Mr. Speaker, I rise today pursuant to Standing Order 69.1 in regard to omnibus bills. The Standing Order reads:
In the case where a government bill seeks to repeal, amend or enact more than one act, and where there is not a common element connecting the various provisions or where unrelated matters are linked, the Speaker shall have the power to divide the questions, for the purposes of voting, on the motion for second reading and reference to a committee and the motion for third reading and passage of the bill. The Speaker shall have the power to combine clauses of the bill thematically and to put the aforementioned questions on each of these groups of clauses separately, provided that there will be a single debate at each stage.
I point your attention now to a recently introduced omnibus budget implementation act. The proposal was tabled in the House of Commons on October 27, 2017. That act combines a number of unrelated provisions that were not included in the original budget presentation. The long title is the first clue: A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures. The summary notes indicate that the bill also implements a GST/HST measure announced on September 8, 2017. Other items include the income tax amendments, part 1, related to farmers and fishers selling to cooperatives; part 3's amendments to the Excise Act related to beer made from concentrate; division 5 of part 5, which amends the Bank of Canada Act concerning loans and advances made to members of the Canadian Payments Association; division 11 of part 5, which makes a series of amendments to the Judges Act; and division 13 of part 5, which amends the Financial Administration Act in respect of payments to discharge a debt.
Returning to the original Standing Order I cited at the outset, you, as Speaker, have the ability to break this bill into separate bills if its various provisions concern unrelated matters and if they are then linked in the same bill. Clearly, the matters I have just mentioned, their merits or demerits notwithstanding, are not directly related to each another. For example, the Judges Act is not related to the Financial Administration Act, the Judges Act is not related to the Excise Act, and the Bank of Canada Act is not related directly to the Income Tax Act. Therefore, the bill combines a number of different acts in one single bill, which gives you, Mr. Speaker, the power to separate the various component parts of the act.
In fairness to the government, there is an exception to that role. Under 69.1 of the Standing Orders, budget implementation roles can be excluded from the Speaker's power to divide a bill that contains numerous unrelated parts. Standing Order 69.1(2) reads:
The present Standing Order shall not apply if the bill has as its main purpose the implementation of a budget and contains only provisions that were announced in the budget presentation or in the documents tabled during the budget presentation.
I have just finished listing at least five provisions that were included in the omnibus budget implementation act but were not included in the original budget presentation. Therefore, this BIA and its component parts are not exempt from the Speaker's authority to divide into separate bills matters that are unrelated to one other but, nevertheless, were introduced as one piece of legislation.
There is another matter that was included in the budget implementation bill that was not fully included in the original budget presentation. I refer now to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. As I said at the outset, the Standing Order calls for bills to be separated into their component parts if a provision in a budget implementation bill had not been fully present in the original budget presentation. Now, the budget presentation did provide for funding for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. However, it did not provide for the same amount of money that was later included in the budget implementation bill.
Let me quote directly from the presentation the minister made on March 22, 2017:
Budget 2017 proposes to invest $256 million over five years for Canada to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
It was $256 million. That was the provision the government made for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in the budget presentation of last March. However, the legislation introduced just last week has a different and much larger provision. It provides for an amount of not more than $375 million U.S., which equals $480 million Canadian.
The word “provision” comes from the root word “provide”. The original budget presentation would provide $256 million. This omnibus budget bill provides $480 million. In other words, there is roughly $230 million provided in the budget implementation bill that was not provided in the original budget presentation. In other words, the BIA, the omnibus budget bill, attempts to provide something that was not provided for at the outset. Therefore, it is not exempt from your powers, Mr. Speaker, to divide the bill up in separate component parts so that the measures can be debated on their separate merits.
The government has introduced a very complex web of legislative amendments to the statutes of Canada that are unrelated and disconnected, all in one single bill, after having promised to end omnibus bills forever. The government also gave you, Mr. Speaker, the power to end those omnibus bills for them. I described how you can use that power and why it would be appropriate to do so in this particular case.
Let me say, on behalf of the official opposition, that while we are concerned that the government has broken its promise to end all omnibus bills, we are not particularly troubled by the fact that some of these measures are being voted on together.
It is your power to divide them up, but it is not necessarily of substantive importance to us that all of them be divided up, if the Speaker were to find that it would be in the interest of efficiency for them to be voted on and debated together. Some of these measures would not be troublesome to marry into one such vote and one such debate, except one. That one is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It is particularly important, and its quiet and surreptitious inclusion in this bill is particularly concerning for multiple reasons.
First, in less than half a year, the amount the government wants to spend on this initiative has gone up by almost 100%. Originally it was $250 million; now it is almost half a billion dollars. That is an eye-popping increase in an expense for a new initiative on which no Canadian government has ever spent money in the past. Less than a year ago, the Government of Canada was committed to spending zero on this initiative. Then it was $250 million, and now, quietly, that amount has been raised to half a billion dollars.
The second reason why this is particularly objectionable to the official opposition is this. The government is behind on all of its commitments to build infrastructure in Canada. Now it is proposing to spend Canadian tax dollars to build infrastructure in another continent. In fact, the legislation that the government proposes is explicit, that the purpose is to build infrastructure in a different continent than our own.
Let me read directly from the bill that the government tabled. It states:
The purpose of the Bank shall be to: (i) foster sustainable economic development, create wealth and improve infrastructure connectivity in Asia by investing in infrastructure and other productive sectors;
It then defines Asia not to include Canada, it goes without saying, which means that this half billion dollars will be paid by Canadians but will not be spent to their benefit. This very unusual use of infrastructure money is worthy of some debate on the floor of this House of Commons, particularly given the fact that, prior to even implementing the initiative, it is almost 100% over budget.
Therefore, we call upon you to exercise the legitimate authorities vested in you by the Standing Orders, in particular Standing Orders 69.1(1) and 69.1(2), to divide the Asian infrastructure bank from the rest of the budget implementation act, so that Canadians can witness a debate in this chamber on the merits of sending a half a billion dollars to build infrastructure in Asia, and on the merits of giving loans and loan guarantees to extremely wealthy titans of finance on the world stage, all at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.
So far, the House has had no stand-alone debate on this massive new and unprecedented expenditure. The government seems to want to keep it that way by burying this measure at the back of a very large omnibus bill, making no mention of it either in the minister's original speech in the House of Commons or in subsequent ministerial declarations that we have been able to find in the Hansard record. It is clear that the government did not want this measure to even be noticed. That is why it was buried, almost like a secret, at the back of the bill.
You now have the authority to remedy that problem, to separate out this section, and allow Canadians to debate this half-billion dollar expenditure on the floor of the House of Commons and at committee, and then to exercise the will of all of our constituents by voting on it here in this chamber and then later in the other place.
Therefore, we call upon you, Speaker, to exercise the powers vested in you in the Standing Orders to uphold the principle of no taxation without representation. That is, Canadians must have the ability to rely on Parliament to approve every expenditure that the government taxes fund, independently and separately from other matters, and to instill a sense of integrity in the budget process so that all Canadians can have confidence in how their money is spent.