Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to say that I know how difficult these conversations can sometimes be, and I do like the tenor, the tone, that we have all embraced as members of Parliament. We are all sent here to try to work together.
I will disagree with some of the things my honourable colleague MP Dzerowicz said earlier, but I'll save that for a moment other than to say that I appreciate that these meetings are not only important to our constituents, but they can be long because you can't put a price on democracy. There are rules that have been enshrined in this place to allow committees to function as independently as possible, as MP Chambers said earlier.
There are obviously other tools the government can use such as a House order. It, in fact, directed the study of Bill C-19 to this committee. Ultimately this committee was created to serve the House, but without having further instructions, we have a responsibility to set our own sail.
While the original programming motion that was put forward by MP Beech as the parliamentary secretary was received in good faith by MP Ste-Marie, who I admire very much for his passion for his constituents, for the questioning he's had and the lack of answers he's been able to receive when it comes to the luxury tax and the occasional intervention by my honourable colleague from the NDP, what has happened is that he put that forward, and now we've had a further subamendment to his amendment, which was to try to make sure that there was a proper process.
The government—let's be mindful, Mr. Chair—at the very beginning tried to apply its direction to what is supposed to be an independent committee. Right off the bat, I believe I made it known that it was an issue. I believe I made some arguments about how there were promises by this government to not have parliamentary secretaries on committee. They would occasionally sit down in the corner and listen in thoughtfully so that they could report back to their ministers the goings of this committee, which is a very august body, and I've always enjoyed being on it.
Again, this is a bill, 468 pages, I believe, because when I put it to the minister when she came in for the hour, I said 421. Again, Mr. Chair, you might be mindful that there are a number of pages we did not know about. The government didn't even give us the courtesy in their courtesy copies to say that there's more on the website, even just a note to go along with it, so there are missing pages, which I raised earlier.
As I open my comments today, I go back to the tone that Mr. Chambers presented earlier. In fact, he made a little bit of a joke saying someone had to listen to him, and when he said thank you for staying, they said, “No, I'm the next speaker.” That was very funny. It reminds me of a very similar joke I used to give when I first set out in politics. I said that my goal in any speech or presentation was three things: to be bold, to be brief and then to be gone. Actually, I think it wasn't to be bold. I think it was to be brilliant.
I'm going to let everyone now know that I used to joke that at least you'll get two out of three. I have become a little bit more of a realist, so I'm going to let everyone know not to expect any of the three today.
I'd like to start with why we should be concerned about the programming motion put forward by the parliamentary secretary, and I have already touched on it. Governments are tethered to this institution. They are not the ones who tell us as members of Parliament to have confidence. They're the ones who have to put forward bills that show confidence. In this case, we have a motion that is directly telling us how many presentations we can have. I guess it just gives us a time limit, and it also puts in when we should have clause-by-clause.
The very thoughtful motion by MP Ste-Marie does actually propose that we divide this up, because in those 460-odd pages there are many clauses that pertain to areas of expertise in other committees, and committees like international trade, industry and technology, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights—all very important bodies.
When we send something to them, the very premise should be that we are in good faith seeking their responses. Now if you harken back to our last meeting, Mr. Chair, I believe it was confirmed that clause-by-clause would be done only by this committee. Regardless of what those members on those other committees think, ultimately they will not be able to substantially do what we do, which is to put forward amendments and to debate them. I don't think that is fair.
I should also point out that there is going to be a bit of a challenge, because I don't think independent members are being taken into account under this particular motion by the parliamentary secretary, or even in his amendment. Don't worry, though. I'll save that for closer to the end.
What I think is important to note is that when you offer someone something in good faith, the idea is that it's a legitimate offer. Now for those committees to suddenly decide whether or not they can meet at the time that has been listed here by the parliamentary secretary...and let's note that it is today, Thursday, May 12. When this was first tabled, obviously it was earlier in the week. Already days have slipped by, and while I do understand that MP Baker and MP Dzerowicz had both raised the idea that politics is the art of compromise, compromise means thoughtful discussion and give and take. It does not necessarily mean overriding other members without having some sort of thoughtful process.
As you can see, Mr. Chair, that leaves the Conservatives with very few options other than to say that we do not believe that this particular motion or its amendment.... Actually, I should say that the amendment seems to improve upon it, but the subamendment by the parliamentary secretary is not being done in good faith. Why? Because time has already been whittled away.
We already had to say no to those witnesses who came here on Monday ready to present. I presented a motion to try to see if we could speed that up. The importance of having witnesses cannot be overstated. Why? It's because obviously this is a very large omnibus bill and I find it lamentable that the Minister of Finance, the deputy prime minister, spent only an hour with the committee. I would have preferred a second hour, because I would have asked several other questions that pertained directly to Bill C-19.
I don't see any provision here in the subamendment for having the minister come back. In fact MP Chambers had expressed his desire to have the Minister of Industry come and speak to the competition components, the Competition Act amendments. I do enjoy Minister Champagne. I think he's a very thoughtful individual. If it is the will of the committee to have him come in for an hour, I would certainly make the time in my schedule for that. I think this particular subamendment that Mr. Beech has put forward has neither the Minister of Industry nor the Minister of Finance.
What worries me as time cuts away at this is that ultimately we're going to have less and less time, because the Liberals have not tried to work co-operatively with all members. I think that's really at the heart of this. I don't blame the Bloc or the NDP for playing ball because maybe their preferences have been met.
Maybe they see a different reality from the one I do, but this particular subamendment of Mr. Beech does not necessarily meet those needs from our perspective. Again, while we know the saying that politics is all about compromise, it's usually referred to as the art of the possible.
Do you know what, Mr. Chair? What's possible isn't always probable.
What's probable is where you make.... You don't think you should speak to other members and try to get them on board. Instead, we have motions, amendments and subamendments that do not have the consent of each and every party or member. Obviously, there's a way to have a democratic debate about this and, eventually, a vote, but I am not going to be keen to give that until we have had a thorough venting of some of the issues with this particular motion.
Let me go into some of my concerns.
In the last Parliament—I'm going to give a personal example—I was on the environment and sustainable development committee. It's a very good committee. Much like in this body, I got a chance to work within a group where we may have had distinct views on policy. I felt that the people around the table were generally respectful and understood that we were all here to represent our constituents and to have an exchange of views. Where we might have disagreements, we would talk them out until either we found some consensus or compromise, or we put it to a democratic vote.
We went to a bill called C-12, and there's something very similar between Bill C-12, the net-zero bill presented by the minister of the environment—at that time, it was MP Wilkinson of North Vancouver, a fellow British Columbian.... Similarly, in that particular bill and study, the parliamentary secretary put forward a programming motion. Unfortunately, the member of Parliament for the NDP at the time decided that they would opt into that programming motion. Again, I don't want to prejudice or call into question anyone's character, including the previous member of Parliament or the current NDP representative at this table, who I'm sure is here in good faith.
What ended up happening was, in my mind, remarkable. We had witnesses come forward and we listened to the testimony. All parties, the Bloc, even the Green individual.... My colleague MP May from Saanich—Gulf Islands brought amendments, as did the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Conservatives. We brought forward a number of meaningful amendments that we felt would have improved the bill, even though we opposed the bill in the House due to some issues over the net-zero advisory committee. I will not get into that discussion of what happened in the House. I will say it was rather unfortunate how that shut down.
What ended up happening was that they jammed through such a tight process that we were literally hearing witnesses when the period for submitting amendments to the bill had already expired.
Think of this. You get a call from the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. You have dedicated your professional career or your voluntary hours and expertise to writing up a brief. In fact, one witness told me that the moment he got the letter, he started furiously typing up his presentation, but by the time he got on the schedule, all of the suggestions that he had presented in his report and in his remarks were moot.
Why were they moot? It certainly wasn't because of bad faith by that individual, but because of the way the committee had jump-started the process and programmed in that there was only going to be a certain amount of time to get amendments in. That person was deeply disappointed, as were others.
The government probably never heard from those individuals in person, but I can say that MP May attested at committee that she heard the same thing. Why? Many groups want to be invited back and they want to keep the government, at least, in a somewhat neutral, positive state.
In that case, I have to say that the environment committee process—a committee ably chaired by one of your colleagues, MP Scarpaleggia—was so bad that we ended up jamming through witnesses after the period for amendments had already closed. People felt that process was not in good faith. I see many of the same hallmarks—many of the same markers—in this process, in fact, and I will say that I did speak up at the time. I did very much what I'm doing today. I said to other members, “If we adopt this process, we are jamming witnesses.” We are going to end up with a process that does not lead to a better outcome than Bill C-12 did.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what transpired. In fact, when we look at the amendments, it was such a bad process. Some amendments were supported by certain witnesses, but others, effectively.... The NDP joined up with the Liberal members and voted down pretty much every single amendment, except for a Bloc Québécois motion that established a five-year review. There are some real parallels that I'm starting to see between that process and now. Where did we end up? We ended up where committee members were at each other's throat. It wasn't very good. Witnesses felt bad and, at the end of the day, the government got what it wanted. I see many of the same things happening here.
I would say that it probably wasn't a lot of fun for Mr. Scarpaleggia, but let me tell you what was even worse. Your former colleague, Mr. Scott Simms, said publicly.... He was on Michael Geist's podcast, Law Bytes, where he talked about what was known as Bill C-10 and the shenanigans that ended up happening there.
Why? Well, there is a direct connection with what has happened here with MP Beech's subamendment. The process and timelines were so tight in the original programming motion that, at one point, during clause-by-clause, because of a programming motion, the committee members, in many cases, did not know what they were voting on. In order to meet the programming motion set out by the government, which happens to be the same government here, they ended up voting on amendments without even knowing what they were voting on. The chair would call out a number, and what's even worse, for the people.... There were stakeholders there, obviously, from industry and cultural groups—artists, etc.—who all had a real concern about this. These were people who study the Internet and freedom of expression—those kinds of legal constitutional concerns. All of them were horrified because they didn't even know what the members were voting on. They just heard numbers being shouted out, and that brought the whole committee process into disrepute.
What's even worse is that Conservatives had to appeal to the Speaker in the chamber regarding such a bad process. Do you know what ended up happening? The Speaker said that was not how Parliament was intended to work and ordered the committee to restart the process. The government did end up getting its way, but, for the people who were following along, the parliamentary committee process was in question.
I would say to all members here that the same issues the environment and sustainable development committee had, and the standing committee on heritage had with Bill C-10.... There are certainly parallels with what we have here today—a large omnibus bill, where the witness time is being dictated by the government.
Again, this particular bill is much larger than traditional ones, Mr. Chair.
On one of the things that MP Chambers pointed out—because there will be some arguments that say, if the Conservatives are so serious about not proceeding on this side, there are tax measures that can affect Canadians and that they will not be able to take advantage of—was that for the ways and means process, actually, the government can table ways and means motion tax measures and the CRA will treat those as having been passed, even if that is not the case. Many Canadians, as I was explaining to one of my constituents the other day on Bill C-8, would be quite surprised.
Now, obviously, during a minority, I would surely hope that they would be very careful around those measures. I know, for example, that Bill C-208 in the last Parliament, Larry Maguire's bill, was a change in law. That was actually passed by Parliament, and they still have not put out the regulations. Most people would say, wait a second, when Parliament passes an actual law that allows that if you're a farmer or you have a fish operation, you could transfer that intergenerationally to your family without having to pay extra costs associated with it.... If CRA and the Department of Finance can hold back on those provisions, how in heck...? Pardon the language. I'll repeat: How on earth, Mr. Chair, can it be that CRA can take a proposed law and start acting like it is a law?