Mr. Speaker, I rise today to make it clear that NDP objects, in the strongest possible terms, to Bill C-38, what we call the Trojan Horse bill. Here we are, regrettably, at third reading of this massive omnibus bill, consisting of 425 pages and 753 clauses. Let me be clear about what this bill would do.
One-third of the bill is dedicated to gutting environmental protection and turning back the clock on it. It would make sweeping changes to old age security and employment insurance, vital programs on which Canadian families rely. It would press the delete button on over 300,000 federal skilled worker applications for people who have been playing by the rules and waiting their turn. It would open the door to the privatization of our food safety system and would roll back the clock on government transparency and accountability for the future by concentrating powers in the hands of ministers and reducing oversight and reporting requirements. These are just a few of the measures contained in the bill, everything but the kitchen sink, all bound up in one massive package.
There is growing national consensus that this is the wrong way to make significant changes to government policies and programs. Matthew Carroll of Leadnow confirmed that “Canadians are hungry for a truly participatory democracy that works. The majority are outraged at the direction the current government is dragging our country”.
Even those who agree with some of the proposed changes are decrying the lack of proper oversight and study of the bill. Conservative commentator Andrew Coyne wrote about this Trojan Horse and stated:
We've no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet... there is something quite alarming about Parliament being obliged to rubber-stamp the government’s whole legislative agenda at one go.
We have tried from the outset to reach out to the government and work with it to find an acceptable way to divide this bill into manageable parts for a more effective and democratic study. Our attempts were thwarted. We tried to offer amendments at the finance committee, but not one of the 53 amendments was accepted, this even in the face of testimony that seriously cautioned the government on several of its proposed changes.
Will Amos of Ecojustice testified. He stated:
There is no law that we can recall that has ever, in such a broad and structural manner, changed the federal environmental governance regime....Canadians are not ready for this. Parliament is not ready for this. There has been inadequate process to consider the transformative changes that are being proposed.
Professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen cautioned, as follows:
What we don't often understand or look at is how various portions of the budget will interact with each other. For example, when you change the OAS and you then change the employment insurance, you're going to see that older people who are over 65 are probably going to be doing part-time and temporary work; they're not going to be able to qualify for a pension, nor are they going to be able to qualify for EI, if they aren't employed. We may be pushing a lot of people in specific kinds of groups into positions of poverty...
On the removal of the Inspector General's oversight from CSIS, and that is also in this bill, Paul Kennedy told the commons committee the following:
The cost associated with the Office of the Inspector General is a small price to pay if one wants to maintain a covert intelligence agency in Canada. The elimination of the Eyes and Ears of the Minister, if that is the course that you chose to adopt, should be accompanied by a common recommendation that future missteps by the intelligence service will be accompanied by the resignation of the Public Safety Minister. Wilful blindness as to potential problems at CSIS must carry a price. After all, responsibility ultimately rests with the Minister.
Mr. Kennedy is a former senior assistant deputy minister of public safety with 20 years of experience in national security. The Conservatives dismissed his testimony as simply wrong.
Finally, after time allocation in the committee, which left us with about four minutes of study per clause and further time allocations in the House, we were left with attempts to delete and amend the bill at report stage and every amendment was voted down by the government.
We urged the government to consult with Canadians about some of these massive changes, to hold hearings to meet with political and community leaders. However, the Atlantic premiers were not consulted about the impact of the proposed EI changes on their provinces and key environmental organizations were not consulted about the impact of gutting environmental laws.
National Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations testified at the subcommittee. He said:
Part 3 of Bill C-38 needs to be withdrawn to take the time to work with first nations to ensure their rights and interests are reflected and will not be compromised through such legislation.
New Democrats did our best to open up the process by holding hearings across the country and encouraging Canadians to contact us by email, mail and social media, and thousands did. However, just as Canadians are realizing what is at stake, the government is determined to ram this bill through. We can only believe that the Conservatives' original intent was to pass this massive bill without most Canadians even knowing what was in it. It is abundantly clear that the Conservatives are determined to shut down debate and shut Canadians out of the plans they have for our country.
We believe we have made the process somewhat democratic, but it is still unacceptable that such major changes are being implemented without consultation or adequate oversight. Unfortunately, the impact of this so-called budget bill will be felt not just for a few years, but for decades. If the government is so confident about the measures it is implementing, why did it not promote them in last year's election campaign? Why is it so afraid of a public debate today? Why does it not want Canadians to find out what impact the proposed changes will have on them and their families? When did the Conservatives begin to fear accountability?
I must also emphasize that the short title of this bill, “jobs prosperity and long-term growth”, more than misses the mark. The vast majority of these 425 pages have nothing to do with the budget or economic growth. In fact, some measures would create downward pressure on the income of Canadians. The proposed EI changes would quickly move unemployed workers to lower paying jobs or else right off EI and onto welfare.
We see other measures such as the temporary foreign workers provisions already announced by the Conservative government that would require an employer to only search for a Canadian to fill a job for two weeks before bringing in temporary foreign workers who, now for the first time, can be paid 15% less than the average wage.
Economist Jim Stanford testified before the finance committee. He said:
It is an enormous shortage of jobs, not a lack of workers and not a lack of work ethic, that explains the decline in the employment rate...policies should be designed not to compel more labour supply but rather to support Canadian families in an era where there's a chronic shortage of jobs that dominates the outlook for our labour market moving forward.
We are already living in volatile economic times. Personal debt is at an all-time high of 152% of household income and yet there are nine times more in cuts than in job creation measures in budget 2012. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has cautioned that these changes will have a negative drag on our economy and, overall, unemployment would likely rise. Our trade deficit is high and growing.
To continue with Jim Stanford, he says:
There’s a big difference, however, between signing free-trade pacts and actually doing something about trade. Canada’s trade performance deteriorated badly over the past decade. The quantity of goods and services shipped abroad is seven percentage points lower than when the [Conservative] government took office, lower even than back in 2000....Our once-impressive trade surplus has melted into deficit.
Yet irresponsible, no strings attached budget cuts and tax cuts to the largest corporations have reduced the government's capacity for flexibility in these times. This omnibus budget bill does not address these problems. Instead, it makes them worse.
I look at my own community of Parkdale—High Park. There are people who are desperate to find jobs to support themselves and their families. People work hard, sometimes at two or three jobs, yet they cannot get their heads above the poverty line.
It is a sad fact that in the city of Toronto, with all its wealth and opportunity, one in three children lives in poverty. I see other families who are making a higher income but who are paying exorbitant child care fees, many thousands of dollars on top of an increasing cost of living on everything from housing to food, but their incomes are not rising accordingly. These families see nothing in the budget to provide more affordable housing, nothing in child care, nothing to create jobs and improve their incomes in Toronto.
I see young people who would love the chance to have a decent future and to be part of the economy of tomorrow, but there is almost nothing here in skills development and apprenticeship training.
Young people now have twice the national unemployment rate. If they lose hope, our country will pay the price in years to come. If we invest at the front end, in job skills training and child care and better housing, we will all reap the benefits for years to come.
Regrettably, the government's determination to grow the prison population and purchase fighter jets at the expense of these measures takes Canada in the wrong direction. It is not just morally and socially wrong. It is economically unsustainable.
We believe that it is wrong to attempt to sneak measures past Canadians and to ram them through Parliament as quickly as possible. 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 today, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has come forward with a legal opinion that backs his battle to obtain information about the proposed cuts.
We are living in uncertain times, and forces beyond our borders will likely continue to have a significant impact for some time to go.
We will have a jobs crisis, likely to get worse. We have an environmental record that has plummeted, among the worst under the Conservatives, and we have a government that repeatedly misleads Canadians to serve its agenda.
Canadians need a government committed to job creation in a meaningful way, not just talking points. We need a government that understands that economic growth and environmental protection must go hand in hand. And we need a government that not only sets up a Parliamentary Budget Office but that provides that office with the information it needs to provide real accountability for Canadians.
That is why New Democrats have been standing firmly against this undemocratic Trojan Horse bill every step of the way and that is why, today, I would like to introduce the following reasoned amendment. My reasoned amendment is as follows:
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“this House declines to give third 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 this House:
a) does not know the full implications of the budget cuts given that the government has kept the details of the $5.2 billion in spending cuts from the Parliamentary Budget Officer whose lawyer Joseph Magnet says the government is violating the Federal Accountability Act law and should turn the information over to the Parliamentary Budget Officer;
b) is concerned with the impact of the changes in the Bill on Canadian society such as:
i. making it more difficult for Canadians to access Employment Insurance when they need it and forcing them to accept jobs at 70% of what they previously earned or lose their EI;
ii. raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement from 65 to 67 years and thus driving thousands of Canadians into poverty while downloading spending to the provinces;
iii. cutting back the federal health transfers to the provinces from 2017 on, which will result in a loss of $31 billion to the health care system; and
iv. gutting the federal environmental assessment regime and weakening fish habitat protection which will adversely affect Canada's environmental sustainability for generations to come; and
c) is opposed to the removal of critical oversight powers of the Auditor General over a dozen agencies and the systematic concentration of powers in the hands of Government ministers over agencies such as the National Energy Board which weakens Canadians' confidence in the work of Parliament, decreases transparency and erodes fundamental democratic institutions by systematically eroding institutional checks and balances to the government's ideologically driven agenda.