May 6, 2004

?

The Speaker

The hon. Minister of Veterans Affairs.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Veterans Affairs
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LIB

John McCallum

Liberal

Hon. John McCallum (Minister of Veterans Affairs, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I do take that matter very seriously. It is under review.

Returning to the first question of the House with regard to D-Day, we have received representations from veterans and veterans organizations. In view of the government's real admiration and gratitude to D-Day veterans, it will look into means by which it might help those veterans who wish to return to Normandy.

We will have an answer within a matter of some days.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Veterans Affairs
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BQ

Mario Laframboise

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, the federal government is sharing in the construction costs for highway 175, and that is fine; it is another victory for the Bloc, but is it really necessary to announce it twice?

Instead of repeating the announcements made by his predecessor, simply warming up old leftovers, could the Prime Minister not announce his plans for highways 30, 50 and 185 instead? The unkept promises on these roads, need we remind the House, date from the last election campaign.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Highway Infrastructure
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LIB

Andy Scott

Liberal

Hon. Andy Scott (Minister of State (Infrastructure), Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud of the relationship that we have with the government of the province of Quebec. It has done good things with the infrastructure program, and will continue to do that.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Highway Infrastructure
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LIB

Paddy Torsney

Liberal

Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, this is Emergency Preparedness Week. Over the past year, all Canadians have seen firsthand what it means when we have natural disasters like fires and hurricanes. We have experienced the threat posed by infectious diseases such as SARS.

Could the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness tell the House what steps the government has taken to secure the safety and health of all citizens and enhance preparedness for such events?

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Public Safety
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LIB

Anne McLellan

Liberal

Hon. Anne McLellan (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is right. This is Emergency Preparedness Week and it is an opportunity for all of us, governments, individuals and communities, to take stock of our preparedness for emergencies.

For its part, the government has done a great deal over these past numbers of months. We have created a new Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to better coordinate our activities, both within the government and with partners such as the provinces and local governments.

We are in the process of creating a new government operations centre to provide round the clock support in emergencies.

We are committing some $105 million in new money for the national security policy for emergency planning.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Public Safety
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BQ

Bernard Bigras

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, a coalition against GMOs has just launched a campaign to send slices of bread to the Prime Minister through the mail to voice its opposition to genetically modified wheat in Canada. The marketing of GM wheat could not only have an impact on consumers' health but also cause wheat producers to lose a substantial market share.

Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity the coalition is giving him to prohibit the approval of GM wheat in Canada and make GMO labelling mandatory?

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Genetically Modified Organisms
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LIB

Mark Eyking

Liberal

Hon. Mark Eyking (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Agri-Food), Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, we have to take a very balanced approach in dealing with GMO products in the country. Not only do we need to worry about what people are consuming, but we also have to worry about how farmers will compete with other places in the world.

We have to take a balanced approach, and we are looking into this matter.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Genetically Modified Organisms
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NDP

Yvon Godin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Yvon Godin

I rise on a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Responding to a question of mine during oral question period, the Minister of Natural Resources referred to me as a member of the Bloc Québécois. I just wanted to set the record straight; I am a proud member of the NDP.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Genetically Modified Organisms
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?

The Speaker

I am sure that the whole House greatly appreciates this clarification by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Genetically Modified Organisms
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CA

John Reynolds

Canadian Alliance

Mr. John Reynolds (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government House leader if he could advise the House as to what the business is for the rest of today, tomorrow, and just in the event the Prime Minister does not have the courage to call an election again this weekend, what we will do next week in the House.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Business of the House
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LIB

Jacques Saada

Liberal

Hon. Jacques Saada (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we shall continue with the opposition day motion.

Tomorrow we shall debate the motion to refer to committee before second reading Bill C-34, the bill introduced earlier today respecting dumping of toxic waste by ships. We shall then return to third reading of Bill C-23, the first nations fiscal legislation, Bill C-12, the child protection, and Bill C-10, the cannabis legislation.

Next week, we will continue this business where it has been left on Friday. We will add to the list a motion to refer to committee before second reading a bill to be introduced tomorrow concerning the DNA data bank.

Tuesday and Thursday shall be allotted days.

Hopefully, by the end of the week, we will begin to have some of the legislation now in committee reported back, so that we can get a good start on finishing the work we have to do before the summer adjournment.

Topic:   Oral Question Period
Subtopic:   Business of the House
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The House resumed consideration of the motion.


BQ

Marcel Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Marcel Gagnon (Champlain, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, you will soon be calling me by another name, given that my riding will be named Saint-Maurice--Champlain following the election. For the time being, it is still Champlain.

I am pleased to speak today on the motion tabled by the Bloc Québécois, which I consider to be of the highest importance. Let me read the motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should propose, before the dissolution of the House, an employment insurance reform along the lines of the 17 recommendations contained in the unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities [...]

The unanimous report, now three years old, called for EI to be improved so that more workers and contributors to the plan could benefit.

There is also one thing which shocked people then and shocks them even more today. EI is anything but a scheme to ensure employment for workers. We have known for quite some time that the government has made off with the EI fund, which had a surplus of some $45 billion.

A worker who makes $39,000 or less contributes his full share of premiums to the EI plan. When he pays into the fund, it is simply to ensure he has help when he loses his job. His contribution to the EI plan is for him security that will allow him to get through tough times after losing his job, for whatever reason.

In my view and in the mind of the majority of people, the EI fund, which has a $45 billion surplus, must belong to the workers. Today we see a situation where fewer workers can enjoy EI benefits simply because it has been used for other purposes than that for which it was originally intended.

People who contribute to the EI fund, as I said earlier, are workers making $39,000 or less, and their employers. The fund is not intended to pay down the national debt. That is understandable.

I am convinced that it is not the workers who make less than $39,000 a year who put the country in debt. In my view, the national debt belongs to people who are a lot richer than that, to people who, often, do not contribute to the EI fund.

Taking that money and using it as a tax to pay down the national debt is totally unfair to the poorest members of society. Nowadays, in view of the cost of living, if you make between 0 and $39,000 a year, you are not among the richest. With the way the cost of living is today, a salary of under $39,000 is barely adequate.

I have trouble explaining to people in my riding and in my area, since everybody is talking about it, how its is that the government's moral standards permit the poorest and the smallest members of society, those who earn the least, to pay the national debt.

The government is very proud to say that not only has it eliminated the deficit over the past few years, but it has paid back about $50 billion of the old national debt.

This $50 billion is made up of $45 to $47 billion from the EI account and $3 billion from seniors, who were literally robbed, the government having failed to provide them with the information necessary to receive the guaranteed income supplement.

They should be ashamed to boast about their performance and their good management when they are in fact taking money away from the little guy and the disadvantaged to pay down the debt.

I do not know if the Liberals hear about this, but I can say that, in my riding and my region—and I assume it is the same throughout Quebec—at every opportunity people bring up the EI account and the fact that seniors have been deprived of $3 billion in benefits under the guaranteed income supplement. They are wondering where public morals, that is, government morals, have gone.

In this debate, this morning, a Liberal speaker suggested that our numbers were wrong. This person also stated that 88% of workers are eligible for employment insurance benefits if they lose their jobs. While 88% of those who qualify for EI may receive benefits, what she failed to mention was that only 39% of those who contribute to the plan are eligible for benefits.

People who say to us that our numbers do not tell the truth should be mindful of the examples they choose. Certainly, the 88% who qualify may receive EI some day. However, of those who contribute to this insurance scheme, only 39% will have the benefit--or rather the inconvenience, since losing one's job is never beneficial--of drawing EI when in trouble.

This means that 61% of those who pay into EI will never benefit. If this is not robbery or embezzlement, then what is it? I would sure like to know.

I will give the example of the former POWA program, which was designed to help older workers having contributed to the EI fund throughout their active life who had the misfortune to lose their job after the age of 55. You find that in all of our municipalities where old industries or old plants close or are converted. We have seen that happening in Trois-Rivières and elsewhere in recent years. Some workers who had spent a good part of their life, if not all of their life, in a plant and found themselves without a job at the age of 55, could get benefits from the POWA because they had insurance to protect them and help them keep an active life.

The prime minister had promised in 2000 to improve the POWA. However, when he took office, he abandoned this program. The POWA has virtually disappeared. This means that some older workers who had paid in the EI and were entitled to those services cannot benefit from them anymore and were deceived by a government that had promised to improve the program, not to abolish it.

The way the government is treating the workers is a real scandal. It can do all sorts of things. It can say just about anything and often things that are far from the truth. When it says for example that in Quebec people get more from the employment insurance that what they pay into the plan, it is distorting the facts.

There are all sorts of contradictions about the employment insurance plan.

The Bloc Quebecois motion is quite simple, and the discussion could be over quickly. We would just need to make it votable, because it is based on unanimous recommendations by an all-party committee of the House. This committee unanimously requested the government to implement its recommendations.

If we want to move things forward instead of making election promises, since a general election is probably just around the corner, this Bloc Quebecois motion should be made votable. The employment insurance plan would be improved immediately. Many workers to whom promises were made during the 2000 election could then get benefits they still do not have.

The Liberal government is managing public money as if it were private and as if the country belonged to it. It is taking money from those most in need. It cut funding for health care in Quebec and other provinces. It is cutting funding for education not only in Quebec, but in other provinces as well.

The Liberal government has made the EI plan less and less accessible, under the pretense that many of the unemployed were not exactly honest and were collecting undeserved benefits for various reasons.

Our workers throughout Quebec and the whole country are much more honest than these people opposite who are the government. I can tell you that the percentage of those who were cheating the EI system, as was said this morning, to get undeserved benefits is certainly not higher than in other areas. Workers should be trusted. We should make sure they get the coverage that should be provided by the plan they contribute to.

If somebody takes out insurance on his house and a fire breaks out, and if he learns that the money has been used for something else and he cannot get money to repair the damage, I think he would be really upset and would take action against the company which has managed the insurance plan that way.

However, this is how the employment insurance fund is managed in the case of workers. They just grab the cash. They pay the debt of the country and they tell workers it is for their own good. They say that employment insurance conditions have improved when it is not the case. They have deteriorated.

For example, they say that many more workers are now eligible. However, they fail to say that many more workers are now paying premiums. The percentage of workers receiving benefits is lower and it is not because the economy is booming, it is because they structured the system in such a way that it is much less accessible to young people, women and those who do not have a secure and steady job.

Young people are among those who have the most problems with employment insurance. For example, in 2001, 39% of jobless youth received benefits; 61% of them had paid in for nothing, they just fattened up the treasury so that the government would pay off the debt. As regards women, only 33% of working women were eligible and received benefits.

For those 25 years old or less, it was only 16%. In total, 30% of those who paid into EI are entitled to benefits when they need them.

We do not know how to describe what the government has done. There is one sure thing though. As far as I am concerned, I am sure that whenever somebody takes money that does not belong to him, even if that person is in charge of managing the fund, it is called theft.

Besides, the Fund should be managed jointly by the workers and the employers. The government should not be in charge of managing it since it is not contributing a cent to it. Those who contribute to it should manage it. It would be safer.

I can tell you that the $45 billion or $47 billion taken from the EI fund could have helped a lot of people who are now struggling, people who, as the NDP member was saying before question period, have a hard time, especially the seasonal workers. These people could benefit more from the plan they have paid into.

The electoral campaign will certainly give us the opportunity to judge the government on the money that was taken away from the workers through the EI fund and on the $3 billion that older people did not get in guaranteed income supplements because they were not given the information they needed to get what they were entitled to. I am convinced that this government will be judged harshly.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

André Harvey

Liberal

Hon. André Harvey (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his intervention.

I understand that my Bloc colleagues are happy here, in Canada's Parliament. They want to be re-elected. However, whatever the issues they have occasion to deal with, their figures are never right.

They always include Quebec. I am also a Quebecker; I am from the Saguenay. I am keen to be involved in the next election campaign with them. We will talk about the real numbers. Every time I have the opportunity to talk with them, unfortunately, I am obliged, not to be disrespectful, to try to correct the facts about the numbers.

In the past 20 years, our fellow Quebeckers have contributed $73 billion to employment insurance, and we have provided $86 billion in benefits. Not only that, but in the past 10 or 11 years, the amounts collected and distributed were about the same. We are not taking into account here the contributions that were reduced by several billions of dollars.

Also, this does not include manpower training programs. For 25 years, Quebeckers asked for them. In the past seven or eight years, we transferred $600 million a year to the Quebec government. This does not include reductions in contributions, which amount to several billions of dollars a year.

Members opposite keep going back to that $40 billion surplus, but they forget about the investments in initiatives that contribute to creating jobs and are important for the future of our regions.

It is unfortunate members in the Bloc are ready to stoop to anything just to get elected. It is really unfortunate. They indulge in demagoguery just to keep their seat in this great democratic institution, the Canadian Parliament.

Let us take, for example, the issue of employment insurance. The leader of the Bloc came to my region and told the public that $157 million were missing. I checked, and it was $239 million. I thought they would have a good research service by now, with the Election Finances Act, and that their researchers could come up with accurate figures.

They even make mistakes about the softwood lumber issue. In health care, they were talking this week about a 4% federal contribution. Then, it went up to 14%. They should raise that to 40%, because that is the reality.

I would simply like to ask my colleague why it is they always come up with the wrong figures in our discussions.

In conclusion, I would like to say this. We improved the Employment Insurance Act and we will continue to do so year after year, in spite of the demagogy we hear from Bloc members who do not want to lose their seat in the Canadian Parliament because they are very happy here.

When they come to my area, they talk about unemployment but when the time comes to invest they go somewhere else, to Gatineau, for instance.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Marcel Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Marcel Gagnon

Mr. Speaker, if we are lying with the figures, I can tell the hon. member that he was in agreement with them. Indeed, we are using the unanimous report on employment insurance prepared by the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. We did not make up anything in that document. It was signed by more Liberals than Bloc Quebecois members. If we are lying, then the hon. member is lying even more.

There is another thing that I want to say. I will be pleased to go back to the riding of the hon. member who just spoke to see if I am lying. I was told the same thing when we raised the issue of the guaranteed income supplement for seniors. I can say that, so far, we have found at least 25,000 elderly people who had been robbed by this government. These people are now collecting the guaranteed income supplement. This represents about $100 million annually. We still have to find 40,000 people. I was also called a liar when I raised this issue publicly. Let me say that, today, we have the truth.

We are able to interpret the figures as they are.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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?

The Speaker

On a point of order, the hon. parliamentary secretary.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

André Harvey

Liberal

Hon. André Harvey

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to point out, in addition to the preliminary information and considering the errors that they continue to make, that they mentioned three different percentages.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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?

The Speaker

I think that this is not a point of order. It is a disagreement about the facts. Perhaps we can hear other comments and arguments later on, but I am now giving the floor to the hon. member for Champlain.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Marcel Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Marcel Gagnon

Mr. Speaker, when it hurts, people try to stop us from talking. I can assure you that I always know what I am talking about and that I use factual information from the House. Actually, this information is contained in a report that the member should have signed and that all liberal members on the committee have signed.

If the member feels that things are so great, why does he not come to meet with softwood lumber workers who have lost their job because of the inaction of this government. While there was $45 billion in the employment insurance fund, the government told the workers of this industry: “Too bad, you have lost your job, but we will not do anything for you”. Absolutely nothing was done to help them.

Two days ago, we met with representatives of the forest industry. They told us that with the way things are going, when we win the war, all the plants will be shut down. There is money in the employment insurance fund; as workers we pay EI premiums in order to be protected. I am sure nobody will dare say that I am lying. I am perfectly willing to have a debate in his riding to show who tells the truth.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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May 6, 2004