Mr. Speaker, I would like to address this speech especially to the students at Frontenac Secondary School in Kingston and the Islands whom I met last week. I want to thank them for being interested in government and I am sorry for the future taxes they may have to pay to fix the problems that we create or ignore today because we did not think carefully enough about legislation.
To the people of Kingston and the Islands, I ask whether they would like their tax dollars to be well spent and whether they would like their government to make good laws. In Canada, citizens elect people to go to Ottawa and check on what the Prime Minister and the government are doing. They elect people to go to Ottawa to study what the government proposes to do with their money and what laws the government proposes they should obey. They elect a person to go to Ottawa to voice approval or disapproval, to vote for or against what the government wants to do, and they should get to know how their member of Parliament voted.
There is a majority in the House of Commons. The government has a majority in the House and a majority in every committee, and so it can and does win every vote that it wants to. If the government can win every vote, why bother voting on anything? Is it is not like a force out in baseball? Why do we not just take all of the government spending proposals and all the new laws, put them into one big omnibus bill, have one vote and be done with it? This is what is happening with the bills to implement the budget and all the extra stuff that the government is adding to these budget bills.
Let me give some numbers. Between 1995 and 2000, according to Ned Franks, the budget implementation acts averaged about 12 pages in length. From 2001 to 2008, they averaged 139 pages. In 2009, however, the budget implementation legislation added up to 580 pages, and in 2010, it was 880 pages. Most recently this year, it was 450 pages, so it has really grown a lot. More importantly, the bills contain not just minor amendments to implement the budget, as was the case 10 years ago, but more importantly all sorts of unrelated subject matter. That is what we are complaining about today.
The budget is complicated enough. It has changes to taxes that are very complicated and financial regulations that require a lot of expertise. We need to look at it carefully. We need to ask experts. We need to check for problems and unintended consequences, instead of paying up later with expensive court costs, hoping that the courts will fix the legislation, or having to go back and pass entirely new legislation.
Normally we are supposed to research bills carefully to see if there is anything special to say from the point of view of our constituents. We are supposed to listen to any reaction from our constituents, listen to expert witnesses in relevant committees and make amendments to any bill to improve it. When bills like the omnibus bill contain so many things, we do not have the time to review all of them. Omnibus bills for the budget have been like that for the last four years. Special items are not sent to their respective committee for examination by experts. We do not give bills the scrutiny that they deserve and that our constituents deserve.
Conservative members of Parliament who dutifully obey their whip, show up, read the words on their cards, vote as they are told and vote for the budget bill are voting to spend the tax dollars of Canadians and make laws blindly. As Rick Mercer said, it is simply like reading online when it says “by clicking the 'I accept' button....”, and we agree and proceed to click without thinking. That is what we do online, but we should not do that on such important matters as spending billions of dollars in taxes and making laws that Canadians have to obey. We are elected and paid to do more than just click the “I accept” button.
In a majority government, the government may win every vote, but it is Parliament's duty to listen, to study, to criticize, to suggest improvements and to communicate the problems back to Canadians. Sometimes when Canadians realize that there is an important problem, they do speak up and a majority government does change what it does. However, that cannot happen with an omnibus bill. It is very difficult with all these matters and different subjects crowded into one bill and pushed through in such a short time.
It is our duty to talk about how each step the government takes will affect Canadians and our constituents. We should be able to vote on unrelated items separately. The people we represent should be able to know how we vote on each item. For example, our constituents will want to know where we stand on eliminating environmental reviews, pension changes, food safety inspections, federal fair wages, cross-border law enforcement, the Seeds Act, foreign ownership of small telecom companies and changes to the Parole Board.
All of these very different initiatives were in the omnibus bill this past summer. By burying all of them in one bill and having a single vote, members of Parliament have no option but to vote either for some things that are bad for constituents or against some things that are good for their constituents. The funny thing is that later on in the future the Conservatives will stand up and say that we cannot criticize them on a particular issue because we voted against legislation where they tried to do something about it, when the truth is that the legislation contained all sorts of other bad changes that we had to vote against.
Let us then agree with a younger version of the member for Calgary Southwest, who is now our Prime Minister, from a time when there was, I believe, still a bit of principled conservatism in him, back in 1994. He criticized omnibus bills by saying that dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent the views of their constituents on each of the different components of the bill.
Let us today change the way we do business in the House for the benefit of Canadians so that we may, as we pray every morning, make good laws and wise decisions. Let us do that for the benefit of the young students at Frontenac Secondary School in Kingston and the Islands to whom this speech is dedicated, so that they will not have to pay higher taxes to fix the problems that we create or ignore because we did not think carefully enough about new laws or how to spend tax dollars.