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House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was changes.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, a quick question is this one. Does the member think the Prime Minister's penchant for controlling his ministers and his government through the Prime Minister's Office is an entirely undemocratic and completely ineffective way to run the Government of Canada and this country, and that what he ought to be doing is living up to democratic principles and giving his ministers the ability to do their jobs?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Western Arctic will give a 30-second answer.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I would say the fault lies with the whole Conservative caucus in not standing up for their democratic rights in forming government. They are allowing this situation to continue, whether or not it is through their leadership. We have a mass of MPs here who could be speaking out on it and they do not, so it is their problem, not just the Prime Minister's problem.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings is rising.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I very seldom get up just to offer a comment until I hear something that really does go against the grain of some personal values, principles and beliefs.

I heard the member for Western Arctic state that we are told as individual members and members of a caucus that we have to do exactly what we are told. I am on record here in this House right now as stating that I have never been told what to do or how to do it, by anyone, in the House, in this caucus or in this party.

I do believe that should be on the record to set it straight. To suggest anything else is just simply propaganda that those members wish to formulate for their own particular purpose.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings was not speaking on questions and comments but on resuming debate and now he is subject to questions and comments.

Is the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre rising on questions and comments?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

No, Mr. Speaker.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the hon. member for Western Arctic rising on questions and comments?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, this seems to be a rather odd way of conducting business here, but I really do want to respond.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

You have the floor.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

I want to ask the member a question on his speech. Rather than dealing with budget issues, most of his speech was a sort of attack on what he perceived I said. You can check the record, Mr. Speaker. I think Hansard will show that the question was asked of me about the nature of the Conservative government's control from the top down. I said that if that is the problem, then the solution should lie with all of the Conservative caucus. To me, that is part of the democratic process.

The conduct of a particular political party is not simply on the basis of the leadership. It is on the basis of every individual member within it. If the hon. member speaks up on these issues, then that is commendable. Perhaps the hon. member wants to speak up now on what he thinks about the nature of democracy in Parliament.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am actually very proud and pleased and, quite honestly, humbled to be a member of Parliament. I have talked to many people, and I have not only an obligation but a responsibility. I can recall a mentor that I talked to many years ago. He told me that he personally viewed a member of Parliament as having a position of privilege. Although some people might consider that privilege in the persona of perks, he said that was not actually so, that the privilege is in privilege and genuine area of responsibility. As such, I take my responsibilities very seriously, as do most colleagues in the House, I know, when they are not caught up in partisan games. I commend those from all parties who do that.

When I listen to bafflegab in the House that deviates from the normal level of commitment to one's party, one's country, and one's self, and when statements are made for partisan purposes, I find it rather disturbing, but of course that is a reality some people seem to accept as the norm these days. I do not. I leave my statement at that.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government member, who has just spoken, a question about Bill C-50. Within Bill C-50 there are very comprehensive and dramatic changes to Canada's immigration laws.

In my community, which is a community of many different cultures now, people are coming from all over the world to live in the lower mainland of British Columbia. We presented the changes that are proposed by his government and they shared with us their concerns from a variety of communities, from the Chinese Canadian community, the Korean Canadian community, the Somalian community, all of whom have sizeable communities in New Westminster—Coquitlam.

They are very concerned about these changes. However, without getting into the detail of the changes that the government is proposing within the budget implementation bill, I want to ask the member this. He made some comments about performing in the House of Commons, doing things in the traditional way. It is not tradition to put massive immigration changes into a budget implementation bill.

Why would you be doing that and not allowing the immigration committee to have an opportunity to study and make recommendations for changes--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for New Westminster--Coquitlam meant to say why would “he” be doing that, not why would “you” want to be doing that.

In any event the hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings has 20 seconds to respond.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, some people talk about issues, other people get the job done. Under the previous government, we started off with 30,000 or so people on the waiting list, then it jumped to 900,000. That is not acceptable. People have been waiting five and six--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will take what few minutes are left. I understand I will probably be the last speaker of the day on this particular subject, so I think I should preface my remarks by speaking to Canadians who may be tuned in and watching, and try to explain why it is that the House of Commons today is seized with the issue of debating the budget implementation bill.

Yet, virtually all of the speakers have been rising to speak about immigration and how Canada's immigration act is being altered by this bill. It does warrant some explanation. I have to apologize to Canadians because I, for the life of me, cannot give a plausible explanation as to why the government would have slipped in a bunch of serious amendments to the immigration act into the budget implementation bill.

It is beyond me. It is beyond most people. It is underhanded. It is a back-door approach. It undermines democracy, in a sense, because the people who have been assigned to reviewing Canada's immigration laws from all parties at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration are being denied the opportunity to have their fair say. In fact, the House of Commons is being denied the ability to have a fulsome debate on the subject of immigration reform.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

And so are the Canadian people.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

As my colleagues says, and the Canadian people are missing any opportunity for input. If that Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration were dealing with these issues, we might be touring the country, going from coast to coast, to get input from Canadians as to whether they would approve of this massive fundamental overhaul, this huge policy shift in how we welcome newcomers to this country.

The only thing that I can think of is, and I have talked with my colleagues, it reminds us of the further indication of the Americanization of Canadian politics. This is very much an American phenomena that we see in the American Congress. Its budget bills, its appropriation bills, are often stuffed full of a hundred other little bits and pieces that an individual senator or congressman might want in, in exchange for passing that piece of legislation. It looks like the Manhattan phone book by the time its budget bills get passed.

This is sort of what the Conservatives have done here. They have taken a budget implementation bill that has to be passed by the time we recess Parliament. It would give the spending authority for the government to go through with its fiscal plan. It is completely inappropriate and unfair to slip this heavy piece of immigration legislation into the budget implementation bill.

Let me tell members what we should be debating right now, just as an aside. I was hoping that in this federal budget this Conservative government would undertake some of the things it promised to do, such as plug some of the outrageous tax haven loopholes that still exist today.

I remember when the Conservatives were in opposition. I used to sit with them on this side of the House, berating the Liberal finance minister, saying, “Why do you allow people like the former prime minister to put all of their holdings offshore as tax fugitives to avoid paying their fair share of taxes?”, and the Conservatives used to agree with us. That used to meet the old nod test.

Now that the Conservatives have had three budgets and one fiscal economic update, which we could call a third mini budget, they have not chosen to plug those loopholes. One of their own right-wing columnists, actually, Diane Francis, who calls herself a practising Conservative, has written five articles in a row in the last month in the Financial Post, slamming corporate Canada for shielding its money offshore.

She calls it economic treason, I believe that is the term she used, when Canadians willingly avoid paying taxes in the country that allowed them to profit and become healthy, wealthy and wise. Yet, this government repeatedly refuses to address that fiscal concern that could have been an element of this budget that we could be debating here today.

Another thing she pointed out is there is a tax haven option for family trust funds where Canadians can expatriate all of their family trust holdings and allow their kids to live as trust fund kids in Canada, never paying a penny of income tax. Because once they expatriate that money, it is tax free; they pay a one-time 25% exit tax. They set it up in a tax fugitive country where we have a tax treaty and their kids and their kids's kids, generations of Canadians, can be living off of that trust fund never paying any taxes in this country.

She says it is quite frequent and that is appalling. Why we willingly forgo that amount of tax revenue should be debated in the House of Commons. Canadians, I find, do not mind paying their fair share of taxes as long as everyone is paying their fair share of taxes.

Those things should be debated today. Instead, we are put in the awkward position of having to debate immigration policy during a budget implementation bill.

On that line, I come from the building trades. I used to be the head of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America and we used to deal with this issue of temporary foreign workers all the time. I can tell members that this is an issue of our immigration laws that we have to have a look at because there is a tendency to rely more and more on temporary foreign workers.

Let me just say right from the start that it is not a human resources labour market strategy to bring in foreign workers to fill job vacancies. That is not a strategy at all. There is no future in that and it undermines local wage scales. It causes social unrest and social problems in the community where these influxes of foreign workers come in. Often the foreign workers do not receive the same benefits and rights that local workers do.

Let me give one example in the province of British Columbia that was a disastrous thing because the applicants for foreign workers are often disingenuous in their applications.

The Gold River pulp mill in Tahsis shut down. The whole town was out of work. Eighty millwrights were required to tear the old plant down to sell it to China, where it was going to be rebuilt. There were 80 unemployed millwrights in town who built that mill. The millwrights in Gold River knew every nut and bolt in that pulp mill because they were the ones who put it together, but when the company official that bought the mill wanted foreign workers to come in, he filled out all the necessary forms and where it said, “Did you try to find Canadian workers to do this job?”, he ticked off, “Yes”. On the question, “What was the reason you did not use Canadian workers?”, he put down, and we have a copy of this, “The cost was too high”.

This foreign owner who scooped up the pulp and paper mill to move it offshore would not hire Canadian workers to even dismantle the plant because the cost was too high, so he brought in a bunch of South Asian workers from India, sleeping 12 to a hotel room, to tear down the plant, while the unemployed men and women in Tahsis, B.C. were on the other side of the gate looking in while somebody else was eating their lunch. That is a recent example of the temporary foreign worker phenomenon that is sweeping the country. The company got away with doing that.

In another example on the other coast, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald was building a new printing press, a very high tech precision operation. It is a machine that is twice as long as this room and it has to be levelled off to one-one-thousandths of an inch, to the micron, so the paper rollers are running accurately. The Swiss company that manufactures the mill said it could not find any qualified Canadian workers to do it, so the Government of Canada let it bring in its own workers to install it.

We are talking a couple of years worth of highly skilled work for Canadian workers. Guess what? There were 800 unemployed Canadian millwrights in the Atlantic region alone. I know because they were members of my union on the job board, on the dispatch board, from St. John's, Newfoundland and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick. They were all sitting there unemployed while somebody else was allowed in to eat their lunch because the Government of Canada accepted the word of these applicants that would say they could not find any skilled Canadians, that it was far too complex for the Canadian workers.

One guy actually pulled a hair out of his head when he was arguing this to the government, saying, “We have to set these machines thinner than the thickness of this hair”. What does he think Canadian workers do every day of the week? What does he think skilled millwrights do in this country? If they have any hair on their head, they are measuring the tolerances of paper mills right across the country, because we build printing presses in every city in Canada, and we could have built the one in Halifax, Nova Scotia too if the Government of Canada would have just said no and let Canadian workers have those jobs. What is this zeal we have for giving away Canadian jobs?

I will say one last thing on the subject. If there are labour market shortages in the skilled trades, some of the aboriginal communities have chronic unemployment situations. We have--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great attention to my colleague from Winnipeg during his presentation. I know he talked about the whole issue of the changes in the budget implementation act as it relates to immigration.

I have a paper put out by the Canadian Bar Association that asks very pertinent questions. On behalf of the Bar and other Canadians, I want to ask the member a question. The Canadian Bar Association calls these changes to the immigration policy a major step backward in the evolution of Canadian immigration law. Does the member from Winnipeg agree with that statement?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, yes, the Canadian Bar Association did not pull any punches whatsoever in expressing its displeasure and dissatisfaction with the government's initiatives regarding immigration today.

I should point out that I have a letter from the YWCA. Civil society, generally, is taken aback that the government would try to implement these changes without the usual prerequisite consultation. For a social policy change of this significance, it is unprecedented that the government would try to slam it through and give further discretionary powers to the minister and not go through the ordinary channels of consultation.

We also have a letter here from one of the largest--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member but 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.

When we return to the study of Bill C-50 there will be three minutes left under questions and comments for the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Before we go to orders of the day, I would like to inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 97.1(2) I am designating Tuesday, June 17, as the day fixed for the consideration of the motion to concur in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Finance.

The report contains a recommendation to not proceed further with Bill C-305, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (exemption from taxation of 50% of United States social security payments to Canadian residents).

One hour debate on the motion will be held immediately after the usual private members' business hour scheduled for that day, after which the House will proceed to the adjournment proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38.

Financial Administration ActPrivate Members' Business

May 30th, 2008 / 1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

moved that Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act (quarterly financial reports), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in the House again this afternoon to speak. This time it is with regard to Bill S-201.

Mr. Speaker, before I get started, I want to commend you and the other chair officers who have been working late hours the last couple of nights and yet you are still here on Friday afternoon. I would like to commend you for your diligence in this respect.

Today I am here to talk about Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act (quarterly financial reports).

I will begin by commending Senator Hugh Segal who brought this forward and has been working diligently with respect to the matters that are addressed in this bill and issues of accountability and transparency that the senators and I share.

I know this bill had a previous incarnation in the Senate before prorogation last fall but, unfortunately, it did not get out of committee before prorogation and therefore had to go through the whole process again.

I know that the careful consideration that was given by the hon. senators in the other place, especially within the national finance committee, is greatly appreciated by all members of the House. My private member's bill, Bill C-428, is in the other place and is going through the same consideration, the same thoughtful process that I know this private member's bill has gone through. I would like to commend the senators who worked diligently not only on this bill but also on my bill and many of my colleagues' bills as well.

The bill that we are here to discuss is Bill S-201, which seeks to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act. The requirements that would change are as follows. This would require that all departments, agencies and parent crown corporations would table financial statements on a quarterly basis. The bill would create a more transparent financial management system in government and would allow parliamentarians and all Canadians to see the way the government is spending money and ensuring that it is delivering programs effectively.

I wholeheartedly agree with the objectives of this bill. It would ensure greater accountability and transparency of government. The good, hard-working Canadians who pay their taxes on a regular basis and the people from my constituency really deserve no less.

The objectives are really in keeping with our government's commitment to Canadians to increase accountability of government. Accountability is the foundation of Canada's system of responsible government. It is key to assuring Canadians and Parliament that public resources are effectively and efficiently used.

I am especially proud of the Federal Accountability Act that this government brought forward as its first piece of legislation because it provides Canadians with the assurance that the powers entrusted to government are being exercised in the public interest.

However, accountability does not stop there. It has to be throughout government. An accountable government ensures that Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars are not wasted and ensures they are invested in responsible and effective programs that meet Canadians' needs. In fact, the sound stewardship of Canadian tax dollars ensures they receive value for money, and that is a top priority for myself and our government.

There have been some important improvements brought forward by our government in working to ensure that Parliament has the information it needs to hold any government of any day to account. For example, we have made several improvements to the estimates documents to provide more meaningful information to parliamentarians and make these documents more user friendly.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has worked with departments and agencies to improve the quality of information presented for their individual requirements. This has resulted in better information describing the nature of transactions, including the offset of new spending requirements through the use of existing spending authorities.

In the past year we have made other changes, including provisions of clearer summary tables, a presentation of gross financial requirements for each organization and an explanation of the funds available to offset new spending requirements. These improvements allow hon. members in the House to get a better understanding of the government's spending plans and to ensure that they can hold the government to account.

We are also strengthening the oversight role in the use of public funds. The creation of a parliamentary budget officer is a long realized dream of my predecessor, the member from Peace River, whom I replaced, Charlie Penson.

After a decade of advocating for this officer of Parliament who would provide objective analysis to the nation's finances, Mr. Kevin Page was appointed by the Conservative government as our first Parliamentary Budget Officer, and that happened in March of this year. This is another move to realize a decade long dream of advancing transparency and accountability within government that my predecessor had and for which I know many members of the House have been advocating for nearly a decade.

This new officer of Parliament position was announced in the Federal Accountability Act and is now included within the Parliament of Canada Act. The person has three main responsibilities: first, to provide objective analysis to the House of Commons and to the Senate concerning the state of the nation's finances and trend within the general economy; second, he has the responsibility to undertake economic and fiscal research for House of Commons standing committees; and third, he estimates the financial cost of proposals currently or prospectively under consideration in either the House when requested to do so by a member or a committee of the Senate or the House of Commons, or a committee of both Houses.

In talking with the new Parliamentary Budget Officer, I had an opportunity to discuss the bill that is currently before us today, Bill S-201. I can say that our new officer of Parliament is very supportive of this new bill. It would actually improve his capability of helping out members of Parliament and senators.

In addition to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the government has recently implemented a new expenditure management system as well. This system will rigorously and systematically assess all direct program spending and operating costs of major programs. Further, all government organizations are required to conduct their program strategic reviews to assess how and whether they are first, efficient and effective; second, able to meet the priorities of Canadians; and third, are aligned with federal responsibilities.

The first round of strategic reviews was completed in the fiscal 2007-08 year with departments identifying expenditures totalling some $386 million a year of program that are low performing or programs that are no longer needed.

In the fiscal year 2008-09, 16 departments and agencies are reviewing their program spending. This covers a total spending of $20 billion. These reviews will help us reduce spending in inefficient or ineffective programs and stop those that just do not work. These will help to ensure that every tax dollar that we collect, as government, is spent to deliver the necessary programs to Canadians. They will help us to control the overall growth of government spending.

This is simply good management. It is the same thing Canadian families to ensure they are spending efficiently. When they shift their priorities, they need to ensure they are living within their means. Governments should act no differently. That is good management, good government and it is good leadership for Canadians.

The first fruits borne by this more disciplined approach were announced recently in the savings of $386 million, money that will be redirected to new initiatives within departments or within the government at large.

Taken together with the key elements of this new expenditure management system, it will ensure that taxpayer dollars are well managed, that they are spent in responsible ways and that the management of doing this will ensure that the business of government is responding to the needs of Canadians.

I will now turn directly to the bill we are talking about this afternoon. The bill also supports accountability and the sound stewardship of all tax dollars. I will explain how.

By increasing the quality and frequency of financial reporting to Parliament and Canadians, the bill will ensure that they are informed of recent developments in government operations. As such, it will facilitate oversight by parliamentarians of government spending on a timely basis.

It is imperative that we have the correct information in a timely manner in order to combat waste of money. Every dollar the taxpayers pay must be treated with respect and must be closely monitored.

Let me step back for a second and outline how the current reporting system works. The government prepares a federal budget and summary financial statements on an annual basis. The Department of Finance also publishes a monthly fiscal monitor that reports on the government's overall fiscal results. While this report does contain some departmental information, it does so in such an aggregated way that it really only reflects government's performance overall.

This bill will require that all federal departments, government agencies and crown corporations would have to, in addition, submit quarterly financial reports to Parliament. This would be a substantial increase in the timeliness and quality of information reported to Parliament.

It is important to note that the Senate has already made some important improvements to the bill. For example, it was amended to require that financial statements are made public 60 days after the quarter end. This will provide for a more regular reporting timetable while lessening the burden on organizations. It will also avoid the need to defer the release of quarterly financial statements during recess or prorogation.

These are amendments that I thank the hon. senators for making, because they provide additional transparency for parliamentarians and Canadians.

I would also like to take this opportunity to explain that the government has been working diligently to strengthen financial management across the federal government. A sound system of financial controls improves this organization's ability to manage risk.

In this area, we have taken a number of steps to strengthen both our policy and our practice. For example, by March 2009, we should have in place a renewed financial management framework and policies that clarify the responsibilities and accountabilities of deputy ministers and senior officials within government.

In addition, our audit policy is strengthening public sector accountability, risk management, resource stewardship and good governance by reorganizing and bolstering internal audit functions on a government-wide basis.

This involvement ensures the independence of internal audit from line management by introducing two points. The first is departmental audit committees, which will include a majority of competent and experienced members drawn from outside the federal public service. The second is the organizational independence of chief audit executives, who will lead audit functions and must now report directly to the deputy head.

In conclusion, I want to ensure that there will be no doubt that the government is committed to improving accountability and increasing transparency. We have proven that not only in word but also in action. I will stand with hard-working taxpaying Canadians and support legislation like this bill, which will ensure greater transparency for government expenditures.

We support quarterly financial reporting requirements by all federal departments, agencies and parent crown corporations. The measures that I have talked about today will provide Canadians with the open and honest government they deserve, one that acts transparently, ensures value for money and demonstrates accountability.