House of Commons Hansard #242 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was come.


Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Outremont Québec


Thomas Mulcair NDPLeader of the Opposition

moved that Bill C-476, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Budget Officer), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, this is a time when opposition members and those who are not on the government side of the House can present their ideas for improving our institutions and society by way of private members' bills.

My goal is to introduce Bill C-476 and get it passed so that our Parliamentary Budget Officer is given greater permanence and protection. We saw the need for this recently in a court decision that I will talk about later in my speech.

First, let us not forget that, before they first came to power in 2006, the theme of the Conservatives' election campaign was accountability. They told us that, if they were elected, from that point on, the government would be accountable to Parliament and to Canadians.

This plan to make government more accountable included several key components. For example, the Conservatives were going to be accountable for their budget choices by creating a neutral, credible, independent organization to provide budget information to MPs and, hence, to voters. Imagine our surprise when we learned that, as soon as they appointed Kevin Page, the first Parliamentary Budget Officer, they tried to control him, to crack down on him and to tell him what to say, as they do with all other areas of public administration.

That is the background behind what we are going to talk about. Perhaps it is not surprising, since one of the other key components of the Conservatives' plan to make government more accountable included fixed election dates, which they never respected.

The Conservatives promised that there would be a person responsible for senior-level public appointments. That person was never appointed. Yes, the Conservatives did suggest a person of their choosing, but then they told us that, if we did not agree with their choice, there would be no one appointed to that position. No one has been appointed.

The Conservatives tried to do the same thing here, which is the root of the problem.

From the beginning the Conservatives promised a lot of things with regard to accountability, but unfortunately, whether it was with regard to fixed date elections, which they have never respected, or with regard to an appointments officer, who was going to help us make appointments at the highest level and find the best person instead of the best member of the party of the government, that has gone by the wayside.

What we are about to see in a little demonstration is what happened to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who was supposed to be a bit like the congressional budget officer in the U.S., highly respected and credible. There is so much respect for the institution even when people do not agree. We should not look to the Conservatives for respect for institutions in any way, shape or form.

The Conservatives wanted someone who would repeat their talking points, then they met Kevin Page. They did not count on somebody who intended to actually do his job and would expose Conservative economic incompetence, one of their strong suits. Kevin Page looked at the 2008 economic and fiscal update. Even in the face of an economic crisis, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance insisted there would be no deficit. Kevin Page said that was not plausible. It turned out that we had the largest deficit in Canadian history.

We must not forget that the proposed purchase of the F-35s was the greatest fiasco in military procurement history in Canada. Even as costs soared, the Conservatives insisted that the total cost of the planes would be $17.6 billion. In his 2012 report, Kevin Page said it would be closer to $29.3 billion. In fact, it was even higher than that. The Conservatives attacked him viciously when he came out with those reports. It was very personal because he refused to take the Conservative talking points.

The Conservatives claimed that OAS was unaffordable and raised the eligibility age to 67, taking nearly $13,000 out of the pockets of seniors. What was interesting for us was that the Prime Minister courageously made that announcement at a conference of billionaires in the Swiss Alps. We continue to invite the Prime Minister to go to Timmins or Sudbury and tell hardrock miners there that they have not worked hard enough in their life and he is going to take $13,000 out of their pockets and make them work to age 67. The PBO report contradicted the government again, proving that the current OAS system is absolutely sustainable, as everybody else who looked at it has concluded.

The list goes on.

The Conservatives led the public into error with the cost of the war in Afghanistan.

They tried to fool the public regarding the real cost of their approach to crime.

The most extraordinary sham they perpetrated recently has to do with infrastructure costs. When they tabled the budget, they had the audacity to say they were going to increase infrastructure spending.

Our team proved to journalists that that was completely false. Instead, the Conservatives cut billions of dollars and eliminated tens of thousands of jobs. Actually, they are very good at that. I must give credit where credit is due.

As for their ability to communicate phoney numbers and statistics to journalists, it took 48 hours for everyone to realize that we were telling the truth. Fortunately, we had the Parliamentary Budget Officer to confirm everything.

I will never forget the minister referring to “that individual” in the House. I remember hearing him say that. It was not Kevin Page. It was not the Parliamentary Budget Officer. He did not even have a name, a title, a role, or a function. He was “that individual”. This is the Conservatives' mindset. If they cannot control it or cannot tell it what to do, it will be attacked.

It is interesting for us that in the current process we have someone now occupying that role on an interim basis who has followed through on some of the things; for example, listening to the court decision that said that the PBO was allowed to require government departments and agencies to produce full reports. However, that has not stopped the Conservatives.

This whole selection process is contrary to what happened the first time. In the first go-round, I was the NDP's finance critic. I was consulted by the government. I had a chance to interview and meet with Kevin Page. We gave our approval to his appointment. The Conservatives knew they were not going to renew him. They have never talked to us since. To this day, we have not been consulted for one second.

What is also coming out of the selection process is—a good French expression for it is un concours “paqueté”. They know in advance who they are putting into that job. They are going through the motions now of pretending to hire someone.

The Conservatives have no interest whatsoever in accountability. The reality is the Conservatives never wanted accountability and never wanted to give Canadians a better understanding of how public money is being spent. They wanted a sympathetic ear, someone to prop up their misguided spending plans. The finance minister said, word for word in January, that he hoped that the PBO would be “...a sounding board, a testing board” for government policies.

Conservatives knew that Kevin Page's mandate was ending in March and they made no effort to find a qualified replacement. They refused to extend his term until a suitable candidate could be found. Now we are left without a full-time parliamentary budget officer. That is the hypocrisy of the Conservatives.

This is what we are trying to fix with Bill C-476. We want to have, not just a parliamentary budget officer, but a parliamentary budget office. We want to make sure that we protect it and the PBO becomes an officer of Parliament so that there could no longer be the type of interference that the Conservatives tried. Not that they got away with it with Kevin Page. They seriously underestimated the man. However, we are going to make sure that no other government would be able to do that, that both sides of the House, whether a backbencher on the government side, a member of any of the opposition parties, or an independent MP would be allowed full access to objective information.

It is critically important that we have this position and this individual who is responsible for keeping the government accountable in the public interest. If we do not have complete and accurate information, how can we make the most important decisions that are incumbent upon us on how to spend public funds? That is the whole idea.

What is fascinating is the fact that the Conservatives were honest when they proposed the position. I sincerely believe that. However, it is surprising to see them so willing to repeat nonsense day in and day out. Conservative members read the documents that are given to them, without stopping to think for one second about the glaring contradiction between what they promised in terms of responsibility and accountability and what they are actually doing.

Nevertheless, we in the NDP are here to remind the public that the Conservatives are being incredibly hypocritical when they claim to want to act in the public interest and give accurate numbers.

We are proposing this legislation today in order to ensure that the Conservatives can never again interfere with the work of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

We would bring in amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act and would make sure that the PBO had a clear mandate that was going to be respected. Do not forget, the Conservatives had given him a clear mandate, they just tried to frustrate it every step of the way. They are turning their backs on their own legislation.

What was so interesting in Justice Harrington's ruling just a few days ago was that he reminded the Conservatives that one of the biggest mistakes we make in Canada is to take our institutions for granted. This is worth bearing in mind because there is a lot of talk about their failure to respect our institutions.

Separation of powers is in the news a lot these days. We saw one minister resign for writing a letter to the Tax Court. That follows the parliamentary tradition set down in Westminster. We saw the Minister of Finance use his ministerial letterhead to write to the CRTC and he is still sitting there. That is a failure to respect a parliamentary tradition. All of a sudden, the rules do not apply depending on which minister it is and who is involved. A rule is a rule and the rule of law is the same in Parliament as it is anywhere else. The failure by the Conservatives to respect that rule shows that they do not respect our institutions.

Let us look at what the judge said in reminding the Conservatives that they cannot just decide on their own not to listen to a law that is duly adopted by this Parliament. Justice Harrington stated:

If the majority [of the government] wants to abolish the position of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, or define his or her mandate somewhat differently, so be it! However, it must do so by legislation [by law]. Having made that law by statute, it must unmake it by statute. In the meantime, Parliament has no right to ignore its own legislation.

That is the lesson they received.

The Conservatives think that they can ride roughshod over any person or institution that disagrees with them. The Federal Court confirmed the current Parliamentary Budget Officer is too important for that sort of arrogant political attack. If the Conservatives will not comply with their own law giving the PBO access to data, the courts will intervene.

We were relieved to see that even the interim Parliamentary Budget Officer is now using that ruling to order the government to provide the figures that we requested on the disastrous impact of its cuts to the various departments and agencies. The Conservatives can try all they like to rule with their blue papers that the ministers and backbenchers are reading slavishly. However, the public knows what is going on here.

The Conservatives are trying to hide the truth about their choices. Last month, 55,000 jobs were lost in Canada. When the Conservatives came to power, we had a trade surplus of $19 billion, and we now have a deficit of $66 billion. That is the devastating impact of how they are handling the economy.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer was telling the truth. The Conservatives were trying to hide the truth. Our bill seeks to restore the balance of power between the majority and the members.

Bill C-476 would create an independent Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, separating it from the Library of Parliament where it is now; broaden the PBO's mandate and access to relevant information; require annual reports to the House of Commons and Senate; create a streamlined non-partisan process for appointment; and ensure that the PBO is capable of understanding and working in both languages.

The Conservatives seem more content and intent on undermining our system of transparency. We know that we are capable of better, that Canadians deserve better.

Ever since the Conservatives came to power, they have tried to convince Canadians that they have to be happy with less. That is their approach to everything: the economy, the environment and the social sector. We know that we must fight hard for our institutions, because our entire democratic system will be lost if we let their behaviour prevail.

That is why we will always take a stand to defend our democratic institutions, whether it be the executive, the legislative or the judicial branch, so that the Canadian public continues to have a stable government.

We deserve better than the Conservative government and, in 2015, we will have better with the first NDP government in our history.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the leader of the NDP for his impassioned defence of the principle of accountability and the rule of law.

I want to remind members that when the Parliamentary Budget Officer first began accurately reporting the cost of government spending he was attacked and undermined by the government. When he spoke about austerity measures being a drag on our GDP and increasing unemployment, he was again attacked by the government.

Now we find the government's hand-picked choice for interim PBO is producing the same numbers and identifying that austerity measures brought in by this government are undermining our economy, undermining our growth and our GDP, and increasing unemployment.

Could the Leader of the Opposition comment on the recent report and on the undermining of the institution of the PBO?

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, precisely because the Parliamentary Budget Officer refuses to blindly parrot the talking points of the Conservatives, of course, Kevin Page was attacked, but the Conservatives are not much happier with the interim Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is using the court decision to compel them to produce those documents.

With regard to the failure of the austerity measures of the Conservatives, let us bear in mind that contrary to what they affirmed when they first brought out their budget and were trying to get people to believe that they would increase spending on infrastructure, it took 48 hours to prove the point, as we had said from the beginning, that they were actually reducing it. Now everybody realizes that we were right. However, the Conservatives are particularly able at trying to snow people. Sometimes if enough numbers are thrown up, a number of people can be baffled.

Once the dust has settled on that exercise, though, people realize the importance of a Parliamentary Budget Officer in seeing through that type of snow job from the Conservatives, so that no parliamentarian in the future would ever have to be at the beck and call of a government that refuses to give the real numbers.

We want to strengthen the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, create a parliamentary budget office and make sure it is protected by Parliament.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I must admit I was quite shocked at how partisan the speech was from my colleague, given the subject, but perhaps I should not have expected more than such partisan rhetoric from the opposition leader.

However, I do have a question for the opposition leader. We are talking about a private member's bill that would make the Parliamentary Budget Office its own unique office. It would be removed from the purview of the Library of Parliament.

We all know that the NDP submitted a budget without costing, which was quite interesting for Canadians to learn about. I would like to know what the cost of this private member's bill is, because there would be an increase in staffing, administration and IT costs.

I must add, as a member of the government, that we respect the parliamentary budget office's work to this end. There is a report out this morning; I look forward to reading it.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the best starting point in response to the member of Parliament for Saint Boniface is to ask her to produce the document she just said we tabled.

She just said that the NDP produced a budget. That is false. She knows its false. We know its false, but she sits there trying to send out that sort of message, knowing that what she has just said is completely false. That is the best answer for the member of Parliament for Saint Boniface.

I have a question for her. How can she look the constituents in Saint Boniface in the eye when she promised more accountability and transparency and the government is doing everything it can to hide the facts? How can she look the constituents in Saint Boniface in the eye when she promised fixed election dates and the government has not once complied with the legislation? How can she look the constituents in Saint Boniface in the eye and tell them that the government took the funding away from La Liberté, the only French-language newspaper in Manitoba? After all the promises they made, how do they have the nerve to look their constituents in the eye? That is my question for them.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

North Vancouver B.C.


Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in response to the motion from the hon. member opposite on Bill C-476.

First, I see he is leaving the House at this time. He is afraid to hear what I will say.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. I just remind all hon. members that we do not comment on who is in or out of the chamber, coming into or leaving the chamber.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in response to the motion from the hon. member on Bill C-476, an act that would make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an officer of Parliament.

With this act, my hon. colleague opposite wants to completely change the structure and mandate of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

If this bill were to succeed, it would take the Parliamentary Budget Officer out of the Library of Parliament and establish the position instead as a separate officer of Parliament, with its own departmental organization and spending authorizations. My question is simply this: why do we need to change the mandate and governance structure of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer when they are serving their intended purpose?

I would like to remind the members of this House that it was this government that established this office in the first place, and making it part of the Library of Parliament was a key element of our Federal Accountability Act.

As part of the Library of Parliament, this office operates independently of the government and answers to Parliament, and it is Parliament, not the government, that approves its funding level.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, strengthening accountability and increasing transparency in Canada's public institutions has been a top priority of our government. Through amendments to the Lobbying Act, the Access to Information Act and other measures, the Federal Accountability Act and its accompanying action plan have made the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and public service employees more accountable than ever before in Canadian history.

We did not stop there. We recognized that parliamentarians and parliamentary committees needed access to independent, objective analysis and advice on economic and fiscal issues to better hold the government to account for its decisions. That is why we established, in part 2 of the Federal Accountability Act, the position of the Parliamentary Budget Officer within the Library of Parliament.

Its mandate is to provide independent analysis to the Senate and the House of Commons on the state of the nation's finances, the estimates of the government and trends in the national economy; to undertake research into the nation's finances and economy, and the estimates of the government when requested to do so by certain parliamentary committees; and, when requested to do so by a member or committee, to estimate the financial cost of any proposal that relates to a matter over which Parliament has jurisdiction.

The job of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to give parliamentarians the information and independent analysis they need to conduct a more rigorous and informed discussion of fundamental financial and economic issues.

This, in turn, helps parliamentarians hold the government to account, and that is exactly what this officer has been mandated and resourced to do.

We may not always agree with his conclusions, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer has sparked debate and enriched the political dialogue in Canada. Regardless of whether the PBO's conclusions sometimes differ from those of the government, what is important is that Parliament now has its own objective source of analysis and research on fiscal and economic matters that is prepared independently from the government. This is a sign of the strength and maturity of our Canadian democracy.

However, the changes proposed in Bill C-476 from the hon. member opposite would have several serious impacts on this office. For example, because of the vague, broadly worded and proactive mandate proposed for the PBO, the position will become less responsive to the research and analytical needs of parliamentarians. At the same time, it will create confusion between the respective roles of the PBO and the Auditor General. We could also expect to see some duplication of functions between the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Library of Parliament and a lack of alignment between the services provided to parliamentarians. We would also very likely see an increase in the costs associated with the PBO and increased draws on the fiscal framework and government appropriations.

If this bill is passed, the office will become a separate department in its own right, with its own staffing and administrative support requirements. This means more of the PBO's funding would be devoted to bureaucracy—particularly for services such as corporate administrative support for information technology, which are currently shared with the Library of Parliament—rather than to providing services to parliamentarians.

The government understands the importance of accountability and transparency. That is why, when we established this office, we made it fully independent of the government in its operations and funding. I am confident that, under its current governance structure, this office will continue to play a vital role in strengthening accountability in Canada’s public institutions.

There is an old adage that says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Let us put this matter into perspective. Why tinker with the government's structure of the Parliamentary Budget Officer when we have economic priorities to achieve?

More than 900,000 net new jobs have been created in Canada since July 2009. Our priority is creating more jobs, more economic growth and more long-term prosperity for Canadians.

We are on the right track. Canadians and parliamentarians are well served by the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The Library of Parliament has launched the necessary process to find the next Parliamentary Budget Officer, and the government has appointed the current parliamentary librarian to the position on an interim basis. She will capably guide the office until the appointment of the next Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Our intention is not to remove this position from the Library of Parliament, where it has the mandate, independence and resources it needs to fulfill its mandate. Our intention is to leave well enough alone and continue focusing on creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadian families.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the official opposition has introduced a bill that the Liberal caucus will have no trouble supporting, because it is something we have been calling for for a long time.

Indeed, the first motion calling for the PBO to be made an independent officer of Parliament, tabled in the House of Commons on February 3, 2009, was sponsored by our Liberal colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville. His motion also called on the government to “co-operate fully with the Parliamentary Budget Officer on all matters with respect to which he is called upon to report”.

If that motion from February 3, 2009, had been implemented, we would all be better off. The Parliamentary Budget Officer would have been better able to do his job independently.

Better late than never, which is why the Liberal Party supports Bill C-476 and why it is urging the government to support it as well, so that it can be examined in committee. We want this bill to be examined in committee because we think it is in the best interests of the public.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer needs to have more independence and a more meaningful role. The Parliamentary Budget Officer must report directly to Parliament, without having to go through the Library of Parliament.

That said, I doubt that these changes—although they are welcome and necessary—will eliminate the hostility the Conservative government has shown for anyone who refuses to blindly sing their praises or cover up their mistakes.

What is the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer? This person's role is to provide objective and independent analysis that may, on occasion, call into question the validity of the government's views and initiatives.

The Prime Minister cannot stand that. It has become clear that this government reacts very poorly and very aggressively to criticism and to independent thinking, whether from officers of Parliament, government scientists, foreign observers, the media or even government backbenchers.

The government would be better off keeping an open mind to these independent analyses. It might learn something that would help it fix past mistakes and avoid making new ones.

No one can deny that the Parliamentary Budget Officer produced some excellent analyses. Instead of shooting the messenger, the government should have listened to and respected what he had to say.

Here are some valuable PBO contributions: he analyzed the long-term cost of the Afghanistan mission; he showed how much the provincial penitentiary systems will have to pay in order to comply with the Conservatives' flawed crime agenda legislation; he produced a thorough report on the true cost of the F-35, generally considered accurate; and he proved that the old age security program was fiscally sustainable with the 65-year qualifying age, which was an assessment also echoed by the OECD.

The government responded to these obviously credible analyses with contempt, denial and attacks, dismissing them out of hand. Of course, the government was not obliged to accept the Parliamentary Budget Officer's analyses and conclusions. The government had every right to contest them.

However, the government should then have provided its own costed, detailed analyses before taking a stand on such important issues. Before imposing its decisions on the people, a competent government would have agreed, even demanded, to have these issues studied in detail.

Does the age of eligibility for old age security need to increase from 65 to 67? That is a fundamental question. Canada is the only modern, democratic country where the government has made that type of decision without providing any serious research to back it up and without having Parliament debate it thoroughly.

Instead of profiting from such a great Parliamentary Budget Officer—whose term just ended—and instead of engaging in productive dialogue with him, the government did nothing but viciously attack him as an individual.

In 2009, the government tried to cut the PBO funding by $1.3 million, one-third of the total budget. Public pressure eventually forced the government to find that money through the estimates.

In March of 2010, the PBO published a report showing the government would not balance the budget in 2014-15. The finance minister dismissed the PBO as wrong, but was unable or unwilling to provide any analysis to substantiate this rejection of the PBO's projections. Today, we all know that it is the finance minister who proved himself wrong.

When the PBO published a document showing the old age security program was sustainable in February of 2012, the Minister of Finance called Kevin Page unbelievable, unreliable and incredible.

Conservative senators moved to find Kevin Page in contempt for using the courts to access government spending data. The government refused to give Kevin Page information to which he is legally entitled under the Parliament of Canada Act. The government changed the PBO job vacancy notice in order to find someone ready to make compromises. Compromises?

Should someone compromise the truth? Should someone compromise in an effort to please the government and help cover up its mistakes? Should someone compromise on what should be disclosed to or hidden from the public, from taxpayers? It is not the Parliamentary Budget Officer's job to fiddle with the numbers or mask reality. His role is to produce precise, rigorous, uncompromising analyses.

What can we expect from a government that will not stop undermining the Parliamentary Budget Officer along with every other aspect of parliamentary democracy?

The government and the Prime Minister have never ceased to abuse the Parliament of Canadians. In 2008, they broke their own law on fixed election dates. They prorogued Parliament twice in order to circumvent the Commons, and they refused to hand over the F-35 documents despite a House order. They used time allocation or closure 32 times since the 2011 election. They forced committees to meet in camera, hidden from the public, for important debates and witness selection. They made improper use of omnibus budget bills to alter acts of Parliament that had little to do with the budget. They attacked the Veterans Ombudsman. Then we had Bev Oda misleading Parliament on the serious question of who altered a federal document.

Faced with a government that openly displays such contempt for parliamentary democracy, that refuses to hear any criticism, that is so suspicious of independent thought and is so afraid of the truth, any measures to help strengthen our Canadian parliamentary institutions deserve our attention.

That is why Bill C-476 should be examined, supported in principle and thoroughly scrutinized in committee. In addition to being very useful for the future of the parliamentary budget office, which is a new institution, the debate on this bill and all the questions it raises could—or so we hope—incite the government to really think about the true meaning of parliamentary democracy.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak once again about the position of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. I will just remind my colleagues and Canadians that this is a position created by the Conservative government. It was created in the wake of the Liberal sponsorship scandal, at a time when Canadians were incensed by the misappropriation of their tax dollars.

People feel squeezed; their incomes have not been rising. Canadians want to know that the government treats every dollar they send to Ottawa with respect, and they want to see what is happening with their tax dollars.

Therefore, the Federal Accountability Act was something championed by the Conservatives. They rode into Ottawa on their enthusiasm for accountability. They promised fixed election dates so that elections could not be fixed around a time when a particular party had the best advantage. They wanted public appointments to be more transparent, not just a political reward for friends, and they wanted transparency in budgeting.

We have seen what a failure all aspects of this Federal Accountability Act have been under the leadership of the Conservatives. Their fixed election dates have had some flexibility, shall we say, in recent history. The head of public appointments was a position that was announced, never created and subsequently abandoned, and we know why. It is because, of course, appointments have remained in the sphere of pure partisanship under the Conservative government. Lastly, the transparency promised through the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which we supported, has in fact given way to opacity and less transparency in budgeting, probably less transparency than we have ever seen before, and the position of the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been undermined and significantly reduced in scope from what the Conservatives had promised.

However, let us take a look at what the Parliamentary Budget Officer shone a light on in his time in existence. He was the first to begin to analyze the real long-term costs of Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and that significantly influenced the public debate here in this country.

He began to analyze, and shone a light on, the cost of the Conservatives' crime legislation and what that would mean not only for the federal government but for provincial governments across this country, the real cost of that crime legislation.

Regarding the F-35s, it was the Parliamentary Budget Officer who really added some hard numbers to the true cost of the F-35 procurement and showed that the numbers the government was putting forward were truly in the realm of fantasy, in that the true cost of the F-35s would be many times more than what the government was publicly announcing.

The PBO also highlighted that the changes to OAS announced by the current government would mean that Canadians would have to keep working two more years before accessing their old age security. The Prime Minister, with all the courage he could muster from his perch with billionaires surrounding him in Davos, announced and then implemented the changes through one of his obscure budget implementation acts, to the detriment of hard-working Canadians who will have to work two years longer to access their pension benefits for old age security. However, the Parliamentary Budget Officer showed that OAS was indeed tenable, that it was indeed sustainable and that these changes were completely unnecessary, which showed that Canada just felt it needed to be with other governments around the world that were delaying old age security benefits.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer also showed the terrible impact of the government's austerity measures, how the impact would be in fact a drag on our gross domestic product, how these measures were undermining growth, increasing unemployment, and damaging the services and programs Canadians relied on.

What was fascinating was that he was unable to even get the information necessary to do his analysis. As someone who was in a position created to guarantee transparency and budgeting for Canadians, even the Parliamentary Budget Officer was unable to get the data, the information he needed to do his analysis.

He provided incredible information to Canadians, nonetheless, for which he was personally attacked by the government, and his work was undermined. Frankly, it was embarrassing that the government would undermine a public position in this way, especially a position it had fought for and created.

I want to just take a moment and pay tribute to the past PBO, Kevin Page. I do believe Canadians recognized his courage and the importance of the work he has done for Canadians. He stood up to the government; he spoke truth to power. I believe he brings forward the best of the public service and the credibility of independent advice that the position must maintain. We thank him for it.

This position is not just about an individual. Of course it is about the bigger question of transparency and democratic accountability in our finances. What is fascinating is that the hand-picked interim PBO, who is now occupying this position on a part-time business, has just released a report in which she has reaffirmed many of the numbers and the analysis that the previous PBO had drawn Canadians' attention to.

She, once again, shows how the government's reckless cuts are not only undermining programs and services that Canadians need, but that these cuts are in fact the wrong medicine for our weak and struggling economy. They are undermining our employment. They are cutting thousands of jobs out of the Canadian economy. They are creating slack in our GDP and slowing our growth.

There is no stimulus in the budget to increase our exports or to spark private sector investment. In fact, budget 2013 is hinged on a wing and a prayer that consumers will somehow increase their debt even more to drag the economy along into growth, which is not what we need because Canadians are already more indebted than ever in our history.

Nevertheless, the economy is growing, although somewhat sluggishly. What the PBO also shows is that the government, just through growth in our economy, will get the books back to balance by 2015-16 without the austerity measures from these cuts.

The question we must ask is why would the government undermine programs and services Canadians need if it is unnecessary.

We are proposing in Bill C-476 that the Parliamentary Budget Officer be a separate and independent officer of Parliament, a position that can maintain its jurisdiction and not serve at the whim of the government and not be subservient to the Library of Parliament.

We believe that this position ought to be fully independent, like other similar positions, such as the Senate Ethics Officer, the Auditor General and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. These are positions that are established by an act of law that guarantees the independence and the resources to these positions so that they can fully carry out their work without the interference of any government, no matter which government is in power.

That is true democratic accountability. When we are talking about the finances of the country, surely there is no more important work that a government does and has the trust of Canadians to do, which is collecting their tax dollar, overseeing it wisely and spending it well.

I encourage all members of this House to support this important bill and make this a reality.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, as we all heard just moments ago, I think I touched a nerve with the leader of the official opposition, the member of Parliament for Outremont, when I suggested that this private member's bill did not have a cost to it. When I suggested that the NDP, in fact, also has a history and a record of doing these kinds of things without any regard to cost to Canadians, the official opposition leader suggested that I was not being honest about their propositions for budget 2013. The leader of the official opposition is either embarrassed by the launch the NDP did for budget 2013, or he has selective memory, for whatever reason. We would leave it to him to explain that.

However, let me read from the transcript of the official launch of the party's, that is the NDP's, new campaign around budget 2013 held at the National Press Theatre, March 18, 2013. Here is a question from a journalist:

I'm just wondering if you could kind of, you know, focus on specifics in terms of the price tag. How much does the NDP want to spend on the various aspects...? Can you kind of provide some more fiscal details in terms of how much money you'd spend?

The member who just spoke, who is the finance critic for the NDP, the member for Parkdale—High Park, responded to that question from the journalist at the news conference, saying:

I'm not going to pull out one piece and say here's the price tag because I think it's a shift in approach.

Then the question from the journalist was as follows:

But in this campaign, has the NDP..., does it lay out how much an NDP government would spend on the investments in the infrastructure or on pensions or on the small businesses?

Of course, the finance critic for the NDP said:

No, as we get closer to an election, we usually cost these things out specifically.... We're making recommendations to the government for their budget on Thursday.

Again, it speaks to the misleading comments made by the NDP opposition leader. He obviously has something to hide, because he does not cost his own private member's bill, again, because it is going to cost substantial money not only for Canadians but for a number of other organizations that bear the brunt of decisions made by government.

I appreciate this opportunity to express our concerns regarding Bill C-476, an act that would make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an officer of Parliament.

As everyone knows, accountability and transparency in Canada's public and democratic institutions are characteristic of this government. It was our government that promised to scrutinize public expenditures more closely. The first thing we did was implement one of the most comprehensive and complex pieces of legislation on accountability ever passed in this country.

Through the Federal Accountability Act and the accompanying action plan, we brought in a series of accountability reforms. Among these reforms were the designation of deputy ministers and deputy heads as accounting officers, the five-year review of the relevance and effectiveness of departmental grant and contribution programs, the new mandate for the Auditor General to follow the money to grant and contribution recipients, the law requiring departments to send results of public opinion research to Library and Archives Canada within six months, and the removal of the entitlement of political staff to priority appointments in the public service.

These reforms were followed up with others. They included new electoral finance rules and restrictions on gifts to political candidates; the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act; the new Conflict of Interest Act; tougher penalties and sanctions for people who commit fraud involving taxpayers' money; the clarification and simplification of the rules governing grants and contributions; the extension of the Access to Information Act to cover agents of Parliament, five foundations and the Canadian Wheat Board; and of course, a strengthened Lobbying Act to ensure that lobbying is done fairly and openly.

In all, our Federal Accountability Act and action plan made substantive changes to 45 federal statutes and amended over 100 others, touching virtually every part of government.

Furthermore, we took steps to ensure that Parliament and Canadians are better informed about public spending. Among other things, this meant improving financial reporting. For instance, since April 2011, the government has been preparing quarterly financial reports on spending for departments, agencies and crown corporations. In that regard, we have adopted a private sector practice, whereby publicly traded companies have been required to publish quarterly financial reports for years.

This is but one example of the government's leadership in supporting the work of parliamentarians, and there are many others. I would add that our leadership in supporting the work of Parliament is evident in the fact that the Public Accounts of Canada, one of the most important accountability documents prepared by the government, has consistently received a clean opinion by the Auditor General of Canada. As the record shows, our government is as committed as ever to providing more timely and relevant information on its many and varied activities to parliamentarians and Canadians.

Creating the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is another way we strengthened Parliament's authority to closely examine how taxpayers' money is spent. Our government established this office in 2006 in order for it to provide Parliament with independent analyses and research on economic and budget issues and thus to increase Parliaments's ability to hold the government to account.

As we know, the first Parliamentary Budget Officer did just that. Under the Library of Parliament, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has the mandate, resources and the necessary independence from the government to do his job.

However, with Bill C-476, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, the hon. member opposite wants to change all of this. The bill would separate the Parliamentary Budget Officer from the Library of Parliament and make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an officer of Parliament with his or her own department.

The changes proposed in the bill would have several serious impacts. The role of the PBO would change significantly, becoming less responsive to the research and analytical needs of parliamentarians while at the same time creating confusion about the respective roles of the PBO and the Auditor General. We could expect to see some duplication of functions between the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Library of Parliament. We would very likely see an increase in cost associated with the office.

If the bill is passed, the office would become a separate department in its own right, with its own staffing and administrative support requirements. This means that more of the PBO's funding would be diverted to bureaucracy, particularly for services such as corporate administrative support for information technology, which is currently shared with the Library of Parliament, rather than to providing services to parliamentarians.

We support a non-partisan and independent Parliamentary Budget Officer. Our commitment to this office is stronger than ever. Furthermore, the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, as we know it today, is a responsible and affordable component of our accountability and transparency framework.

It has the mandate. It has the resources and the independence needed to perform its role and to hold the government to account. It is doing its job of providing independent fiscal and economic analysis, and it is serving parliamentarians and Canadians very well. We will continue to ensure that it has the independence necessary to do so. That is why we will not support the bill.

In closing, having witnessed the personal attack by the leader of the official opposition just moments ago, l must say that these accusations and allegations he throws out are, frankly, not true. They are misleading, and in my opinion, will actually damage his reputation as someone who wants to become prime minister of Canada. When he accuses other members across the way of untrue situations, he ought to look at himself in the mirror. He was, in fact, a Liberal cabinet minister. He is now leader of the federal NDP. I would ask him to perhaps take into consideration his own record, which is lengthy, of flip-flops over decades of political experience. I on this side will continue to do my job with the utmost truthfulness and dedication to my constituents.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business



Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Bill C-476 introduced by the Leader of the Opposition. This bill would make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an officer of Parliament separate from and independent of the government, just like the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

The first Parliamentary Budget Officer took office in 2008. His mandate is to provide Parliament with independent analysis of the state of the nation's finances, the government estimates and trends in the national economy and, at the request of any parliamentary committee or parliamentarian, to estimate the cost of any proposal that relates to a matter over which Parliament has jurisdiction.

In fact, the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is replete with economists, tax experts, accountants and other experts in public accounting and economic forecasting. Their mandate is to provide neutral and professional advice to parliamentarians who can thus properly analyze the government's expenditures. The Globe and Mail hit the nail on the head when it described the usefulness of the Parliamentary Budget Officer in the following terms:

With better information to scrutinize the financial decisions of the government the PBO enhances the ability of Parliamentarians to hold the government to account. Moreover, the PBO provides a source of credible cost estimates for new initiatives proposed by Parliamentarians, allowing them to contribute more to policy debates. The government has the vast and deep resources of the Ministry of Finance for these tasks; the PBO helps Parliament keep pace.

Since this position was created, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has done extraordinary work and has called into question the Conservatives' budget projections, in spite of the fact that he was not given all the tools he needed to do his job properly.

Let us not forget that, during the 2008 election campaign, at the height of the war in Afghanistan, the government refused to provide the real cost of the military mission and the Parliamentary Budget Officer revealed that the cost of this war was much higher than we had thought. Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, determined that the war in Afghanistan was going to cost Canadians $18 billion. This clearly shows how important the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to the strength of our democracy. Without the information provided by Kevin Page on the cost of the war in Afghanistan, voters would have had to vote for a government without knowing all the facts about a fundamental public policy.

Let us also remember that Kevin Page released a very important report in March 2011, in which he concluded that the Conservative government was deliberately underestimating the cost of the F-35 fighter jets. While the Minister of National Defence claimed that the 65 F-35s would cost only $14.7 billion, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that the bill would come to over $29 billion. That important report forced the Conservative government to go back to the drawing board.

We could also mention the report that Kevin Page released in February 2012 on old age security. While the Conservatives claimed that they had to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 to deal with the retirement of the baby boomers, the Parliamentary Budget Officer found that the federal government had exaggerated the expected financial crisis and that the old age security program was actually completely sustainable.

The Conservatives were very upset about these three reports on Afghanistan, the F-35s and the sustainability of the old age security program. They even went after the former Parliamentary Budget Officer because he repeatedly pointed out their poor fiscal management.

I hope that I have shown just how important it is to have an independent Parliamentary Budget Officer who can force the government to be accountable to MPs and the Canadians it represents.

Parliamentary Budget Officer ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time for private members' business has expired. The hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles will have five minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

The House resumed from March 21 consideration of Bill C-15, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to address Bill C-15. I have had the opportunity to provide comments on Bill C-15 at earlier stages and I would like to think I spoke a great deal on the importance of the issue. I have a bit of a bias, I must say right upfront, in the sense that I had the privilege and honour of serving in the Canadian Forces for a few years back in the 1980s. I have a great amount of respect for what the men and women do in Canada and abroad and the important role they play in who we are as a society and in protecting our interests, again whether here or abroad.

It is important to recognize that there are two different systems of justice: the Canadian civilian justice system and the military justice system. As much as possible, it is important that we recognize the differences and, where we can, we need to narrow the gap in the disparities between the military and civilian justice systems. We need to recognize the importance, for example, of the Charter of Rights. I hope to highlight that fact.

We could argue that this or that should happen, but what I do know is this has been an issue for a number of years already and we have seen the government in the past few years attempt to rectify the problem. Unfortunately, many questions have gone unanswered. If we were to confer with different stakeholders, we would find that there was a bit of optimism at the committee stage and the government could have listened a little more to what some of the concerns were. I do not think the government acted in areas it could have or should have acted, which ultimately would have provided a healthier bill today.

I have had the opportunity to read over some of the comments made at the committee stage and there was one in particular by Justice Létourneau. He said it in a wonderful way when he made reference to soldiers. He stated that they were, in fact, citizens of Canada and should enjoy the same constitutional and charter rights that all citizens had. I will quote specifically what he had to say in committee, which is as follows:

We as a society have forgotten, with harsh consequences for the members of the armed forces, that a soldier is before all a Canadian citizen, a Canadian citizen in uniform. So is a police officer...he’s not deprived of his right to a jury trial. Is that what we mean by “equality of all before the law”? Is not the soldier who risks his life for us entitled to at least the same rights and equality before the law as his fellow citizens when he is facing criminal prosecutions?

He went on to answer the question by stating “yes”.

That is what I mean about the disparities between the military and civil justice systems and the need for us to narrow the process so we can ensure, as much as possible, the rights that are so very important to all Canadians. I highlight the importance of something which we in the Liberal Party are very passionate about; that being our Constitution and Charter of Rights.

In committee, Mr. Drapeau, a retired colonel, also gave some fairly striking testimony that I thought would be appropriate for all members to at least take note of. In reference to this whole military justice regime, he stated that an accused:

—before a summary trial has no right to appeal either the verdict or the sentence. This is despite the fact that the verdict and sentence are imposed without any regard to the minimum standards of procedural rights in criminal proceedings, such as the right to counsel, the presence of rules of evidence, and the right to appeal.

In Canada, these rights do not exist in a summary trial, not even for a decorated veteran, yet a Canadian charged with a summary conviction offence in a civilian court, such as Senator Brazeau, enjoys all these rights, as does someone appearing in small claims court or even in traffic court.

He went on to say:

I find it very odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of these charter rights when facing a quasi-criminal [law] process with the possibility of loss of liberty through detention in a military barracks.

Those two paragraphs summarize the concerns the government was unable to or failed to address at the committee stage. We find that most unfortunate.

We recognize there are numerous changes being suggested in the legislation with respect to: in part, the 10 year clause for military judges; outlining sentence objectives and principles; amending the composition of the court martial panel selection, which would be based on the rank of the accused; changing the name from the Canadian Forces Grievance Board to the military grievance external review committee, which gives the impression it is more at arm's-length, at least in name; and imposing a criminal record for certain service offences. There are more aspects being dealt with in Bill C-15, but those are just some of the ones I would highlight. I recognize I am limited in how long I can speak to this issue.

However, if we deal with the idea of imposing a criminal record, which stays with the individual after he or she has left the forces and can have a very profound impact on the opportunities that he or she would have after serving our country, we must be careful in what we are putting on our men and women of the forces who find themselves in awkward positions at times while serving. There are different types of crimes that take place.

Having been a previous member of the forces, I recognize the importance of compliance and obeying superior officers and so forth. We understand there is a huge difference if someone is working at company X in Toronto versus that same person working in the Canadian Forces and he or she shows up late. If a member of the Canadian Forces is late, there is a significant penalty. If he or she decides to disappear for a few days, or go AWOL as it is referred to, there is a fairly significant consequence to that action compared to in civilian life depending on the job.

We recognize there is a need to have discipline within the military, but we also recognize that it is important for all of us to understand that a Canadian soldier is a Canadian citizen first and foremost. We have laws today, whether by charter or otherwise, but we want to ensure that members of our forces are treated, as much as possible, in the same fashion as civilians would be treated. This legislation was an attempt at narrowing the differences between civilian law and military law. Had the government worked a little more with the stakeholders, we would probably have better legislation than what we have now.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario


Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has noted that the changes to the military justice system to update it and modernize it have been a long time coming. However, his speech makes it clear that he has not been following the debate in all of its breadth and depth over recent months. Could he confirm to the House that he understands that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms actually explicitly recognizes a place and the constitutionality of an independent military justice system?

Could the member also confirm to the House that the changes foreseen in Bill C-15, which would ensure that continuing constitutionality and would ensure, for example, that a wide range of offences would no longer generate criminal records, are urgently needed and that the only thing standing between those changes, which the members supports, and their enactment is this debate? Is it not now urgent to move on from report stage to adoption of the bill so our men and women in uniform can benefit from the improvements to the military justice system foreseen in Bill C-15?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member does not reflect on many of the comments that were made in committee, dealing with issues such as summary trials and pardons. This is something the Conservatives got rid of.

I use the example of the charter because it is something to which people look. I am not necessarily saying that Bill C-15 would contradict the charter. That is not the purpose of me raising it. It is just that there is this expectation Canadians have, whether it is issues like the charter or other criminal laws, that members of our forces are treated as Canadian citizens.

I recognize the difference between our civil court system and our military justice system and there is a need to have some difference. However, I do not necessarily believe the government has done what it could have done to narrow the scope and get the different stakeholders on the same page.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments shared by my colleague from Winnipeg North, who has distinguished himself with military service in our country.

His reference to the testimony that was cited through the committee hearings is important because the witnesses who gave testimony brought a great deal of credibility to the issue. In particular, I refer to comments by retired Colonel Michel Drapeau, who had identified the fact that without a pardon system, which was recently revoked by the Conservatives, and the summary trial being set up as it was, with no record and no means of meaningful appeal, Canadian Forces members were left haunted by a record and unable to find employment upon release.

In his experience, would he see the same? It is tough getting work after someone finishes a career, I do not see that—

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, when we have a retired colonel come before the committee and address it with those types of issues, it is very important, in particular for those Conservative backbenchers, to really tune in and listen to what has been said. For someone leaving the forces after serving, not all of these incidents that occurred in the forces deserve to have a criminal record upon exiting the forces. However, the impact that this will have on individuals in their ability to get the type of job that would be of great benefit for them and their families, has been somewhat restricted. That was why the pardon system was there. There was a great deal of merit in it. It was one of the issues brought up time and time again as one of the inequities that the government did not really give any—

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Halifax West.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on Bill C-15 today, a bill that involves the military justice system.

We in the Liberal Party recognize the need to reform the law in this regard and to reform the Canadian court martial system. It is very important to ensure it remains effective, fair and transparent and to look for ways that it might be improved. However, we do not accept the idea that a Canadian citizen who joins the Armed Forces ought to thereby lose the basic rights of a Canadian citizen, especially before military courts.

Like almost all Canadians, the Liberal Party believes that human rights and equality are universal issues. They are universally important, and that is why, back in 1982, the Trudeau government, along with the provinces, changed the Constitution, repatriated the Constitution of Canada from Britain and brought in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those rights are extremely important.

It is a shame that last year, on the 30th anniversary of the charter, the government did not feel very much inclined to celebrate, whereas the vast majority of Canadians hold the Charter of Right and Freedoms very near and dear to their hearts and believe it is very important. We could ask for the views of anyone from former Eastern bloc countries, for example, or anybody else who has emigrated from a country where the kinds of rights found in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are not respected.

In this case we are talking about the summary trial system within the military. It is important for it to be a good and properly balanced system and for it to respect the rights of Canadian citizens who take on the task and show the courage to make the fundamental offer to put their lives on the line for our country. It is important that we treat their decision with respect and appreciation and ensure that their rights are protected.

Our concern, though, is that within the summary trial system, not having an effective means for appeal and not having recorded proceedings are important shortcomings that ought to be remedied.

I cannot imagine people not being allowed to have an appeal in the civil or criminal court system in Canada, or that even if they were allowed to appeal, the lawyers on the appeal would not have access to the written record from the trial court.

How could we possibly put forward appeal arguments without referring to what was found or what the evidence was before the trial court? That makes no sense to me. It is fundamentally important that an individual have a record of the evidence, because otherwise appeal judges cannot make the kind of judgment they have to make about the evidence and about whether, for instance, the evidence actually supported the findings of the court in a particular case.

We do not believe, in some cases, that introducing a criminal record for armed forces members for certain offences is just and fair. Some of those offences would not be considered criminal offences outside the military, so we should consider very carefully whether we want to give people who have offered to serve their country a criminal record for some offences that would not be considered serious enough outside the military to justify a criminal record, especially considering that the means for pardoning offences in this country has effectively been removed by the Conservative government. It has made it much more difficult, it has made it take much longer and it has made it much more expensive for anyone who has a record to get a pardon, regardless of the merits of their cases.

That is very unfortunate, because surely my hon. friends across the way would agree that there are cases in which people convicted of a criminal offence have redeemed themselves, have done wonderful work after that, and have shown themselves to be model citizens who are deserving of a pardon. How do we do that when we are removing that opportunity from people who have served their country in the armed forces?

We also find it problematic that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff can intervene and give direction in a particular, specific police investigation by military police.

Again, if we look at the system in Canada outside of the military, we would never dream of saying that the Prime Minister should be able to stop an investigation by the RCMP if he does not like it, nor would we say that he should be able to give the RCMP directions on how to conduct an investigation. Surely nobody on either side of the House would suggest, I hope, that we ought to do that or that we ought to give that kind of power to the Prime Minister.

In specific investigations it is obviously important that we have a separation between the elected powers in the executive branch and the people who actually run the investigations and run the police. It is vitally important and it even extends, in our country, to the legal actions taken by the Government of Canada.

For instance, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is involved very little in legal proceedings involving the Government of Canada. He or she may be called upon from time to time to give policy direction in relation to something the department is doing or in relation to a matter, but not to get involved in the actual prosecution of a case or in determining what the government's position would be or in how it should be argued before the courts.

This is for obvious reasons. It is not the role of an elected official of the executive branch to do that. Maybe at times we may have someone in the role of the minister of justice who has expertise in an area, but it is still not appropriate, and generally speaking, that person would not have particular legal expertise in the area that is being adjudicated before the courts. It is very important to have that separation.

In this case, there is the idea that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff could step in and call the Provost Marshal and say, "Stop this investigation. We do not like it politically. It is not popular with the government. Cut it out." I am not suggesting that the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff would do that; I have great confidence in the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff at the moment, and I trust we will have good ones in the future, but we have got to have that separation. It is a fundamental issue of justice.

There are a number of disparities and differences between the military and civil justice systems that we think should be narrowed as much as possible. Yes, where it is essential, we are going to have differences, and that is fine; however, where it is not essential, let us remove those differences.

While we recognize that updates to the military criminal justice system must be made, we think the government is missing a real opportunity to make those changes properly and in a way that respects the rights of Canadian citizens who have made the choice to serve their country and put their lives on the line by joining the Canadian Armed Forces.

It is inexplicable that many aspects of the military justice system remain unimproved or provide powers that we feel are unnecessary. For example, Bill C-15 enshrines in law a list of military offences that now carry a criminal record, some of which we think are hardly necessary. We no longer have the pardon system—as I was saying earlier, the government has basically revoked it—and summary trials are set up in the military with no record and no means of meaningful appeal. How could one appeal without a record of evidence? We think it leaves the possibility of Canadian Forces members being haunted by a criminal record and being unable to find employment upon release. Is that really what Canadians want if someone is convicted in the military of a very minor offence that would not be an offence under the criminal law of the outside world?

I think Canadians have a great appreciation for the military. We should oppose and defeat this bill.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario


Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, once again we have a speech from the Liberal Party in which it is not clear what proposals and specific changes to the bill the Liberals would be looking for at this stage, after literally 10 years of consideration of many of these proposals, after exhaustive consideration in committee, where the Liberal Party is still represented, and after exhaustive consideration in this House.

My question for the hon. member is this: why continue this debate, which is in fact delaying the day on which Canadian Forces members who now face a criminal record for minor offences might no longer carry that criminal record into civilian life? Why is the hon. member delaying that?

Second, why is the hon. member challenging the whole summary trial system? It is a cornerstone of the military justice system, and its constitutionality has been accepted, even with the different rules of evidence and the lack of appeal to which he has referred. Is he proposing at this late stage to demolish the whole military justice system?

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend for the question, but I have the feeling that he did not listen to my speech.

For instance, I talked about the fact that there ought to be a record kept. People ought to have access to a record of the trial in which they are convicted. That is one obvious change. As well, there ought to be an appeal.

Those are two pretty basic things. To suggest that I was not calling for any particular changes and did not put any forward for consideration and discussion by this House does not make any sense. I thought he was listening to what I had to say, but apparently I was mistaken.

I do not think he was listening either to the previous speaker, my hon. colleague for Winnipeg North, who quoted some of the judges and other experts who have expressed grave concern about provisions in the bill and the ways in which they do not comply with fundamental justice.

I hope my hon. colleague will listen to other speeches from members on this side of the House, because I think he would benefit from doing so.

Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely worried about the proposal that the government has on the books, and my colleague mentioned his concerns as well. There is this whole problem of the balance of justice, and I wonder whether the proposal for the military justice system whereby people may be denied their rights in terms of fairness under the law is actually creeping into our civil justice system.

We heard the announcement on the weekend that if a member of Parliament wants to talk to a commanding officer in the RCMP, the minister's office will have to be notified. This goes against everything in terms of the separation between the political process and policing in this country. It is just pure wrong.

I ask my colleague whether we are seeing that creeping in from the military system. Is everything going to be politically influenced, whether it is in the civil justice system or the military justice system?