The House resumed from February 10 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.
Mr. Speaker, during my speech yesterday, I emphasized the fact that we have gone from an opposition coalition to a Liberal-Conservative coalition. I gave a few examples of the unfortunate results this has had for all citizens of Canada.
I would like to continue today by talking more specifically about the negative impact of this coalition on Quebec.
I hope to demonstrate that, whether it is the Conservatives or the Liberals in power, or whether it is a coalition of the two parties, like the one before us today, Canada always practices politics based on partisan interests. However, all too often, the interests of Canada unfortunately go against those of Quebec.
In the end, we, as Quebeckers, cannot hope for anything from this federation. The only solution of course is for Quebec to become a sovereign country so that it too, like all countries, can practice politics based on its own interests. Furthermore, being a sovereign country will help Quebec by giving it all the necessary tools to get through this crisis and meet its own needs, rather than the needs of oil companies in the west, for instance.
My first example is equalization, the transfer payments the federal government makes to the provinces and Quebec. In fact, these payments are not gifts, because the money comes from the taxes we pay. The equalization formula is constantly being modified. During the last parliament, the Conservative government, wanting to appear open to Quebec, said it would try to correct the fiscal imbalance. Equalization payments to Quebec were increased, but only thanks to pressure from the Bloc Québécois and the government's minority position.
At the time, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, and I repeatedly said in this House that the government had not corrected the fiscal imbalance because there had been no transfer of tax fields and that whenever it pleased, the government could backtrack, change the formula again, penalize Quebec and go back to the ways things were before.
Unfortunately, my words were prophetic, because that is exactly what happened. At times of economic crisis, when we are faced with serious problems, the federalist parties revert to type and promote the interests of Canada as a whole. I would even say this is not completely abnormal. What is abnormal is that Quebec is not doing the same thing and becoming a country so that it can promote its own interests, especially during an economic crisis.
Even though the equalization formula is a bit abstract and extremely technical for many of our constituents, it is even more revealing when we look at how it is calculated.
In the past, income from non-renewable resources like oil was excluded from the equalization calculation. Clearly, for the purposes of this calculation, provinces that generate such revenue appear poorer than they really are, and provinces that do not generate such revenue and whose economy is based essentially on renewable energy, such as Quebec, seem richer than they really are. These provinces are therefore penalized.
What is more, from the environmental point of view, we wonder why this government, with the backing of the Liberals, wants to encourage industries that use non-renewable energies, when they should be doing the opposite and giving equalization premiums to provinces using renewable energies.
In the last budget, the imbalance was made even greater by the decision that Hydro One revenues in Ontario will no longer be included in the equalization calculations, although it was arbitrarily decided that those from Hydro Quebec will continue once again to be included. This will mean a loss of $250 million annually for Quebec.
We could go on to the example of the Quebec securities commission. Once again, the federal government, with the backing of the Liberals, wants to centralize finance in Ontario. We could also give the example of this government's environmental policies, which are clearly not in Quebec's interests. In fact, dependency on oil and gas impoverishes Quebec, while an independent Quebec could fully free itself of that dependency and be the richer for it.
Once again, we have a made-for-Ontario budget backed by the Liberals, who have a real partisan interest in Ontario. The big lesson the people of Quebec need to take from this is that, even when governments switch places, nothing can be expected from the federalist parties. Nothing from the Canadian federation either, not because it is bad, but simply because all members in this House, with the exception of the Bloc Québécois members, are looking after the interests of the Canadian nation, which are not unfortunately the same as the interests of the Quebec nation.
For the Quebec nation, the only solution is to do the same thing: acquire its own sovereignty, fly on its own, make its own decisions according to its own values, but also and particularly according to its own interests. The route to that goal is to acquire national independence, while continuing to cooperate with Canada as a good neighbour. Sovereignty will not be against Canada, and not because we do not like Canadians, but merely because we believe that the best ones to define what is good for Quebeckers are Quebeckers themselves. We will make decisions, sometimes good ones, sometimes bad ones, but at the end of the day they will be our decisions.
Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the opportunity this afternoon to share a few thoughts with the House and with the people of Canada who are watching on why it is that I, as a member of the New Democratic Party caucus in Ottawa, cannot support the budget that is being supported by the Conservatives and Liberals.
I will do that by sharing just a small piece of my own story because sometimes it is in telling that story that we are able to more completely or fulsomely understand why a person might take a position which, at first glance, might not seem in the interests of one's home community.
In spite of the fact that the government has packed the budget with investments in communities like my own that will be helpful in the short term, and of course all of us will be thankful for that, it does not move us away from an approach to our economy that got us into the mess that we experienced in the last part of last year in the first place.
It was an approach that saw a government continually and ever more generously give tax breaks to large corporations, which in turn diminished the ability of government to play a constructive and positive role in the protection of communities and the development of opportunities. It diminished the ability of government, without running tremendously large deficits, to help our communities and the economy, and to protect the jobs of working men and women across this country.
I believe that we have a wonderful opportunity in this country at this point in time, if we would only read the signs to understand what is fundamentally happening, to make a significant and fundamental shift that would serve us all better in the long run.
Back in 1959 my father and mother sold everything they had in Ireland and bet that money on a dream. That dream was Canada. They brought their seven children, I was the eldest of seven children, to Canada to give them a future. It was not very complicated. They were not really looking for much. As I sat with my father in his last few years, he explained to me that really, what he was looking for was a good job that would help him put food on the table, provide a home for himself, his wife and his children, and would put some money aside so that we, his children, might go to school one day and have a life for ourselves. That was all. It really was not complicated.
We ended up in the small town of Wawa in northern Ontario, where he got a job mining iron ore. He was paid a decent wage for doing that work, enough so that we were a very happy family. We discovered a community that was very supportive. It was a mix of races, cultures, religions and languages. Because we were fairly isolated, people would get together on occasion for weddings, funerals, and to celebrate with each other in a way that we had not experienced in such a fulsome fashion where we had come from.
We learned as we went along that the iron ore that we were mining in that little town, and 1,200 people worked in those mines, was sent to the big city a couple of hours down the road or by train to Sault Ste. Marie where yet another 12,000 people took the sinter that we produced and turned it into steel. That steel was sent to communities across Canada, to Saint John, New Brunswick, to British Columbia and to Windsor where it was used to make cars, build ships and make buses. It was sent to Quebec for the industries that province had going at that particular time.
Those industries were providing jobs for people, jobs that paid decent wages and allowed families, like my own, to put bread on the table, have a decent home and expect that at some point in the future they would be able to send their children to school so they might have a future for themselves.
We also discovered, in that little town of Wawa in the 1960s and 1970s, that government actually cared about us as well. We watched as the Canadian government, in partnership with the Ontario government, began to put in place programs like health care. If my mother, father or siblings got sick, we had access to a doctor or we could go to a hospital without it being a tremendous financial burden on us. We thought it was wonderful. What a country. What a place to live. What a wonderful way of life that my father and mother had adopted for themselves and us.
We brought in a program called unemployment insurance so that if people lost their job or got hurt on the job, workmen's compensation ensured that they would not be devastated. They would have some money to carry them through a difficult period until they found another job or were able to get back to the same job after they had fixed whatever it was they had hurt on the job. The federal government brought in the Canada assistance plan, a program that was delivered by the province, to ensure that those in our community who were most at risk and vulnerable were also looked after.
What a concept. What a wonderful country, where nobody would be left behind. Those programs, even though never as generous as some of us would have liked them to have been, were certainly more generous than they are today. For the most part, a number of the important programs that were put in place back in those days no longer exist. They were taken out of commission in order to pay down the deficit and the debt and to do a number of other things that I will speak to in a minute.
I was able to go to university with the benefit of a loan and grant program. I was the oldest of seven kids. It was difficult for my parents to put together the kind of money that would have seen them able to pay for my education and then the six coming after me. With the use of student loans and the grants that were available at that time, I was able to go to university and get a degree. Universities and colleges in Ontario in those days were growing. After I got out of university, my first job was with Sault College. It was part of a new introduction for training and retraining in the province at that time, and those colleges were growing in almost every community across the province.
My job with the college was to go out and promote the value of further education and lifelong learning. In every community, from Elliot Lake to Chapleau to Wawa, I promoted further education, training, retraining and lifelong learning.
As we moved into the 1980s and 1990s, we began to see government pull back from that kind of involvement with communities, families, people and workers. We began to see a reduction in the presence of government in our communities. It began with the giving away of taxes by way of tax breaks, particularly to big corporations, which reduced the capacity of government to be as generous as they were with these programs that provided support for families and communities. We moved into a regime that saw us reduce the capacity of government by giving away the revenue that government collected.
My father had very simple dreams and modest expectations of getting up every morning, going to work and getting paid. If the family should get sick or if I wanted to go to university, he expected to get some help from government. However, we began to see that government help became less and less the reality for families.
We saw the giving away of government revenue through tax breaks. We saw--
Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of , who voted me into office for a third time in four years. Just think, three elections in four years. But on to serious issues.
After the loss of 18,000 manufacturing and forestry jobs in the Eastern Townships over the past few years, I was hoping to see significant investments for these sectors so vital to the region's economy in the 's budget. My faint hope has been dashed. This is a political budget and priority has been given to the province with the most federal ridings—Ontario. For members such as myself who were elected to defend the interests of Quebec first, this budget is completely unacceptable.
Let us be clear. I support providing assistance to the auto sector. I am well aware that the latter, in recent years, has become the industrial engine of North America. In my own riding, several hundred jobs in Waterville or Coaticook, in particular, are directly related to the auto sector. Nevertheless, the Eastern Townships needed substantial help for the manufacturing and forestry sectors.
In the Haut-Saint-François regional county municipality, located in my riding, a number of major saw mills have ceased operations, namely those in Bury, Weedon and Saint-Isidore-de-Clifton. The forestry workers of Haut-Saint-François were expecting more from this government and today they are rightfully disappointed.
And what about the manufacturing sector? The plants of the Shermag group, a leading light in the economy of the Eastern Townships, are now all closed. Hundreds of workers have lost their jobs in Lennoxville, Dudswell and Scotstown, to name but a few, because of the indifference of the Conservative government toward them.
The office of the is still operating as if it were the 1950s. It is being openly said that people just needed to vote on the right side to get assistance. I find that extremely edifying. Yet the powerful political lieutenant for Quebec is in the Townships, in fact in the next riding to mine. The communities hardest hit, the ones I just named, Dudswell and Scotstown in particular, are only a few minutes down the road from his riding. Like all his other Quebec colleagues, he continues to show complete docility toward the at the expense of his own region and of the Quebec nation.
During the last election campaign, Conservative candidates kept on saying at every possible opportunity, that there was not, and would not be, any crisis, that Canada was sheltered from it, that people need not fear falling back into the vicious circle of federal deficits. Ninety days later, they had totally changed their tune. Strange, that. Suddenly we were told that prompt and energetic action was needed. The government promised to help the middle class and the victims of massive layoffs. With the budget, and Bill which implements that budget, we are far from achieving that.
The latest unemployment figures are disastrous. Unemployment has shot up to 7.2% in Canada, to 7.7% in Quebec and now 8.5% in our beautiful Eastern Townships region. With the endless stream of bad news from south of the border, we can anticipate significant difficulties for our local industries and their exports. Thousands of workers are losing their jobs and thousands of others unfortunately are going to share the same fate.
In this kind of situation, the government's duty was clear. It needed to provide better assistance to the unemployed, to make the unjust employment insurance system with which we are saddled more flexible. In my region, the Mouvement des chômeurs et chômeuses de l'Estrie has been calling for EI reform. The government has continued to turn a deaf ear.
And so, employment insurance will remain what it is—an unfair system that cannot be accessed by more than 50% of the people who lose their jobs, the majority of them being women. These workers lose their jobs and are declared ineligible for employment insurance because of some technical detail and they cannot quickly find other work because the economy is currently destroying more jobs than it is creating.
Everyone knows what we proposed: eliminate the waiting period, relax the eligibility criteria and get rid of distinctions between the regions in terms of the number of hours required to be eligible for benefits.
The Conservative government has done absolutely nothing. It has abandoned the unemployed.
This is typical of the Reform-Conservative ideology. This same ideology continues to overlook low-income families. These families, who are having increasing difficulty finding affordable housing, have also been abandoned because this government prefers to fight the poor instead of fighting poverty.
In Sherbrooke, the vacancy rate hovers between 1% and 2%, well below the equilibrium point. Instead of constructing affordable housing units with two or three bedrooms, the government prefers to invest in renovating existing homes. Only the , proudly wielding a nail gun in a chic Ottawa neighbourhood, seemed happy with his ill-advised decision.
To kick-start the economy, the Conservatives have pulled the old infrastructure trick. On the substance, I fully agree: building infrastructure has a ripple effect and contributes to job creation. However, the proposed infrastructure programs require investments according to the following formula: one-third from the federal government, one-third from Quebec and one-third from the municipalities involved.
I was on Ascot's municipal council for eight years, and I can say that financial decisions are always painful. Small municipalities in rural regions already have so few resources with which to meet their needs.
Had it been possessed of some foresight, the government might have proposed a funding model consistent with each level of government's ability to pay, that is, 50% from the federal government, 35% from provincial governments and 15% from municipalities, as suggested by the Bloc Québécois.
This government seems to be making a habit of downloading problems to the Government of Quebec. In Bill , the government is showing its true colours and going ahead with its proposed changes to equalization. These changes will penalize Quebec severely. According to the new formula, Quebec will lose some $3 billion over three years. Not only is the government not investing in Quebec, but it is also denying the Quebec government the means to do so itself. Then the government will turn around and say that the fiscal imbalance has been resolved.
Unlike the Liberals, I swear that my party and I will not get down on our knees before the Conservatives.
This government's budget and budget implementation bill introduce measures that are clearly not in Quebec's best interest. We, the members of the Bloc Québécois, are not prepared to vote for a bill that deprives Quebec of billions in equalization payments, that creates a federal securities agency, and that reopens a matter that has already been resolved: women's right to equal pay for equal work.
I got into politics to defend the interests and the values of our people. I did it for justice. I did it so that Quebec could get the tools it needs to develop, to reach its full potential, and to take its place in the world.
What the government is proposing is diametrically opposed to the interests of the Quebec nation. It tramples on our values. The members of the Bloc Québécois will stand up and vote for Quebec. That is why I represent a sovereignist party.
Madam Speaker, it is with some pleasure and yet frustration that I rise today to address this budget, the so-called stimulus budget, simply because on so many fundamental measures and so many fundamental points the government has missed the opportunity.
I think that in budgets, particularly those presented in times of crisis, there are a few fundamentals that we must address in order to judge the merit of the government's economic agenda.
One is around balance. One is around understanding the needs of the country and the needs of the economy in a given moment in time. Obviously we saw in the so-called fall economic update that the government continues to miss the moment and continues to miss the mark on what economists and Canadians have been asking for consistently.
Another question is around fairness. What ability does the government have to address issues of equity and issues of justice in the policies it ascribes to this country at this most critical time?
Finally, it boils down to a matter of choices. It is no different from a family putting together a budget or an individual deciding what to spend on and what not to spend on. Choices are made, choices that sometimes only have short-term, immediate consequences, but that often have very long-term consequences.
Over a succession of budgets and over various governments we have seen that the choices made have contributed to the overextension of the economy and to the underperformance and inefficiencies that our economy continues to see, including overpolluting and not respecting pay equity rules.
In some strange irony, the government has decided to bury within a budget document the disassembling of pay equity legislation in this country. Women in this country are receiving 70 cents for every dollar that a man makes for equal work. In this moment of economic crisis, the government decided to slide in some ideological opportunism.
It also seems to speak to the idea and the concepts of the role of government. There are moments of convergence in the House, moments when the parties can come to agreement, as was the case in the apology to first nations over the residential school travesties, but while there are those moments of convergence, moments when the House actually operates well, this is a moment of divergence in the role of government at this time.
We heard the President of the United States speaking last night to the American people about the role and capacity of government in times like these to aid and assist in the Keynesian economic model, for those who follow those different theories and treaties. As the , like the leader of the New Democratic Party, is a trained economist, he should understand that there are moments and times for governments to step in.
This goes against some of the fundamental, formerly reformist, currently Conservative ideologies related to the role of government. One can detect that. The government does not own this budget, does not love this budget, and does not understand how it can cause so much discussion and concern in the markets. On one day it presents a budget with a fictional surplus of some hundreds of millions of dollars. Then it describes the economy is recession-proof, as the Conservatives have described it.
In October 2008 the said that if Canada was going to have a recession, we would already have had one. Then we had a swing radically over to another side and describe this, within weeks, as potentially one of the greatest economic recessions, leading potentially to a depression. This does not build confidence in the Canadian system. It does not build confidence in the Conservative government.
British Columbia, and in some sense Skeena--Bulkley Valley, the place I represent, have unfortunately been on the leading edge of this recession for a number of years. I have communities like Hazelton, Fort St. James, Burns Lake and beyond that have suffered 50%, 60%, and 70% unemployment rates as the forestry sector has been virtually wiped out. Mill after mill has closed.
We have gone to the government and said that we need some structural change, even a plan, from the federal government for our manufacturing sector. Is there one available? This is not a recent phenomenon. For years and years we have seen this storm coming. A botched softwood lumber deal, an increase in the Canadian dollar, and an eventual slowdown and popping of the American housing market all led most economists and forestry experts to say that the forestry sector was in trouble and would need a plan, would need some sort of coherent strategy from government.
Instead we see a hodgepodge in a budget that lumps everything together. We are looking through this budget, trying to find the pine beetle money that has been promised to British Columbia. The best estimates from government are that 30 cents on the dollar of what has already been promised and committed in previous budgets has not gone out the door.
The government calls it a crisis. It acknowledges it as a crisis, sends out the press releases and makes the announcements, but does not spend the money.
This is a fundamental question of trust. Canadians, families who are suffering through days of uncertainty, through job losses and having to migrate out of their communities, turn to a government who says it promises them more. But a promise must be based on some mutual trust.
When we look at the infrastructure announcement from the government for British Columbia, when the dust settles, it is a year later. When we look at the budget numbers and see what actually was spent on the ground in the creation of real jobs, we see figures like 15¢ on the dollar, 20¢ on the dollar. This does not build up the confidence of Canadians in the government's ability to perform.
Much has been made of employment insurance, and this is an important factor. The government's small measures on employment insurance only affect those who actually qualify, ignoring the fact that the problem lies in those who cannot qualify. We see a majority of women in the work force, for example, who do not qualify, even though they are paying into this insurance program. We will soon have to call it a scheme because a program that people pay into but cannot collect on sounds like a scheme to me.
Over the years, government has used the employment insurance fund as a slush fund, simply to transfer money from workers and employers, collected for the purposes of employment insurance, and used it for other purposes. That is unconscionable, and now we see, in times of need, the government further says, “What we will do is extend out the other end. After you have been collecting for a number of weeks, we will toss a few more weeks your way”. It is putting on blinders, ignoring purposely, very cynically, the fact that most people do not even qualify.
We have lost 35,000 jobs in British Columbia in January alone. We all know, as members of Parliament, how difficult it is to work with a new employer, to bring a town council on side and bring new jobs into our constituencies. It takes a lot of effort, especially if we are hoping for good paying jobs, manufacturing jobs. This is no easy feat to even bring 1,000 in, and our province lost 35,000, gone like that.
We are looking to the place of where those will come back. We are looking for a government and industries that will start to promote the types of economies that Canadians can believe in, and the government refuses to respond to what is in front of it.
In the north there is a fantastic example of a community that struggled to survive and found innovative ways, as its forestry sector was going down. The community of Telkwa, with 3,500 people, got together with their farmers and their community and said, “Let us build a co-operative abattoir so we can get some people to work and support the farm industries because we do not want to ship to southern British Columbia. It is not good for the animals. It is not good for the planet. It is not good for anybody, certainly not for farmers, so let us build this abattoir together”.
This government and the one before it put roadblock after roadblock in the way, and when we have asked for some small assistance for this, that would help sustain jobs and create more in a sustainable conscious way, the government has been nowhere to be found.
The Tsimpsean connector outside of Prince Rupert would help connect the first nation village of nearly 1,000 people to the port of Prince Rupert and to the community, thereby cutting all sorts of expenses to government itself. We need the government to step up and to pay some attention.
We had the opportunity of having the new in front of committee and I had a very simple question for her. After I congratulated her on her appointment, I said that I would like the minister to please define what green energy, clean energy is under this government? Her response was to turn to one of her officials with a quizzical look on her face. There was no working definition, yet when we pick up the budget, page after page refers to green energy, clean energy. What exactly does the government mean by that? It is looking backward at technologies that Canadians have subsidized, such as the nuclear industry, to the tune of billions upon billions of dollars, with inherent risks and all sorts of ethical challenges.
Carbon capture and sequestration take up the vast majority, the lion share, of what the government is talking about as renewable. The last time I heard “coal was a renewable energy” was out of a Conservative minister's mouth. Nobody else in the world believes this.
It seems like fiction placed upon fiction, and when we look for trust, when we look for confidence, when we look for the balance of choices that every government must make, we find the government lacking. It is unsupportable and I think at the end, while the Liberals are choosing to support this budget for political expediency, philosophically this actually fits. This marriage, this convenience alliance and new coalition actually fits. They believe in these measures. The unfortunate thing is Canadians will suffer for it and our economy will become no more efficient, no more green, and no more looking to the future than it was before.
Madam Speaker, we are repeating the mistakes that federal governments made in the past when dealing with economic crises. I am talking about the crisis of the early 1980s and the one of the late 1990s. Each time, the federal government tried to get through the crisis by making the provinces and Quebec shoulder part of the federal responsibility for various programs, particularly social programs.
After the crisis of the late 1990s, two successive governments, the Conservative government in the early 1990s and the Liberal government beginning in 1993, adopted the same policy to withdraw their contributions to funding programs in areas like municipal infrastructure, social housing, health, education and employment insurance.
In health, for example, they introduced a rule that the government's contribution had to be proportional to the population. In Quebec, that federal government policy resulted in an imbalance that reduced funding for health by 8% compared to the early 1990s. The same thing happened with education.
Municipal infrastructure was especially devastated. From 1992-93 to 2001, the federal government stopped contributing to upgrades for municipal infrastructure. Funding did not resume until 2001. That led to a deficit in infrastructure upgrades for water systems and roads, with the result that municipalities today no longer have the means to modernize their infrastructure. A large number of municipalities have infrastructure more than 40, 50 or 60 years old, when normally it would be considered outdated after 35 or 40 years. Maintenance is required, but now the money is just not there.
According to a study on this topic, there is a real deficit of $144 billion. That is a huge figure. If all we had to do was upgrade infrastructure, it would cost approximately $144 billion. That is an enormous amount for municipalities.
These terrible policies are being repeated today. One of the policies adopted in the past saw the Canadian government offload its responsibilities onto the municipalities, the provinces and individuals and start paying down the debt and avoiding deficits, much to the detriment of those who were struggling.
Take, for example, employment insurance. As others before me have said, employment insurance leaves some 55% of the unemployed out in the cold. They cannot receive benefits. It makes no sense. Over the past 12 years, $57 billion has been siphoned off. If that is not offloading a national responsibility onto the backs of the most vulnerable, I do not know what is.
I have come back to this because not only have things not changed, but the budget that was passed and that they want to implement shows that nothing will change either.
This budget freezes premiums at the 1982 level, and there has never been a lower level since then. In other words, the employment insurance program will not be improved. This is in total contradiction to what has been said, particularly by the Liberals. The Conservatives have said so too, but we do not believe them any more.
We tended to believe the Liberals when they said an effort had to be made to improve access to EI and that they were committed to doing so. That is what they said when they were campaigning. They said that the burden had been borne by the unemployed for too long. They therefore made a commitment to ensure that EI was made more accessible. Then, at the first possible opportunity, they jumped into bed with the Conservatives and said they were going to pass this budget, regardless of its negative impacts on the least well off, the people the Liberal Party leader calls the most vulnerable members of our society.
It is absolutely shocking that they can say such things and then vote for the opposite.
What are they seeking to do today? They say they are investing, and they are spreading money around more or less everywhere, including for infrastructure—I acknowledge that—but they are doing nothing for the most vulnerable, as the Liberal leader calls them, nothing for them. As far as infrastructure is concerned, I too was once a municipal council member, and even when I was just an ordinary citizen, I have always been concerned about the money available to our municipalities.
Look at the situation our municipalities are being placed in now, with the money being allocated to them. Hundreds of millions of dollars in past budgets were not used. Why not? Because the municipalities do not even have the means to pay their share. Normally, that share should be 15% but it is often 25% or even 30%. For the announced programs, particularly community recreation infrastructure, the federal contribution is 50%. If the provinces—or in our case, if Quebec—cannot contribute because of prior commitments to other programs, it is obvious that the municipalities will not be able to shoulder 50% of these projects. Thus the Canadian government is sure that it will be able to keep that money in its coffers. Even if the contribution rate were 30%, most municipalities cannot manage it. Why not? Because of the phenomenon I referred to a while ago, the famous policy in the past, when the government had the idea of offloading its responsibilities onto the provinces, including Quebec, and the municipalities. The burden was so heavy that now they no longer have the means to take on implementing new projects, or even just to renovate what needs renovating.
As I have only one minute left, I will try to conclude my remarks. I would also like to talk about social housing. For nearly 12 years, previous governments cut funding for social housing, with the result that we have a serious shortage of social housing now. The government says it is reinvesting $2 billion, but most of that money is going to renovations. That does not leave much for new units for people who have no choice but to go into social housing.
In conclusion, to the people wondering why the Bloc Québécois is voting against this budget, I say that it is clear. My colleagues spoke about other aspects of the budget. We will stand firm and not accept something that is unacceptable. To us, this budget is unacceptable.
Madam Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise to speak to the budget.
Over the course of the last few days, I have heard a great deal of comments from all members on this side about the inadequacies of the employment insurance system, as it is now called. I prefer the old title of UIC. If people are employed, they would not need to collect it in the first place. Nonetheless, I digress.
Let me put it in more concrete terms around what it is like to be unemployed, not from the perspective of someone who is unemployed, but as someone who has helped folks with claims since 1992. I will walk members through the life of a claim.
We have heard about the statistics, the hours and the five weeks, which is nothing. We have heard all of those things, but we have not heard about what it is like to walk all the way through it, to actually go and apply for the unemployment insurance, to go to an office that is understaffed and has fewer computer kiosks than it had before to take care of those folks, to be unable to get a piece of paper to fill it out with a pen or pencil because they want it on a computer. They tell people to go to their public library if the office is too busy or if they do not have computers.
From the get-go of walking through that front door, there is a barrier for those who may not feel they are technically literate enough to do it on a computer. There is a refusal on part of the Employment Insurance Commission to give them a piece of paper, even though the act says it is required to provide it when asked for. Too many claimants are refused and that is wrong. It should be made easier for them because it is their money.
The life of a claim really starts when people apply. However, when they apply, all it means is they have put in an application. There is no guarantee of acceptance because then they base themselves on the rules. The rules are rather prohibitive in a lot of cases. However, let us assume that people do indeed qualify. They apply. There has to be documentation. Their employers must send a record of employment, colloquially called the ROE. If the employer forgets or just does not bother because it has gone out of business, the claim is delayed. Without an ROE, people cannot get unemployment insurance, even though they qualify. They might have been working for ten years, but the fact that their employers did not do something simply delays it.
Let us assume that people do indeed qualify immediately. For the first two weeks, they do not qualify for any money because the rules say they do not get paid for those two weeks. It means they get paid for weeks three and four. However, they do not receive any money in weeks three or four because they have to fill out more paper, or do it on a computer if they are capable, or phone it in, to explain that they did not work during those weeks. This means that, if they are lucky, they get paid in week five.
Think about that. The people are unemployed. Perhaps their employer has gone bankrupt. Perhaps their employer is leaving the country, like John Deere is doing, even though it is profitable. Nonetheless, people may not have had any money since week one. They are now in week five and they receive their first cheque. What did they do in the intermediary period? What do they do from week one to week five? They are about to qualify, not someone who has a hiccup in the sense that perhaps the claim has been pushed to the side because it needs to be looked at or because there is no documentation.
When we look at those just from the claim phase timeline, people who are unemployed will not receive money at the very moment they need it. Instead, they will have to wait well over five weeks. I ask the government what its sense is of what those people should do for those five weeks. Sit on their hands? Look for work? We accept that they look for work. In fact, the unemployed are the best folks who look for work because they are always looking for work. Because they were working before, to suggest that they would not is a slap in the face of those workers. To qualify for unemployment insurance, they need to have a work history, which means they are able-bodied workers who really want to work. From that perspective, it is a non-starter.
On this side of the House, I have heard my colleagues ask about what we need to do to the system to enhance it. What we need to do is wipe out the two-week waiting period so when people apply for unemployment insurance, they will actually collect unemployment insurance.
I reiterate that it is our money, those of us who pay into the EI system. It is not taxpayer dollars. It is not collected from the tax base. It is collected from those who work for a living and contribute to an insurance program.
The Liberal government changed it from UIC to EI, but kept one letter in that system, “I” for insurance, and that is exactly what it is. I pay the premium, then when I need my insurance, I get to collect it. The problem is the government has decided to put enough rules in place that we do not get to collect it. One in three in the Niagara Peninsula, in the southern part of Ontario, are now collecting unemployment insurance. Almost two-thirds do not, yet, they paid their employment insurance premiums.
How many folks would like to pay their car insurance, have an accident and have the insurance company say, sorry, that they are in the 62%, so they do not get to collect on their car insurance because they are not in the other third? I do not think too many folks would put up with that. Yet the unemployed, at the most vulnerable point in their life, are faced with that type of restriction.
Therefore, waiving the two-week waiting period, which puts money into the pockets of those who need it at the point they need it, is where the government should have gone. Instead, the government chose to tack five weeks to the back end of a claim, if they qualified.
There is a song, and I am not sure how to sing it, and certainly I would not try in the House because I cannot carry a tune, that talks about nothing from nothing is nothing. Five weeks of nothing truly is five weeks of nothing. Ultimately, what they have gained is absolutely nothing at the tail end, and the government knows that through its own statistics.
The other side is, how to make people qualify. Reduce the hours. It is an hours based system now. We are not asking the government to go to a weeks based system. Three hundred and sixty hours would ensure that at least two-thirds, if not 70%, of those who were working would now qualify. However, that did not happen either. The government decided it would keep it at the lowest level possible so the least number of people could qualify.
Where are we with that? I talked about the claim phase. Let me tell members what they are doing in the Niagara region when it comes to the EI office. As I said earlier, I worked in conjunction with that office in a previous career since 1992. That office is about a third, if not a quarter of the size of what it used to be in 1992. At the very moment in time, when we need people in that office to service the unemployed, it has decided to restructure and the head office will now go to London, Ontario. Thank goodness it did not pick London, England, although I am surprised it did not try to go that far. At least it went to London, Ontario. The problem is that London, Ontario, in the greater southern Ontario area, now has more than 2.5 million to 3 million people in it rather than the 500,000 that our office looked after initially. Now it has four times the number of claimants to look after.
The minister said in the House earlier that its service would get better. Right now in the Niagara region people do not get money in week five. They get money in week six. Sources have said to me that if the backlog continues, they will not get money until week eight. It is reprehensible that we cannot make this system work better.
If we want a stimulus plan to put people back to work, the office has to re-hire and re-fill the positions in the EI office that they have simply let go under the government over the last number of years. We would create jobs in that particular environment, not jobs that we necessarily want because it means more unemployed, but it is something we would like to see.
As we can see, the unemployment piece is an economic driver. Don Drummond of the TD Bank said that we needed to do ensure that those who were unemployed would collect unemployment insurance because that unto itself was a stimulus. Think about that. That is a stimulus in itself. We do not have to do much else because that is a stimulus.
I would like to add one more thing from a personal perspective. We have talked about things that are missing from the budget. Let me talk about something that is in the budget, and that is equity for women. I will do this as a father.
My wife and I were blessed with a millionaire's family, as it is called. The first time we had children, we had two. We had a boy and a girl. I find it absolutely abhorrent that somehow my daughter will be treated, when it comes to equity, less than her twin brother. They were born three minutes apart. To suggest that somehow my daughter, who is now a young woman today, and her twin brother, who is a young man, both out in the workforce, would have less of an opportunity to have less pay for work of equal value than him, after nine months of living together, is abhorrent. That one aspect is enough to defeat the budget.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. I want to commend my colleague from Welland for articulating very carefully what happens to people when they are unemployed. It is important to do that because we can get caught up in the loftiness of national programs and billions of dollars this and billions of dollars that. At the end of the day, however, everything we do is about, or is supposed to be about, people in their homes, raising their families, hopefully going to work and going about trying to enjoy as much as they can the quality of life this great country can offer.
I want to address this very quickly because I suspect one of the backbenchers will want to jump up for their moment of fame and ask me to address why it is that I can come in here and, before even seeing the budget, say that I will be voting against it.
I have a great answer for that one. I spent eight years in the Ontario legislature watching the Mike Harris government dismantle all the things that were great about the province of Ontario. After one budget from Mike Harris, I did not need to read any other budgets. I did but I did not need to because I knew the destructive path that premier and that government were on and I knew the damage they would do. A lot of what is happening in Ontario is the result of those chickens coming home to roost.
Not only is it a government with the same direction, but the chief of staff to the of Canada just happens to be the same chief of staff that Mike Harris had.
I look at the front bench, I listen to QP, I listen to ministers talk and what do I hear? I hear a going on and on about tax cuts and corporations, and this, that and other thing. He is the same finance minister we had in Ontario. I know the damage that finance minister did.
There are other cronies from that era. Make no mistake, many of us in this House knew exactly what that budget would do, whether or not we had the details. We knew that even if there were something in there that was halfway good, we could not count on the government to implement it. We could not count on the government to keep its word. It passes laws and goes against them. It makes promises and goes against them.
Why, for one minute, would we believe that the government would suddenly be different? All the government had to do was get past the vote, remember, and the Liberals made sure it did. Now, whether it is implemented in a way that is acceptable or not, time will tell. I have no doubt in my mind how all of this will ultimately play out.
I want to raise a couple of issues—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Madam Speaker, I appreciate that but please do not ruin my fun. Half the fun is watching them react and getting them going because that is when we start to see the real members. I would ask that they not be shy on my account and let it rip.
There are a couple of things I want to raise that are here. The Conservatives talk about us not knowing what is in the budget, and our friends in the Liberal caucus are having fun with that drumbeat too, but I have something to tell the House. There is something called the strategic review of programs, which sounds pretty official. What it means is that over three years the government will eliminate $1.3 billion in current money being spent in programs, but we do not know which programs.
Therefore, I say to everyone who is watching who feels that there are parts of the budget they like, that they had better keep an eye on the prize. Until we know what those cuts mean, it may be a program that affects someone who is watching or someone who knows of a family member, a business or a community that is using a program. The $1.3 billion coming out of program spending will hurt somewhere, someone and something. We just do not know what.
Then, of course, thanks to my friend from who has been following this like a laser beam, we have almost $10 billion that shows as revenue. Where will the revenue come from? We are not really sure. The government just tells us that it will sell things. What things? We do not know, but $10 billion means a lot of things will be gone. What a lousy time to be selling anything, if we are talking about real estate, which is what most of it is, unless it is going to tap into the art gallery and start selling pieces of art.
I say, with respect, that members do not need to talk to me about passing a budget that members have read or not read. There are things in the budget that no one in this entire House knows in detail what will be cut.
I want to take a minute to talk about EI. I know it has been talked about by a lot of people but I am from Hamilton and we are hurting. We are losing thousands and thousands of jobs every month. When we talk about the manufacturing sector being hit hard, that is Hamilton. This hits home for me.
For every $60 in corporate tax cuts that the government could find, it found $1 to help the unemployed. On the five week extension, let me put on the record what Don Fraser, president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, said about that. He said:
|| That extra five weeks, in the greater scheme of things, is just window dressing.
It is all window dressing because the government still has not made the fundamental changes to the system. Even if someone were to benefit from that, the total dollar value for that five weeks is $11 million. This year the national budget is about $258 billion, give or take a few million. The give or take is probably more that the actual increase in benefits that unemployed workers saw.
It is unfathomable in this day and age in the middle of a crisis, with people losing jobs hand over fist, and the one thing the government does not do is help those people and families survive. What an abdication of responsibility.
What is the government's rationale, one might ask reasonably. Let us ask the government. This is the minister responsible, in her own words, “We do not want to make it lucrative home and get paid for it”.
I defy any member of the government to repeat that in front of unemployed Hamiltonians who have just been rejected for EI, who do not know how they will pay the rent or make the mortgage payment, who have birthdays and graduations coming up, but who have no money and no hope. Eleven million dollars are pitiful.
Of the 100% of people who pay EI, 32% of women and 38% of men qualify. Let me put it the other way around. We have an insurance program run by the national government, but paid for by premiums from workers and employers, not tax money. This means that 68% of the women and 62% of the men who paid into EI will not even qualify.
We are worried about people who are on EI because it is not enough to sustain them, but what about those who do not even qualify? Those people get to go on welfare after a lifetime of working.
The Conservative government had a chance to treat Canadian workers, particularly those who are or going to become unemployed, with dignity and give them hope and recognize that their lives and their challenges are important, but it failed them.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the budget implementation bill, a bill that covers a budget which really has no vision or direction. It is a budget that represents a scattergun approach to stimulating the economy, one which, at the end of the day after a considerable sum of taxpayers' money has been spent, will not have accomplished what is needed to be accomplished.
It was clear from the very beginning with the economic statement in December that this type of situation would happen, that we would be faced with a budget that simply would not do the job. We cannot expect Conservative ideology to turn around in two months. I am sorry, but that will not happen. We cannot expect that people who have built their dogmatic behaviour around the confines of neo-conservatism would use the finances of this country to provide what Canada needs.
We in the NDP knew that. That is why we formed the coalition in December. We knew very well that in January we would not get what was needed for this economy. Today we hear the Liberals say the same thing. They supported the Conservatives last week for political reasons, but today they are saying the same thing, that the budget is not adequate, that it is not enough. We knew that before. We did not have to wait until the budget was presented. We understand the Conservatives after three years in opposition to them in Parliament.
Once again we saw the mean-spiritedness of a government that would create a budget bill designed to stimulate the economy and get the economy working full of measures that have nothing to do with that, measures that really preserve the Conservative ideological base in this country, to pander to that type of support. We see that so clearly.
Bill attacks women through its assault on pay equity. It really provides nothing for women who are out of work. We do not see any improvement in EI. We do not see a more understanding nature around child care. We do not see any of that vision that people who are going to be most disenfranchised during this downturn in the economy need to have.
It tears up collective agreements. My inbox was full of emails from RCMP officers in my riding in the Northwest Territories. They said that not only did the government cut the collective agreement for all of Canada, but it also picked on the extra money that is provided as support for the RCMP in carrying out law and order in very isolated places.
I wish the and his cabinet would have gone into a grocery store in Inuvik before the election and looked at the prices of goods for northerners. Perhaps then they would understand what it means when there are cutbacks for the professionals who come in to take care of our communities and provide the services which we hear the Conservatives talk about so eloquently when it comes to taking credit for anything they do.
This budget weakens control on foreign ownership, especially Air Canada. The aviation industry is so transportable. Many of the workers can be replaced by people in other countries. The maintenance work can be done in places that will provide no benefit to our country. We need to hold on to the ownership of our aviation industry. That is not happening. This budget would actually change that.
It attacks student loan recipients. How low do we want to go? How low do we take this?
Today I am going to move away from that and talk about how the bill attacks the environment through its changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
I was in committee the other day when the minister took great pains to say how old this act was, that it dated from the time of our first prime minister. He seemed to have disdain for it because of its age, that this was a good reason to move on from it, to change to something different.
The fact that this law is one of the oldest on the books says to me how important the protection of Canada's waterways is. The role of a national government in protecting its waters dates well before Confederation. There were provisions in the Magna Carta protecting against the construction of fish weirs across the rivers in England. We know that from day one it is so important to look at how our rivers are being taken care of.
Despite this historic precedent as to how important the role of a national government is in protecting water systems, the government wants to eviscerate protection for Canada's waterways. Under the changes the Conservatives want to make, rivers would only be considered navigable under the sole discretion of the minister. There would be no consultation, no forewarning and no appeal, not even any limitation on the type of waterway which could be excluded.
Under these amendments, it is conceivable the minister could declare that the St. Lawrence is not a navigable waterway. What kind of power and authority are we turning over to the minister in this regard? What is this about? We would also turn over to the minister the sole discretion to determine whether any proposed work would have an impact on navigation, once again without prior consultation, no warning and no appeal. With this type of amendment, large structures, such as dams across a river, depending on where they are located and which river they are on, could be considered as not having any impact on navigation.
The amendments give the minister the authority to change at any time the criteria used in assessing whether a waterway is navigable or whether a type of work may interfere with navigation, once again without the ability of Canadians to say anything about it, without any ability to appeal these types of decisions on these waterways which so many Canadians hold sacred.
Canadians identify with their rivers. They identify with the land, the water. Nature is so important to all of us. Why would Canadians want this type of legislation put in place?
The minister said that these changes need to be made because the law has been holding up vital infrastructure projects. Can the minister name one project that has not gone ahead because of the Navigable Waters Protection Act?
Why has the Conservative government put this odious change to the laws which protect Canada's natural environment into a budget bill? Could it be because the Conservatives know Canadians will oppose these changes and will voice strong opposition? The Conservatives sneak it in through the back door knowing that the Liberals will support it in order to get the budget passed. This is how they are working.
When the Navigable Waters Protection Act was reviewed by the transport committee in the last Parliament, the committee recommended more consultations, especially with aboriginal people, recreational users, anglers, canoeists, tourist operators, cottagers, and river advocacy groups. Only one group like that was represented in the committee discussions.
The government likes to say it is here for the people, but if it does not listen to the people, it is not here for them.
Another way the government is not listening is in its approach to stimulating the economy of the Northwest Territories. For years the people and the Government of Nunavut have been calling for a deep sea port at Iqaluit. Instead, the government is pouring $17 million into a harbour in Pangnirtung, on top of the already existing contribution of $8 million last year.
After the budget was released, the Premier of Nunavut asked about the funding and was told to use it or lose it, that a port in Iqaluit would take too long. Pangnirtung needs a small craft harbour and it should get an excellent one for $25 million, but all of Nunavut needs a harbour in Iqaluit as well, and that funding could have gone toward making that a reality. Why did they not do it? The Conservatives think they know better than the people of the north.
Another example from the north is funding for an Arctic research institute.
I will sum up by saying that this budget does not work and we are not supporting it.
Madam Speaker, as I rise to speak today, I think I owe the House a little bit of an explanation because as I speak members will hear my voice tremble and see my hands shake. The reason is simple. It is not that I am frightened; I am damn angry. I am angry at what is hidden in this document that is hurting the workers, the families and the seniors in my community.
In light of the times, we had a chance with this bill for a dawning of a new age. We could have joined with what is happening south of the border. Clearly, there is a new day dawning in that country. It is not without some turmoil, following two right-wing Republican governments, but times are changing. The U.S. federal government, with the lead of the new Obama administration, is very clearly with its people.
That is a role our federal government should play. It should be with the Canadian people. Day to day it should show the Canadian people where government belongs in their lives. Instead, it is trying to withdraw government from their lives. Times of turmoil such as these are the most important time for government intervention in our economy. Here in Canada our government could have chosen to join that progressive view that is coming out of Washington and out of the U.S.
The government could have had provisions which aided municipalities by addressing the huge $122 billion infrastructure deficit. The government could have recognized the need to lift municipalities in a time of crisis by paying, along with the provinces, for measures to address the significant infrastructure problems. Clearly, many municipalities simply cannot afford the one-third upfront cost of sharing in these projects.
In addition to truly missing a huge opportunity for real national leadership, Canadians once again were hit by backdoor politics. During a time of crisis, the Conservatives have moved to advance their ideology by inserting into the bill provisions that are detrimental to our environment, to women and even to students in universities.
Bill , if we listened to the rhetoric, was supposed to be about stimulus. Why are there so many non-monetary provisions in this document? Why in the world are there no significant measures for seniors, the people who built our country, who are the very backbone of Canada?
I want to tell a story, which I have told before in the House but it is worthy of repeating. About two months ago, maybe three now, a man in his mid-seventies came into my office with tears in his eyes, talking about a letter he received from the government announcing a stupendous increase to his pension: 42¢ a month. That says so much about how the government and previous governments have looked at seniors as an invisible group in our country.
Today I met briefly with the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation. Its members had a brief they were trying to present to the government. Where was the government when it was asked to protect seniors from poverty? These seniors cannot even get a hearing from the minister. They have a brief that outlines measures they believe from their experience would protect seniors. For instance, when a senior's husband or wife passes away, if they have no other means but OAS and CPP, why are we condemning them to poverty? Why are we doing this as a country? There must be other ways to ensure dignity for seniors in their final years. There is no time that it is acceptable in Canada for one single senior to sleep on the streets of our country.
The government can give away $60 billion in tax breaks to profitable corporations, and I stress the word “profitable”. It is not even helping the companies that are in trouble. It is giving it to the profitable corporations. By doing so it is taking billions of dollars out of the fiscal capacity of our country, money that could have gone to help our seniors and the unemployed.
It cannot even set aside a $1 billion out of that $60 billion for the seniors of our country, and I will tell the House why. The seniors of Canada are an invisible population. They are certainly invisible to the Conservatives. They are not flashy, like the friends of the Cadillac Conservatives that we see around here, but I guarantee that members will be hearing more from seniors and they will be hearing more from me as the seniors critic for the NDP.
If the House wants to hear just how removed from working people and seniors these Conservatives are just listen to the remarks of the when she said on January 30:
|| We do not want to make it lucrative for them to stay home and get paid for it, not when we still have significant skill shortages in many parts of the country.
In Hamilton, this so outraged the Hamilton District Labour Council that it put out a media release calling for the minister to resign and I support that recommendation. In Hamilton, 8,000 of my friends and neighbours lost their jobs in one month alone, January, with another 17,000 last year. Households across Hamilton are reeling as our industrial sector gets hammered again and again.
Seniors on retirement incomes in are watching and have watched their savings disappear. They are questioning what is going to be done to protect their pensions. To show the grossness of some of the taxation policies of this country, a man came to my office who took the responsibility to bury his cousin who was single. He took that responsibility and paid for the funeral. He was not a man of means. Imagine his shock when he found that the measly death benefit from CPP was taxable. He had taken that responsibility and he had to now pay tax on it.
On the environment file the Conservatives' ideology once again rears its nasty head. They have amended Bill which, in their words, will streamline the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This should alarm anyone who is used to Conservative spin. This is code for removing many environmental safeguards at a time when Canadians want their government to move to protect the environment, not be part of its devastation.
This ideological war continues with further attacks on women's rights which follow the pattern set when they discontinued funding for the Status of Women in the last session. Now it is pay equity that is under attack.
Clearly, the budget fails students. It fails seniors. It fails the workers of Canada and that is why I will not be supporting the budget. I will do everything in my power to ensure that those people who are left behind learn about the disgraceful measures contained in the budget.
At this point my frustration level is getting to the point where I am starting to lose my place, but that never means for a minute that I will lose my passion for the workers of Hamilton, for the citizens of Hamilton, and the people who have been sold out by the government and its new partners, the Liberals.
Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to debate Bill . Addressing the House is certainly an honour for me, but I cannot say I am happy do so on this bill. It is especially appalling that the Liberals have decided to support such a flawed bill.
This bill, which was supposed to represent a new beginning for this government, instead brings it back to its roots, its Reform Party roots. It is an incredibly political measure. It really does not meet the needs of Canadians and I simply cannot support it.
The Conservatives would have Canadians believe that the NDP opposes the idea of this government helping Canadians because we do not support this budget. Nothing could be further from the truth. I cannot imagine how the Conservatives themselves can belive what they are saying when they make such scandalous statements. No sensible person would oppose something that helps our citizens. What we do oppose, however, is the way this budget, which is supposed to stimulate the economy, deceitfully targets specific political objectives: attacking women, punishing the public service, deceiving Canada's aboriginal peoples, and ignoring the needs of small communities and those in the north.
It is important to remember during this discussion that we are talking about all kinds of public servants. It is not just number crunchers or pencil pushers. It includes the people who defend us. It is the RCMP officers who put themselves in harm's way time and again so that we can feel safe in our country. It is the men and women of our armed forces who are being asked to perform very dangerous missions, such as the one in Afghanistan.
We are being asked to vote for a document that says to these proud Canadians who are putting their lives on the line that they do not deserve to earn a decent living. I think that is a shame.
What I find particularly troublesome is that these same Conservatives who extended the mission in Afghanistan, made so much political hay out of those who did not want to support this course for Canada, and accused any and all who did not agree with them of not supporting the troops now turn around and do this to those same troops they say they support. That is pure ignorance. I cannot agree with that.
In the name of economic stimulus, this bill ends pilot projects for EI that extend benefits. That is just crazy. At a time when it is clear to all, except the Liberals and the Conservatives who support this budget, that employment insurance needs to be more responsive, more flexible and more accessible to Canadians, they are closing the doors instead of opening them.
The government will point out that it has extended benefits by five weeks, and that should be enough, because it does not want to make it too lucrative. What the government should really be doing is ensuring that more people are able to make claims. Sure, they should extend benefits; it is a measure that will help people. However, it is of no use if people cannot collect the benefits. It is window dressing.
This government's only concern is to be seen to be doing something. What it is actually doing is basically either nothing or, worse, exacerbating the situation.
The problems with employment insurance are well known. Among the worst is that it takes money from people who will never be able to collect from the fund when they find themselves out of work. It is, in many instances, a tax on having a job. Most people do not mind paying the premiums and see the value of a collective response to unemployment. It would be easier for many more to accept if they were actually able to access those same benefits should they find themselves out of work. On EI, the government is really missing the boat.
The received a prebudget submission from Ian Lee, the director of the MBA program at the Sprott School of Business, just down the road at Carleton University. That submission told the minister in very clear language that the best available bang for the buck in terms of government spending for stimulus was employment insurance. He showed that EI had the best multiplier, a term to describe the value of a dollar spent by the government. The multiplier for EI was $1.64. EI is the single best choice for economic stimulus, even better than infrastructure spending. Not only does EI have the best multiplier, but it also flows quickly and is not likely to find its way into a person's saving account. It goes to those communities in need and is spent in local businesses in a way that will stimulate the economy.
The government needs to see the light on EI. This budget shows no sign of that happening, and again I have to say I cannot support it.
In the name of economic stimulus, the government has shortchanged our aboriginal communities. It has provided some money for much-needed housing and schools, but it has not responded to calls from that community for an investment in education and social infrastructure or for a repayable loan fund to help with economic development.
For economic development, they were asking for 0.5% of the $200 billion that the government put into the credit system. The government did not deliver. It seemed like a reasonable request, given that the on-reserve population makes up 2% of our population, but the government ignored their needs.
The government does have some money for infrastructure in aboriginal communities. Housing and schools are important, and the construction of them will provide some good short-term jobs.
However, the lack of actual investment in education in these communities condemns today's school-age children to a subpar education, an education with a high school graduation rate far below graduation rates in other communities across our country, and a future in which they will be fighting the same battles that their parents are fighting today.
We simply have to do something about this, and we have to do it now. The Centre for the Study of Living Standards released a report in 2007 which stated that if the high school graduation rate of aboriginal people caught up with that of non-aboriginal people by the year 2017, it would mean an increase in the country's gross domestic product of $62 billion.
It is impossible for me to conceive of a reason for the government to do anything but work with these communities and address this need. The budget does not do anything toward that, and I cannot support it.
There is so much more we could speak about, more than I could cram into this speech. I could tell the House about the 82-year-old pensioner from Elliot Lake who contacted me, furious about the way the banks are being bailed out, but the investors are left with empty accounts and nothing else. This particular man is going to have to sell his house because of the losses he took on the investments. Countless others are worried as they watch their pension funds and RRSPs underperform.
What is the government's response to these seniors? The told them to pick up some quick bargains while the stock market crumbled.
Those seniors built this country. We owe them much more than that. They worked hard and honestly and assumed that their hard work would be rewarded with a comfortable retirement. They deserve better from us. The bill does not address their needs.
I could talk about my constituents who live in areas where the price of gas is incredibly high, even though the price per barrel of oil has dropped to levels we have not seen in years. I could talk about how this bill will make it even harder for students to get the loans they need to pay for their education. I could give an entire speech about the problems the forest industry is facing because of the government's inaction. I could talk about the 92-year-old woman in my riding who has to travel more than 60 kilometres to see a doctor. Many seniors have to drive six hours to see a family doctor in Toronto because there are no doctors in Elliot Lake.
It is these deficiencies that define the budget bill. It is the political attacks buried inside it that will be this bill's legacy. The government will wear that legacy, and those who support it, like the Liberals, will also be responsible.
Madam Speaker, I looked at the Conservative-Liberal alliance budget implementation bill and I was disappointed. I was disappointed to see little for Canadians and especially little for the citizens of communities in northwestern Ontario. I was equally saddened to see that the had chosen to lead the Liberal Party, as his predecessor did, condemning the budget with one breath while rubber stamping it with the next.
Recently I held broad public consultations on the hoped-for budget in my riding and what was asked for is not in the budget. The budget implementation bill does not address the major issues my constituents brought up during those public consultations.
The things that were especially at the forefront of those consultations again and again, in 13 communities, by hundreds of people and dozens of organizations, were a fairer employment insurance system, support for our struggling forest industry and workers and real money for local infrastructure needs.
Employment insurance remains in desperate need of reform. Most workers who pay into it are not eligible for benefits. In Ontario almost 70% of the unemployed do not qualify even though they have paid into it. Paul Martin's Liberals gutted EI and the Conservatives have not fixed it. Nothing was done in the budget to make EI eligibility fairer. The program still maintains regional disparities, keeps the waiting period and there is still a clawback of severance pay.
Over half of the casework at my constituency office, the work of two people, is about EI problems and the failure to access EI fairly and efficiently, and it is growing by the week. Constituents often are unable to get through to the toll-free call centre and do not get the promised callback within 48 hours, or 84 hours, or sometimes weeks. Claims are delayed, deadlines are missed, appeals stretch out for months.
The system is not serving hardworking Canadians who have paid into it, sometimes for decades. This is simply not acceptable. We need a responsive EI system that works for workers laid off through fault of their own.
Thunder Bay—Superior North relies on the forestry sector. The industry has been just about done in by years of neglect by Liberal governments and now the Conservative government. The $170 million over two years announced for marketing is woefully and totally inadequate tor the needs of this industry, which has the potential to sustain northwestern Ontario and many northern Canada communities for many years and decades.
There was no mention of loan guarantees to help companies like Thunder Bay Fine Papers, Longlac Wood Industries and others. In northwestern Ontario and across Canada mills are shutting down and many are in danger of being scrapped. When will the support the mills and workers in northwestern Ontario?
The AbitibiBowater plant recently announced shutdowns, affecting 1,100 workers in Thunder Bay. Just days ago the Thunder Bay Fine Papers mill narrowly avoided being sold for scrap metal. Three hundred and twenty direct workers and thousands of indirect jobs in Thunder Bay still face an uncertain future due to the credit crisis because the will not act.
The has done absolutely nothing. He has one more chance to help this mill survive and the citizens of Thunder Bay are praying that he will take that chance. I have asked him repeatedly and I implore him again. When value-added mills like these are closed, the capacity and workers may be gone for good.
On municipal infrastructure, the lack of vision and strategy is problematic as well. Alleged municipal infrastructure money is a rising tide of red ink and red tape.
There are glaring omissions in the government's implementation of the budget in that there is no preference for Canadian products or Canadian materials, even when billions are planned in stimulus spending, allegedly. What a waste of Canadian dollars to stimulate the economies of the U.S. and China.
Our domestic procurement policies were in the news recently with the buy America amendment to the stimulus bill that was before the U.S. senate. The U.S.A. already had strong domestic procurement rules in place since 1933 and even stronger in the last seven years. Most other industrialized countries have similar rules.
Canada sits alone among the G7 countries in failing to defend domestic jobs and industries with our own made in Canada government buying policy. Where direct federal procurements are somewhat constrained because of NAFTA and WTO agreements, federal transfers to provinces, or states or municipalities for infrastructure are not. All of our other trading partners have already figured this out.
Conservative and Liberal governments in Canada have ignored our rights to buy Canadian. This is a consistent failure of our governments to show courage and resolve in trade negotiations and disputes and to stand up for Canada.
Canada must pass an act mandating made in Canada requirements. Let us really stimulate the Canadian economy and not just the economies of the U.S., Mexico and China. Let us get the most value from hard-earned Canadian taxpayer dollars.
Abandoning key rights in the free market makes no more sense for our industrial strategy than it does for the banking industry. These measures will just bring us in line with other countries. For example, the buy American act has mandated 60% U.S. made products in federally supported transportation projects. The new buy American amendment would take that even further.
In Canada in the last three years we have had B.C. ferries purchased from Germany, York region buses purchased from Belgium, Vancouver sky train, the Canada line, sourced from Korea, just to name a few. Instead let us stimulate Canadian shipyards like the ones in Thunder Bay, vehicle assembly plants and rail production like Bombardier. Millions in tax revenue and spinoff jobs would be created in Canada for a change.
When will the of the republican party of Canada buy into Canadian industries and stick up for our Canadian workers?
Madam Speaker, we are living in historic times and in these times the work of this House has never been more important. We parliamentarians are being called upon to meet this crisis with new ideas and bold action. We should be taking inspiration from moments of unprecedented, creative and unifying action in our history. We should be meeting the challenge to act with vision and purpose, to unite our country in this period of crisis and build the Canada that we want.
A budget is not just a set of numbers. A budget is a vision for the future. This budget, more than any other, has to meet the test of history.
We should look to history when we think about this budget. In Nova Scotia, a historical figure we celebrate is Joseph Howe. We celebrate him because he fought against patronage and corruption. He fought for democracy and he did it with style and grace. It was the approach as well as the outcomes that mattered for Joseph Howe.
One of the most famous stories about Joe Howe involves his writings against the Halifax elite in The Novascotian. Howe's opponents sought to silence him once and for all by challenging him to a duel. Joe Howe accepted the duel with the full knowledge that he might lose his life, but on that day in Halifax, his opponent shot and missed. In response, Howe raised his pistol and he fired into the air. He was able to rise above the violent and vindictive mentality of his opponents, presenting an honourable alternative through his actions. I am afraid that the government has little in common with Joseph Howe.
When it became clear that the crisis in the financial sector was spilling over into the real economy, the government used the circumstances to ram through its own regressive agenda, attacking the right of women for equal pay for work of equal value, selling off public assets at a bargain basement price, attacking workers through removing their right to strike, and silencing political opponents through the gutting of public financing that keeps our democracy fair.
We all know what happened next. The nature of the economic update forced opposition parties to set aside differences and do the work that government refused to do, namely, provide a stimulus package to protect jobs, help those who have lost them and create jobs for the future.
After a convenient prorogation, the government returned with a tremendous about-face, building up a budget that secures its own job but that does little to help save the jobs of average Canadians.
Joseph Howe could prove to be a positive role model for the current government, but where else can we look for examples of a vision for a greater Canada? Baldwin and LaFontaine had a vision of French and English working together. Under Macdonald, we built a rail system to join this great land. We united to bring about the strong social safety net that defined us in the 20th century, including medicare and employment insurance.
However, what have we seen in this budget? It is the opposite of a greater vision for Canada. We see the government once again using politics of division for its own gain. Just as when it was faced with defeat by a coalition of opposition members and pitted west against east and Canada against Quebec, it has now turned its sword to the Atlantic, dramatically adjusting the equalization formula. This adversely affects provinces such as Newfoundland and Labrador, which my colleague, the member for , addressed earlier in this House.
Questionable activity by that party in the previous election also illustrates some of the divisive strategies that now appear in the budget. Sadly, the member for was forced to rise in this House to defend his reputation because of this type of vindictive, obsessively partisan behaviour. The member, I should mention, exemplified the dignity of Joseph Howe in standing up to one of the government's previous failed budgets. For taking a stand for his province, he now sits alone, but he commands the respect of all Nova Scotians.
This divisive approach continues with this bill. Despite its cobbling together of some of the opposition's suggestions, it is fundamentally flawed. It is at odds with the approach that needs to be taken for Canada to be the great country that it is.
Our history has taught us time and time again that greatness in this country cannot be based on the type of strategies practised by the current Conservative government. For Canada to work, we must not pit one group against each other or single out particular groups or particular people for attack and derision just because we can.
In times like this, with a quarter of a million jobs lost in 90 days, the House should be rising to the call of history. Workers in all regions of our country are losing out and they need support to transition to the new economy, the one that is just waiting for a government with some vision, a green, new deal where we achieve prosperity and security for our planet as well as our people and our economy.
With dwindling fossil fuel supplies, sure to lead to higher energy costs for all Canadians in the future, we could have grasped this opportunity to build a less fossil fuel dependent economy, an economy that is more innovative and productive, creating new jobs throughout the country by becoming more efficient and harnessing the wind, water and solar resources that we have in abundance.
Instead, we see the government kneecapping the wind energy industry by cancelling an incentive program. We see that there is absolutely no understanding of the huge potential to save money and energy through energy efficiency programs. We see no funding for building the type of sustainable transportation infrastructure that is necessary to build a creative and knowledge-based advantage for Canada.
New energy efficient buildings are most needed in the affordable housing sector. We know this is the best way to move people off the streets and into better living conditions. It can create construction jobs, help our forestry sector and trigger innovation in green design technologies and techniques but we have a government that does not want to do this because of its ideological blinders.
There was an opportunity in the budget to provide immediate support by expanding employment insurance in all regions of the country. This has been shown to be the most effective form of stimulus because it gets money out quickly to the people who have been hurt by the recession and to the people who will spend it.
It is unfortunate that I have to remind the House, but employment insurance is a fund that is paid into by workers for exactly this reason, so that when times are tough they can be protected. For a government that talks so much about putting money back into the pockets of Canadians, why is it so reluctant to let workers access a fund that they built?
The government has not solved the regional inequalities that exist in this program. This could have united our country but instead we are left with divisions. When we have a minister who thinks that fixing the program makes it too lucrative, it does not give one much hope for the kind of action that is needed here.
On housing, there is plenty of language in the budget about social housing but when we look closely, there is no new money for people already on the street and there is a deliberate move to prevent anyone from confusing this with a national housing strategy. A national strategy is what has been called for by virtually every major housing and poverty advocate in the country. In the face of this housing crisis, the budget proposes tax credits for people who already own their homes to build backyard decks.
I want to return to my point about the politics of division. I regret to say that women remain a prime target in the budget, not a funding target, but a political one. The removal of a woman's right to fight for equal pay for work of equal value was one of the most audacious parts of the November economic statement. It survived the Conservatives manufactured political crisis and will pass through the House with the support of the Liberal Party. Not only that, the stimulus investments that are being made are predominantly in male dominated sectors. A woman who has a job and is not getting equal pay for equal work, well that is too bad, but if one is a woman looking for a job, the Conservative government will not help her.
The budget represents an attack and a neglect of women in Canada. This is not how we build a country. This is not how we unite people.
I have spoken about history and now I would like to speak about the future. Since the decisions we make at this pivotal time will greatly impact the future, it is worth thinking about. In a couple of years, when Canada goes to climate change conventions and other countries have prepared their economies for the transition by investing in renewables and energy efficiency, when home heating and gas prices are again heading skyward and becoming unaffordable, how will we justify the lack of action? Will we say that we are still dependent on fossil fuels but that we have created a lot of backyard decks?
In a couple of years, when other countries have used their strategic investments to reduce their rates of poverty and include a greater number of citizens in society, will we be saying that we did not really get that affordable housing stuff off the ground but we did build a lot of backyard decks? There is nothing wrong with building backyard decks but the budget will fail the test of history because it has failed to produce any vision for the type of country we want for the future. Instead, it deceives and divides.
Canadians do not deserve this. They deserve a vision for a country that will move them forward. In Canada, we move forward when we protect the vulnerable and respect minorities, whether based on ethnicity, gender, or economic status. We move forward when we present an economic alternative to the tired economics of yesterday. The budget and the conduct of the Conservative government takes us in a very different direction, in a direction that our history has shown is quite dangerous. This is why I voted against the budget and the government.