Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-344, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act.
I appreciate the intervention from my colleague, but I want to raise some very substantial concerns regarding this bill. It seems that this bill follows in lockstep with the Liberals' trend to make business in Canada much harder for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as small rural communities, to access government funding and assistance. To me, that is simply not acceptable.
An assessment of the benefits of a community would derive from a federal contract being awarded to an enterprise, and its incredible intentions should not be harder to access, but easier. However, how this bill is written would impose further red tape and burdensome bureaucratic work, causing undue hardship on small and medium-sized enterprises and small rural communities. This would certainly deter smaller enterprises that may not have the substantial staffing or budget to know the right legal jargon for otherwise doing business with the Liberal government.
Adding onerous layers to the paperwork process would exclude many small and medium-sized enterprises from being able to participate in the process. It would further promote an attitude where the Liberal government is emboldened to large and powerful businesses and enterprises, giving them a clear advantage to access government funding. This bill would essentially help the wealthiest 1%, support powerful corporations, and put a greater disadvantage on small and medium enterprises, as well as small towns, cities, and villages.
To help smaller enterprises be successful, we need less red tape and bureaucracy, not more. There needs to be more support from the Liberal government to make it easier for smaller Canadian enterprises, businesses with fewer resources and less manpower, to be able to participate in the procurement process. This would in fact help small businesses to expand, grow, and create jobs. However, for the Liberals, who continually profess to be trying to help the middle class and those working hard to join it, this bill is another example of how they are doing the exact opposite.
This bill would take away an entrepreneur's opportunity to grow their business. In effect, once again, the Liberals are purposely hurting the very people they claim to be helping. They would be hurting hard-working Canadian small business owners to ensure they are helping their wealthy friends. It does not make sense. When the government supports small and medium enterprises, local businesses, and local people, it is how a community benefits. It is the grassroots organizations that give back to their communities. It is the small and medium-sized businesses that support local charities, sponsor community soccer teams, and ensure there are labour and resources to help upgrade or renovate community parks.
That leads me to my next point. What additionally concerns me are the arbitrary and undemocratic powers that this bill would give to the minister. This enactment would amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to provide the minister with the authority to require an assessment of the benefits that a community derives from a construction, maintenance, or repair report. Based on the way this bill is written, it would be the minister who gets to decide how the community would benefit from a specific project. I can say that within my own constituency of Foothills, each community and municipality is unique in its own way. The people, the resources, and the things they need to benefit their communities are unique and very distinctive.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to get to know my riding of Foothills extremely well. I spend time there, live there, raise my family there, work there, and shop in the businesses there. I know the people and the area. Who else knows the people and the area? It is the owners of the small and medium-sized enterprises who work there every single day. It is the municipal councillors who have the passion for and dedication to their communities and know intricately what goes on day to day. For me, it is those people we should be listening to when it comes to assessing the benefits to a community of a construction project. Is a minister here in Ottawa truly claiming that he or she knows every community across Canada better than the constituents, small business owners, and municipal councillors who live there each and every day? It is those people we should be listening to when we ask about the benefits of a community project.
Large and powerful enterprises may have the best resources to fill out a report, the best vocabulary to make it sound compelling to the minister, and certainly have the lobbyists in Ottawa trying to woo the minister to grant procurement projects to their companies. However, what I believe is most important is listening to the local groups who have the pulse of their neighbourhood. It is these small and medium-sized enterprises in our small communities that understand the needs and the ways to best shape their municipalities. The communities' success leads directly to their success.
Unfortunately, this bill gives the minister the power to subjectively pick which report sounds the best without knowing or truly understanding the community, its needs, or what the people in those communities believe is best for them. Who gets to also define the term “benefit”? Is benefit a blanket definition, such that if a report uses specific terms it qualifies as a community benefit? Is it a set of boxes that gets checked by the minister or the minister's staff, ensuring it uses the right buzzwords in the report? We all know the Liberals' favourite buzzwords: “open, transparent, fulsome, robust, broken promises”. Is it arbitrary? Is it subject to the mood of the minister to determine how benefit is defined at a particular time?
There is no clearly defined mechanism to identify what specifically qualifies as a community benefit in this bill, or a scale to which the benefit is measured upon. Then it becomes nothing more than a game of who has more money and resources, and it is no longer about the community, the people, or what would most benefit them. That is truly another example of Liberal entitlement, scratching the backs of their Liberal friends on Bay Street instead of helping those on Main Street.
There also appears to be no exemption for municipalities within this proposed legislation. I can speak first-hand to my constituency of Foothills in southwest Alberta. It is largely made up of very small municipalities, towns, villages, districts, and rural communities. I understand how difficult it is for them to go through the application process when it comes federal procurement. They do not have the resources. They do not have the manpower to dedicate the kind of time needed to apply for many of these types of projects. They do not have the financial means or the staff.
What concerns me is that the proposed legislation would add a second layer of bureaucracy to the application processes. We have talked a lot about the impact it will have on small and medium-sized enterprises, but we also have to take into consideration the impact it will have on our municipalities. Many of them are already frustrated about having to go through various hoops to apply for government grants, funding, and infrastructure projects. For them to go through that application process, hopefully get to the next stage, and then have a minister in Ottawa, doing “Ottawa knows best”, say that they want an assessment on the benefit to the community would be heavy-handed.
If the municipality, in partnership with a small and medium-sized enterprise, had already applied for a procurement project, they already understand it has a benefit to their community; otherwise they would not have put all the resources, time, and effort into doing that application in the first place. For the government to come back and say they want them to prove how this is going to benefit their community is very heavy-handed. It is heavy-handed for a minister here in Ottawa to try to tell our municipalities across the country that they know what is better for them, or that they need to prove that it is a benefit to their community.
Communities already find it difficult. To add another layer of red tape and bureaucracy is going to force a lot of municipalities to have a second thought about whether they are going to apply for these projects at all. I do not think that is something that we want. We want to make it easier. We want to ensure that our small rural communities have every opportunity to apply for government projects, as with any larger municipality, which certainly has many more resources, more lobbyists, and many more man-hours to dedicate to these types of projects.
I urge, once again, that it is imperative for the members in this House to bring forward ways to support and encourage our small and medium-sized enterprises, and our rural communities, not make it more difficult and discourage them from participating in these types of projects.
It should be done in a way that lets the community itself decide what is best for that community. It should be up to the constituents, not a minister here in Ottawa.