Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend you for reading that long list of amendments.
The situation is critical. Bill C-44 is a mammoth bill, an omnibus bill. It is 308 pages long, amends 47 existing federal laws, and creates five new ones. It covers a whole host of areas. The governing party promised to bring an end to the use of mammoth or omnibus bills, but here we are again. It does not make any sense. Improving legislation takes a lot of debate and a lot of work so that any changes do not infringe on other jurisdictions. This is not the way that things should be done, and I find it very unfortunate.
Clause 18 of Bill C-44 creates the Canada infrastructure bank, which is also being called the infrastructure privatization bank because that is what it does. We are against the creation of this bank.
As proposed, the infrastructure bank or infrastructure privatization bank is completely at odds with the Liberals' election promise. They said that they were going to create an infrastructure bank that would give municipalities a line of credit so that they could build public infrastructure for less. The Liberals changed their minds. They said that this line of credit or assistance would be for private companies and the financial sector, starting with Bay Street.
There is an incestuous relationship between the government and the Bay Street financial lobby. I think that is deplorable. We have seen it in a whole raft of bills and decisions.
Last fall, in Bill C-29, the Liberals tried to make Bay Street exempt from the Quebec Consumer Protection Act. That measure was hidden away in a mammoth bill. We managed to get the government to back down on that, but it did so only at the last minute.
What is happening now with Bill C-44 is even worse. I would need a lot of time to cover everything in this bill that should be changed. The situation being critical, I will concentrate on the main problem, a game-changing move that gives private investors on Bay Street and even from abroad an incredible, impossible advantage: the power to circumvent provincial laws, Quebec laws, and municipal regulations.
As it stands, with Bill C-44, we are no longer masters in our own house. This is unbelievable. This cannot be happening. Why? Because, in Bill C-44, the government is giving agent of the crown status to the infrastructure privatization bank along with all of the projects it handles, even the ones that are entirely private. That is no small thing. It means that private investment will enjoy all the privileges and immunities of government and be able to circumvent Quebec's laws and municipal regulations. This makes no sense. This part of the bill must be removed, and that is the subject of my speech this morning.
More specifically, in subsection 5(4) of the future Canada infrastructure bank act, this is stated in legal terms that seem fine at first glance:
The Bank is not an agent of Her Majesty in right of Canada, except when
(a) giving advice about investments in infrastructure projects to ministers of Her Majesty in right of Canada, to departments, boards, commissions and agencies of the Government of Canada and to Crown corporations as defined in subsection 83(1) of the Financial Administration Act;
(b) collecting and disseminating data in accordance with paragraph 7(1)?(g); (c) acting on behalf of the government of Canada in the provision of services or programs, and the delivery of financial assistance, specified in paragraph 18(h); and
This is already confusing, but it gets works in paragraph (d), which states:
(d) carrying out any activity conducive to the carrying out of its purpose that the Governor in Council may, by order, specify.
That is really quite something. This means that, by order in council, the government can give the infrastructure privatization bank the status of agent of the crown, thereby allowing it to operate outside of provincial laws and municipal bylaws. That must be removed from the bill, because it makes no sense whatsoever.
Worse still, according to paragraph 18(c), the privileges granted to the bank can be extended to completely private projects that go through it. That paragraph gives the bank the power to:
...acquire and deal with as its own any investment made by another person.
The privileges of the crown, which allow the government to be above everyone else, would be given to the infrastructure privatization bank, which could then use those privileges to give priority to any project it wants. As a result, foreign investors such as BlackRock, Asian investment firms, or Toronto banks could decide to build a bridge, a water system, or an oil pipeline, and those projects would not be subject to our laws. That is what the bill does. It is a major power grab. For the first time, elected members of Parliament are going to delegate to the government the power to grant crown agent status to the projects that it wants. We would be giving projects a power that we have here. That is unacceptable and must not happen.
Yesterday, constitutional expert Patrick Taillon gave a wonderful presentation in this regard before the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. We consulted five legal experts, four of whom are constitutional experts, and they all agree. They say that the wording of that part of Bill C-44 raises serious concerns. One constitutional expert even said that the wording was making investors uncomfortable because they think that the legislation might be deemed unconstitutional and challenged in court. Investors would therefore be reluctant to invest in the bank with the wording as it now stands. Of course, if that were to happen, it would be fine with us, since we are against this infrastructure privatization bank. In short, this bill is poorly written and must be clarified.
In the past, the courts have deemed that Quebec laws were not applicable to federal projects, or at least that they applied as long as they had no effect. For example, in the case of energy east, Quebec laws have no bearing on the route, but they can affect the colour of the pipeline. That makes no sense.
When it comes to installing cell towers, we see that there is no compliance with municipal regulations. As for Canada Post and its mailboxes, we saw Denis Coderre, the mayor of Montreal and a former Liberal MP, take a jackhammer to the base on which the mailboxes were to be installed. However, officially, we have no power over that.
Federal infrastructure currently represents only 2% of Canada's infrastructure. However, this infrastructure bank could change things because private funding has a leverage effect. As for crown agent status, it makes no sense. We remember the expropriation of 40,000 hectares for Mirabel and Forillon National Park, among others. This must change.
A number of Quebec laws will go out the window because of Bill C-44. One of those laws is the Environment Quality Act. This means that the BAPE will no longer be able to hold public consultations. Another is the Act respecting the Preservation of Agricultural Land and Agricultural Activities. Quebec is large in terms of land mass but has relatively little arable land. Land use plans, urbanization plans, zoning regulations, and basically all of the infrastructure financed by the infrastructure bank would be exempt from these laws. We will no longer be masters in our own house.
At the Senate committee, the Minister of Finance said there was no link between the government and the infrastructure bank. He clarified that by saying that the bank would operate at arm's length from the government. That is what he said, but according to the constitutional experts we consulted, that is not what is written here. That is why the minister must clarify his intention and state it clearly in the act so that this bill does not end up before the Supreme Court for years, casting the whole thing into legal limbo.
The same goes for PMO spokesperson Olivier Duchesneau, who wrote this to Michel Girard of the Journal de Montréal:
Projects in which the bank invests will be subject to provincial and municipal laws and regulations. Projects financed by the bank will certainly not be exempt from zoning regulations or provincial environmental reviews such as the BAPE.
If that is indeed the government's intention, it must amend the bill now because that is not how it reads. We are going to run into problems. This is a major power grab.