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 cost.

Topics

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

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, I wish the hon. member had asked a question about the motion. The motion is about the government's refusal to provide to the finance committee the information it needs to judge the government's legislation, including the efficacy or sense of corporate tax cuts today when we have a $56 billion deficit.

The hon. member made a couple of points that are not related to today's motion, but out of the kindness of my heart, I will respond to them.

In terms of health care investments, not only did the previous Liberal government balance the books but it also increased transfers to the provinces to record highs. It put $41 billion of new money into health care in 2004 and created most of the research and development infrastructure in Canada through the Canada Foundation for Innovation and through investments in universities. It was the most science friendly government in the history of Canada and that is why the science community is so upset--

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

1:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Elmwood--Transcona.

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

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, last night we had a take note debate on the promotion of democracy in Iran. The government members spoke all night long about how important it was for the Canadian government to take an active interest in promoting democracy in Iran. Two weeks ago we had a take note debate on democracy in Egypt. Perhaps we should have a take note debate on democracy here in Canada.

We have a Conservative government that is deliberately hiding information from members of Parliament, information that we as members of Parliament have a right to know, because we are tasked with making decisions that affect the entire country. We cannot find out the information that the government already knows on crime bills like C-59.

We had the deputy minister at committee admitting, when questioned by a Liberal member about the cost of the bill, that she had most of the information and would like to tell members the cost of the bill but could not.

The government had muzzled her and would not allow her to provide the information. That is absolutely unfair and not acceptable.

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

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, I certainly wish the hon. member would get up more in this House. We do not see him up and on his feet enough. In fact, that hon. member is probably one of the most active members on the floor of this House.

The member raises an important point. The government's argument that this information is cabinet confidence is totally false. Yesterday, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, said that during his 25 years of public service this kind of information was circulated broadly. It was not held or protected under cabinet confidence.

Earlier I raised the fact that in November 2005, during the Liberal government's fiscal update, this information was provided on page 83 of a public document, for goodness sake. The government's argument that this information and the cost of its legislation cannot be provided to the Parliament that is expected to vote on and judge that legislation is completely counter-democratic and anti-democratic.

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

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on a motion of the official opposition, the Liberal Party.

Allow me to read the motion. It is fairly long but also complete.

That, given the undisputed privileges of Parliament under Canada's constitution, including the absolute power to require the government to produce uncensored documents when requested, the government's continuing refusal to comply with reasonable requests for documents, particularly related to the cost of the government's tax cut for the largest corporations and the cost of the government's justice and public safety agenda, represents a violation of the rights of Parliament, and this House hereby orders the government to provide every document requested by the Standing Committee on Finance on November 17, 2010, by March 7, 2011.

As this motion indicates, the Standing Committee on Finance requested access to a certain number of documents it needed to be able to do its parliamentary work. The government refused to provide, forward or make these documents available to the committee.

This is very similar to the saga of the documents pertaining to the allegations of torture in Afghanistan. In that case, the Speaker ruled that the parties must come to an agreement or that there would be contempt of Parliament.

It is unfortunate that the Conservative government, a minority government, is seeking not only to govern as though it were a majority government but also to keep parliamentarians in the dark and prevent them from having all the relevant information. Parliamentarians are holding the government accountable on a certain number of issues. Clearly, the government has to be accountable.

This is extremely disturbing. I have not been a member of the House for very long, only since 2000. Under Jean Chrétien's majority government, which was never an ally of the sovereignists, I never heard of the possibility of a question of privilege leading to contempt of Parliament. And yet, at the time, we were dealing with a majority government. There is something in this government's attitude toward parliamentary institutions and the way democracy should be lived that closely resembles a certain degree of contempt.

We therefore do not hesitate in supporting this motion. I believe that, if the motion is not respected, it will surely lead to another question of privilege. Let us hope that we will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The government consistently relies on pretexts such as national security and cabinet confidence. The decision of the Speaker of the House in April was very clear: parliamentarians are entitled to have access to all necessary information, in an uncensored format. In matters of state security, the Bloc Québécois and the other opposition parties—I believe that they too have consistently maintained this position—are prepared to find accommodations, as was the case with the documents dealing with allegations of torture in Afghanistan.

In this case, however, the government is acting as if the opposition parties were unschooled in these matters when, in fact, we have shown ourselves to be flexible in the past.

In this particular case, we are dealing with documents that have nothing to do with national security whatsoever. In what possible way would knowing the cost of tax breaks for big corporations be a risk to the Canadian state? That information has nothing to do with national security. I do not believe that our allies or enemies in the world are going to glean strategic information based on knowledge of the cost of the tax breaks announced by the Conservatives.

The same is true when it comes to the cost of the Conservatives' justice and security agenda. We know full well how obsessed they are with mandatory minimums. I do not see how the costs associated with this political choice, this ideologically driven vision of the Conservatives that focuses more on punishment than it does on rehabilitation, are a state secret. These documents should be submitted uncensored to the committee and made available to all parliamentarians so that they can, quite simply, do their jobs.

This is not the only area in which the government is trying to hide the facts in an effort, once again, to avoid being accountable. KAIROS, which we are currently debating in the House, is another example. We were deluded for several months into thinking that it was officials that made the decision. I even tracked down a response from the Minister of International Cooperation on April 23, 2010, in which she stated that CIDA, in a report to her, had suggested that the KAIROS grant be cancelled. We are talking about a substantial amount of money for a humanitarian organization like KAIROS—over $7 million. The Conservatives tried to pull the wool over our eyes. Eventually, a document was obtained through the Access to Information Act clearly indicating that the recommendation made by senior officials had been tinkered with. The word “not” was inserted into the funding recommendation signed by the minister in November 2009.

When we got that in December 2010, or one year later, the versions began to change in one way or another. Even today it is hard to understand the real ins and outs of this affair, apart from the Minister of International Cooperation having failed to tell the truth. We hope the Prime Minister will punish her for that, unless—and this is a theory that is constantly gaining ground— it turns out that she did sign the document authorizing funding for KAIROS. When the PMO and the Prime Minister found out about it, they asked the Minister of International Cooperation to stop the funding for purely ideological reasons with little basis in fact. So the little word “not” could have been added after the minister had signed.

That is all speculation, but it shows how far things have gone. Trying to find the truth is like playing a game of Clue, instead of just gathering all the facts and drawing conclusions in a calm, well informed way.

I am talking about KAIROS here but it could be the long form census. For several weeks, the Minister of Industry tried to make us think that was a Statistics Canada recommendation. The chief statistician resigned in order to demonstrate his disagreement with the government’s decision. Once again, they tried to cover up the truth and prevent us from doing our jobs.

But there is more to it than that. In the case of the census, without the obligatory long questionnaire in its previous form, not only parliamentarians but scientists, sociologists and demographers as well will be denied objective information. That is perfectly consistent with the Conservative way of doing things. Instead of making decisions on the basis of facts and reality, they do it on the basis of an ideology and worldview at odds with reality. Not only do they try to keep us in the dark, but they are interfering with the tools that parliamentarians, experts and scientists in all sorts of fields need in order to study reality on the basis of objective facts and identify problems and solutions. It is very worrisome.

It is obvious as well that the Conservatives are trying to infiltrate the entire machinery of government. We saw it recently with the partisan appointments to the CRTC. There is also the whole Rights and Democracy saga. They appointed people to this supposedly independent organization in order to turn it into a conveyor belt for spreading Conservative government policy on the international scene. They infiltrated the board of Rights and Democracy and fomented a crisis in an organization that had enjoyed great credibility in Quebec and Canada and around the world. They are still persisting in this and intend to reappoint two of the administrators responsible for the current crisis at Rights and Democracy.

When then Prime Minister Mulroney, a Conservative, created Rights and Democracy, he appointed a former leader of the New Democratic Party, Ed Broadbent, to head it. This was meant precisely to send a very strong signal that Rights and Democracy was independent of the Conservative government and could do its job as part of its network in civil society.

That is not the approach the Conservatives take today. They are going to do everything possible to bring Rights and Democracy to heel so it will be a mouthpiece for government policies, particularly in the Middle East. As we know, and I am not telling anyone anything new, they have abandoned the traditional Canadian approach of taking a balanced position on the Middle East, particularly in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now Canada stands foursquare behind Israel, regardless of what the Israeli authorities do.

We saw the best example of this in recent weeks when the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and I call this shameful, the very morning the dictator Mubarak left office, rounded up opponents and supporters of Mubarak back to back, as if the opponents who were fighting against a dictator were just as responsible as the ones advocating for him. That is extremely disturbing.

This is not one of our priorities, but I mention it for our Canadian friends and for Canada’s image in the world. Canada’s failure to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council was no accident.

We see the same thing at Radio-Canada. There are partisan appointments that try to put pressure on Radio-Canada. Yesterday, again, the Minister of Immigration said that Radio-Canada journalists lie all the time. They are trying to intimidate Radio-Canada journalists and, in fact, all journalists. They know as well as I do that the Prime Minister only gives interviews now to journalists who are sympathetic to the regime. It is part of the effort to infiltrate and control the federal public administration, crown corporations like Radio-Canada, and independent agencies, and again I will make the connection with KAIROS. By cutting its funding, they are trying to muzzle an organization that is totally independent of the government that obviously, like all non-governmental organizations, needs public funding. They are being denied the resources to make their voice heard to counterbalance the polices of the Conservative government, particularly in the area of international cooperation and international relations.

I have spoken out against this attempt by the Conservatives to stage a quiet takeover of the machinery of government. So far, I have not even mentioned certain religious groups that use their privileges to try to influence Conservative government policy, federal policy. I will not have a chance to do that, but we can certainly tell that there is that intent and a well-planned strategy behind it all, to take control of the machinery of government and put it to work for the Conservative Party and its ideology.

I would like to use my remaining time to critique the government's positions and to argue for access to information we need on the tax cuts for big corporations. This is a political choice that is not only extremely questionable, but comes at a time when there are major strategic choices to be made, particularly with a looming deficit of over $55 billion.

Since coming into power, the Conservatives have instituted a slew of measures to reduce the tax burden on small and medium-sized enterprises. We have no problem with this when it comes to SMEs. We know full well that these SMEs create jobs in Canada and Quebec, and that they are suffering horribly from the effects of the rising Canadian dollar. Once again, the rise in the value of the Canadian dollar has been driven by the spike in oil prices and the federal government's choices with regard to energy. These choices, and the economic crisis itself, will have an impact on the public purse.

It stated in black and white in the Minister of Finance's budget that there would be a very steep increase in employment insurance premiums. This tactic smacks of a return to a strategy that we had hoped was a thing of the past: using employment insurance fund surpluses for purposes that are not stipulated in the act or that are not in the spirit of the act. This is a return to the ways of the former minister of finance, Paul Martin. The writing is on the wall. That much was clear from the Minister of Finance's budget. There will be a tax increase in the form of higher employment insurance premiums—and this increase will be very steep.

We fully supported the decisions made in this area. There was a drop from 12% to 11.5% in 2008, and then a further decrease to 11% in 2009. This reduction was fast-tracked in response to the economic crisis. We were fine with that choice.

It was announced that as of January 1, 2007, the total allowable revenue for a small company to qualify for the reduced federal tax rate would increase from $300,000 to $400,000. We have no issue with this either.

However, we have a problem with a number of things. There are the big tax cuts for large corporations, especially banks and the oil sector. Their tax rate was 19.5% in 2008 and will be 15% in 2012. That is a very large tax cut with no structural effect on the Canadian and Quebec economies. There is proof of that. It was not just yesterday that they started giving tax cuts to big businesses as well as the small and medium-sized ones.

It is understandable in the case of small and medium-sized businesses that there will be setbacks that explain the need for cuts. But there is no structural effect in the tax cuts the government is announcing because they do not force large corporations to improve their technology or engage in research and development. We think it is more to the point to have tax incentives for adopting behaviours that are good for the economic future. That is true of Canada and it is true of Quebec.

These tax cuts have not had a structural effect. The proof is that productivity decreased again in Canada over the last quarter. What is happening? The tax cuts are going straight into the pockets of the shareholders and company owners. The savings are not reinvested productively and have only fuelled speculation over the last few years.

As I said, it was not just yesterday that the federal government embraced this strategy. The Liberals did the same thing. Paul Martin substantially reduced the taxes on big business as well. That is not the way to ensure a solid, lasting economic recovery. The money could be used in much more productive ways.

If we cut the taxes on large corporations—to an extent we would very much like to know—how are we ever going to return to a balanced budget when our deficit exceeds $55 billion? Somebody is going to have to pay. There will be cuts, either to services or to transfers to individuals and the provinces. Or else there will be another tax increase, in one way or another, for small and medium-sized businesses, that is to say, a tax increase for the middle class and the most disadvantaged.

It is quite obvious. It is mathematical. There is no other way of doing it. We think they can ask the oil companies and the banks to do their share in this collective effort we call taxes. At present the oil companies receive benefits that come from subsidies on the order of $1.3 billion a year and the banks are using tax havens to avoid their responsibilities.

We will be supporting the Liberal motion.

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

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the motion before the House today has to do with the government's refusal to provide documents that it is the right of parliamentarians to receive.

The proof of that is also in today's debate in that every Conservative member who has stood today has spoken about everything except the motion. None of the Conservatives have addressed the motion because they have been handed speeches to read that are about other things, trying to deflect attention away from the issue.

Does the hon. member agree that it is not only the right and privilege of parliamentarians to have that information but it is also useful for the people of the country to have the information so they can tell parliamentarians how they feel about the priorities the government has laid out?

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

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his question. As I said, the documents the Standing Committee on Finance is asking for are not strategic documents in terms of national security. There is therefore no reason other than wanting to keep the public in Canada and Quebec from having the facts in front of them so they can judge the decisions made by the federal government.

The figures for the tax relief given to big corporations will probably scandalize some people, who see their employment insurance premiums rising even though they are no longer eligible for benefits. The justice agenda that the Conservatives portray as costing nothing—in any event they never talk about it—might give more than one person pause.

Is it more important today to open beds in prisons, as the member for Saint Boniface said, or to open beds in hospitals? When she talked about opening beds, I thought she was talking about hospital beds. Hospitals are where we have to open beds, not prisons. If we need to expand any penal institutions, I certainly want that to be done, but not by making decision after decision that leads only to more prison sentences and an increase in the prison population. Unless this is a Conservative strategy to artificially lower the unemployment rate. Whenever an individual is in prison, they are not in the labour market, and that artificially lowers the unemployment rate. That must be the Conservatives’ strategy.

Those documents, as the member said, must be accessible, in full, to parliamentarians and to the public as a whole. That is true for Quebec and it is true for Canada.

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

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, everyone knows that the government had to be dragged kicking and screaming last year over the Afghan detainee issue when it refused to provide the information on the basis that it was national security. In his speech, the member clearly compared the situation last year regarding the national security argument with the issue this year, which is the cost of the tax cuts and the cost of the public safety bills, neither of which could be considered in any way to be a question of national security.

The question really comes down to what the Conservatives are hiding and why they are hiding it. What could they possibly be giving away? What sort of state secrets could they be giving away by giving this information on the cost of the corporate tax cuts? What possible information could they be giving away on the cost of crime bills that would be related to national security?

Clearly, this one is another issue that the Conservatives will lose if they keep fighting the way they were last year. What does the member think they are hiding and why are they trying to hide it?

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

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, that is a very good question, but I am not able to answer it. Why would they be hiding these facts? The only reason I can see is political opportunism. They know very well that there will be an election in a few months, by October 2012 at the latest. They do not want the facts about the policy decisions they have made—the tax relief and their justice agenda—to be available for the public debate that will happen when the election comes. They will still be able to stick to broad generalities. Without information about the facts, they are going to try to carry on a debate that is purely ideological, simplistic, black and white, just like their rhetoric about the justice system.

On the question of Afghanistan, they said that if someone was concerned about allegations of torture it is because they were Taliban or in league with the Taliban. That is Conservative logic. The absence of facts can sometimes influence a segment of the public. Having the facts would allow for a calmer and more informed debate, a debate that would reflect what democracy should be in Canada and Quebec.

Fundamentally, their desire to conceal these documents stems from an antidemocratic vision of political discourse. It is in the interests of both parliamentarians and the public to speak out against this and force the government to make these facts public. This motion will be one more step toward a question of privilege and contempt of Parliament down the road.

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

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, considering that we are struggling to get out of the economic crisis, I would like to ask the member for Joliette, who is an economist by trade, what he thinks about the choices being made to give tax cuts to large corporations when we know that that money will go to the senior managers or shareholders of these companies, compared to the choice to invest so little in research and development for secondary and tertiary processing to try to restructure economies. My region of Trois-Rivières is suffering a lot.

I would like him to talk about these quasi-ideological choices being made by this Conservative government.

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

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Trois-Rivières for her question.

This gives me a chance to come back to the case of the oil companies, because I just touched on this issue at the end of my speech. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, every year, Canadian oil companies receive $1.3 billion in the form of direct or indirect subsidies. Based on the tax cuts announced, we can estimate that this will reduce their taxes by $1.9 billion. For 2010, that would be a total of $3.2 billion in benefits. That is a huge amount of money when you consider that the current litigation between the federal government and the Government of Quebec is for around $5 billion.

Next year, it will be another $3.7 billion for the oil companies. In 2012 it will be $4.6 billion and in 2013, it will be $5.4 billion. Since the oil companies will pocket that money, someone else will have to pay one way or another. It will be the provinces, Quebec, taxpayers and the people of Quebec and Canada.

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

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I want to talk about the implications of some of the rulings and decisions that have been handed down as well as some of the opinions, certainly in the case of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, regarding the Truth in Sentencing Act and other consequential acts. A lot of it has to do with amending the Criminal Code.

As a well-experienced person in this House, I was wondering if the hon. member could comment on the substantial increase in imprisonment, and continued imprisonment, of these offenders.

Public Safety
Routine Proceedings

1:50 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I apologize for interrupting the current speaker.

I am tabling, in both official languages, information on our government's low-cost and tough-on-crime agenda as requested by certain members of Parliament, and as I told the Speaker three days ago that I would do.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Documents requested by Standing Committee on Finance
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be brief in responding to my colleague's question because I am sure that I do not have a lot of time left. First, it is obvious that there are costs associated with this. However, I do not know all of these costs. The Parliamentary Budget Officer spoke about several billion dollars for a single measure.

We need a complete picture. It does not mean that the government cannot take certain justice measures. The Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc have all suggested and supported various measures. As long as we do not have the big picture, the total bill could end up being very high, not only for the federal government and taxpayers, but also for the provinces and Quebec. There are a number of ideological choices being made by the Conservative government that will affect people sentenced to two years or less, who will be put into provincial prisons. As a result, the government is indirectly limiting the provinces' flexibility in terms of budgetary decisions. Again, I would prefer to open hospital beds, not prison beds.