Madam Speaker, I am very happy to rise in the House for the third reading of Bill C-29.
It will come as a surprise to no one that I will be devoting part of my speech to infrastructure. First, however, I would like to look back in general on the work accomplished by the Liberal government that has been in power for a year now.
Over one year, we note in the end that a myriad promises have not been kept. Infrastructure is one example. The election platform of the Liberal party promised to create an infrastructure bank. However, the Liberals were careful not to indicate what this bank would be like.
My colleagues in the House tell me that their mayors and their municipal officials had the impression that, ultimately, the infrastructure bank was money invested by the federal government to ensure that the municipalities could get low-interest loans to finance their infrastructure programs. That impression derived in part from the discussions they had with their Liberal candidates at the time.
Today we find ourselves facing a monster that is a long way from the glowing picture painted for the mayors. In the end, the bank could hit $200 billion in capitalization, and be about 80% financed by the private sector. Eventually it will have to earn a return for the private sector so that it can make good on the investments. According to some observers, such as Michael Sabia of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the rate of return could be around 7% to 9%.
This is not at all what Canadians had been told. On the contrary, during the campaign, members will recall that the Liberals said that a small deficit of $10 billion would be needed so it could be invested in infrastructure projects. We now realize that this is not what is happening at all. The deficit is far higher than predicted, since it is over $30 billion this year, and a tiny portion of that is invested in infrastructure.
During the debate at report stage, I asked a Liberal member some questions. I wanted to know how he justified the fact that the government wanted to invest, and was boasting about investing, an additional $80 billion over 10 years when, at the end of the day, two-thirds of the new envelopes promised will not be available until two elections from now. He said it was perfectly normal, because we need to take the time to prepare good projects. That is true. However, the current $30-billion deficit clearly shows that that money will not be invested in infrastructure.
This is an important commitment. The situation promised to Canadians is not at all what the Liberal government is delivering, but that should come as no surprise. The Liberals made big promises to Canadians on a number of different issues, but those promises are not being kept.
For instance, the Liberals made a solemn promise, with hands over hearts, that they would consult first nations on development projects and that those consultations would be meaningful and genuine. However, the approval of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain project, the Site C project, and the Muskrat Falls project, which involves flooding the area, clearly illustrate that this promise is not worth the paper it is written on.
The government swore up and down that the Trans Mountain and energy east projects would not be approved until the environmental assessment process and the public consultation process were complete. However, we recently learned that the government approved the Trans Mountain project using the Conservatives' process. The Liberals sugarcoated things by saying there would be an extra consultation process, but ultimately, the process they used to approve Trans Mountain was the one the Conservatives implemented in 2012. The same thing will happen with energy east because the government has shown no interest in changing the National Energy Board other than getting industry insiders involved in a process to re-examine what the board should be.
The Liberals also promised to end legal action against veterans and first nations.
My colleagues from Timmins—James Bay and Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou ask questions about that in the House all the time. They ask questions about the fact that the government is pursuing legal action that was originally launched by the Conservatives. I really do not see the Liberals keeping most of their highest-profile promises.
I would like to say a few words about Bill C-29, and then I will come back to infrastructure. One of the fundamental elements of Bill C-29 that we oppose is changes to the Bank Act that will supposedly better protect consumers. It is really just Liberal positioning. Most of the legal experts we have seen and most of the journalists on this file agree that, on the contrary, consumers will lose big if the federal government encroaches on this because it is under Quebec and provincial jurisdiction. I am looking squarely at the Liberal members from Quebec.
It is quite ironic. I asked the parliamentary secretary about this. The the government is saying that it is responding to Marcotte ruling. In that case, a consumer, Mr. Marcotte, filed suit against the Bank of Montreal. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The dispute was over the excessive foreign currency conversion fees charged by the banks. The banks claimed they were subject to the Bank Act and not the Consumer Protection Act. The Quebec Superior Court and then the Supreme Court ruled against them.
The government decided to respond to that and change the legislation. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Mr. Marcotte and forced the banks to pay more than $30 million in this class action suit. There is a principle referred to as the doctrine of federal paramountcy, which establishes that where there is a conflict between two valid laws, the federal law will prevail; if there is no conflict, the doctrine of federal paramountcy does not apply. That is what the Supreme Court ruled on when it sided with Mr. Marcotte, because the Consumer Protection Act was not in conflict with the Bank Act in the case in question.
What was the federal government's response? It plans to voluntarily create a conflict. It is going to voluntarily create an ombudsman position, and that office will be the only place that people who feel they have been cheated by the system will be able to go for help. They will no longer be able to go to the Office de la protection du consommateur du Québec or to file class action suits. Therein lies the irony. If the amendments that the Liberals want to make to this law had already been in effect, there would have been an ombudsman, it would not have been possible to go to the Office de la protection du consommateur, and the Marcotte decision would never have been rendered. There would not have even been a lawsuit because that would not have been possible. The amendments proposed by the government will prevent the type of class action lawsuit that led to the amendment proposed in this bill.
That makes no sense, and many journalists and legal experts have recognized that. One of the people we heard from was a representative of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. He said that this was an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction, and that the federal government should expect this matter to end up before the Supreme Court because it infringes on this area of jurisdiction. The government could also end up in court if it is not careful about the single securities regulator it wants to establish, despite opposition from Quebec and Alberta in particular.
I would like to draw my colleagues' attention to the editorial that Brigitte Breton wrote in Le Soleil, which is entitled “Prime Minister protecting banks”. Of course, I changed the title so as not to name the Prime Minister. Ms. Breton summarized the situation as follows.
In Marcotte—a class action suit between the banking community and customers who objected to being billed for conversion charges on foreign currency credit card transactions given that they had never been notified that such fees would apply—the Supreme Court ruled that the provincial consumer protection laws applied even though banks fall under federal jurisdiction.
That was what the Supreme Court had to say. The federal government's response is to pass legislation in the hope of getting around the courts, Quebec, and the provinces by saying that it will now appropriate that right.
I would like Quebec members to realize that the information they have been provided by their own party is not consistent with the legal opinions or the media analysis of people who are quite knowledgeable about this matter.
Now that I have stated my main objection to Bill C-29, I would like to go back to the issue of infrastructure. I spoke about the infrastructure bank and the fact that the Liberals led Canadians to believe that they intended to run a deficit in order to invest in infrastructure. I have shown that that was not the case. There are other problematic elements in the Liberals' approach that really should be brought to the public's attention.
First of all, I would really like government members to start reflecting on the following situation: the federal government asked the investment firm Credit Suisse to provide advice on the privatization of airports. Credit Suisse, which is in the business of buying infrastructure, is going to give the federal government advice on whether it should privatize airports in which Credit Suisse itself would have an interest in investing. Does that not seem like a conflict of interest?
Let us move on to something else. The federal government asked Morgan Stanley, another investment firm, to advise it on privatizing 18 port authorities. This same firm was caught up in the 2008 financial crisis. Now the federal government says that all is forgiven and forgotten. There is a link for sure. Imagine a firm caught up in a financial crisis. Oh my God, there have been so many books and films about the roots of the financial crisis. We know how these firms sometimes think.
What should we expect to see at the end of the Morgan Stanley report on whether to privatize our 18 port authorities? Does anyone seriously believe that Morgan Stanley will say it is not in the federal government's interest to do it and that the firm could not in good conscience take advantage of the government like that? Of course the firm will say that privatization is in the public interest. Actually, Morgan Stanley was once a Port of Montreal shareholder, and it still has an interest in buying and in recommending privatization to the federal government.
Does that not seem like a conflict of interest to the government? I am asking in all sincerity. I do not see how the Liberals could have sat here in the last Parliament and let the Conservatives get away with this if they had decided to take that route. It is unconscionable.
The Liberals are acting fundamentally differently now that they are in power, compared to how they acted when they were in opposition. If they were still in opposition, they would be screaming that the Conservatives had no mandate to privatize airports and ports. However, that is what the Liberals are doing, even though they said nothing during the election campaign about the possibility of privatizing these pieces of infrastructure that are key to Canada's economic development.
Anyone who thinks that privatizing this kind of infrastructure is not a problem needs to think again. We have 18 port authorities. If they are to be privatized, of course the private sector will only want the juiciest pieces. That goes without saying. There is no guarantee that all 18 port authorities would find takers. The government will be stuck with the least profitable, and the most profitable will be handed over to the private sector. However, there is nothing to say that they will still be profitable in 20 years' time. That will depend on the government's decisions.
The Port of Churchill, which is vital to Canada's Arctic sovereignty, was privatized 20 years ago. Things were going well for a while. However, various decisions made by the federal government over the years led to the port being closed by the buyer. It was all smoke and mirrors for the people of Churchill. They were told that by privatizing their port, it would be revitalized by private interests.
The same thing may happen to ports, airports, and even infrastructure. What the government said during the election campaign seems to have been completely forgotten. It made fine promises, just as it did on electoral reform.
The Liberals promised to run deficits in order to invest in our infrastructure. Yes, we know that we currently have a major infrastructure deficit. We know that we have to reinvest. That was one of our election promises. However, we would have invested directly in infrastructure. That is what the Liberals said during the election campaign.
Never did they suggest asking the private sector, investment banks and pension funds to invest upwards of $170 billion on the promise of returns in the form of tolls and user fees. This was never mentioned during the election campaign. The only thing the Liberals said about tolls was that there would be none on the Champlain Bridge. There are going to be tolls everywhere because these pension funds and investment banks are obviously not going to want to invest unless they get a hefty return on their investment.
The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec said that it did not expect to get a rate of return of 9%. Does the House really think that it will invest in projects that are going to give it a 2% to 4% rate of return only, when the total rate of return on its investments was 9% for the past year? It has the fiduciary responsibility to get the best return possible. It is not going to give up a potential return of 8% to 9% to go after a return of 2% to 4% because it is in the public interest.
I am not talking about private investment funds such as BlackRock. Dominic Barton, head of the advisory council on economic growth, appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance where I asked him a question about private investors. I said that BlackRock must be interested in major infrastructure. He said no, because this investment fund was not big enough for that. However, it is bigger than the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.
Right now, the government is trying to be reassuring. It is saying that there is nothing to worry about, that this is going to happen, that everything is under control, and that there will be no loss of control over our infrastructure. The government is saying that the private sector and investment funds will get involved in the infrastructure bank because it will be more worthwhile than the 1% or 2% in returns they get elsewhere but that we will not lose control over our infrastructure.
Eighty per cent of the infrastructure bank's capital will come from the private sector. Does the House think that the private sector is going to let the government make all of the decisions regarding that capital? That makes no sense. The House needs to think twice, and maybe even three or four times, before going ahead with this. Would it make sense for the private sector to invest billions of dollars in capital in an infrastructure bank and then leave all the decisions up to the federal government? No.
What we are seeing more and more in the main financial publications is that this infrastructure bank will have to be free and independent from all federal government ties. The government will put the equivalent of $40 billion in the investment bank, $15 billion of which will be taken from other funds, in the hopes of attracting between $160 billion and $170 billion.
After that, the government will no longer have a say because the bank will be independent and will not have any link whatsoever with the federal government. It will be the bank making the big decisions. It will be making the decisions since it will be 80% capitalized by the private sector. Does the House really think that the private sector will not find this opportunity irresistible? Of course it will.
It is a matter of priorities. If the private sector is seeking a high return, where will it get one? It will get one from projects that yield a good rate of return, such as from tolls and user fees mostly.
In a small community such as mine, which is largely rural, we have a project that could be worth over $100 million. Obviously, the banks and investors would not be interested in projects under $100 million. We have a project, highway 20. Does the House think that these investors will be interested in investing in highway 20 to Rimouski instead of investing in what could become a toll highway around Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver? The answer is obvious.
Bill C-29, just like the budget and its so-called accomplishments, is mostly smoke and mirrors. During the election campaign, Canadians were tricked by the promises being sold to them, which ultimately, with few exceptions, do not at all reflect what Canadians believed from the Liberals during the election campaign. This is a big part of the reason why we will be opposing Bill C-29 at third reading.