Mr. Speaker, my interest in this bill is twofold because I am the official opposition's Treasury Board critic and the member for a riding that relies heavily on small and medium-sized businesses to create jobs.
This year I had the tremendous privilege and pleasure of touring several such businesses in municipalities like Chelsea, Wakefield and Shawville. I even toured a number of pharmacies to talk about the drug shortage. It was great to consult with business people in my region. They agree that we need to cut red tape, but not necessarily via the approach in this bill.
As an MP, of course I believe in the principle of red tape reduction, which will reduce administrative hassles for business people. However, as the official opposition's Treasury Board critic, I have serious concerns about this bill. As is often the case with the Conservatives' bills, it seems that their almost religious zeal for defending the free market as they see it at any cost has led them to conceal in this bill their intention to eliminate regulations that protect my constituents' health, safety and environment. In light of the listeriosis crises and the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, we need this government to guarantee that it will do more to protect and regulate Canadians' health and safety.
Regulations that are in the public interest should remain in place. This bill jeopardizes them because it gives the President of the Treasury Board the power to eliminate such regulations under the guise of reducing paperwork for businesses. That is obviously not the way to achieve sound public administration.
It is true that the NDP wants to reduce the administrative burden borne by small businesses, but we do not want to do so at the expense of Canadians' safety. We cannot trust the Conservatives, who have a tendency to deregulate without considering safety, health or the environment.
It is not just a question of managing the number of regulations, but of determining which ones are helping Canadians. This means carrying out a proper study, which is a reasonable approach to public administration.
Only the preamble of the bill states that the regulations affecting the health and safety of Canadians will not be affected. We all know that the legislation that will govern these regulations has no preamble. No mention is made of the environment in the entire bill. If the Conservatives really care about the health and safety of Canadians, why did they not specifically guarantee the application of the bill and the regulations that protect their health and safety?
I would remind my colleagues in the House of some important facts about this government's tendency to let things slide when it comes to the health and safety of Canadians. The Conservatives do not have a good track record in terms of preserving these regulations.
For instance, last year, the Minister of Transport allowed an exemption to the Canadian Aviation Regulations for the air carrier WestJet. WestJet planes will now be able to operate with one flight attendant per 50 passengers rather than according to the standard of one flight attendant per 40 passengers. Other airlines have since asked for similar exemptions. The NDP has asked that the 1:40 rule be maintained, which is reasonable.
In 1999, the Liberals, who are no better, persisted with the Mulroney government's deregulation of rail safety by continuing to implement the safety management systems approach, which was maintained by the Conservatives. This approach leaves it up to the industry itself to ensure that its operations are safe, instead of ensuring that the government works with the industry to set safety standards that should be followed. Basically, it is self-regulation. The goal of any business is to make a profit.
That resulted in many derailments throughout the country.
In addition, the Conservatives used the budget implementation bill, Bill C-4, to make changes to the Canada Labour Code, and those changes will gut the powers of health and safety officers in federal workplaces. It is unacceptable to compromise the health and safety of workers.
It is clear that the Conservative President of the Treasury Board should not be given discretionary powers over our laws and regulations that govern our constituents' health, environment and safety.
It is hard to believe that the Conservatives are sincere about wanting to reduce red tape. They did the exact opposite with the building Canada fund. Instead of helping municipalities and small businesses start infrastructure projects in a timely manner, the Conservatives set up a long and cumbersome bureaucratic process for every project worth more than $100 million. That will create 6- to 18-month delays that will slow down important projects.
They did the same thing with their so-called employment insurance reform, which requires that employers provide more and more information about their employees. In addition, small and medium-sized business are not really getting any help.
For example, the Conservatives are dragging their feet when it comes to taking serious action to regulate anti-competitive credit card fees that merchants must pay to card issuers. If the Conservatives really wanted to help SMEs, they would have supported the NDP's idea to have an ombudsman to control the credit card fees that card issuers charge merchants. It was a simple and reasonable solution, but it was rejected.
This bill cannot be taken seriously. The principle behind it is good, but it is unclear whether it will achieve the expected results.
What we really need to do for small businesses is to identify what does not make sense in the system and eliminate it. That is a simple study. The one-for-one rule is too vague, and there is no guarantee that it is going to work.
We also have to stop giving lip service to small and medium-size businesses and actually help them out, for example, by restoring the small business hiring tax credit for young people; reducing taxes for small businesses specifically, not the corporate tax rate for the largest and most successful businesses in this country; cracking down on hidden credit card transaction fees; and perhaps redefining what a small and medium-size business is for government procurement contracts.
I do not know if members realize this, but small- and medium-size businesses are defined as 500 employees and less. I would approximate that, in my riding, the average number of employees that small and medium-size businesses have is 25. Therefore, it is completely unreasonable to expect a company with 25 employees to compete with the supposed small and medium-size business with 499 employees. It does not make any sense. There is no sensitivity built into the system regarding profit margins, the size of staff, et cetera.
We could talk about the service agreement between merchants and credit card companies that profit small business owners by directly passing on these fees to consumers. This increases the price of goods on everything. Despite dismissing a recent case against Visa and Mastercard, in a rare move, the Competition Tribunal called for a regulatory framework to deal with anti-competitive practices.
We could also create a new tax credit for businesses that hire and train young people, and financing to help small business owners grow their business. We could make it easier for parents to pass family businesses to their kids, create tax credits to offset payroll taxes, and help small businesses innovate, et cetera. In the agricultural sector, we could perhaps do something about risk capital and high interest rates for acquiring new agricultural lands.
It is clear that on this side of the equation, we are proposing sensible, concrete, realistic means of truly helping our small and medium-size businesses to create jobs that are desperately needed in our country.