Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-4. We do not have much time to debate it, despite what my colleague said, given that we have only one day for third reading debate. I am referring, of course, to the second budget implementation bill.
First of all, as we have already heard a few times, including during questions and comments this morning, it is worth reminding the House that this is another omnibus bill, at least the fourth one of its kind to be considered by the Standing Committee on Finance, where I was directly involved.
In order for an omnibus bill to really be effective, it must contain consistent measures. A budget bill should include budgetary measures, amendments to the Income Tax Act, for example, or the Excise Tax Act. We could understand such measures being in an omnibus bill.
However, the omnibus bill before us has practically everything in it. The Conservatives included measures that amend the process for selecting judges from Quebec for the Supreme Court, to correct an error they made. Furthermore, the bill contains measures dealing with workplace health and safety, as well as measures that alter the relationship between the government as an employer and the public service as employees.
These measures are extremely important and should be debated individually. Once again, however, despite what my colleague said, we did not have enough time to debate them. Time was very limited, particularly at the Standing Committee on Finance. A time limit on the debate was imposed from the very beginning of the committee's examination of the bill.
Three meetings were scheduled to study such an important bill that will add, eliminate or amend about 70 different acts. We heard from five witnesses during the first panel, which took about an hour and 45 minutes, and we heard from five witnesses during the second panel,which took less than an hour and 15 minutes. The Minister of Finance addressed the committee, but he did not really answer questions, as he often asked his officials to respond. Then four other witnesses spoke for about an hour and 15 minutes. We heard from an additional 13 witnesses over a three-hour period.
That is the extent of the study that was done of the imposing and important Bill C-4, just like all of the other budget implementation bills.
The Conservatives have a habit of ramming various measures down our throats, and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with the budget process and were not even in the budget that the Minister of Finance tabled in March.
This tendency has been criticized by several extremely credible organizations, which leads me to wonder why the government continues to do this. We heard some very interesting evidence in that regard. There is a generalized sense of frustration among experts and Canadians who are worried and concerned about the state of our democracy.
For example, the Canadian Bar Association gave a presentation on this. No one here can dispute the credibility of that organization. I will quote what the representatives told the Standing Committee on Finance:
All parties are now disadvantaged as they hastily review unexpected and unexplained changes in Bill C-4. The concern is compounded when those changes arrive in omnibus legislation, as the opportunity for serious reflection and debate is minimal. The [Canadian Bar Association] Section believes that eschewing consultation and employing omnibus bills diminish the quality of our laws and the democratic process. We urge you to reconsider these practices.
I do not know how we could make it any clearer that the kind of omnibus bills the government has been introducing for the past three years distort the democratic process and force members of Parliament to vote on bills that have a lot of flaws and deserve closer attention.
The Association of Justice Counsel agrees. The judicial process is at the heart of what they do. They testified at the Standing Committee on Finance, which is never mentioned by the government. This is what they said:
By virtue of introducing these changes under the umbrella of a budget bill, the government has effectively sidestepped the much-needed consultation process with stakeholders. The scope of this Bill, combined with the very short time span, is unduly pressuring elected officials to make uninformed decisions without the benefit of a solid understanding and healthy discussion and debate.
When the government tries to claim that there were wide consultations, extensive debates and all kinds of presentations in committee or the House, and that we had time for exhaustive discussion, I have to say that I have some serious doubts.
Omnibus bills like this one have a huge impact. They are introduced very quickly with a minimal amount of consultation. Since these bills have a broad scope and there is little time for discussion, they can contain serious errors that the government is then forced to fix.
We saw an example of this a year or a year and a half ago. The government had introduced an omnibus crime bill. We told the government that some of the measures in Bill C-10 were quite problematic.
We told the government precisely how it should amend the bill. We did not agree with the scope of the bill, but we made proposals in the House and in committee. The government said no and had the omnibus crime bill passed very quickly.
After the bill passed, the Conservatives realized that the opposition was right, that the bill contained a very harmful measure. Do you know what they did? Instead of admitting their mistake, they turned to the Senate to fix the mistake. Once the bill was amended in the Senate, the government brought it back to the House.
The same thing is happening here with the budget bills. The last budget bill contained a measure that affected caisses populaires and credit unions by changing their tax rate from 11% to 15%, effectively eliminating the 4% advantage they had. We felt that the caisses populaires and credit unions deserved that leg up given their mandate. They are not-for-profit organizations, unlike the banks, and they play a major role in local economies.
For extremely complex technical reasons, this change did not simply shift the tax rate from 11% to 15%. The tax rate actually increased from 11% to 28% for caisses populaires and credit unions.
We had very little time to study the bill and therefore did not have the opportunity to address this technicality. The government realized that there was a mistake.
The bill before us contains a measure that corrects the tax rate and brings it back down to 15%. Nevertheless, this mistake should not have gone through in the first place. I wonder how many of these technical mistakes are in bills that we have had to pass hastily over the past two years.
Bill C-4 contains numerous measures. As I mentioned, the bill adds, eliminates or amends 70 acts. We are opposed to many of these measures. We agree with some of the government's efforts. There is no problem with the fight against tax havens and tax loopholes. If people look carefully into the testimony and interventions before the Standing Committee on Finance, they will see that we support this measure and indeed find that the government is not going far enough.
This bill has some extremely harmful measures. I find it really interesting that in their speeches the Conservatives talk in very general terms about how their budget bill and their government have such a positive impact. However, they only talk about those tax issues they support.
In 2008, the Conservative government established the Employment Insurance Financing Board. It was supposed to be a means of correcting the Liberal government's misuse of the EI fund in the 1990s. We are talking about $57 billion.
The Conservatives did not promise to put this amount in an independent employment insurance fund, but they promised to correct the situation and ensure that such a thing would never happen again. They created the Employment Insurance Financing Board to set EI premiums and to determine EI benefits and eligibility criteria.
We are now in 2013, only to find that this bill contains a proposal to eliminate the Employment Insurance Financing Board, which has been essentially an empty shell since it was created in 2008-09.
We heard testimony from some public servants. They said that, ultimately, the minister will be given significant discretionary power so that he can decide on issues such as premiums, benefits and eligibility.
There is a recurring theme in the government's budget bills, and that is the fact that they give more power to the minister, whether it is the Minister of Employment and Social Development with regard to employment insurance or the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration with regard to changes to the system. The budget bill contains an amendment that will affect immigration and refugees.
Certain provisions will give the minister more discretionary power. Ministers are consistently assuming more and more power, and that poses serious problems. The Association of Justice Counsel commented on the Conservative government's tendency to centralize power in the hands of cabinet. That power used to be more spread out and dispersed among various experts and functions. The witness from the Association of Justice Counsel had this to say:
The government holds all the keys to the legislative closet. They hold all those cards, to use that analogy. The whole point of having a choice and giving that choice to the unions in terms of what route they choose was to recognize that unions are stacked when they're dealing with the government. We're not dealing with Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola can't draft legislation and say, “Go back to work”, or, “Here's wage restraint”. This government has used those tools, and our hands are tied.
Of course, the quotation refers to one element of the bill before us, namely the balance of power between the government as an employer—that is to say, the Treasury Board—and the public service. The government is using the bill to amend various aspects of the bargaining process. For one, it eliminates the possibility of using arbitration.
Arbitration is an extremely important tool when a government or an employer and an employee cannot come to an agreement. They may agree to have someone else make the decision for them. That is what arbitration is. The government is taking away that option.
Consequently, if the government wants to provoke a dispute with the public service for political reasons, for example, it can do just that. That poses a significant problem for government operations and for the system that provides public services. If the government wishes to provoke that kind of dispute, it will have a much easier time doing so now that the arbitration process has been amended.
Furthermore, the government is giving itself the right to define essential services, even after the fact. The government will be able to declare that a given area of the government, where a labour dispute might be happening, is now an essential service and therefore does not have the right to strike or use any kind of job action. The balance of power has shifted completely in favour of the employer, who happens to be the legislator. Thus, this is a huge conflict of interest for the government, but it chooses to ignore that fact, for purely political reasons.
I also referred to another aspect of Bill C-4 that I find completely appalling. There was a lot of media attention around the fact that the government made a colossal blunder when it appointed Justice Nadon to the Supreme Court to represent Quebec. Now the government is trying to correct that blunder after the fact by adding a measure to the omnibus budget bill. My comments have nothing to do with Justice Nadon's competency as a possible Supreme Court judge. However, the fact remains that the government really erred in this matter, as many experts agree. The government has included a measure to correct this process in a budget bill—a measure we will not be able to examine in detail. When measures like this are included, it makes it very difficult to see the relevance of the legislative process in terms of the budget.
A retroactive measure like this one will not make people forget the blunder, nor will it actually correct the government's blunder in this matter.
I talked about the attack on worker protection. Something else I would like to talk about is the issue of phasing out the tax credit for labour-sponsored funds. The government members know exactly where I stand on this issue.
This measure affects Quebec in particular because 90% of this tax credit goes to Quebeckers.
Once again, to clarify, this tax credit does not go to the funds. It does not go to big speculators, but to small investors. More than 600,000 Quebeckers save regularly for their retirement by investing in a program that is really like an RRSP. Instead of investing in speculative funds or mutual funds, where the money does not go directly to job creators, they invest in labour funds that work hand in hand with private venture capital funds and go directly into the Quebec economy.
This money is used to save businesses that need a hand during difficult times or a recession or to start up new companies, especially in very important emerging areas that promote innovation, research and development. I am referring to the medical and pharmaceutical fields and new technologies.
The Fonds de solidarité FTQ and Fondaction CSN specialize in these areas and work with private venture capital funds.
There is good reason why, the day after the government announced in its budget that it would phase out the tax credit, Canada's Venture Capital & Private Equity Association said it was opposed to this measure, even though the government is also creating a venture capital action plan.
Other associations, such as the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec, the Regroupement des jeunes chambres de commerce du Québec and the Manufacturiers et exportateurs du Québec are also opposed to the phasing-out of this tax credit.
Even the witnesses that the government invited to praise the injection of $400 million and the creation of the venture capital action plan supported the opposition's arguments against phasing out the tax credit. They said that it did not make sense for the government to reject the agreement proposed by the Fonds de solidarité FTQ and Fondaction CSN.
That astounds me because the government had the opportunity to really make its venture capital action plan relevant and effective.
The two funds proposed an agreement with the government if it would decide to not go ahead with the phase-out. Under the agreement, the funds would voluntarily put a cap on their share issuing to save the government 30% in tax expenditures—in other words, the government would offer 30% less in tax credits. The funds would also inject the equivalent of $2 billion into the government's venture capital action plan.
The government is investing only $400 million. That is all. The funds proposed that they would invest the equivalent of $2 billion not only in Quebec but throughout the country.
I strongly believe that this model works in an area where Canada is lagging behind the other OECD countries. We are at the back of the pack. Quebec is a leading country as a result of the creation and administration of these funds. Of course, Quebec is not a country, but it is one of the leading jurisdictions in the OECD, ranking just below Israel and the United States when it comes to the amount of managed venture capital as a share of its GDP, its economy.
The proportion of managed venture capital in Quebec is nearly three times greater than the Canadian average and more than four times greater than Ontario's. The government should take note and learn from what happened in Ontario when it eliminated its tax credit. It got rid of it. That has been quite harmful to Ontario since its investment in venture capital, its amount of managed venture capital, has decreased steadily since the tax credit was eliminated in 2005. Despite having a much larger GDP than Quebec, Ontario's share of managed venture capital is equal to Quebec's in proportion to the total amount of venture capital invested in Canada. Right now, that figure is 36% for both provinces.
In many ways, Bill C-4 does not create jobs; it eliminates them. It stifles economic growth.
The IMF report shows the impact this will have on economic growth. The government should take that into account and take a more serious look at the measures it is proposing. That is why we, on this side of the House, will oppose Bill C-4.