Madam Speaker, I am honoured to speak today to Bill C-38.
I will begin by noting that the bill, according to journalist Don Martin, has everything but the kitchen sink in it, and, believe me, we looked and we found the kitchen sink in Bill C-38.
Frankly, the bill is an end run around accountability and transparency, and an end run around accountability and transparency from the very Conservative government that made commitments to govern better than the Liberals and to be accountable to Canadians.
Rather than the proper scrutiny of so many changes by the proper parliamentary committees, we see in Bill C-38 a budget bill that avoids consultation and review by both MPs and Canadians.
I understand why the Conservative government might want to do this. It finds itself on the defensive, plagued by scandal, secrecy and mismanagement. Instead of focusing on jobs, as promised, the Prime Minister is attacking pensions, cutting health care and gutting environmental protection.
Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, was introduced in the House last week. The bill would implement certain budget provisions, it is true—for example, the controversial changes to old age security—but the reference to “and other measures” has to be one of the all-time parliamentary understatements.
The bill has more than 420 pages, some 60 acts are amended, another six are repealed and three more are added. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is completely rewritten. This is far more than a budget bill that deals with taxes and spending.
There are sweeping changes here to policy across a number of fields, from immigration where, among other changes, it erases with the stroke of a pen the entire backlog of applications under the skilled workers program, to telecommunications, opening the door to foreign ownership, to land codes on native reservations and more.
I have just completed an assignment as natural resources critic for my party and remain on the natural resources committee. It is obvious to me, from the studies we have done there on pipelines, refineries and northern resources, that the changes the government wants on reviews are the most extraordinary chapters in the bill.
The new bill gives cabinet broader powers to override decisions of the National Energy Board, shortens the list of protected species and abolishes the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, among other measures.
We must remember that we have just tabled in this House the 2011 National Energy Board annual report citing more problems related to accidents and an increased volume of projects that it must review. The government should decide to resource the National Energy Board to do its job better. Instead, it wants to have a veto to manage an end run around those proper and comprehensive reviews that not only should look at bigger and longer-term consequences from these natural resources projects but also assess impacts on future generations.
Our natural resources committee needs to call witnesses and look closely at this proposal. This does not belong to the finance committee, hiding in a budget bill. Frankly, this is an insult to Parliament and to the committee system that we have. How can one committee, in this case finance, properly examine all of these diverse measures, especially in the time allotted to them?
It is clear why the government is doing this. While it claims to be fine managers of the economy, the evidence says otherwise. First, there was the lavish night at the Savoy and the $16 orange juice, and now we learn about $600,000 just in overtime for the Conservatives' chauffeur-driven limos. The Conservatives are slashing vital services like food inspection and border services while blowing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on their outrageous sense of entitlement.
How can the Conservatives tell Canadians to sacrifice food safety and border inspections while they continue to live the high life? The government has lost all credibility when it comes to accountability.
The Conservatives have claimed that their budget is about job creation. However, even they admit that it will lead to 19,200 lost jobs in the public service. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, the same one appointed by the Conservative government, has estimated that the budget will cost 43,000 Canadians their jobs. When combined with previous rounds of cuts, this number is 102,000 lost jobs.
I could be on my feet all day and night to say what is wrong with these proposed changes to the law. The very worst change is raising the age of eligibility for OAS-GIS from 65 to 67, when many experts, including the Parliamentary Budget Officer, have confirmed that the OAS program is sustainable. Yet the Conservatives want to balance the budget on the backs of seniors.
There are some additional measures that will once again reduce the government's transparency and responsibility in the area of health. Bill C-38 weakens the reporting requirements of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research by eliminating all of the requirements regarding the publication of annual reports and analyses by the Auditor General.
Under the pretense of a change designed to reduce the administrative burden and make the approval process more efficient, Bill C-38 amends the Food and Drugs Act in such as way as to give the Minister of Health the authority to establish a list of products that are exempt from the regulatory process. The bill also gives the minister the authority to issue marketing authorizations to exempt a product or the advertising of a product from certain provisions of the law. These measures will give the minster more authority and will reduce regulatory oversight.
With regard to jobs, Bill C-38 repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, which was created in the 1930s to set wage standards and a minimum number of hours of work for construction workers hired for projects funded by the federal government. In practice, the elimination of these minimum standards will allow employers to get around the rates set by unions.
Bill C-38 also amends the Employment Equity Act so that it no longer applies to federal contracts. This is a direct attack on women, aboriginal people and visible minorities. In fact, it was recommended 10 years ago that the employment equity provisions for the federal contractors program be strengthened. Instead, this government is weakening these provisions.
We need to be real on the loss of jobs. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated, “In total, federal spending cuts could lead to the elimination of over 70,000 full-time equivalent positions”. These are not only public sector losses; about half of these jobs will be lost in the private sector.
Canadians want real action on the economy. 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 the motion, but the budget does not fit the bill. Instead, it focuses on slashing vital services and gutting environmental regulations.
The New Democrats are focused on addressing the real priorities of Canadian families: jobs, health care, pensions and protecting our environment. The New Democrats have a plan that will improve health services for all Canadians, reward the real job creators, strengthen benefits for seniors and take actions to fight climate change.
I will close by saying that this bill is a massive omnibus bill that goes far beyond the budget. Bill C-38 would enact numerous changes that will limit the ability of Canadians and MPs to hold the government accountable. The Conservatives are trying to ram previously unannounced measures through Parliament without allowing Canadians and their MPs to thoroughly examine it. This is not democracy in action.