No, please, Madam Speaker, I would implore my colleagues to hold their applause until the end. I want to talk about my Conservative colleagues.
I am honoured to stand here today to talk about this particular piece of legislation, but I want to put this into context as to where we have been over the last little while. It is called the jobs and economic growth act, but by another name, we call it the budget implementation act.
Just a couple of years ago, regarding the budget implementation bill, there were certain details regarding fiscal payments equalization regarding my province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I remember the common expression at the time was that the devil is in the details. There lies the devil, and in the budget implementation act at the time, there was something in there that was not transmitted prior to that. Now the theme has carried on over and over again.
I will begin with one example that is relevant from this morning. On the front page of today's Globe and Mail the headline states:
Tories to launch plans for telecom shakeup
The article talks about some of the details of the impending announcement next week and states:
The government is expected to launch consultations on scaling back foreign-inv2estment limits--changes that could shake up the future of Canada’s $41 billion telecom industry. Telecom sector sources anticipate the process could be kicked off as early as Monday.
Therein lies a piece of legislation that will be debated, that will be talked about for quite some time, witnesses called, maybe in excess of 50 witnesses at that time. Here we are at the budget implementation process or, as it is being called, jobs and economic growth act, and it is included here. Within the over 800 pages, we find that there is a section about amending the Telecommunications Act to allow foreign satellite carriers to be considered a common carrier.
It is the process that already has begun without telegraphing as such, and again we go back to the devil in the details, except now the Conservatives have become more brazen about doing this by allowing certain subjects and certain headings, and talking about initiatives that they propose over the next little while. They say that there have been over 50 witnesses, but as my hon. colleagues from Mississauga—Streetsville and Mississauga South also pointed out, we could have called in at least 50 or more witnesses on each and every subject that we see here.
My hon. colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville talked about AECL and did it rather passionately. She talked about a fire sale of assets. If we think about it, that is exactly what will happen. We have this wonderful entity that is truly a Canadian entity that is about to be sold off. The only thing the Conservatives forgot to mention is that if we call within 10 minutes, they will give us a peeling knife as well.
There are so many things in here that could be described as slipping under the cover of night and stealth by operation. Let me just bring up a few of these issues in the House. The first one and the biggest one, and I will get to that later just to give members a heads up: Employment Insurance Act changes, that is really something; GST and financial services; as I mentioned, AECL; medical expense tax credits; softwood lumber; and pensions.
Here is what is being proposed in this particular implementation about pensions, and this is what it says, “Increases the maximum insolvency ratio for a pension plan from 110% to 125%, allowing for more overfunding”.
How generous is that? To a certain degree, it is a measure by which we will make an improvement, but here is another measure.
Just a few days ago we voted on a private member's bill in the House that talked about bankruptcy and insolvency. That is the issue where the Conservatives are going to throw in pensions. That is what we have to talk about, topics such as bankruptcy and insolvency for the sake of pension security.
Right now, given the downturn that we have just had, when the stocks went down, a lot of the securities, for example, the pension that is very popular in my riding regarding AbitibiBowater retirees, lost 30% of their value, and yet not a word about this as to how this situation could be dealt with.
Nortel was in the same situation. We had all these private pensions that were losing value and the government never brought in the vision by which how we were going to address this in the near future. The only passing comment was at the very beginning when our beloved Prime Minister said, “It's a good time to buy”.
Again, I go back to, if we call within the next 10 minutes we might even get a better deal on another piece of stock. But here we have what I thought was going to be a little bit of vision if we go beyond what has already been telegraphed when it comes to pensions, and we did not see it.
Remailers is another big situation, as my colleague from Mississauga South pointed out. We could have had 100 witnesses come and speak about that issue alone, which is a fundamental change in how we do business here in this country.
Regarding environmental assessments, my colleagues from the NDP have talked about that quite a bit and I wholeheartedly agree with them in this particular case. There have been some changes that were asked for. Here is the one little tidbit I am going to put out to the Conservatives that I agree with. I have received a lot of feedback about these environmental assessments from municipalities and from the province. However, do not take this sort of thing and slip it under the radar as the government has been trying to do.
I think a fulsome debate about this would have been warranted because there is a balancing act here. We do not want to be bogged down in red tape when it comes to infrastructure, and I agree, but at the same time we certainly do not want to look past our own responsibilities for ensuring that we have a clean environment.
Interest rates for over-contributions to the Canada Revenue Agency are also in this bill, certainly something that could trigger a fulsome debate in the House.
Finally, if we are talking about the intent of the bill and all that is in this omnibus piece of legislation, I want to point out to the Conservatives how they may want to at times practice what they used to preach.
There was a situation in 2005, and I remind my hon. colleague from northern Alberta because he was not here at the time. We had a budget debate in the House and I remember we had signed a huge agreement regarding the Atlantic accord, but there were changes in legislation that needed to be made to put it forward and ensure it came into force. To do that it was part of the budget implementation act at the time.
Trust me, because I was there, and I remember my two Conservative colleagues from Newfoundland and Labrador as they vehemently, and I mean vehemently, argued against including this change within the budget. The words that they used were “under cover of night, under the radar, slipping it in at the last moment”. These are all the words that I just brought out, so really I am being repetitious for the Conservatives. I am using their own argument. My goodness, I could probably qualify to be their spokesperson, although I would have to get a minister to represent me, but that is beside the point.
In this situation, if we start practising this way of dealing with legislation, where everything is put into one omnibus bill, what happens to the debate in the House? I enjoy debating in the House. I enjoy coming here because that is what we are paid to do, but yet, if we try to undermine it each and every time by undermining the process by which we debate, then we will find ourselves in a great deal of trouble.
We are in a minority Parliament and in this case we must behave responsibly for our constituents and for Canadians in general. To do that, this runs counter to what we are here for in this minority Parliament. It is almost like we want to just keep wedging each other to the extreme.
By coming out with these issues and clashing over them without any way of providing debate among the parties, it has undermined Parliament in a minority situation. In 2006, when I was elected to a minority Parliament, I thought we may even find ourselves in a level of maturity that would have increased in Parliament. Would that not be a novel idea?
However, in some instances, there were some flashes of brilliances, not only from us but everybody in the House, where we actually came to an agreement. We decided in a responsible manner to govern the country expediently given the times. We had just come out of a recession.
However, expedience is not at the price of debate. We have so many things jammed into Bill C-9 that it is untenable.