Mr. Speaker, what a resounding reception. New Democrats like this work thing, staying here late, working on budgets, working on bills, and trying to do the good work of Canadians.
I will refer my comments to my Conservative colleagues along the way, and hopefully there will be some good give and take in the questions and answers.
What we are debating here tonight here is Bill C-31. This is the debate that ought to be occurring, as opposed to what just happened in the speech from my friend across the way, which was all about fun things he wanted to talk about, some of it slightly based on fact but most of it based on spin from the Prime Minister's Office.
Bill C-31 is an omnibus bill of some 360 pages. I have to give some credit to the Conservatives for providing a lot of important education to Canadians on parliamentary procedure, such as prorogation and omnibus legislation. Many Canadians did not have any idea of what they were until the Conservatives started to abuse their power, and now they know what they are. For that bit of education about our parliamentary system, I thank the Conservatives. For the abuse of their power, I certainly do not.
In these 360 pages that affect more than 60 laws on the books in Canada, the Conservatives have buried all sorts of things that they hoped would not see the light of day. If they did, the tradition and pattern of the Conservative government would have been to lift them out and make them their own standing bit of legislation. They would have been elevated, with champagne and balloons and all sorts of good fun. However, they did not want Canadians to know about them.
Let us put to rest the idea that anything involved in the process of passing this bill has been anything short of a farce. The Conservatives are ramming through this legislation. Of course, like almost all legislation introduced by the government, it was put under what they called time allocation. That was another bit of education for Canadians on parliamentary tricks and tactics promoted by the government.
What time allocation does is shut down debate at every single stage. It closes off the number of MPs who can speak and it closes off the amount of scrutiny that we can apply to a very complicated piece of legislation. Many aspects of this legislation will affect the day-to-day lives of Canadians and the strength and veracity of our economy.
The Conservatives consistently put politics ahead of policy. They simply say that because they wish it so, so shall it be. What we see in this omnibus bill are fixes to the last omnibus bill, because they got it wrong. In that one there were fixes to the previous omnibus bill, because they got it wrong there too.
Why did Conservatives get it all wrong? It was because they did not listen. They have this incapacity to listen. I understand why they do not listen to the official opposition: it is because we have a naturally contrarian approach to what goes on in the House. It is quid pro quo, which is fine, but they not listen to experts either. They do not listen to academics or people in the business community. They do not listen to anybody.
That level of arrogance has been on a noticeable increase, much like the unemployment rate in Canada. That level of arrogance has grown steadily, just as the debt has grown under the Conservatives, with more than $140 billion tacked on for future generations to pay off.
When $140 billion is borrowed, $140 billion is not paid back. Anybody who has ever borrowed any kind of money at all knows that the amount paid back at the end of day, with interest and time, is much more than what was borrowed.
The Conservatives always talk about their care and concern for future generations. I remember the 2008 budget that was referred to earlier by my friend, and I love Conservative revisionist history. They are able to look back on things that happened and are in the record, in black and white, and then pretend them away if they do not like what they see.
The budget brought in by the Conservatives, right in the teeth of a global recession, was not a stimulus budget or a budget to help put Canadians back to work; it was an austerity budget. If I remember properly—and I do, because I was in the House and looked across as the Conservatives brought their budget in—it was meant to cut programs and services. The budget was meant to deprive the economy of tens and hundreds of millions of dollars on the very cusp of a global downturn.
Why did the Conservatives reverse their position? It was not because they had any enlightenment as to how the economy actually works; it was because their own jobs were threatened with defeat.
As we will remember, right about that same time there was the threat of a coalition government. The Conservative government panicked, prorogued Parliament, and shut things down. Can anyone imagine this happening in other countries, by the way? There are some countries that come to mind, but none that we would ever want to imitate, not at all.
However, the government, about to face a vote of defeat, turned to the Queen's representative and said, “Let us get out of town, because we don't want to fall to the majority of MPs in the House.” That conversation is an entire speech.
As late finance minister Jim Flaherty joked, he said, “We're all Keynesians now.” Suddenly the Conservatives got religion on the idea that government has some role to play in the economy. Rather than doing what was suggested by all the experts, which is to directly infuse money into the economy in places where it would work, they instead invented all sorts of programs and the economic action plan. We still see the annoying ads and the billboards for them all over the place.
These measures cost tens of millions of dollars to roll out. They could instead have done something like an enhancement of the gas tax, which would have gone directly to municipalities that had projects ready to come off the shelf and onto the market. It took an extra year and a half for that money to actually touch the Canadian economy, thereby increasing the pain and suffering of those who had lost their jobs.
Even when Conservatives figured out that Keynesian economics is not the devil's work and even though they realized, finally, under threat of failure of their own government, that there was an important conversation to be had, they failed to do it properly and ended up spending tens of millions more than was required. That money was completely wasted.
Let us get back to Bill C-31.
As I raise points of criticism tonight, I would like my Conservative colleagues to acknowledge, and Canadians who are watching to realize, that despite all the criticisms New Democrats have raised, we did not just oppose what the government was doing. We actually brought forward proposals and amendments. We suggested changes to the bill that were based on the evidence we heard at committee. We did not hear a lot because, again, the Conservatives shut down the process and limited the number of voices that could be heard.
We were passing amendments to Canadian law. In the final stages of this bill, we were changing law every two minutes. This is what the Conservatives call oversight and accountability. They were making significant changes to Canadian law without any understanding of the repercussions and without bringing forward any witnesses.
Regardless, we brought substantive amendments. We brought even more at the previous stage of this bill that we are now debating tonight. Every single time—with one small exception, which was when I worked with my friend across the way for a technical fix on the bill—they were refused. Even when the evidence was overwhelmingly strong that the government had got it wrong and that the impacts were going to be disastrous for Canadians, Conservatives stubbornly refused.
We tried to be reasonable with them. The amendments were completely founded on the consensus we got from the witnesses, who understood many of these issues far better than any parliamentarian involved, and arrogantly and consistently the Conservatives refused every single one. We introduced nearly a thousand amendments on omnibus legislation, and the government was consistent in refusing all of them. What is ironic is that the fixes that are now in this omnibus bill to fix the last one were changes we attempted to make during that process and that debate, and Conservatives said no, no. They said they had it right.
Let us get into the actual details of the bill. I want to touch on one point that my friend raised earlier, the $14 million a year that is going to the NEB that is going to help with participation for Canadians. There are some tens of billions worth of projects on the docket as potential development projects, and the Conservatives offer up $14 million and want to slap themselves on the back.
Here is what they have actually done to environmental assessments in this country, according to the Auditor General. They can dispute the Auditor General if they so wish. By gutting the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, they have taken the average number of environmental assessments from 4,000 per year down to between 12 and 15 per year. These assessments are the public hearings on mines, new major builds, pipelines, and all the rest at which companies are forced to bring their science forward, their evidence and facts, and community members raise concerns. That is the process they engage in.
We are going to go, on average, from 4,000 of those assessments in Canada per year down to between 12 and 15 per year. I am not saying 12,000 or 15,000, but 12 or 15. All the other projects are simply going to get rubber-stamped and approved by the government with no public input, no hearings, no evidence, no science, none of it. One would think that a resource-based country like Canada would have learned from past mistakes. That is why we have the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Last year the federal government and all federal taxpayers put $160 million into Yukon alone to deal with old, abandoned mines that are leaking because they were built badly. What we said was, “When you get things wrong in resource development, it's expensive.” It is not just expensive for the environment; it is also expensive for taxpayers. Therefore, let us get smart. Let us evolve. Let us understand the impacts as well as we can before we build the project, rather than have to pay and clean up the mistakes afterwards.
Conservatives like to turn back the clock, as they so often do. They have been watching too many reruns of Leave it to Beaver to realize that the world has moved on. What the world has realized is that science is important. However, time and time again we see the government purposely make itself ignorant. I do not know if we have ever before seen a government of a G7 country that says it would rather not know much about the economy. The government cut 20% from the labour market assessment, so 20% of that budget is gone. It does not want to know what is going on in the labour market, but what it will do is bring in temporary foreign workers for any problem it perceives or for any anecdote it has from an employer.
Of course, that program has absolutely exploded. That program is addressed in the bill. That is one of the laws that is addressed in the bill. Here was a missed opportunity by the Conservatives to fix the obvious and known problems with the temporary foreign worker program. Did they do it? Not at all.
They are caught in a bit of a dichotomy here, because they keep saying that the program is fine, that it is strong, that they are hard on employers and have a blacklist they put them on. Oh, the terrifying blacklist. After two years, there are two employers nominally on the blacklist. One might think there have not been any abuses, but in Alberta alone last year, 160 cases of abuse of the temporary foreign worker program were raised. That is just one province. Obviously, the abuses are there.
There was an opportunity for a fix here, an opportunity for the government to pull back and close those massive loopholes that one could drive a pickup truck through. The Conservatives obviously got the temporary foreign worker program badly wrong.
The effect is not just the abuse on those temporary foreign workers. We in the NDP believe that if someone is good enough to come to Canada and work in Canada, they are good enough to eventually become a Canadian, as opposed to the indentured labour program that the Conservatives set up. Rather than fix those programs, they chose not to. It was another opportunity the government missed.
There was a program that was ragingly successful for small businesses, the true job creators in our country. Depending on the year, eight or nine out of every 10 new jobs in Canada are created by small and medium-sized businesses. These businesses are the ones that drive the economy, drive innovation, and absolutely support communities and families.
The Conservatives did something smart: they borrowed an idea from the NDP. They said if they were going to offer a tax cut to small businesses, which is a good thing, it should be connected to a job being created. I know it is a radical suggestion to say that if we give a tax break or a benefit of some kind to someone, they should give something back. The NDP said that was a good line to connect, that taxpayers would support that idea. Lo and behold, even the Conservatives supported it. It was the small business hiring tax credit, which half a million small businesses supported and applied to. It created those jobs that we so desperately need. With such a successful program, what did the Conservatives do? They cancelled it.
What was it the Prime Minister said today? He said it was a time-limited offer. He's the ShamWow prime minister now. It is time limited only. Here is this very effective small business program, but it is time limited. “Call now. We'll throw in a set of knives for you if you hurry.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business decried this cancellation. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said it was wrong. Small business operators across the country asked why, if the government had a program that worked, would it cancel it?
Here is something the Conservatives did not cancel that we have seen over time: the massive shifting of tax away from corporations, particularly the largest and most profitable. This tradition was started by the Liberals, to be fair, but it was continued with great vigour by the Conservatives. Tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks were given to corporations with no strings attached. The Conservatives, and previously the Liberals, said, “Just take the money, and we hope you'll do some great investment in research and development and create those jobs and invest back.”
What has happened? It turned into dead money, as former finance minister Jim Flaherty put it. Almost half a trillion dollars are sitting in the coffers of corporate Canada that they are not reinvesting and not putting into R and D and not using to create those jobs. Why is that? It is because there are no strings attached. That is how it works in life; so too does it in business. If we give someone something for free, they will take it gladly. If we include some implication, some sort of contract attached to getting a break from the taxpayers of Canada, then they can be expected to create a job with that break, as opposed to what these guys have done.
Getting back to this participation thing, the Conservatives have created massive uncertainty when it comes to resource development in Canada. We see it through the fiasco of the Enbridge northern gateway proposal, where they retroactively changed the law that governed the NEB, taking the decision away from the independent panel that they always talked about as an independent tribunal, saying that they were going to let do what it does. Then why did they, in an omnibus bill, retroactively change the process while we were halfway through it to take the decision away from the NEB and land it in the lap of the Prime Minister, who within seven days, is going to make a decision on this?
Gosh darn it, he is caught between a rock and a hard place, because they would not listen to the economics of exporting raw bitumen to China being a bad idea for the value-added chain in Canada; that this is a non-renewable resource that we get once. They would not listen to the environmental implications; they accepted a project without admitting whether bitumen, this thing that comes out of the oil sands, sinks or floats. Now why would that be important? Well, we could ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment. He would know, because whether it sinks or floats affects how the cleanup operation would be designed. If it sinks, boy that would sure be hard to clean up. Lo and behold, two days after the NEB sent in the report, without knowing the answer to that fundamental question, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had in fact done a study on bitumen in water in a tank here in Ottawa, and it sent the report in two days after the panel had reviewed the project and said, “Goodness, let us just go ahead and give it the green light”. Now the Prime Minister has a week to make up his mind. He has not listened to the economics.
He has not listened to the environmental concerns of putting supertankers on B.C.'s north coast, which as anyone who has been there knows, is fraught with peril. It is the place I represent and know well. There is going to be a massive accident if this goes ahead.
Now they are listening to the politics. The 21 B.C. Conservative MPs are suddenly faced with a bit of a dilemma: who are they going to listen to? Are they going to listen to the voters who put them here, or are they going to listen to the Prime Minister who has had blinkers over his eyes since day one on this project? It was his government that said that anybody who raises concerns about this pipeline must be a foreign-funded radical, an enemy of the state. What do people think the effect was in British Columbia for those who were raising legitimate concerns about this project? They were offended and maybe saddened to see a Prime Minister use this kind of rhetoric against his own people: enemy of the state—how dare he?
What they did ultimately, as we are now seeing, was react in the way we would expect Canadians to react to a bully. They stood up, are standing up, and are standing shoulder to shoulder with first nations and non-first nations allies, community to community; and the town of Kitimat itself passed a plebiscite vote rejecting this project. Yet the Prime Minister will not listen to any of that.
The Conservatives ignored the Canadian chambers of commerce on the trademark provisions that were in this bill. There were also the intellectual property components; and FATCA, on which my friend from Victoria has done amazing work, exposing this travesty that over a million Canadians may be exposed to the IRS because the Canada Revenue Agency is going to play some sort of middleman role and pass on the private banking information of up to a million Canadians. Here is who are affected: Canadians of dual citizenship, who are Canadian, by the way. The minister was in committee time and again and said no Canadian would be affected. Is a dual citizen between Canada and the U.S. not a Canadian? Are individuals who were born in the U.S. but have lived almost their entire lives here, with Canadian citizenship and voting in Canadian elections, not Canadians? The mayor in one of my towns is affected by this. Are those not Canadians? The minister, bold-faced, stood in front of the committee and said no one would be affected. One of the amendments we put forward was to at least give people notice when passing their personal banking information on to the IRS, and the Conservatives rejected that too. This is a bad bill; it has all sorts of consequences for Canadians.
Therefore, 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-31, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures, because it: a) has not received adequate study or amendment by Parliament; b) cancels the hiring credit for small business; c) raises costs for Canadian businesses through changes to trademark law that have been opposed by dozens of chambers of commerce, businesses, and legal experts; d) hands over private financial information of hundreds of thousands of Canadians to the US Internal Revenue Service under Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act; e) undermines the independence of 11 federal administrative tribunals; and f) fails to fully compensate for years of unjust clawback to the benefits of Canada's disabled veterans.
If for no other reason, the Conservatives should show a little spine and stand up for Canada's wounded vets and support this motion.