Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today deeply concerned about the bill at hand and about the direction in which the government is taking this country.
Bill C-38 is a massive 425-page omnibus bill that goes far beyond the measures in the budget. It includes many previously unannounced changes.
This is the Conservatives' first post-election majority budget and their true colours are showing throw.
During the election, the Conservatives did not tell Canadians that they planned to raise the age of eligibility for old age security. Canadians had to hear it all the way from Davos, Switzerland, months after the election. And yet, Bill C-38 raises the age of eligibility for OAS.
During the election, the Conservatives did not tell Canadians that they planned to do away with protecting our environment and fighting climate change. In fact, the Conservative platform claimed that they recognized that a healthy environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.
The Conservative platform also promised to conserve and protect our environment and to take action on climate change. They promised new investments to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including an extension of the eco-energy retrofit homes program.
And yet, a full one-third of Bill C-38 is dedicated to the gutting of environmental regulation and protection. It repeals the Kyoto Implementation Act. And that extension of the eco-energy program? It never happened. In fact, the Conservatives abandoned the program early, despite its economic success.
During the election, the Conservatives promised open and accountable government. Their platform claimed that they were here for integrity and accountability, and that they were committed to providing the principled, accountable government that our great country deserves. This was in the Conservative platform and yet Bill C-38 includes a series of previously unannounced measures that will contribute to a more secretive environment here in Ottawa by rolling back government transparency and accountability.
During the election, the Conservatives presented Canadians with one plan, but now that the elections are over, they are moving in the opposite direction as quickly as they can. Yes, the Conservatives' true colours are showing and I am deeply concerned and all Canadians should be deeply concerned.
My New Democratic colleagues and I strongly oppose the bill on both content and process grounds. Bill C-38 includes most of the major proposals announced in budget 2012, which we have vigorously opposed and to which I will return shortly. We also take issue with the undemocratic omnibus nature of the bill, which goes far beyond the budget. The tabling of such a large and wide-ranging bill in such a short time frame undermines Parliament by denying individual MPs the ability to fully inform themselves as to its content and implications.
Back in 1994, a young MP from Calgary took offence to the omnibus nature of the Liberal's budget implementation bill. This MP stood in the House and said:
I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that you should rule it out of order and it should not be considered by the House in the form in which it has been presented.
...I would argue that the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles.
...in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?
The bill contains many distinct proposals and principles and asking members to provide simple answers to such complex questions is in contradiction to the conventions and practices of the House.
That was said on March 25, 1990. Who said that? It was the young MP who is the current Prime Minister of Canada. His objection to the Liberal omnibus budget bill can and should be applied to the bill at hand.
In 1994, the Prime Minister argued that the Liberals' omnibus bill did not fulfill the required level of relevancy, that is that the items in the bill were too diverse and could not be reasonably grouped together in a coherent manner.
Let us see how this bill stacks up on this point. Among other things, Bill C-38 raises the age of eligibility for OAS-GIS, guts the environmental assessment regime, eliminates the Auditor General oversight on a number of agencies, repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, changes the rules for registered charities, amends the Seeds Act to potentially allow private contractors to perform food inspection and it changes the rules on foreign ownership of wireless telecommunications companies.
This is the definition of an omnibus bill and, applying the Prime Minister's own arguments, this bill should be ruled out of order. The measures in the bill are too wide-ranging to fulfill the relevancy requirement, and we agree that asking members to vote in a block on such diverse subject matters does not allow them to represent their constituents as our democracy requires.
However, once again the Conservatives are trying to ram legislation through Parliament without allowing Canadians and their MPs to thoroughly examine it. To make matters worse, they are trying to sneak through changes that will further restrict transparency and democracy in the future.
Bill C-38 would enact numerous changes that will limit the ability of Canadians and MPs to hold government accountable, with a broad attack on government transparency that was not present in budget 2012. These changes include weakening the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and undermining the authority of the National Energy Board, increasing cabinet discretion and ministerial power over a range of issues from immigration to food safety to approving pipelines, eliminating Auditor General oversight for many agencies, eliminating the position of the Inspector General for CSIS, and reducing reporting requirements to Parliament.
When did the Conservatives become so afraid of accountability? On this side of the House, we believe in a respectful and open Parliament and government.
We believe it is wrong to try and sneak measures past Canadians and to ram them through Parliament as quickly as possible, particularly legislation that will only make government less transparent.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said repeatedly that MPs are not getting the information they need in order to reasonably be able to exercise their power of oversight.
And while other Westminster parliaments around the world are working to improve fiscal transparency, this Conservative government is focused on reducing government accountability as quickly as possible.
New Democrats are focused on addressing the real priorities of Canadian families, such as creating good quality jobs, strengthening our health care system, ensuring a secure retirement for all and protecting our environment.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives are too busy focusing on gutting environmental protection and slashing vital services.
In the fall, the New Democrats tabled a motion that called on the government to take immediate action to grow our economy and create jobs. The Conservatives supported this motion with their votes but they have yet to turn these votes into action.
The Conservatives claim that this budget is all about job creation but the budget contains nine times more in cuts than in job creation measures and actually plans for unemployment to rise. There are already 1.4 million Canadians out of work. The current unemployment rate of 7.2% remains well above its pre-recession level of about 6%. For our young people, the future of our economy, the situation is even worse. Youth unemployment remains at nearly 14%.
Now the Conservatives say that they are creating jobs but, with the growth in the labour force, there is a net increase in the unemployment rate. In fact, since the Conservatives took office in February 2006, we have lost 365,000 manufacturing jobs.
In his appearance at the finance committee last week, the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed that the Conservatives' austerity budget would mean a further loss of 43,000 jobs and would slow Canada's economic recovery. Furthermore, he confirmed that when, combined with prior cuts, there would be a total of 103,000 jobs lost in the public and private sectors, a significant drag on our economy.
The government will claim these numbers are hypothetical, but Canadians know differently. They are dealing with the fallout. After all, when an industrial plant with 1,000 people closes, the impact is not isolated to those jobs only but also affects suppliers and small businesses in the community. It is the same when we lose over 19,000 public sector jobs. In fact, if the Conservatives were more focused on creating jobs for Canadians, why would they focus their efforts on paying consultants to review government spending at $90,000 a day. That is where their priorities seem to lie.
New Democrats support the ongoing review of government spending to ensure that our tax dollars are well-spent, but we believe in reviewing all government expenditures, including tax expenditures.
As Glen Hodgson of the Conference Board of Canada told the finance committee last fall, “value for money applies on the tax expenditure side as much as on the spending side”. We believe in policy based on evidence.
The evidence shows that the Conservatives’ massive corporate tax breaks have failed to create good quality, family-supporting jobs. The Minister of Finance recognizes that infrastructure investment has more than five times the economic impact of corporate income tax cuts, as he indicated in the appendix of budget 2009.
And yet, despite the evidence, this government is determined to continue on with its agenda of corporate tax cuts, while slashing jobs and services and planning for unemployment to rise.
Evidence shows as well that the OAS and GIS program is sustainable.
Pension and retirement expert Professor Tom Klassen of York University notes:
I haven’t heard any academic argue that there’s a crisis with OAS, which is why I was surprised a few days ago when the Prime Minister seemed to say there was a crisis...there’s got to be...more evidence that there’s a problem...I don’t see that evidence.
Numerous experts, including the Parliamentary Budget Officer, have confirmed that the OAS, the old age security, is sustainable in its existing form. Even the government's own latest actuarial report on OAS indicates that the OAS/GIS will account for 2.37% of GDP in 2011, 3.16% in 2030 and then will fall below today's level to 2.35% in 2060.
The cost of the government's proposed changes will throw tens of thousands of seniors into poverty. In fact, without OAS/GIS for two years, almost 100,000 recently retired Canadian seniors would be made poor today. In particular, the poverty rate for single senior females would rise from 17% to 48%, almost tripling.
Despite this evidence, the government is using the budget bill to balance the books on the backs of our seniors.
The evidence shows that good environmental policy is also good economic policy. Policy-makers in Germany have long understood this and today Germans are reaping the benefits of their foresight in the form of cutting edge innovation, superior global competitiveness and hundreds of thousands of quality jobs.
Unfortunately, under the Conservative government, Canada is near the bottom of the global heap in terms of investments in green initiatives and our economy is suffering for Conservative inaction. Under the Conservatives, Canada's environmental ranking has plummetted to among the worst in the world. In fact, the 2011 Climate Change Performance Index ranks Canada 57 out of 60 nations surveyed, well behind G8 countries like the U.K., France and Germany that all scored in the top 10.
Despite this evidence that they are heading on the wrong course, the Conservatives are determined to use Bill C-38 to gut environmental assessment, reduce Canada's accountability on the world stage by repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act and reduce the independent scientific advice available to guide policy making by shutting down the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
The Conservatives claim to be focused on efficiency and a review of government expenditures, but the evidence points to the contrary. With this bill, the Conservatives are leading the country down the wrong path. Just as effective government policy relies on evidence and effective review of government activities relies on government transparency, government spending reflects government priorities. Accurate, timely information about how much the government is spending and on what is crucial for Canadians to be able to evaluate if the values of their elected representatives are in line with their own.
Not only is the government not in the business of providing answers, with Bill C-38 it is deliberately dismantling requirements for government transparency and accountability. The opening of the 2011 Conservative platform characterized the election last May as a choice between principled leadership and opportunism. I wholeheartedly agree. This Conservative bill is highly opportunistic. Instead of telling Canadians their plans during the election, the Conservatives have waited until the campaign is done to show Canadians what they are really about. On this side of the House, we believe in principled leadership.
We believe it is wrong for the government to claim that it is focused on job creation, while cutting jobs and planning for unemployment to rise.
We believe it is wrong for the government to cut a seniors’ benefit program and throw tens of thousands of seniors into poverty.
We believe it is wrong for the government to gut measures that have been put in place to protect our environment and to turn its back on international action on climate change.
Finally, we believe it is wrong for the government to try to sneak legislation past Canadians and their MPs in a massive omnibus bill, especially when these measures deliberately seek to impede government transparency and accountability in the future.
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, because it:
a) weakens Canadians' confidence in the work of parliament, decreases transparency and erodes fundamental democratic institutions by systematically over-concentrating power in the hands of government ministers;
b) shields the government from criticism on extremely controversial non-budgetary issues by bundling them into one enormous piece of legislation masquerading as a budgetary bill;
c) undermines the critical role played by such trusted oversight bodies as the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, the CSIS Inspector General and the National Energy Board, amongst many others, thereby silencing institutional checks and balances to the government's ideological agenda;
d) raises the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement from 65 to 67 years in a reckless effort to balance the government's misguided spending on prisons, incompetent military procurement and inappropriate Ministerial expenses;
e) includes provisions to gut the federal environmental assessment regime and to overhaul fish habitat protection that will adversely affect fragile ecosystems and Canada's environmental sustainability for generations to come;
f) calls into question Canada's food inspection and public health regime by removing critical oversight powers of the Auditor General in relation to the Canada Food Inspection Agency all while providing an avenue and paving the way for opportunities to privatize a number of essential inspection functions; and
g) does nothing to provide a solution for the growing number of Canadians looking for employment in Canada's challenging job market and instead fuels further job loss, which according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer will amount to a total loss of 43,000 jobs in 2014.