Senator Jane Cordy December 15th, 2014
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the consideration of the sixteenth report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Subject matter of Bill C-43 (Divisions 5, 7, 17, 20 and 24 of Part 4)), tabled in the Senate on November 27, 2014.
Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I would like to speak briefly on the report from the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, which was tabled in the Senate on November 27. The committee's report deals with several aspects of Bill C-43, the government's second budget implementation bill. I would like to thank members of the committee. While members didn't all agree on many measures the committee studied, the committee's report is fair in recognizing the differing opinions.
As we are aware, Bill C-43 is another omnibus bill, and because of the unwieldy nature of such a bill, no fewer than seven different Senate committees were required to examine the proposed legislation. The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology was tasked with examining the subject matter of those elements contained in Divisions 5, 7, 17, 20 and 24 of Part 4 of Bill C-43, the government's second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014. Firstly, I will speak briefly about Division 5 as Senator Eggleton did an excellent job of explaining this section in his speech on the report. As the report states:
Division 5 would introduce amendments to the Federal- Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act to modify the "national standard" for the Canada Social Transfer so that it applies only to certain groups of people. According to the national standard as currently defined in the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, no residency requirement may be imposed by a provincial or territorial government on social assistance recipients without the possibility of incurring a penalty in the form of a reduction in the Canada Social Transfer from the federal government.
Honourable senators, the proposed amendment in Division 5 essentially removes any penalty imposed by the federal government for not following the national standard and opens the door to giving provinces and territories free reign to impose residency requirements in order to qualify for social assistance programs without reprisals from the federal government in the form of withheld Canada Social Transfer funds.
This policy change is directed at refugee claimants who come to Canada to seek a safe haven. They have no money and no resources, and many have no contacts or family in Canada. Honourable senators, refugees are unable to work in Canada until they can receive a work permit, which is after they have been in the country for six months. These are people in dire need of assistance with housing and food until they can get established. This amendment will now allow provinces and territories to deny these people the assistance they require through legislation by enacting a residency clause. Refugees could be left homeless and relying on charity to survive.
I am puzzled about the motivation behind this proposed change. Who is requesting this change and for what purpose?
We found out at committee that the provinces and territories did not request such a change. A government witness said that they had discussions with the provinces. As Senator Eggleton pointed out, the Ontario government said that they were not consulted, and inquiries to the Nova Scotia government revealed that they did not have any discussion with the government regarding residency restrictions either. So I am left to wonder who was consulted or who had the so-called discussions with the government officials. I am also left to question why the government is making this change. Since this is the same government that removed health benefits for refugees, one has to question whether we, as a country, are beginning to close the door to refugees. We certainly appear to be making it more challenging for refugees once they arrive in Canada.
I truly believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with this change. It is un-Canadian to target those most vulnerable and to abandon them. I fully believe that no provincial or territorial government would be so uncaring as to take advantage of this opportunity that the federal government is offering, but I can't help but worry that this is just a small part of a larger shift in government policy. I share Senator Eggleton's concern that we cannot foresee where this change will take us in the future and whether this change will be part of other changes some time down the road. There is uncertainty about the motivation behind this proposed change, and the potential of this change can devastate the lives of refugees who come to Canada to seek a safe haven. I agree with my Liberal colleagues on the committee who also expressed strong opposition to this clause at committee. I cannot support the proposed amendments in Division 5, particularly since the provinces and territories did not request the change, nor were they consulted about the change.
The committee also examined Division 20, and, again, while the majority of the committee supported this change, there were strong objections. As you know, the Chief Public Health Officer is currently the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada and is bestowed the status of deputy minister. This provision will strip the deputy minister status from the Chief Public Health Officer and will create the position of president of the Public Health Agency of Canada. This new president position will now head the agency and will be given the equivalent status of a deputy minister.
Our committee also dealt with Division 17, which introduces amendments to the DNA Identification Act to authorize the creation of new DNA indices within the National DNA Data Bank. As you know, the DNA Identification Act was proclaimed in the year 2000, and of course the use of DNA has contributed significantly to the solving of criminal investigations.
The proposed amendments to the DNA Identification Act would expand the use of DNA identification to support the investigations of missing persons by creating three new indices. The first is the missing persons index, comprised of DNA profiles of missing persons developed from personal effects like a hairbrush or a toothbrush. The second is the human remains index, comprised of DNA profiles found from human remains. The third is the relatives of the missing index, comprised of DNA profiles voluntarily submitted by close relatives of the missing or to compare against the human remains index.
Clearly, our committee is supportive of the goal of these changes provided in Division 17, which will strengthen and expand the role of the National DNA Data Bank. However, concerns were expressed by Daniel Therrien, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, that the act will increase sharing of information with foreign states or international organizations. He recommended to the committee that:
Given the concerns we have expressed about using missing person profiles for law enforcement purposes, and given that on two previous occasions Senate committees reviewing the DNA Identification Act have raised concerns about the possibility of sharing information with a foreign state with respect to an offence that may not be an offence under Canadian law, I would urge that the proposed amendments to increase international sharing be removed from the bill.
Mr. Therrien also expressed concern that humanitarian and law enforcement purposes should be treated differently. There is an obligation to protect personal privacy and, of course, there should be strict enforcement of the uses of the information from the National DNA Data Bank.
The committee also examined Division 24 of Bill C-43. This measure authorizes the Ministers of Citizenship and Immigration and Employment and Social Development to create a list with the names and addresses of employers found guilty of certain offences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or an offence under any federal or provincial law that regulates employment or recruitment. The employers who are listed would not be eligible to access the Temporary Foreign Worker Program or the International Mobility Program.
Senator Merchant asked some excellent questions at the committee about who will determine the guilt of those employers. Witnesses also expressed concerns about not only the subjective determination of the guilt but also the lack of any appeal process.
Joyce Reynolds, the Executive Vice President of Government Affairs, Restaurants Canada, expressed her concerns with the proposed list. She is concerned that the bill will give department
officials blanket authority to publicly expose an employer without due cause or natural justice. Her organization believes that there should be an oversight and appeals process put in place.
Mr. Maynard from the Canadian Bar Association also spoke about the list of employers created in Bill C-43. He commented that the lists would not protect foreign workers. Rather, the list will set up employers for loss of access to the program.
It is already the law that all employers must comply with provincial and federal recruitment law. He raised such questions as who gets put on the list? What does "found guilty" mean? He also suggested that the government should carefully identify and make public which offences will justify being put on the list.
Honourable senators, I believe most, if not all of us, believe that changes had to be made to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, but as Gordon Maynard of the Canadian Bar Association stated in reference to the changes, "It has been a huge over-reaction of the government . . . ."
This is the government's attempt to come down hard on the big chain restaurants and multinational corporations and the reported abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. No consideration was given to the thousands of small, independent, family-owned and operated restaurants and businesses that rely on the program to staff their operations. No consideration was given to the disabled or elderly who rely on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to find qualified caregivers.
The new regulations put in place by the minister have only made it financially challenging for many Canadians to hire a Temporary Foreign Worker, and it has created hardships for many families. Escalating fees and ever-changing application requirements have made the system unviable for these Canadians.
As Joyce Reynolds said to us in committee:
In Alberta, where our members primarily make use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, it can take months for these to be processed.
The other thing that's happened is that the application form has changed three times since June. You submit an application. You pay your $1,000 fee. If there's some minor problem with the application, it gets sent. Then, you have to submit another one with another $1,000 fee. You can't even use the same application. You have to use a different application. You have to start the process all over again.
It was tough enough when the fee was $275. It's just become unviable . . . .
Honourable senators, I agree changes had to be made to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, but I feel Division 24 of Bill C-43 is indicative of the hastily conceived and rushed response by the government to the problem. There is a lack of oversight and understanding of the consequences these changes would make to individual Canadians. There are Canadians who rely on the program for their livelihood or for their quality of life, as is the case for the elderly and those with disabilities who are seeking caregivers. I agree with Gordon Maynard when he referred to the proposed changes as a huge over-reaction.
The $1,000 fee, which the government imposed in June, is an extreme hardship for seniors or Canadians with a disability who are on a fixed income and are seeking a temporary foreign worker as a caregiver. The fee of $1,000 is for an application, whether approved or not. If the worker for any reason does not accept the job, then a new application is needed and another $1,000 must be paid. I believe this is unfair for those on fixed incomes. Surely there can be exceptions made within the program.
Honourable senators, Bill C-43 is just the latest massive omnibus bill from this government and another example of its abuse of power. So many measures in this bill do not belong in a budget implementation bill and deserve closer examination and consideration on their own.
Because of this and the reservations I have outlined, coupled with the objections we have heard from witnesses in committee with this piece of legislation, I will be unable to support this bill.