February 8, 2008

LIB

Mario Silva

Liberal

Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I have a second petition that I would like to bring to the attention of the House. The petitioners call upon the government to remove Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan immediately.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
Sub-subtopic:   Afghanistan
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LIB

Garth Turner

Liberal

Hon. Garth Turner (Halton, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I present this income trust broken promise petition on behalf of a constituent in Mississauga, Ontario. He remembers very well the Prime Minister boasting about his apparent commitment to accountability when he said, “The greatest fraud is a promise not kept”.

The petitioners would like to remind the Prime Minister that he promised never to tax income trusts. Then he recklessly broke that promise by imposing a 31.5% punitive tax, which permanently wiped out over $25 billion of hard-earned retirement savings of 2 million Canadians, particularly seniors.

The petitioners therefore call upon the Conservative minority government to: one, admit that the decision to tax income trusts was based on flawed methodology and incorrect assumptions; two, to apologize to those who were unfairly harmed by this promise; and finally, to repeal the punitive 31.5% tax on income trusts.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
Sub-subtopic:   Income Trusts
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CPC

Tom Lukiwski

Conservative

Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, if Questions Nos. 64 and 160 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
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CPC

Royal Galipeau

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau)

Is that agreed?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
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CPC

John Cummins

Conservative

Mr. John Cummins

With regard to the fishing organizations or groups of fishing licence holders who, excluding fees for commercial fishing licenses as set under the regulation, provide monies, fish quotas or allocations to fund Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) activities on an annual basis for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007: (a) in each year, what fishing organizations or groups of license holders have paid for science, DFO administration, enforcement or other departmental activities by an allocation of quota from their fishery; (b) in each year, what fishing organizations or groups of license holders paid for science, DFO administration, enforcement or other departmental activities by way of a cash contribution to the department or its contractor; (c) in each year, what is the total value by fishing organization or groups of license holders of the cash contributions or quota allocations aforementioned; (d) what science, administration, enforcement or other departmental activities carried out in 2005 and 2006 and not paid directly from the department’s ‘A’ base budget will be undertaken and paid for by an allocation from the department’s ‘A’ base budget for 2007; (e) how much did each fishing organization or groups of license holders pay DFO, by way of an allocation of quota or cash contribution, for activities such as science, administration, enforcement or other departmental activities for 2005 and 2006; (f) which fishing organizations or groups of license holders has the department agreed to reimburse wholly or in part for their cash contribution or quota allocations to cover the department’s science administration, enforcement costs or other activities from previous years, indicate how much or what portion of what was collected by year will be returned to the fishing organization or groups of licence holders; (g) did the department indicate that it would need to curtail fishing opportunities unless fishermen agreed to contribute money or fishing quota to fund departmental activities and, if so, what are the nature of the fishing opportunities at issue and the fishermen or fishing organization involved; (h) were the amounts raised from fishermen and their organizations reported and accounted for in the department’s spending estimates submitted to Parliament in each of these years, if so, indicate where and in what manner and form, and, if not, why; and (i) has the Auditor General ever reported on or advised the department on its method of collecting funds from fishermen or their organizations or with respect to the use of fish quotas or allocations to fund departmental activities, if so, when and what actions were taken to implement the Auditor General’s advice?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Sub-subtopic:   Question No. 64
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(Return tabled)


NDP

Tony Martin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Tony Martin

With respect to Old Age Security, what are the government's policies and procedures concerning the case of a person born in Canada with no government records available to support the birth, in terms of recognizing that birth to approve pension payments and the recognition of residency for a person who was born in Canada and has lived in Canada their entire life but there are no records available?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Sub-subtopic:   Question No. 160
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(Return tabled)


CPC

Tom Lukiwski

Conservative

Mr. Tom Lukiwski

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Permalink
CPC

Royal Galipeau

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau)

Is that agreed?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
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The House resumed consideration of the motion.


BQ

Robert Bouchard

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Robert Bouchard (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Beauharnois-Salaberry.

I am happy to have the chance to take part in the debate on the prebudget consultations by the Standing Committee on Finance, especially since the Bloc Québécois held its own prebudget consultations in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and elsewhere in Quebec, to find out what Quebeckers' concerns are.

The Bloc Québécois supports the general thrust of the report. We issued a supplementary opinion indicating the initiatives the Bloc supports. The Bloc Québécois outlined its six budget conditions, which are only partially reflected in the Standing Committee on Finance report on the prebudget consultations.

I would like to use my time to talk about a number of concerns that were raised by organizations in my riding but ignored in the Standing Committee on Finance report and to describe the six conditions that must be met for the Bloc Québécois to support budget 2008.

In December, representatives of students, social and community groups, unions, self-employed workers and tourism associations met with my colleague, the finance critic and member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, to share the expectations of people in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and my riding, Chicoutimi-Le Fjord. One after another, the participants expressed their concerns and talked about what they wanted to see in the next federal budget.

The Bloc Québécois has conducted this exercise every year, organizing a tour of Quebec to consult with various groups and individuals with an interest in the budget. Participants indicate the measures they would like to see in the budget to improve the distribution of wealth and address Quebeckers' priorities.

The Standing Committee on Finance did not agree to recommend improvements to the employment insurance system in its report. At the meeting, participants raised problems with employment insurance several times. Many feel that the lack of improvements in the employment insurance program is completely unacceptable. The most pressing problems raised were the “black hole” or “spring gap” between the end of benefits and the start of work, the lack of assistance for small and medium-sized businesses and self-employed workers' eligibility for employment insurance.

The committee report ignores another issue raised at the meeting: post-secondary education. Representatives of the student associations at the Collège de Chicoutimi and the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi called for massive reinvestment in education. They condemn the underfunding of post-secondary institutions and suggest that the government invest a portion of the surplus in education.

My party deplores the fact that the committee rejected the Bloc Québécois' request to reinstate transfers to 1994–95 levels, indexed to inflation. The Bloc Québécois is calling for $3.5 billion for all of Canada to reinstate education funding levels. Unfortunately, the committee brushed this recommendation aside.

Another issue that came up during the consultation in Chicoutimi was the state of social programs. People talked about the rigidity of the federal bureaucracy, the short life of programs to subsidize organizations, and their precarious financial situation. Organizations deplored the fact that they are constantly involved in the search for funding, which prevents them from providing services on the ground to their clients.

The Bloc Québécois deplores the fact that the Standing Committee on Finance refused to recommend that the government increase the guaranteed income supplement benefits so that people over 65 who receive GIS benefits in addition to old age security pensions do not have to live below the poverty line.

During the meeting, representatives of the cultural sector decried the situation facing people who are self-employed. They also want the federal government to give more money to the Canada Council for the Arts and to help the arts, culture and museum sectors.

The Bloc Québécois deplores that no funding for culture was included in the report on pre-budget consultations. The federal government is disturbingly indifferent about this matter. The many cuts to the museums assistance program; the elimination of the public diplomacy program, which funded international cultural tours; and insufficient funding for film and television bring home this point. The Bloc Québécois urges the Conservative government to change course and reinstate programs for arts, culture and museum programs, as well as film and television production, for a total of $398 million.

Finally, representatives of the manufacturing and forestry sectors talked about what they wanted to see in the federal budget. The forestry sector wants more help from Ottawa. The government could do much more with its huge surplus. People raised the issue of redistribution of wealth and said that part of the surplus should be reinvested to help programs and small businesses.

Everyone agrees that more assistance is needed from Ottawa to revive the forestry industry. The Bloc Québécois suggests $1 billion for the forestry industry alone, and a fair share of the money for Quebec. It wants the money to be allocated based on Quebec's industrial weight in Canada, and not on population.

We must realize that close to 21,000 jobs have been lost in the forestry sector in Quebec since April 1, 2005, including nearly 4,000 jobs in my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. We know that in Quebec, the forestry industry is the primary employer in 230 communities and that in 130 of those, it represents 100% of the jobs. So it is important to ensure the viability of this industry.

I took a few minutes today to talk about the situation in my region. I mentioned some concerns raised by stakeholders during prebudget consultations held by the Bloc Québécois in Saguenay on December 11. The report of the Standing Committee on Finance is one step that we need to improve on. The Bloc Québécois came up with several recommendations after the consultations, but they were left out of the report by the Standing Committee on Finance.

In conclusion, I would like to remind the House of our six conditions for approving the 2008 budget. These conditions have to do with the forestry industry, the guaranteed income supplement, post-secondary education, social housing and the reinstatement of various programs involving the status of women, volunteering, the environment and culture.

We will support the Conservative government's 2008 budget provided that it meets these six conditions.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Prebudget Consultations
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BQ

Gérard Asselin

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Gérard Asselin (Manicouagan, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord for his excellent presentation. The Bloc Québécois member is very active in his region. It is unfortunate that there are not more Bloc Québécois members in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region.

There have been former Liberal and Conservative members, including Mr. Harvey, who toed the party line and did little for their region. A new member was just elected in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region to replace former MP Michel Gauthier. There is also the member for Jonquière—Alma, who is responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. They represent Quebec in this region.

In view of the $11 billion to $12 billion surplus and another surplus forecast for next year, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord is unfortunately quite right when he says that the guaranteed income supplement for seniors is money that belongs to them.

In the matter of employment insurance reform, even though some workers—seasonal workers; those employed in the forestry, tourism, and fishing industries; all those who work in unstable, temporary, and on-call jobs such as replacing workers on vacation; as well as students who hold down jobs—are not eligible for benefits, the federal government makes them pay premiums pursuant to the Employment Insurance Act.

The employment insurance fund has a surplus. A POWA, or older worker adjustment program, should be established with the employment insurance fund surplus in order to help all workers over 50 who have lost their jobs, particularly in the manufacturing and forestry sectors.

My question is for the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. The government does not have to wait for the next budget. In view of the budget surplus, and if there is the will to return the money belonging to Quebec, could it not take concrete action immediately and demonstrate its good faith?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Prebudget Consultations
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BQ

Robert Bouchard

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Robert Bouchard

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. Indeed, when we have a surplus as large as that in the last budget, we can invest in various programs like the guaranteed income supplement and POWA.

In his speech, he mentioned two members from my region, Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean: the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, the forestry critic, and the hon. member for Jonquière—Alma.

What surprises me about those two members is their statement to the public. They said that when one is a member of a federal party like the Conservative Party, one must often go against the needs of one's region and take more of a Canada-wide approach. There is a problem with this.

In my opinion, when the citizens of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and Jonquière—Alma elected those two Conservative representatives, they lost their voices here in the House.

Furthermore, they clearly have representatives that are forced to go home and explain the decisions made in Ottawa. They have to go to their ridings to explain their decisions, rather than the other way around. There is a problem when Conservative members come to a region like mine to fight against the region's needs.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Prebudget Consultations
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BQ

Claude DeBellefeuille

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Claude DeBellefeuille (Beauharnois—Salaberry, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this debate, especially as it affects my riding, Beauharnois—Salaberry, in particular. Since 2005, some 2,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. We are talking about almost 1,000 jobs at Goodyear Valleyfield.

What is more, recently, the last steer slaughterhouse in Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague—in fact, the only one of its kind in Quebec—went bankrupt. That means 220 specialized, skilled workers are now unemployed. This is a loss for the town of Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, its workers and also for all of Quebec, which now has to send its steers to the United States and Ontario to be slaughtered.

Yesterday we learned that the Montupet plant, in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges riding, announced that it is laying off 110 workers. I mention this because that riding is next to mine and the majority of people who work at that plant—which, by the way, is one the biggest employers in the Soulanges area—come from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, a major industrial city in my riding.

Michael Brisson, the plant manager, told us yesterday that the stronger Canadian dollar has unfortunately made Chrysler decide to end its contract and award it to a U.S. company instead. In the same breath, GM announced it will not be renewing its contract beyond 2010 for the same reason. So now we have an efficient plant with good skilled workers who are facing hard times. The employees who are still working at the plant are very worried about the plant's future.

When people talk about the numbers, they say everything is going well in Canada, that the unemployment rate is at an all time low. We must not hide behind those numbers. There are some harsh realities in some ridings in Quebec, Ontario and elsewhere. When we hide behind employment statistics, this prevents us from seeing the real distress some workers are feeling and the repercussions these closures and the manufacturing crisis can have on the communities.

Consider, for example, Huntingdon, a one-industry town in the textile sector that has lost more than 800 jobs since 2005. When a small municipality loses 800 jobs, that disrupts the entire community, especially since the town is located in a rural setting. Nevertheless, they managed to attract 12 new businesses and create 350 jobs. This took considerable effort and mobilization, after presenting sensible projects and often struggling against the machinery of government to achieve greater flexibility.

However, as we speak, more than half the workers are currently looking for work. Among them are older workers who are, on average, 55 years old. One such worker called me yesterday in fact and asked, “Do you think that with the $1 billion the Conservatives just announced, they will finally keep their promises and we will finally see a real program to help older workers?” I told him that was out of the question, since the matter has not even been debated in the House. I also told him that the Bloc Québécois was making a point of demanding just that, and that we are the only party that is expressing the demands of workers and their need for respect and dignity. It is rather distressing to have to respond to such questions, since the Conservative Party likes to boast that it is keeping its promises, but, in this case, that is not really the reality. Some of these workers are even having to sell their homes.

Often, when people lose their jobs, they go through a stressful time. They might go through a divorce or have to sell their house. Many human tragedies are hidden behind these job loses. Perhaps I am insisting on this point because, since the debate on the prebudget consultations and the finance committee report began, we have been focusing on numbers and statistics.

I would rather we talk about the human beings caught up in these events, who are expressing their needs through their MPs.

Today, I feel very comfortable stating that the Bloc Québécois' priorities truly reflect those of voters, those living in the riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry and all the ridings represented by the Bloc Québécois. In addition, there is a consensus about these priorities in the National Assembly and among major unions such as the CSN and FTQ.

I would like to point out that the Bloc Québécois supported the general thrust of the report prepared by the Standing Committee on Finance. Conversely, the committee supported the conditions that are important to the Bloc Québécois. Our viewers would probably appreciate a summary of these conditions.

The Bloc has stated that it is in favour of the following measures: $1 billion for the hard-hit forestry sector; $1.5 billion for the manufacturing sector in reimbursable contributions for the purchase of production equipment; increase to 5¢ per litre, effective 2008-09, the portion of the excise tax on gas transferred to municipalities and make it permanent; establish an independent employment insurance fund and set up an income support program for older workers; grant full retroactivity of the guaranteed income supplement to seniors who were shortchanged; and fund $1 billion in social housing through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

I would like to remind the members that these are the conditions set by the Bloc Québécois that received the support of the Standing Committee on Finance. However, the full report does not shed light on all concerns of the Bloc Québécois, which had proposed solutions to resolve various crises and help all citizens. Nevertheless, the Bloc wanted to establish six important priorities that will be linked to passage of the budget.

And so it is clear, I would like to mention these conditions: a real assistance plan to help workers and businesses affected by the forestry and manufacturing crisis; measures to restore dignity to seniors, meaning full retroactivity and an increase to the guaranteed income supplement; the return of the education and social programs transfer to 1994-95 indexed levels; increased funding for social housing and a reversal of the Conservative government's ideological cuts; increased funding for culture; and a 180-degree turn on the environment.

We are far from pleased with the report, which the Bloc Québécois believes has some unacceptable weaknesses. All of the members in this House should know that the Bloc also made a series of proposals, some of which were included in the 22 recommendations of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. I think it would be important to show people that we propose viable, realistic solutions that we believe could foster economic development and offset the crisis.

In closing, I would like to thank one of my constituents, Gérald Côté, who recently wrote in to a weekly paper to say that elected members should pay more attention to people and their living conditions, and that they should listen to what people have to say. I think he is right.

Sometimes we hide—especially the Conservative government—behind numbers that completely ignore the distress and living conditions of workers who are facing job losses and unemployment.

In conclusion, I repeat that the Bloc Québécois stands firm and will support the budget if the Conservative government respects these six very important priorities.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Prebudget Consultations
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BQ

Gérard Asselin

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Gérard Asselin (Manicouagan, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, a member I hope you will get to know better, a very active member here in Ottawa. She is our natural resources critic. She is very devoted to working for her party here in Ottawa, and to working for her fellow citizens in her riding. She is concerned about all kinds of issues, such as natural resources and agriculture. She is doing a great job here in the House of Commons, representing the people who live in the huge riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry.

During the prebudget consultations, the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry contributed her thoughts about all of the concerns related to the areas in her critic portfolio. She talked about the concerns of each and every one of her fellow citizens, as well as the organizations in her community. The Bloc Québécois' six recommendations were drafted following broad consultations held all across Quebec.

Since the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry ended her speech by talking about employment insurance, let us discuss that further. We must not forget that the federal government does not contribute a penny; it simply administers the fund. Money paid out from the employment insurance fund to those who lose their jobs or are laid off comes from employees and employers, from contributions made by those who, unfortunately, have lost their jobs. Six out of ten people who contribute are not entitled to employment insurance. Unfortunately, most of who those who are not eligible are young people and women.

The employment insurance fund generates a surplus of $3 billion to $4 billion per year. The government takes that money, adds it to the budget surplus, and comes out looking like a fantastic administrator because it has a yearly surplus of $11 billion. However, $3 billion or $4 billion of that money is from the employment insurance fund. This means that the funds collected at the expense of seasonal workers are simply a hidden tax.

My question is for the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry. Does she agree that the government does not need a special law and that all we need is a government that governs in good faith, that fulfills its commitments and keeps its election promises right away? Would she agree that a government like that does not need a budget to change the employment insurance regime and give back the money that people contributed as “unemployment insurance” in case they ever lose their jobs?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Prebudget Consultations
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BQ

Claude DeBellefeuille

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Claude DeBellefeuille

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. He is absolutely right. As I said, I represent a manufacturing region. There is also a lot of market gardening in my region, and many of the seasonal workers in that industry are penalized because they do not qualify for benefits even though they pay into employment insurance.

I would like to draw to your attention one of the Bloc Québécois' recommendations retained by the committee: increasing government funding for broadband connectivity in rural and remote regions so that people can have easier access to high-speed Internet. People who live in urban regions take high-speed Internet for granted, but take a place like Elgin, for example. Elgin, population 400, is one of Quebec's smallest municipalities, and the people there are asking their mayor, Jean-Pierre Proulx, for high-speed Internet because they need it to promote economic development.

It looks as if I have some time left, so I would like to close with what the Elgin municipal council has said about this. According to council members, high-speed Internet is nothing less than an essential tool for the social and economic development of the regions. Mr. Proulx believes that if people have access to the network, they will also benefit from new technologies, such as VoIP.

This is why we are encouraging the government to accept the committee's recommendations and boost its funding for broadband connectivity.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Prebudget Consultations
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LIB

Anthony Rota

Liberal

Mr. Anthony Rota (Nipissing—Timiskaming, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to rise on behalf of the people of Nipissing-Timiskaming and participate in the ongoing debate on what should be included in the upcoming federal budget.

I have been listening very carefully to the comments that my colleagues from all parties have been making throughout this debate, which highlight the priorities that they would like to see dealt with in the next federal budget.

Like most Canadians, I am hopeful that the current government, including the Prime Minister and the finance minister, will take each of these priorities into account while crafting the budget. Although recent history would suggest that the current Conservative government is rarely open to input from hard-working Canadians, I am cautiously optimistic that our voices will be heard and incorporated this time around.

With that in mind, there are several key priorities that I would like to see addressed in the upcoming budget, including health care, research and development, and education. I also want to see a firm commitment to infrastructure programs for our cities and communities, as well as regional development programs such as FedNor.

My Liberal colleagues and I are also calling on the Conservative government to take greater action on climate change, to take steps necessary to ensure that the Canadian combat mission in Kandahar will end in February 2009, to fight poverty in Canada, and to bring forth proposals that will build a stronger economy.

It has been said before, and in this case it is certainly worth repeating, that when the Conservatives took office in January 2006 they acquired the strongest economy in Canadian history and campaigned on a platform of fiscal discipline. Since that day, the Conservative government has raised federal spending by over $25 billion and yet the average Canadian has yet to see any benefit from any of those expenditures.

And while Canada faces the impact of instability in international markets, Conservative fiscal policies have done little to stimulate the Canadian economy, notably our ailing manufacturing, forestry, livestock and tourism sectors.

The manufacturing industry has been facing significant challenges in recent years as a result of the rapid, unexpected rise of the Canadian dollar, increased competition from emerging economies, and higher energy prices. Over 130,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in the last year. In the month of December alone, over 33,000 manufacturing workers lost their jobs, just in time for the holidays.

For months now, my Liberal colleagues and I have been calling on the government to do something about the challenges facing our economy, particularly in the forestry and manufacturing sectors. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister finally reversed his plan to tie community development trust aid money for ailing sectors of the Canadian economy to the budget.

Sadly, however, this money was merely a drop in the bucket compared to the crisis we are facing and helps Canadians only after they lose their jobs. The workers themselves have expressed the point that focusing aid programs on retraining is useless for many single industry towns.

Retraining workers in a town where there is no work available does not really solve the problem. What we are doing is retraining people but retraining them for something they cannot find. There is nothing there for them once they have retrained.

This aid package is another slap in the face to an industry already straining under the terms of the Conservative government's flawed softwood lumber agreement. The Conservatives are offering less money to Canadian forestry workers than they left on the table for the American forestry industry.

Granted, the Prime Minister's fund will provide some help for those who have lost their jobs, but it will not reopen a single mill or manufacturing plant or prevent others from closing in an economic downturn. Instead, the focus should be on helping our industries become viable again.

The upcoming budget should include measures like those contained in the 2005 Liberal $1.5 billion forestry strategy that was killed by the Conservative government two years ago, which would have helped the industry make the transition to competitive strength and sustainability and was widely lauded by both industry and workers alike.

The aid should also be geared towards providing long-term solutions to industries affected by the rapid value increase of the Canadian dollar. Otherwise, taxpayer dollars will only amount to an artificial respirator for businesses that are no longer able to compete on world markets.

At a time when the economy is facing serious challenges and needs government support, the Prime Minister and finance minister have told Canadians that they can expect very little from the federal government. What they said was that Canadians need to buckle up, that it is going to be a bumpy ride. Thanks very much, Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Finance Minister, but that is not what we need to hear. We need help.

In response to this, my Liberal colleagues and I are calling on the Conservative government to introduce specific measures that will benefit the Canadian economy, especially in sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture, and that will lessen the impact of the government's mistakes on income trusts and interest deductibility.

Another way of ensuring that our economy remains strong and that Canadians have a prosperous future is to invest in infrastructure for our cities and our communities.

By simply rebranding existing infrastructure programs, the government has failed to invest additional resources needed to meet the challenges facing Canadian cities and communities. Clearly, the budget surpluses of recent years demonstrate that the government has the resources to provide tax relief to Canadians and invest in our cities and communities, yet the government has chosen to forgo this opportunity.

Constituents in my riding and throughout northern Ontario are looking for substantial investment in infrastructure and are urging the government to finally do the right thing and reinvest in Canada's cities and communities.

The Conservative government would like us to believe that the $33 billion infrastructure investment announcement in 2007 is the largest infrastructure program in Canadian history. In fact, the Conservative government actually cut infrastructure programs, and cities are far worse off under the present government than they were before.

As a former municipal councillor, I understand what crumbling infrastructure is all about. We have it in most of our communities. The average age of our infrastructure is anywhere between 85 and 100 years, maybe even more, right across the country.

Without help for our cities and communities, we will see more and more of this happening, to the point where the basic building blocks for our communities will be destroyed and we will have to live with what we have. That is no way to have building blocks toward a strong country when our cities and communities are not strong at all. This is something that we have to look at.

In November, municipal leaders met with the finance minister. The response that came from the finance minister turned my stomach. Basically, it was “stop whining”. That is no way to treat our cities' mayors in this country. It reminds me of 1793, when there was a revolt going on. The people were about to overthrow the monarchy and Marie Antoinette said to let them eat cake. To say “stop whining” is not the way we should treat Canadians.

Not only has the Conservative government cut $7.5 billion from infrastructure programs launched by the previous Liberal government to address the growing infrastructure deficit, but cities will now have to compete against each other and against large-scale highway projects for funding under the Building Canada Fund.

Furthermore, if large-scale projects are approved under the Conservative funding plan, huge amounts of funding for Canada’s smaller municipalities will be wiped out. This is not an acceptable outcome by any means, and I am therefore calling upon the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to make substantive infrastructure investment in the upcoming budget.

Unfortunately, the Conservative government has jeopardized the Canadian economy by cutting the wrong taxes and spending more money than any government in Canadian history. My Liberal colleagues and I understand that for the Canadian economy to succeed we must continue the tradition of balanced budgets, debt reduction and competitive taxation.

A closer look at the Conservative government's decision to forge ahead with an additional cut to the GST reveals that the Conservatives' tax plan is largely benefiting higher income families over those who need it most: low income and middle income families.

The GST cut was made despite the fact that every serious economist in the country agrees that it is poor public policy and a misuse of about $4.5 billion in federal fiscal flexibility every year. To improve disposable income and help build greater productivity, the first target for tax reduction should be income taxes, not consumption taxes, but the Prime Minister has chosen instead to raise taxes for low income and middle income Canadians to help pay for his regressive and expensive GST cut.

Tax cuts like these set the stage for more pressure for spending cuts. The obvious concern for most Canadians is that the Conservative government will continue to make cuts to programs that have been proven to be effective and necessary tools in helping individuals and communities.

Simply put, the Conservative government cannot be trusted to implement substantial and long-lasting solutions to critical problems. Its “politics first and policy second” approach to governance is evidence in many ways.

Take the issue of child care for instance; during the last election the Conservatives pledged to make up for the shortfall through a plan to use tax incentives to create 125,000 new child care spaces. Last fall, the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development admitted that the Conservatives cannot deliver on this commitment.

Since coming to power, the Conservative government has made the biggest child care cut in Canadian history, slashing $1 billion in funding for child care services in 2007. The Conservative government’s policy of handing over small amounts of money to individual parents instead of investing in a child care system is simply not delivering the support that young Canadian families need.

This piecemeal approach to government has been a trademark of the current Conservative government. Canadians simply cannot trust the Prime Minister to produce comprehensive and effective solutions to priority issues. Further evidence of this exists with the Conservative environmental plan.

The Conservatives have an obligation to reduce their weak approach to combating the climate change crisis with real action. Canada will not meet Kyoto targets because the Prime Minister scrapped all climate change programs upon coming into office and then implemented weak substitutes that ignore our obligations.

The Conservatives have admitted that their so-called plan will result in absolutely no reductions in Canada's total greenhouse gas pollution during the first phase of Kyoto and will not even be in place until 2010. Under two consecutive Conservative environment ministers, there has been no attempt to move forward seriously, and I emphasize seriously, and not even an honest and full effort to curb greenhouse gas pollution.

In fact, one of the Prime Minister's first acts in office was to scrap a fully funded plan to meet Canada's Kyoto obligations and to then do nothing. This is simply unacceptable to Canadians who are looking for action and leadership in the fight against climate change, but are being presented instead with a Prime Minister and a government that would much rather deny climate change even exists. The time has come to invest in Canada's environmental future.

The Conservative government also owes it to Canadians to end nearly two years of inaction in the fight against poverty in Canada by building on the good work of the Liberal government in funding such initiatives as the child tax benefit, affordable housing, literacy, the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative, SCPI, and the working income tax benefit.

In the upcoming budget, the Conservative government can take meaningful action to reduce poverty by improving the Canada child tax benefit and by supporting working families in making the non-refundable child tax credit into a refundable credit so that even people with the lowest incomes will receive a benefit.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister can do his part to help lift vulnerable seniors out of poverty by increasing the guaranteed income supplement payments for the lowest income seniors, thus ensuring that the loss of a partner does not drive the surviving spouse below the income threshold, and encouraging and rewarding those seniors who choose to participate in the workforce.

In addition to these supports, the Conservative government should commit to working with all levels of government to provide better access to services that are essential in the fight against poverty such as affordable housing, universal child care and public transit.

In today’s speech I have listed just some of the main priorities that Canadians from coast to coast believe should figure prominently in the upcoming budget. Now the responsibility lies with the Conservative government to take on the challenge of addressing these concerns, and providing effective long-term solutions to problems that have been all but ignored since they first took office two years ago.

On behalf of the people of Nipissing-Timiskaming I will be working very hard to ensure that the gaps in the Conservative agenda are replaced by policies that have a positive and long-lasting effect on Canadians. Furthermore, my Liberal colleagues and I will remain committed to building a richer, fairer, greener Canada together.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Prebudget Consultations
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February 8, 2008