Mr. Speaker, following the swearing-in of the Liberal cabinet after the 2015 election, the Prime Minister responded to a question regarding equal gender representation in cabinet with “because it's 2015”. It is now 2017 and the government's cabinet is no more gender equal today than it was then.
Professor Margot Young, a University of British Columbia law professor specializing in gender equality issues appeared before the government operations committee on Bill C-24, and said:
I have to say, to respond to a que1stion about women in the cabinet by saying simply “because it's 2015” loses a key leadership moment to articulate and shape opinion about what it means to actually have women in positions of equality, in positions of leadership and power.
I have said it before, and it is worth repeating now. This Liberal government is all style and no substance. The Liberals spend more time focusing on their appearance than they do on substantive matters that are important to Canadians, and this case is no exception. The Prime Minister would like Canadians to believe that his appointed Liberal cabinet is gender-balanced, but this is far from the truth. What the Prime Minister kept secret from Canadians is that several of the female ministers were not full ministers, but rather ministers of state.
Mr. Speaker, I neglected to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.
Of course, once the opposition and others pointed out this reality to the Liberal government, the Prime Minister quickly tried to cover his tracks. He introduced Bill C-24, an act to amend the Salaries Act. The bill would make several changes to aspects of ministerial roles and designations. These include the creation of new positions, the removal of several important positions, the creation of legal backup for departmental support for these new ministry positions, and the transfer of authoritative powers.
In the bill, the Liberals are attempting to justify changing the title “ministers of state” to full ministers. They say that changing the names of the positions and increasing the income of each minister of state, with no added responsibilities for these ministers of state, somehow makes them equivalent to full ministers. This amounts to nothing more than a shell game, and in the process the Prime Minister is getting rid of regional economic development ministers and creating positions that will be determined later. What happened to openness and transparency?
I do not want to spend any more time discussing the Liberal's PR game of claiming to have a gender-balanced cabinet but in reality not having any such thing. I will leave it up to my hon. colleagues on the opposite side to try to square that circle.
Over the past two years, the government has shown it is unable to manage a national economy. Its top-down style of governance is no better exemplified than in the elimination of regional development ministers, leaving all regional development decisions in the hands of the innovation minister from Mississauga. I have served with the hon. member for Mississauga—Malton on a committee in previous Parliaments, and I know he is a very hard-working member and represents his constituents. However, he does not live, experience, and know the very real and unique needs that exist in our different regions, from Atlantic Canada to Quebec, to the Prairies, to British Columbia, and especially our northern areas, both in the territories and in our provinces.
To make things worse, when studying this piece of legislation in committee the Liberals refused to hear from a single witness about the plan to scrap regional economic development ministers. This, from a government that claims to make “evidence-based” decisions, a government that prides itself on consultation, a government that repeatedly says it wants to hear from Canadians. This is all style and no substance.
Regional economic development ministers played a very important role in our previous Conservative government's ability to weather the global economic crisis and come away with the strongest economy in the G7, all while balancing the budget and leaving a surplus. That is why, unlike the Liberals, Conservatives will fight for appropriate regional representation and accountability. The Liberals are ignoring the diversity of Canada's regions. So much for championing diversity. So much for championing consultation.
We need to include people from the regions in the decision-making process because it ultimately affects their full participation in our national economy. Indeed, the harmful effects of this decision are already noticeable. Take these examples, for instance. Last fall, $150,000 in northern Ontario economic development funds were given to a company based in the innovation minister's Mississauga riding. Apparently, this is the preferred kind of politics the Prime Minister had in mind. Members can correct me if I am wrong, but as a member whose riding is a short drive down the 401 from Mississauga, I would not consider our region of Ontario as being part of the north, by any measure.
Furthermore, just this spring, the Atlantic Liberal caucus subcommittee reported that it had heard of a threefold increase in processing times at ACOA since the appointment of the Toronto minister. The Liberal subcommittee noted, “centralized decision-making is viewed unfavourably as impeding the agility of programs. The Subcommittee was asked to advocate for regional decision-making in order to better address regional needs.” I sure hope that the Prime Minister and the innovation minister are taking the time to listen to their colleagues in their own Liberal caucus on this issue.
As previously mentioned, Bill C-24 seeks to ask parliamentarians to approve the appointment of three future mystery ministers. This is neither transparent nor accountable. We know that after two years of mismanagement of appointments left, right, and centre, the Liberal government cannot be trusted to handle any appointments, let alone secret appointments, to cabinet. I would ask my hon. colleagues opposite what exactly they are trying to hide.
Allow me to summarize. The Prime Minister set this legislation into motion after he was trying to look good for the cameras but had a reporter ask him about the so-called gender parity in his cabinet. He doubled down when he included in this legislation the removal of regional economic ministers, and then tripled down when he expected opposition parties to blindly support his creation of new cabinet positions that are to be determined in the future.
Conservatives do believe in equal pay for equal work. This bill does not deliver that. Ministers with more junior portfolios will not have their own deputy ministers, will not have the same departmental budgets, will not have the same responsibility or authority as ministers with more senior portfolios, and yet their salaries will increase. In fact, the salaries will increase by roughly $20,000 each for these ministers, with no added responsibilities or authority.
If the Prime Minister wants to put his words into action, I hear that the finance minister has been in a bit of trouble recently with the Ethics Commissioner. This could be an opportunity for him to promote one of his female members of the House to the position of finance minister. At the very least, the Prime Minister needs to listen to the advice of his Liberal backbenchers and immediately reinstate regional economic ministers. Enough of this top-down approach where Ottawa knows best. It is not working and it has created headaches across the country, especially in Atlantic Canada. In fact, all areas of Canada have been affected and have spoken out against this ill-conceived move to eliminate regional ministers from the economic development agencies.
There is a quote from La Presse in Quebec from November 2015, which states:
“It was always an important minister, like Denis Lebel, who was in charge,” said Mr. Forget [the current president] of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce. “It meant that business leaders had an attentive ear to discuss Quebec's economic issues. We'll have to see how things go in the coming days and weeks.”
We do not hear anything from the Liberal Quebec members speaking out against this change.
The Cape Breton Post has stated that “The change in tactics to support business growth was flagged as a potential concern for job-starved regions such as Cape Breton.”
From the CBC, Donald Savoie, a Canada research chair in public administration, has said that the lack of an ACOA minister from the region is a return to when former Liberal industry minister John Manley was responsible for the economic development agencies during the Jean Chrétien government. He say, “I would remind Atlantic Canadians that ACOA used to report to John Manley at the Department of Industry. Would I call [the current appointment] ACOA's heyday? No.”
That is not exactly a ringing endorsement of this plan.