Mr. Speaker, I am trying to find a way to say that it is a pleasure to speak to this particular piece of legislation but it is not, simply because of what we have in front of us. The story that is best told about this mammoth bill, Bill C-43, is the story of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Let me start with the good because it is the shortest section. In here, we have the government seeking to go halfway with respect to some consumer protection. New Democrats have been fighting for years to protect consumers from businesses that operate in hat we believe is an unethical way. We think that is the proper role of government. The Conservatives agreed in part.
Pay to pay, a term that was coined in an NDP office in Toronto, is a concept that Canadians should not have to pay to receive their bills. It is adding a little insult to injury. The Conservatives said, yes, certainly with the telecommunications companies, with which they have a particular fight, and certainly for some of the broadcasting companies, with which they also have a dispute right now. Those will be banned. Pay to pay will not be allowed there by law. However, the banks are a special case for the Conservatives and the Prime Minister. It seem the banks do not earn enough money to have to do away with this unfair practice to their customers, so banking consumers will continue to pay to receive their own bills in the mail.
A second piece that is a good and important piece, which has nothing to do with the budget but here it is in the budget bill, is the establishment of a DNA bank for missing and in some cases murdered Canadians. This is also something the NDP has long believed in, after listening to victims groups and police associations that said this was important. We are happy to see progress there.
Now let us move to the bad, because in the 460 pages that are in this massive bill, most of it is bad. Certainly at the very best it is completely unassociated to anything that we would know as a budget. There are 460 pages with 401 clauses changing dozens of laws in the stroke of a pen. When we vote on the bill it will be a six- to seven-minute process and all of a sudden all of these laws, as has been the case before, will be changed all at once.
What is remarkable about this failed process from the Conservatives is that in this massive omnibus bill are a number of changes to fix mistakes in the last omnibus bill, which fixed mistakes from the previous omnibus bill. If the Conservatives consider this competent governance I would hate to see what they think is incompetent because all this does is make up for the arrogant mistakes that get made time and time again by the government. It says rather than debate any of these individual pieces of legislation, among the dozens, at separate times so that we could hear from witnesses who know what they are talking about and so that MPs could vote freely and fairly with their conscience on each aspect, the Conservatives do this kitchen sink approach.
It is a Trojan horse. Buried within the bill are so many concepts, and some of them at odds with each other, that when we had the briefing last night with government officials they needed to roll in dozens and dozens of civil servants to address all the different parts of Canadian law that would be changed by the bill. I had a great deal of sympathy for these folks. They drag them in here and we sit until eleven, twelve, one o'clock in the morning for these things. The officials get up to the front of the room for their six minutes to address one section out of this massive bill and then go home. I am sure they are salaried and not getting overtime for this hassle the government continues to put them through.
The mistakes that continue to be made by doing legislation by bulldozer is a problem for the government. It is a problem for the Canadian people. My colleague just read a quote from the right hon. Prime Minister from when Conservatives used to occupy these benches. We have quotes from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Industry and virtually every senior Conservative in cabinet who was at one point in opposition and hated this process when the Liberals did it.
When the Liberals used omnibus bills to ram through legislation, the Conservatives talked about the conscience of Parliament, the inability of MPs to represent their constituents properly and fairly and how this was an abuse of the democratic process.
We agreed with them when they had that conscience. Now, it is the same old story because they picked up some of the worst habits from my Liberal colleagues, and these omnibus bills have grown massively over time. Now we have hundreds and hundreds of pages of legislation being rammed through Parliament with little oversight, affecting virtually hundreds of Canadian laws. They are changing everything from the nuclear act to public safety and Canada's medical act. It goes on and on.
However, what is not in the bill is important. What is in a bill is sometimes very critical. What is not in this so-called budget implement bill is greatly worrisome for me and I believe for the Canadian economy. Taken in the current context, with virtually no private sector growth at all over the last 18 months, the private sector is not creating jobs. We have personal debt rates in this country that are the highest in our history, dramatically higher than any generation has seen before.
We have youth unemployment that is twice the national average and persists from the worst moments of the recession. For young people getting into the economy, getting that first job, which we know is critical for them to become productive and effective members of society, that first job is the most important step.
Youth, as they are coming out of school, training and university, if they are not able to find work, the statistics consistently show us that they will find whatever work they possibly can, and it is usually not in the field for which they trained.
We say we have a skills shortage in this country and in parts of this country we do. However, what we desperately have is an experience shortage. Young people are not getting the apprenticeships, not getting the training and not getting into the jobs for which they were educated.
When we have a youth unemployment rate nearing 14%, and that is not capturing the full rate of unemployment, that should be a problem for any government. This persists. This lasts longer than that one single year. We have also seen 1.3 million Canadians who are unemployed.
I am reminded by the sounds coming from the gallery of something else that is not in this bill. There is no affordable child care in this bill. We know statistically, because we now have evidence from Quebec, and it is proposed by the NDP, that affordable child care is one of the best things that can be done for the economy, never mind for families, never mind for single moms looking for options, and never mind for those families that are struggling to just pay the bills.
When considering having kids, one of the largest factors that comes into play is whether a family can afford it or not. We hear of daycare rates of $2,100 per child per month in places like Vancouver and Toronto. What single mom can afford that? What couple can afford that? We see rents and the cost of living continually going up.
We have suggested to the government that this is an ideal opportunity to increase women's participation in the workforce, as has been evidenced in Quebec, and to increase the fertility rate of this country. As we know, we have a stalled and declining fertility rate or replacement rate in this country. We have seen a baby boom in Quebec.
I thought Conservatives were focused on family and interested in what happens with family affairs. I guess not so much when it comes to actually providing help for those families.
We have seen the loss of 400,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs just since the Conservatives have taken power that have not come back. According to the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, 700,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last decade that have not been replaced. The trend is continuing.
There are actual aspects of this bill that we believe offer less scrutiny for foreign takeovers of Canadian companies, a back door process, to allow even less oversight of foreign companies taking over Canadian assets. We know the experience. We have the list of promises made when Canadian firms are taken over. The government just does not even bat an eye. It is a problem for Canadians and it should be a problem for the government.
We see, from the Toronto-Dominion Bank, the serious concern of long-term unemployment. We see time and again that if long-term unemployment persists, it has a huge and important effect on our economy, and there is nothing in here.
We heard from those same lobby groups the Conservatives like to quote all the time, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and average ordinary everyday people who have businesses. They say that merchant fees, credit card fees, are too high, and that the influx of new credit cards that consumers enjoy is hurting those small and medium-sized businesses.
From Restaurants Canada, we heard that the profit made by restaurants on certain meals, if paid for by certain credit cards, is less than the fees they have to pay to the credit card company. They have to pay fees on the tips that are given to their employees and it comes directly out of the owner's pocket.
If the Conservatives were actually interested in doing something to help small businesses, this would be a good place to start. It hits them and helps them right in the bottom line right away.
However, these are two competing interests. Let us see who wins out, the small businesses of Canada or the large banks and credit card companies. Looking through these 460 pages, the banks and credit card companies win yet again, as they did under the previous Liberal regime.
Let us get into some of the other global concerns. We see a weakening in China. The EU is in trouble again. Paying $80 for a barrel of oil should be a concern as the Alberta government is now publicly saying that its budget estimates were based on $93 a barrel. We are asking the government what its estimates are based on because we know how critical the price of oil is as it relates to how much revenue the federal government is able to receive. As one economist said to the finance committee, if oil stays at or below $80 a barrel and we are losing upward of $4 billion a year, there is no accounting for that at all.
There is no Conservative budget here. Very expensive promises are about to be made, like income splitting, that will cost the taxpayer upward of $5 billion just as we remain in a flat and fragile Canadian economy with very little private sector job growth, with a global economy that remains uncertain and with oil prices that have dropped off dramatically. The Conservatives do not seem to acknowledge any of this and yet they call themselves managers of the economy. How could that possibly be?
Let us look at the one job scheme that the government has placed in this legislation. I say scheme purposely because there is nothing else to call this thing. We asked officials last night to give us the evidence that supports any of the claims that the Minister of Finance makes. One would think that if the finance minister and his department had run the numbers and found that the government's half a billion dollar employment scheme would create a lot of jobs in Canada, they would be more than happy to produce the numbers and give us the evidence. They told us that was all advice to the minister and it was protected by confidentiality.
As if ripping off the employment insurance scheme for $550 million was not the business of the people who paid into it, the employers and employees. As if slipping a bit of advice to the minister was somehow to protect those people from knowing what was happening to the employment insurance fund they paid into.
It is not the government's money. The Conservative member from Toronto who sits on the finance committee said that very thing just this week to a witness. This is not the government's money. Why does the government, as previous Liberal governments, treat it otherwise, as some sort of slush fund that it can use for its pet projects?
The only true analysis we have seen of this scheme so far has been from the Parliamentary Budget Officer who has a good record when it comes to analyzing Conservative costs. We remember the whole Afghanistan cost, which the Conservatives denied.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has to routinely go to court just to get data from the government, which is ironic and tragic considering it was the Conservatives who created the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer in the first place. He spends half his time in court trying to drag the numbers and the data from the government, so that he can do what he was mandated to do. Why spend the money on this office? Why create the office through legislation in the first place if it is going to be starved of information and denied its right to do its honest and good work?
The PBO did study this employment insurance scheme and found a couple of extremely worrisome discrepancies. One is the perverse incentive regarding employers that sit right around the threshold line as designed in this plan, that are just above the EI contributions of $15,000, would have a $2,200 incentive to drop below that line. How do they drop below that line? They will have to fire somebody. They would have a $200 incentive to hire somebody that might put them above the line.
Let me do the quick math for my Conservative colleagues. A $200 incentive to hire somebody and a $2,200 incentive for those same small and medium-sized businesses to fire somebody. We hope they will not do that. Most small and medium-sized business owners have a good conscience and want to help create jobs. Why, for heaven's sake, would a government create a program that would give them the incentive to do the opposite while taking from the EI fund to do it?
The Parliamentary Budget Officer also ran the numbers on this and found that the $550 million scheme would create upward of 800 jobs. Wow. That is $550 million in employment insurance contributions out, 800 jobs into the economy. When that number is broken down, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer did publicly and transparently for everyone, that works out to $550,000 for every new job created.
I have emails sitting in my inbox and posted on my Facebook page from Canadians saying they want one of those jobs. They want to know how to apply for one of these fancy EI scheme jobs if they are going to be given half a billion dollars. My goodness. Who came up with this thing?
How bad could it possibly be for the Conservatives that they have to grab and desperately search for job creation plans that cost half a million dollars or more per job? My gosh, they have to do better than this. I guess 8, 9, 10 years in, they have completely run out of ideas.
As Churchill once said about anything he would like to change about all his time in government, he said, “Circumstance”. He wished that he could have changed the circumstance.
However, the circumstance and reality for the current Conservative government is that our economy continues to struggle from the depths of the recession. The Conservatives cannot have 18 months of virtually no private sector job growth and be satisfied as a government. How can that possibly be true? I would love for the Conservatives to get up and deny that reality. Where does that number come from? It comes from Statistics Canada, the government's own reporting agency.
Let us look at another aspect of this so-called budget bill. Refugee claimants are clearly a concern of the government because it has to crack down on the billions of dollars going to refugees. Oh wait, the changes the Conservatives would make do not affect the federal treasury at all.
What would the changes do? They would affect real people's lives, and those claiming and seeking refugee asylum status in Canada will be denied, through the provinces, which would be enabled by the the bill before us, to receive social assistance.
This is coming after the most recent experience of the Conservative government denying refugees medical service and protection, which a Federal Court judge said was cruel and unusual punishment. Members do not have to take my word for it, they can listen to the judge who, when faced with this case, this absolute atrocity of legislation and policy coming from the government, said that any government that does this to anybody is performing something that is cruel and unusual.
Rather than back up that particular train, the Conservatives decided to double down and say that clearly the refugee claimants are making so much money and living so well that we need to deny them, and we will help the provinces deny them.
We then asked, “Which provinces asked for this measure? Which refugee claimant groups asked for this?” The best we got from the government was that it notified the Ontario government of the changes.
Would members like to know what the Ontario government's official policy is on denying refugee claimants social assistance? It is against it. Therefore, the one province the Conservatives even mentioned this to said not to do it, but here we have it.
The Conservatives, on some ideological rant, some xenophobic policy, meant to attack some perceived enemy, some problem that does not exist. They say that their government cares about people. How dare they. How shameful for them to put this in the middle of an omnibus bill and say that it is about the economy.
The Conservatives go to Canadians and say that they are working for them. Yet, the first thing they are going to do is go after those refugee claimants because obviously people who are seeking refugee status in Canada have been living so well and have had such a good experience in life that they have decided to seek refugee status here.
Where is that compassionate conservatism? Where are those Canadian values that say we are a place that welcomes the world as we have welcomed millions over the years? This strikes at the very core of our values and the Conservative have gotten it wrong.
What possible solutions do the Conservatives have?
Well, let us start with one of them. The Prime Minister, in a rare appearance at the UN, did not talk about climate change or activities of peace around the world, but about his program on maternal health, which is a good and decent program. He said that an important thing about the program is that the government is going to measure it because “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”.
Well, guess what? We do not have good statistics to measure what is going on in the labour force in Canada. The Conservatives have denied gathering census data, which all the economists, banks and credit unions say is an atrocity and a bad way to run a government.
This is a story of the good, the bad and the ugly. It is a story of a government that has absolutely gotten it wrong yet again. It is a failed opportunity to actually help Canadians and our economy.
I move, seconded by the member for Laval:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-43, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures, because it:
a) amends dozens of unrelated Acts without adequate parliamentary debate and oversight;
b) fails to address persistent unemployment and sluggish economic growth;
c) aims to strip refugee claimants of access to social assistance to meet their basic needs;
d) imposes a poorly designed job credit that will create few, if any, jobs while depleting Employment Insurance Funds; and
e) breaks the government's promises to protect small businesses from merchant fees and to ban banks from charging pay-to-pay fees.