Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin on a general note, for Canadians who might be watching or following this debate, to try to perhaps slow down the pace of the detail being presented on all sides of the House and remind Canadians what is at stake here.
What are we talking about this evening? Why have so many amendments been produced and presented for voting very shortly? Why is all this kerfuffle happening about this budget bill?
For everyday Canadians who are busy leading just-in-time lives, raising their kids, paying their mortgages or rent and looking after loved ones, this is very complicated, but there are some simple facts that are worthy of communication for them this evening.
First, this budget document is 425 pages in length, has 753 clauses and is changing or doing away with 70 different laws that exist today in Canada. Here are a few of the things it would do in unprecedented fashion, because it is not an economic document and it is certainly not an economic transformative plan, as the minister would have us believe.
It would rewrite Canada's environmental laws, 40 years in the making. In this draft budget, they are gone.
It would break the Conservative government's election promise by raising the age to qualify for the old age supplement from 65 to 67 years of age. Does any Canadian remember hearing that in the last election campaign? Did the government run on that platform?
It would create uncertainty for our seasonal industries with changes to employment insurance, something I will come back to momentarily.
It would hurt Canada's international brand by tearing up 100,000 immigration applications with the stroke of a pen. The 100,000 human beings waiting for their immigration applications to be processed would now be out of luck.
It would impose the Conservatives' unilateral decision to reduce health care transfer payments to the provinces and territories. Did they run on that platform? No. Did they consult or negotiate with the provinces? No.
In this bill they are targeting charities that they disagree with. Did they run on that in their platform?
They are eliminating groups such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Rights and Democracy and the National Council of Welfare, all groups the Conservatives disagree with. Did they run on those promises? No.
They would be reducing the Auditor General's oversight on a number of government agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Northern Pipeline Agency. How can that be a good thing?
It is reducing democratic oversight of our spy agency, CSIS, by abolishing the Office of the Inspector General.
It would repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, eliminate a number of the government's reporting requirements on climate change and public service jobs and make changes to parole hearings. Every expert who testified warned that changes to parole hearings are unconstitutional.
In short, it is anti-democratic. They are using a single omnibus budget bill to limit debate and ram these unrelated measures through Parliament. That is what this debate is about, for Canadians who are watching.
However, it is no surprise for those of us who lived through the first incarnation of the republican government in Ontario, which has ended up here. That is because the technique that was perfected in Ontario to create omnibus bills began under former premier Mike Harris and was perfected by our present-day Minister of Finance.
Let us focus on the old age supplement as an important issue for a moment. The Conservatives are breaking their election promise, as I said, by raising the age for OAS from 65 to 67. They are ignoring the advice of the OECD, Canada's chief actuarial officer, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and even the government's own experts, who have all agreed and all testified that change is not necessary because our OAS program is already sustainable. This would hurt rural Canadians, and single women in particular, who disproportionately depend on OAS and GIS.
It also hurts our physical labourers who cannot continue working. Forty percent of our OAS recipients earn less than $20,000 a year, and more than half earn less than $25,000 a year. In my riding of Ottawa South, it is no different.
This change would hurt Canada's most vulnerable seniors the hardest. It is just not right; our seniors, who have invested so much in our country, need our support now more than ever.
Let us turn to the changes under employment insurance. What have we heard? We did not hear how these changes will help solve skilled labour shortages. We did not hear how many of the current 250,000 job openings would be filled because of these changes. We did not hear how these changes will assist the 1.4 million Canadians who are out of work. We did not hear that Canadians had been consulted about these changes. We did not hear how they will help communities and workers who only have seasonal industries to foster more full-time industries.
These changes brand those who require EI during recurring periods of no-fault job loss as “repeat offenders”, in the government's language. Can members imagine thatv if people are on in EI in Canada, they are repeat offenders?
Those people had better watch out. The changes would force them to take a 30% pay cut in a lower-skill job outside of their area of training. The changes would force people to take jobs further away from home, thereby incurring higher costs for a low-skill job that pays less. Boy, that makes sense in the 21st century.
It is policy created on the fly. The Conservatives did not have a plan or a rationale for the changes. They had no information, no facts, no analysis, just a belief that EI claimants are lazy and abuse the system.
They have a desire to penalize seasonal workers and industries. It is reminiscent of the member for Ottawa West—Nepean's press conference in Ontario several years ago, when as a minister in the Harris regime he took a box of syringes, dumped them onto the floor in front of the cameras and went on to explain that the reason the government was pushing Workfare so hard was that all welfare recipients in Ontario were shooting their cheques up their arms. That is the kind of character at play here, a character that is still there.
If members do not take my word for it, let us listen to what the media has to say about the budget.
The Globe and Mail said, “The budget bill contains too much for adequate consideration by Parliament.”
The Halifax Chronicle Herald called it “a steamroller of sweeping change, from the streamlining of environmental regulations to the reform of old age security and EI”, and called it “anti-democratic”. The paper stated that “the monster budget bill introduced last week is an omnibus bill on steroids” and went on to say, “It's also nonsense to pretend one debate, one committee review and one vote will allow Parliament to competently examine this legal spaghetti.”
The Toronto Star said, “This reeks of hypocrisy.” It also stated:
This is political sleight-of-hand and message control, and it appears to be an accelerating trend. These shabby tactics keep Parliament in the dark, swamp MPs with so much legislation that they can't absorb it all, and hobble scrutiny. This is not good, accountable, transparent government. It is not what [the Prime Minister] promised to deliver.
The Montreal Gazette stated, in speaking of Bill C-38, “If more Canadians understood it, they would be horrified by the lack of time allotted to its consideration.”
The Winnipeg Free Press stated:
Under the...Conservatives, however, parliamentary committees, like Parliament itself, are mere toys of the party in power, routinely gagged the moment an opposition MP moves a motion.
We have certainly seen that behaviour.
The Ottawa Citizen asked this simple question: “What's the rush?”
It goes on and on.
The National Post stated:
As you remove the outer layers of the bill, you discover potentially far-reaching policy shifts that have no business being in any budget, far less being scrutinized by the finance committee.
Perhaps to close, my favourite, published just some hours ago at 6:20 p.m. this afternoon, from Postmedia:
Their primary justification for the omnibus bill—that all its measures together form an integrated, coherent vision and plan of economic transformation—is demonstrably nonsense.... How can reforms to the Parks Canada Agencies Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the elimination of the office of the inspector general for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service possibly be interpreted as economic?
It goes on to conclude, asking this question:
Why bother wasting time with the bothersome business of committee review and public debate? ...It would be far more efficient, certainly cheaper, for the prime minister to rule by decree.