Mr. Speaker, just because some people may say that the contents of this omnibus bill, Bill C-38, are admirable does not make the use of it any less offensive. Bill C-38 clearly is being used to slide past Parliament controversial amendments to a number of pieces of non-budgetary legislation. Equally important, if not more important, it was done to slide them past the Canadian public without allowing adequate scrutiny or due diligence. Let us be clear. The Conservatives are doing this so as to minimize the political damage to their government.
Let us consider for a moment a few items contained in Bill C-38 which on their own would have been problematic for the Conservative government.
Just one issue is the raising of the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. Had this change been given the airing it deserves, it clearly would have become a larger flashpoint with most Canadians than it had been already while neatly tucked inside Bill C-38. On that point, in my time in Parliament I have never seen such blundering and mishandling of a trial balloon as happened with the changes to OAS eligibility. It began in Davos when the PMO media notes contained a reference to a potential change to OAS. Then after the opposition questioned the minister daily for a full week, finally the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development gave indications there was some need for something to happen to OAS. Finally, after 10 days, the Minister of Finance spoke, saying something was likely to happen but not before 2020 or 2025. Of course, during the time lag before anybody from government had the decency to respond, there was a firestorm from seniors that somehow their incomes would be cut. Then of course seniors got mad, as they learned their kids would have to work two additional years.
I remind government members that OAS is not a pension. OAS is a retirement security payment to protect seniors from literally starving. One has to ask what would have become of these changes had they been given stand-alone consideration in a single bill before the human resources committee.
Equally concerning to thousands of Canadians are the changes within Bill C-38 that move to make it harder for seasonal workers to claim EI on a repeating basis as their seasonal type of work demands.
I personally believe that the Conservatives' limiting the length of time environmental reviews of major construction projects can be drawn out may well be considered wise in Conservative circles, but I ask, does anybody here truly believe that the one-third of Bill C-38 that deals with the environment should not properly be in a bill or bills of its own? Having said this, I also believe the Conservatives have significantly underestimated Canadians' commitment to the environment. Surely no one in this House of Commons believes Canadians can be fooled simply because major environmental changes are tucked inside an omnibus budget bill.
The very existence of Bill C-38 suggests that the Conservatives believe Canadians are so dumb as to not realize this is all being done solely to minimize public awareness and avoid criticism. This Herculean act of misjudgment, will certainly come back to haunt each and every Conservative who votes for Bill C-38. Just as the Conservatives drove the agenda on the gun registry for 20 years, using it over and over to raise millions of dollars, Bill C-38 has now handed their opposition the very same type of issue going forward to the 2015 election.
In a solely political sense, I would have to say that the Conservatives' use of Bill C-38 in such a comprehensive manner is an especially terrible use of an omnibus law-making bill. Bill C-38 contains in excess of 750 clauses and amends nearly 70 laws.
One area alone affected by Bill C-38 which I believe has yet to strike home with Canadians is the changes in the oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS.
Bill C-38 removes the office of the Inspector General of CSIS and passes the responsibility of that office to the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the minister. Canadians, at least the ones my age, will remember when CSIS was formed in 1984. It was formed because a so-called dirty trick squad of the RCMP had crossed the line and was ultimately disbanded. When CSIS was created, the position of Inspector General was created to avoid a similar failure at the organization as the one that had happened with the RCMP.
In the shadowy world of counter-intelligence and in light of the shadow of the 9/11 tragedy, the oversight of CSIS is all the more essential. It should not be surprising to anyone in this place that a government that wants to hide its massive changes to Canada's laws on protecting the environment from Canadians in an omnibus bill just might want CSIS' secrets to remain in that secretive world.
What is amazing to watch is how so many good people across the way have allowed themselves to become party to the omnibus bill. How can they so easily set aside in their minds what is right and proper about the parliamentary system? How can they take partisanship to such a new low? They do not have to agree or even remotely accept what the opposition parties think, but they have decided that their opinion is so solid and so right, that the changes contained in Bill C-38 are so urgent that they must forgo proper committee and expert scrutiny.
The parliamentary system evolved for a single purpose and that was to protect the rights of the Canadian people, rights first enshrined by the Magna Carta nearly 1,000 years ago.
The consolidation of power within the PMO is not a new thing in this place. Pierre Trudeau used it. Mike Harris used it in Ontario. Does anybody recall the minister of education in Ontario, John Snobelen, in the mid-1990s? He was the minister who was caught on camera saying his government had to create a crisis in education in order to advance its right-wing agenda.
It is strange how those who evoked the great ideals of government accountability and transparency during the 2006 election are violating those very promises with Bill C-38.
Parliamentary language rules prevent me from declaring the Conservatives for what they have become, but I can say that Canadians are already doing just that. Of course, instead of humbly accepting well-earned criticism and withdrawing Bill C-38, we will shortly see them follow through with its passage, all the while hiding a gross abandonment of their parliamentary responsibilities to the Canadians whom they represent behind the bill's title: jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. That title is one of the most offensive misuses of that particular language ever seen in this place.
Even if some changes to the environmental law proposed in Bill C-38 may be warranted, that fact has not been established. Yes, it would be inconvenient for the government to deal with its proposed changes in a public session with expert witnesses. Would that be because the Conservatives cannot get experts to back their assertions, or could it be because expert scientists already clearly do not support the Conservatives' views on global warming and the degradation of our children's environment is okay because it generates enough profit?
When the official opposition puts the hard questions to this group of Conservatives, we often hear them bellow and roar a variety of responses that may in the short term relieve their stress but do little to relieve their responsibility for the travesty they are taking part in here today.
There is a mantra we hear that big government is bad, that it spends too much, that low taxes are the only way. The same people will say they always pay their bills and that they are honest citizens. They may well be, but they are wrong about a couple of things. Canadians are willing to pay for the services they receive. They simply want transparency and accountability for those costs.
Does that sound familiar? It sounds like 2006 again. It should. Governments, it has been said, are not defeated; they, in their actions, defeat themselves. Just as the gun registry bill led the Liberals to their defeat in 2006, I predict that Bill C-38 will become the turning point that leads to the end of the Conservative government in 2015.
Can any of the Conservatives across the way tell me how changing the access to EI would help Canada's unemployed? Can anyone across the way tell me how removing the Auditor General's examination of 12 agencies would somehow help Canadians? Can anyone tell me how forcing Canadians to work two years longer would help them? Can anyone across the way tell me how changing the environmental laws to reduce environmental assessments a hundredfold would somehow help Canadians?
This Conservative government, with its reckless excessive corporate tax cuts and the HST cut, has taken $30 billion a year out of the income of the federal government.
I recall when I first started my working career what was being said was “a fair day's work for a fair day's pay”. I lived my working career by that saying, and I still do.
Because I believe in health care, because I believe in a good retirement security system that protects our seniors, because I believe we are responsible for those who cannot take care of themselves, I have never once complained about paying my taxes, but I have complained about how they have been spent over the years.
Yes, I support government accountability and transparency. The question that remains to be seen is if the Conservatives in this House still do.
I will move now to a summary. Bill C-38, the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act, goes far beyond tax and monetary measures to make changes to dozens of policy areas, including the environment, natural resources and human resources.
All of the opposition parties were clear in the finance committee. We believed we should not have been asked to vote on a budget bill that grants cabinet the power to make far-reaching regulatory changes as seen within Bill C-38. Bill C-38 has 400 plus pages. I want everyone watching at home today to clearly understand that this is just the beginning. There will be yet another budget bill in the fall.
Here are a few points. First, there is a near total environmental overhaul in Bill C-38 that does not belong in a budget bill. The government wants a one project, one review environmental system so it is repealing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and replacing it with the Canadian environmental assessment act 2012. I want to stress that it would reduce assessments a hundredfold. That type of decision does not belong with the finance committee.
The bill also sets out limits for completion of reviews. The minister would have the power to shut down a review panel if he thought it would not finish on time. What is on time? On time is when we give the proper study to protect the environment for our children and our grandchildren. How can anyone say that this belongs in a budget bill? This particular type of decision needs the due diligence supplied by a comprehensive review by experts and by the committee that is tasked with such a review, not five minutes of questions at finance committee.
One day in finance committee when we were reviewing Bill C-38, we had witnesses. One wanted to talk about genetically modified seeds, another one the environment, another one the fisheries, and it went on. We had seven people sitting there. Each one had a serious topic. We got to ask five minutes of questions. Where do we even start with that comprehensive panel? We went through panel after panel with the same type of problem.
Consider the EI definition for suitable work. That does not belong before the finance committee. Anyone here clearly knows it should have gone before the human resources committee. Bill C-38 would remove the definition of suitable work from the Employment Insurance Act and give the federal cabinet the power to create new regulations about what constitutes suitable work and reasonable efforts to work. The bill gives no details about what the new criteria would be.
How does the decision on removing the oversight of the Auditor General belong in a finance bill? After Bill C-38, the Auditor General would no longer be required to annually audit several agencies, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Northern Pipeline Agency and the Canadian Polar Commission. These agencies would submit annual financial reports to the minister instead. I said this at committee and I will say it again here today: how does putting the fox in charge of the henhouse create jobs and prosperity?
Backlogged immigration applications would be eliminated. Among the amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, there is a move to wipe out a backlog of 280,000 applications under the skilled worker program. Skilled workers are particularly what western Canada is screaming for. That list would be wiped out. Applications made before 2008 would be deleted. The Conservatives are gracious though, they would refund the fee. They have just taken away people's dreams of coming to Canada and being a part of and contributing to this great country.
At the finance committee, we heard a very compelling intervention on these immigration changes from the member for Newton—North Delta. She asked the committee to consider, and I will ask the people here today, “How do these changes which will destroy the dreams of people who trusted in Canada somehow create jobs and prosperity? How in the world can this be justified within a budget bill with the claim that it will improve our prosperity?”
The Fisheries Act changes contained in Bill C-38 do not belong at a finance committee. Where is our expertise at finance to deal with the fisheries? It is very clear where that belongs.
Bill C-38 would shut down several government-funded groups and agencies, including the National Council of Welfare, the Public Appointments Commission, Rights and Democracy, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the Canadian Artists and Producers Professional Relations Tribunal, and Assisted Human Reproduction Canada.
It would create a new social security tribunal to hear appeals on decisions made by old age security, employment insurance and other programs. It would create a Shared Services Canada department.
When we stop to consider the breadth of what is happening here, if we really pause and look at the 400-plus pages, the 700 clauses, there are areas of the bill that require expertise in given areas that are not areas of responsibility of the finance committee, areas that clearly belong with human resources, immigration and other places.
What is happening in this place is the removal of the trust that Canadians have given us, each one of us. We were all elected to come here for one purpose: to stand up and scrutinize the government, and to work with the government to provide the due diligence on governmental laws and legislation necessary to ensure that the changes being made are the best possible changes for the people.
We hear members on the other side talk about working together. In the same motion they turn around and limit debate or they come out with a bill like this. A bill like this hand-ties all members of Parliament to the place where they cannot do the due diligence that they are responsible to do. I ask the members on the other side of this House to reconsider what is being done, to stand up for Canadians they claim to support and represent, and do the due diligence.