House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, Taxation; the hon. member for Welland, Canadian Food Inspection Agency; the hon. member for Don Valley East, Ethics.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-9, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this bill.

We call it a bill but it is a Trojan Horse. Buried inside this budget bill are a series of measures that the government could simply not have passed had it not put them in the budget bill.

We have a golden opportunity to open up this Trojan Horse and take out the nefarious legislation that is within it and to move ahead with the consideration of those important proposals but it will require the government to split out these pieces of legislation so we can deal with them separately. I would like to address why that is so important. I think the government should do exactly this.

I would like the leader of the official opposition to behave like a real opposition leader and use his power to prevent the Prime Minister from sneaking major legislative changes through by hiding them in this budget bill. Passing bills on the sly like this is a last-resort strategy for a government trying to make changes that do not have unanimous approval. Knowing that Canadians would not support each of these changes individually, the Conservatives tried to sneak them into its budget bill.

Some of the most disturbing changes in Bill C-9 are those to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act giving the Minister of the Environment the power to determine the scope of environmental assessments and to turn responsibility for reviewing power generation proposals over to the National Energy Board, which has close ties to the business sector. This bill includes a hodge-podge of unrelated elements and looks a lot like American budget bills, which tend to include hundreds of clauses added as a result of political manoeuvring.

Some of the most significant provisions buried in the Prime Minister's budget bill are: authorization to sell Atomic Energy of Canada Limited without any public debate or scrutiny; a measure to privatize Canada Post that takes away the crown corporation's exclusive international remailing privilege; and approval for having cleaned out the employment insurance fund, which had a surplus of $57 billion in contributions from employees and employers over the past 10 years. That was one of the largest thefts in this country's history.

We hope that the Leader of the Opposition will stand up for his convictions and vote against the measures in Bill C-9. It is important that he do so.

I want to speak a little further about some of the key elements that are buried in the budget bill. We can agree or disagree with some of these budget measures, but buried in this bill are projects and initiatives that the government could simply never pass through the House of Commons any other way.

The first that we want to discuss here today is the gutting of our environmental assessment process. The environmental assessment process for major projects including major energy projects is absolutely vital. We do not have to look any further than the crisis that is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico right now to see why an environmental assessment is so important for major projects.

Yet, what is the government proposing to do? The government is proposing to give to the Minister of the Environment, without any accountability to Parliament, the power to simply waive any environmental assessment requirements and to ask the National Energy Board, for heaven's sake, to conduct the environmental assessment such as it might deem fit.

This is exactly the reverse of what our friends the Americans are doing as they realize when there is one agency responsible for getting approvals that ultimately generate revenue to government, that generate business for business, that are related to energy projects, that it has an exclusive focus and jurisdiction, that what is needed is a separate set of eyes and a separate process to deal with the environmental consequences, dangers and issues that can arise from an environmental project, particularly of a major magnitude.

Why empower the minister to limit environmental assessments at a time when Canadians and our neighbours to the south as well are asking governments to be more vigilant when it comes to environmental assessment, not less? This bill will open up greater risk for our Canadian environment and we could see the same kind of disaster unfolding in Canada on one of our coastlines or even in the Arctic as we are seeing unfold in the United States.

Mark my words, I do not want this to come true. I do not want this to be a prediction of something that is actually going to happen. I want us in this chamber to take responsibility to ensure that it does not happen, that it never happens, and that it could not happen here.

That is why I am calling on my colleagues in the other parties of the opposition to stand up and be counted. In fact, I would call on them to stand up and speak because I notice that even though this is a vitally important bill and even though there have been pronouncements on the part of both of the other opposition parties that they oppose some of these measures like the weakening of our environmental assessment process, we find that they are not willing to stand up and speak.

It is only New Democrats now, according to the list we have before us, who are prepared to keep fighting the bill. I call on my colleagues in the opposition, on the opposition leader, and the leader of Bloc Québécois to ensure that the members of Parliament from those parties are speaking to this issue and are standing up for Canadians when it comes to the environment. It is time for us to do our job.

Furthermore, I call upon them to bring their members to the House when the vote comes and to ensure there are sufficient numbers in the House to defeat this clause so that we can protect environmental assessment in Canada.

Some would say, “Oh, that would mean that it would take us into an election”. An election is not going to happen on top of the G8 and G20. Why not? Because the Prime Minister has already spent $1.2 billion to have these international guests come to ensure he can have his photo opportunity. There is no way that an election is going to happen on top of that.

It is time for the opposition parties to use the leverage and power that we have, and that Canadians sent us here to use in order to ensure that the government is kept under control. Conservatives think the opposition is weak. They think the opposition is unwilling to stand up to them.

Prove them wrong, that is what I say to my colleagues in the opposition. Let us stop the gutting of environmental laws here in Canada.

I could make exactly the same case when it comes to another element of the budget bill. This has to do with the sale of AECL.

AECL is a very important public enterprise. If it were to be debated here, I doubt very much there would be support of this chamber for it to be sold off, especially in tough economic times and without any sense of what would happen, in terms of environmental protection, not to mention the future of the jobs.

It is an obnoxious precedent being set here by the government. I call on the opposition parties to stand up and fight.

It also argues that we should privatize Canada Post. That is the wrong direction to go when we are talking about an essential public service. Taking profitable overseas mail distribution and turning it over to big companies that compete with Canada Post would undermine the ability of our public post service to do the job that Canadians expect it to do, and have expected it to do for many decades. It is a vital corporation.

In closing, I call on my colleagues from the opposition parties to understand that we have a key historic moment here to use the leverage given to us by 62% of Canadians who did not vote for the current government to put a stop to what it is trying to do in this budget bill.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity, in between some of the comments made by the hon. member, to hear him say something about privatization of Canada Post. I can tell members, as the parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for this for over four years now, there has been no discussion of privatization of Canada Post. Quite frankly, it is ludicrous.

However, what does trouble me is that he spoke of one particular aspect in the bill, which is called remailers. There are at least 10,000 jobs across this country, in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto, that rely on something that has been happening for 20 years; that is, remailers, small mom and pop organizations, print shops, across this country that have been operating for 20 to 30 years doing remailers. We have heard evidence about that remailing business going to other countries because Canada Post does not compete. So, it is going to other countries.

What does the member have against the small mom and pop shops and 10,000 employees in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Vancouver, who rely on these jobs now? Does he want to close down those small businesses that have been operating for 30 years under this particular aspect?

I want to hear from that member about those small mom and pop businesses that rely on this type of business.

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Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question because it is a very timely question that he has asked.

Only a very few weeks ago, I held a meeting in my constituency with some of the small businesses which used to give postal service, under contract to Canada Post, that have been shut down because of the very policies of the current government. Some of the citizens from the area, very upset that they have lost their local postal service, were there at that community meeting, as well. It was quite well covered in the newspaper.

The fact is that business has been shunted over to Shoppers Drug Mart. The result is we literally had in front of us in a meeting of 75 people, four or five of these businesses, some of which had operated for years. People were in tears because they were losing their livelihood and their relationships with the community.

So, I do not apologize for a minute for trying to stop the current government from doing what it is doing to Canada Post because it is not doing the right thing.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Toronto—Danforth for that impassioned speech. I have a very specific question for him.

With the gutting of the environmental regulations, as proposed in this budget implementation bill, first nations across this country have raised some valid concerns about the fact that this process may mean that they are not consulted when large projects are going into their area.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Sparrow decision, which was all about consultation with first nations, and here we have the current government presenting a proposal that cannot guarantee that appropriate consultation regarding environmental projects would happen.

I wonder whether the member would comment on that.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her championship of the concerns of first nations, Métis and Inuit people over quite a number of years. She raises a very valid point.

The whole concept of environmental assessment is designed to ensure there is thorough, indepth, informed consultation with citizens who will be affected by projects. That is what it is all about. That is why environmental assessment was invented. It was not invented just for a group of technicians, or special interest groups, or corporate representatives or lobbyists to go off and whitewash a project and say that it would not have any environmental impact or that we should not worry, that they have it handled.

I am sure the representatives of BP said to the American government and some of the officials who were dealing with its approvals that they should not worry, that they had it covered. Now there has been everything from the top hat to the top kill. BP does not have a clue what it is doing now that it has unleashed the power that resides thousands of metres below the earth's crust.

Because environmental assessment is so critical, we know we should apply the most careful and thorough tests on any major engineering project that could produce similar kinds of consequences in Canada. I would bet that if I went out on the streets of the country right now and asked people if they thought it would be a good idea for us to weaken our assessment of major projects from the standpoint of their environmental consequences, they would say no. We say no too.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been over 40 days now since the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico started. Wildlife officials report that 491 birds, 227 turtles and 27 mammals, including dolphins, have been collected dead along the U.S. gulf coast. Have we not learned anything from this oil spill?

Those beautiful fish, turtles and dolphins are magnificent species. It is tragic they are now dying and many more will die. The top kill over the weekend did not work. The next thing BP is planning to do is to place a funnel on the leak, but this means that the leak could increase by 20% during this entire process.

How could we possibly not learn that deregulation of any projects, especially when it comes to oil or energy, is a bad idea? Look at what is happening here. This bill is anti-democratic, it is bad for the environment and it is bad for ordinary Canadians.

Why is it anti-democratic? This is supposed to be a budget bill. It is supposed to talk about spending. What does it have to do with deregulation? The bill would—

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am wondering the relevance of the member's speech. She may be lost in American jargon and American legislation, but we are in Canada. We are not responsible for what happened in the gulf. We have a different legislative system here. We have a different environmental process here. This government is taking care of that issue. What does that have to do with the budget bill? It has nothing to do with it whatsoever.

Let us talk about Canadian legislation. Let us talk about what Canada is doing. We are doing the job here and the member should pay attention to that.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

From the Speaker's hearing, I think the member for Trinity—Spadina was referencing part of the budget bill, which is before the House. I will take a look at the group of amendments before the House. I encourage all members, when they speak, to remain relevant to the amendments or the substance of the motion that is before the House.

The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina.

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is precisely my point. Environmental assessment has nothing to do with the budget bill. Why is it in Bill C-9? I am glad the parliamentary secretary noticed that environmental assessment really should not have anything to do with the budget. While he—

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Jobs and Economic Growth Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. It is going to be very difficult for the Speaker to make a judgment call on relevance if he cannot hear what the member is saying. I ask all hon. members to hold off on their questions and comments. There will be a period for questions and comments as soon as the member for Trinity—Spadina is done with her speech.