Mr. Speaker, we are now at the report stage. I am very sad to say that the Government of Canada has been totally deaf to our entreaties to reconsider its outrageously anti-democratic approach to the budget implementation bill, an approach which will have profound implications for our country. Simply stated, the Conservative government has said to Canadians, “This is how we do things and that is the way it is going to be”. It brings to mind the schoolyard bully who never felt the need to explain his actions but just went ahead and did what he wanted to do.
However, I have news for the government. Canadians do not like it and they are waking up to the way the government is doing things. Who would have thought that Canadians would be familiar with procedures such as prorogation or time allocation during debates or the use of in camera in committees? Slowly but surely, Canadians are beginning to understand these procedures and beginning to question what the government meant when it promised, six and a half years ago, to be open, transparent and, most of all, accountable. I believe Canadians are beginning to feel that there is a contradiction between what has been promised and what is actually being done by the government.
It has come to this. All the opposition parties have been asking the government from the start to split the enormous, 425-page Bill C-38. That way, the changes that are not directly or even indirectly related to the budget but that will have significant consequences on our country could be addressed separately.
I am talking about the changes that affect the way we assess the environmental risks associated with developing our natural resources. I am talking about changes to the Fisheries Act, which will put endangered species at greater risk of extinction. I am also talking about changes to the criteria for old age security, or the OAS eligibility age, which will go from 65 to 67 as of 2023.
In our analysis, we found that this change is not necessary and that the Canadian economy has the means to allow Canadians to receive old age security at 65. In any event, is this change proposed by the government so urgent for the economy that we need to include it in this budget bill? Why does this change not merit its own bill?
The same can be said about the unprecedented changes to employment insurance, which could result in significant changes in the regions, especially those where seasonal employment is the norm. These are unprecedented changes and the federal government has not even taken the time to consult the provinces, which could be hard hit by a decline in population or an increase in requests for social assistance.
In all, more than 60 pieces of legislation would be modified, created or deleted by Bill C-38. The government's only argument for charging ahead is that the economy is fragile and it cannot wait. This is, of course, preposterous since many of the changes in the bill are not remotely time critical or, in many cases, even related to what we would expect in a budget implementation plan. Old age security changes would be 11 years away. Why do the Conservatives think they can behave this way? And will somebody in the government explain to me why Canada's economic stability is critically dependent on changes to the Fisheries Act being implemented immediately?
We live in a democracy. In democracies, even those with majority governments, there is a proper way to enact legislation and it is not by cramming a very large number of pieces of legislation into a single bill.
I would like to repeat an important point. Not only should Bill C-38 be split into several bills dealing with the environment, fisheries, employment insurance and old age security, among other things, but a government committed to working with the provinces would have consulted them before going ahead with Bill C-38, a bill that will definitely affect the provinces.
Unfortunately, this government ignores everyone and consults no one. This was the case recently with the premiers of the Atlantic provinces on the issue of employment insurance and with the National Assembly last Friday, which once again voted unanimously on changes to employment insurance.
We in the Liberal Party knew from the beginning that the government would not suddenly become reasonable. It is simply not its style. We knew that its members would charge blindly ahead with no intention to listen to reason or to compromise and damn the torpedoes. For that reason we decided that in addition to speaking out loudly and clearly about the government's abuse of democracy, we needed also to maximize the effectiveness of our procedural tactics. If I may say, here the Liberals have quite a bit of experience. We did try to propose substantive amendments to Bill C-38 in committee, but they were rejected. The government simply refused to listen. The result is that we introduced 503 report stage amendments to delete clauses that we felt were unacceptable to this bill.
In addition to this, we worked closely with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and told her we would support any substantive amendments that she proposed and with which we agreed.
I recognize that the Conservative government has the majority of seats in the House of Commons. I respect that reality. Ultimately, that allows it to do what it wishes. However, that does not mean that ignoring the arguments raised by opposition parties is the smart way to behave, given that opposition parties sometimes propose sensible amendments to government bills. In fact, one might argue that a smart majority government will occasionally listen to the opposition parties and sometimes put a little water in its wine. That is a smart move. It is viewed not so much as a concession or a surrender, but more as a willingness to work together, something Canadians admire and expect from their politicians. So far, this has not happened, but it is not too late.
If this government is willing to listen and make compromises, we could work together in the interest of Canadians.
My party is prepared to vote right now on the parts of Bill C-38 that are related to the budget, but the clauses in Bill C-38 that have no direct bearing on the budget should be removed. The government should not be trying to hide important changes to Canada's legislation in this bill.
The Prime Minister did not raise the issue of changing the age of old age security in the last election. He did not talk about overhauling the environmental assessment regulations and legislation or the Fisheries Act. He never mentioned important changes that were coming for employment insurance. These require fulsome debate as well as consultation with the provinces.
I close by appealing to the government to listen to reason. At the end of the day, it can get a great majority of what it wants. However, what it needs to remember is that Canadians will judge it by the way it goes about it.