House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know the cost. It is the cost of tears, the cost of blood and the cost of injuries to victims, who I support. It is the cost of nightmares, the cost of personal damage and the cost of property damage. That is the cost of the Liberals' soft on crime agenda. It hurts victims. We will not do that to victims. I will not go to another child autopsy and not have a consequence for the person who murdered that child. I will not do it and I expect the Liberals would not want to do it either.

I encourage the member to stop this nonsense and vote with us to protect victims.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint Boniface has a number of good intentions, but her Tim Hortons in Saint Boniface is a lot like the ones in my riding of Hochelaga. Even the Tim Hortons on Ontario Street in Montreal has always paid taxes to Quebec and Canada. Delaware is not the problem. The fact that the company became Canadian again, as she said, is the result of an initial public offering that was done by the parent company, Wendy's, which has owned Tim Hortons for many years. Obviously we will learn these kinds of things.

We are here today because on November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance, of which I am a member, adopted a motion. I will read some points:

The committee also orders that the Government of Canada provide the committee with electronic copies of the following...

We were not asking a lot. We did not want a tonne of papers. We wanted electronic copies of the five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates from 2010 to 2015. If the Department of Finance was able to publish budget documents last year, it is because it had them.

On November 17, 2010, we asked for detailed cost accounting, analysis and projections, including assumptions, for each of the bills, conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board guide to costing. Again, it was already there. We asked about what the Treasury Board had and asked that it be sent to us electronically.

The committee's motion says the following:

That the committee orders that all information requested in this motion from the Government of Canada be provided to the committee within 7 calendar days.

That is what we wanted on November 17. Now it is February 17, three months later. We asked for the information within seven days, but we have still not received anything 90 days later. On November 24, seven days after our request, we received a response saying that “projections of corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate income tax rates are a Cabinet confidence. As such, we are not in a position to provide these series to the Committee.”

That is why we are here. Upon its return on February 3, the Standing Committee on Finance looked at the Government of Canada's pitiful response. We spoke to the committee chair, who, I must add, does a wonderful job. And this is what was written in the committee chair's report:

...the Committee wishes to draw the attention of the House on what appears to be a breach of its privileges by the Government of Canada’s refusal to provide documents ordered by the Committee, and recommends [the Standing Committee on Finance, on which the Saint Boniface member sits] that House take whatever measures it deems appropriate.

I raised questions in the House as recently as yesterday. I first spoke about how the Parliamentary Budget Officer has spoken out against the government's obscurantism and the fact that it too often uses the cloak of cabinet confidence.

I was asking if the government would understand a basic principle of democracy: House privileges exist and the federal spending power is granted to the government by us here in the House. The power comes from here. Therefore, in order to grant that power, we need information.

The President of the Treasury Board replied that if the Parliamentary Budget Officer wanted information, all he had to do was call him and the Treasury Board president would provide it. I poked fun at him and suggested that the two of them had gone out for a beer to discuss it. That is not how a government works or how it should work.

Today's motion states that the Canadian Constitution gives Parliament the absolute power to require the government to produce documents, yet the government persistently refuses to do so, despite our reasonable request. We requested electronic documents and information that have been available in past years. Thus, our requests are reasonable.

Three months later, we have received nothing, absolutely nothing. Is it important? Everyone here has been elected to this House. What are we all doing here, on either side of the House? We are here to exercise a certain power. That power is not to simply sit here on this side of the House and complacently admire what the government does. Some members choose to do that, and that is fine. Let them sit there and complacently listen to what the government tells them to do; let them read their planted questions and complacently read their members' statements. However, they are not exercising the power given to us by voters. I represent Hochelaga. Other members represent other ridings. The voters give us a mandate to exercise some power in the House. Some members have the power to govern, yes, but the power of the House exists and we must exercise it. During the next election—very soon, according to rumours—some voters will say that they sent us to Ottawa to exercise some power and that we failed to do so. That is a serious judgment.

What do we need to exercise power? We need information. It is a universally recognized fundamental principle that information is power. It is our right. You know that better than I do, but I just want to reiterate that to inexperienced hon. members. A long time ago, almost 100 years ago, in 1916, Bourinot said that “it is the constitutional right of either House to ask for such information as it can directly obtain by its own order from any department”.

We can keep quoting from our procedural guides. As a new MP, I read the House of Commons Procedure and Practice from cover to cover because if I am going to sit here I want to know how things work. It says that, legally, “Parliament has the ability to institute its own inquiries, to require the attendance of witnesses and to order the production of documents”. Why does it say that? Because documents are essential to the proper functioning of Parliament. It says that quite clearly.

Further, the Standing Orders talk about the standing committees, which brings me to my point. The parliamentary secretary, who is still here, can sit on those committees. What do the standing orders say about the standing committees? They say the same thing: that we can order the production of documents, etc. It is essential to committee work, they say. To order the production of documents we can adopt a motion to that effect. That is what we did. According to the Standing Orders, this power is absolute and has no limits.

They cannot say: “There are limits”. As long as the request is reasonable, we can ask for a document and obtain it.

Further on, it says that if something happens and we do not obtain the documentation, one option at our disposal is to move a motion requiring the government to produce it.

I have not been a member of Parliament for very long. However, this is the second time we have found ourselves in this type of situation. On April 27, 2010, the House took the government to task over documents pertaining to Afghan detainees. Probably all of us have children and grandchildren. When they are admonished once, it does not mean that it applies only the one time and that they can misbehave again. At a given point, enough is enough. This is now the second time, at least since I entered federal politics. It is not right.

On April 27, the Speaker ruled that it is an indisputable privilege, on which the parliamentary system is based, and he ordered the government to do its job.

In the case of the Afghan detainees, national security was the reason given by the government. Today, they are claiming cabinet confidence. Every day, they invent something new. They will invent something else for the next time. I am still trying to understand why the Conservatives are doing this.

Just yesterday, the second question I asked the President of the Treasury Board was why it had become a secret. I even gave him some possible answers. Does the government have something to hide? Is it incompetent? Intransigent? Incapable? Inept? Powerless? Insolent? Motivated by ideology? Perhaps the government does not want to provide the information. For ideological reasons, it wants to hide things.

We have a fine example, that of the Minister of International Cooperation. She hid the facts for one year. We wonder why she did it. She did not do it inadvertently, out of incompetence or for lack of authority. She was motivated by ideology. She did not want to make it seem as though she had changed the recommendation. The government does have the right to decide, but it must do so appropriately, without hiding anything, and without preventing us from exercising our authority to ask questions.

Information management by this government is an issue, and unfortunately not just in this case. There is also the long form census. That is another fine example. Ever since Canada came into being, there have been census forms. We have measurements, we have the right to statistics and information. Why? To exercise power.

I am thinking of the father of the member for Louis-Hébert, who is my brother and a noted demographer. Where will he go for information? His entire career has been based on information collected during the census. What will he do? What will future demographers do? We are talking about the power of information and information management. The Information Commissioner is complaining because it takes too long to get information. Why are they not providing the information? Why are they keeping it? It is important because we are talking about corporate taxes. Corporate taxes are important because our tax system is based on what? Either we tax individuals or we tax businesses.

If we decide to tax businesses, we tax SMEs or we tax large corporations. The government says that it wants lower taxes for large corporations. Why? It must give us some information on that.

Since 2007, the taxes for SMEs have been cut from 12% to 11%, a difference of 8%. But for large corporations, taxes have gone from 22% to 15%, a difference of 32%. Anyone who is familiar with the second derivative can calculate that the tax cut for SMEs is four times lower. I want to know because we believe that tax policy is important. I want to know where the Conservatives are getting their numbers.

The Bloc Québécois has released its budget bible for this year. We think that it should be Quebec's turn. The bible was given to the Minister of Finance. The Minister of State for Finance was there, as was the member for Saint Boniface. They said that it was serious work, and it was. We worked hard with the information we had and we want to continue to do so.

I have the 2010 annual report of the Royal Bank of Canada right here. It is not the report for 1810 but for 2010. The estimates of the taxes that would be payable if all foreign subsidiaries' accumulated unremitted earnings were repatriated are set out on page 125. We have the information from the Royal Bank. The estimates are $763 million for 2010, $821 million for 2009 and $920 million for 2008. I have information. I can say whether or not I agree. I can form my own opinion because I have the facts. The government is hiding the facts from us.

For as long as we are here, we will act as an ethics watchdog. We know what the Liberals' ethics led to. We need only look so far as the sponsorship scandal. They wanted to circumvent or violate the law but they were punished. The Conservatives think that exercising power means having complete control. That is not what it means to exercise power.

Public funds do not belong to the Liberal Party of Canada. They know that; they paid for it. Public funds do not belong to the Conservative Party of Canada. The money is not theirs. They cannot do whatever they want with it, however they want, without any accountability and without telling us how they are using it.

The Bloc Québécois's opinion has not changed. Why are we working toward independence for Quebec? There are three reasons: to sign our own treaties, pass our own laws and collect our own taxes. We want to have a tax policy that will make it possible to distribute the wealth much more effectively. We have the means to do it because we have information on this subject. A lack of information about big business restricts my freedom. I do not think that I came her to have my freedom restricted.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the motion before us has to do with whether a government is prepared to be accountable. As parliamentarians, we have responsibilities. Whenever we raise issues, such as the cost of justice bills, there is this presumption that somehow we will use that argument solely with regard to whether we would support a justice bill. However, the context of the information we asked for was with regard to vetting the government's projections over the next five years.

If we find that the expenditures on justice bills, for example, will far exceed anybody's reasonable expectations, then there may have to be consequences to other areas of policy and fiscal responsibility. It may impact health care. It may impact seniors and pensions. It may affect many of the important issues of the day on behalf of Canadians.

In the context of the motion before us, this is not an issue of whether justice bills are good or bad. This is an issue of whether parliamentarians have the right to information to make their own assessments rather than the government saying that it is a cabinet confidence and it is not going to tell us.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take advantage of my colleague's comment to pay tribute to him. He is one of the most experienced parliamentarians, and he sits with me on the Standing Committee on Finance. I like to watch him work because he takes all of the information that he has gathered over the years as a parliamentarian and links it all together. That is how he works. Sometimes we agree with him, sometimes we do not. But being able to choose to agree or disagree is the basis of democracy. It is very important to know what is what, how the effect of something is calculated and why things are being done. Then we can have discussions. But when we are kept in the dark, it does not matter what party we belong to. We are all in the dark.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I want to read two quotes for my colleague, and then I want to ask him a quick question. The first quote is from the Quebec Employers Council:

The Quebec Employers Council would like to see the government follow through on its plan to reduce corporate income tax to 15% for 2012. The corporate tax reduction would increase private investment, both domestic and foreign, which would enhance our productivity, create good jobs and improve living conditions for Canadians.

That was said at the October 25, 2010 meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance. Here is another quote. This one is from Michel Leblanc of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal:

We are asking the government to stick to its target of rolling back the corporate tax to 15% in 2012. Cutting corporate taxes will make businesses more competitive and stimulate job creation across the country.

In light of what these people have said, I would like my colleague to explain to his Quebec constituents why he intends to support the Liberal plan to increase their taxes.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary is mixing things up, just as she mixed things up earlier regarding Tim Hortons' ownership and taxes and whether it was in Delaware or Toronto. In this particular case, I am not sure whether she mixed them up consciously, but that is what she did. The Bloc Québécois caucus met with the Conseil du patronat du Québec for an hour and a half, much longer than the 10 minutes it appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance.

I do not know whether the Conservative caucus met with the Conseil du patronat du Québec for an hour and a half, but we did. We discussed the recommendations in the document entitled “Au tour du Québec”, and that organization agreed with most of them. We discussed things based on what we had on the table. The purpose of today's Liberal motion is certainly not to turn me into a Liberal. If they thought they had the slightest chance of doing that, they would certainly have their work cut out for them. We want to exercise our power with documentation.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, yesterday and the day before, during the debate on Bill C-59, speaker after speaker asked government members to give the costing for the proposed new prison system. Not a single Conservative speaker would provide that information. Yet in committee the other night the deputy minister was asked the same question several times and admitted that she did know what it would cost the government to pass Bill C-59. She was not at liberty to give the information because the government had not given its approval for her to do so.

It is totally outrageous that the government actually knows the true cost of the bill, but refuses to provide it. As in the case of an earlier bill on the two-for-one issue, the government misrepresented the amount by deliberating saying that it would cost $90 million. The Parliamentary Budget Officer later indicated it would cost between $10 billion and $13 billion.

The government is deliberately stretching the truth or hiding the information. Why would it want to hide the information? I am told that in the United States legislative initiatives automatically include a costing. The same is true in Canada, except the government is hiding the costs.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to pick up on my colleague's comments to make the connection with what we are currently studying in the Standing Committee on Finance. We are working on the definition of tax avoidance or tax evasion with regard to tax havens. Tax avoidance is when a person tries to legally pay as little tax as possible. They try to avoid paying too much tax. There are even anti-avoidance rules.

Questions surround tax evasion. People want to know how much tax evasion occurs, and the government is making up numbers. In this case, these numbers are not accurate. By definition, we do not know how much tax evasion goes on. This morning, I made an analogy with someone who escapes from prison. Do not ask me where he is. If I knew, I would go after him. Tax evasion is the same thing.

There is information control for the sake of ideology, but in the case of tax evasion, in the case of tax avoidance and tax havens, I think there is a lack of leadership by this government. It is asking people to make voluntary declarations and saying the slate will be wiped clean. It is too bad, but that is not how things work. That is a lack of leadership.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, what strikes me about this Conservative government is this culture of secrecy, and here that applies mainly to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, whose work is similar to the Auditor General's. He has to be independent of the government, and we are pretty sure he needs to have all the necessary documents.

What does my colleague think about how difficult it is for the Parliamentary Budget Officer to get the documents he needs to do his job properly? Does the government truly have no respect for Parliament?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

If I were to go to her wonderful riding of Trois Rivières to talk to her constituents without having brought any documentation, she would tell me to come back with something on paper.

I have often had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Page, and I have told him just how much I admire him. He is feeling his way in the dark. He is paddling upstream. He has no information, and there is not a hint of co-operation from the government. The proof is in how the Minister of Finance here sometimes responds to questions about Mr. Page's projections. He looks down on Mr. Page. That is disrespectful. The Minister of Finance needs to show more respect for the Parliamentary Budget Officer because he is our Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Vancouver East.

Normally I am pleased to debate issues in the House and to bring the concerns of Hamilton Mountain residents to bear on the important public policy matters that affect their everyday lives. Issues like jobs, pensions and health care are all issues that merit much greater attention from the government.

Today we are using up valuable House time on an issue that should never have had to come before us. We are calling on the government to release information that we should have had as a matter of right.

Let us just go back to the genesis of this issue. In November, the Standing Committee on Finance asked the government to release two things: the costs associated with its justice bills and the projections of corporate profits before taxes. In the past, governments have routinely released such information, and that is as it should be because access to information is essential for members of Parliament to carry out our jobs.

It is worth reminding Conservative members in the House that in our system of responsible government, the government must seek Parliament's authority to spend public funds. That means that Parliament has an obligation and a responsibility to scrutinize the government's books and to hold the government to account. The ability to do that is the very cornerstone of our democracy. However, instead of sharing that essential information with members of the House and with Canadians, the Conservatives are using every trick in the book to avoid accountability.

In response to the standing committee's request for information, the government sent back curt responses that such information constituted a “cabinet confidence”. That is completely absurd, and it is in contravention of the Access to Information and Privacy Act.

Let me remind members what that act says. Section 69(1)(b) states the cabinet confidence defence does not apply to “discussion papers the purpose of which is to present background explanations, analyses of problems or policy options to Council for consideration by Council in making decisions”. It goes on to say, “(i) if the decisions to which the discussion papers relate have been made public”.

Both in the case of corporate tax cuts and the costs of the government's crime agenda, the decisions are public. Laws were drafted to comply with these decisions, they were debated in the House and they were passed by this chamber. It is absurd to maintain that they are somehow still private. They could not be any more public. Therefore, the background documents with respect to their costing should be available to anyone with $5 and a form, let alone a branch of Parliament acting under due authority.

The Conservative government ran on a platform of greater transparency and accountability. That is how it promised to differentiate itself from the previous Martin government, when the Liberals were mired in the sponsorship scandal.

I want to remind members that it was only five years ago that the Prime Minister wrote an impassioned op-ed piece in the Montreal Gazette in defence of government transparency. Here is what he said:

Information is the lifeblood of a democracy...Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent or corrupt governance can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.

Back then he was upset because he believed the Liberal government was intent on weakening the Access to Information Act, which is the law that gives Canadians the right to request federal documents.

Now, almost five years later, that same Access to Information Act, which the Prime Minister defended so vigorously is in shambles. Despite the fact that the act mandates a response within 30 days, Canadians seeking access to information regularly complain that many departments now take as long as a year to release files. When they finally do, records are often so heavily censored that they are unreadable and essentially useless. At one time, the act was a cornerstone to holding governments to account.

Records released under the law have exposed government wrongdoing and the waste of tax dollars.

It was an access request from the Ottawa Citizen that led to the resignation of Liberal defence minister Art Eggleton after it revealed in May 2002 that his office had awarded an untendered contract to his former girlfriend.

Access requests from the Globe and Mail helped uncover revelations that members of the Liberal Party were involved in illegal dealings involving federal sponsorship and advertising budgets, a scandal that led to the Gomery Commission in 2004.

The Canadian Alliance, later to morph into the Conservatives, was one of the most effective users of the law. Party researchers used it to obtain records that helped expose the so-called billion dollar boondoggle as well as other cases of poorly managed tax dollars.

However, that was then and this is now. Once in government, the Conservatives immediately clamped down on the release of information to the point where information commissioner Robert Marleau, head of the independent watchdog that oversees the law, complained in 2008 that the government had created a “fog over information”.

It is now at the point where Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has publicly said that MPs are losing our ability to do our constitutionally mandated jobs because the growing government secrecy means that MPs lack the information needed to cost new initiatives.

By any objective measure, government secrecy has reached unprecedented levels in Canada. Even a landmark ruling by the Speaker of the House has done little to ensure greater transparency by this Conservative government. Members will remember that seminal decision only too well, because it dealt with the release of documents pertaining to Afghan detainees. When the Speaker finally weighed in, he clearly upheld Parliament's right to have access to information.

Yet here we are again. Motions to release information duly passed by a standing committee of the House are being wilfully ignored by the government. The refusal of the Conservatives to release the information requested is, at its base, a fundamental attack on Parliament.

Lest anyone who is watching this debate on television today thinks that this is an isolated incident, let me be clear. Parliament is just one of many public institutions that has come under attack from the Conservative government. In fact, Jim Travers of the Toronto Star described the persistent government attack on Canada's institutions as vandalism. The independence of the regulators and senior civil servants has never been so brutalized.

The list is long. Linda Keen, the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, was fired by the government for doing her job. As Auditor General Sheila Fraser observed, that sacking had a “chilling effect” throughout the whole civil service. It now realizes that anyone who criticizes the Conservative government is putting his or her job on the line.

Here is a short list of those who have been told they will not be reappointed after challenging the government's world view: Paul Kennedy, head of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission; Pat Stogran, Veterans Affairs Ombudsman; Peter Tinsley, chairman of the Military Police Complaints Commission, who was investigating the torture of Afghan detainees; and Marty Cheliak, head of the Canadian firearms program. The head of Elections Canada, Philip Kingsley, was driven out of his role, and his successor, Marc Mayrand, has been subjected to constant attack, including a number of court cases against Elections Canada by the Conservative Party.

There have been others, too, who have not just been summarily dispatched from public service, but whose positions have been eliminated by the government, representing a loss to all Canadians. In that category are: Dr. Art Carty, science adviser to the Prime Minister; Karen Kraft Sloan, ambassador for environment and sustainable development; and Jack Anawak, ambassador for circumpolar affairs. Those important jobs are all gone.

Then, of course, there are those who find themselves attacked publicly for having the temerity to criticize the government. Foreign Affairs official Richard Colvin, Canada's chief statistician Munir Sheikh and Kevin Page are just three of the most prominent examples.

The Conservative government will go to any length to silence its critics, including shutting down the very place in which I am speaking today.

It was that prorogation of Parliament which suddenly made the public sit up and take notice. Silencing MPs by locking the doors of Parliament to suit the Conservatives' narrowly partisan agenda created a huge backlash by Canadians. They realized that the silencing of MPs meant their voices were no longer being heard in the single most important democratic institution in this country. The Prime Minister's obsession with secrecy and control was eroding their democratic freedoms. In the end, it is that public outrage that may well prove to be the government's downfall.

Canadians want transparency and accountability from the government and they deserve nothing less. That is why I will be proud to vote in support of the motion before us today.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow my colleague from Hamilton in the House today. She made some excellent points in her presentation.

I rise in the House today to speak in support of this motion that has been put forward by the official opposition.

I have been a member of Parliament now for 14 years. I cannot remember a time when we have had so many motions come forward where we have had to go to extraordinary lengths to compel the government to provide very basic disclosures so that parliamentarians can do their job.

The motion before us today, as has been pointed out, stems from the work of the Standing Committee on Finance when it was attempting to determine some basic facts last year. It wanted to know what the true costs were for the implementation of various justice bills that had been passed by the House, as well as the costs to the justice system for jail time. These are basic facts that we need to know. That is one item.

The finance committee also attempted to determine the costs of the government tax cuts to the largest corporations. Again, this is basic information that the finance committee needed in order to do its work.

It is quite incredible that what ensued from this premise is basically a battle that has taken place between Parliament and the government. It is not the first time that we have seen it. It is quite shocking that we are here today debating this motion and trying to force the government through a motion of Parliament to provide information so that members of Parliament can actually do their job.

I remember last year when we had the incredible situation in Afghanistan and there were documents that had not been released by the government. As a result of the historic Speaker's ruling from last April, wherein he ruled that parliamentary privilege did indeed require that members need information in order to do their work. As a result of that ruling, a special committee was set up to come to terms with a proposal that would allow those documents to be released. The committee actually was set up. The NDP members decided not to participate because we felt that the parameters around the special committee that was set up were so severe and so restrictive that it would be very difficult for any information to be released. Ironically, since that committee has been set up, in actual fact not one single document has ever been released. That is another story but is very much related to the matter that is before us today.

Here we are again dealing with another issue requiring disclosure and transparency of information. However, what underlies what is before us is the fact that I believe we are facing the most authoritarian and secretive government that we have ever had in the history of this country.

I remember when the Conservative government was elected. It claimed it was elected on a mandate of accountability and transparency. We have gone through the whole sponsorship scandal in Quebec. We have had the Gomery Commission. The Conservatives were riding high and claiming they would change the way things were done, that when conducting business they would do so keeping accountability, better access to information and protection of whistleblowers in mind.

I have heard the government House leader say that many times, over and over again. I think the Conservatives dream it in their sleep. Their first bill was the accountability bill and yet look at where we are today. We are now in a place where members are unable to perform their duties as members of Parliament. They are unable to function adequately on standing committees because they cannot get the basic information required to analyze bills and expenditures, to come to conclusions about government priorities, to determine where effective spending is taking place and where waste is taking place, and to know what the true costs are of some of the legislative measures that have come forward.

I find that very demoralizing. It is very demoralizing for the Canadian public. It adds to the level of cynicism that we see in the public arena about politicians and about the political process.

When we add to that the closure of Parliament itself, the prorogation that has taken place at lease twice under the Prime Minister, that this place has actually been shut down, the doors have been locked, we are not even allowed to come to work to do our job on behalf of our constituents, is really quite shocking. People feel very disturbed that our democracy is being undermined and eroded incrementally, but when we look back and look at the bigger picture, we begin to realize just how much things have changed.

In 2009, when I was involved in one of the committees debating one of these justice bills, Bill C-15, mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, I tried very valiantly to find out what the costs would be for the implementation of that bill, what it would mean for provincial systems, what it would mean federally. It was impossible to get that information. There was no evidence that was forthcoming. Yet, we were faced with a Conservative government that was hell-bent on a propaganda campaign that the bill would solve drug problems in local communities but it could not provide any evidence that mandatory minimum sentences would work and it could not provide any evidence as to what it would actually cost.

As we have seen, we have had some estimates from the Parliamentary Budget Office, the one independent office that we do have, that were grossly higher than what the government itself has estimated. But, still, we do not have the true and full picture of what that bill, Bill C-15, would cost, never mind all the other bills that have come forward.

The motion that is before us today affirms the undisputed privileges of Parliament under our Constitution for the government to produce uncensored documents when requested. It is a very important motion.

The fact that we have to bring it forward in this House, that we have to debate it, that we have to vote on it, is a reflection of the seriousness of the situation that we are facing, that there is a now a battle that is taking place between Parliament and the Government of Canada. It is not a battle that we want to have. We want to work in an environment where disclosure does happen, where information is flowing, where officials can come forward and provide information and not live in fear of punishment or retribution because they have disclosed information. All of that seems to have gone.

We are now living in an environment of secrecy, an environment of political control through the Prime Minister's Office, an environment where people are afraid to speak out, an environment where the standing committees of Parliament can longer function and do their job. That is why this motion is before us today.

I am sure that the motion will carry. As the motion outlines, it would order the government to provide these documents to the Standing Committee on Finance by March 7.

The reason that we need these documents is to make an objective evaluation and determination about what the costs of the corporate tax cuts are. There has been a lot of debate about the corporate tax cuts. Members of the NDP were very concerned about how the public purse has been, in effect, robbed, as a result of corporate tax cuts. It was $6 billion in the latest round.

Ironically, these corporate tax cuts were started by a former Liberal government. They were supported by the Liberal opposition in recent budgets.

We need an examination of the real costs of these corporate tax cuts. We need to have an evaluation of what the impact would be on our public services, our community services. This is a very core issue to how government functions and how Parliament functions in terms of making a balance between revenues and expenditures and priorities as to where those revenues should go.

Having this information and understanding the real costs of these cuts is imperative to the work that we do. I support the motion, and I demand, as other MPs are demanding, that this information be disclosed by the government.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this matter has been going on for some time and it has not so much to do with anything else other than the unaccountability of the government, the secrecy, the control to make sure that there is no knowledge available for members to be able to do their job, whether that be financial projections for the next five years.

We know the Parliamentary Budgetary Officer has significant disagreement with the government's representation of how it is going to balance the budget within five years. The information we are asking for is going to allow us to assess it rather than the government telling us that this is the way it is, and by the way, the basis of the assumptions are cabinet confidence.

This is a violation of the privileges of parliamentarians and a contempt for the parliamentary system in which we operate. This is our system. We have to operate.

Does the hon. member believe that the government will maybe harm Canadians by hiding away this information and not allow us the opportunity to anticipate the consequences of its fiscal irresponsibility?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is hard to believe what is taking place here, the amount of harm that is being unleashed concerning the public interest, which is being undermined, but also the harm on the work of parliamentarians is incredible. I do not think we have ever faced such a situation. Now we begin to see a pattern emerging.

As I said, this is the most secretive, autocratic government we have ever faced. This is a government that wants to shut down the legitimate work of the opposition.

Our system is based on the notion that a government has to face an opposition, that the opposition has the right to information, the right to analyze, the right to present alternatives, the right to challenge. All of those rights are being completely undermined by shutting down every system, whether it is the work in committees, disclosure of documents, silencing bureaucrats, every element of the work we do is being shut down by the government. Then, of course, the prorogation itself is just adding insult to injury.

We are facing a very serious situation and it certainly does create a lot of harm.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, when we were debating the bill to end the two-for-one remand credit, the Minister of Public Safety, when pressed, admitted that his estimate was that the bill was going to cost the system $90 million. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated it would be between $10 billion and $13 billion. That is one huge difference.

The Conservatives have been asked repeatedly on debate on Bill C-59 over the last couple of days, and every single one of them has avoided and hidden from responding to that question. At committee the other night on Bill C-59 the deputy minister of public safety, when she was asked if she knew the answer, said she did know the answer. She knew the cost of each one of these crime bills, including Bill C-59, but she could not tell the committee. She could not tell the committee because the government will not let her tell the committee.

Would the member like to comment further on what happened at the committee the other night?