House of Commons Hansard #139 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fisheries.

Topics

Bill C-38
Privilege
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, in further response to this question of privilege, which, as I said, seems a little out of place, the reason I challenged the NDP House leader to cite which provisions of the bill or which sections were impugned by the lack of information he was looking for, which normally comes through appropriations, is because he is saying that we cannot go forward with the bill because he does not have the information related to it.

I do not see any of the information that he is seeking being related specifically to any provision of the bill. As I said, the disclosure of government spending on programs like this is normally done through appropriations bills, which are provided to Parliament, not through legislative structures in a budget implementation bill. I am sure the NDP House leader, as he becomes familiar with this process, will come to appreciate that.

The other element I want to address very briefly is the notion of the contrast with the other situations he raises. He raised the situation where there had been a resolution of a parliamentary committee or of Parliament's sending for papers. This budget bill went to the committee and the committee did its evaluation. The committee did not send a request to the government for papers, for information or for any of the things that he here is today seeking. I do not see that those situations are at all analogous.

The core issue is that what he is talking about is not part of a budget bill. The core issue is that what he is talking about is part of an appropriations bill. It is the information that gets disclosed to Parliament through the appropriations process. Therefore, there is really no merit to the question of privilege that has been raised here.

Bill C-38
Privilege
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, in the last Parliament, the government ended up being charged with contempt for not providing proper information, which, basically, is the bottom line. This is very similar to that. The government has a record of not providing information to committees, to the Parliamentary Budget Officer and to this House. I think that is a very serious issue.

When we are asked to vote on a bill that covers some 70 pieces of legislation in one omnibus bill and Parliament, which is representative of Canadians, is not provided with proper information, that is, indeed, a very serious issue.

Bill C-38
Privilege
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have not had time to fully answer the government House leader's point but I would refer him to section 578 of Bill C-38, for which we have not had any effort to assess the impacts but which will be severe on Canada's economy and environment.

Mr. Speaker, I again refer you to clause 578 within Bill C-38.

Bill C-38
Privilege
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. members for their further contributions and I will get back to the House in due course.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-38 and to speak against the opposition amendments to delay this important legislation. I will focus my remarks on proposals for the new Canadian environmental assessment act 2012, which is contained in part 3 of the bill.

Before turning to some of the highlights, I will briefly explain why this legislation is important. The current federal regulatory system for project reviews is a patchwork of laws, regulations and policies that have been put in place over a number of decades. While founded upon the best of intentions, the result is an overly complex set of processes that have been plagued by delays and inconsistencies.

In 2007, our Conservative government took action by creating the major projects management office to provide oversight and to inject some coherence and consistency in project reviews. An additional $30 million per year was also invested in the regulatory system. I am pleased that this funding has been renewed through budget 2012.

Despite this effort, it has become clear that fundamental legislative change is required. It is needed both to address the challenges at hand and to take advantage of Canada's promise and opportunity. This is why Bill C-38 introduces measures to promote responsible resource development. The four pillars of this initiative are straightforward: providing predictable and timely reviews, reducing duplication, strengthening environmental protection and enhancing aboriginal consultations.

The portion of Bill C-38 devoted to the Canadian environmental assessment act 2012 supports each of these pillars. First, Bill C-38 would provide for predictable and timely reviews through reasonable and certain legislated timelines for environmental assessments. This is important for investment decisions and the jobs that result from those decisions. This is important for participants in these reviews and is important for federal-provincial co-operation.

The second pillar of reducing duplication is an obvious objective in a federation like Canada where responsibility for the environment is shared between the levels of government. Bill C-38 would accomplish this through new co-operative mechanisms for environmental assessments. Substitution and equivalency provisions would provide for one project one review. The law ensures that environmental standards are not compromised.

There have been statements questioning this fundamental point. Subclause 34(1) of the new act is clear. It states:

The Minister may only approve a substitution if he or she is satisfied that

(a) the process to be substituted will include a consideration of the factors set out in subsection 19(1);

The factors in section 19 that must be considered are at the heart of a federal environmental assessment. A province would have to commit to meeting this standard before substitution or equivalency can be approved. Clause 34 goes on to ensure that the public is provided an opportunity to participate in a substituted environmental assessment and would have access to documents to enable meaningful participation.

Strengthening environmental protection is the third pillar of responsible resource development. I will speak more to this issue later on, but adding enforcement provisions to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act represents a significant step forward.

Enhancing consultations with aboriginal groups is the fourth pillar. The Government of Canada will continue the practice of integrating aboriginal consultations into the environmental assessment process for major projects. In fact, changes to the environment that affect aboriginal peoples are one of the specific environmental effects identified by the act that must be assessed.

A subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Finance was established to deal with part 3 of Bill C-38.

A few quotes from the witnesses who appeared before the subcommittee during committee stage further illustrate how the new Canadian environmental assessment act 2012 will support responsible resource development.

Mr. Ward Prystay, of the Canadian Construction Association, stated:

We believe the changes to CEAA will establish a regulatory framework that assures one project, one assessment. This will minimize duplication of process, improve timelines, and free up federal resources to tackle projects with the potential for greater environmental consequences.

Mr. Terry Toner, of the Canadian Electricity Association, pointed to the efficiencies that would result from this legislation without compromising environmental protection. This is what he had to say:

The efficiencies realized by the changes in Bill C-38 will in no way diminish the efforts and actions of the Canadian Electricity Association's member companies in protecting the environment throughout project design, construction, and operation.

Mr. Warren Everson, from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said:

I think the establishment of timeframes is very critical for all parties.

There has nevertheless been much debate about the impact of Bill C-38 on protection of the environment. I want to devote my remaining time to this, the third pillar of responsible resource development.

The facts are clear. Bill C-38 will strengthen environmental assessment and, in doing so, the federal government's ability to protect the environment.

The Minister of the Environment has spoken in the House and elsewhere about the importance of enforcement. I want to expand on what he has already said.

The existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act does not have enforcement provisions. Environmental groups have long noted this gap. A Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development identified the lack of enforcement provisions as a matter of concern in 2003. This issue was raised again during the statutory review of the act this past year by the standing committee.

The proposals in Bill C-38 address the enforcement gap in three ways.

First, a decision statement will be issued at the end of an environmental assessment. It will contain conditions that are binding on the proponent.

Second, there is authority for federal inspectors to ensure these conditions are being met.

Third, there are financial penalties of $100,000 to $400,000 for violations of the act, such as a failure to fulfill the conditions set out in the decision statement.

The bill also proposes a new tool to address the challenge of addressing cumulative effects. Currently the act is restricted to a single-project focus. This makes it difficult to assess cumulative effects, particularly in a region experiencing significant development through multiple projects and activities. Bill C-38 includes new authority for the Minister of the Environment to launch regional environmental assessments in co-operation with another jurisdiction. These studies will provide a better understanding of cumulative effects. This in turn will lead to the development of better mitigation measures.

Mr. Pierre Gratton, of the Mining Association of Canada, supports these regional approaches. He is not alone. He recently said:

This was a significant recommendation we had made, and I think has been overlooked by many as an important environmental improvement.... I think environmental groups and industry have been calling for this type of measure for many years and it is in this legislation.

There are other ways that Bill C-38 will strengthen environmental protection. For example, by moving from over 40 responsible authorities to just three, the government is focusing resources and creating true centres of expertise for environmental assessment.

To sum up, I want to emphasize that the four pillars of responsible resource development set out complementary objectives. It is possible to deliver timely, high-quality environmental assessments in a manner that avoids duplication. It is possible to make timely permitting decisions. It is possible to consult aboriginal peoples in a meaningful way.

Bill C-38 would provide the tools to make this happen.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Madam Speaker, I have in front of me copies of a number of letters to the Prime Minister that I have received from constituents in Victoria. I would like to quote from the first of these letters and see if I can get a comment from my colleague on it. The letter is addressed to the Prime Minister. It says:

Dear Prime Minister

I have come to the conclusion that you do not intend to run for office in the next federal election. I have arrived at that supposition because by the year 2015 the damage you have wrought on Canadian society and the environment that sustains us will far outweigh any economic benefits of the policies you have pursued.

The letter goes on to say:

What's more, there is no guarantee that your government pension will be secure. You and that flock of sheep you call a government will have so far eroded the tax base with tax breaks for the rich and corporations and the reduction of jobs—virtually cancelling opportunities for our sons and daughters—that retirement in Canada may not be an option.

I would like to get some comments from my colleague on that.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I want to remind members who are reading comments that any unparliamentary language contained in the letter is not allowed. What is not allowed directly cannot be spoken indirectly.

The hon. member for Richmond Hill.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank you for that clarification. I want to thank the hon. member for reading that epistle from an obviously very partisan constituent of his.

Let me just say this: we are very proud of the significant steps we have taken as a government under the leadership of our Prime Minister, who has led Canada to be one of the most successful economic countries in the world.

As a matter of fact, Canada today is first among the G7 countries. The International Monetary Fund is projecting that Canada will continue its leadership role over the next two years.

There are so many wonderful things happening. Canada was one of the first countries to come out of the global economic crisis, and we believe we are on the right track toward a balanced budget that this Prime Minister has led our nation to.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, far beyond the process that many have talked about here today, the uncertainties created by the measures in the budget are vast.

Could my colleague clear up just one aspect? The questions that have been raised around EI are many, but this question is very simple, and I could do with a yes-no answer on this one.

We talk about EI claimants having to take suitable work. I have received inquiries from many in organized labour, from people in the building trades across the country who go from job to job and receive benefits in between. Will they have to take non-union jobs or risk losing their benefits? if they leave one union job and, let us say, the fish plant needs an electrician, will that union carpenter have to take that non-union job or otherwise risk losing his or her benefits?

Perhaps the hon. member could clarify that for the people who have contacted my office about that issue.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Indeed, Madam Speaker, in part 4, division 43 of the EI Act is being amended, but it is looking at the many critical points that are very needed at this juncture.

It includes aligning the calculation of EI benefit amounts with local labour market conditions, the refund of premiums to self-employed persons, the administration of overpayment of benefits, the assignment of benefits and the premium rate setting. Specifically in response to the hon. member's question, I would like to add this: it is important for us to try to get as many people as possible back to work once they lose their job.

Let me just say that since 2009, 750,000 net new jobs have been created by this government under the leadership of our Prime Minister.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not happy to be getting up here today and talking about Bill C-38 in the form in which it is before us, an assault on democracy resulting from a 452-page omnibus bill that would change over 70 pieces of legislation.

My colleagues on the other side can ooh and aah and all the rest of it, but I can say that when they were on this side of the House and the Liberals introduced what they called an omnibus bill—which was far less than what we have here, because we did not have all these changes to legislation—they hollered, screamed and banged the tables. I think we are very calm on this side and directly addressing the points that are giving us concern.

It would be one thing to bring forward a 452-page document called a “budget” in September and work from September through to June on it. That would be plenty of time for all of the committees and the rest of us to examine it. However, the Conservatives are clearly using this omnibus bill, which they have called a “budget”, to get through everything they want to clean up everywhere.

It will change 70 pieces of legislation. The omnibus bill will change the face of Canada.

If the Conservatives had the confidence level that they should have as the governing party, they would have sent the bill to committee, given us lots of time to examine it and accepted some of the amendments that would have come out at committee level, which probably would have improved some of it. Maybe some of it would never have come back into the House. That would have shown that they had respect for democracy in this country.

There is no minority-government concern hanging over our heads as we had previously, so there was lots of time to debate and discuss the bill. It is not as though the government has anything so pressing on its agenda that it has to shove this bill through today. The Conservatives could have separated the bill into a variety of different areas.

Clearly this is a Reform-style document that forgets democracy. The Conservatives can go abroad and talk about democracy in other countries around the world and tell them how they have to become more democratic and provide votes and opportunities. Here at home, quite frankly, what is happening is becoming an embarrassment.

I have done some traveling overseas this last little while, and I was asked by very many people what has happened to Canada when it comes to issues of human rights or how Canadians are being treated. Clearly there are questions around the world about our country and what has happened to it.

When we used to travel around the world, we were very proud to say that we were from Canada, that we were Canadians. I am not getting that sense back from people now. They are all asking what happened to Canada. They are seeing a significant change.

Well, that is what happens with governments: people elect them. Unfortunately, this election was clearly interfered with, which is something that I suspect Elections Canada will give us more information on. We know already that there were clearly some disparities and ongoing issues in some of the ridings.

However, we move beyond that because we respect democracy in Canada. We would like to think that everybody does the right thing and is honest and straightforward. Clearly, from what we are hearing, it does not sound as though that was the case.

The reality is that we have a majority government today. One of the government members was saying to me yesterday that there will be no election until October 14, 2015. Even when I questioned, there was no chance of an election before then. Well, everything is in the power of the Prime Minister, and he can decide tomorrow, for whatever reason, to have an election. However, if the government is so confident of not having an election until sometime in October of 2015, what is the pressure and the worry that it has to change EI today?

The changes the Conservatives would make would affect so much, including the temporary foreign workers who come over to work on farms and in the agricultural industry. Many of them have been coming to this country to work on farms in Canada for many years; now, all of a sudden, that door is closed for them, even though many of the farmers are saying that they will not be able to get enough workers. By the time they get around to responding to all of this process, their season will be over. That will clearly be a significant problem for their economy.

When we are looking at the changes to EI, seasonal work is a big part of Canada. There are weather issues. Who is going to do all of the seasonal work if the fishers in Newfoundland or New Brunswick are told that they cannot work seasonally any more and they have to go out west or wherever to find a job? Who is going to do the fishing if they all take full-time jobs out west? There are an awful lot of implications. I can appreciate the intent of what the government wants to do, but I do not think it has been thought through as thoroughly as it could have been.

I will now talk about seniors for a few minutes. I am the critic for the seniors file and have spent a lot of time calling on the government to give them more help and additional funds. What does it do? It decides it is going to increase the age for accessing old age security by another two years. Is that happening tomorrow? We have closure on this bill and we have to shove it through. We are going to be up for two or three nights voting because there is an urgency for this 452-page document to be passed this week, when all it would take to satisfy the opposition would be to break up the bill and allow parts of it to have more debate at committee.

On the issue of changing the date of entitlement for old age security, other countries are changing it, but those countries have a pension that makes up 60% to 70% of what people were earning before. It has a huge hit on the GDP. Here in Canada we have a very modest pension system when people reach 65, which is about 25%, or 2.1% of the GDP. It is a very small amount. It is a recognition of the money people paid in taxes and it is going back to them, plus the CPP, and for some, the OAS.

If we consider all of those amounts and that people are now going to have to wait until age 67, it means that every Canadian under the age 54 will be losing $15,000 a year for two years, which amounts to $30,000. The government talks about not raising taxes and all of that stuff, but it is a pretty big tax hit when people lose $30,000 out of their gross net income over the period of their lifetime. Members should not say that is an easy thing to deal with. That is going to have a huge impact on a lot of Canadians, but it is a long way away, so why is there a need to push this bill through by using closure? There is no rationale for it, other than the fact that the government wants it done. The government wants to do things its way and it is going to push it through whether we like it or not. A lot of Canadians who watch these proceedings really do not understand why it is necessary to do that.

Aside from the fact that this is clearly an abuse of power and an assault on democracy, all Canadians should be enraged. We live in this peaceful country and people do not know what is coming until they knock on the door, whether it is a seniors issue, an environmental issue or an EI issue. When people need the services of the government or see that the country itself is eroding is when they start asking questions. Otherwise, the streets would be filled with people protesting.

Let us look at the changes to the environmental regulations. It is very important that we protect the environment, but what is the government doing? It is practically deregulating everything and removing all of the environmental protections and safeguards that would better protect all of us, and our kids and grandkids in the future. A lot of the impacts as a result of this budget are not going to be felt for years to come, and that is exactly what the government wants. The government wants to get this through quietly with as little trouble as possible, and then go on to dismantle the country.

The Prime Minister said several times that if he had an opportunity to become prime minister, he would change the face of Canada. There is a quote somewhere by the current Prime Minister. That is exactly what he is doing, step by step, a little at a time so Canadians do not get too alarmed. He is moving forward on changing our country, exactly what he said when he was the head of the Reform Party, not the head of the Conservatives.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's presentation, although I do not agree with the premise of her speech.

We were elected to the House, as the member indicated, to get things done. This budget implementation bill is a function of what was in the budget. The budget is the policy document. The implementation bill puts things into action to make required changes.

Which clauses in this bill would the member support if they were moved out of the bill and voted on separately? I want to know which parts of the budget implementation bill the Liberals actually support.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, we all welcome change.

However, this is the Parliament of Canada. This is not the Parliament of the Conservative Party. The 308 members in this chamber were elected to represent our country and Canadians. That means we should be part of the decision-making. That means when a bill goes to committee, there are lengthy discussions with Canadians and with organizations and agencies on what is the best way for Canada to move forward.

If the government wants to have pension reform, then some time should be spent consulting across Canada on what is the best way to move forward on pension reform. It should not just be decided that the age is going to be moved up to 67. That is not the appropriate way to do things. That is the way the Reform Party said it would do it, and sure enough, that is exactly what it is doing.

Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments about the lack of consultation on this bill. It is a huge omnibus bill which includes changes to 70 pieces of legislation. Just one of those pieces of legislation would be significant.

I have a letter in my hands from Jim Harvey of Victoria. He is writing to the Prime Minister. He is concerned about the lack of consultation as well. He said:

I am writing you this letter to voice my opposition to Bill C-38. I am very concerned that a budget bill has so many other pieces of legislation attached to it that should not be there. Of particular concern to me is the power given to cabinet concerning final decisions about large energy projects. This is too much power [in their] hands....

This is a democracy! Please let our MPs debate this omnibus bill piece by piece and vote on each section of this bill separately.

We have called on the government to consider that and it flat out rejected it. I am wondering if my hon. colleague can comment on that approach.