House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her contribution to the debate and I want to come back on one of the points that were mentioned.

We know that the environmental assessment and review processes in this country may be viewed by some as a burden for any development project. However, I think this is what allows the balance between the economic, environmental and social aspects of any development. The government talks about consultations with aboriginal peoples in this country. I would like to know what it means by “consultation with aboriginal peoples” in this budget, because the Supreme Court already has determined that “consultation” may mean, at times, “consent” of aboriginal peoples in developing projects.

Is the government talking about consultation with aboriginal peoples in the constitutional sense of the word, or is it talking about consultation in the expediency sense of the word?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think there were two questions in there.

First, certainly, we do not see the environmental assessment process as a burden. We see it as a necessity. However, we also see the need for clarity.

For those who wish to move forward or who may not, in fact, be able to move forward because of an environmental assessment, we are streamlining that process. We are continuing with the exacting and high standards of the federal assessment process, but it will be administered through the one level of government. We are quite confident that would add more clarity to the process.

As to the meaningful consultation with aboriginal peoples, we know, of course, what the Supreme Court of Canada said about that with respect to first nations.

I am a British Columbian member of Parliament. First nations are always consulted with respect to any development programs. Their input is welcome and in fact necessary to bring all peoples together with respect to the future of that province and Canada.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about the pathway that the Conservatives have created. What one person may call a pathway another person, certainly me, would call tunnel vision, because in this particular case what we have is a lot of ideology being infused into the policy. The policy is somewhat understated by the government, but nonetheless it needs to be fleshed out.

That said, I do have a question. In all honesty, what I find is a little disconcerting. Time and time again through this debate—and up until the end of the debate, and going way back as well, even to the last budget—the Conservatives talked about the strong systems now in place that allow Canada to be number one out of seven when it comes to debt to GDP ratio. There are other markers out there that refer to Canada as being a leader in that particular area. Whether that may be the Conservatives or the preceding government is a whole other issue.

However, the question remains. Why would the government raise the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67, citing that other countries are doing this, when those other countries do not have the financial strength that we do? Why would the government do that? What would be the impetus? I doubt if the demographers are really winning the argument over themselves who are saying that we have a strong enough economy to support that 20 years down the road.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes, we have an economy that is the envy of the world, and that was the point of my remarks—that we have been doing extremely well—but we are still in a fragile time, given our interdependence with other economies in the world. That is why sound stewardship and having the kind of focus our government has are so very important.

With respect to the specific changes to old age security, we have said time and again in this House that the funds for OAS come out of general revenue. It is not handled the same way as CPP, which we all know is sustainable and will continue. We need to be realistic about the future and we need to ensure that future generations will have the ability to access old age security.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the budget bill. I want to thank the member for Delta—Richmond East for sharing her time with me today.

We are dealing with a budget implementation bill. As members know, the budget is normally broken into two bills: one in the spring and one in the fall. We did not get a chance to talk about the budget in general because the NDP filibustered when we first introduced it, which took up all of the time.

I will talk about a few other things that are in the bill and put on the record how I feel about them. I will start with the jobs, balanced budget and future prosperity aspects of the bill. The budget, the bill, the plan is about this.

People ask me all the time what the major issue is that I hear about in Burlington. The major issue in my riding is that we need to get back to balanced books at the federal level. Our government has to get rid of the deficit spending that we did during the recession. That is what we are doing with the budget. That is why we need to proceed with what we are doing. The budget brings us back to what we promised.

I know it is hard for the opposition members to believe that we can actually promise to do something and then deliver it in our budget and policies. It is very difficult for them to understand that. During the election we committed to bringing back balanced books by 2015, and this budget puts us on the road to do that.

The Minister of Finance has been clear in the House that the budget will get us back and end the deficit spending we have had to do to overcome the worldwide recession. We are coming out better than any other country in the world. Those members know it, the public knows it and the people in Burlington know it. They are telling me that we need to get back to balanced books, and that is what we are doing. It is an election commitment.

Part of that commitment, and I make no apologies for it, is that we need to reduce some of the federal government spending, and that is about a $5.5 billion reduction. That sounds like a lot of money, but let us look at the whole picture.

If people follow along and are able to figure it out, the government spends $260 billion. We spend about $40 billion to $45 billion on interest charges on debt, which will still be there. That is why we have to get back to balanced books: so that we can start paying down debt in the way we were doing before the recession. We need to get that under control.

We transfer a whole bunch of money to the provinces for health care and social services, which are all important things. It is also an important support for the provinces. We did make changes to the equalization payments, as was mentioned earlier. We are committed to providing the provinces the money that we committed to provide. This is not like what happened in the past when we had deficits. What did the government of the day do? It cut its spending and assistance to its provincial partners. In this budget and in the campaign, we refused to do that. We said we would do it on our own.

That leaves us about $80 billion of federal spending over which we have control. Therefore, we are looking at about $5.2 billion and a few percentage points. If we cannot find a few percentage points to reduce the cost of government out of $80 billion, we are doing something wrong. Yes, it means that the public service has to come to the table with it.

We are also looking at programs and at what we are doing right. When we do a program evaluation, we look at what its mandate is and whether it has fulfilled that mandate. Is it over, or do we need to continue to fund it?

The ministers did not get together one night and decide on this. They had the departments come to them with suggestions of what was feasible, what could be done and what was reasonable. That is what we are implementing through the budget.

There are some great things in the budget, and members can ask me questions about what is in the implementation bill. I am happy to answer, but there are a few things for my riding of Burlington that I would like to highlight.

For example, we are spending $1.1 billion in research and development, including improvements to the IRAP program, basically doubling the money. This is a jobs budget.

We have heard the opposition ask us how we will create jobs. We will create jobs through innovation and research—not jobs necessarily for today, but jobs that will be there tomorrow if we commercialize research and development, if we take a leadership role on the industrial level and deliver not just to Canadians but around the world. Our country, like many others, is a trading country. That is why we need free trade agreements. That is why we are working so hard on them.

I am the co-chair of the Canada-Japan Inter-Parliamentary Group. I have some relationship with Japan. Japan's government is coming to the realization that it needs partners, that it cannot do it all on its own and that it actually needs free trade agreements. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, we started discussions with Japan. We are moving forward. We already know as a country and as a government that we need to be traders in the global marketplace or we will get left behind. We deal with that in the budget.

Today, in this part of the implementation of the budget, there is discussion about what will do on the environmental side. I want people to read the legislation. It talks about substitution. It does not talk about elimination. If there is an environmental assessment at the federal level and another one at the provincial level, we can substitute one for the other, but they have to be at least equal. For those who do not know, most federal EAs have more restrictions and layers than provincial ones. Therefore, if the province takes it over, it has to meet the environmental assessment standards at the federal level. At the end of the day, the federal minister will make the final decision on it. All it is doing is reducing the layers of assessments.

When I was a municipal councillor, environmental assessments could be bumped up to the province. It delayed many projects, including one in my own ward. There were minor changes being made to save the bank of a creek that was running behind the homes of people. One person did not like how the environmental assessment worked out and how the problem was to be fixed, so it was bumped up to the provincial level. It took months and months to get that resolved. The bank deteriorated but was finally fixed.

The environmental assessment changes that we are making do not eliminate the requirements of assessment. However, why have two processes when there can be one? Why are people concerned about the timing? I would be surprised, and that is a pleasant word, if anyone could find new information after two years of study on a project. It is taking two years for environmental assessments to be completed. It is not like we are eliminating them. Just because an EA takes two years does not mean it will be approved. There is no automatic approval. It does not say that anywhere. It is a substitution, so instead of having the province do it and having it bumped up to the federal government to do it, we would be using the same criteria to do it once and get all the facts on the table. There is nothing wrong with those implementing the environmental assessment to look at the people who will have input into it and ensure they have professional experience and knowledge to add value.

There was a question from the previous speaker about the role of the aboriginal community. The aboriginal community is noted in our plan. We will be proactive in communicating with those individuals who will be directly affected, including the aboriginal communities.

On a personal note, there are some other changes in the budget implementation bill. As someone who has been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, nothing to be too worried about, there are some changes in the bill that will affect those who test their blood sugar every day.

As someone who thought he was very healthy and had no issues, I would urge everyone to ensure they see their doctor on a regular basis. Issues like type 2 diabetes, if we do not get them early, will be a big burden on the health care system, not today but in the future.

I thank the government for the changes in the budget.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the government member for his very eloquent speech. He is always very passionate and very expressive.

I think he sits on a committee, perhaps even on two committees. As a committee member, what does he think of the fact that this huge document will be studied exclusively by the Standing Committee on Finance, depriving him of his role in conducting an in-depth study of the important portions of this massive document that he mentioned in his speech? What does he think of the fact that it will not be studied by a number of committees and that it will in fact be reserved exclusively for the Standing Committee on Finance?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the member is new to Parliament. I have sat on the finance committee for five years. We had budget bills in the past that had a lot of different aspects to them. On our side, we have the ability to substitute members who have an expertise or knowledge in an area when we deal with a certain section of the bill. They can sit in the finance committee and discuss those issues there. That is the process.

Why would we break up the bill and send it to a whole bunch of different committees? It is much better to be focused on finance. It is a financial bill. If there are issues within the bill that members feel they need to discuss and have expertise in, it is up to their party to substitute individuals on the finance committee for those meetings to discuss those issues. It is much better focused. If we were to spread all over the committees, it would not be an efficient and effective way and a good use of members' time.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I wish the member was here in 2005 when the Conservatives railed against the idea of including the Atlantic accord in the budget. The very things that he said were the things that they railed against. However, I digress.

He said earlier that he would talk about the inclusion of aboriginals in this debate. Taseko Mines Ltd. is trying to sway the way the Conservative government into excluding aboriginal peoples from participating in the environmental review of a project that would affect first nation communities. What does he say?

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have committed to our aboriginal peoples that on issues of environmental assessments, they will be consulted. I do not know how much more black and white it needs to be for the member across, but it is there. It is in the legislation.

If he read the legislation, even the summary, the summary page lays it out. We are committed to discussing these EA issues with those directly affected, including the aboriginal people. I assume the member across will support that.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, journalists at Le Devoir are calling this bill a “mammoth”. I would go even further and say that it is a horse, it is an airplane, it is a brick. We can call it all sorts of things.

It is illegal for companies or individuals to use computer viruses—so-called Trojan horses—to install software on computers when users want nothing to do with it. This is exactly what the Conservative government has decided to do. It has transformed its budget implementation bill into a Trojan horse and opened up the Canadian telecommunications market to foreign companies while Canadians are worrying about their old age security and their shattered retirement dreams.

Quite frankly, the government has buried enough legislation in Bill C-38 to block a whole server.

Why has the industry minister decided to bury his amendments to the Telecommunications Act in the budget implementation bill rather than sending them to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology?

In March, the government announced rules for an auction that would have a significant impact on this country's digital future and its economy. We had a unique opportunity to promote competition in the wireless telecommunications market and ensure that all Canadians, including those living in remote regions, can participate in the digital economy of the 21st century. The government missed the mark.

Auctions for the radio frequencies used by our old analog televisions will allow the telecommunications companies that buy them to set up next generation wireless networks.

The promise made to the people of LaSalle—Émard and every other Canadian was that they will soon have access to much faster wireless networks. Far too many Canadians who live in remote regions still do not have access to high-speed Internet. For them, we had the opportunity to increase access to broadband Internet and to fully include them in the digital economy. The government had the opportunity to bridge the ever-growing digital gap that is currently dividing Canada in two: on the one hand, urban Canada, which is connected to high-speed wireless networks, and on the other hand, the regions, which are connected, but at speeds that are much slower than those available elsewhere in our country.

The promise was that we could correct the imbalance between urban and rural areas and promote competition in the industry in order to lower costs for consumers. The Government of Canada failed to keep that promise.

The proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Act contained in Bill C-38 will allow foreign telecommunications companies to operate in Canada if they have less than a 10% share of the Canadian market. These foreign companies will not be able to increase their share of the Canadian market through acquisitions, that is by purchasing rival companies, something that Canadian companies can do.

We therefore find ourselves in a situation where telecommunications companies in Canada will compete under rules that do not apply equally to everyone. Canadian companies will have one set of rules; foreign companies will have another. Here in Canada, we are used to arguing about hockey or soccer games, where everyone plays by the same rules. However, that is not the approach used by this government. We already knew that.

Many Canadian telecommunications companies have concerns about these developments. Ironically, the company that stood to gain the most from these changes immediately responded that it would boycott the auction.

The government was not transparent with Canadians, who have the same questions we do.

Will the government stand by its decision to open only part of the Canadian market to foreign companies? Are these changes simply the first step in a process that goes much further?

Does the government plan to continue to gradually lift restrictions on foreign companies' participation in the Canadian telecommunications market?

Will this government try to take advantage of the fact that it has created a two-tiered market with different rules for different players in order to completely open the Canadian telecommunications market to foreign competition?

The reality is that we have no way of knowing. Canadian are still waiting for the Minister of Industry to reveal his strategy for the digital economy. An initiative was launched two years ago, almost to the day. Then it was radio silence. The government's approach is hard to follow. It is behaving like a CEO without a business plan. It decides to hire staff without knowing what positions need to be filled. It launches a new product without knowing if it has any clients or if people are even interested in the product.

It is as though the government decided to sell off its most beautiful beachfront property without telling shareholders whether it wants contractors to build condos, houses, apartments, hotels or businesses. CEOs who do not have a business plan do not get very far, as we know.

The fact that the industry minister has decided to push through his amendments to the Telecommunications Act by including them in a budget implementation bill, where they will be all be debated together over a very short period of time and along with a heap of other bills, only adds to the sense that the government is just making things up as it goes along.

Resorting to a catch-all omnibus bill gives the impression that the government is like a tired chess player who is improvising with every move. It is playing a game without having a plan. We feel that the government introduces legislation first and asks questions later.

These amendments to the Telecommunications Act should have gone to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology for in-depth study by parliamentarians from the opposition parties. This is a fundamental breach of democracy.

Is the industry minister afraid that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology might discover that the changes to the act will not really promote competition in the Canadian wireless market?

Is the government afraid of hearing experts and even some of its own partners say that the proposed changes will not bridge the ever-widening gap between rural Canada and connected Canada?

Is the government afraid of hearing from wireless network operators that are dissatisfied with the auction rules that have been announced?

The lifting of foreign ownership requirements and the piecemeal approach to regulation the government is offering are not going to solve the problem of the digital economy. What Canada needs is a plan, a digital strategy. Canadians have already been waiting too long. We need a comprehensive approach to ensure competitive prices in the telecommunications industry, an approach that takes into account the needs of telecommunications operators, consumers and urban and rural Canadians. Rather than choosing dialogue and involving opposition parties in the legislation process, the government has chosen to ride the Trojan horse to hide changes to the Telecommunications Act from the scrutiny of Parliament and the industry committee. That is undemocratic and unacceptable.

Once again, I urge the industry minister to send the amendments to the Telecommunications Act for study by the appropriate committee and the opposition parties. We have a unique opportunity to bridge the digital divide and build next generation wireless networks to ensure the sustainability of Canada's digital economy, so that no one is left behind.

Let us not squander this important opportunity. Let us work together.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend for her presentation. I hope she will forgive me for using this as a moment for a comment.

I have been subjected to speeches on Bill C-38. A number of claims have been made by government members. Having read the bill, a number of the things that have been said are simply not in the legislation.

For example, it is not required in the legislation that the Minister of the Environment be satisfied the provincial process is equivalent before a substitution occurs. The language is completely discretionary, and merely says the minister must decide it is an appropriate substitution. “Appropriate” is not defined. Then there is a mandatory duty on the federal minister to turn the project over to a province if the province requests it.

Tanker safety regulations are not put forward anywhere in Bill C-38. That may be something they intend to do, but it is certainly not in Bill C-38.

Bill C-38 is not a budget bill, it is the decimation of environmental laws.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to respond to the comments made by my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands.

The bill certainly does cover a lot of ground. My colleague mentioned just one of the issues that deserves our attention. I would like to reiterate my belief that the Standing Committee on Environment should thoroughly study the section of the bill relating to its mandate, just as everything I talked about should be studied by the Standing Committee on Industry.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is really important to note the work that is happening in the industry committee right now, of which she is a member, and where there is time to be able to go through government legislation properly. My colleague ably noted that process issue that we are losing.

Would the member expand upon the foreign ownership issue with regard to what has taken place in the past? We have seen the industry adjusted twice in recent years: the first time led to less competition in some urban areas, and the second time the minister actually put the Government of Canada into a lawsuit.

I would like to ask the member about due process. Why it would be more advantageous to go to committee and avoid those problems? These changes were in previous budget bills, at least one was, and that was the end result: no due diligence.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. We work very well together as a strong team committed to carefully studying every file that comes before us.

With respect to the section on changes to the Telecommunications Act, we found that none of the proposed scenarios intended to increase competition so that rural regions can benefit from the high-speed wireless network met the policy objectives.

Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

May 3rd, 2012 / 5 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up on the question from my colleague from Windsor West. We certainly do have time in the industry committee to engage in studies on this bill.

Would the member for LaSalle—Émard comment on changes in the budget that are coming up on the Investment Canada Act, changes that have been put in by the government before the industry committee has had the opportunity to actually study those questions?