User Fees Act

An Act respecting user fees

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Roy Cullen  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

May 30th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.
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Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Is that it, Mr. Ouellette?

I have one question. It's a very serious one on user service fees. It was reported in Blacklock's just recently. I'll read it out:

An Access To Information memo says federal agencies have simply ignored a 2004 law requiring transparency on user fees.

At the time, the bill was from a colleague of mine, Roy Cullen. It was Bill C-212. It was passed in the House of Commons 13 years ago and had unanimous support.

I'll continue:

The Act required public notice of new charges; appointment of an independent panel to field complaints; and a requirement that departments disclose actual costs of government services offered at a fee, with performance standards and annual reporting to Parliament. A 2016 Treasury Board memo obtained through the Access To Information Act disclosed 84 percent of government fees are never reported, and a quarter of departments—10 out of 41—sought exemptions from the Act.

Maybe you're not the one who can answer this, but given the fact that we get escalators in service fees and excise taxes, my question is, why has this act that was passed 13 years ago not been followed? If you don't have the answer, I'm asking you to get one.

Manufacturing IndustryStatements By Members

October 18th, 2007 / 2:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to highlight the challenges facing Canada's manufacturing sector. Our country desperately needs a manufacturing strategy that is innovative and robust, and one that helps to protect high-paying jobs in Canada.

Canada needs the kind of innovations that were proposed in the previous parliament, when the User Fees Act, Bill C-212, was enacted and brought into force. In cooperation with Canada’s Chemical Producers, a law was enacted so that federal departments and organizations would take the impact on competition and responsible service standards into account in cost recovery mechanisms.

This so-called new government could learn from the Liberal caucus' approaches to innovation and demonstrate that it is interested in reducing redundant red tape and in providing an optimal investment environment for our manufacturing sector.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2006 / 5:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-283.

I want to congratulate my colleague from Scarborough Southwest. He and I are working together on another committee right now and we are doing that very well. He will not be surprised, though, when I speak against his bill because I have done so before when the bill was in a different parliament, in different numbers and in different forms.

He has the objective right. Canadians need to understand better what it is they are eating, and if there was a way to do that which was economically feasible, I certainly would support it. I do not think the bill as it now stands does that.

We have heard from others about the importance of diet, about the problems with obesity, and if there is a way to educate Canadians better on these facts, we should be doing so. The food service industry has been doing a lot of that through their voluntary measures and some of the measures introduced by our government to comply with nutritional labelling. However, the bill goes a little bit too far.

My riding of Etobicoke North is out by the airport. There are a lot of restaurants and also a lot of light to medium sized industry, food processing companies, and yes, I have heard from them. If I thought the bill was for the benefit of all Canadians and it was workable, I would support it, but I do not think it is workable, economically feasible or technically feasible to accomplish what the member so rightly wants to accomplish.

I would like to talk about a few of those factors. First, just to recapture, the bill would require companies with over $10 million in annual food service sales to list calories, salt and the sum of the saturated fatty acids and trans fats per serving for each menu item on their printed menu and to list calories per serving for each menu item on their menu board.

I see a number of problems with that. As I say, I think the objective is a good one, but I see a number of practical problems. Right now, if we go into a fast food restaurant, we will see menus displayed throughout the restaurant. To add another layer of information would cause some difficulties in terms of fitting it all on one menu board, or else the lettering would have to be reduced to a point that it would be illegible.

The other problem I see is that there are many trends now for customized meals. Let us face it, these fast food restaurants are here to stay and they are very popular, particularly with our pace of life, and people use them. That is the reality. When we get into these combos that fast food restaurants have, which are very popular, people will say, “I want a big Mac, but I do not want the fries; I want the salad, and by the way on that salad, I would like this dressing. Actually, you can supersize the fries, double up on the cheese, hold the bacon and give me the onions”, et cetera. It sounds mundane, but this is what is happening. In fact, fast food restaurants are marketing in this way. They want to give consumers more choice.

What would we do then? I think we could do it technologically on a computer and on a website, and I think that many of the businesses are doing that now, so if we want to know exactly, we could go to various portions. It will do all the arithmetic. It will add it all up and it will tell us what we are eating in terms of calories, salt and these various elements. If we do that, what that information does for us is another thing, but for those people who want that information, there might be ways of getting it from some of the bigger chains.

However, for some of the smaller restaurants, I know that there is an exemption here of $10 million in sales, but that actually creates another issue. I know what the member is trying to achieve, but it creates a level field that is not quite fair or even. We could have a Harvey's that is required under the bill to comply with all these nutritional elements and put this on its menu board for all the various combinations, and then we have Joe's hamburger shop next door, just a one off little independent, and it will not be required to do that. There is a cost to doing this. We have to have access to a nutritionist.

How could a regular manager of a Harvey's do this work? How could the owner of Joe's hamburger stall? He would not have the information to do that and would have to hire a nutritionist. That is why, quite rightly, the member would exempt small businesses, but then it would create a problem of an uneven playing field.

I read an interesting book not too long ago called Freakonomics and in it there is an interesting part where it talks about Starbucks, the coffee people. Actually, every day on the way to work I pick up a Starbucks. I am a Starbucks fan. That is the way it is.

The author says, and I think he can probably demonstrate it, but I did not do an audit on his numbers, that in a Starbucks coffee shop there are something like 3,000 different permutations and combinations of what people can ask for. I must say this is borne out by my experience when I go into Starbucks and listen to people as they place their orders. I am not that conversant with all the products. They will say they want a double latte, topped up by this, warmed up, doubled up by this and that. They will want Halloween or pumpkin sauce and they want this and that. Apparently, there are about 3,000 different permutations and combinations.

I am asking this question. How would Starbucks do that? I could see how it could do that on a computer or a website. If someone wanted to go in and say they wanted to do this combination, permutation number 1,876, boom, plug it in and it would give all the nutritional content of it. How could that conceivably be put on a menu board? I have no idea how that would work.

The other problem is that there are many restaurant chains that have operations right across Canada. There is an issue, I believe, with supplier variability. I think that some are discounting the argument. I am not going to argue that it is an insurmountable issue but it is an issue.

We have, for example, Tim Hortons chains. I know they backward integrate. They standardize in a very holistic and very professional way, but if they are buying their flour and all the ingredients, let us say in Nova Scotia, and they are making their muffins there, and they are buying their ingredients in British Columbia from a different source, notwithstanding that they are going to have very tight standards and requirements, there is going to be some difference, I think.

Perhaps I used a bad example because Tim Hortons chains would probably have the most standardized and most integrated supply chain management system around, but I can think of other examples where they might not have that consistency. What do they do then? Do they make an assumption that the flour that is bought in Halifax is the same as the flour that is bought in Trail? I do not know. I think it is an issue.

Do not forget that we would be asking the restaurants to comply with these laws and rules if the act is passed. It is not to be taken lightly. They would have to comply.

I have many food processors in my riding and they are also concerned about section 5.3 of the bill which basically requires manufacturers, people making biscuits or bread or what have you to comply.

It says that manufacturers are to prescribe in the ingredient list the percentage by weight of the three most prevalent ingredients and all those that are of vegetable, fruit, whole grain, legume or added sugar. Additionally, manufacturers would be required to list the percentage by weight for ingredients emphasized on a food label using words or pictures.

First of all, to comply with the requirements that our previous and this government is requiring has cost the industry, in terms of mandatory nutritional labelling, about $300 million. This would cost a lot of money and the industry argues, and I think with some merit, that it would create not necessarily more knowledge or information, but it could add in fact more confusion.

I will tell my colleague that I never like speaking against a private member's bill. I brought in a private member's bill a couple of years ago on user fees, Bill C-212. It took me two years, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, so I congratulate the member for taking this initiative, but I will not be supporting it.

Employment Insurance ProgramThe Royal Assent

March 31st, 2004 / 4:05 p.m.
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The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that, when the House went up to the Senate chamber, Her Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill C-26, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2004—Chapter 5.

Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees—Chapter 6.

Bill C-4, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other acts in consequence—Chapter 7.

Bill C-27, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2005—Chapter 8.

Bill C-260, an act to amend the Hazardous Products Act (fire-safe cigarettes)—Chapter 9.

User Fees ActStatements By Members

March 31st, 2004 / 2:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Joe Fontana Liberal London North Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, democratic reform is alive and well in the House of Commons.

Today Bill C-212 will receive royal assent. This bill represents what can be achieved when MPs from all sides of the House and ministers collaborate to help great ideas become good government policy. The bill represents the long and hard work of the Liberal member for Etobicoke North, of whom we should all be proud.

The bill will bring greater transparency, accountability and parliamentary oversight to federal government departments and agencies when they attempt to recover costs through user fees. It will provide greater parliamentary oversight; greater stakeholder participation in the fee setting process; improved links between user fees and performance; and the requirement that a more comprehensive stakeholder impact and competitiveness analysis is done when new user fees, or fee increases, are contemplated.

Who says an individual member of Parliament cannot make a difference in this place?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2004 / 5:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-398. The first thing I would like to do is congratulate the member for Scarborough Southwest for getting his bill to this stage. I know what it is like. My Bill C-212 on user fees passed on Friday. It took a couple of years and it was a long and bumpy road. I know what he is going through and I congratulate him for taking this initiative.

The bill has some very laudable objectives. For Canadians to understand better what they are eating, what is in the food they are eating is something we should strive for. I think I can support sending the bill to the health committee as subject matter for study, but the problems that I see with the bill are practical in nature. Implementing the bill will cause a lot of difficulties for restaurant owners and I am not sure that at the end of the day Canadian customers will get what they want either.

The food and restaurant industry is a major employer across Canada. The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands talked about tens of thousands, but in fact it was a year ago that we reached the over one million threshold of Canadians who work in the food and restaurant industry, many of them young people. Many of them create a lot of economic activity in Canada.

My riding of Etobicoke North is near the airport. It is near the major intersections of the 401 and the 427. There are many restaurants and hotels and they are concerned about this bill.

I would like to read some comments from various restaurateurs who have written to me to highlight some of their concerns. One is the issue around customization. Customization means customers looking at the menu and saying instead of this, they would like that. That creates some very real challenges for restaurateurs.

Mr. Adrian Whitfield of Jack Astor's Bar and Grill in Etobicoke said:

If I have to undertake a detailed analysis of every item on my menu, you will be forcing me to reduce the number of items I carry and to stop customizing meals to meet individual preferences.

I have a letter stating that Pizza Pizza makes its pizzas to the individual specifications of its customers. Variations on a product are endless. For example, a very basic pizza such as pepperoni can be changed as follows: regular crust, thin crust, thick crust, regular sauce, easy on the sauce, extra sauce, regular cheese, extra cheese, double cheese, no cheese, light on the cheese, cheese on one half only, regular pepperoni, double pepperoni, pepperoni on one half only. Some of our customers will enhance their pepperoni pizza with olive oil and oregano. Each of these variations impacts the calorie, salt and fat content. Those are the variations on a single topping pizza. Pizza Pizza states that the average number of toppings is three, so that is a problem it sees with respect to customization.

Here is another concern raised by ABC Country Restaurants, a chain located in British Columbia:

Here is one breakfast selection: bacon and eggs, with toast or pancakes? Will that be multi-grain, white or rye toast? No butter? Strawberry preserves or peanut butter and honey? Pancakes with syrup and butter? Instead of hash browns would you like to substitute fresh fruit? There are five different fresh fruits in our fruit bowl. It changes seasonally. Today we have grapes, bananas, strawberries, pineapple and cantaloupe. Tomorrow it may be honeydew, grapefruit and oranges with bananas and strawberries.

I am getting hungry just talking about it. It goes on, “I forgot to ask about the eggs. Fried, boiled or poached? One egg instead of two? No problem”. These all affect the calorie count and other aspects.

Another letter is from Cara OPerations Limited, a big operation across Canada located in Mississauga. Mr. Barlow, whom I know very well, said:

We serve one million guests per week thru our 350 restaurants utilizing the talents of more than 8000 teammates. Our menu offers many choices from burgers and chicken to salads and soft drinks including milk and fruit-based beverages.

It has Harvey's as part of its operation. It has offered customers all these various side orders. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts also have a problem with the customization. This is the big hotel chain across Canada, and indeed around the world. It wrote:

How often do your customers order off the menu or customize their orders?

In our experience 15% of our clients will order something that is not on our menus, especially with the loyal clientele we have who feel very comfortable ordering whatever they like. For example, salads with the addition of seafood or chicken. Choosing a different style of fish than the menu, herb butter sauce, thermidor glaze, etc. We get requests for vegetarian, no lacto, no garlic, no oils. We also get requests for special meat dishes with additions of salsa or chutneys to replace sauces.

All these changes have an impact on what is disclosed on the menu or the calorie intake of these various factors.

Ho-Lee-Chow, in the Danforth, is a big Chinese food restaurant. Mr. Garner wrote:

We currently have 129 different items on our menu, not counting combos. To add this information for each item would double the size of our menu. As we specialize in home delivery, our menu is also our direct mail vehicle. We produce some four million menus a year and mail them out. The size increase required will significantly increase both production and mailing costs.

That has to do with the size of the menu. That is another issue. The Spectra Group of Great Restaurants said:

All menu items would have to be analyzed by outside labs for accurate nutritional information. We have multiple concepts and each concept would have no fewer than 100 menu items that would need to be analyzed. Most labs now charge anywhere between $600 to $1,000 per item to do a thorough nutritional analysis. Getting set up initially would be an astronomical cost.

The Bay said:

[It would have to] source and hire a qualified professional dietician to analyze approximately 1,200 menu items to start, and on a continuous basis new items.

Van Houtte says:

Not all the information is available, and obtaining it would cost our small and medium businesses a fortune.

St. Hubert also had some concerns.

Jean-Pierre Léger said:

In fact, providing mandatory printed nutrition information is nonsensical in the restaurant business. No restaurateur could bear the costs of it, or the time it would take. There are too many uncontrollable variables.

These are household names. We all know about Dairy Queen as well. Doug White from Dairy Queen wrote:

As a grassroots, community-based company, we help fund many adult and children's recreational programs. We want to be part of the solution and we believe there is a need to create avenues for people to expend energy...Bill C-398 does not address this issue in totality.

Sylvie Paradis, of la Cage aux sports, wrote:

Although I do not have exact figures, the cost would certainly be very high. Outside laboratories would have to be used, as well as specialized consultants. In addition, the time required for this extra task would raise prices considerably.

McDonald's is expressing some concern about space on the menu board, as well as The Keg. These are serious business people employing a lot of Canadians. They are talking about regional differences of supply. How do they deal with that on their unified national menu? New York Fries has some concerns as well as Dixie Lee and White Spot Restaurants. I could go on.

I respect the member's objective here, but there are some very serious practical issues. Perhaps the subject matter can be reviewed at the health committee. It is important for Canadians to know what they are eating, but we have to arrive at a practical solution to this, not put something in place that is going to cost a lot of Canadians their jobs.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2004 / 1:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to enter the debate on the budget. This is a historic budget because for the seventh consecutive year the government has balanced the budget. This is the first time that this has happened since Confederation. The government is predicting, projecting and committing to balanced budgets or better in the next two years as well.

The budget implements the new agenda for achievement that was enunciated in the recent throne speech. This is a time when we are preparing to act with a new government and a new leader. It is an exciting time as change is in the wind.

As the newly elected chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, I can say categorically that the budget reflects what our committee heard when we travelled across the country last fall on our prebudget consultation tour. Canadians told us categorically that we should not under any circumstances give way to a budgetary deficit, that we had to stay in surplus. The Minister of Finance certainly listened to that message and implemented this key feature in budget 2004.

Because of recent problems with the discredited sponsorship program and the financial management of programs such as the gun registry, the government is acting on a number of fronts. Before I speak to that, what the government is talking about is greater accountability and greater transparency. We saw on Friday living proof that the government is acting on that agenda.

I have a private member's bill, Bill C-212, on user fees. The bill was passed by the House of Commons after receiving some amendments from the other place. The bill will now pass into law with the Governor General giving royal assent hopefully in the not too distant future.

The bill demands that the departments and agencies of the Government of Canada be more accountable and more transparent when they bring in new user fees or increase user fees across a broad spectrum of Canadians. These user fees bring in about $4 billion annually. They could be for anything, a fee to get a passport, a fee to enter a federal park, a fee to get a new drug approved in Canada, a fee to get ice breaking services from the Coast Guard, or a fee to access the government procurement system, the MERX.

I am happy to see the Minister of Public Works enter the chamber. I understand that the cost of entering the MERX system is going to be reduced significantly. I am very happy to hear that, and I congratulate the minister for that action. Small businesses use that system to find out what procurement opportunities there are within the federal government and in other levels of government as well. Magically, mysteriously and suddenly last year the fee went from $5 a month to $30 a month. Had my Bill C-212 been around at the time, there may have been a different result. However, I am very happy that the government is moving on that unilaterally.

This is a sign of the times. The President of the Treasury Board, the member for Winnipeg South, supported my private member's bill. The Senate made amendments to the bill. Then the government supported my private member's bill, which will demand more accountability and more transparency from government departments and agencies. That is what this government is all about.

The problems we have experienced more recently with the sponsorship program and the gun registry really call for an action plan by the government to deal with these particular circumstances. That is what our Prime Minister and our government are doing. Our government has called for a special inquiry. Our government has referred the matter completely and openly to the public accounts committee. We will get to the bottom of this particular problem. In fact the Prime Minister and his ministers have already acted decisively with respect to some of the actions and involvement by various crown corporations.

It is quite interesting because there are many Canadians who say to themselves, and maybe to their friends, how is it that our current Prime Minister when he was finance minister did not know about the sponsorship program? It is a very legitimate question that many Canadians are asking themselves. I would like to give a certain perspective on that.

I had the great honour and privilege to serve as the parliamentary secretary to the then finance minister, the member for LaSalle--Émard, our current Prime Minister, for a period of two years. I had the great honour to attend many of the meetings when the minister would meet with the departments. I can say that this type of matter did not really get on the agenda, nor should it, nor could it.

The Minister of Finance is preoccupied with a broad range of macroeconomic policy questions. The Minister of Finance is involved almost on a continuous basis in building a budget. The Minister of Finance is involved in a whole range of issues that would not lead him to the micromanagement of a certain department of the Government of Canada.

Having said that, I am glad to see that our government is acting to centralize and tighten up some of the comptrollership functions and internal audit functions across all of government. However, when the Prime Minister was finance minister, a reasonable presumption was that once resources were allocated to a federal government department or agency, the minister, the deputy minister and all the officials would manage those resources within the mandates given to them, within the rules of the Treasury Board, within the rules that are available and are mandatory for the expenditure of public funds.

It is unreasonable, in my judgment, for people to expect that the then finance minister would have been cognizant of all the various internal audits that go on within departments on an ongoing basis.

We need to understand as well that the government is not to excuse the mismanagement of government funds on behalf of taxpayers, not in the least. Every single dollar that is spent that comes in from taxpayers has to be managed in the wisest and best way. The Government of Canada is a very large organization, $180 billion a year, and problems are bound to emerge.

Canadians are rightly saying that the limits have been reached and maybe exceeded. That is why our government is acting decisively. That is why there is going to be more centralized comptrollership and a greater emphasis on internal audit. I am very happy to see that.

While it is also important that the government be proactive on that particular front, budget 2004 is a good opportunity for us to review the overall fiscal performance of the government over the last 10 years. We often get into the details of the sponsorship program or some mismanaged programs. Those are very unfortunate and need to be dealt with, but if we look at the last 10 years, Canada is considered an economic miracle around the world. When our Prime Minister, our finance minister and the various ministers travel, people pull them aside and ask how we accomplished what we have accomplished in Canada.

Our government inherited a $42 billion deficit when we took office. That $42 billion deficit was eliminated in four short years under the leadership of the then finance minister, our current Prime Minister, the hon. member for LaSalle--Émard.

With the sponsorship program, various numbers have been thrown around, such as $100 million. Of course time will show that it is nowhere even near that amount but the opposition parties like to throw out this big number .

The difficulty in HRDC some years ago was called the billion dollar boondoggle. That is what the opposition talked about. Well guess what? In the final analysis it was some $65,000 that was problematic. It is still a problem, as $65,000 is $65,000, but let us get somewhat real.

What did that $42 billion deficit translate into? Every single calendar day $115 million was leaving the federal treasury. Now we are in a position of surplus and now it is the opposite. Something like $10 million every single day comes into the treasury on a net basis. From $115 million flowing out every day, we are bringing in $10 million every day. That is the sort of context I am hoping Canadians will put this whole matter in as we move to the polls and a general election.

During the same period, from 1993 until today, Canada has experienced economic growth second to none in the industrialized world. Perhaps the United States has shown some stronger economic growth, but when it comes to jobs, the United States on a per capita basis is not even close to the jobs that our economy has generated. Two million more Canadians are employed than there were in 1993. That is an amazing record of job creation.

In that same period our government has wisely paid $52 billion against the national debt. That action is saving all of us as taxpayers every year $3 billion in interest charges and costs associated with servicing the debt. That is $3 billion each and every year moving forward in perpetuity.

That $3 billion this year, next year, the year after can be redeployed. That money is being redeployed as we speak for health care, education, and the environment. That is the benefit of paying down the national debt. It is not an end in itself. It is a matter of giving the federal government more flexibility in the way we can manage our programs and the way we can meet the needs, aspirations and priorities of all Canadians.

Let me add to that something the opposition parties forget from time to time. We have had stable pricing. We have had a cap on inflation over the last 10 years. What does that mean? It means we have had low interest rates. What does that mean? It means that there is more investment in the private sector. That means more jobs. Also, it means that more Canadians are able to buy a home.

We have all heard about it. I know that here in Ottawa and in Toronto vacancy rates are up in the rental market. The reason is low interest rates. First home buyers are able to get a mortgage at a low rate. What does that do? That causes more construction. What does that do? That creates more economic activity. It is very important to have stable prices and low interest rates. Our government has been able to achieve that with the help of all Canadians.

As I said, $52 billion has been paid against the debt. Where is that leading to? Right at the peak in 1995 Canada's debt to GDP ratio was around 71%. That is the size of the debt in relation to the size of our national economy.

At the homemaker level that would mean the kind of mortgage or debt the family could take on given the family's income. It is the very same question. When people sit around the kitchen table they often ask themselves how much debt they can take on. Can they afford to take on the mortgage for that new home? Can they afford to take that trip and put it on their MasterCard? This is not rocket science.

In Canada we went from a high debt in relation to the GDP and the size of the economy of 71% down to 42% and it is going down to 25%.

The NDP came out with some numbers that this will cost $200 billion. This is why Canadians will not elect an NDP government to power. It is because the NDP does not get the numbers. I will tell hon. members the reason the NDP does not get it. To get down to a debt to GDP ratio of 25% over the next 10 years, two elements are required.

One element is that we have to grow our economy by about 3% per year over the next 10 years. That is roughly what we have been achieving since we took office in 1993.

The second element is that every year the government sets up a $3 billion contingency reserve to look after things like SARS, the BSE crisis and a whole host of other things. If we do not need it, that money automatically goes to pay down the debt. With that $3 billion each and every year over the next 10 years, which amounted to $30 billion when I went to school, and a growth of 3% in the economy each year, we are going to get down to 25% debt to GDP.

Is that such an onerous thing? Is that not putting us in a straitjacket? The NDP should take another course in arithmetic. That covers that particular front.

Another often forgotten fact by the members opposite is that in the year 2000 our government implemented the largest tax cut in Canadian history. That tax cut is flowing through today as we speak. We are in the last year of that implemented tax cut. In budget 2004 there is not a lot more in the way of tax cuts, but there are some and I will come back to that in a moment.

The largest tax cut in Canadian history of $100 billion was not for big business, as the NDP would point out. Of the $100 billion, I think $4 billion to $5 billion was for business. The tax cut was not for high income Canadians, as some would argue. The vast bulk of the tax cut went to middle and low income Canadians. In fact, typical middle income families in Canada as a result of that $100 billion tax cut had their taxes cut by 27%. I repeat, 27%. When I went to school, that was a pretty big number. What are families able to do with that? It helps them to pay for their children's education, to buy better accommodation and a whole host of things.

Our economic record since the Liberal government came to power in 1993 has been absolutely amazing, by even the most objective standard. In fact, people do not have to listen to me. They can listen to the OECD, to the IMF or to any leader in the world who, as I said, have pulled ministers of our government aside and asked how we are doing it in Canada. Although we need to deal with the sponsorship issue, and we are, we need to understand that the government has shown the absolute maximum level of creativity and responsibility in helping us to achieve our fiscal goals.

Budget 2004 does a whole bunch of other things. It starts the program on the cities agenda. It offers up the first down payment on the cities agenda, or as some would prefer to call it, the communities agenda. That first down payment is exempting municipalities from the GST, not effective next year or the year following, but effective immediately.

What does that mean for a city like Toronto where I come from? For the city of Toronto that means $50 million more in its treasury each and every year, starting a month or so ago. It means there is $50 million to be used to fight crime, to deal with public transit, to deal with affordable housing or any other priorities. Is that enough? Of course it is not enough. That is why it is a down payment. There will be discussions with the provinces and the cities over the next while to see what can be done with the gas tax or some similar instrument so that the cities can receive more dedicated and consistent revenues.

There is the 2003 health accord. What about health care? In 2003 we signed a health accord with the provinces for $35 billion and an additional $2 billion this fiscal year. That is $37 billion in health care. That is an 8% increase each and every year moving forward. In public health there also has been a large investment of almost half a billion dollars.

The budget contains initiatives with respect to the environment; $3.5 billion to help clean up brown fields or environmentally degraded sites; faster write-offs for computer equipment for small businesses; a faster approach to the lower tax rate for small business.

More has to be done and more will be done but budget 2004 is an excellent start, and I am sure the members of the House will support it.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

March 26th, 2004 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees.

Although the bill is intended to ease the regulatory burden on businesses, the NDP would like to remind members of the House that user fees affect individuals. It is individual families who are struggling with the burden of user fees on a daily basis.

Like many other Canadians, I have noted the scourge of user fees creeping across all of the services that my family and I use. As governments cut taxes, user fees have become the de facto method of maintaining services.

User fees are a fact of life in the federal government, at both federal and provincial parks, for example. We find user fees for accessing any documents from the federal government. There are not many places we can turn where services that were once provided as a free function of government are now attached to a user fee.

Over the last 20 years the Conservatives under Mulroney and now the Liberals under the Prime Minister have moved more and more services to the private sector. User fees are a consequence of that. I would like to quote briefly from the Canadian Union of Public Employees which is a body that has watched user fees rise alarmingly.

User fees--individuals and families paying for access to a service that once was freely available--are a common feature of many privatization schemes. The government retreat from funding and delivery of public services has created a new regime, where services once universally funded by taxes and other public revenues are no longer low-cost or free. While many privatized services still receive public funds, private management often levies new fees to supplement that revenue and maximize returns.

The publicly funded service that most Canadians depend on is health care. User fees are often raised as a way of reforming our health care system. As Roy Romanow said in his final report, and I think it is important that we reference Mr. Romanow's report:

There is overwhelming evidence that direct charges such as user fees put the heaviest burden on the poor and impede their access to necessary health care. This is the case even when low income exemptions are in place. The result may be higher costs in the long run because people delay treatment until their condition gets worse. In addition, user fees and co-payments also involve significant administrative costs that directly reduce the modest amount of revenue generated from the fees.

One of the key features of the Canada Health Act was its effective ban on user fees for hospital and physician services. Given what we know about the impact of even relatively low user fees, the Commission feels that this was the right decision then and remains the right decision today.

User fees build and build, and they make it harder and harder for people with low incomes to maintain their health. It is not just the regular health care system, it affects all aspects of health: public health and the dental services that we all need. I am happy that we are seeing some consensus in the House on the bill.

In summary, I would repeat that user fees discriminate against our poorer citizens the most. We need to reconsider the whole concept of charging people an extra fee for services.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

March 26th, 2004 / 1:35 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I understand the member's sense of urgency in wanting to get this passed today. We support this bill; however, I want to remind him that his government has approximately a year and a half left in its mandate. I do not see why an early election needs to be called. We need to be on record speaking to bills like this.

I am pleased today to support the bill. I have spoken to it many times in the past and have seen it evolve. I want to congratulate the member on his tenacity in championing this issue for several years.

Bill C-212 has changed quite a bit after going through the House of Commons and the Senate. Despite all of the amendments and the compromises, I believe the bill continues to embody the first steps to a fair and more responsive user pay system that better reflects Canadian democratic values. I truly hope that Bill C-212 would soon be put to a final vote, and that royal assent and proclamation would not be far behind.

User fees can be a responsible method of cost recovery for government services directed at specific clients and client groups; however, demands for fees can be and are sometimes abusive when there are weak controls. That is what this bill sets to correct.

In a democratic society, it is understood that fees charged by governments should reflect the actual cost of providing a service, which I am sorry to say has not always been the case. In addition, user fees should be set in coordination, conjunction and cooperation with all of the different groups that are subject to them, which seems to be a matter of common sense.

To say that Canadians deserve an accountable and transparent government must be more than just the chiming of the latest buzz words. It goes right to the heart of what we expect from a modern democracy. Empty rhetoric or window dressing will no longer do. Action and conviction are necessary and we must do the right thing in these kinds of cases.

Conservatives appreciate and hold in the highest regard the obligation of the state due to its vast power and authority over citizens to play fair. It is for that reason that the member for Medicine Hat introduced a similar private member's bill designed to reign in the power of the bureaucracy to charge for services in 1997, which was called Bill C-202 at the time. We are happy that the member for Etobicoke North has taken up this challenge to bring more accountability and transparency to the price charged for certain government services.

Expanded cost recovery had become a clear necessity during the early 1990s. We understand that; however, while the deficit is long gone, the user pay system still brings in over $4 billion to the federal coffers every year. Over 50 federal departments and agencies are currently levying over 500 different fees.

As responsible elected members, we must have a way to govern this mushrooming use of user fees, and respond to the serious concerns that a user pay system can and sometimes does take advantage of the users.

We agree with the member that safeguards and guarantees are needed. For example, greater parliamentary oversight should be required when user fees are introduced or changed. Increased stakeholder participation, including stakeholder impact and competitive analysis before fees, should be put in place.

Other long overdue changes would be: guaranteed performance standards for user pay services, annual reporting requirements for the government-wide user pay regime, and an independent dispute settlement process to deal with the complaints.

As I mentioned before, Bill C-212 has changed considerably from the version tabled by the member several years ago. In particular, the exclusion of crown corporations from these improvements is regrettable, which was the amended version coming back from the Senate, especially considering recent revelations that unscrupulous types can and have used the crown corporations to advance partisan political agendas and personal economic fortunes. The fact that crown corporations are no longer included makes that a bit of a problem.

Nevertheless, I believe this bill is a step in the right direction toward the struggle for increased government accountability and transparency. We may have to wait for a Conservative government to finish the job, which may not be that far away, but in the meantime we are happy to support Bill C-212.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

March 26th, 2004 / 1:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees.

Mr. Speaker, in the interest of time today I will be keeping my remarks very brief. Members of the chamber are very familiar with Bill C-212. The bill was passed unanimously at all stages and was sent to the other place. I thank members for that. It is now back in the House of Commons to consider amendments made in the other place.

The bill can pass into law today with members' support. I am going to comment briefly on three topics. I will give a brief background and reason for the bill. I am going to provide an overview of the amendments made in the other place. I am going to describe briefly the process to move this bill forward.

The intent of Bill C-212 is to bring greater transparency, accountability and parliamentary oversight to federal government departments and agencies when they attempt to recover costs through user fees. User fees take many different forms and are meant to defray some or all of the costs of services provided by government, presumably in the public interest, but which also provide a specific service to the client, for example, licence fees, registrations, et cetera.

As I said previously, I support the government objective of recovering the costs it incurs by charging fees for users of property and specialized services.

The bill that I introduced deals with the following issues:

First is the need to link the amount charged for user fees with the ability of a department or agency to meet agreed to performance standards.

Second is the need for greater stakeholder participation in the fee setting process.

Third is the requirement for more comprehensive stakeholder impact and competitiveness analysis when new user fees or fee increases are contemplated.

Fourth is the goal of increased transparency with respect to why fees are applicable, what fees are charged, what costs are identified as recoverable, what private benefits are being conferred and whether performance standards are being met. Also, there is the need for user fees to be internationally competitive and the need for more parliamentary oversight when user fees are introduced or changed.

There also needs to be a dispute settlement mechanism to resolve complaints or grievances from user fee payers, and an annual report that lists all of the user fees that are in effect.

I will now provide the House with an overview of the amendments made in the other place. These are amendments that I support and amendments that the President of the Treasury Board also supports. These amendments improve on the language in the bill and provide greater clarity on the intent and operation of the bill.

I should point out that these amendments do not alter the principles or main thrust and theme of the bill that was passed in the House a short time ago.

The first amendment includes a role for the Senate, one that will mirror the process for user fees that is enunciated in Bill C-212 for the House of Commons. I believe that this will enhance the parliamentary oversight over user fees.

The second amendment makes it clear that Bill C-212 does not apply to fees charged by one regulating authority to another.

The aim of the third amendment is to strengthen wording used in the original bill. It describes more fully how the independent dispute resolution process works through an independent advisory panel. Also, comparisons of fees with major trading partners will be limited to those of relevant trading partners.

Amendment four can be characterized as consequential. Because of an earlier change to the definition of user fees, this amendment is required to maintain consistency.

The purpose of amendment five is to clarify the period designated to compare the performance of a regulatory authority and the period for which the user fees would be reduced in relation to performance that does not meet the standard, as defined in the bill.

Amendment six deals with the following. The original language in the bill provided for a delay of 40 sitting days before a proposal is deemed to be approved if the committee fails to report its recommendation to the House of Commons. This delay could translate into as much as 80 calendar days.

This amendment takes into account workload and practices in this House. Twenty sitting days should provide enough time for the committee to provide the House with a report when it deems it necessary or desirable to do so. This amendment changes the review period to 20 sitting days.

Amendment seven is a consequential amendment relating to previous changes. Clause seven is no longer necessary as it is made redundant by previous amendments.

The aim of amendment eight is to allow the President of the Treasury Board to conduct a review of this legislation in three years' time. This is most appropriate, in my view.

Amendment nine is a consequential amendment.

Amendment 10 is another consequential amendment as clause 10 is no longer required.

As I said earlier, I support all these amendments.

I thank the members of the national finance committee and all the members in the other place for their important contribution to this bill.

Many other thanks are in order. I would like to thank all those who have participated to date in the debate on Bill C-212. The debate on this topic has been very constructive and productive.

I would also like to thank the members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for the work they did on this bill, and all the witnesses who appeared to speak to this legislation in the House of Commons and in the Senate.

I would like to thank all the members of this chamber for their support of this bill.

I would like to thank the President of the Treasury Board, the hon. member for Winnipeg South, for all his advice and support and for encouraging and supporting the initiative of a private member. It has been like a breath of fresh air. Also, I would like to thank the minister's staff.

Furthermore, I also want to thank the clerk of the Standing Committee on Finance and the research staff of the committee. I want to thank my staff, as well.

Thanks also to the Business Coalition on Cost Recovery for its advice and support over the years.

Colleagues in the House of Commons, we have a historic opportunity today to pass this user fee legislation into law, bringing many years of hard work to a successful conclusion.

Some members in the House today may wish to speak to Bill C-212 again, or for the first time. This is quite understandable and cannot be denied. If the debate on this bill would collapse today, we could have user fee legislation passed into law today, or next week if the vote is deferred.

Time is not on our side. Should Parliament be dissolved to make way for a general election, Bill C-212 would disappear into legislative history, an unfinished bill and perhaps a worthy effort. I am sure that you will agree with me that this is not good enough for us in this chamber, nor is it good enough for all Canadians.

Should the debate not be terminated today, Bill C-212 would fall to the bottom of the Order Paper and would come forward, hopefully before Parliament dissolved, for a final hour and vote. There may not be sufficient time to accomplish this.

I urge members to end the debate today and to vote the bill into law. Members will be able to claim this victory. The alternative is to deal with user fees through government policies that have not worked in the past.

I urge members to embrace the legislative approach proposed by Bill C-212. The choice is a clear one. Vote for Bill C-212 and support accountability, transparency and the legitimate roles of members of Parliament.

Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

February 9th, 2004 / 5:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the motion seeks to reinstate bills that died on the Order Paper when the previous session of Parliament ended.

As all of us know, the goal of the motion is a simple one: to spare members the burden of having to repeat work on bills that got as far as the committee stage in the last session.

This is especially commendable given the numerous pressures MPs are under and the limited resources available to us.

What features are contained in the motion? Simply put, under the motion a minister would be able to request during 30 sitting days after the motion's adoption the reinstatement of a bill that had reached at least the committee stage when the last session ended. Should the Speaker be satisfied that the bill is the same as in the previous session, the bill would be reinstated at the same stage as before.

Thus during this session we can skip all the stages of debate that have been completed so far. The work of the committees that are considering the bills would consequently be preserved. In short, this is a very appealing option.

Parliament relies heavily upon precedents which means we are constantly looking over our shoulder to ensure new measures are consistent with past practices. Is this motion in keeping with the longstanding practices of the House? It is in fact a practice we have had for over three decades.

On a number of occasions reinstatement motions have been adopted by consent and without debate. It is clear that today's motion is well within the bounds of accepted parliamentary practice. This is supported by Marleau and Montpetit's authoritative guide to parliamentary procedure which discusses this issue in some detail. While they recognize that as a general principle prorogation of a session means that all bills that have not yet received royal assent die on the Order Paper and must be reintroduced in the new session, they also recognize that “bills have been reinstated by motion at the start of a new session at the same stage they had reached at the end of the previous session; committee work has similarly been revived”.

One point that needs clarification is that this motion allows the government the flexibility to reintroduce certain bills. It does not require the government to reintroduce all bills that were on the Order Paper at a certain stage when Parliament prorogued. Let me give an example of some bills which the government would have the flexibility to reinstate if it so chose.

One is Bill C-7 on the administration and accountability of Indian bands. The new government has indicated it would like to revisit that whole question of governance but nonetheless, this motion would give the government the flexibility to reintroduce that bill should it so choose.

Another one is Bill C-10B on cruelty to animals which has received a lot of attention in my riding. Bill C-13, assisted human reproduction, as an example had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate and a great deal of the work that had been done here in the House of Commons would have to be redone. Bill C-17 on public safety was another bill that had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate.

Bill C-18, an act respecting Canadian citizenship, is another bill that the government if this motion passes will be able to reintroduce if it so chooses. Bill C-19, first nations fiscal management, was at report stage. Bill C-20, protection of children, was at report stage. Bill C-22, the Divorce Act, was in committee. Bill C-23, registration of information relating to sex offenders, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. Bill C-26, the Railway Safety Act, was in committee. Bill C-27 on airport authorities was at second reading when the House prorogued.

Bill C-32, Criminal Code amendments, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. Bill C-33, international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences, was at report stage when we prorogued. Bill C-34, ethics, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate where it had been amended.

These are bills that have gone through a lengthy debate and process within the House of Commons and some already within the Senate.

Bill C-35, remuneration of military judges, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. Bill C-36, Archives of Canada, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. Bill C-38, the marijuana bill, was at report stage and second reading. Bill C-40, Corrections and Conditional Release Act, was at first reading when the House prorogued. Bill C-43, the fisheries act, was at first reading when the House prorogued.

Bill C-46, the capital markets fraud bill, had passed third reading and had been sent to the Senate. This is a bill that will help the government deal with the kind of corporate fraud that we have seen with Enron and many other examples. We want to make sure that our government has the ability to deal with these types of issues so that investors are protected from the fraudulent activities of the management of various companies and their directors.

Bill C-49, the electoral boundaries act had passed third reading and was in the Senate.

Bill C-51, the Canada Elections Act, and Bill C-52, the Radiocommunication Act, were at second reading when the House prorogued. Bill C-53, the riding name changes, had passed third reading and was sent to the Senate. Bill C-54, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act was in committee as was Bill C-56, the Food and Drugs Act, when the House prorogued. Bill C-57, the westbank first nation self-government act was also in committee.

There was a lot of work involved in getting these bills to this stage. The government is not necessarily committing to reintroducing all these bills, but we want the flexibility to reintroduce those bills which we support and not have to reinvent the wheel.

The amendment put forward by the member for Yorkton--Melville indicates that there are a number of bills that, given the government's flexibility, he would not like to have reinstated. That includes Bill C-7, the bill dealing with the administration and accountability of Indian bands. Our government may want to revisit that bill.

The member for Yorkton--Melville has said that Bill C-13, the assisted human reproduction bill, should be left alone as well. He names a number of other bills such as Bill C-19, Bill C-20, Bill C-22, Bill C-26, Bill C-34, Bill C-35, Bill C-36, Bill C-38.

I should point out that a number of these bills, Bill C-13 for example, passed third reading and was in the Senate.The member for Yorkton--Melville wants us to start all over with that bill.

He said that Bill C-34, the ethics legislation, should not be reinstated, yet that bill had passed third reading and was sent to the Senate where it had been amended. We all know about that bill.

He said that we should start all over again with regard to Bill C-35, remuneration for military judges legislation. That bill had passed third reading and was in the Senate,.

I do not know what is so contentious with regard to Bill C-36, the archives of Canada legislation, but the member for Yorkton--Melville wants us to start all over again with that bill. Bill C-38, the marijuana bill, was at report stage.

A lot of work has already been done in this chamber and in the other place on bills that, without the passage of this motion, would have to be started all over again. There is a long list of precedents for reinstating government bills and reviving committee work.

For example, in 1970, 1972, 1974 and 1986, the members of this House gave their unanimous consent to a motion to reinstate bills from a previous session.

In 1977 and 1982 members amended the Standing Orders to allow Parliament to carry over legislation to the next session. All of which testifies to the longstanding practice of the House of allowing the reinstatement of bills at the same stage as was the case in the previous session, which is precisely what the motion calls for.

It is interesting to note, and I have some personal interaction with this particular idea, that the procedure proposed in the motion is similar, in fact it is identical, to that which exists in the Standing Orders for private members' bills which the House adopted in 1998.

I have a private member's bill, Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees, that unanimously passed all stages in the House, was in the Senate, had passed first reading in the Senate and had been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on National Finance. Then we prorogued. Without this particular feature, I would have had to start all over again in the House of Commons after two to three years of work and a bill that had passed unanimously at all stages in the House of Commons.

With this particular Standing Order, the bill is already on the floor of the Senate. We did not have to reinvent the wheel here in the House of Commons. I am hopeful that it will be passed to the Standing Committee on National Finance shortly and then onwards from there.

We say that those rules are good for private member's bills, in fact they have the support of the House because they are now part of the Standing Orders. We say, on the one hand for private members' business, it is all right to reinstate these bills, but for the government's business it is not, this is a whole new thing.

The member opposite said that if we have a new government then why do we not have new ideas. I can assure the member that if he read the throne speech, and if he looked at the new democratic deficit paper, this is just the start. He will see that the government will be operated very differently.

However, having said that, there is no problem in my judgment to reintroduce those bills that make sense. There has been a lot of work done already. With this motion, the government would have the flexibility to deal with these bills that have been passed, where there is consent of the House, and send them to the Senate.

It is interesting to note that in 1977, a private member's bill was reinstated after Parliament was dissolved.

All of which inevitably leads us to the conclusion, as I said earlier, that if it is reasonable to reinstate private members' bills at the same stage, surely we have the common sense in this chamber to say that it is reasonable to follow the same procedure with respect to government bills.

What would be different about government bills? If we have adopted the procedure in the House for private members' business, why would we want different rules for government business, unless we are out to score political points or be partisan in our debate?

I should point out that this practice of reinstating bills is also practised in other mature democracies that have ruled in favour of bringing legislation forward from one session to another.

I think of the parliament in the United Kingdom from which many of our own parliamentary practices originally came. It has reinstatement motions to allow government bills to carry over from one session to the next.

The official opposition has told the media that it would oppose the motion for the sole purpose of delaying bills from the last session. This is patently unfair and contrary to House practices. The attitude shows it has little regard for the work of the House and for Canadian taxpayers. Opposition members will ask members of the House, at great cost to the public treasury, to come back and re-debate bills that have already passed this chamber and are in the Senate in many cases.

The bills that will be reinstated would include the legislation to accelerate the coming into force of the new electoral boundaries which was passed by the House of Commons and sent to the Senate.

We talk about dealing with western alienation. This particular legislation would allow more seats for British Columbia and Alberta. This is the way to proceed. Why would we want to delay that bill? Why would we want to have the debate all over again on something that is patently obvious.

We take the census and figure it all out, and draw the boundaries. This is not rocket science. This is done by Elections Canada. It redefines the boundaries. It recognizes that Canada is a growing country, that different areas are growing more quickly than others, and it redefines the boundaries.

If we have that bill when the next election is called, Alberta and British Columbia will have a bigger voice. I think Ontario would receive more seats as well. I am sure that there could be an amendment that could be put forward to deal with Nova Scotia perhaps.

There is the legislation to create an independent ethics commissioner and a Senate ethics officer, something that the members opposite have argued for vociferously for months, perhaps years. This bill could be reinstated very simply by agreeing and adopting this motion. We could have an independent ethics commissioner for the House and a Senate ethics officer.

The motion should have the support of the House. It is the practice in most mature democratic countries.

In conclusion, we need to be clear that adoption of the motion does not mean that all the bills that were on the Order Paper when we prorogued would automatically come back. It means that the government would have the flexibility to pick those bills that, in its wisdom and judgment, it sees fit to bring back. That would allow us not to have to reinvent the wheel and re-debate those bills that have the support of the chamber. Many of them also have the support of the Senate, at least at first reading stage.

The motion before us today does not represent a break with our parliamentary traditions. In fact, it is very much a part of our parliamentary traditions and it is entirely consistent with the practice of the House dating back to 1970.

Moreover, the measures described in the motion would greatly contribute to freeing up the members so that they can focus on the important task of developing new initiatives for promoting the well-being of Canadians.

With this in mind, I certainly intend to support this motion. I would urge other members to support it so we can get on with the business of the House, the important business and legislation that can be brought forward and reinstated and not have to be re-debated.

Business of the House

February 2nd, 2004 / 4:50 p.m.
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The Speaker

May I remind hon. members that a time limit is placed on the consideration of private members’ bills. Indeed, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, committees will be required to report on these reinstated private members’ public bills within 60 sitting days of this statement.

At prorogation, five private members' bills originating in the House of Commons had been read the third time and passed. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 86.1, the following bills are deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House: Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees; Bill C-249, an act to amend the Competition Act; Bill C-250, an act to amend the Criminal Code (hate propaganda); Bill C-260, an act to amend the Hazardous Products Act (fire-safe cigarettes); and Bill C-300, an act to change the names of certain electoral districts.

(Bills deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House)

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 29th, 2003 / 11:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all those who participated in the debate on Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees. The debate on this topic has been very thoughtful and productive.

I would also like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Finance for the work they did in relation to the bill, and all the witnesses who appeared before the committee to speak to the User Fees Act. Furthermore, I also want to thank the clerk of the Standing Committee on Finance.

Later this week when we vote at third reading of the bill, if we do not vote on it here today, members of the House will have a very clear choice: continue to deal with user fees through government policies, albeit an enhanced policy environment because of recently announced user fee changes by the government, or embrace the legislative approach proposed by Bill C-212.

I submit to colleagues that Bill C-212 is the preferred route for the following three reasons. First, federal government user fees, which currently generate about $4 billion in revenue annually, while not taxes are akin to taxes and need the scrutiny of Parliament.

Second, these same user fees are priced by monopolies, by officials in departments and agencies with limited input from elected representatives.

Third, the policy approach to user fees has not worked in the past and is not working now. There is little likelihood that this approach will produce the needed results in the future.

Some members have said that users are generally satisfied with the government's cost recovery user fee policy. This is not consistent with the facts before us. The vast majority of users are not happy, nor do they have confidence that the government's new policy will make any real difference.

Bill C-212 builds in consequences should departments or agencies fail to meet their performance targets by more than 10%. In jurisdictions, like the United States and Australia, where user fees and performance are linked, service standards are met close to 100% of the time. The same will occur here in Canada if Bill C-212 is adopted. The end result will be a more innovative and competitive economy and better service to Canadians.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance unanimously approved Bill C-212. Over the years, it has reviewed the public policy on user fees and cost recovery a number of times. Members of the committee know the issue very well. Their work should be of great interest to my colleagues.

To enhance the bill I introduced a number of amendments at committee in response to feedback and comments. Some of these changes were more minor in nature but others were more significant. Allow me to comment on the latter.

Some individuals were concerned that Bill C-212 as it was originally written would compromise the ability of the executive branch of government to implement policies because the House of Commons had a veto power over any new user fees or any increase in user fees.

The amended Bill C-212 removes the veto power of the House of Commons but replaces it with a recommending authority. In lieu of this, penalties for non-compliance by departments and agencies for the failure to meet stated performance standards, as I described earlier, have been written into the bill.

Some were concerned that committees of the House of Commons would be inundated with user fee requests. Although a variety of evidence presented at the finance committee hearings seemed to refute this, an amendment was passed at committee stating that if a standing committee of the House of Commons does not report back to the House within 40 sitting days of receiving such a user fee proposal, the committee will be deemed to have approved the proposal. This provides the committees with the latitude they need to manage their workload and priorities.

There were other amendments which were adopted by the House of Commons finance committee and Bill C-212 is a better bill as a result of those changes.

The government, as I said, has introduced a new policy. It comes a long way and I thank the President of the Treasury Board for that. However in my judgment the revised policy falls well short in the following key areas. First, the new policy still lacks real teeth to deal with departments and agencies that fail to meet stated performance standards. With Bill C-212 there are real consequences if standards are not met.

Second, while the new policy improves the process for resolving disputes between users and federal government departments and agencies, this process is still an internal one; whereas Bill C-212 calls for an independent dispute resolution mechanism.

Third, Bill C-212 explicitly states that user fees are appropriate when private benefits are conferred; otherwise they are clearly taxes. The government policy is somewhat silent still on this point.

There are other differences between Bill C-212 and the new public policy. However, the ones I have underscored are the main ones.

Again, the choice is a clear one. I urge my colleagues to vote for Bill C-212 and support accountability, transparency and the legitimate role of members of Parliament.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 29th, 2003 / 11:15 a.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand and speak in favour of Bill C-212 in the name of the member for Etobicoke North. Not only has he brought forward this bill, I had a similar bill on the Order Paper and I have removed my bill in favour of his, so it is difficult for me to speak with anything but favour for this particular piece of legislation.

I should correct one thing. The member for Medicine Hat continually said that the cost of a passport was $65. I will clarify that. In fact, let me say for all those people listening, if there are any, that the cost is $85. The fee was increased not that long ago. If the member for Medicine Hat feels that in Alberta the fee is still only $65, he is mistaken. The fee is $85 and it is the same across the country. I ask that my office not be inundated with calls telling me that the people we have been helping with passports over the past numbers of months have been charged the wrong fee. They have not been. It is $85. However, that is the issue here: fee for service.

Conceptually, the idea of a fee for a service is not something that we could not accept. We do it all the time. We have a fee for service when we ride a bus. We have a fee for service when we go to a swimming pool. We have a fee for service when we are provided with any number of services, whether they be municipal, provincial or federal. Conceptually or philosophically, it is not such a bad thing to have a fee for service.

Those people who are in fact taking the service should in fact be the ones responsible for paying a portion of that fee. A passport is a perfect example. If you or I as an individual wish to apply for and receive a passport, which by the way is one of the finest documents that we as Canadians can ever own, then we should be responsible for some of the cost. But this is where the issue comes to a grinding halt. Just what is a fair cost? What is a fair fee for service? What value are we as Canadians receiving for that fee for service, for that cost recovery?

Conceptually what it was is that departments were supposed to recover some of their costs. There is a budget in a department. A department provides these services and attempts to recover some of the costs it has to pay out in staff time, office time and other operating costs. That in itself is fair.

But what is not fair is not being able to tell the people who are paying the fees for those services what they are getting for that service and what portion of cost recovery is acceptable to the department. That is where this whole thing falls off the rails and that is why Bill C-212 is so vital and absolutely important in trying to bring it back on the rails.

There is an advantage there, but there is also a huge disadvantage. I will give members a couple of examples. One that is dear and close to my heart, and why I was putting my bill forward as well, is a operational department within PMRA. It said that it had to recover a certain proportionate part of its costs to operate this department. Those costs to the users have been increasing quite dramatically over the past number of years.

Those users are saying that this is impacting them. It is impacting them now in trying to get a registration from what is now called the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. It has been costing them a huge amount of money to get a registration for a product in this country, to the point where a lot of the producers of those products are backing off and saying it is now not economically feasible for them to go through all the regulatory process and pay all of the exorbitant fees for a very small part of the market. They are backing away, and my constituents, and in particular my farmers, do not have the advantage of these types of pest controls they need in order to continue in their agricultural pursuits.

There are other examples. Certainly with export licences, in agriculture particularly, it is now simply a matter of a piece of paper. There is not even much of an inspection that goes on when a person exports potatoes from Prince Edward Island, for example, into the United States. It is now simply a matter of a piece of paper that costs an extreme amount of money, with no inspection. Effectively it is simply a matter of a tax grab; it is trying to find more dollars to pump into the department. That has to stop.

What has to happen is identified in Bill C-212 by the member for Etobicoke North and it is pretty sound. As a party, we will be supporting it. It says, “Let us do a cost benefit analysis. Let us find out exactly what services are being provided for these costs”. It is quite simple. I agree with that and I think the department should agree with it. If we are providing the service to a group of individuals, then tell us exactly what services they are getting for that cost.

Let us also look at the overall cost recovery budgets of the departments to find out if it is simply a matter of grabbing taxes to pay for their operations without being more efficient in their operations. That is important too. We cannot have inefficiency running amok, which we see happening on occasion, in fact for most of the time in the departments on that side of the House. What we have to do is get more efficiencies built into our organization so we do not have to recover as many costs in the first place and that those licensing fees can be reduced accordingly. That is very important.

The best part of the bill and the worst part in reality is that if I am a user and I have to pay a fee that I object to I have to go to those same people who levied the fee. They may say that I am right, that it is inefficient, it is charging too much and that it will reduce the fee, but that does not happen. In reality those departments do not like to admit their mistakes.

However now Treasury Board is saying that we need an appeal but we need it to go to the same people who levied the fees. That is ridiculous. The bill is saying that we should have an independent adjudicator to whom we can go and, even if I do not win my argument, at least there is a perception that I am listened to, that someone will take this seriously and listen to my arguments so that maybe the fees can be reduced accordingly. That is embraced in the bill. I appreciate that and I think the bill should go forward.

I believe Treasury Board is moving to bring forward another policy statement. Let us not get caught up on this. Let us go forward with this private member's bill. Let us put it on the table and make sure the government has to deal with it because, quite frankly, the new policy that is being brought forward is no better than the old policy.

The member for Etobicoke North as well as others on this side of the House have caused a little bit of concern and consternation in the departments. Individuals are saying that there are some fires so they may as well put them out and bring forward their own policy. However that policy is no better than what is in place at the present time.

Let us not use that idea from the Liberal side of the House to say that they are already working on that so we can just forget about this private member's bill and let the departments come forward. Let us not fall into that trap. Let us make sure the legislation goes forward because it is sound. In my opinion it has better proposals than were brought forward by the departments themselves. Let us not make the mistake that simply because there are people looking at it from the department side it will fix itself. It does not fix itself.

The problem with user fees, as I said conceptually, is sound as long as there are two things: first, a cost benefit analysis for the service being provided; and second, we recognize that there is a certain percentage of the cost recovery based on efficiencies of the departments themselves.

The third issue has to do with the economic competitiveness that we have in the country now. We need to ensure we have the ability to compete in the global market and in order to do that we need to ensure we can control our business costs. This is an uncontrollable cost. This cost is currently workable but not acceptable. However that is not to say that the departments cannot at some point in time arbitrarily increase those costs without anybody having an influence as to why and how.

The question of the passport is a prime example. We do probably 250 passports a month out of my office. Arbitrarily the department made a decision one week to raise those fees from $65 to $85. We were not even notified of those increases until after the fact. When my constituents come to me for a service and I do not even have the right number or any argument as to why that number was raised, to me that is a ridiculous opportunity from a department itself.

I appreciate the bill coming forward from the member for Etobicoke North. It is a similar bill to one I had tabled originally with respect to cost recovery and licensing fees. I would suggest that on Wednesday everybody, not only this side of the House but on that side of the House, should hold the feet to the fire of the departments that arbitrarily increased those fees to an exorbitant amount.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 29th, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. members on my own side for the warm applause. Obviously people are in a good mood this morning.

It is my pleasure to rise to address Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees. I have to say that this subject is of interest to me. In the past I have brought forward my own private member's bill on user fees in an attempt to ensure that there is some accountability when it comes to establishing user fees as well as accountability when it comes to ensuring that the services provided as a result of user fees are actually providing the public with value for money.

I want to say at the outset that this is an important issue. It is an issue that has been raised by the Auditor General in the past. The Auditor General has suggested that there needs to be more accountability and transparency when it comes to user fees. We completely support that idea.

It is also my pleasure to speak in favour of Bill C-212. My Liberal colleague across the way has done a lot of work on this. That is good. It is an important issue.

A few years ago there was actually a coalition of business groups that got together and demonstrated real concern about it. They felt that the government was not ensuring that people were getting value for money when it came to the services that were provided. As a result of the submission on user fees, typically from businesses, for different services, some changes have been made. The government has tried to react. The President of the Treasury Board has brought down some changes, but as the member for Etobicoke North points out, it really is not enough. The government has not gone far enough. I agree with him completely.

I want to talk about some of the specific things he is proposing in his bill. I will not speak for my party because it is private members' business, but I do think a large majority of people in my party would support some of these measures.

First of all he is calling for notification. In other words, if there is to be a change to a fee, it only makes sense that the people and businesses that will be affected should be notified. In some cases it is critical to a business that the service it purchases from government be provided. In some cases businesses pay a tremendous amount of money to get those services through user fees, so they want to be notified ahead of time if there is to be a change to a user fee. Obviously that is just common sense. It is safe to say that members of the Alliance, if I could speak broadly, would be very supportive of that and I certainly am.

A second point related to this is that there should be input on improving services. This is so important.

Let me give the House an example of a service for which there is a user fee where the public has had really no input at all, and that is on passports. Almost everybody at one time or another has owned a passport. Certainly now in this day and age when there are tighter security controls everywhere, whether it is at airports or crossing the border into the United States or into another country, we almost need a passport. The fees for passports are pretty rich, but on the other hand, the service providing them has become slower. I think people have cause to question whether or not that is appropriate.

It makes sense to me that there would be some input when it comes to determining what is a reasonable amount of time people should have to wait for a passport, given the fact that it costs $65, I think, to get a passport. I am not certain why it costs $65. It seems like a lot of money to me, but there does not seem to be any relationship between what a service costs and what the user fee is and how good the service is. In this case with passports we know that the government was not even meeting its own standards in terms of providing passports and turning them around as quickly as it should.

I remember that there were a number of questions asked of the foreign affairs minister last spring when people were making requests for passports and sending along their money only to find out it was taking a lot longer than they had bargained for and that the government had promised. There needs to be some input on improving services.

Another recommendation in this private member's bill is impact assessment. That makes sense to me. If the government is going to raise a user fee, pretty obviously it is important that the government determine how it will impact businesses, typically it is businesses, that are using that service. If it has a dramatic impact and if it makes those businesses uncompetitive with other jurisdictions around the world, the government should take that into account. Because the role of government of course is not to make the job of businesses harder, but it is in fact to facilitate and to make it easier for them to compete. This is a very common sense proposal contained in this private member's bill, Bill C-212, and I could be very supportive of that.

The bill also calls on the government to explain how a fee is determined. I touched on that a minute ago. Why does it cost $65 for a passport? A passport is a secure document and the government has gone to some length to ensure that it cannot be easily replicated so people cannot use fraudulent passports. It is not clear to me that it actually costs the government $65 to produce it and to process the paperwork when someone requests a passport. The fact is, we do not really know how much it costs because we do not have any information with regard to this. So it makes sense that there be an accounting, that the government must provide some kind of accounting to show that it costs that much money and that government therefore can justify charging that much money. Under the system as it is now, there is absolutely no transparency. We need to know how those fees are determined.

The bill put forward by the member for Etobicoke North suggests that there should be a dispute settlement mechanism. What he means by this is that if there is a dispute between people who use a government service, and pay fees for that service, and the government, in terms of how much it should charge for that service, there should be a way to settle that through an independent third party. That is important, because if there is no independent third party, pretty obviously the government, which gets to make the final call on this, may say, “It's my way or the highway”. It will just go ahead and charge that fee. The government may be doing it for reasons that have nothing to do with only recovering its costs; it may be doing that because it wants to make a profit.

We must remember that user fees bring in more than $3 billion a year to the government. They are a big source of revenue. If the government is using user fees not just to recover costs but to make a profit to be put into general revenues, that is not appropriate. That is not what user fees are for. User fees are there to cover the costs of government in providing a particular service.

Therefore, we very much support the idea of an independent third party who could settle disputes between government and those who are recipients of services purchased through user fees.

Finally, it makes sense that these fees should be comparable to those of other jurisdictions. Canada is in global competition. If services are provided for a company that is in the shipping industry, for example, and the fees are much higher here than for a shipping industry in another country, then perhaps that industry will ship to that other country so it can take advantage of the lower user fees. That should also be taken into account. We have no assurance that this is happening today. In fact, to the contrary, all we have is the government saying it is our way or the highway. We support that aspect of Bill C-212.

We support Bill C-212 in general, if I may speak for my colleagues. I have no authority to do that, by the way, as it is private member's business, but I certainly will recommend to my colleagues that we support Bill C-212. I congratulate my friend from Etobicoke North for bringing this forward.