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.