Mr. Speaker, I am pleased also to have this opportunity to speak to the Liberal motion.
I must admit that they were particularly inspired in drafting this motion, since they have in large part copied mine. For a number of weeks we have been raising the idea in this House that the government ought to be more accountable to this House, hence our idea that accountability be required of the government.
The Liberal motion lacks a number of things, however. One point it fails to mention is that this is a secret fund, i.e. one that the government can dip into without parliamentary overview.
When looking at these issues it is sometimes important to understand the history of the parliamentary rules involved. This one is actually rather old. It goes back to Runnymede in 1215. In fact, the Magna Carta only mentions older forms of taxation such as scutages and aids. By the end of the 1200s, 1297 to be exact, Confirmatio Cartarum made it illegal to approve this type of spending except with the authorization of what was then the Commons.
It is the same thing here. This is one of the oldest rules in the British parliamentary system, that the executive is responsible for preparing a budget. Nobody questions that. What is at issue here is whether the House of Commons is going to be able to control that spending.
The Liberals are in a bit of a bind on this one because they have given the government a blank cheque. They love snapping their suspenders and claiming that they have put the government on probation. Of course, in fact they have given the government their approbation. They have approved everything every step of the way.
The reason they have done that, of course, is that they are afraid to stand up and say something in the House that would displease the government.
I caught one of the questions asked of the Liberal presenter earlier, and I found it quite interesting. One of the Conservatives asked how he was going to vote this afternoon. He stood up, blustered and said, “Of course I am going to vote for it. It is my motion”.
I think there might have been a little lesson in that from the Conservatives. It is now well over 60 times that the Liberals, first under the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and now under the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, have voted their confidence in the Conservatives. So they lack all credibility when they stand up in the House and claim that they want something done differently.
Here the Conservatives are undermining and attacking the very foundations of our parliamentary system. They are attacking the right of the House of Commons to supervise and provide oversight to government spending. They want a $3 billion blank cheque. It is not the first time in this whole budgetary process that the Conservatives have cynically taken advantage of the very real economic crisis to deliver poison pill after poison pill of their right-wing ideological agenda.
Let us look at some of the things that were in the budget that the Liberals backed and voted for.
Despite claims on the other side to be in favour of the Canadian Charter of Rights, despite the fact that Pierre Trudeau, a Liberal, brought in the Canadian Charter of Rights over a generation ago, Liberal member after Liberal member stood up and voted against a woman's right to have equal pay for work of equal value.
That is right. That is shameful, but that is what the Liberals did because they have no values. They simply do not believe anything.
We are going to get another demonstration of it today. After having voted for the budget and giving the blank cheque to the government, the Liberals are now going to stand up and claim that they want to put some sort of controls on it by asking for ex post facto rendering of account here in the House.
What else was in the budget in terms of a poison pill? The government has taken away social rights, legally negotiated bargaining rights. It has removed them with the stroke of the pen, and the Liberals have voted for it. It is removing the Navigable Waters Protection Act. These great believers in the environment, the same ones who signed Kyoto, saying they believed in the environment, what did they actually do on Kyoto? They presided over the single greatest increase in greenhouse gas production of any country in the world. That was the Liberals with 13 years in power.
It is a good thing that Eddie Goldenberg was kind enough to deliver a speech in the spring of 2007 before the London Chamber of Commerce and then put it into his book. He was former chief of staff of Jean Chrétien. He said that when the Liberals signed Kyoto, they had no plan and no intention of respecting it. He said that they signed it for the purpose of galvanizing public opinion. CQFD, it was a public relations stunt.
That is the Liberal Party of Canada. It talks a good game on rights and then puts in a leader who is already on the record as saying that the torture by a state of human beings can be justified because it is the lesser of two evils. It is the same leader who, from his august seat in a prestigious American university, encouraged George Bush in his invasion of Iraq.
That is the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada today and that is why Canadians have to know what the Liberals have done in the House in the past couple of weeks. They have abandoned any claim whatsoever to representing social or progressive ideals.
People have a right to know what the Liberal Party has become at this time. Today's events are further proof of that. Liberals are proposing, after spending $3 billion, that the Conservatives have to provide some sort of accounting to the House. What they are forgetting is they have already approved all that spending and have delegated that authority to the government.
However, the most interesting thing this afternoon is going to be whether the government makes this a confidence motion. If it does, we are going to watch the Liberals vote against themselves. It will not be the first time we have seen that. We have seen them propose something in the House, the government makes it a confidence motion and the Liberals vote against themselves. It is an absolutely pathetic spectacle, but one that we have grown used to.
Back in November, we were in full economic crisis. At the end of November, the Conservatives arrived in the House and were still predicting a budget surplus. It was total science fiction, but it was not going to stop them. They said that we were heading for a budget surplus. They brought in a fiscal and financial update. Instead of stimulating the economy like the G7 and the G20 said we had to do, they simply told a bald face lie to the Canadian people, saying we were heading for a budget surplus.
No such thing was going to happen, and that was clear from the analysis of Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer. That was clear from the analysis of every thinking private sector economist. Everybody knew that Canada was already in a deep recession.
Prior to that, Conservatives had said if we were going to be in a recession, it would have already happened. That was not true. Then when they finally had to admit we were in a recession, they invented a new category that only applied to the Conservatives, which was that Canada was only going to have a technical recession, whatever that was supposed to mean.
Then the Conservatives brought in the update. What did it have? It had an attack on women's rights. It had an attack on social collective bargaining rights. It had an attack on the clean party financing that was put in place in the wake of the biggest political financial scandal in Canadian history, the Liberal sponsorship scandal, wherein the Liberal Party and its agents stole millions of dollars from Canadian taxpayers. A clean party financing system was put in place and the Conservatives wanted to get rid of that with a stroke of the pen.
It is worth noting that two months later, on January 27 when the Conservatives brought in their budget, they were still removing a woman's right to equal pay for work of equal value. They were still removing union and social rights. The only thing they put back was clean party financing. Therefore, the Liberals stood and voted for it. That makes their priorities completely clear. The Liberals will only vote for it if they are taking care of themselves. Abandoning women's right to equal pay for work of equal value does not bother anybody in the Liberal Party of Pierre Trudeau any more. The Charter of Rights be damned. They do not care about any of that.
The Conservatives went further, though, in January. The attack on the environment was pre-announced when a document was leaked from the environment department, showing that they planned to gut environmental assessments in our country. They were going to put in a new rule that any project under $10 million would no longer require an environmental assessment.
Imagine for a second if that were brought in. A precious wetland, which a mayor of a municipality has been longing to backfill in order to put in an industrial. As long as the industrial park infrastructure is not more than $9.9 million, the mayor can fill in the precious wetland because there will not even be an environmental assessment any more.
It is not the economic value of the project; it is the environmental value of what one backfills and destroys. However, that does not matter to the Conservatives, either. They are removing the protection of the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
It was an interesting experience for me, having spent 15 years in Quebec City as an elected official and minister and 15 years prior to that as a director and president of a large regulatory agency. I did not know the lay of the land as well as some did in Ottawa, of the behaviour of the Liberal Party of Canada. Honestly, it is breathtaking and it is something to behold. We watched them day after day come in and complain about something.
I heard the hon. member for Beaches—East York stand up and in a very moving speech in the House say how terrible it was that the Conservatives were taking away a woman's rights to equal pay for work of equal value. I met her in the hallway after that. I asked if she would do the same thing as the Newfoundland and Labrador members of Parliament on the Conservative side had done, which was to stand and vote against their party and the budget. She turned beet red and said that she would do whatever she could. I saw her stand and vote for the budget to remove a woman's right to equal pay for work of equal value. The Liberal member voted with the Conservatives.
That is what happened in the House in the past couple of weeks. The masks have fallen. Any pretence on the part of the Liberal Party of Canada to claim that it represents progressive ideas, that it represents a forward-looking Canada, something we have always been proud of, is now gone.
The only national party standing for those values and rights is the New Democratic Party of Canada. I am extremely proud to be part of the NDP, especially at this time.
There are a very small number of things that could have been done very quickly and without difficulty to help people in these grave economic times. Hundreds of thousands of people have been turned out of work. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to remove the two-week waiting period for employment insurance.
What happens when people lose their jobs and they have no money? Most people are a week away from not having money in their bank account. They use their credit cards. What are the banks charging on those credit cards? Maybe 18%, 20%, or 22%. That is the reality. People put the first couple of weeks on credit cards. They have even more trouble getting out of debt and are getting very low employment insurance premiums that are being offered so far.
Across Canada there is a patchwork quilt of qualifications rules for employment insurance, which could easily be standardized. We could put more money into retraining and it would have been very easy to do that but for one thing. The Conservatives stole $54 billion from the EI account, transferred it into the general revenue fund, supposedly to reduce the debt.
That money had been paid as premiums, the way we pay premiums on life, car, or home insurance. It was for a specific purpose, for the people and workers who were earning those dollars. Their employers also paid into that fund. That is why the move the Conservatives made at the time was so reprehensible, and, again, they were backed by the Liberal Party of Canada.
It is a bit rich to hear the Liberal members this week complaining about the employment insurance roll. They are the ones who gutted employment insurance and lowered premiums. Now they are backing the Conservatives because they are one and the same. Canadians are faced with the Conservative-Liberal alliance party. There is only one strong voice of reason and principle on these important issues right now in the House, and it is the NDP.
For the past three years, the Conservatives have hollowed out the industrial sectors of Ontario and Quebec. Prior to the current crisis that began at the end of last summer, more than 340,000 jobs had already been eliminated from the manufacturing and forestry sectors, mostly in Ontario and Quebec. In the case of forestry, B.C. was also very hard hit.
The reason for that is quite simple. The Conservative ideology is that governments do not have a role in the marketplace. There is a pristine market that comes up with the best solution in all these cases. What the Conservatives did was give away $60 billion to the most profitable corporations.
Why the most profitable? By definition, if a company in forestry or manufacturing was hard hit by the high Canadian dollar and had not made a profit last year, it did not get anything back from a tax reduction since it had not paid taxes. The $60 billion went to the oil and gas sectors and to the banks in particular. They got the lion's share of those reductions.
When the current crisis hit, the government no longer had the fiscal capacity to take care of people. The Conservative ideology is all about that. It reduces the ability of government to do its job.
It was interesting to see what happened in the cases of listeriosis and salmonella. Those are jobs that governments have been assuming in the western world for well over a century. The essence of a modern state is taking care of the public good. What could be more important than providing clean water, taking care of sewage and inspecting the food supply chain that goes out to people's homes? The Conservatives abandoned that, but the Liberals had started it before them.
Most galling is the current minister made jokes about people dying from listeriosis during the election campaign and he is still there. That is what is so shocking and appalling about the Conservative government and its callous attitude towards these issues of public interest, safety and protection.
We are going to have another case coming up very soon. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police are on the public record saying not to reduce the protection offered by the gun registry. If that happens, society will be a more dangerous place. These are not a bunch of soft thinkers in a university setting. We are talking about the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. The Conservatives will still try to gut the gun registry because it corresponds to their ideology.
I have a son who has been a police officer for 10 years. I know my colleague from B.C. has two sons who are police officers. When my son goes to a house where there has been a case of domestic violence in the Lower Laurentians, it is important, to the extent possible, that he know whether there are registered firearms in the house. It is a question of public protection. That is why this gun registry has to be there.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre. Shame on anyone in the House who can stand up and reduce the protection of the gun registry. Shame on anyone who would put the lives of police and the lives of their fellow citizens in danger. However, that is exactly what the Conservatives will try to do.
The Conservatives have tried to remove the protections of the state and the regulatory structures, whether it is in terms of food, transportation or the environment as we mentioned before. There are whole sectors of public and social protection that they want to remove. They have been in lockstep with their Liberal coalition partners, who every step of the way have voted to remove public protection and rights.
That is the scandal of a party that still bears the word liberty, liberal, in its name but does not believe a single thing. That is the Liberal Party of today, with its new right-wing leader. That is why the Liberals have no trouble offering their support to the Conservatives. They have the unmitigated conceit to claim to have put the government on probation. What a patent fraud. They have given the—