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.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 18th, 2003 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Yolande Thibeault Liberal Saint-Lambert, QC

Madam Speaker, I too am aware of the excellent work by my colleague, the member for Etobicoke North, who shed light on external charging, not only by introducing his bill, but also through the excellent work he has been doing for a very long time as a member of the Standing Committee on Finance.

That having been said, the external charging policy that the government has just published is based on the conclusions of a triennial review of the policy, during which external stakeholders were invited to give their impressions.

Comments were collected through a vast survey based on interviews of government users and an advisory group of experts in external charging.

These two mechanisms sought input from the members of the Business Coalition on Cost Recovery, a broad-based industrial group that represents the interests of companies that pay external charging.

The revised external charging policy, announced on September 3, 2003, contributes a great deal to many of the major themes addressed in Bill C-212, namely improving performance and increasing ministerial accountability to Parliament.

This policy, which replaces the cost recovery and charging policy of 1997, is not merely revised, it repeats and reinforces the fundamental principles of fairness, accountability and communication.

In its revised form, the external charging policy ensures stronger accountability, transparency and consultation with stakeholders regarding the implementation of external charges, and requires that monitoring and reporting be as detailed as possible.

Furthermore, the revised policy ensures that the application of external charging better respects the economic environment and overall government policies.

This policy confirms the government's intention and ability to implement external charging in the best interests of all Canadians. It includes the following main improvements:

The first improvement aims to provide more complete and in-depth reported information to parliamentarians, so that members are better informed and more actively involved. This is in line with commitments made in the 2003 budget to improve reporting of external charging.

The government has made great strides in getting ministers to provide information on external charging, particularly with regard to costs, services, performance results, consultations and conflict resolution.

The guidelines for preparing reports on plans and priorities, which will be published shortly, will contain similar reporting requirements.

The second improvement is to make it mandatory to establish realistic and appropriate service standards and to report on these standards, and to this end, to carry out consultations with stakeholders and discuss possible options, such as cutting the fees applicable in case of non-fulfillment of commitments.

The third improvement is aimed at increasing active monitoring to ensure compliance with the policy and consistency in its application throughout the government.

Finally, the fourth improvement gives stakeholders an advisory role in the departmental decision-making process regarding dispute management.

The policy is more balanced. Bill C-212 seems to deal only with issues that are known to touch a limited number of regulatory programs.

The provisions of Bill C-212 reduce flexibility and increase the costs and the workload associated with all programs involving external charging. For example, all departments could eventually be required to have an independent dispute management process, when the policy review shows that most departments settle disputes to the satisfaction of stakeholders.

The policy is more effective. It provides clear directions with regard to all aspects of its implementation.

In conclusion, with all due respect to the member for Etobicoke North, I am asking the House to vote with the government against Bill C-212.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 18th, 2003 / 5:50 p.m.
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Chicoutimi—Le Fjord Québec

Liberal

André Harvey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to acknowledge the exceptional work of my colleague, the hon. member for Etobicoke North, particularly this afternoon, when he had the opportunity to comment on the Bloc Quebecois's proposal.

I greatly appreciated his most rational remarks on tax issues. It was very interesting. As for the proposal that was moved and that was debated all day, he even proved to us that the Bloc got the wrong country. In other words, this proposal was developed and prepared on the corner of a table. I thank him for his remarks this afternoon.

The government shares his desire to improve the fee setting process. It is with this in mind that the President of the Treasury Board announced the implementation of a new policy on external user fees in August. This policy is now in effect. I think that the new policy solves many of the problems raised by the member for Etobicoke North. In fact, I am convinced that, in this case, it is preferable to have a policy than to pass the bill before us.

Since it is based on consultation, the policy provides a balance between two sound management practices. While ensuring government wide consistency, it provides individual programs with the flexibility that is needed to satisfy the numerous demands and interests of stakeholders.

The government then decided to consult the businesses and industry associations, those who pay the user fees. It also consulted the members of Parliament, including members of the Standing Committee on Finance.

The review showed that the principles of equity and justice underlying that policy have strong support. However, the review also showed that the stakeholders shared some major concerns which the policy had to take into account, and it did just that in my humble view.

It started from the already existing strong foundation and designed a new policy which would solve the problems uncovered during the review and reflected in the key elements of the bill being proposed by our colleague.

The new policy considerably strengthens the links between user fees and the level of services. The departments must now establish standards of service in consultation with those concerned and determine what measures will be taken if the standards are not met.

However, the policy states that service commitments must also take into account the program's priorities as established in the acts or regulations. Services are provided in the interest of the public, and the policy recognizes that the standards must equitably take into account the needs of all Canadians.

By allowing the departments and stakeholders to explore a broad range of options, the policy reflects the message sent by a majority of external stakeholders, which is that the main goal is to improve services.

Many paying users and their associations said they were willing to pay higher fees if the money was invested in service delivery. Therefore, any effort made to reduce the user fees may not meet the expectations of paying users, especially in terms of service delivery.

The review showed that departments usually handle complaints properly, but that communications might be improved. Therefore, under the revised policy, the dispute resolution mechanism has to be formally structured and clearly explained during the consultations. The policy also recognizes that departments may ask totally independent advisory committees to make recommendations.

During the review, parliamentarians asked for more detailed reports of external charging. Their message was heard loud and clear. The policy takes their concerns into account. Under the new policy, departments will now have to report to Parliament and the public on a yearly basis. This will be done through public accounts, departmental performance reports and reports on plans and priorities. Departments will also have to ensure that more detailed information on costs, revenues and performance is included in these reports.

The government did not wait until the report was completed. It is already honouring its commitment, as the 2002-03 Departmental Performance Report to be released this fall will show.

The over-all purpose of this policy is to provide departments with better guidelines and directives, and to provide more transparency and stability to the users who pay, parliamentarians, and other, external stakeholders, with the ultimate objective of strengthening transparency and accountability.

I would also like to point out that the fundamental objectives of the policy and of Bill C-212 are similar in many aspects: both seek to improve accountability, transparency and service delivery, but there are important differences between them in functional and operational terms.

The policy is more compatible with the existing authorities, since it respects both the principle of ministerial accountability, by which ministers are responsible for user fees charged by their departments, and the role of existing cabinet committees. It provides for more accountability to Parliament, but does so by means of existing mechanisms, particularly Public Accounts, departmental performance reports and planning and priority reports.

These reports also reinforce the role of Parliament and its committees, which should not hesitate to question senior public servants and ministers on their deparments' user fees, since this is one of their duties.

The policy makes more sense that the bill. The approach taken in Bill C-212 seems to have been chosen on the basis of problems related to a relatively small number of regulatory programs. The provisions of the bill would deprive the programs of their flexibility and increase the costs and the workload for all those who charge fees, not only those that have been a cause for concern.

For example, all departments would be encouraged to create an independent dispute settlement mechanism. However, the study carried out before the new policy was drafted has shown that, in most cases, the clients were in fact satisfied with the existing mechanisms.

Bill C-212 also outlines specific severe “consequences” for the departments that do not meet their service standards. It forces departments to consult stakeholders on the alternatives when it is impossible to follow standards, recognizing that a single consequence, such as the fee rebate proposed in the bill, will not always be appropriate.

Passing the bill would implicitly allow the courts, rather than Parliament, to provide detailled monitoring of the management of practices used for the external user fees. Indeed, dissatisfied stakeholders would, as a last resort, be allowed to take their case to court.

The revised policy allows us to avoid being unnecessarily exposed to such risks, since we already have the tools to ensure the improved setting of external user fees.

Bill C-212 would completely change current responsibilities and powers, as Parliament understands them. The consequences of such changes are difficult to assess and could well prove disastrous.

In closing, let me once again congratulate my colleague for the constructive work he has done in this House.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 18th, 2003 / 5:45 p.m.
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Richmond B.C.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, let me begin by acknowledging the efforts and the hard work of our colleague, the member for Etobicoke North, aimed at improving the management of user charging.

The government also shares his desire to improve the fee setting process. It is in that spirit that in August the President of the Treasury Board announced the revised external charging policy and this policy is now in effect. I believe it addresses many of the concerns raised by my hon. colleague. I am confident that a policy based approach is more effective than passing Bill C-212 into law. For those reasons I join with the government in not supporting Bill C-212.

The government demonstrated its commitment to make improvements to external charging when it launched its review of the policy. The government consulted with stakeholders in industry associations and firms which pay federal user charges. The government heard from members of Parliament and in particular, members of the Standing Committee on Finance.

The review found that stakeholders, generally, expressed support for the policy's underlying principles of equity and fairness. However, the review did raise a number of important issues, concerns that need a resolution. And the government has indeed responded with a revised policy.

The revised policy builds on this solid foundation to meet the concerns raised during the review, concerns like the key elements of our colleague's bill.

For instance, the revised policy strongly reinforces the link between fees and service performance. Now departments through stakeholder consultations must establish service standards and the action to be taken if these standards are not met.

Another example is the revised policy requires departments to communicate more clearly their dispute management processes and make them available to stakeholders.

In the review, the call of parliamentarians for more complete reporting on external charging was heard loudly and clearly and the impact on the policy is clear. Under the revised policy, departments will now annually report in much greater detail on cost, revenue and performance information to Parliament, and to the public as well, through the public accounts, annual departmental performance reports and annual reports on plans and priorities.

These major improvements taken together with the other revisions demonstrate that retaining a policy based approach has many advantages over Bill C-212.

It should also be noted that the bill and the policy are in many ways in sync, in terms of their underlying objectives of improving accountability, transparency and service delivery. But there are, however, important functional and operational differences.

The policy is more compatible with existing accountabilities in that it is consistent with the notion of ministerial responsibility, namely that ministers are responsible for the fees and charges emanating from their departments. It respects the existing roles of cabinet committees and it strengthens reporting to parliament through existing vehicles, notably the public accounts, departmental performance reports and reports on plans and priorities.

Via this reporting, the role of members of Parliament and committees is also strengthened. Committees can and should call for the departmental officials or ministers and stakeholders alike to question them on the charging activities of their departments.

I believe that this approach, while maintaining the gist of our colleague's bill, is a more balanced one. Bill C-212's perspective appears to be based on the issues known to affect a relatively low number of regulatory programs.

Bill C-212's provisions would remove flexibility and incur additional costs and workload in all programs with charges, not simply the ones that have been the focus of stakeholder concerns. For example, it suggests that every department establish an independent dispute management process, when in fact the policy review indicated that most departments were handling disputes to the satisfaction of their stakeholders.

Bill C-212 also contains explicit consequences for departments that miss their service standards. The revised policy shares this concern with service commitments and departmental performance but its approach is proactive, not punitive, and focuses on consultation and reporting on achievement. It requires consultation on feasible options that can be taken if standards cannot be met. This openly recognizes that a one size fits all consequence, like the fee rebate envisioned by the bill, may not be the best response in all cases.

If paying users are right in saying that service improvement is the key issue, as I believe they are, then we must examine each case on its own merits and find solutions that fit the specific circumstances case by case.

Rebates will not provide a useful signal for a program where funding constraints have an impact on service. They will simply reduce funding and increase red tape.

In that light fee rebates are not a consequence only for the department but for the stakeholder too because they want to see the service improved, not worsened by a focus on disputes, conflict and punishment.

Bill C-212 in general will overhaul authorities and accountabilities as we presently understand them in Parliament but its consequences are not clear and are potentially negative in nature.

For example, it does not define, but appears to fully endorse, the concept of independent dispute resolution.This needs to be fleshed out or we risk undermining the principle of ministerial accountability with no clear vision of how responsible decision making is to occur. The policy by comparison provides greater clarity, as it recognizes a role for independent advisory panels in providing recommendations to ministers.

By passing the bill into law, paying users would be able to take their disputes to court thus potentially giving Canada's judiciary the final say on external charging practices. Bill C-212 would effectively reduce Parliament's role rather than strengthen it.

It is for these reasons, with all due respect to the hard work and solid approach taken by our colleague from Etobicoke North that I feel strongly that Canadians are better served by working within our existing policy based approach.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 18th, 2003 / 5:40 p.m.
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York South—Weston Ontario

Liberal

Alan Tonks LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, I wish to recognize our colleague, the hon. member for Etobicoke North, and his achievement in raising the profile of the subject of external charging, as has been pointed out.

The government's commitment to greater accountability in this area was affirmed in budget 2003 with a specific commitment to set out principles and enhanced implementation requirements for improved management of the whole architecture of user charges and cost recovery. The external charging policy, which was announced on September 3 by the President of the Treasury Board, delivers on that commitment responsibly and effectively.

And for those reasons, the government is not supporting Bill C-212. With stakeholder consultation as its backbone, the policy strikes a balance between two sound management practices, which if put forward will accommodate some of the concerns of and the suggestions that have been made by the member. While it strives for government wide consistency, it still provides the flexibility for individual programs to meet the needs of the varied and diverse interests of their stakeholders.

This is particularly important given today's fiscal realities that limit finite resources, and it also implicitly recognizes that federal departments face the difficult job of setting priorities within those limits day to day. The revised policy is the result of a thorough review that sought the input of paying users and other external stakeholders as well as departments. Members of Parliament made their views known through the efforts of the Standing Committee on Finance, which has a long-standing interest in this issue.

The review heard that there is broad support for the principles of equity and fairness that underpin the policy, but the review also revealed that stakeholders shared a number of substantive concerns that needed to be addressed. And through the policy, I believe that they have been.

The result is a revised policy that focuses on accountability and transparency as called for by stakeholders and, more importantly, by parliamentarians. Note that during the review a benchmarking study of other jurisdictions showed that Canada's charging policy compared quite favourably to other jurisdictions in terms of the clarity and thoroughness of its guidance and its principles based character.

The revised policy builds on this solid foundation to meet the concerns raised during the review as well as by my colleague's bill. Through the revised policy, the existing link between fees and service performance is made stronger. Service standards are now mandatory for any program with external charges and so is the need to develop them through consultation with stakeholders. But the policy makes clear that service commitments must also take account of the program's priorities as set through legislation or regulation. Service delivery is in the broad public interest and the policy recognizes that standards must reflect the needs of all Canadians in a balanced and even-handed fashion.

Furthermore, while departments are required to consult on actions to be taken if service commitments fail, the policy does not focus solely on fee rebates as Bill C-212 seems to. Instead of concentrating on negative consequences for departments, the policy encourages an approach that resolves the issues proactively. The hope is that consultation up front can reduce the need for confrontation after the fact.

By giving departments and stakeholders the flexibility to explore a range of options, the policy recognizes the message consistently sent by external stakeholders. The key issue is service improvement. Many paying users and their associations have expressed a willingness to pay higher fees in order to invest in better service. It follows logically, therefore, that concentrating on fee rebates may not provide the answer paying users are looking for, namely, improved service delivery.

While the review found that departments generally handle complaints well, better communications were called for. In response, the revised policy requires that dispute management processes be more formally structured, more visible and more clearly communicated during consultation, and the policy explicitly acknowledges that ministers may request recommendations from independent advisory panels.

The government also acknowledged the concerns raised by parliamentarians in that departments must do a better job of reporting detailed information on external charging activities to Parliament and to the public. Therefore the revised policy commits the government to annually report details on cost, revenue and performance information to Parliament through existing vehicles, such as the public accounts, the reports on plans and priorities and the departmental performance reports.

The government did not wait until completing the policy. It has already met this commitment as shown in the 2002-03 departmental performance reports to be tabled this fall.

The revised policy also touches on other important requirements, such as analysis, costing and pricing practices, and monitoring.

The overall aim is to provide better guidance and direction to departments while providing greater clarity and certainty for paying users, parliamentarians and other external stakeholders, all with the overriding objective of enhanced accountability and transparency.

With these improvements, the policy addresses many of the concerns raised by stakeholders and Bill C-212. The policy also has the advantage of avoiding the potential problems contained within Bill C-212, problems associated with its potential impacts on Parliament.

If passed, the bill would establish a confusing system of overlapping authorities, bringing the review powers of committee into conflict with the principle of ministerial responsibility. As well, they would conflict with the current roles of various cabinet committees which themselves have a role in the existing review process. This was enunciated by our former colleague, Mr. Herb Gray, when he appeared before the House finance committee studying Bill C-212. I would encourage members to read his testimony on this important matter.

If passed into law the bill would potentially allow the courts, and not Parliament, to oversee the detailed management of external charging practices. This is because stakeholders, if unsatisfied, could ultimately take their complaints to the court.

The revised policy makes it unnecessary for these risks to be taken. We have the tools now to ensure that implementation of external charging is improved.

For the reasons I have mentioned, and with great respect to my colleague who has given a great deal of consideration to Bill C-212, the existing external charging policy meets many of the concerns expressed by parliamentarians and stakeholders without the potentially problematic issues that would arise from the passage of Bill C-212.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 18th, 2003 / 5:30 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words on this bill on behalf of our finance critic, the member for Kings--Hants, who supports the bill in principle and as a consequence of that, all of us in the PC caucus will be supporting it.

As we are all aware, back in 1994 the government moved massively into charging fees for mandatory regulatory services. It increased regulatory fees for businesses in general by almost 47% over a two year period. For manufacturers in Canada, fees increased by 153% over that same period. From inspecting meat to approving ingredients for anti-bacterial kitchen cleaners, if Canadians wanted a regulated product the fee had to be paid. No fee, no product.

The government insisted on more money to regulate products and services and it promised program efficiency, better service and smarter performance. Very little of that has happened. Canadians and their companies are paying much more and getting a whole lot less.

I am told by the member for Kings--Hants that the problem is the vast majority of these user fees were set by regulation, with no parliamentary input and no real consultation on their business impact or how they compared internationally.

Both the Auditor General and the parliamentary finance committee have pointed to the seriousness of this problem. Added to that, the Supreme Court has now decided that some user fees are a tax levied by governments. Individually and viewed together these judgments point to serious problems which the government will now have to be seized with.

We need a public debate about whether services delivered actually give value for money.

This legislation would make Parliament rather than government departments and agencies ultimately responsible for approving new user fees or increasing existing ones. That is why we support Bill C-212 in principle.

User fees are really hidden taxes or taxes under another name and ought to be examined with parliamentary scrutiny to see how effective they are. We have always argued that Parliament needs to play a wider role in how government raises revenues. This is a clear example of that.

While the government asserts that fees are not a tax and are primarily focused on improving resource allocation, the evidence clearly points out that they are having the effect of a tax on business, with the sole purpose of generating revenues for departments.

The Supreme Court appears to agree with that assessment. In its recent ruling in the Eurig case, the court ruled that probate fees in Ontario are a tax. In making its decision, two key points were raised by the court: first, fees must be directly related to the actual cost of providing a service, otherwise they are a tax; and second, taxes must be imposed by an act of the legislative body, not by regulation.

We need to encourage innovation in Canada. For example, we need to ensure that in line with our environmental and health related commitments, new products coming out on the pharmaceutical and chemical markets which are more effective and less toxic receive timely turnaround and can be introduced on the Canadian market to encourage people to use safer products.

Moreover, it is imperative that we take into consideration how we measure up internationally and this bill would require that the departments that wanted to charge a new fee or raise an existing one benchmark it against the country's major trading partners. If a department overshot its timeline to complete the work by more than say 10%, it would start to lose its fee on a sliding scale.

About five years ago our finance critic, the member for Kings—Hants, brought forward the same kind of issue. He argued that the government ought to implement its regulatory budget parallel to the traditional spending budget which would detail estimates of the total cost of each individual regulation. The PC finance critic supported a risk benefit analysis of each regulation to enable a cost benefit analysis of regulations for parliamentarians.

The bill we have before us today differs somewhat in substance but it retains the same important philosophy. Because of that, we support the bill in principle.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 18th, 2003 / 5:25 p.m.
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Oak Ridges Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair.

I want to, first, commend my colleague from Etobicoke North for the tremendous amount of work that he has done on the subject. He has elevated the subject of external charging to a new level which is very important.

The importance of external charging extends beyond the House, of course, to those who pay. But it also extends to the broader public interest, which is at the very heart of every program, whether it charges direct users or is funded solely through taxation.

It is through the work of parliamentarians that these interests are brought together so that sound management practices are in place. That is why this debate is so critical.

From the perspective of the House, and of parliamentarians, the fundamental feature of Bill C-212 is the provisions for greater committee scrutiny of departmental charging initiatives.

Ministers would be required to table all proposals for new or amended charges before the House, if the bill is passed. The proposal would then be subject to review by a committee of the House and the committee would then have 40 sitting days to make its recommendations to the House.

In considering the merits of Bill C-212, we should first consider the process that now exists; the process that would be more or less supplanted by the measures of the bill.

At present, it is handled by a committee of cabinet, specifically the special committee of council, or the SCC. Its members are authorized, on behalf of cabinet as a whole, to make decisions with regard to matters that have to be implemented by regulation.

In fact, this includes most user fees which are most commonly established under regulatory authority. Therefore, they must go back to the SCC and subsequently be published in the Canada Gazette . The process followed by the committee is outlined in detail in the public document “Guide to the Regulatory Process”, but the following is a brief sketch of how it works.

When a regulation is signed off by the minister, it goes before the SCC, which then makes a decision on whether the proposed regulation will be pre-published in the Canada Gazette .

The regulation is examined, including its regulatory impact statement, to see if the period proposed for public comment is adequate, given the complexity and importance of the user fee proposal.

The committee may also consider the sensitivities raised by the regulation, even though the decision to pre-publish does not mean that the regulation will ultimately be adopted exactly as it was initially proposed.

Assuming that the committee agrees that there will be pre-publication, the regulation and the regulatory impact statement then appears in the Canada Gazette , along with information that a period for comments is being allowed and where to submit any comments.

It should be noted that departments may also disseminate this information through their own network of stakeholders. These other methods are increasingly used as departments recognize the merit of broadcasting their activities as openly as possible.

The comment period posted in the Canada Gazette is, at a minimum, two weeks. More serious matters may take 75 days, or even longer, depending on the determination of the SCC.

Departments are required to receive these comments and take them into account in terms of amendments to the proposal or in terms of explaining why the comments should not be accepted as offered.

The regulation then comes back to the committee, which then looks at the regulation in more depth. When looking at user fee proposals, the examination typically includes the service to be provided and the terms which apply, such as the service standards, and how the department intends to monitor them.

The committee, at this stage, also has full rights to send the regulation back to the department for further work to improve it with modifications or to send it to a cabinet committee or to full cabinet.

Finally, when the committee agrees with the regulation, possibly with amendments, it then authorizes publication again in the Canada Gazette and the publication will stipulate when the regulations come into force.

My intent, in outlining the existing process, is to ask the House whether it has given this bill full consideration. That requires a look at the existing process, of course, but also the potential impact of this bill on the operation of the House. That, in turn, is the real test of this bill's effect on the quality of Parliament's oversight of external charging.

Given the complex circumstances surrounding some of the user fees and the diverse stakeholder interest that may be involved, a standing committee could be consumed in discussing even a small number of fees.

I have certainly raised this before with the member and I have raised this in committee. Again, with great respect to the member, I know that he has responded to this issue on a number of occasions. The concern, though, is that the committee's time would be used in calling witnesses and engaging in debates. What would be the impact on other responsibilities of a committee to work on policy or regulation? How many regulation changes would in fact be coming to the committee? That would depend obviously on any given time frame. However at present committees sometimes find it very difficult to manage their workload as they ideally like.

What work should be given a lower priority in order to meet the bill's provision for more committee review of charges? As different committees make different decisions given different circumstances in which they work day to day, how consistent will the review be? Is consistency not critically important to our departments, to our stakeholders and of course to Canadians as a whole? This is the only area about which I personally have a concern with regard to the member's bill.

I would suggest in closing that in the final analysis we must consider whether the bill is necessary, given the revised policy. I will be interested to hear further debate on this and whether it is the view of the House to move forward. However those are the considerations we have.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

September 18th, 2003 / 5:15 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to speak to Bill C-212.

This is a very important bill in spite of the fact that it deals with a tremendous amount of arcane information. It is one of those things where as the country of Canada has become the great nation that it has, over a period of time we have ended up with an awful lot of practices within Parliament. There are parliamentary procedures and practices within the bureaucracy that are responsible for putting together regulations surrounding the laws that are passed in Parliament.

As a consequence, there has been a buildup of detail and a buildup of law that has ended up beyond the control of the people who are elected by Canadians, namely the parliamentarians. We have ended up with a situation where as much as 90% of the law, the rules and regulations, and the procedures that citizens and companies have to go through are actually beyond the control, direction, and oversight of parliamentary procedure. This bill is one of a number of steps that have come from the backbench that would start to correct that situation.

I would like to mention that the member for Surrey Central just recently was successful in having a bill passed that had to do with the disallowance of regulations. As I mentioned, it is a rather arcane topic. It is an arcane description. Let me explain the disallowance of procedures.

Basically, what he managed to do--and it is parallel to what this bill is attempting to do in my judgment--is to put parliamentarians, who are the representatives elected by and accountable to the people of Canada, back into the process. What we will basically be looking at now are a number of fees, regulations, and procedures that have been developed, presumably in good faith by the bureaucracy that have ended up beyond the control of even the ministers of the Crown.

As I understand Bill C-212, it has to do specifically with user fees. According to the documents I have in front of me, it says that this act may be cited as the user fees act. When I go through this bill and I come to clause 5.1, reduction of user fee; clause 6, resolution of the House; and clause 7, adjustments in the applications of user fees; I see very clearly and specifically the intent of the bill, which is basically to allow parliamentarians to review user fees and potentially reduce user fees.

I want to be crystal clear as to where the Canadian Alliance is coming from. We believe in user pay; we believe in user fees. That is not the issue. The issue is how fair they are, and indeed if they are unfair, what the process would be that would be undertaken today prior to the enactment of the provisions in Bill C-212? What would actually take place today?

The fact of the matter is that with the exception of this new bill that my colleague from Surrey Central managed to get through, we have never really had a tool within the parliamentary process to be able to do it. That is why this bill is very complimentary to the bill that my colleague from Surrey Central managed to get through.

Let me give an example. I am the Canadian Heritage critic. I am familiar with what are called part II fees under the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The CRTC has basically two levels of fees. The first fee is the actual user pay. I must say that as far as many of the broadcasters and people in the industry that are paying the fees, they feel that the user pay portion is very generous toward the CRTC.

What is part II? Part II has to do with the fee that in no capricious way but nonetheless without any real structure has ended up evolving over a period of time. There is a part of the spectrum that the broadcasters use either for audio or visual transmission or digital transmissions and have access to, have rights to. Therefore, because those frequencies in the spectrum are assigned specifically to them for their use, they bring radio and television, and other broadcasts into that spectrum at that frequency. The thought has been that that is worth x number of dollars.

Again, we are very sensitive in the Canadian Alliance to the fact that there are public commodities like spectrum, like frequencies that indeed do have some commercial value. Unfortunately, for the broadcast industry, what has occurred particularly over the last 10 years--and in an accelerated way over the last 10 years--is that the value of those frequencies within the spectrum has plummeted. It has basically gone through the floor. Why? Simply because of the new technology that permits broadcasters and people wanting to broadcast information to be able to get onto the air.

We speak frequently of the so-called 500 channel universe. It used to be that there was an area, a green tier it was called. A green tier for broadcasters simply meant that one wanted to be on channel 2 through 13 because those were the ones that were on the UHF, the ultra-high frequency dial. Past that, we were getting into a different television frequency and the broadcasters were going to be lost. There has been an historic clamouring on the part of broadcasters to get into the green tier, to the 2 through 13, because they want to be found and easily seen.

As a consequence of digital transmissions, we can now go to channel 163 or channel 359. It does not make any difference. We can program our VCR and television receiver to wherever we want to be on the dial. I was speaking to a colleague about this bill earlier today. He was saying how it used to be that when a familiar channel was bumped for whatever reason and moved to another portion of the dial or frequency, that all of a sudden he would end up with all sorts of calls to his office from people complaining about it being moved. Why are they not complaining now? Well, because there are so many channels being added that it is a simple matter of re-computing one's television set so that for people who are watching CPAC right now on channel 69 in Ottawa, and I am making that up as I do not know what the channel is--

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 13th, 2003 / 12:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Finance on Bill C-212, coincidentally my private member's bill, an act respecting user fees.

This bill requires more oversight of Parliament when user fees are introduced or increased. It calls for an independent dispute resolution process, the need for greater stakeholder participation in the fee setting process, the requirement for comprehensive stakeholder impact and competitiveness analysis and the establishment of standards by departments and agencies which they must adhere to when they collect a user fee.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

March 27th, 2003 / 5:30 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and address Bill C-212 today, an act that deals with user fees.

I want to compliment the member across the way from Etobicoke North for bringing this forward. This is an issue that my party has been concerned about in the past. In fact, I brought forward a private member's bill on this very issue a number of years ago which was similar if not the same as this private member's bill. Right from the start I will state my sympathies.

It is important for people watching this debate on television to understand a bit of the background behind why this is an important issue and why it is important to have some way to govern the exploding use of user fees by the government. Right now there are about 50 different departments bringing in about $4 billion a year in user fees. There is something like 500 different fees that are in place right now.

The idea behind user fees is actually quite laudatory. The idea is to ensure that if a government service is provided for the benefit of a particular business or individual, then in that case it makes sense to charge a fee for that as opposed to taking the money out of general revenue because the benefits accrue to only one person or one business. Therefore it makes sense to have something like user fees.

Having said that, the concern is that the government does not have in place proper rules to ensure that the fees which are charged are actually what is necessary to cover the costs. Sometimes we find they exceed the costs. We also find very often, because we are talking about government monopolies, when these fees come in, they do not bring about the benefits which they are supposed to bring.

There is a famous example. Fees were brought in to deal with the approval of new medications for the veterinary industry, dealing with animal husbandry and that kind of thing. If I remember right, in 1996 there was a whole new regimen of user fees that came into place. The result is that since 1996 the cost of the fees have exploded and at the same time it now takes twice as long to get approval to use various medications that veterinarians need to practise their discipline. There is that case and there are many other cases.

Another example is the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. This is a famous, almost poster child, example of what happens when agencies become unregulated but on the other hand also have the power to charge user fees. In that case exactly the same thing happened. All these fees started pouring in but the agency actually became less efficient and was unable to approve pesticide use in anywhere near the time that it had previously. In fact it became slower and slower.

As a result of that, a number of people became quite concerned. I brought forward a private member's bill a number of years ago. The Auditor General has looked into this. A large coalition of industry people got together to bring this to the government's attention. The coalition included the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the chamber of commerce, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and a number of others all jumped on board and said that it was ridiculous and it was costing them a tremendous amount of money. Representatives came before the finance committee, testified, brought forward their own report, if I recall correctly, and made a number of recommendations.

My friend from Etobicoke North has adopted a number of those recommendations. I think he has adopted some ideas from the Auditor General's report and has included them in Bill C-212.

When I brought this forward, the government had all kinds of reasons why my bill should not go forward. That was a number of years ago now. I think my friend across the way has a number of his own colleagues interested in this issue now, and I hope he will find on his side a majority of people who will support the bill because it really is important.

I will not belabour this. I know there is an interest on a lot of sides to push the bill forward. I support it and I am sure that my colleagues in general support the drift and direction of the legislation. It is a good step. It is about time we brought forward something like this.

There is nothing worse than taxation without representation. In effect, that is what we have because agencies and departments bring these forward with really no discussion and really no representation. There is no parliamentary oversight at present to ensure that these fees are reasonable, that they are somehow tied to the benefits that are accruing to the businesses.

The last thing we want is taxation without representation. User fees yes, but taxation as just another way of bringing additional revenue into the government, no, we do not want that. That is not what this is about, just some way to ensure that costs are recovered when the government provides some kind of a legitimate service for a business or individual and they are the ones who solely benefit.

I have not used a lot of time, but suffice it to say that this is a step in the right direction. I will recommend to my colleagues on this side of the House that we support the member for Etobicoke North in his desire to bring forward this legislation and rein in that uncontrollable beast, the bureaucracy, that sometimes misunderstands the purpose of its powers. In this case, we have many examples of that so I will recommend to my colleagues that we support the bill.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

February 14th, 2003 / 2:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Julian Reed Liberal Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize the efforts of my colleague from Etobicoke North that are aimed at improving the federal fee setting process in Canada.

I would like to provide the House with some information on cost recovery and user charging in relation to what is in place and what my colleague's bill aims to achieve.

Currently, pursuant to the authorities granted to them by Parliament, individual ministers are responsible for establishing and amending fees. As such, ministers are responsible for evaluating and responding to the many factors relevant to a charging decision. They are accountable to the public and to Parliament.

The Treasury Board cost recovery and charging policy works inside this legislative framework, as it must. It sets out the conditions and factors ministers are to consider when users are charged.

Bill C-212 would change Canada's approach. It would establish a standing committee or mandate an existing standing committee to scrutinize all proposed user charges and make recommendations to the House for their approval or rejection.

This overlooks that standing committees currently have the power to examine user charges in their departmental portfolios and call on ministers to provide information.

As this debate has shown, the Standing Committee on Finance is willing and able to examine a government-wide practice like user charging in a very effective way.

The additional provisions of Bill C-212 would create an unprecedented overlap in responsibilities and authority between ministers, the standing committee, the House, and new undefined independent dispute mechanisms. It would create a new role for legal challenges so that ultimately the courts would decide.

That would make existing parliamentary oversight much less effective. This is because the bill would replace existing lines of authority with a very complex, costly and unwieldy new process. First, the bill's proposed approval process would require the House of Commons to approve, reject or amend all user charge proposals upon consideration of the committees recommendation. This would stray from the current practice and philosophy that Parliament delegates questions of application and detail, such as fee setting, to the executive which is done in the name of efficiency.

Second, as an act, the provisions of the bill would be enshrined in law. The ultimate arbiters of user charging then would not be parliamentarians or the executive. It would instead be Canada's court system. Complainants dissatisfied with a departmental decision or simply seeking to delay things might well go to court to argue a technical issue. For example, paragraph 4(1)(a) of the bill would require that:

Before a regulating authority fixes [or amends a fee]... it must take reasonable measures to notify clients...of the user fee proposed...

Paragraph 4(1)(b) adds that the regulating authority:

give all clients or service users a reasonable opportunity to provide ideas or proposals for ways to improve the services to which the user fee relates;

There is no definition as to what constitutes reasonable in these cases. Therefore complainants lose nothing by contending in court that the Canada Gazette and the Internet were not reasonable means of notification, or that a four week consultation period was not reasonable as it coincided with a busy period in their work cycle.

Imagine the caseload on the already overburdened court system. Consider how this would delay decision making for new fee proposals. Imagine how all this would impede the courts' ability to hear more serious cases, such as violent crime, and consider, of course, the court and legal costs.

Third, paragraph 4(1)(e) calls for each charging authority to:

establish an independent dispute resolution process to address a complaint or grievance submitted by a client regarding the user fee or change.

The bill does not establish whether this new ruling authority would overrule the minister responsible for the charge. For that matter, it might overrule the authority of the House committee.

Nor does the bill define what constitutes a complaint or grievance. The government is well aware that complaints range from relatively minor practical questions to challenges of a department's fundamental right to institute charges.

Fourth, the bill would extend the reach of this approval process more broadly than perhaps was intended. We must note that it would also apply to crown corporations. Their ability to quickly respond to clients would be delayed by this new process and that contradicts the reason Parliament granted them a reasonable degree of independent authority: so that government could be more businesslike.

Much hard work was done here in Parliament to create crown corporations like Canada Post. The intent was to make these organizations more efficient and reduce the red tape burden on delivering these services to Canadians. Why would we undo that work and effectively make them less responsive? Yet that is what the bill would do.

Furthermore, the bill reads, “This Act applies to all fees fixed by a regulating authority”. The bill defines “regulating authority” as:

--a department, agency, board, Crown corporation, commission, or any other body that has the power to fix a user fee or a cost recovery charge under the authority of an Act of Parliament.

As worded, the bill could also apply to private sector entities, such as Bell Canada and Shaw cable, whose prices are “fixed by a regulating authority”, like the CRTC. These businesses would be embroiled in yet another round of hearings and the expense and delay associated with them. The repercussions would be far reaching and potentially very serious for firms who rely on faster, not slower, decision making authorities, which in turn affects their bottom line.

Fifth, the proposed process would also require fees to be justified in comparison to all those of all other OECD countries. This risks pressuring Canada to establish fees at an international lowest common denominator. Canadians feel strongly about their government's role in protecting public health, safety and security. They expect better of us than such an unsophisticated approach. They understand that many complex factors determine the level of service people want and the amount they are willing and able to pay.

I wish to convey strongly that the government is committed to the values of transparency and accountability which are so important to this subject. It is very serious about improving the current policy on user charging, which is now in the final stages of development. Extensive consultations have been held with internal and external stakeholders. In December, the government distributed a second draft of proposed policy changes to all policy review advisory committees. For its part, the government remains committed to acting on this feedback to address outstanding concerns.

The policy remains open and the review continues. The direction it is taking will provide more explicit guidance to departments who charge. This will strengthen the accountability of the fee setting process to Parliament, to stakeholders and to the public to bring about greater consistency.

This is in response to previous recommendations of the Standing Committee on Finance and the Auditor General. The changes clearly address the concerns raised by my hon. colleague's bill, which include: improved consistency through clear overall direction with respect to what departments must do and consider when introducing or amending charges; greater clarification of the objectives and requirements expected for meaningful consultations and that these consultations will be ongoing throughout the life of the charging program and not just at the inception of the charges; all programs with charges to have service standards; increased attention to monitoring user charging activities within departments; increased direction and emphasis on establishing and communicating dispute management mechanisms; and more open, clearly communicating information through enhanced annual reporting to Parliament and the public.

These are the reasons why I commend my hon. colleague's concern about improving the situation. I hope I have injected some of the reasons why the system we have now, while it can be improved and I hope it will be improved, is working quite well.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

February 14th, 2003 / 1:55 p.m.
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Niagara Centre Ontario

Liberal

Tony Tirabassi LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by commending the member for Etobicoke North for his contribution to improving a very important area of user charging.

The government acknowledges that improvements can be made to our fee setting process. In fact, it is currently working on a policy review which I believe addresses a number of the concerns raised by my colleague in Bill C-212.

I would like to begin by providing some contextual and background information. Cost recovery and charging have existed in one form or another since Confederation. Parks Canada, for example, has been charging for its services since the 1880s.

Today, the Government of Canada, like most other governments, charges for a range of optional and mandatory services for the use of public assets and for rights and privileges. Revenues from these various activities currently amount to about $4 billion per year. This is in relation to a total expenditure of some $170 billion.

Canada's user charges comprise about 2% of total federal government revenues. A study of charging practices in other jurisdictions showed that this was generally in line with other countries studied.

Cost recovery is a fair and equitable way of financing government programs and services, including those of a regulatory nature. Its longevity and universal application are a testament to the soundness of its fundamental principle. This establishes that it is reasonable that those who receive special services in excess of those enjoyed by the general taxpayer should bear some, or all, of the cost of providing those services.

I should emphasize that this rationale is not challenged by those who pay the fees. In fact, private citizens, industry representatives, academics, economists, the Office of the Auditor General and the Standing Committee on Finance have all voiced support for this fundamental principle.

The cost recovery and charging policy ensures that, under the responsibility of the individual ministers, the consideration and implementation of charging initiatives is subject to important principles and requirements.

As I have indicated, user charging is not an activity specific only to Canada. A comparative study on the issue showed that the core objective of user charging does not vary among countries; that is, that users pay for the special services they receive. This includes charging for the full or partial cost of regulatory activities.

As in Canada, other countries' fee setting processes are decentralized, which means that ministers are accountable for the charges implemented by their departments. It is important to note that not a single jurisdiction saw the need to have its user fee requirements set in law.

In terms of policy guidance, Canada was found to be most explicit on a number of important elements, most notably, consultation and service standards.

Further, Canada is one of only two jurisdictions that require departments to provide dispute resolution mechanisms, and the only one to require departments work with fee payers to assess impacts.

Can more be done? Yes, absolutely, and we are striving to make those improvements.

The government is in the latter stages of a comprehensive review of this policy. The review heard from 59 firms, industry associations and other non-governmental organizations. This covered some 70 programs of the 400 federal programs with user charges. The review results indicated that most areas of federal cost recovery programs seemed to be working quite well.

In particular, the review found that the majority of paying users contacted were satisfied with the approach and the level of consultation on user charges. However they did cite a frequent need for greater feedback from departments during consultations.

Also, the review confirmed that paying users have raised relatively few disputes with respect to their fees. When disputes did occur, they were mostly administrative in nature and almost always resolved through informal contact directly with departments.

However the review also found that there should be greater awareness among paying users of the existing dispute resolution mechanisms available to them.

The review, as supported by previous recommendations of the Standing Committee on Finance and the Auditor General, did, however, point to a need for clear direction in implementing the policy.

The proposed changes to the policy, therefore, will consider these recommendations as well as what was heard from users and departments. Namely: improved consistency through clearer overall direction with respect to what departments must do and consider when introducing or amending charges; greater clarification of the objectives and requirements expected for meaningful consultations; all programs with charges to have service standards, as well as consult with stakeholders on performance and on the measures to be taken if those standards are not met; increased attention on monitoring user charging activities within departments through stepped up Treasury Board Secretariat involvement.

In addition, every department will now be required to identify an individual at the assistant deputy minister level or higher to oversee the implementation of the policy and to serve as a point of contact for TBS.

Further recommendations are: increased direction and emphasis on establishing and communicating departmental dispute management mechanisms, including the provisions for independent advisory bodies to make recommendations to ministers; and, more open, clearly communicated information through enhanced annual reporting to Parliament and the public of such things as total revenue collected by the various types of charging activities and the performance provided to stakeholders.

This policy instrument, with its improvements ranging from greater monitoring to enhanced reporting, is intended to complement our existing standing committee system, a system that already provides the mandate for committees to flesh out issues relevant to Canadians.

It is important to note that the government is still working with the hon. member for Etobicoke North, industry representatives and departments on the revised changes to the cost recovery policy. A second draft of the proposed changes was distributed to all advisory committees in December 2002. Members, including industry representatives, are now in the process of submitting their comments.The second draft has also been shared with the Standing Committee on Finance so it can view the direction the government is proposing in a number of important areas.

The point being, that we continue to listen, to be open and to explore ideas for addressing concerns. We cannot , of course, promise across the board satisfaction with the end product given the nature and complexity of the issues at hand. However we are encouraged by the feedback from stakeholders and from the member for Etobicoke North, that we are headed in the right direction in a number of areas of concern.

Much of Bill C-212 appears aimed at issues related to regulatory activities and programs. Let me assure my colleagues that regulation does not exist for its own sake. Regulatory programs exist in response to the calls of generations of Canadians for the protection of their health and safety.

A report drafted last year for the OECD-wide review of regulatory reform in Canada stated the following:

Canada was one of the first OECD countries to adopt a regulatory reform programme and has pursued ever broader and deeper reforms for the past 25 years. The quality of its regulatory governance is almost certainly a key contributor to its successes in terms of both economic performance and the achievement of its social goals.

These words do not describe a system in need of major overhaul. We are striving to do better. The Smart Regulation Strategy announced in the last Speech from the Throne aims to accelerate reforms in key areas to promote health and sustainability, to contribute to innovation and economic growth, and to reduce the administrative burden on business.

No one is arguing against reforms. There is no system or organization that cannot be improved. We continue to work with stakeholders, and again, with my colleague from Etobicoke North, to find solutions and improvements to the cost recovery system.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

February 14th, 2003 / 1:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Canadian Alliance Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today and speak to on behalf of our party to Bill C-212, the private member's bill which deals with criteria for user fees.

I want to remind the House that this problem has been around for a long time. To support that, I want to quote what the auditor general said in 1993 about the ability to scrutinize this. He said:

We are concerned that Parliament cannot readily scrutinize the user fees established by contracts and other non-regulatory means. There does not exist a government-wide summary of the fees being charged, the revenues raised and the authorities under which they are established.

This caused our member for Medicine Hat to introduce a private member's bill on this very same topic in 1997, which was Bill C-205. I know he intended that his private member's bill would be an opportunity to fulfill those concerns which were raised by the auditor general of the day.

I know the member for Etobicoke North has raised a number of interesting areas and key points that need to be addressed. Quite frankly we agree with him when he calls for the need for more parliamentary oversight when user fees are introduced or changed. We agree with him when he calls for the need for greater stakeholder participation in the fee setting process, which is part of what I just said. We agree with him when he calls for the improved linkages between user fees, the federal department and the agency performance specification and standard.

He talks about the requirement for more comprehensive stakeholder impact and competitiveness analysis when new user fees or fee increases are contemplated. He talks about the goal of increased transparency addressing these fees where applicable. He goes on to talk about the need for independent dispute resolution process and the need for annual reports outlining all user fees. We understand what he is saying and we agree with his observations.

However in addition to having parliamentary scrutiny on user fees, we submit that the following principles should also apply. I know the member will probably agree with a lot of these as well and hopefully, in a collective fashion, we will be able to make some changes.

One, the fees must be based upon the actual cost to providing the service. Unfortunately they are not necessarily set that way now. Some fees are much higher than the actual cost of service being provided.

Two, services must be cost effective. I know the member opposite is a prudent type of thinker and will agree with that. This is a key point. In many cases we believe the services are not being provided in a cost effective way and we have to ensure they are.

The member raised the point that currently $4 billion was going into the federal treasury in user fees. If that cost is reflective of the program that needs to be put in place to administer it in the way which has been just outlined so that the different groups are not paying costs which are not their own or not inflated costs, then that is fine. However in many cases we believe those costs are in fact exaggerated and it is just another form of a hidden tax on the industry itself.

Three, administrative costs must be as low as possible and the documentation requirements must be there in the operation of business.

Four, there should be no cross-subsidization of services for commodities or region. This is a very important point. We have seen too much of this kind of thing in the past. We have seen too many cases where the costs are borne by one area that should be borne by another sector, another industry or another part of the country. Cross-subsidization should not and must not occur.

Five, wherever possible, fees should be directly applied to prevent fee inflation to indirect application through the service provider.

Six, there must be a system in place for tracking the overall incident of fees and the effect on industry with a process for consultation.

Simply put, we do not mind the idea of user fees or a cost recovery. We think that is important. However the user fees must reflect what is a reasonable amount of cost recovery to actually do the job and should not bear out an overinflated bureaucracy that does not adapt quickly to where that individual sector is itself.

It is important that these industries be allowed to function. We have a tough time already in this country. Taxes are very high. We have to compete internationally. Our productivity has fallen against that of the United States for about 25 years and we have to look at ways to cause that to change.

My party has held hearings across Ontario over the last few years. We have been told that regulation is just as big a cost to businesses, especially small businesses, as taxation is. In fact, it is disproportionately higher for small businesses because they do not have the people dedicated specifically to complying with regulation or people who are administrating these cost recovery programs on them.

Regulation is a huge cost. I think in some of the studies done by the Fraser Institute it showed a total regulation cost of $100 billion annually to industry in Canada. That is an astronomical amount. It hurts industry in terms of being competitive. It hurts the economy, and the bottom lines of businesses are tremendously affected.

To sum up, we understand what the member for Etobicoke North is trying to say in his bill. We support it. We have offered some further suggestions. We believe this is the time to get the user fee regime right after so many years. This is a step in the right direction and I suggest that all members in the House should support the bill.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

February 14th, 2003 / 1:35 p.m.
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Mississauga West Ontario

Liberal

Steve Mahoney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to share some thoughts on this bill. I will begin by saying that I was asked by the sponsor of the bill, the member for Etobicoke North, and by the parliamentary secretary, the member for Niagara Centre, if I supported the bill? My answer was unequivocal. I said that I absolutely supported it, which means there are some things in the bill that make sense, but there are some concerns that need to be addressed.

To simply support it outright would probably cause some difficulty, unless we are absolutely sure, and I think this process will allow this to happen, that we will have an opportunity to make some changes.

Let me focus on a couple of things. I would not be surprised if the opposition supports a bill of this nature simply because the process which would be put in place would allow the opposition the opportunity to vote against every user fee that the government might deem necessary to put in place. To my friend, there is clearly an opportunity for political grandstanding if this is not handled properly, not that my hon. friends opposite would ever do that. Therefore we would be politicizing the process of putting in place fees, users fees, that were necessary for the proper functioning of agencies, departments of government. On the other hand, should Parliament not have a role in the oversight? That is where the balance here makes some sense.

I tend to agree with the principles the member has outlined in the bill of the need for more parliamentary oversight. We have to be careful about the process, not necessarily in terms of one fee or one issue, but in terms of the huge operation of public institutions in the government. In fact, there is even a suggestion that this could impact into the private sector whenever we deal with agencies or corporations that are regulated by government bodies. The obvious example would be Bell being regulated by the CRTC, or the music industry, or television or something of that kind. Some people might like it if we could have a more hands on ability to affect the fees that Bell charges. I do not know that we want to take the government, any government of any political stripe, down the road where we interfere to that level.

One issue is that when we at any level of government deal with a particular project, we should deal with the big picture. We should not micromanage. I do not believe that is what we were elected to do.

I use the example in days gone by when I was in municipal government. I was president of the Peel Non-Profit Housing Corporation, which builds housing projects. When we built a housing project, some members of the board literally wanted to pick the colour of the curtains or the design of the building. That is not the role of the board of that corporation. The role is to approve projects, put in place the financing and give the professionals the opportunity to build the facility, deliver it on time and hopefully on budget. To have the politicians involved in the everyday decisions and management of it would frankly cause me some concern.

I have spoken to the member about this. I believe if the bill receives approval in the House, it will go to committee. I am told it may go to the finance committee. It perhaps should go to government operations. I would ask the member to give some thought to that. It is more of an operational situation. The finance committee might find itself too busy to deal with the bill in a timely fashion.

One area I would want to deal with at committee would be the impact on crown corporations. In my role as parliamentary secretary of transport, the balance of that statement is four crown corporations. My role in working with the minister is to work with Canada Mortgage and Housing, Canada Lands, Canada Post, Queen's Quay and the old port of Montreal.

The concern I have is that many of these corporations, and I will just give a couple of examples, like Canada Post, CMHC and the Mint, have been given commercial mandates. They have a responsibility to market their services and products.

Canada Post is renowned throughout the world. It is a very typical Canadian institution. At home we tend to denigrate Canada Post and say nasty things about it. Yet there are some 26 countries throughout the world which hire the international marketing arm of Canada Post to help them do a better job of delivering mail in those countries. As is often so typical, a service developed here in Canada is recognized in other parts of the world in a better way and with greater acknowledgement of its success.

CMHC has a commercial mandate. The commercial mandate takes it to the point where it runs a very large and successful mortgage insurance operation. If it were impacted on the setting of its fees by the fact that it had to go through the actual fee setting outside the commercial realm or if it had to come to a parliamentary committee, we would be putting an unfair burden upon that corporation. It does have to compete. GE Capital has a mortgage insurance arm and it would be under no such obligation to come before a parliamentary committee to set its fees.

We have to look at some exemptions if we are to look at this. We have to be able to say that perhaps there are some fees or some areas that are more directly involved with Parliament and should have greater oversight and involvement. However clearly we should not penalize crown corporations or private sector corporations in their ability to compete in the marketplace.

This comes to the very issue of the role of Parliament versus the role of government. We have had calls recently for a vote in this place on whether Canada should participate in a war in Iraq if a resolution comes down through the United Nations. It seems to make some sense to the people on the street that Parliament should make that decision. However the basic fundamental problem in differentiating between the role of Parliament and the role of government goes to the very root of my argument with regard to micromanaging.

The government has certain executive responsibilities. The government is the Prime Minister and the cabinet. The rest of the people members of Parliament in support of the government or members of Parliament in opposition to the government. Technically the government is that group of men and women who form the governor in council, which is the cabinet of the government, and they have a responsibility. If they had to come to Parliament for a vote every time they needed to make a decision which had widespread impact on the country or in our relationships in foreign affairs, because of the debates we see in this place where positions are entrenched because of certain beliefs and certain political parties, the risk would be that we would paralyze the country and make it impossible for the government to fulfill its mandate.

That does not mean Parliament should not have a lot to say and a lot to do with regard to all these decisions. That is why we have the committee system and the opportunity to go forward with ideas, good ideas such as Bill C-212.

Let me just wrap up by saying that having identified a couple of concerns to my colleague, the member for Etobicoke North, I hope we can take out of the bill some of the areas that would lead to micromanaging, that would hurt the commercialized mandates of crown corporations and private sector companies and that would take Parliament as a group into the areas in which frankly none of us were elected to be involved. At the same time, if we adopt the principle involved here, we can say that we stand for more accountability and transparency in the setting of user fees because at the end of the day, a user fee is simply another form of taxation. It may be voluntary taxation. In other cases it is mandatory and people require it.

I could go on about whether we should have user fees in health care, which would be the obvious one that comes to mind. That would not be a voluntary user fee, and our party is opposed to that. However I do not want to get into the debate of that issue in relationship to this bill.

We should support the bill in principle and send it to committee. However there needs to be an awful lot of work done among the member sponsoring it, the committee and the government to make this a useful tool where we can say to the people of Canada that we have indeed improved the system of governing this great nation.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

February 14th, 2003 / 1:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-212, An Act respecting user fees, introduced by the hon. member for Etobicoke North. I can say from the outset that the Bloc Quebecois will support this initiative.

Indeed, user fees, whether they are set by departments or other federal agencies, are a recent development, but one that seems to be gaining momentum. As we know, in recent years, not only in Canada, but also in a large part of the western world, governments have had a tendency to reduce personal and corporate income taxes, while trying to find other means, which are often less visible than personal income taxes, to fund the activities and services provided by their various departments or agencies.

It is estimated that, for last year alone, consumers paid $4 billion for services provided by government agencies or departments.

Taxpayers are not stupid. They realize that if, on the one hand, taxes are lowered but, on the other hand, user fees increase, they might end up being the losers.

As the bill proposes, there is a need for greater transparence about what these user fees really are and for Parliament to play a role in setting these fees. We know that, contrary to income tax, which is a progressive tax—the higher the income, the higher the marginal tax rate—user fees are the same for everyone. They represent a form of regressive taxation, which may be totally legitimate—there is no denying that—but which still affects taxpayers and the people of Canada and Quebec differently.

Before user fees are imposed or changes are made to them, it is imperative that Parliament have the authority to look at the impact of imposing or changing these fees. Especially since this is not only a regressive tax, but user fees will often be charged for a service that is a monopoly.

Take passports for instance. If I need a passport, I have no choice. I must contact the department responsible be issuing passports, fill out the form and pay for the service. This is a monopolistic situation.

Regulation is necessary, as in the case of most monopolies. Parliament must ensure that imposing user fees will not have disproportionate and unfair consequences for Canadians and Quebeckers.

Also, and this is in keeping with the debate we had this morning, there is the matter of the quality of service. If user fees become common and increase, but the quality of service available to the taxpayers and users decreases, and there is a monopoly, there will certainly be public frustration and even questions about the public nature of these services, as is already the case.

So it is perfectly normal for Parliament to be able to make a decision using the procedure set out in this bill, one I find quite appropriate. Parliament must be able to vote on the imposition and amount of user fees.

This bill also proposes to establish a federal regulatory body—which is quite appropriate—to hear complaints and also examine the imposition of user fees or changes to user fees. We have no problem with this. I think that the Standing Committee on Finance should also play a major role in considering requests to implement user fees, as well as the amount of such fees, based of course on all the documents prepared by this federal regulatory body.

Should the House support this bill at second reading, and I hope it does, and refer it to a committee, I would like to look at a particular issue that is not covered by the hon. member's bill, namely private foundations.

In her April 2002 report, the Auditor General said, and I am quoting the first paragraph of the main points in chapter one:

The federal government has paid billions of taxpayers' dollars to private foundations and other delegated arrangements set up to achieve public objectives, transferring the funds years before Canadians receive the intended benefits.

I draw the attention of the House to the following sentence:

The government has delegated program responsibilities to these arrangements, but they are often beyond the reach of Parliament's scrutiny.

The Auditor General is referring here to public programs.

It seems to me some private foundations could also provide services and collect user fees. We should take a close look at this. I am not referring to all the activities of these foundations. Indeed, as regards this aspect, the Auditor General is already proposing greater accountability to Parliament on the part of the government and of these foundations, which receive billions of dollars from the federal government.

In addition to what the Auditor General proposed, I think that during consideration of Bill C-212, we could see whether there is interest in expanding this bill to certain private-based activities—as the Auditor General mentioned herself—that have responsibilities with respect to public programs.

At this stage, I have made a list of foundations that we might find interesting, and there are many. I think the committee will have to take a more technical approach to all this information, namely whether a foundation to which delegated a certain number of responsibilities in public programming have been delegated, imposed user fees.

At this time, I will not dispute the fact that Bill C-212, An Act respecting user fees, could also apply to the activities of some private foundations.

I think the basic principle of the bill is entirely valid. It has a close connection with current discussions within all the political parties about enhancing the role of Parliament and the role of its members. It is a duty that is expected of the elected members, that is, to ensure that user fees are valid and reasonable when they are implemented, and that these fees do not become prohibitive.

It is part of the role of Parliament. It is also an issue of transparency, especially in a context where tax breaks totalling $100 billion have been announced for the next five years. The government should not give tax breaks with one hand and take back user fees with the other. This amounts to regressive taxing. There are already examples of what this government is capable of, with employment insurance.

So, in terms of transparency and democracy, I think that Bill C-212 deserves the support of the House. As I mentioned at the beginning of my comments, the member can be assured of the support of the Bloc Quebecois.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

November 29th, 2002 / 2:15 p.m.
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Durham Ontario

Liberal

Alex Shepherd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to enter this debate on Bill C-212 put forward by the member for Etobicoke North. I respect the member. We have been great colleagues for a long time and we share many functions on various committees. I know how much this issue means to him. Indeed, I am very interested in this issue as well because of course the government brought in user fees a number of years ago and sometimes people think that we just do not have it quite right.

I would like to report that the Treasury Board in fact is abreast of the issue. It has undertaken a change, a policy framework process, and has dealt with industry in trying to bring forward a revision to the policy. It is not here quite yet and that is partially what my argument would be: that the bill is somewhat premature because there is work and progress going on. However, the member opposite is very concerned that it is not going fast enough, and so maybe he should be.

I must state that the government is opposed to the bill for a number of reasons. Today I would like to describe these reasons as well as provide the House with some additional information on cost recovery and user charging.

Bill C-212, despite its good intentions, would be detrimental to the effective functioning of government. It contains a number of constructive measures, but these are already in place in existing federal policies. I believe that accountability and transparency can be better strengthened through improving these existing policies and existing mechanisms for reporting to Parliament and the public.

Currently, pursuant to the authorities granted them by Parliament, individual ministers are responsible for establishing and amending fees. As such, ministers are responsible for evaluating and responding to the many factors relevant to charging decisions. They are accountable to the public and to Parliament. Ministerial accountability is a fundamental principle in all parliamentary democracies. The Treasury Board cost recovery and charging policy supports this legislative framework by setting out the conditions and factors ministers are to consider when users are charged.

This bill would change Canada's approach. It would establish a standing committee to scrutinize and make recommendations to the House of Commons for the approval or rejection of all federal user charges. I know that all of us who serve on various standing committees look forward to the possibility of a another standing committee and wonder how we could provide our time accordingly.

The bill's additional provisions would create an unprecedented overlap in responsibilities and accountabilities between ministers, the standing committee, the House, undefined independent dispute mechanisms and ultimately the courts. This would dismantle the existing ministerial responsibilities, and existing parliamentary oversight would in fact be supplanted.

Ironically, the sum effect would be to undo the worthy objectives of the hon. member's bill. I say this because it would skew accountability by replacing existing lines of authority with a process that would be very complex, costly and unwieldy.

First, the bill's proposed approval process would require the House of Commons to approve, reject or amend all user charge proposals upon consideration and recommendation of the House committee. This would stray from the current practice and philosophy that Parliament delegates questions of application and detail, such as fee setting, to the executive, which is done in the name of efficiency. In other words, the bill would require the Parliament of Canada to in fact micromanage this whole file.

For example, let us imagine that a small agency under Health Canada is seeking approval of a minor change to its fee schedule. In this example, the proposed fee change is intended to simplify the fee structure and process. The bottom line, or the public purse, would not be affected by this change. The proposal is deemed to be revenue neutral. Is this really the type of proposal that requires a separate committee and the House to spend time reviewing? I think not, but the bill would capture this type of transaction

Second, as an act, the provisions of the bill will be enshrined in law. The ultimate arbitrators of issues regarding its interpretation and implementation, then, will not be parliamentarians or the executive, but rather Canada's court system. Complainants dissatisfied with the departmental position or simply seeking to delay fee implementation are liable to avail themselves of the court process to argue potentially frivolous technical issues. In other words, we can actually visualize people starting a court action simply to avoid the possible imposition or increase of a fee.

For example, paragraph 4(1)(a) of the bill requires that “Before a regulating authority fixes” or amends a fee, “it must take reasonable measures” to notify clients of the user fee proposal. Paragraph 4(1)(b) adds that the regulating authority must also give “all clients or service users a reasonable opportunity to provide ideas or proposals for ways to improve” the fee-related services.

With no definition as to what constitutes “reasonable” in these cases, complainants lose nothing by contending in court that the Canada Gazette and the Internet were not reasonable means of notification in their case or, for example, that a four week opportunity to provide ideas was not reasonable as it coincided with a busy period in their work cycle, et cetera.

We can imagine the caseload on an already overburdened court system. We must consider the time delays on implementing potential fee proposals and the delaying effects this would have on the courts' ability to hear more serious cases, and we must consider of course, the court and legal costs.

Third, paragraph 4(1)(e) calls for each charging authority to “establish an independent dispute resolution process to address a complaint or grievance submitted by a client regarding the user fee or change”.

The bill does not establish whether the ruling authority of such a process would supersede that of the minister responsible for the charge or, for that matter, the authority of the committee. Nor does the bill define what constitutes “a complaint or grievance”. The government is well aware that complaints can range from fairly practical questions of application to those that challenge the right or rationale for the department to institute a charge.

Fourth, the bill would extend the reach of this approval process more broadly than perhaps was intended. We note that it would also apply to crown corporations. Their ability to quickly respond to their clients would be subject to the delays created by this new process. That contradicts the reason Parliament granted them a reasonable degree of independent authority: so that government could be more businesslike.

The operational independence granted crown corporations has long been considered an integral part of making government more effective and responsible. Much hard work has been done here in Parliament to create crown corporations like Canada Post so that we could make these organizations more efficient and reduce the red tape burden on the delivering of these services to Canadians. Why would we undo that work? Why place new limits on these organizations after directing them to be more businesslike? Yet that is what the bill would do.

Furthermore, I note that the bill states, “This Act applies to all fees fixed by a regulating authority”, and the bill defines a regulating authority as “a department, agency, board, Crown corporation, commission, or any other body that has the power to fix a user fee or a cost recovery charge under the authority of an Act of Parliament.”

As worded, the bill also could apply to private sector entities such as Bell Canada and Shaw Cable, whose prices are “fixed by a regulating authority” like the CRTC. The repercussions for these businesses would be yet another round of hearings and the expense associated with them. The added delay implied by the effects of the bill, creating various layers of parliamentary, judicial and independent oversight, would be far reaching and potentially very serious for firms who rely on faster, not slower, decision making authorities, which in turn would affect their bottom line.

Fifth, the proposed approval process would also require fees to be justified in comparison to those of other OECD countries.This risks putting pressure on Canada to establish fees at an international lowest common denominator. Canadians feel strongly about their government's role in protecting public health, safety and security. They expect better of their government than an unsophisticated comparison when so many economic, social and political factors determine the level of service people want and the amount they are willing and able to pay.

I wish to convey a strong message that the government is committed to the values of transparency and accountability and is acutely aware of their importance in the user fee environment. It is very serious about making substantive improvements to the current policy on cost recovery.

The government is presently in the latter stages of a balanced and comprehensive review of this policy. Extensive consultations have been held with internal and external stakeholders. Based on the comments received, the government has proposed, in the form of a draft revised policy, a number of changes. Following comments on these proposals, the government is considering further refinements.

The proposed changes will strengthen the accountability of the fee setting process to Parliament, stakeholders and the public and bring about more consistency in the implementation of the policy. This is in response to the previous recommendations of the Standing Committee on Finance and the Auditor General. The proposed changes will provide more explicit guidance to departments that charge.

It is important to note that the government is still in consultation with industry representatives and departments, but there are differing perspectives and competing objectives to consider. Not every issue will be resolved to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. We will continue to listen and to explore ideas for addressing concerns before concluding this review. As we are still consulting--

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

November 29th, 2002 / 2:05 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill. We support the bill and we commend the member for bringing it forward. It is very comprehensive. It seems very fair and well thought out. It addresses not just user fees per se but many other aspects of the user fee issue.

I just wondered, as I sat here and listened to the debate, how the user fees that we face now would be different had this bill been in place. What comes to mind is the airline industry. On our airline tickets there is now a user fee for Nav Canada. It was always included with the Department of Transport expenses and it was not charged to people. Now there is a charge right on the ticket for Nav Canada air traffic control services. There is usually a fee for airport improvement. There is another fee now for airport security and one for a fuel surtax, which is not government.

I am sure that if the member's bill had been in place when the proponents of those user fees brought them in, they would not be as they are now and perhaps they would not be there at all.

For a Liberal bill, it is certainly a very good one. I compliment the member for bringing it forward. We will be supporting it when it comes to a vote.

Air traffic fees are the ones that come to mind. There is a toll highway in my riding. It is the only toll highway in Canada on the Trans-Canada Highway. It is the only section of the Trans-Canada Highway that is tolled. It was originally to be funded through a federal-provincial agreement, but a federal minister and a provincial minister in Nova Scotia decided to take some of the money out and move it to an area of their own riding. They even had the agreement changed. The funding was supposed to be specifically for national highways. The funding was there for this highway, but a former minister of transport a few years ago and a minister of transport in Nova Scotia decided to redirect the money. In the end we ended up with a toll on a section of the Trans-Canada Highway instead of being properly funded by the federal-provincial agreement.

This is simply a user fee. It costs $3.50 to go one way or the other. It is going to be $4.50 if the predictions are right about increases next year. What that means for the people where I live in Amherst who drive to Truro in the centre of Nova Scotia on a four lane highway and back is they have to pay $9 in user fees. However, for people in Pictou who drive the same distance to the same town on a four lane highway that is provided by the government, it is free. People in Halifax can drive to the same town of Truro on a four lane highway and back and it is free. It is just the people who live in my community in Cumberland County, Amherst and Springhill in Nova Scotia, who must pay a user fee. It is completely inconsistent. It is an aberration. It is not fair. That is the way it is with many user fees.

If this bill had been in place, I would say that the user fee would never have been allowed to stand. The requirement under the original funding agreement would have been imposed and the highway would have been paid for. It was a federal-provincial agreement with no user fee required.

It is the inequity in the system that is so unfair. Most people in my province of Nova Scotia can drive on a four lane highway for free. There is just one small group that has to pay $9 to go back and forth on a four lane highway. It is exactly the same as the other highways. It goes to exactly the same places. It serves exactly the same purpose. It is owned and operated by the province of Nova Scotia. However because there was no scrutiny, because there were no regulations, because there was no accountability, this user fee was imposed on that highway. It has been a thorn in my side from the beginning and it continues to be a thorn in my side.

The air costs are certainly imposing a great burden on the smaller airports and the smaller distance flights. The member for Gander—Grand Falls was telling me how the flights are being reduced so much because of the extra surcharges. Because of the surcharges the number of passengers is down. When the number of passengers is down, the flights are discontinued. To go home tonight he has to fly to St. John's, Newfoundland, stay overnight and then fly to Gander tomorrow because of the reduction in flights. That is a direct result of user fees being charged.

Again, I do not believe those user fees would be in place the way they are now had this bill been in place. All this bill does is it allows for accountability. It requires that there be scrutiny. It requires the proponents to explain and justify what they are doing. That was never done on the toll highway that I mentioned, the aircraft security fee or the Nav Canada fees. There was no scrutiny. There was no discussion and no debate. They went through and each is simply a tax.

These user fees are a dedicated tax that are focused on one specific group of people. If there is a tax imposed on Canadians, it should go through the House. It should be subject to committee scrutiny. It has to be justified, but by calling it a user fee, everything seems to slide right through, no questions asked.

We support the bill just the way it is. It is probably not perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better than what we have now. When it comes time to vote on the bill, we will be voting in favour of it, because again, it is simply accountability, fairness, equity and justification.

I hope all members look at this. I hope people on all sides think about this, realize how important the bill is and what a good move forward it would be. It will not cost; it will save. It will make people think. It will make people accountable and ensure that they do the right thing. It will force federal government departments, all departments, agencies, boards, crown corporations, departments of highways, ferries and everything else to apply to Parliament to justify their fees, their raises and whatever they plan to do. It will make them subject to committee scrutiny. Right now there is no such scrutiny. They just decide what they want to do and they do it. There is no accountability, no transparency and no justification.

In fact my colleague, the Conservative member for Kings--Hants about five years ago brought up the same kind of issue. He said that the government should implement its regulatory budget parallel to the traditional spending budget which would detail estimates of the total cost of each individual regulation, user fees, including the government enforcement costs as well as the cost of compliance to individual citizens and businesses, and include a risk benefit analysis of each regulation to enable cost benefit analysis of regulations for parliamentarians.

It differs a little in form and substance, but the same goal is there, the same philosophy is there to add some accountability to this loosey-goosey arrangement. Even though the member for Kings--Hants presented that five years ago prior to many of the user fees that have been brought in since then, it is certainly even more applicable now and is reflected in Bill C-212.

The underlying principle is simply more transparency and accountability. What could be more appropriate than that? It is something we talk about all the time.

The bill, if enacted, would provide parliamentary scrutiny and approval for federal user fees. It would provide greater transparency in the fee setting process. It would ensure public consultation, and there is none now, prior to introducing or amending these fees.

I have a list of organizations that support the bill. I will not repeat them because the member has done a good job of outlining them. One is the Canadian Federation of Independent Business which represents 103,000 small and medium size businesses. They are the people who end up bearing the brunt of many of the user fees that are in place now. Surely we should be listening to these small businesses, which are the backbone of communities like mine, the small and medium size towns in rural Canada.

If the government fees continue to go unchecked, they will continue to hurt small business. They have made this message very clear. In turn, this will impede job creation and hinder our country's overall productivity and ability to compete. In my area, every single cent is important. Every cost reduction is important. Everything that provides a hurdle for competitiveness is very painful for us and it costs us a lot in jobs.

I commend the member for his bill. Canadian taxpayers want value for their money. They want transparency. They want accountability and they want fairness.

Again, I go back to that toll highway. It should never have been a toll highway, but just because it was easy to do, even though there was a federal and a provincial contribution, the way it was handled resulted in a significant toll that will just go up. I believe if that issue had come back to the House, it never would have happened. Under the member's bill that whole issue would have been here. It would have been debated. It would have had public scrutiny. It would have gone to committee and it never would have happened. It is eminently unfair.

I have a lot more thoughts on this. Maybe I will have another chance to share them later on, but essentially we applaud the member for bringing forth the bill. We will support it just the way it is.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

November 29th, 2002 / 2 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very important that the member for Etobicoke North has brought forward Bill C-212 today. Having listened to the debate and some of the rationale, it is good that this debate is taking place. The issue of user fees and the way the government provides services is rarely debated. This is a very important opportunity for us to put an area of government that is rarely examined under the microscope and shine a spotlight on it.

From the perspective of the NDP, we have very serious reservations about user fees in principle. The hon. member listed all the organizations that support his bill. I note that they are all business organizations. Obviously there is concern in the business community about how user fees creep in and how they increase and increase.

From our perspective, we also want to raise a broader issue, and that is how user fees have become so prevalent everywhere in society, particularly on individuals. One only has to look at the debate on medicare and the issue of user fees. One only has to pay a visit to the ATM or to a bank. Everywhere we go there are new user fees.

I take the member's point very well when he says that there is absolutely no relationship, whether in government or in private sector, between the amount of the user fee and the cost of the service that it is supposedly being provided. We get charged for using ATM machines and dinged a second time when the transaction goes through the bank.

We appreciate the fact that this issue has been raised but we want to broaden the debate and the understanding about this and put it in the context of the role that user fees play in our society.

User fees are a kind of sneaky, back door way of taxation. I can remember when I was a member of Vancouver city council back in the eighties. The mayor at the time was Gordon Campbell with whom I am sure most members are familiar. He is now the Premier of British Columbia. He was infamous in Vancouver for publicly saying on the one hand that he wanted to hold the line on taxes, but then the other hand, under his administration, he brought in massive user fees throughout the whole municipal arena. It was insidious and it happened quietly year after year. If people had examined what had taken place, they would have found that it was a massive tax increase on municipal taxpayers, whether they were developers seeking development permits or small businesses wanting to open up shops or something like that. It is a very insidious form of taxation and is something we should be very vigilant about.

The other problem with user fees, particularly as they apply to individuals, but also as they apply to businesses, is that they disproportionately affect low income people or small businesses. Compare a large corporation with more resources to pay user fees to a small business, or an individual or someone on low income. We will find that a much greater weight is being borne by people with less resources or living on a lower income. For that reason as well, we are very concerned about the expansion of a user fee philosophy.

With respect to the bill itself, I never knew the amount of revenue we were talking about, in terms of the federal government, until the member outlined it today; $4 billion annually. That is quite horrendous. If we added in all the other kinds of user fees in the private sector, that amount would also be quite massive.

I agree with the member that there is a systemic bias within departments to just merrily go on their way and increase user fees.

There is no accountability. There is no scrutiny. There is no transparency. There is no one checking what is going on. These user fees continue because it is in the interest of the department to keep rolling them in.

When we talk about the issue of accountability, let us be very clear that while we can look at it as an issue of systemic bias in any department that the member has raised, without a doubt there is also pressure on that department. If its funding is falling as a result of the public debate that takes place here and there are government cutbacks, and the Liberal government is responding to the pressure from the Canadian Alliance, it actually reinforces that kind of systemic practice of a department to increasingly rely on user fees instead of being up front with people and telling them the services it delivers and the costs of the services.

If we want to maintain high quality, public, accessible services, then we have a progressive taxation system to provide the revenue that comes in. I would much prefer that we take that route philosophically and politically than having a sneaky, backdoor way of bringing in money.

This is the first hour of debate on the bill. It is a votable bill. Certainly insofar as the bill does bring greater transparency and accountability to the user fee system that exists, it is something that is very supportable for the New Democrats. I would like to make it clear that we actually see it in a much bigger picture. Our concern also extends to the impact of user fees on individuals in our society, particularly where it involves the provision of public services.

I thank the member for bringing the bill forward. We look forward to the ongoing debate on it. We will have discussions within our caucus but we are generally supportive of it. Maybe there will be opportunities to raise further issues on the bill. Maybe there will be amendments but it is a bill that is very worthy of debate and support. It deals with a very important area of government operation.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

November 29th, 2002 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to take part in the debate on Bill C-212, the private member's bill that talks about the criteria for user fees. I want to remind the House that this problem has been around a very long time. I will quote the auditor general from 1993 when he said:

We are concerned that Parliament cannot readily scrutinize the user fees established by contracts and other non-regulatory means. There does not exist a government-wide summary of the fees being charged, the revenues raised and the authorities under which they are established.

I submit that this was the reason that the member for Medicine Hat introduced a private member's bill on this same topic in 1997, Bill C-205. I know he intended that the private member's bill he introduced would be an opportunity to fulfill those concerns which were raised by the auditor general of the day.

I do not think anybody is against the idea of cost recovery. We certainly are not in the Canadian Alliance. In fact we think that user fees are a good way to go, but the user fees have to reflect the actual cost of doing business and they have to be established in coordination, conjunction and cooperation with the different groups that will be subject to them.

I think of the example in Alberta a few years ago where there was a fairly severe economic downturn. I know it was not only in Alberta but I know about it from being there at the time. The housing industry for example was devastated. I think it was as a result of the NEP at the time, where there was a massive raid by the federal government on the treasury of Alberta.

However the effect of that was a severe recession in Alberta but the bureaucracy of Alberta did not change. Although there were no homes being built during that period, the number of regulators remained the same. These people were supposed to be monitoring and giving authority to the housing industry on things like inspection on plumbing, heating and natural gas fitting in homes for example. As a matter of fact things got worse. The few people who were actually building houses in those years were subjected to harassment from all these bureaucrats who did not have anything to do. They had to justify their actions by going out and making somebody pay the price.

The reason I raise that example is that it is important to have a user fee system that is reflective of the situation in which the economy finds itself.

I know the member for Etobicoke North has raised a number of interesting areas and key points that need to be addressed. We agree with him, when he calls for the need for more parliamentary oversight when user fees are introduced or changed; the need for greater stakeholder participation in the fee setting process, which is part of what I just spoke about; the improved linkages between user fees, the federal department and agency performance specifications and standards; the requirement for more comprehensive stakeholder impact and competitiveness analysis when new user fees or fee increases are contemplated; the goal of increased transparency addressing these fees where applicable; the need for independent dispute resolution process; and the need for annual reporting outlining all user fees. Those are all very important aspects and we support the member in his request to have this changed.

However in addition to having parliamentary scrutiny on user fees, we submit the following principles should apply.

First, the fee must be based on the actual cost of providing the service. They are not necessarily set that way now unfortunately. Some fees are much higher than the cost of the service being provided.

Second, services must be cost effective. This is a key point. In many cases we believe the services are not being provided in a cost effective way and we have to ensure they are.

The member raised the point that there is $4 billion coming into the federal treasury in user fees. If that cost is reflective of the program that needs to be put in place to administer that in the way which has just been outlined so the different groups are not paying costs which are not their own or not inflated, then that is fine. However, in many cases we believe those costs are exaggerated, and it is another hidden tax on the industry itself.

Third, administrative costs must be low and the documentation requirements must be there in the operation of business.

Fourth, there should be no cross-subsidization of services for commodities or regions. That is an important point. We have seen too much of this kind of thing in the past. We have seen too many cases where there costs are borne by one area that should have been borne by another sector, another industry or another part of the country. Cross-subsidization should not be occur.

Fifth, wherever possible fees should be directly applied to prevent fee inflation to indirect application through the service provider.

Sixth, there must be a system in place for tracking the overall incidence of fees and the effect on industry with a process for consultation.

Simply put, we do not mind the idea of user fees or cost recovery. We think that is important. However the user fees must reflect what is a reasonable amount of cost recovery to actually do the job and should not bear out an over-inflated bureaucracy that does not adapt quickly to where that individual sector is itself.

In the case of the housing sector that I talked about, if it were the case that user fees had been set and the sector was in decline and it did not need that many staff to provide that service, that quickly would have to adapt. That means there would have to be consultation with the industry so that those user fees would be reflective of the current situation in terms of the economic well-being of that particular sector of the economy. Otherwise it becomes a cost that is too high and can affect their overall well-being and even competitiveness.

It is important to have a process that can quickly adapt. We believe that the member's bill, if adopted in its entirety, will do just that. We are supportive of it and wish him luck in furthering the cause of the auditor general from 1993, as well as furthering the cause of the member for Medicine Hat when he introduced his private member's bill. Perhaps this thing will move on. I think all parties in the House are in support of it. We would like to see the government pick this up and make it its own bill or pass this quickly to support our industry across the country.

It is important that these industries be allowed to function. We have a tough time already. Taxes are pretty high in the country. We have to compete internationally. Our productivity has fallen against that of the United States for about 25 years and we have to look at ways to cause that to change.

My party had some hearings across Ontario over the last few years. We were told that regulation was just as big a cost to businesses, especially small businesses, as taxation is. In fact it is disproportionately higher for small businesses because they do not have the people dedicated specifically to complying with regulation or people who are administering these cost recovery programs on them. Regulation is a huge cost. I think there were some studies done by the Fraser Institute that suggested it was a $100 billion cost to industry annually in Canada. That is a huge cost and it hurts them in terms of being competitive, and their bottom lines are affected.

It is important that we get this user fee regime right. This is a step in the right direction and I suggest that the members in the House should support this bill.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

November 29th, 2002 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

moved that Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the House about my private member's bill, Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees.

The intent of this legislation is to bring greater transparency and 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. They are meant to defray some or all of the costs of a service provided by government, presumably in the public interest, but which also provides a specific service to a client, for example, licence fees, registrations, et cetera.

I would like to say at the outset that 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:

The bill addresses the need for more parliamentary oversight when user fees are introduced or changed; the need for greater stakeholder participation in the fee setting process; and improved linkages between user fees and federal department and agency performance specifications and standards. There is a requirement for more comprehensive stakeholder impact and competitive analysis when new user fees or fee increases are contemplated. The goal is increased transparency with respect to why fees are applicable, what fees are charged, what costs are identified as recoverable and whether performance standards are being met.

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. This report would be tabled in the House and referred to the relevant committee of the House, which might be the finance committee.

Our government has embarked on a very ambitious innovation agenda. We need to ensure that our regulatory environment supports and encourages this very important objective. The government recognized this connection when it launched the smart regulation initiative in the recent throne speech. The government announced that it will “move forward with a smart regulation strategy to accelerate reforms in key areas, to promote health and sustainability, to contribute to innovation and economic growth and to reduce the administrative burden on business”.

I would suggest to colleagues in the House that the government's cost recovery user fee policy runs counter to the innovation agenda and should be a major part of the smart regulation initiative. Bill C-212 does just that, in my view.

It is time for parliamentarians to take greater ownership of user fees. What began as a legitimate attempt to more fully recover costs for proprietary services and goods has developed into something that is beyond that which was contemplated.

User fees currently bring in $4 billion annually in revenues for the federal government. There is a systemic bias for federal government departments and agencies to increase user fees. Departments and agencies of the federal government have in many cases expanded the concept and introduced user fees, and increased user fees, beyond what is reasonable and more often than not without any reference to service or performance.

It is not that federal civil servants are bad managers. We have some of the best in the world. But we do know that individuals will respond to incentives that are built into the reward and recognition system. It is only natural. If they are rewarded for increasing user fees, if this assists them in their budget building process, they will respond accordingly.

Let us keep in mind that these are monopolies increasing their prices. If a company wishes to have a drug approved, for example, it cannot shop around if the price charged by Health Canada is excessive.

The fact that certain of these user fee revenues accrue to what are referred to as net votes may be a motivating factor as well. A net vote is one where user fee revenues are credited directly to the budget of the government entity. They do not accrue to the consolidated revenue account of the government as general revenues.

The result of user fee revenue that is credited to net votes is that the budgetary requirements of the department or agency are reduced because the fees are deducted from expenditure budget requests. Even where user fee revenues find their way to consolidated revenue and not to a net vote, this additional revenue implemented by departments and agencies is seen as a positive measure by Treasury Board, and the Treasury Board Secretariat, the body that recommends annual budgetary appropriations for these organizations for inclusion in the annual budget and budgetary estimates.

This practice strongly encourages departments and organizations to charge user fees and increase them above the amount originally planned. There is now incentive to systematically multiply these fees. The time has come to make this practice more transparent.

Companies in my riding of Etobicoke North, companies like BASF Canada and Bayer Canada which are exposed to such fees for drug approvals or approvals of chemical products, do not argue about the appropriateness of user fees for proprietary services. They understand that this is required. What they believe is seriously eroding their competitiveness however are increasing fees with no corresponding increase in service or performance. Since fees have been on the rise in most cases, there has been no corresponding improved service or response times.

In Canada for example, it takes an average of 750 days for a drug to be approved. In the United States the corresponding time is 500 to 550 days. In Europe the timeframe is less. User fee charges however are as high or higher in Canada when compared with these jurisdictions.

With drugs and chemical and agricultural products, competitive advantage often depends on being the first mover to the marketplace. It is easy to understand why our Canadian companies are seeing their competitive position eroded.

In the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, user fees are tied in some way to the service provided and the quality of that service. The Government of Canada has not yet implemented this type of measure. In Australia, drug reviews must be carried out within the time period set out in legislation, and if not, the authorities lose up to 25% of their user fees.

In the U.S.A. written performance goals tied to the fee collecting authority were negotiated with the industry. The Medicines Control Agency in the United Kingdom sets targets for clearance times.

Bill C-212 would potentially affect Canadians from coast to coast to coast because it would apply to federal government departments, agencies, boards, crown corporations, commissions or any other body that has the power to fix a user fee or a cost recovery charge under the authority of an act of Parliament. Thus, individuals paying fees to visit a federal park, passengers paying the air traveller security charge, individuals paying a fee to the passport office for a passport, or provincial or territorial authorities paying fees to the Canadian Coast Guard for ice breaking services, would be affected by the bill.

I have introduced the bill because of a certain level of frustration with the lack of progress on this issue. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance some two years recommended significant changes to the cost recovery user fee policy, but progress to date has been minimal. In fact there are concerns by stakeholder groups that the policy may be moving in the opposite direction.

Bill C-212 would require that before a federal regulating authority introduces increases or expands the application of, or increases the duration of, a user fee, it must consult meaningfully with affected stakeholder and client groups.

It must take reasonable measures to notify clients and other regulating authorities with a similar clientele of the proposed user fee changes. That is because some of these user fees become incremental in nature. Different departments and agencies are adding these fees and, in totality, they become quite burdensome.

The regulating authority would be required to give all clients or service users a reasonable opportunity to provide ideas or proposals for ways to improve the services to which the user fee relates.

The regulating authority would be required to conduct an impact assessment to identify relevant factors and take into account its findings in a decision to fix or change the user fee.

The regulating authority would need to explain to clients clearly how the user fee is determined and identify the cost and revenue elements of the user fee.

Finally, the regulating authority would be required to establish an independent dispute resolution process to address a complaint or grievance submitted by a client regarding the user fee or charge.

To some, these provisions may appear completely reasonable; to others, they may appear to be quite onerous.

I will acknowledge that these measures would not simplify life for these regulating authorities. I make no apology for that. I believe that all these steps are necessary because these fees could have an enormous impact on companies and individuals in Canada. These groups may have some constructive ideas about how the service could be improved, especially if they are paying more for the service.

It is important to understand what costs are proposed to be recovered with the proposed user fee or fee increase. How expansive or limited is this definition? To what extent are direct and indirect costs, like departmental or agency overheads, included in the cost recovery formula? How costs are defined can make a major difference in the level of the user fee. We need more transparency and accountability in this area as well and Bill C-212 would provide that transparency and accountability.

Parliamentarians need to understand how departments and agencies define what is a public good and what is a private good. These definitions are usually not easy, to be sure. These definitions are typically not black and white, and some are easier than others to define. However, these are important considerations because user fees could only be charged for proprietary goods and services, and parliamentarians need to be involved in these debates. Bill C-212 would allow for that to happen.

Every user fee proposal under Bill C-212 must be tabled in the House of Commons and referred to a committee of the House by the relevant minister. That proposal would, first, explain in respect of what service, facility, authorization, permit or licence the user fee is being proposed. Second, it would state the reason for any proposed change in the user fee rate. Third, it would outline what performance standard is being proposed, as well as the actual performance level that has been reached. Fourth, it would provide an estimate of the total amount that the regulating authority would collect in the first three years after the introduction of the user fee, and identify the costs that the user fee would recover.

Should the amount of the user fee being proposed be higher than that existing in another OECD country the minister would be required by Bill C-212 to give reasons for the difference.

These questions are very important for the competitiveness of Canadian business. A case in point is the new substance notification program. Chemical companies in Canada, when they introduce a new product into the domestic market must appropriately obtain approval from the federal government prior to launching the product. The federal government reviews the application and makes a determination as to whether or not the product is safe and effective. To cover the cost of this approval process companies must pay a user fee. Companies have no difficulty with this.

They do question, however, why our government will not recognize assessments and approvals from our major trading partners, particularly the U.S.A. Questions such as this would attract more scrutiny from the House of Commons and the relevant committee.

Bill C-212 spells out what the requirements are when adjustments in the application of user fees are proposed. This provision is necessary because broadening the application of a fee can have as large an impact as a fee price increase.

If a regulating authority wishes to amend the definition of persons subject to the application of a particular user fee for the purposes of maintaining fairness or covering additional cost, the regulating authority may implement the amendments, but the minister must, within 40 days of their implementation, seek the committee's approval for the new measures. Failure to do so would invalidate the adjustments and any change must be consistent with the principles laid out in the act.

Despite this provision a regulating authority may not fix, increase, expand the application of, or increase the duration of, a user fee unless the result gives an additional benefit to clients.

The committee of the House would review every user fee proposal and make recommendations to the House of Commons as to the appropriate fee. Although this step would result in a large volume of work, at least initially, the committee of the House would design the appropriate mechanism to handle the volume of proposals. The formation of a user fee subcommittee or some type of exception reporting system are two such possibilities.

We currently have a number of examples where committees handle a regular volume of like matters and they institutionalize certain mechanisms to deal with that. There would clearly be a learning curve and a bulge of work at the launch of this initiative because many user fees have had limited or no scrutiny by Parliament. This work would become more regularized over time.

Early indications are that Bill C-212 has broad support across a wide spectrum. Support letters are continuing to come into my office and many more are expected. If members would like to see those letter they are more than welcome to come to my office.

The bill is supported so far by the Business Coalition on Cost Recovery. The coalition is made up of representatives of leading Canadian business organizations representing large, medium and small businesses in a diverse range of sectors of the Canadian economy, from agriculture and cosmetics to marine transportation.

The combined membership employs over 2.2 million Canadians and is directly responsible for over $330 billion in economic activity annually. The business coalition members include: Animal Nutrition Association of Canada; Canadian Animal Health Institute; Canadian Association of Chemical Distributors; Canadian Chemical Producers' Association; Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association; Canadian Drug Manufacturers Association; Canadian Federation of Independent Business; Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters Inc.; Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters; Forest Products Association of Canada, which by the way represents 3% of Canada's GDP; Medical Devices Canada; Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association of Canada; and Rx & D, Canada's Research Based Pharmaceutical Companies.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which is a member of the Business Coalition on Cost Recovery, represents over 103,000 small and medium sized businesses and it has told me that supporting Bill C-212 is at the top of its public policy agenda and priority list.

Other supporters of the bill include: CropLife Canada, Canadian Medical Device Technology Companies, the Industry Coordinating Group for the Canadian Environmental Protection Act which includes, in addition to some of the members I have previously mentioned, the following: Adhesives & Sealants Manufacturing Association of Canada, Canadian Paint & Coatings Association, Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, Canadian Plastics Industry Association, Canadian Steel Producers Association, Canadian Textiles Institute, Ecological & Toxicological Association of the Dyes & Organic Pigment Manufacturers, Industrial Biology Association, and the Soap & Detergent Association.

Other organizations include: Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, a $14 billion industry which employs over 11,000 Canadians. Many companies also support Bill C-212, like Bayer CropScience; BASF Canada; Provel Animal Health , a division of Eli Lilly Canada Inc.; Engage Argo Corporation; and Crompton Company.

These are serious organizations employing thousands of Canadians across Canada. These organizations support the bill because it is the right thing to do. It would encourage companies to make investments and create jobs.

I ask colleagues to support the bill. It would enhance Canada's competitiveness and advance our country's innovation agenda.

User Fees ActRoutine Proceedings

October 7th, 2002 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to bring back to the House this bill, an act respecting user fees, which will bring greater accountability and transparency to the introduction and increase in any user fees brought about by the government or its agencies and departments. It also links user fees more closely with performance and with international benchmarks.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)