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House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cost.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona has identified yet another compelling example, in this case a very recent one from this week, of the government refusing to make important information public before it asks the House and the other place to vote on important government legislation.

I am not surprised that the government has bullied the Deputy Minister of Public Safety into silence. At least it did not force her to mislead the House or the committee, as we saw recently with some of the horrible circumstances surrounding the Minister of International Cooperation.

The government bullied the Ethics Commissioner into retirement, fired the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and bullied the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. Surely we should not be surprised that a deputy minister who serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister would be muzzled and forced to appear before a parliamentary committee in an expedited and rushed process and not give accurate or reliable information whatsoever about the cost of a regressive criminal justice measure.

I know my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville has some very strong views on the regressive nature of the justice legislation the government has been asking Parliament to swallow, and I look forward to his comments.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, the question is, how far does the Conservative government plan to go in its attack against the proper functioning of Canadian democracy? This is the basic question that would once again have to be asked if the government were to vote against the motion of the member for Wascana.

A hostage to its culture of secrecy, the government is turning its back on Canadians and depriving them and their elected officials of the right to obtain essential information that the government has no real reason to hide.

It is unbelievable. Like the member for Beauséjour said, the government expects the members of this House to support, without argument, the purchase of extremely expensive warplanes, while this same government made its choice without holding a bidding process, without knowing whether these were the best planes in this post-cold war era, and without providing updated estimates or specific analyses from the Department of Finance regarding the cost of purchasing and maintaining these planes. All we know is that the cost will be exorbitant.

Canadians have the right to this information. It is their money that is being spent. Their elected officials need this information to make an informed decision. This is not a matter of state secrecy. The government must tell Canadians how much the F-35s are going to cost them based on the Department of Finance's most recent estimates and analyses. How much? Why is the government so afraid to reveal this amount?

It is even more important that we obtain this figure because the Auditor General has already criticized the government for cost overruns and extremely long delays in the area of military procurement.

Another thing the government is hiding is the cost of its megaprison program, its delusional prison regime. Against all common sense, the government is stubbornly insisting on bringing a bad anti-crime strategy to Canada, a strategy that failed everywhere, including Great Britain and Australia, and that the Americans themselves no longer want to use because it does not reduce the rate of crime or recidivism. On the contrary, this simplistic strategy drove these rates up. It overcrowded prisons and clogged the prison system forcing governments to bleed themselves dry to pay for these megaprisons.

What this all boils down to is that there is less money available to help victims, less money to equip our police officers, less money to prevent crime, and less money for healthcare, education and the environment.

On January 7 in The Washington Post, and as reported in The Kingston Whig-Standard today, Newt Gingrich is urging American legislators to think and act with courage and creativity to “save on costs without compromising public safety by intelligently reducing their prison populations”.

Newt Gingrich is not precisely a lunatic leftist intellectual. In talking about the recidivism rate, Gingrich describes it as a catastrophic disaster and says that “half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years”.

Do we want that in Canada? Absolutely not, especially when everyone knows and can prove that the crime rate in Canada is going down thanks to the effective and rigorous strategy used by the Liberal governments to fight crime and protect Canadians.

This Conservative government, which has already reduced its budget to help victims by 43% and its budget to prevent crime by 70%, needs to tell Canadians how much it is going to cost them to import the mistakes that others are trying to correct.

The government is racking up bills, but refuses to put a value on them. It is unheard of. Where is the transparency it used to go on about? Once again, the Conservative government is flouting the Access to Information Act. Under section 69 of the act, the cost analyses of bills are not cabinet confidences.

It is insulting: they have to nerve to demand that parliamentarians support a litany of bills, on behalf of Canadians, without disclosing the government's cost estimates for those bills. The government is mocking people and flouting parliamentary democracy. It is showing contempt for the people and their representatives.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer puts a figure on these extravagant expenses. He is warning us about the additional billions of dollars the Conservatives' prison plan could cost the federal and provincial governments. The government is disputing the findings of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but where is the government's credibility? Let the government make its own analyses public, and then we will see how serious it is or how irresponsible and incompetent it is.

Let us look at the most recent ill-conceived bill, Bill C-59, which the government got passed quickly yesterday with the Bloc's help. Instead of targeting only major white collar criminals, this piece of legislation will mean that thousands of petty criminals who are ready to return to society, rehabilitated, and whose risk of recidivism is low will unnecessarily be kept in prison at high cost. We are talking about 1,500 people a year, more than 60% of whom are women. The cost of this exorbitant measure: $130 million a year. In the meantime, there is nothing to provide more resources to help investigators find the fraudsters, nothing to accelerate the legal process to recover the funds lost by the victims and nothing to help the victims recover their money.

Unlike what it claims, the government does nothing for victims. On the contrary, its appalling policies will increase crime and, therefore, the number of victims. Canadian taxpayers have a right to know how much this mess will cost them. It is their money, after all. And how much will it cost the provinces, which are struggling with huge deficits and which do not know how to pay for the increasing costs of health care, schools and universities?

Why is the government so afraid of making these figures public? No doubt because they will expose the Conservatives' incompetence and ideological blindness. Imagine. The government wants to waste up to $6 billion a year in borrowed money to fund additional tax cuts for corporations, when it has already sunk us into a deficit of over $50 billion, when corporate taxes in Canada are already 25% lower than in the United States, and when the Minister of Finance himself thinks that there are better ways to stimulate the economy. If the government wants the luxury of having such a costly and questionable policy, it should at least have the decency to back it up with figures.

The official opposition is not asking for the moon. It is simply asking the finance department to make public its projections about pre-tax corporate profits. That is routine information that the department made public up until 2005, that is, as long as there was a Liberal government. It is not a state secret.

But I am talking about the government and the finance department when really it is the Prime Minister who is at fault. He controls everything and wants to impose his culture of secrecy and his penchant for withholding information on everyone. He is keeping a minister who, on two occasions, not just one, misled the House. And he allows his ministers to ferociously attack the Parliamentary Budget Officer instead of engaging in an open, adult dialogue with him.

This Prime Minister prefers to personally attack the Leader of the Opposition in petty, pathetic televised propaganda instead of providing him, and the rest of us, with the information that we need and that we have every right to see in order to do our job, which is passing legislation that is good for Canadians, with full knowledge of the facts.

The Conservative government, with its culture of secrecy, is threatening the proper workings of Canadian democracy. This time, it has achieved the impossible. It has beaten its own record for withholding information. The government needs to recognize that and can start by complying with the motion by the member for Wascana and producing all the documents requested by the Standing Committee on Finance.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Cambridge Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear ConservativeMinister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Madam Speaker, the last time this nation faced a recession in the late nineties, the Liberal government at the time cut health care transfers to the provinces, which created a massive surplus for the government. However, that affected folks in my riding of Cambridge because they could not get medical doctors. It took almost a decade to solve that problem.

The Liberals made cuts to the military, which led to the decade of darkness. They made cuts to science and technology, which led to the brain drain.

We have taken a different approach. We have cut taxes and increased funding for transfers and science and technology, and it is working.

Does the member not believe that cutting taxes will lead to a better quality of life for Canadians, that it will lead to more job opportunities for Canadians, and that cutting taxes, not raising them, will secure our economy now and for the future?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, when we left government in 2005, there was a surplus and all the provinces had a surplus. Canada was considered to be in the best shape one could imagine. Now we have a deficit of $56 billion that the Conservatives started before the recession. What is the government's plan to address this deficit? Where are the analysts? Where are the numbers?

We are concerned by the fact that many of the Conservatives' plans are costly and bad policies. We want the analysis on the table. The government should table the numbers. We as legislators in this House have the right to see that information. We need to see the cost of the big jets that they want to buy to ensure the cost is the actual amount they claim it to be. We need to see the cost of the government's big jail agenda, which failed in the United States. It will be costly and ineffective.

If the government has numbers that challenge what I have said, then it just has to table them and debate them as we should be doing in a parliamentary democracy.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, does the member think we live in a just society under the Conservative regime given that most of the bills are justice bills? Let us put it in that paradigm.

What happens in the justice system when information is kept from the defence, which is what the government is doing to the opposition? In a court of law, the whole proceedings would be thrown out because the defence was not given information it required. If the same were done here, it could invalidate everything that the government has done.

Does the member think that by not giving the opposition the information it needs that is a fair and just way to go about doing things?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, Canada is a very solid democracy and I am confident that it will survive the attacks of the government. Canada is a good functioning democracy.

However, I have never seen such a thing. I have never heard of a government not answering questions. The debate today is about why the Conservatives will not table information requested by their colleagues. It has nothing to do with anything else but that. The Conservatives have not answered one question about that. They have not addressed this issue.

Why are the Conservatives hiding so much information from us? Why are they hiding it from Canadians? Are they embarrassed by the real cost of their big jail agenda and by the real cost of the jets they purchased? Are they afraid to show the real costs to Canadians? What would be the benefit of additional tax cuts to corporations at a time when we have a deficit of $56 billion?

Those are legitimate questions but we have not received any answers. This is unacceptable. This is a shame. The government may not respect Canadians or democracy.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Madam Speaker, today I rise to debate another misguided Liberal motion on our plan to reduce taxes for Canadians and get tough on crime.

Whenever a Liberal talks, it seems it is about raising taxes. We prefer to take another tack and talk about lowering taxes for Canadians.

It is a good thing our government has a long record of providing tax relief for hard-working Canadians such that I could continue all day, which I am sure all members here would enjoy.

The Liberals could also talk long about their own tax record. Unfortunately, it would be to discuss all the ways they would like to increase taxes, such as a GST hike, an iPod tax, a carbon tax, and it goes on and on.

Let us look at our Conservative government's tax record. Since taking power, we have cut over 100 taxes. We are cutting taxes in every way that we collect them, from excise taxes and sales taxes, to business taxes and personal taxes.

One of our first actions on taking office was to reduce the GST by 1%, to 6%, but we did not stop there. We then reduced the GST by another 1%, to 5%.

Of course, whenever we cut taxes, we hear howls from the Liberals. Indeed, the Liberals were so incensed that we would lower Canadian taxes that the member for Kings—Hants, when asked if he would repeal the GST cuts, said, “Absolutely”. He was joined later by the Liberal leader, who would infamously say, “I'm not going to take a GST tax hike off the table”.

Thankfully for Canadians and their wallets, the tax-and-spend Liberals are not in power and a Conservative government that believes in lower taxes is.

This is a government that believes in lower taxes for Canadians, like our seniors, and has demonstrated this with tax relief measures such as pension income splitting. This is one of the most significant tax changes for seniors and is saving some seniors thousands of dollars every year on their income taxes. This is a move that was praised by seniors' groups. The New Brunswick Senior Citizens' Federation said, “On behalf of the 21,000 seniors citizens we represent in New Brunswick, we commend you for introducing the opportunity for our seniors to utilize pension income splitting. This change will mean additional moneys for our seniors who are mostly on a very limited fixed income”.

We also doubled the pension income credit and increased the age credit amount by over $2,000, but our Conservative government did not stop there. We introduced the child fitness tax credit to help parents get their kids into organized sports. We introduced the child tax credit to provide much needed assistance for families across this country. We introduced the public transit tax credit to help people make the decision to take public transit. In our local newspaper this morning when it looked at a raise in the cost of public transit in our community, one of the young students said, “I have that public transit tax credit, so it helps ease the pain”.

We lowered Canadians' personal income taxes and, perhaps more important, we introduce a tax-free savings account, the most important personal savings vehicle since the introduction of the RRSP. Nearly five million Canadians are already benefiting from having their capital gains earned tax free.

In the end, the most important thing is what our record of tax relief means for families. Our tax relief measures mean a lot for Canadians. The tax savings for a typical family is $3,000. Let me say that again: a tax savings of $3,000 for the average family. That means a lot for the average family in Canada. I am proud to be part of a government that has made that happen.

Let me turn again to the topic that brings us here today: our tax relief for businesses. Let us review some of the ways our government has reduced taxes for businesses.

We reduced the federal capital tax in 2006 which was seriously harming business investment in Canada. To encourage provinces to remove their capital taxes, we introduced the temporary financial incentive to help provinces remove their capital taxes. With our help, by 2012, capital taxes will be eliminated. We reduced the small business tax rate to 11% in 2008. We also increased the income eligible for this lower tax rate from $300,000 to $500,000. It was a move that recognized that innovative and growth-oriented small businesses play a vital role in the ongoing health of our economy.

To help Canadian businesses weather the global economic storm, in Canada's economic action plan we also introduced a number of temporary tax measures to stimulate the economy. For example, to promote the exploration and development of Canada's rich mineral resources, the mineral exploration tax credit was extended in budget 2010. This temporary 15% credit provides important benefits in terms of employment and investment, especially for rural and remote communities. This is especially helpful in my home province of British Columbia. In the words of the Mining Association of British Columbia:

With British Columbia’s mining industry emerging from recent economic challenges, MABC is encouraged by this federal budget's initiatives that will help ensure that recovery does not falter.

MABC was pleased to see...a one year extension of the 15 percent mineral exploration tax credit....combined with a stay-the-course plan to continue reducing corporate income tax rates...important to the recovery currently under way in the mining sector.

As the previous quote alluded to, we are lowering business taxes from over 22% in 2006 to 15% by 2012, as passed in 2007 by Parliament.

Canadians are benefiting from permanent tax relief that is broad-based, fiscally durable and structurally sound. Lowering taxes on job creators means that more jobs are created. It is a simple calculation, but an important one. It is one that has been confirmed by leading economists in Canada. The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters as well as Jack Mintz, one of Canada's top private sector economists, have shown that lowering business taxes means thousands upon thousands of more jobs for Canadians.

At a time when we are exiting a global economic recession, now is not the time to hike taxes on job creators. Liberals used to know that, but instead, they have decided to turn a blind eye for cheap political gain.

The member for Kings—Hants knew this when he said, “We cannot increase corporate taxes without losing corporate investment. If we lose corporate investment, we have a less productive economy.... That means fewer jobs. That means more poverty”.

The member for Wascana knew this when he said, “Canadians deserve the facts” and that the NDP leader's “numbers are simply wrong, and he is trying to obscure the true benefits of business tax cuts, namely jobs and economic growth”.

I agree with the member for Wascana. Canadians do deserve the facts.

If we want higher wages, more jobs and a higher standard of living, we need the business investments that result from our government's tax cuts on job creators. Are our efforts paying off? Without a doubt, yes. Compared to other major industrialized countries, Canada is indeed weathering the recession better than most. Our strong economic, financial and fiscal fundamentals have contributed to that success, along with our economic action plan.

Over 460,000 more Canadians are working today than in July 2009, the strongest job growth in the G7. Compare this labour market recovery to the ongoing labour market challenges in the United States, where employment remains well below its pre-recession level. Tax relief for Canadian businesses has without a doubt contributed to Canada's relative success.

Whether the Liberals really appreciate it or not, tax relief has helped build a solid foundation for economic growth, job creation and better prosperity. Improving the competitiveness of the Canadian tax system of course requires collaboration among all governments to help Canadian businesses compete globally. Fortunately, reducing business tax makes so much sense the provinces are following our example. B.C., Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba have also reduced their provincial taxes on businesses.

The Liberal Ontario finance minister, Dwight Duncan, is a stalwart defender, saying, “Scrapping...corporate tax cuts would hurt the fragile economic recovery by raising taxes on the...forestry and automotive sectors”. He said that scrapping them is “about the most shortsighted, dumb, public policy pronouncement one could envision”. Liberals proposing a shortsighted dumb public policy? Shocking, I know.

The fact is that along with the provinces we are helping Canada build a strong foundation for future economic growth, job creation and higher living standards for Canadians, to the point where Canada is now increasingly recognized as a model for business taxation.

A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal noted:

Twenty-two years ago we wrote an editorial--'North to Argentina'--warning Canada that economic prosperity isn't a birthright but requires sound policies like free trade. Nowadays, that's a lecture Canada could credibly deliver to Washington on business taxes.

The government also recognizes that unnecessary regulation imposes significant costs on business and adversely affects productivity and economic growth. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that businesses in Canada currently spend over $30 billion each year complying with regulations. Over the past four years, the government has taken important steps to reduce the administrative and paperwork burden on Canadian businesses.

In March 2009 the government met its target of reducing the paperwork burden on companies by 20% and eliminating almost 80,000 regulatory requirements and information obligations with which businesses must comply.

To sustain that momentum, this January the government followed through on its budget commitment and announced the creation of the Red Tape Reduction Commission with parliamentarian and private sector representatives. It will work to reduce the burden of federal regulatory requirements on Canadian businesses, especially small and medium businesses. As a member of that commission, I must say it is working extraordinarily well. It will consult with Canadians and Canadian businesses to identify irritants that have a clear detrimental effect on growth, competitiveness and innovation. The commission will provide advice on permanent solutions to control and reduce the overall regulatory compliance burden. I am honoured to be a part of that commission finishing the job.

It is important to remain vigilant in maintaining Canada's position on the world stage. That is why our Conservative government's number one priority remains the economy. Canada's economic action plan was intended to help guide the economy while being ever mindful of the country's long-term future. It has provided a balance between stimulating our economy in the short term and building our capacity in the long term. The plan is working in every region of Canada's family--

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order on a matter of relevance.

The member is doing a good job of outlining a historical revisionism of what the government may have done. However, the motion before the House is an issue of whether or not the government should release information to Parliament and whether in fact the government has demonstrated that it is in violation of the privileges of Parliament. I hope that before her time runs out she will at least make some commentary on the motion now before the House.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I thank the hon. member for his comments. I will follow the debate a little more closely. I would ask the hon. member to tie in her comments to the subject of the motion at hand.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, it is also important to acknowledge the intervention of my colleague. The context of our current economic situation really creates the conversation in the debate. I appreciate that and ensure that I tie it all together.

In every region of Canada, families and businesses are paying less tax and unemployed workers are receiving better support and new training. Many job-creating infrastructure projects are nearing completion, while colleges and universities are benefiting from new investments. Canadian manufacturers are still in the process of recovering from the recession as they continue to deal with rising commodity costs and intense competition from all over the world.

Reducing business taxes, therefore makes more sense. It will leave more money in the hands of manufacturers that can then make necessary investments in their workforce and in their plants to compete and grow in domestic and global markets. It is no wonder then that the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters say that the question is not if we can afford corporate tax cuts, it is can we afford not to.

We have more than 110,000 businesses in Canada that are benefiting from our tax relief on job creators. By encouraging these 110,000 businesses to grow and encourage more and better paying jobs for Canadians, business tax cuts are raising the standard for living.

A $6 billion tax hike will do the opposite. It will stop our recovery in its tracks and hurt job creation. It is irresponsible, it is pure politics and it is short-sighted.

If Liberals do not believe what our Conservative government has to say, maybe they should listen to the former Liberal finance minister and Liberal deputy prime minister, John Manley who said, “I support the plan to reduce the statutory corporate tax rate to 15% by 2012”.

These reductions have been supported by governments from the left, right and centre of the political spectrum. Behind the strategy is a recognition that few things matter more to Canada's economic health and future prosperity than our ability to attract and retain investment.

For a number of years, Canadians relied on a cheap dollar to make our goods more competitive in foreign markets, but those days are gone. To compete for investment today with our strong dollar and growth in many of our export markets, which are still weak, Canada needs a significant tax advantage.

I do not think we should underestimate the benefits of these changes. We are transforming how Canada is seen by investors looking for places in which and from which to do business globally. Reforming the tax system in a way that promotes business investment and growth is a hugely positive move.

To tie it all together in terms of accountability, our government, not only through the Federal Accountability Act but also through the Parliamentary Budget Officer, is giving the tools to Canadians and to all the parties in the House which were unknown in the past.

Again, I am proud of our government. I am proud of the important work we are doing in terms of tax reduction. I am very proud of the tools that we have been providing to all parliamentarians.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, as the member from Mississauga pointed out, this motion is not about tax cuts. It is about the obligation of the executive to release certain documents. These are very simple documents dealing with the costs of various crime bills before the House, and projections of corporate tax cuts.

The fundamental role of a member of Parliament individually and Parliament constitutionally is to hold government to account. A tool of that role is the ability to send for persons, papers and records. This is what has been done.

The executive has an obligation to respond to requests from Parliament. That goes to the very heart of democracy. It defines the role of the executive. It defines the role of Parliament. It is not our job as Parliament to govern but to hold accountable those who do govern.

I listened to the member go through her 10-minute speech and she did not say one sentence, one word about this motion. Therefore, I have two questions. They are very simple and I would like a very clear answer.

First, does Parliament have the constitutional right to send for information such as alluded to in this motion? Second, does the executive have the constitutional responsibility to respond to those requests?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, I was sitting in the finance committee a few short days ago. The Parliamentary Budget Officer was there to present his economic forecast. If we want to drill this down to understanding the impact of corporate tax cuts, for example, he said that they had already been included in his economic forecast, that he had considered what the impact of corporate tax cuts would be. He provided very clear documents around the impact of the corporate tax cuts.

It is important to note that it was another economist, who was there shortly after, who also had a very clear idea with regard to integrating the 2007 corporate tax cuts into his fiscal projections. He came out with a bit of a different answer, which indicated that the margin of error was very small.

Many people have analyzed the impact of corporate tax cuts and all of these measures with regard to Parliament and the ability of parliamentarians to make decisions.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, to prove the government is hiding crime bill cost information and muzzling its own deputy minister, we only have to look at the committee hearings of two days ago

On Tuesday, February 15, we dealt with Bill C-59, Abolition of Early Parole Act. The member for Brampton West asked the deputy minister a question about the costs of the crime bill. He asked if she had that information and if she could provide it. The deputy minister said that she had most of that information, that it was part of her responsibility in terms of developing legislation to consider costs. She said that she had most of that information or access to it, but the issue was the disclosure of it because the government had indicated it was a cabinet confidence.

The member for Brampton West went further, asking if she had provided the costing information to the government about what it would cost for these changes. In response she said that she had the information or access to it, but she could not talk about what she provided the government in any detail because she thought it was cabinet confidence of advice.

We clearly have a government that knows what the information is but is deliberately hiding the information from members of the committee and members of the House.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, I have listened to many question periods. When asked how much these crime bills would cost, the minister has stood and given very direct answers.

This morning we were talking about this. One of the colleagues from the NDP said that in white-collar crime there were victims, although some people thought it was victimless. He had great compassion for the victims of white-collar crime. At that time, we were examining tax havens and people losing their life savings. It would be very interesting to know how the member opposite can look at his victims and his constituents who have had their life savings taken away and say them that the criminal only has to live with one-sixth of the sentence.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the member referred to pension income splitting for seniors and the importance of that benefit. Documents are readily available that will show if we take out all the seniors who do not have a spouse to split with, if we take out all the seniors who are already at the lowest possible tax rate and if we take out all the seniors who do not have a qualifying pension instrument, it means only 14% of seniors even benefit and they are the highest income earning seniors in Canada.

Is the member aware of that? Would she maybe like to withdraw her comments that the benefit was for all seniors?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, the member talks about benefits for seniors. To help seniors, it is absolutely a multi-pronged approach. I can use many personal examples where the wife stayed at home and raised the children and the husband perhaps had a benefit. Indeed, those people are benefiting greatly.

Do we need to consider a comprehensive approach? Absolutely. However, is income splitting a hugely important measure for many seniors? Absolutely. I would never withdraw that. I have talked to many pensioners who have found it to be a life saver.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo laid out the history and some of the differences between the fiscal responsibility our government had shown and the fact that we were able to react to the global economic downturn in the way we had. We we were able to create and save jobs so our unemployment rate would remain much less than other industrialized countries around the world.

This morning in the public safety committee some of the costing questions were put to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Page. Following that, the minister appeared in committee and the member for Ajax—Pickering threw out the $90 million figure, which he has continually used in the media. He threw that out and slammed the minister on his difference of opinion.

I do not know how many times the minister has clearly explained the funds that were appropriated, but the member for Ajax—Pickering has a different idea on that. The Minister of Public Safety then had officials from Correctional Service Canada attend to explain, from their perspective, that the minister's figures were correct.

Today there is another motion to try to embarrass the government and have everything costed out perfectly. Could the member continue to explain the responsible way that our government brought forward this legislation?

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, one of the prominent examples that stands out in my mind is our economic action plan, which saw us through one of the worst global economic recessions since the Great Depression. Part of our process was doing quarterly reports. We released them not only to all parliamentarians but to all Canadians.

We knew we were providing significant stimulus and it was going to create a deficit. Everyone agreed it was unfortunate we had to do that at the time, but we were completely transparent, more than perhaps any government throughout time, in terms of sharing with Canadians where their money was going, why it was going there and doing quarterly reports for all Canadians.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kings—Hants.

I am very pleased to rise today to speak on this issue. I submit it is a very important issue that goes right to the heart of our democracy and the role of the executive and Parliament within our democratic system.

I will speak first about the duties, responsibilities and obligations of members of Parliament individually and of the House of Commons, collectively.

There is a fundamental constitutional obligation on us individually and collectively to hold the executive to account. Our job is not to govern, it is to hold to account those who do. Basically members of Parliament have four fundamental roles: approve, amend and negate legislation; approve, amend and negate tax measures in legislation; approve or negate requests from the government for the appropriation of moneys from the public purse through the estimates process; and, most important, to hold the executive to account and ensure they are fulfilling those roles and functions that have been delegated to them.

The last speaker did not mention one word, one sentence, that dealt with this motion. We have lost sight of that very fundamental role. Some members in the House talk about decorum, which is very important, but the more important issue is for members of Parliament to do what they are supposed to do.

Every member of Parliament, government and opposition, has a constitutional duty and obligation to hold the executive to account, and both are to blame in many instances. In some cases, opposition MPs emphasize too much in drumming up scandal, real or perceived. At the same time, MPs from the government side toe the party line and read only the lines that are given to them in the morning by the Prime Minister's Office.

Right now Parliament and democracy are under attack. We have had two prorogations, the long form census travesty, and the current Minister of International Cooperation debacle. As well, we now have a motion before this House on the absolute refusal of the executive to give costing information about crime bills and projections on corporate tax cuts. Again, these are simple costing measures that have always been available to Parliament and should be available to Parliament.

Parliament has certain tools, and this was affirmed in the recent ruling of Speaker Milliken in April of last year. I quote:

--procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of government documents, even those related to national security.

But it must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the house to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the houses.

What we are talking about today is a very simple request for the costing, which is available. Deputy ministers have all acknowledged that this is available information. It is in the domain and circulated within the executive. That is one request.

The other request has to do with the corporate tax cost projections. This is very simple financial information. There is no constitutional reason, no legitimate reason, no public interest reason why this information has not been made available to Parliament. I would point out that all constitutional and procedural scholars agree with that premise.

This tool has been around for centuries. This followed the creation of our Westminster system which started in or around the year 1208. It is a tool available to Parliament in fulfilling its constitutional duty to hold government to account, and as I pointed out before, Parliament, at all times has an overriding duty to act responsibly, to act in the public interest.

Now we have a situation where that tool, and I submit democracy itself, is under attack. We have a situation where the Prime Minister will do anything in his power to undermine Parliament. When he was first elected he published a booklet advising Conservative chairs how to stop any progress in committee, to hold up committee meetings, to shut them down, leave, adjourn, anything at all. He prorogued Parliament twice. Any officers or senior public servants who disagree with him are blacklisted: Linda Keen, Paul Kennedy, Kevin Page, the list goes on.

We had the Afghan detainee issue which had to go to the highest office, the office of the Speaker, for a ruling. I just quoted from it.

The situation is very clear. Now we have before us the cost of the crime bills and projections dealing with corporate profits and corporate taxes. Nothing could be simpler. This is information that should be available to members of Parliament and parliamentary committees. To say it is a cabinet confidence is not correct.

However, I should point out that in refusing this to Parliament, Parliament being the people, what the Prime Minister is saying is that Parliament does not count, and he is also saying that the people do not count. He is saying that if he wants to give out this information, he will do it, and if he does not want to do it, he will not and it is none of Parliament's business and, more important, it is not the public's business. He is saying that he will do what he wants to do and it is none of their business.

This is sad. We have a person in power who, I submit, has absolutely no respect for Parliament, the institutions of democracy and the role of Parliament. It is nothing less. The previous speaker talked about tax cuts and seniors' pensions. It is not about that. It is nothing less than a frontal attack on democracy, democratic institutions and the very foundations upon which this country was built and started, in 1867.

This is how countries get themselves in trouble. All it takes is for many people just to shrug their shoulders, do nothing and say, “I'm still getting my pension. The roads are still paved. We still have relative peace. I don't care.” All it takes is for people to do nothing. If Parliament is not functioning properly, this leads to a lesser country, degrades institutional integrity and more constant attacks. It is a vicious cycle.

This is not a partisan issue, it is not a policy issue, it is the institution itself that is under attack and there is an obligation on each and every one of us, individually and collectively, to stand on our feet and protect this institution of Parliament.

My suspicion is the motion will pass, but it will sadden me when I see government MPs who took their oath of office to protect this institution vote against this very motion.

Unless and until we can get every member of Parliament to acknowledge his or her role within this institution, Parliament and all its institutions will continue to degrade and depreciate.

I think I have made my point clear. Members will understand how I am going to vote on this motion. I certainly welcome any questions.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the government members who are speaking are simply trying to change the channel and hide from what they know is certainly wrong. They want to hide from what they actually criticized the previous government for.

In fact, I was at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security hearing two nights ago, on February 15, when we were discussing Bill C-59, the abolition of early parole act. The member for Brampton West specifically asked the deputy minister of public safety about the costing of the bill. He asked her specifically if she had that information and to provide it to the committee. The deputy minister's response was: “I have most of that information. It's part of my responsibility in terms of developing legislation to consider costs. Yes, I have most of that information or access to it”.

The question is, why can she not give out the information to the committee members in the House? It is because the government will not let her.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, with what is taking place in this debate, I think we are getting a little off track. We can talk about the minutiae of what happened in committees, tax cuts and pensions, but we can lose sight of the forest for the trees.

This is an attack on Parliament. It is an attack on democracy. Parliament has the right to send for persons, papers and records. That is a fundamental right that every member of Parliament has a constitutional obligation to protect and I hope that is done.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the reason we have that right is that bad things happen when there is no proper scrutiny. When the Liberals took office in 1993, they inherited a $42 billion deficit and in order to balance the budget, there had to be substantial cuts in order to save it. One has to cut 20% to save 80%, otherwise it gets much worse. The real issue is that if we do not know history, we are doomed to repeat it. It is important we have this information and respect for Parliament.

I would ask the member to respond to the assertion that parliamentarians expect the government to be open, honest, transparent and accountable and this motion says it is not.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, I disagree slightly with the member. It is not a Liberal or Conservative issue and it should not be a partisan issue. It is simply an attack on Parliament.

Parliament has a duty to hold the executive to account. One of the tools that has developed over the years and has been adopted in all Westminster systems is that Parliament, in its duty to hold the government to account, has the right to send for persons, papers and records or, in other words, to send for information. In this case, that information, for no good reason at all, is being withheld from Parliament. For that reason, this motion should pass.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, despite being elected on a platform of openness, transparency and accountability, the Conservative government has been obsessed with controlling and restricting the flow of information and hiding facts from Parliament and the people of Canada.

Most recently, the Conservatives have been obstructing the work of the Standing Committee on Finance by hampering Parliament's attempts to gain a better understanding of the government's fiscal position and the costs of the government's legislation.

The Conservative government refuses to reveal to parliamentarians the actual cost of their American-style legislative measures to supposedly combat crime.

The Conservatives have yet to come clean with the details on the full cost of their crime agenda and corporate tax cuts, months after they were first asked for it by the finance committee. On both accounts, the Conservatives have falsely claimed that disclosing the requested information would be a breach of cabinet confidence.

The previous Liberal government had no problem providing projections of corporate profits. In November 2005, in its fiscal update, the Liberal government actually provided that very information on page 83 of the public document for the mini budget, the fiscal update of that time. In fact, it was common practice to provide Parliament with the projected cost of legislation before MPs were asked to vote on it. That is what is important.

This is not a debate today about the merits of corporate tax cuts versus payroll tax cuts, versus investments in health care for middle-class families. That is the broader issue, but the real issue today is why will the government not tell members of Parliament the cost of the corporate tax cuts. Why will the government not tell members of Parliament the cost of its U.S.-style criminal justice agenda so that at least before MPs vote on that legislation, particularly at a time when we have a $56 billion deficit, we know the cost and how much these decisions will add to that record Conservative deficit?

The government's excuses were so unbelievable that last week I asked the Speaker of the House to find the government in contempt of Parliament.

The government is preventing parliamentarians from doing their work by refusing to share this information with them.

In our system of responsible government, the government must seek Parliament's authority to spend public funds. Parliament has an obligation and responsibility to hold the government to account and to scrutinize the government's books.

A knowledge of the actual costs is particularly important in these times of deficit and future budget cuts.

The primary role of members of the House is to monitor the use of public funds. Without the appropriate information, members cannot fulfill this role.

Today I am rising in support of this motion. We are appealing to the government to come clean with the information. At a time when we have a $56 billion deficit and Canadian families are having trouble just making ends meet, where every dollar counts, this secrecy around public dollars must end.

John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail put it well earlier this week when he said:

The Harper government uses “cabinet confidence” the way the Nixon administration used “executive privilege.” The Liberals provided projections of corporate profits when they were in government. And it is ridiculous for the Conservatives to maintain that the cost of their law-and-order legislation is a state secret.

How is Parliament to judge the wisdom of that legislation if it cannot measure the legislation's projected impact in terms of prisons built and guards hired?

This latest episode reinforces the point that the Conservative government's determination to keep such a tight control on information makes it impossible for one to judge their government or for Parliament to do its job.

The fact is that over the last five years there has been an insidious erosion of access to basic information that has made it difficult for Canadians to judge their government, or for parliamentarians to do their jobs representing their constituents.

Since taking power, the Prime Minister has refused to co-operate fully with access to information requests. In fact, the number of cases in which Ottawa discloses information has dropped from 40% to 16%. The fact is that in 2010, the Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, admitted that there was a lack of will on the part of the government to be transparent, that Canada was no longer an information leader.

This Conservative government has become notorious for its culture of secrecy.

All Canadians will remember the Speaker's ruling on the Afghan detainee issue. The ruling was a tough pill to swallow for the Conservatives, because it proved the supremacy of Parliament and the role of parliamentarians to hold their government to account. It is an indisputable privilege, obligation and responsibility we have as parliamentarians.

However, the Conservatives appear to have learned absolutely nothing from that ruling. They continue to obstruct the work of Parliament by habitually denying the information that we as parliamentarians need to do our jobs.

Since the Parliamentary Budget Office was created, the Conservatives have vilified the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, and stonewalled his requests for information as his office works to ensure the accuracy of the government's financial pictures.

Nearly a year after the Conservative government's 2010 budget promised to find $17.6 billion in savings through public service attrition, the Conservatives have consistently refused to provide any details.

Parliamentarians need to know how the Conservatives are going to reduce the size of the public service, or how they will get their spending under control and return Canada to balanced budgets. The only thing that we have learned is that they plan to hire 5,000 more correctional officers, presumably to staff the prison expansions associated with their as yet uncosted justice legislation.

Is it any surprise that in November the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report showed there was an 85% chance of the finance minister and government failing to meet their target of getting Canada back to balanced budgets by 2015-16. The reality is that the finance minister has never met a deficit target in his tenure; his numbers do not add up. The government that he is part of tries to prevent Parliament from having the numbers.

Now that it has become clear the Conservatives will persist in giving a further $6 billion in tax cuts to Canada's largest corporations despite the fact we have a $56 billion deficit, it is looking even less convincing that we will get back to balanced budgets under this Conservative government's big spending, big borrowing ways.

At a time when Canadian families are being squeezed and every dollar counts, this kind of secrecy around public dollars is unconscionable. It is not the government's money; the money belongs to Canadians. We are here to defend the public purse.

As the Globe and Mail said in its editorial this week:

Its position is untenable. This is a government that stresses fiscal rectitude and the promotion of financial literacy. Why should Canadians be told to ask more informed questions about private investment or borrowings, on the one hand, and give the government a blank cheque on the other?

It is time for the Prime Minister to end this practice of attacking and trying to intimidate senior public servants and parliamentary watchdogs, including the Parliamentary Budget Officer. It is time to stop curtailing access to information. It is time to stop hiding behind the false pretense of cabinet confidence when the information the finance committee has requested, the costs of the corporate tax cuts and the Conservatives' American-style criminal justice legislation, is vital for our decision-making in Parliament.

It is time for the Conservatives to start respecting Parliament and the Canadians who chose this parliament and Canadian taxpayers, and tell them what their agenda will cost.

Opposition Motion--Documents Requested by the Standing Committee on FinanceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Cambridge Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear ConservativeMinister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Madam Speaker, the last time the country faced a recession, it was nothing of this magnitude but the Liberals were trying to grapple with it and the debt left by Prime Minister Trudeau. They cut health care services to Canadians, which did in fact create surpluses in the government coffers, but hurt Canadians' ability to access doctors and health care services. They cut science and technology, causing the brain drain in this country. They even took $50 billion out of the employment insurance coffers, money that then vanished. The Conservative government does not believe that is the way to help Canadians get jobs and deal with an economic downturn.

The member's own House leader stated at one point that the true benefits of tax cuts were jobs and economic growth.

Does the member disagree with his own House leader, the member for Wascana, or does he agree that lowering taxes, as we have done during this recession, creates jobs for Canadians, economic stability now and into the future, and improves the lives of Canadians?

Does he or does he not believe that tax cuts are good for Canadians?