House of Commons Hansard #22 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Bill C-304--Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing Act
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

That is fine. I will give the hon. member time to come up with a response to the argument advanced by the parliamentary secretary.

Is the hon. member for Saint-Jean rising on a point of order?

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, I listened carefully to what the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader and the Minister of Justice had to say about the question of privilege I raised concerning the December 10, 2009 motion.

I would first like to respond to a point raised by the parliamentary secretary. He claims that the government does not have to comply with the motion of December 10, 2009, because it is not an address. He quoted from page 1121 of O'Brien-Bosc to support his claim. I would like to quote another passage from the same page:

It is the responsibility of the Speaker to ensure that the motion proposed is appropriately worded so that it can achieve what it intends to do.

On December 10, 2009, which was a Liberal opposition day, the House debated and adopted an order to produce papers. Early that day, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader tried to have that motion ruled out of order, without ever saying that it was improperly drafted.

When you ruled on the issue on December 10, 2009, you even talked about the scope of Parliament's power to obtain documents, and you quoted the following passage from pages 978 and 979 of O'Brien-Bosc:

The Standing Orders do not delimit the power to order the production of papers and records. The result is a broad, absolute power that on the surface appears to be without restriction. There is no limit on the type of papers likely to be requested; the only prerequisite is that the papers exist—in hard copy or electronic format—and that they are located in Canada.

...

No statute or practice diminishes the fullness of that power rooted in the House privileges unless there is an explicit legal provision to that effect, or unless the House adopts a specific resolution limiting the power. The House has never set a limit on its power to order the production of papers and records.

By bringing forward new arguments, the parliamentary secretary to the leader of the government is trying to have the motion ruled out of order and inoperative after the fact.

He concluded his speech by needlessly stating that you cannot unilaterally change the wording of a motion once it has been adopted by the House. That goes without saying.

But it also goes without saying that you cannot rule a motion out of order and inoperative once it has been adopted by the House, especially almost four months later.

If the parliamentary secretary wanted to argue about the wording of the December 10 motion, he should have done so before it was passed. But, he did not do that.

And now, I would like to briefly respond to the Minister of Justice's arguments. The minister is saying, first, that there is no prima facie question of privilege and that the government has taken the necessary measures to provide the documents requested.

In saying that there has been no prima facie breach of privilege, the minister is claiming that the members have not been prevented from doing their jobs.

I believe that the minister is asking the wrong question. Obviously I raised a question of privilege, but that was to bring your attention to a situation which is related to contempt of Parliament.

In this case, there are two questions: is there a House order related to producing documents? And is the government, acting through the ministers who have these documents, refusing to comply with this order?

This debate over whether the members have been kept from doing their jobs is not pertinent in this matter. If you were to decide that it is pertinent, it seems to me that members are being prevented from doing their jobs.

The majority of members agreed that the House should pass an order to produce documents so they could have access to the necessary information and hold the government accountable on the Afghan detainee issue. The members still do not have access to these documents and, consequently, are unable to do their jobs.

Lastly, the minister alleged that the matter of which documents should be made available to Parliament was debatable, thereby demonstrating his complete lack of understanding of the role of this House. The fact is that the government must be accountable to Parliament. Parliament has broad powers and the means to compel the government to respect those powers and deliver accountability.

During my last interventions, I discussed at length the House's power to compel the government to produce documents. I quoted a number of authorities to support my argument, and I will not revisit that today.

The matter before the Chair today is fundamental. This is not just a difference of opinion or an issue up for debate. This is about preserving Parliament's power to hold the government to account. Subordinating Parliament's power to the government's whims regarding information it provides to Parliament is the same as subjugating legislative powers to executive powers. This is not a matter for debate. This is about ensuring that the House can play the part assigned to it by the Constitution.

I am not a fool. The two statements we heard yesterday, which came two weeks after the point of privilege was raised in the House, are nothing but another government delay tactic. No matter what the Minister of Justice says, the government is not acting in good faith on this issue. It has used every parliamentary tactic available to prevent the opposition from getting to the bottom of things on the Afghan detainee file.

I think that we have heard all of the arguments on this subject. That is why I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to rule as quickly as possible on these issues.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, we heard a very long presentation yesterday by the Minister of Justice and some remarks by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader. To give those arguments their due, I would want to have some time to respond. I do say that I agree principally with what has been said by the member for Saint-Jean. You have already ruled that the order itself that was before the House was in order and the references that you made there to the powers of Parliament are sufficient to deal with the issue. I will say also that the powers that Parliament does have in the reference given there are very broad, extremely broad, and only require explicit limitation in order to be limited.

The question before you I think is rather simple; that is, whether or not on the face of it, prima facie, there was a violation of that order. I think it is fairly obvious that there was.

I do want to say that because a substantial list of references was made in the remarks, particularly in the speech by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, I would not want to limit my argument to simply saying that this is a very basic question. I would want to be able to give a detailed response to the references that were given and make a more lengthy and cogent argument when we return after the Easter break.

Having said that, I would ask for indulgence to do that and make a more full argument when we come back.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Yes, the Chair is quite willing to wait to hear the hon. member's submissions.

The government took its time, as the hon. member knows, in coming back to the House after the initial submissions made by the two hon. members who have just spoken and the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

Given the importance of the subject of this question of privilege, I think I shall have to exercise patience, so that we may hear the hon. members' interventions on this.

It will happen whenever we get back and I look forward to the hon. member making his comments at that time.

The House resumed from March 31, consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an opportunity today to talk about this inaptly named jobs and economic growth recovery act since it is my view that the government has had virtually nothing to do with this recovery, notwithstanding a great deal of back patting that seems to go on by those on the side opposite.

Members might have noticed a pattern over the years of the Prime Minister not being overly fond of those who contradict him, especially those who used to be his best friends.

The people at the Fraser Institute, which is well described as a right-wing think tank based in Vancouver, used to be among the Prime Minister's best friends, at least they were until recently when they were on the receiving end of the Prime Minister's wrath. Why would the Fraser Institute, which is hardly a bastion of liberal thought, be on the receiving end of the Prime Minister's wrath? Well, it produced an analysis of the recovery which showed that the stimulus moneys that the government put into the economy which ran up the debt had virtually no impact on the recovery of the nation.

I do not know whether I should admit this in public, but I read the Fraser Institute publications and sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I disagree with them. They are generally well written, fairly piffy and generally provocative. It behooves us all to read widely, even those with whom we disagree. The Fraser Institute has even from time to time been so generous as to invite me to speak at one of its functions. . I suppose from time to time it needs a token Liberal at one of these functions, but I appreciate its generosity in inviting me. I do not know whether in fact I will be invited again. I do have the tie to prove that I was at one point an invited speaker. I regularly wear it to any funeral I go to.

What is it that has actually caught the Prime Minister's wrath? I will quote from Niels Veldhuis of the Fraser Institute, the senior economist and one of the study's co-authors. He says:

Although the federal government has repeatedly claimed credit for Canada’s improved economic performance in the second half of 2009, Statistics Canada data show that government spending and investment in infrastructure had a negligible effect on the country’s improved economic growth.

Home reno tax credit's impact 'negligible'.

That is notwithstanding its popularity.

The report's authors say they're not surprised by their findings, noting that infrastructure spending takes time to work its way through the system.

“The fear now is that spending on infrastructure will occur as the economy naturally begins to grow, meaning that government will be competing with the private sector for resources, resulting in increased costs and fewer private-sector projects”, Veldhuis says.

He goes on to question the stimulative value of the renovation tax credit which was, as he says, a “popular measure”, but it had a “negligible impact” on the GDP growth in the second half of 2009.

He goes on to say that “less than a tenth of the $47.2 billion in the stimulus package was earmarked for personal income tax reductions”, which the Fraser Institute argues was a far better method for economic stimulus.

He further states:

What we see now is that the stimulus packages put in place by Canadians governments in 2009 created massive government deficits, resulting in increased in debt while contributing little to the economic turnaround.

That is what made the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance so exercised. This self-described right-wing think tank, formerly the best buddies and soulmates of the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, had the audacity to say that the “emperor had no clothes”. It is not a good idea to criticize the finance minister or the Prime Minister if one expects to retain the best buddy status. The institute said that the impact of the stimulus package was negligible, which really hurts coming from friends.

What we do know is that the Conservative government has run up the debt by $165 billion, $49 billion in this year alone. That is the hard, cold fact directly from its budgetary documents.

What we can say for sure is that $165 billion has been loaded onto future taxpayers instead of any kind of a realistic plan. Instead of actually dealing with the runaway freight train, that is, the expenses of the government, it has postponed decisions and will continue to postpone decisions.

The closest the government gets to a decision is the $17.5 billion so-called savings measures, money that it was going to spend but are now not proposing to spend. The biggest component of the money it was going to spend and is not now going to spend is the money for the world's poor, $4.5 billion. So $4.5 billion of the $17.5 billion, somewhere in the order of 20% to 25% of the entire package, will be loaded on people who do not vote, who cannot vote and who live in other countries. That is kind of an easy decision to make if the government really wants to show it is semi-serious about getting costs under control.

The other biggest hunk is the $6 or $7 billion for the civil servants. These are the ones who were hired to implement the jobs and growth agenda which, arguably, according to the Fraser Institute,has had a negligible impact, and they are being fired or will be fired or anticipate being fired as part of the so-called savings. Therefore, $6 or $7 billion out of the $17.5 billion will be put onto the backs of the civil servants who were actually hired to implement the plan that does not work.

Even one of the Prime Minister's former speech writers, Michael Taube, had some rather uncomfortable things to say to the Prime Minister. He repeats the material from the Fraser Institute, and states

...the 1.1% GDP growth between the second and third quarters of 2009, stimulus spending and government consumption “played a negligible role in the economic turnaround” and only accounted for 0.2%. Meanwhile, the 1% GDP growth between the third and fourth quarters was “solely responsible” due to net exports, and not stimulus spending and government consumption.

The PM also said the Fraser Institute report was “completely wrong,” and “economic theory and history is clear, governments.... So much for [the Prime Minister's]reputation as a free market champion. ... The [the Prime Minister's] I knew supported the economic theory and history models of small government, private enterprise supporters such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. Apparently, he’s now switched over to Paul Krugman.

Interestingly, I had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Krugman and ask him whether there was a model to show that if in fact one puts x number of billion dollars into an economy whether it can be identified as actual economic growth out of the economy.

If the government is taking taxpayer money and putting it into the economy of the nation, how does it measure that there is something that comes out the other side, or does it simply just run up a debt and have no product at the end of the day?

Mr. Krugman was not entirely forthcoming as to what that model would look like. I dare say that Mr. Krugman and the Fraser Institute might actually, from both sides of the economic spectrum, be able to argue quite cogently that if one is a Keynesian person, one cannot actually measure the economic product, and from the right-wing side of the equation, whatever measurement is there is negligible and one may well have just wasted all one's money.

Mr. Taube goes on to say:

But to take distinctly un-conservative positions after his stimulus spending’s net benefit was shown to be insignificant by an important Canadian conservative think-tank isn’t a wise strategy.

Kool-aid Conservative supporters might be happy with [the Prime Minister's] mock outrage. But red meat conservatives are tired of these shenanigans.

Mr. Taube is a former speech writer for the Prime Minister.

That is what the Conservatives' friends are saying. What do they get for their analyses? Mr. Taube or the Conservative think-tank get epithets from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance. They call it shabby, wrong, contradictory, poorly done, et cetera. What we get are vitriolic attacks, which is what we see in this place, rather than any reasoned debate.

The Prime Minister actually had the courage of his convictions saying that he or the finance minister would table the analysis that shows that the stimulus spending impacted on the economy in a positive way, in which case we could probably put the argument to rest or, better still, let the Parliamentary Budget Officer look at it. Of course, that is not too likely since the Parliamentary Budget Officer is used to being attacked by the finance minister.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer certainly did not get any kudos from the finance minister on March 11 when he said that the plan lacked detailed information and that he disapproved of the overall characterization of the economy and would not characterize the government's methods as a prudent basis for fiscal planning. His most significant point on March 11 was that he lacked the detailed information and data that the government was using to make its projections which found their way into the budget and which subsequently found their way into the legislation that is on the floor of the House.

It is not as if the Parliamentary Budget Officer disagrees with private sector economists. He generally accepts their propositions. What he does not agree with, because he does not get the co-operation from the Minister of Finance, is how the Conservatives got from there to here. What it produces is the stuff that the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Budget Officer agree on and the product that the finance minister produces for his budget. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is rightly asking how they got from here to there and they answer by saying that they cannot tell him. That is pretty useless because if they cannot tell him, how can there be a reasoned debate as to whether the projections are correct?

We have the Fraser Institute arguing on the far right that whatever money has been spent has had a negligible impact, a speech writer saying the same thing, Mr. Krugman saying that there is no real economic model and then we have the Parliamentary Budget Officer being frozen out of the data or the modelling that would take him from the agreed upon point, which is the consensus data put forward by the private sector economists, to the product we see in the budget.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has been an irritation to the government and the Minister of Finance for quite a while now. In 2008 and 2009 he consistently and accurately projected shortfalls and/or surpluses earlier than the Minister of Finance. Even when the Prime Minister was predicting a surplus in 2008, which just happened to coincide with the election, by the way, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that there would be a deficit.

What are we supposed to do with this sort of thing? In 2008 the Prime Minister said that there would not be a recession in Canada and that we would be fine so long as we did not do stupid things, such as running a deficit. Then he suggested in October that there were good buying opportunities for Canadians. In November 2008, his failed economic statement promised a surplus for the next five years. Twelve days later he was contradicted by the Bank of Canada and announced that we were in fact in a recession. In December he had run up a deficit of $20 billion to $30 billion.

From September to December, a space of 90 days, we went from a surplus prediction by the Prime Minister/Minister of Finance to a $30 billion deficit. In January it was up to $40 billion, by the summer it was up to $56 billion and I think in this budget it settles itself down to about $54 billion.

The credibility of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance in terms of predicting surpluses and deficits has been shot. They will not share with the Parliamentary Budget Officer the reason for their “optimism”. The Fraser Institute seems to indicate that whatever moneys have been spent are having a negligible impact.

Their own view, their own ideological base, is quite upset with them because they have squandered $165 billion in accumulated deficits. The response on the part of the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister is to launch vicious ad hominem attacks, which is of course a pattern we have seen for quite a while.

I want to contrast that with the handling of the monetary policy by Bank of Canada governor Carney. Mr. Carney's handling of the monetary policy during the same period was, in my view, a masterful job. When we are dealing with an economy, we have the monetary on one side and the fiscal on the other side. The fiscal is what the Minister of Finance controls and the monetary is what the governor of the Bank of Canada controls.

He had a judicious eye on the economy and manipulated the interest rate to maximize the benefit to the economy. Keeping an eye on inflation and the interest rate, he intervened in the market from time to time to buy up stranded debt and to improve liquidity. At all times, he did it in a respectful manner. At all times, he came before various parliamentary committees to tell them what he was doing, how he was doing it and the result he expected.

He did not at any time attack those who disagreed with him. There were those who did disagree with him. There were those who thought his analysis of the economy was somewhat rosy at one point. Others thought he was a touch too pessimistic. Others thought it was going to go up, then it was going to go down and then it was going to go up again. I do not know how it all turns out. In all instances, the governor of the Bank of Canada kept his cool and responded respectfully to inquiries. Even when there was disagreement as to whether or not he was being too optimistic, he kept the dialogue thoughtful and respectful.

Contrast that with what we get in this place. It is kind of a scorched earth policy that comes true when we are having dialogue about what is arguably the most significant responsibility of government, which is the management of the economy. What we get here is the first and ultimately most disrespectful thing: the prorogation of Parliament. If I am the Prime Minister and I do not like what Parliament is saying about whatever it is, why not just shut down Parliament? We saw the result of that. I dare say the Prime Minister will be pretty loathe to shut down Parliament again anytime in the near future.

We get the disrespect of shutting down Canada's chief nuclear officer, Linda Keen. We get the disrespect for Peter Tinsley, the military ombudsman who brought unwelcome news about various things. We get Paul Kennedy, who was engaged in a pretty significant study with respect to the RCMP, being fired summarily. We get disrespect for Canada's diplomatic corps and Richard Colvin, who said things that were “off message”. We see the disrespect for KAIROS. These folks were engaged in human rights activities that the government thinks they should not be involved in, so they were fired at midnight after 35 years of hard work.

The list goes on and on. We saw Scott Clark, the former deputy finance minister. We saw Ed Clark, formerly an official in the Department of Finance, who had the temerity to say that we should possibly be having an adult conversation about what revenues the government actually needs to do what it needs to do.

What do they all have in common? They have the courage to say what they think. As a consequence of their courage in saying what they think, there have been malicious, ad hominem attacks.

This is a democracy chill. It is a free speech chill. Frankly, it is no way to run a country.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the ongoing commentary of many people who have commented on the budget, and quite frankly, I found it very negative. I am surprised the hon. member is so negative today, because ordinarily I feel he is a fairly positive contributor to the discussion.

I am sure the hon. member is aware that Statistics Canada announced yesterday that, for the fifth straight month, our GDP in Canada has grown. In fact, in January we experienced the largest increase in our GDP growth since December 2006, and we know that was a really strong growth period.

Also this week, the global accounting firm KPMG ranked Canada as the most competitive industrialized country for job creation.

I have two questions for my colleague. First, could he name one G7 country that has fared better in this global economic recession than Canada?

Second, will he support the measures in the budget, such as ensuring fairness for Canadian taxpayers by closing tax loopholes and freezing parliamentarians' allowances and the salaries for parliamentarians?

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, it is as if I just spent the last 20 minutes talking to a wall, because the hon. member has missed the point.

The point is not that Canada is or is not doing well in its GDP. We are doing relatively well relative to the G7. The point is that you had nothing to do with it, and these are your best friends who are saying—

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I would remind the hon. member to direct his comments to the Chair.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, the government had nothing to do with the economic recovery. Contrary to the federal government's claim, the analysis shows that government spending and investment in infrastructure simply did not contribute to the improvement in economic growth. That is from their friends, not from our side. That is from their best friends.

What we have at this point for sure is $165 billion in new debt. What we have for sure is that Canadians should not count on their government to bail them out anytime soon, because these guys do not know what they are doing.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member, who spoke so courageously. He emphasized the courage of those who must talk to this government, and that is what he did. I commend his courage and the support he has shown the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is also very courageous.

A great deal could be said about this budget. My colleague from the official opposition will have so much to present that I must ask myself why, when they know they must be an alternative, they vote against the budget when they support it and vote for the budget when they oppose it. I am rather shocked to hear so many good, critical comments so courageously made by our colleagues to the political right.

It is worth noting that the member stood up to vote against the budget. But how can he explain the lack of courage shown by so many members of his caucus?

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to say that the Liberal Party, which is the official opposition, will not be creating political instability based upon this budget. As a consequence we will, somewhat reluctantly of course, be required to make sure the government wins its vote. How we do that is a matter of our own discretion.

I want to point out that in our view the incompetence of the government is manifest. The recovery that is taking place and the green shoots that are growing have nothing to do with the management of this economy on the fiscal side. On the monetary side, the governor of the Bank of Canada has been brilliant. He has managed things very well. Unlike my hon. friend, who does not have to worry about things such as Canadian political instability, we do have to take the more responsible course.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, that last comment reminds me of an old CCF description of a Liberal as someone who sits on the fence with both ears on the ground. I think that has been proved true today.

The value of any budget is measured fundamentally by whether it helps people. The people of British Columbia are measuring this budget based on whether or not it creates well-paying jobs for their families, whether it helps them to educate their children and to take care of their parents, whether it makes their pensions more secure and whether it improves the development of Canada's industrial economy.

With respect to the measures I see in the budget, although there are some positive elements in it and I think the government ought to be congratulated for that, there are aspects in the budget that fail to meet the requirements of ordinary Canadians.

I think it is best expressed by the phrase, “We will be out of this recession when Canadians have jobs”.

My question for my hon. friend is this. How does he feel the budget does in relation to helping Canadian families and, specifically, creating jobs, it being called a job budget by the members opposite?

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Aside from the preamble, Madam Speaker, the question was quite good.

There is an active conversation, particularly on the business pages but throughout the rest of the newspapers, as to a jobless recovery. We are still hovering around 8.5% to 9% in some places, and actually some are more inflated than that because many people have just given up looking for jobs.

While there are economic indicators that look good, while there is recovery in GDP on a quarterly basis and things of that nature, while exports are up, while the dollar is strong and a number of other economic indicators, which are good for our nation, there does seem to be a lag between Bay Street and Main Street.

It is one thing to keep Bay Street happy. It is another thing altogether to make sure Canadians are participating entirely in this economic recovery. I would hope that would follow. I frankly see little or nothing in the budget or the bill before us with respect to that.

I take note of the observation of the Fraser Institute, which says that as the stimulus money now gets into the economy too late, it will actually compete with the private sector and therefore ratchet up the cost of the projects and also create some difficulty.

There are some ironies of not putting in the stimulus in a timely and effective fashion, which is what we argued this time last year.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I wish I had more time to try to make some common sense out of what the hon. member is suggesting, using one singular quote.

I have stacks and stacks of quotes from all across the country that say that indeed our stimulus spending was effective in creating jobs, was effective in helping the rebound in the economy.

However, because my time is very limited, let me read one from Peter Dungan who is a business economics professor at the Rotman School of Management. He said, “Private investment largely came from housing, which was stimulated by the home renovation tax credit”. I hope the hon. member utilized it, unlike his colleague. “Exports were driven by the automotive sector and without the government bailout that wouldn't have happened”.

To say stimulus spending had no effect is not true. Does the member categorically—