Mr. Speaker, let us speak of kings and queens and crowns.
At the culmination of the Glorious Revolution in 1689, the British Parliament allowed William III and Mary II to ascend to the throne, but there was a catch: they would need to accept the convention of the right and the Bill of Rights, which established Parliament as the ruling power of Britain. It would become the mother of all parliaments, including our own.
While an imperfect document, some of the principles of the Bill of Rights live on to this day. One of them would later be described as no taxation without representation or, in the words of the Bill of Rights itself, that “levying money for or to the use of the Crown...without grant of Parliament...is illegal”. Simply put, the Crown can only spend the people's money with their consent, and only Parliament can grant that consent.
Three hundred and twenty-four years later, the principle is the same. Government cannot spend what Parliament has not approved, which brings us to the Crown, or crown corporations.
Under present rules, they may enter into a room with a union leader, negotiate an agreement and send the bill to taxpayers, who do not have a say but must pay. The people's servants in Parliament do not vote on it, nor does the elected government sign off, so in this respect it is as though we have returned to the mid-17th century, when the Crown levied money without grant of Parliament.
What has resulted? Let us consider Canada Post. Its losses and liabilities are the burden of its owners. They are taxpayers. Seventy-one per cent of the company's costs are labour wages and benefits. To find out why, let us look at the latest collective agreement, a 500-page monstrosity. For example, if there is no work for a Canada Post employee to do within a 40-kilometre radius of where he or she is located, the union agreement prevents that person from transferring to another place where his or her skills are needed. The worker must stay at home and remain without work even while on salary. In other words, when there is nothing to do, taxpayers pay for nothing to be done.
The union requires taxpayers to fund almost 500 corporate post offices, even though they are three times as expensive as retail outlets that provide the same service and are open for longer hours. After bankable sick days, pre-retirement leave, seven weeks of vacation and more, the amount of time the carriers spend delivering mail is only a portion of the time for which they are paid to do so.
None of this done, by the way, in the workers' interests; their jobs, after all, are only secure when the company is successful. What is more, ambitious, talented employees are forbidden from any kind of bonus, performance or otherwise, by their union. God forbid that excellence be rewarded.
The financial results speak for themselves. Last month's Conference Board report on Canada Post indicated “annual operating deficits of close to $1 billion by 2020”.
On top of that, the company will have billions more in accumulated pension liabilities. Who will pay for that? It will be taxpayers, of course. They never authorized it and they cannot hold to account the unelected officials who did. Politicians can claim innocence, for it was an arm's-length body that did it. Sure, the arms had enough length to reach into the pockets of taxpayers, but never mind; these crown corporations are independent. Actually, they are dependent on the same taxpayers they are independent from. In fact, we are told their very independence depends on their right to be dependent on the people they are independent from. Simply put, they are independently dependent.
I suppose it depends on one's point of view. In the view of opposition parties, today's crown corporations are similar to the crown on King James II's head. He was the last king of England prior to the Bill of Rights. He could tax as he wished and spend as he liked. He too was independently dependent.
However, every crown has its king. Union leaders have coronated themselves the monarchs of Canada's state-owned corporations. They have legislated monopolies on the workforce. Do as they say, or they will shut the place down with a strike. They collect mandatory union dues from workers, even those who choose not to be members—talk about taxation without representation. Employees who do want to work and build a merit-driven company are out of luck. They are banned from representing themselves in negotiations or from signing their own employment agreements. These vast union powers would make James II blush with envy.
While the budget will not solve all of these problems, division 17 of part 3 of the bill amends the Financial Administration Act to empower the democratically elected government to reject labour agreements that abuse taxpayers. In other words, we are restoring the principle of no taxation without representation.
We here in this chamber are that representation. The colour of this chamber is green, because in the early day of the House of commoners, the commoners came from the fields, and it was their toil in those fields that paid the levies the Crown expended.
It is the duty, therefore, of the government to have the approval of Parliament for all that it spends. This bill does precisely that. In this sense, it restores Parliament as defender of the public purse and makes the Crown servant and not master.