Madam Speaker, we are here tonight debating the main estimates because, unfortunately, the Liberals have decided that working collaboratively with all parties is something they are no longer interested in doing. While studying estimates is normally done in committees, the Liberals seem intent on making it difficult for the opposition to properly scrutinize government spending in this forum.
I am a member on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and one of my ongoing frustrations is how little time has been set aside for the consideration of the estimates of the two departments and the many crown corporations that fall under the committee's purview. During our scheduled meeting for the main estimates and supplementary estimates (C) on March 23, 2017, the committee meeting was cut short because of a time allocation vote in the House. Consequently, 10 committee members did not even get 15 minutes to ask questions of representatives from the eight crown corporations that were present.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority was being allocated $584 million, PPP Canada was being allocated $279 million, Jacques-Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated was allocated $331 million, and VIA Rail Canada $221 million. None of these organizations were rescheduled to appear at a later date. When the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities were invited to appear on their departments' main estimates, they came together on May 9 for a maximum of one hour. I cannot think of another example where two ministers of different portfolios appeared together at a committee. The Minister of Infrastructure and Communities is not the Minister of Transport's associate. They should not appear at committee as such.
Because that meeting was also cut short, the official opposition got less than 10 minutes to inquire about issues such as the Navigation Protection Act, the sale of Canada's airports, the infrastructure bank, or the pipeline moratorium in B.C. What is worse, Liberal members had been assuring us that this meeting was going to be the opposition's opportunity to ask questions of the government.
On May 2, my colleague, the member for Alfred-Pellan, pointed out to us that, “I can tell you that [the minister] will be with us here on May 9. You can ask all the questions you desire. I'm sure it will be the minister's pleasure to respond.” Members of the official opposition received less than 10 minutes to ask two ministers, representing two different departments, questions on billions of dollars in spending.
Unfortunately, this is not a one-off. On November 17, 2016, when the committee considered supplementary estimates (B), the Minister of Transport was present for the first hour and his officials, along with representatives from crown corporations, were scheduled to be present for the second hour. The second hour of our meeting was cut short due to another vote, and the committee ended up voting on hundreds of millions of dollars of funding in supplementary estimates (B) after barely 25 minutes of scrutiny. The lost time was never made up.
I remember back when the transport, infrastructure and communities committee was first struck in this 42nd Parliament. The Minister of Transport and the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities each came for two hours to discuss their mandate letters. Fast forward, and it is clear the Prime Minister and his caucus see the opposition as an inconvenience rather than fulfilling an essential function in Parliament, with members of Her Majesty's loyal opposition barely being given any time to scrutinize billions of dollars in spending.
There was a time when transport and infrastructure were part of the same department, because infrastructure was seen as a facilitator for trade and transportation. Now that Infrastructure Canada has moved more in the direction of the social realm than the trade and transport realm, the transport, infrastructure and communities committee should no longer be hearing from the two ministers as though they manage the same file. The fact remains that the Liberal mismanagement of the House has trickled down to committees. I guess it speaks volumes to the character of the government, that it believes having to listen to the opposition is cumbersome. How this meshes with sunny ways is beyond me. The new operating procedure of the Liberal members in the transport, infrastructure and communities committee, when presented with reasonable motions, is to sit quietly, say nothing at all, and then vote them down.
Now, if they become irritated, one of their members will usually move to adjourn debate on the motion. This a convenient course of action for them, as these motions to adjourn debate on a motion are non-debatable, so the Liberals do not have to justify their actions. When we do try to resume debate on these motions, the Liberals do not provide consent, thereby essentially voting down the motion by putting it into permanent limbo.
Here are some of the motions the Liberals have voted down without providing Canadians any justification. A motion inviting the newly appointed director of the Hamilton Port Authority to appear at committee for one hour. If the committee never reviews the qualifications of government appointments, there is not much point they be referred to committees. We still do not know why they did not agree to that.
A motion by the NDP asking for documents relating to the sale of Canada's airports. The committee was asking for documents and the Liberal members refused to speak to it. If these documents were not available, it is for the government to say why, and not for these ministers on the committee to say no to a request of this nature. If the government and these members are truly proud of their record, they should do more than sit quietly, and wait out the clock whenever the opposition challenges their actions.
Returning to the government's complete mismanagement of Canada's public finances, it seems that the Liberals' overarching priority is to continue raising revenues to fund their misguided plans. There is no other reason why popular tax breaks for public transit, child care spaces, or gifts of medicine to charities were taken away. Municipalities and public transit agencies had even taken it upon themselves to advertise the public transit tax credit in order to incentivize more Canadians to use public transit. Unfortunately, making public transit more affordable for Canadians, who may not own a car or share one with their spouse, was considered less important than raising revenues to pay for Liberal pet projects. The government has fallen into a negative feedback loop, where the optics are more important than the policy. As policy becomes less important, more emphasis is placed on optics, and around and around we go.
For the first time in history, the Government of Canada is doing regular polling to gauge the popularity of the Prime Minister. Taxpayers are paying for the Prime Minister's Office to conduct this polling. For a government that claims to be interested in evidence-based public policy, it is hard not to think that the overwhelming consideration for anything they will do will be the result of current and future public polling. By design of the PMO, Canadians know more about the Prime Minister's interest in cupping than the $330 billion in overall expenditures he is making with their tax dollars, and the nearly $30 billion deficit.
In conclusion, everywhere I go, I hear about the incredible frustration with the Liberal government. After a year of being hit with an increase like the increase in mandatory CPP premiums, the federally mandated carbon tax, or cuts, like a 50% cut to the tax free savings account, and the end of tax breaks for children's soccer and piano lessons, Canadians were hoping that the Liberals would be done with raising taxes.
Unfortunately, the Liberal government continues to try to squeeze every single penny out of the pockets of Canadians, and is doing its very best to shield itself from parliamentary scrutiny by attempting to change the Standing Orders and avoiding debate in committee.