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House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was edc.

Topics

Anti-Terrorism LegislationOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Edmonton West Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan LiberalMinister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated before, I look forward to the work of the House committee of which the hon. member is a member. I look forward to the report of the Senate pre-study committee. In fact, I know that it will have very useful advice and recommendations for us in relation to the areas the hon. member has identified as well as other areas.

Airline IndustryOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, in response to a question about assistance for air carriers, the Minister of Transport confirmed that this assistance would be limited to national carriers, thus excluding small regional carriers in Quebec, which are no less affected by the events of September 11.

Does the Minister responsible for regional development intend to try to convince the Minister of Transport to extend his loan guarantee program to Quebec's small regional air carriers?

Airline IndustryOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Don Valley East Ontario

Liberal

David Collenette LiberalMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, we recognize that in the aftermath of September 11 the airline industry was particularly hard hit and, as an economic generator, had to be helped. That is why we announced the $160 million of direct compensation. We have also agreed that there would be a limited program of loan guarantees for the five major airlines covering 95% of all passenger movements in Canada. We intend to make that the limit.

The BudgetOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance. The Canadian Wind Energy Association indicates that it cannot get financing for its projects in Canada and that a lot of the financing is going to the United States.

Will he consider adding some incentives and tax breaks in the budget that is upcoming in December?

The BudgetOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to members of the Canadian Wind Energy Association yesterday. I informed them of course that the Government of Canada has $1.1 billion worth of initiatives on the table already. I further informed them that their action plan, a very thoughtful action plan, for the future of renewable energy in this country would be considered very carefully by this government in future business plans to deal with climate change.

Lumber IndustryOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, on October 4 the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade told the House that the U.S. had suspended the Byrd amendment. He was wrong. When I asked about anti-dumping coming down tomorrow by the U.S., he called that question hypothetical. I suggest the parliamentary secretary better wake up. Right now the Canadian forest industry, because of the Byrd amendment, is paying the U.S. forest industry directly. Canadians are subsidizing Americans.

What is the plan of this government? Canadians right now are facing significant job losses in the tens of thousands. What is the government doing to stop--

Lumber IndustryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade.

Lumber IndustryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

London—Fanshawe Ontario

Liberal

Pat O'Brien LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, it is great to see that the opposition has finally woken up and asked a question on softwood lumber for the first time in weeks.

The Byrd amendment is potentially a very harmful and disruptive measure for the international trading environment. That is why Canada, along with Mexico and nine other countries, is challenging the Byrd amendment at the WTO. We fully expect to get a favourable ruling in that case.

TerrorismOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, the nuclear propulsion reactor in Nanoose, B.C. is about 40 kilometres or one to two minutes by jet from the Vancouver International Airport. This floating nuclear reactor operates at a high power density, uses more enriched uranium nuclear fuel, almost weapon grade and has smaller meltdown margins than land reactors.

In the sea there are no concrete walls or steel walls. What procedures are in place in B.C. to protect against a terrorist attack on a nuclear propulsion reactor?

TerrorismOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, first, there is elaborate collaboration between Canada and the United States with respect to nuclear security. Second, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission took steps immediately on September 11 to heighten security to protect all Canadians.

Those steps were accelerated on October 19 with further measures to ensure that the Canadian public interest would be protected.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of a former colleague, the Honourable Chris Axworthy, Q.C., Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for the province of Saskatchewan.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the confusion arising from today's exchange that I had with the Minister of National Revenue, he first said that they were going to be providing guns and then he said they were not going to be providing guns.

I would like you to pay particular attention to the blues and to the television transcription of the event so we can be sure that this confusion is enshrined in Hansard .

Points of OrderOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I am sure the hon. member would not want the Speaker to sow any seeds of confusion anywhere and in fact would do everything possible to avoid confusion.

I thought that was the point of the hon. member's point of order, but I am sure we will take what he said under advisement and the appropriate authorities will heed his sound, sage advice.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege in relation to the failure of the Minister of Justice to respect the tabling requirements, enacted for the benefit of this House by the Parliament of Canada, in section 119 of the Firearms Act and chapter 39 of the Statutes of Canada, 1995.

Section 117 of the Firearms Act confers on the governor in council extensive regulation making powers in recognition of the significant impact which the exercise of those powers can have on Canadians. Parliament also adopted a provision requiring the Minister of Justice to table any proposed regulation before both houses for referral to an appropriate committee of each house before the regulation can be enacted by the governor in council.

Section 118 of the act precludes the adoption of any proposed regulation before the expiry of certain deadlines to ensure that members of both houses have an adequate opportunity to examine and report on the appropriateness of the regulation under the Firearms Act.

This background information makes clear that parliament attaches a great deal of importance to members being fully informed and involved before the governor in council is allowed to make a regulation under section 117. It is against this background that the exceptions to the rule must be assessed.

Section 119 of the Firearms Act provides for two cases in which the governor in council is allowed to make a regulation without the Minister of Justice having first tabled the text of the proposed regulation before both houses. The first exception is where the minister is of the opinion that the changes made by the regulation to an existing regulation are immaterial or insubstantial.

The second exception applies only to regulations made under certain specific paragraphs of section 117 and where the minister is of the opinion that the making of the regulation is so urgent that the requirement in section 118 should not apply.

In both these instances subsection 119(4) of the act provides that where the Minister of Justice forms the opinion that a regulation should not be tabled in draft form, the minister shall have a statement of the reasons he or she formed that opinion laid before each house of parliament.

It has come to my attention that between September 16, 1998, and December 13, 2000, a number of proposed amendments to regulations made under the Firearms Act have not been tabled before parliament as required by section 118 of the act.

The relevant instruments are those registered under the designation SOR/98-468 to SOR/98-471, SOR/99-109 to SOR/99-111, SOR/99-453, SOR/2000-224, SOR/2000-225, SOR/2000-259, SOR/2000-385, and SOR/2001-9 to SOR/2001-12.

In four of these sixteen instances the reason for which the amendment was not tabled was that the Minister of Justice formed an opinion that the regulation was so urgent that section 118 should not apply. In the other twelve cases the regulations were not tabled pursuant to section 118 because the minister formed the opinion that the changes made were immaterial or insubstantial.

As far as I could determine from the records of the House, the minister has not complied in those 16 cases with the duty imposed upon her by subsection 119(4) of the act to table a statement of reasons supporting her opinion that the section 118 requirement should not apply.

On October 17, 2001, my colleague, the member for Yorkton--Melville, rose on a point of order to request that the same minister observe the statutory tabling requirement in the case of yet another regulation which was registered as SOR/2001-336.

There is a fundamental distinction between the point of order raised by my colleague and the question of privilege I raise today. It is my contention that the minister's failure to table the required statements in relation to the instruments I have identified is a breach of the privileges of the House. This conclusion would not change even if the minister were to table the required statements today, tomorrow or the day after.

In failing to table the required statements the minister is not only breaching an order of the House as expressed in its statute but has also deprived members of their ability to verify that her reasons for exempting these regulations from the application of section 118 are sound and proper.

There can be no excuse for the minister's cavalier disregard of the statutory duty she owes to the House. Each of the regulations in question states in its preamble that the minister will lay a statement of reasons before each house as she is required to do by section 119 of the act. This is not a case where the minister was unaware of her duty.

Mr. Speaker, your predecessor was called upon in 1993 to rule on a similar question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River. The issue at that time concerned the failure of the minister of finance to table an order made under the Customs Act as it was his statutory duty to do. The member for Scarborough--Rouge River stated that he entertained no doubt that:

--the minister's failure to table a document required to be tabled by this House, whether intentional or accidental, tends to diminish the authority of the House of Commons and is something that might reasonably be held to constitute contempt by this House.

Speaker Fraser ruled on April 19, 1993, that a prima facie case of breach of privilege had been made and allowed the member to move a motion referring the matter to the Standing Committee on House Management. In his ruling Speaker Fraser reiterated that:

The requirements contained in our rules and statutory laws have been agreed upon by this House and constitute an agreement which I think all of us realize must be respected. Members cannot function if they do not have access to the material they need for their work and if our rules are being ignored and even statutory instruments are being disregarded.

The Speaker said he found it particularly disheartening that the government failed to table documents within the prescribed time and did not do so until after the matter was raised in the House. The Speaker noted that the tabling was a statutory requirement and quoted the member's comment:

It is difficult to conceive of any command of this House that could have more legitimacy than one contained in a law passed by this House.

The Speaker also agreed that disregard of a legislative command, even if unintentional, was an affront to the authority and dignity of parliament as a whole and the House in particular.

It should be noted that the statute in this case does not specify a particular time within which the minister must table a statement of reasons before both houses when a regulation is made without having first been laid in draft form before the House.

Does this mean that tabling of such a statement may be made at any time? Can it be years after the making of a regulation? The answer to both questions is no. In the absence of a specific tabling deadline the obligation of the minister must be understood to be an obligation to table her statement of reasons within a reasonable time following the enactment of the regulation made in reliance on subsections 119(2) or 119(3) of the Firearms Act.

It may be that reasonable people might disagree on whether a particular delay in tabling is reasonable or not in the circumstances. However, it is equally certain that no reasonable person would consider that a delay of two or three years is reasonable or was contemplated by the statute.

In any event the questions of whether or not a particular delay in fulfilling a tabling requirement was reasonable and whether there has in fact been a breach of the statutory duty imposed by subsection 119(4) are clearly at the heart of this question of privilege.

These are questions that the House itself will deal with in reaching a decision on the question of privilege.

At this stage, we are not concerned with a substantive determination of the question of privilege but only with a determination of whether or not the facts I have laid before the Speaker appear to give rise to a legitimate question of privilege. That is the only issue before the Speaker and, based on the ruling by your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that the House should be allowed to deal with the substantive issue of privilege.

In closing, I believe that a review of this precedent will show that the repeated failure of the Minister of Justice, whom, by the way, I have given a notice to today, to table a statement of reasons in 16 instances for a period of over two years, beginning some three years ago, constitutes a prima facie breach of the privileges of the House.

Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to move an appropriate motion but I will seek advice from you. Should I table the motion today or later on when you so desire?

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I received moments before question period a copy of the letter to which the hon. member refers. He refers in that to regulations made under section 117 of the Firearms Act, and the tabling requirement under subsection 119(4).

I have some difficulty in understanding how this issue could be before the House today. If the information I have is correct, the matter of the tabling of regulations pursuant to section 117 of the Firearms Act was already brought to the attention of the House by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville on October 17.

When it was brought to the attention of the House at that time, it was on a point of order and the Speaker accepted that it was a point of order, not a question of privilege. I am in some difficulty to understand how, mysteriously, it could be a question of privilege today.

Second, I am told that the Chair ruled at the time that the matter would be taken under advisement and that the Speaker would come back to the House and give his answer on the matter. I have no information to the effect that the Chair has ruled on it. I assume the Chair has not. If the Chair has ruled on it, it must be only very lately.

Furthermore, I understand that the Minister of Justice intends to lay the matter in question before the House in very short order in any case, which would probably make the point moot if and when it is raised.

Finally, I understand that the Minister of Justice is providing to the two members in question, namely the member who just raised the issue along with the member for Yorkton--Melville, written information regarding the material in question.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have to add another piece of information to this in relation to what my colleague across the way just said. There is a huge time difference.

The regulation I was referring to, and the urgent need that the minister made, was taking place on September 11. I raised that issue several weeks later. The time differential there was very different from what my colleague is now raising.

This is a question of privilege because the minister has ignored this for a very long period of time. She has completely disregarded it.

These are two separate issues completely.

I did not raise it as a question of privilege. I wanted the minister to reply. She did not give an adequate answer, Mr. Speaker, but that is really not what concerns you in this case.

In this case we have, I believe, a prima facie case before the House on privilege, and because of the time differential these two are not comparable.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair will take the matter under advisement. I want to review the remarks of the member for Surrey Central and the contributions, of course, of the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville and the government House leader. I will get back to the House in due course.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, an act to amend the Export Development Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the third time and passed.

Export Development ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, this bill on the Export Development Corporation—let us call it that for the last time—which was known by the French acronym SEE and the English EDC, stems from a series of consultations in which I participated as a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

We have put a lot of work into the Export Development Corporation, and I regret now to have to announce that we will be voting against this bill at third reading. We did, as I said, try to get it amended.

For our audience, it is important to know that the mandate of the Export Development Corporation is to support Quebec's and Canada's exporters, as well as those who wish to do business in Canada. It therefore also has a function to develop trade with other countries.

It was established in 1944 as the Export Credits Insurance Corporation. In 1969, it became a crown corporation and acquired the additional powers of being able—and this was something new—to make direct loans to foreign borrowers, and to borrow against the government's credit to finance its activities.

In 1993, a final change enabled it to invest in capital stock, to lease assets to users outside Canada, to constitute subsidiaries, as well as to take part in joint ventures.

In a way, the EDC is self-funding, in that it receives no parliamentary votes for its activities. It is a very important corporation.

Hon. members need to know that it estimates that it has supported experts and foreign investments to the tune of some $45 billion last year. It is a very important corporation. Despite its financial self-sufficiency, it is still a crown corporation, because a private company wishing to do the same could never compete with it. It is, therefore, a crown corporation which, thanks to a series of privileges, benefits both potential investors in Quebec and Canada and potential exporters from Quebec and Canada.

It is not subject to the Access to Information Act. It is not subject to the Environmental Assessment Act. It is not regulated by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, as is the case for the private sector. It does not pay income tax. It does not have to pay dividends. It can borrow at favourable rates, thanks to the credit extended to the Government of Canada.

Those are some of what might be termed the privileges enjoyed by the EDC.

It is easy to see its importance but it is also easy to see why parliamentarians have repeatedly studied its role in Quebec, in Canada and abroad. It is not subject to the Access to Information Act, nor environmental assessment, and it has developed a policy of extreme secrecy. For all these reasons, there have been numerous recommendations made regarding the EDC.

The first amendment to Bill C-31 is to change the name of the EDC. I think that few parliamentarians noticed this. However, since I have been here, I have seen many legislative texts that begin by modifying the name.

The EDC, the Export Development Corporation, is well known. This bill changes the name to Export Development Canada.

The names of so many crown corporations have been changed to contain the “Canada” trademark, all I can do is to comment that this is also the case with the name of the EDC.

For the benefit of those listening, I would like to point out that the most outrageous change, in my opinion, was that made to the former Federal Office of Regional Development-Quebec, the regional section of the Department of Industry, the former Canadian regional development department, which dealt solely with development investment in Quebec. That was why it was called the Federal Office of Regional Development-Quebec.

Shortly after we arrived here in 1993, a bill was adopted which stipulated that this office, for the region of Quebec, would be called Economic Development Canada. What is peculiar is that, in the budget or votes, the names of offices with a similar mandate in the other provinces—for example, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Western Diversification Office—remained unchanged.

Yet in Quebec, it is now called Export Development Canada. Of course, this is all part of the great propaganda campaign to rename things. So, in French, it is goodbye to the SEE and hello to Exportation et développement Canada.

In 1998-99, the EDC was the object of a first review that had been decided in 1993. For the purpose of that exercise, the firm of Gowlings was asked to make recommendations. Gowlings conducts studies and audits. It is one of these large Canadian accounting, and surely now financial firms.

Gowlings, which is very much a private firm, made recommendations that differed significantly from the practices in use at the EDC as regards, among other things, transparency, the environment, sustainable development and also human rights.

Indeed, this is from the firm of Gowlings, a well known firm of lawyers, accountants and other experts. Its recommendations were not revolutionary, but provided that:

The EDC should regularly publish information on the operations that it funds. This information could include, for example, the name of the borrower, the country, the exporter—

The firm added the following:

Canada must work to achieve an international consensus on guidelines and environmental procedures that must be complied with by organizations similar to the EDC in other countries.

Immediately after, it goes on to say:

The EDC should submit its environmental framework to a public consultation process and ensure that the resulting policy is largely supported by exporters and non-governmental organizations.

This was in 1998-99. The firm then recommended:

—That the EDC act be amended to subject the EDC to the general requirement of establishing environmental assessment procedures in line with its commercial objectives and allow its board of directors to authorize or deny financial support by the corporation, based on the benefits or consequences of the projects or operations for the environment. The corporation should develop and publish a policy regarding its obligation to inform the public of the results of its environmental assessments—

I will not read everything. Finally, on the issue of human rights, the firm said:

EDC should implement a policy whereby when applying for EDC financial or insurance services, Canadian exporters are asked to indicate on a voluntary basis whether they have adopted their own codes of conduct that ensure respect for human rights, ethical business conduct and fair labour standards in their international activities.

The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade studied the Gowlings report at some length, after hearing from many witnesses. The committee made several recommendations. These recommendations dealt with public disclosure, with its risk assessments, which could be useful to Canadian financial institutions and to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

The committee, with the support of Liberal members—we know, of course, how things work in committee—opted for the principle of improving mandatory disclosure of useful information in the interest of public accountability, in line with the Gowlings report's recommendation, provided that confidential trade information was protected.

It also suggested that:

--a provision be added enjoining EDC to give due regard to the commitments and obligations undertaken by Canada under international agreements—

The committee then proposed, and this is interesting:

—EDC could further enhance its public credibility by conducting a formal consultation with stakeholders on the framework's performance after its first year of operation—

Generally speaking, the recommendations did not find a taker in the report. However, not only the Bloc Quebecois but many NGOs who came to testify found that even the committee's report did not go far enough.

There is one basic principle. This corporation is a crown corporation. As such, can it afford to fund and support in various ways companies which do not respect the environmental assessment framework? Can it refuse to provide information which is provided in other countries by equivalent corporations?

Can it circumvent international agreements that Canada signs in the area of human rights? Can the corporation, which acts on Canada's behalf, do everything contrary to what Canada signs?

This basically is what the Bloc is opposed to. I will not say that there should be no concern over competition and trade secrets. That said, however, there remains a significant margin where, while remaining competitive—the American and Australian corporations are—the corporations must honour the bases of the major international conventions.

Without compatibility, we could be contributing to the confusion and anger of many countries and people living in developing countries, who see countries like Canada with international commitments respecting the environment and human rights and a degree of transparency and practices at home that contravene these very rules.

Bill C-31, which has created a lot of expectations among many people, contains some improvements. They are so timid that they will prevent us, even if we wanted to, from voting in favour of its content.

I have no doubt my colleague from Rosemont will use all his time to speak to the environmental aspect, because what is there is totally inadequate. I will read the only thing sought, and we will see it makes no sense.

Clause 10.1 provides, and I quote:

10.1(1) Before entering, in the exercise of its powers under subsection 10(1.1), into a transaction that is related to a project—

So before it knows if it will support a project,

the Corporation must determine—

(a) whether the project is likely to have adverse environmental effects despite the implementation of mitigation measures; and

(b) if such is the case, whether the Corporation is justified in entering into the transaction.

The problem lies in the fact that the auditor general has said that the frames of reference were inadequate even to evaluate it, and that of the 25 projects she evaluated, 23 did not conform.

In terms of the environment, transparency, public disclosure of information or compliance with international conventions on human rights, Bill C-31 is a long way from attaining the minimum objectives we might have expected.

It is therefore with regret that we will vote against the bill.

Export Development ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, as always I am pleased to rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central. Today I am taking part in the third reading debate on Bill C-31, an act to amend the Export Development Act and to make amendments to other acts.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my time with the hon. member for Kelowna.

The bill is of a housekeeping nature, simply to update the act. The government did not accept any amendments from the opposition parties during the committee stage.

Since legislation governing the Export Development Corporation requires a ministerial review of the act, a review commenced in 1998 and concluded with a report. It was reviewed and reported by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The results of that report are the amendments in Bill C-31.

If passed, the bill will enable the board to delegate its powers. It will require the EDC to establish a pension plan for its employees. The treasury board policy encourages crown corporations to arrange a comprehensive, independent pension plan for their employees.

The CPP managed by the federal government earns even less interest than a bank savings account. That is how expert the government is in mismanaging the employee and employer funds.

The surplus funds from the inefficiently managed CPP were grabbed by the Liberal government. The chief actuary of the CPP was fired for being forthright and not yielding to the Liberals' pressure.

Prior to these amendments, there were no legislated environmental review requirements of the EDC. If the bill is passed, it will require the EDC to determine if a project is likely to have adverse environmental effects and whether it would be justified for the EDC to enter into a transaction.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act will not apply to the EDC's reviews so that Canadian environment standards and laws are not imposed on other sovereign nations. That is what the government says. Or perhaps the government can further its own agenda under the guise of environmental protection evasion.

The objective of the substantive environmental amendment is to strike a balance between trade competitiveness and concern for the potential environmental impacts of projects supported by the EDC.

My opposition to the bill also stems largely from questions surrounding EDC's lack of environmental accountability under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

In 1996 Candu reactors were sold to China at a cost of $2.5 billion. To sweeten the deal, the Canadian government financed the sale with EDC facilitating the deal.

Ordinarily, the deal would have required an environmental assessment to deal with questions such as whether the area around Qinshan was prone to earthquakes, floods and the like. Issues like these are of vital importance in determining if nuclear reactors are a danger or not. Had an environmental assessment been done at that time, it would have helped put these concerns to rest.

We now know that since the government did not like the rules of the game, it changed them, even though there is a lawsuit by the Sierra Club of Canada. This is another example of how the government failed to do its homework and tried to circumvent due process by altering the rules of the game to suit its purposes.

We all witnessed the alarming and tragic consequences of the nuclear tragedy in Chernobyl. The loss of life directly attributable to that disaster is truly staggering.

Years later, cancer rates in the area remain alarmingly high. Imagine the effect of such a disaster in China where the population is much greater. The death toll from radiation poisoning and cancer would be enormous.

Environmental assessment in highly populated areas, flood prone areas and earthquake prone areas was probably very important, but the government thought it was better to stay quiet about such issues rather than jeopardize the deal.

In general, this weak government's record on environment is very weak. It has let the legislation on the protection of endangered species die a few times on the order paper. It has signed international treaties, including those from Kyoto, Beijing and Rio, for example, with no intentions whatsoever of carrying out its commitments. The government made those commitments without consulting Canadians, parliament and the provinces. The government has made political decisions about matters that require scientific decisions, logic and reasoning.

The auditor general recommended that most international financial institutions, including export credit agencies, have environmental policies and procedures. A consensus emerged on the elements of good practice that an international financial institution should adopt to ensure that the projects it supports are environmentally and socially responsible. Industrialized G-8 countries and OECD countries developed common environmental guidelines for export credit agencies but the government is trying to circumvent them.

To strengthen the framework's implementation, the EDC should concentrate on the tools that identify environmental risks in the screening process and on monitoring to ensure that the framework is operating efficiently and effectively. To strengthen EDC's environmental review process, EDC needs to make changes in both the design and the operation of the framework. To close the gaps in the framework's design, EDC should focus on enhancing transparency through public consultation and disclosure.

Another problem with the bill is that EDC is being used by the Liberal government, no surprise, for political favours, in addition to other crown corporations and agencies being used, such as CIDA, HRDC, WD, ACOA and many others.

Patronage appointments in crown corporations are rampant. Most recently, Mr. Bernard Boudreau, a short term senator and cabinet member who unsuccessfully ran for the Liberals in the last election, was appointed to the board of EDC. The bill does not address the issue of patronage appointments at all.

The Canadian Alliance recognizes the essential part financial institutions play in the everyday lives of Canadians. We would protect the best interests of consumers by fostering competition and ensuring that the financial services sector is adequately regulated, without impairing stability or opportunity for success and growth in these institutions.

Most of the services provided by the EDC, such as short and medium term export insurance and financing, should be privatized. The rest of the EDC services should become a division of DFAIT and should be directly accountable to parliament. This division could provide occasional loan guarantees and other services that are beyond the scope of the private sector, such as long term insurance, political risk reassurance and projects that are not commercially viable but are deemed to be in the national interest. In 1991 the United Kingdom privatized its equivalent export agency, the Export Credits Guarantee Department. We can learn from that.

To serve exporters better, there should be true competition in the export business and financing business. They should have the opportunity to deal directly with their own banks or insurance brokers to have their exports financed and insured. If the banks got into the business, exporters might receive 100% financing in addition to speedier and personalized services.

In conclusion, the bill does not address the concerns that I have highlighted. I ask the government to address these issues and make appropriate amendments to the bill, which they have not done so far. Otherwise I will be left with no choice but to vote against the bill.

Export Development ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address my remarks to three particular points in the bill. I would like to attack it from the principles of patronage appointments and of crown corporations and private enterprise, and also on the business of transparency, in particular with regard to the judge, advocacy and jury all at the same time with the bill. It would do those things.

It is actually amazing what the bill would do and how it came to be. The first thing I want to stress is the business of this crown corporation actually being created to be in direct competition with private enterprise. Some people would ask how I came to this kind of conclusion. The conclusion comes to me on the basis of what the United Kingdom did when it considered joining the EU. At that time it became very evident that it needed to maintain a clear balance between crown corporations, which are really the instrument of government, to develop their particular policies, purposes and objectives, and to do so in a commercially viable way. At least that is the purported intent.

While I do not quarrel with a situation where a private enterprise could not get into that enterprise, I do quarrel with it here. So did the EU and so did the United Kingdom. In fact, in 1991, ten years ago, the United Kingdom privatized a short term branch of its equivalent export agency. It was called the Export Credits Guarantee Department. The agency was privatized to ensure that there were no implied trade subsidies in the EU from one country to another. The United Kingdom government now, as written in 1997, provides a political risk reinsurance to the private company that took over the ECGD.

I think it is very significant that the United Kingdom saw the potential conflict that was there, not only in its own government but also in the governments of other countries, and the complication that it would create among various countries doing business with one another. It wanted to have a fair and level playing field among them.

Why is that significant? The EDC really runs its operation on two accounts. It has a commercial account and it has a Canada account. The commercial account really gets most of its money from financing export operations and the insurance in guaranteeing certain loans to exporters. The Canada account, on the other hand, is designed to advance the particular policies, objectives and purposes of the Canadian government. I am really addressing my remarks here to the first part of that, because that is its major operation. It is here that it finds itself in direct conflict with private enterprise.

Philosophically and on principle I am utterly and completely opposed to government doing things that the private sector can do as well or better. I would suggest that not only is that the case for the private enterprise, but it is actually in the interests of all Canadians that it be the case.

I will move on to my second point which has to do with the patronage appointments that are possible here. I will read, for the benefit of those who are listening to us this afternoon, the provisions for this activity as provided for in Bill C-31. It is really an amendment to section 7. Section 7.1 states:

The Board may establish any other committee and that committee may exercise any powers and perform any duties of the Board delegated to it by the Board.

If we wanted carte blanche, there it is. We would first of all have this board and this board would have a number of members on it appointed by the government. They feel they would like to do something. There may be some friends that they would like to have doing some work, so they form a committee and appoint people who are their friends and who can do certain kinds of things. The number of committees is unlimited. They may form any committee to do whatever they want and then they can delegate whatever powers they have to any one of those particular committees.

One would think that reason would prevail and that in fact there would not be an abuse of this power, but we have seen it, not only in this government but in other governments where this kind of freedom exists and politics rather than the interests of people enter into the decision making process. At that point it is clearly obvious that a political advantage accrues to those who supported the party in power. That is what I am concerned about.

Not only would the bill make it possible, the bill almost says please do it and make sure that there are enough vacancies here so that we can appoint anybody we want to have appointed to these committees. I take strong exception to that. I do not believe that kind of thing should happen.

Can a private corporation do something similar to this? Yes, it can, but it has the added difference that it does this on the basis of being efficient and working in the interests of the shareholders and the people it is trying to serve.

That motivation may be the same for the government, but it may not be. The political situation may be one of fostering its own bed rather than developing what is there in the best interests.

I know, Mr. Speaker, that is not you. You care about people. I know that. I know you very well. Even though you are in an opposing party, you are the kind of guy who I think would not do this sort of thing. However, Mr. Speaker, they are not all like you.

I will move on to my third point which has to do with the judge, advocacy and jury of this committee. I cannot believe the kind of thing that has happened here. However, not only do I have to believe it, I have to put it in the context of what the auditor general said about this corporation.

I want to refer specifically to paragraph 22 in the May 2001 auditor general's report on the Export Development Corporation and in particular the environmental review framework. In paragraph 22 he states:

Unlike federal departments and agencies--

Here I notice that he is separating out from federal departments and agencies that crown corporation in particular, the Export Development Corporation.

--the Export Development Corporation is not subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act or to the Access to Information Act. Unlike private sector financial institutions, it is not subject to regulation by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, does not pay income tax, is not required to pay dividends, and can borrow at favourable rates on the credit of the Government of Canada.

That is very significant. This group could determine a number of things. With regard to the environment, it may determine whether a particular project “is likely to have adverse environmental effects” and then later on it will define what an adverse environmental effect is to be. Is that not interesting? A project comes up and the board decides on what are adverse environmental conditions. The other one is whether the particular project actually does meet those requirements. If we wanted to create a situation where we could change the rules of the game halfway through the game, we would have a perfect way in which to do this. All the board would have to do is change the definition and change its particular interpretation or application of that definition for a particular project.

I cannot think of a greater morass, almost a miasma, a poisonous vapour arising from this kind of situation, than a group that comes to this board and says it will not cause environmental damage, with the board members saying they are not sure if it fits the definition or not, and then they could move it around to suit the situation as they wanted.

That should never be allowed. There should be an independent group like the environmental group that stands for all government agencies and departments, financial institutions, private institutions and for us as individuals. It should apply in exactly the same way to this agency even though it is a crown corporation.

I have to vote against this provision unless it is changed.

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4 p.m.

Mississauga South Ontario

Liberal

Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, the member raised the issue of the applicability of the Access to Information Act. As the House knows, an all party committee has been looking into the provisions of the act and its applicability to corporations, such as the EDC, the Canada Broadcasting Corporation and others.

One of the important elements of the debate about whether or not there should be applicability of that act has to do with the sensitive competitive information that would otherwise be available to the public.

As the member knows, EDC deals extensively with companies in the business community that are in a competitive environment and wish to promote their export activities. Under the Access to Information Act, their correspondence could be subject to requests.

To give an example, members of Democracy Watch wanted the committee to ask the industry department to provide copies of every piece of correspondence that was ever sent to them concerning a particular policy initiative. It had nothing to do with the decisions of Industry Canada. It had to do with a fishing expedition by people, either educators, researchers or people in the espionage business, looking for information that they could use for their own gain and that they could acquire it at a nominal cost.

I raise that with the member in terms of the sensitivity that he may have to putting businesses, which, in good faith, go through the EDC, at risk of having their competitive position jeopardized because of the applicability of the Access to Information Act.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would be very happy to respond to the hon. member. That is not at all what I referred to. There is sensitive information, and the hon. member knows that I know that.

I completely agree that if there is information that is pertinent to a particular contract, it must be kept confidential. However I do not believe all information is of that nature, and he knows that too.

The important issue here is that there is a lot of information that can and should be made public. The financial institutions, such as the banking institutions that are governed by the superintendent of financial institutions, must give certain information to the superintendent. What we are talking about is that the corporation we are talking about today does not have to do that. It should be as clear and transparent as those institutions have to be to the superintendent, no more and no less.

We are not talking about the abuse of information. I am not going on a fishing expedition and I do not think the hon. member is. That is not the issue nor is it the point I was trying to make.

The point I am trying to make is that if it is legitimate information it should be made public and it should be available to all those who want it.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith Canadian Alliance South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31, the amendments to the Export Development Act. I think the concern Canadians have whenever we talk about agencies or organizations such as the Export Development Corporation is that once again we are talking about a crown corporation that operates supposedly for the people of Canada and yet lacks all accountability.

EDC has a reputation of being unaccountable, secretive and without transparency in its operations. It does not fall under the Access to Information Act which allows it to operate in such a way that it does not respect environmental concerns and issues. It has a reputation of being a crown corporation that operates out there on its own agenda.

I think Canadians are concerned that it has become a norm for agencies of the government to operate without parliamentary oversight. If people watch question period they will see that even when the opposition parties try to ask questions of the minister to bring some accountability to the crown corporation that the questions are not answered, not that any of them ever are, but questions pertaining to this particular crown corporation are never responded to in a way that shares information with Canadians as to what it is doing.

I think Canadians have real concerns that the government is continuing to operate in this manner and that it is the government's mode to develop organizations that it controls. It controls the people who run these organizations. It controls the information flow that goes into them and the lack of information that comes out about them. In essence, the government is removing any kind of connection between the people who pay for the crown corporation, which is the Canadian taxpayer, and the operation of it.

I think Canadians have become more aware of the involvement of the Export Development Corporation when issues like the Candu reactor come up and the fact that the Canada account, which I believe was used in that kind of venture, is often done in such a way that there seems to be a disregard for those regulations that are put in place, such as the environmental regulations. Canadians are somewhat concerned that Canada would be exporting Candu reactors without any kind of environmental assessments being done, without any real concern about the national security of our country where we would give foreign nations the capacity to perhaps use nuclear by-products for other means other than creating energy.

I think Canadians to a degree are aware of the existence of the Export Development Corporation but are not aware of the details of it, who sits on the board or to whom it answers. Canadians are a little concerned that here again is another crown corporation that is run in a manner that may not be acceptable to the Canadian public who pay for it.

We have to look at the bill and the amendments to see whether they address those concerns. I would suggest that the bill does not seem to address those concerns that Canadians have. I do not think that the means with which the bill deals with the accountability is sufficient. I think Canadians want to know that this crown corporation, which is using Canadian tax dollars to give to some corporations but not all corporations, is done in a fair and transparent manner. Some Canadian corporations might ask themselves why their competitor is getting this kind of support when they are not. Canadians need to feel comfortable that the people who are making the decision as to who will get government support, taxpayer money, are treating these decisions in a fair, open and above-board manner.

I think the fact that the chairman and president of the Export Development Corporation are appointed by the Prime Minister should cause some concern. The fact that the other 13 board members are appointed by the Minister for International Trade should cause Canadians some concern. The reason for this concern is that once again we see that the appointments to this board are political. They are being used to reward individuals who have been faithful supporters of the party with an opportunity to sit on the board.

I think Canadians would like to see the end of that practice. I think Canadians would like to see some justification for the appointments to the board of the Export Development Corporation. They would like to see that the appointments of a president, CEO or chairman are done in such a manner that they could not be used for political purposes. They want to see people appointed who have earned the right to be there, people who have expertise in the field they will be dealing with, who will be fair and balanced in the decisions they make and who will not unduly risk Canadian taxpayers' money for ventures that are not sound.

Somehow, perhaps reflecting on past appointments, Canadians cannot be confident that this is happening. The amendments to the bill do not deal with that concern. A very real concern that I hear on a very regular basis through my householders is that Canadians are concerned about the way the government does business and appoints individuals to positions for whatever reason, most of them political. Canadians are concerned about that as well as being very concerned about how the government spends their money and how the decisions are made on how to spend their money. I do not see any changes in the legislation that deal with those concerns.

As in many other cases, we see the government putting in housekeeping legislation that deals with minor things like changing the name. Canadians do not care whether it is called the export council of Canada or export development council or whatever. Canadians do not care what it is called. They care about what it does and how it does the business of the day.

The issues of transparency and complying with the laws of Canada with regard to environmental assessments are the issues that Canadians care about. Canadians care that when the government is operating in the global market network we can be proud of how Canada is represented, that it is being represented by a corporation and by the government in a way that makes us proud.

Minor changes to legislation such as changing the name and moving around a few of the powers and oversights and whatnot just do not cut it. I heard my colleague from the Canadian Alliance talking about the decision maker, the oversight and the judge all being one. That basically is still the situation. It has not changed.

Once again we see the government operating in a manner that shows its arrogance and lack of contact and connection with Canadian taxpayers. This shows that it really does not believe in transparency, that it really does not believe in giving access to information to Canadians to let them to know what is going on in their government and how their money is being spent.

I do not buy the argument that there are business decisions that cannot be shared. If the Canadian taxpayer is being asked to put money into a corporation, there should not be anything that the corporation is not willing to share with the people who are paying the bill. If those individuals do not want the ordinary Canadian to have access to that information, then perhaps they should not be asking the Canadian taxpayer to pick up the cost. If they want to avoid disclosure, if they want to avoid access to information, there are private funding sources they can go to that do not have that kind of responsibility to disclose and to be accountable.

The government could have done a much better job of making this crown corporation more accountable, of making this crown corporation more acceptable to the Canadian taxpayer who is putting the money up front. I would hope that the government could, in this legislation as in other legislation, make necessary amendments to make it more appropriate.