Madam Speaker, I am pleased to share my time with the hon. member for York South—Weston.
Bill C-38 is a complete assault on the democratic process. The government has tabled a 421-page budget bill, the majority composed of significant policy reforms far outside budget matters, all the programs and policies that are of critical significance to Canadian families and communities.
The bill introduces reforms to long-standing policies and programs. When I say long-standing, it is 50 years of environmental, fishery, health, pension, employment equity and immigration policies and programs. All of these are significant public policy matters and legislation that normally would come before the House in separate proposed bills. They would go through full debate, go to committee review and would afford the opportunity to Canadians who are concerned and affected by these policies to be consulted. It is absolutely shameful what the government is doing in this bill, and I cannot say anything less than that.
Then the government imposes closure on the minimal debate that it has allowed us to have on behalf of our constituents, on likely the most critical bill to come before the House in decades. It is a bill that commits billions of dollars in spending, at the same time significantly eroding its constitutional mandate. So much for the Conservative government platform of open, transparent, grassroots democracy. We have closure after only a few hours of debate on a 421-page budget bill. Is that transparency, open government, participatory government? I will let Canadians decide for themselves.
The government claims its budget is all about creating jobs, yet according to the analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer it will actually result in the loss of 43,000 jobs.
Bill C-38 introduces pension rollbacks. It proposes major changes to Canadians' access to public pension benefits on which they have come to rely. Despite complete silence during the election, despite analysis by the PBO that the changes are financially unnecessary, the Prime Minister, post-election and from Davos, Switzerland, announced significant reductions in OAS benefits, now implemented through the bill. This is in spite of the fact that the majority of Canadians have no access to private pension plans. The effect will be that many Canadians will be denied old age security until the age of 67. There will be disproportionate impacts on women, already making up the highest percentage of Canadians living in poverty, and those surviving on minimum wage or working as physical labourers.
The government has said that there is a lot of time to save up to survive those lean years. It has said this to families that already have record personal debt, that contributed all their lives toward a pension, that are likely overwhelmed caring for elderly parents, or trying to pay off their mortgages, or university fees for their children or prescriptions. They should not look to fall back on EI. There are no special favours for seniors. Under the new laws, they can now relocate to other provinces to earn their keep.
Bill C-38 would severely reduce transparency and centralizes power in the cabinet. It would reduce the audit and reporting powers of the Auditor General. It would limit the rights of Canadians to participate in reviews of major industrial projects to those directly affected, as determined within the complete discretion of the minister. It would transfer powers from independent quasi-judicial boards to ministers to decide on assessing or approving major industrial projects. It would cut libraries. It would further cut Statistics Canada. What is next, book burnings? We already have the witch hunts against those who are assisting communities and first nations in trying to determine what the impacts of major projects might be on their health or livelihoods.
However, most important, to me and to the many Canadians who have spent decades volunteering their time intervening in multi-stakeholder processes to ensure that we develop sound, credible environmental laws in the country, laws that have been held up and marketed around the world as the model for how to do economic development and at the same time ensure sustainable development and protection of health and environment, the bill would rescind critical laws that have been in place for 40 to 50 years. It is absolutely reprehensible and contrary to the prior practices, which I used to brag about around the world, of intensive consultation with industry, the public and impacted communities.
The Conservatives are amending the federal Fisheries Act. They are strangling the unilateral federal power to protect fish and fish habitat, not just for the benefit of Canadians but for the sake of the preservation of the species. The minister formerly spoke of avoiding duplication. I have worked hand in glove with federal and provincial agencies over forty years toward removing any sense of duplication. We already have in place scenarios of review and approval of projects where the federal government is already invisible, despite its constitutional powers and its mandates under Canadian law.
In truth, the government is amending the Constitution, without consultation, by removing its exclusive power to protect our fisheries, which further erodes the Crown's duty to protect aboriginal rights and titles.
It imposes a two-year time limit on reviews. It empowers the National Energy Board to make decisions on endangered species. Heaven forbid, we actually have a federal law on the books where the government is obligated to go through a very thorough process with appropriate scientists and careful review with the public and anybody impacted. The government will short-circuit the process and give that to the National Energy Board to decide.
In essence, the bill would download mitigation and cleanup costs from the proponent of a major project to impacted Canadians and first nations. It would allow the federal government to transfer its powers and duties to provinces. We are downloading possibly unconstitutional measures.
This is mere months after the government committed to finally exercise its authority and responsibility to ensure proper monitoring of the oil sands development on the Athabasca, the Mackenzie basin. It is cutting monitoring dollars. It is cutting a 100 more scientists, while muzzling the remaining ones.
Of personal interest to my constituency, the government is shutting down all the regional emergency and oil spill response teams. That is in the wake of the largest fresh water spill in North America, where the federal government completely dropped the ball and failed to deliver on its responsibilities on emergency response to these spills. This is in addition to a major spill in Wrigley, Northwest Territories, a major spill near the Lubicon First Nation in Alberta and massive fish kill from derailments in the Cheakamus River in B.C.
What is the government's response? To save a few pennies, it is removing all capability of the federal government to exercise the responsibility. It regulates the railroads. It has a responsibility for fisheries. It has responsibility for first nations peoples. In the very least, it has responsibility for transboundary waterways. It is completely dropping the ball on its responsibilities.
Is all of this legal? Downgrading environmental laws offends the clear mandate of the Minister of the Environment under the Department of the Environment Act. Contrary to what a series of Conservative members have propounded, the minister has, under that law, a singular mandate to protect the environment, not to sacrifice it to fast-tracked energy projects fronted by foreign investors.
The government, in downgrading its environmental laws, is actually also violating its trade laws. From NAFTA to the most recent free trade agreements with Panama, Canada's trade deals forbid Canada to weaken its environmental laws and regulations for an economic advantage. In exchange for those expanded markets, Canada committed to improve, not downgrade, its environmental protection laws. Therefore, the government is not only failing to exercise its constitutional responsibility, it is not only failing to deliver on its environmental mandate, it is violating the very trade agreements about which it brags.