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.