Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-4, which was to be a budget implementation bill but it is much more. It is that much more that has a bunch of us on this side of the House worried about what the government really intends to do. For example, this budget implementation bill includes a redefinition of what constitutes a danger in the workplace.
The definition has been in the Canada Labour Code for many years and is well understood now by the health and safety officers, workplace safety committees, employers and employees and to change it in a manner that will not allow us to have full and fulsome debate is a dangerous practice in itself.
We will not know what the new definition means. The old definition talked about any existing or potential hazard or condition, or any current or future activity that could reasonably be expected to cause injury or illness to a person exposed to it.
The new definition requires that this danger be imminent or serious. What the heck does imminent or serious mean? To find out, we have to ask the minister. The minister is the only person who is now able, under this legislation, to determine whether something is an imminent or serious threat to an individual, because the government has taken out health and safety officers across the country and replaced them with one individual.
Each and every declaration of a danger to a person in a workplace in Canada now has to be determined by the minister himself or herself. I do not know if the minister has enough time to get to all the workplaces in Canada. The minister is pretty busy legislating companies back to work, so I do not know if he or she has enough time to do that.
It is a very serious measure that is being taken in a budget implementation bill with very limited time for discussion.
The other thing that is happening in the bill is that for the public service the definition of what can be arbitrated, in terms of what we call interest arbitration processes, has changed dramatically. The definition of what constitutes an essential service is now in the head of the minister. It is not in a jointly agreed to by both parties system.
The minister can decide what is an essential service in the civil service. For example, the minister could decide that his or her driver is an essential service and therefore that person would be prohibited from taking any action.
The danger with this kind of tinkering with the existing well-known and well-understood legislation is where it may lead in the rest of Canada. We have police forces, fire departments, ambulance services and paramedic services across the country that rely on an arbitration system to feel as though they are getting paid appropriately for their work and that their terms and conditions of work are dealt with. They are not allowed to go on strike. They are not allowed to exercise what the rest of Canadians have, which is the ability to withdraw their services.
All of those other folks across the country have to be wondering where the heck the government is going and where it will lead the provincial governments that deal with these things as well.
The government has not only redefined what is an essential service and just basically said that the minister can pick and choose what he or she wants it to be, but it has redefined what constitutes the terms under which an arbitrator can decide a collective agreement.
As members will recall from a year and a half ago, or maybe two years, the former minister of labour actually set the conditions under which an arbitrator was free or not free to decide a collective agreement. When it came to Air Canada, Canada Post and CP Rail, those agreements were decided by an arbitrator, except the arbitrator's hands were tied.
If I were in the police force or if I were a firefighter, I would be worried about where this federal government was leading us, down the road of re-defining what could and could not be done by an arbitrator.
I want to talk about this issue, because I am the deputy critic for persons with disabilities. The member for Winnipeg South Centre talked in glowing terms about the fact that the government had made the enabling accessibility fund a permanent feature of future budgets, which is a good thing. The problem is that fund is a Conservative slush fund, unfortunately. I do not mean that any of the groups that receive the money are somehow complicit in this, but 85% of the money goes to Conservative ridings.
Conservatives do not represent 85% of the population of Canada. I think something like 24% voted for them last time. How is it that 85% of the enabling accessibility fund goes to Conservative-held ridings, or if a group or organization is turned down for money under the enabling accessibility fund, all it has to do is have a friend like the Minister of Foreign Affairs and that minister will grease palms or whatever it is he has to do to change the decision by whoever made the decision so a group or association can get money out of the enabling accessibility fund?
We do not have any objections to there being an enabling accessibility fund. In fact, it should be bigger than it is, but we would like to see it distributed fairly across the country. I have groups in my riding that have been turned down for enabling accessibility money and cannot fathom the reasons why, because they are not given. There is no sudden decision that a group did not get it because of X, Y or Z. The decision is made that they just did not get it. When we hear that groups in Conservative-held ridings have no trouble getting money, we wonder where the money is coming from.
The other thing I want to say about the budget implementation act is that the government has determined it can add new stuff that was not in the budget. Not only were the issues dealing with the redefinition of what constitutes a danger, the removal of health and safety officers and replacing them with the minister, the changing of the arbitration for the civil service, but a redefinition of what constitutes a Supreme Court justice has been added, someone coming from Quebec. How is that in a budget bill? How is that something that we can think costs money? The Conservatives response, and I understand where they are coming from, but I do not like it, is that it is something that came up just recently, that they have to fix it really quick and that they can rush this thing through and get it done in a hurry.
There are a whole bunch of other things that came up just recently that have not been included in the bill but have to do with money, that have to do with budgets, that have to do with taxpayers and their pocketbooks. The Conservatives talked about them in the throne speech, but they are not here.
The throne speech talked about “pay to pay”. For those who do not know what that means, a cable TV or a cellphone subscriber with any of the big carriers in Canada has to by $2 to get a paper bill. If they do not have Internet to get their bill, they have to pay $2 and the government collects tax on that $2. No wonder it is delaying it because it wants to keep collecting that tax.
Most of the people affected by that are seniors who do not have access to the Internet, who do not have ready accessibility to electronic forms of payment. Not only that, even those people who have opted to get it electronically are now being told that if they want the detailed billing, they have to pay $3 to get it electronically, and the government will tax that. Therefore, there will 15¢ federally and in Ontario another 8¢ provincially going into the coffers of the government every time people pay their bill or accepts the bill in paper. The Conservatives promised to do something about that in the throne speech. Where is it? If they can do things really quick like this, why can they not put this in the budget implementation act?
There is no help for airline passengers. The Conservatives voted almost unanimously, if not unanimously, against Bill C-459, which would have provided a system to help airline passengers from the vagaries of the airlines bumping them off a flight. There was talk about that before the throne speech, but there is nothing in the throne speech or in the budget bill.
There is nothing in the budget bill that is a relief for the 200% increase in cable TV fares that have cable and satellite fees that have taken place since it was deregulated completely by the CRTC. In the throne speech the Conservatives did not even talk about that. They said that consumers would be able to pick and play whatever they want, but at a cost. If I pick a channel, it would cost me an arm and a leg. There is nothing in here for the pocketbook of the ordinary Canadian. If the Conservatives want to talk about pick and play, let us apply it to this legislation. We would like to pick and play those things that are good for Canadians and not have to vote against them, while we can vote against those things that are not good for Canadians. That is the kind of pick and play I would like to see.
We have no relief for bank fees. People from the Syme Seniors' Centre in my riding told me that just recently the banks told them that in order to get a printed statement of their bank account they would have to pay. It is a not-for-profit seniors centre that is trying to struggle through with whatever little money it can get from grants and the rest. It now has to pay to get that statement. It did not used to because it was a seniors centre. Now that it has to pay to get the statement, there is no relief. There is nothing in the budget bill that actually reduces those exorbitant bank fees.
We need to rethink how we do these budgets and not put things in a budget that have nothing to do with budgets.