Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to rise to speak to Bill C-55, the public safety act. No Canadian or anyone in the House doubts the importance of protecting security at this critical time. As the Prime Minister and everyone in the House has said, it has become almost a cliche to say the world changed on September 11.
However the threats to security that were demonstrated on September 11 have existed for a long time. In responding to what happened on September 11 the government's goals may be laudable but its means of achieving them have been anything but. The Liberal government has done more to foster global terrorism and expose Canadians to the risk of terrorism on our soil than any government in the history of Canada.
Since coming to office the government has done more to reduce and gut resources for the RCMP, CSIS and the military than any government in the past. Our rules and laws are not the problem. They are not what we need to change. For a long time we have needed the resources to enforce the existing rules. Regardless of the legislation we pass in the House to strengthen the government's hand to act in a more totalitarian way, the goal of improving the security of Canadians will not be met without increased resources for the RCMP, CSIS and the military.
The government recently took baby steps in the right direction on these issues. However for years it has taken funds out of these important enforcement agencies with a backhoe. It now proposes to replace the funds with a teaspoon. The government is trying to fill in some of the potholes it has created through years of neglect.
The Minister of Transport stood in the House at the beginning of the debate and praised Bill C-55. However after listening to him the question remains: Why do we need the legislation? We already have an Emergencies Act to allow a fast response to a national emergency. After the crisis of September 11 the government responded and took extraordinary action within the existing rules.
Bill C-55 is the essence of Liberal parliamentary democracy. By that I mean it would continue the Liberal tradition of doing everything they can to jettison parliamentary democracy. Under the Liberal government more than any previous government we have seen an increased concentration of decision making power away from parliament and into the hands not only of cabinet but of the Prime Minister's Office. Bill C-55 represents another nail in the coffin of Canadian parliamentary democracy.
This legislation would allow the government to bypass parliament. It would severely curtail parliamentary scrutiny and review. The rules Canadians consider so important such as protection of privacy and property and protection against arbitrary arrest would all be compromised by Bill C-55. That is unnecessary because we can provide the security Canadians need and want without compromising the civil liberties they value.
The Liberal privacy commissioner has used the term totalitarian to discuss aspects of Bill C-55. What a scathing condemnation of his own government to refer to the legislation as being totalitarian. Canadians are intelligent and will decide for themselves the number of ways the bill violates their rights. I am afraid that Canadians will not realize until too late the regressive nature of the bill in terms of pulling back some of the fundamental civil liberties that Canadians have come to assume are part of our values.
The bill represents another flawed piece of Liberal legislation. It is a slap in the face for Canadians who value their privacy and property rights. In the wake of September 11 it is understandable that the government would seek to draft legislation that would address some of these extreme circumstances we find ourselves in not just in Canada but around the world.
The arbitrary nature of the decision making process by the government in creating the legislation is really unfortunate. The government refers to consultation and that it has listened. It really has not listened or pursued a full and consultative approach in creating the legislation.
If the government were to reverse some of the very significant and draconian cuts that were made to the military, the RCMP and CSIS resources, a lot of the existing rules would be fine just the way they are. The government in some ways is using September 11 as a means to further strengthen its hand and further reduce parliamentary scrutiny.
I do not want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but I saw the government use September 11 as an excuse to create a $4 billion tax grab with the air security tax. In Canada it is $24 for every round trip. The U.S. equivalent for the same level of security is $5. The government used that opportunity, the fear of Canadians post September 11 to exact more revenue out of Canadian taxpayers which made me feel very skeptical. I really question the government's motives.
With the legislation perhaps the government sees that September 11 has created further opportunity to concentrate power at the expense of the civil liberties of Canadians. I urge the government to not always use every opportunity to reduce the role of parliament and concentrate greater levels of power in the executive branch. Instead it should enforce the rules that are there now and increase the resources that are needed to do so.
The bill furthers the concentration of power in the hands of the ministers. We know what the government did in terms of ministerial accountability. We have seen minister after minister fail to be accountable to parliament, to committees and to the trust that Canadians vest in them.
The interim orders made by ministers alone without parliamentary approval could remain secret for 23 days. They could be in effect for 45 days without any cabinet approval.
We have a defence minister now who cannot remember what happens at briefing sessions and forgets to brief the Prime Minister and cabinet. This is like a dream piece of legislation for the defence minister. Not only can he forget something for seven days, he could forget something for 45 days without having to worry about it.
The whole notion of ministerial accountability is gutted by the legislation. A minister would not even have to seek cabinet approval and could act arbitrarily. These extreme measures could be in effect for 45 days without cabinet approval. That of course would help because based on the Prime Minister's style of leadership, he would probably rather golf than govern anyway. It would probably be inconvenient to call cabinet meetings particularly during the summertime.
Unless specified in the order, the order can be in effect for a year. If the minister so chooses, it can be renewed for at least another year. All this is without parliamentary approval. The changes from Bill C-42 are a slight improvement, a tiny pittance of an improvement, but once again parliament and the public are relegated to the back seat.
The changes to the National Defence Act in this legislation are a perfect example. The minister in the past has demonstrated that he is less than forthright with the public, parliament, his party, his caucus and even his leader and cabinet. Did we take hostages or did we not? Were the hostages handed over or not? Was the Prime Minister told or was he not?
The fact is the whole British parliamentary system is based on the sanctity of ministerial accountability. The Minister of National Defence would have had his marching orders provided to him by the Prime Minister if he had served in the cabinet of Tony Blair. He would have been gone by 10 o'clock on the morning the debacle became public.
Instead, in order to protect the sub-mediocrity of the front benches, the government will do anything to avoid resignations. It would even send them to Denmark if the opportunity existed just so it could say that it was not wrong and the Prime Minister did not make a mistake. Canadians know a lot better.
It took the minister three briefings to bring him up to speed. There was a day when cabinet ministers were chosen based on their perspicacity and ability to be briefed quickly and understand issues. The Prime Minister wants that minister now to have even greater unchecked authority, controlled access to military zones anywhere in Canada. Make no mistake about it. Under this legislation the government can drive a tank onto any street in the country and at the discretion of the minister call it a military secure zone.
Most Canadians, including the minister's own chain of command within the military, have expressed significant doubts as to the competence of the minister. For him to be provided with this level of power to act arbitrarily and create a military zone wherever he wants is truly frightening.
Under subsection 260.1(1)(b) concerning controlled access military zones, there is some question as to what the government means by property. Is this real property as in real estate, or property in terms of equipment, such as a main battle tank or military vehicle? The answer comes in subsection 260.1(3) where the designation of the nature of the zone states:
A controlled access military zone may consist of an area of land or water, a portion of airspace, or a structure or part of one, surrounding a thing referred to in subsection (1) or including it, whether the zone designated is fixed or moves with that thing. The zone automatically includes all corresponding airspace above, and water and land below, the earth's surface.
If the nature of this legislation were to create these zones in, on or around areas with permanent structures not designated as military bases, there would be no need for clarification of this type. This gives the minister, Canada's defensive minister in this case, not as the minister of defence but as the defensive minister, the ability to designate a controlled military access zone around any piece of military property he feels necessary and as the equipment moves through an area, so goes the zone.
Canadians work long, hard hours and pay a lot of taxes. They work hard for everything they own. The stroke of a pen by the minister can negate the expectations of a person's property rights in Canada. That is clearly egregious to Canadians when they think of it. It should be offensive to every member of the House.
Liberals might suggest that checks and balances are contained within subsection (6) where a maximum time limit of one year is put on the zone. However as 7(b) states that following the renewal of a year, the governor in council can sidestep the subsection should the government want the designation in effect for more than one year.
These are broad, sweeping powers provided to a minister who has demonstrated very little competence, who has in fact earned the wrath of Canadians and lost the respect of his own chain of command. The fact that the Minister of National Defence, particularly the present Minister of National Defence, would be given this level of power is truly emblematic of the deep flaws and rot within the legislation.
While there are a number of issues we disagree with, the bill does have some positive notes. We believe there are some positive steps being taken with regard to part 4 of the bill which deals specifically with an amendment to the criminal code.
The notion of criminalizing a hoax in regard to terrorist activities makes a great deal of sense. That has already existed for a long time in airports. We cannot make jokes about bombings and that sort of thing. That makes a tremendous amount of sense. However that is like a thimble full of positive steps in a sea of bad things in the legislation.
If the government were serious about improving the security of Canadians, it would address some of the flaws and mistakes of the past. It would address funding issues for the RCMP and CSIS. It would address funding issues of our Canadian military. The government would address some of the flaws in our current immigration system.
Canadians ought not to learn about flaws in our immigration system on 60 Minutes. Parliament should be more assiduously focused on addressing those flaws and those issues.
If the government were serious about achieving the ends of a more secure Canada and a Canada more willing to protect itself against the threats of international terrorism on our soil, there are ways that could be accomplished. Those laudable goals could have been accomplished without compromising the human rights and the civil liberties of Canadians.
The government used September 11 in an exploitative way to create a multibillion dollar tax grab by creating the air security tax. It was intentionally larger than it needed to be to exact as much money out of Canadian taxpayers as possible. The government exploited September 11 to raise more government revenue in a shameless, unconscionable way. It is now using September 11 once again as an excuse to clamp down on the civil liberties of Canadians and to further reduce parliament's important role in representing Canadians to further strengthen the power of cabinet, the power of the Prime Minister and the PMO.
It is absolutely shameful that the government would take an event like September 11, an event that has in so many ways focused the efforts of people around the world on what can be done to better protect ourselves against terrorism. Instead of moving in a constructive way to fight terrorism and find ways to better protect Canadians against terrorism on our soil, it is using September 11 as a way to extend its powers, to raise more tax revenues, to further reduce the role of parliament and further strengthen cabinet and the Prime Minister's hold over the power of this country.
I think that is really unfortunate. We fight terrorism to protect democracy. The government uses the threat of terrorism to reduce democracy. That is just a terrible state of affairs.