Mr. Speaker, I know Canadians are riveted with what is happening in Ottawa with all the scandals around the federal government. Nevertheless, in spite of Conservative scandals, there is important business that is continuing in Parliament.
I rise today to speak, once again, on Bill C-60, which is yet another Conservative omnibus budget bill. It was only weeks ago that the Conservatives brought Bill C-60 to the floor of the House and very quickly constrained debate with time allocation. They pushed it through the finance committee, allowing a total of only four meetings to discuss and study this bill. Here we are with a record number of debate limits due to time allocation by the secretive Conservative government. We are back with this omnibus budget bill and, again, it will receive only two and a half hours of debate.
While this is not the biggest budget bill ever, it is 115 pages and changes almost 50 pieces of legislation. This will have wide-ranging impacts on government departments, crown corporations, international trade, and foreign investment. It will affect the prices of basic household goods for Canadians. All the while, the Conservatives themselves are very secretive. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer cannot find out what the government is cutting, and these cuts to programs and services and austerity measures continue.
This omnibus bill would make changes to the temporary foreign workers program and the Investment Canada Act. It merges the Department of Foreign Affairs with the Canadian International Development Agency. It also introduces significant tax hikes on credit unions, small businesses and tariff hikes on thousands of products. The Conservatives are raising the prices on more than 1,200 consumer goods, from over 70 countries, by increasing tariffs $333 million.
Bill C-60 also undermines the collective bargaining process at crown agencies, such as the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, VIA Rail, Canada Post, and many more crown corporations. It also raises serious concerns about the independence of institutions, including the CBC, where we prize journalistic independence and integrity, and also the Bank of Canada.
Canadians across the country have been writing to MPs to share their concerns about this omni-budget 3.0. If they are to be considered, these are changes that merit more debate, more time, and certainly due process. In year three of Conservative omni-budgets, Canadians should not accept this skirting of the democratic process and democratic oversight as the new normal.
Allow me to quote what National Post columnist Andrew Coyne said about omnibus budget bills. He stated:
Not only does this make a mockery of the confidence convention, shielding bills that would otherwise be defeatable within a money bill, which is not: It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We’ve no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the [omnibus] legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet.
...there is something quite alarming about Parliament being obliged to rubber-stamp the government’s whole legislative agenda at one go.
It was last year that Mr. Coyne wrote that opinion, and of course the government continues with its omnibus legislation, blind and determined as ever.
The Conservatives do not trust Canadians, and Bill C-60, like the omnibus bills of years past, is evidence of their disdain for parliamentary process, the democratic process, and ultimately for Canadians. If they had been listening to Canadians, the Conservatives would be hearing the kinds of things I have been hearing from my constituents. Thousands of Canadians are writing to parliamentarians, telling us that sections related to the CBC alone are reason to stop this omnibus bill.
Respected members of the Canadian media are telling Parliament that this omnibus bill needs to be intercepted. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, the Canadian Media Guild, the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada and ACTRA are urging all of the Conservatives to use common sense.
The Canadian Association of Journalists has said that the provisions of Bill C-60 show the Conservatives' total lack of confidence in the ability of the CBC's board of directors and president to properly manage public broadcasting.
This bill is also the worst case of government interference in the CBC and its mandate as an independent broadcaster funded by taxpayers.
My office certainly has received countless letters, emails and phone calls from constituents concerned about how Bill C-60 will impact the CBC. Of course, Conservatives would have to talk to Canadians if they wanted to know this. Clearly, they are not.
Bill C-60 also phases out the credit union tax deduction that has helped foster diversity in our financial system in Canada. There is a great deal of concern from credit unions from coast to coast about the long-term effects of these changes. Fostering diversity in the banking and financial sector is a necessary element of a modern economy.
At the finance committee, we heard from credit union representatives about the concerns that this measure has raised in communities across the country. I would like to quote a couple of them.
Mr. David Phillips, president and CEO of Credit Union Central of Canada, told us:
The provision as it is now is pro-competitive. So when you take the provision away, when you increase the tax rate, what you're really doing is supporting greater concentration in the Canadian financial services industry. It's really a tax on the growth of credit unions.
Mr. David Phillips is saying that as it stands now it fosters competition. What the Conservatives are doing will eliminate competition, or greatly reduce competition. That was what Mr. Phillips said to the finance committee last month.
Mr. Garth Manness, CEO of Credit Union Central of Manitoba, notes that:
Now credit unions alone face the possibility of having to pay more of their net income in federal tax. Just as the banks did before, it is no exaggeration to say that some may begin to question the future viability of credit unions in many communities in rural Canada.
In some cases, they are the only financial institution.
Not only could people be left without access to a nearby financial institution, valuable and stable jobs at the credit union could be lost.
Again, that is from Mr. Manness when he appeared at the finance committee last month.
As the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, I know these measures will have a direct impact on my community. In my riding, the Ukrainian credit unions invest nearly $1 million annually in community programming, projects and educational initiatives that could simply disappear as a result of these tax changes. It makes no sense.
I recently met with representatives from the Council Of Ukrainian Credit Unions Of Canada which have a combined membership of over 63,000 people across Canada. The representatives I met with in Parkdale—High Park were shocked at the unexpected tax code changes for credit unions in Bill C-60. There was no consultation.
I share the concerns of my constituents, and many Canadians, that these new risk-reducing financial tools available to communities across the country threaten the overall diversity of the financial sector in Canada.
Bill C-60 is not what Canadians want. If the Conservatives were listening to Canadians, they would know that. If the Conservatives were listening to Canadians, they would be considering the advice of the very experts who appeared before the finance committee as witnesses on this bill.
For instance, labour relations expert George Smith told the finance committee that the changes in Bill C-60 fundamentally contradict the Canada Labour Code.
Now, Smith is not a union representative. For four decades, Smith was chief management negotiator for many businesses and crown corporations, such as Air Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway, and CBC. He was part of the privatization of Air Canada, the revitalization of the Canadian railway industry, including CN as a crown corporation, and the modernization of CBC's collective agreement.
George Smith, formerly in management at CBC, Air Canada and CPR, and now adjunct professor at Queen's University, stated:
Collective bargaining is messy. Sometimes it causes inconvenience. Labour disputes, I would argue, are short-term pain for long-term gain. But the product of a freely negotiated collective agreement is an agreement that both sides agree to and both sides then commit to implement. That gives management the certainty, and it gives the employees and the unions certainty in the business environment. It doesn't mean that those negotiations aren't difficult. But mandated change, in my experience, wherever it comes from, doesn't work.
Mr. Smith appeared at the finance committee last month. It is clear that his comments fell on deaf ears on the part of the government.
If the government were listening, it would hear the concerns of Chris Aylward, national executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, on the changes that would allow Treasury Board interference in labour relations at crown corporations. He said:
These changes are problematic because it essentially gives Treasury Board unfettered authority to interfere in [collective] bargaining with Crown corporations, removing effective control from the parties most directly affected. This is not a recipe for healthy labour relations.
These are the experts who are telling us this, and the government refuses to listen.
The message from Canadians on process for this bill and on the content is clear. It is, “stop this omnibus budget bill”. However, the Conservatives will not take their fingers out of their ears long enough to hear what Canadians are saying.
The changes proposed to Bill C-60 regarding Treasury Board interference with crown corporations do not stop at the CBC. There is also concern that they could impact the independence of the Bank of Canada.
I recently tabled a motion at the finance committee to study the impact of this bill on the Bank of Canada, but, of course, like every other motion that the NDP or other parties put forward, and every other single amendment, the Conservatives rejected it, voted against it, and refused to listen.
In a recent article in The Globe and Mail, Kevin Carmichael described the potential scenario that could arise following the Bill C-60 measures:
Say the governor wanted to hire a talented banker who worked at an investment bank that had become the focus of public vitriol for its role in the global financial crisis. Would cabinet interfere with the appointment if there were a public outcry? Or to prevent one?
Carmichael goes on to say:
It is impossible to rule out the possibility. Yet such a scenario hardly is far-fetched. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney hired Tim Hodgson, the former head of Goldman Sachs's Canadian operations, as a special advisor in 2010. Would Mr. Carney have thought twice if he knew his internal appointments risked political censure? Again, there's reason to wonder. And suddenly, we're on a slippery slope: a simple “accountability” measure risks hurting the central bank's reputation as an independent actor.
Again, this is from an expert financial journalist at The Globe and Mail. The Conservatives are willing to risk the independence of the central bank if it means giving more power to the Prime Minister's Office.
Bill C-60 would also make the temporary foreign workers program correct some measures. However, they would be a band-aid solution and would not get to the heart of the government's mismanagement of the temporary foreign workers program. While the Conservatives like to crow about their record on job creation, there are still almost 1.4 million Canadians out of work. At the same time, the number of temporary foreign workers have tripled over the last decade. There are now hundreds of thousands of temporary foreign workers working here in Canada.
Experts and community groups across the country are speaking out against the band-aid solutions offered in Bill C-60. Gil McGowan, president of Alberta Federation of Labour, where many of these workers work, said:
The bottom line is that Canadians are being displaced by temporary foreign workers, wages are being suppressed and employers are being allowed to abdicate their responsibility for training Canadians.
Miles Corak, professor of economics, has said:
Flooding the market with workers from elsewhere year in and year out—even during a major recession—is not about an acute labour shortage. It is nothing more than a wage subsidy to low-paying firms, a subsidy that stunts the reallocation of goods, capital and labour that is the basis for efficient markets.
What do the Conservatives have against free markets?
David Gray, a labour economist and professor at the University of Ottawa, said:
The temporary foreign worker program has become a convenient “out” for employers unwilling to pay higher wages. It should just address only acute labour shortages.
The Canadian Council of Refugees said:
[T]he CCR regrets the [temporary foreign workers] announcement did not address the rights abuses suffered by migrant workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation because of their precarious status.
Again, this testimony was all ignored. Canadians told us about serious concerns about Bill C-60, and we in the New Democratic Party stand with Canadians in saying that we do not support this omnibus bill. We will be voting against it.
Despite what Conservatives claim, this budget will actually hold back the Canadian economy, instead of accelerating it. It is eliminating thousands of jobs, cutting direct program spending and weakening GDP growth. It does nothing to address unemployment, record levels of household debt or rising inequality.
Putting people to work is clearly the best way to reduce our deficit, but instead, this budget is recklessly pursuing an austerity agenda that has made major cuts to services on which Canadian families rely. Now is the time, instead, to invest in the next generation that will lead the country. It is the time to meet the challenges facing Canadians head-on, but this budget shirks these responsibilities.
There is no need to risk journalistic freedom at the CBC. There is no need to trample on collective bargaining rights and processes that have served us well for decades. New Democrats know that investing in communities, pursuing sustainable economic development and supporting small and medium-size businesses is critical in creating high-paying jobs and in building a vibrant economy for generations to come.
Canadians are counting on us to listen, to understand the concerns of communities across the country and to put the public interest first.
In that regard, I want to propose a reasoned amendment, and I will read the reasoned amendment now. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House decline to give third reading to Bill C-60, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures, because it:
(a) weakens Canadians' confidence in the work of Parliament, decreases transparency and erodes democratic process by amending 49 different pieces of legislation, many of which are not related to budgetary measures;
(b) raises taxes on Canadians by introducing tax hikes on credit unions and small businesses;
(c) gives the Treasury Board sweeping powers to interfere in collective bargaining and impose employment conditions on non-union employees;
(d) amends the Investment Canada Act to triple review thresholds and dramatically reduces the number of foreign takeovers subject to review;
(e) proposes an inadequate band-aid fix for the flawed approach to labour market opinions in the temporary foreign worker program;
(f) proposes to increase fees for visitor visas for friends and family coming to visit Canada; and
(g) fails to provide substantive measures to create good Canadian jobs and stimulate meaningful long-term growth and recovery.
I will add that this reasoned amendment is being seconded by the member of Parliament for Saint-Lambert.