act, which was passed in the fall, is to help hard-working Canadian families at a time when they need it most. It is an important and fundamental value that truly connects all of us as Canadians.
We understand on this side that raising a child is the most important, responsible thing that we ever have to do. I have three grown children and nine grandchildren, and I can attest to that.
Therefore, when a parent is struggling with an illness while balancing responsibilities, whether at work, at home or both, the whole family becomes affected. Under the Helping Families in Need Act, parents are now able to access sickness benefits if they fall ill while receiving parental benefits. Additionally, as part of the bill, we included changes required to allow for other income supports for families when they needed it the most.
We now offer EI benefits to parents of critically ill or injured children.
These new benefits are there to help reduce some of the financial pressures that parents experience. I think that through our families or a personal experience, all of us can relate to what that means and the toll it takes.
Last year we also announced a new grant to support parents coping with the disappearance or the death of a child as a result of a suspected criminal act. We read and hear of way too much of that every day in the news.
Our government is combining our proven track record of adapting the employment insurance program to foster economic growth along with support for parents who are victims, helping to ease them financially.
We want to improve the EI program to make it more flexible for Canadians by adding benefits for parents who need to take time away from work to focus on a critically ill or injured child, all to help them focus on the issues that really matter as a parent or grandparent.
Our desire is to help families. It is a desire that motivated the government to renew the extra five weeks pilot project through the worst recession since the thirties. We understand that many industries are working less and we want to help Canadians through that very tough and difficult time.
While we still all recognize that these are fragile economic times, particularly around the world, we have seen a significant and strong growth in the Canadian economy and labour market, with over 920,000 new net jobs since July of 2009. We now have more jobs in Canada than at any point in our history.
Many of the regions covered by this pilot project have now seen excellent or significant recovery as well. There were in fact a couple of regions that prematurely pulled away from that pilot project because their unemployment rates had receded so well.
Our government remains committed to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians. On this side of the House, and I believe across all sides of the House, we are proud of our country, the job creation and the economic standing that we have seen and been recognized for around the world. Therefore, let all of us stay focused on growing jobs and continuing to develop a long-term prosperity for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, he needs to stop waving that cardboard sword or he is going to hurt somebody over there.
We all knew the Conservatives were under investigation for voter suppression in Don Valley East, Nipissing—Timiskaming, Elmwood—Transcona, Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, Vancouver Island North and Yukon. It is a veritable who's who of the no-names on the Conservative backbench. Now court affidavits show that a Conservative-paid phone bank deliberately sent people to the wrong polls on election day. This was a coordinated scheme that goes all the way back to Conservative Party headquarters.
When will the Conservatives get serious about dealing with election fraud on election day?
Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Conservative member for Orléans and the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Public Works did not talk about their ridings; they talked about the official opposition.
The member for Elmwood—Transcona has only made one statement in the House since we returned. What did he do with his precious, limited opportunity? He also parroted the PMO's blatantly misleading lines about the NDP. If that member does not want to talk about his great riding, I am proud to tell the House some of the fantastic things going on in Elmwood—Transcona.
For instance, Transcona is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. This coincides with the annual Hi Neighbour Festival, also celebrating its own 40th anniversary. These celebrations have allowed people in Transcona to reflect on the famous Canadians who have also come from the area, including Terry Fox; Olympic speed skater, Susan Auch; sports commentator, Rod Black; and of course our own Bill Blaikie.
We on this side of the House take great pride in celebrating the centennial. Shame on the member for kowtowing to the PMO—
The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.
Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that we have this debate today about extending hours, because we cannot look at this particular motion in isolation from everything that has happened in the past year since the election, under this Conservative government.
I would begin my remarks by saying that I think a measure of a government is how it represents and respects the institution it operates within. By and large, certainly a majority government controls that institution. Therefore, how the government actually operates on a day-to-day basis and operates overall in terms of respecting the opinions of opposition, of members of the public, of committees, of the structures and the vehicles that we have, is a very important criterion in terms of how one looks at how a government is performing, whether it is the current Conservative government, a majority government or former governments. One has to look at this motion today in that context.
I mentioned in my remarks earlier that we have seen the government now bring in time allocation possibly 20 to 24 times on different bills. Time is a very valuable commodity. It is something by which we all operate. We understand the importance of it. I do find it incredibly ironic that, on the one hand, we have a government that has been doing everything it can to restrict the time we have for debate, for example, on Bill C-38, but on the other hand it is looking for an expansion of time in the next two weeks because it wants to get everything else through. This is really very disrespectful of the process we have in Parliament and is disrespectful of the engagement that members of Parliament want to have.
Bill Blaikie, who was the former member for Elmwood—Transcona, actually was the dean of the House. He was a very long-standing member of the House of Commons for more than 20 years. I remember speaking with Bill Blaikie on many occasions and getting a sense of how much the procedures had changed in this place, how much the rules had been bent, managed and finessed to basically minimize and restrict what members of Parliament can do.
We have to look at this issue over the longer term. We have to look at how much has been cut out already. Whether it is the right to have ongoing debate or the rules of the House generally, there has been so much undermining of the democratic process in this place. When we look at this motion today and we look at the underlying intent that motion has, which is to basically control the government agenda and to do everything it can to push through what it believes is necessary, then we can see that this place begins to be diminished. Its role and the role we have as individual members of Parliament begins to be diminished.
I remember, back in 1998 or 1999, the Reform Party of the day bringing in 472 amendments on the Nisga'a treaty. It is curious though that the Conservatives seemed to have no problem then in insisting that there had to be proper debate and a proper process. In fact, they used it. They were very opposed to that treaty. I remember voting. I think it was about 48 hours straight when we voted on those 472 amendments to the Nisga'a treaty in British Columbia. They seem to have forgotten all of that. They seem to have forgotten the process and the need to have some sort of equilibrium in this place. It has now become a very heavy-handed measure that it uses. That is what we are seeing today with this motion.
If we add on other examples, such as gag orders to employees, this is no longer a place where even people who work in different departments of the federal government are free to express an opinion. The gag orders are out there to shut down, to be silent and to self-censor. It all speaks to a pattern of incredible control. It speaks to a pattern of undermining the democratic process.
All opposition parties have a responsibility to hold the government to account. My hon. colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the NDP House leader, in his earlier intervention on a point of privilege made the point well that by blocking information to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, by withholding information to parliamentarians, we are impeding the proper functioning of a democratic process.
When we put all of that together, we can begin to see we have a government that is arrogant in its approach and dismissive of any opposition. That speaks badly to our democratic process as a whole.
We have seen unbelievable opposition to Bill C-38. We heard the governement House leader say earlier that this is the longest debate we have ever had. Seven days at second reading on a bill that would have so much impact on almost every aspect of anyone's life in Canada, amending more than 70 pieces of legislation, is the equivalent to having one day of debate for 10 different pieces of legislation. I do not think anybody could characterize that as any kind of adequate or substantive debate.
We are not only opposed to the motion and all of the processes that are unfolding in such a high-handed way by the Conservative government; we are also dealing with the substance. We are also opposed to the process of ramming through all of these bills because the substance of what is contained in the legislation is critical. It is important that people understand what all of these changes are about. We have been pressing that day after day in question period and in committee, where our team did an incredible job of bringing forward amendments.
The list of changes and their impacts is just unbelievable. We have heard about changes to food safety inspection and EI. The government is basically rewriting the way EI will operate. What is worse is that it will be under the complete control of the minister.
We are debating changes in Bill C-38 that would give the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development huge powers to make regulations and unilateral changes to the employment insurance system. This is particularly offensive because, as we know, the employment insurance system is based on contributions from workers and employers. It is a system that people rely on when they need it. Yet the wholesale changes that we know are coming, with respect to what is considered suitable employment, how far one has to travel, the wages that are involved, are all substantive changes. The ability to examine even that one piece in Bill C-38 has been minimal.
We also heard earlier today from the member for Halifax, who raised a question in question period, as she has done for many days both here and in committee, about the changes to environmental assessments. Today in question period she noted that Bill C-38 would, with one clause, change the whole environmental assessment procedure in Canada. The bill would basically bring in a whole new system. In normal terms over the history of Parliament, these are changes that would have intense scrutiny, each and every one of them.
Scrapping the director general of CSIS, what is all that about? Why is that being allowed to happen? What about the gutting of the Fisheries Act?
What about weakening foreign ownership rules on telecommunications? People who work in this industry, not the big corporations, are hugely concerned that buried in Bill C-38 are significant changes to foreign ownership rules that would make it much easier for corporations from abroad to come into Canada and take greater control over our telecommunications industry. That is something that requires substantive examination, but it is buried in the bill.
We have the cuts to health services for refugees. This one only came out more recently and now there is a huge outcry across the country about what the impact would be for refugees. We hear the talking points from the government members saying that refugees will not get anything more than anybody else. However, the loss of some of these medical services would have a significant impact upon people's lives.
However, do we get time to examine this? I do not think so because again this is something that is being rammed through.
The governement House leader mentioned some of the other legislation that his government wants to move through if the motion to extend the hours passes, which, of course, it has the votes to do. It is very possible that, with some of these bills with which other parties in Parliament agree with, there may be some agreement to have a good debate and to see the passage of those bills. That is something that we have done for many years where there is co-operation, where there is some dialogue, conversation, that we can actually come to an agreement. It seems to me that is the way we should be conducting our business. We should be allowing the House leaders to meet to figure out, where there is some agreement, which bills can go through, because there may well be agreement that there has been adequate discussion and that would be a timely and proper thing to do.
However, I think it is wrong to lay down a whole list of probably 15 or more bills and say that in the next two weeks we will sit until midnight, that we will ram all these bills through no matter what anybody thinks and no matter the length of debate. I know the Conservatives will use the argument that we can debate it all we want but I think the central point that we need to make about this motion is that it is not intended to allow substantive debate on these bills, whether there are 6 or 10 or 15. The purpose is to allow the government to , ram them through. I will bet my bottom dollar that it will now accompany this extension of hours, if it gets it, with time allocation.
I again come back to my first point, which is that on the one hand, the government is both restricting debate on Bill C-38 and other bills and it is also creating time for further debate so that it can also restrict debate to get the bills through. This is what we have come to. I have been in this Parliament now 15 years, through six elections. I have seen minority Parliaments and majority governments. I have seen how this operates. I know that if there is that process of some dialogue, goodwill, respect and trust, having been a House leader for eight years as well, we can arrive at a consideration and an agreement about the House agenda. We have the capacity to do that.
However, when the government y is so disrespectful of both the process and the substance and has an agenda that it just wants to ram through in the closing weeks of Parliament, all I can say is that we need to do our job and our job is to hold the government to account. Our job is to ensure that there is substantive and proper examination of all the bills before the House. We owe that to our constituents and to the public in general. I can tell from the emails that I am receiving and the stuff that is on Facebook that people are truly alarmed at the government's method of dealing, in particular, with Bill C-38.
People are only just beginning to understand the comprehensiveness and the far-reaching impact that the bill would have. This notion that it has had the longest debate ever is just nonsense. We need to look at what is in the bill. We need to know all of the legislation that it is trying to change. We need to know that none of that has been properly examined.
I do find that the government, in putting forward this motion today, is, regrettably, just a continuation of the arrogance it has displayed. It is a continuation of a disrespect of this place. It is a pattern of just wanting to get something through at any cost.
I feel very proud that the NDP, the official opposition, has spoken out very strongly. All of the amendments we have for Bill C-38, which will be voted on this week, are a reflection of the opposition that exists in this country. They are not just spurious amendments. These amendments are a reflection of what it is we are hearing from Canadians.
It is incredibly disappointing that the government is refusing to budge even an inch to look at splitting the bill or to look at ways to manage the bill so that there is proper debate. We have not seen the government willing to move anything on that front. That is a real indication, unfortunately, of where the Conservatives are at.
We will not be supporting the motion, not because we do not want to be here at night to debate. We are quite happy to do that. We are good at it. We would be happy to debate until midnight. However, we need to look at the intent of the motion and we know full well that the intent of the motion to extend the hours is so the government can bring in further time allocation to ram through Bill C-38, plus a dozen or more other pieces of legislation.
That is offensive. It is disrespectful of this Parliament. It is something that we do not think can be unchallenged, and it is for that reason that we oppose the motion.
I would like to move an amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by replacing the words “Friday, June 22” with the following: “Thursday, June 21”.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for Trinity—Spadina for invoking, for me, the memory of the Hon. Rev. Bill Blaikie, the former member for Elmwood—Transcona, and his regular and frequent admonitions to the House of Commons that we need to get the freight off the trucks and back onto the rail where it belongs. That should be our number one job for the environment, for rail safety, for any number of compelling reasons.
There is one thing I would like my colleague to comment on. We are dealing with the Railway Safety Act today. There has been a call for a rail service review, and there has been a further call for a rail costing review. Prairie farmers are being gouged as badly as they were gouged in the 1930s, because nobody has reviewed whether what they are being charged to move their grain is in any way related to the actual cost of moving that grain.
Will the member comment on the need for a rail costing review as the next initiative for this chamber?
The electoral district of Elmwood--Transcona (Manitoba) has a population of 78,700 with 58,216 registered voters and 173 polling divisions.
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