The House resumed from April 9 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill , the budget implementation act, and outline some of the reasons that New Democrats will be opposing the legislation.
On any number of fronts, the bill fails to provide for working and middle class families, but I want to address specifically first nations, Métis, and Inuit. On these fronts, it fails to provide adequate housing, safe drinking water systems, education and, unfortunately, the list does go on.
I want to put this into some context. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in its alternative federal budget document, did a very good job analyzing some of the challenges facing first nations, Métis and Inuit. In its document, it talks about the fact that government figures confirm that first nations received approximately $6 billion from the federal government in 2006-07. This funding was for all services, services that other Canadians receive from all three levels of government, which would include the federal and the municipal governments.
It goes on to say that the 2% annual increase in first nations' budgets is less than one-third of the average 6.6% increase that most Canadians will enjoy through Canada health and social transfers in each of the next five years. When adjusted for inflation and population growth, the total budget for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada decreased by 3.5% between 1999 and 2004. As a result of the 2% cap, it is estimated that the accumulated shortfall through 2007-08 is $774 million. This has an impact on all aspects of first nations, Métis and Inuit, whether it is their ability to join the labour force, to live in clean housing or to access clean drinking water.
There are on reserve and off reserve Inuit in the north. When we talk about off reserve, I want to touch briefly on the plight of Indian friendship centres. The friendship centres have been chronically underfunded for any number of years and yet we know they deliver a vital and important service in urban communities where there are large numbers of first nations, Métis and Inuit.
In my riding of , we have two very good friendship centres, Hiiye'yu Lelum and Tillicum Haus. Both of those friendship centres have been forced into the kind of fundraising that we would not expect of any other organization delivering services. I would agree that it is important to look for partners but these organizations have such limited core funding that they are always lurching from funding crisis to funding crisis, despite the very good services they deliver in their communities.
I want to talk briefly about the funding and the fact that the budget implementation act does include funding for child protection services. However, in the alternative federal budget it states that the current funding formula drastically underfunds services that support families and allow them to care for their children safely in their homes and communities. As a result, for first nations the removal of children from their homes and communities is often the only option considered, not the last option.
I have spoken to this House before about least disruptive measures and how we actually pay for foster care off reserve at prices that, if we were to put that money into the on reserve community for least disruptive measures, we would actually close the gap around education, housing and the poverty that is a daily living condition in many first nations communities.
The alternative federal budget estimates that rather than the $43 million over two years that this bill would put in place, $388 million should be allocated over three years. The sad reality is that the Assembly of First Nations and other partners have had to take this complaint about the chronic underfunding for child protection services in this country to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
In December, this House stood and supported unanimously my private member's motion on Jordan's Principle. I do not want to repeat all of the stories but Jordan was a little boy from Norway House Cree Nation who died in the hospital. He had spent four years in a hospital and two of those years were because of a jurisdictional dispute between the federal and provincial governments.
In a recently released report called “Reaching for the Top: A Report by the Advisor on Healthy Children and Youth”, a recommendation was made that when there is a jurisdictional dispute between the federal and provincial governments that the federal government step forward and demonstrate some leadership and pay first. It has mechanisms to recover those payments once those jurisdictional disputes are completed.
We simply should approach this from a child-centred approach and say that children come first in this country and we will put the resources where they are needed.
The Norway House Cree Nation, where Jordan lived and where his parents gave him up to foster care in order to get him care, there are 37 children right now with complex medical needs. The parents of these children may also need to surrender their children to the provincial foster care system in order to get their children's needs met. This is happening because of a funding problem from the federal government perspective.
I will now touch briefly on the issue of violence against women. British Columbia has a highway called the Highway of Tears that runs between Prince George and Prince Rupert. From 1989 to 2006, nine young women either disappeared or were murdered on that highway and all but one of them were first nations women.
Working with community partners, the provincial government has stepped forward and funded some forums and a number of key recommendations came out of them.
However, once again the federal government has failed to demonstrate leadership when it comes to aboriginal women and violence. There have been many pleas for the federal government to step forward and help with the funding of some coordinator positions in Prince Rupert and Prince George. People are calling for a highway transportation feasibility study that would look at community safety. They are also asking for funding for some of the important recommendations that came out of the community forums.
We have wide documentation on violence against aboriginals and the federal government could step forward and support some of the initiatives that communities have put forward.
I now want to turn to education. Article 15 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.
Sadly, the federal government has failed to support a number of articles in the UN declaration and, in fact, actively lobbied not to support the declaration. It is playing out right now in first nations education across Canada.
Many people in this House will be familiar with the Attawapiskat situation where the community is resorting to tools like YouTube to get its message out across this country. Attawapiskat is not the only school in this country that is suffering. The parliamentary library did some research for us and found that 39 schools were currently on the list for construction or renovation projects, and those were only the ones that we could identify. The parliamentary library estimated that it would cost $350,833,000 to construct or renovate these 39 schools.
We have seen surplus after surplus and yet we continue to have schools to which not one of us would send our children. Reports have shown many safety hazards with respect to these schools, such as doors not closing properly, mould, and roofs in danger of collapsing from heavy snow, and yet we still cannot get the kind of movement that is required from the federal government. A school in northern Saskatchewan burned down in 2004 and still has not been replaced.
This is not just a problem in Attawapiskat. Unfortunately, because of the lack of transparency within the government, we have not been able to get a complete list of all the schools on the list so we could let Canadians from coast to coast to coast know how many first nations and Inuit children are unable to access the kind of education that we say is a fundamental human right in this country.
We often try to present ourselves as champions of human rights and yet we have citizens in this country who do not have access to the things that we think are fundamental human rights.
I would encourage members of the House to oppose this bill unless it can be amended to include some of these important measures that would ensure the quality of life for first nations, Inuit and Métis is equal to that of other Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak about an issue that has caused my constituents great concern and fear.
In fact, in the time that I have served as the member of Parliament for , my office has never received this kind of reaction from the people in my riding. The issue that I am referring to are the changes the government is proposing to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Over the past few weeks, Canadians have been told that these amendments would make the system more efficient and improve the way that immigrants are welcomed into this country.
The facts do not support these claims and the government is misleading Canadians. Since this government took power, the application backlog has grown by over 100,000.
The simple fact of the matter is that Canada's immigration system is severely understaffed. We need more immigration officers, more consulate officials, and more branch offices across the globe. These are the simple adjustments that must be made if we have any hope of overcoming this backlog. I will tell members something else we need more of, and that is immigrants.
Two-thirds of Canada's population growth between 2001 and 2006 was fuelled by immigrants. According to the 2006 census, Canada is on track to becoming 100% dependent on immigration for growth. By 2012 immigration is expected to account for all the net labour force growth. The Conference Board of Canada estimates a shortfall of three million skilled workers by the year 2020.
These statistics are the reality of our country's future. Canada's growth, both in population and in the economy, will collapse without a steady flow of immigrants.
The new powers that are being proposed for the minister would have the potential to allow great abuses of the system. The minister would have the ability to pick and choose which immigrants she decides are acceptable. The minister would also be able to cap the number of applicants by category. Family reunification and permanent resident applications could be slashed.
The scariest proposal is to allow the minister to reject applicants who have already been approved by immigration officers. This minister is bringing politics into the immigration system. No one person should have the power to choose who gets into Canada and who does not.
How can Canadians be sure that the government will not favour one class of immigrants over another? With these new ministerial powers, there are no guarantees that people and businesses would be treated objectively.
Every day I speak to residents in my riding who are very fearful that if this bill passes their family members are going to be ignored and their business are going to suffer.
There are thousands of my constituents who were once immigrants themselves and who have built a life that contributes to the betterment of Canadian society. These Canadian citizens are desperate to be reunited with their families, and they have gone through all the proper channels to make this happen. However, with these changes, the rules would not matter any more.
At times, I wonder if this government understands what immigration really means, beyond a raw economic cost-benefit analysis. Does the government even understand the religious and cultural heritage that immigrants bring to our country?
This Sunday is Vaisakhi, the celebration of the birth of Khalsa. It is one of the most important days in the Sikh nation heritage. I congratulate the Sikh nation on this most important day. Hundreds of thousands of Sikhs and their fellow Canadians will celebrate peacefully and inclusively for the well-being of everyone in the world.
I am proud to say that the largest celebration of Vaisakhi, the birth of Khalsa, in North America takes place in my riding of Newton—North Delta. I encourage my colleagues to take part in these ceremonies in their communities and celebrate Sikh heritage.
I am an immigrant to this country. My family members have joined me in Canada since I arrived over two decades ago. There is one thing in which I always had faith. I never had a doubt about the fairness of our country and its immigration system.
Canada represented new opportunity, a better life for my family and, most important, equality, meaning that everyone was assessed in the same way. If these amendments pass, that expectation of opportunity for all will disappear, so too will Canada's reputation as a welcoming country for immigrants.
I want to conclude by asking a simple question. If the government feels these amendments will improve the system, why is it hiding them in a budget bill? The budget should be voted on by itself. These proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are too important to be hidden. If these changes will make a positive impact, then the House should be able to consider them on their own.
I encourage the government to remove the proposals from the budget bill and allow all members to voice their opinions without the threat of an election. This is what I mean when I say that politics is being put ahead of good policy. This is a matter that should not rushed through in isolation. If the government believes in transparency and accountability, it will allow an open and honest debate. We all know the record of the government on transparency and accountability. Conservatives talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk.
Once again, I want to repeat the desire of my constituents to allow the House to consider the immigration act on its own. Governing is about making choices. In an age where we have billions of dollars in surplus, there is no reason why immigrants should be turned away. We have the resources to speed up the immigration process. We have the ability to increase the numbers of immigrants we let into our country. We have an obligation to ensure that fairness continues to be a guiding principle in our decisions.
Now is the time that we, as representatives of the people, must stand up for Canada's best interests. I will stand up to vote against Bill . I am grateful for this time to speak and I am ready for any questions my colleagues might have for me.
Mr. Speaker, I was pleased and honoured to have spoken last week about Bill . I spoke about various aspects of this bill. Let me begin by putting things in context. This may seem like a good budget and it may work for some, but there is nothing in it for Quebec. Quebec's Conservative members were not able to meet a single condition that the Bloc Québécois set down on January 23 on behalf of the majority of Quebec ridings. At that time, the Bloc Québécois presented Quebec's immediate and urgent needs. I will list them for you, but first, I would like to remind you that these needs were identified by Bloc members during our prebudget consultations, not only in Bloc ridings, but in other ridings as well. You will note that one very important, very urgent need was not included in the budget, and that is direct and immediate assistance for the manufacturing and forestry industries.
Nor did it include any assistance for workers in the manufacturing and forestry industries. Yet Quebec and Canada have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs because of this manufacturing crisis. As you know, Quebec and Ontario have been particularly hard hit. The Bloc Québécois members are here to defend the interests of Quebeckers, and we condemn the fact that the budget contains no measures to resolve the current crisis in Quebec's manufacturing and forestry industries.
The dozen or so Conservative members elected in Quebec two years ago now have not followed through on their promises. These members were elected based on big promises: they asked to be put in power in return for millions. And I am not talking about the , who even had the courage to say something. Courage is not the right word, but I would not dare use the word that comes to my mind right now. It is certainly not courage, perhaps it would be gall, to use a slightly nicer word than the one I am thinking of. So, he had the gall to promise a Marshall plan, with billions of dollars and called it the “Blackburn plan”. I apologize for using his name, but he said it himself two days ago in the House of Commons. He then spoke about another plan called “his name II”.
First of all, when I heard this, I had little hope that his second plan would be any better than the first, since his first plan was a bust. He spoke about the “his last name II” plan, which made me think about Star Wars—we started with the fourth episode, before seeing the first three. Second, we realized that it was not the [his name] II plan, but the “Blackout II plan”. In short, there was absolutely nothing in his first plan or in the second one.
The Conservative government gives absolutely nothing to Quebec in this budget implementation bill. The Conservative MPs from Quebec were absolutely incapable of obtaining anything. I imagine that they have no power in caucus. Nothing has changed for Quebec and that is why the Bloc exists. Federalists have been elected and sent to Ottawa. Since 1993, that has happened less and less. A minority of Conservative or Liberal members are sent to Ottawa because Quebeckers understand what goes on. Conservative members who have promised to defend Quebec's interests and wield power get elected. Some will become ministers and will sit with the other Canadian ministers in cabinet or in their caucus. And there they do nothing, absolutely nothing. They very seldom are able to obtain anything for Quebec. The Conservative ministers scurry on all fours to collect the crumbs thrown by the cabinet.
The same thing happens with the caucus: it throws some crumbs to the starving Conservative members who keep quiet and ask for nothing in public. They do not speak up publicly because they are told to keep quiet in the name of party discipline, in the name of Alberta, which does not need money but receives it nevertheless, because that is where the stronghold of the Conservative Party is. These Conservative members are incapable of doing anything for Quebec. This budget before us is ample proof of that once again.
I promised to list the Bloc Québécois's demands made public on January 23. We asked for direct and immediate assistance for the troubled manufacturing and forestry sectors, as I explained a little earlier. There was no help in this budget for the workers and communities affected by this crisis. We have been calling for an older worker assistance program for a long, long time. Again, there is absolutely nothing in the budget for that. And yet it is precisely that kind of program that could help the workers get through the crisis in the manufacturing and forestry sectors.
I want to take a few moments to explain POWA. It is a program that gives working people generally over 55 years of age an income roughly equivalent to employment insurance. It actually does fall under the employment insurance umbrella. This income helps them bridge the period between becoming unemployed, for example at 57 or 58 years old, and the moment they qualify for a government pension at 60 years of age. It covers a year or maybe two, or sometimes just a couple of months. In most cases, it helps these people avoid having to resort to welfare. POWA provides very parsimonious benefits to people who cannot easily change jobs and find themselves in what I would call desperate straits.
Some of us were lucky enough, of course, to be born with the gift to learn things quickly and easily all our lives. Others find it more difficult. They get close to retirement and for them to learn about computers at that age is just too big a mountain to climb. We need a program like POWA for people who find themselves in a difficult situation and cannot easily learn new skills. That was one of the Bloc’s demands.
We also wanted compensation for the seniors who were swindled out of the guaranteed income supplement. This program was a scandal under the Liberal government and the scandal continues under the Conservatives. I remind the House that it was the Bloc Québécois that exposed the GIS problem. Hundreds of thousands of seniors were entitled to benefit from it and receive annual payments of as much as $6,000 to add to the meagre government pensions they were already getting. It afforded them an almost decent income and raised them over the poverty line.
For years, though, the Liberal government of the day did all it could to ensure that seniors did not find out they were entitled to this supplement. The Liberals did all they could. The call centres were real labyrinths where people could never actually reach anyone. We know how difficult it is for the average person to deal with an answering machine and can only imagine what it must be like for someone who is older. In addition, the people who qualify for the guaranteed income supplement are usually among the poorest and have the least education. Often they have difficulty speaking one of the two official languages, or even both, and are also ill and isolated.
The guaranteed income supplement was one of the Bloc Québécois's demands. A few improvements were made to it, thanks to the Bloc. When we in the Bloc say we are helpful, there is no need for any more proof. Assistance for older people, thanks to the guaranteed income supplement program, is another specific accomplishment of the Bloc Québécois.
My time is running out, unfortunately, because I still have a lot to say. The Bloc Québécois will vote against the budget implementation bill, therefore, because it fails to meet our minimum demands. I did not have enough time to mention the environment, culture or a single securities commission, but these issues were also included in the Bloc’s minimum demands, which the Conservative government failed to meet.
Mr. Speaker, in addressing Bill , it is important to see the context in which this budget bill has come forward and the economic policies of the government that underwrite it. In that regard, it is important for us to look at the policies the government has implemented since it has been in power, and in particular the Conservatives' absolute obsession with their ideology around the importance of tax cuts to move economic development forward in this country.
We saw the process kick into high gear in the fall of 2007, when we saw the governing Conservative Party and in fact the Liberal Party bidding each other up as to how much in corporate tax breaks and corporate tax cuts should be given to the large corporate sector in this country. Those cuts went ahead fully supported by the Liberal Party to the tune of billions and billions of dollars.
The cuts were to be concentrated in the oil and gas sector and the finance sector. In the finance sector the banks alone were earning an annual profit in the $20 billion range. Those corporate tax cuts gave that sector an additional $2 billion. The oil and gas sector received similar types of benefits from the government.
We see the consequences in the budget. The budget is very close to being balanced. Depending on revenue this year, it is not beyond the pale that we would fall into deficit. It is very clear that at the very least a number of programs that are sorely in need of assistance from the government will not be funded because of those decisions.
By hollowing out the ability of government to pursue valid social policy programming by this type of tax cut, we ensure that on an ongoing basis governments are not going to be able to protect their citizenry and develop all of their potential as individuals in our society. That is what is going on here. That is the context in which we see Bill , the current budget bill.
I want to address the consequences to the auto sector. I come from a community where the auto sector is the dominant industry. It is rather interesting to watch the conflicts that go on between the and the , but the finance minister and the say that they cannot pick winners or losers.
That is not accurate. The government is quite prepared to intervene in the market. I am going to quote some statistics from a group that is not particularly friendly to the NDP, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. These statistics were printed in this morning's newspaper.
During their first fiscal year in office, the Tories paid out $25 billion in grants, contributions and subsidies. Here is where we are into this inaccuracy on the part of the when he says they are not prepared to pick winners or losers. That included $350 million to Quebec based Pratt and Whitney Canada and $47.5 million to the Mont Tremblant ski resort, again in Quebec. In the spring of 2007, the government announced a $900 million fund for the aerospace sector.
Where is the auto sector? The auto sector creates at the present time 140,000 jobs in this country. The aerospace sector creates 75,000 jobs currently. The number in the auto sector is dropping dramatically. The aerospace industry is stable at this point.
It is interesting that the industry minister at that time, now the , said we needed that $900 million fund “for the defence of the aerospace industry”. The auto industry is in much worse shape and in much greater need of defence than the aerospace sector is.
My party repeatedly speaks about the need for assistance to the auto sector, and we heard the same this week from the Liberals, but what do we get? We get the platitude from the and to a lesser degree from the that they do not support winners or losers. That is simply not true.
The government has made a very clear decision in its economic policies and it is reflected again in the budget, in Bill . It has made very clear decisions that it is going to support certain sectors of the economy and give them preference and priority over other sectors. Oil and gas, finance and aerospace are all getting preferential treatment. There is direct assistance and subsidies in the form of tax cuts or direct dollars going to those sectors and nothing to the auto sector.
In the auto sector in my community alone, in direct and indirect jobs over the last three to three and half years, 17,000 jobs have been lost. That is in a total population of less than 400,000. It has the second highest unemployment rate in the country and this budget does nothing, I repeat, absolutely nothing to assist the auto sector.
I want to make a point and perhaps it will be of particular concern to the since he comes from a riding that is immediately adjacent to Oshawa, a major auto sector dependent community. Windsor is at the very forefront of these losses and devastation in the auto sector, but his community is not far behind, nor is Oakville, St. Catharines or London. They will be facing the same kinds of problems that Windsor is facing.
The problem is that, either because of its obsession with tax cuts based on that very warped ideology that has been proven not to work around the globe or because of its desire to support specific sectors like oil and gas, aerospace and finance, the government is unwilling to help the auto sector. This is reflected by the absolute absence of any assistance in this budget to the auto sector.
There are a great number of programs and policies that could be put into place within the auto sector and then funded to some degree by the government. The NDP has been working on a green auto policy, for instance, for well over five years now, with very specific, detailed proposals as to how we would put that into place. We need to understand that this budget totally ignores any of that. This is not just the NDP speaking. It is the auto sector, the major corporations that produce and sell cars in this country and, of course, the labour unions that work in those plants.
It is a cohesive policy. It is one that has very little disagreement within that sector of what needs to be done, the roles that all of the participants in the sector need to play and the need for a partnership from the federal government in order to be sure that policy can be put into place and the results of that work deployed into the economy generally so we create many more jobs while saving a great number of jobs as well.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to Bill , the 2008 budget implementation bill, which contains many of the measures set out in the government's budget.
After over two years of lavish spending, the government decided, wisely, to be a little more fiscally prudent with this budget. We have heard many times before in the debates that this is indeed the first Conservative government to have a balanced budget since Robert Borden's government in 1912.
The only reason why the government has not plummeted into deficit is the sound fiscal inheritance of the previous Liberal government. When the Liberal government left office there were billions of dollars in surpluses. Also, the Liberals managed with eight consecutive balanced budgets. Canada had the best fiscal record in all of the G-7 economies.
This year the title of the budget was “Responsible Leadership”. It is rather ironic, I would think. We have heard from many that we are indeed on the cusp of a deficit.
The government went on a foolish spending spree when times were good. It made irresponsible tax cuts, taking $12 billion out of the fiscal framework with the two cuts to the GST, and now that the economy is beginning to slow, our financial situation becomes more precarious. Responsible leadership and sound economic management, I would say, are certainly questionable.
When the government delivered its budget speech, it appeared like a straightforward document, only for the government to deceive Canadians with the bill before us, which contains what I would call a zinger clause. With the budget implementation bill, the government has imposed upon Canadians immigration measures that would give the minister unprecedented power: unprecedented power to pick and choose, unprecedented power to determine who gets in and who stays out, and unprecedented power to play favourites.
What the government is saying yet again is “trust us, we know best, we will make the rules and you will be better off”, a pattern we have seen with the Wheat Board and the government's manipulation of processes and numbers. We have seen it with the censorship activities of Bill and with the lack of consultation on the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the list goes on.
In this case, the government wants to be trusted, trusted to decide behind closed doors if one's mother, father or children can come to Canada, again with no consultation, with no input from those most affected on any of the impending changes, whether they are families, settlement groups, employers or provincial governments.
Just this morning in committee, the Auditor General was before the committee and spoke to the importance of consultation in the development of any policies of government. The government wants us to believe that it will meet its goal, as articulated, of reducing the backlog with an increase in the budget of approximately 1%, and it is asking for trust.
Immigration needs to be taken out of the bill and properly studied in committee. A few years ago, I was part of the committee that revamped the immigration bill. The consultations were widespread. The chorus was not unanimous by a long shot, but everybody had an opportunity to put forward his or her position and the consequences of decisions taken and decisions not made, and I would say that we have to do that again this time.
The government plays mind games with Canadians. It talks about being tough on crime, yet it stalls its own justice bills in the House and uses them to play petty partisan games when they get to the Senate.
When I look at this budget, I have somewhat the same reaction that I did to last year's budget. A little money was spent, with a sprinkle here, a dash there, a pinch for this and a pittance for that. Once again the government tried to appeal to everyone, but has spread its funds too thinly. One of my constituents calls the Conservatives' style of government and budget making “fast-food government”.
We know that our cities and communities are in vital need of investment. We have all heard about the billions of dollars of deficit Canadian municipalities face with respect to their infrastructure. We have also heard from the finance minister that potholes are certainly not his responsibility.
My own city of Winnipeg, like other cities in members' ridings, has significant financing challenges and yet there has been no recognition by the government of these challenges faced by cities. What the Conservatives did finally incorporate was the step the Liberals promised, and that was to make the gas tax permanent, and I commend them for that.
Budget 2008 provided $500 million for public transit out of the 2007-08 surplus. However, within days of that, we learned that $108 million of it was going to restore a train service to run through the minister's riding. Nobody had asked for that and no advice had been given on it.
The government has refused to answer questions about Manitoba's infrastructure program. We know that the floodway for Manitoba is non-negotiable. We know how important it is.
It was over a year ago when funding for the floodway was announced under the Canada strategic infrastructure program. A month later, it was decided to allocate the funding under the building Canada fund, which, I might add, is full of moneys committed by the previous Liberal government. This would shortchange the province of Manitoba by $170 million in infrastructure funds that could well go to a host of other issues.
I also want to talk about Lake Winnipeg. We heard grant announcements on what we in Manitoba call “our beloved Lake Winnipeg”. We heard that an additional $11 million would be headed toward the cleanup of Lake Winnipeg, bringing the total, with moneys committed previously, to $18 million.
Examination of several websites, coupled with conversations with many researchers and scientific experts on the restoration of the health of the lake, show that few funds indeed have been forthcoming to date. Again we have heard empty words and hollow commitments.
The Conservative government continues to treat the women and children of Manitoba and this country as an afterthought. Many of the issues of importance to women have largely been bypassed. The programs that most women talk about as important and transformative, such as housing, child care, education, health care, unemployment insurance, and legal aid, are of limited interest to the government.
We hear members opposite espouse family values and talk about children as the future. We also hear members opposite talk about skill shortages and the need for skilled workers. However, social programs go hand in hand with economic programs.
I have spoken many times here in this House about the need for quality child care. What about it? Nothing is forthcoming except that cheque through the mail. Where are the promised spaces? In my riding, there are huge waiting lists. Parents are forced to leave their employment. Parents, and particularly single mothers, do not have the necessary supports.
In the last few months, the waiting list at one day care in my riding has grown from 300 to 400 children. It receives five to ten inquiries a day about spaces. The government has not made the connection on the availability of child care spaces to economic growth.
Although I do not have time to read for members an email on this, I will take another opportunity to do so. I received an email that listed all the parents with respect to that child care facility, the jobs they do, and the contributions they make to the economic growth of the city of Winnipeg. Coupled with that is the desperate need for space in their day care.
I wanted to talk about the government's shortcomings with respect to aboriginal people, whether it is in education or in how the government is ignoring them in the consultation process on the repeal of section 67. We heard in committee this morning from a group of aboriginal women who have very grave concerns about the matrimonial real property legislation, which I look forward to reviewing.
However, we know that the government has not addressed the needs of aboriginal peoples except in this piecemeal, cherry-picking, fast-food manner of a little bit here or a little bit there. We will see what we can do.
Mr. Speaker, this week I spoke about Bill . Due to the amount of time that each of us is given, we cannot always delve into all the details of a bill, but we can be certain that Bill C-50 deals with the implementation of the budget.
This week I spoke about the type of society we would like to live in, and I highlighted the very conservative philosophy that underlies this budget. I spoke about oil companies and banks that seem to be receiving numerous tax credits, while in the manufacturing and forestry industries companies cannot benefit from these tax cuts because they are not making any profit and are systematically closing down.
Today I would like to focus on an aspect of the bill that falls under my responsibilities. I took a long look at the military contracts that are inherent in this budget. Since the Conservative government came to power, we have seen a clear trend towards militarization and an American-stye military philosophy. Some American and Canadian companies are really hitting the jackpot because of the Conservative government's major shift in direction.
Defence contracts will be worth roughly $20 billion over the next few years. What is even worse is that there has been almost no discussion of this spending. It would practically take experts to investigate the ins and outs of all these contracts and how they came about. Normally, the government should follow a specific procedure when it purchases equipment worth more than $20 billion.
First, it is very important to have a foreign policy that describes Canada's place within the international community and clearly establishes the responsibilities Canada intends to take. This forms the basis for a defence policy and possibly an international development policy under CIDA, as well as a number of other things. Certainly, nothing has been done since 2005, when the Liberals updated a policy or policy statement.
As a result, today we are faced with announcements and the signing of contracts worth more than $20 billion, but we have no word on the foreign or defence policy. Normally, in such a case, discussions are then held to determine what military equipment we will purchase to meet the requirements of our defence and foreign policies.
For the past year or two, the government has promised us a defence capabilities plan and a defence policy. Not only have these failed to materialize, but Canada is taking a piecemeal approach to military procurement, issuing more than $20 billion in contracts. The risk is that, once all these contracts have been signed and the goods purchased, Canada will tailor its foreign and defence policies to what it has purchased. The government is unlikely to create a policy that says Canada does not need C-17s or strategic or tactical aircraft when it has just purchased $20 billion worth of such aircraft. The government's approach is therefore somewhat dangerous. In my opinion, the government is going about things backwards, because it should have drawn up a plan, from which a policy and a defence capabilities plan would have followed. Then the government could have determined what equipment it would need.
What we are dealing with here is an inconsistency, and Canadian and Quebec taxpayers are the ones who are going to have to pay the price.
I have the figures here. Those C-17 strategic aircraft cost $3.4 billion. The worst thing is that there are two parts to military contracts: the cost to acquire the equipment and the cost to maintain it over 20 years. That is the department's new approach.
Many Canadian companies are saying that at least Industry Canada is responsible for the purchase cost and that companies will benefit from the economic spinoffs of all of this. Unfortunately, that is not what happens with many of these contracts, like the contract for the C-17 strategic aircraft. The government will be giving Boeing $3.4 billion, and there will be next to no economic spinoffs for Canada. All of the maintenance support for 20 years will be done in the United States. We can try telling Boeing to invest money in Canada and Quebec, but really, the company can do whatever it wants. We cannot be at all sure that there will be $3.4 billion in spinoffs.
The same thing is happening with tactical aircraft. We just found out that the government signed a contract for a $1.4 billion portion of a $4.9 billion contract to buy tactical aircraft from Lockheed Martin. In this case, Canada will be getting only a portion of the $1.4 billion acquisition cost back in economic spinoffs from Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin has decided to give back $843 million in reinvestment in Canada and Quebec.
This is all very unfair to Quebec. Quebec accounts for 54% of the aerospace industry. In the Lockheed Martin contract, Quebec will have to be satisfied with only approximately 28% of the spinoffs. This is unfair, considering that the Atlantic provinces, which account for just 4.6% of the aerospace sector, will reap 28.7% of the economic spinoffs. The Atlantic provinces, with 4.6% of the industry, will get over 28% of the spinoffs, while Quebec, with 54% of the industry, will get 28.5% of the spinoffs. The Atlantic provinces will be getting more than Quebec in terms of spinoffs.
That is a gross injustice. I could go on at length about this. The Chinook helicopters from Boeing represent an investment of $4.7 billion. That investment was just announced. The Canadian contract will take priority over others that were waiting to get Chinooks. An agreement was probably reached with the U.S. president in Bucharest. Once again, we do not know for sure if the maintenance will be done in Canada. Nor can we be sure of the potential spinoffs from this contract. Furthermore, the government renounced its prerogative as signatory of these contracts to tell them where to invest in order to ensure economic spinoffs for Canada. That is their laissez-faire policy and Quebec comes out the big loser.
Supply vessels are another example. We are talking about $2.9 billion. Transport trucks represent $1.2 billion. Search and rescue aircraft represent $3 billion. As an aside, however, search and rescue aircraft are actually very useful to Quebeckers and Canadians. When there is a problem in isolated or mountainous areas, that is the kind of equipment used to help Quebeckers and Canadians. Yet it is at the very bottom of the list right now, as we speak. It is not a high priority. It is at the bottom. I met the air force commander this week and he said that things were going at a good pace. Yet we are far from where we should be in the contracts at this time because they have almost all been signed.
Thus, this is a gross injustice. At a time when people in the manufacturing and forestry sectors need help with employment insurance and seniors need help with the guaranteed income supplement, it is unfortunate that over $20 billion is being invested in the military sector. This is completely unacceptable for the Bloc Québécois and one of the reasons why we will vote against the bill before us here today.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill the budget implementation act. I would like to speak on two aspects of the bill. One is the significant changes to the immigration system that are included in this bill and the other is the priorities of the bill that we are debating today.
I represent Vancouver East, a riding that certainly reflects the multiculturalism of Canada. It is a community that is built on immigration. Vancouver East would not exist in terms of its economic vitality and the people who live there, if it were not for many waves of immigration beginning in Strathcona and moving throughout all of Vancouver East and indeed Vancouver as a whole. Immigration is a very important part of our community. Immigrants and new Canadians are people we welcome into our community.
It is very alarming to me to see that the budget bill we are debating these days in the House contains such dramatic and significant changes to our immigration system. It concerns me that those changes are in a budget bill. One would expect that changes to the immigration system would be contained in legislation pertaining to immigration and that the legislation would then go to the immigration committee.
The Conservative government has brought in very significant changes to the system through the back door. The Conservatives are trying to hide them under the cover of the budget bill and hope that no one notices. Luckily, there is a growing debate in my community and across the country about the impact that these immigration changes would have if the budget bill is approved.
The immigration changes that are contemplated would give major new powers to the minister to control the types of applications she accepts. It would impose quotas. It would dispose of current immigration applications and would even allow queue jumping. There would be new limits put on the humanitarian and compassionate grounds category which often is used by many families for the purpose of family reunification. It would even give the minister the power to deny visas to those who meet all of the immigration criteria. This would confer enormous, and I would say very dangerous, powers on an individual, a powerful minister and it is being done through the back door.
The most significant change is that it is supporting what has already been a policy shift wherein our immigration system is increasingly being understood as a system that looks at immigrants as economic units. For example, these changes would allow applications to be disposed of and put aside, but it would allow a further dramatic increase in what is called the foreign worker program or the guest worker program, where people are treated as cheap labour from foreign countries. We have seen it in Alberta and in B.C. where there has been a massive influx of foreign workers who are often exploited and abused by employers. It is very hard to track what is going on and whether or not they are able to avail themselves of their rights as workers.
This is something that is incredibly alarming in this budget bill. We are seeing this dramatic policy shift in our immigration system that would displace families. It would do nothing further in terms of reunification and would place a greater and greater emphasis on foreign workers who come to this country on a temporary basis. They have no adequate rights. They are not treated as permanent residents. They do not have an opportunity to become citizens.
It is something that we have seen in Europe. We have seen the kind of instability, both politically and culturally that it fosters, where there are two tiers of people. There are citizens and workers who have no real status, who are never protected in the society to which they are major contributors. That is the kind of thing we absolutely should not be accepting in Canada. I am very afraid that is what would happen under these changes.
There are other very concerning things in the bill.
A couple of days ago the homelessness count in metro Vancouver was released. This count is done every few years. It was conducted by over 700 volunteers who literally go block by block, alley by alley, shelter by shelter and endeavour to get, and indeed do get, a very accurate count of people who are homeless, whether they are in shelters or on the street.
That count was done on March 11 and the results were released on April 8. It showed that overall there has been a 19% increase in the number of homeless individuals found in metro Vancouver. That is a 19% increase since 2005 when the last count was done. It is a 131% increase since the one previous to that was done, which was in 2002. This should cause enormous concern.
In my community of Vancouver East, particularly in places like the downtown eastside, the visibility of homelessness, the number of people on the street, those who are destitute and those living so far below the poverty line with no resources or hope for the future, causes enormous distress. It causes illness and mental distress not only to the individuals who are in that predicament but also to the community at large.
The latest figures from the homeless count should be setting off alarm bells. One would think that over the years there would have been a concerted effort to address this as a grave human tragedy. In a country as wealthy as Canada, nobody should be sleeping on the street. Nobody should be without shelter. Everybody is entitled to a living wage and decent, safe, appropriate and affordable housing.
Yet, when we look at the budget, there was no new money for housing. A number of local advocacy groups in the downtown east side, including Pivot, United Native Nations, DERA, the Carnegie Community Action Project and Streams of Justice, recently released a report that showed there were 10 new low income housing facilities that have either closed or will be closing for a further loss of 448 units.
My community is facing a very grave situation where people are either already homeless or are on the verge of becoming homeless. Yet there was nothing in this budget to address those issues.
I read a quote from the minister allegedly responsible for housing, where he dismissed the idea that we needed a national housing program. I have heard the minister say that the government is spending more money on housing than any other government in the history of Canada. He is talking about mortgages. He is talking about existing projects, some of which were built 20 years ago. No new co-ops or social housing units have been built. Even the homelessness programs that exist are in jeopardy because it is not yet clear whether they will continue.
All of this creates incredible anxiety both for the organizations that seek to assist those who are homeless and certainly the people on the street and in shelters who wonder whether they will ever have a roof over their heads or have a place they can call home.
To me, this budget is about priorities. I find it shameful. When we look at the $50 billion in corporate income tax cuts that are contained in this budget and the former economic and fiscal update that was presented last October, when we look at the corporate tax cuts that are laid out from 2007 all the way to 2013, we are talking about $50 billion that has been lost from public revenue.
Let us think about what could have been done with that amount of money. It could have provided 1.14 million child care spaces. It could have provided 74,000 hybrid transit buses. It could have provided 12 million units of non-profit affordable housing. It could have assisted 11 million students with their undergraduate tuition, or another two million graduates with their student loans. It could have put a much greater emphasis on dealing with climate change. None of these priorities were addressed in the budget.
To add insult to injury, when people in my community read that VANOC, the Olympic committee, received another $45 million yet housing receiving nothing, they knew that they were at the bottom of the list.
This is a very bad budget and it is the reason—
Mr. Speaker, I rise to debate Bill , the budget implementation bill, which also includes the amendment to the immigration act. I will focus my debate on the immigration act.
I represent the riding of , an island city just next to the city of Vancouver where the Vancouver International Airport is situated. The riding is composed mostly of immigrants. It has a very booming economy. We have the privilege of having a farming community. We have a dike that is very close to the city. At the same time, we have the convenience of the metropolitan facilities.
Richmond has a very low crime rate and a booming economy. The lifespan of our citizens is one of the longest in Canada. Therefore, we can demonstrate from our experience in Richmond that immigrants contribute a great deal to the lives of Canadians.
The Conservatives have said that the new immigration policy is aimed at reducing the backlog of immigration applicants. They have said they want to expedite selected classes of immigrants and focus their resources on desirable immigrants, but their methods will not work and they are wrong.
The amendment tabled would destroy a democratically based immigration system, which has been hailed as a model for other countries to follow, and replace it with dictatorial system, allowing the minister to cherry-pick who is allowed to come into our country.
The amendment to section 87.3(4) states:
If an application or request is not processed, it may be retained, returned or otherwise disposed of in accordance with the instructions of the Minister.
Giving the minister the discretionary power to dispose of applications is an illogical way to reduce the backlog of applicants. The government is implying that if we have a huge backlog, we should give the power to the minister to hand-pick a few and then outright reject everyone else. To me, this is not only unfair, but illogical.
The amendment allows the minister to unilaterally and arbitrarily dispose of applications without any recourse, so applicants would be unable to appeal their cases. This is very unfair. The proposed amendment to section 81.3(c) states, “The Minister may set the number of applications or requests by category or otherwise to be processed in any year”.
Along with the fact that unprocessed applications can be disposed of, this amendment would allow the minister to set a cap on applications.
Capping the number of applicants only superficially reduces the backlog by temporarily not allowing potential immigrants to make their application. How will forcing applicants to pay for re-applications year after year help reduce the backlog? These are situations which senior officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration agree would happen.
Reducing the backlog is not about prioritizing some and ignoring others. The Conservatives' rhetoric seems illogical. They have said that they can set priorities, but does that not mean there will be lower priorities? Even so, how does this reduce the backlog? Just because we focus on cleaning up the kitchen first, it does not mean the rest of the house gets any cleaner any sooner.
However, the worst and the most worrisome change that the Conservatives are pushing for is the change of a single word, from “shall” to “may”. As it stands right now, if an immigrant passes the bar, then it is clearly stated in section 11(1) that he or she “shall” be granted a visa. The amendment would change this so that someone who has already fulfilled the requirements only “may” be granted a visa.
Why is the Conservative government trying to subvert the immigration process? If a reason is found as to why a visa should not be granted, then make it a part of the evaluation. If immigration applicants cannot be certain, even after they have passed all requirements, why should the apply and how will this help reduce backlogs?
Time and effort would need to be spent in the processing of their applications. I see this as yet another opportunity for the minister to cherry-pick again, even after the applicants have escaped the first round of cherry-picking by the minister.
None of the proposed amendments are aimed at clearing up the backlog or reducing wait times for applicants. It is about letting the minister choose who is and who is not a desirable immigrant. Again, this is an unfair method.
The Conservatives' cherry-picking in the darkroom, dictatorial approach will destroy our well hailed rules based democratic and transparent immigration system. This will lead us down a very dangerous path.
A senior immigration official was quoted on Wednesday in the London Free Press saying, “There is no right in the law—and there never has been a right in the law—to come into Canada”.
This is wrong. It is because of this kind of attitude that led our forefathers to create a racist immigration act, better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. After the Pacific Railway was built with Chinese labourers, they were no longer desirable. A head tax was exclusively applied to Chinese immigrants. When that did not stop Chinese immigrants from coming to Canada, they were totally excluded.
Yes, being allowed to immigrant to Canada is a privilege. However, we must apply that privilege fairly, respecting the core values of democracy, rule of law and equality. The bill eliminates the rights to equal opportunity for every application to be given fair review and consideration, regardless of background, country of origin or skill set.
Even after Paul Martin Sr. amended the Canadian Citizenship Act in 1947 to allow ethnic Chinese to become Canadian citizens, in general, we Chinese still cannot have the privilege to come to Canada. It was not until the Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson changed the Canadian immigration system into a race free, transparent, point based system in 1967 that most Chinese could come to Canada.
This continuing and worrisome trend by the Conservative government must be stopped. Canada's race free and transparent immigration point system is hailed as a model for other countries to follow. It should not be tossed aside so lightly.
The Liberal government committed $700 million in 2005 to cleaning up the backlog, which the Conservatives cancelled after becoming the government in 2006. After ignoring the problem for more than two years, they now claim to have allocated $100 million to fix the problem. It is far from enough.
We must not allow the Conservatives, under the excuse of solving the backlog problem in our immigration system, to lead us away from fundamental Canadian core values of democracy, the rule of law and equality. I will vote against it.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill . I am not pleased to see Bill C-50, but I am pleased to be able to talk about it. In this Bill C-50, the government is establishing a crown corporation for employment insurance.
For years the NDP has been calling for an independent employment insurance fund that is separate from the government's consolidated revenue fund. In 1986, the Auditor General suggested putting funds from employment insurance into the consolidated revenue fund. After a number of years, as the surplus in the consolidated revenue fund increased because of employment insurance, it became apparent that the EI fund was the government's cash cow.
The government said that workers depended on the employment insurance fund. It soon became apparent that it was not workers who depended on the EI fund, but the government. The government started to run zero deficits and balanced budgets with the money it stole from the EI fund in the consolidated revenue fund. This was the biggest heist the country has ever seen. It was like an old movie where the protagonist robs a train full of money.
The previous government stole $57 billion from the surplus in the EI fund. The fund generated some $57 billion. This afternoon, that theft will be legalized in Bill . It is not unlike stopping at a bank to steal money and instead of going to jail, seeing a bill passed to legalize bank robbery. That is what is happening this afternoon: money that workers have worked so hard for is being stolen.
The most surprising thing is that a crown corporation is being created and that is different than an independent fund. A clear explanation is needed. We asked for an independent fund. People might wonder what we are crying about today since we will get an independent fund. There is a difference between an independent fund and a crown corporation. An independent fund would be a fund separate from the government's consolidated revenue fund and would only be used to deposit employment insurance premiums into the employment insurance fund. A crown corporation is a separate, independent corporation, like Canada Post, Radio-Canada or the CBC.
When we stand up in the House of Commons to ask questions about the employment insurance fund, the government will say that it is a crown corporation and that we should go ask it. We will not be able to ask any more questions in the House of Commons about it. The same thing will happen when we rise in the House of Commons to ask questions about Radio-Canada or the CBC. The government says it is at arm's length, that it is a crown corporation and that we should go see the president. The government will wash its hands of the whole thing.
Moreover, the Auditor General has always said that there should always be a $15 billion balance. In this crown corporation fund, it will be just $2 billion. This afternoon at 3 p.m., during the vote in the House of Commons, $55 billion will be stolen with the help of the Liberals. Either they will vote for Bill and make the theft legal, or they will not vote and just let the theft happen. That is exactly what will happen this afternoon.
What might we do instead to help workers? People often talk about POWA, for example. Manufacturing and forestry companies in Canada have closed their doors. I remember POWA and PWAP in New Brunswick. When the fish plants closed, people had PWAP, a retirement program for fish plant workers, for women, when the groundfish fishery collapsed. These programs helped working men and women at the time. Employment insurance was there to help people.
Today, employment insurance is there to help the government, not workers. Employment insurance is insurance that workers and employers pay for directly. I am concerned, because the only thing the Conservative government is worried about is reducing employment insurance premiums and making sure employers do not pay premiums. We do not often talk about the workers who pay premiums. According to the government, if employers did not have to pay premiums, they could create jobs.
Once again, I have never seen a company hire more people because it is turning a profit. Companies do not hire people because they are making a profit; they hire people because they need them to produce. I therefore do not believe that Canadian companies have gone bankrupt because they were paying employment insurance premiums. On the contrary, a good employer is not afraid of paying employment insurance premiums, because the employer hates to have to tell an employee not to come in on Monday morning because there is no more work for him.
Employment insurance existed so that these families would receive benefits to help them. In 1996, the Liberals decided to make a sweeping reform of employment insurance, following on the reform that began when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister. The first signs of reform were seen in Inkerman, New Brunswick, in my riding. The reform continued until 1996. A $57 billion surplus built up, and now the government is starting to want to wipe out that surplus. At 3 o'clock this afternoon, it will be wiped out, with the support of the Liberals who carried out the reform in 1996 and the Conservatives who are spearheading this reform in the House of Commons by introducing a bill to create an independent crown corporation to avoid any further questions about the surplus, because they get embarrassed when they are asked about it. They have even told us to stop asking questions in committee, because the money is not there anymore. They have asked us to stop pestering them with questions. Meanwhile, individuals and families are in need, and this government is completely ignoring them.
What could be done with this money? First of all, the government could do away with the two-week waiting period. It is not people's fault if they lose their jobs. I have said this time and again in the House of Commons, and I will keep on saying it.
Why do we penalize these people by imposing an unpaid two-week qualifying period when their employer announces that there will be no work for them next week? Who wants to lose two weeks' salary? Who ends up being penalized by this unpaid period? Why does the claimant lose two weeks' salary? This measure penalizes the family that needs to pay the electricity bill at the end of the month and to buy groceries for their children. It penalizes the family that needs to pay its mortgage. That is the end result. This afternoon, the government is preparing to carry out the largest theft in the history of Canada by legalizing the transfer of the $57 billion surplus from the employment insurance fund. That is what will happen this afternoon in this House.
We could keep the 12 best weeks to give people a chance to receive a decent benefit. We should not forget that those on unemployment receive only 55% of their salary and that 55% of minimum wage is not very much. In fact, it is less than welfare. We could therefore make some changes to help these people and to ensure that benefits are based on their 12 best weeks. Furthermore, new claimants should be able to qualify after 360 hours rather than 910 hours. Next week, we will be tabling a bill in this House to make this change and we will debate it. Once again, the Liberals did not support this measure in committee but rather backed the Conservatives by agreeing to take money from workers who are losing their jobs.
The government is hitting people when they are down. It is a terrible experience to lose one's job as I have been told by people who have called my office. People call me to tell me that they have just lost their jobs and that they need seven to eight weeks to qualify. There is no money in the system to pay the public servants to get the job done.
It is not that the public servants cannot do their job; there just are not enough of them. The money does not go to the right places.
Having a program such as POWA to ensure that those 55 and older can live comfortably until they retire at age 65 is one of the good things that we could accomplish.
Therefore, we will be voting against Bill even if the government falls, because it is a vote that should be—
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill .
As a new member of Parliament representing the constituency of Vancouver Quadra, I again thank the residents of Vancouver Quadra for their confidence in me. The people of Vancouver Quadra are educated, engaged and informed citizens whom it is an honour to represent. I intend to advocate tirelessly for their interests in Ottawa.
The Conservative government included many Liberal programs in this budget bill, albeit in watered down versions, for example, post-secondary education. Many of the people who work and study at UBC live in my riding and the quality and accessibility of post-secondary education is an important priority for them as it is for me.
Past Liberal governments were known for their many investments to benefit universities, students and research. Billions of dollars for these purposes in the Liberal budget update of fall 2005 were cut by the Conservative government. I note that due to the work of the Liberal leader and members, the government in this budget has sprinkled back some of those post-secondary investments.
The previous Liberal government left this country's finances in a strong position but Bill underlines the mismanagement by the government that has drained the fiscal gas tank of our nation. This is entirely consistent with the abysmal record of past Conservative governments, including the Mulroney government and the Ontario provincial Conservatives, whose , now the federal Conservative finance minister, helped leave the incoming Liberals in Ontario a landmine: a whopping $5.6 billion deficit.
Most unacceptable in this bill is part 6 and it is to that section to which I will address my remarks.
Part 6 consists of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. These amendments are substantive, are bad public policy and are of deep concern to new Canadians in my riding and across Canada and to their overseas family members. These amendments should never have been buried in this budget implementation bill.
The Conservative government cannot be trusted, especially when one considers the past comments the has made about immigration. For example, in 2001 he stated:
...west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from Eastern Canada; people who live in ghettos and are not integrated into Western Canadian society.
What did he mean by that? Was he referring to my riding of Vancouver Quadra? Is he someone who can be trusted to amend immigration laws?
The Liberals, in stark contrast, have long been supportive of immigrants to Canada and their unique contribution to our multicultural landscape. I am proud to continue that tradition as the member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra. This is an issue of great importance to me as an immigrant myself.
The cannot be trusted. She has already misspoken in the House by claiming that last year about 430,000 new Canadians were welcomed into Canada under the Conservative government, more than under the Liberals. That is not true. She later had to retract that claim and essentially confessed that it was inflated by including students and temporary workers.
Actually, 36,000 fewer permanent residents have been accepted since the Conservative government came to power 27 months ago. Will the door continue to close arbitrarily to immigrants under the government's proposed amendments?
The type of changes to the very foundation of Canada's immigration policy that the government is proposing must be considered in the open and not slipped into a budget bill through the back door. The government is seeking to make changes that would close the door to immigrants, but even more concerning is that the amendment would give the government the power to be prejudicial in their implementation.
The Conservative government has already demonstrated its meanspiritedness over and over by cancelling the court challenges program that supported the most vulnerable Canadians, by weakening the infrastructure helping women advance our equality in Canadian society and by voting against a motion to lower the Peace Tower flag on the day a Canadian soldier is killed overseas. This is meanspirited.
In part 6, section 11(1), for example, by changing one word “shall” to “may” in the regulations, immigrants who meet all the requirements may find Canada slamming the door in their face. That is meanspirited.
As well, the would have the power to make arbitrary and unaccountable decisions, which would enable her to pick some immigrants over others, send some to the back of the line to start all over again or slam the door shut altogether. We do not know whether applications will be denied due to an immigrant's country of origin or some other factor.
According to Naeem Noorani, the publisher of The Canadian Immigrant, as quoted in the Toronto Star on Tuesday, “This sets a dangerous precedent for a healthy democratic system”.
It is precisely because of past Conservative insensitivity toward Canada's immigrants that it is not appropriate for the government to have that power. The measures the government is seeking to introduce stand in contrast to the fairness, transparency and welcoming of new Canadians under past Liberal governments, a welcoming that has led to Vancouver becoming a thriving urban region underpinned by the contribution of new Canadians.
My riding of Vancouver Quadra has welcomed more than 40,000 immigrants to Canada. Many are long-time residents now, which others have arrived more recently. Vancouver Quadra community members who have self-identified in the census as being a visible minority include Chinese, South Asian, Korean, Japanese, West Asian, Filipino, Black, Southeast Asian and Arab, among others. This diversity contributes to the richness of the community in so many ways.
Of note, more than 23,000 residents of Vancouver Quadra are of Chinese origin, whether from Hong Kong, Mainland China or Taiwan. These new Canadians make important contributions to the social, cultural and economic life of Vancouver Quadra and Canada.
Just 10 days after I was elected, I organized a round table discussion to hear from 20 leaders in the Chinese community, my very first public consultation as a member of Parliament. The changes the government proposes could prevent their family members from joining them here. The changes the government proposes could prevent those working in a particular field from becoming part of Canadian society. Through one stroke of the pen, the minister could place specific countries at the bottom of the list. In reality, we really do not know who will be acceptable to the Conservative government, a government that cannot be trusted to be fair.
The government hopes to change Canada's immigration laws so that at a minister's whim people who aim to come to this great country to make a better life and a better Canada could be prevented from even being considered. These are substantive changes that should be discussed openly and accorded a full debate.
I am against part 6, the section of this budget bill that deals with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Part 6 should be considered separately, not as a part of Bill , and part 6 should be rejected.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this matter. I want to welcome my colleague from . Now that I know her better, I hope the 2010 Olympic Games will be held in her riding and that she will participate in the figure skating events because I think she has the required skills, having skated around the questions she was asked the way she did.
When one is against something, one does not vote in favour of it. We may possibly never form the government, in fact we will certainly never form it. Our goal is not to form the government; it is to reform it. It is not true to say that we are going to compromise our principles. The Bloc Québécois is voting against Bill . We could have said to my colleague from that there are very many possible arguments for voting against this bill. I will give just a few, as I seem to have only 10 minutes.
Take agriculture for example. As far as agriculture is concerned, this budget provides only $72 million over two years. A number of sectors in our country, in Canada, are currently dealing with an agriculture crisis. In the nation of Quebec, the agriculture crisis is present every day. Some $72 million over two years for all of Canada is certainly not enough. This government has not been listening to the demands of the farm workers.
Then there is employment insurance. I do not want to repeat the arguments of my colleague from , who gave many arguments on the employment insurance fund. The only thing I want to say to him is that he had better get back to his riding as soon as he can in the next few hours because his junior team from is going to have a hard time making it to the playoffs, let alone winning. Things are not going well right now, just like with employment insurance.
This government decided to create the employment insurance financing board. The government can go ahead and create whatever board it wants, but we want to know whether it will return the $57 billion it stole from the employment insurance fund, and that it stole from workers. This started under the Liberals. I understand why the Liberals will vote in favour of Bill ; it is becoming clear. They will have to deal with the problem if, by some misfortune, they return to power in the next few decades. The Liberals could end up dealing with the problem of returning the money they stole from workers.
I do not want to repeat what the member for said, but we could have done so many things with the $54 billion to address the terrible economic crisis going on in some regions in Canada, particularly in Quebec and Ontario, in the manufacturing and forestry industries. Obviously, this does not affect Calgary very much.
The tells us that if there are not enough jobs in Quebec, all a person has to do is go work in Calgary, because there are jobs there. Try saying that to someone who is 55, 56, 57, 58, who has 12 years left on his mortgage, who works in Béarn in Témiscamingue or in Clairval in Abitibi. This person would say that he spent his life working in a sawmill, that he started at 18, and that he thought he was entitled to a decent retirement.
The employment insurance fund could have helped create a program for older worker adjustment, or POWA, which the Bloc has been calling for for over four years. I have been here for four years, and I have been hearing about it for four years. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives are able to, want to, or have the political will to create a POWA. It would not be expensive. The Conservatives could have included it in the budget. But they put nothing in the budget about employment insurance and nothing about assistance for older workers.
Older workers will remember this. And so will seniors, whose situation is even worse.
The employment insurance fund has been stolen. I very much like the comment made by the hon. member for who said that at 3 p.m. today, thanks to the Conservatives with the support of the Liberals, the $54 billion theft will be legitimized. It is worse than the great train robbery. That is exactly what we will be doing by creating the new employment insurance financing board. That will be the end of the employment insurance fund. It will be gone, but will those who paid into it be reimbursed? No, no. That money was used to buy helicopters that barely fly, submarines that sink because they do not work very well, and rifles and guns. That money was used to invest $1 billion a year to go to Afghanistan, even though we have no business being there. I hope everyone will remember that.
All things considered, the worst theft is still the election promise the Conservatives made to seniors. I remember it; I heard it. They promised that, if elected, they would give the guaranteed income supplement retroactively to seniors. As soon as they were elected, they reneged on that election promise.
The Conservatives could have included that measure in the budget. They had the money to do so, with their $11 billion surplus. It would have cost less than $1 billion to help our seniors get by. I am saying this for the benefit of everyone aged 70 and older, particularly my mother, who lost $12,000 because of the Conservatives and their ridiculous promise. They would have been better off not to make a their stupid promise to give seniors full retroactivity on the guaranteed income supplement. Many seniors lost $4,000, $7,000 or even $12,000. They were entitled to seven years of retroactivity, but they are being given only one year's worth.
On the other hand, when someone owes the government money, I guarantee it can go back as far as five years and demand retroactive payments. The Conservative Party in power, however, decided to grant retroactive payments for only up to 12 months. Yet the Conservatives owe seniors the money that was stolen from them. Will they pay it back? No. That is another reason why will vote against this bill.
I am the Bloc Québécois aboriginal affairs critic. I have heard some good ones in my time. I do not want to bring up the Kelowna accord, like the Liberals, who turned it into their pet issue. I just want to say that the government could have helped and had the money to help aboriginal peoples deal with the terrible crises they are up against right now. Not far from here, just 165 kilometres north of Ottawa, in the community of Kitcisakik, people are living in 18th century conditions. They do not have running water, a water system or a sewer system, and they live in hunt camps.
The government promised to fix the problem, but it did nothing for aboriginals. The government will argue that it is spending $660 million over two years—$330 million per year—but aboriginal communities in Quebec alone need 10,000 housing units. Nunavik and the whole far north shore have to be totally rebuilt because of the melting permafrost.
Unfortunately, I have just a minute left. I have a lot more to say about this, but what I really want to say is that the government would not even have had to put more money into its social housing budget. The funds could have come from CMHC, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which has an astronomical surplus. The government could have invested $1 billion from that surplus— which would not even have made a dent—to help with social housing. Yet the government has shunted that file aside and refuses to talk about it.
This government made so many promises that it did not keep.
At 3 p.m. this afternoon, the members of the Bloc Québécois will not be afraid. We will stand up and vote against this budget.
Mr. Speaker, I am speaking to Bill . I have already spoken to the bill in general and now I am speaking to the amendment for which the debate will end this afternoon. This budget bill generally did not satisfy the Bloc Québécois or Quebeckers because it does not include any type of support for the crisis in the manufacturing and forestry sectors.
Over the past few days, we have seen that this crisis has nothing to do with the managers. In Quebec, Beauce, which is known as a region that is a major business supplier, is going through a very difficult time. Thousands of jobs have been lost, but we all know that Beauce is not to blame for this downturn. Beauce had a very strong manufacturing sector. I remember that the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology made 22 unanimous recommendations to the government over two years ago to help the manufacturing and forestry sectors. However, the government has decided not to carry out those recommendations.
Today, this region of Quebec, which is a jewel of Quebec entrepreneurship, is losing jobs by the thousands. Young workers and young couples whose future was secure, are seeing it all collapse. It is not just a result of nature, it is the result of significant changes in the market, including the higher dollar, for example. We could see this coming for quite some time and we would have expected the federal government to come forward with an action plan and a strategy for industry. It is not as though the government had not been informed. The Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology made 22 unanimous recommendations, but the government only carried out one, or one and a half, of those 22 recommendations. The Standing Committee on Finance then sounded the same alarm and informed the government, which then had a motion adopted in this House on that matter. There is still no action plan in the budget. That is one of the reasons the Bloc Québécois cannot vote in favour of this budget.
At a time when the regions need additional support, the budget cuts $107 million from the budget of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. This is terrible. After the election, the minister responsible said that there would be the equivalent of a Marshall plan, which he now refers to as the Blackburn plan. Today, as a result, thousands of jobs are disappearing across Quebec and also across Canada, because Ontario is also being affected by the manufacturing crisis. In addition to taking a laissez-faire approach and having no industrial strategy, the government is slashing the programs and funding that have been in place for several years in these regions that could have used more assistance. I believe that this is reason enough to vote against this budget.
My colleague also spoke earlier about the whole issue of the program for older worker adjustment. This is an important social measure that provides people who have worked for a company for 25, 30 or 35 years with bridging income support until they receive their pensions, if they lose their jobs at age 57, 58 or 60. It is also a measure that should be part of an industrial strategy. This is what happens in a sector like forestry. Jobs are cut, the younger workers leave and the older workers sometimes manage to keep their jobs. Eventually, though, as the crisis continues, they also lose their jobs, but they have no income to tide them over until they receive their pensions. At the same time, the younger workers have gone elsewhere and will no longer be available when the forestry industry recovers.
In my opinion, the federal government should come out of its shell. The government thinks that the market will take care of everything and that the government has no responsibility to act. In my opinion, Quebeckers and Canadians expect the government to create conditions to develop prosperity and enable everyone to create wealth and distribute it appropriately. There are dark clouds on the horizon. A major economic slowdown is on the way. This is just about the worst type of government we could have to deal with this sort of situation.
Unfortunately, this is perilously reminiscent of what happened just before the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s in the United States. The Republicans in power said the government should intervene as little as possible. Fortunately, the government changed at that time, and Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrats implemented good policies to stimulate the economy.
We would have expected a similar attitude on the part of the government, but that is not what we are seeing. A program to help older workers would not have cost billions of dollars. Implementing such a program would have cost less than $100 million and would have allowed hundreds and thousands of people who worked their entire lives, who supported their families, to have a sufficient, minimal income to get by until they receive their pension.
Unfortunately, as soon as I was first elected in my current riding in 2004, I saw firsthand the consequences of a major closure, when the Whirlpool plant in Montmagny closed. We are still feeling the consequences today. This does not mean that it is not a dynamic, productive region or that it is not creating any jobs. What it means, however, is that when 500 workers are laid off, 150 or 200 of whom are older workers, a large number of them will definitely not be able to find other employment, for various reasons, no matter how hard they try. This government should have done something for those people, although we are seeing no such efforts on the government's part.
For Quebec, this budget contains a very clear, distinct and unacceptable provocation: the desire, the obstinate insistence and the obsession of the current to put in place a single securities commission in Canada. It seems that he is reliving his past as the Ontario Minister of Finance or perhaps he is aspiring to become the Premier of Ontario. We have demonstrated that Quebec has an efficient securities commission that has worked well and offered useful services. The Conservative minister's obsession is unacceptable.
This budget does not have what Quebec wants, what Quebeckers told us they wanted in our pre-budget consultations. Beyond the words, beyond the fact that the government adopted a motion on the Quebec nation, now that the time has come to provide some substance and to indicate what that means for Quebeckers, the Conservative government has given us nothing. There is nothing in this federal budget to that effect.
We would have liked to get some answers to these concerns from the federal government. For example, there is not the level of investment in the cultural sector that our society deserves. Yet this is a nation's form of expression. The Quebec nation needs federal support to continue to make itself known throughout North America, and to obtain and expand on the success it has achieved. We need tangible measures to develop this nation. They are not found in this budget.
There is also a cultural difference, at least between the Conservatives and Quebec, when it comes to the distribution of wealth. In the past, Quebec has implemented programs such as the parental leave program and the child care program. Because of the values Quebec society deems important, these programs were implemented and money was set aside to do so. The Conservatives, however, do not take the same approach. One of the areas most affected is social housing. But they could have killed two birds with one stone. Money invested in social housing creates a need for construction, which in turn creates jobs. At the same time, it would help people get out of poverty. Often, when people are experiencing problems with poverty, it is because they are forced to spend 50%, 60% or even 70% of their income on housing. They are not left with enough money for other things.
So we can see—and I will end on this note—that there are some people who are particularly outraged at the action of the Conservatives, in particular about the budget. These people are women. Quebec women and Canadian women were stripped of an important tool to win legal cases. The Conservatives have chosen an approach more appropriate to a private company than to a government.
For all these reasons, I think that this budget is bad for Quebec and bad for Canada. We want the Conservative government to heed at least some of these messages. We shall see. Now, the Conservatives are taking advantage of the fact that the Liberals have problems within their party, but in practice, this is a bad budget. It is a bad situation, and it does not at all correspond to what Quebeckers and Canadians were expecting from a minority government. The government seems to be acting as if it were a majority government. It is making choices that would not have been made by Quebec.