Finance Committee on May 31st, 2012
A video is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
- Aurel Braun Professor, University of Toronto, As an Individual
- Rob Rainer Executive Director, Canada Without Poverty
- James L. Turk Executive Director, Canadian Association of University Teachers
- Jeffrey Turnbull Past-President, Canadian Medical Association
- Michael Jackson Professor, Faculty of Law, University of British-Columbia, As an Individual
- Alain Noël Full Professor, Department of Political Science, Université de Montréal, As an Individual
- Alain Pineau National Director, Canadian Conference of the Arts
- Linda Silas President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions
- Karen Wirsig Communication Policy, Canadian Media Guild
- John McAvity Executive Director, Canadian Museums Association
- Anil Naidoo Project Organizer, Council of Canadians
The Chair James Rajotte
I call this meeting to order. This is the 67th meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance.
I want to thank our witnesses for being here, and Mr. Jackson for joining us from British Columbia.
I want to apologize. We had some committee business to deal with.
We have five presenters here during the first panel: we have a professor from the University of Toronto, Mr. Aurel Braun; from the organization Canada Without Poverty, we have the executive director, Rob Rainer; from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, we have the executive director, James Turk; from the Canadian Medical Association, we have the past president, Jeffrey Turnbull; and by video conference, we have Mr. Michael Jackson, professor, Faculty of Law at UBC.
You each have up to five minutes for an opening statement.
We'll start with Mr. Braun and work our way down.
Aurel Braun Professor, University of Toronto, As an Individual
Thank you very much. I would like to thank this committee for inviting me to speak to you. I tremendously appreciate this opportunity.
I will speak to only a small section of Bill C-38, and this is division 33 of part 4, the decision to close out the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. That is my concern as the former chair of what was commonly known as Rights and Democracy.
I must say that at one level this has been a difficult process for me, because I spent much of my adult life engaged in trying to protect human rights, to promote democracy. It had certainly been a key part of my life for three years, but eventually I had to come to the conclusion that Rights and Democracy, as an organization, had some fundamental structural and process problems that went back all the way to its original drafted legislation.
It had an inadequately defined structure. It turned out to have been a recipe for problems. For two decades, contrary to certain urban legends, Rights and Democracy lurched from crisis to crisis. We did our best to fix it, but it involved misunderstandings and distortions from the very beginning of its foundation in 1988.
There were particularly two myths that developed. One was that Rights and Democracy was an independent organization. I think it's very important for us to understand that Rights and Democracy was not an independent organization. It was taxpayer funded. It was, from the beginning, a shared governance agency, a “short-arm” agency. It had to operate within the parameters of the policies laid down by the government of the day, and it was responsible to Parliament. It was not an NGO.
Second, throughout its history, there was the myth that it was some non-partisan organization. It was meant to be. This was what was shocking when I came in. In fact, what I and others found with Rights and Democracy when we came in three years ago was that it was an organization run, wrongly, as an independent NGO, with private ideological philanthropy representing a narrow ideological perspective. Using public funds was pursued as if it were an entitlement.
I have no objection to anyone privately funding or privately speaking up for any particular cause, but it's something else when taxpayer money is used for particular private political and ideological philanthropy.
The result was that you had a distorted and hopelessly contradictory organization that functioned very poorly in the 1980s and 1990s, and it was certainly the wrong vehicle at the wrong time to deal with the crucial issues of human rights and promotion of democracy in the 21st century.
The Chair James Rajotte
One minute, Mr. Braun.
Professor, University of Toronto, As an Individual
Attempts at adaptation were highly problematic. I think Minister Baird and Mr. LeBlanc from the Liberals were very good in saying that there was a need to change from a funding model to one of providing expertise, but I want to get to something concrete, because there were certain things that happened that I think this committee needs to know.
There were two things. Perhaps the last one I can bring out in the question period, but I have to get to the first one. It involves the past—the past where new evidence has come to light. There was testimony before this Parliament, for example, that was crucial in trying to define what this organization was.
It's very sad that Mr. Beauregard passed away. I'm very reluctant to speak about this, but with the new information.... This is one of the things that had happened. This organization was prevented, both by the government and by the board of directors, from participating in the Durban II hatefest. Mr. Beauregard testified before Parliament in the presence of two of his lieutenants, Razmik Panossian and Madam Cloutier. It was asked very plainly—the question could not have been more direct—by Mr. Lunney, “Did Rights and Democracy play any role, directly or indirectly, in planning for or participating in the” Durban conference? He answered unequivocally, “No, we did not.”
We have evidence that this was utterly, completely false. Rights and Democracy did participate. Parliament was directly misled. This is why, together with other developments, I have no choice. I think the best decision is to support the government's conclusion that the organization will be defunded.
The Chair James Rajotte
Thank you, Mr. Braun.
We'll go to Mr. Rainer, please.
Rob Rainer Executive Director, Canada Without Poverty
Mr. Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Finance, on behalf of our team at Canada Without Poverty, our directors, honorary directors, staff, volunteers, and supporters, and on behalf of those to whom Canada Without Poverty amplifies their voice on matters of their very survival, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to speak with respect to Bill C-38.
Our central concern is the eradication of poverty in Canada, getting at the roots of this problem and dealing with them head on, not just because it's the right thing to do but because it's the wise thing to do. As you may know, poverty costs Canada to the tune of some $72 billion to $86 billion per year, about 5% to 6% of our GDP. That's the dollar cost, but in the past week alone, we have learned that people in low-income neighbourhoods are twice as likely to die from preventable causes as people in high-income neighbourhoods. That undercuts families, communities, our economy, and our prosperity. We are all poorer as a result. As you know, you only have to walk less than a block off Parliament Hill before this problem is there before you and all around us.
Nonetheless, we are curious as to why we are appearing before you once again after our last testimony on September 28. At that time, in response to pre-budget consultations, we made but one recommendation: for the federal government to set targets and timelines for poverty reduction and elimination, and to study all fiscal mechanisms, federal as well as intergovernmental, available to help reach these targets and lay out options for your committee's consideration and consultation. That recommendation wasn't heeded in the budget, which is strange, as it represented an essentially costless request with the potential for a great payoff for the country. But you did ask us to appear today, so I will answer through the lens of poverty in Canada.
In short, Bill C-38 scares us, like it is scaring a lot of Canadians. Governments are supposed to provide calm to the people, not sow fear. A bill like this renders fear because there is so much consequential stuff in it, with decision-making power being handed to far too narrow a group of people—bureaucrats and cabinet members—with elected representatives largely cut out of what should be a healthy debate on a wide range of issues.
It is worth knowing that “omnibus” is derived from Latin and means "for everything".
The overarching concern is captured with these words: “Omnibus bills subvert the Parliamentary process by denying members of Parliament and the Canadian public the ability to fully study or understand the drastic changes currently being made to our laws without proper study or scrutiny.” For that reason, you must stand against this bill and address its many dozens of substantive components with the due care they deserve, that Canadians deserve.
What is the government's purpose, and in addition, what is really in the public interest in centralizing power in the PMO? What indeed, when staff are not elected and when it has been demonstrated time and time again that regulations rarely are held truly accountable to Parliament?
If you recommended that Bill C-38 be passed, you would recommend to your colleagues that they remove their oversight of matters that directly affect your constituents. We don't think MPs were elected to delegate their powers of oversight, transparency, and accountability. Substantive issues such as the innumerable ones encompassed in this bill should go to Parliament on the recommendation of government to be debated and potentially passed. What's happening here is the reverse.
It is worth noting there are more questions about this bill than of the distinct society clause in the Meech Lake accord. When the compromise, the Charlottetown accord, was put to a vote, it failed in major part because, as in Bill C-38, there was so much in it that in time various groups and interests became opposed to select parts.
As John lvison of the National Post wrote on May 23:
...as you remove the outer layers of the bill, you discover potentially far-reaching policy shifts that have no business being in any budget, far less being scrutinized by the finance committee.
Bill C-38 adds to the current air of instability, especially among those who very specifically live day to day from hand to mouth.
For example, one, the bill gives authority to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to increase the age of eligibility for old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, a move that will definitively injure those who most need OAS, the poor or almost poor who are approaching the age of 65.
Two, permitting regulations to be made concerning what constitutes suitable employment is troubling considering that the Minister of Finance believes there is no bad job, when the swelling ranks of the working poor would suggest otherwise.
Three, there are dramatic operational changes to social security tribunal hearings, with very real risks that those who have the right to old age security, the Canada Pension Plan, or employment insurance benefits may be unable to effectively claim them.
Four, eliminating the National Council of Welfare undermines the identification of the most promising approaches and solutions to poverty.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, we have only asked for a plan to combat poverty, not for even more uncertainty than there is now. We've been living with uncertainty for a long time.
We remind the committee of the now infamous 1989 parliamentary resolution to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, but with no plan behind this intention. UNICEF has recently reported that Canada's child poverty rate is 13.3%, placing us 24th of 35 developed countries on this very telling metric of progress.
We do have hope with the new all-party anti-poverty caucus, a “Canada without poverty” inspired concept. Perhaps you can also rethink how your own caucus can operate and report back to Parliament.
In conclusion, Bill C-38 offers zero consolation to those who face the evil effects of falling into the ditch while a misguided policy reform was implemented. Bill C-38 is, simply put, a power grab. The right thing to do, as we hope each of you will agree, is to break this bill apart.
The Chair James Rajotte
Thank you, Mr. Rainer.
We'll hear from Mr. Turk now, please.
James L. Turk Executive Director, Canadian Association of University Teachers
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee. We welcome the opportunity to appear before you.
I'm here representing the Canadian Association of University Teachers. We're a federation of faculty associations at 124 universities and colleges across the country, representing about 68,000 academic staff.
It's a challenge for a witness to appear before you with five minutes to address a bill of such enormity. One hardly knows where to begin. The table of contents, simply listing the acts affected, is 15 pages long. It makes such fundamental changes, or allows fundamental changes, to EI, to old age security, appeals from old age security and Canada Pension Plan, eliminating the office of the Inspector General for CSIS, and even repealing the fair wages and hours of labour policy that was introduced by the Mulroney government to ensure that contractors for the federal government were fairly paid.
In our view, combining all these things together raises a fundamental issue of process and transparency, and ultimately democracy.
I'll choose to make our comments on provisions that have some serious effect for our members. One is provisions in the bill that continue to erode Canada's scientific and cultural knowledge base. Secondly, the bill represents a major step backwards in the promotion of greater equity within our universities and colleges, and finally, it has serious implications for our contract academic staff, which constitutes about 40% of the people who teach in colleges and universities, as well as other people who have seasonal jobs.
First, with regard to the erosion of our knowledge base, the last federal budget announced cuts across all government departments, including support for the three federal research funding agencies, SSHRC, NSIRC, and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, at a time when more research is more important than ever.
At the time, we were told no programs would be affected. The savings would come from administrative efficiencies and synergies. We're seeing the opposite. Because of time, I'll only give you one example. At NSIRC, for instance, we've seen the elimination of the major resource support and the research tools and instrument program that provided critical infrastructure to support basic discovery-driven research.
I have a letter that I'll leave with the committee signed by 49 of the top scientists in Canada, deploring what the elimination of those programs will mean and pointing out that now there are no funding streams left dedicated to the purchase of scientific equipment or to operate nationally or internationally unique resources.
Beyond that, the bill also makes serious cuts to Library and Archives Canada. As all of you know, our national library and public archives are basically the memory institution for Canada, preserving our heritage so that future generations can know our history and compiling all the books and articles about our country. Already devastated by decisions made by the archivist and librarian of Canada to put a moratorium on purchase of acquisitions, to make other cuts, the current budget makes further reductions in the funding for that vital agency.
The cuts to Statistics Canada are also devastating. It's having to eliminate, for example—and this is only one example—the only survey of full-time university faculty across the country. We'll be the only industrialized country in the world that will have no idea how many faculty we have, how one does planning. When the OAC does its tables of international comparisons, there will simply be a whole line of blank cells beside Canada because we don't collect the data.
In terms of moving backward on equity, instead of strengthening the federal contractors program, which was established by a Conservative government in 1986 to help achieve workplace equity, the budget bill before you effectively guts that program.
In terms of penalizing contract academic staff, as I say, roughly 40% of the people who teach in Canadian universities currently are on a per-course or limited-term appointment, so that during summers there aren't jobs and they use employment insurance as a way of tiding them over. The effect of the changes are going to be devastating for them.
The Chair James Rajotte
You have one minute.
Executive Director, Canadian Association of University Teachers
So there is a dilemma for us in what to recommend to you, given that there are so many aspects. At the very least, I would echo the recommendation of my colleague that the bill needs to be broken up so that there is proper opportunity for parliamentarians, for experts and organizations across Canada, and for the people of Canada to understand all the aspects of the bill and to have a proper consideration of those before any of these measures are put forward in legislative changes.
Thank you very much.
The Chair James Rajotte
Thank you, Mr. Turk.
We'll hear from Mr. Turnbull now, please.
Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull Past-President, Canadian Medical Association
Mr. Chair, members, thank you very much for this opportunity to be before the committee on behalf of the CMA and its 76,000 members. Canadians believe that transforming our health care system to meet 21st century Canada must be among the highest priorities for all levels of government, including the federal government.
I would like to begin by commenting on the health transfer framework announced by the Minister of Finance in December. This announcement provided some predictability for years. However, with the federal government reducing its involvement in several areas affecting health or health care, added costs will end up in the laps of the provinces and territories. So while this budget may enhance the federal government's fiscal prospects, it will do little to help the provinces and the territories.
But there's more to this debate than just funding. We believe that Canadians would be better served if federal health care transfers came with specific guidelines, ensuring that the system provides care of comparable access and quality to Canadians across the country, regardless of their circumstances. We are encouraged that the Minister of Health has indicated that she wants to collaborate with the provinces and territories on developing accountability measures to ensure value for money and better patient care. We look forward to the minister's plan for accountability.
This budget is notable for other missed opportunities. For many years, groups across the political spectrum have called for a pharmaceutical strategy to reduce national disparities. In fact, such a strategy was committed to by governments under the 2004 accord. Minister Kenney referred to this issue indirectly when he said that the recent cancellation of supplemental health benefits for refugee claimants is justified because refugees should not have access to drug coverage that Canadians do not have. Rather than cutting off those desperately vulnerable people, Canada's physicians urge the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to develop a plan that ensures that all Canadians—all Canadians—have a basic level of drug coverage.
Indeed, we now appear to be in a race to the bottom in the way we treat vulnerable groups—for example, by deferring old age security for two years, changing service delivery to veterans and mental health programs for our military, and the EI program.
Significant policy changes have been announced since the budget, with little opportunity for debate and little evidence provided. We note as well the lack of open consultation with Canadians on matters of great importance to their lives. Successful policy requires buy-in, which is best achieved when those interested are able to participate in the policy-making process.
This brings me to a wider concern shared by our members that policy-makers are not paying adequate attention to the social determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major effect on health outcomes. We remind the government that every action that has a negative effect on the social determinants of health will have dramatic physical consequences.
The federal government is the key to change that benefits all Canadians. While there are costs and jurisdictions to consider, the CMA believes that the best way to address this is to make the impact on health a key consideration of every policy decision that is made. The federal government has used this approach in the past as it relates to rural Canadians, for example.
We therefore call for a new requirement for a health impact assessment to be carried out prior to any decision made by cabinet. This would require that, based on evidence, all cabinet decisions take into consideration the possible impacts of health and on health care and whether they contribute to the country's overall health objectives. A similar model is in use in New Zealand and some European countries.
For example, if we took that example in tobacco legislation, we would influence our tobacco strategies. Such an assessment would have a particularly dramatic impact on the effects of poverty. Poverty hinders both human potential and our country's economic growth, and needlessly so, as there are many ways to address it effectively.
The National Council on Welfare, which will disappear as a result of this budget, reported last fall that the amount it would have taken in 2007 for every Canadian to have an income over the poverty line was $12.6 billion, whereas the consequences of poverty that year added up to almost double that amount.
The Chair James Rajotte
Past-President, Canadian Medical Association
Close to 10% of Canadians were living in poverty in 2009, many of them children, as UNICEF has underlined recently. This is a huge challenge for our country.
In closing, as this budget cycle ends and as you begin to prepare for the next, please bear in mind that as prosperous as our country is, if we do nothing for the most vulnerable in our society—our children, the elderly, the mentally ill, our aboriginal peoples—we will have failed.
Thank you very much.
The Chair James Rajotte
Thank you, Mr. Turnbull.
Now we'll go to Mr. Jackson for your five-minute opening statement, please.