Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to rise today to debate Bill C-24, an important piece of legislation.
The opposition has some challenges with the bill. The government was sworn in 25 months ago and yet this legislation has come forward for debate today, December 7, 2017. This particular piece of legislation was tabled in the House on September 27, 2016, and here we are, 18 months later, still dealing with this legislation.
What I find fascinating about this piece of legislation is the fact that these ministers are currently being paid. The question then arises as to how they are being paid their additional salary when the legislation has not yet been passed. I am not the only one who has asked this question. The other place has been quite concerned about this issue as well, and its national finance committee has taken up this very question. Enabling legislation has not yet been passed, yet these ministers are being paid, nonetheless.
The President of the Treasury Board attempted to address this issue at the national finance committee in the other place. I am going to quote from the 13th report of that committee, tabled in the other place in March 2017:
Our committee is concerned about the recurrent practice of using supplementary estimates to pay certain ministers' salaries prior to the enactment of amendments to the Salaries Act, and raises this question is the context of Bill C-24.
Members will recall that I raised this issue in this place as a point of order a number of months ago when the supplementary estimates were being tabled at that time, yet this issue is a recurrent practice of the government. The government is using the supplementary estimates and the estimates process to achieve a legislative objective that is more properly dealt with through legislation. Here we are, 25 months after the Liberals were sworn in, and they are still using the estimates to pay for this process.
I draw members' attention back to the report of the national finance committee of the other place. It quotes Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules & Forms, 6th Edition. All of us in the House have our preferred authorities and my preferred authority is Beauchesne's. It is a great parliamentary authority.
Beauchesne's states at page 258 and 259 the following point in relation to the estimates and the legislative process. Paragraph 935 states, “A supply item ought not to be used to obtain authority which is the...subject of legislation.” Yet the estimates process has been used for the past 25 months to pay certain ministers' salaries before the legislative means has been achieved.
I go back to my point. Here we are December 2017 debating legislation that ought to have been dealt with months ago.
Beauchesne's goes on to state at paragraph 937 that “The government may not, by the use of an Appropriation Act obtain authority it does not have under existing legislation.”
There is no legislation. There is a bill before the House, but it has not yet been passed in this place and not yet even been considered in the other place. Here we are after 25 months, with the government still paying ministers certain sums under legislation that does not yet exist.
I have listened with great interest to the debate in the House. Unfortunately, members on the other side have failed to grasp what this legislation would do. They mix terms. They use different words to imply different things that are not even at the heart of the issue. They intertwine and intermingle the words “ministers” and “ministries” and “departments”. They seem to be implying that a minister and a ministry go together, but that is not necessarily the case.
As we are well aware, there is no departmental apparatus supporting certain of the ministers of state, or “ministers” as the government now wants to refer to them, in support of those ministers' capacity. There is a difference between a minister who is responsible for a department and a minister who reports to Parliament through another minister, as is the case with many of the ministers' estates.
Certainly there are important functions undertaken by certain ministers in certain capacities, but to imply that all ministers of state ought to be full ministers and paid accordingly belies the issue of there being no egality, of there not being the same legislative function and responsibility on the part of those ministers in all cases. If we were to refer to the Financial Administration Act and the schedules associated with it, the act clearly delineates those departments that are considered to be full departments, those departments with a deputy minister at their apex, a deputy minister who is accountable to the minister, and a departmental apparatus in support of that.
Certainly on this side of the House, we feel there is great work to be done to support a number of the functions that have fallen under the jurisdiction of ministers of state in the past.
In this connection, one of the issues that keeps being brought up by the Liberal government is the issue of small business and tourism. In my riding, the backbone of our local economy is small business, whether agriculture or other small business. Certainly one of the most important aspects of our economy falls right there. One of the other aspects, of course, is tourism. I am very proud to represent a riding that has strong artistic and cultural attractions, including the Drayton festival in the township of Mapleton, and the Stratford Festival in Stratford and Stratford Summer Music. I am very proud to support small business and tourism and to highlight the important work and economic benefit of those in my great riding of Perth—Wellington.
However, the fact is that simply because we support small business and tourism and see them as a major priority and something that must be promoted, that does not change the fact that under schedule 1 and schedule 2 of the Financial Administration Act, those are not considered to be a department for the purposes of that act. Therefore, when the Liberal government members try to infer that they are making certain ministers full ministers, they forget the fact that the apparatus, the departmental function, of those acts of those ministers is not there to support the minister. They are still ministers of state in the real sense of things, because they do not have the departmental function that goes with every other minister.
I go back to the fact that we are 25 months into the current Liberal government's being sworn in, and yet this bill is all of a sudden a priority in the dying weeks of this session before we go on our Christmas break to our ridings. I am sure that we can infer a number of different reasons why there is a sudden a push to get this piece of legislation to the other place. One might infer that perhaps the Liberal government is eager to prorogue and wants to quickly get legislation out of this place to the other place before prorogation, before it can have a new Speech from the Throne. I am certainly not privy to that information. Maybe you are, Mr. Speaker, but I see you shaking your head.
Certainly the rumour going around this place is that the Liberal government is eager to change the channel, that they are eager for prorogation to restart with a fresh Speech from the Throne to try to take attention away from their ethical lapses on that side. The Minister of Finance's ethical challenges for the past number of months in fact go back to his challenged and mistaken approach to small businesses, in implying and inferring that the hard-working farmers and farm families, small-business owners and those who work hard every day, are somehow tax cheats. That is certainly not the case. Here on this side, we believe in standing up for small businesses. We believe it is important to support our local economy.
This act is really a way for the Liberal government to paper over its challenges and its inability to pass legislation and to have a meaningful impact on the economy and the lives of Canadians. Instead of focusing on the issues that matter to Canadians, the Liberals are trying to give a few ministers a pay raise.