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House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

That is not only a shame, as my colleague says, it is a serious and, I would venture to say, a fatal flaw in our democratic system. If we do not fix that I am afraid our democratic system here will increasingly become eroded and members of the public will have an increasing disillusionment with the need to support, with their tax dollars and with their votes, the democratic process.

I therefore chastise the government for imposing that on its members in committee. If members had been able to debate openly and freely and to vote openly and freely, we would have had amendments that would have prevented the serious consequences that will come about as a result of the passage of Bill C-3.

I would venture to say that there must be some Liberals over there as well who must feel badly about their participation in this, as they have gone along with it. As well, now we have a so-called new Prime Minister. During his leadership campaign, the new Prime Minister often used the phrase “democratic deficit”. I do not know where he got that idea from, because all the time the party over there of which he was a part and a member of the cabinet did not really practice democracy. I suppose he detected it. He heard it from us, from this side. He probably got it from some of his own members over there. He knew that it was a hot button--it certainly is for Canadians--and he campaigned on it.

What do we see now when Bill C-3 is introduced in this Parliament? Do we see the removal of the democratic fetters that were shackled around the ankles of all the Liberals and around their hands so that they could not raise their hands to vote at a certain time but had to at a different time?

I seriously chastise this Prime Minister and the government for shutting this down.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, from time to time I have mentioned that I am an amateur mathematician. I took training at university in mathematics and physics and taught math and computing for some 31 years, so I have a bit of a mathematical thing going on here as well.

The committee has eight members from the Liberal Party. It has seven from the opposition. I am not prepared to concede that only the Liberals have a positive IQ and the rest of us have a negative one. I am not prepared to concede that only the Liberals are capable of clear thinking and the rest of us only of muddy thinking. I believe it has to be, statistically speaking, about eight to seven.

I do not know what those fractions are exactly. I could have figured it out, but in eight to seven out of fifteen times, seven times the opposition would have an idea that would be superior to the eight on the other side. We just have to wonder about it when time after time all the opposition ideas, amendments and motions are put and defeated simply because they come from this side. That is a serious flaw.

I happen also in my lifetime to have been, I like to think, a serious student of the scriptures. There is a proverb which states that in the presence of many counsellors is great wisdom. The Liberals make an error when they say, “There are all these people on the opposition side and we will not listen to them at all”. They make an error because we are part of the team that wants to build good laws for this country. They should from time to time--I would say seven out of fifteen times on average--listen to us and they should adopt those ideas.

Enough of that, because next I want to talk about one of the very serious flaws of the bill.

Perhaps before I do that, because I am a guy who likes always to accentuate the positive and diminish the negative, let me say that there is one positive thing in this bill and I sure do support it. In order not to be guilty of the same thing I am accusing the Liberals of, let me say that I wholeheartedly support the removal in this bill of the requirement in the past that if a party went down to fewer than 50 candidates in an election it was required to turn in all its assets.

Let us say that there is a new party that works hard to try to get established with some ideas that a significant number of citizens believe in. It falls short of the 50 mark. What does the government do, this high-handed government? It says that the party started out in the race with the rest of us but did not reach the first quarter mile so it will make that party go back to the start line. That is what it does.

I would like to applaud the government for having removed that. It is totally wrong for a party that has 40 candidates in an election, let us say, to have to give up all its assets. I wish to say thanks to those Liberals over there for removing that very offensive clause from the present Elections Act and for at least providing a way out of it so that this party can re-register and not have to give up everything it has worked for.

In the little time remaining, I want to point out what to me is probably the most serious flaw in this legislation. As my colleague from North Vancouver so ably pointed out earlier today, it is the flaw of having some bureaucrat or politician determine whether or not another member can enter into the race as a political party.

I am not going to repeat all of the stuff that has been said here already about how this problem could have been avoided. Certainly it could have been avoided if the members opposite had not been so bullheaded in their ideas and had listened to some rational counter arguments.

The flaw is that if we do not pass this bill, the Canada Elections Act will fall apart at the next election, whenever that will be. I sincerely hope that it will be in the fall because this needs to be fixed before we go to the next election. To fix it the way the Liberals are proposing is no fix at all. All it will do is put into cement a problem which will perpetually dog us.

The idea that one person constitutes a party is offensive, indeed. That one person could run as an independent in any riding of the country. There is no residential requirement in the Canada Elections Act. He or she could choose to run in any riding in the country and put forward ideas as an independent. There is no discrimination against a person because that individual is not permitted to run as a party. That person could still run. Having only one person opens up a very serious problem in the next election. I can see it happening in many constituencies, having one member in a party.

For example, I know of a lady who is an avid pro animal protectionist. If she catches a mouse, it has to be caught live and released even though it may find its way back to the building before she gets back. She is going to start a party called the PM party. It does not stand for prime minister or member of parliament; it stands for protection of mice. She is going to start that party and she is legally entitled to do so. There are a lot of people who will support her. She will easily get 250 members.

We are going to have in our all candidate debates every one of the individual one issue candidates, maybe 18 or 20 of them. All of them will be entitled to the benefits of the legislation under Bill C-24.

Mr. Speaker is giving me a signal and I acknowledge that it is 1:30 on Friday afternoon. I would ask that I be granted the rest of my time when this issue is debated again.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Certainly the member for Elk Island will have approximately seven minutes remaining in his intervention the next time this bill is before the House.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

March 26th, 2004 / 1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees.

Mr. Speaker, in the interest of time today I will be keeping my remarks very brief. Members of the chamber are very familiar with Bill C-212. The bill was passed unanimously at all stages and was sent to the other place. I thank members for that. It is now back in the House of Commons to consider amendments made in the other place.

The bill can pass into law today with members' support. I am going to comment briefly on three topics. I will give a brief background and reason for the bill. I am going to provide an overview of the amendments made in the other place. I am going to describe briefly the process to move this bill forward.

The intent of Bill C-212 is to bring greater transparency, accountability and parliamentary oversight to federal government departments and agencies when they attempt to recover costs through user fees. User fees take many different forms and are meant to defray some or all of the costs of services provided by government, presumably in the public interest, but which also provide a specific service to the client, for example, licence fees, registrations, et cetera.

As I said previously, I support the government objective of recovering the costs it incurs by charging fees for users of property and specialized services.

The bill that I introduced deals with the following issues:

First is the need to link the amount charged for user fees with the ability of a department or agency to meet agreed to performance standards.

Second is the need for greater stakeholder participation in the fee setting process.

Third is the requirement for more comprehensive stakeholder impact and competitiveness analysis when new user fees or fee increases are contemplated.

Fourth is the goal of increased transparency with respect to why fees are applicable, what fees are charged, what costs are identified as recoverable, what private benefits are being conferred and whether performance standards are being met. Also, there is the need for user fees to be internationally competitive and the need for more parliamentary oversight when user fees are introduced or changed.

There also needs to be a dispute settlement mechanism to resolve complaints or grievances from user fee payers, and an annual report that lists all of the user fees that are in effect.

I will now provide the House with an overview of the amendments made in the other place. These are amendments that I support and amendments that the President of the Treasury Board also supports. These amendments improve on the language in the bill and provide greater clarity on the intent and operation of the bill.

I should point out that these amendments do not alter the principles or main thrust and theme of the bill that was passed in the House a short time ago.

The first amendment includes a role for the Senate, one that will mirror the process for user fees that is enunciated in Bill C-212 for the House of Commons. I believe that this will enhance the parliamentary oversight over user fees.

The second amendment makes it clear that Bill C-212 does not apply to fees charged by one regulating authority to another.

The aim of the third amendment is to strengthen wording used in the original bill. It describes more fully how the independent dispute resolution process works through an independent advisory panel. Also, comparisons of fees with major trading partners will be limited to those of relevant trading partners.

Amendment four can be characterized as consequential. Because of an earlier change to the definition of user fees, this amendment is required to maintain consistency.

The purpose of amendment five is to clarify the period designated to compare the performance of a regulatory authority and the period for which the user fees would be reduced in relation to performance that does not meet the standard, as defined in the bill.

Amendment six deals with the following. The original language in the bill provided for a delay of 40 sitting days before a proposal is deemed to be approved if the committee fails to report its recommendation to the House of Commons. This delay could translate into as much as 80 calendar days.

This amendment takes into account workload and practices in this House. Twenty sitting days should provide enough time for the committee to provide the House with a report when it deems it necessary or desirable to do so. This amendment changes the review period to 20 sitting days.

Amendment seven is a consequential amendment relating to previous changes. Clause seven is no longer necessary as it is made redundant by previous amendments.

The aim of amendment eight is to allow the President of the Treasury Board to conduct a review of this legislation in three years' time. This is most appropriate, in my view.

Amendment nine is a consequential amendment.

Amendment 10 is another consequential amendment as clause 10 is no longer required.

As I said earlier, I support all these amendments.

I thank the members of the national finance committee and all the members in the other place for their important contribution to this bill.

Many other thanks are in order. I would like to thank all those who have participated to date in the debate on Bill C-212. The debate on this topic has been very constructive and productive.

I would also like to thank the members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance for the work they did on this bill, and all the witnesses who appeared to speak to this legislation in the House of Commons and in the Senate.

I would like to thank all the members of this chamber for their support of this bill.

I would like to thank the President of the Treasury Board, the hon. member for Winnipeg South, for all his advice and support and for encouraging and supporting the initiative of a private member. It has been like a breath of fresh air. Also, I would like to thank the minister's staff.

Furthermore, I also want to thank the clerk of the Standing Committee on Finance and the research staff of the committee. I want to thank my staff, as well.

Thanks also to the Business Coalition on Cost Recovery for its advice and support over the years.

Colleagues in the House of Commons, we have a historic opportunity today to pass this user fee legislation into law, bringing many years of hard work to a successful conclusion.

Some members in the House today may wish to speak to Bill C-212 again, or for the first time. This is quite understandable and cannot be denied. If the debate on this bill would collapse today, we could have user fee legislation passed into law today, or next week if the vote is deferred.

Time is not on our side. Should Parliament be dissolved to make way for a general election, Bill C-212 would disappear into legislative history, an unfinished bill and perhaps a worthy effort. I am sure that you will agree with me that this is not good enough for us in this chamber, nor is it good enough for all Canadians.

Should the debate not be terminated today, Bill C-212 would fall to the bottom of the Order Paper and would come forward, hopefully before Parliament dissolved, for a final hour and vote. There may not be sufficient time to accomplish this.

I urge members to end the debate today and to vote the bill into law. Members will be able to claim this victory. The alternative is to deal with user fees through government policies that have not worked in the past.

I urge members to embrace the legislative approach proposed by Bill C-212. The choice is a clear one. Vote for Bill C-212 and support accountability, transparency and the legitimate roles of members of Parliament.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is the possibility of five minutes of questions to the mover of the motion.

There being no questions, resuming debate, the hon. member for Peace River.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I understand the member's sense of urgency in wanting to get this passed today. We support this bill; however, I want to remind him that his government has approximately a year and a half left in its mandate. I do not see why an early election needs to be called. We need to be on record speaking to bills like this.

I am pleased today to support the bill. I have spoken to it many times in the past and have seen it evolve. I want to congratulate the member on his tenacity in championing this issue for several years.

Bill C-212 has changed quite a bit after going through the House of Commons and the Senate. Despite all of the amendments and the compromises, I believe the bill continues to embody the first steps to a fair and more responsive user pay system that better reflects Canadian democratic values. I truly hope that Bill C-212 would soon be put to a final vote, and that royal assent and proclamation would not be far behind.

User fees can be a responsible method of cost recovery for government services directed at specific clients and client groups; however, demands for fees can be and are sometimes abusive when there are weak controls. That is what this bill sets to correct.

In a democratic society, it is understood that fees charged by governments should reflect the actual cost of providing a service, which I am sorry to say has not always been the case. In addition, user fees should be set in coordination, conjunction and cooperation with all of the different groups that are subject to them, which seems to be a matter of common sense.

To say that Canadians deserve an accountable and transparent government must be more than just the chiming of the latest buzz words. It goes right to the heart of what we expect from a modern democracy. Empty rhetoric or window dressing will no longer do. Action and conviction are necessary and we must do the right thing in these kinds of cases.

Conservatives appreciate and hold in the highest regard the obligation of the state due to its vast power and authority over citizens to play fair. It is for that reason that the member for Medicine Hat introduced a similar private member's bill designed to reign in the power of the bureaucracy to charge for services in 1997, which was called Bill C-202 at the time. We are happy that the member for Etobicoke North has taken up this challenge to bring more accountability and transparency to the price charged for certain government services.

Expanded cost recovery had become a clear necessity during the early 1990s. We understand that; however, while the deficit is long gone, the user pay system still brings in over $4 billion to the federal coffers every year. Over 50 federal departments and agencies are currently levying over 500 different fees.

As responsible elected members, we must have a way to govern this mushrooming use of user fees, and respond to the serious concerns that a user pay system can and sometimes does take advantage of the users.

We agree with the member that safeguards and guarantees are needed. For example, greater parliamentary oversight should be required when user fees are introduced or changed. Increased stakeholder participation, including stakeholder impact and competitive analysis before fees, should be put in place.

Other long overdue changes would be: guaranteed performance standards for user pay services, annual reporting requirements for the government-wide user pay regime, and an independent dispute settlement process to deal with the complaints.

As I mentioned before, Bill C-212 has changed considerably from the version tabled by the member several years ago. In particular, the exclusion of crown corporations from these improvements is regrettable, which was the amended version coming back from the Senate, especially considering recent revelations that unscrupulous types can and have used the crown corporations to advance partisan political agendas and personal economic fortunes. The fact that crown corporations are no longer included makes that a bit of a problem.

Nevertheless, I believe this bill is a step in the right direction toward the struggle for increased government accountability and transparency. We may have to wait for a Conservative government to finish the job, which may not be that far away, but in the meantime we are happy to support Bill C-212.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will explain very briefly why we support Bill C-212, as the two colleagues who preceded me pointed out, and I will also indicate why we have a minor reservation.

We supported Bill C-212 when it was debated in the House of Commons. At the time, it was my colleague, the hon. member for Joliette, who was our spokesperson. We still support this legislation on the fees that may be imposed by regulating authorities on the various users of their services.

We have no problems with this aspect. Indeed, we think that Bill C-212 does meet the concerns and the needs of service users.

However, some amendments were made by the Senate. We deplore the fact that, because of these amendments, the power to review user fees could escape the House of Commons. Our researchers had to work really hard to find a little word. As we know, a little word can often make a world of difference in a bill.

Before, the bill provided that the power to review user fees was delegated to the House of Commons “and” to the Senate. Now, the wording provides that this review can be done by the House “or” by the Senate. This means that the House of Commons could lose its right to review user fees, simply because of the word “or”. This is a minor point about which the Bloc Quebecois is a little sensitive.

So, the minister responsible will have the choice between mandating either the Senate or the House of Commons to establish or increase user fees. We prefer the initial version of the bill, which gave the House the authority to deal with user fees.

The hon. member who presented this bill should take note of this warning to the effect that the initial bill clearly stated that the minister responsible would ask the House to review or increase user fees. Now, following the amendments made in the Senate, the House could lose, to the Senate, its right to review such fees.

This is the only thing with which the Bloc Quebecois does not agree, but it is not serious enough for us withdraw our initial support for Bill C-212.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-212, an act respecting user fees.

Although the bill is intended to ease the regulatory burden on businesses, the NDP would like to remind members of the House that user fees affect individuals. It is individual families who are struggling with the burden of user fees on a daily basis.

Like many other Canadians, I have noted the scourge of user fees creeping across all of the services that my family and I use. As governments cut taxes, user fees have become the de facto method of maintaining services.

User fees are a fact of life in the federal government, at both federal and provincial parks, for example. We find user fees for accessing any documents from the federal government. There are not many places we can turn where services that were once provided as a free function of government are now attached to a user fee.

Over the last 20 years the Conservatives under Mulroney and now the Liberals under the Prime Minister have moved more and more services to the private sector. User fees are a consequence of that. I would like to quote briefly from the Canadian Union of Public Employees which is a body that has watched user fees rise alarmingly.

User fees--individuals and families paying for access to a service that once was freely available--are a common feature of many privatization schemes. The government retreat from funding and delivery of public services has created a new regime, where services once universally funded by taxes and other public revenues are no longer low-cost or free. While many privatized services still receive public funds, private management often levies new fees to supplement that revenue and maximize returns.

The publicly funded service that most Canadians depend on is health care. User fees are often raised as a way of reforming our health care system. As Roy Romanow said in his final report, and I think it is important that we reference Mr. Romanow's report:

There is overwhelming evidence that direct charges such as user fees put the heaviest burden on the poor and impede their access to necessary health care. This is the case even when low income exemptions are in place. The result may be higher costs in the long run because people delay treatment until their condition gets worse. In addition, user fees and co-payments also involve significant administrative costs that directly reduce the modest amount of revenue generated from the fees.

One of the key features of the Canada Health Act was its effective ban on user fees for hospital and physician services. Given what we know about the impact of even relatively low user fees, the Commission feels that this was the right decision then and remains the right decision today.

User fees build and build, and they make it harder and harder for people with low incomes to maintain their health. It is not just the regular health care system, it affects all aspects of health: public health and the dental services that we all need. I am happy that we are seeing some consensus in the House on the bill.

In summary, I would repeat that user fees discriminate against our poorer citizens the most. We need to reconsider the whole concept of charging people an extra fee for services.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried on division.

(Motion agreed to, amendments read the second time and concurred in)

User Fees ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 1:50 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 1:50 p.m.)