House of Commons Hansard #250 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-24.

Topics

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Raj Grewal Liberal Brampton East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can only hope that the next election is as good as the by-election results yesterday across this country.

To the member's question on housing, our government has done more on housing than any previous government in Canadian history. We already have money flowing from the 2016 budget. The one thing the member failed to mention was that all Canadian municipalities asked for this. We stepped up to the plate and made that pledge. We are ensuring that for the first time in our history, there is a national housing strategy to ensure that all Canadians have access to housing.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, I rise today with the intention of speaking about Bill C-24, which would formalize in statute the one-tier ministry of this government. We are ensuring, through this bill, that the current and future governments will have the flexibility required to meet their commitments to Canadians.

As we know, the government introduced this bill to amend the Salaries Act on September 27, 2016.

The Salaries Act authorizes the payments out of the consolidated revenue fund of a ministerial salary to individuals who have been appointed to ministerial positions listed in the act. There are currently 35 ministerial positions listed in the Salaries Act, including the position of prime minister. The Salaries Act was first introduced into statute in 1868 as “An Act respecting the Governor General, the Civil List, and the Salaries of certain Public Functionaries.”

This act has changed countless times throughout our country's history, modified always with the intention to align with the priorities of the government of the day and each prime minister's preferences in how he or she composes the ministry. Our change in Bill C-24 is hardly new. In the last dozen years, we saw legislation to amend the list of ministries in the Salaries Act three times. It was enacted in 2005, 2012, and of course, 2013.

I would now like to take the opportunity to summarize the proposed changes that Bill C-24 would bring to the Salaries Act. First, the legislation would provide for including in the Salaries Act the five ministerial positions that are currently minister of state appointments, thereby doing away with the administrative distinctions this government has had to employ under the Ministries and Ministers of State Act.

Previous cabinets have seen ministers of state considered to be junior ministers because previous prime ministers have determined that such ministers of state should be appointed to assist other ministers with their portfolio responsibilities. Our current context does not agree or find this way of thinking to be operational or suitable. Our Prime Minister's intention has been to create a one-tier cabinet, and the distinction of ministers of state as junior ministers fails to reflect the importance of the subject matters at issue, as well as the value of equality that this government holds in the highest esteem.

The five new ministerial positions to be added to the Salaries Act are minister of la Francophonie, minister of small business and tourism, minister of science, minister of status of women, and minister of sport and persons with disabilities. The five ministers will continue to advance the priorities of the government that were established by the Prime Minister and set out in their mandate letters and legal instruments. These are important positions, with roles and responsibilities becoming of full ministers.

The minister of la Francophonie pursues Canada's strong and sustained commitment to all 80 member states and governments of la Francophonie. Together, these constitute more than one-third of the United Nations' membership and account for a population of more than 890 million people worldwide, including 220 million French speakers.

The minister of science plays the key role of ensuring that Canada is competitive in the global knowledge-based economy through being responsible for supporting scientific research and integrating scientific considerations into the government's investments and policy choices. The minister is also responsible for portfolio organizations, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Furthermore, the minister of science is the lead minister for a number of science-related funding programs, including the Canada research chairs. Our government holds innovation as a key priority, and it is through scientific innovation that we will continue to build an economy that is both environmentally sustainable and prosperous.

The minister of sport and persons with disabilities works to promote healthier Canadians through sport and recreation and, further, is responsible for work that ensures greater accessibility and opportunities for Canadians with disabilities. The current minister has been tasked with developing legislation to transform how the Government of Canada addresses accessibility. The minister leads on a number of important funding programs, including the enabling accessibility fund and the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities, and is responsible for the Canada Disability Savings Act.

The minister of status of women champions equality, addresses issues of gender-based violence, advances the prosperity and economic security of women, and works to increase the representation of women in leadership and decision-making roles. The minister presides over the federal department known as Status of Women Canada and is involved in key projects such as gender-based analysis to guide government policy-making decisions and budgets.

In her role as Minister of Small Business and Tourism, the current minister supports Canada's small businesses, the backbone of our economy, by helping them to grow through trade and innovation in order to create jobs, support communities, and launch world-class companies. She is also working to grow Canada's tourism industries by promoting Canada as a world-class destination for international tourists. She is, furthermore, the minister responsible for Destination Canada.

As we see, these portfolios are important to our economy, to Canadians, and to the government. Formalizing the status of these five appointments as ministers in full standing reflects the importance of these five positions and the expectations placed on their incumbents. Once these positions are added to the Salaries Act with the adoption of Bill C-24, the orders in council that assign these ministers to assist other ministers would be repealed and these ministers would be in law what they already are in practice, which is full ministers.

I would be remiss if I were not to mention the key issue of cost. The enactment of Bill C-24 would not change the cost of the current ministry. All that would change are the payment mechanisms. Ministers whose positions are listed in the Salaries Act receive their ministerial salary under the authority of that statute and out of the consolidated revenue fund. Ministers appointed under the Ministries and Ministers of State Act receive their salary under the appropriations acts. That has been the legislative framework for more than two decades, but once Bill C-24 is passed, the former ministers of state would be appointed to the new Salaries Act positions and be paid under the authority of that act.

The Prime Minister's ministerial team already receive the same ministerial salary, regardless of the administrative distinctions of ministers and ministers of state. This equal pay has been the case since our first day in office, and we will not change this through the enactment of the bill.

Bill C-24 further provides the framework to permit these ministers to continue to be supported by existing departments in the carrying out of their responsibilities. The bill does not propose the creation of any new departments, but rather streamlines the responsivity of existing departments to these ministers.

I would like to further note that Bill C-24 would increase the number of ministers who could potentially be paid a ministerial salary under the Salaries Act from 35 to 37 including the Prime Minister, representing an increase of two ministerial positions that could be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund.

The bill would also have the consequential effect of increasing by two the number of parliamentary secretaries who could be appointed under the Parliament of Canada Act. Let me point out, however, that even before bringing forth the bill to the House, the Prime Minister currently has 34 ministerial positions available to him under the Salaries Act but has appointed only 30 individuals to the ministry. The bill is not fundamentally aimed at growing the ministry. Its goal is to formalize in legislation the government's current one-tier ministry and to modernize the act to enable more flexible and more adaptable ministries in the future.

We are not just concerned with addressing our government's priorities in the immediate term through the amendments in Bill C-24. Rather, we want to ensure that future ministries can be best equipped with all the necessary tools to be structured in ways to meet the emerging priorities of the time. By adding three untitled ministerial positions to the Salaries Act, Bill C-24 would enhance the flexibility of government. Such positions would be titled at the discretion of the prime minister, to be based upon the priorities of the time, whatever those may be. In this way, the prime minister can adjust his or her cabinet and its positions to respond to changing priorities or challenges facing the country.

The alignment of all regional development agencies under one portfolio, especially under the minister responsible for national economic development, is another example of this.

One of our government's priorities has been to see regional and national expertise working together under one roof. We have done so to create better synergy and opportunities for greater economic progress, and this coherent whole-of-government approach to regional development provides the flexibility needed to make a real impact in communities right across Canada.

The regional development agencies will continue to fulfill their mandates of supporting small and medium-size enterprises in becoming more innovative, productive, and export-oriented. They will continue to work with communities and economic development organizations to identify and generate opportunities for local economic growth.

The regional development agencies will continue to provide excellent programs and services to entrepreneurs and communities right across the country, building on the distinct competitive regional advantages that exist in different communities.

Working together, the regional agencies will enhance cohesion between them and help grow the economy and deliver results to Canadians in all regions of the country. The important role, which economic development plays across Canada's regions, is only strengthened and highlighted by having the regional agencies all report to Parliament through the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

Finally, the legislation would also change the legal title of the Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental affairs to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, to reflect the fact that the Prime Minister has taken on the role of intergovernmental affairs minister himself.

These changes formalize what has already been the practice of the past two years. The Prime Minister's cabinet is one tier. We have taken all the non-legislative steps available to us to recognize this. These amendments address an administrative constraint in the current legislation and catch it up with the structure of the ministry as it operates today.

I would like to end my remarks with a nod to history. As we are all proudly aware, Canadians across this country have been celebrating a very special milestone this year, the 150th anniversary of Confederation. A century and a half ago, the Fathers of Confederation gathered to create something very special, something we all cherish.

As the story goes, upon arriving at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, future prime minister John A. Macdonald was checking into a hotel. The ledger presented to him for registration included a column asking for occupation. Rather than write lawyer, he picked up the fountain pen and he wrote cabinetmaker. It was a joke, but at the time a very prescient one, because upon assuming the role of Canada's first prime minister he acknowledged that one of his most significant challenges would be to bring the right people to the cabinet table to help the fledgling country find its feet. As former prime minister Macdonald liked to tell people, cabinets do not just happen; cabinets are constructed. Over the years, that construction has taken different forms.

In 1867, there were just 14 ministers around the cabinet table, 14 men from relatively similar walks of life. They were responsible for portfolios such as militia and defence, inland revenue, and the post office. One hundred and fifty years later, we have a diverse, accomplished, gender-balanced cabinet working on so many important priorities for Canadians, and that cabinet reflects the diversity of Canada. Let us get on with enacting this bill and putting behind us any question that others might have had about the importance of these mandates or the status of these ministers who are leading on these files and others.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we get to questions and comments for the hon. parliamentary secretary, I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Salaries Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Financial Administration Act, be read the third time and passed.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am going to ask a question similar to that of other members. I am looking for a Christmas miracle. I am looking for an opportunity to save the taxpayer a bit of money ahead of Christmas, or Hanukkah for those who prefer. I have asked this question before, so some members opposite are informing the member what it is going to be.

In this debate, the great misfortune the government has had is that it changed its talking points over time. The argument has gotten better. It has actually gotten more structured over time in trying to defend what I find indefensible. Instead of raising the pay of five ministers in the name of equity, why not lower the pay of all ministers so they are all equal at the same pay level? That is my question for the member. It is pretty darned simple. Will we have a Christmas miracle? Are we going to save the taxpayers a bit of money?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, the way we have saved the taxpayers money is by cutting taxes. The way we have saved the taxpayers money is by appointing a cabinet that is much smaller and more efficient than the previous cabinet, which had almost 40 members. What we have also done is produce a cabinet that has produced some of the strongest economic results the country has seen in the last 20 years. As a result of that, taxpayers are really happy.

In fact, if the member wants to know what the Christmas miracle was, it happened in Surrey last night. That was the government's taking yet another seat from the opposition party, whose members are focused on personal attacks and slogans and a kind of politics that does not produce results for people, that just produces a lot of sound and fury and really does signify nothing.

We can see the way Canadians are responding. It is why they gave us the gift of a new member of Parliament for Quebec. It is why they responded so positively in Surrey. What Canadians are saying right across the country is, “Give us more; if more Liberals produces more results, we will take it.” In fact, that is what they have sent to us, and we continue to see that when we deliver on our election promises, like the national housing strategy that was just mentioned, what happens is that Canadians are better off. When Canadians are better off, Parliament is rewarded with the respect it deserves.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that one of the main themes for the government with respect to this bill is the idea of a one-tier ministry. It keeps coming up. We have tried and I have tried in various stages of debate on the bill to try to figure out what exactly that means and what the relevant sense of equal is for the government when the Liberals talk about a one-tier ministry. It seems to be an important principle for them. If the idea of all cabinet ministers being equal at the table is a really important and motivating idea for the government, why would Bill C-24 leave ministers of state in the legislation? If ministers of state are objectionable in principle because they create two tiers, why are they left in the legislation? Why is it that the Department of Global Affairs continues to be defined in a hierarchy, and puts the minister of foreign affairs above the ministers of international trade and international aid, who can only act with the concurrence of the minister of foreign affairs?

Why is it that Bill C-24 would create two types of minister, a minister for whom a department is designated and a minister, full stop? If the idea of Bill C-24 is to create one tier of ministry, would it not make more sense to be reducing the taxonomy of ministers as opposed to expanding it? I just am looking, finally at third reading, at some of the last speeches on the bill to get some clarity as to how it is that a bill that is supposed to be promoting one tier leaves so many hierarchical relationships between ministers and actually creates mechanisms to produce more.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

Mr. Speaker, the answer to that question is very simple. I am the parliamentary secretary in a ministry that is quite complex in the diversity of files it oversees. There are two ministers within that department who work on very different files. However, those files are connected. Employment insurance is a perfect example of this. There is both the policy development side, as it fits into a series of other social policies that support Canadians when they need help from their government via a delivery mechanism, but there is also a policy design mechanism. They need to work in concert with a whole series of other benefits that Canadians receive. We also have in that department a housing benefit that is about to emerge and support Canadians as they seek to find safe, adequate, and affordable housing. That has to fit into various other departmental components to make sure that the programs fit together like a jigsaw puzzle so we do not have cracks and spaces between programs where Canadians, unfortunately, sometimes fall.

The goal is not to create a hierarchy of ministries, but rather a relationship between ministries that creates a coordinated and sympathetic approach by having many different ministers work together on certain files. In some departments we may see two or three ministers, in others it is a single ministry, and sometimes it is a cabinet committee, and sometimes it is all of cabinet. The idea is not to have any single minister responsible for any one policy but rather to engage all of cabinet, in very particular ways inside some ministries, in developing policy.

What we see in Parliament is that it also works with the parliamentary secretaries when they have work to do on each other's files or files that are related to each other when someone is outside the ministries. I experienced this when I was the parliamentary secretary for intergovernmental affairs to the Prime Minister, working on the housing file. I had to go up through the hierarchical structure of the Privy Council Office, then across to another ministry, then down into the ministry, with permission to get information and share information in a way that was timely and allowed us to develop good, strong policy. It was inhibited by the structure of the act that we are now changing.

Putting certain ministers together equally, and putting them around the table as equals, shows that we have a collective approach to managing this country's challenges. This act accomplishes that. It puts people on the same salary scale but also within the same ministerial structure. That creates a much more efficient and collaborative approach to government, one that we would think a party like the NDP would support and understand.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for allowing us to see a bit more of what the real inspiration behind this is. We had a pay equity issue, and from the comments he has made, we can see that this is really covering up what has been a responsibility gap.

I have listened to the member justify this. He does not have to justify to me why a minister of state for status of women becomes a minister. What I find disingenuous is that there is no ministry of state. There are no departments being added. Therefore, for the member to suggest he is surprised that the NDP is a bit shocked by this hypocrisy is alarming to me, because another part of the explanation we just heard is about all of the synergy required.

For regional development, the member said we need to build on the distinct competitive advantages of communities to have a real regional impact. I find it alarming. I wonder if the member can maybe talk a bit more about this. Does he realize that this bill is removing the possibility of appointing a regional economic minister specifically, while he is justifying at the same time these ministers of state not having departments so they can work together? It is counterintuitive. I am wondering how he is justifying that in his mind.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not justifying it in my mind. I thought I had explained it. The ministers have departments. They are co-located departments, with the same supports that other ministers have, but done in coordination with other issues across the file.

A colleague just raised the issue of regional ministers. Let us take a look at the infrastructure supply chain by looking at the way street cars are supplied to Toronto. It may be an investment in southern Ontario that creates the new street car line and puts the new street cars on the tracks, but the steel is from Hamilton, which is located in a different part of the country. The trains themselves come from Thunder Bay and the northern part of Ontario.

Instead of having regional ministers carve up and sectionalize the approach to economic development, our party sees the interdependence of and coordination between regions. We see that being done better as a coordinated approach, with ministers around the table who are engaged on the file and working together. We also see all of them being inside the same department as advantageous, so that confidential information can be shared seamlessly in an efficient way as policy is developed, and therefore that we do not have to navigate a bureaucracy to get a quick response to a challenge that may present itself.

It is good government and I have seen it work really well in the roll out of infrastructure dollars and the development of good, strong social policy. The Canada child benefit comes out of one such ministry.

I do not see the need to have stand-alone, separate bureaucracies just to elevate the status of a certain department. I would rather see good, strong policies coming out of a department. That is exactly what we are seeing as a result of this structure. We are just formalizing it in legislation today.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to again join the debate on this bill, one that I believe we started back in June.

Before I continue, I just want to say merry Christmas to the pages, the table officers, all members of Parliament, as well as the PPS service who keep us safe in this House, and all of those in the administration. I may not get a chance to say it another time, if another bill is brought forward and I am not recognized to speak to it, so merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah to all, and a good night to all.

I have been listening to the debate so far, and the member for Elmwood—Transcona raised a couple of good points on the technical side of this bill. The government keeps saying that these are all just technical changes and will not cost more money, but lead to more synergy, to more all-of-government decision-making, like the changes to small business taxation and electoral reform, I might add, and many other issues the government has just fizzled out on and completely dropped the ball on.

Indeed, we heard from the Liberal member for Brampton East, whom I served with on the finance committee, that it is all technical and that there is nothing to see here, that it is an easy bill that should pass right away.

I have repeatedly said to members that we should be trying to save some money by lowering the pay of all cabinet ministers down to the pay of a minister of state. That would reach all of the stated goals put forward by the government thus far.

On that, the argument on the government side has changed over time. That is one of the great misfortunes that members on that side have borne in defending this bill. “Misfortune binds together” is a Yiddish proverb that comes to mind. I think it very much applies here.

I also want to mention that I will be splitting my time with the member for Brandon—Souris. I do not want to rob him of his opportunity to make a contribution to the debate here, as well.

It is the government's misfortune that the argument has changed. Its initial argument framed in terms of equity lends itself easily as well to the argument that we should lower everyone's pay because everyone is equal, and then we can move on. If the argument is about the technical side of it, then every single order in council passed by the Governor General with the recommendation put forward by the Prime Minister has to be redone.

I will just refer to one here, dealing with the minister of state to be styled the minister of la francophonie. It is stated in the order in council that the new minister is to assist the Minister of Foreign affairs in carrying out that minister's responsibilities, effective November 4, 2015, two years ago now.

The government has gone to great lengths and pains to try to explain that this is only technical fix for something that happened maybe two years ago and that there is really nothing to see here. However, that is exactly the point. What we should be debating are issues that actually impact Canadians directly, not a Christmas salary increase for cabinet ministers.

We should be talking about small business taxation. It will be interesting to see what the actual rules will be that small business owners will have to live by starting January 1. We could delve further into the disability tax credit, and find out more about what exactly happened in the department in that regard. The minister has claimed repeatedly in this House that nothing changed, that there was no policy direction given, that nothing new had happened. Now, last week, we saw the government reversing to a previous position. What changed? That would be an interesting debate to have in this chamber.

We could also perhaps debate more globally the general financial, fiscal, public budget process. We heard the member for Spadina—Fort York, I believe it was, claim that the government has been lowering Canadians' taxes, but it has not done that. The Liberals lowered taxes for every single member of Parliament, but not for the vast majority of Canadians. The way that tax brackets work is that people have to maximize their presence in their bracket. They have to earn almost $90,000 before getting the full value of that 1.5% deduction. Every single member of Parliament got the full value. We got the biggest tax reduction. Merry Christmas to us, courtesy of the Government of Canada.

Now the government has raised carbon taxes and payroll taxes and nickel-and-dimed Canadians. In fact, the Fraser Institute has done studies on this, showing that the average Canadian family is paying $800 more in taxes than before. There is not an actual tax reduction. It is something completely different. However, here we are, debating Bill C-24, a tax hike on Canadians, who will pay more to finance these salary increases. We already have a $20 billion deficit that we are running.

My simple question has been repeated to members on the opposite side. Why do we not just reduce the pay of cabinet ministers down to the pay of ministers of state? I think we would find a great deal of support for that, especially on this side, and I daresay perhaps the New Democrats would join us in supporting that.

It would achieve the initial goal, the first argument the government made when the bill was tabled, which is equity, that all ministers would be treated equally, with equal pay for equal work.

From my time in human resources, I know in the province of Alberta there really is no great issue. For the longest time in Alberta, we were just happy to get someone who had the qualifications to do the job. There was great desperation. We would take anyone from across Canada, the United States, anywhere in the world. It did not matter who they were, or where they were from, as long as they could do the job safely, efficiently, and effectively, to maximize the value they brought to the organizations they were working in.

Two years into this mandate and the government has not really succeeded in the construction of these pipelines that are so important to the province of Alberta. We have approvals on the table, but we still have political issues with getting them constructed. The private corporations that have to build them are still struggling. There is still a lot of uncertainty in the market.

However, here we are debating a salary increase for cabinet ministers, instead of debating the great issues of the day. This chamber was built for debating the great issues of the day, not salary increases for cabinet ministers, a mere two weeks before Christmas. That is the wrong approach.

The government decides what we debate. It decides the issues of the day. It gets to put forth legislation and then decide which bills we will debate. Now, we are here debating Bill C-24, to amend the Salaries Act, and give pay increases to cabinet ministers. As I said, if the stated initial goal was equity, we could have lowered everyone's pay and moved on to something else.

I hear an argument being made now that it is a technical amendment that would allow ministers to work better together. Then every single order in council is going to have to be amended once again. Titles are not how decisions are made. When ministers sit around the table they do not look at each other's titles and say, “You have a more important title, so we'll listen to you more than another person”. At the end of the day, it rests on the leadership of the prime minister to choose between the different options and the best arguments made at the table. Titles do not matter.

From my time working in human resources, that was the thing I heard the most from directors of human resources in various organizations. They repeatedly said that titles do not matter. It is what they bring to the table, their ideas, their arguments, the work they have put in before coming to the table to make a decision.

What the government is saying is that some ministers, in its own government, are unable to do their jobs if they do not get a salary increase and a title bump. That sounds ridiculous to me. It does not even sound reasonable. That is an issue internal to the cabinet then, if they are unable to make decisions without looking at each other's titles. Perhaps we could pass a piece of legislation that removes all of their titles. Perhaps we could create a system by which no minister would know what another minister is saying without being able to ascribe to them a particular argument. It would go to the ridiculous, but so is debating this legislation, a pay hike for cabinet ministers, ahead of Christmas.

It is not about the status of different ministries, because we know this legislation would create three new ministers. Ministers can be appointed without portfolio. A minister's role in not necessarily connected to the department they oversee, serve with, or direct. Ministers have been appointed in the House before with no portfolio. The two issues are completely separate. The title of a minister, the functions they fulfill, are not necessarily dependent on their ministry. Likewise, neither should their salary be dependent on it.

If we want to go a step further, perhaps we could introduce a pay for performance. That would probably be the best system we could have. Certain ministers have performed well. Others have performed abysmally, especially the Minister of Finance.

The addition of these three new ministers also lends itself to my final argument. If the government is looking for ideas on what types of ministers to appoint, let me suggest a minister for seniors. The government took that away. It was a priority of the previous Conservative government. At the time it had a minister for seniors. We do not have that right now. When I held a round table in my riding with widows and seniors, all women, the number one issue for them was they did not have a champion in government. They said it was difficult for them to manoeuvre through government bureaucracy, to figure out what types of benefits they and their spouses were entitled to.

Bill C-24 will undoubtedly pass in the House. It is a great mistake. We have done a disservice to Parliament to be debating this legislation ahead of Christmas when we should have been debating the great issues of the day, issues such as reducing the deficit, paying down the national debt, and ensuring that the next generation is not saddled with unnecessary debt.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Bratina Liberal Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always appreciate the interventions of my friend across the way.

The government's ultimate objective is to raise the quality of life for all Canadians.

We hear often from members on the other side about what a terrible job the finance minister is doing. I had asked for some specific information from the Department of Finance with regard to incomes. The information revealed that real wages, or hourly earnings, increased 1.4% between November 2016 and November 2017, which was significantly higher than the .3% growth registered in the year up to November 2016. That is the general look. What was really amazing to me was to see the growth of 3.5% of less-skilled workers who are now engaged in more employment in many fields that require something under a Ph.D.

Despite the comments about the finance minister, would my friend across the way not agree that the evidence shows that not only is he working well but that the entire cabinet is working well and therefore deserve compensation?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member is partially implying pay for performance, which is one of the last examples I gave on how ministers can be compensated for the work that they do.

Likewise, if someone like the Minister of Finance is going to take charge and claim all of the credit for the last two years for Canada's growth in economy or changes in jobs or the changes in the average weekly earnings, we just need to look at the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, who spent $2 billion less than what was intended to be spent by the department. In the province of Alberta alone, fewer than 30 out of 174 infrastructure projects have been completed two years into the Liberal government's mandate. That is a terrible record. By comparison, between 2006 and 2008 the previous Conservative government had completed 100 projects in the province of Alberta.

We can pick and choose which ministers are performing well depending on what type of metrics we wish to use but in general the government is not meeting its own stated goals and its own financial budgets that it keeps tabling in the House.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Alberta brought up an interesting point about seniors. Seniors in this country have little or no voice and they feel left out by the Liberal government. Every day the government tells us how much it is doing for seniors but we do not hear that. My colleague from Alberta held a round table and I held a round table. We did not hear that. Other than going through opposition MPs, seniors feel that their voices are not being heard right now.

I would like to ask my colleague about the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the minister responsible for seniors, because many in this country feel they are being left out.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, I hosted a round table in my riding specifically for widows because they find themselves in a particular situation. They are bereft over the loss of a spouse, that special person they shared their entire life with, and are left to their own devices to manoeuvre through government bureaucracy to figure out every benefit that they are supposed to get as well as figuring out how to close their old files.

Many constituents have come to my office to tell me that a mistake has been made, or that the government is paying a benefit that it should not be paying. In one particular case the government believed someone was deceased. I told the gentleman that it was obvious that he was still alive. Obviously the Canada Revenue Agency had made a mistake in his case.

Seniors find themselves in a situation where they have no champion within the government. Nobody is specifically looking at how seniors interact with the government, for example, how are they doing in terms of the cost of living.

We are talking about seniors in their retirement years, the golden years, as they are called. The majority of them live on a fixed income. Things like the carbon tax or an increase in the rate of inflation eat away at their savings. Seniors bear the brunt of government decisions, such as the decision on a carbon tax, a punishing new tax that will take away the most from those on fixed incomes.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, The Environment; the hon. member for Chilliwack—Hope, Taxation; the hon. member for Salaberry—Suroît, Health.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

December 12th, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-24 this afternoon in the House.

I want to thank my colleagues for the fine work they have done this afternoon in speaking to this bill, an act to amend the Salaries Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Financial Administration Act.

I will start, as my colleague from southeast Calgary just did, by saying that as we near the end of the session sometime this week, I want to wish a merry Christmas and happy new year to everyone in my constituency, as well as all Canadians, all members of the House, and the support teams who keep us safe and work for us on a daily basis in the House.

It is pretty important that opposition members speak out about what we hear in our communities and parts of rural Canada. My colleagues from urban areas have spoken on this already. The government has now brought forward a bill that would create eight new Liberal ministerial positions. A number of my constituents wrote to me and called me to indicate that they do not want me to support this bill. I will provide several reasons. One of them is what I just said, the eight new Liberal ministerial positions being formed, five of them being ministers of state roles filled in the 2015 election, plus three Liberal ministers yet to be named. It is a bit of a stretch, but I will get to that later.

Bill C-24 would also amend the Salaries Act to allow for equal pay for all ministers, ensuring that ministers with more junior portfolios are paid the same as ministers with larger and more senior positions. I have always felt there should be equal pay for equal work involved in all ministers' portfolios, but, as described by the government itself, junior ministers do not have the same responsibilities as senior ministers because they do not have any new responsibilities. It is a bit of an oxymoron for the government to want to provide someone with more salary, but not expect the person to do any more work than what was being done in the junior minister position. That is one of the clearer drawbacks in this bill.

There were five ministers of state in the House for a number of years, but they were paid at a different level. This bill would create three new ministerial positions. The Prime Minister could obviously have put new ministers in place when he announced his cabinet in the first place, and Canadians question why he would have to put that clause in a bill like this.

I had experience with regional development agencies when I was in provincial politics and as a farm leader, before I became a federal MP four years ago. The government has placed the responsibilities of six former ministers in the hands of one minister, who is in Mississauga in this case, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. I am all for innovation, but feel strongly that innovation should, at least in a supportive manner, go to regional ministers that we had for development. My colleague from southeast Calgary has indicated that western economic diversification was one of those portfolios. That situation was adept in having action on the ground. When there are ministers in various parts of Canada, as I said earlier in my question, we do not necessarily end up with a minister in every province, but certainly one in each of the regions in Canada. I believe we would have British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario and Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces.

They would be much more in tune with the things that are happening in their areas by having someone designated strictly for that. That would be their responsibility. It would be a full-time job in those areas, but the government has indicated that those roles were not as demanding as some areas.

There is concern about our finance minister these days and his credibility. I believe that many of the portfolios, such as international trade, are the things Canada is known for on the international stage. We had a government that had great credibility in finance, under former finance minister Jim Flaherty. I would like to point that out as an example of how when governments change, credibility can be undermined as well.

We need to be very careful when we are looking at the establishment of new ministries, as the government has done, and then saying that it will develop three new ministers. It does not know what they are going to do yet. There are no portfolios, but it has put them in the bill. As I pointed out earlier, it did not need to have those in the bill.

The Liberal dominated committee that studied Bill C-24 did not hear from a single witness about the plan to scrap these regional development ministers. It was not an acceptable kind of politics. That was the government's claim. If the reason it is pulling this back is that it did not like the politics, the Liberals may want to listen to some of their own colleagues and the things they have said about the bill. A lot of the Atlantic folks in ACOA were upset when this portfolio was taken over by one minister in Mississauga. A number of them spoke out. I quote from a committee report:

Generally, 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.

The subcommittee of the Atlantic members caucus came together, and this was one of the recommendations. This comes from a May 15, 2017, report:

Long processing times dilute business growth, and create inefficiency and uncertainty.

Some businesses have had to obtain bridge funding while waiting for ACOA funds. These circumstances are disruptive to business development.

We have certainly seen how the government has been very disruptive to business development. It has provided uncertainty. There are only 20 days left to the end of the year. The Liberals backtracked all fall on the small business taxes they announced in mid-July. They tried to hoodwink people into thinking they were actually going to do something for small businesses, when all they are really going to do is the same thing they did with the Conservatives' climate change plan. It was so bad, they adopted it as their own. I believe we had strength in that plan.

We had strength in our economic plan. We had strength in the development of our small business plan to reduce taxes to 9%. This is a government that said it would do that, but it froze them in its very first budget at 10.5%. Now it is coming out after a lot of pressure not just from us but from the public, opposition members, our colleagues in the New Democratic Party, and others as well. The Liberals finally realized that they had to further emphasize the work that was still needed to make sure that they did not negatively impact small businesses in Canada any more than they already have. What they have done is leave complete uncertainty, three weeks before the implementation date of January 1, 2018, about the small business tax.

I want to close by saying that there is a complete lack of transparency. Having three future mystery ministers is unacceptable. There is a need to create ministerial equality in these roles, but it has to come with the performance of the ministries that are being asked to do this.

I will leave it at that. It is unheard of for a government to give lip service about wanting to improve these areas and then demonstrating a complete lack of accountability when it comes to the implementation of a number of these bills, such as licensing marijuana, never mind not having looked at the accountability and the enforcement of it. It was the same thing with the small business tax.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, you are doing an excellent job. Merry Christmas.

I would like to thank the member. I have a great deal of respect for him. We sit together at the committee for Arctic parliamentarians representing eight Arctic nations. We are non-partisan and work collaboratively. I really appreciate his input. He is very co-operative and we have a great working relationship. Also, my thanks for the Christmas card he just delivered to me.

I ask the member this. He talked about how good the Conservative climate change plan was. Could he outline for the House some of the items in that plan that would reduce greenhouse gases?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague. I have enjoyed working with him as well. We are the only two members at that committee of the Arctic parliamentarians.

We had a plan to reduce greenhouse gases. Of course, under the Conservative Party, greenhouse gases were reduced more than any under any other Prime Minister in Canadian history.

There needs to be an opportunity here to discuss those things and debate them. Some of them were in the areas of water management. I know about that personally. We were looking at using air, land, and water as a better means of enforcement, to hold back water and prevent flooding. Anyone living in Manitoba at the bottom of the basin coming from the south, the west, or the east knows to make sure that there is a good plan in place. I believe that was the case under former prime minister Harper.

I can give a few examples with respect to the diking that was done on the Souris River and the Assiniboine River, to prevent cities like Brandon and Winnipeg from being washed out. Portage la Prairie could have had major problems as well. In smaller towns like Souris, Melita, and Wawanesa these situations have been taken care of, mainly by the Conservative government.

I know that there is still work going on. As soon as we see some of the infrastructure dollars from the government come out, there may be more finalized. Some of those projects have overlapped and are not done as yet.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the truth of the matter with respect to Bill C-24 is this. Two years ago, the Liberal government decided they were going to do what they wanted to do and remove the six economic development ministers, to instead pay the junior ministers the same as the senior ministers without any parliamentary oversight whatsoever, showing a total disdain for this House. This bill, then, is just trying to cover up what they did two years ago.

It is very insulting to come to this place and see the disregard of the Liberal government for parliamentary process. Could the member comment?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is inappropriate for the government to move forward with a bill like this. That is the accountability that I was speaking about. The Liberals have three new ministers they want to put on paper without knowing what they are going to do yet, and five more members in minister of state roles. The government wants to pay them the same, without more work. It is a matter of the Liberal government being totally unaccountable.

As well, when the hon. member talked about economic development, the government does not really care about that. It would like to see some economic development happen. Perhaps some of the best economic development it could do would be to stay within its budget, like the Conservatives did when we implemented 1.2 million full-time jobs under then prime minister Harper at a time when we were balancing the budget.

Now we are not anywhere close to that many jobs under the Liberal government, but we do have a $30-billion deficit this year with $8.8 billion of money that the Liberals kind of found. Maybe the American economy is picking up. They still have a deficit of $19.8 billion.

There is a great difference between the Conservative side of the House and the Liberal side. The Conservatives balanced the books and still created 1.2 million full-time jobs, while the Liberal government has not done half of that. When added together, we are over $30 billion in debt so far. Heaven sake, no, these totals add up to more than $60 billion, which is an unaccountable position, as far as I am concerned.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about Bill C-24, an act to amend the Salaries Act. This is a technical bill that would fulfill the Prime Minister's commitment to formalize in legislation his one-tier ministry.

As I think we all understand by now, the Salaries Act authorizes payment from the consolidated revenue fund of a ministerial salary to individuals who occupy the positions listed in the act. The act currently lists the position of prime minister and 34 specific ministers.

When the government took office in November 2015, five of the positions the Prime Minister wanted in his ministry and in his cabinet were not listed in the Salaries Act. This meant that they could not be paid for their ministerial responsibilities under the Salaries Act, and they could not be supported by the public service in carrying out their responsibilities. Those five positions are the minister of la Francophonie, the minister of science, the minister of small business and tourism, the minister of sport and persons with disabilities, and the minister of status of women.

Because the Salaries Act could not accommodate those priorities of the government, the five ministers were appointed pursuant to the Ministries and Ministers of State Act, and they are paid under appropriation acts. Their legal title is “minister of state”.

Historically, ministers of state have often been considered junior ministers. They have not always been members of cabinet, and when they were not, they could not bring matters to cabinet for consideration on their own. A cabinet minister had to sponsor the item for them.

Ministers of state were most often not given statutory authorities to exercise in their own right or statutory duties in relation to which they were directly accountable. Instead, they were assigned to assist a senior minister in carrying out the minister's responsibilities. The senior minister retained all the statutory authorities and accountabilities.

For some prime ministers, that was an arrangement that worked. It was the prerogative of the former prime ministers, as it will be the prerogative of future prime ministers, to appoint ministers of state as junior ministers, to assign them assisting roles only, and to decide whether they could sit as members of cabinet. I am certain that past ministers of state were valued and contributing members of the ministry, but they were not always members of cabinet, and they were not the equals of the ministers they assisted.

It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to decide on the organization, procedures, and composition of cabinet and to shape it to reflect the priorities and values of the government and to respond to particular needs of citizens. The Prime Minister has created a ministry in which all members have leading roles to deliver on important priorities. They have an equal capacity to exercise the powers and perform the functions assigned to them. They are all full members of cabinet, and they are all fully and appropriately supported in carrying out their responsibilities.

The Ministries and Ministers of State Act provided a way for five of the ministers to be appointed, paid, and supported by existing departments in carrying out their responsibilities until legislation could be updated to accurately reflect the structure of the current ministry. Bill C-24 is that update. It would formalize in legislation the current ministerial structure and would do away with distracting administrative distinctions.

Bill C-24 would add to the Salaries Act five ministerial positions that are currently minister of state appointments. It bears repeating the important issues and the individuals appointed to these five positions.

They are preserving the vitality of the francophone world; helping small business and tourism; supporting scientific research and making sure that scientific considerations inform the government's policy and funding choices; promoting healthier Canadians through sport, and ensuring greater accessibility and opportunities for Canadians with disabilities; and working to build a society where women and girls no longer face systemic barriers.

These ministers have been assigned statutory responsibilities, including responsibilities for important federal organizations, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Destination Canada, and Status of Women Canada. These ministers are responsible for legislation and program delivery related to matters as diverse and important as science research funding, small business financing, and disabilities. These responsibilities are vested directly in the ministers, who are accountable for the results.

These issues are important to the government and to Canadians. That is why ministers have been assigned to lead on them and why those ministers have a seat at the cabinet table and an equal voice there.

Bill C-24 also adds three untitled positions to the Salaries Act. These positions are not filled in the current ministry. They will provide a degree of flexibility for this Prime Minister and future prime ministers to design their ministries to respond to the priorities of the day. This bill is not about growing the ministry. The current ministry has not grown in number since it was sworn in two years ago. At 31 members in total, it is below the limit of 35 that the Salaries Act sets now.

Bill C-24 would also remove the six regional development positions from the Salaries Act. This amendment would not dissolve or consolidate the regional development agencies. It would not diminish their importance. It would not remove ministerial oversight. The regional development agencies would continue to exist in the regions they serve. They are essential delivery partners in the government's plan to foster economic growth, and they would continue to work with local communities and economic development organizations to promote local growth.

There is nothing novel about not listing these positions in the Salaries Act. Four of the regional development agencies existed for many years before the associated ministerial positions were added to the Salaries Act, and that in no way affected the operation of the agencies or the appointment of ministers to be responsible for them. Ministerial oversight of the regional development agencies will still be required. The Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development is responsible for all six regional development agencies.

Bill C-24 makes another change to the list of ministerial positions listed in the Salaries Act. It amends the title of the Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs by dropping the reference to intergovernmental affairs. The Minister of Infrastructure and Communities does not have overall responsibility for the federal, provincial, and territorial relations. The Prime Minister has taken on this role. The change in title avoids confusion.

Bill C-24 does not dissolve or create any new departments. Instead, it establishes a framework that allows the governor in council to designate any department or departments to support these new Salaries Act ministers in carrying out some of their responsibilities. That means that the new Salaries Act ministers will have access to the expertise and experience of the departments best placed to support them.

Much has been made about the fact that no new departments are being created for the new ministers. Presiding over a department is not a necessary feature of being a minister. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of International Trade, and Minister of International Development and La Francophonie all use the facilities and resources of a single department, Global Affairs Canada.

The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour both rely on the resources and facilities of the department of Employment and Social Development in carrying out of their responsibilities. This is a proven and efficient way to work.

Bill C-24 generates no incremental costs with respect to the current ministry. The ministers currently appointed as minister of state receive the same salary as their cabinet colleagues and will have office budgets that match their responsibilities. Bill C-24 does not change that.

The legislation would increase the number of ministerial positions that could potentially be paid under the Salaries Act by two, from 35 to 37, including the position of the Prime Minister. The current ministry is composed of the Prime Minister and 30 ministers. As I mentioned earlier, the ministry has not grown since its swearing-in on November 4, 2015. Bill C-24 also has the consequential effect of increasing the number of parliamentary secretaries that may be appointed by two. That would be from 35 to 37.

I began my remarks by saying that this was a technical bill. Let me summarize.

Bill C-24 would amend the Salaries Act by adding eight new ministerial positions to the act, five of which are currently minister of state appointments and three of which are untitled and therefore flexible; removing the six regional development positions from the Salaries Act, without affecting the status of the regional development agencies themselves, for a total increase of two positions that may be paid a ministerial salary out of the consolidated revenue fund; creating a framework within which any of the eight new ministerial positions could be supported fully and appropriately by existing departments; and changing the Salaries Act title of the Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs to Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, and amending the Financial Administration Act to change that title where it appears in that statute to better reflect the responsibilities of the position.

I hope that we can all agree that this bill is worth supporting.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Resuming debate.

Is the House ready for the question?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?