Madam Speaker, I have been waiting for months to speak to Bill C-24. The official title is an act to amend the Salaries Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Financial Administration Act. A more accurate title for the bill could be an act to cover up this Liberal government's embarrassing mistake of claiming to create a gender-balanced cabinet while actually appointing five women as junior ministers, and, under the traditionally appropriate practice of Canadian governments, paying them substantially less.
The Prime Minister's mistake was exposed when he unveiled his first cabinet after the 2015 election. Within days, as controversy swirled in the media and the public arena, and it must be said, among Liberal backbenchers, the Prime Minister's Office went into damage control. All of a sudden, the talking points were that every single member of cabinet, those with multi-million dollar departments and spending responsibilities and those with no departments and substantially fewer dollars and responsibilities, were equal. All of a sudden, Orwellian fable came alive in the cabinet room, just across from the public gallery, and Animal Farm came to life. The last commandment on the barn wall of the satirical story became a guiding principle of this infant Liberal government. All ministers are equal, the Prime Minister and his inner circle proclaimed, though he and everyone in the Liberal cabinet, on the Liberal backbenches, on this side of the House, and across Canada knew, as they still know today, that some ministers are more equal than others.
That did not matter then, and it does not matter now to the Prime Minister and his brain trust. All he had to do to correct his original goof was open the treasury and take the time and energy of law writers to craft the bill we are debating so that the Salaries Act could be amended so that five ministers of state could be re-profiled as full ministers and receive a salary equivalent to those in full ministerial positions. These salary bumps, $20,000 a year each, are to be paid from the consolidated revenue fund.
In other words, the hard-earned tax dollars sent to Ottawa by Canadians were used to pay for the Prime Minister to make good. The original Governor in Council appointments of the five ministers of state made on November 4, 2015, were suddenly transformed to full ministerial positions. However, that was not the end of it. These new ministers, the five upgraded ministers of state, needed budgets, money to spend in their expanded, confected positions, so Bill C-24 would also provide a legislative framework so that these new positions could receive support from existing departments in the exercise of their mandates.
What is more offensive is that all of this convoluted damage control and financial funny business was done, until now, without conventional enabling legislation. All of a sudden, the five ministers of state were getting a substantial pay boost, an overnight $20,000-a-year raise. Just how often does that happen for the middle class, and of course, those struggling to join it?
We have to remember that the much-delayed piece of legislation we are debating today, Bill C-24, is finally, more than two years later, the legislation that will officially correct the Prime Minister's original mistake. The government has been effectively writing post-dated cheques to pay these ministers.
To be generous to the Liberals, beyond these precious taxpayer dollars so flippantly spent, as we expend in this debate the time and resources of the House to fix his problem, we must remember that the Liberals came to office with very little institutional knowledge and experience. From third-party status in the previous Parliament, with barely 35 members, all of a sudden there was a Liberal majority. To make it even more challenging for this fledgling majority, the Prime Minister and his backroom advisers very obviously ignored a number of re-elected members of some substance, and certainly experience, to create a cabinet heavily populated by newbies, which we know well led to some of the more spectacular stumbles made by the Liberal government over the past two years.
In the rush for the appearance of gender balance, the Liberals also ignored a tradition that dates back in the history of Westminster parliaments that was also, for so long, a part of our Canadian cabinet tradition.
Therefore, it is time for a quick look back in history and the victim of this expensive and time-consuming process: the storied position of minister of state.
A minister of state has traditionally been a minister with a cabinet mandate and responsibilities but without a ministry, a junior minister enabled in his or duties with a small portion of his or her departmental minister's budget.
Upon my election in 2008, I was honoured by Prime Minister Harper to serve as minister of state for foreign affairs responsible for the Americas, under the exceptionally capable foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, most recently our distinguished ambassador to France. I enthusiastically recognized my junior role, my supporting role, in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and I accepted the good-humoured ribbing I received from then Speaker Milliken, who would occasionally offer a musical reminder of my place in government from 19th century comic opera.
Speaker Milliken caught me off guard the first time in the Speaker's corridor, just behind your chair, as you know, Mr. Speaker, by coming up behind me, as we both walked to this House, and suddenly launching into one of the choruses of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers. Members will recall that this is a political comic opera set in Venice. It is centred on the kings of a mythical kingdom called Barataria. I understand that Queen Victoria was amused, during a royal command performance of the opera before her, by the gentle poke at the role of monarchs in a constitutional democracy, and the chorus drew royal laughs. One particular chorus was the one sung for me, fairly often, by Speaker Milliken. It goes like this:
Oh, philosophers may sing
Of the troubles of a King,
Yet the duties are delightful, and the privileges great;
But the privilege and pleasure
That we treasure beyond measure
Is to run on little errands for the Ministers of State.
This bill marks the end of this historic position in this House, in this Parliament, though I suspect that a clearer thinking future government will reinstate both the tradition and the logical function, and the logically funded function, that ministers of state have performed over the centuries.
Bill C-24 does not only remove ministers of state in a misguided add to ministerial ranks; it also eliminates six very important ministers and ministries, those of regional development agencies across this country.
The elimination of these ministerial positions was one of the biggest blunders of the blunder-prone Liberal government. We told the Liberals more than two years ago that they were making a big mistake in eliminating the regional development agencies, just as we advised them against implementing the flawed Phoenix pay system for the public service, just as we advised them against cozying up with the terror-sponsoring, human-rights-abusing Iranian regime, just as we advised them against a heavy-handed imposition of electoral reform, and just as we advised against regressive amendments to the access to information and privacy law. The list goes on and on, and, with Bill C-24, on.
That is why I, in this House, and the official opposition, will vote against this unfortunate, wasteful piece of post-dated legislation.