An Act respecting a payment to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy

Sponsor

Bill Morneau  Liberal

Status

Second reading (House), as of March 24, 2017

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Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment authorizes a payment to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy.

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 9th, 2017 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you for being here.

As you surely know, the provision is copied and pasted from Bill C-43, An Act respecting a payment to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy. My question isn't necessarily to determine why you decided to include it in Bill C-44, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures, but rather why you have chosen the legislative approach rather than a budgetary one, which is the regular and fastest way.

If the government believed that it was a priority to adopt this $125 million allocation, and if it had been included in the main estimates, the allocation would have already been adopted.

You're asking this committee to adopt this part of the bill, even though it could have been done in some other way. What motivated your decision to use the legislative process?

Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1Government Orders

May 4th, 2017 / 1:35 p.m.
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NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise to debate Bill C-44, the budget 2017 implementation bill.

Back in the days when I taught zoology at UBC and comparative anatomy labs at Memorial University, we talked a lot about form and function. Today I would like to begin by talking about the form of this bill and move on to its function, its contents, and what that means in regard to government priorities.

As others have commented, the most obvious thing about this bill is its sheer size. It is almost 300 pages long. It amends more than 30 separate acts and even incorporates Bill C-43 within it, which was already on the Order Paper. Many of these components have nothing to do with the implementation of the budget. For instance, the bill includes major changes to the powers of the parliamentary budget officer, which I will talk more about later.

This bill is the very definition of an omnibus bill. Many Canadians will remember quite clearly what the Liberals said about omnibus bills in the previous Parliament. They and the New Democrats pointed out that omnibus bills were clearly designed to pass disparate pieces of legislation without providing opportunity for proper debate or committee study. The Liberals loudly complained that one of the Conservative budget bills was 175 pages long. That was a micro-bill compared to this one.

The Liberals were so outraged by the omnibus bills of the Conservative government that they put clear promises in their 2015 election platform, saying, “We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny” and “We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice”, yet they could not resist doing the same thing with budget 2017, and in a very egregious way. The Liberals have broken a growing number of election promises, but this broken promise, one that puts them in the same camp as the Conservatives when it comes to eroding Canadian democracy, must be one of their most disappointing acts for many of their supporters.

Now I would like to move from form to function and some of the consequences of Bill C-44.

One of the main themes of the last federal election was the struggle to reduce income inequality in Canada, an inequality that has been steadily increasing for the past 20 years or more. The NDP has led this battle for years, and in the last election the Liberals agreed with us in principle and said they would, as we have heard so often since, support the middle class and those trying to join it. In the last budget, the Liberals disappointed most Canadians in the middle class by doing absolutely nothing for those making less than $45,000 a year, instead bringing in income tax changes that gave tax relief primarily to those making $150,000 to $200,000 a year.

The Liberals promised that they would plug the loopholes that allowed CEOs to pay taxes at half the rate of middle-class Canadians, but did nothing in last year's budget and, I am sorry to say, did nothing in this budget as well. Bill C-44 has no provisions to close this loophole, which costs the government almost $800 million each year and leaves that money in the pockets of the wealthy Canadians who least need it.

Who do the Liberals choose to squeeze money out of instead? It is transit riders, the middle class and those seeking to join the middle class who take buses and trains to work every day. Under Bill C-44, they would lose their public transit tax credit so that the government could pocket $225 million in savings. Wealthy CEOs get to keep $800 million, while bus riders have to cough up $225 million. Budgets are about choices, and this is the unfortunate choice the Liberals have made.

On top of that, we in the NDP were hoping that the Liberal government would take concrete steps to shut down offshore tax havens, where the wealthiest of Canadians and corporations that have pocketed billions of dollars in tax cuts move their profits to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. However, neither Bill C-44 nor any other legislation before us addresses this critical step in reducing income inequality in Canada.

As I mentioned at the start, one of the features of Bill C-44 is a section that would change the role and powers of the parliamentary budget officer. This has no place in a budget implementation bill. Maybe the Liberals thought they could slip it in because of the word “budget” in the title of this important office. The parliamentary budget officer must be independent and neutral, but Bill C-44 would degrade that independence in several ways.

First, it requires the parliamentary budget office to submit an annual work plan to both the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate. This requirement could only benefit the government, as the PBO would not be able to undertake any study unless it had been approved in the annual work plan.

Second, only committees—committees dominated by government MPs—would be allowed to request that the PBO estimate the cost of any proposal that relates to a matter over which Parliament has jurisdiction. At present, individual MPs can request the PBO to undertake these analyses, but if Bill C-44 becomes law, they could only request cost analyses on proposals that relate to a bill, a motion, or an amendment that they themselves had made.

Again, this bill would greatly restrict the independence of the PBO and restrict the abilities of individual MPs to study the costs of government proposals. It was this type of independent initiative that exposed the true costs of the F-35 fighter jets to Canadians, and it was this independent action that showed that the so-called middle-class tax cuts of this Liberal government only benefited the wealthy in our country.

Another point of disappointment in the budget is the change that would index the excise duty on wine to the consumer price index beginning in 2018. My riding, I must admit, produces the best wine in Canada, and the wine industry plays a large role in the economy there and in other wine regions of the country.

Canadian wine producers are very concerned that this duty will now rise automatically every year, despite already being almost twice as large as the duties levied by other countries. For instance, the duty is 63¢ per litre in Canada versus 38¢ in the United States, while Germany has no excise tax on wine at all.

This automatic increase will exacerbate those differences and undermine the growth of the wine industry in Canada, impacting the entire economic value chain from farm gate to retail.

I would like to end on a positive note by mentioning a few measures that I am happy to see in the budget.

One is the promise to spend about $40 million to support projects and activities that increase the use of wood as a greener substitute material in infrastructure projects. Using wood as a primary material in large buildings is a technology for which Canada is already a world leader. One of the leading companies in Canada in the construction of these buildings is Structurlam in my home town of Penticton. Structurlam sources a lot of wood for its glulam beams and cross-laminated timber panels from the Kalesnikoff mill near Castlegar on the other side of my riding.

Expanding this part of the forest industry in Canada would give it a much-needed boost in these troubled times as mills across this country face trade sanctions through the softwood lumber dispute. We have heard a lot recently about efforts to diversify our foreign markets, but here is an opportunity to build the domestic market as well, and to build it quickly. Unfortunately, this spending is not scheduled to start until next year, when it might come too late.

Another way that the government could move forward on this file is by adopting my private member's bill, Bill C-354, which directs the government to consider the use wood in building projects. Government procurement is a powerful force that would immediately boost the forest industry across this country.

I am pleased that the Liberal government is keeping at least one of its election promises, albeit a year late, which is to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. In 2014, the Pembina Institute estimated that more than $1 billion in fossil fuel subsidies still exist in our tax framework, so I am happy to see that budget 2017 will exclude producing wells from the Canada exploration expenses tax deduction.

In conclusion, I will simply say that budget 2017 represents yet another lost opportunity for the Liberal government to turn the corner on rising inequality in Canada.

Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1Government Orders

May 3rd, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to talk about the budget implementation bill even though on closer inspection there is very little to be pleased about. I will use my speaking time to talk about some of the issues that have progressives in this country, New Democrats in particular, concerned.

I will talk about the form and the substance. Unfortunately, there is bad news on both counts. I will start with the form by quoting some passages and statements made by people, near or far, often near, in the House. This will provide a bit of context for the form. The first quote is taken from the electoral platform of the Liberal Party of Canada:

Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals. We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.

On June 9, 2015, the current President of the Treasury Board stated this in the House:For years, the Conservatives have crossed the line in what is acceptable in a functioning democracy as a government in the of respect for Parliament. It is not only how they have now normalized the use of massive omnibus bills, they regularly shut down debate in the House...

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage said this:

For example, the government's use of omnibus legislation has degraded the committee review process and hidden important legal changes from public scrutiny.

For his part, the Liberal member for Bourassa said this:

I must tell my colleague that we are against omnibus bills. A few years ago the current government claimed that it was against these bills, which at the time might have had 20 or 30 pages. Now we have a bill with more than 175 pages.

Surprise. The government has come up with a bill that is not 175 pages, but 300 pages long. It amends 30 legislative measures, creates two new ones, and introduces, through the back door, a bill that has already been introduced in the House, namely, Bill C-43, An Act respecting a payment to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy.

Can anyone tell me what that has to do with the budget? Why is this shell game being used to ram a bill that has already been introduced in the House through more quickly?

Bill C-44 has all of the characteristics of an omnibus bill, even though the Liberals promised that they would never, ever resort to the use of such legislation if they took office. It is rather mind-boggling. If no changes are made, the Standing Committee on Finance will be called upon to study not only the budgetary measures but also the creation of the infrastructure bank, the amendments to the rules governing the parliamentary budget officer, the amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the amendments to labour laws, the amendments regarding the appointment of judges, and the amendments regarding food safety. That does not make any sense.

This is just another promise that the Liberals have broken and another example of the Liberals' attitude of “Do as I say, not as I do.” The Liberals are using the same old undemocratic tactics to make a complete mockery of the rules of the House and the ability of parliamentarians to do their job properly, to properly represent and inform their constituents.

I will come back to the ability of parliamentarians to do their job properly when I get into the substance of Bill C-44. Right now, I am going to repeat what I just said. Those quote are so good that I cannot help but read them twice.

The quote reads:

Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals. We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.

Where was that written? It was on page 30 in the election platform of the Liberal Party of Canada.

For years, the Conservatives have crossed the line in what is acceptable in a functioning democracy as a government and the lack of respect for Parliament. It is not only how they have now normalized the use of massive omnibus bills, they regularly shut down debate in the House...

Who said that? It was the President of the Treasury Board on June 9, 2015.

The government's use of omnibus legislation has degraded the committee review process and hidden important legal changes from public scrutiny.

Who said that? It was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Canadian heritage in June 2015.

Last but not least:

I must tell my colleague that we are against omnibus bills. A few years ago the current government claimed that it was against these bills, which at the time might have had 20 or 30 pages. Now we have a bill with more than 175 pages.

Who said that? It was the Liberal member for Bourassa.

Now, the Liberal government has presented a 300-page budget implementation bill. This Liberal MP was outraged when it was 175 pages from the Conservative government. This is exactly, “Don't listen to me because I'll do the opposite”, which is the trademark of the Liberal Party anyway.

The government has exactly what we call an omnibus bill, changing more than 30 different pieces of legislation; creating two new laws, one of them being the infrastructure bank; changing the rules of the parliamentary budget officer, which is quite incredible; and changing so many laws. There are 30 laws that will be studied by only one committee, the finance committee.

The changes to immigration and the Citizenship Act will be studied by the finance committee. The labour code changes will be studied by the finance committee. The nomination of judges will be studied by the finance committee, and food protection in the country will be studied by the finance committee. I really hope that the men and women who sit on the finance committee have a huge knowledge of a lot of things that are happening in the country, because it really makes no sense.

Now let us move on to the content. I would like to address a few topics, and I hope I will have the time to do so. First I would like to talk about certain changes concerning the parliamentary budget officer. Over the years, the PBO has become an essential and unavoidable component of the capacity to require accountability from the government. The Liberals promised to make the office more independent. However, on closer examination, they are doing the exact opposite.

Three or four changes deserve to be highlighted here. First of all, the parliamentary budget officer will have to submit an annual work plan. To whom must it be submitted? To the speaker of the House of Commons and the speaker of the Senate, both of whom are politicians, I will add. During the year, will the parliamentary budget officer have the latitude to initiate studies or reports prompted by current events, a new revelation or a scandal? That is still uncertain. Will the PBO be placed in a straitjacket by this annual work plan? We wonder and worry about that. Most of the countries that have a parliamentary budget officer do not have this annual work plan.

Second, the PBO’s reports will have to be sent to the speaker of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Commons one business day before their public release. Therefore, the speakers will have the information in hand and will be able to prepare a response before all parliamentarians and citizens have access to the PBO’s study. We find it hard to understand this measure.

What is very important is that all parliamentarians used to be free and able to request a study from the PBO, to raise a question and ask him or her to consider it. The Liberals want to get rid of that. They want to deprive parliamentarians of this right, so that in future any request to the parliamentary budget officer would have to be associated with a proposal, a bill, or a motion that a member has already tabled or that has already been debated here in the House. Under these rules, we would not have been able to ask the PBO to verify, as was done in the past, the costs of purchasing the F-35s, for example, or of the Liberals’ income tax reduction which, in the end, has benefited only the very wealthy. The freedom of action of the parliamentary budget officer is being restricted. The ability of members to request studies is being restricted. On the pretext of making the office independent, the PBO is at risk of being made inoperative and ineffective. We in the NDP are immensely concerned about this.

Basically, after speaking with the parliamentary budget officer, this Liberal bill, I would like to point out again, has nothing to do with budget implementation outside of studying the budget, and focuses on the wrong priorities. It contains some measures that will be detrimental for Canadians, for the more disadvantaged, and will not help our communities. Above all, certain decisions or certain choices are not included.

I would like to point out that by abolishing the public transit tax credit, the Liberal government will recover $225 million a year. The government has also chosen to retain the stock option loophole, which costs us $800 million a year. This loophole only benefits the wealthy in our society, or the richest 1% or 2%. It costs us $800 million. The Liberals promised to abolish it, but they are keeping it. We do not understand how they can claim to be progressive, go in that direction, and do the exact opposite of what they promised during the election campaign.

They are abolishing the public transit tax credit, which could really help people. Every month, some people buy bus tickets or a transit pass to go to work, their activities, university or school. The public transit tax credit does not help the rich, but those who do not have a car and who try to use the public services available to them.

Every year, my office hosts a tax clinic. People with low incomes sign up, and I work with volunteers filling out their tax returns. Most of the people who come to us are people on social assistance, people with disabilities, and seniors with low incomes. For people with disabilities and seniors who might pay a little tax, the public transit tax credit saved them between $150 and $200 per year. That made a huge difference to them. I do not see why a government that claims to be working for the middle class and those who want to join it would attack these people in its budget but do absolutely nothing about getting money from people who do not need it, such as those who use tax loopholes to avoid paying tax on their stock options. This is despicable, and the NDP will continue to speak out against it.

The NDP does not understand the logic of cutting the tax credit for public transit. Who has benefited from that? Seniors, students, poor workers, single moms who, at the end of the year, could save maybe $150, $200 in taxes.

At the same time, the Liberal government has chosen to keep the loophole for CEOs of big companies who can avoid some taxes, which represents $800 million a year. That is money we are losing. This is who the Liberal government is helping and it is hurting people who are trying to make ends meet, those who take the subway and the bus every day. The Liberals are attacking those people.

I do not understand the logic of the government. It repeats all day long that it is there for the middle class and those who are trying to get there, but it is not taking any action in the budget to help them for real.

An Act Respecting a Payment to be made out of The Consolidated Revenue FundRoutine Proceedings

March 24th, 2017 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-43, An Act respecting a payment to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to support a pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy.

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