That, in the opinion of the House, corporate executives and their lobbyists have had too much access to and influence over the Government of Canada, setting working Canadians and their families back by:
(a) encouraging attempts by the Prime Minister to undermine the independence of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and the integrity of Canada’s rule of law;
(b) forcing Canadians to pay high prices for prescription drugs by blocking the establishment of a single, public and universal drug insurance plan;
(c) providing huge subsidies to large oil and gas companies, while putting corporate interests over the protection of Canada’s Pacific coastal waters in the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval process;
(d) motivating the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to give a handout of $12 million to a multi-billion-dollar corporation owned by one of Canada's wealthiest families;
(e) giving Canada's most profitable banks the chance to review and revise a report intended to shed light on anti-consumer banking practices; and
(f) leaving intact a host of tax loopholes that allow the richest Canadians to avoid paying their fair share for Canada’s public services like health care, pensions and housing;
and that therefore, as a first step toward addressing these failings, the government should immediately move to recover the $12 million given to Loblaws and reinvest it to the benefit of working Canadians and their families.
Mr. Speaker, there has been a fair bit of outrage across the country lately at examples of major corporations getting special treatment by the Liberal government.
We think, of course, of the many weeks of the SNC-Lavalin saga. Here the government stands accused of having interfered in what should be Canada's independent legal system on behalf of one particular corporation in an attempt to avoid having it face criminal charges for alleged international bribery. That is an example of a big ask by a corporation. It asked the government to pass a whole new body of legislation in order to create an exit ramp out of the criminal charges, and we saw the entire artifice of government jump to the pump to try to get it done. When some people in government stood up to that, said no and said that they thought it was wrong, they were shown the door. That was the case of a very big ask, and we saw just how willing the government was to try to make that happen for a large corporation.
On the other end of the spectrum, we had what appeared to be a relatively small ask, which was $12 million for Loblaws. The thing about Loblaws is that it is one of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the country. One of Canada's billionaires with one of the most profitable companies came cap in hand to the government and asked for $12 million to help upgrade fridges, and the government was all too happy to say yes. It did not say that the $12 million could be better used to leverage new investment from companies that do not already have the capital to green their infrastructure and operations. It did not say that it wanted to make sure public dollars were spent in the most efficient way possible to help those who otherwise would not have any investment at all and who would not otherwise be reducing their emissions at all. Instead, the government was quick to say that it sounded like a great announcement happening at Loblaws and wanted to know what it would cost to get to the podium. The government wanted to know how it could get a piece of that action and be part of a good-news story.
That is not the way to fight climate change. It might be the way to fight an election, but it is not the way to fight climate change. That is an example of just how prepared the Liberals are to accede to demands by corporate Canada, no matter how small. The big asks get the yes and the small asks get the yes, and it seems that everything in between gets a yes too.
What will it take? What is the threshold? What will it take for this government to say that the interests of large corporations are not in line with the interests of everyday working Canadians?
This will not come as an epiphany to anybody listening at home, but it may came as one to some members on the government bench, given their behaviour: Sometimes the interests of large corporations are not in line with the interests of everyday working Canadians. That happens, but we would not know it from looking at the activity of this government. When big companies come with an ask for the government, the answer is yes. Companies know it is going to be a yes, more and more, which is why the asks are getting more and more outrageous, right down a $12-million ask to supplement what Loblaws was already doing in order to upgrade and green its infrastructure.
That is where the sense of outrage comes from. What our motion today is trying to do is name the elephant in Ottawa, which is corporate influence. It is trying to draw what we believe is the very direct line between the influence those big corporations have here in Ottawa with the government and governments of the past and the pocketbooks of Canadians, as well as the effects this kind of friendly relationship between the Canadian government and corporate lobbyists have on the quality of life of everyday Canadians across the country.
To put that sense of outrage in context, it is because these big corporate asks and acquiescences by government are coming at a time when almost half of Canadians are within $200 of not being able to pay their bills and having to declare insolvency.
That is a real hardship. It is of course a hardship for people who have a loss of employment, a serious health issue, or other situations that mean they may not be able to report to work every day and make that extra $200, and therefore they end up in a financial catastrophe and have to declare bankruptcy. It also a real issue for those living with the stress and anxiety of knowing that if something takes a wrong turn or does not go quite right, they could end up there as well. Even if it does not happen to them, it could happen to their neighbour, friends or family, and they have to live with the stress of knowing that it may happen to them.
Therefore, in the NDP we believe that the goal of government activity and government policy should be to try to bring together people who are facing all of these common challenges, such as the common challenge of finding reasonably affordable child care close to home, the challenge of ensuring that everybody who is retiring from work has an adequate pension income to allow them to continue to live with dignity, and the common challenge of getting good access to health care services in their community.
In my community right now, the big battle is making sure that the provincial Conservative government does not close the Concordia emergency room, as it has promised to do and seems hell-bent on doing this June. That would mean that for the entirety of northeast Winnipeg, there would be no 24-7 access to the health care system close to home in their community. For Canadians across the country, there is the issue of the high cost of prescription drugs, because we know that Canadians pay among the highest costs for prescription drugs.
The NDP approach is to bring together people who are facing those common challenges, and the job of government is to implement solutions that bring those costs down and make life easier for Canadians through facing our challenges together. It is not to hobnob with corporate lobbyists at receptions in Ottawa and then change the law for their benefit. It is not to let them off the hook for their big tax bills, which are not measured in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, but in the tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars. When we talk about the tax havens they use to hide their money so that they do not have pay their fair share, we are talking about tens of billions of dollars. It is not the job of government to look out for those guys and their interests, and that is what we are here to say today. That has been going on for far too long, and it is time that Canadians got to see this place act in their interests.
It is in this context that Canadians are rightly angry when they hear these stories, whether it is a big story like the SNC-Lavalin story or the smaller story like the money given to Loblaws to repair its fridges, which is a symbol. It is not just the amount of money; it is a symbol of government just never really being willing to say no when corporate Canada comes asking.
When it comes to Canada's effort to tackle climate change and reduce our carbon footprint, corporate interests once again get in the way, so much so that the government decided to spend over $4 billion of Canadians' money not to buy a new pipeline, not to build a new pipeline, but to buy an existing pipeline, just as a gift to Kinder Morgan for having come and tried but not being able to get it done. “Thanks for trying, so we will give you billions of dollars in taxpayers' money.”
That money could have been invested in other priorities. It could provide job training for workers in the energy sector to help their skills align better with the new energy economy that is already under way and already developing. It could also be used to invest in new infrastructure projects that would create more of those kinds of jobs and more opportunity for on-the-job training in that new sector and new economy.
However, we did not see that and we did not get that.
Instead, what we have seen is a government that was silent and has not done anything for workers like those at Stelco and Sears who, when their companies went bankrupt, lost their pension income. Workers still do not have protection to prevent that from happening again. Not only did the government do nothing for them except remind them that they could apply for EI, but it has not done anything for workers of the future to head off the problems that we know are coming because of the sorry example of Sears and Stelco workers. A long time ago, when we knew these kinds of things would be happening and the NDP was proposing that we protect workers' pensions, the government did not come to their defence and did not put laws on the books to protect them,
The government also turned its back on GM workers in an award-winning plant known for its productivity when GM said that it was closing the doors and moving the plant out of Canada. Once again the Liberals were there to remind them that they too could apply for employment insurance, as if that was something they did not already know or as if that was all they expected from the government.
This is a government that did not require VIA, a publicly owned corporation, to have a Canadian content requirement when sourcing a renewal of its railcar fleet. That should have been a requirement, because when public funds are being used at that level of investment, we should be ensuring that Canadians are getting a piece of the action and that we are creating employment in Canada.
The current government has not only favoured corporate interests over those of ordinary Canadians by doing nothing, and there has been a lot of that, it has gone out of its way to help corporate interests when they conflict with the interests of everyday and working Canadians.
One of the first real acts of the government was to change the law for Air Canada to make it easier for it to outsource its aircraft maintenance work. That was a shame, particularly in light of the Liberals protesting with those same workers before the election, saying that the previous government should apply the law. I suppose the current government is applying the law, because it changed it to make it easy for Air Canada to outsource its work and is now applying the law that does not protect workers.
The Liberals have signed trade deals, which were negotiated and applauded by the Conservatives, that enshrine and give real protection of law to corporate rights, but only pay lip service to the rights of workers and the environment.
When Canada Post, another Crown corporation, was in a conflict with its workers in the fall, instead of changing management or giving it a direction to bargain in good faith, the current government passed back-to-work legislation and rewarded the intransigence of Canada Post's management instead of standing up for those workers.
Subsidies to large oil and gas companies continue, even though we know we have to transition to a green economy. That money could be used to retrain workers from the energy sector. It could be used to invest in projects like what the NDP has announced, which is to retrofit every home in Canada to improve efficiency, to not just reduce our carbon footprint but also the monthly heating costs of Canadians. That money could be used for a fund to help Canadians and their pocketbooks while also reducing our carbon footprint. Instead, it is going to the largest oil and gas producers in the country, whose production continues to go up while royalty revenue goes down and the effects of climate change manifest evermore seriously and urgently.
The promises made by the Liberals to eliminate tax loopholes and havens have been ignored. That is all revenue that can go to a just transition to a greener future, lowering the cost of prescription drugs or building more affordable housing. It is not innocent that the money goes away or that it does not have an impact on Canadians. The fact that we do not see it does not mean it is not having an impact when we compare it to what we could be doing if that money were here and people were paying their fair share, as they should. Canadians are seriously losing out.
Internet giants are another example. They are competing with Canadian businesses that are paying their taxes, but they do not have to pay any themselves. That comes at a real cost to Canadians.
All of these things are a continuation of an approach that we saw under the last Conservative government, which was to deregulate, privatize and give major corporate tax cuts, presumably to invest in the economy. The late Jim Flaherty said to corporate Canada at the time that the money was supposed to be invested back into the economy and that it ought to be doing that. That is a nice thing to say, but he did not compel it or raise the corporate tax rate back up, because they were keeping it for themselves, their investors and executives instead. He let them have the money. That money still sits either in bank accounts in Canada or across the world where those executives and investors pay less tax.
When we see the lengths to which the government is willing to go to get SNC-Lavalin off the hook, which was a big ask, and even what it is willing to do with respect to the smaller things, we can start to understand the sense of outrage.
The purpose of our motion today is to shine a light on the corporate influence that pervades Ottawa and draw attention to the very real and concrete effect this has on Canadians who work hard every day, who are worried about the cost of their prescriptions and their housing, and who want to fight climate change.
They see a government that makes promises but refuses to deliver on them when those promises are not in line with the interests of big business. It has failed to take action and will never do anything to enable us to tackle climate change, lower the price of prescription drugs and protect our cultural industries. We need to stand up to large corporations like Netflix and insist that they pay their fair share of taxes to support our cultural industries.
These are the issues. There has been a lot of frustration about the SNC-Lavalin affair. People have talked about it a lot, and although they think something wrong has happened in the case, they are not sure of the way forward. They are concerned about a lot of other issues as well.
How does this all tie together? People should care about that issue, not just because it appears that the rule of law is being undermined in Canada, which has a lot of long-standing consequences, but for the reasons I mentioned.
Canadians who are looking for income security in retirement should be concerned that the government has done nothing to legislate against the kind of pension theft we saw in in the case of Sears workers. The government has not done it. It has talked about it in the budget, but it did not put this in the budget bill in the way that deferred prosecution agreement clauses were put in the budget bill. Let us see the government put the pension theft provisions into the budget bill. Then, we will know that the government is serious. It does not do this, because with regard to workers, it pays lip service. With regard to corporations, it takes real, tangible action. We can see this in the news, in the House and in the behaviour of the government.
The finance minister, who comes from the retirement benefits industry, introduced legislation in the House, Bill C-27, that is an attack on Canadians' pensions. There has been no degree of separation such that the government is responding to corporate lobbying. In that case, the corporate lobbyists are in government, doing the job of that industry from the seat of the finance minister. That is how closely tied the government is to the corporate lobby.
We have not seen any action when it comes to pay equity. We know pay equity will come at a cost to Canadian companies, and rightly so. This is the money that Canadian women have been working to earn for decades. They deserve to be paid. However, the government has dragged its feet. It did not drag its feet with respect to DPAs or when Galen Weston asked for $12 million to replace his fridges. We have watched the government drag its feet for three years on the issue of pay equity. Canadian women deserve to get paid fairly for the work they are doing.
Where is the action on that? Where is time allocation on that? Where is that in the omnibus budget bill? It is not there. In the budget, there is also no money for implementation either. There is a pittance in the budget to begin consultative work on how to implement pay equity. It is about the same amount that Galen Weston got for his fridges this year.
Let us talk about pharmacare. With respect to the importance of reducing the cost of prescription drugs for Canadians, study after study has said that the best way to do this is to have one universal publicly administered plan that covers everyone from coast to coast to coast, no matter where people live or how much money they make. What we hear from the Liberals all the time are hints that the plan they are proposing will not protect Canadians against the high cost of prescription drugs but will protect the pharmaceutical industry's profits and the insurance industry's profits. This is from a policy that would create an expansion of service to Canadians while reducing the overall cost of prescription drugs.
We already spend the money it would cost to create a proper pharmacare plan. In fact, we spend more than that. The NDP proposes that we spend less and cover more people. We know that this is possible.
The call to action in the motion asks the government to get the $12 million back and invest it concretely in some of the ways I have suggested today. This will provide a real benefit to working families. The $12 million amount over the entire federal budget may not sound like a lot, but it is an important symbol of the government finally finding the spine to say no to corporate interests and putting the interests of regular everyday working Canadians first.
We have been waiting for the government to do this. It has not done it yet. This is the smallest possible start to this that the government could make, so let us get started and keep going.