Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this stage of the budget.
To say that I support the budget would be a bit of a stretch, but we have decided we will let the budget pass. We believe there are some measures in the budget that are of benefit to Canadians and we have to let the it pass. However, we also have very serious concerns, which have been outlined in our amendment, and we want to ensure that the government is kept on a tight leash. It is about time, too.
We have heard in the last few days about how the $3 billion of infrastructure spending has to be rushed out the door, that there is a special need to get it out there and it is urgent. It is about time the government took action. When the economic storm clouds were gathering in late summer, rather than do something about it, the government called an election.
When President Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in the November election, he was already talking about a massive stimulus package. People in Canada were also talking about the need for the same kind of thing. Instead of doing something then, the government came forward with an economic update that had nothing in it in the form of stimulus.
In December when Barack Obama's plan was already working its way through the United States system and people were getting excited about some of the things they were hearing, Canadians were talking about what we could do in the form of stimulus. Instead of bringing something in then, the government decided prorogue Parliament.
Finally at the end of January, the government decided to do something about it and put something together. I must admit some parts of the budget are better than what we saw in November, but some serious concerns remain. Personally the most serious of those concerns relates to the protection of those who are most vulnerable, so I will address that first.
We have literacy organizations across the country, and we do not hear as much about literacy in the House as we should. Literacy organizations, like Literacy Nova Scotia in my province, were among the first victims of the meanness of the government back in the fall of 2006 when it cut $17.7 million cut from literacy as part of the famous $2 billion cuts that it came out with.
Literacy organizations do not know where the money is. If we talk to the minister, we get one story. If we talk to officials, we get a different story. However, literacy organizations across the country need help so we can be a more productive nation, so we can educate our citizens and so we can provide support for people.
One of the saddest stories I have heard as a member of Parliament is about a person who was offered a promotion. He came to my office. He was employed and doing okay. By some people's standards, he was not doing that well, but he had a job and he was productive. He then was offered a promotion. The problem was he had to take a literacy test. He knew he could not pass it so he had to turn the promotion down. That person is asking for help.
We have literacy organizations across Canada, like the Dartmouth Literacy Network or the literacy organizations in the Annapolis Valley, that do such good work. When we talk to a learner, somebody whose life has been changed by having access to that kind of education, it is amazing we do not do more to support them.
I want to talk about employment insurance, which I have spoken to at other stages of the bill. Five weeks at the end of EI is helpful, but it is a very small measure. There is some money for training, and I give the government credit for that. However, when we think of what the government could have done for EI, it is a shame. There are all kinds of measures. The government could eliminate the waiting period. It could make EI benefits a bit higher percentage of previous earnings. It could equalize access, both regionally and across income groups.
One of the real weaknesses of our EI system is that a lot of low-income part-time workers, who tend to be women, cannot access EI. This is the perfect time to speed that up.
EI is a very positive way to provide stimulus into the economy. In fact, some studies note there is payback on EI. Ian Lee from the Sprott School of Business indicates that EI has a multiplier effect of 1.61%. For every dollar we spend on EI, it goes out and multiplies in the economy, which is higher than infrastructure and dramatically higher than tax cuts.
The tax cuts in the budget are unfair. The tax cuts help me, but in my view I am not the kind of person, nor are any other members of the House, who should be a priority for the government.
The government should have increased the GST rebate. It should have increased the child tax benefit. It should have put money into the pockets of people who most need it. It helps us all because they spend it, not because they want to spend it, but because they have to spend it. That is where the stimulus should be.
I want to talk about another issue that we have started to hear about in the last few days. This week The Chronicle Herald had an editorial with the headline, “Laid-off workers stuck in EI limbo”, and stated, “Thousands of recently laid-off Atlantic Canadian workers are paying the price”, and that is the EI wait lists.
On the weekend I was delighted to see that the Leader of the Opposition, when he was in Nova Scotia for the annual general meeting along with the next premier of Nova Scotia, Steve McNeil, the leader of the Liberal Party spoke about EI very strongly. The headline in the paper the next night was, “Late EI payments to Atlantic Canadians unacceptable”--the Leader of the Opposition--“says”.
This is a very important issue. People are waiting. I have letters from people from across the country who have been waiting for EI. The government says that 80% of EI claims are processed within 28 days. That is not the case and it is not just in the last few days. In December I wrote a letter to the saying that people are waiting for EI. People told me that they are being told that they have to wait the standard 40 days. That is not the worst case scenario; that is the standard processing time. The standard processing time has gone from 28 days to 40 days.
I wrote a letter to the in the middle of December. The mail must be pretty slow, because I have not had a response yet.
I received an email from somebody in my riding on January 27 which states:
Tomorrow, on day 50, I'm supposed to call back and get another update as to what is going on with my claim. When it finally does get processed, I'll drop you a line just to let you know how long it finally took.
I got an email from the same lady a few days later saying:
Thank you so much!! I did get a phone call late this afternoon actually saying my claim had been processed and approved which was a surprise because I got a voicemail when I got home last night saying there may be more delays.
She went on to say:
I just thought you might like to know that it may have been [the member for Dartmouth--Cole Harbour], not Conservative promises, who helped this first nations person get their cheque.
We have received emails in my office from across the country. We have one from the riding of the , saying:
I am a resident of your riding and wanted to be sure that you were aware of the current situation in obtaining EI benefits. It is virtually impossible to reach an agent on the phone.... On several instances I waited on hold over two hours only to be cut off without reaching an agent.
I want to be very clear. I do not blame the people at Service Canada. They are working very hard. They have had to take on more responsibilities in the last few years. I do not have any problem with the people who work at Service Canada. I do have a problem with the political masters who are not recognizing that more and more people are being laid off, and if they are among the lucky ones who actually manage to qualify for EI even though they have paid into it, they have the right to get EI when they need it.
A person from Vancouver wrote:
Ceased to work at the end of November. Applied for EI January 8, 2009. It has now been 54 days. Still no final decision.”
Here is one from Prince Edward Island:
I have applied for EI sick benefits and have been told it will be eight to ten weeks to process my application and receive benefits.
I have one here from the city of St. Johns in Newfoundland and Labrador saying that our riding office has been helping many constituents who have been waiting six weeks or more in the processing of EI claims. Across the country people are waiting for their EI cheques. Even though they are entitled to get their EI, they are having a very difficult time getting it.
My colleague from Don Valley East asked a question on this in the House, if I am not mistaken. I think my asked a question in the House on this, about a constituent of his whose name I cannot recall, but I think it might have been Norma Peck, who was waiting and waiting.
Thank heavens that people have members of Parliament like the and my , who stand up. My spoke in this House on behalf of somebody who was waiting, I think it was 47 days. Thank heavens there are some members providing leadership for those who actually need help the most.
On employment insurance, there is a great deal more the government could be doing to help people. I expect we will talk about that tomorrow.
I want to talk about child care. Canada is, and I want to be generous, a laggard on child care. In the last few years we have gotten worse. A survey was released in December by the United Nations and of the OECD nations, Canada ranked last out of 25 countries on 10 benchmarks dealing with early learning and child care. We were last.
I would expect that some of the Scandinavian nations that are very progressive in this area would be ahead of us, but many other nations were as well. I believe we only went halfway on one benchmark. The province of Quebec had six out of the ten benchmarks because it has an early learning and child care plan, and I commend that province for that. We need to do more.
The came to a meeting in Halifax on Saturday. We met with about 20 child care advocates. Somebody said that child care does not stop at six either, referring to the measly $100 a month. And education does not start at six. Education has to start at age zero. Education needs to be accessible to all. If any one of us knew of somebody with a child who was six or seven years old and that child was denied access to elementary school, there would be an outcry, and rightly so. Yet every single day in every community in Canada children are being denied access to early learning and child care. That is a shame. That affects our productivity in a huge way.
I am delighted that the has made it clear that when the Liberals form the government, and I hope and expect that will be after the next election, he will bring back an early learning and child care plan similar to the one brought forward by my colleague from , the former goalie who was minister of human resources and skills development. It was a wonderful plan for child care. He actually implemented it but it was thrown out on the scrap heap to the consternation, dismay and the agony of people across this country to whom $100 does not mean anything. People at our session on Sunday said that the $100 does not help when child care costs $800 to $1,000 a month, but more important, they cannot find a child care space. Child care cannot be delivered in the mail.
I want to talk about a specific organization which does some great work in this country. It is called the Canadian Council on Learning, CCL. This organization is set up to measure how we are doing on education in relation to other countries and the standards that we should have in Canada. This organization has been operating for five years. It has some concerns. It is not a political organization at all. Dr. Paul Cappon heads it up. He is universally respected. He is not a Liberal, nor a New Democrat, nor a Conservative. He is just a guy who cares about education and helping us understand where we are in educating our citizens. This organization was told that its funding was not going to be renewed past the end of March or April of this year. That does not make any sense.
At committee a couple of weeks ago, the was asked by the chair of our committee, a very good chair in spite of his Conservative label, if the funding for CCL would be extended and what the status of it was. The minister said, “The funding for that has been extended to the end of next year. There will be discussions about the future”.
Two days later her officials came to committee and I raised the issue of CCL. My question was, “I want to ask about the Canadian Council on Learning. On Tuesday the minister indicated that their funding would be extended for another year. My understanding was it was going to run out at the end of March. Our chair asked the question. Is that the fact, that they have another year of funding that will take them to 2010?”
The assistant deputy minister said, “That's correct”. I said, “It is not just that they are using the money they were given before for an extra year, but they have an extra year of funding”, which is what the minister said. The answer was “My understanding is their original funding was reprofiled to extend into 2010”. That is a quizzical thing. I pursued that and said, “Reprofiled under certain governments means different things. Does that mean stretched or does that mean added?” The answer was, “It means there was no increase in the funding they received”.
On Tuesday the minister told us the funding had been extended until the end of next year, yet two days later we found out that was not the case at all. This is an organization like the Centre for Social Development and many others that are doing great work but it seems they have to fight for their funding every year.
I work in the area of human resources, and there are a number of issues that are of great concern to me.
What is happening on the research side is scandalous. The CAUT, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, went to see the Secretary of State and its members were told to shut up. They were told that they have burned their bridges. I can see shock on the faces of members opposite that one of their own would say that to somebody.
As ministers or MPs, there is a certain tone and level of respect that we have for people who are advocating when they come to see us, whether we agree or disagree. I know the people who went to see the minister. I know Jim Turk. He is the head of CAUT. I know the two people who were in that meeting. These are reasonable people. They came to see me while I was on the government side and they have come to see me in opposition. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I disagree, but I would never question their motives or suggest that anybody would use that tone of language in dealing with people who are advocating for issues like education.
I have concerns about the budget and the tone of the government. I have an awful lot of concerns about the direction of the country. My colleagues from the NDP will say that since I have all these issues, maybe I should vote against this budget. I can say with great sincerity that I support the position our leader has taken. There are some measures in this budget, such as the five weeks of EI and some of the infrastructure money if it gets out the door, that could be very positive for Canadians.
We are not supporting this budget so much as we are letting it pass. We are going to keep a close eye on it. This country is headed into difficult times. We may be there now. I can recall two or three times in the last couple of months when I have talked to people who said that they did not think it would get this worse. We hear about further losses with each passing day and week. Yesterday, we heard about the job losses in Hamilton. In my own area, we have lost the Moirs plant, which employed over 500 people. We are all going to be hurt.
We are in this together. This is Canada. We are a rich nation, but we are hurting. However, the strength of this country is that we have a social infrastructure and we believe in it. We believe in national health service. We believe in employment insurance. We believe in social supports that provide assistance to those in need, like the GIS and the child tax benefit.
I think that in a difficult time it is important that we as Canadians focus on those people who are hurting the most. We need to provide support to people who need help. We need to invest in their health, education and the social supports that make their lives livable, whether it is EI, health care, or education for aboriginal Canadians, low-income families and persons with disabilities. These are the people who need our help. Those are the measures we are going to be watching as this budget unfolds. That is how we will be holding the government to account. For now, it is a pass, but it is pretty close.
Mr. Speaker, I will follow on the comments that were just made in the House. In regard to Bill , they were quite appropriate. However, the reality is that there will be no shipbuilding industry left if the Liberal Party does not stand up for shipbuilding when the carbon amendment comes before this House in the next few days. I certainly hope they will, and the member for has indicated that he is considering it, which is very important. We are making some progress.
Where we are not making progress is on Bill .
What we have seen over the past 20 years is a slow and profound crisis in this country. Family income over the past 20 years has been steadily declining. That is even before the very sharp and acute crisis that we have all felt over the past six months and what Canadians have been living through.
Most Canadian families have been living through a slow and prolonged decline in the resources they have to feed their families, to keep a roof over their heads, to do all the things that Canadian families feel strongly about doing and all the things they hold dear.
Under both the Liberals and the Conservatives, we have seen a steady decline in the quality of life and income over the past 20 years. This comes at a time when Canadians are working harder than ever. It is up over one-third during that period but the lowest income Canadians have seen a catastrophic fall in income. On average, they have lost about a month and a half of real wages every year since 1989, which was the year of the implementation of NAFTA. Working class families have lost about two weeks of income per year over the last 20 years. We would find it hard to live on two weeks less of income than what we had 20 years ago. Middle class families have lost about one week.
In short, we have seen a slow and steady economic catastrophe developing and the last six months has put that even more clearly in the public eye. Over the past six months we have seen the collapse of many of our economic sectors, such as the softwood lumber sector, which started with the softwood lumber sellout that cost tens of thousands of jobs across this country, and we continue to pay. We saw with the arbitration last week that it was inevitable under a softwood lumber agreement that the anti-circumvention clause prohibits any sort of support for softwood lumber and the industry. We have seen Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba all having to cough up money.
Two years ago, the NDP said that was exactly what would happen but, unfortunately, Liberal and Bloc members refused to heed what we told them. They ended up voting for a softwood lumber sellout and the result has been a catastrophe.
It is a catastrophe that has hit Quebeckers particularly hard. The people whom the Bloc say they are supporting are those who are losing their jobs and whose communities are having to absorb tens of millions of dollars in penalties because of the softwood lumber agreement.
This catastrophe in an industrial sector could have been avoided if the other parties had studied the agreement more closely.
It is not just softwood and shipbuilding. We are now operating at one-third capacity and that one-third capacity will be killed off under EFTA. We are seeing in the automobile sector that our exports are falling by about a third. It is catastrophic. It is tens of billions of dollars every month in lower exports. In the manufacturing industries we are looking at about a quarter of a million lost jobs over the course of the last few months alone.
We are seeing, in short, a catastrophic and sharp economic crisis that brings to bear a focus on what has happened over the last 20 years. What is the remedy? The Conservatives, with Liberal support, are bringing forward a budget that does not deal with any of those realities. There is no industrial plan or sector-by-sector strategy being brought in.
Essentially, the Conservatives want a $3 billion slush fund to use for whatever political objectives they may have. At the same time, they want to tie any other funding to investments that are first made by municipalities, cash-strapped cities and hard-hit province, so taxpayers at those other levels of government have to cough up first before there is any relief from the federal government.
It is hard to say that this is an economic stimulus package when it is tied funding and there is a slush fund of $3 billion set aside, we fear, for political means. We have been asking for transparency around that money.
My colleague, the member for , has been calling for that in committee and here in the House. So has the NDP leader, the member for . Yet, the Conservatives refuse any sort of transparency or clarity around the money that they intend to spend. They basically want a blank cheque from Parliament to use that money however they see fit. We saw from the sponsorship scandal that that is not a good idea.
What is in Bill ? If it does not deal fundamentally with the economic stimulus and the industrial strategies that we need, what is in Bill C-10? Members in this corner of the House have been saying very clearly what is in it. This is an ideological attack on many principles that the Conservatives have wanted to attack for some time.
Now, because they have a functional majority, since the Liberal Party has given up any sort of opposition role, they are making those attacks. They are attacking collective agreements and not only collective agreements in the public sector but public sector agreements that affect hard-working RCMP officers, stopping them from fairly-negotiated wage increases. All public sector workers and public servants who have been working very hard with less and less over the past few years are stymied. Bill is effectively an attack on collective agreements.
Bill attacks students. It treats them very harshly. This is the same government that believes that corporate tax cuts should be shovelled off the back of a truck. However, in this particular case what they want to attack are students who, through no fault of their own, because of a complete lack of support for post-secondary education that we saw develop under the Liberals and continued under the Conservatives, may end up with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt. Instead of the government providing some measure of debt relief, it is treating those student debtors even more harshly.
Bill allows, basically, for the fire sale of Canadian assets and businesses to go full rein. It is lessening any remaining remnants of foreign ownership qualifications. There actually is a vetting when there are takeovers of Canadian companies. Now they are opening up whole sectors that used to be considered Canadian because it was in the public and Canadian interest to do so. Bill ideologically attacks that provision for some vetting when Canadian companies are taken over and sold offshore.
We have seen over the past few years company after company purchased at fire sale prices. Canadian companies were bought up because of lax foreign ownership rules. In fact, of the foreign investment that has come into Canada, it is estimated 97% of it goes for takeovers, not for new investment or job creation but a simple takeover of what exists now.
Bill enhances that fire sale of Canada. So much for standing up for Canada. Conservatives are selling out Canada. We have seen it with the softwood lumber sellout, the shipbuilding sellout, the NAFTA amendments they are bringing forward with the relaxed foreign ownership provisions, so any Canadian company can be a target. The government will simply not stand up for Canadians.
I want to talk about environment assessments. Canadians feel very strongly about protecting our quality of the environment, our quality of life. Yet, Bill essentially strips environmental assessments from a whole range of projects. That is not in the public interest. No Canadian asked for that. In fact, if the Conservatives had promised that in the election campaign, there would be a lot fewer of them on the other side of the House. However, that is indeed what they are doing because the Liberals are giving them a functional majority with the new Liberal-Conservative coalition.
My colleague from called it the Conservative-Liberal Alliance party yesterday in the House. We remember the acronym that existed with the Conservative-Reform Alliance party, CRAP. It did not last very long. That was changed. Now we have a new one. Like the member for said so well, the acronym actually refers to venereal disease. Perhaps the budget is just as painful in its impact on Canadians.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the budget bill, the most ideologically meanspirited attack that we see in Bill , is the attack on the fundamental human right to pay equity. It is simply unbelievable that the Conservatives would try to pretend that in some way, in some Orwellian twist of phrase, they are trying to save pay equity by killing it.
They have stood in the House and tried to confuse Canadians, and have pretended that in some way this is somewhat similar to something that other administrations have brought forward. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a full-fronted attack on pay equity. It eliminates pay equity. It does not in any way protect pay equity or provide recourse for pay equity.
Paul Durber, who is the former director for pay equity for the Canadian Human Rights Commission, said very clearly in his letter just a few days ago that he could not imagine any party in the House knowingly adopting a measure that would contradict such a fundamental value as the equality provision of section 15 of the charter.
It is very clear that this is an attack on pay equity. This kills pay equity. So much for a so-called economic stimulus budget. This kills a fundamental principle of Canadian law and the Liberals are well aware of it. They have said with crocodile tears that somehow they feel that those provisions on pay equity are unfair, but each and every one of them is voting for these provisions that kill pay equity. Canadians will not forgive that incredible shortsightedness and hypocrisy.
Pay equity is being killed and a whole range of other, meanspirited, right-wing, ideological measures are being proposed in the budget. The budget is not one of economic stimulus. The budget is not one that helps Canadians. The budget does absolutely nothing to help the increasing number of Canadians who become unemployed. Not a single, additional person will have access to employment insurance as a result of the budget at a time when tens of thousands of jobs are hemorrhaging out of this country, tens of thousands of people and families are losing their breadwinner.
Yet, not a single new person can claim employment insurance than those who qualified prior to the budget. There is no change to the harsh qualifications that legally the government cannot put in place, but under the budget we are in this Orwellian world where the government now redefines what its legal responsibilities are and redefines employment insurance in a way that half the workers who become unemployed will not be able to access it.
Canadians are not fooled by those few who qualify getting a few extra weeks at the end. They are not fooled by that because they know that in their communities people are losing their jobs as Canadian industries shut down one after the other, after 20 years of completely foolish and irresponsible economic policies from the economic illiteracy twins of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party putting Canadian industry and manufacturing at risk with catastrophic implications today.
As their neighbours, friends and families lose their jobs, Canadians are not fooled by the fact that there are a few weeks at the end of employment insurance for those who qualify. They are concerned and the reason why they are coming to constituency offices across the country is because they know now that they do not qualify.
This is a meanspirited budget, not a budget that addresses the crisis that we are living in. It is an ideological attack on Canadians and for that reason, New Democrats are voting against this budget.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from . Ordinarily, members say it is a pleasure to speak to a bill, but in this case, it is more my duty to the people in my riding and everyone in Quebec. Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I will vote against this bill.
Quebec is the big loser in the government's recovery plan. We know that the plan includes roughly $4 billion to help Ontario. We understand that this is important to the automotive industry and all that, but Quebec is getting nothing but crumbs. The forest and manufacturing industries are very important, but the recovery plan provides only $170 million for research and development for the entire country.
Last week, Guy Chevrette, president and CEO of the Quebec Forest Industry Council, appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance and again impressed on us that the forest industry in Quebec is in deep trouble. Companies could close in the near future and need loan guarantees like the ones the automotive industry got in the recent recovery plan. Loan guarantees would also enable forest companies to take part in research and development programs and at least survive the current financial crisis.
Mr. Chevrette mentioned that the forest industry currently accounts for 825,000 direct jobs in Canada, compared to 500,000 jobs in auto manufacturing. He talked about the forest industry's strategic and economic importance to Canada. But the budget contains no support for the forest industry in Quebec, which is why it is turning to the Government of Quebec for loan guarantees that the industry was hoping the federal government would provide but that have not been forthcoming. As members are aware, the Government of Quebec is not in a very easy economic situation at present.
I would like to talk about the immediate action on the economy that we were expecting from this recovery plan, such as the guaranteed income supplement and employment insurance. With regard to these sorts of measures, if you increase the amounts people are receiving, that money will be invested directly into the economy. People will not be able to take a trip or buy stock in a company with the extra money. This is therefore the best stimulant, especially since the government took so long to introduce a real recovery plan. That would have had a direct, immediate impact on the economy.
The budget has not yet been officially passed. It may be tonight when the bill is passed at third reading and after it goes to the Senate. If only the industry could benefit from certain measures without delay, the stimulus plan would be more effective.
The guaranteed income supplement is one of those measures. Last year, I had the opportunity to introduce a bill to improve the guaranteed income supplement. I should point out that people receiving the supplement because they do not have enough income are now below the low-income threshold, which was once called the poverty line. It is therefore unacceptable for a government not to take advantage of the fact that it has to invest in the economy to give them at least enough income to reach the low-income threshold, particularly since these are people who already need help from the government.
We also asked for automatic enrolment in the guaranteed income supplement program. Once again, the government is playing hide and seek with seniors, who, in many cases, do not know which forms to fill out. In Quebec alone, an estimated 40,000 people who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement are not receiving it because they did not apply.
Throughout Canada, 135,000 people are entitled to it. Last year, the Conservative government said that the program would cost too much. All told, we estimate the cost of implementing the program to be $2 billion, but the government thought that that was too much money.
The government should make the most of this year's stimulus plan. Since it wants to invest, it could invest that money directly and, by the same token, give these people a reasonable income so that they can live with dignity.
The same goes for employment insurance. The government adopted a measure to extend the benefit period by five weeks. The maximum benefit period will increase from 45 to 50 weeks. However, as we have pointed out numerous times, only some 10% of people receiving employment insurance benefits will collect the extra five weeks' worth of benefits. Most of them are resourceful and find new jobs. Also, fewer than half of the people who contribute to employment insurance actually collect benefits. For various reasons, many do not work enough hours. So fewer than 50% collect benefits, and of those, barely 10% reach the end of the benefit period. These are the people the government wants to help with its stimulus plan.
We in the Bloc Québécois had called for the elimination of the waiting period. Under the current employment insurance system, people who lose their jobs have to cover the first two weeks. Doing away with the waiting period would have meant a direct, immediate investment. It would have meant that, as soon as they lost their jobs, people could have counted on a reduced income, but at least some income during what is a critical time for them. Here again, the government is not looking after these people. Despite the need to stimulate the economy, these people are being ignored. The government is not going to suddenly think of these people when times get better.
I wanted to talk about social housing. Quebec alone is estimated to need 52,000 social housing units. I live in Laval, and my riding is in the eastern part of Laval. More than 1,000 people in Laval alone are waiting for social housing, because there is not enough. The current government's position seems to be that families and people in need who cannot find decent housing at market prices should be left to fend for themselves.
Yet the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has a surplus of about $8 billion. We have no idea what this surplus is used for. The Auditor General has said that a $2 billion surplus would be more than enough to respond to an emergency.
My riding has a federal penitentiary, the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul penitentiary. An old part of this institution, the Old Pen, has been unoccupied since 1989. The building has been abandoned since then. It has been shown that the building needs about $1 million in repairs to remain in good condition. I have not yet had a satisfactory answer from the minister about whether the government is going ahead with this project. A conversion project is under consideration, and that project could include social housing. But the government is turning a deaf ear. Here again, even though there is a cost involved, this would have been a perfect opportunity to build social housing.
I would have liked to talk about pay equity, which was mentioned earlier. That has been a real scandal. The dynamic men and women in my riding are very concerned about this issue. To them, pay equity is a right, not something they have to negotiate. It is truly unfortunate that the government is proceeding in this way and forgetting all about the current pay equity provisions of legislation. Not only is the government not meeting Quebec's needs, but it is also penalizing Quebec by changing the equalization formula, which will cost Quebec $1 billion.
It is difficult to know where to start when it comes to Bill , the budget implementation bill. This budget contains so many items that are not in the interest of major groups in society, and that penalize Quebec in particular, that it is hard to know where to start. I will first look at an issue raised previously by other colleagues, the treatment of women.
With this government we had become accustomed to policies with misogynist undertones. In the previous budget, cuts were made to programs that supported women's organizations, especially women's centres that provide support to organizations in every region of the country. There used to be 16 such centres; only four remain and they are barely surviving because they are forced to find money wherever they can. Nonetheless, over the years, our society acquired these tools thanks to the struggle—especially by women, unions, and workers' and grassroots movements—to give rights to women in our society.
Despite our reactions here in the House of Commons, the government has gone ahead with this measure. To our great surprise, this budget contains an attack against women once again. This is inexplicable and has nothing to do with kick-starting the economy. Women will no longer be able to go before the courts to have their right to pay equity within the public service recognized. It is unbelievable. What is even more unbelievable is that the Liberals will be supporting it. It is beyond comprehension, even more so because they say they oppose this measure. Under the pretext of not triggering an election, they are prepared to stoop this low and take us back to the 1940s. It makes no sense.
What is even more despicable is the clause saying that if a union dares to file a complaint before the courts, that union could be fined up to $50,000. Where is the logic in that? We tell women that not only can they not go to the courts, but that the organization that is normally there to support them and ensure that their rights are recognized will be penalized if it dares to do so. They are saying that we need to trust free collective bargaining, but if the employer refuses, where does that leave us? What is more, they are saying that if the employer does not agree with the union, if there is a disagreement and they want help and want to take a complaint before the courts, the employer will also be penalized and could face a $10,000 fine. Why should one pay $50,000 and the other $10,000? We have to find the answer. We do not know the answer, but we are faced with an illogical argument that does not hold water.
There are, of course, some embellishments around these measures to try and make us forget them. There are accessories and buffers. That is the main gist of it, however. And it is nonsensical. It is something that we cannot agree with and something that we must object to. We thought that there would be objections from the Liberals as well as the NDP and ourselves. But the Liberals just making a symbolic last stand. They say they disagree with it, but they are in a bit of a bind, because otherwise they will have to go through another election. What better than an election for having debates about our society? This is a topic for a real societal debate.
Have we, in 2009, not reached the point where we must stand up for recognition of the rights of just over 50% of the population of our society, that is, the rights of women?
I wanted to start by addressing this element. It alone ought to be sufficient grounds for rejecting this budget. There are many other measures, for example, that affect Quebec.
There are such anti-Quebec measures as the matter of equalization. Other provinces are also affected. The government has reneged on its commitment regarding the distribution of equalization. That means a $1 billion shortfall for Quebec.
Then there is the centralized securities commission. The government is going to say that Quebec can continue to have its own. But we know very well that, as soon as there is a centralized body and financial institutions or companies have the choice of registering with one or the other, there is always pressure created where the most transactions take place. This is also called the passport system. We know that in the long run, the Quebec body will be undermined. That is, moreover, the reason the Quebec National Assembly unanimously condemned this measure. The premier of Quebec backed down a bit afterward, but there was nevertheless a motion against this measure. It is the duty of the premier of Quebec to come and defend it here, along with his finance minister.
What does this budget have to offer society's most vulnerable? Sure, it has some measures, some tax deductions, but they actually benefit high income earners. These deductions will benefit high income earners more than anyone else.
For the unemployed, this budget is a disaster. That alone should prompt us to vote against it. Like us, the Liberals said that the government should improve access to employment insurance. We agree with that. They even made that one of their election promises. They debated it, and it was part of the platform when they created the coalition with the NDP, a coalition that we supported. They also talked about measures for women. This budget does nothing to improve access to employment insurance. Even so, they plan to vote for it.
Worse still, this budget contains a provision stating that workers' and employers' contributions must remain at $1.73, their lowest level since 1982. What does that mean? It means that we are giving the government permission to make it impossible to improve the employment insurance system. That makes no sense. The government is going back on yet another promise, betraying the people to whom it promised it would fix the employment insurance system.
According to Human Resources and Social Development, only 46% of those who lose their jobs are eligible for employment insurance benefits. Women, in particular, get the short end of the stick because only 33% of them have access to benefits.
I have just one minute left, so I will wrap up. This budget is a gift when it comes to tax havens. The government is getting rid of any tools it had to prevent excessive use of tax havens. This is party time for tax havens. There are measures to help oil companies and measures to help nuclear development, but no measures to reduce poverty. That is the budget the Liberals are about to support. We refuse to support this budget because it is not in the best interests of Quebec or Canadian society.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage my Liberal colleagues to stop and think about what they are about to do if they vote in favour of Bill this evening. They are handing out a death sentence to pay equity in the country.
Women have fought long and hard for the right to equal pay for work of equal value. By standing in the House and voting in favour of Bill , the Liberals are undermining the aspirations of women for equal pay for work of equal value, throwing away their human rights, disrespecting the contribution women make to our communities and our economy. It is a slap in the face to all women in Canada.
Yesterday afternoon, the told reporters, just outside the chamber, that he was willing to “swallow” the loss of pay equity. This is profoundly disrespectful and unapologetic to a breathtaking degree. Violations of human rights are not something we as Canadians should be willing to just “swallow”.
We are not talking about lofty academic principles here. We are talking about real people, real women who are fighting for equality right now. With the passing of Bill , our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will be tarnished and women will be told loud and clear that women's equality means absolutely nothing to the Liberal and Conservative members of the House.
I want to ensure that my colleagues hear the names of the groups of women who will be denied justice if they pass Bill . They are not faceless or nameless. They are women who will be denied justice if we pass Bill tonight.
The first is file number 20000209 filed by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Local 70396, against the Canadian Museum of Civilization on March 31, 2004. It involves a number of women.
Next are file numbers 2000257, 2000258 and 2000451. Again, the women involved are with the Public Service Alliance of Canada. This complaint is filed against the Treasury Board of Canada and Citizenship and Immigration. It was filed on March 31, 2006.
Next is file 20010822. Again, it is the Public Service Alliance of Canada against Correctional Service Canada. This was filed July 25, 2006.
Next is file 20021375 filed by Local 404 of the Professional Employees Union against Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. It was filed on March 27, 2006.
Next is the Canadian Association of Correctional Supervisors against Correctional Service Canada. It is an employee complaint filed July 6, 2006.
Next is the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 404, against Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. It was filed March 7, 2007
File H30055 by Cathy Murphy against the Treasury Board was filed June 21, 1984.
I have a list of a number of complaints, as everyone can see.
File number 2000209 involves the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Local 70396, against the Canadian Museum of Civilization. This complaint was filed December 22, 2003, a very long time ago. This group is waiting for justice with regard to pay equity because the Government of Canada keeps appealing the decisions of the Human Rights Tribunal.
Conservatives say they care about women. They say that they want to propel these cases to a decision and not be entangled in the court, but they keep going back to the courts and appealing every chance that they get in order to stop what women are entitled to, and that is their pay equity settlements.
File No. XOO180, on behalf of Chris Jones, a real woman, was filed against the Government of the Northwest Territories on June 10, 1993.
COPEU, another union representing a number of women, filed against Atomic Energy of Canada on March 30, 2007, only two years ago, but two long years of waiting and fighting against government trying to get justice. This is justice denied.
I have a number of complaints from the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
File No. 20000257 was filed against the Treasury Board of Canada on March 31, 2006.
I will only address some of the complaints. I have at least 35 pages and all of these are complaints against various agencies of government.
The next file is No. 20050721, Arlene Abrey, against Social Development Canada, filed on November 28, 2005. Arlene also filed against the Treasury Board of Canada and the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency of Canada, again on November 28, 2005.
I will move through a few other cases.
Gloria Allan filed against Social Development Canada on May 3, 2006.
Cindee Andrusiak filed against the Social Development Canada in November, 2005. Cindee Adrusiak also filed against Treasury Board and PSHR.
Elizabeth Antony filed a complaint in November 2005 against Social Development Canada and the Treasury Board.
These last few, Arlene, Gloria, Cindee and Elizabeth are all nurses and they do important work. Unfortunately, and it is painfully clear to me and I would guess to the women of Canada, their contribution as experts and vital contributors at the Museum of Civilization, Treasury Board, Citizenship and Immigration, Corrections Canada, Atomic Energy means nothing to the Conservative government, nor the Liberal government before it. Neither does the work of hundreds of women who are nurses matter.
In the eyes of the government, or the previous government, they do not have the right to equal pay for pay of equal value. That is why both parties are supporting Bill . It is a travesty perpetrated against the nurses who work for Social Development Canada Human Resources. In short, it is a travesty against the people of Canada.
For years, the government has constantly appealed these pay equity complaints. For years, justice was delayed. This evening justice will be denied.
Thank you, Madam Speaker. Obviously the truth hurts.
What the Liberals are doing, propping up the Conservatives and in the process eliminating pay equity in this country, is a shame. I will stand in this House every minute of every hour to say shame on the Liberals and shame on the Conservatives for allowing the death of pay equity today. That is what will happen unless those Liberals clue in to what is really at stake here. This is not a side issue. This is not a hot-button issue. This a fundamental human right.
The member for can stand all he wants and pretend that we are blowing things out of proportion and that it is really not the case. Well, when it comes to pay equity, he just has to listen to every expert in this country and every organization that deals with human rights to know that what his government is doing and what his has set out to do and is accomplishing today is to kill a fundamental human right, the right to be able to take a complaint or a concern about whether a woman is receiving equal pay for work of equal value to a higher body to ensure that she is able to obtain justice. That is a fundamental issue in this country.
I do not understand the Liberals. It is what Pierre Trudeau fought for years ago. Civil liberties and the charter are at the heart of everything we stand for in this place. I cannot understand how any Liberal can sit there today and smirk and try to suggest that this is a hot-button issue when we are dealing with something so basic, so fundamental. This is the darkest day I have yet experienced in the 20 years I have been in elected political life. I cannot understand how anybody can sit here and not stand and say that we will not let this happen.
In fact, the Liberals could have done so. They said they could not because this section of the budget implementation bill was deemed to be a matter of confidence by the Conservatives, and they had made this foolish commitment to prop up the Conservatives no matter what.
When they realized what the Conservatives were really doing and how they had trapped them and cornered them into supporting a budget that was not only far from adequate in terms of the question of dealing with the recession but was also filled with all kinds of poison pills, such as the destruction of pay equity, the elimination of environmental assessments when it comes to navigable waters, and more, the Liberals should have realized what was happening to them and found a way around it.
In fact, I dare say that if the Liberals had stood up to the Conservatives and said that they wanted to see this section on pay equity removed from the budget bill, set aside, and dealt with separately, the Conservatives would never have come back and said that it was all confidence and that if the Liberals didn't like it, they were going to go to the polls and to the Canadian people on a platform of eliminating pay equity. I do not think so.
I think the Liberals just lack the guts and the gumption and the courage to stand up for their principles, as has been the case for Liberals over the last 20 to 30 years that I have been around.
I may get very heated in these debates. I may express some very emotional feelings, but that is what is at stake here. This is not just a fly-by-night issue. This is not just some sideline. This is not a frivolous matter. This is not a soft social policy issue. This is fundamental justice. This is human rights. This is pay equity.
This is something we fought for in this country and achieved more than 30 years ago. In 1977, the women's movement had documented systemic discrimination in this country and had clearly shown that the only way to deal with that discrimination and to eliminate pink-job ghettos was to move toward a concept of equal pay for work of equal value. We could compare jobs dominated by men and jobs dominated by women and find a way to balance the equation.
It is a simple concept.
What do the Conservatives want? They want to take us back to the 1950s, when equal pay for equal work was the dominant way, the only way, that people compared men's and women's jobs and dealt with the wage gap.
When I started off working in this area 30 years ago, the wage gap at that time was that a woman made about 55¢ for every dollar a man made. As a result of work in this country on equal pay for work of equal value, we have been able to get that up to about 70¢.
In a province like Manitoba, which has a pervasive program of equal pay for work of equal value, we are well above 90 cents for every dollar that a man makes. We can see what a difference it makes.
We are talking about economic security for women. We are talking about bread-and-butter issues. We are talking about the ability of women to be paid what they are worth so that they can contribute to the economy, can actually ensure that their families are cared for, and can grow the economy and be a part of it. That is what we are talking about.
This is not some airy-fairy academic issue that has no bearing on real life. It is bread and butter. It is about the right of women to earn what they are worth. For the government to take this away is an absolute abomination. It makes no sense. The way it is turning the clock back to the 1950s is absolutely deplorable. I presume this fits with its ideological agenda, along with the who called pay equity a rip-off, who called this a stupid idea that should be gotten rid of.
The Conservatives over there, especially the , stand up and try to tell me that what they are doing is much better and that they are going to make this happen for women.
How does that explain the nurses in the federal system, who just won their case before the Canadian Human Rights Commission? They would not have won if we did not have that provision. How is it that justice will be served if there is no avenue at all for women to pursue their rights under the charter, a fundamental right that I thought we all believed in?
Maybe we really are dealing with a group of Conservatives who, along with Tom Flanagan, believe pay equity really is one of those bad ideas that has to be gotten rid of, as he said, along with “big hair and polyester leisure suits and Petro-Canada”. Is that what these Conservatives believe? Is that why they are doing it?
I can think of no other reason, because it is not a cost savings. In fact, because they are breaching a fundamental right in society today, there will be challenge. There will be a challenge by women. There has to be one, to try to regain a right that has been taken away. It will cost the government millions of dollars to try to combat that challenge.
In the end the women will win. We will regain what has been taken away from us today, not because of the Liberals, not because we waited patiently for them to come to their senses, but because the women of this country will withstand this attack on their fundamental rights and freedoms and will decide to fight back.
We are not going to give up for one second. All my colleagues in this caucus, including our critic for the status of women who just spoke so eloquently, and all my other colleagues who believe passionately in this as a fundamental principle, will not sit idly by. My colleague, our finance critic, has spoken out on this issue in committee and in the House.
We will work together until we achieve that day when women once again will be treated with respect and dignity and will have access to the law for all their just rewards and their rights. We will ensure that pay equity and true equality reign supreme in Canada once again.