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

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Pat Finnigan Liberal Miramichi—Grand Lake, NB

Madam Speaker, a short time ago in the House a member of the opposition referred degradingly to the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism as half a leader because of the two positions she holds. I am not sure if it was said because she is a woman.

Could the hon. government House leader and Minister of Small Business and Tourism tell the House how she is fully capable of managing to do such a great job in both roles?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for that excellent question. Just like you, Madam Speaker, I am hard-working. All women, in fact all people, are hard-working.

We have teams of people that work with us. This government recognizes that it is not about me, but about we. It is about how we can all work together. How do we maximize the potential of our team? How do we ensure that we are serving in the best interests of our constituents, of our stakeholders?

It is unfortunate that people make such remarks. These remarks do not better the level of discourse in this place.

Yesterday on the news there was a story of a child who had been bullied. He asked why do people bully? I sometimes question why people feel they need to make those kinds of remarks, because it does not improve the debate and the discourse. Canadians elected us to increase the level of discourse in this place to ensure that we represent them well. Name-calling does not really improve that. I would expect better from hon. members.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberals cut short the debate on Bill C-24 because it is a purely cosmetic bill.

We are not talking about equality for all women here. We are talking about raising the salaries of the ministers of state on the pretext that the Prime Minister made a mistake when he appointed the members of his cabinet. He said that the appointments were fair and that they represented all women, but he forgot that many of the women he appointed were in minister of state positions, and they do not have the same responsibilities. Now, he wants to make the salaries equal but not the responsibilities. Equal pay for equal work. We do not understand what principle the Liberals are following because that is not what is happening here at all.

Pay equity does not just affect the ministers, who are just a handful of people in Canada. Pay equity should apply to all Canadians.

Why have the Liberals still not introduced a bill on pay equity when they were supposed to do so in 2016? The report and recommendations were tabled in 2004.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the diversity of opinions in this place, and even within each of our caucuses. Her own colleague is saying that we have been debating this for too long, while she is upset that we are rushing this debate. That speaks, once again, to the diversity of opinion.

She is right. The bill is not just about pay equity. It is about recognizing the importance of the positions we are making into full ministerial ones. For example, the bill recognizes the importance of small business and tourism as a full ministerial position, and importance of a minister of science as a full ministerial position.

When it comes to equal responsibilities, every minister has a different responsibility because of their portfolio. Each of them has different responsibilities; hence, different portfolios. We all have mandate letters, given in exactly the same way.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I would like to remind the member for Salaberry—Suroît that she had the opportunity to ask her question without being interrupted. We ask that the House leader be shown the same respect and that she be allowed to respond without any interruptions.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

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 Bill S-210, An Act to amend An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, to which the concurrence of the House is desired.

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

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, as usual, I would like to say hello to the people of Beauport—Limoilou who are tuning in today. Unfortunately, I have to tell them that we are debating Bill C-24 at third reading this morning. This is one of those typically Liberal bills designed to satisfy special interest groups that support Liberals and lend credence to their ideological views.

I found it particularly interesting to see the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons champion the bill so passionately, but I do have questions about some of her arguments.

First of all, I wonder if, in defending the bill, the minister is putting on an act or if she truly does not understand the difference between ministers, who are responsible for portfolios crucial to the nation, and ministers of state, who are there to lend a hand and support other departments of national importance.

Five major federal ministers have always had a seat at the cabinet table, namely the Minister of Finance, the Treasury Board minister, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, and the Minister of National Revenue. Those five cabinet positions have always existed, and they have always been important to the government's ability to govern well.

The minister also said repeatedly in her speech how important Bill C-24 is for gender equality among cabinet ministers. That is not exactly how many of her colleagues seem to understand it. At the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, which I was honoured to serve on for over a year in 2016 and 2017, many Liberal members thought that, on the contrary, Bill C-24 was not about achieving gender equality.

When the committee was hearing from witnesses for the bill's study, the member for Newmarket—Aurora said:

I'm not sure the purpose of this bill was at all to express gender equality....I don't think it's meant to be a tool that's going to address gender inequality, pay equity, or any of the other issues you raised...

The member for Châteauguay—Lacolle, who also serves on the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, thinks that ministries of state should be called emerging ministries. This is another example that illustrates that the Liberals do not seem to understand the difference between ministries of state and departments critical to good governance, such as the Department of Finance.

The hon. Liberal member from Don Valley East told the witnesses:

I was as confused as you were about why we are even talking about gender equity....I thank you for being here, but I don't think we have the relevance to our study for Bill C-24...Let's not be disingenuous and try to say that [Bill C-24] has anything to do with gender equality...

I simply wanted to mention these small details to show that despite the speech by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons today at third reading stage of Bill C-24, a number of her colleagues expressed an opposite view in committee, that the bill had nothing to do with gender equity. It is just a tool to take up the House's time and distract from other awful realities that this government would rather not talk about, namely its capacity to break promise after promise since it was elected in 2015.

For example, the Liberals broke their promise to run a deficit of $10 billion a year. That is well known in Canada. Now they are running deficits of more than $20 billion. They also broke their promise to balance the budget by 2019. That has been put off indefinitely. They do not even have the honour or decency to announce a target date for balancing the budget. Then they broke their promise to move forward with electoral reform and to change the Canadian electoral system, which was a key election promise. They also broke their promise to restore home mail delivery for all Canadians by making Canada Post review its policy to stop home mail delivery. They also broke their promise not to introduce omnibus bills, which have been piling up over the past two years. As a matter of fact, we debated an omnibus bill in the House just yesterday. They also broke their promise to give veterans the option of choosing a lifetime pension by restoring the system that was in effect before 2005, or before the new veterans charter was introduced.

Those are just a few examples of the Liberals' broken promises. That is this government's track record. I am pointing that out because Bill C-24 is yet another attempt to hide another broken promise, the promise to have true gender parity in cabinet. When the Prime Minister formed his cabinet two weeks after winning the election in 2015, he was very proud to announce to the media at a press conference that he had a gender-balanced cabinet. When he was asked why, he responded “Because it's 2015”. It is already mind-boggling enough that a prime minister would not have a better explanation than that, but in the months that followed, journalists, Canadians, interest groups, and women's rights groups slowly became aware of something that the Prime Minister was trying to slip past them. His cabinet was gender balanced with regard to the number of men and women at the cabinet table, but not with regard to the importance of the positions they held.

At the beginning of my speech, I named Canada's most important government departments. For example, the head of the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is a man. The same is true of the Treasury Board, the Department of Finance, and the Department of National Defence. The only other department that is undeniably important to the government is the Department of Foreign Affairs. Of the five major departments, only one is led by a woman.

Women were chosen to head a few other departments, such as the Department of Indigenous Services and the Department of Health. However, all of the other women in cabinet are ministers of state. It is not that they are less important, but they do not lead real departments with an office building, thousands of employees, a minister's office, and the tools needed to properly manage a major department.

In practical terms, Bill C-24 would do two things. First, it would eliminate the positions of the ministers responsible for Canada's economic development agencies. Second, it would create eight new federal minister positions. Five of them would be ministers of state who would receive the same salary as full ministers, thanks to an amendment to the Salaries Act that is supposedly intended to ensure parity within cabinet.

We Conservatives have no choice but to oppose Bill C-24, if only because abolishing the positions of the ministers responsible for economic development agencies would have such a detrimental effect on the well-being of Canada and all of its regions.

Regional economic development agencies play a pivotal role in Canada. They help thousands of projects get off the ground in every province and major region. Canada is divided into five regions: the Atlantic region, Quebec, Ontario, the western region, and the Pacific region. Each of these regions has its own economic development agency, whose job is to determine the basic needs of its small and medium-sized municipalities and large urban centres.

The Liberal government's decision to eliminate the positions of the ministers responsible for these six economic development agencies is a clear attempt to centralize power in Canada. Every time the Liberal Party comes into power, its goal is to centralize power in Ottawa, within the federal administration. That is what it tried to do with the health agreements it recently negotiated with the provinces, when it made their funding subject to conditions. Now it is doing the same thing on a bigger scale by abolishing the positions of the ministers responsible for regional agencies.

For example, Mr. Denis Lebel, who was our political lieutenant for Quebec, was responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Every year, the agency distributes roughly $200 million only in Quebec, specifically to revitalize municipal neighbourhoods, provide small and medium-sized businesses with new tools, and finance concrete projects in small airports to help local businesses get much faster access to major centres and even to other countries.

A minister in charge of a regional economic development agency is a bit like an MP. As members, we visit our ridings to understand the daily needs of our constituents. We participate in events and we do canvassing, not to mention the work we do in our offices, where we welcome constituents. This enables us to hear what they have to say about bills and government politics, and especially about pressing, local needs. A minister who represents a regional economic development agency has a similar job, but they do it for the designated region as a whole. In this case, I am speaking of Quebec.

Denis Lebel was the minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. His duties as a minister and political lieutenant included visiting companies and making ministerial announcements. He travelled all over the province, meeting citizens and entrepreneurs and visiting small and medium municipalities, entrepreneurial communities, or even community development organizations, in order to determine what they needed.

Like an MP, a minister responsible for an economic development agency must come back here to Ottawa and report to cabinet about the region he or she represents.

When Parliament is sitting, we are all expected to come to the House every week, whether it is fall or spring. We are expected to come here and report to the House or to our national caucuses on what our constituents, the various orders of government in our regions, our municipalities, and our ridings need. Collaboration and synergy between the different orders of government is always a good thing.

The work we do in the House is exactly what the ministers responsible for regional economic development agencies do in reporting to cabinet and ultimately to public servants and the Prime Minister. These people provide an essential link between the needs on the ground and the whole governmental and bureaucratic apparatus in Ottawa.

Every department that is responsible for allocating funds for projects across Canada is part of an extremely complex state system that is like an endless bureaucratic web. It involves 300,000 public servants in Canada, and the decisions they make often take a very long time.

The work of the ministers responsible for economic development agencies was therefore central to the actual funding allocated for projects, because they were there in Ottawa to establish a connection between the needs on the ground and government priorities and to navigate administrative and bureaucratic processes.

For example, the minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec at the time, Denis Lebel, was handed a list of projects several times a month, and he had to approve the really big ones. His role and responsibility was to ensure that what he was hearing on the ground informed the public service's administrative priorities so that the most important projects got done as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, the Liberal government cut cabinet positions associated with various economic development regions in Canada and put one person in charge of all the economic development agencies in the country. That person is the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, an MP from Toronto who already heads up a major department. He is now responsible for being up on what is going on with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, for example. He also has to be aware of what is going on with economic development agencies for western Canada, Quebec, and Ontario. He is the person who is supposedly going to be familiar with the issues affecting every little community and every region across Canada and who is going to make sure they get money for the projects that matter most to them.

It is hard to understand how the Liberal government was unable to find one person among the 30 members from Atlantic Canada with the right skills and who would have been honoured to head the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

We can already predict what will happen. Projects submitted to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency were generally authorized or would move forward after about 30 days or so; we now see delays of more than 90 days. This centralization will have a major impact on how money is allocated to the communities and regions of Canada. It is impossible to believe that a minister from Toronto will be able to single-handedly grasp all of Canada's regional concerns.

As far as the gender-balanced cabinet is concerned, the Liberals are once again getting taxpayers to foot the bill for one of their political mistakes. The Liberals led Canadians to believe that theirs was a gender-balanced cabinet, but it is balanced only in terms of numbers. It is not balanced in terms of ministerial importance. To fix their mistake, the Liberals are telling Canadians that they will give every minister of state the same salary as “real” ministers.

Again, taxpayers are paying for a Liberal mistake.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Madam Speaker, opposition members repeatedly suggest that this bill is about something it is not. They keep talking about gender parity. That is not what this bill is about. This bill is about recognizing and giving importance and equality to certain areas, such as science, although I know that the opposition wanted to muzzle scientists; disabilities; la Francophonie; and small businesses. All of these are equally important. Does the member not agree that these people are equally important? For example, should the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, who is male, have a different or lesser voice at the cabinet table, not because he is male but because he represents sport and disabilities?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I am quite surprised by the affirmation of the member across the aisle, because the House leader emphasized throughout her speech, just three minutes ago, that on the contrary, the purpose of this bill is gender equity. It would show Canadians how important gender equity is to the government.

I would say that the member is wrong. The Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, for example, is not as important as the Minister of Finance. That is exactly why the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities is a minister of state and the salaries are not the same. The reason is quite simple. Real ministries have buildings, employees, and a ministerial cabinet with about 40 staffers. They must make sure that governmental responsibilities and goals are brought forward, which is not the case for ministers of state, who are there to support bigger ministries.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech. He has once again reminded us of our duties. He wants to ensure that each one of us remembers how this Confederation works and the type of exchanges we should have in Parliament. I appreciate that very much.

I know that he was speaking to his constituents at the beginning of his speech and I believe that it is very healthy for an MP to remind people of what we are supposed to be doing as their representatives.

He also clearly pointed out the role of regional ministers as representatives. We are actually evolving into a top-down organization even though what we really need is the opposite. He reminded us of how pathetic it is that we are once again wasting parliamentarians' time in this chamber covering up the government's mistake, simply because during the election campaign the Liberals promised the moon and the stars on about everything. For the past two and a half years we have spent a good part of our time in this place covering up their mistakes.

Does my colleague believe, for example, that there will be a new bill to cover up the finance minister's mistakes, a bill that will condone the type of privilege extended to him and his family? Does he believe, for example, that the Minister of Small Business and Tourism might consider it a good idea to pass legislation to ensure that there is no GST or provincial sales tax on online sales to mess up all the small businesses she has to represent?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I agree completely with my colleague from Longueuil—Saint-Hubert.

The Liberals have been doing a terrible job over the past year. The softwood lumber crisis is still ongoing, although it should have been resolved when President Obama was still in power. The member for Papineau said he had an excellent relationship with the American president, so he should have taken advantage of that to resolve the situation before a new president was elected.

There is also the NAFTA file, which, by all accounts, is a mess. It is still unresolved. We will probably have to wait until the summer of 2018 to find out whether NAFTA can be saved.

Today in the House, instead of having a dialogue about how to reach a deal, how to make sure NAFTA is salvaged and Canadian interests are protected, or how to make sure the softwood lumber crisis is resolved, something that is very important to Quebec and B.C., we are debating a bill to increase ministers' salaries, which means, once again, that taxpayers will have to pay for this government's political mistakes.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

December 12th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.

Charlottetown P.E.I.

Liberal

Sean Casey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, I heard my colleague's speech, in which he, in a way, criticizes the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and I just wanted to defend the minister.

I very much appreciate the member and his party's new-found interest in our regions. Perhaps it would have been a good idea for the Conservatives to take such an interest when they were in power.

My colleague opposite seems to have a problem with the minister for ACOA being from Mississauga. In the province of Prince Edward Island, after 10 long, lean years, we now have a subsea cable to New Brunswick that will substantially aid our economic development. We now have substantial investments at the University of Prince Edward Island. We now have waste water systems being built in Prince Edward Island that will substantially aid our future. We now have substantial investments in incubators, which we never, ever saw under the previous government.

From his perch in Quebec, would the member like to reconsider his critique of the value of the Minister of Innovation to Prince Edward Island and Atlantic Canada?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I have the utmost respect for every single member in this House. That is not the question. I did not question the competence or goals of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Of course he wants good things for Canada and wants to make sure that all regions can access the money necessary for their economic projects.

I was referring to pragmatism, rationality, and the necessity of having a minister responsible for a specific region who comes from the region, who knows, almost by heart, the needs of the people and is sensitive to the needs of the region. It should be someone who has grown up there and lives there now and knows the place, knows the ground, and knows the people and goes there every single weekend after a week of work here in the House of Commons. That is the goal of having ministers responsible for economic development agencies. Those people know the regions, because they are from the regions.

I am not questioning the competence or the knowledge of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development concerning Canada, but he does not have specific knowledge of each region. He does not have the time to go to each region to hear about people's concerns and needs.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Madam Speaker, first of all, I want to congratulate the member for his very thoughtful comments, which support why a Conservative caucus will not be supporting this bill.

The effect of the bill is that five members of this House are going to be getting a $20,000 Christmas bonus. It is not just a bonus; it is a $20,000 raise. My constituents will be horrified. Will his?

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, yes, of course. I was knocking on doors two weeks ago, and I spoke about the bill to some of my constituents. They were a bit mad, I would say, since they see all the different issues coming to their door more and more.

The Prime Minister went to China for no apparent reason. Well, he said he had a reason, but his own reason, the free trade agreement with China, has not come to any result. There is the softwood lumber crisis, which has not been dealt with. We also have the NAFTA negotiations, which are in disarray. The government does not seem to be putting any strategy forward to make sure that it does not fall apart.

Now we have this bill that would basically close down representation of all regions of Canada in cabinet. As well, it would increase the salaries of ministers of state to that of ministers. However, ministers of state do not have the same amount of responsibility as ministers. That is why their salaries have not been the same. It is all about competence and equality of responsibilities.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madame Speaker, here we are again debating a bill that has the dubious distinction of leaving things as they are, with one notable exception, which is to tie the hands of future governments with respect to being able to have independent, separate ministers for each of the economic regional development agencies. In our view, this is not a good idea.

The only thing the bill would really accomplish is something the government ought not to be doing. The Liberals have selected one model, which is to have one minister oversee all the regional economic development ministries. That is their option under the current legislation. We do not think it is a good one, but it is what they have chosen to do. Canadians can judge them accordingly. What does not make sense is for them to tie the hands of future governments by requiring future governments to adopt that same approach, rather than leaving it open to future governments to make other decisions. That is the one thing the legislation would actually accomplish. It is not a very good thing, so there is very little to support such legislation.

Certainly, if not in the flagship speeches then in the questions and comments, Liberals have been making the argument from time to time that this is somehow about gender equality. I even heard some members come at the NDP asking how we could possibly disagree with Bill C-24, or not support Bill C-24, when it is about a better place at the cabinet table for women and pay equity for women. The odd thing about that argument is that it has been contradicted a number of times by Liberals themselves on the record at committee and just earlier, in the House today, in a question in response to a Conservative colleague who had just made a speech.

I wish the Liberals could get it straight in their own minds what the bill is about. Is it about gender equality, or is it not? If it is, it is too bad that the bill would fail to do anything real in that respect. In fact, all the expert testimony we heard at committee made that case.

Margot Young, from the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC, was very clear. She said:

The...point I want to make is that to claim that it is about gender equality is dangerous. I think it's dangerous because too often we cut off the really important, substantial, and tough conversations about gender equality by claiming that we've already dealt with it and we've dealt with it in some more formalistic way.

In response to that testimony, the member for Newmarket—Aurora said, “I don't think it's meant to be a tool that's going to address gender inequality, pay equity, or any of the other issues you raised in your opening.”

The member for Don Valley East said, “I thank you for being here, but I don't think we have the relevance to our study for Bill C-24”. She also said, “I was as confused as you were about why we are even talking about gender equity.”

We heard the same comments echoed by a Liberal in the House just this morning.

As far as I am concerned, the arguments against the bill doing anything for gender equality are decisive. They are backed up by expert testimony at committee, they are backed up by Liberals at committee, and they are backed up by Liberals in this very House on this very day. Therefore, let us move on from Liberals trying to pretend that not supporting this bill is somehow not supporting women or not supporting gender equality at the cabinet table.

If they want to do something for women at the cabinet table, we are happy to sit down and discuss ideas about how they could have a real, meaningful, and fair sharing of power and responsibility and authority at the cabinet table, instead of just calling women ministers, when they have the duties of a minister of state, and paying them the same. That is not real gender equality.

Of course, the question then becomes, and we have visited it before, if the bill is not about gender equality, what is it about? We have heard from the government that the bill is about updating the law to reflect the current practices of government. In one sense, that is true. As I remarked at the beginning of my speech, the Liberals are updating the legislation to reflect what we think is the bad practice of not having separate ministers for the various regional economic development agencies. In that sense, it reflects a practice of the government, albeit not a very good one. However, in other ways, it does not. For instance, the current government apparently thinks there is an issue of principle at stake when there are ministers of state. The Liberals think that when they have ministers of state, they create a two-tier cabinet. That is their language, not mine. That is what they say, that it creates a two-tier cabinet. Therefore, they are not doing it, because they think it is wrong, because they think it does not give due importance to various issues and various people around the cabinet table.

One would think, then, that if the Liberals wanted to update the legislation to reflect current practice, in particular practice that is informed by principle—not just a haphazard practice but a principled practice of having a one-tier ministry, whatever that means, and I will come to that—then they would take this opportunity to update the legislation. However, they are not, because they leave ministers of state in there.

We heard the government House leader say earlier that they think it should be up to future governments whether they use ministers of state. Why they would leave that up to future governments and not leave future governments the option to have separate ministers for the various regional economic development agencies is a mystery, so far unanswered. Unfortunately, I do not believe it will be answered by the time the bill passes third reading in the House. Hopefully, members in the other place will be able to compel an answer to that question, which the Liberals have not been willing to volunteer in this place.

If the bill is about modernizing legislation to reflect the current practices of the government, it fails. If it is about gender equality, it fails, by the government's own admission. What else could it be about? It could be about an ephemeral sense of equality of ministers around the cabinet table. It is not really clear exactly what that means. However, we get a sense of it in the comments of Liberal members during debate about whether or not the NDP and other opposition parties take the issues that have been assigned to ministers of state seriously. They suggest that somehow we do not take seriously the status women, small business, or all these other issues. I do not want to call it an argument, but it is just a weird comment, a weird thing to say.

By the logic of this argument, if the only way we could be deemed to take an issue seriously is to have a full minister responsible for the issues, then why does the government not have a minister of housing? Clearly, by its own logic, the government does not take housing seriously. I note it also does not have a minister for seniors, because apparently the government does not care about seniors. If it cared, it would have a full minister dedicated to seniors, and if it cared about housing, it would have a full minister dedicated to housing, but it does not, so obviously it does not care about those issues. If that sounds stupid, that is because it is, but that is not my line of argument. That is the line of argument put forward by the Liberals themselves in this place. It is a strange situation for them to put themselves in, to say that somehow we must have dedicated, explicit ministers, and call them a minister—not a minister of state or anything else—in order to show we take the issue seriously.

We take housing seriously. In fact, we have a housing critic. We take seniors seriously. We have a seniors critic. However, we do not think that, just because it does not have an explicitly named critic or minister, somehow the party automatically does not take these issues seriously. Likewise, if there is a minister of state for a certain subset of issues, that is not to say that the government does not think it is important. What it really means is that the government does not have a full department with all of the assets and staff that implies. That is okay, because there is a difference between the capability required for defence and the capability required to promote small business in Canada. That is okay. I would be distressed if the government invested as much in the promotion of small business and tourism in Canada as it did in the Department of National Defence. I would think that something had gone wrong in government if those two budgets were the same, in either direction. If it cut DND funding to be the same as the budget for small business and tourism, I would be concerned. If it raised the budget of small business and tourism to equal the budget of the minister of national defence, I would also be concerned.

This idea that somehow we need to call everyone the same thing, and they all have to be ministers in order to take the issues seriously to the appropriate degree, is obviously false. These ministries will not be resourced to the same degree, nor should they be, and that is okay. By extension, if we have different titles to recognize that very real administrative distinction, that would continue under this legislation. Notice it says it will make all ministers equal by making them the same, except it is actually creating two kinds of ministers, which did not exist before.

Up to now, there has only really been one kind of minister, but now there are going to be ministers, full stop, and ministers for whom a department is designated. In the legislation, interestingly, for all of the sub-components for a minister for whom a department is designated, the language reflects largely the language that already exists for ministers of state. They are going to be resourced in the same way.

They are creating a two-tier ministry by actually creating two types of ministers. It is just not going to be obvious on the letterhead because they are going to have the same short name, as they have had for the last two years. They have been paid the same for the last two years which, I think, again speaks to the fact that this legislation is not necessary.

If it is not administrative equality, it is not gender equality, and it is not updating the law to reflect the current practices of the government, what is it? We have heard to some extent that they want all ministers in the Liberal government to be equal around the cabinet table. We need to call them all “minister” because somehow, if some are called “ministers of state” and others are called “ministers”, the Liberals have implied very clearly that they would not be taken seriously to the same extent around the cabinet table as the Prime Minister. Incidentally, I do not think that is something that can be cured legislatively. It has more to do with the dispositions of the Prime Minister than it does anything in legislation. I find it passing strange that the Prime Minister would name people to his cabinet whom he would not take seriously except if the law were changed to call them ministers. Why are they at the table, in the first place, if the Prime Minister needs legislative help to take them seriously?

It also makes me wonder, if it is the case that the Prime Minister will not take them seriously unless they are designated ministers in law, how it is that the Prime Minister could possibly be thought to be taking any of the other members of the Liberal caucus seriously. They certainly are not ministers, and unless we are going to have legislation calling parliamentary secretaries “ministers”, and committee chairs “ministers”, and backbench Liberals “ministers”, then I think what we are to infer from that is that the Prime Minister will not be taking them seriously.

There are certain members in this House on the Liberal benches who I think are not always taken very seriously. There are various reasons for that.

A great defender of this bill has been the member for Winnipeg North. One wonders how he could defend such legislation when an important component of this legislation is to say, if a member is not called a “minister”, then that member is not taken seriously by the government. He has been up on his feet defending that principle. Well, news flash, he is not a minister. He is a parliamentary secretary. I find it odd to hear the member for Winnipeg North on his feet so often defending the idea that, unless a member is called a minister by law, then that member should not, and will not, be taken seriously by the Prime Minister. That seems to be a pretty direct implication of his argument.

Some people in the House do not often take the member for Winnipeg North seriously because there is a bit of a white noise effect. We learn to tune certain things out, as we did in the spring with the construction. Every once in a while there is a particularly loud boom or shake and we look up from what we are doing, but soon return to what it was they were doing. I think others have spent some time listening and ultimately concluded it is not worth the investment. For others, I think they would like to see a better quality of argument.

I have tried to show the extent to which the arguments that the member for Winnipeg North, and other members of the Liberal caucus, have been making about Bill C-24 are really not worth our time, just as the bill is not worth our time. What I understand from this debate is that, all of those other good reasons notwithstanding, the Prime Minister's reason for not taking the member for Winnipeg North seriously is that he is not called a minister. Until such time that he is called a minister, I suppose, he will not be taken seriously, just as the other Liberals will not.

I think we should have a government where the prime minister does take his backbench seriously. We should have a government where the prime minister can use what is a perfectly fine, acceptable tool in cabinet composition, which is ministers of state. I hear some Liberals arguing for self-promotion among the Liberal ranks now that they realize that they have not been taken seriously all along—the sounds of distress from the other side. However, I will not let that distract me from making the important point, which is that we should have a prime minister who is able, willing, and understands the tools of cabinet composition already available, particularly with respect to ministers of state.

Part of the idea of ministers of state is to have some flexibility with respect to naming new kinds of ministries that may not be around forever. It may be that a particular focus is required because certain issues of the day come up. Some of them have been lasting without being made full departments, but that is a choice of the government of the day. We would welcome, for instance, the Liberals actually wanting to do something meaningful in terms of concretizing the status of women and looking at creating an actual department. That would be something interesting that has merit and is worth looking at. That is not what they are doing. They are just coming up with another way of naming ministers of state; namely, ministers for whom a department is designated.

I have tried to address some of what I think are really bad arguments by the government for what the point and purpose of this bill is. As we watch the members chase their tails on this bill, what becomes evident is that this bill is not going anywhere. We just keep running around in the same kind of argumentative circles. They bring up gender equality, and frankly, those arguments get demolished, whether it is by people in this House or all the expert witnesses who came to testify on this particular bill.

The Liberals then change tack and say that it is about modernizing. Then we show that the bill does not actually modernize the legislation to reflect even their current practices, and so then they say that it is about a one-tier ministry. Then we ask if it is a one-tier ministry in terms of administrative responsibility and department size, and they say no. Then we ask if it is a one-tier ministry in the sense of equal voices at the cabinet table, they say that is not it and that it is really about gender equality. Now we have completed the circle. We see how this debate has been going from second reading to report stage. Now we are back at third reading and we still do not really know what the point and purpose of this bill is, not by virtue of the comments made by members of the Liberal Party. That is for sure.

Anyone who wants to take a step back, as many have in the course of this debate, realizes that a commitment of the Prime Minister during the election was to have gender parity in cabinet, and that when he named his cabinet, all the junior posts at that time were filled by women and none of them by men. He was called out in the media for that. It was embarrassing, and he ought to have felt embarrassed about it. He should have done the right thing, said it was a new government and did not totally appreciate what all the options were. Then he could have said that he was really committed to gender parity in the cabinet, that they would make some changes, shuffle those positions around, and/or add some positions in order to address other important issues like housing and seniors, which do not have a ministry. He could have said that, if it created those as junior roles, the government would put men in them, and if they created them as senior roles, it would put women in them because it wants to try to get to a point where the power, authority, and responsibilities of cabinet are equally shared between men and women. That would have been a way to handle it.

Instead, the government invented this dog and pony show that we have been at for the better part of two years now, wasting time in this place. As it goes over to the other place to waste more time, one wonders why, when we have suffered time allocation on other bills that actually did something. I mean, that is what is unique about this bill. With the exception of the question of tying the hands of future governments with respect to separate ministers for regional and economic development agencies, whether one opposes or supports the bill, the fact is that the bill actually does not really do anything.

As a colleague of mine pointed out earlier, we have spent more time debating that in this House than some of the budget implementation bills, and certainly more than the Canada infrastructure bank, which is going to oversee some $35 billion of taxpayers' money and arguably put it in the pockets in some of Canada's and the world's richest investors with very little accountability. We have hardly had a chance to talk about that at all in the House.

However, here we are talking about this again. The one good thing about third reading, either way, is that this debate can finally end in the House. God willing, we will get on to something important.

Salaries ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I know I will get an opportunity to address this matter in a more thorough way shortly, but I would like to pick up on my colleague's last comments.

Some members of the New Democratic Party want to talk more about the bill, while others just want to see the bill disappear. It seems that diversity is good, even that kind of diversity on the New Democrat benches. However, the member seems to want to focus on the Prime Minister having different types of standards for different members of the Liberal caucus.

I want to assure the member that whether one is a cabinet minister, parliamentary secretary, committee chair, or an individual member who sits on a committee, all members of the Liberal caucus are treated with an immense amount of respect by the Prime Minister. We have an opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister if we want to, and constant dialogue takes place. We have a Prime Minister who genuinely encourages his members of Parliament to represent their constituencies here in Ottawa, as opposed to representing Ottawa in their constituencies. That is a good thing.

Let us contrast that to Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party. There was an interesting kerfuffle when Jagmeet apparently did not confer with his caucus in regards to bilingual appointments. I wonder if the member could indicate to the House whether the NDP caucus has worked out what role Jagmeet has in making decisions on policy matters, because I know that issue was a little sensitive the other day. Could the member comment on how and what kind of relationship Jagmeet has with his NDP caucus?

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11:30 a.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I made a number of arguments during my speech. I find it interesting that the one that highlighted the insignificance of the member for Winnipeg North in the government is the one that caught his attention most.

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11:30 a.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his eloquent speech.

Bill C-24 is simply smoke and mirrors. We do not know whether the Liberals are referring to pay equity or parity in cabinet. In fact, the bill is not really about either of those things. The Liberals are contradicting themselves.

Something else that does not make sense is the fact that, if all the Liberals wanted to do was give their ministers of state a pay raise so they earn the same as ministers, there was no need to introduce a bill. We do not understand why we are discussing this, when all of the experts agree that this bill is not about gender equality or pay equity.

I have been repeating ad nauseam that, if the Liberals really wanted to be feminists, they would talk about the recommendations made as part of the pay equity study that was shelved in 2004. The Liberals promised a bill on pay equity by 2016. It is now the end of 2017 and they have put it off until 2018, if it happens at all.

What does my colleague think about all this commotion for something that does not even require a bill?

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11:30 a.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

I also thank her for raising an issue that I think is really important and that I wanted to talk about in my speech. Experts have said that Bill C-24 does either very little or nothing at all for women in cabinet, and they have also said that it is dangerous to claim it does do something. There are real issues around pay equity, and we want to tackle those issues. We have been waiting since 2015 for this self-styled feminist government to introduce a bill that will achieve pay equity, but we have not seen one yet. That is not because the government is busy with important bills. After all, here we are debating Bill C-24, which is not an important bill. We still do not know exactly why this bill exists. Even though there are obvious reasons why we need a bill that directly addresses pay equity, we still do not have such a bill. I think that is a shame.

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11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to compliment my colleague for his very thorough speech, particularly in detailing the many excuses the Liberal government has made to defend this terrible piece of legislation. Personally, I see it as a long, expensive, time and resource-consuming exercise to correct the Prime Minister's original goof when he created a cabinet and suddenly discovered that his junior ministers, his ministers of state, were women, and that they were paid somewhat less, as is the Westminster tradition for secondary jobs supporting major ministries.

My question has to do with another element of this legislation, which two years later finally formalizes another inexcusable mistake the Liberal government has made in eliminating the regional development ministers and replacing them all, and their expertise in the regions they represented, with a single minister who is familiar mostly with the development requirements of Mississauga in the greater Toronto area.

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11:35 a.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Thornhill for coming back to this issue, because the only thing of substance happening in this bill is probably this strange tying of the hands of future governments, which might quite reasonably decide they want to have separate ministers for each of the regional economic development agencies. The Liberals made a choice. They decided to consolidate all of those under one minister, one individual. That was their choice. It was a choice available to them under the law as it stands right now. The law, as it stands now, also allows a future government to make a different choice. I do not understand the desire to take that choice away from future governments.

The Liberals have their arguments. I do not think they are particularly good arguments. I do not think it is believable that someone from Mississauga will understand the regional economies of B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, or Quebec as well as he or she does the issues in southern Ontario. That is not because the person is not competent or well-meaning, but just because this is not plausible. The idea that it is not worth—

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11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Maybe the member will be able to finish his thought in his next response. There is only enough time for a very brief question. This is questions and comments. I would hope that people keep their questions short.

Questions and comments. The hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, a brief question.

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11:35 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I just want to assure the member across the way, because he is definitely confused. If we read the legislation, it is not about gender equality. That is something the NDP have brought in, and I will expand upon it.

Can the member comment succinctly on why he believes there should be different tiers of ministers? This legislation equalizes the different cabinet ministers, something that we support and the New Democrats do not. Why do you not support that?