Skip to main content

House Publications

The Debates are the report—transcribed, edited, and corrected—of what is said in the House. The Journals are the official record of the decisions and other transactions of the House. The Order Paper and Notice Paper contains the listing of all items that may be brought forward on a particular sitting day, and notices for upcoming items.

For an advanced search, use Publication Search tool.

41st PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 152

CONTENTS

Tuesday, September 25, 2012




House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 146 
l
NUMBER 152 
l
1st SESSION 
l
41st PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayers



Routine Proceedings

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1005)  

[English]

Nuclear Terrorism Act

Hon. Peter Van Loan (for the Minister of Justice)  
     moved for leave to introduce Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time)

Petitions

Rights of the Unborn 

     Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present from constituents in my riding of Wellington—Halton Hills. One has about 100 signatures and the other has about 50 signatures.
    The petitioners are calling on members of Parliament to support Motion No. 312.

Katimavik  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a number of petitions from Canadians in Quebec, Saskatchewan and right through to British Columbia who are calling upon Parliament to reinstate the Katimavik program, a program that was critical in uniting Canadians, particularly young Canadians, from coast to coast to coast and what it is to be a Canadian.
    The petitioners are calling upon the government to reverse its previous decision to cut the limited funding that it offered to this program and to reinstate it immediately.

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to present two petitions today.
    In the first petition, the petitioners are calling upon the government to abandon its unwise plan to eliminate the Experimental Lakes Area.

Foreign Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition has been signed by students at Lindsey Place High School in my riding.
     The petitioners are calling upon the government to pressure the Chinese government to release Dr. Wang Bingzhang from prison on compassionate grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and friends.

Rights of the Unborn  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from constituents in my riding of Yorkton—Melville who ask us to support Motion No. 312. They indicate that we should confirm that every human being be recognized in Canadian law as a human by amending Section 223 of the Criminal Code in such a way as to reflect 21st century medical evidence.

[Translation]

Abortion  

    Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition signed by Canadians who oppose the Conservatives' Motion M-312, which is a thinly veiled attempt to reopen the abortion debate in Canada. Canadians had this debate decades ago, and people are ready to move on to other things. Canadians want to move toward true gender equality in Canada, not away from it.

[English]

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition concerning the Experimental Lakes Area.
    The petitioners are asking the government to keep the experimental lakes area funded and open. This is a whole ecosystem research laboratory that has informed the government in the past, to help us make smart decisions about how to protect our freshwater resources, and will be able to continue to do so in the future. That is why these Canadians have asked the government to continue funding.

Rights of the Unborn  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support a number of petitions referring to Canada's 400-year-old definition of human being and asking Parliament to bring that into the 21st century. The petitioners are asking Parliament to stand up for the principle that every human being is created equal and every human being has an inherent worth and dignity.
    In particular, I have a petition with almost 300 signatures from the riding of Mississauga—Erindale. I have a petition with almost 400 signatures from Calgary, Saskatoon, Vancouver Island, London and Bruce Grey. I have petitions from the riding of Scarborough—Rouge River, which together accomplish almost 1,200 signatures, many of whom are women. I have a petition from the riding of Markham—Unionville, which together have almost 1,300 signatures. I have a petition to the same effect from the riding of Oak Ridges—Markham with 300 signatures. I also have a petition from the riding of Scarborough—Agincourt with almost 300 signatures.
     I have received petitions from all across the country with thousands of signatures but I will stop there for today.

Public Transit  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition signed by citizens who are concerned about the lack of a national public transit strategy. I raise this on the eve of Thanksgiving, the biggest weekend in northern Ontario for students coming home, when the McGuinty Liberals will kill public transit in the north and leave all our students high and dry.
    The contempt for northerners is pretty clear but it is part of a larger problem which is that we have governments, federally and provincially, that do not seem to care about the issue of public transit, particularly for northern and rural communities.

House of Commons  

    Mr. Speaker, I table a petition from residents of Winnipeg North who are stating that there are many needs that are more important than the need to increase the size of the House of Commons to 338 members of Parliament. Dealing with issues like OAS and so forth are far more important than increasing the number of politicians here in the House of Commons.

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from a number of Canadians who are concerned about the proposed mega quarry in Melancthon township in Dufferin county, Ontario, which would be the largest open pit quarry in Canada at over 2,300 acres.
    The petitioners are concerned with a number of things, one of which is that the proposed megaquarry would initially have 150 truckloads per hour of aggregates leave the quarry heading south and 150 empty truckloads returning to the quarry, and other trucks transporting 52 tons of explosives to the quarry per day on local roadways not designed to carry such traffic.

  (1010)  

[Translation]

Katimavik  

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to present a petition urging the government to maintain the $14 million budget for Katimavik. This petition is signed by people from across Canada who want the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister to maintain that funding.
    In the course of my duties, I got to know a group of Katimavik participants who were working in the riding of Beauport—Limoilou, so I am very pleased to present this petition.

[English]

Abortion  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition signed by women and men from across Canada who are opposed to Conservative Motion No. 312, a thinly veiled attempt to reopen the abortion debate in Canada, a debate that Canadians had decades ago and Canadians are ready to move on. Women and men in Canada look forward to moving forward and not backward and this is a very regressive motion. Finally, Canadians are looking forward to achieving true gender equality in Canada.

Rights of the Unborn  

    Mr. Speaker, this petition is from people from my riding. They all happen to be women but it just adds to the dozens of petitions with dozens of signatures of people who are in favour of Motion No. 312, and for whom the subject has not been closed.

[Translation]

Katimavik  

    Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present two petitions today.
    The first urges the government to consider the negative impact that eliminating the Katimavik program will have on communities across Canada, as well as on non-profit organizations. The people who signed the petition want the government to consider maintaining funding for the program.

Abortion  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition is opposed to Motion M-312, which is a thinly veiled attempt to reopen a debate that has already taken place and that represents a step backward for women's equality.

[English]

Bill C-38  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a number of petitions from earlier this spring. The petitioners are concerned that we should not pass Bill C-38.

Religious Freedom  

    Mr. Speaker, the current petitions I want to present are from signatories in my own riding, as well as from Ontario and Manitoba. The petitioners urge the government to press China on human rights issues. They are particularly concerned about the persecution of Falun Dafa and Falun Gong practitioners, adding to many concerns about the suppression of Tibetan monks, Catholics within China and so on.

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, I also have a petition signed by residents of British Columbia urging the government to set aside its favouritism toward the Enbridge Northern Gateway project and allow full, fair and un-time-limited discussion and study of the proposal.

Rights of the Unborn  

    Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise on behalf of the beautiful constituency of Kelowna—Lake Country. Hundreds of constituents have signed several petitions to deal with Motion No. 312 to address the 400-year-old definition of human being and asking Parliament to debate this in an open and transparent manner.

[Translation]

International Cooperation  

    Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to present a petition signed by hundreds of voters in my riding calling on the government to fulfill its international responsibilities by ensuring that Canada: contributes to foreign development; gives priority to funding NGOs that support Canadians whose funding was slashed by CIDA; and, finally, in the spirit of international solidarity, restores in full the funding for Development and Peace for the next five years.

[English]

Rights of the Unborn  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a few petitions to present this morning.
    The first petition is from the good people of Willowdale who are asking the House to support Motion No. 312, which calls for an open-ended study as to when human life begins.
    The second petition is from the people of Battlefords—Lloydminster. The good people of Saskatchewan are asking that 21st century medical evidence be considered in the open-ended study called for in Motion No. 312 which is before the House this week.
    The third petition is signed by a number of people from Vancouver Island North who are also asking the House to support this open-ended study so we can perhaps come to some conclusion as to when human life begins.

  (1015)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would seek the support of the House to momentarily return to presenting committee reports.
    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to revert to committee reports?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Committees of the House

Public Safety and National Security  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security concerning electronic monitoring.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.

Questions on the Order Paper

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
    Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Business of Supply]

[English]

Business of Supply

Opposition Motion—Income Inequality  

     That the House call on the government to take several simple and immediate actions to reduce the growing income inequality in Canada including: (a) a roll back of its recent Employment Insurance Premium hikes which inflict a higher relative burden on low to modest income workers; (b) ending the punitive new claw back of Employment Insurance benefits that are discouraging many Canadians from working while on claim; (c) making tax credits, such as the Family Caregiver Tax Credit, refundable so that low income Canadians are not excluded; (d) making the Registered Disability Savings Plan available to sufferers of chronic diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis; and (e)removing interest charges from the federal component of student loans.
     He said: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate very much the chance to address this issue in the House today. We all recognize, or at least most of us recognize, that income inequality is a growing issue. Whereas in the years between about 1945 and the mid-1990s, the growing economy created greater equality not only because of the well-paying jobs that were created but also because of a range of government programs that sustained people who were in difficulty.
    Since the governments came to grips with the impact of deficits in the early 1990s, right up until today and most emphatically in the last five years, we have a seen a decline in income equality and we have seen a growth of inequality. Those are the undeniable facts.
    If I could quote someone who is not a radical figure but a very responsible one, the Governor of the Bank of Canada said this recently in a speech in Halifax, on the subject of income inequality.“The people who say it's not an issue are wrong, and the people who say it is an issue and who then want to create class warfare are wrong. The focus needs to be on ensuring equality of opportunity.... It's a massive issue; fundamental to society. It's not right if big swaths of society become discouraged and marginalized.”
    What we have proposed today in the motion is quite practical. It is saying to the government and to the House that there is a series of very discrete and practical steps that we can take to reduce what is an undeniable trend that certainly has accelerated over the last five years because of the impact of two things.
     First is the impact of the financial crisis, which has affected the entire world and has naturally had an impact on Canada in terms of rates of growth, the increase in joblessness, the increase in youth unemployment and the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs, a trend we had seen over the last 30 years and we have seen it accelerate most recently. Second is because governments sometimes have taken steps that have in fact accelerated inequality rather than moving things in the other direction.
    What we are asking the government to do is to, first of all, recognize that this is a problem, not to dismiss it. We had to work very hard to convince a number of Conservative members of Parliament to allow the finance committee to study this question, and I am delighted that my colleague, the finance critic for the Liberal Party, has been able to persuade people that this is something that the committee needs to study.
     However, we need to go even further in looking at these practical measures. We want the government to roll back the increase in employment insurance premiums, a tax that is regressive, that has a greater impact on lower and middle income people than it does on those who are better off. We want to end the clawback because, again, the clawback is going to have a negative effect on people on lower incomes and not help them in the least.
    We want to make sure that tax credits, such as the family caregiver tax credit, can actually be taken up by people who have no taxable income. We want to make it refundable. It does not make sense to say that this is not going to be available to low-income people who are in fact going forward and taking care of their mother, father or someone else in their family who is disabled, that it is going to be available to people who have a taxable income but not available to people who do not.
    Also, we want to make sure we make the registered disability savings plan available to sufferers of chronic diseases, because that is what it was intended to do.
    Finally, we want to remove interest charges from the federal portion of student loans, because right now the federal government is actually making money on student loans, and we know that student debt is in fact an ever-increasing issue.
    Before I proceed further, I just want to make it clear that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso, who has been sitting here with a great deal of anxiety and concern that I might take up the full 20 minutes rather than just the time I agreed to as my share.

  (1020)  

[Translation]

    This is an important issue as it concerns our current economy. Globalization has created extraordinary possibilities for Canada. Our country is rich in natural resources. Our education system compares favourably with that of other countries. Our country has great advantages, but, at the same time, we must recognize that inequality has continued to grow over the past five years, and the past five years have been just as difficult as the 1990s.
    I do not believe that this is really a partisan issue. The government could say that we had problems in the 1990s and that the Liberals have nothing to say about that. But we have to admit that during recessions and periods of government cutbacks, the government has the complex task of ensuring that inequality does not get worse. Quite frankly, this government does not want to take on that responsibility. It does not want to deal with this problem and even denies that there is a problem.
    However, there is no doubt that it is a problem because we see that well-paid jobs continue to disappear and are being replaced by jobs that are lower paying, short-term and part-time, and do not have the same benefits.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to congratulate you on your elevation as the Deputy Speaker of the House. You and I both remember the days in Windsor when we saw the transformation of an economy, which had powerful trade unions, which had good well-paying jobs, which performed important work in manufacturing, where members had pensions that they were assured would be there for them when they retired. Yes, frankly, they were good times. People were well off, people were able to buy cottages and take care of their kids. Those years are definitely not with us any more.
    We are now in a time when workers are being asked to take further cuts and further drops in benefits, when a defined benefit is becoming very much the exception rather than the case, where we understand that there are greater and greater inequalities in how we are able to face life together.
    There are a couple of false routes, as the Governor of the Bank of Canada said. Class warfare is a false exit. Trying to pretend we can stop the world and get off is a false exit. Pretending that we can somehow hold back all the forces of globalization is a false exit. However so is denial, pretending that if we continue to prosper as a country then obviously everyone will be able to share automatically in this prosperity.
    President Kennedy said in the 1960s at the very height of the period I was describing, when things seemed to be all in balance, that the rising tide will lift all boats. Now we are in a situation where the rising tide lifts some yachts, some very big boats, but it does not lift a lot of other boats. That means that government policy has to take the steps that are necessary to increase equality, to increase real opportunity and to understand that prosperity, social justice and sustainability are not necessarily enemies, are not necessarily at war with one another, but need to be brought together.
    However, in order for that to happen, it will take deliberate, thoughtful, intelligent government policy. Some might say the steps we are proposing today are not radical enough. I would say they are very practical. They involve saying that we want the employment insurance premiums hike to stop at a time when we are in recession, at a time when people are hurting. We are saying that tax credits should be refundable. That is to say that if people have no taxable income, they should still be able to get the credits. We are saying that for students—particularly when we see youth unemployment on the rise the way it is today, up to 15%—it is really unconscionable that the Government of Canada would be making money off the loans we are giving to students in order to allow them to go to college and university.
    This is why this is in fact the issue of our time. We cannot assume that prosperity will be fairly shared and we cannot take prosperity itself for granted. We have to avoid the mistakes of the extreme right and the extreme left, and we have to come up with practical proposals that will make a difference to ordinary people and ensure that our prosperity is truly, fairly, deeply and widely shared.

  (1025)  

    Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to congratulate you on your election as Deputy Speaker of the House.
    My question for the member for Toronto Centre is quite simple. The Liberal Party is proposing five new initiatives: the rollback of EI premium increases, the rollback of the EI clawback, making the family caregiver tax credit refundable, making the RDSP available to a broader group of people and removing interest costs for the federal portion of student loans.
    Could the member tell the House how much each of these five items would cost the federal treasury?
    Mr. Speaker, a broader question is this. What is the cost of not doing it? The member will say it would increase government debt. I would say to the hon. member that refusing or failing to do these things simply passes that debt on to consumers who are not in a position to bear that debt.
    Consumer debt, personal debt, the debt of ordinary families is higher today than it has ever been in the entire history of Canada. People are only able to afford this debt because of very low interest rates. It is not right that this debt be passed on to each individual. It is better that we share the responsibility we have to make sure that economic prosperity does not come at the expense of ordinary people.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for an excellent speech that set out some of the fundamentals that underlie this motion. The five specific asks in the motion were well underpinned by a philosophy of why inequality is a problem.
    I would simply like to ask the hon. leader of the Liberal Party how he thinks about income and equality and its relationship to the health of our democracy at the moment. Would he agree that the further we see income inequality building up in this country, the less engagement of citizens there is with our political system and the more we will see democracy itself suffering from this fact?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member makes an excellent point. I am sure he will not be surprised to hear me say that.
     I was very encouraged by the words of the Governor of the Bank of Canada, because Mr. Carney is a very thoughtful individual, an exceptional public servant of Canada. He has had a chance to see the impact that this issue is having, not only in our country but in the United States and every industrialized country.
     I do not think we can possibly explain the declining rates of participation in elections, the sense of cynicism and the sense of frustration that many citizens are expressing about our democratic life, precisely because they feel they are working harder, they are getting less for it, they are doing a little less well than they would like to be able to do, and they are very concerned about what will happen to them and what will happen to their families as they see their debt levels growing. They have this preoccupation now with how they are going to do and how they are going to survive in this very difficult situation.
    Yes, it has a corrosive impact on our democratic life. I do not think there is any question about that.

  (1030)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate our leader on his excellent speech. Much greater emphasis needs to be put on the consequences of these inequities.
    He spoke about the weakening of our institutions and the cynicism toward our democratic system. There are people who do not believe in anything anymore because of these inequities. I would like our colleague to explain in his own words why it is important to address these inequities.
    Mr. Speaker, let us look at this issue from both a personal and a historical point of view. It is important to recognize that our country—like the United States, Europe and other countries—is being confronted with a major challenge. There was an agreement made in the years following the Second World War: if people worked hard and made an effort, then they would get a pension and could avoid certain problems if they became ill, and life would be good for everyone. This was not complete equality because it was recognized that everyone's circumstances were different, but there was still a spirit of solidarity.
    This spirit of solidarity is disappearing in our economy. That is the big problem that we have. The current lack of solidarity means that people are not seeing a place for justice or opportunity in our economy.
    The government, whether at the provincial or federal level, has a shared responsibility to use every means possible to make the economy fairer. That is the government's job. We believe that this is a common, fundamental task, and we are going to continue to work to ensure that this is what happens in the future.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Toronto Centre for being so generous in sharing his time with me on this particular issue. I will speak specifically about the changes to the EI provisions for those working while on claim.
    In his comments, our leader alluded to the over-arching campaign by the Conservative government to misinform, misdirect and mislead Canadians on a variety of issues. Pick a topic and we can see the misinformation coming from the government. We certainly saw it during the opening week in the House of Commons. The Conservatives continue to talk about their record on the economy and set themselves up as great stewards of the economy. Let us look at that alone.
    Since 2006, the Conservative government has added $100 billion to the national debt. I cannot see any reason to take a bow for that. When the government came into office, just over a million Canadians were unemployed. Right now, there are just shy of 1.5 million Canadians unemployed. There is no reason to take a bow on that. The unemployment rate went from just about 6.5% to just shy of 7.5%.
    The Conservatives inherited a $14 billion surplus from the Liberal government and they turned it into a $55 billion deficit. That is a record in the history of this country, and it is the kind of stewardship that we have seen from the Conservatives, yet they continue to say they are great stewards of the economy. That is false and leads to what am going to say today.
    The media is exposing the government for its misdirection and misinformation in misleading Canadians. We had the opportunity to read Allan Gregg's piece from last week. There were also comments by John Ibbitson, Andrew Coyne and Lawrence Martin. In particular, Andrew Coyne was very strong in his column last weekend when he said, “Conservatives did not invent dumb, dishonest, attack dog politics—though they may have perfected it”. He talked about lies and personal attacks, saying that “[t]he Conservatives are better at it: more disciplined, more relentless, less daunted by shame”.
    That is where the problem lies with the working while on claim provision. We have heard the misinformation on that by the minister and the Prime Minister has simply rehashed the talking points.
    Let us talk about the history of the working while on claim provision. In 2005 the Liberal government put forward a measure to take a disincentive out of the working while on claim program. People were allowed to make 40% of their EI benefit. The math is simple. If someone's EI benefit was $200, that person was able to earn $80 and keep that $80. That is how basic it is: 40% of earnings were retained. Under the new provision, a clawback begins on the first dollar. The $80 that the person made would be clawed back and he or she would clear $240 rather than $280. If that person is counting on $280 for their household income for that week, that is an attack on the most vulnerable and poorest in this country. That is what the Conservative government is doing.
    The minister has shown no understanding and no appreciation for the files. If the government were going to make this change, the minister had every opportunity to let it be known to members of the House and Canadians. There was not a word in the budget document about cancelling allowable earnings. There was not a word about changing the provision on how to determine the benefit rate and the clawback.
    The minister made a big announcement on May 24 about the change in the pilot project. She said nothing about cancelling the provision. She made another speech on August 2 and sent a letter to EI recipients in July where she underlined that “you [the claimant] will always benefit from accepting work”. That is not the truth.

  (1035)  

    The examples that Service Canada has on its website now are unbelievable. The department puts the high end in, and this is another inequality. Here are two examples from its website.
    Mario finds a part-time job making $500 a week, about $30,000 a year, which is not a bad part-time job. Or there is Anna, who is very lucky to find a part-time job and make $790 a week, which is almost $40,000 a year. In my riding, that is a career.
    Service Canada has two groups: the haves and the have-mores. The Conservative government does not care about those Canadians out there who are having trouble finding work, the 7.5% of the population who are unemployed.
    Anyone making under $300 a week over and above their EI benefits is going to feel the impact of these changes and clawbacks. What really drives it home is that according to Statistics Canada, the median weekly income of part-time wage earners is $226. Therefore, anyone under that income is going to feel a harsh negative impact from the changes, and certainly quite a few over that median amount will also be impacted.
    In the agricultural sector, for which we have a lot of western members here, the median income for part-time work is $160 a week. Food and accommodation is about $180 a week. These people are being hard pressed by the actions of the Conservative government.
    I am sure that all members have received correspondence on this issue. I have a letter from a lady who has allowed me to discuss it.
     Rhoda is off on maternity leave. She has a nine-month-old daughter. When she went on maternity leave she was told that she would be able to make $143 a week to supplement her income, and so she did her yearly financial plan around that. Then the rule changes came, and she said that the only notice she received was a confusing letter in July. Now she grosses $143, but after deductions that is down to about $115, and then comes the $71 in clawback provisions. From $143, she ends up with $44. That is the real math of these changes and the impact they are having on Canadian households.
    Again, I can cite the examples used by the minister and the Prime Minister. Yesterday in the House, when our leader asked what the government was doing for the less fortunate and low-income families, the Minister of Foreign Affairs got up and read off a whole list and mentioned, as part of that list, that the working-while-on-claim provisions were helping low-income families. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those provisions are actually hurting the most vulnerable.
    This is what really gets my goat and gets me thinking: Where are the members from rural communities out there? Where are the members who represent ridings where seasonal work and seasonal industries generate regional economies? Why are they not speaking up? Where are the guys from Atlantic Canada? Why are they not speaking up on behalf of their constituents? Why are they not telling the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development that this is wrong, that it has to be changed and that these clawbacks have to be taken out?
    The minister should do this now for the most vulnerable. Let us see them get off their duffs over there and do something for the people of this country.

  (1040)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat disappointed by the tone of the member's statement. I think all members of the House come to this place with the intent of helping people.
    The member was part of a government that ran a massive EI surplus. That was a tax on workers and small business. In fact, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business consistently, in every single one of its publications, has pointed out how the government was siphoning money from EI and putting it into general revenues. The member cannot deny that fact.
    Specifically with respect to the program he has mentioned, he is citing a specific example where the difference appears not to be working out in favour of the worker, but in many cases it does. What we need to understand is that people are always better off by participating in the workforce, whether in a part-time or full-time job. Part-time jobs can often lead to full-time jobs and full-time jobs can lead to better full-time jobs. This is a fact of the workforce. People are simply happier and feel more productive when they are working.
    I looked at the incentives and the clawback that the member talks about. One thing the Liberals never did was to allow people to work while they were on EI. They had a 100% clawback. Perhaps the member would like to speak about that.

  (1045)  

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the advice on setting the tone in the House by the member. It is like leaving the dogs in charge of the meat.
    However, this is the example. He stood there and said that every dollar was clawed back dollar for dollar. That is what I am talking about. The Conservatives cannot fix the problem because they either do not know there is a problem or they will not admit there is a problem. Under the old program, claimants were allowed to make 40% of their EI benefit. If they made $200 as an EI benefit and worked to make an additional $80, they were able to keep that $80. Under this new system, they lose 50% on the dollar right from the first dollar, so they only keep $40 of that $80.
    I am asking someone over there on the front bench to hire a grade 10 math student to figure it out and walk them through it because Canadians are being hurt as his government will not stray from its stupid talking points.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his great speech, not because he is a Liberal but because he is from Cape Breton. I have to give him some credit for having some smart family members.
    The issue of inequality has to be looked at in a much larger perspective than the fact we are in a period of global economic crisis. However, within the crisis we see the Conservative Party using it to its advantage to go after its enemies. My colleague talked about Conservatives seeing only the haves and the have-mores, but it is really about their buddies and their enemies. Those people they see as not being their buddies, they have been systematically undermining, including for example unions and public sector workers, the backbone of the 20th century middle class. There has been a relentless attack on them. They have been called lazy and overpaid, and the government has talked about union bosses, and has been undermining their right to a pension. This was the infrastructure that created the middle class that allowed our grandparents' generation to move up and to get an education.
    The Liberals say they are not into this class war, but it is clear that a war is being declared on working people and on the rights of people. What does my hon. colleague think we need to do about it in the House?
    Mr. Speaker, that is a fair question. I get a bit excited on some of these issues and it would be best to deal with the issues, but there is this overarching problem that we have seen in the House, in this Parliament, with the majority Conservative government that has handcuffed and shackled our ability as members of Parliament to deal with some of these important issues.
    It would have been best if the human resources committee had been able to look at these changes and their impacts on all Canadians, but that is not going to happen under this government. I know that is a great disservice. It is regrettable, but it is a fact of life.
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. From the last discussion, it is obvious that government members do not know how the current or old system worked. I have a paper here by the Library of Parliament that is called “Case studies for the new pilot project, working while on claim”, which explains that. I wonder if I could have unanimous consent to table that report done by independent and non-partisan researchers so that government members would have the benefit of seeing how the system really works.
    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table this document?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Deputy Speaker: There is no consent.
    I would like to thank the member for Toronto Centre for bringing forward this motion to the floor of the House today because it provides an excellent opportunity to highlight the record of our government on combatting poverty.
    It is an inconvenient truth for the members of the third party that poverty has never been lower in Canada than it has been under a Conservative government. Thanks to the strong leadership of our Prime Minister, our government has acted where the Liberals only talked. In 1996, the poverty rate reached the highest level ever in over 40 years in Canada at 15.2%. In 2010, three million Canadians or only 9% of Canada's population lived in poverty. While this number is still too high, we are continuing to act to reduce it. This number represents the lowest percentage in Canada's history and is 32% lower than under the Liberal government. To put this in context, this is 1.3 million Canadians who, under our Conservative government, were lifted out of poverty.
    In 1996, at the peak of poverty in the last 40 years, 16.2% of women were considered to be low income. In 2010, I am pleased to report that the poverty rate among women in Canada dropped to all-time low of 9.3%, a 57% decrease in poverty. When the Liberals took power in 1993, poverty rates were 2.1% higher for women than for men and in 2000, almost a decade later, poverty rates were still 2.1% higher for women than for men. In 2009, under our Conservative government, that gap was erased as women found greater income security under our government.
    Another hard truth for the Liberals is something that I am very passionate about. In 2006, children experienced a higher rate of poverty than adults in Canada. Since 2006 when we formed government, for the first time in Canadian history, children had a lower poverty rate than adults. In 1996 under the previous Liberal government, 18.4% of Canadian children lived in poverty, which was 3.4% higher than working age Canadians. In 2010, this number was cut in half, with 8.2% of children, unfortunately, still living in poverty, a rate which is 1.9% lower than working age Canadians.
    The pattern is very clear. Under the Liberals, there was more child poverty in Canada than under our current government. This is because while the Liberals spent over a decade talking about providing support for Canadian families, they did not deliver. Our government, in the first year, brought in the universal child care benefit, which provided direct financial support to Canadian families, bringing 24,000 families out of poverty.
    In addition to introducing the child tax credit, we have improved the child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement. The Canada child tax benefit helps Canadian families with the costs of raising their children. Low-income families also receive a national child benefit supplement. As a result, low-income families benefit from a tax-free monthly benefit for each child under the age of 18, up to an annual maximum. All of these changes have met with opposition from the parties across the aisle as they voted again and again against helping these Canadian families.
    While on the topic of supporting families, I was a little surprised to see that the Liberals chose to highlight the family caregiver tax credit because it was the Liberals who voted against the creation of this tax credit in the first place. Because of the actions of our government, the typical Canadian family pays $3,100 less each year in taxes than under the previous Liberal government. However, tax cuts and direct financial support can only go so far. We have been clear that the best way to fight poverty is to connect Canadians with jobs.

  (1050)  

[Translation]

    We know that people who remain active on the job market are likely to find a permanent job more quickly. A permanent job is what provides stability and helps improve living conditions.

[English]

    Even in challenging economic times, the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance has created economic opportunities for Canadians. As I have pointed out in the House several times, we have had the strongest employment record among the G7. Canada is the envy of our economic peers, with over 770,000 net new jobs.
    We are dealing with the reality of an aging population, coupled with robust economic growth in our natural resources industry, creating labour shortages in several regions of the country. These shortages are already acute in many regions and they will only continue to increase. According to Statistics Canada, more than a quarter of a million jobs were unfilled last spring. Our government's goal is to get as many Canadians working as possible and if they lose their jobs, we want them to return to work as quickly as possible.
    Over the last several months, our government has announced new common sense measures to ensure that EI is fair, flexible and responsive to the needs of Canadians. EI is designed to be a form of temporary income support while claimants actively look for a job. It is certainly not intended to discourage people from trying to get back into the job market.
    It has been found in study after study that a person can find a permanent job more rapidly if they continue to be active in the labour market by looking for work or by working, even part time or casually. The working while on claim pilot promotes workforce attachment by encouraging claimants to accept available work while receiving EI benefits and earning some additional income while on claim. This applies to receiving regular benefits, fishing, parental and compassionate care benefits.
    This is a pilot project. This is not a permanent change but an opportunity to test whether we can encourage unemployed Canadians to work while they are on claim. These changes are about empowering unemployed workers and helping them get back into the workforce. We believe that most Canadians would rather have a permanent job than spend longer periods of time on employment insurance.
    Our government has also made historic investments in skills and training for Canadians. Sadly, the Liberal record has been to vote in opposition to all of these job creation initiatives. These include the youth employment strategy, the EI hiring credit, the apprenticeship incentives, targeted initiatives for older workers and the tool tax credit.
    While we are on the topic of education, it should be noted that the default rates on student loans have dropped to the lowest levels ever. This is because our government in 2009 created the repayment assistance plan. Through this program we provide students the flexibility they need to manage their debt by paying back what they can reasonably afford.
    I also want to take a moment, while we are talking about education, to correct the member for Toronto Centre. The government does not make a profit from student loan interest rates. Student loans are funded through government bonds, and the interest rate is set on a yearly basis on a break-even ratio.
    In addition to this, with respect to supporting students, we announced on January 1 of this year that part-time students will no longer actually pay interest on loans and grants, and in budget 2011, we provided loan forgiveness for students, particularly those who are seeking new family physician residencies or nursing positions in remote areas. Finally, we have extended the grants program for students. Over 290,000 students benefit from this program, almost double what it was under the Liberals.
    In conclusion, as I demonstrated earlier, poverty levels have been reduced to historic lows under our government. Default rates on student loans have dropped to the lowest levels ever under any government. The simple truth is that Canadians are better off with a strong, stable, majority Conservative government.
    I encourage the member of Parliament for Toronto Centre to admit that his party was wrong and agree that there should be some support for our action plan. I encourage all members of the House to support the tangible results of this government and to vote against this motion in the House of Commons.

  (1055)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech and I thank her for it. However, aside from parading a whole series of very limited one-offs, a so-called “clientelistic” approach—which is this government's trademark—she has not brought much to this debate.
    I will focus on employment insurance. I am not embarrassed to say that, a few months before I was elected, I was receiving employment insurance after a number of my contracts ended and while I was waiting for a new one. I must say that at that time, the benefits I was receiving were very good, since I had left an excellent job at the end of my last contract.
    It is no secret that the new measures adopted by the government will drastically restrict opportunities for workers in any income category and, obviously, primarily those who have very low incomes, which, I repeat, was not my case.
    I know from talking with the public and I remember very well that one of the biggest challenges of being between jobs is being able to qualify for a new job. A person has to be able to eat properly, buy new clothes, groom themselves and take care of themselves to be able to be ready to meet a potential employer.
    In light of the measures she presented, how does the member expect to give unemployed workers a chance to integrate into the working world?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the track record for this government is very clear. We have created 770,000 net new jobs since the downturn in the recession in July 2009.
    The record for the opposition is also very clear, whether it be the NDP or the Liberals. Opposition members have voted against every initiative put forward by this government to help those individuals who are unemployed, whether that be the targeted initiative for older workers, the EI hiring tax credit, or making sure there were apprenticeship grants and initiatives available to young Canadians.
    The opposition's track record is very clear. It voted against these.
    We are about creating jobs. The opposition is not.

  (1100)  

    Mr. Speaker, my friend and colleague cited a couple of stats from 1993, so we will have a little trip back to 1993 and put those stats into some kind of context.
    When the Liberal government came to power in 1993, it was taking over from the Brian Mulroney Conservative government. Interest rates were 12.5%, inflation was double digits, the unemployment rate was 12.5%, the stand-alone EI fund had been bankrupted and it was the Auditor General who made the Liberal government put the EI fund into general revenue so it could administer it.
    I know the member is a smart person. She has been referred to as a brilliant surgeon. I sit with her on committee and she is a quick study, so does the member's party not understand the math or is it wilfully not wanting to help those low-income earners? It is either the math or just no will to help those low-income earners.
    Mr. Speaker, we do have some interesting comments in debate with respect to committee, so I appreciate the member opposite's question.
    To be clear, there have been a number of initiatives, as I just mentioned, that this government has moved forward on to ensure that individuals who are unemployed have an opportunity to reattach themselves to the workforce. The best way to fight poverty is to ensure an individual has a job. The initiatives that this government has taken in economic action plans 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 have all acted to help Canadians find jobs. Whether it be the targeted initiative for older workers, helmets to hard hats, or apprenticeship grants, these are all opportunities for Canadians to find employment and that is exactly where we are going to be focused.
    Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in the House to talk about the great work our Conservative government has been doing to support Canadian families across Canada.
    As a government, we have taken many measures to help families, and in particular, low-income families, and have made significant gains in reducing poverty in Canada.
    The numbers are quite staggering. In 1996 the poverty rate was 15.2% under the Liberals. In 2010, under the Conservative government, it was 9%. Clearly, we are doing something right when we have achieved the lowest percentage of poverty in Canadian history.
    Another hard truth for the Liberals is that before 2006 children experienced a higher rate of poverty than adults in Canada. After 2006, when we formed government, for the first time in history, children had a lower poverty rate than adults.
    In 1996, under the Liberals, 18.4% of children lived in poverty. In 2010 this number was cut in half, with 8.2% of children considered to be living in poverty, a rate which is 1.9% lower than working age Canadians. Since 2006, there are 225,000 less children in poverty than under the Liberals.
    As we all know, the only way to permanently solve poverty is to create jobs and economic growth.
     Our government has encouraged private sector sustained through various policy initiatives.
    First, we encouraged employers to create jobs by investing in programs, to provide small and medium-sized businesses with the workforce they need to promote growth and contribute to our country's economic stability. We have taken steps to ensure that Canadians have the skills and training required to take advantage of the job opportunities they need to achieve self-sufficiency.
    One of the ways we do this is by investing significant funds annually in labour market and labour market development agreements with the provinces and territories, which help train over 750,000 each year.
    We have a number of other initiatives that pave the way for diverse groups of Canadians to participate in the economy.
     We are reaching out to youth through our youth employment strategy, skills link, career focus and Canada summer jobs and through apprenticeship grants. In fact, in Canada's economic action plan 2012, we announced a significant increase in the amount we would invest in the youth employment strategy over the next two years. This investment will connect to young Canadians with jobs that are in high demand by helping them develop the skills and gain the experience they need.
    We are reaching out to the men and women who have lost their jobs due to the recent economic downturn. We are giving them a hand up, not a handout, and offering to retrain them for the jobs of tomorrow.
    As our economy emerges from the recession, our next challenge will be to address the growing skills and labour shortage that is emerging in parts of our country.
    Work-sharing has been a great success. I am happy to say that fewer and fewer companies need to take advantage of it. Through this program, employers were able to keep their employees on the job, while they recovered from the economic downturn.
    One of the items I am most excited about is the progress our government has made in speeding up the recognition of foreign credentials. Over the past several years, our government has been funding national organizations to develop standards for credential recognition, as well as programs to evaluate credentials more quickly.
    The government has also introduced a number of initiatives to help aboriginal Canadians succeed in the labour force. Our ASETS program is helping between 14,000 and 16,000 aboriginals connect with jobs across the country.
    Our Conservative government believes that persons with disabilities should have the same opportunities as other Canadians to obtain and maintain employment or to become self-employed. That is why we are improving accessibility to the workplace for people with disabilities by supporting training and skills development funded through the opportunities fund.

  (1105)  

    Under our economic action plan, the government has dedicated an unprecedented amount to help Canadian workers over the last two years. Sadly, we have witnessed the parties across the way vote against every one of these measures.
    There are 770,000 more Canadians who are working today than when the recession ended. As a result, Canada boasts the strongest rate of employment growth among the G7 countries. Canada remains a pillar of stability in an increasingly fragile global economy.
    Because of the tax breaks we provide to families, the average family now pays $3,100 less each year in taxes compared to when the Liberals were in power.
    We can measure the effects that our policies have had on reducing child poverty. As I stated earlier, there are 225,000 fewer children in poverty than when we took office in 2006. That is the Conservative record on helping the most vulnerable in our society.
    The working income tax benefit supplements the earnings of low-income families. This one initiative alone was expected to help 1.5 million Canadians and working families across the country in 2011. Our government brought in the universal child care benefit, which provides all families with up to $1,200 per year per child for each child under the age of six to help cover their child care costs.
    We have ensured that single-parent families are able to transfer their universal child care benefit amount to a dependant for tax purposes, ensuring in most cases that this money is not taxed.
    In addition to introducing the child tax credit, we have improved the Canada child tax benefit and the national child benefit supplement. The Canada child tax benefit helps Canadian families with the cost of raising their children. Low-income families also receive a national child benefit supplement. As a result, low-income families benefit from a tax-free monthly benefit for each child under the age of 18, up to an annual maximum.
     Low to middle-income families that have children with disabilities can expect additional help. Our government has also brought in measures to allow parents a choice in how savings are set aside for the future of their children. Choices and flexibility are the keys for families as costs related to coping with a disability can prevent families from contributing on a regular basis to a savings plan.
    Our Conservative government has repeatedly shown its commitment to supporting families through significant EI measures as well. Foster parents now have access to parental benefits once a child has been placed with them for the purpose of adoption, instead of waiting until the legal proceedings were complete.
    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.
    Self-employed persons are now able to opt in to the EI program to receive maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits.
    As for military families, they now have improved access to parental benefits to ensure that a tour of duty overseas does not deprive them of the opportunity to bond with their newborn child.
    In order to always better support Canadian families, the government has moved forward with the introduction of the helping Canadian families in need bill, which would create a new EI special benefit for parents of critically ill children and flexibility of access to sickness benefits for parents who become ill while receiving EI parental benefits.
    The government also recognizes that many Canadian families are taking on caregiving responsibility for dependent relatives. In 2009 we created the family caregiver tax credit to provide tax relief to caregivers of the relatives, be they aging parents, minor children, spouses or common-law parents. Sadly, the Liberal Party voted against creating this much-needed tax credit.
    Our government will continue to remain focused on jobs, growth and economic prosperity. Unlike the opposition, we will not put forward reckless economic policies such as a job-killing carbon tax that would raise the price of everything.
    We reject the Liberal record of much talk and no action. Our economic action plan is working to reduce poverty in Canada. We invite all members to support the government in achieving historic successes in reducing poverty in Canada. That is why our government will not be supporting the opposition motion.

  (1110)  

    Mr. Speaker, with only one job available for every five unemployed workers in our country and with only four out of ten unemployed workers getting EI benefits, we have seen that unemployment is persistently high, it is not coming down and yet the government continues the practice of the previous Liberal government in using EI funds to balance budgets, at the same time restricting access to EI.
    Could the member explain why his government is increasing inequality by denying workers access to basic EI benefits for which they have already paid?
    Mr. Speaker, let us look at the facts. While the opposition talks, we are acting to help Canadians families. Over 770,000 new jobs have been created since the end of the recession. Also, this government has made unprecedented investment in skills training, post-secondary education and student financial assistance to provide Canadians with skills they need today and in the future.
    Mr. Speaker, I accept the invitation of my hon. colleague to look at the facts. I am looking at the low income cutoff published by Statistics Canada, which peaked in about 1996, something like 16% of persons, and went down to about 10% by the time the Conservative government took over in 2006. It has gone down a little since then, but most of the decrease occurred after a few years of a Liberal government.
    I would like to contest the government speakers who have criticized the Liberal record. In fact, the decrease in poverty that we have seen in Canada has come about during a Liberal government. The speakers on the Conservative side are really distorting the facts and are not looking at them. In addition, they are ignoring that this debate is about income inequality. We should be looking at the Gini coefficient, which is a numerical measure of income inequality. It is a measure of how much the tide is raising just the yachts and not everyone else's boats.
    I would like my hon. colleague to retract his criticism of the Liberal government because it is not true.

  (1115)  

    Mr. Speaker, the fact is that since 2003, there are 225,000 fewer children in poverty if we compare it with the Liberals. We enhanced the national child tax benefit, which unfortunately the Liberal Party and the member voted against. The low income rate for female children under the age of 18 in lone parent families has dropped from 56% under the Liberals in 1996 to 21.8% in 2010, and the member and his party voted against it.
    Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to offer you congratulations on your new role.
    We have a look at the facts, so I would like to look at the overall rate of low-income earners that has declined significantly under our government. It is down from 15.2% in 1996 to 9% in 2010.
    When the leader of the Liberal Party gave his speech and talked about many of the measures, he was asked a very specific question about the costs. He really had no answer.
    Would my hon. colleague talk about that and the fact that many of the things the Liberals talk about are measures that we have introduced and the Liberals have voted against them, such as the family caregiver tax credit?
    Mr. Speaker, we need to realize the facts. The reality is that the Liberals' policy has been tax and spend. The fact is that an average family now pays over $3,000 less in taxes than when the Liberals were in power and the incidence of poverty is at an historic low. The unfortunate part is that all members of the Liberal Party voted against all of the measures this government took.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to this motion on income inequality. I will splitting my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Hochelaga.
    Inequality is another inconvenient truth of our era. Its growth is every bit as unsustainable for our communities, businesses and economy as climate change. If we cannot reduce it, it will hobble growth and opportunity for the next generation.
    We cannot afford to misuse our economic strengths in this way. Canada is among the most fortunate of nations, with the 10th largest economy in the world. We have the resources, natural, economic and financial, to create the kind of society that we want. We can afford to share our prosperity. The good news is that shared prosperity leads to more prosperity. Greater equality is not a trade-off but an investment into our future.
     Income inequality remains one of the most serious challenges our country faces today and has been on the rise in Canada for the past 20 years. We in the NDP welcome all efforts to reduce, not accelerate, income inequality. We are glad that the Liberals are finally on board and we appreciate the suggestions in this motion.
    However, what needs to be done is not just embroidering the cloth but repairing the fraying fabric of our society.
    Sadly, the Liberals presided over increased income inequality while they were in power during the 1990s and 2000s and they have consistently supported Conservative budgets that have led us down the wrong path.
    We welcome this opportunity to spend today debating this motion. It is an important issue that gets far too little attention in the House and from the government.
    Our former colleague, Tony Martin, has made reducing inequality his life's work, including when he was in the House, and we miss him.

  (1120)  

[Translation]

    Here are some facts. Most Canadians' real income has been stagnant for several years. Over a period of 33 years, average income rose by just 5.5%. According to the Conference Board of Canada, income inequality is increasing more rapidly in Canada than in the United States.

[English]

    The Conference Board of Canada recently gave Canada a C grade for incoming inequality and ranked us 12 out of 17 peer countries. The OECD has noted that Canada's level of inequality is now above the OECD average.
    Much of the increase in inequality is being driven by income gains by the top 1%. The richest 1% of Canadians saw their share of total income increase from 8.1% in 1980 to 13.3% in 2007. The richest 1% in Canada took home almost one-third of all growth in incomes between 1998 and 2007, at the expense and to the detriment of other income groups.
    At the same time, unemployment and economic growth are highly divergent across this country. Over 43% of unemployed Canadians live in Ontario alone. This increase in inequality has serious implications for Canadian families.
    Household debt has reached record highs, suppressing demand and hindering economic growth.
    Lars Osberg at Dalhousie University argues that:
    Over the 1981 to 2006 period, the life experience of most Canadian families changed--the “new normal” has been that entering cohorts of young workers earned less in real terms than their parents’ generation did at a comparable age.
    Our young people are also facing high unemployment. The unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 24 is more than double the national average at 14.8%. This means that there are 400,000 youth in Canada who are looking for work and cannot find it.
    Women, aboriginal people, racialized communities and recent immigrants also suffer from disproportionate poverty relative to other Canadians. Such inequality has serious societal consequences.
    A 2009 groundbreaking book on inequality by British scholars, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, empirically demonstrates that inequality, more than GNP, has a significant impact on a range of social indicators, including health outcomes such as average life expectancy and other measures of human development such as rates of literacy, teenage pregnancy or incarceration.
    This is not the legacy that we should be leaving to the next generation. However, rather than taking action to correct these imbalances, the government has chosen to pursue an austerity agenda that has only exacerbated them.
    The first thing we should do is support Canada's middle-class, not attack it. We should not stand idly by when giant corporations cut half the pay of workers or the workers lose their jobs, as in the case at Caterpillar. We should not intervene in private sector collective bargaining to force lower wages than even the employer was prepared to offer at the bargaining table, such as at Canada Post and Air Canada. We should not happily ship value-added jobs out of the country to the U.S. or China by focusing on exports of bitumen rather than upgrading resources right here at home in Canada.
    We need to raise the floor, not lower it, by increasing the low wage, low skill sector of the economy with temporary foreign workers and instead sanction employers who pay them less than Canadians doing the same work.
    In an era of increasing inequality, the government's attack on OAS, GIS and employment insurance, along with reckless cuts to the services Canadians rely on, is only adding to the problem.
    When the Liberal and Conservative governments plundered the EI fund of billions of dollars and then told unemployed Canadians that they would have to accept lower benefits, that was simply unacceptable.
    The Conservative government continues to promote a “you must accept less” doctrine for the vast majority but a “the sky's the limit” approach for the high rollers.

  (1125)  

[Translation]

    Before the mid-1990s, Canada's tax benefit system stabilized inequality as effectively as systems in Nordic countries, offsetting over 70% of the increase in income inequality.
    However, redistribution has become less effective since then. The OECD has noted that taxation and benefits now offset less than 40% of the increase in inequality.
    The Conservatives put a lot of stock in the economic spinoff approach to wealth distribution, claiming that higher incomes for the rich will eventually trickle down to the rest of us.
    However, tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthiest Canadians have resulted in growing income inequality, stagnant economic growth and a higher unemployment rate.
    Income inequality is a serious problem with serious consequences, and Canadians want us to do something about it.
    According to an EKOS poll, income inequality is Canadians' primary concern.

[English]

    If we cannot reduce equality, it will hobble growth and opportunity for the next generation.
     Instead of tilting the playing field increasingly to the advantage of the most powerful and affluent in our society, we need a government that takes a first “do no harm” approach.
    Rather than eliminating the deficit even faster than promised so that the government can introduce new tax cuts that will benefit Canada's most affluent households, it needs to invest in the services and programs that Canadians want and need right now.
    We need strong, balanced job creation right across Canada and a living wage, including for all contracts and procurements with the federal government.
    Sadly, in Canada we have seen weak leadership that has turned its back on the daily struggles of most Canadians, but we can change that. Canadians can count on the New Democrats to work for a future where Canada is prosperous for all and where no one is left behind.
    Mr. Speaker, the member is very genuine in her desire to have a positive impact on the lives of Canadians. However, it is one thing to talk in platitudes about how we would achieve these things or what we would like to see but we need to see some ironclad measures put on the table as to how she would seek to achieve the lofty goals that she has set. I think we would all like to see higher wages in Canada. I think we would all like to see Canadians earning more, doing better and in a stronger personal financial situation but we also have the reality of the global financial difficulties that we are witnessing.
    I would just like to see some concrete measures put on the table. What concrete proposals would my colleague and her party propose to achieve what she is suggesting?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said very clearly in my speech, the first basic tenet should be “do no harm”. Rather than the serious cuts the government has already made, which are impacting Canadians across the country, the cutting of services and taking people, who currently get more benefits, to a position of reduced or, in some cases, no EI benefits, we should stop doing that. We need to continue to invest in the services and programs that Canadians want and need.
    Yes, we do need to deal with reducing the deficit but we do not need to be as aggressive and accelerate even the government's own measures and own timeframes for deficit reduction. We are seeing that is increasing inequality. Ultimately, if the government uses those gains to create new tax measures that benefit only the people at the top, it will increase inequality.

  (1130)  

    Mr. Speaker, after the famous announcements the Conservatives made in the spring on the clawbacks to EI recipients, we have seen many cases all through the summer and early fall.
    What I am seeing right now are a lot of seasonal employers, and not just seasonal employers but hospitals and schools that need seasonal help. They will find it very difficult to get part-time employees to come in for one day during winter hours. The clawback is not only a detriment to poorer people but it will be a detriment to industries and businesses that cannot get people to come in for that one day. What will happen next spring when these businesses are in jeopardy?
    Will the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park vote against the clawback measurement in EI? Could she explain how it is hurting businesses or institutions in her riding?
    Mr. Speaker, I know that in the member's riding and region of the country many seasonal workers are seriously affected by these changes. These changes disproportionately hurt those at the lower end of the income scale. Of course there are regions of Canada where there are more seasonal workers and, therefore, those regions are disproportionately affected.
    The hon. member asked me directly about my riding of Parkdale—High Park. We also have people who work seasonally in the tourist industry and in the arts and cultural sector who do not get full-time full-year work. They, too, are negatively affected by these changes. The clawback seriously hurts far too many Canadians, especially those who can afford it least, those at the lowest end of the income scale.
    Mr. Speaker, Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, points out that there are $580 billion of what he calls “dead money” sitting in the bank accounts of corporate Canada because there is no incentive for it to move it back into the economy. The government has failed to set up clear drivers to ensure investment and job training.
    Given the fact that the government has made tax cuts across the board year after year with no planned investment of how that would be redirected into the economy, how does the member feel about the $580 billion of dead money sitting in bank accounts which could actually kickstart the economy at this time?
    Mr. Speaker, if companies feel economic insecurity, they will not be investing. It just shows the failure of the approach of the present government and the previous Liberal government to not tie any tax reductions to specific job creation, innovation or economic stimulus, and we are feeling the impact of that now. It is creating a sluggish economy. Unemployment remains high. We know we can do much better with measures that are tied to job creation. That is what an NDP government would do.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Liberals' motion raises some points that are worth discussing. It is true that recent changes to employment insurance have hurt low-income workers. It is also true that non-refundable tax credits for caregivers cannot even be used by many people because their income is too low to take advantage of the tax deductions. And it is quite true that income inequality is growing in Canada. In fact, the gap in Canada is greater than in the United States. The Conservatives are rather silent about this, perhaps because they dare not admit that it is true. However, the changes called for in the Liberal motion barely scratch the surface of the problem. It is a good start, but we need much more profound changes in our society, as my colleague mentioned earlier.
    I could criticize the government for all its measures with which I disagree, but as a member of the NDP I want to do politics differently. As our friend Jack often said, we want to work together. Therefore, rather than blaming the Conservatives, I would like to suggest some things we could do to help the most disadvantaged, measures that are compassionate, but that would also benefit the country financially. That is something they should like.
    The motion we are debating today talks about reducing income inequality between the richest and the poorest. Let us talk a little bit about the neediest of the needy, those who do not even have a roof over their heads.
    A recent study by Stephen Gaetz entitled The real cost of homelessness asks an intriguing question: can we save money by doing the right thing? It seems that a number of studies in Canada and the United States show that investing in prevention costs less, in the end, than using a patchwork of emergency solutions. Furthermore, we would be acting very compassionately. For example, the homeless are more poorly nourished and more stressed, often are the victims of violence or accidents, and do not sleep as well. The homeless are three and a half times more likely to have asthma than an average person, four times more likely to have cancer and five times more likely to have heart disease. In addition, they are 20 times more likely to have epilepsy and 29 times more likely to contract hepatitis C.
    According to Michael Shapcott, from the Wellesley Institute in Toronto, in 2007, the monthly cost of a hospital bed was $10,900. Comparatively, the cost of a shelter bed was $1,932. Even better, the cost of a social housing bed in Toronto, where rent is not the cheapest in Canada, was $199.92. You do not have to be good at math to see that the best solution is rather obvious, in both economic and human terms.
    A homeless person is also at a higher risk of ending up in prison. In fact, according to a study by Kellen and others in 2010, approximately one in five inmates was homeless at the time of being incarcerated. According to Statistics Canada, in 2008-09, the average yearly cost of incarceration for a male was $106,583, and was $203,061 for a female. I highly doubt that subsidized housing for one of these people, even including support workers, would have cost the government as much.
    So yes, I agree with Mr. Gaetz: we can save money while still doing good. Secure, affordable, adapted, adequate and safe housing helps prevent a lot of problems. It is an intelligent way to effect profound changes in society, not only for the homeless, but also for everyone. Everyone should have the right to adequate housing without having to destroy themselves financially.
    Many families and individuals have a hard time making ends meet because they earn a pittance, because they are ill, because they are retired and living on a fixed income, because they are young and are having a hard time finding a first job, or because they are students.

  (1135)  

    It is mainly these people who see the gap between their incomes and those of the wealthy getting wider every year.
    Yes, we must ensure that employment insurance is fair for everyone, including those who cannot find full-time work and who will lose out with the new clawback mechanism established by the Conservatives. By the way, the presumption that everyone can find full-time work is false.
    At the museum where I worked for 19 years, there were only three guides who had full-time jobs because of the nature of the work. The other 17 worked part-time. Jobs are becoming increasingly precarious, particularly in seasonal industries such as tourism and education. Many workers in these industries are women or young people who have less chance of success from the outset.
    Yes, we must also ensure that caregivers can benefit from tax credits, even and particularly those who do not make enough money during the year to be able to take advantage of tax deductions. Once again, many of the people in these circumstances are women. Nonetheless, I am going to say it again: we need to take things much further than this motion.
    Why not make the housing renovation programs permanent rather than providing temporary programs that leave something to be desired? With doors and windows that do not leak, heating systems would use less energy, and people would have lower heating bills and more money to spend on other things. There would also be more jobs available in the area of renovation.
    Why not renew the agreements between the CMHC and social housing projects for buildings that need to be renovated or for those that cannot continue to provide subsidized housing once their mortgage expires?
    Why not allow housing co-operatives that are trying to find another source of funding to end their agreement with the CMHC before the set end date without extremely restrictive penalties? This would allow them to find the money they need to do major renovations that cannot wait and that they do not have the means to do given their existing agreement with the CMHC.
    Why not invest a portion of the CMHC's profits in new social housing, in conjunction with the provinces and territories, of course? People wait years for social and community housing. In the meantime, all of the money they spend on rent, which costs them much more than 25% of their income, could be helping other sectors of the economy. That money could also help them avoid having to choose between buying food or paying the rent. In the end, it would be better for the government too.
    Why not bring back the 19.5% tax rate for big corporations, a rate that is, after all, still lower than that in the United States and that would give the government the money it needs to offer services to those who need them most? That money could be reinvested in housing and the fight against poverty.
    I should point out that the NDP has repeatedly asked the House to adopt a national anti-poverty strategy. Maybe it is time for that now. All of these suggestions would help reduce the gap that is widening at an alarming rate between rich and poor in Canada.
    Yes, I will support the Liberal motion this evening, but the House should also support bills introduced by my NDP colleagues, such as Bill C-241 and Bill C-400, which would guarantee all Canadians the right to decent, affordable housing so that they do not have to do without other essentials.
    I hope that the members of all parties will set aside partisanship and support these important bills when the time comes to vote on them in the House. Forward-thinking, human policies like these are the only way to tackle growing inequality in our society.

  (1140)  

    Mr. Speaker, I really appreciated my colleague's speech. That is really how a speech should be done; you have to be able to suggest changes. We want people to have access to employment insurance, but we would much rather that they had well-paying jobs. That is our position.
    The Liberals—this is their motion—are trying to defend employment insurance and low-income and seasonal workers who are affected by this government's policies. However, we must not forget that, under previous Liberal governments, we had a real surplus of money.
    Could my colleague perhaps explain what happened to that surplus? And could she also explain why, under those previous Liberal governments and the current government, fewer people have access to employment insurance when they are in greater need of it?

  (1145)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her kind comment.
    Let us talk about the employment insurance fund: $57 billion was taken from the fund in the past merely to pad the government coffers. The Conservatives and the Liberals were trying to balance their own budgets using money that was paid into the fund by workers and employers. The money in this fund does not belong to the government. Because they did this, we now have less money to pay people who need employment insurance benefits. No one likes receiving employment insurance, but there are some people who have no other choice.
    What the Conservatives are proposing now is penalizing people who have lower salaries and those who cannot work full-time. In my opinion, the old method and the current method should be combined to ensure that people who are able to receive a higher salary benefit from the program, but also to ensure that people who do not benefit from the program can choose to combine the two programs in order to take advantage of the calculation that would be most beneficial to them.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, respectfully, I cannot understand how the NDP can speak against all the good changes our government has made to help Canadians get back to work. A fine example of that hypocrisy is the NDP's decision to vote against a ways and means motion to introduce a bill to support Canadian parents whose children are either murdered, missing, or critically ill.
    Why does the member opposite refuse to vote to support these Canadian families most in need?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would not say that everything is bad in every bill, motion or budget proposed by the Conservatives. However, when we do not agree on certain things, when we find certain things so bad that we cannot vote in favour of them, then we will oppose them.
    With the last budget, the Conservatives were always accusing us of opposing something or some bill, of voting against the poor, against the disadvantaged, against a lot of things, apparently.
    Voting in favour of a budget is like voting in favour of a collective agreement. In a budget, there are things we agree with and other things we do not agree with. However, we must vote on the bill as a whole. Either we refuse it all and try to work on it or we accept it all. When we do not agree with an important part of a bill, we reject it.
    Mr. Speaker, I cannot hide how pleased I am to see you for the first time in the Chair.
    First, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Hochelaga for her excellent speech, and I would like to ask her two questions.
    In general, inequalities are increasing in Canada, faster than in the United States. During the same period, under Liberal and Conservative governments, the corporate tax rate dropped from 28% to 15% between 2000 and 2012. Canadians did not see their own personal income tax rate go down as much. The government no longer has this revenue to redistribute wealth and to offer social programs.
    In addition, how can the Conservatives tell us today that an unemployed person will lose 50% of any income from a second job as of their very first hour of work? How can they say that this constitutes progress or help for the unemployed?
    Mr. Speaker, I will answer the first question about the corporate tax rate. As I mentioned in my speech, increasing the rate to 19.5% is the right thing to do. Corporations would still be paying less than the U.S. rate. This would give us more room to manoeuvre to help the most disadvantaged.
    As for the second question, I must say that I have forgotten what it was. But, in any event, I would not have had time to respond.

  (1150)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the Liberal motion introduced by the leader of the Liberal Party. I will share my time with the member for Malpeque.
    Just to refresh the memory of those who will be listening or those here in the House today, I will speak to the motion, which says:
    That the House call on the government to take several simple and immediate actions to reduce the growing income inequality in Canada including: (a) a roll back of its recent Employment Insurance Premium hikes which inflict a higher relative burden on low to modest income workers; (b) ending the punitive new claw back of Employment Insurance benefits that are discouraging many Canadians from working while on claim; (c) making tax credits, such as the Family Caregiver Tax Credit, refundable so that low income Canadians are not excluded; (d) making the Registered Disability Savings Plan available to sufferers of chronic diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis; and (e) removing interest charges from the federal component of student loans.
    Anyone listening to our concerns and those we have spelled out in our opposition day motion can clearly see that this is meant to address the income inequality in our country. We have been hearing from Canadians from coast to coast to coast who have been impacted by the changes that the Conservative government has implemented since it was elected. The irony in all of this is that when the government came to power there was a $14 billion surplus and that surplus was squandered in the first year that the Conservatives were in power. Now all of a sudden, we see they are coming up with all these initiatives that are harmful to low- and middle-income Canadians.
    It is a government that increased the deficit in its first couple of years. Even before there was a recession or it would admit to a recession, it increased the deficit by $56 billion. What have the Conservatives done? In the six years they have been in power, they have increased the country's debt by $100 billion. This does not make sense. Then we turn around and watch as the government gives large corporations tax breaks to the tune of a savings of $6 billion annually, all at the same time as we see low- and middle-income people suffering at the hands of the government and the decisions it has taken.
    I can cite examples where the new rules concerning the working while on claim project are having a detrimental impact on Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
    It is not just in Atlantic Canada. As members know, my riding is in Newfoundland and Labrador but this impacts not only Atlantic Canadians. This impacts those who have to avail themselves of EI while on maternity leave or while giving compassionate care to sick relatives. This is not just about people who work in seasonal industries, although they are impacted too. This whole change to the employment insurance program, which came about without any consultation, is a serious issue.
    In fact, people tell us they got their cheque and it was less than what they were expecting and they had no knowledge of why that was the case. I have had people tell me that if the government is going to take 50¢ from the very first dollar they earn and they get half of what their paycheque should be, then they take into account all the expenses associated with going to work, whether child care, transportation costs or whatever those expenses may be, they wonder where the incentive is for them to take part-time work or to look for full-time work because the government is going to penalize them for doing so. It is not right. Unless meaningful action is taken, the gap between the rich and the poor in our country will continue to increase.
    According to the Conference Board of Canada, an independent economic research organization, income inequality has increased over the last 20 years. We do not need the government making it even worse for low- and middle-income earners.

  (1155)  

    It is not just the issues that I spelled out as topics of our opposition day motion, but there are also the issues of fleet separation and owner-operated policies that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, although it would not say so, was contemplating getting rid of. Independent fishermen, who are not wealthy, really need these policies in place to continue to fish as independent fishermen and sell their product to whomever they can. However, if the government had done away with those policies, it would have meant that large corporations would have been able to fish the same product, and there is no way that the independent fishermen could compete with these large corporations.
     This is what we see with the Conservative government. We see the focus continually on helping the wealthy get wealthier while we see low-income and middle earners being penalized.
    People are getting discouraged. They do not know whether they should even complain about it because no one seems to be listening. This is why, as the Liberal opposition here in the House of Commons, we felt it was absolutely essential that we come forward with this motion today to try and impress upon the government how important it is to reconsider some of the policies that it has implemented.
    We have asked the Minister of Human Resources to review some of these polices. However, it would appear from her responses to questions raised with respect to the working while on claim project that the government either does not understand the implications or refuses to acknowledge that this is happening. Maybe this is what they intended to do from the very beginning.
    We say, “Where there is a will there is a way”. We have said this time and time again in the House of Commons and Canadians have been writing to us to, please, get the message across. If the Conservatives are listening at all, not just to us but to Canadians who are being negatively impacted by this, and they are now aware of the negative impact this new policy is having on Canadians then they can change it. There is no harm in admitting that a mistake was made, especially if it would be to the benefit of Canadians.
    There are so many measures that the government is taking that are totally unnecessary. One is increasing the number of MPs in the House of Commons. When I think of an additional 30 members of Parliament with all the costs associated with that and then I hear from people in my riding who are having difficulty making ends meet, it just does not make sense.
     We have to question the priorities of a government that cannot seem to relate to Canadians who are having difficulty with the pressures that are put on them on a daily basis with the increased cost of living, post-secondary education, raising a young family and mortgage rates. If the government cannot relate, and that would appear to be the situation with the present government, then we see the wealthy getting wealthier and the low- and middle-income earners making less.
    My riding is predominantly a rural riding where people try to make ends meet. In a lot of cases, they are able to get seasonal work and they work very hard. They want to work full time, year in and year out, but if the work is not available they will do the seasonal work, which is also important because there are employers who have seasonal industries. If the people are not available to work in those industries then that becomes an issue. The industry suffers as do the individuals who cannot avail themselves of the jobs.

  (1200)  

    We have to change our focus. The Conservative government has to starting thinking about those who really need support in our country and be there for them.
    Mr. Speaker, I was in my colleague's riding this summer. I happened to locate my husband's relatives and we camped in that area.
    I want to talk about employment insurance. We know that under her party's government, as well as governments preceding and following, there has been a decline in people being able to access employment insurance. We think this is to the detriment of workers and a direct result of the policies that those governments put in place.
    On the Conservative side of the House we keep hearing about the 770,000 jobs that have been created, but what the government does not tell us is how many good-paying jobs have been lost and how many of these jobs have been taken over by temporary foreign workers. I am wondering if she shares the same concern, that the jobs being created are low-income and that some have been taken over by temporary foreign workers.
    Mr. Speaker, I am glad my hon. colleague was able to make it to Random—Burin—St. George's, which, in my opinion, happens to be the best riding in the country.
    Having said that, I share her concern with respect to jobs. While the government talks about the thousands of jobs it has created, unfortunately, we are seeing high-paying jobs being cut, like scientists, for example. We hear the outcry from scientists all the time that there are no longer jobs available for them because the government does not want to hear facts. The government will hire people without regard to whether they are low- or middle-income earners and that is the problem this country is having.
    The Minister of Finance talked about the job cuts he was having to make and that the majority of them would be in the centre. Guess what? That is not the case. PSAC is saying that has not happened and, in fact, the majority of these jobs are being cut throughout the country. Once again, the rural areas of Canada are suffering while the centre continues to prosper.
    Mr. Speaker, I am worried about next year. Over the last few months, we have heard from the people who are being clawed back and now we are hearing about businesses and institutions that are going to be in really bad shape because of what is going to happen with their employees who used to work for them all year and will now be working for them for a day. It is going to have an impact on fish plants, schools and hospitals.
    My question to her is this. In her riding and province, is this going to have a detrimental impact on the institutions and businesses so that they go out of business or may not be able to function the following year without the people they used to employ?
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague can certainly relate to what is going on in his province just as I can relate to what is going on in mine.
    We hear over and over from employers who operate seasonal businesses that the rules that have changed under the Conservative government are having a detrimental impact. If people are being forced to move away to work, that means seasonal businesses will not be able to find employees. That is a serious issue because the economic base for a lot of small communities is seasonal industries. People are going to be forced to move to Alberta where they can get full-time employment instead of being able to do what needs to be done from a seasonal industry perspective and then find other jobs to supplement that. Everyone wants to work. No one wants to be on employment insurance, and that is what we need to recognize.
    We need to bear in mind that trying to accommodate people from all walks of life, who work in all types of industries, is what the government should be doing, instead of looking at it as either black or white.

  (1205)  

    Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying that I certainly support the motion. The motion relates to inequality and so I will speak mainly on the new EI clawback rules that came into effect on August 5. As the leader of the Liberal Party, the member for Toronto Centre, said in his remarks, the government has taken steps that have in fact accelerated inequality. He outlined a number of areas.
    I want to talk specifically about the EI changes and how they have really accelerated inequality. My colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador just talked about her riding. She said the wealthy are getting wealthier and the poor, poorer and that the gap is growing. Nothing shows it more starkly than these changes to the employment insurance system.
    If a person is making over $300 per week, then they are a little better off, but if they are making less than $300 a week, they are very much worse off.
    In my neck of the woods people are in the seasonal industries. We have tourism, fisheries and agriculture, all of them seasonal industries. A farmer may need someone for a day, so the person will only get a day's work, or in the fisheries doing mussels it may be for half a day or a day. A person on employment insurance is lucky if he or she can get more than a day, a day and a half or sometimes two days a week extra employment, because in all honesty, the jobs are just not there, but we need those people in the seasonal industry.
    On these very provisions the government introduced, I question whether the minister understands her files according to the answers she has been giving on this issue. However, knowingly or unknowingly, the government has introduced a system that is good for those who are making fairly decent money and are able to get the additional work, but is terrible for those who do not have the work time in their own areas. That is not the way the system should be going. It could be done with balance.
    The original system allowed 40% of eligible EI earnings to be kept while working on claim without any clawbacks. If the government had introduced legislation with the 50% clawback starting after the 40% level, then the system would have worked for everyone and it would not have increased inequality.
    I want to give the House a couple of examples that are coming our way. Constituent one is a nurse from my riding. She is on parental leave. She lives 45 minutes away from the hospital. The hospital only needs her for one four-hour shift. Another nurse I know works an eight-hour shift, but they only need her for one hour.
    The nurse has to hire a babysitter, put gas in the car and drive 45 minutes each way. She is only getting four hours work, but the benefit of that is that it helps the hospital with its scheduling and maintains the nurse's skills. She is in the hospital once a week, seeing patients, seeing any new computer changes and keeping up on all the things she has to do as a registered nurse working in the health care system. Therefore, it keeps her in the field and her skills sharp, which is a real benefit to the health care system.
    However, the government, in its lack of wisdom through this change, is now clawing back half of those wages. She is only getting paid 50¢ on the dollar because of this change. That is hurting both the health care system and the nurse as an employee, because she no longer has benefits from going to work. In fact, she said she could not afford it and told the hospital she could no longer work that shift because it was costing her financially. That is a loss to the health care system, and there are hospitals with several such employees. That is the impact of these changes.

  (1210)  

    A second constituent had this to say in her letter:
    I do taxes for a living so our season is 3-4 months in the Spring. When the information was sent earlier in the year about the 50% clawback, I misunderstood the depth of the changes. I assumed (because it wasn't stated clearly) that those on E.I. would still be allowed to earn 40% without it affecting their E.I., and everything they earned while working would, instead of coming off dollar for dollar, come off 50% on the dollar.
    However, this is so not true to my dismay 2 weeks ago. There is no allowable earnings? What's to entice people to work while on E.I.? The thought of making half of their wages? We now have to weigh the option of whether to work or whether to stay home because nobody wants to work for free.
    There are really four things happening here as a result of the minister's changes. First, the great majority of people in Atlantic Canada are earning far less while working on claim than they were under the old system. Let us keep in mind that these people see it very vividly.
     If they were on employment insurance prior to August 5, whether it was parental leave, regular EI, fisheries EI or compassionate care, and they were working while on claim, then they would get their check following August 5. Their total net disposal income, what they get on EI plus what they earned while working on claim with the new clawback, very vividly shows that they are getting less. They can see it because they were in the system before and they can see the return now.
    There are four impacts. First, the majority of employees in Atlantic Canada have far less disposable income under this system. Second, employers are affected in that if they want a person for a day or a day and a half a week, they are not going to be able to get them because people cannot afford to work when half of their wages, 50¢ on the dollar, are being clawed back by the Conservative government.
    Third, the economy is impacted, because there will be a loss of productivity. Employers will not be able to find employees for short-term work. A potato farmer who has truckloads of potatoes to grade but is only going to have work for half a day a week, where is he going to get employees?
    Fourth, and dangerously, it will create an underground economy. People will say, “Look, I know you need workers and I know I cannot afford to work and claim it, so can you pay me cash?”
    That is the reality of the system, those four serious points.
    Out of concern, I took a number of cases from Atlantic Canada and asked the Library of Parliament to do an analysis of the old system and the new system. They produced a document entitled, “Case studies for the new pilot project, working while on claim”.
    Mr. Speaker, because it has been mentioned here in the talking points of the government, you will know that the minister did provide an example, which she put in her letter. However, these are real case studies based on real lives. They tell a story. In all of these cases, people are getting less now than they were under the old system. That is increasing the inequity within our country.
    At the very beginning of this document, it explains the system and how it works. It is very clear from a question by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister that was addressed to the member for Cape Breton—Canso that he does not understand the system.
    In conclusion, as the government does not understand the system and as this document is from the Library of Parliament, which does good work, I wonder if I could have unanimous consent to table this report so that government members could see actual cases and the explanation of how the system really works or does not work.

  (1215)  

    Before we go to questions and comments, does the hon. member for Malpeque have the unanimous consent of the House to table the document?
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): There is no consent.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I find that the Liberal Party really has some nerve: it gives a speech on the effects of the cuts and changes to employment insurance even though the member for Malpeque was in the caucus that decided to take $57 billion out of the fund.
    How can the member have any credibility today when he talks about the impact of the employment insurance measures on families and the unemployed, given that he was a member of the Liberal caucus responsible for those machinations?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I do not really want to go after the member for Saint-Jean, but his question shows what is wrong with this House of Commons.
    There is a real issue with people in poverty. I cannot change what happened 10 years ago. In fact, it does not matter today. I can tell members what we did as a government in balancing the books and leaving the current government with a surplus.
    However, for the member to get up and ask a question about 10, 15, or 20 years ago when people's daily lives are being injured, and for it to come from the NDP which claims to care for people, is not the way things should be done around this place.
    We have a problem. It is a problem with employment insurance and the changes that came into effect on August 5. There is a solution to that problem. It is for the government to recognize that it made a mistake and to institute the 40% again in its new system. That would fix the problem.
    However, I have a problem in this place with the way we attack each other as parties all the time and miss the real point, which is the problem with the EI system now.
    Mr. Speaker, maybe we can give some more recent examples for the member from the Liberal Party of the things he has voted against that actually do harm Canadians.
    The Liberals voted against the child tax credit. They voted against the national child benefit supplement. These help low-income families make sure that their children are well provided for. They voted against Helmets to Hardhats. They voted against the targeted initiative for older workers. They voted against apprenticeship opportunities for young Canadians.
    I think it is a little rich for the members opposite, in particular, this Liberal member, who voted against all these initiatives for the unemployed and low-income families, to say that we have not done enough.
    We are doing a great deal. We are creating jobs. They are not.
    I ask--
    Order, please.
    The hon. member for Malpeque.
    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have created some jobs but they have certainly increased the number of unemployed in their term in office, and now they have undermined the system and are setting up a new system that has in fact increased inequity.
    However, the parliamentary secretary just made the point that I expressed a few minutes ago. Instead of dealing with the issue of today, she goes back to the votes of yesterday, of two years ago, of five years ago.
    I can go back to the votes, for heaven's sake, in Brian Mulroney's time or when it was the Reform Alliance Party and say,“You voted against this. You voted against that”. It does not matter for this discussion.
    The parliamentary secretary destroys her own credibility with that kind of question.
    I am embarrassed for her that she gets up in this House every day and spouts PMO talking points, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister did earlier, which shows that they do not know the system they imposed on unemployed Canadians and that they are increasing inequity.
    I say to her, forget your talking points and fix the problem.

  (1220)  

    Before we resume debate, I would like to remind all hon. members, when they have the floor, to make their comments directly to the Chair, and for those who do not have the floor to give respect to their colleagues when they have the opportunity to speak.
    Resuming debate. The hon. member for Okanagan—Shuswap.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Souris—Moose Mountain.
    I will try to bring the amount of energy of the past speaker, but I will add a little more fact to my speech.
     I am disappointed in today's Liberal motion, specifically the attempt by the Liberal Party to play political games with the registered disability savings plan, the RDSP. Even more troubling about this rather distasteful attempt to play politics here is the fact that the Liberal Party actually voted against the creation of the RDSP.
    Early after being elected in 2006, our Conservative government recognized that parents of children with severe disabilities faced emotional strains and financial hardships that were often mentally and physically overwhelming. One of the difficult burdens these parents face was the thought of what would happen to their son or daughter in the future, especially after they were gone. It is not an easy topic to come to grips with and not one we would want to sully with political games.
    That is why our Conservative government went about creating what became the RDSP by talking to Canadians most impacted directly. We struck an expert panel that toured the country and listened to hundreds of stories, often difficult stories, forcing those involved to consider those events in life that we did not like to talk about frequently. The expert panel held a very open and public consultation. It considered the advice, talked to experts and conducted more research. From that process, a detailed report entitled “A New Beginning” was released in December 2006, with numerous recommendations. The report is available online on the finance department's website and I encourage all Canadians to read it.
    I would draw the attention of Canadians to pages 29 and 32, which discuss at length the eligibility criteria to become a beneficiary and a number of possible eligibility criteria the panel considered, to which today's motion alludes.
     From the advice the they heard during their deliberations, panel members recommended that eligibility to become a beneficiary of a registered disability savings plan be coincidental with eligibility for the disability tax credit as defined in subsection 118.3 of the act and that there be no additional eligibility requirements.
    Making the disability tax credit eligibility a requirement for the RDSP was deemed, as per the panel's report, the most appropriate way to ensure that the plan would be targeted to those with a severe and prolonged disability, based on a definition of disability that was already used and accepted in the income tax system.
    With respect to the disability tax credit, it is beneficial to review the general policy rationale and eligibility criteria. Specifically, the disability tax credit provides tax relief to individuals: markedly restricted in their ability to perform a basic activity of daily living due to the effects of one or more severe or prolonged impairments in mental or physical functions; significantly restricted in their ability to perform more than one basic activity of daily living, if the cumulative effect of their restrictions is equivalent to having a single marked restriction in the ability to perform a basic activity of daily living, as certified by a qualified health practitioner; or would be markedly restricted were it not for extensive life sustaining therapy three times a week or at least 14 hours in total.
    With the exception of blindness, no specific impairment or condition automatically grants eligibility for the disability tax credit. Rather, eligibility for the disability tax credit is determined on a case-by-case basis based on the effects of the impairment.

  (1225)  

    The Canada Revenue Agency is responsible for administering the Income Tax Act. Determining whether an individual qualifies for disability tax credit is the responsibility of the CRA. This objective approach ensures that tax relief is provided to those most in need.
    Furthermore, the current eligibility criteria are consistent with the advice of another advisory panel, the Technical Advisory Committee on Tax Measures for Persons with Disabilities, established in 2003 under the former Liberal government, to provide advice on how to address tax issues affecting persons with disabilities.
    The committee's final report was submitted in December 2004 and contained 25 recommendations. As the report was submitted to a Liberal government, the Liberal Party no doubt recalls that the committee made several recommendations regarding the eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit and that in 2005 the Liberal government accepted the committee's policy recommendations.
    The disability tax credit continues to abide by the eligibility criteria the former Liberal government accepted. Nevertheless, our Conservative government knows that the registered disability plan is a program that can always be improved. That is why, when we created it, we explicitly committed to reviewing it three years after it became operational. As members may know, this review occurred between October and December 2011.
    Again, our Conservative government encouraged all Canadians, including individuals, families, groups representing Canadians with disabilities, financial institutions and experts in the field, to share their views on the registered disability savings plan. Based on their feedback received during the review, our economic action plan proposed a number of measures to improve the RDSP.
     In recognition of the fact that beneficiaries who were disability tax credit ineligible might, due to the nature of their condition, be eligible for the disability tax credit for some later year, it proposed to extend in certain circumstances the period for which a registered disability savings plan may remain open when they became disability tax credit ineligible. This measure would apply to registered disability savings plans where the beneficiary had become disability tax credit ineligible and where a medical practitioner certified in writing that the nature of the beneficiary's condition made it likely that the beneficiary would, because of the condition, be eligible for the disability tax credit in the foreseeable future.
    I should also note that in response to feedback from Canadians, we also recently passed legislation to ensure that individuals could appeal, in every case, a determination concerning their eligibility for the DTC.
    Rest assured that the government is keenly aware of the importance of the registered disability savings plan to Canadians with severe disabilities and their families. To that end, we remain committed to ensuring that support is provided to those most in need. We will not play politics with it and strongly advise the Liberal Party to do the same, especially considering the fact that it voted against the registered disability savings plan's very creation.
     Instead I ask the Liberal members to listen to the stories of those Canadian families that have been touched by the RDSP, families like Antonia Maioni's. Antonia is a noted professor of political science at McGill University, but she is also the mother of a very special boy. In her words, as written in the Globe and Mail recently, she says:
—while most people are worrying whether they can maintain their lifestyle in retirement, parents of the disabled are more apt to wonder whether we'll have the strength or the means to care for our adult dependents--not to mention what happens when we’re no longer around.
    She commends our government for bringing forward the registered disability savings plan for these children with disabilities so they can rest assured there will be provision for them in the future.
    I have heard a lot of words from the Liberals, but we have not seen a lot of action. When they do act, it is to vote against the measures of our government that bring support to families that need it. I ask all members of the House to join with me and vote against the Liberal record of inaction.

  (1230)  

    Mr. Speaker, I was interested in the hon. gentleman's remarks about the registered disability savings plan. Part way through his speech he said that he was always interested in ways to improve the plan and he listed a number of improvements. That is good and helpful, but he did not deal with the one that is included in the motion today.
     The motion today notes that there are some people who suffer from chronic health problems, like multiple sclerosis, who will face some very difficult circumstances in future, but may be perfectly fine or in reasonably good shape today. However, they are worried about what will follow years down the road.
     By making the disability tax credit the threshold for the registered disability savings plan, it means those people cannot have access to a registered disability savings plan because they are not disabled today. Sadly, they probably will be in the future but not today.
    What is wrong with finding some way to revise the access point to the registered disability savings plan to allow those people who have these chronic conditions to begin to prepare today for the unfortunate circumstances they will face in future years?
    Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Parliament putting together expert panels to review these issues is to take their advice. They get the input from Canadians across the country, meditate on what they have heard and make recommendations to the government. This was not a recommendation at that time, but I trust the judgment and the knowledge of the panel.
    Regardless whether that was included, the fact is the other party voted against any establishment of the disability pension. Therefore, I cannot understand why all of a sudden it has a concern for it now.
    Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the debate this morning and it seems there is somewhat of a disconnect. Discussion before us is on the growing income gap and inequality in the country. If we look at the expert numbers that come in, the income disparity is greater now than at any time since before the Great Depression. That is a shocking fact, regardless of what one's political beliefs are. The fact that the top 1% in our country are bringing home one-third of the wealth is shocking in a country that sees itself as solidly middle class.
    Does the hon. member think that is a problem? If he thinks that is a problem, then we can begin to look at solutions. If he thinks it is perfectly okay that there is a growing income gap, that people at the bottom are starting to fall through the cracks and that young students are paying higher levels of debt without being offered a chance to make their way in the economy, then that is a different discussion. For balance in a good growing economy, a growing income gap is either a problem or not.
     I would like to hear whether my hon. colleague thinks this is an issue that should be dealt with.
    Mr. Speaker, the member's question gives me an opportunity to tell Canadians the good news about what we have done in past budgets to improve their quality of life.
    First, we have lowered taxes so the average family of four pays over $3,000 less taxes in a year. We have also dropped the GST by 2%, which puts more money in the back pockets of Canadians. In fact, I calculated that $38 million a year just in my constituency alone does not go to Ottawa and stays in the back pockets of my constituents.
    We raised the GIS exemption from $500 to $3,500, benefiting 1.6 million seniors.
     We have the child care allowance of $100 for each child under six. When I campaigned in the last election, I heard from young mothers who said that it was a great thing, that it really helped their budget and they thanked us for doing that.
    We have a number of initiatives to create jobs so people can work and get better jobs. Our committee has studied skills training to empower Canadians to get employment or better jobs.
     We have done a number of things to improve the standard of living. In fact, this is the first time in this decade that the centre of income in Canada has surpassed that of the United States.

  (1235)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and to respond to this motion. It covers a number of areas. I would like to highlight our government's success in ensuring that all Canadians have the opportunity to access post-secondary education. My focus will be on that aspect of it.
    As a government, our focus is on jobs and economic growth, and we recognize that ensuring educational opportunities for our youth is vital to our competitive advantage as a nation.
    Over the last several years, the OECD has consistently reported that Canada has the highest proportion of post-secondary graduates in the OECD and the G7.
     It is not just the OECD that recognizes the success of Canada's post-secondary education system. This month the Council of Ministers of Education released Education Indicators in Canada, in which it found that Canadians are better educated than they were 10 years ago. It also reiterated that Canadians have one of the highest post-secondary attendance rates in the developed countries. This certainly is an important indicator of how we are doing overall. The progress we made in the last number of years has been very significant.
    Our success in post-secondary education and training contributes to our labour market productivity and competitiveness. It sparks inspiration, drives innovation and pushes us to succeed in the global economy.
    Understanding this, our Conservative government has placed a premium on improving access to learning and training opportunities. It is our Conservative government's policies that are ensuring Canada remains a leader in post-secondary education.
    Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC, contributes to Canada's growth and future prosperity by providing supports to students so they can obtain the skills they need to excel in today's demanding job market.
    According to the OECD, Canada's youth employment rate is the second lowest among our economic peers. Undeniably, education falls under the provincial jurisdiction and domain, but we do everything within our jurisdictional powers to reduce barriers to those seeking a higher education.
    We are taking action in priority areas where we can make a difference. One of the most important areas is removing financial obstacles, which will ensure that an individual's family finances do not determine his or her ability to access post-secondary education. Of course our most powerful tool to establish and accomplish this is the Canada student loans program. In 2010-11, the program served more students than ever before in its history. More than 500,000 students received support to pursue their post-secondary education. Since 2008, our government has implemented major improvements to student financial assistance to help students achieve their educational and future employment goals.
    Budget 2008 introduced the Canada student grants program, a very important program. These grants provide upfront, non-repayable assistance to students from low- and middle-income families, as well as students with permanent disabilities or dependents. In 2010-11, more than 320,000 students received funding through the student grants program. That is an increase of 25,000 students over the previous year.
    Budget 2008 also brought in the repayment assistance plan, which helps borrowers experiencing difficulty repaying their loans. I have heard directly from students in this regard. It allows them to make affordable payments based on their family income and family size. In 2010-2011, 165,000 students benefited from this plan. In fact, 90% of the students on the repayment assistance plan did not have to make any payments at all. The success of this program has led to an all-time low in student default rates. It is a very important program for students and one that is well received. The difference is quite noticeable. In the 2003-04 year, under the previous Liberal government, there was a 28% default rate. In the 2009-10 year, our Conservative government reduced this to a 13.8% default rate.
    Our government has also expanded online services enabling people to apply for and manage their loans online, everything from applications to loan repayments. This provides a more convenient service to students who are increasingly accustomed to managing their lives online, while at the same time replacing a lot of old paper-based processes.
    Year after year, we introduce new measures to make post-secondary education more accessible. Sadly, each year we see the opposition vote against making post-secondary education more accessible.

  (1240)  

    Budget 2010 announced significant supports for Pathways to Education to help disadvantaged youth pursue post-secondary education. This program is a community-based charitable group that was founded in Regent Park in Toronto in 2001. It encourages disadvantaged youth to stay in school and go on to college or university, as education is very important if they wish to advance. It focuses on addressing both financial and non-financial barriers to post-secondary education, and no doubt getting an education is a key.
    The program has been so successful that it has expanded to 11 communities over the past decade and has helped to significantly reduce high school dropout rates. Federal funding will help Pathways improve its programming and expand to even more communities across the country, helping up to 10,000 youth access the program.
    I can proudly say that we are delivering on these commitments despite the opposition voting against all of these initiatives.
    In budget 2011 we expanded the eligibility for both the Canada student loans program and the Canada student grants for full and part-time students. We increased the amount of income students can earn, so they can earn more and still qualify for financial assistance. This is something that the students themselves requested and we have listened to them.
    Our government has doubled the amount of money full-time students can earn while they study, from $50 to $100 per week, without affecting how much they can receive in loans.
    Since January 1 of this year, new and existing loans for part-time students are interest-free during their studies. This change will save students on average close to $350 a year. Reducing this financial burden will enable part-time students to better balance the responsibilities of work and home while studying. It will also help to put a post-secondary education within the reach of more Canadians.
    As well, we have committed significant funds to forgive a portion of the Canada student loans for family doctors, residents in family medicine, nurse practitioners and nurses who work in rural or remote communities. This will provide incentives to new graduates to consider working in parts of the country in urgent need of these services, including first nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
    As a member of Parliament from a rural region of the country I can attest to the fact that we need more doctors in rural Canada. In fact, just recently as I was flying to Ottawa, a constituent sitting next to me raised this issue and the fact that getting doctors and nurses in rural areas is a grave difficulty and an important concern to the community.
    Doctors will be eligible for up to $8,000 in loan forgiveness per year to a maximum of $40,000. Nurses and nurse practitioners will be eligible for Canada student loan forgiveness of $4,000 per year up to a maximum of $20,000. These benefits will become available in the spring of 2013.
    We are not finished yet.
    We will continue to work with our provincial and territorial colleagues to streamline the system. For instance, we just recently reached an agreement with the Government of British Columbia to integrate the province's loan program with the Canada student loan program. B.C. students now only need to deal with one service provider instead of two, the National Student Loans Service Centre.
    Also in time for the 2012-13 school year, full-time students in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer need to complete a loan agreement every time they receive funding. Instead, most students only have to fill out one loan agreement for the entire duration of their studies. The six provinces we are partnering with on these multi-year agreements represent 85% of Canada student loan borrowers. We are looking to make similar arrangements with the remaining jurisdictions.
    Thus far I have only talked about our government's direct assistance to students and their families, which is enabling young Canadians to attend college or university. That does not even begin to cover the many other ways we support post-secondary education.
    Let me remind the House that the Government of Canada also underwrites research and infrastructure funding, and of course it transfers money to the provinces and territories that they spend on education.
    All told, our government invests $10 billion each year to post-secondary education opportunities for Canadians, money that is making a major difference in the lives of post-secondary students and our country as a whole.

  (1245)  

    Mr. Speaker, my friend and colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain chairs our human resources committee and does an admirable job. The point is that governments make mistakes on occasion. Somewhere along the line governments legalized smoking tobacco, and we know the devastating impacts that has on people's health now, but somewhere along the line governments thought that was okay.
    The other day, the minister responsible for the Canada Revenue Agency admitted that her department had made a mistake and she was taking actions to correct that. We even had a colleague here from my party who tweeted and commended her on 'fessing up to making the mistake, and the problem has gone away.
    I do not think this is a mistake. A large amount of information is now at the minister's disposal. She was numb to an answer for the first couple of days, but I am sure she has been briefed by now. Evidence is overwhelming that people are being hurt by these clawback provisions in the regulations around working while on claim. It cannot be a mistake.
    The Conservatives have never provided a rationale as to why they want to hurt these people. Anybody who works less than three days in low-wage-earning positions is being hurt. What is the rationale?
    Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate my colleague on being appointed the vice-vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources. I obviously value his opinion and thoughts on the committee as well as in the House here. I am sure any of the ills he speaks of in previous governments would have had to have been those of the Liberal government of which he is a member. I know he raises issues with the benefit portion regarding working while on claim.
     There is no doubt that, in the past program, people could earn up to the greater of 75% or 40% of their weekly benefits, but then their benefits were clawed back dollar for dollar. In the new program we have come out with that benefits a vast number of people, the clawback would not be dollar for dollar. They would be able to keep 50¢ of every dollar they earn in addition to getting their EI benefit. I do not know how this person feels that clawing back 100% of what they earn might be better than keeping 50% of what they earn. Keeping 50% of what they earn is far better. It certainly would be an inducement for people to want to continue to work so they can earn their wage while on EI and receive the EI benefit and receive 50% of every dollar they make.
    Is that so difficult to understand? That is certainly a benefit.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to the hon. member's speech.
    As I mentioned in another question, I am still shocked by the succession of fragmented, clientelistic measures.
    Even the objective of the motion has been forgotten, namely correcting the growing income inequality in Canada. I am going to ask the hon. member a question on one very specific point.
    Since the beginning of the 21st century, corporate tax on annual profits over $500,000 has more or less been cut in half. That has been the result of a combination of decisions made by different governments since the beginning of the century. So it is not in the exclusive domain of the Conservatives.
    This has had a number of consequences, because it has led to a huge amount of speculation, all the more so since it was a global movement. But it has not prevented salaries from dropping radically in a number of groups in society. Neither has it prevented the loss of 500,000 manufacturing jobs nor the ransacking of pension funds.
    So why does he keep advocating such devastating measures budget after budget?

  (1250)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that a lot of the action taken is to ensure that it pays to work and that each family can keep more of what they earn. Since we have taken over as government, an average family keeps about $3,000-plus more than it would have previously, and that is a positive thing. We have taken initiatives to ensure we have enhanced things like the national child benefit and child tax credit, ensuring that families are the ones that benefit by the actions we take. We are ensuring that families can continue better under this government and its programs than they did in the past.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be sharing my time with the member for Kings—Hants.
    The growing gap between the rich and poor in Canada is a sign that we as a society are failing to preserve the core Canadian value of equality of opportunity for all people in Canada. Unfortunately, it is clear that the Conservatives do not believe that government has a positive role to play in facilitating equality of opportunity for all Canadians.

[Translation]

    This morning, our leader asked the House to call on the government to take several simple and immediate actions to reduce the growing income inequality in Canada.
    Clearly, those measures can begin to reduce the unacceptable gap between rich and poor.

[English]

    It is clear that the Conservatives' ideology is focused on leaving Canadians on their own to fend for themselves. We recently saw the Conservatives' answer to social inequality when the UN special rapporteur on the right to food highlighted serious food insecurity issues in Canada, in particular in aboriginal communities.
    We have seen the Conservatives' strategy play out time and time again. First, they emphatically deny that there is a problem and then savagely attack the credibility of those raising the issue. It is particularly shocking that aboriginal Canadians suffer from one of the largest gaps in terms of income inequality given that the Crown has a unique and historic fiduciary relationship with first nations people in Canada. The most recent Statistics Canada data shows that the median income for aboriginal peoples was 30% lower than that of non-aboriginals. Aboriginal Canadians are working to build sustainable prosperity in their communities but they can no longer count on their federal government as a partner.
    Canadians know that education is the key to success. Appallingly, only one in three first nations students graduate high school and, under the Conservative government, the rate is getting worse. First nations receive only two-thirds of the annual per-student funding as non-first nations students in provincial systems but not one penny of the government's so-called new funding is targeted to close this annual $3,500 per-student gap. Why does the government think that an aboriginal student is worth less than a non-aboriginal student and why does it think that aboriginal students do not require that same equality of opportunity?

[Translation]

    The Liberals support equal rights to high-quality and culturally appropriate education for first nations students and recognize that the present situation prevents them from participating fully in the social, economic and cultural life of their communities and of Canada as a whole.

[English]

    With first nations suicide rates five times the national average and Inuit suicide rates eleven times higher, the Conservatives are cutting the aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy. These are young people who feel hopeless and helpless and the government is cutting help to them. Even though aboriginals are much more likely to suffer from diabetes, have significantly higher infant mortality rates and significantly lower life expectancies, the Conservatives are cutting aboriginal health programs. The National Aboriginal Health Organization, the aboriginal diabetes initiative, the aboriginal health human resources initiative and the aboriginal health transition fund have all been cut by the government, but the government knows that social inequality is the key to health inequality.
    Despite overcrowding rates on reserves six times those off reserve and more than 40% of on reserve homes in need of major repairs, the Conservatives have no plan to deal with the crisis in first nations housing.

  (1255)  

[Translation]

    Last November, the Conservatives supported a motion made in this House by the Liberal Party. The motion urged the government, as a priority, to address the needs of first nations communities whose members have no access in their homes to running water fit for drinking. This crisis requires more than those words; it requires action from the government.

[English]

    The government has failed to provide funding to upgrade the huge numbers of first nations water and waste water systems, which have been determined by the government's own national assessment to be at either high or medium risk.
    The government is turning its back on first nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians and the Canadian values of compassion and fairness. We know that health outcomes are the ultimate report card for the success of a society. Closing the gap in the health status of first nations, Inuit and Métis will only be possible if the government chooses to accept its role to address the equality of opportunity for the first peoples of Canada.
    Since 2009, Richard Wilkinson's book, The Spirit Level, has brought together the evidence and raised the consciousness about the role of inequality and health outcomes. I will quote from his new and updated edition, The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone. It reads:
    It is now time egalitarians returned to the public arena. We need to do so confident that our intuitions have been validated and found to be truer than most of us ever imagined. Because the evidence shows that few people are aware of the actual scale of inequality and injustice in our societies, or recognise how it damages the vast majority of the population, the first task is to provide education and information.
    Understanding these issues is already changing attitudes to inequality among politicians. In Britain, The Spirit Level has been endorsed across the political spectrum. In a major speech at the end of 2009, David Cameron said that the book showed that, among the richest countries, it is the more unequal ones that do worst, according to almost every quality of life indicator.
    In September of this year, in his first major speech as the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband said:
    I do believe this country is too unequal and the gap between rich and poor doesn't just harm the poor, it harms us all....
    Words are a start, but changing policies and politics, changing the way our societies organise themselves, will require the evidence to be recognised even more widely.
    Few tasks are more worthwhile than this as we think The Spirit Level shows. The health of our democracies, our societies and their people is truly dependent on greater equality.
    I am calling on the government today, if it is to share embassies with the British people, maybe it could listen to the experts and the politicians who are in the United Kingdom now on the importance of working on social inequality.
    Mr. Speaker, my recollection is that during the nineties the Liberal Party actually cut $25 billion in social funding right across the country and hurt every aspect of every province and every citizen in this country.
    Then the Liberals went on to actually steal some money from Canadians to put into brown envelopes to help other Liberals. Recently they voted against a number of our initiatives, such as the EI hiring tax credit, the targeted initiative for older workers and the Helmets to Hardhats.
    I could go on, but I will ask my question. How does the member square what her party did with what her speech says today?

  (1300)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member's question is a fantastic opportunity to explain that after we inherited the $43 billion deficit, the debt that the Conservative Party had given us, our economy was viewed by the rating agencies to be a basket case. There had to be serious measures, which were done with consultation with Canadians, in order to understand that the interest that would be paid on that debt would get in the way of us doing the important things that we knew needed to be done in terms of investment.
    How did we move on early learning and child care that we know is very important in terms of single moms being able to go to work and become taxpayers if they wanted to do that.
    It is unbelievable that the member would ask us why we have voted against budget after budget, which is exactly the “survival of the fittest, fend for yourself” kinds of programs that the Conservative ideology continues to visit upon the people of Canada, including the 60% of Canadians who did not vote for the Conservatives.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, to an extent, I will echo the comments of the hon. Conservative member by asking a question to the hon. member, who was, in fact, a member of the Liberal government some years ago.
    It is a little ironic to hear them talk about inequality today, knowing that the Liberals like to present themselves as the defenders of equality. But instead the motion highlights the weaknesses of the Liberal approach because we know that, from 1989 to 2009, the Gini coefficient increased substantially, from 0.28 to 0.32. This index is widely used in the field to calculate income inequality in every country in the world.
    Can she explain why their approach did not work when the Liberals formed the government and why the inequality continued to increase for all those years?
    Mr. Speaker, it is really a shame to hear my colleague attack the Liberal Party instead of the Conservative Party. Progressive thinkers have to work together in the interest of all Canadians. I think that, just like in England, this is not a partisan approach; it is an approach that all parties can adopt to help this country's most vulnerable people.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I was pleased when the hon. member for St. Paul's mentioned a book that I think is critical to this debate: The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, by British researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It is a substantial body of work and its data shows a wide variety of indicators such as rates of violence, successful child rearing, infant mortality, crime and health outcomes.
    In every one of the indicators that they checked, wealthy countries like the U.S., U.K. or Canada, where income disparity is wide, they found that people were less well off than in those countries where, relatively speaking, people were more equal. The strength of the middle-class then is a key to our health as a society.
     I would like to ask my hon. member what other insight she took from that book.
    Mr. Speaker, I think the other piece that comes from The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone is the issue of social inclusion, that we are all in this together and it does not pit one level of society against another, as our leader said this morning. This is actually about being all in the same boat and people coming together with their neighbours.
    We know that social inclusion is important just as not smoking is to health outcomes. The fact is that inequality begets division and jealousies.
     We are calling on the government today to admit the problem of the diminishing middle-class, the bigger gap between the rich and the poor, and the damage that does to our country and to its spirit of getting along.

  (1305)  

    Mr. Speaker, this is an important issue. In fact, in a recent survey around three-quarters of Canadians indicated that income inequality is one of the top economic issues that we have to deal with as governments and politicians.
    This is not a partisan issue. Income inequality has grown in Canada on a secular basis over the last 30 years. It has grown under Progressive Conservative governments, Liberal governments and Conservative governments. It has grown under New Democrat provincial governments. It has grown under Liberal and Parti Québécois provincial governments in Canada.
     While this is not a partisan issue, it is an important one. It is one that we should have a debate about and talk about what we as federal leaders can do, working in conjunction with provincial and municipal governments and leaders in Canada.
    The reality is that there has been an acceleration in the gap between the rich and the poor in recent years in Canada and throughout the industrialized world. This is not an ordinary economic downturn and recovery cycle; it is a global economic restructuring. It is one where resource rich countries like Canada benefit disproportionately from the global demand for their natural resources.
    However, within Canada, there will be growth in the gap between have and have-not provinces exacerbated by the provinces that have those natural resources versus those that do not.
    The reality is that this is not something that the federal government or provincial governments can do alone. We need to work together.
    The reality is that there are some types of government programs that can help with issues of income inequality. The working income tax benefit, which was introduced in the last fall economic statement of the Liberal government and embraced and continued under the current Conservative government, is a measure that both governments can claim responsibility for. It is a good policy. It is the kind of policy that can help break down the welfare wall, that barrier to those people who want to work but lack the economic incentives to do so.
    If we believe in that kind of public policy, we ought also recognize that tax credits for disability, or for children in sports or music or cultural activities or for caregivers, ought to be refundable. Because of the perverse nature of non-refundable tax credits, it the poorest of the poor, the people who need these benefits the most, who do not qualify for them.
    The changes to OAS, again, are an example. If we evaluate who receives OAS, 40% of the people receiving OAS make less than $20,000 per year and 53% make less than $25,000 per year. There is a disproportionate hit to those with the lowest incomes. We all have to consider that when we are making decisions in Parliament.
    I believe that the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, said it best when he remarked in regard to inequality that, “The people who say it's not an issue are wrong, and the people who say it's an issue and who want to create class warfare are wrong. The focus needs to be on ensuring equality of opportunity.... It's a massive issue; fundamental to society. It's not right that big swaths of society become discouraged and marginalized.”
    I think Governor Carney has nailed it, frankly. We have to focus on equality of opportunity. We cannot guarantee equality of outcome. However, we can work together to ensure equality of opportunity.
    If we look at this, I believe one of the successes of the U.S. economy multi-generationally was the sense of hope, that one could be born into any station in the United States and have a shot at success.
    I think one of the reasons why the U.S. economy is, and probably will continue to be, stagnant for some time is that people have lost that sense of hope, that capacity to grow and develop and for their children and someone else's children to succeed.
    If we think of the drivers of equality of opportunity, where are the best opportunities to break multi-generational poverty?
    I was just at the Canadian Council of Chief Executives' conference at the convention centre here in Ottawa. There was session focused on education and learning. They were talking about lifelong learning. They were talking about restoring the honour of trades. They were talking about early learning and child care.

  (1310)  

    These are CEOs of the biggest companies in Canada who were talking about how to address some of the issues, the drivers of equality of opportunity, and they were talking about early learning and child care and how important they are.
    A federal government cannot act on early learning and child care alone, but there is no constitutional barrier to a federal government working in partnership with the provinces on that issue. I served in a cabinet where we signed agreements with every province and territory on early learning and child care. We committed federal funds and we worked co-operatively, because it is a national imperative. Quebec has a good system and I congratulate it and several Quebec governments for having implemented a program that has helped to strengthen equality of opportunity and upward mobility.
    It is not just good social policy; it is good economic policy. The reality is that there is no area of educational investment that will yield more bang for the buck in its impact on people's success in the future and their growth economically and socially than in the years before they even get to grade 1 or the primary grade in the public education system.
    These are the issues we should be talking about in this House, not pithy partisanship. We should be talking about ideas on how we can work together across party lines and with provincial governments to address these issues.
    Let us look at the issues of aboriginal and first nations. It is not economically or socially sustainable to have the fastest growing and youngest population in the country as the most economically and socially disenfranchised at the same time. In the House, as politicians we have to develop the kinds of ideas and solutions, the head start programs, the early intervention programs, that can help save a generation of young aboriginal and first nations youth.
    We also have to engage non-aboriginal Canadians in this discussion. Part of responsible politics is pedagogy. We have to engage non-aboriginals and we have to tell them that they in fact have as much interest in seeing young aboriginals and first nations members succeed as the members of those first nations communities themselves. If we do not address the issues of what is going on in aboriginal and first nations reserves, it is not only a social time bomb but also an economic time bomb for our country.
    These are the kinds of issues we should be talking about when we talk about equality of opportunity. What we now see in Canada is a resource-driven recovery and a gap between resource provinces and non-resource provinces.
    Alberta is investing massively in education, and I congratulate it, as that is exactly the right thing to do. Alberta has a progressive premier in Premier Redford out there.
    At the same time, my province of Nova Scotia is cutting investment in public education by about 30%, because of budget issues.
    One of the things that came out of the meeting of Canadian Council of CEOs today was that one of the CEOs was saying that an Alberta CEO has as much interest in the education system in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland as he does in the Alberta education system. The future workforce in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan could very well come from places like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
    In fact, there is a vested economic interest, not just in those provinces but across the country, in strong education and in working with the provinces to ensure that they can afford to invest in that fundamental underpinning of equality of opportunity: strong public education.
    One area we should be looking at, whether we are talking about learning and lifelong learning or restoring the honour of the trades, is the German model of apprenticeship and skilled trades. Germany has a robust economy, and they have not had the same growth in income inequality that we have had in Canada. One of the reasons is that in Germany they have never lost the honour of skilled trades.
    Over the last 30 years in Canada, we have lost the honour of skilled trades. We need to restore that. We have to work with apprenticeship programs. The federal government and provincial governments need to work hand in hand to deal with this issue.

  (1315)  

    The economic and social returns of dealing with income inequality and equality of opportunity issues today is one that can yield huge benefits for future generations of Canadians, and that is why this is an important issue that we should be engaged with in Parliament.
    Mr. Speaker, it seems that the Liberal Party and my colleague across the way tend to be slipping back and forth between talking about equality of opportunity and government trying to guarantee equality of results, which government cannot do. Everyone in the House would be wise to acknowledge that.
    When the member talked about creating opportunity, he talked about restoring the pride in skilled trades, on which so much has been done over the last six or seven years in that specific regard. The member does not have a good record in voting in support of that, whether it was tax credits for skilled trades people or the investments we made through the economic action plan with provincial governments to build new skilled trades learning centres right across this country. These are the types of investments that the government has been leading on, which perhaps the member has missed.
    I have great concern when I hear the member speaking about some of his concerns when at the same time his voting record indicates that when those very ideas and principles are championed by the government, he votes against them.
    Mr. Speaker, I acknowledged in my remarks that no party has a monopoly on the solutions and the responsibility for this issue. Income inequality and inequality of opportunity have grown over 30 years under successive provincial and federal governments of all stripes. If the hon. member wants us to consider individual measures, his government ought to stop putting them and everything but the kitchen sink in omnibus bills that force members of the opposition in some cases to vote against measures that we may agree with.
    I acknowledge that the working income tax benefit is actually helping people get over the welfare wall. It is one that was introduced by the member for Wascana when he was finance minister. It was embraced by the Conservatives. That is a good thing.
    This is not a partisan debate. The member has trouble participating in non-partisan debates. This is a serious debate about the future of our country and whether or not we are going to continue to be the kind of country where people have a shot at success regardless of where they are born and that we continue to be a country where equality of opportunity is an underpinning of our social network and values.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on a speech that I really enjoyed listening to. The issue of inequality is an important one that we do not hear enough about.
    This summer, I reread John Rawls. He invites us to reflect on what we would want to do if we did not know where or how we would be born, whether into a poor family or a wealthier one, a rural community or an urban one, or with a mental or physical disability. What kind of society would we want to build if we did not know where we came from? What if we could all start from the same place? Most of us would want to create a society in which everyone has equal opportunity because we would all want every possible opportunity even if we were not favoured or privileged.
    A public daycare program to help children and youth get a good start in life is something that all governments—federal and provincial—should be able to create by working together.
    Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate the question raised by my colleague from Quebec.
    It is interesting to hear a member from Quebec recognize the role of the federal government and the opportunity for that government to work with provincial governments to develop progressive policies, such as a national daycare system. This is another example of how we do not see the Constitution as a barrier to productive discussions leading to progressive policies.
    It is possible to work with each provincial government to develop such programs. I hope that we will be able to do that in the House, that we will be able to discuss innovative ideas and develop progressive policies no matter which party we belong to.
    I really appreciate the member's question.

  (1320)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be splitting my time with the very affable and capable member of Mississauga—Streetsville.
    I am pleased to respond to the motion put forward by the member for Toronto Centre, as I always welcome an opportunity to compare our record to that of other governments.
    For instance, in the 2003-04 year in which the Liberal government was in power, it presided over a 28% default rate for student loans. In the 2009-10 our Conservative government reduced this to a 13.8% rate.
    In 1996 the poverty rate was 15.2%. In 2010, under our Conservative government, it was 9%. In 1996, under the previous Liberal government, 18.4% of children lived in poverty. This is a troubling number. In 2010, under our Conservative government, this number has been cut in half to 8.2%. Since 2006, 225,000 less children are in poverty than under the previous government.
    It is not about national strategies and glamorous meetings. Rather, it is about getting the job done for Canadians with real action and a real plan.
    Here are the facts.
    The Liberals gutted transfers to the provinces and territories with staggering, unprecedented cuts, totalling tens of billions of dollars annually in the mid-1990s, downloading that cost and responsibility on to the provinces and the municipalities.
    Our Conservative government has increased them back beyond the 1990s levels to record levels. In fact, in my home province, by simply treating this in a principled, fair manner, we are treating all Canadians equally. Per capita funding has actually increased the amount of transfers to Alberta to record levels.
    In 2012-13 the federal government will provide provinces and territories an all-time high of $60.9 billion in major transfer support, an increase of a whopping 43% since 2005-06.
    As a result of the actions of our government, the typical family in Canada pays $3,100 a year less in taxes than under the previous government. We have increased transfer payments, there is less child poverty and lower taxes.
    Unlike previous governments that just needed four more years, we have taken real action for all Canadians, especially middle-class and low-income families.
    However, tax cuts and direct financial support can only go so far. We have been clear. The best way to fight poverty is to connect Canadians with jobs. Acquiring skills is crucial to securing a good job and a promising career in today's knowledge-based economy.
    A post-secondary education is especially important when it comes to an individual's pocketbook. Research by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada indicates that a university graduate makes up to $1.3 million more over a lifetime compared to a high school graduate.
    I am proud to be part of a government that is ensuring more young Canadians can take full advantage of what higher education has to offer for themselves as individuals, but also for our country and our society as a whole.
    As all members of the House are aware, job creation and economic recovery continues to be our government's top priority. Thanks to the strong, capable leadership of the Prime Minister, Canada has created 770,000 net new jobs since the worst of the recession.
    We have been clear. We are committed to creating more education opportunities for Canadians that will lead to better jobs and a sustainable and competitive economy.
    We have invested $10 billion annually in support to students and their families, research and infrastructure funding and transfers to provinces and territories to create post-secondary education opportunities for all Canadians. Much of that money goes directly to supporting students. In 2010-11 over 500,000 students received $2.2 billion in Canada student loans. Since its introduction, 4.7 million students have received $38 billion from the Canada student loan program to achieve their educational goals.

  (1325)  

    This investment has yielded impressive dividends. In 2011 Canada ranked first in overall post-secondary education attainment among OECD countries, with 50% of adults aged 25 to 64 having some form of higher education. That compares to the OECD average of 30%. Even more remarkable, this share rises to 56% for younger Canadians between the ages of 25 and 34.
    In addition to loans, there are the Canada student grants that provide extra non-repayable financial support. The grants reduce the amount students need to borrow, putting a post-secondary education within reach of families that would otherwise struggle to help their children attend college or university.
     In my riding, working fathers and mothers realize that education is the key to their children's future and they often tell me they just need a little more help to ensure that every child has the opportunity for an education.
    Over 320,000 students from low and middle-income families, along with students with permanent disabilities and those with dependents, have benefited from these grants in 2010 and 2011 alone. That is 25,000 more than benefited from these grants the year before. We also paid out $703 million in Canada education savings grants, which provide a 20% top-up on parents' savings for their children's post-secondary education.
    We have worked hard to make these important programs more accessible to all Canadians. We have made numerous improvements to them in recent years. They are helping more students than ever before pursue higher studies.
     For example, income thresholds have been raised for part-time student loans. As of the 2012-2013 school year, that means students can earn more money but still qualify for loans and grants. The maximum amount part-time students can receive has recently been increased from $4,000 to $10,000.
     It is projected that over 2,500 additional part-time students will be eligible for a Canada student loan in 2012-13, rising to just under 8,000 in year five and on an ongoing basis. Nearly 500 additional part-time students will receive a Canada student grant in year one, rising to about 1,500 in year five and continuing to rise after that.
    Another major improvement is our decision to no longer charge interest on part-time loans. While a student is in school, this amounts to roughly $350 in savings each year for the average student. These changes to part-time loans enable people who may be working full-time to achieve their educational goals for themselves and their families.
    We have also made it easier to pay off student loans. The repayment assistance plan allows borrowers to make affordable payments based on their family income and family size. In this way we help ensure student loan repayments are kept affordable. One hundred and sixty-five thousand students benefited from the repayment assistance plan just last year.
    We also announced earlier this summer that we would be delivering on our commitment to forgive loans for new doctors and nurses who chose to practice in rural areas. In rural communities, such as mine, this is one of the most significant social enhancements we can do to help enable more of our young people to come back to our communities and practice medicine in our communities, and not just doctors, but nurses as well.
     Our government has set aside $9 million a year to forgive a portion of Canada student loans for family doctors, residents in family medicine, nurse practitioners and nurses who work in underserved rural or remote areas, such as first nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
    From new online services for students to streamlined processes for applications and loan payments, often in partnership with the provinces and territories, we are taking major steps to increase accessibility to higher education.
    Our government's mandate is to help the economy grow and create jobs, which means more employment opportunities for students. We are committed to having the most skilled and most educated workforce in the world.
     What we need now is not a national strategy to tell us what is important. What we need is to continue with the plan that we have set forward, the plan for economic recovery and economic success.
     It is time the opposition do more than just talk about poverty, equality and opportunity. It is one thing to talk about creating hope; it is another thing to actually provide hope and equality for all Canadians.
    I urge all members to join our Prime Minister in implementing a real plan, which has already demonstrated impressive results.

  (1330)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I must also thank the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party for expressing just how much Canadians want a different government in Canada. They want a New Democrat government.
    There is a back-and-forth going on here: “it is the Conservatives' fault”, “it is the Liberals' fault”, “we did that because the Conservatives left a deficit”, or “no, it was the Liberals”. “My dad is stronger than your dad.”
    Governments have long used various ways to take money that belonged to workers, and today is no different because of poor decisions made by the Conservative Party. Currently, in Charlevoix, on the upper north shore, and in many other regions of Canada and Quebec, people are relying on seasonal industry because it is the last industry left for them. They will unfortunately have to make a choice.
    Allow me to paraphrase a mayor in Charlevoix who wrote a letter to the Prime Minister: their choice is going away or going hungry. In either case, less money will circulate in the regions. These will be dark years for those regions. Why has the government forgotten the regions?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the premise of the member's question. The speech I gave and the speech by the member for Kings—Hants were not partisan rants. We talked about the things we had done, the real strategy we had implemented to help low-income and middle-class Canadians and increase opportunities for a better education and better jobs once they complete their education.
    One thing I talk about, and think it was very important, was transfer payments, not only the increase in transfer payments but the principal change we made to treat all Canadians equal in the per capita mechanism we used to give out transfer payments. It not only increases them, but ensures the regions get per capita payments so every Canadian is treated equally. That is of the utmost importance.
    Mr. Speaker, when we think of inequality, there is a serious argument to be put forward in terms of the role government has to play to ensure there are good quality jobs. Good quality jobs will often pay decent rates of return for the exchange of labour. We have seen a good example of that.
    My friend from the New Democratic Party likes to blame the Liberals and Conservatives. I will use the example of Air Canada in Manitoba. The provincial government, which happens to be NDP, did not say a word in terms of defending the good quality jobs for Air Canada. When Air Canada was getting rid of those jobs, the legislation said that those jobs had to be maintained. The Government of Manitoba was definitely quiet. It was unfortunate that the Government of Canada did not recognize the good quality jobs that provided good living wages.
    Does the member recognize the valuable role that governments play, whether it is Ottawa or provincial governments, in ensuring that certain industries grow and prosper and are able to provide the good quality jobs well into the future? I used Air Canada because that was a good example of aerospace industry jobs that Manitoba wanted to retain, but, for whatever reasons, they started to disappear, which caused a great deal of concern.
    Mr. Speaker, I was worried that I would not get to hear from the member for Winnipeg North during my time in the House this afternoon.
    He talks about having to respect the decisions of the provinces and then immediately criticizes the decision made by his province. Our government believes in a more decentralized decision-making process, which is why we are increasing transfer payments so more money can go into social, education and health transfers to the province.
    He talked about preserving good-paying jobs. I believe it is not necessarily the government's role to decide who will get which jobs. Our role is to provide for the equality of opportunity, to ensure every Canadian child has the opportunity to get an education. We can only do that by decreasing child poverty rates, increasing student loans and their ability to get post-secondary educations, and that is exactly what our government has been doing.

  (1335)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to stand and discuss the record of the Liberal Party of Canada and its leader, who we know as the failed former NDP premier of my home province of Ontario, when it comes to improving the lives of Canadians in need.
    How can the Liberal Party, which slashed transfers for health care and social services to the bone in the 1990s when it was in government, stand here and pretend to make such a claim?
    How can the Liberal Party, which, when relegated to the opposition benches, voted against every measure our government brought in to help Canadians in need, now claim that it is concerned somehow about income inequality?
    What matters in life and in Parliament is not what we say and the flowery motions that we bring forward in Parliament, it is the actions we take and how we vote. Let us discuss the real record of the Liberal Party. I will start from when the Liberal government was in power.
    For 13 years, the Liberals held a majority government. When they had the votes to pass any piece of legislation or to enact any program, what did the mighty defenders of those Canadians in need do? They launched an attack on the poor, the sick and the needy like no government had ever done before or has done since. They gutted transfers to the provinces and territories with staggering unprecedented cuts totalling tens of billions of dollars annually. When they cut money to the provinces on health care, do members know what happened? Hospitals closed, nurses were fired and doctors saw their working conditions deteriorate like never before. When they cut money to social services, schools closed, colleges and universities crumbled, and community services were scaled back like never before.
    This is not rhetoric and I am not exaggerating for effect. That is what happened. That is their record. I know the Liberals do not want to believe it and they may not believe me but they should listen to what one of their own, their current finance critic, had to say. The member for Kings—Hants described the Liberal Party of Canada's proud record of helping those in need by stating:
...the [Liberal] government balanced its books by slashing transfers to the provinces by forcing the provinces...to...face deficits, and health care systems and education systems in a crisis as a result of its inability and irresponsibility to actually tighten its own belt more significantly.
    I have another quote from the member for Kings—Hants. He states:
    Shifting the burden to the provinces...was the easy but cowardly way to accelerate deficit reduction. ... The Chrétien-Martin cuts sent the health and education systems into crisis in every Canadian province.
    What a record. What an achievement.
    We should not just take the Liberals' current finance critic's word for it. We should also listen to what the current Liberal leader said. When he was bankrupting Ontario, and I was there and saw it, and killing Ontario jobs with his reckless NDP tax-and-spend schemes, he had to face the brunt of the then Liberal government's slashing of transfers in the nineties when he was premier of Ontario. At that time he said:
...when the federal [Liberal] government decided in its wisdom that it would cut back unilaterally, particularly in the area of social assistance, it had a major and devastating effect on the people of this province.
    Is that what the Liberal Party of Canada wants our Conservative government to emulate? Are those the lessons we have to learn from them, that those slash-and-burn actions of gutting hospitals and schools help combat income equality? As several of my colleagues noted earlier, the answer is obviously no.

  (1340)  

     The Liberals drove income inequality to its highest levels in over 40 years. For the good of Canada, I am happy that this Conservative government is taking no lessons from them, especially on transfers for health care and social services.
    While the Liberal government slashed and cut, we actually increased transfers to record levels. In 2012-13, the federal government will provide the provinces and territories an all-time high of $60.9 billion in major transfer support, an increase of a whopping 43% since 2005-06 under the previous Liberal government.
    Unlike the Liberals, we have a commitment and have cemented it in law that those transfers under our government will never be cut and will always continue to grow each and every year.
     In the words of the noted economist Jack Mintz, earlier this year in the National Post, “...the federal government has been more than generous with transfers to the provinces continuing to rise to levels not seen this past half century”. We should think about that. Our approach to transfers, the most significant means by which the provinces help those in need, has been called “more than generous” by respected third party observers. The Liberals' approach to transfers, by the Liberals themselves, was called devastating, cowardly and crisis-inducing.
    I think Canadians would be pretty quick to tell us which approach is the right approach for Canadian families and those Canadians in need. Yet, the Liberal Party today has the audacity to stand here and pretend that none of this ever happened. Sadly, I believe it has been so long since the Liberals were in government that they have simply forgotten the reality of the time and started to believe their own talking points.
     Perhaps knowing the shame of the Liberal record and wanting to atone, a senior Liberal member recently made a startling admission. In a recent interview, the member for Markham—Unionville said, “...in hindsight, the Chretien government--even though I'm a Liberal--cut perhaps too deeply, too much offloading...there were some negative effects”. I applaud the member for Markham—Unionville for his admission of Liberal culpability as a first small step, but the Liberals need more than words.
    The Liberals need to stop voting against every constructive step our Conservative government has taken since 2006 in Parliament to help Canadians in need. They need to stop voting against policies like the refundable working income tax benefit. This benefit makes it more attractive for low-income Canadians to stay in the workforce by removing the disincentives for them to work. It was a landmark achievement and it has been recognized as such by observers on all sides. The Caledon Institute of Social Policy called it “a welcome addition to Canadian social policy. It fulfills a long-recognized gap in Canada's income security system”. The United Way of greater Toronto heralded it as “...positive changes that will help to improve the situations of low-income families”.
    It is clear that we deliver and the Liberals talk. We make things happen and they pretend. We invest in provinces and social services and they download. Our record is clear. We will take no advice from the record of the Liberal regime when it was government. We will continue to lead and we will continue to show Canadians the leadership they need, regardless of where they live in this country and regardless of their family situation. We will always be with Canadian families.

  (1345)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member has obviously been in the Conservative glass bubble for far too long. I think he is starting to believe what it is that he is saying. There are so many bad aspects to that speech, I do not know where to begin.
    If the Liberal government had not attempted to address the Mulroney years of deficit financing and so forth, the country would have gone bankrupt in the early 1990s.
     The fear that provinces like Manitoba had for health care back in the early 1990s was that the Conservatives were on the way, through tax point shifts, to no longer finance health care. It was the Chrétien government that reassured Canadians by coming up with the Canada Health Act to reinforce the federal government's commitment to finance health care, which takes people out of poverty and tries to narrow the gap.
    I would suggest that the member might want to reflect on issues such as narrowing the gap by having legitimate day care, by addressing the aboriginal issues and by remembering the Kelowna accord. These are initiatives on which the Conservative government was to act upon taking government. Why would it have done that?
    Mr. Speaker, actions speak louder than words. They download, we invest. They cut, we give more. We work with the provinces, they rip them off. It is as simple as that.
    Mr. Speaker, it has been fascinating listening to my hon. colleague, although I do admit that when it comes to reality it is a bit like looking in a funhouse mirror and, with those guys over in the corner, it is like falling down the rabbit hole. I do not want to go there at all.
    On February 27, 2011, my colleague and every member of this House stood and voted to close the funding gap for first nation children under the Shannen's Dream principle. Our first nation children are the greatest resource that we have but the lack of education opportunities has been abysmal. Closing that funding gap is essential for developing this new economy.
    My hon. colleague is talking about transfers to the provinces but the federal government has the responsibility for the welfare of and the schools for first nations children. What steps are the Conservatives taking to actually close the funding gap to have comparable levels to that of every provincial system in this country?
    Mr. Speaker, there is always more we can do when it comes to providing programs, services and support to our aboriginal communities. However, this government has invested millions and millions of more dollars each and every year into our aboriginal communities. We have been working in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations and other organizations across the country to ensure it is a true partnership. The federal government provides funding and works with the native communities because they are the ones who are running their communities and making important local decisions. We need to continue to do that.
    I am proud of the record we have as a government on our relationship and funding for services in aboriginal communities. However, I am sure there is more to do. We will keep on with the job but we need the support of the opposition to keep moving the puck down the ice.
    Mr. Speaker, what a hard act to follow. It is hard to believe someone in the House gets $160,000 a year to repeat the talking points of a minister, but I guess that is the type of path we are going down here. A reasoned debate would be nice, probably one that is full of bluster and full of a lot of things.
    Nonetheless, we can have a reasoned debate here on the motion we are bringing forward today, based on inequalities of income, on lifting those out of poverty, on policy requirements in order for people to get themselves from a position of feeling downtrodden to a position of bettering themselves. It does not take a lot of debate and a great deal of expense to fill the gaps in some of these cracks people are falling through.
    There are several policies that came out in the last budget bill that really were disappointing in many ways. They were easily fixable.
    One thing my colleague talked about earlier was the non-refundable tax credit. Let us take the example of the volunteer tax credit for firefighters. It is non-refundable. Therefore, if one falls below a certain income, one does not get any benefit whatsoever. As a result, it becomes an income tested tax incentive, an incentive for people to protect their family and communities through volunteer firefighter work.
    The average income in my riding is quite low compared to other ridings. Therefore there is a substantial number of volunteer firefighters unable to receive any benefit. What does it take to convert this non-refundable tax credit into a refundable tax credit? It does not take that long. It certainly is helping out the most needy in this particular case.
    When we look at the situation we have here, we have volunteer firefighters, caregivers, all these people who have these small incomes, which may seem insignificant to many of us but are actually significant to them. If there is someone who is making $20,000 a year, obviously this tax credit can become a significant portion of money throughout the year. Yet people in that income bracket or below it cannot receive the benefit. That is unfortunate. This is the type of policy, misgiving of policy, misappropriation of debate and policy, we need to look at in order for people to better themselves and get out of the situation they are in if they are receiving that kind of money.
    Before I go on, I would like to add that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for York West.
    If one considers what we are debating today and its many aspects, the narrative is important. The narrative deals with people who are certainly receiving benefits from the government as a stopgap measure to get them to full-time positions. Employment insurance is something that has been discussed quite a bit in the House and certainly over the past few days.
    Here is what is happening when one seeks out the devil that lies in the details. The budget states we are going to give people an increase for working while on claim. That means that if a person receives a certain amount of money, let us say $200 per week in employment insurance, under the old system that person could earn up to 40% of that amount and would still have EI. That is the incentive to work, because even though people are keeping that money, they are also getting work experience. Perhaps they could get a full-time position at the place where they are working, when it becomes available. That happens quite a bit.
    The government said it was going to increase that from 40% to 50%, yet I hear no applause. There is no applause because the devil is in the details. At 40%, a person could keep that money and nothing would happen to it. Now when the government said 50%, it meant the money would be clawed back 50% on every dollar made. There again is the devil in the details.

  (1350)  

    That is like going to a store and seeing the price of the shirt we want to buy is $30. Then on the shirt itself there is a sticker that says “half price”. Naturally, we get out the $15 to pay and the clerk says, “I am sorry, but actually that is half price of the original price, which was $60”. That is what the government is doing. The devil is in that particular detail. That is why we have these debates so that we can talk about the people who fall through the cracks.
    There are people right now who work two days a week while on EI in order to get a car or to move into their own home, but they cannot do that because the disincentive is built in.
    I do not doubt in any way, shape or form that when people set out to do this, whether they were members of the Conservative Party or whether they were bureaucrats, they were principled in saying that they needed to provide a benefit for people to better themselves. However, it almost seems like every time we do this, we always find a way to recede from what we promise.
    In this particular case, we would be going from 40% to 50%, but not really, so less people get to qualify on this. It seems that is the magic number. The magic number is that the government needs to get those numbers down so people cannot avail themselves of that money, and therefore the government's cash on hand is better. It has a deficit to fight. We are aware of that. We, in this corner of the House, fought one. We succeeded.
    We fought many things. We fought poverty. We fought for principles such as the Canada pension plan. Right now in my riding I have two offices, one in Gander and one in Grand Falls-Windsor. Both offices now get more calls about seniors' poverty than any other issue.
    I have a lot of fishermen in my riding. Imagine how grave the situation can become for someone, let us say, who is a widower, for example, a gentleman I met whose income is now half of what it was because his wife passed away. He owns his own home and heating prices have gone sky high. What is built into this does not keep pace with the rising costs. What is he looking for? He is looking for targeted initiatives that allow him to bridge that gap, for that person to lift himself out of poverty.
    In 2005, the Liberal government delivered a 2005 energy rebate. It was the guaranteed income supplement. What a fabulous idea, specifically for people who have rising costs for heating their own homes. The man I spoke of is now planning to move out of his house, not because he wants to but because he has to. He feels he cannot better himself in any way, shape or form, and the benefits that were there for him, small as they may have been, are not there any longer.
    We just need a reasoned debate to study this, whether it is a large bill or a small bill, to look at this piece by piece and figure out what the ramifications are for someone like that gentleman who cannot make ends meet.
    There is so much to talk about when it comes to inequality. Let us talk about youth. Right now, youth unemployment is skyrocketing in my area. People are moving, not because they want to but because they have to.
    The government wants young people to invest in RRSPs. How can they do that when any cash they get on hand has to pay for things like groceries. If they manage to get a mortgage, they have to keep all their money for that. Retirement savings do not even factor in. Retirement savings goes down the list for someone in their twenties, and that is unfortunate because we have the ability to make life better for these individuals by seeking out the devil that lies in the details.
    It is unfortunate for youth, for seniors and for a woman I know, a single mom with two kids who works two days a week and who has now been told that she will get less.
    The middle class folks, the 47%, that number that is used in the American media these days, thanks to Mr. Romney, are very frustrated. The worst part about it is not only are they frustrated but they are giving up, and that is where we fail.

  (1355)  

    The time for government orders has expired. The question and answer period for the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor will occur when the House returns to this matter after question period.
    Statements by members, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

  (1400)  

[English]

Anniversary Celebrations

    Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise today to celebrate two events that occurred this last weekend in my riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands.
    The first was the celebration of the 100th birthday of our local newspaper. The Peninsula News Review has been published since 1912, when it was first called the Sidney Review. It is now published by Black Press. It covers communities for the Saanich Peninsula, and after 100 years it is doing a great job.
    The second celebration, and I had the great honour of participating in this, was the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of the town where I live. We call it Sidney by the Sea. It is absolutely fantastic. I invite members to come visit. This was the 60th anniversary of its incorporation as a village. Everybody came out. We had a fantastic time at Beacon Park. We cut the cake and served it up for everyone.
    I wish a happy birthday to the Peninsula News Review and a happy birthday to Sidney.

London Paralympic Games

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the achievement of the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team for their gold medal win at the 2012 London Summer Paralympic Games.
    These first-rate athletes displayed passion and hard work that highlighted their abilities and proved that they are the best in the world.
    It is important to know that the game was played on regular International Basketball Federation courts, with all the regulation dimensions, net heights and timing rules. The team plays basketball at a high level that leaves spectators seeing nothing more than pure athleticism.
    In the past four Paralympic Games, the Canadian team has won three gold meals and one silver medal, proving that anything is possible for anyone. The team, which includes two athletes from the greater Toronto area, Abdi Dini and Adam Lancia, competed against Australia in the final game, winning 64 to 58.
    I know that all Canadians join me in congratulating all members of the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball team and head coach, Jerry Tonello, for this exceptional achievement. Their commitment on and off the court has been nothing short of outstanding and has shown Canadians, and the world, that success is within us all.
    I ask all members of the House to join me in asking the team to accept our heartfelt congratulations.

[Translation]

Right to Know Week

    Mr. Speaker, today I would like to draw attention to Right to Know Week, which is intended to make Canadians aware of their right to access information, a fundamental right, and the government's responsibility to improve its transparency. In 2005, the Prime Minister said:

[English]

    Information is the lifeblood of a democracy. Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions....

[Translation]

    The Access to Information Act is 30 years old. Although it was ahead of its time in 1983, it has not been updated since then. Today, Canada is ranked 51st in the world, behind many developing countries. Although the Conservatives claim to be improving transparency, the reality has become much cloudier since the election of the Prime Minister.
    Let us work together to bring the Access to Information Act into the 21st century. That is what the NDP is committed to doing, and we invite the government to do so as well.

2012 eTown Award

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick, for receiving the 2012 Google eTown award, which recognizes communities where local businesses have a strong online presence.

[English]

    Recipient communities are not only keeping up with the evolution of online business, they are leading their respective regions through this ever-changing medium.
    Monctonians are resourceful, forward-looking and adaptable to new trends. This is demonstrated by the considerable online presence of Moncton's local businesses.
    This award is a testament to Moncton's web-savvy businesses, which continue to grow by taking advantage of the enormous opportunities offered by the digital economy.
    I congratulate Moncton for receiving the 2012 Google eTown award.

[Translation]

    Congratulations!

[English]

Wallace Wood

    Mr. Speaker, I stand to pay tribute to the late Wallace “Wally” Wood and to recognize his outstanding contribution to his community, P.E.I. and indeed Canada.
    Born in Marshfield, Wally was very influential in the agriculture community as a member of the Founding Committee, a member of the P.E.I. Soil and Crop Improvement Association, a member of the P.E.I. Dairy Producers' Association and president of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.
    Wally also had a keen interest in animal genetics and was involved in cattle breeding and the Maritime harness racing industry. He supported his community in being a lead advocate for the P.E.I. school milk program, chair of the provincial exhibition and the P.E.I. Marketing Council, a school trustee, and many positions I do not have the time to mention.
    Rightfully so, Wally was inducted into the Atlantic Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2005.
    He and wife, Doris, welcomed guests from the world over to Woodmere Bed and Breakfast with typical island hospitality. His respect for others was at the core of his very being and his love for his wife Doris and family was absolute.
    I offer our thanks and respect to his family.

  (1405)  

Langley's Seniors of the Year

    Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to congratulate Langley's seniors of the year, Toots Tucker and David Esworthy.
    These two people have been recognized in Langley for their cheerful spirits, generous hearts and countless hours of volunteering.
    At age 83, David Esworthy has been inducted to B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. He is a past president of the Langley Chamber of Commerce and was awarded the chairman's award from the Vancouver Board of Trade.
    Toots Tucker is 74 years old. She is a lady who has devoted her life to helping others. She volunteers with Langley seniors, the Langley Field Naturalists Society, the Canadian Blood Services, Cops for Cancer and many more.
    These two incredible Langley residents have left a legacy for all Canadians to follow, giving back to their community.
    We thank David and Toots for being who they are and for making Langley beautiful.

[Translation]

People First Movement

    Mr. Speaker, people with intellectual disabilities began the People First Movement in the 1970s in the United States in order to speak out against the labels imposed on them and the dependence they had to endure.
    On September 13, the People First Movement of the greater Quebec City area welcomed me at the Ferland community centre for the launch of their 2013 calendar. This gave me the opportunity to meet the current president, Michel Aubut, the head of communications, Hélène Bernier, and people such as Yvette, Sylvie, Rémi, Yan, Simon and many others who have a wealth of ideas and an unwavering determination to live their lives with dignity. There are some people mentioned in their annual report that I was able to see.
    The only limits that exist are those we impose on ourselves and those we allow others to impose on us. The members of the People First Movement taught me a valuable life lesson through their enthusiasm, curiosity and welcoming attitude. The respect that they have for others is impressive. We judge others too often and too easily. Our closed attitude is a hindrance to the building of a better society.
    Thank you to the People First Movement of greater Quebec City for welcoming me with open arms.

Franco-Ontarian Day

    Mr. Speaker, in 2010, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario passed the Franco-Ontarian Day Act.
    The Government of Ontario made a symbolic gesture to pay tribute to the exceptional contribution the francophone community makes to civil society in their province.
    From now on, every year on September 25, Franco-Ontarians will proudly celebrate their language, heritage and culture. Today, the green and white of the Franco-Ontarian flag will radiate across the province.
    French-speaking Ontarians have been in the province for 400 years. They help strengthen our country's linguistic duality and represent a cornerstone of our national identity.
    Happy Franco-Ontarian Day to all Franco-Ontarians in Ontario and across the country.

[English]

Fire in Saskatchewan Mine

    Mr. Speaker, early today a fire broke out at a potash mine in my riding, in Rocanville, Saskatchewan.
    Media have reported that emergency response teams have rescued nine miners and are fighting a fire in the mine. The media are also reporting that there are 20 more miners still underground.
    As we hold our collective breath and watch with anticipation, I want to extend all of my personal hope, and I am sure the hope of everyone in this House, that all remaining miners will be rescued successfully, that everyone will be able to get to their homes, their families and loved ones safely and as soon as possible.
    To the miners underground, their families and loved ones and the rescue teams involved, the collective thoughts and prayers of all members of the House are with them for a successful and safe rescue.

Sudbury Classic Cruisers Car Club

    Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to recognize the hard work and dedication of the Sudbury Classic Cruisers Car Club in organizing a charitable raffle to benefit the Sam Bruno PET scan fund in my riding of Sudbury.
    Launching on Mother's Day, the cruisers sold 10,000 raffle tickets across northeastern Ontario, all for a chance to win a classic 1965 yellow Mustang coupe, which was raffled off this past weekend.
    This classic car was offered to the cruisers on behalf of a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. I would like to thank this person on behalf of all those who will benefit from his enormous contribution, in trying to bring a PET scanner to Sudbury.
    Ultimately because of this generous contribution, the Sudbury Classic Cruisers Car Club raised over $45,000 towards the Sam Bruno PET scan fund, an amazing figure, obviously assisted by the chance to hit the open road in a classic cruiser.
    On behalf of Sudburians, I would like to thank all involved in this raffle, including club president Gary Lonsberry, vice-president Ralph Constantineau and treasurer Mike Levesque, as well as the anonymous donor without whom such an amazing fundraising goal would not have been reached.

  (1410)  

Flooding in the Philippines

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians in my riding are very concerned about the flooding in the Philippines. Millions of people have been affected by tropical storms Saola and Haikui.
    The Red Cross has even stated that more than 330,000 people are seeking temporary shelter in evacuation centres. In response to this desperate situation, our government is taking action.
    I am proud that Canadian taxpayer investments through CIDA are making a difference for those in need. By working with the Red Cross, our government's work has helped 3.4 million people. This support will ensure that affected people are provided with safe drinking water, food and other much-needed items. As well, it will prevent disease and provide support to families.
    Our government continues to monitor the situation closely to ensure that basic needs of affected people are met and to provide further assistance, if required.

[Translation]

Walk for Breast Cancer

    Mr. Speaker, on September 22, 39 men and women, including my colleague, the member for Gatineau, and I took part in the Walk for Breast Cancer, organized to raise money for the Fondation du Centre de santé et de services sociaux de Gatineau. The 30-kilometre walk raised $50,000 for the cause.
    We have come a long way in understanding and treating breast cancer. The mortality rate is 25% lower than it was in 1986. But the battle is far from being won.
    Today, one woman in nine still risks having breast cancer in her life. In Canada, one woman in 29 will die from it. So it is very important to keep up the fight.
    I am personally committed to taking part in next year's walk, and I invite all my colleagues, my colleague from Gatineau included, and my constituents to join me.
    Together, we can make a difference.

[English]

New Democratic Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians know that the NDP leader wants to impose a $20 billion carbon tax that will increase the price of everything.
    Our government lowered the GST because we want to make it easier for Canadian families to pay for goods, but the NDP's only economic idea is to impose a carbon tax that would increase the price all Canadians pay for just about everything.
    This month, as retail sales in Canada rise, it becomes even clearer just how risky the NDP's carbon tax scheme would be, stalling our economy in its tracks, raising prices and wiping out these positive economic numbers.
    At a time when Canada's economy continues to recover from the downturn, the last thing we need is a $20 billion NDP carbon tax that would kill jobs and stop economic growth in its tracks.

Child and Youth Nutrition Strategy

    Mr. Speaker, hundreds of thousands of children go to school hungry. When children go hungry, they may stop growing and may be too hungry to learn. And when they are older, they may be undereducated to work to their full potential.
    Right across the country in provinces and territories, communities are asking for federal leadership to develop a comprehensive pan-Canadian child and youth nutrition strategy and to fully fund on-reserve aboriginal student meals.
    A pan-Canadian nutrition program makes good economic sense resulting in better educational performance and health for children and youth, increased revenue for Canadian farmers, lower crime rates and reduced future health care costs.
    Canada signed the 1992 World Declaration on Nutrition, and each of us has a responsibility to make that promise a reality. Our children cannot afford excuses that this is provincial or someone else's responsibility. Our children want food.

  (1415)  

New democratic Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, four years ago our Conservative government campaigned against the Liberal Party's plan to impose a job-killing carbon tax on Canadians. In that campaign Canadians agreed with us and sent us back to this place with a strengthened mandate.
    A year ago, our Conservative government was once again campaigning against an opposition party's plan to impose a job-killing carbon tax on Canadian families. This time it was the NDP and its plan to raise $21 billion in new revenue. In that campaign Canadians agreed with us and sent back a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government.
    Now the new NDP leader is proposing a carbon tax that would go even further than the one rejected by Canadians just over a year ago.
    Our Conservative government will once again stand with Canadians and fight this job-killing carbon tax that would increase the price of everything including gas, groceries and electricity.

[Translation]

Canadian Embassies

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are so nostalgic for the empire that they are counterattacking.
    This is not a joke. They want us to undo a century of progress. First, they had an epiphany about the War of 1812 that they decided to share with every single one of us, and now rumour has it that the Prime Minister and his acolytes want to reopen the debate on the Naval Service Act of 1910, which came at a time when Canada was tentatively moving to distance itself from the British empire and develop its own foreign policy.
    We were a strong, well-known nation that had found its place in the world, but under today's Conservatives, our Maple Leaf will now be tied to the Union Jack's apron strings, too weak to speak for itself. We will now be renting space in the Queen's embassies. How shameful. At least we can console ourselves with some free photocopies.
    Before croquet replaces lacrosse as our national sport and before we start singing God Save the Queen in the House, I would like to see the Conservatives man up and defend our reputation and our interests a little more vigorously, if they do not mind.

New Democratic Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians made it clear that they do not want a carbon tax that will jeopardize jobs and increase the cost of gasoline, electricity and practically everything, which is what the leader of the NDP has proposed.
    What Canadians want is a government that focuses on jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity, which is what our Conservative government is doing.
    We cannot let the NDP do it. This is not the first dangerous idea that it has brought forward and that would result in job losses.
    All Canadians remember that two NDP members went to the United States to lobby against the Keystone XL pipeline, which could potentially create 140,000 direct and indirect jobs for Canadians and $600 billion in economic spinoffs over the next 25 years.
    We now know the NDP economic plan: eliminate jobs.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[Translation]

Foreign Investment

    Mr. Speaker, in 2010, the Conservatives promised new criteria for assessing foreign takeovers. Last week, we learned that the Conservatives will announce the new criteria at the same time as the decision on Nexen. This means one of two things: either the Conservatives are tinkering with the criteria to make them consistent with the decision they have already made to approve the purchase of Nexen or the criteria are ready but the Conservatives prefer to keep them secret.
    Why have Canadians still not seen the criteria promised by the government?
    Mr. Speaker, our government has already made changes to the Investment Canada Act to ensure that we have a strong process. Clearly, we have to make some decisions from time to time. Our government will make decisions in the best interests of the Canadian economy.

Foreign Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, last week, the Conservatives embarrassed the Americans by leaking confidential information. Yesterday, they botched their announcement on the United Kingdom by giving the impression that Canada's foreign policy is going to be under trusteeship from now on. And now the Prime Minister has decided to insult the international community by boycotting the United Nations General Assembly, even though he is going to be in New York this week while world leaders are sharing their views with the international community.
    If the United Nations General Assembly is good enough for Barack Obama, why is it not good enough for our Prime Minister?

  (1420)  

    Mr. Speaker, never under any government has it been the practice of the Prime Minister to speak every single year at the United Nations General Assembly. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will be speaking this year. I am sure he will do a very good job. That said, there is no doubt that this government takes strong, clear and independent decisions on foreign affairs.
    Mr. Speaker, he is photocopying his speech at the British embassy.

[English]

    Two years ago the Conservative government lost Canada's bid for a seat at the UN Security Council, a first in Canadian history. This week the Prime Minister has turned down an invitation to speak at the UN General Assembly, even though he is already scheduled to be in New York.
     Has the Prime Minister given up on Canada's role at the UN? We are merging our embassies with Great Britain. Is our delegation to the United Nations next?
    Mr. Speaker, as I just said, never under any government has it been the practice of Canadian prime ministers to speak every year at the United Nations General Assembly. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will be speaking this year. I am sure he will do a very good job.
    That said, nobody in Canada doubts, whether they people agree with us or not, that the government takes strong, clear and independent decisions on foreign affairs.
    Mr. Speaker, let us get this straight. The Prime Minister will be in New York on a taxpayer funded trip to get some personal goody, yet he will not even travel across town to speak to the United Nations. World leaders are gathering this week to discuss the world's most pressing issues, but our Prime Minister will not be there.
    Does the minister understand that foreign affairs is about doing the hard work of engaging the world? It is not about making the Prime Minister feel special.
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister will be in New York. He will be meeting with a number of colleagues to discuss the important issues of the day. He will also be accepting the World Statesman of the Year award by a very well-respected group.
    Every Canadian can be proud of the principled foreign policy and the leadership of our Prime Minister.
    Mr. Speaker, I guess the Prime Minister expects our new roommate, the British prime minister, to do the speech on his behalf. It is kind of like the policy announcements being leaked by the U.K. on its behalf.
    Parliament must review this deal, not just for the details but for the message we are sending the rest of the world when we have the Union Jack and the Maple Leaf flying side by side. When will the Conservatives bring this deal before Parliament?
    Mr. Speaker, here is what we are doing. In Haiti, the United Kingdom will house one of its diplomats and development workers with us. In Rangoon, we will house one of our diplomats and tradespeople with them. It is just about sharing resources in a small number of countries. This is nothing new.
    I do find it passing strange that the critic for the NDP seems to be encouraging us to have vibrant diplomacy with Iran, but is somehow scared of us having diplomacy with the United Kingdom.

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, I hope the Prime Minister can pick up the “fossil of the year” awards that are still waiting to be claimed by the government.
     If the Prime Minister agrees with Governor Carney that income inequality is indeed a problem, could he explain why the government is still clawing back part-time benefits for those on employment insurance? Why is the government raising employment insurance taxes? Why is the government continuing to discriminate against low-income families who do not qualify for tax refunds?

  (1425)  

    Mr. Speaker, this government takes tackling income inequality very seriously, which is why the government has brought in a number of important measures: the working income tax benefit; enhancements to the universal child care benefit; enhancements to national child benefits; the tax break for the GST to low-income people; the increase in the guaranteed income supplement for poor senior citizens. The real question is why the Liberal Party votes against all of these things.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the real question is: why did government members vote against undertaking a study on family inequality at the Standing Committee on Finance? The Prime Minister and his colleagues voted against it.
    The fact is that the government is refusing to acknowledge that the challenge of our times is to ensure that Canada's wealth is shared fairly by everyone and that no one is excluded.
    Why vote against that?
    Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party prefers to conduct studies; on this side of the House, we prefer to take action. That is the major difference.
    We have done important things: a GST reduction for the poor, benefits for workers on social assistance, higher GIS benefits, and so forth.
    In any event, when we help the most vulnerable and the poor, the Liberal party votes against these measures.

[English]

Human Rights

    Mr. Speaker, now that the Minister of Immigration and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have said that the establishment of gay rights around the world is a priority for the Canadian government, could the Prime Minister tell us if this now means the Government of Canada will provide the necessary financial support for the celebration of gay rights in Canada, in large cities right across the country, every summer that they take place and can we assume he and his ministers will join members of the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party across the country in celebrating gay rights here at home?
    Mr. Speaker, the government advances human rights for all people, not just in Canada but internationally. One of the initiatives of this government that I am particularly proud of is the establishment of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. I hope some day we will have the support of the Liberal Party for that.

[Translation]

Employment Insurance

    Mr. Speaker, employment insurance reform is giving rise to anomalies that only the Conservatives can understand.
    A man from Carleton was offered a job in Gaspé. Gaspé, of course, is three and a half hours from Carleton. In another example, a man from the Îles-de-la-Madeleine was offered a job in Bonaventure, on the Gaspé Peninsula. That is a twelve-hour trip, including a $50 ferry ride.
    In light of this information, does the minister still believe that the definition of “suitable employment” is appropriate?
    Mr. Speaker, our objectives and priorities are job creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity. This requires workers with the necessary skills and jobs available for them.
    We are working to help the unemployed find jobs in their regions that match their skills, in order to make life better for them and for their families.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the parliamentary secretary falsely stated “those who work more will be able to keep more”. She knows that is not true. Grocery store clerks working a few hours a week have 50¢ of every dollar clawed back from their EI. Everyone making less than $300 will be worse off under this new scheme.
     The minister needs to come clean. Is she deliberately misleading Canadians, or is she simply not on top of her file?
    Mr. Speaker, the old system actually clawed back dollar for dollar anything—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. Minister of Human Resources has the floor.

  (1430)  

    Mr. Speaker, if people made more than $75 a week, 40% of their claim, they got clawed back dollar for dollar for everything they earned beyond that while they were on claim. That discouraged people from working.
     We want to ensure that people are encouraged to work and when they do work, they will always be better off than when they do not.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would really like her to stop with the tall tales. But let us move on.
    Let us take another example: the cultural and tourist sites that have to close in the winter. Not all the inns, restaurants and museums in the Gaspé can stay open in the winter because there are no tourists. Thousands of my constituents make their living from tourism. They need employment insurance. The program is essential to the survival of seasonal industries.
    With their reform, the Conservatives are jeopardizing these jobs. Why are they attacking the economy of our regions?
    Mr. Speaker, we have supported seasonal industries to a much greater extent than any other government.
    The right to employment insurance also brings with it the responsibility to look for work. If there are no jobs in the region that match people's skills, employment insurance will be there for them, as always.

Foreign Investment

    Mr. Speaker, all regions of the country are paying the price for the Conservatives' choices. It could be more of the same if the Nexen takeover goes forward. State-owned Chinese company CNOOC, which wants to purchase the Canadian company Nexen, is run by Wang Yilin, who has said that drilling rigs were national territory and a strategic weapon.
    Yet the Conservatives refuse to hold a public review of this plan. Is the Minister of Industry concerned about these comments? Why are they refusing to hold a comprehensive review?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, our government will always act in the best interests of Canadians. This transaction will be scrutinized very closely. If the hon. member wants to check out section 20 of the Investment Canada Act, she can do so. It clearly enumerates the six criteria for net benefit and that will be the criteria used to evaluate any decision.
    Mr. Speaker, there are 18 days left on Nexen and the minister still refuses to respond to Canadians' concerns, including the following. CNOOC's chair was nominated in 2011 by the secretive organization department, confirmed by the Politburo and announced by the central committee. He was also named party secretary for CNOOC at that time.
    Does the minister see CNOOC's relation as independent from the state, or will he now admit that Canadians, including many in his own caucus, have legitimate concerns and agree to hold public consultations?
    Mr. Speaker, again, the government will always act in the best interests of Canadians. This transaction will be scrutinized very closely.
    The Investment Canada Act process has provisions to protect national security. I remind the hon. member that when we introduced the national security provisions in section 25 in 2009, the NDP voted against them.

Food Safety

    Mr. Speaker, the handling of the XL Foods meat E. coli outbreak is the latest example of what is wrong with the Conservatives' dangerous changes to CFIA.
     Hundreds of potentially E. coli contaminated beef products were shipped to every province destined for families' dinner plates. From the very first detection of E. coli, CFIA waited two weeks to issue a recall. This spring the minister said, “The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is not making any changes that would in any way place food safety at risk”. That claim is a joke.
    Why did the Conservatives gut regulations and put Canadian families at risk?
    Mr. Speaker, none of that is true. The safety of Canadian food is a top priority for this government.
    The CFIA initiated a hold on the original product in question, all of it, on September 4, the day E. coli was discovered. None of it made it to store shelves. The recall is ongoing.
     The work with the CFIA to adjudicate the paperwork at XL Foods is being done so that it can start getting back into that lucrative American market just as quickly as possible.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives do not like to talk to Canadians about the consequences of their decisions.
    When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency discovered that beef from an Alberta plant was potentially contaminated, what happened? It took two weeks to sound the alarm, and we just learned that this product is banned in the United States. That is unbelievable. Consumers across the country were affected by this belated recall. People are worried. We cannot play games with their safety.
    Will the Conservatives reconsider making cuts to food safety?

  (1435)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we have done exactly the opposite. We have put hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of front-line inspectors to work at CFIA to ensure that this type of thing can be handled when it happens. We have done exactly that.
    The people at CFIA have done an exemplary job. We are in a day-to-day conversation with them on the status of this recall and on the work forward to get back into that lucrative American market.
    I reiterate that none of the product made it to store shelves and no illnesses have been linked back to this particular strain of E. coli. We have actually done a tremendous job.
     It is unfortunate that the NDP consistently vote against the funding and manpower for CFIA.

[Translation]

Census

    Mr. Speaker, hiding information about the effects of cuts to services has become a Conservative hallmark. Statistics Canada has given us the proof today. The Conservatives swore that abolishing the long form census would not have any effect on data. But we now know that the complete opposite is true: 12% of municipalities had response rates lower than 50%.
    Does the Conservative government realize that its stubbornness has seriously compromised our ability to make informed, fact-based decisions regarding municipal development?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada has posted the final response rates from the 2011 national household survey at the national, provincial, territorial and local levels. The final response rate for the national household survey was 78.3% nationally. This is comparable to response rates from other voluntary surveys conducted by Statistics Canada.
    Statistics Canada is continuing its data quality assessment of the data from the national household survey and will make the results available as the work is completed. The first results from the national household survey will be available in May 2013.
    Mr. Speaker, the minister has been talking out of both sides of his mouth.
    Last February, the then industry minister bragged to this House about the high response rate to the national household survey stating, “...indications are very promising with the response rate for both the short form census and the national household survey”.
    In reality, 12% of communities have response rates below 50%; statistical evidence of the government's failure.
    What will the Conservatives do to correct the glaring problem with the collection of this information?
    Mr. Speaker, I already answered that question.
     The member was not in the House when we had this debate in the last Parliament as he had not been elected yet. However, if he had been here he would remember that we said that we would not threaten Canadians with jail time because they did not want to tell the government what their religion was. We also said that we would not threaten them with jail time because they did not want to tell the government how many bedrooms they had in their house or how many hours of housework they did.
    The government will never do that. Maybe the opposition would but this government would not.

Employment Insurance

    Mr. Speaker, I was asked to bring this story to the House.
    Her name is Louise. She is a single mother of two and she receives EI benefits. Last year, she received a golden opportunity. She could work two days a week as a receptionist and keep her EI benefits. As well, she could also keep that part-time salary. Finally, Louise was moving forward for her and her kids.
    Now the Conservatives have this new rule where the first dollar she earns on her job will get clawed back.
    I have a question, through you, Mr. Speaker, from Louise to the minister. When things were getting better, why did the Conservatives make it worse?
    Mr. Speaker, in the case of Louise, if she had worked one extra hour beyond those two days that would have been clawed back 100%.
    An hon. member: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte needs to come to order. The hon. Minister of Human Resources has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, under the new system she would get to keep 50¢ on the dollar if she worked day three and if she worked day four.
     She was getting a hundred.
    Order, please. The hon. minister is answering the question and we will not have another interruption.
    The hon. Minister of Human Resources.
    Mr. Speaker, Louise would have been better off with the new system. She got to work day three and day four. Before she would have had every dollar clawed back.
    We are ensuring that when Canadians work they are better off than when they do not.

  (1440)  

[Translation]

Post-Secondary Education

    Mr. Speaker, students are racking up more debt than ever before.
    With the youth unemployment rate approaching 15%, young people have a hard time paying back their student loans. The interest on these loans can easily add $5,000 to their debt burden.
    Will the government do as some provinces—Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario, for example—have done and reduce the federal interest rate on student loans?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is ironic that the Liberals are trying to actually help students when they voted against everything we have done to give them more grants so that they do not have to repay them and do not have to worry about interest rates. In fact, we are helping twice as many students, almost 300,000, with our Canada student grants, as did the Liberals.
    However, when we brought in supports to help with the repayment of student loans, the Liberals did not support that. There are so many things, including summer employment for students, that the Liberals keep voting against.
    We are helping students afford their education.

Pensions

    Mr. Speaker, and they voted against all of our amendments to that fact.
    After creating the OAS to fight seniors' poverty, Prime Minister Pearson lowered the eligibility age to 65 to combat seniors' income inequality. The Conservatives opposed the move then and, by turning back the clock on pension security, today's Conservatives are promising to show tomorrow's seniors a new hardship
    Tearing down is the Prime Minister's mantra and, as the cuts continue, more Canadians will feel the pinch.
    Given the haze of nostalgia, I wonder just what other social programs the PM plans to bring back to pre-1970 levels.
    Mr. Speaker, what we did was raise seniors' incomes. We raised the amount they can earn without having their guaranteed income supplement reduced from $500 to $3,500 so they could have more money in their pockets. We also increased the age exemption, not once but twice. We brought in pension income sharing for seniors.
    There are two things in common: one, we introduced those and brought them in for Canadians; and two, the Liberals voted against them.

[Translation]

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, the F-35 file is not the only one showcasing the Conservatives' incompetence.
    The National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman has issued a second report on the delivery of care for Canadian Forces members suffering from operational stress injuries.
    The report points to a chronic lack of care available to affected military personnel. Instead of acting on the ombudsman's recommendations, the Minister of National Defence is questioning his mandate.
    Why is the government playing political games at the expense of military personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. We have just introduced additional supports for members of the Canadian Forces suffering from post-traumatic stress. We have made a concerted effort during our time in office to hire more mental health professionals and make them available to those suffering from post-traumatic stress.
    The ombudsman's report actually noted those progressive moves that we have made and lauded the government for those efforts.
     I continue to have faith in the process as we continue to work with psychiatrists, mental health professionals and chaplains across the country to ensure that those ill and injured soldiers receive the best support possible.
    Mr. Speaker, despite some progress, the ombudsman continues to find problems with the government's handling of post-traumatic stress disorder in the military. There is chronic understaffing, long waits for treatment, continued stigmatization and fear of coming forward, and specific failures to meet individual needs and treat fairly those suffering from PTSD.
    What no one understands is why the minister is so focused on challenging the ombudsman for doing his job instead of doing his own job and working to solve these problems.
    Mr. Speaker, again the member is wrong. It is the usual rhetoric from that individual.
    We have continually throughout our time in office made more investments into the mental health professionals who we have in the employ of the Canadian Forces. We continue to work with professional associations. We continue to work with the soldiers themselves, like the Be the Difference campaign led by the Chief of Defence Staff, Walt Natynczyk, that was meant to de-stigmatize any recognition of a mental health illness suffered from deployment or otherwise.
    Yes, there will always be more to do. Yes, we are tremendously indebted to those who have put their lives on the line for our country. We continue to work to improve them.

  (1445)  

Status of Women

    Mr. Speaker, the New Democrats do not just say that we are pro-choice, we actually are. This is not an issue of conscience. It is an issue of women's rights and women's rights are human rights and they are not up for debate.
    The Supreme Court was clear decades ago. Canadians have moved on. However, cabinet ministers in the Conservative government do not agree.
    While some months ago the government whip made a moving speech in defence of a woman's right to choose, why is he standing by while members of his cabinet are willing to vote against Canadian women?
    Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, private members' business is private members' business and the motion will be dealt with according to the rules of the House of Commons. That is as it should be.
    Mr. Speaker, on the campaign trail, the Conservatives promised not to reopen the abortion debate but guess what? We are debating abortion.

[Translation]

    The NDP is proud to be the only federal party with a clear position on abortion. Women have the right to choose.
    Should women's existing rights be up for debate in Parliament? Can Parliament take away any of those rights? The NDP says no.
    Can the ministers who plan to vote in favour of Motion M-312 explain to us why they think it is a good idea to take away Canadian women's basic rights?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member should be aware of the rules of the House. Private members can come forward with resolutions. The resolution in question will be dealt with according to the rules of the House of Commons. Why is that so upsetting to the hon. member?

International Trade

    Mr. Speaker, while the isolationist NDP, which consistently opposes trade agreements with other global neighbours, would close off Canada and Canadian products from the rest of the world, our Conservative government believes in increasing exports and increasing jobs in Canada.
    The NDP's anti-trade and high tax policies, like its tax on everything carbon tax, would be disastrous for the Canadian economy
    Could the Minister of State for Finance tell us how increased trade benefits the Canadian economy and helps to fuel job creation?
    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance today gave a major speech promoting our government's commitment to increasing Canada's exports to the Asia Pacific and why that is so critical to industries in Canada to help create jobs and to level the playing field to allow our Canadian companies to compete. We on this side of the House know how important that is to Canadian businesses.
    What is incredible is the fact that our strong, stable majority government keeps promoting trade but every time we put forward a new trade agreement the NDP votes against that.

[Translation]

Privacy

    Mr. Speaker, Facebook users across Canada became very concerned when they learned that their private posts could now show up on their public wall. This breach of privacy is a problem that is not limited to Facebook. The longer the government waits, the worse the situation will become.
    We are in the 21st century. When will the Conservatives finally update our laws to resolve privacy issues on the Internet?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this government introduced Bill C-12, which is an important tool for ensuring a stronger digital economy in Canada. We look forward to the oppositions' support in moving that forward.
    Mr. Speaker, Bill C-12 is already out of date. The government is still stuck in a world of eight-track tapes.
    This Facebook privacy concern is a concern to millions of Canadians, but the issue is bigger than that.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order. The hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville has the floor. Order.
    The hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville.
    Mr. Speaker, yes, I do know what an eight-track tape is.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

  (1450)  

    Order. The hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville.
    Mr. Speaker, the Privacy Commissioner just released new research raising concerns about popular websites disclosing personal information to third parties without consent. If government members need help understanding Facebook, I am happy to lend a hand.
    We need a modern approach to digital issues. When will the government take serious steps to address the serious privacy concerns of Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the hon. member has a grandmother or grandfather who shared information about eight-track tapes with her. I could tell her a thing or two about LPs, which is something from my time.
    Canadians have given our government a strong mandate to stay focused on what matters, creating jobs and economic growth. Ensuring trust and confidence through the protection of personal information is essential to the growth of the digital economy. Our government will continue to help protect consumers and businesses from misuse of their personal information. We urge the opposition to join us in that.

Government Accountability

    Mr. Speaker, a fundamental principle of democratic accountability is protecting the privacy of the individual while ensuring the transparency of the state. Unfortunately, the Conservatives have flipped that principle upside down.
    Since signing the Federal Accountability Act, Canada has fallen to 51st in the world when it comes to access to information. Citizens in Niger and Angola have better rights for access to information.
    Here is a simple question. What is the government afraid of? Why did it sign the Federal Accountability Act? Why did it turn its back on the rights of Canadians to transparent government?
    Mr. Speaker, I have some good statistics for the hon. member and for the House.
    The Government of Canada, in 2010-11, for that year measured, received 41,641 new access to information requests. That is over 15% more than the previous year. The volume has increased by almost 50% since 2005. More than 90% of the requests are processed within the government's 120-day standard.
    Mr. Speaker, then why is the Parliamentary Budget Officer taking the hon. member to court for basic information for parliamentarians?
    The Conservatives ran on a promise of accountability and they broke that promise. There is no greater example than the hon. member himself, who ran a $50 million slush fund through his office and buried the documents. I am sorry, but his talk about open government has all the credibility of a flim-flam salesman at some country carnival.
    The Conservatives ran on a promise of making government more accountable. Why did they break that promise?
    I can say that when it comes to open data, there are over 272,000 data sets online right now at data.gc.ca, where all citizens can access that data, can use it to create new apps for mobile phones, can use it to help their business or their personal lives.
    That is what we do. We give data to the people of Canada because it is their data.

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, last week the military ombudsman presented a thoughtful, balanced report on the mental health of our men and women in uniform. Even this, however, was too much for the Minister of National Defence, who slapped down the ombudsman for his “advocacy”.
     It is clear that any officer of Parliament, be it the PBO or the Auditor General, and now the military ombudsman, who crosses the Conservative propaganda machine will be destroyed. If the ombudsman cannot, and if the minister will not, who will stand up for our troops?
    Mr. Speaker, you are looking at him.
    I will tell the House, I am so proud of the support our government has provided for our men and women in uniform, $1 billion annually to address all the needs across the Canada first defence strategy.
    With respect to the ombudsman, he was very supportive in his remarks that he made about our changes. He said, “we're very, very pleased to see that there's a strong commitment from the minister and the senior leadership, and as a matter of fact, to address this shortfall and to bring more care providers on the front line”.
    That is a glowing endorsement from the ombudsman, whom the hon. member seems to be trying to defend.

Census

    Mr. Speaker, Liberals repeatedly warned the government that the cancellation of the mandatory long form census would cause the participation rate to plummet.
    Now we know that it has fallen by over 25% and that 1 in 10 communities will not reach the 50% level necessary for them to have data that they can use to plan their communities. Most of these are the small and rural communities.
    Why does the government continue to form policy based on ideology instead of evidence?

  (1455)  

    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member refers to ideology, and again I will say that this government does not hold the ideology that people should be threatened with jail time because they do not want to tell the government what their religion is.
    We do not believe that people should be threatened with jail time because they do not want to say how many hours of housework they did or how much time they spent with their kids.
    As I said before, Statistics Canada is continuing its data quality assessment of the data from the national household survey and will make the results available as this work is completed.

[Translation]

Sport

    Mr. Speaker, young Canadians are increasingly sedentary and have significant health problems. According to Statistics Canada, almost 1.6 million young people are obese.
    Instead of looking for solutions, the minister is content to congratulate his government in this House for its dismal record and to be photographed while learning to curl.
    When will Canadians have a real sports policy that will help them adopt an active lifestyle?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, keeping Canadians active and involved in sports leads to healthier, happier lifestyles.
    That is why our government is working hard to provide families and children with opportunities to take part in physical activity. We created a children's fitness tax credit and continue to work closely with partners like ParticipACTION, le Grand défi and the provinces and territories to make sure Canadians stay active and healthy.
    Mr. Speaker, no matter how hard the minister sweeps, this problem is not going away. Tax credits are nothing but burned stones to those who cannot even afford sports for their kids in the first place.
     The fact is that young Canadians are less and less active and are suffering the consequences of obesity and being overweight.
    Will the minister hurry hard and commit to working with provinces and municipalities to improve access to sports and the necessary infrastructure?
    Mr. Speaker, despite the opinion of the opposition, our government's support towards increasing physical activity among Canadians is welcomed and working.
    As stated by Kelly Murumets, CEO of ParticipACTION, “We are delighted with the Government of Canada's commitment to ParticipACTION and we applaud their support for the promotion of physical activity and healthy living”.
    For example, sport in Canada saw 900,000 Canadians taking part in sport and recreation events in 425 different communities across the country.

Public Safety

    Mr. Speaker, today a lawsuit is being filed by a former prisoner claiming that the Government of Canada violated his human rights by not providing him with clean needles to inject illegal substances while he is in prison.
    My constituents are concerned not only that convicted violent prisoners are doing drugs but that they want to have their needles paid for by the Canadian taxpayers.
    Can the Minister of Public Safety please comment on whether he will establish a needle exchange program for prisoners and what he is doing to stop illegal drugs in our prisons?
    Mr. Speaker, while I cannot comment on a specific case before the courts, I can say that our government is committed to developing a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour.
    Our government has a zero tolerance policy for drugs in our institutions. That is why we made a commitment during the last election to develop drug-free prisons. Drug use among prisoners dramatically reduces their chances of successful rehabilitation.

Food Safety

    Mr. Speaker, just last night Conservatives were celebrating cuts to CFIA and hundreds of staff affected by their budget.
    It turns out our food safety agency waited two weeks to issue a notice about beef contaminated with E. coli from XL Foods, and only finally issued it after American inspectors caught it.
    We warned that Conservative cuts to food inspection would leave us dangerously exposed. Clearly it was not just backroom administrative cuts.
    I ask the minister this. Who is responsible for our food safety now that his cuts have removed vital inspectors? Is it the Americans, or XL Foods?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said in reply to the ill-informed NDP member, the CFIA captured the affected food the day the E. coli was found, on September 4. They did that; they put a rope around it and held onto it.
    To build on that, they had an enhanced recall, a voluntary recall with XL Foods in mid-September to get any type of cross-contamination from other lines that went through the plant. They did that voluntarily. They did that to ensure the Canadian food supply is safe.
    They are able to do that because we put hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of inspectors back on the front line after the decade adrift under that party.

  (1500)  

[Translation]

Housing

    Mr. Speaker, everything is a matter of economic effectiveness for the Conservatives. But when it comes to social housing, they are doing everything to be ineffective.
    The various levels of government spend at least $4.5 billion for homelessness-related health care, police and prison services. According to a recent study, the federal government could save 54% of that money by helping the homeless have better housing. The facts are clear: investing these savings could help fight poverty and homelessness.
    Will the minister finally admit it and commit to providing stable funding for social housing?
    Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what we are doing. We have signed five-year agreements with the provinces and territories for very substantial sums to fight homelessness in Canada. We are responsible for creating 600,000 affordable housing units.

[English]

    Unfortunately, the NDP voted against helping all of those Canadians in need.

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, thanks to our economic action plan, we have the fastest growing economy in the G7. In fact, just today, Statistics Canada announced that retail sales rose in July, beating all forecasts.
    However, the economic recovery remains fragile and cannot withstand the dangerous economic experiments proposed by the NDP.
    I am wondering if the minister could please update this House as to how the imposition of a new tax could hurt Canadian families and the economic recovery.
    Mr. Speaker, our government's economic action plan is working, but while we are working to protect Canada's economic recovery, the opposition is advocating a carbon tax.
    Let us be clear. While the NDP is in denial about it, it is written in black and white on page 4 of its costing document. It talks about taking $21 billion straight out of the fragile Canadian economy and dumping it into the government coffers.
    Of course, it is middle class families that will pay.

Fisheries and Oceans

    Mr. Speaker, the Thunder Bay Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre that monitors Lake Superior, the St. Mary's River and the north shore of Lake Huron will close in 2014. Fewer operators, farther away, will be answering almost 400 more calls.
    How can the government forget tragedies like the Edmund Fitzgerald?

[Translation]

    This closure will lead to even more disasters on our Great Lakes.

[English]

    Why are Conservatives making reckless cuts to essential services in northern Ontario? Why are they weakening marine safety?
    Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth.
    Technology has evolved over the last number of years, and our government is investing in the Coast Guard's infrastructure to take advantage of today's technology to deliver the same services from larger centres at strategic locations across the country.
    Better connected centres equipped with modern technology will ensure improved reliability of service.

[Translation]

Canadian Heritage

    Mr. Speaker, the chair of the board of the National Battlefields Commission has just dropped a bomb, so to speak, in Quebec City, by threatening to drastically reduce the number of major events on the Plains of Abraham. This senseless decision will have serious consequences for the success of Quebec City, for its tourism and for the economy of the entire region. As Mayor Labeaume said, the Plains of Abraham are part of the city and part of its life.
    Does the government support the ill-considered decision of the National Battlefields Commission, or is it going to take steps to protect the vitality of our national capital's culture and tourism?
    Mr. Speaker, we are currently in discussions with Quebec City and the National Battlefields Commission in order to come up with a formula, a process to protect Quebec City's great cultural community and the heritage of that structure and area that is so special for Canada.

[English]

Presence in Gallery

    I draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of astronaut Chris Hadfield.

  (1505)  

[Translation]

    Retired Colonel Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut who will be going into space for a third time in December.

[English]

    He is scheduled to spend six months on the space station and in the second half of the mission he will take command, which will make him the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

Points of Order

Statements by Members  

    Mr. Speaker, I know that my colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain wants to make a statement to the House. We all shared his concern before question period. Perhaps he could fill us in now on the news from Saskatchewan.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that the fire at the Rocanville mine has been put out. The miners are safe. We trust that they will be rescued soon and will be at home with their loved ones.
    I am sure the House appreciates the good news.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Business of Supply]

[English]

Business of Supply

Opposition Motion--Income Inequality  

    The House resumed consideration of the motion.
    When question period started the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor had questions and comments left.
    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question that the member asked earlier today in question period. I am wondering if maybe he could incorporate that question into the motion that the Liberal Party put forward this opposition day.
    Mr. Speaker, yes indeed. It was interesting that after question period, I received a message from my office, but I will first set up the question if members did not get to hear it.
    Her name is Louise. She lives in my riding. She is the single mom of two. She was able to achieve a job for two days a week as a receptionist, and because of the rules under the old system she was allowed to earn up to 40%. She was allowed to keep her benefits and at the same time to keep the money from part-time work. So finally Louise was able to move ahead. I asked the minister why these new rules would claw back 50¢ on the first dollar that she makes. Basically she is going to earn less. The minister stood in the House and said that is not the case. She is actually going to earn more.
    The question that came from the riding is why is she making $100 less every two weeks in EI benefits than she was last year? Am I missing something here?
    In the United States, Bill Clinton talked about that key word “arithmetic”, which sometimes escapes us here. I do not quite understand. As my colleague from Cape Breton pointed out, the paycheque does not lie. She makes $100 less.
    Again, I would ask the government this: When things were getting better for her, why did it then make them worse for her?
    Mr. Speaker, as the member would know, EI is a program based on a percentage of income. There are a whole number of variables that can lead to different amounts of money being received.
    I will ask the member a more basic question. He brought this up at the end of his speech when he started talking about U.S. politics and the 47%. He was rambling on about things that really do not apply to Canada. The Liberal Party has brought this motion forward today to talk about income inequality. I am curious that if the member has seen virtue in so many of the programs that we have brought forward, why has he consistently voted against these measures? Specifically with respect to EI, why does the member not recognize that the EI system today is encouraging and supporting people in a fashion it never did under the Liberal Party?

  (1510)  

    Mr. Speaker, what part of the fact that she is making less than she did under the last program does he not get? Can I keep using that word “arithmetic” again? I stand up and say arithmetic escapes us and all of a sudden someone stands up and defies the logic of arithmetic once again.
    Why did I vote against them? It was because they do not work. Why? It is because Louise told me so.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I was present when my colleague made his speech before question period. I was quite interested in the motion, but I only had time to read it quickly, unfortunately. I was especially interested in the last point. I wonder if he could elaborate a little more on this point:
(e) removing interest charges from the federal component of student loans.
    Since I was a student not too long ago and since a number of my colleagues are worried about loans to young students, I wonder if he could go into a little more detail on this.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would wholeheartedly like to thank my colleague.

[Translation]

    I thank my colleague very much; she is too kind.

[English]

    I did not get to that part of my speech as I had limited time before question period. That is a very essential point. I talked about students under the guise of youth unemployment, but when there is youth unemployment it becomes that much more difficult to pay off student loans with high interest charges. We have to look at that by zeroing in and targeting that particular expense, which is an impediment to people buying first-time homes, first-time cars and students being able to get their first job.
    More can be done on that account. There were many policies in the past that should be looked at and resurrected so that students can get a break on tuition while in school. At the same time, the interest charges have become crippling, as my colleague has recognized.
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague made an excellent presentation and put out some examples of the issues that affected his constituents. I think quite often that is when people can really relate. Paycheques do not lie. If person is receiving $100 less today than he or she did a year ago then, clearly, the changes the Conservatives are making under the premise that they are helping people certainly are not helping that group of people. I guess they refer to them as “those people”.
    I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak today about a very important motion, our opposition day motion on income inequality. What that means, quite simply, is the difference between those who have and those who do not have. The Liberals have always tried to eliminate that, so everybody has to some degree. Some have more, some have less, but we do not have the difference between those who have next to nothing and the others who continue to get richer.
    The motion is important because it urges parliamentarians to consider the kind of Canada we all want. Do we, as parliamentarians, want a country where only the strong survive, or a country where we all work together to build and maintain communities where everyone has an equal place? I have a hard time believing that is not a goal of all parliamentarians, regardless of their party flavour.
    The motion today calls upon the government to take several simple and immediate steps to reduce the growing income inequality in Canada. The measures are simple things. They are not complex and they are not going to cost millions of dollars. They include a rollback on the employment insurance premium hikes, which inflict a relatively higher burden, again, on low to modest-income workers, and end the punitive new clawback from employment insurance that are clearly discouraging people from working.
     I think the goal of us all is to have those who are on employment insurance working a few extra days or a few extra hours because maybe it will lead to a full-time job, eventually. It improves their skill sets and provides more opportunities for them.
    Another measure is to make tax credits, such as the family caregiver tax credit, refundable. It makes no sense giving tax credits if the only people who will benefit are those in the high-income bracket. We are talking about many people in the lower-income bracket who need these, but they are of absolutely no use because they do not make enough money.
    Another measure is to make the registered disability savings plan available to sufferers of serious chronic diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. My colleague from Etobicoke North has done a huge amount of work on the whole issue of MS. We have heard from many of them in the House and the difficulties they face. I use MS as one of the chronic disease. Let us make the registered disability savings plan available to them as well.
    Interest from federal students loans should be removed. We hear from students all across Canada about the massive amount of student debt they carry. Why can we not forgo the interest as a good measure? It is not going to be millions of dollars. A lot of it gets written off because the students cannot find jobs. Why not do the right thing and eliminate it?
     We are calling upon the government to set aside its “might is right” agenda just for a moment. Let us seriously look at this whole income inequality issue. We ask the government to vote for our opposition day motion and help those who are unemployed as well as employers, those who are in the lowest income bracket, the elderly, families, the disabled, those suffering from chronic diseases and those students who are struggling to get their education.
    This motion is about helping those who sometimes fall between the cracks, and we all know of many of them.
    In simple terms, in a country like Canada, it is unacceptable that these people would be subjected to the poverty and squalor and the suffering out there. Not everybody is happy. Not everybody is doing really well and has two or three cars. There is a lot of suffering and struggling out there.
    As parliamentarians, we can, and we must, do more to help those who struggle to make ends meet. Who knows what a difference these small measures might make in the lives of many who need the most.
    For example, last night my office received a call from a man in southern Ontario named Dan. Dan came to Canada with his family 47 years ago, with absolutely nothing in his pockets, like many new immigrants.

  (1515)  

    Over the years, Dan and his family struggled, had two jobs, three sometimes and they often had difficulty making ends meet. However, they were able to access a variety of government programming and supports when it was available. As a result of their work and an occasional hand up, today Dan is the CEO of a successful and growing multimedia business.
    If those programs had not been available, where would Dan be today? Dan would probably be still living on welfare and who knows the impact that would have had on his quality of life, on his family and on his children. Today Dan gives back to his community by operating a food bank and by helping, on a voluntary basis, other fledgling businesses to grow because he had a hand up, not a handout. He is a father and a grandfather and he has helped other members of his family to grow and expand in their own lives. That was a great investment in Dan.
    Who would have been better off had we as a country opted not to help Dan? Sadly, I remember when the Prime Minister said these words, and I shuddered thinking surely he would never get a majority, he would never have that opportunity. Well that day is here. The Prime Minister once said that if he was given a chance, he would change the face of Canada forever. Step by step, that is exactly what is happening. Even though only 39% of Canadians voted for him, he has the votes to do whatever he wants in the House.
    Many of the programs that once helped people like Dan have fallen by the wayside under the watch of the government. I referred to them in question period. Leaving people behind seems to be an emerging policy of the current government. Inflation is driving up the price of everything from education to groceries to home heating. With median family income stagnating or declining, Canadians are being hit from both sides.
     However, instead of taking the steps to reduce income inequality, the government is sticking its head in the sand by refusing a committee to do a study on it. Let us look into the issue of what is happening. We hear “income inequality” used a lot. To get an understanding of what it was, we tried to do that through the good work of our finance critic at committee and that was voted down because the government would rather stick its head in the sand and ignore these kinds of issues than truly move forward.
    Earlier today, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills asked what these measures would cost. The bigger question is, what is the cost of doing nothing? If nobody did anything, Dan would not be where he is today as a very successful business person, helping other people. If we can find billions of dollars for new fighter jets, for high-priced orange juice and for fake lakes, why can we not find a few bucks for someone who is struggling with MS or a student struggling with high tuition? It is all about priorities.
    Liberal priorities are people. For me, this debate shows the philosophical difference between Liberals and Conservatives. Whether we are referencing the old age pensions delivered by Mackenzie King's government, or the Old Age Security Act delivered by the Louis St. Laurent government or the Canadian pension plan and guaranteed income supplement, both delivered by Lester Pearson, all of these were delivered by the Liberal Party of Canada, while we continued on a fiscally responsible government and left a $14 billion surplus in the bank for the Conservatives when they came into power. Surely we can find some common ground on this issue. It does not have to be an issue of Conservative versus NDP versus Liberal. It is something that we could all vote for. Let us look into it because it affects all of our families.
    The parliamentary secretary admitted today that poverty was still a problem in Canada, and I agree with her. However, when one finds oneself in a hole, why would one continue to dig down further and further? Why not say, “Yes, we have these issues but let us work together with all parliamentarians to make that difference?” The cost of inaction is very high and blaming people is not the way to go. Let us all vote for the motion and move forward Canada's agenda.

  (1520)  

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that the Liberals are concerned, and I would argue all members in the House are concerned with those less fortunate in their communities. We would all like to see them do better and we would all like to see better outcomes for each and every person in our riding. We may have different ideas and philosophies about how to make that happen, but it is very difficult to encourage across the aisle dialogue and co-operation on these issues when those members impugn the motives of the government and members on this side by suggesting that our priorities are something other than what they are.
    The government has indicated that it is focused on the economy, on jobs and on creating opportunity for Canadians. The Liberals may disagree with how we have gone about that, but the results speak for themselves. If the members opposite would like to see co-operation across the aisle, I would encourage them that we cannot seek to impugn the motives of each and every member of the House who all want to see better outcomes for their constituents.
    Mr. Speaker, it is all about how we get there. It is all about investing in jobs and the economy. However, the bottom line seems to be to lower taxes because somehow that will create jobs.
    I think every Canadian wants a job. When people do not work, they do not feel fulfilled. There are so many other things that happen as a result of unemployment. The idea is this. What else do we need to do to ensure we are creating jobs? It is not just about lowering taxes.
    My comments were not disparaging. My comments show that the government does not seem to recognize that while it may have its own agenda, and that is the economy, the economy is on everybody's agenda. The economy helps to produce a strong country. We can be fiscally responsible, but we can also be socially responsible at the same time.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech and her party for the motion it moved in the House today. The motion seems very interesting.
    I took my time reading the motion, particularly the following point:
(c) making tax credits, such as the Family Caregiver Tax Credit, refundable so that low income Canadians are not excluded;
    I think this is an extremely important point in the motion. There are a lot of family caregivers, and the number will grow as Canada's population ages.
    Does my colleague not think it important to adopt this motion, especially that part, to ensure that the tax credits are refundable for low-income families? Does she not think it sad that the Conservatives want to vote against that part of the motion?

  (1525)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, on the issue of caregivers and their struggles, all of us know of several, if not hundreds, of people who care for a sick family member. Giving them a caregiver tax credit sounds great, but if it is not fully refundable, it does not help the very people we are talking about today. They have taken time off from their jobs, or quit or put an end to their careers so they can take care of a sick family member.
    There is clearly much more to be done. This is one step in that direction, but we want it to be refundable so it truly helps everybody who needs it.
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member was a minister of government when the Liberals were in government. Could she comment on the Kelowna accord and how agreements between different stakeholders can assist in bringing more equity among all people if governments work together to achieve things like the Kelowna accord?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member referenced the Kelowna accord. There was also the child care agreement that was within three months of being finalized. Unfortunately, the NDP voted against that and we lost one of the most progressive social programs we could have.
    The Kelowna accord is another example of the kinds of programs that can be worked on together and the kinds of policies that can come out when everybody works together, but that means truly listening.
    I go back to the comment from my Conservative colleague. I think he was quite sincere in his intent to move forward and to try to help many of these families out. I think a positive result today on something as important as income inequality, by having all of us vote for it, could maybe be a start in the right direction. Then maybe tomorrow there would be less rhetoric in the House and a little more of an ambience of actually working together on something.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.
    I am pleased to speak to the motion from the interim leader of the third party.
    When addressing the topic of income inequality, I had hoped he had researched what has happened to the level of poverty in Canada under our Conservative government.
    Under our Conservative government, poverty has decreased to an all-time low. In fact, it was in 1996, under the previous Liberal government, that Canada's poverty rate reached its highest level in more than 40 years. What an abysmal record.
    Under the Liberals, Canada's poverty rate hit 15.2%. In 2010, as the world economy continued to struggle and Canada continued to show leadership on the world stage under our Prime Minister, with a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government, 9% of Canada's population lived in poverty. This number was still too high so we have continued to act to reduce it. This number represents the lowest percentage in Canadian history. In fact, it is 32% lower than under the Liberals. To put it in context, 1.3 million Canadians under the Conservative government have escaped poverty.
    In 1996, under the Liberals, the peak of poverty in the last 40 years, 16.2% of women were considered to be low income. In 2010, I am pleased to report that poverty among women dropped to an all-time low of 9%, which is a 57% decrease in poverty.
    Another hard truth for the Liberals is that, before 2006, children experienced a higher rate of poverty than adults in Canada. In 2006, after we Conservatives formed government, for the first time in history children had a lower poverty rate than adults in Canada. That is something all of us can be proud of.
    In 1996, under the previous Liberal government, 18% of children lived in poverty, which is 3% higher than working aged Canadians. As a mother of a young son myself, I find it appalling that the Liberals not only tolerated but continued to contribute to the increase in child poverty through their mean-spirited and poorly thought out cuts to transfer payments to the provinces.
    However, under our Conservative leadership, by 2010 this number had been cut in half, with 8.2% of children considered to be living in poverty, a rate that is 1.9% lower than working aged Canadians.
    To be fair, any amount of child or adult poverty in Canada is too much.
    There is, however, a pattern here: under the Liberals, we get more child poverty; under the Conservatives, we get less child poverty.
    For 13 years, the Liberals, who are so sanctimonious today, held a majority government. When they had the votes to pass any piece of legislation to enact any program whatsoever what did they do? These self-proclaimed mighty defenders of those Canadians in need did the following. They launched an attack on the poor, the sick and the needy like no government before or since has ever done. They gutted transfers to the provinces and territories with staggering unprecedented cuts totalling tens of billions of dollars each and every year.
    When they cut money to the provinces for health care, hospitals in my community closed, nurses were fired and doctors saw their working conditions deteriorate like never before. When they cut money for social services and for transfers to schools, colleges and universities, those buildings crumbled and community services were scaled back like never before.
    This is not rhetoric. I am not exaggerating for effect. This is what happened. This is the Liberal record.
     The statistics speak for themselves. Under the Liberals, the increase to the highest rates of poverty in 40 years happened in tandem with the cuts to provincial transfers.
    Unlike the Liberals, our Conservative government made a commitment and cemented in law that those transfers will never be cut and that they will always continue to grow each and every year. That is exactly what we have done.

  (1530)  

    Let us think about our approach to transfers to the provinces for things like hospitals and schools. These transfers are the most significant means by which provinces help those in need. The transfers have been called more than generous by all sorts of third party observers. Why have the Liberals voted against these transfers at every opportunity?
    We have taken many crucial steps as a government to ensure that vulnerable Canadians can fully participate in our economy. In 2007, we introduced the working income tax benefit to help ensure that more low and modest income Canadians are financially better off as a result of getting a job. In budget 2009, this tax benefit was enhanced by $580 million, effectively doubling the initial investment to provide further support to working Canadians and their families.
    We believe the family is a very important building block of society and it is one of the most important investments we can make as a society. Our government is committed to the family's well-being. We gave Canadian parents the choice to decide what kind of child care they needed for their families by providing parents with $100 each month for each child under six years of age, a benefit that I certainly received for my son. The universal child care benefit enables parents to choose the care that best suits the needs of their children.
    In budget 2010, we made changes to the universal child care benefit to ensure that single parent families and parents with joint custody are treated fairly. Our government provides annual financial support under the universal child care benefit to about 1.5 million Canadian families. This is one program alone and it is responsible for lifting 55,000 children out of poverty. We provide over $800 million to parents through the child care expense deduction, as well as about $1.5 billion per year in tax support for families through the child tax credit. This money amounts to the largest investment in early childhood development and child care in Canadian history.
    Our government recognized that it may be difficult for people who have full-time jobs to care for family members with serious illness or disabilities. Our government introduced improvements to the EI program to help parents balance work and family responsibilities during financially difficult and emotionally devastating times. For example, we expanded the list of family members and others considered as family under the compassionate care benefits so that eligible workers can take a temporary absence from their work to provide care for a gravely ill individual who faces a significant risk of death.
    For the first time ever, our government created a program so that self-employed Canadians could opt into the EI program to receive maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits. Foster parents who have a child placed with them for the purposes of adoption can now take parental leave earlier instead of having to wait until the legal proceedings conclude.
    We have also expanded access to parental benefits for military families. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, I have the privilege of serving the brave men and women who stand up for our nation. It was our government that made the changes to ensure that military members who returned from deployment could take their parental leave over a longer period of time, ensuring they have a very important opportunity to bond with their new babies.
    Most recently, our government introduced the helping families in need act, which was tabled last week. It is a bill that introduces necessary legislative changes to help hard-working Canadian families when they need it the most. As a mom, I was thrilled that the government introduced the helping families in need act to provide supports to families in their times of need. The bill provides for an EI benefit for parents and guardians of critically ill children. It also provides an EI benefit of $350 a week for 35 weeks for parents of children who have been kidnapped or murdered. I cannot imagine the devastation and anxiety of family members as they struggle with a kidnapped child or critically ill child. In these types of circumstances, I think Canadians can understand why we would want to support these families. We want to ensure that their prime concern and focus remains on their children and that they do not need to worry about their jobs, paying the mortgage or putting food on the table. Sadly, the NDP voted against the ways and means motion required to introduce this new law.

  (1535)  

    I would hope that the opposition parties could stand and support our measures to help Canadian families. We have been very strong, very solid and our track record speaks for itself.
    Very succinctly, child poverty, adult poverty and poverty among women has been dramatically reduced in Canada under Conservatives. Members will recall that under the Liberals it was dramatically higher, an all-time 40-year high.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member opposite for her remarks.
    I am not sure how she can be opposed to the Liberals' plan to such an extent, especially given the provision that seeks to help students with their loans. We can see that students are deeper and deeper in debt, partly because salaries have not kept up with inflation in the last 25 years.
    Our proposal is to improve the funding for Canadian student grant programs. That would come to an additional $200 million per year because federal transfers have decreased.
    Would the Conservatives be interested in a measure that would help students to be debt-free when they graduate, so that they could actually focus on their studies?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for the opportunity to clarify the record. I certainly spoke to it during my remarks. The fact is that, under our Conservative government, transfers to the provinces for health care, universities, colleges and hospitals have not decreased but have actually increased.
     I think the hon. member was probably thinking about the Liberal majority government that dramatically slashed transfers to hospitals. That was when all those hospitals in the Toronto area closed, as they did across the country.
    The Conservative government has a very strong track record in maintaining transfers to our provinces for our needed social programs.

  (1540)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member has demonstrated that she has the ability to read speaking notes from the Prime Minister's Office and I applaud her for that, I guess. She has also demonstrated that she knows how to manipulate statistics, but I do not necessarily applaud her for that.
    The reality is that, during the Trudeau era, poverty went down from double digits of around 11% to 7% or 8%. Then, during the Mulroney years, it hovered between that 7% and 8%. When the Chrétien government came in, it was reduced from 7% to 5% and we left the present government a huge budget surplus. We left an economic opportunity to make a significant difference in tackling the issue of poverty.
     Why does the member not recognize the facts as they are as opposed to trying to deceive Canadians by being very selective in what she is pointing out, which is not necessarily reflective of history?
    Mr. Speaker, I lived in Ontario at the time of the Martin majority government and he balanced the budget by dramatically cutting transfers to the province of Ontario and other provinces. During that time, a slew of hospitals crumbled and had to close. Nurses had to be fired. That is the Liberal track record. Every Canadian, certainly every Ontario resident and those who lived in the Toronto area, recalls those times.
    Our Conservative government has maintained transfers to hospitals and each and every year has continued to increase them, which is something I campaigned for and it is something that every Conservative budget has delivered. We actually keep our word.
    Mr. Speaker, the motion before us touches on many aspects of the work that our government has been doing to benefit hard-working Canadian families.
    I wonder if my colleague could comment on how these benefits contrast with the NDP's plan to impose a job-killing carbon tax.
    Mr. Speaker, that is an outstanding question and one that my residents also want to hear about.
    Unlike the NDP, which wants to bring in a new tax to take money out of hard-working Canadian families' pockets, to have civil servants in Ottawa spend more, and to increase the cost of groceries and every single aspect of their daily lives, our Conservative government continues to cut taxes. One of the most obvious ones is the GST. We have cut that from 7% to 6% to 5%. That helps every Canadian family every single day every time they make a purchase.
    We continue to provide all sorts of additional tax benefits. We have lowered the tax burden on Canadian families to the lowest levels in Canadian history.
    That is the Conservative track record and we will continue on that track.
    Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House to share with members the reasons why I will not be able to support the motion by the interim leader of the Liberal Party.
     Although our government really takes the issue of income inequality seriously, to be quite frank I find the motion to be vague and disconnected. It is a typical Liberal approach to these issues.
    The Liberal leader said he was proposing five very practical steps, but when asked what the cost would be, he did not have any idea.
    As I have listened to the debate throughout the day, I have not heard how many people the motion would help or how it would have an impact on them. It is really very nebulous. These ideas do not knit together as a comprehensive strategy. For example, what about seniors? There is nothing on that. Are seniors not important in terms of income inequality?
    I am proud to be part of a Conservative government that really acts rather than wanting to do more studies.
    I would like to share with the House some of the actions that we are taking as a government. I have given one example already, in saying there is nothing about seniors in the motion. However, I will share with members some of the things that we are doing to deal with this important issue.
     I first want to thank seniors for the sacrifices they have made and the foundational role they have played in building our nation. They certainly deserve our gratitude and support. They are the men and women who have worked tirelessly to build a better country for future generations. They are the men and women who have served in our armed forces to keep Canada free and make the world a safer place.
    This weekend I had the opportunity to go to the War Museum. As I went through the exhibits from the War of 1812 to the Boer War and World War I and II, I was struck by the personal stories of those people who made this great country what it is today. It was very touching. I encourage people to take some time to go through that particular museum if they have not been there already.
    Our seniors are the men and women who worked endless hours, gave their blood, sweat and tears, to build the economy of today, be it in a business big or small or on a farm.
    That is why our Conservative government has introduced a lot of initiatives since 2006 to benefit our seniors and make their golden years a bit easier.
    As we have seen time and time again, when we introduce what we think are important measures, the Liberal Party has stood up and voted against them. These include many of the measures we have introduced to help some of Canada's most impoverished seniors.
    Here also, when the motion talks about the registered disability plan, it is a bit disingenuous, considering that we introduced it and the Liberals voted against it.
    Another example is the guaranteed income supplement or GIS top-up for the most vulnerable seniors. Since July 2011 this top-up has helped seniors with little or no income other than OAS and GIS, by giving them additional benefits of up to $600 for single seniors and up to $840 for couples. I have heard loud and clear from constituents in my riding how important that is and what a positive change it has been. This is the largest GIS increase for the lowest income seniors in a quarter century. This is an investment of $300 million per year for our seniors. This initiative will improve the financial security and wellbeing of more than 680,000 seniors right across Canada. Even the Canadian Labour Congress, which is probably not the best friend of our government, has said “This is a win for every senior living in poverty in Canada”.
    What did the Liberal Party do? Liberal members voted against helping those seniors most in need.
    We have done more. We made sure that seniors can earn up to $3,500 more before their GIS is reduced, so that our seniors can keep more of their hard-earned money without any reduction in their benefits. The Liberal Party voted against that too.
    Unfortunately, those are not the only measures the Liberal Party has voted against. It has opposed our measures reducing taxes for seniors. Our government cut taxes for seniors and pensioners by more than $2.5 billion via targeted tax relief. Specifically, our government has increased the age credit by $1,000 in 2006 and by another $1,000 in 2009. We have doubled the maximum amount of income eligible for the pension income credit to $2,000. We have introduced very popular pension income splitting. We also increased the age limit for maturing pensions and registered retirement savings plans, or RRSPs, to 71 from 69 years of age.

  (1545)  

    All of these are hugely important measures that are helping reduce the inequity for seniors.
    With these combined measures, our Conservative government's low-tax record for seniors has substantially increased the income seniors can earn before they are required to pay a cent in income tax. For example, in 2012 a single senior can earn just over $19,000 and a senior couple over $39,000 before paying any federal income tax whatsoever. Even better, as a result of our government's actions, 380,000 seniors have been removed from the tax rolls altogether.
    We know there is much more to be done and that is why we have done more. Seniors also benefit from our general tax cuts when we moved the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%. The Liberals opposed that. When we reduced the lowest personal income tax rate to 15% from 16%, the Liberals opposed it. When we increased the basic personal amount that Canadians can earn without being subject to federal income tax, the Liberals opposed it.
    I could go on. For example, when the Liberals opposed the tax-free savings account they opposed something that was really helpful for seniors because the income earned within a tax-free savings account and withdrawals from it are not taxed and do not affect eligibility for federal income-tested benefits such as old age security or the guaranteed income supplement. In the words of the respected personal finance columnist Jonathan Chevreau, “[T]here is now a way that seniors can save that rewards rather than punishes them”.
    Seniors know that they have to be responsible and plan for the future and understand that one must spend responsibly to ensure that the next generation will have the services it needs. That is why as part of our economic action plan 2012, our Conservative government took important steps to ensure the future sustainability of Canada's social programs, placing key social programs on a sustainable path, ensuring that they will be there for future generations. At the same time, we recognize that many Canadian seniors who have the knowledge to share and skills to use do not want to be forced to retire before they choose to. We have given them more options to stay in the workforce if they wish, because we believe they should have the flexibility to continue to work if they so choose. That is why we eliminated mandatory forced retirement for federally regulated industries and why we will allow seniors who wish to remain in the workforce to delay or defer their OAS pensions for up to five years, allowing them to receive a higher annual pension down the road. That is why we have given massive new funding to the ThirdQuarter project to help seniors keep using their skills in the workforce. That is why we have introduced proactive enrollments into the OAS, removing the need to sign up for benefits for many seniors, a positive measure that columnist Gordon Pape, writing in the Toronto Star, applauded as “[A] welcome elimination of bureaucratic red tape that should have the effect of putting a lot more money into the hands of seniors”.
    The bottom line is that we have a government that is taking action on so many fronts in a connected way for the entire population. In that regard, this motion is typical of the Liberals in being very disconnected and one that really will not accomplish what they say they want to accomplish. Again, our government takes very seriously the issue of income inequality in Canada.

  (1550)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the hon. Conservative member that there are regions in Quebec and in Canada, some of which are in my riding, where seasonal industry contributes to the economy and is often the last industry that is keeping the regions alive.
    For example, in Charlevoix and the Haute-Côte-Nord, people will just have to choose between going away and going hungry. Whatever they choose, there will less money in the region. That is going to create a vicious circle and cause a dynamic economy to go into decline, forcing people to leave the region.
    Do the Conservatives understand this reality?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, absolutely, we have people in seasonal industries across this country. In my riding we have a number of tourist industries that are very periodic, for example skiing or apple picking in the Okanagan. That is why we made some changes to support those folks on EI, letting them know about opportunities that are near them and within their job skills category and available to them.
    We have taken many important measures over the last year in the budget implementation act to support the folks in those industries. Those have been very important for the communities and the economy and will really help them move forward.

  (1555)  

    Mr. Speaker, during the course of this debate we have spent a fair bit of time talking about people on a first name basis and hypothetical people. I want to talk about Roger Byers, who has given me permission to use his last name. He is a real person who lives in a real apartment on Hillsborough Street in downtown Charlottetown.
    Roger Byers is a frequent user of the EI system. He is from Atlantic Canada but he is not lazy. He has two jobs. One job is full-time for six months of the year as a labourer for the city of Charlottetown. Another job is part-time, year round, $10 an hour for 20 hours a week at a bingo hall. For six months of the year this man works 60 hours a week. At the end of his term every fall he goes on EI, and under the present rules the clawback from his $10 an hour job at the bingo hall is $6. However, the clawback is now $100 because of the changes.
    I invite my colleague opposite to look in the camera and explain to Roger Byers from Charlottetown how these measures are fair to him.
    Mr. Speaker, what the member is talking about generally is very important. This is someone who wants a job, has two jobs and is willing to work hard. That is why we have made a the economy and jobs and long-term prosperity a priority, because I know that the person mentioned would want to have a job available to him.
    Over 770,000 net jobs since the worst part of the recession have been created and we are creating a climate for success for new businesses to open in those communities. Those are the things that this person would be very interested in and the opportunity to put in the good work that he does.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's outlining how the situation for seniors has improved under our government. What initiatives by our government have had the greatest positive impact on low-income, vulnerable seniors in Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, there were so many items that I outlined, whether it was the increase in the GIS or the ability to make a little bit more money before the GIS is clawed back.
    The Liberals and NDP are perhaps forgetting what is most important. As a finance committee we held meetings in the United States and at every single meeting the people said that we were so lucky in Canada, that our economy was stable and that we were such a fortunate country.
    Again, the most important thing we can do is to have a strong, stable economy so that we can continue to support our seniors in need and those around us who are most vulnerable.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg North.
    I rise today to address the growing income inequality gap and to ask that the government take immediate action to make a real difference to Canadians, many of whom are suffering.
    I have the privilege of representing the riding where I was born and raised. While we are proudly one of the most multicultural ridings in the country, we also have our challenges. Almost 20% of our residents are not yet citizens, and so our families face family reunification challenges and language and job barriers. Almost 25% of our families are headed by single parents, who work two or three jobs just to put food on the table. Almost 20% of our riding is engaged in manufacturing, the second highest percentage for the entire country.
    Income inequality hurts Canadians. If middle-class families cannot buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, the entire economy can be affected. In fact, research shows that countries with less inequality tend to have steadier and stronger economic growth in the long term.
    This Parliament should be able to imagine and fight for a future where the people who work hard in my riding and ridings across our great country can get a good job, buy a home, raise a family, pay for their children's education and save for retirement, and where the income inequality gap is not ever-increasing.
    I am going to provide three concrete examples of how income inequality disproportionately affects our children, those living with disabilities and those who provide care, and how income inequality hurts real Canadians.
    Let me begin with children, society's most vulnerable and the voiceless, particularly the one in five who live below the poverty line. I ask directly of the government, what is the state of childhood in Canada? How does Canada compare to other countries? Does the federal government spend enough money on children? Do we even have the data? Who speaks for children and ensures that every child matters? Are children asked and listened to? Do we have the right government structure and policy agenda to ensure effective advocacy for children?
    We need change for children. We must put children at the centre of our policies. Nurture demands political advocacy for children's best interests, starting with the basics of love and care and seeing through the eyes of children. This is why, as the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie is advocating, we so desperately need a children's commissioner in Canada who is independent and can speak for the most vulnerable in society.
    Tragically, in some parts of our great country families eat only one meal a day instead of three. More often than we would like to admit, some family members eat while others go hungry. No family should face such choices in Canada. No one should face such hardship, not in a country of such enormous wealth.
    Hundreds of thousands of Canadian children go to school hungry, and 40% of our elementary students and 62% of our secondary students do not eat a nutritious breakfast. As a result they may stop growing and may be too hungry to learn. When they are older they may be too undereducated to work to their full potential.
    Despite the staggering statistics, percentages and well-known outcomes, Canada remains one of the few developed countries without a student nutrition program. If providing food at school increases graduation rates by only 3%, a pan-Canadian school meals program in high schools, at a cost of $1.25 a day, could result in an annual net payback of more than $500 million.
    Mere private members' bills or motions are not good enough to protect our children, their futures and our collective future. The government must demonstrate courage and tenacity to swiftly tackle the tragedy of child hunger in Canada while building local markets for Canadian farmers. As Buzz Aldrin says, “If we can conquer space, we can conquer childhood hunger”.
    In addition to serving my riding, I have the privilege of serving thousands of Canadians living with devastating multiple sclerosis, who bravely fight their disease each day and fight for clinical trials for CCSVI, as well as all those living with a brain disease, disorder or injury, which, along with mental health, affect one in three Canadians or 10 million Canadians.

  (1600)  

    While the government has promised a registry and clinical trials for CCSVI, all we have to date is announcements and no action. There are no cures and no effective treatments that will consistently slow or stop neurological disorders.
     Families often feel impossibly alone and helpless, people like an extraordinary lady with MS whose young son recently suffered an aneurysm and a stroke. She has had to quit work to look after him. They are people like my own aunt who, in her 70s, is at her daughter's house at 6:30 in the morning to feed her daughter and then goes home to her husband who is now suffering with Alzheimer's disease, and my friend's grandfather who is 80 years old and was married for 60 years. He kept his promise to his wife, installed a bed in the living room and for seven years was her sole caregiver, bathing her, feeding her and carrying her upstairs to the washroom.
    The government has to do better in terms of income and caregiver support. Whether a neurological condition is diagnosed in childhood, such as cerebral palsy, in early adulthood, such as multiple sclerosis, or later as in Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, as the diseases progresses it takes a toll on the caregiver's or person's productivity. This includes no longer being able to work, perhaps because of the disease but all too often because of the lack of accommodation in the workplace.
    There are some relatively easy actions that could be taken now, for example, making employment insurance benefits more flexible to allow people who have episodic conditions to work part time and receive partial benefits.
    In terms of neurological conditions, the role of the caregiver changes throughout the course of the condition. Initially the focus may be on helping with finances, personal care and transportation; then later to ensuring that services are delivered safely as scheduled; and finally to being a member of the care team.
    Today 2.7 million Canadians provide care for seniors. Family caregivers are responsible for 80% of Canada's home care services, providing over $9 billion in unpaid care each year. Caring for family often results in lost income from work in order to provide care, as well as unexpected out-of-pocket expenses. For example, over 40% of family caregivers use personal savings to survive. One-quarter of family caregivers miss one or more months of work to provide care, and 65% of family caregivers have household incomes under $45,000. Three-quarters of family caregivers are women, who are more likely to have lower wages, fewer savings and additional responsibilities for child care.
    The government must provide meaningful support for caregivers in the form of a comprehensive package of education, respite and mandated workplace accommodation with regard to the episodic needs of caregivers, and of course making the family caregiver tax credit refundable so low-income Canadians are not excluded.
    The government must recognize the economic and social costs of caregiving, make existing tax credits refundable and explore ways to reform income security programs.
    In closing, inequality can also twist or distort democracy. It can give a greater voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists. I leave members with one final thought from the voiceless, a Canadian woman living with multiple sclerosis who says:
Don’t forget me. I’m still in here, trapped in a body that can’t move, that can’t talk. But I think and I feel just like you do, and I hurt. I hurt physically and mentally.
    The time to act is now. Our fellow Canadians are hurting.

  (1605)  

    Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the member listed off a number of issues that families deal with every day.
    Indeed, I would argue that families have been dealing with issues like this forever. When I was a kid my father virtually always had three jobs, and my mother virtually always had two jobs. They did what they had to do to provide for their family, and I appreciate it.
    My mother also, after my father passed away, looked after both of her parents and she still worked her full-time job and she still had time for us. She is an incredible woman and I think an example of the things that, frankly, many families and many people encounter every day.
    What the member seems to be proposing is some kind of utopian society where government looks after everything, where we do not have these concerns and where big government is there to pick everyone up and make it happen. I just want to invoke Thomas Jefferson at this point, because I do not believe that is the role of government. Thomas Jefferson said:
    A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.
    I do not believe that government can fill all the gaps. It never can and that is why I think this debate is almost getting silly.

  (1610)  

    Mr. Speaker, Canada signed the 1992 declaration regarding food. We have a responsibility to meet that declaration. The government shows no sign of changing course and improving student nutrition.
    The Minister of Health's office stated:
    We see education very clearly as a provincial/territorial jurisdiction, so it's nothing that's being considered by our government at this point in time.
    This is extremely disappointing, considering the recognition by Dr. David Butler-Jones, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, who stressed:
    As a result of being hungry at school, these children may not reach their full developmental potential--an outcome that can have a health impact throughout their entire lives.
    We are one of the few industrialized countries without a national breakfast program, the only G8 country without.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Etobicoke North for her excellent speech and for raising a very important subject.
    We have to tackle child and student hunger. Years ago, we promised to fight and defeat child poverty. Investing in health is not a waste of money; it is an investment. That money can prevent the harmful effects of all kinds of social problems caused by child poverty. We have to focus on health and education.
    My question for my colleague is very simple. She has actually already commented on this. Why does she think the Conservatives are refusing to support the health and well-being of our children? What is preventing them from taking care of our children?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to stress what my colleague has brought forward. Better eating is not only about education. Rather, it is about improving nutrition, grades and health. Schools are merely the delivery mechanism, as this is where children and youth congregate. This is precisely why, for example, the federal government gives money to provinces and territories to deliver vaccine programs through schools.
    I want to bring home the fact that there is a real potential economic stimulus for Canadian agriculture here.
    Realistically, 70% of a pan-Canadian nutrition program could have a domestic content with an annual return to Canadian producers of $1.5 billion. As a general rule, for each dollar spent in the community, an additional two dollars or three dollars would be generated through processing, storage, trucking, et cetera.
    Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure I rise in support of the Liberal Party's motion in hope that members will see the value of recognizing the important issue of inequities and that widening gap between the rich and poor.
    There is a role for the government to play. I think at times there is a great number of Canadians who are disappointed in the decision the government has made not to assist in trying to minimize that gap, as that gap continues to grow. Let there be no doubt that the government does have a role to play.
    Prior to the last federal election, one of the big issues was corporate tax breaks. Members of the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party said that we should no longer move ahead with the corporate tax cuts in favour of giving additional money to individuals who are on pension. We were referring to the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement.
    Those moneys, if spent in that area, would have assisted hundreds of thousands of individuals, many of whom are very much part of the living poor from coast to coast to coast in Canada, arguing at the end of the day that we need to provide more money or put money into those pockets and purses. We all benefit by doing that. We questioned at the time why the government was giving significant corporate tax breaks.
    It is not to say that we should never give corporate tax breaks. All political parties have given significant corporate tax breaks, whether it is the provincial NDP in government, the federal Liberal Party in government or the Conservative Party in government. However, we would question the timing of those tax breaks.
    We are in very difficult economic times. In comparison, on a worldwide basis, our corporate national tax rates are among the lowest and could actually be the lowest in the G8. However, the government wanted to reduce it even further. Was there a need for that? I would argue that there was not. The real need was to assist the seniors who need more money.
    We have seniors who have to make difficult decisions about buying the pharmaceuticals they require or buying the type of food they enjoy. It is an issue of priorities.
    There are programs that the government provides that go a long way to provide the equality of services, such as our health care. Health care has been a great asset over the years for Canadians. Whether people are rich or poor, they have the ability to access a free public health care system. Canadians assign a great deal of value to it.
    We need to look at programs that would take it one step further. One of the biggest areas of debate today is in regard to pharmaceuticals and the cost of pharmaceuticals. When we look at provincial budgets across this country we see that some of the greatest percentage of increases in health care today deal with medicines. There is a huge vacuum in Ottawa where there is very little, if any, leadership on that particular issue.
    A proactive national government would see this as an issue that is worth the battle. It would get into the trenches to see if it could do something about it. We in Liberal Party recognize the importance of that issue. B dealing with issues of that nature, we will narrow the gap. That is something we need to work toward.

  (1615)  

    My colleague from Toronto Centre made reference to education, the child advocate and how important it is that we, as much as possible, try to give every child the opportunity to succeed through education. It is very difficult. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of kids who go to school every day on an empty stomach. This is something that crosses all political party lines. Whether it is the NDP in provincial governments, the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives or the Reform-Conservative government, they have not been able ensure that children going to school are not having to worry about being fed. It is hard for a child to concentrate in a classroom if he or she is hungry. In many situations, it is because of economic means that determines whether a child will eat.
    Have we made progress in certain areas? We have made significant progress. I know the government likes to take some very specific statistics but there has been progress in combatting poverty in our country over the last few decades. I made reference to the fact that during the Trudeau government back in the 1970s poverty was in the neighbourhood of 11.5% to 12% and then it was reduced to 7% or 8%. It was stagnant for a few years and then it was brought down by a couple more points during the Chrétien era. There is still a lot more room to improve on it. We need to develop programs that will actually make a difference.
    For the last week, members of the Liberal caucus have been advocating for their constituents and Canadians with regard to employment insurance. There is a lack of confidence by the opposition toward the government in its ability to understand the issue to the degree now that Liberal members of Parliament are citing specific cases to get the government to better understand the real impact that its policy decisions are having on average Canadians and that are increasing the income inequality gap that needs to be addressed.
    There are policy decisions by the government that have profound impacts. On the Prairies, I can talk about the Canadian Wheat Board and the hundreds of small prairie farmers who will be lost because of the government's policy decision, which will benefit the rich, I would argue. The greatest amount of benefit, I should say, will go to the wealthy. The ones that will be penalized the most will be the smaller prairie farmers, in good part.
    Now we are hearing from colleagues in Atlantic Canada with regard to inshore versus offshore fishing. There are some similarities. We are concerned for the inshore fishermen. The fisheries is an industry that is critically important to Atlantic Canada and the government plays a very important role in its future. We need to ensure that those jobs will be protected.
    That is why I say that the government has a role to play when it comes to dealing with the widening gap of income inequality. Whether it is a federal or provincial government, governments do play a role in the decisions that we make.
     I believe this is an important issue that needs to be debated. The NDP should be looking at this opposition motion as a motion in recognition of the importance of the issue of inequality, what we can do and how we can contribute to ensure there is more opportunity for prosperity for all Canadians.

  (1620)  

    I think the core of this motion is about ensuring that all Canadians have the opportunity to be prosperous in a country that is so blessed with resources. We should be taking advantage of the great ethnic diversity and the great opportunities that are there. Governments should be there to support and develop it for all Canadians.
    Mr. Speaker, I have had a number of town hall meetings with regard to the changes to EI and the eligibility age for old age security moving from 65 to 67. The people who are on social assistance or on a disability pension will now have to wait until age 67 for old age security. Both of those are paid either by the municipality or the province, which will now have to pay two years longer.
    The changes to EI is an abdication of responsibility by the government. It is off-loading costs of about $5 billion a year.
     When we talk about inequity, there is a built-in inequity for those people who were looking forward to having a little more money at the age of 65 because of OAS and GIS but now they face an extra wait of a couple of years.
    What is the member's opinion? Is it the agenda of the government to put people on welfare?

  (1625)  

    Mr. Speaker, the government tries to give the impression that there is a crisis out there and that is the reason it is making the change to the age eligibility for OAS. However, that is just not true. The facts do not indicate that is the case. The reality is that Canada is in a great position to maintain and, I would argue, enhance our old age security program. If the government continues to neglect this and not reverse its change, let there be no doubt that as a direct result there will be more seniors in poverty. I think that is the message the member was trying to get across and what I mean in terms of government policy.
     The government has the ability to narrow the gap but when it makes decisions, such as increasing the age of retirement from 65 to 67, it is doing the reverse. It will put more seniors into poverty.
    The government does have a decision to make on this issue. We trust that the Conservatives will do the right thing before the next election or I can assure them that this will be one of the issues that we will be taking to the voters.
     People should continue to have the option to retire at the age of 65. It is an important measure in terms of defeating the income inequality gap.
    Mr. Speaker, I just came in at the tail end of my colleague's speech but I think he mentioned something about the Canadian Wheat Board as if that was a detriment to the rural part of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta. However, just the opposite is true. I do not know if the member is aware but I will share with him the fact that the Canadian Wheat Board is now purchasing canola. It has never done that before. It is also making purchases in wheat, flax and other grain cereals.
     The truth of the matter is that the Canadian Wheat Board has never had it so good in terms of its profitability and how this crop year is looking. It will be interesting to see the bottom line a year from now, but it certainly is not a bad story for the Canadian Wheat Board.
    Mr. Speaker, what we have to do is listen to the 10,000-plus farmers who voted against the government's dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly. They realized that at the end of the day, it would mean fewer Prairie farmers and the economies of many rural communities would be negatively impacted as a direct result.
    I would believe those tens of thousands of farmers more than I would the Prime Minister's Office, or his speaking notes.
     It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Guelph, Government Programs; the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Health.
    Resuming debate, the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.

  (1630)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleagues who spoke so eloquently about this motion. I will mainly focus on the unfair clawback of employment insurance benefits, which discourages many Canadians from working while they are receiving benefits.
    On March 29, 2012, the federal government presented its first budget as a majority Conservative government. This budget includes a number of changes to the employment insurance system, which were set out in the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act. Since last spring we have discovered one thing after another in this omnibus bill, which is a real Trojan Horse. We now know that, aside from 50 or so pages of tax measures, hundreds of other pages were dedicated to repealing or amending 69 acts on a variety of subjects that should have necessitated a number of public consultations. This bill affects, for example, old age security, immigration, the environment and my file, employment insurance.
    Under the announced changes, fewer people will be eligible for employment insurance benefits. More people will be forced to accept lower-paying jobs and many people will be redirected to provincial social programs. The announced measures target seasonal workers in particular, or those who have temporary jobs or whose work situation is unusual and who hold more than one job to make ends meet. In short, they target the poorest members of society.
    In July, 508,000 out of 1,377,000 unemployed Canadians received regular employment insurance benefits, which means that 870,000 unemployed workers were left without unemployment insurance benefits. Fewer than four out of ten unemployed workers receive unemployment insurance. That is unprecedented.
    An old pilot project enabled claimants who worked during their benefit period to earn up to $75 a week, or 40% of their weekly benefits. In August 2012, the government introduced a new calculation method. This method penalizes workers in the regions, seasonal workers, on-call workers and temporary workers. A vast majority of claimants are penalized by this measure.
    That is the crux of the issue. Previously, claimants working part-time while receiving employment insurance had the opportunity to take home a larger portion of their earnings, but now they are at a disadvantage. I have an example. I found out about one of my constituents who is dealing with this problem. Her weekly income is $271 before deductions. Last week, she worked 14 hours, earning $148. Before August 5, 2012, she was allowed to earn $271 plus $108, minus the $148 she earned, which comes to $231. Under the new system, she still gets her $271 before deductions, plus 50% of the $148 she earns for working 14 hours, which is $74, minus $148, which comes to $197. That is $34 less than she was earning before the Conservatives reformed employment insurance. That is completely unfair to low-income families, who are the hardest hit by this change.
    Compared to the previous program, the new pilot project that allows people to work while receiving employment insurance benefits will not provide an incentive to many employment insurance beneficiaries who can find work for just a few hours a week, for low wages or for a combination of the two. Unlike the previous program, the new system discourages workers from holding several jobs.
    So the question is, are the Conservatives truly incompetent, or are they deliberately attacking more and more poor people?
    As for premiums, which the Liberals mention in part (a) of their motion, we must not forget that the current $9 billion deficit in the employment insurance operating account would not exist had the Liberals and the Conservatives not plundered the fund for decades.

  (1635)  

    These governments diverted $57 billion—sometimes this amount is estimated at $58 billion—of the employment insurance fund or, in other words, worker and employer contributions. They used it to balance their own budgets. Had this money not been taken from the employment insurance fund, we would not be under pressure now and we would not be seeing increases in EI premiums.
    In economic good times, the Liberals and the Conservatives used the employment insurance surplus to meet their own objectives. However, now that the program is running a deficit, they are making sure that workers and employers are the ones who will pay off the debt. Clearly there are two sets of rules. Everything depends on the cost effectiveness of the program.
    What is important to remember is that people are caught between a rock and a hard place. I think I showed that today in question period.
    People are being offered jobs located extremely far from where they live. As we saw today in question period, people sometimes have to travel 12 hours and pay to take the ferry if they live in the Magdalen Islands and have to get to Bonaventure.
    What is being offered to claimants is unrealistic, but they have to accept these jobs and these regulations or their income will be cut by 70%. If there is no work because the season is over, people should be able to receive employment insurance benefits until the beginning of the next season.
    Another problem is areas that are getting poorer where people will be unable to find work but will not agree to travel further than what has been deemed “reasonable” or accept so-called “suitable” employment.
    Today, I spoke about a man from Carleton who could have taken a job at a fast food restaurant in Gaspé, which is a three-and-a-half-hour drive away from where he lives. People can turn down jobs but then they will not be entitled to receive employment insurance benefits.
    The NDP certainly supports parts of this motion because it is the poorest people who are affected. In our society, there is a gap between the rich and the poor, and that gap must be reduced.
    We really need to recover the money that unemployed workers are losing and not reinvest it in unrelated areas.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, on the employment insurance program, I understand there was an issue about general revenues versus a separate fund. My understanding was the federal Auditor General suggested it be put into the general fund.
    Maybe the member could correct me if that is not the case. If it is the case, would she support the fact that we should listen to the federal Auditor General?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, a number of stakeholders have spoken about this famous general fund. Some social groups say they are in favour of the fund, which would be completely autonomous and would be used only for employment insurance.
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague did a good job expressing the reality of some regions across Canada.
    I just put the question to our Conservative colleagues, but they seemed to avoid the subject. I really have the impression that they are unaware of the reality of our rural regions or that they are writing off certain regions.
    The seasonal industry is an industry that benefits the economy of the entire country, and there are places where it is all they have left.
    I would like my colleague to make a few comments about that.

  (1640)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord.
    The reality of people in the regions is very different from that of people in urban centres. Distances are vast and job offers are few. When the tourist season is over, it is over for these people. They cannot choose to do something else, because there is nothing else.
    So, either we favour—and I hope this is not what the Conservatives want to do—a total exodus and empty the regions, or we agree to introduce measures to help the unemployed.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her excellent speech. She spoke at length about employment insurance. I know that she is very close to people, a woman who is well aware of the consequences that legislation can have on our lifestyle and quality of life.
    The motion moved by our Liberal colleagues includes a rather interesting tax credit, one that would make the family caregiver tax credit refundable so that low-income Canadians are not excluded.
    Since we know that many Canadians are unfortunately living in poverty, does the hon. member not feel that it would be a good initiative to help people who are trying to help their parents or other family members have a better quality of life?
    Mr. Speaker, the refundable tax credit would indeed be an excellent move, especially when we are talking about tax credits that are deductible from income.
    We are hearing more and more that Canadians are becoming poorer. Take the case of an employment insurance claimant who gets 55% of his original salary. His income is therefore reduced. What tax credits can he claim? If your income is low, you cannot claim any.
    So instead of deducting from one's income a tax credit for looking after the elderly, the sick or children in need of care, a refundable tax credit would be provided that could be used, for example, to subsidize the children's recreational activities.
    Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing a motion that asks the government to introduce a series of measures aimed at correcting the growing income inequality in Canada.
    Among those measures, we have this one specifically:
(d) making the Registered Disability Savings Plan available to sufferers of chronic diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis;
    Naturally, this is the initiative I am going to focus on.
    I support a measure like this without question since it deals with one of the problems with the registered disability savings plan. Although the plan clearly has other problems, I will focus on the one addressed by this initiative. At the moment, the registered disability savings plan is available only to those who are eligible for the disability tax credit.
    To be eligible for that tax credit, a person must have a severe and prolonged impairment in physical or mental functions for at least 12 months. This condition is difficult to fulfill for people suffering from chronic or recurrent conditions like multiple sclerosis or chronic fatigue syndrome.
    They have a different kind of impairment. For example, people suffering from these impairments may be able to carry out daily activities and even to work for a certain amount of time. Then, suddenly, it becomes impossible for them to do anything. Unfortunately, because of the cyclical nature of these illnesses, those individuals are very exposed in terms of most programs for those with functional impairments.
    In fact, most of these programs are designed with the idea that the disability is permanent and does not change significantly. So it is high time to change this program, whose injustices are just going to get worse over time. We know for a fact that the number of Canadians with episodic impairment is on the rise.
    The government must include those Canadians in this income support program. We know that 55,000 people suffer from multiple sclerosis, that 63,000 have HIV and that 330,000 people have chronic fatigue syndrome. If the program works well for those who are eligible for it, but too many people are excluded, then it is not very effective.
    It goes without saying that it is worthwhile enhancing and extending this plan. Yes, the registered disability savings plan could be considered as an innovative tool for reducing poverty in the long term because it targets low- to modest-income workers living with a disability. However, as I said earlier, the eligibility criteria for the registered disability savings plan is much too restrictive.
    By applying the same eligibility criteria as for the disability tax credit, hundreds of thousands of people with functional limitations are ineligible for the plan. This is very worrisome, especially for people suffering from multiple sclerosis, given that their condition fluctuates. These fluctuations can last months, even years.
    Despite the undeniable benefits of the plan for the people who are eligible, the government's account of its record leads us to believe that it is spouting this rhetoric in order to divert attention away from the valid criticisms of its response to the income security challenges faced by Canadians living with functional limitations.
    As we know, it is not in the Conservatives' nature to tackle income inequality. Their vision of equal opportunity is vastly different than that of the NDP. However, they should give serious consideration to the most recent report of the Canadian Human Rights Commission released this summer.
     This report points out the significant gaps in equality of opportunity for people with disabilities. In other words, it reports on how disabilities affect equality of opportunity in daily life and the barriers that deny people living with a functional limitation the full opportunity to make for themselves the lives they wish to have. This includes graduating from university, having a full-time job, and having an annual salary, although it is often lower of course.
    This is the case for people affected by mental illness and episodic illnesses, who are more likely to participate sporadically in the labour force, which is the reason for their significantly smaller income. People with disabilities were negatively affected in all categories examined.