House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Freedom of Speech
Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 48(1) and (2), I am rising on a question of privilege for which I have given written notice to the Speaker at 8 a.m. this morning. It is relating, as I indicated in my letter, to a matter which disturbs me very personally and significantly because it is a matter which I believe is an attempt to intimidate me from discharging my duties as a member of Parliament.

Yesterday, during question period, I raised a question which had to do with the Minister of Natural Resources. It was a question which brought into question her actions and decisions to deliberately or knowingly put herself in a conflict of interest with regard to using a registered lobbyist to do political fundraising for her and, as well, to procure the resources and private information of the Toronto Port Authority for purposes of political fundraising.

In raising those points, which the Minister of Transport acknowledged were correct and that they were totally unacceptable, the Minister of Natural Resources made a rude finger gesture at me, in the middle of the question. It was distracting.

I raise this because this is not just a question; for instance, there was the issue where the member for Nepean—Carleton and a couple of other members were shown on film making certain gestures which were unparliamentary and it was dealt with as a privilege issue. However, because it was in the context of many members, et cetera, nothing between two members or whatever, the matter resulted in just an instruction to members that these kinds of things are inappropriate.

However,--

Freedom of Speech
Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

That's BS.

Freedom of Speech
Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Well, no. Mr. Speaker, the member just said this is BS, and this is a Conservative member for whom I have a great deal of respect, but this is the kind of intimidation of which I speak.

It is not just that someone, some person, did what some would refer to as flip the bird or give a middle finger gesture to someone in a random occurrence.

Mr. Speaker, you must consider the point of time at which it was done and the context in which it was done. That gesture says much more than simply, “I don't respect you”. It says much more.

In fact, the issue here it this, and I could go through a number of the processes, but I do not want to take up time. I want to be direct on this matter with the House because what happened has concerned me and disturbed me very much.

I happen to be the chair of the standing committee on ethics. I have had some activity, in terms of ethical activity, which I know is not a good experience for the government.

However, I was also in receipt of the direct evidence showing that the natural resources minister was in a conflict of interest and had breached the code of conduct for public office holders for ministers, parliamentary secretaries and other order in council appointees.

The minister also noted that I have called for investigations to be conducted by the Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying and the Chief Electoral Officer.

In the context of the things that I have to do, my duties and responsibilities as a member of Parliament, that gesture to me, at the time it was being raised and after it had been in the media, was a direct statement to me that the minister was contemptuous of my right to freedom of speech, which is constitutionally protected, to raise those matters in the House, to protect the interest of the House, and to raise these issues on behalf of all Canadians.

It is a constitutionally protected right. My freedom of speech is a constitutionally protected right.

I am afraid that this is an indication that any attempt that I make in my responsibilities, whether it be as chair of the ethics committee or as an ordinary member of Parliament, to seek to have investigations until the government takes action with regard to breach of conduct and failure to abide by the code of conduct for ministers, which has been put into law, will be challenged.

Let me conclude. I see that you have heard enough, Mr. Speaker, and I accept that. I want you to know that I am very disturbed by what happened. I am very concerned. I feel intimidated, I feel that my rights are being challenged and I am anticipating that this is going to continue while I try to discharge my duties.

I wanted to bring it to the House's attention at the earliest opportunity, which I have done. I can also indicate that the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, who is not in the House today, was a witness. I am sure there are others. He is not here today but will be prepared to rise in the House to confirm this.

Mr. Speaker, should you find a prima facie case of breach of my personal privileges or simply a breach of privilege, I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Freedom of Speech
Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have a few points to make.

First, as we well know, a question of privilege is only relevant and should only be considered if in fact it impugns or interferes with the MP's ability to do his job. What the member is alleging in no way, in my opinion at least, would have any effect whatsoever on his ability to do his job as a member of Parliament.

Second, I would suggest that it is patently unfair to be raising this point now without the opportunity for the minister in question to respond.

Third, and even more important, is the question that goes far beyond this. The member in question is the chair of the ethics committee. He has quite clearly stated his prejudice and bias in this matter that may come before his committee by his intervention today. There is absolutely no question that the member, as chair, will have no neutrality or impartiality if this issue ever comes before his committee.

I think the correct procedure for the member as committee chair is to recuse himself. He should admit he has a bias in this matter and to step down as chair. How in the world can any committee operate with a chairperson who has a bias for an issue that comes before that committee? It is absolutely impossible for the democratic process to work and for committees to work and function in such a fashion in which we can respect the rights of all members.

I would strongly suggest that the member give strong consideration, himself, to stepping down as committee chair if and when the issue of the Toronto Port Authority and the minister's fundraiser ever comes up. If he does not, he himself will be pointing out to all members in the House that the impartiality of committees and committee chairs is a joke. The member should take very close heed of my words.

Freedom of Speech
Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have two points. First, the question of privilege raised by my hon. colleague is in fact serious and merits a serious look and examination by the Speaker. That is the first thing.

Second, the allegation or claim which has now been raised by the Conservative member that the Liberal chair of the ethics committee has demonstrated a bias is completely without foundation.

The member has raised an issue that there are allegations of transgressions by a certain minister, the Minister of Natural Resources with regard to the code of conduct for public office holders with regard to electoral financing legislation and with regard to the Lobbyists Registration Act.

The government itself, through the Minister of Transport confirmed that in fact there were certain events that took place and that it was completely unacceptable.

For this member to call on the chair of the ethics committee to recuse himself should the matter of the conduct of the Minister of Natural Resources come before that committee is simply without foundation and without grounds.

When one speaks to allegations, that it is not evidence of any prejudice. It is simply a statement of fact that there are allegations, that certain acts did take place which were confirmed by the government Minister of Transport and that there are people who are concerned that these may be violations of certain legislation and certain codes, period.

Freedom of Speech
Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I think I have heard all I need to hear on the question of privilege raised by the member for Mississauga South. I am not sure if there is a second point to be made here.

I see the hon. parliamentary secretary is quite keen to make an intervention. I will hear him, but I think it would be wise to move on to the next item before the House.

Freedom of Speech
Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do want to respond to my hon. colleague who was basically challenging my interpretation of why the committee chair of the ethics committee should recuse itself.

I would point out that the member for Mississauga South, who is the chair of the ethics committee, is quoted in the Toronto Star as saying that the minister is clearly in a breach of ethics. In other words, he has made up his mind.

One cannot be neutral or impartial if one has already been quoted, stating a decision. He has stated that there is a clear breach of ethics in his opinion. How in fact is that impartial?

Quite frankly, the whole issue of a question of privilege is ludicrous. The freedom of speech of the member has not be curtailed, and that is the key element in determining whether there is a question of privilege. The reason his freedom of speech has not been curtailed is underscored by the fact that he has just made a demonstration that his speech has not been curtailed with his rant in this House.

Beyond the fact that his question of privilege is irrelevant and should be dismissed, the fact is that as chair of the ethics committee he has already been predisposed to an opinion on the guilt or innocence of the member in question.

How in the world can he stay on as chair? I would suggest that he cannot. I would suspect that if he does not step down himself, committee members should deal with this expeditiously.

Freedom of Speech
Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank all members for their interventions regarding the question of privilege. I will certainly take it under advisement and examine what evidence there might be from the House, and maybe invite the Minister of Natural Resources to make a comment on it. I think that is probably the best course of action.

I will examine what was argued here today by the hon. parliamentary secretary, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and the member for Mississauga South. If necessary, I will come back to the House with a decision on those issues.

Economic Recovery Act (stimulus)
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Economic Recovery Act (stimulus)
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the second reading of the economic recovery act. This important piece of legislation will implement key portions of budget 2009, Canada's economic action plan, along with other vital measures. There is no doubt that Canada's economy has been profoundly affected by the global economic slowdown, but Canada's economic action plan is getting results, stimulating the economy, protecting and creating new jobs.

While we are still fighting the recession, one we must always remember was not of our making, we are beginning to see tentative signs of an economic recovery both here and abroad.

As Warren Jestin, chief economist at Scotiabank noted:

Monthly job losses appear to have crested and confidence surveys suggest that consumers and businesses are becoming less negative about current conditions and cautiously more optimistic...

[Canada] was dragged fully into the global recession only when faltering emerging economies triggered a collapse in resource prices and export earnings...[and] the erosion in employment, housing activity and car sales has been less severe than [it has been] south of the border.

The bottom line--we will soon begin moving away from one of the most difficult economic setbacks experienced in our lives, but patience will be required because the road to recovery will be a long and winding one.

Clearly, we must remember there is still more to do. We must stay on course. Doing anything else would be reckless and irresponsible. Indeed the goals of the measures included in the economic recovery act are to stay the course, maintain our competitive economic position today and build on it by laying the groundwork for the necessary stability to grow Canada's economy tomorrow, stability to ensure that when the global recession eases, Canada will exit in a stronger position.

My constituents in North Vancouver are concerned about the global economic slowdown and expect us to act. And we have acted. I am proud of this government's record.

Later today, my colleague and a new member of the finance committee, the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, will outline a few of the highlights of this act, such as the home renovation tax credit, the first-time homebuyers' tax credit, and the enhancement to the working income tax benefit. These are benefits that I hear about as I speak with my constituents in North Vancouver. I hear how they are enjoying the benefits of the home renovation tax credit. Families as well as small businesses are benefiting.

First-time homebuyers in my riding are excited about the first-time homebuyers' tax credit, and I am proud to be part of the government that is working on behalf of all Canadians. During my speech I will review some of the important initiatives included in this act. Among them is one that will significantly improve government transparency and accountability while also fulfilling a promise that our Prime Minister made during the 2008 election campaign.

Last fall the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party pledged to make government more accountable for the use of taxpayers' money. As laid out on page 25 of our campaign platform, we promised Canadians that a re-elected Conservative government would require all federal departments and agencies to produce detailed quarterly financial statements.

I am happy to report that through the economic recovery act, we are delivering on that campaign promise.

The act will amend the Financial Administration Act to require federal departments and crown corporations to prepare public quarterly financial reports and more importantly, make them available to the public. Quarterly financial reporting will ensure parliamentarians and Canadians are provided with greatly enhanced information on government spending. This will also help to ensure more timely and better oversight of government expenditures by parliamentarians and taxpayers so that expenditures are subject to regular, ongoing and necessary scrutiny.

Our Conservative government, the government that created the Parliamentary Budget Office and brought in the Accountability Act, believes that taxpayers' dollars are just that--taxpayers' dollars. We believe that respecting taxpayers' money and prudently managing it includes the provision of transparent and timely accounting of how taxpayers' money is spent. Currently, Parliament and Canadians are provided financial statements only several months after the end of each fiscal year.

Unlike the previous Liberal government, we believe that this is just not good enough. That is why passage of this act would require federal departments and crown corporations to provide quarterly financial reports on their activities, ensuring parliamentarians and Canadians have useful, up-to-date financial information that allows them to more quickly and accurately track spending.

One wonders what politician could possibly oppose the kind of transparency and accountability which our economic recovery bill would bring into force. Shockingly, the Liberal leader and his Liberal members, in an effort to force an unnecessary election, have pledged to vote against this bill and this landmark measure.

However, that is not the only key measure the Liberal leader and the Liberal members are voting against for no reason other than to force an election that no Canadian wants. The Liberals are also opposing key reforms to strengthen public pensions in Canada, reforms to the Canada pension plan, or CPP, that will allow increased flexibility in how Canadians live, work and retire, while ensuring CPP remains affordable and fair for future generations.

The Canada pension plan remains one of the most successful pension plans in the world. As Susan Eng of Canada's Association for the Fifty-plus, better known as CARP, recently declared, the CPP was the pension plan that survived the recent global economic downturn almost unscathed.

Through the CPP, Canadians are provided with a secure, indexed and lifelong benefit. The additional measures proposed in the economic recovery bill not only will help maintain the quality of the CPP but also will actually improve it for seniors during these difficult economic times.

I note that these reforms were unanimously agreed to by each and every federal, provincial or territorial government, governments of all political stripes such as the New Democratic government in Manitoba, the Liberal governments of Ontario and New Brunswick, the Progressive Conservative government in Alberta, and the list goes on.

As a point of clarification and for background, I note that the CPP is a jointly managed federal, provincial and territorial plan. Federal or provincial governments cannot unilaterally alter the CPP. Instead a joint review of the plan is required to be undertaken by federal, provincial and territorial governments every three years. The most recent review, concluded in May 2009, recommended the reforms that I will be outlining in my remarks today.

Furthermore, let me note that the recommendations flowing from that review were publicly announced in May. As well, a detailed information paper that explains the proposed changes and their impacts upon workers and employers in Canada is available to Canadians.

As previously mentioned, the reforms proposed in the economic recovery bill are intended to modernize the CPP to better reflect the many different paths people take to retirement today. These reforms will provide greater flexibility for older workers to combine pension and work income if they wish to do so, expand pension coverage and improve fairness in the plan's flexible retirement provisions.

The reforms specifically include removing the work cessation test in 2012 so that a person may take his or her retirement pension as early as age 60 without the requirement of a work interruption or earnings reduction; increasing the dropout from 15% to 16% in 2012, and to 17% in 2014, a change that would allow a maximum of almost seven and a half years of low or zero earnings to be dropped from the contributory period; and requiring a person under the age of 65 who receives a retirement pension and continues working to contribute to the CPP, thereby creating eligibility for a post-retirement benefit.

As I mentioned earlier, the reforms I have outlined were publicly released in May and have already generated considerable positive feedback.

An Edmonton Journal editorial from May welcomed the reforms, remarking that they will

allow Canadians of a certain age to draw on their Canada Pension Plan benefits and still be allowed to work...the prospect that thousands will be able to discern a horizon when they can not only choose to be gainfully employed but also collect on a pension they paid into for years must come as some relief...

In fact, upon even the briefest reflection it seems odd that this rather simple case of fair play wasn't in force years ago...After all, what would we think if our private pensions were withheld or clawed back because we decided to pick up a job or two following official retirement?

As well, a nation rooted in liberty such as ours should never, ever build in disincentives for those who want to be engaged in productive work. That's simply antithetical to the story of Canadian enterprise. Another positive aspect of the proposed CPP amendments will allow those who are 65 or older and still employed to continue to contribute to the plan.

As well, citizens will be permitted to drop an additional low-earning year from the equation that calculates pension benefits. Those who decide to delay the start of their CPP income until age 70 will be further rewarded, with benefits pumped up to 42 per cent versus the current maximum of a 30-per cent increase for working longer.

The Edmonton Journal editorial concluded by cheering what it labelled an “overdue update”, as it:

...reflects contemporary realities. Older Canadians are healthier than ever and getting even fitter. If they want or need to continue to make a material contribution to the nation's productivity, they mustn't be discouraged.

However, that is not the only positive feedback we have heard. Jack Mintz, public policy professor at the University of Calgary, applauded them by saying, “the more flexibility you build into pension arrangements, the better”.

Finn Poschmann from the C.D. Howe Institute declared that they were:

...an important shift in public pension policy...[t]he proposed adjustments mark an important sea change in government pension policy's approach to dealing with population ageing and, in particular, making it easier for those people who want to work later in life to do so.

Clearly, the new measures will ensure that the CPP continues to address the needs of Canadians.

I would also note that this is only one example of how our Conservative government has been engaged in the important issue of pensions. Indeed, our Conservative government has been and is working hard on this issue, work that would be derailed should the Liberal scheme to force yet another unnecessary election on Canadians succeed.

Our Conservative government has already been engaged in a discussion with Canadians on pensions. In January we released a major research paper on federally regulated pension plans for comment, after which we conducted cross-country and online public consultations open to all. Based on the feedback we received from Canadians coast to coast, comprehensive regulatory changes to improve the federal pension framework are being drafted and will be released shortly.

Also, we have long recognized the need to work with our provincial partners to examine the larger pension concerns facing Canadians. That is why we raised this issue at the annual meeting of finance ministers in late 2008, and earlier this year set up a joint federal-provincial research working group, with respected academic Jack Mintz as director of research to conduct an in-depth examination of retirement income adequacy. The finance minister has already convened a meeting of his provincial and territorial counterparts for this coming December to discuss the findings of this important group.

If members truly believe the future of Canadian pensions deserves attention, they will recognize our efforts and work with our Conservative government, support the economic recovery bill and not jeopardize it and plunge Canada into yet another election. While I doubt that the Liberal opposition will reconsider their obsession with forcing an election, Canadians should rest assured that our Conservative government stands with hard-working Canadians who want to be able to count on their pension plan for a stable retirement. We will take the steps required to make sure Canada's pension framework is strong.

The economic recovery act, with these important reforms to CPP, is a tangible demonstration of that. There is much more to the economic recovery act such as supporting farmers affected by severe weather as we extend important tax deferrals; ensuring dependability for public broadcasting by increasing the borrowing limit for the CBC, as requested by the CBC board of directors; promoting global growth and cooperation by giving small and low-income countries a bigger voice at the IMF, while strengthening Canada's commitment to debt relief; and resolving the Crown share saga, as our Conservative government, after decades of neglect by previous Liberal governments, is ensuring that Nova Scotia finally benefits from its resources through Crown share adjustment payments in accordance with the landmark agreement between Canada and Nova Scotia.

Yet the Liberal leader would vote a against these measures, not out of principle, not out of some disagreement over the contents of the act, for he has likely never even read it, but for narrow, partisan self-interest. He wants an election, regardless of the consequences, not because he has an economic agenda, but because he wants power. In a period of major economic uncertainty, Canadians deserve better from their elected representatives. As Macleans' magazine trumpeted this past August:

Almost any way you look at it, Canada is uniquely positioned...Compared to the U.S. and many other countries, Canada has done well and we should be proud. But it's one thing to gloat, and another to exploit our relative lead.

Let us not exploit our lead, as the Liberals would with a pointless election. Let us work together, keep our focus squarely on the economy through measures like the economic recovery act, and make certain Canada remains in the lead for decades to come. Canadians deserve that.

Economic Recovery Act (stimulus)
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member has highlighted a particular dilemma for his government, which he has an opportunity now to resolve. His indicated that much work would be stopped if there were election now.

Just recently in Canada's economic action plan, the third report to Canadians, various projects were highlighted as being part of the economic stimulus in direct response to the economic recession that began in the second and third quarters of 2008. A small craft harbour project in Goose Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador was highlighted in particular.

The economic report indicated that $1.25 million would be provided for additional berthage and improve the functionality of the service area to better meet the needs of harbour users. The economic report says that this is in direct mitigation of the economic downturn of 2008. The bulk of that $1.25 million was actually tendered and spent in 2005 and 2006.

Could the member relay to the House how a $1.25 million project, the bulk of the funding of which was spent not only long before 2008, but in 2005 and 2006, can be related to an actual stimulus measure to the economic recession that we are involved in today?

Economic Recovery Act (stimulus)
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canada's economic action plan is implementing infrastructure projects across the country from coast to coast. It is extremely popular. I was door knocking recently in my riding of North Vancouver and it was remarkable to see the number of people who were taking advantage, for example, of our home renovation tax credit.

Let me quote from an Ottawa Citizen editorial, which states the home renovation tax credit:

—has turned out be effective and smart....Even the quietest streets roar with hammers and saws....This is keeping construction workers employed who, in turn, spend money that keeps others employed. Home centres and hardware stores are humming....helping the construction industry was exactly the right thing to do. Credit where credit is due, when it comes to the reno credit.

We are taking—

Economic Recovery Act (stimulus)
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would invite the hon. member to answer the question about small craft harbours and money spent in 2005 and 2006.

Economic Recovery Act (stimulus)
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

That is not quite a point of order.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Economic Recovery Act (stimulus)
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to mention what others were saying about Canada's economic action plan.

First, the IMF yesterday released its world economic outlook, a report card on the global economy, saying what we have said all along, that our economic action plan is working as Canada is weathering the global economic storm better than almost everyone. Not only does it forecast we will experience one of the smallest drops in 2009, it has declared Canada will be the fastest growing economy in 2010.

The world recognizes that our government is on the right track. Why can the Liberals not do the same?