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House of Commons Hansard #162 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was omnibus.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, does the member think 400 pages of information, 735 clauses, 70 acts of Parliament and 60 distinct measures are an abuse of this—

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. A short answer from the hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague has noted, this is really not about democracy at all.

Today, the government House leader foolishly told Canadians not to concern themselves with procedure. It is crazy for the government House leader to say such a thing in Parliament, where we are all about procedure and making things happen in the right way and ensuring that what is discussed in the House among MPs of all parties should be about democracy.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to speak to this Liberal motion on omnibus bills today and to why there should be a committee to review and report on how they may be used properly.

Omnibus bills are intended to be a tool for matters of housekeeping and efficiency, for grouping minor and uncontroversial updates into one place. They have a role. As a minister, I have used omnibus bills as they are intended to be used. They are intended to facilitate parliamentary debate by bringing together all the minor technical and administrative amendments to legislation that arise from a single policy decision, which is the critical part in how far Parliament and the Prime Minister have strayed.

I will not pretend that the phenomenon of abusive omnibus bills being used to bundle the major and consequential changes of numerous policy decisions is a new one, but I will contend that under the current government it has become an unparalleled expression of contempt for Canadians and a tool for the dismantling of a core principle of our democracy, that of Parliament's accountability to constituents.

In 2005, under another government, the budget bill was 120 pages long and at the time it was a record length. The opposition leader of the day, now the right hon. Prime Minister, asked:

How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation...?

Exactly, is what I would say.

He denounced omnibus bills as undemocratic and a “contradiction to the conventions and practices of the House”. That is exactly so.

Therefore, I would ask today's Prime Minister where his integrity was regarding Bill C-38, his omnibus bill, presented last spring? If his words of 2005 indeed expressed his convictions, I would ask this. What happened to his convictions?

Members were forced last June to vote on a block of legislation four times the length and with 400 times the impact on Canadians compared to the omnibus bill that he so decried in 2005. Why did the Prime Minister do that and why is he preparing another such travesty of an omnibus bill that is expected to be presented this fall? Why is his tactic, this misuse of omnibus bills, so wrong? Because it does not allow parliamentarians to do their jobs for the people they represent.

Let us look at Bill C-38 for a moment. It is 452 pages long, has 753 clauses and amends 70 different acts. First and foremost, it is an abuse of democracy to lump together such an array of massive policy change. Permit me to list a few examples.

Bill C-38 increases government's power over people's lives in many domains, such as immigration, access to employment insurance, pensions and industrial developments in people's backyards, to name a few.

As Bill C-38 increases ministers' individual powers over individual people's lives, it reduces the very accountability mechanisms that make sure these powers are not being abused. That is scary stuff indeed.

The breadth of policy change in Bill C-38 is breathtaking, such as changes to the very fabric of financial security for seniors, changes in justice that are fundamental to Canada's immigration intake process, and changes to our critical environmental safety net.

Bill C-38 gave Revenue Canada $8 million a year in extra money to intimidate and punish environmental and other not-for-profit organizations that dare to speak up in the public interest. How many Canadians wanted that? How many Canadians thought they were voting for that? That is 10 times the dollars that the government claims it will be saving by eliminating the Kitsilano Coast Guard search and rescue base in the heart of the busiest harbour in Canada. Many of my constituents, every one that I have heard from, is angry about the closure of that base because they know that it will lead to preventable deaths.

Therefore, Bill C-38 was an attack on democracy, an attack on the environment and an attack on Canadian values and the Canadian people. To lump these fundamental rewrites of policy and practice into a single bill that cannot be properly examined, understood, debated, communicated nor amended is an abuse of democratic principles. That abuse of democracy must end.

The Prime Minister used to agree with me on that but that was then and this is now. I would contend that the government's reliance on omnibus budget bills is a symptom of an underlying condition, the condition of contempt. This has been amply proven. The government has contempt for democracy, contempt for Parliament, contempt for the rule of the law, contempt for civil society and contempt for Canadians.

Canada is a country built on hard work, responsibility, freedom, equality, opportunity, compassion and respect for one another. Those are deep Liberal values but also Canadian values. Canada is a country in which contempt by its leaders for its people has no place. With Canada's history of sacrifice in defence of democracy, we must never forget that Parliament is important. What we do here and how we do it matters.

Having a healthy democracy is the Canadian way. Having a government that is accountable for its actions and decisions is the Canadian way. Having transparent processes and procedures is the Canadian way. Having a government that gives people the opportunity to get involved in politics and to participate in decisions that affect them is the Canadian way.

On the flip side, omnibus bills are an affront to democracy. They are an affront to Canada's political traditions. They are an affront to the rights of our people. There is a constitutional problem with omnibus bills because the legal boundaries are unclear. There is also a problem at the political level.

However, there are solutions. I am looking at the scope of the task ahead of us. The committee is just the first step.

The committee must do its work but that is just the first step. The committee must find out how this kind of abuse is prevented in other western Liberal democracies. It must propose changes to tighten up the latitude that exists for abusing omnibus bills and apply accountability that does not exist today.

We must ask ourselves this question: Is there not something fundamentally wrong with an electoral system, Canada's electoral system, in which 25% of eligible voters can provide a governing party with a majority, a government that can then proceed to make the kinds of major policy changes we saw in Bill C-38 without due process, without respect, with contempt and with impunity?

I can picture a day when our electoral system will strengthen democratic accountability and not weaken it. I can picture a day when the proportion of each party's public representatives in this place will more closely reflect the will of the voters. I can picture this renewed Canadian democracy creating the incentive for parliamentarians to really work together across party lines on the big challenges of the day. It is time to have that conversation with Canadians. How we elect our Parliament, how we govern ourselves, how we include and consult, and how we write and debate our legislation says something important about Canada and the kind of people Canadians want to be.

The government's abuse of omnibus bills represents secrecy, contempt, exclusion and meanness. That is not Canada, that is not who Canadians are and that means this abuse of power must be fixed. We can start right now by voting in favour of the Liberal motion to end the misuse of omnibus legislation.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again I thank the Liberal member for bringing up everything that is despicable, disrespectful and anti-democratic in the omnibus bill introduced by the Conservatives and the upcoming bill that they are supposed to be introducing this week, which is even bigger, even thicker and probably even more controversial.

I recall that, between 1993 and 2006, the Liberals also introduced 14 omnibus bills, which is one per year. Now they are rising to criticize this practice. I would think they recognized that this was also anti-democratic.

Why is it worse now than when they were in power?

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP member for her question.

I already mentioned that there were omnibus bills at the time. They were much shorter. There were fewer political issues and no controversial issues. What we are seeing now is an outright abuse of the process, and it is time for that to stop.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would caution my NDP colleague not to be sucked in by the talking points of the government. We are talking apples and oranges: a 21-page budget bill versus a 400-page budget bill. Do not fall for that stuff.

I would ask my colleague what aspects of the budget would have benefited from a full and thorough investigation by committee.

The fact is that the Conservatives now have a piece of legislation at the human resources committee, Bill C-44, which would impact about 6,000 Canadians. The bill received the unanimous consent of the House and it is now in committee for full hearings with witnesses and testimony. However, on something like working while on claim, which they have just made a mess of and impacts 900,000 Canadians, it gets flushed through in this omnibus bill.

Since the Conservatives have royally jigged up working while on claim, what other aspects of the bill spring to mind that may have been tweaked a little had it had the opportunity to go to committee?

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, what immediately springs to mind for British Columbians or any Canadian who wants a strong economy that protects and restores of the environment without degrading it, are the changes to the Environmental Assessment Act. We saw a massive erasing of 30 years of thoughtful process to assess the potential impacts of development and to provide direction as to how development could take place in a way that would not impact the environment. This was very useful public policy that has been undermined completely. There will be 3,000 environmental assessments a year that will no longer take place.

I do want to add that it is bad for business. We see what happens when an industry does not have the trust of the public, thanks to the intervention by the Conservative government which undermines the trust of the public in the protection of the environment with the kinds of measures that Bill C-38 highlighted.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Macleod Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies ConservativeMinister of State (Finance)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak against the motion brought forward today. I know my Liberal colleagues will be shocked at that but I do take exception to some of the comments that have been made here this morning and I will reflect on those.

To sum it up, we on this side of the House recognize that not only the Canadian economy but the economies of the world are in a fragile recovery mode right now and so it takes comprehensive plans to ensure we can deal with that fragile recovery. I would argue, and I will go on to explain why, that comprehensive legislation is required to enact a comprehensive plan.

We tabled a comprehensive budget early in the spring and it requires comprehensive legislation to enact that, just like it has for every other budget that has been tabled in this House throughout the years. There is nothing different about it. A government puts forward a budget that is actually the plan for the government and that plan impacts different pieces of legislation that need to be changed. That is exactly what was done in the first budget implementation act and we will see the continuation of that in the second budget implementation act. Because of that, I would argue that Canada, because of this comprehensive plan, is in the good recovery mode that it is in.

We have actually helped our businesses create jobs and grow the economy. On March 29, our government introduced the 2012 budget, the economic action plan 2012. It is a prudent and long-term plan to grow Canada's economy, create jobs and return to balanced budgets. When discussing this plan, we must consider it in a global context, as I referred to earlier. Thanks to the help of our Conservative government's economic leadership, Canada has fared much better than all of our G7 counterparts.

I will go through some of the examples. First and foremost, since July 2009, and I spoke to the job recovery, we now have 820,000 net new jobs, which is, by far, the strongest job growth record among all of the G7 countries. That is because we have a comprehensive plan and because we put forward legislation to enact that plan.

Second, more than 90% of all those jobs created since July 2009 are full-time positions and more than 75% of them are in the private sector.

Third, both the IMF and the OECD project that Canada will have among the strongest growth in the G7 countries in the years ahead.

Fourth, for the fifth year in a row, the World Economic Forum has ranked Canada's financial system as the safest and the soundest in the world. Our comprehensive budget implementation bills helped reaffirm that.

Fifth, three credit rating agencies, Moody's, Fitch and Standard & Poor's, have all recently reaffirmed Canada's top-tier triple-A credit rating. In fact, it was Fitch that recently praised Canada when it said:

Years of fiscal responsibility and a strong institutional setting created the conditions for an effective fiscal policy response to the global financial crisis. An early commitment to balance the budget over the medium term placed Canada's fiscal credibility ahead of many peers.

The list goes on, but the global economy does remain fragile and it is a different story than we see here in Canada.

In Europe, tremendous economic challenges remain, of which we are reminded all too frequently. The eurozone's real GDP contracted in the fourth quarter of 2011, was virtually flat in the first quarter of 2012 and has since contracted again in the second quarter of 2012. The most recent indicators out of Greece indicate that unemployment is about 25% and Spain is not far behind.

In budget implementation act one, we addressed those issues. That was a comprehensive legislation that needed to address EI and we did that.

In short, the situation is not pretty in some European countries and that is why their leaders need to firmly and permanently deal with their economic problem. The recent announcement by the European Central Bank in support of the European sovereign bond markets is a step in the right direction—

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize to the hon. minister across the way, but I feel his speech, while fascinating in terms of the fates of European governments, strays quite far from the question before us, which is does the House not need to express itself, meet in committee and find some way to provide rules and guidelines so that omnibus bills of all manner do not stray from one single purpose. I do not hear in the minister's speech any reflection of the question before the House.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, not very much of this speech actually reflects on the European situation. We can certainly expand on that, but I would suggest I am drawing a link. The lack of being able to pass legislation to actually react to the world economic crisis is why Europe is still having trouble and I am trying to explain that we do need the comprehensive legislation that was passed in the House in the spring. We need a second one. We have more to do yet and I would suggest that everything I am talking about is actually drawn back to why we need to table, discuss and pass comprehensive legislation.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I thank both the Minister of State for Finance and the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for their interventions. I understand that the question of relevance arose earlier this morning prior to my taking the chair at noon. I would like to make two points. The first is a general point and the second is more specific.

In general terms, there are rules in the Standing Orders that relate to relevance and repetition. It is fair to say that over the years chair occupants have taken a rather wide view of those two matters for the reason that the Chair does not want to unduly limit debate in the House and the opportunity for members to bring the facts that they feel are important or relevant to bear. There are times when the Chair asks members to come back to the matter at hand, but over the eight plus years that I have been in this place, I think it is fair to say that the Chair has taken a relatively wide view of the question of relevance. I think it is also fair to say that when members give a 10 or 20 minute speech, they will often use examples and make arguments that wander away from the principal matter before the House, but it is their responsibility to somehow connect it back to the question at hand.

I would encourage all hon. members to do two things.

First, when members make a presentation to the House, they be mindful of the business before the House and they be respectful of that business as well as the process. This place will function better if all hon. members make a good faith effort to do that.

Second, I would also remind all hon. members that wishing for a much narrower definition of what is relevant and wishing for the Chair to take a much narrower definition of that would have consequences beyond the matter before the House at that time.

I would ask all hon. members if they could balance those two principles. Again, it has been my experience that most of the time members do this very well. While some members take a circuitous route to come to the matter at hand, most of the time they do that.

I have a more specific comment. I have reviewed the blues from earlier today. When the question of relevance arose and when the hon. minister of state rose to speak, I listened very carefully to what he said in order to measure the relevance. Without getting into the substance of the debate before the House today, there is a question of the relevance of omnibus or comprehensive legislation and at what point that becomes inappropriate. The more specific suggestion is that the House ought to refer this to procedure and House affairs committee so it can come back with a ruling.

I heard the minister of state say that he disagreed with the motion before the House today, that he felt that omnibus or comprehensive legislation was not inherently unacceptable or inappropriate in this place. He further argued that matters such as the budget and budget implementation bills were by necessity broad in scope and that it was on that basis that he would vote against the motion.

Subsequently, my expectation is that the minister of state is bringing specific examples to light of how he feels, essentially making the argument that comprehensive legislation is in fact necessary and therefore suggesting that it is inappropriate and that the rules ought to be changed. He disagrees with that proposal. I respect the fact that there are other members in the House who would disagree with his point of view.

With that, I would ask the hon. Minister of State for Finance to continue, to be mindful of the question of relevance and to focus on the matter that is before the House, which is the opposition motion, and to move toward the end of his speech.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, you do reaffirm my belief in the wisdom of the Chair. I can do this on a very repetitious basis, drawing every example I use back to the fact that it requires comprehensive legislation. If the opposition wishes that I do that, I may fall into what you have suggested is not appropriate, and that is repetitiveness. I will try not to do that either.

What I was speaking about was Europe and the threat to the global economy, the indecisions, the lack of a comprehensive plan among the European Union community.

I will go back to my first statement that a comprehensive plan requires comprehensive legislation. That is what the budget implementation act, Bill C-38, was. I suggest there will be comprehensive legislation following soon to implement the rest of a comprehensive plan to keep Canada on track.

Another example I would use is in the U.S. There seems to be some indecision down there, a lack of being able to make a firm decision, perhaps a lack of a comprehensive plan such as we had in Bill C-38, which was a comprehensive legislation.

The U.S. needs to get its fiscal house in order. We are well on our way to doing that. It also needs to ensure that there is certainty in the short term so markets and investors can be confident that economic growth will not be interrupted. That is what we saw in our comprehensive legislation in the spring.

In these uncertain times, Canada's economic stability depends on the implementation of a clear plan, a comprehensive plan to safeguard our economy. This situation demands that Canada cannot be complacent. We cannot allow political gridlock and instability to stall vital economic and fiscal reforms as we are witnessing in the U.S. and Europe.

Moreover, in a rapidly changing and global marketplace where Canada faces tough competition from emerging economies like Brazil, Russia, China and India, we cannot afford to delay action to support our economy and measures to return to balanced budgets.

Therefore, in budget implementation one, Bill C-38, we actually put forward solutions to allow our Canadian companies to compete.

I think the argument is very valid, that in order for our economy to continue to grow, we need to put in place legislation and we need to do that soon. We gathered it together in a budget implementation act and we will have the second one coming soon that actually does that. It will allow our Canadian companies to compete internationally, to be able to export their resources, to streamline that process and to ensure that it is an environmentally sound plan. That is all part of our comprehensive budget plan.

The challenges that our economy faces are not small and one dimensional and neither is our plan. It is comprehensive and ambitious. It responds to the magnitude of the threats that Canada faces in this uncertain climate today.

In order to implement the plan, certain measures require legislation to be adopted by Parliament. In April 2012, we introduced Bill C-38, the one I would suggest the Liberals are referring to here today, which included provisions to spur job growth, to keep social programs sustainable, to eliminate wasteful and duplicative spending of taxpayer dollars and much more, hence, the comprehensive budget implementation bill.

Let me give the members opposite some examples of this action and explain how we plan on spurring job growth. One is by developing our resources responsibly. The NDP, when it comes to resources, has suggested it would like to implement a job-killing carbon scheme that would increase the price of absolutely everything we buy and consume. That was not part of our plan and it never will be.

Our government knows that this would not work. Instead, we are focused on responsible resource development, which will streamline the review process for major economic projects by providing predictable timelines for project approvals. It will prevent long delays that kill potential jobs and stall economic growth by putting valuable investments at risk. Most important, responsible resource development will create good, skilled, well-paying jobs in cities and communities all across this great country while at the same time maintaining the highest possible standards for protecting the environment. That required a comprehensive piece of legislation, Bill C-38.

With emerging economies in Asia and around the world providing the potential to create even more jobs and growth, our government will act swiftly to implement its plan for responsible resource development in the interests of the Canadian economy.

However, that is not all, as we have much more to do. We are making employment insurance a more efficient program, one that is focused on job creation and opportunities by removing disincentives to work and supporting unemployed Canadians.

We are also helping build a fast and flexible economic immigration system to meet Canada's labour market needs by reducing the backlog in the federal skilled worker program, returning applications and refunding fees to those who applied prior to February 27, 2008.

Our government is also making fiscally responsible decisions to ensure that spending stays in check and does not go down the path that we have seen in many European countries. To help achieve this we are modernizing Canada's currency by gradually eliminating the penny from Canada's coinage system. This as well requires changes to legislation and is why we table comprehensive legislation. This alone will save taxpayers $11 million every year.

Nonetheless, this plan is about much more than reducing spending. As a government we have a responsibility to Canadians to ensure that Canada's social programs remain sustainable over the long term. That is why in budget 2012 we took action to ensure that the retirement security of all Canadians, now and into the future, is sound by placing Canada's old age security program on a sustainable path. Beginning in April of 2023, the age of eligibility for OAS and the guaranteed income supplement will gradually begin to increase from 65 to 67. These changes reflect demographic shifts in Canada's population and are necessary to ensure that OAS and GIS are available for future generations of Canadians. This also requires comprehensive legislation so that we can enact the necessary changes to make both of these programs sustainable.

The problem with the members opposite is that they do not think down the road; they do not realize the changes that we need to make to make sure that these programs stay sustainable.

Our government is taking real action to ensure that Canada's economy continues to create jobs and grow. What, you may ask, does our government's plan do for Canadian families and communities? That would be one of the best questions to ask here today and I shall answer it.

I will talk about economic action plan 2012 and how it builds on our government's strong record by proposing new measures for Canadian families. For example, our action plan will improve the application of the GST and HST and income tax systems to a number of health care services, drugs and medical devices to reflect the evolving nature of the health care sector and to better meet the health care needs of Canadians.

That was required both in the comprehensive legislation that we passed and in legislation that will be forthcoming soon. Specifically, it would mean exempting from the GST and HST pharmacists' professional services, other than their prescription drug dispensing services, which are already zero-rated under the GST and HST.

It would also mean expanding the zero-rated treatment under the GST-HST for corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses supplied on the prescription of an eye-care professional to include corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses supplied on the order of a qualified optician who is authorized, under provincial law, to issue such an order.

It would mean expanding the list of health care professionals on whose orders certain medical and assistive devices are zero-rated under the GST and HST so as to reflect the increasing involvement of health care professionals, such as nurses, in giving orders for these devices.

It would also mean adding to the list of non-prescription drugs that are zero-rated under GST and HST.

It is obvious that we needed to open up the Income Tax Act to do that. It is part of the budget. It was referred to in the budget. It is part of our action plan. It requires comprehensive legislation to do that. That is just one of the reasons I will be opposing the motion today.

It would also mean expanding the list of GST and HST zero-rated medical and assistive devices and the list of expenses a person may claim for income tax purposes under the medical expense tax credit to include such things a blood coagulation monitors for use by people who require anti-coagulation therapy.

Every time I say zero-rated, I see a confused look on the faces of the opposition members. This is not surprising since we all know that the Liberals actually favour higher taxes. Perhaps that is why they actually opposed our budget implementation act, Bill C-38.

We know what the Liberals do when they have a chance to support initiatives that would lower taxes for Canadian families. We have seen example after example. They simply vote against these measures. That is exactly what they did with policies like the refundable working income tax benefit back in 2007. That is exactly what they did with our government's economic action plan.

Let us take a look at some of the initiatives that would also help Canadian communities but which the opposition also voted against.

Our government's plan would make direct investments in research that would support our communities. Canada's position as a world leader in research excellence is a key source of the discoveries, innovations and advanced skills that not only result in better health outcomes but also drive job creation and opportunities in the knowledge economy.

The measures in the economic action plan would help strengthen Canada's leadership position by supporting industry/academic research collaborations, as well as advanced health and public policy research initiatives of strategic importance. We all understand how important that is. The minister sitting near me here today is leading that incredible challenge, and we are winning on that.

We are announcing new chairs at universities and colleges across this country. Why is that? It is because we enacted legislation that would allow and fund that. We are proud of that record.

We have many examples. For example, in the area of health research, we have allocated $15 million per year for patient-oriented research. That was part of Bill C-38, which the opposition voted against.

I could go on and on about all the things the opposition voted against, However, I think the fundamental comment I will finish with is that I am proud to oppose the opposition motion this morning. We have great reason to think we are on the right track.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I fail to understand why the minister does not see this as a gross abuse of omnibus bills. When the Prime Minister was a member of the opposition in 1994 and faced a budget of 21 pages, he asked the government to split it in order for members to be able to focus on its different aspects. At that time, Canada was in a terrible economic situation.

The government now uses the economy as an excuse for deciding that the age of receipt of old age security will change from 65 to 67 in coming years, even though there is no hurry to do that, without having appropriate debate in the House. It also uses the economy to get rid of a lot of environmental protections that Canadians have.

What is the link between the difficulties in the economy and the arbitrary cancellation of thousands of immigration applications? What is the link between the economy and the government ending the requirement of the Auditor General to audit the financial statements of a series of agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency? What is the link between all of these things and the difficulties of the economy?

The Conservatives are abusing this argument to be able to say afterwards that the opposition voted against all of the things they proposed.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, the one relevant comment made is that the Liberals did vote against all of those things that were actually beneficial.

We passed a budget that required us to open up many pieces of legislation because it was a comprehensive budget. We all knew that when we were debating it.

It has been suggested that there was not ample time to discuss it. The opposition seemed to be so focused on process, as it was during the budget debates, that it actually forgot to debate what was in the budget.

There were 214 speakers. That is fairly comprehensive list of speakers to discuss a budget. The people I heard who were actually talking about the substance of the budget, what it was going to accomplish and how it was going to help the economy, were on this side of the House.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of State for Finance knows, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. I have a keen interest in finance.

In committee, we did indeed study Bill C-38, passed by the House, which changed, created, amended or eliminated nearly 70 pieces of legislation. The bill was so big that the committee had just one minute to discuss the interoperability of the RCMP with the FBI in Canadian territorial waters.

We then proceeded to study the privatization of seed inspections, and that of fish habitat.

We were not really able to do our job. The government knows full well that the interoperability of the Canadian and American police forces should be studied by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, that fish habitat should be studied by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, and so on. We, as members of the Standing Committee on Finance, were asked to study these issues.

The government often talks about the unbelievable amount of time we had to debate all this, but let us not forget that we were changing, amending or eliminating 70 laws. Roughly 280 hours were devoted to this bill, which is roughly 4 hours of debate only for each amended law. Four hours is the equivalent of two committee meetings.

I would like the Minister of State for Finance to say a few words about the fact that it made no sense for the Standing Committee on Finance to study such disparate topics and the fact that we did not have enough time to discuss each of the amended laws.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the greatest respect for the Standing Committee on Finance in the House of Commons. It does great work. I spent a number of years on that committee myself, and all members are great contributors to that. We have a wonderful chair, too. The member for Edmonton—Leduc has done a great job of shepherding that committee.

I would suggest that there are some inaccuracies being suggested. There were 145 presentations to that committee and the subcommittee of the finance committee.

Not only that, but members of Parliament have a responsibility to consult with their constituents. We always encourage that. We encourage every member to speak to their constituents when we are at the beginning of a budget process. We are at the beginning of a budget process coming up to the 2013 budget now, and we are encouraging all members to consult with their constituents and bring back those ideas.

There were 145 witnesses who physically appeared, but each member of Parliament has the responsibility to bring back the thoughts and ideas from their own constituents and contribute to this debate. That is when they bring that to the floor of the House, rather than someone reading from their BlackBerry, like the member for Burnaby—New Westminster did for hours and hours.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the debate intently. I wonder if the minister could comment, in particular, about all the notice that the Liberal Party and the NDP had regarding the contents of the budget.

Of course, I am referring specifically to the Conservative policy and platforms that we put forward for the last 10 or 12 years that contained almost all, if not all, of the provisions contained within the budget.

Indeed, they have seen that. They could visit our website to see exactly what we stand for because, at least on this side of the House, when we put forward laws, we actually put that forward to our committee members, have them vote on it and then put forward policy.

I wonder if the minister could comment specifically on that. I am a member of the finance committee and I cannot imagine sitting for any more time in any committee than we did in the last budget, in particular, the time we spent listening to witnesses.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I should take a moment to thank the finance committee members for the long hours that they did indeed spend, making sure that everyone who wanted to appear before them had the opportunity to bring forward their ideas and their thoughts.

If I do recall, we went through a rigorous process. There were many hours in this House debating. I cannot help but keep going back to the comment that it was very factual, and if anyone wants to read Hansard, they would find out that the opposition simply protested because it did not like the process.

This honoured House is about debating substance, not process. We came here to pass legislation that will help the economy grow and help my constituents by making sure they have jobs and a future, not to talk about process.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, briefly to my friend from Fort McMurray—Athabasca, he could search as long as he wants in any previous Conservative document, he will find no reference to bringing U.S. law enforcement agents on to Canadian soil to arrest Canadians. That was a surprise in Bill C-38. He would find no reference to the idea that we would kill the national round table.

My question to the hon. minister is this. If he wants to pass comprehensive legislation, I get it. The government has a majority. It can pass anything it wants, but why is there this persistent refusal to allow legislation to go on its own two feet before the appropriate committee?

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what we did. There was ample opportunity to discuss it in the House. There was obviously ample opportunity to discuss it at committee. There was lots of opportunity to talk about something other than just the process.

Comprehensive legislation is required in difficult times. I would suggest that we are not out of difficult times. We are facing the challenges of indecision outside our borders. We have to react to that. It requires comprehensive changes. It requires a comprehensive plan, and that is what we have put forward.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mount Royal.

The government has repeatedly abused Parliament by ramming through outrageous omnibus bills. For example, two years ago the government introduced an 880-page omnibus bill, a grab-bag of bills that the government wanted to pass quickly. In fact, it was half of the entire workload of Parliament from the previous year. As a result, the government was severely condemned for turning the legislative process into a farce.

Most recently, the government introduced Bill C-38, the 400-plus page omnibus budget implementation bill. Through the bill, the government sprung sweeping changes on our country, affecting everything from employment insurance, environmental protection, immigration and old age security to even the oversight that charities receive. None of these changes were in the Conservative platform. They were rushed into law by “an arrogant majority government that’s in a hurry to impose its agenda on the country”.

The government's actions reek of hypocrisy. In 1994, the right hon. member for Calgary Southwest criticized omnibus legislation, suggesting that the subject matter of such bills is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles and that dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent the views of their constituents on each part of the bill.

The right hon. member is now using the very tactics he once denounced. It is a shame that he changed his tune when he was elected to the highest office in the land. Last spring's 400-page omnibus budget implementation bill contained over 60 unrelated matters, amended or abolished 74 pieces of legislation and devoted an astonishing 150 pages to destroying 50 years of environmental oversight. I quote:

This is political sleight-of-hand and message control, and it appears to be an accelerating trend. These shabby tactics keep Parliament in the dark, swamp MPs with so much legislation that they can’t absorb it all, and hobble scrutiny. This is not good, accountable, transparent government.

Real democracy would have allowed for the environment sections to be separated out from the omnibus bill and sent to the environment committee for clause-by-clause scrutiny. Bill C-38 repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, meaning that the assessment agency would be able to exempt a designated project from even going through the assessment process and that when environmental assessments do happen they will be narrower, less rigorous and have reduced public participation. Canada's environment commissioner says that “there will be a significant narrowing of public participation”.

We have since learned that hundreds of federal environmental assessments have been dropped. Canadians should know that after a mere 16 hours of study the finance subcommittee was left with many questions regarding the legislation. What types of projects will be included or excluded under the proposed changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act? What proportion and types of current assessments will no longer receive federal oversight? How will the government define whether a provincial process is equivalent to the federal process? How will the assessment of cumulative impacts be undertaken?

During the finance subcommittee's review, Ms. Rachel Forbes, staff counsel of West Coast Environmental Law, said she did not believe the new legislation would accomplish any of the government's four pillars: more predictable and timely reviews, less duplication in reviewing projects, strong environmental protection and enhanced consultation with aboriginal peoples. In fact, she suggested the amendments may hinder them.

Bill C-38 also repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, which addressed our most pressing environmental problem, namely climate change. The law required the Minister of the Environment to publish a climate change plan each year, a forecast for emissions reductions and a discussion of how the government performed the previous year and how shortcomings would be addressed. Repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act will result in a loss of domestic climate accountability measures. Repealing the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy will result in the loss of a unique independent, unbiased organization, that's only fault was publishing evidence-based reports that did not agree with Conservative ideology.

Canadians should be deeply concerned by the repeal of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act as the threat of climate change is serious, urgent and growing. Nine of the ten warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000. The extent and thickness of summer sea ice in the Arctic have shown a dramatic decline over the past 30 years, with the six lowest extents having all occurred in the last six years. More disturbing still, a 2011 article in the prestigious journal Nature showed that the duration and magnitude of the decline may be unprecedented in the last 1,450 years.

However, this summer, the amount of ice in the Arctic shrank to an all-time low, destroying previous records. While scientists are enormously concerned that these changes represent a fundamental change and very little is known about the consequences of drastic sea ice reductions, the Minister of the Environment was perturbed mainly about how navigation patterns might be affected.

Bill C-38 also weakened several environmental laws, including protection for species at risk and water, and nearly eliminated fish habitat in the Fisheries Act, putting species from coast to coast to coast at risk.

Tom Siddon, the former Conservative minister responsible for the current Fisheries Act, was extremely concerned by the amendments and stated:

This is a covert attempt to gut the Fisheries Act, and it’s appalling that they should be attempting to do this under the radar.

He also said:

They are totally watering down and emasculating the Fisheries Act...they are making a Swiss cheese out of [it].

At the finance committee, he reported:

The bottom line...take your time and do it right. To bundle all of this into a budget bill, with all its other facets, is not becoming of a Conservative government, period.

Equally astounding is the fact that Bill C-38 gave the federal cabinet the authority to overrule a decision by the National Energy Board.

The Conservatives have also cut $29 million from Parks Canada and in doing so are undermining the health and integrity of Canada's world-renowned parks, risking some of our world heritage sites, significantly reducing the number of scientists and technical staff, hurting relationships with aboriginal peoples and attacking rural economies.

It is important to remember that when the Conservatives came to power, they inherited a legacy of balanced budgets from the previous Liberal government but soon plunged the country into a deficit before the recession ever hit. It is absolutely negligent and shameful that the government gutted environmental safeguards in order to fast-track development and balance its books.

The government did not campaign in the last election on gutting environmental protection. As a result, Canadians rose up in the hope of stopping the Prime Minister's destruction of laws that protect the environment, the health and safety of Canadians, our communities, our economy and our livelihoods. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute are just some of Canada's prominent environmental organizations that called upon Canadians to speak out in defence of Canada's values of democracy and the environment.

The Black Out Speak Out campaign stated:

Our land, water and climate are all threatened by the latest federal budget. Proposed changes in the budget bill will weaken environmental laws and silence the voices of those who seek to defend them.

Silence is not an option.

We simply cannot afford economic development with reduced environmental consideration. We risk environmental disaster and cleanup costs, which we may pass on to our children. We must remember that we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

Canadians are entitled to expect much more than what they are witnessing today both in the protection of our environment and the protection of our democratic values, which our beautiful country was built on.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would ask my colleague about some of the substance that this House never had a chance to debate or discuss. What are her thoughts on what the minister opposite said, “More yet to come”?

In the budget implementation bill, despite the advice of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the OECD and the old age security actuarial, Mr. Bernard Dussault, that OAS was absolutely sustainable and that there was no reason to raise the age of eligibility for retirement to age 67, the government proceeded to do just that.

We did a little work and looked at what that would mean to our population. We discovered that it would increase poverty among seniors by 28%. It would increase poverty among senior women by 38% and plunge 95,000 more seniors in this country into poverty. That is what the government was planning.

Does my hon. colleague think that this next omnibus budget bill will be even worse?

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was no reason to raise the age for old age security. The Parliamentary Budget Officer and the government's own commissioned paper showed that there was no crisis. This is trying to balance the books on the backs of vulnerable Canadians.

I was born and raised in the riding that I am so honoured to represent. This is the fifth most diverse riding in the country where 70% of the people are first generation Canadians. People are calling our office and coming in to sign petitions. They are devastated by the changes to old age security. I have grandparents coming in asking me why the government is doing this to their children.

I would also raise the point that this is not the first time the government has attacked the environment through an omnibus bill. We certainly saw this in 2010 with Bill C-9.

Opposition Motion—Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I have two short quotes from 1994 by Speakers of the House at that time.

Speaker Milliken in 1994 stated:

While the subject matter may be diverse, I suggest to the hon. member that given the fact they were all introduced in the budget, they form a whole, unified policy thrust which the government has put forward and which it will be defending in the course of the debate on this bill. Therefore in my submission, the bill is entirely in order.

Speaker Parent stated:

In conclusion, it is procedurally correct and common practice for a bill to amend, repeal or enact several statues. There are numerous rulings in which Speakers have declined to intervene simply because a bill was complex and permitted omnibus legislation to proceed.

I would ask the member if she believes that those Speakers' ruling in 1994 when the Liberals were in government were in fact in error.