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House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was indian.

Topics

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

November 22nd, 2010 / 11 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

moved that Bill C-572, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Budget Officer), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh for seconding the bill.

In the election campaign of 2005-06, the Conservative Party put forward a number of initiatives on accountability. After that election, a legislative committee was struck and Bill C-2 was presented. It was an omnibus bill. There were many different initiatives in it. Our party supported a good lion's share of the initiatives. All parliamentarians worked very hard on that bill to ensure that the ideas put forward in the election campaign, such as the New Democratic Party's ethics package to bring transparency and accountability to Parliament, and the initiatives of the Conservative Party, would be put into place. That would have strengthened oversight in terms of the governing party.

Part of that was to ensure that we had truth in advertising. Perhaps I can quote from the Conservative Party platform of 2006:

Ensure truth in budgeting with a Parliamentary Budget Authority

In the spring of 2004, the Liberal government told Canadians that the 2003-04 surplus would only be $1.9 billion. In fact, it was $9.1 billion. In 2004-05, the Liberals spent about $9 billion at the end of the year to reduce their surplus to only $1.6 billion.

There were differences between the projected surplus and what was actually announced by the then Liberal government.

The Conservatives went on in their platform to say that they would create an independent budget office that would have independent overview of the finances of the nation. We supported that. We thought that was the way to go. We thought it was a progressive thing to do for transparency and accountability in government.

That begs the question of why this bill is needed. If this office had been created and the Parliamentary Budget Officer had been nominated and functioning, why would this bill be needed?

It took a while to get the office up and running. Many of us had concerns from the beginning as to where this office would be and the independence of the office and the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

If I were to ask Canadians from coast to coast to coast if they thought the Parliamentary Budget Officer was an independent officer of Parliament, most people would say that makes sense. The nomenclature suggests that the officer would be an officer of Parliament, but sadly, that is not the case. This bill seeks to ensure that it is the case.

The intent of the bill is to ensure that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is independent. Like other officers of Parliament, the Parliamentary Budget Officer would be given a mandate that does not just state that the position is one of an officer, but actually in function the position will be an independent officer of Parliament. This complements the initial initiative of the government to have this office.

The bill would take the Parliamentary Budget Officer out of the scope and ambit of the Library of Parliament and make it a stand-alone officer similar to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. Currently appointment is made by the Governor in Council from a list of three suggestions from the library committee. Instead, with this bill, after consultation with leaders of every recognized party in the House of Commons and approval of the appointment by resolution of Parliament, the Parliamentary Budget Officer would be named. This is exactly the same as how we appoint the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and other independent officers of Parliament.

The bill would include in law the qualifications for the Parliamentary Budget Officer, namely, experience and knowledge of the federal budget process and appropriate educational background, including a graduate degree in economics and/or financing and accounting.

Currently there is no legislated rule on tenure. We put that in the bill. The bill would set the tenure at seven years, with the possibility of reappointment and the possibility of removal by Governor in Council. It would also create possibilities in law for interim appointments. That is obvious, if there is a need for that.

The bill states that the Parliamentary Budget Officer would have to be independent of any other employment. It would give the Parliamentary Budget Officer the rank of a deputy head of a government department. Again, this is a rank similar to the Chief Librarian or to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

The bill would not make any fundamental change to the mandate, but it would qualify that the Parliamentary Budget Officer products should be independent. In other words, the Parliamentary Budget Office cannot become a reproduction service. The office has to provide independent analysis.

With regard to the release of reports, currently there is nothing guiding the process of releasing the reports. New legislation would give the Parliamentary Budget Office the mandate to release its findings and products to all parliamentarians in a way that would promote fiscal transparency.

Also, there would be no changes to rules governing access to information and confidentiality. That is important for obvious reasons.

The bill would give powers similar to other officers of Parliament when it comes to hiring staff. Again, that is absolutely critical if we are going to have an independent lens on the country's finances.

As well, the bill would require the Parliamentary Budget Officer to present an estimate of the office's annual budget to the Speaker, which would then be sent to Treasury Board for inclusion. This would replace the current structure, where the Library of Parliament decides the Parliamentary Budget Officer's budget.

I have touched on the history of the PBO. It was created in 2006 as part of the Federal Accountability Act. The Conservatives had committed to creating the position in their election platform of 2006. It was in their platform, to ensure truth in budgeting, and that is why we supported it. We believed that was necessary.

Instead of creating the independent officer, however, in Parliament we ended up with an unfortunate circumstance. Again, this is not to be hypercritical of the government but to understand that after two years of the PBO in place, there needs to be some changes in terms of the structure and the function. Instead of situating it where it is now, in the Library of Parliament, the government needs to make sure there is true independence.

It is a matter of basic accountability. When the government comes to the House asking for a change in legislation or the passage of a budget bill, MPs should be fully aware of the fiscal implications of the decisions before them. That was exactly the inspiration for this office and this officer, and that is what we need to make sure happens.

In 2008 some argued that the budget office was an extension of the library and reported to the Chief Librarian. In structure it does that. However, most people would rather see it as an independent office of Parliament that publicly posts its findings and is not subject to a gatekeeper, in this case the Library of Parliament, of which I am a frequent flyer, for the record; I support the admirable work it does.

What have the Parliamentary Budget Office and the Parliamentary Budget Officer delivered to this House? Many things.

Members will recall that twice the House of Commons was asked by the government to extend Canada's military operations in Afghanistan without being provided the estimated costs. I think that was the first project for the PBO. It was only after the PBO responded to my request and told us the estimates for the mission in Afghanistan that we were actually able to get an idea of how much it was going to cost.

I go back to the Conservatives' concern when they were in opposition regarding the mission in Afghanistan. They asked four very cogent questions that I think we all should have been asking at that time: What is the mandate of this mission? What are we going to be doing? What is the breadth and length of the mission? What is the cost?

Simply put, I was asking the PBO to give us an estimate of the cost of the war at that time.

Also, the PBO has helped us to understand the estimates. The blue book is extremely important. It tells us where the government intends to spend money. Needless to say, for new members it is a bit overwhelming when they first get the estimates. It is the kitchen table budget that we should all be looking at. It tells us exactly where, by ministry, the money is going to be spent.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer is mandated to help us with this process. However, he or she needs to be given the independence to do that appropriately so that there is no arbitrary nature in terms of how he or she does the work, such as holding back reports, perhaps, or not being given the appropriate requisite funding to do the job.

Passing the estimates is the most important thing we do in this place in terms of the functioning of government. However, and you probably noted this when you were first elected, Mr. Speaker, the speed at which the estimates pass through this place is phenomenal.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Shameful.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is shameful, as my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh said.

We need to better understand what we are passing. I will not go through the litany of budgets that have been passed in this place by the current and previous governments when people were not able to unpack what was in the budget because we did not have the requisite support.

When I talk to fellow legislators from, for instance, the United States, they have all of that information at the tips of their fingers. The Congressional Budget Office is independent and not under the auspices of any other institution. It is funded appropriately. It gives all legislators in the United States access to the budget plans and costs of programs so they can understand what they are voting on.

Frankly, that has not happened here. We could do a pop quiz and ask any member of Parliament whether he or she knew in detail the ramifications of the budget that was passed and how much was going to be costed for this or that program.

Frankly, that cannot be done with a staff of two on Parliament Hill. We need access to this. The capacity of the Library of Parliament is such that it is not able to do that, nor does it have the mandate.

It begs the question, what should we do? The answer is in this legislation. We need to support the Parliamentary Budget Officer's having full independence. It is not just me who believes this. In fact, a Conservative senator, Hugh Segal, was very strong on this and said there needs to be full independence. I have talked to other members of the Conservative, Liberal, and Bloc caucuses, and they all believe the same thing.

It is not just the folks who work in this place. I will read a comment by Scott Clark, a former deputy minister of finance, who stated:

A strengthened and more independent Parliamentary Budget Office would promote greater understanding of complex budget issues; it would force the government to defend its economic and budget forecasts; it would promote a straightforward and more understandable and open budget process; it would promote accountability by commenting on the government’s projections and analysis; finally, by being non-partisan, it would provide research to all political parties. This would be especially important with minority governments, which seem to be likely in the foreseeable future.

To sum up, accountability needs to be more than a catchphrase. It needs to be the proper structure and function. It needs to be something that is not just said but is also seen. In the case of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the officer needs independence. Parliamentarians need to be provided the opportunity for access. It needs to be reformed.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's initiative today. I will be speaking oto it later.

One of the measures brought forward in the Federal Accountability Act and supported by the member and his party was an initiative to bring transparency to over 70 federal institutions, including the CBC. The CBC is subsidized by taxpayers in this country to the amount of $1.1 billion.

This past weekend the member for Timmins—James Bay stated on the record that he was disenfranchised with the fact that the Information Commissioner was undertaking a legal initiative to try to break free information from the CBC specifically as it relates to how executives are being compensated and what they are spending federal tax dollars on.

I am wondering if the member supports full transparency for federal institutions or if he supports his colleague.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe there is a cartoon in the newspaper called Non Sequitur and we just saw an indication of it.

We are talking about the Parliamentary Budget Officer having true independence to ensure that when we are passing the estimates and the budget and holding the government to account, we have support that is independent.

I am hoping the member's question about having oversight and transparency will lead him back to this legislation, which is to have independence for the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

I would ask my friend to support this initiative so that we can get truth in advertising so that his concerns about transparency and accountability will actually be heard. I hope for his support on this bill.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on a great piece of legislation. I am very supportive of the legislation, especially of it going to committee so we can have more of a discussion on the role and responsibilities and the need to have an independent Parliamentary Budget Officer.

I wonder if my colleague would care to comment on the Truth in Sentencing Act, good legislation that shows the need and requirement for a Parliamentary Budget Officer. We were told that the Truth in Sentencing Act would only cost several hundred million dollars. I think the original estimate was for $90 million. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has pointed that it would actually be billions and billions of dollars for that legislation. Would my hon. colleague care to comment on that?

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my opening comments, there were concerns about the forecasting of budgets, but it is also for initiatives. With the initiative she is talking about, it is extremely important that we understand how much this will cost.

When the Conservative Party was in opposition, it had concerns about the numbers it was getting from government. It needs to work both ways. When in government, it needs to be able to say that when it was in opposition it wanted to see more daylight and fair play. That is exactly what we have here.

When we are talking about something as substantive as the overhaul of our criminal justice system, we need to know how much it will cost so that we understand the opportunity costs, obviously, and we understand what the real costs are.

If the parliamentary budget officer does not have independence and is not able to conduct his or her affairs without any kind of hindrance, then we will not get the straight goods and we will not be able to make informed decisions. At the end of the day this is about providing oxygen to accountability.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in response to the proposals put forth in Bill C-572, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Budget Officer).

As we know, this bill would take the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer out of the Library of Parliament and establish the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer as a separate office of Parliament with its own spending authorization.

The government supports referring this bill to committee where its implications for the structure and activities of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Library of Parliament can be given full consideration by parliamentarians.

At the same time, I would like to point out that the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer already operates independently of government and answers to Parliament as an office of the Library of Parliament. It is Parliament, not the government, that sets the funding level for the parliamentary budget office.

I would also remind the members of this House that it was this government that established the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer in the first place. It was a key element in the Federal Accountability Act, which demonstrated our commitment to accountable government. In fact, strengthening accountability and increasing transparency in our public institutions has been one of the hallmarks of this government.

On coming into office, our first order of business was to introduce and implement the Federal Accountability Act. This act provided Canadians with the assurance that the powers entrusted in the government were being exercised in the public interest. That was four years ago.

I would also remind the members of this House that it was this government that established the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer in the first place. It was a key element in the Federal Accountability Act, which demonstrated our commitment to accountable government. In fact, strengthening accountability and increasing transparency in our public institutions has been one of the hallmarks of this government. We promised during our campaign to improve government accountability. And when we took power, that is exactly what we did.

The Federal Accountability Act and the supporting action plan contain dozens of measures and hundreds of amendments to some 45 federal statutes that touch virtually every part of government and beyond.

For example, the act made it a requirement that deputy ministers appear before parliamentary committees as accounting officers. We did this for the simple reason that organizations paid for by public money should be open to public scrutiny.

Through amendments to the Lobbying Act, the Access to Information Act and other measures, the Federal Accountability Act has made the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and public service employees more accountable than ever before in our history.

However, we did not stop there. We recognized that parliamentarians and parliamentary committees needed access to independent, objective analysis and advice on economic and fiscal issues to better hold the government to account for its decisions.

That is why we established, in part 2 of the Federal Accountability Act, amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act, the position of the Parliamentary Budget Officer within the Library of Parliament. The mandate of this office is: to provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation's finances, the estimates of the government and trends in the national economy; to undertake research into the nation's finances and economy and the estimates of the government when requested to do so by certain parliamentary committees; and, when requested to do so by a member or committee, to estimate the financial cost of any proposal that relates to a matter over which parliament has jurisdiction.

Essentially, the job of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to give parliamentarians the information and independent analysis they can use to conduct a more rigorous and informed discussion of fundamental financial and economic issues.

This is exactly what has happened since the office was formed in 2008.

In the two years since it was established, the Parliamentary Budget Office has prepared five economic and fiscal updates and more than 20 research reports. It has also provided assessments of cost estimates of policy initiatives proposed in legislation, The Parliamentary Budget Officer himself has appeared before both House and Senate committees on eight occasions, more than most deputy ministers, let alone ministers.

This officer of the Library of Parliament is clearly fulfilling an important role independent of government.

The mandate of the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to estimate, at the request of a member of Parliament or a committee, the financial cost of any proposal that relates to a matter over which Parliament has jurisdiction.

Essentially the job of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to give parliamentarians the information and independent analysis they can use to conduct a more rigorous and informed discussion of fundamental financial and economic issues.

This is exactly what has happened since the office was formed in 2008. In the two years since it was established the Parliamentary Budget Office has prepared five economic and fiscal updates and more than 20 research reports. It has also provided assessments of cost estimates of policy initiatives proposed in legislation and the Parliamentary Budget Officer himself has appeared before both House and Senate committees on eight occasions, more than most deputy ministers, let alone ministers.

The results speak for themselves. The work of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is proof of the government's strong commitment to making our public institutions more accountable and more transparent.

We might disagree about some of the conclusions of the reports emanating from this office, but I doubt we would disagree about this officer's commitment. The reports coming out of this office have taken us to task on several occasions, providing different conclusions than those of the government.

We in the government do not always agree with the conclusions of this office, but what we can agree on is that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is sparking debate. Differences of opinion and in research results are natural and are the grease that makes the wheels of democracy go round. They stimulate discussion and lead to fuller more informed consideration of the issues.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has given parliamentarians additional tools to inform our debates on how public money is being spent. It is a sign of the maturity and robustness of Canadian democracy that this organization created by our government is serving the people of Canada as it was meant to do, even if its conclusions sometimes differ from our own.

Thus, I think that we can all agree on one thing: over the past two years, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has improved how decisions are made by Parliament and has enriched Canada's political dialogue.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has given parliamentarians additional tools to inform our debates on how public money is being spent. It is a sign of the maturity and robustness of Canadian democracy that this organization created by our government is serving the people of Canada as it was meant to do even if its conclusions sometimes differ from our own. This office has proven the strength of our parliamentary system. Canadians are well served by the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

We understand the importance of accountable government to Canadians and we understand the importance of this office doing its job well. That is why we established the parliamentary budget office that is fully independent of government in its operations and funding.

As parliamentarians, we need to ensure that the laws we pass are responsible and in the best interests of good public policy. There are some obvious problems with this legislation. The changes proposed in this bill would likely result in some duplication of efforts with the Library of Parliament. The new office that would be created, if this bill were to pass, would almost certainly require new appropriations.

Parliament has made it clear that the Parliamentary Budget Officer's current role and mandate are appropriate. In fact, in 2009 the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament issued a report that made a number of recommendations in this regard.

Suffice it to say that I expect members will have many questions on this legislation. We think that this legislation needs a closer look, which is why we support having the bill referred to committee for study.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House this morning and speak to Bill C-572, the strengthening fiscal transparency act. As my hon. colleague who introduced the bill said, it would give oxygen to accountability. The Liberal Party is committed to making the Parliamentary Budget Officer truly independent so that he or she can properly do the job.

As the Conservatives used to say, Canadians need an independent Parliamentary Budget Officer to “ensure truth in budgeting”. Since he was appointed in March 2008, the PBO has been prolific in telling Canadians the truth about Canada's books. He has explained to us how the Conservative government is the biggest borrowing and biggest spending government in Canadian history. He has demonstrated how the Conservatives have combined reckless tax cuts and massive spending increases to give Canada a structural deficit even before the economic downturn began.

Last month the PBO showed us how the Conservatives are putting Canada even deeper into debt and how there is an 85% chance the Conservatives will break their promise to balance the budget by 2015-16. Time after time the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been proven right while the Minister of Finance has been forced to revise his numbers to more closely match those of the PBO.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has also told Canadians the truth about how much more we will have to spend on prisons because of the Conservative crime agenda. The Conservatives initially told Canadians that their truth in sentencing act would cost only $90 million over two years. Then under pressure, they revised this figure to $2 billion over five years. Now thanks to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, we know this legislation will actually cost the federal government closer to $5 billion over five years, plus an estimated $5 billion to $8 billion at the provincial level, for a total cost to Canadians of $10 billion to $13 billion over five years. That is a far cry from the initial promise of just $90 million.

That is not the only example of the PBO telling the truth about reckless Conservative spending. He has also told the truth about how slow the federal progress has been on stimulus projects, as well as how the Conservatives have underestimated the actual cost of Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives find these truths to be somewhat inconvenient. The Conservative government has a record of attacking public servants who dare to speak truth to power. We have seen this in how they have treated Colonel Pat Stogran, the former Veterans Ombudsman; Munir Sheikh, the former head of Statistics Canada; Linda Keen, the former chair of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission; Rémy Beauregard, the former chair of Rights & Democracy; and Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, to name just a few. Sadly, we can also add Kevin Page, the current Parliamentary Budget Officer, to this list.

In September, former deputy finance minister Scott Clark and former director of fiscal policy Peter DeVries wrote about how the Conservatives have mistreated the PBO. They said:

...no one should be surprised, given the...[Conservative] government's dislike of independent research and opposing opinion. When it confronts disagreement with its preconceived views, and facts that don't support these views, its modus operandi is simply to get rid of the source of this disagreement and to ignore the facts.

The Conservatives have shown contempt for the PBO by trying to deny Mr. Page the resources he needs to do his job. The Parliament of Canada Act states that the PBO is entitled to “free and timely access to any financial or economic data in the possession of the department that are required for the performance of his or her mandate”.

But the PBO has complained that the government will not even share basic financial information, such as baseline departmental spending levels or how the government plans to achieve its operating budget freeze. This despite the Conservatives' election platform, which promised to “require government departments and agencies to provide accurate, timely information to the Parliamentary Budget Authority to ensure it has the information it needs...”. It is just another broken Conservative promise.

However, the Conservatives are not simply trying to starve Mr. Page of information. Last year they also tried to frustrate Mr. Page's work by cutting $1 million from his budget.

National Post columnist Kelly McParland pointed out the blatant hypocrisy of this Conservative move when he wrote:

This from a government that spends tens of millions blowing its own horn over the stimulus program, even forcing municipalities to pay for signs promoting the plan, or lose the funding.

Mr. McParland continued, “Get real, Tories. Give the man his money and quit acting so childish”.

Unfortunately, Mr. Page is still fighting for his budget. Earlier this month Mr. Page told the finance committee:

...I've spent a whole year fighting to get my budget back. It took me two years to get my HR plan approved. Our budget is frozen at 2.8%.

To this the Conservatives replied:

Yes, frozen, but that doesn't mean it can't go in the other direction. That's not a threat; that's the reality.

Despite these threats from this Conservative government, Mr. Page is continuing his fight for more independence, and to make it clear he is not doing so out of self-interest, Mr. Page has announced that he will not seek another term after his current mandate expires.

It is my hope that Canada will have a new government before then, a new Liberal government, because a Liberal government will not only give the PBO real independence so he can do his job; we will also implement the Liberal open government initiative and end this Conservative era of secrecy and control. We will start by directing all federal departments and agencies to adopt a default principle of open government when it comes to sharing information.

As part of a Liberal open government initiative, we will also restore the long form census. We will publish as many government data sets as possible, online, free of charge and in an open searchable format, starting with the Statistics Canada data. We will also publish all access to information requests, responses and response times, and we will publish information on government grants, contributions and contracts through an online searchable database. We will do that because, as Liberals, we believe Canadians are entitled to this information. We believe that Canadian taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent, and we recognize that it is impossible for Canadians to know where their tax dollars are going or if government is getting value for money without access to usable and searchable government information.

Speaking of tax dollars, I would like to address one final aspect of Bill C-572. There has been some discussion on whether or not the bill would require royal recommendation. I do not believe it should. Bill C-572 adjusts the structure of the PBO by removing him from under the authority of the Parliamentary Librarian and giving him the rank of deputy head of a department. However, the office of the PBO already exists, although it is within the Library of Parliament, and the PBO already has a budget with which to pay salaries and enter into contracts.

Given these facts, I do not believe that Bill C-572 requires that the federal government spend any additional funds whatsoever.

To conclude, I support the aim of this legislation, which is to give the Parliamentary Budget Officer greater independence so that he might properly carry out his mandate, and so with the expectation that Bill C-572 will not require royal recommendation, I am pleased to support this legislation at second reading so it may be studied at committee.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is our turn to speak about this bill. It is rather unusual to hear members of the government tell us that there is a Parliamentary Budget Officer but that they should be allowed to keep doing what they can with it, in other words, make it very difficult for the officer to do his job, or perhaps even more subtly, hold up his funding and procrastinate when it comes time to give him information.

In its 2005-06 platform, the Bloc Québécois submitted the idea that parliamentarians should have a competent authority figure who can respond to certain questions. Question period is aptly named because it is nothing but questions. I have experienced it for a year now. We do not receive effective answers to our questions here in the House. We need this type of budget officer.

When the bill that created this position was examined, the Bloc Québécois proposed some amendments to the effect that the Parliamentary Budget Officer should fall under, or at least be somehow connected to, the Office of the Auditor General. At the time, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the NDP all voted against it. Over time, however, they have understood.

What is the goal? The purpose of this bill, which we strongly support, is to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer completely independent and allow the PBO to operate with full transparency. Who is asking for this? The current PBO himself.

I was not here on January 17, 2009, but that day the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that he saw his role as that of an independent economic and financial advisor to Parliament. He also said the PBO must also have sufficient functional independence and some degree of protection from any potential retribution. It was the Parliamentary Budget Officer himself who said this on January 17, 2009. He was not saying these things just for fun, but rather because he did not feel he had any protection or independence.

He also said that, according to an independent legal opinion, it is important that his actions regarding contracting for specialized services not be undermined or interfered with. As we know, he must ask for permission from the Library of Parliament. We must ensure that there are no restrictions on his ability to report to parliamentarians and Canadians, and no significant delays in the publication of his reports or in staffing the PBO office. It is all well and good to say we have a parliamentary budget officer, but his budget is going to be cut. It is also important that there be no unilateral reduction in the PBO budget. The Parliamentary Budget Officer therefore concluded that the government's actions were impeding his ability to help us obtain the necessary information.

He had been told that his operating budget would be frozen.

On November 3, 2010, when he released his Economic and Fiscal Assessment 2010, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said he had requested certain information in order to do his own analysis of the government's planned budget freeze. In a blatant lack of transparency, the government indicated that the information would not be released to him or made public.

On March 11, 2010, in his analysis of the budget 2010 economic outlook, the Parliamentary Budget Officer said he wanted details. He therefore requested figures in June 2009 and March 2010. He told us that he had not yet received that information. Those are two examples of delays.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer should not have to walk a tightrope, either. He has no idea what his budget will be come April 2010. The cost of a PBO is the equivalent of 10 minutes of the G8 or G20. The government wasted $1 billion on the G8 and G20 party. By comparison, the Parliamentary Budget Officer's annual budget amounts to 10 minutes of the G8 and G20. Compared to the $1 billion the government spent on the G8 and G20, the Parliamentary Budget Officer's budget is the equivalent of my allotted time here in the House. That gives us an idea of how important the government feels the PBO is.

Who does the government want as the Parliamentary Budget Officer? It wants people who are competent. I regularly meet with people from the PBO's office. There is the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Page, who has 27 years' experience in the federal public service. He has worked at Finance Canada, the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Privy Council Office. I have also met with senior officials including Mostafa Askari, the director general of economic and fiscal analysis. He has worked at Health Canada, Finance Canada, the IMF and the Conference Board of Canada. Another person I meet with is Mr. Khan, the director general of expenditure and revenue analysis. He has worked at the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board Secretariat and Deloitte in New York.

If the government wants highly competent, totally independent people like these, it must not hang a sword of Damocles over their heads by saying they could lose their jobs or half their budget on April 1. The government wants results commensurate with people's expertise, and that costs money.

What does the bill indicate? The point is to remove the Parliamentary Budget Officer from the Library of Parliament's budget and give him status similar to that of the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer or the Official Languages Commissioner. We are not going so far as to call for a status like that of the Governor of the Bank of Canada, but the PBO has to have independent status.

Currently, it is up to his highness. The Parliamentary Budget Officer and his team hold office during pleasure for a term of five years, according to the whim of the ruling party. Based on the questions the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP are asking the Minister of Finance and the minister's attitude toward Mr. Page, the latter is walking a tightrope.

Under the bill, which we are supporting, the Parliamentary Budget Officer would be appointed to hold office during good behaviour for a term of seven years, unless removed by Parliament. The PBO must also be given a proactive mandate to be able to conduct his own analyses.

On April 11, 2006, and April 26, 2008, and in October 2008 and in December, the Bloc has spoken in support of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

For example, on October 9, 2008, the leader of the Bloc relied on the Parliamentary Budget Officer's assessment of the cost of the mission in Afghanistan. Today, in 2010, we want to know what the anticipated extension of this war will cost. We need a Parliamentary Budget Officer who is completely independent and reports to the House.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to be engaged in this debate.

First, I would like to compliment my colleague from Ottawa Centre for his introduction of Bill C-572. He has been on this file of the Parliamentary Budget Office for years now and has been dogged in his determination that Parliament will get what has been promised to it and what it needs in terms of an independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

In fact, it was the member for Ottawa Centre who made the request for information from the PBO to let Canadians know that the number the government was using for the cost of the Afghan war was not accurate. In the absence of a PBO being able to independently say what the number is, we are trapped in the political quagmire of having to use government numbers because there is really nothing else. Quite frankly, with the credibility of the backing of old bureaucracy, if one member stands to say that the government's number is wrong, that it is inflated, it gets written off as opposition talk. The hon. member for Ottawa Centre took it upon himself to utilize the PBO in a way that typifies what the Parliamentary Budget Office should be, can be and must be for our country.

It was interesting to listen to the opening comments from the government and the Liberals. I happen to have followed up on the work of the member for Ottawa Centre on this file.

I was subbed onto the Library subcommittee that was dealing with this. I will parenthetically say, that is how ridiculous this is. We are talking about someone who has the power to command the information that tells Canadians that the Afghan war cost $18 billion, but the source of the administration and where that important office lives is relegated to a subcommittee of the Library Committee.

I was on that committee and it was interesting that only the Bloc and the NDP went into those discussions. I recall we were in crisis when the government would not honour its funding promise to the PBO. The PBO then started to seize up and we started to get into this gridlock. That is why the committee was struck and that is why I was there.

I cannot talk about what he said, she said, because they were in camera meetings. I can say that the opening position of the Bloc and the NDP was that the Parliamentary Budget Officer needed to be an independent officer of Parliament in exactly the same way as the Auditor General and others.

The Liberals were not there. The Conservatives, as far as I am concerned, still are not. They talk a good game, but when the rubber hits the road, they are not there.

Over the course of the discussions, and I have said this before, I will give my Liberal colleagues their due. They saw the light, they got religion and realized that leaving it where it was, although it is sometimes inconvenient to some members and some entities, it was the right thing to do. I have already said what I think about the government.

Why did we need to have these hearings, meetings and deliberations of the subcommittee? Because the government did not honour its promise. It broke another promise, and that is becoming a broken record in and of itself to say all the time. The government talks of a great democracy, especially in an election, but when it comes to putting democracy into law and protecting democracy, it is missing in action.

The reason this committee had to meet, as I said earlier, was because the Parliamentary Budget Office was beginning to seize up through lack of funding. That was exactly what the government wanted. At the end of the day, the government's calculation politically was that it was easier and better to take the hit for not fully funding its promise. This does not exactly generate a headline in and of itself. However, the government weighed that political cost against the damage of having a fully-funded, functioning Parliamentary Budget Officer who was churning out real numbers and that scared it. The government was prepared to put us into this kind of turmoil, which still exists to this day.

At the committee meeting, the only way we came to an agreement was by a good old compromise. Those of us who wanted it to be a truly independent office were not going to vote to freeze and lock in forever and a day, which is where the PBO is right now. However, because, by law, it is where it is, the deal was that the government would provide all the funding it promised, which had not been flowing, and in return those of us who did not support a continuation of the PBO buried in the Library committee, would accept that the law would not change for the next couple years. Therefore, we built in a review.

Some would ask us why we did that. Had we not made that compromise, the end result of that committee would have been the government again would have something else to point to as an excuse for not funding. Conservatives could have said that they could not get agreement from the committee. Therefore, until it knew exactly where it was to go, it would flow X number of dollars. The next thing would be everyone's eyes would glaze over and nobody would pay any attention. We were not going to let that happen.

Right now the funding is to the maximum of the promise made. To the best of my knowledge, that money is flowing and there are no administrative impediments in the way, but the clock is ticking. Within our agreement, a complete review of the mandate and of the independence of the powers is back up for review. We will see which one crosses the line first in terms of putting the government's feet to the fire. Will it be that review and will we have to wait for it, as it really is an insurance policy? The best political strategy is one that can be seen, implemented and acted upon.

The fact was we had hoped that eventually the Liberals would come onside and agree it should be an independent office and if the Conservatives would not do it, at least ultimately down the road we would know there would be a majority of parliamentarians within caucuses elected in the House that could have the power to move on it. We are getting there, but it is a shame we have had to get there kicking, dragging and screaming rather than seeing something positive for which the government can take a bit of credit.

Will we act on this bill, start to give some meaning to the government promises and implement it? It will be interesting to see what happens first. It depends on when the election is. It depends how things unfold, et cetera. What I do know, with as much certainty one can have, is that the course has been set. It might take us a few zigzags along the way to get there, working our way around certain parliamentary blockades, and that is the government, but we will get there.

Canadians will get our equivalent of what the American Congress already has, which is that independent, credible ability to provide opposition members, but more important Canadians, with real numbers, especially when we are going through these times. This is about real numbers. It is about ensuring that when we are talking about the future of Canada, at the very least, the government, the opposition and Canadian people are all using the same numbers and they are good, real numbers that can be backed up and are completely apart from any partisanship. That is a major improvement in our democracy.

I thank the member for Ottawa Centre again for bringing this forward. This is an important growth piece of our continuing majority as a democracy. I hope to be here when the day comes that the position is made an independent officer of Parliament.

Strengthening Fiscal Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed, without debate, to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

Gail Shea Conservative Egmont, PE

moved that the bill be concurred in.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to)

When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave, now?

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

Gail Shea Conservative Egmont, PE

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

Noon

Macleod Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the great support I am getting from across the way. As a matter of fact, I will refer to the hon. member's support.

I thank the House for the opportunity to start the third and final reading on Bill S-3, and before continuing, let me quickly thank all fellow members of the House of Commons finance committee for their swift consideration of this legislation and their unanimous support of its passage.

This important legislation will implement Canada's tax treaties with Colombia, Greece and Turkey. Tax treaties like these are important for Canadians, as they protect taxpayers both by helping to prevent unfair double taxation as well as in the matter of tax evasion. Canada has nearly 90 tax treaties already in place with other countries, and Bill S-3 is simply part of our Conservative government's ongoing effort to update and modernize the already extensive network of tax treaties.

Before continuing, let me again emphasize that although Bill S-3 is important legislation, it follows closely in form to previous similar tax treaties adopted by this Parliament. For instance, in the 39th Parliament, tax treaties with Finland, Mexico and Korea were adopted. Additionally, in both the 38th and 37th Parliaments, under the previous Liberal government, numerous tax treaties with countries such as Gabon, Armenia, Mongolia, Moldova and Norway were also adopted.

Furthermore, let me again underline that Bill S-3, like the legislation related to tax treaties from previous Parliaments, is based on the commonly accepted international standard for such treaties, and that is the OECD model tax convention. This OECD framework has long been established throughout the world as the standard for tax treaties. Indeed, as the OECD itself points out:

Most bilateral tax treaties follow both the principles and the detailed provisions of the OECD Model. There are close to 350 treaties between OECD Member countries and over 1500 world-wide which are based on the Model, and it has had considerable influence on the bilateral treaties between non-member countries.

Likewise, Peter Barnes, the noted former U.S. Treasury Department tax counsel, has remarked, in a recent edition of the OECD Observer magazine:

the OECD model has achieved a consensus position as the benchmark against which essentially all tax treaty negotiations take place. [...] But make no mistake: the OECD is a vitally important organisation and the OECD Model Tax Convention is a tremendously important tool for smoothing the way of international business and global trade.

Canada maintains one of the world's largest networks of bilateral tax treaties, serving as a key feature in both our ability to compete and to ensure everyone pays their fair share of taxes. Without a doubt, parliamentarians and Canadians are strongly opposed to tax evasion. We all know that tax evasion by some only punishes honest, hard-working Canadians and job-creating businesses. This is simply not fair. To detect and deter tax evasion, we need to work with and share information with our international partners. That is why Canada participates in international tax information exchange agreements and encourages countries to do so, as demonstrated in Bill S-3 here today.

Indeed, our Conservative government has been very aggressive and proactive in that regard. For example, in 2007, we unveiled a policy that introduced incentives to have non-treaty countries enter into OECD-model tax information exchange agreements with Canada. It also requires that all new tax treaties and revisions to existing tax treaties include the OECD standard for tax information exchange.

I am happy to report that negotiations on tax information exchange agreements are all well under way with over a dozen jurisdictions. Indeed, Canada signed its landmark first tax information exchange agreement with the Netherlands Antilles last August.

Canada also contributes actively to the efforts of the OECD's Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information, as well as in the G20, in order to push for further implementation of the previously mentioned OECD standard.

What is more, according to the director of the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration of the OECD, Jeffrey Owens, during his tenure as chair of the G7 and G20, Canada's Minister of Finance has, “shown leadership in getting G20 members to crack down on tax havens with new sanctions.”

Clearly Canada is serious about combatting tax evasion and is committed to advancing this effort internationally.

While tax treaties help guard against tax evasion, they also provide individuals and businesses in Canada and the other signatory countries with predictable and equitable tax results in their cross-border dealings.

I would now like to talk in a little greater detail about how these tax treaties will improve a number of areas, namely: reducing withholding taxes, avoiding double taxation, preventing tax evasion, and removing barriers to trade and investment.

First, let me briefly look at the withholding taxes. Withholding taxes are a common feature in international taxation. They are taxes imposed by a country on income arising in that country and paid to residents of another country. Indeed, Canada with respect to non-tax treaty countries usually taxes this income at a rate of 25%. Given that one of the principle functions of a tax treaty is to fairly allocate taxation powers between the respective treaty partners, tax treaties include provisions to properly determine the level of withholding tax that can be applied by the jurisdiction in which certain payments arise.

The withholding tax rates vary from one tax treaty to the next as they reflect the result of negotiations with Canada's tax treaty partners, as is the case in Bill S-3. Indeed, Bill S-3 provides for a maximum withholding tax on portfolio dividends paid to non-residents of 15% in the case of Colombia and Greece, and 20% in the case of Turkey. For dividends paid by subsidiaries to their parent companies, the maximum withholding rate is reduced to 5% in the case of Colombia and Greece, and 15% in the case of Turkey.

Withholding rate reductions also apply to royalty, interest and pension payments. The treaties in Bill S-3 cap the maximum withholding tax rate on interest at 10% in the case of Colombia and Greece, and at 15% in the case of Turkey.

Each treaty in Bill S-3 also caps the maximum withholding tax rate on royalty payments at 10% and on periodic pension payments at 15%.

Tax treaties like this one help ensure fairness for taxpayers, both domestic and international, and help ensure that they are not essentially overtaxed due to withholding taxes.

As the Liberal member for Scarborough—Guildwood, a former colleague on the finance committee and a former parliamentary secretary to a finance minister, has pointed out:

withholding taxes do not provide for the deductability of expenses incurred in generating income and are imposed on the gross amount of the payment. The taxpayer will therefore be subject to an effective rate that is significantly higher than the tax rate that applies to net income in either the source or the residence country. To remedy this, Canada's network of tax treaties limits the rate of withholding tax that can be withheld by the source country on various types of income so as to more accurately reflect the level of taxes that would be payable on a net income basis.

The second area that I would like to address is somewhat similar, that being double taxation. Double taxation in an international sense arises when two or more states tax the same income for the same period of time. Obviously, nobody should have to pay their income tax twice.

Tax treaties like in Bill S-3 help avoid double taxation and ensure that taxpayers pay tax on the same income only once. Again, in the words of the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, “Without a tax treaty in place to set out the tax rules, the same income can be taxed in both countries without consequential relief. This situation can have a negative impact on the expansion of trade, and the movement of capital and labour between countries”.

Tax treaties utilize numerous methods to address the potential for double taxation. This happens in one of three ways. First, the income may be taxable exclusively in the country in which it arises, that is the source country. Second, it may be taxable only in the country in which the taxpayer is resident, that is the resident country.

Third, it may be taxable by both the source country and the residence country, with double taxation relief provided in some form.

The treaties in Bill S-3 grant exclusive taxing rights to a number of items, meaning the other treaty partner cannot tax those items, thus avoiding double taxation.

For example, if a Canadian resident employed by a Canadian company is sent on a short-term assignment such as two to three months to any one of the three treaty countries contained in Bill S-3, Canada has the exclusive right to tax that person's employment income. Also, from an administrative point of view, this greatly reduces the paperwork and red-tape burden associated with multiple jurisdiction tax filing. However, in the case of most items, taxing rights are shared.

The third area I would like to elaborate on is tax evasion. Tax evasion and avoidance are also unfair and economically damaging. One of the most important benefits of increased co-operation between Canada and the other countries is preventing tax evasion.

Indeed, tax treaties are an important tool in protecting Canada's tax base in that they allow consultations and information to be exchanged between Canada and the countries with which we have tax treaties. What this means is that these treaties help ensure fairness and equity in our tax system by helping to ensure that taxes owed are indeed paid.

Equally important, as I mentioned earlier, international tax treaties help ensure that taxpayers do not pay more tax than they should. Treaties such as those found in Bill S-3 permit the exchange of tax information between revenue authorities, and in so doing, help them identify cases of tax avoidance and evasion and act on them.

Indeed, our Conservative government firmly believes all Canadians should pay their fair share of taxes and has aggressively targeted tax loopholes. We again confirmed that fact in budget 2010 when we rolled back nearly 10 tax loopholes in order to protect Canada's tax system. This included, for instance, better targeting tax incentives for stock options, as well as ensuring that businesses cannot inappropriately capitalize on differences between the tax systems of Canada and the other countries to artificially increase foreign tax credits in order to pay less tax.

Noted public policy commentator and co-founder of the Dominion Institute, Rudyard Griffiths, writing in the March 10 National Post in response to budget 2010's aggressive initiatives to close tax loopholes, said:

the Conservative’s snipping of a raft of erroneous tax loopholes met with near universal applause, and rightly so.

...it defies logic, in an era of fiscal restraint, to allow corporate mucky-mucks to use generous stock options to take gobs of cash out of their companies tax free.

The final area that I would like to discuss is how tax treaties help remove barriers to trade and investment. Investors, traders and others involved in the global marketplace want to know the tax implications associated with their activities both in Canada and abroad. Equally important, Canadians with business interests or investments abroad want to be sure that they also will receive fair and consistent tax treatment.

Tax treaties boost international trade in goods and services by providing individuals and businesses in Canada and the other signatory countries with predictable and equitable tax results in their cross-border dealings. This in turn helps Canada's economic performance at home by encouraging our exporters. Indeed, over 40% of Canada's annual GDP can be attributed to exports alone. Moreover, it helps attract new investments into Canada as well.

In short, the tax treaties contained in Bill S-3 will serve as a key step in solidifying Canada's economic links with Turkey, Colombia and Greece by eliminating tax barriers to bilateral trade and investment.

In the words of the Hellenic Canadian Association president, Theodoros Aslanidis, “The agreement is very positive”.

To summarize, the tax treaties covered in Bill S-3 comply with the international OECD standards. They would promote certainty, combat tax evasion, and promote a better business climate for taxpayers and businesses in Canada and in these treaty countries.

Additionally, these treaties would help to secure Canada's position in the increasingly competitive world of international trade and investment.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member has outlined in the bill very well the importance of dealing with double taxation, and of course, probably the more interesting one is the anti-avoidance and tax evasion issues.

We have tax treaties with over 90 different countries. This bill has been described as stating that here are three more countries that we are putting on.

However, I think Canadians would like to know, if we are entering into these trade agreements and there will be supplementary tax treaties to deal with this, whether there have been any results as a consequence of entering into these bilateral treaties on tax, especially having to do with evasion.

I wonder if the member, being the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, would advise the House as to whether he has any examples of where any progress has been made in terms of dealing with tax havens, avoidance provisions, or in fact, tax evasion. Also, how much money has the Government of Canada recovered from these actions?

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, who also sits on the finance committee. Those are pretty specific questions. I will certainly attempt to get back to that hon. member with answers to those specific questions.

However, having had the opportunity in Berlin, about a year and a half ago, to sit in on an anti-tax haven discussion, I was frankly surprised by the countries that were pushing back against movements such as the tax treaties that we are dealing with here today. For what reason, I guess we will leave that up to everyone's imagination.

With regard to the initiative that Canada has taken to push this forward, I have long list and it would take time and many answers to list off. We have been successful. That is why we are repeating this in one more. We plan to continue to do so, because as much as we welcome investment in this country, we want to ensure that our companies that are investing in other countries are protected as well.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today, of course, on Bill S-3, An Act to implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.

The Liberal Party of Canada recognizes that Canada is a country whose prosperity is based on trade. We have a small, open economy, and as such, we depend disproportionately on external trade for our wealth and prosperity and our standard of living.

The fact is that when the Canadian economy is healthy it is because we are producing and exporting more than we are consuming or importing. The sale of Canadian goods and services to foreign markets is the source of Canadian jobs and prosperity, and securing access for Canadian exports to foreign markets is essential to the Canadian economy and to creating the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow.

With this in mind, we understand and support the principle of free trade and the principle behind Canada's tax treaties with our trading partners, and as such, we support the goals of Bill S-3. But we are very concerned about the state of Canada's economy and we are very concerned about Canada falling behind in terms of our share of the global economy. We are concerned about the Conservatives' mismanagement of Canada's finances and their mismanagement of our important and vital trade relations.

The Conservative record on international trade has been troubling. The Conservatives have given us, for the first time in 30 years, a trade deficit, in fact a $4.5 billion trade deficit. That is the largest trade deficit in Canadian history and it is the first annual trade deficit that Canada has had since 1975.

What is troubling about this is that, for a small, open economy such as Canada's, when we are actually buying more from the world than we are selling to the world it is an ominous sign in terms of our ability to strengthen and continue to build our standard of living and quality of life. That is an ominous sign in terms of our ability to protect the jobs of today or create the jobs of tomorrow.

In the first nine months of 2010, Canada has accumulated a trade deficit of $7.6 billion. This puts us on pace now for an even more massive trade deficit this year than the record trade deficit that we had last year.

The Conservatives have to take responsibility for these massive trade deficits. It was their misguided trade policy that has failed to defend Canadian interests in the world. Under the Conservatives we have been far too dependent on the U.S. market. We have seen how vulnerable we are to U.S. protectionism, whether it is Buy American provisions or other protectionist measures in the U.S. Congress.

The Conservatives have not only failed to defend Canadian jobs against U.S. protectionism, but they have failed to effectively defend Canadian jobs in the world by building the kinds of important trade relations that would enable Canadian companies to diversify their trade relations.

The Conservatives spent their first three years in office chiding China and ignoring India. The Conservatives turned their back on a remarkable and profoundly important 40-year relationship with China, a relationship starting 40 years ago when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had the vision and foresight to lead the first western developed country to establish diplomatic relations with post-revolution China, building a profound social, cultural and foreign trade relationship with China. The Conservatives turned their backs on that relationship for ideological reasons in their first three years of office and set the relationship back decades.

We have seen the Conservatives' clumsy foreign and trade policy with the treatment of important trading partners like China, Mexico, the Czech Republic, at a time when it held the presidency of the EU. More recently, I do not have to remind Canadians or this Parliament as to how embarrassing it has been to watch the Conservatives' bungling of our vital relationship with the United Arab Emirates, and the internal cabinet squabbles that have come to light between ministers on this issue. The fact that we have squandered a vital trade investment and defence alliance with the UAE demonstrates a Prime Minister, a cabinet and a government that are not really ready for prime time when it comes to the world stage, that really are unsafe at any speed, as Ralph Nader would say. This is part of the cost Canadians have paid for having a Prime Minister who really has never been outside North America without a government jet and a motorcade.

It is important that we have prime ministers and governments with foreign experience and an understanding of the world. Canadians benefit from prime ministers and governments that have that kind of understanding of Canada's place in the world.

The Prime Minister does not do multilateralism well. In fact, that is because he does not really believe in multilateralism. The Prime Minister was critical of the G20 when Paul Martin, as the Liberal finance minister, was leading the charge and in fact building the G20. The G20 has emerged as the principal and most important voice of financial reform today, during and after the financial crisis.

Canadians should take some pride in the fact that it was a Canadian finance minister, Paul Martin, a Liberal finance minister, who looked ahead and saw the need to expand the G8, to build a G20 that would welcome in some of the emerging economies and be ready for whatever turbulence emerged on the global stage, but also to deepen relations and governance among our countries as we deal with what are no longer issues that are faced by individual countries but increasingly by the entire world.

Again, when we talk about emerging economies, we have talked in the last few years about the BRIC countries. We could say today perhaps it is more the BIC countries because it is Brazil, India and China; Russia has had some challenges. There is the next wave of emerging economies, the CIVETS countries, Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa. It has never been more important for Canada to diversify and deepen its trade relations with some of these economies. Canada has a natural advantage to do that, and that is our multiculturalism.

Over the weekend, I met with a group of Chinese Canadian business people in Winnipeg. I also met with a group of Indo-Canadian business people in Winnipeg. Winnepeg, like a lot of Canadian cities and towns, has emerged as a very multicultural community. What is really quite remarkable is that we look at multiculturalism as a successful Canadian social policy, and it is. Increasingly, it is not just a successful social policy, but it is a source of immense economic advantage because our multicultural communities are among the most entrepreneurial communities we have in Canada. They also represent natural bridges to some of the fastest growing economies in the world, which leads me to what a Liberal approach would be on trade and foreign policy.

We would build a global network strategy that leverages on the rich connections that Canadians have around the world, connections that derive from our multicultural communities, and our universities which are educating citizens from around the world today. We recognize the importance of partnering with Canadian businesses, universities, civil society and private citizens to better identify and capitalize on trading opportunities and foreign trade relations and influence around the world.

We would return to the very successful team Canada missions. We would focus them on sectoral areas where we have a comparative advantage, such as education, clean technology and clean energy technology. We would focus on creating the jobs of tomorrow by building bridges and deepening our ties with the markets of tomorrow in areas where Canada really has something to offer: clean conventional energy, water treatment, education.

Canada has some of the best universities anywhere. I come from Nova Scotia, a cradle of higher education in Canada. I am immensely proud of Nova Scotian universities and the role that Nova Scotian universities play in educating people from across Canada and around the world. I think we can do more to attract students from around the world to study in Canada. That would be a really good and important thing to do for the future of Canada.

If we look at the CVs of cabinet ministers from India, China and Brazil, over half of them have some educational experience either in the U.K. or the U.S. That educational experience gives the United States and the United Kingdom a lifetime of relations and influence on those countries through those individuals. Educational experiences are critically important in terms of trade and foreign relations.

A Liberal government would introduce a Canada global scholarship program which would enable young Canadians to study abroad at universities around the world, to learn the cultures and the languages to become citizens of the world. It would enable young citizens of the world, particularly from the emerging economies, to study here in Canada, to exchange students between our countries, to attract students to Canada and to encourage Canadian students to study abroad.

We would be building a global network advantage where Canada and the next generation of Canadian graduates could be the most networked and connected citizens anywhere in the world. Canada would be seen as the best place in the world to get an education, to start a career, perhaps to return to one's country of origin, but to represent a natural bridge to a country with which the person has a great fondness and respect.

Education is an industry that can benefit from more foreign trade. When we attract students from other countries to study at Canadian universities, that is a form of trade. It is a form of trade that not only helps create jobs and prosperity today, but for decades to come will strengthen and augment our influence in the world through trade relations, foreign relations and the creation of jobs.

We would take a very different approach as a Liberal government to deepening and diversifying our trade relations. We would ensure that Canada was not trying to escape the world, but was once again shaping the world. Whether it is on the environment, defence or security policy, the Canadian voice would be heard again and it would be an effective voice.

I want to speak about the fiscal mismanagement of the Conservative government. A Liberal government would clean up the fiscal mess created by the borrow and spend Conservative government. I would remind the House that the Conservatives inherited a $13 billion surplus from the Liberals, which was the best fiscal situation of any incoming government in the history of Canada.

The Conservatives increased government spending by an astonishing 18% in their first three years in office. That is three times the rate of inflation. They combined these massive spending increases with reckless tax policy to actually give Canada a structural deficit even before the downturn began. Now the Conservative legacy is a $56 billion deficit, the biggest deficit in Canadian history.

While Canadians are watching the Conservatives plunge Canada deeper into debt, they are asking themselves what they are getting in return. Let us compare the stimulus package of this Conservative government to the stimulus packages of other governments.

Other governments invested in long-term competitiveness, modernizing their energy systems, energy production and energy transmission, helping households and companies cut their energy consumption so that when the recession was over, ultimately companies would become more profitable and at the end of the month households would have a little more money in their back pockets.

The Conservative government was more interested in buying votes than in building competitiveness. It was more interested in counting signs than counting jobs. The stimulus package was a hodgepodge of spending measures aimed at short-term politics, not on long-term prosperity.

We often hear the Conservatives talk about Canada's debt and deficit numbers compared to those in other countries of the world in a favourable way, as if Canada is a lot better off than many other countries. However, when we combine federal and provincial debt numbers in Canada, we get a startlingly different picture.

If we combine federal and provincial numbers for something called gross debt, our gross debt to GDP ratio is actually at 82.5%. To put this in perspective, the U.S. is around 83%, so we are almost as bad off as the U.S. in terms of gross government debt in Canada. That figure is worse than those in Germany and the U.K. The fact is that provincial and federal debts impose a burden on all Canadian taxpayers. There is only one taxpayer.

In the coming years, as we now enter the negotiation around the health and social transfer culminating in 2014 with the new agreement, these issues are going to come home to roost. We are going to see increased pressures on Canadian provinces to deal with an aging demographic. Fewer Canadians will be working. More Canadians will be relying on retirement income and depending on an increasingly challenged health care system.

How have the Conservatives been preparing for this? Has there been any discussion on how to prepare for that demographic shift? How have they been saving for a rainy day in the future? Let us look at what the Conservatives have been doing.

They have proposed spending $16 billion on untendered fighter jets, and $10 billion to $13 billion on U.S.-style mega prisons during a time when crime rates are on their way down. They spent $1.3 billion for a 72-hour photo op for the G20 and G8 summits. Spending on the G8 and G20 summits included $1 million for fake lakes, $300,000 for a gazebo and bathrooms that were 20 kilometres away from the summit site, $400,000 for bug spray, $300,000 for luxury furniture, $14,000 for glow sticks and, of course, millions on high-end hotels.

The last finance minister to cut government spending in Canada, not just to hold government spending but actually to cut government spending, was the hon. member for Wascana. It was a Liberal government, and under the leadership of finance minister Paul Martin, that implemented the biggest tax cuts in Canadian history after having paid down the biggest deficit to date in Canadian history.

We will once again cut corporate taxes in the future but only after we pay off the Conservative's deficit and get Canada back in the black responsibly, not on borrowed money. We will also invest in the priorities of Canadians, in Canadian families, in learning, in jobs, in pensions and in family care. We will not invest in the these wasteful priorities of the Conservatives.

Tax Conventions Implementation Act, 2010Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it speaks to the Liberal tradition. The member spent the first five minutes personally insulting the Prime Minister. He spent the middle of his speech talking about nothing. He spent the end of his speech criticizing the very successful G20 that was hosted in my region, the GTA, Toronto.

The member knows full well that when he was a Conservative he fought against the previous government's unilateral cuts to health and education of $25 billion. The Liberals did not ask for permission, they just did it.

The member also knows that the Liberals fought against free trade with the United States. They fought against North America free trade. He knows that this government has brought in free trade with Colombia and we are negotiating with India after years of failure by the Liberal government. We have seen an extraordinary new relationship with China. We are entering negotiations with the European Union.

The reality is that this government has gotten things done very quickly to the benefit of the people of this country. We put $40 billion toward paying down the debt before the economic crisis started. We cut taxes for Canadians. We have done everything the people of Canada needed us to do to ensure this country comes through the global downturn prosperous. Ultimately--