House of Commons Hansard #384 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his presentation of his private member's bill and for all the work he has done on it. It takes a tremendous amount of research and preparation to get to this point. That should certainly be noted and appreciated.

This bill has to do with foreign interference in our elections in Canada, and of course, wanting to put a stop to that. In Canada, our democracy is based on the principle that only those who should vote, should vote. In other words, those who are Canadian citizens over the age of 18 should be given the opportunity to vote. When this is the case, our democracy is protected. When this is not the case, our democracy is thwarted.

When we are talking about foreign interference, money being laundered into Canada, we are talking about another act that could impact our overall democratic system. Could the member comment on the democratic system that exists within Canada and how his bill would go about making sure that it is protected and why that is important not only for today but for future generations in this great country we call home?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Madam Speaker, my bill proposes to change the Canada Elections Act. Right now, the prohibition on the use of foreign contributions is simply a matter of judgment on that funding after it has already been sent to a third party organization in Canada from abroad. It could be from a government, a business or a foundation that actually has no interest in Canada at all.

The prohibition would apply to a person who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident who is trying to influence our elections, a corporation or an association that does not carry on any business in Canada at all, a trade union that does not have any bargaining rights or employees in Canada, a foreign political party, or a foreign government or an agent of one. What my bill says is that instead of allowing money to come across the border from those actors and then trying to figure out if that money was used in an election, let us just not let that money come in in the first place. Then it would be a lot easier to enforce.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Arif Virani Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Lib.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions and as the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park to speak to the second reading of Bill C-406, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

This bill, which was introduced by the member for Red Deer—Lacombe, seeks to amend the Canada Elections Act to prohibit foreign contributions to third parties for election advertising purposes.

The spirit of Bill C-406 is part of a broader conversation regarding the role of money in Canadian politics and the potential for foreign actors to influence Canadian elections. The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs issued a report last year expressing concern that the Canada Elections Act did not “...sufficiently protect Canadian elections from improper foreign interference”. That said, the report further argued that the third party regime needed to be modernized to ensure transparency and fairness in our democratic system.

Our government takes this issue very seriously, and it is a pleasure to be addressing this topic in the House this evening.

When it comes to the issue of foreign interference and influence more generally, we are taking a whole-of-government approach to protect the integrity of our democracy by defending the Canadian electoral process from hacking and malicious cyber-activities.

More frequently than ever before, we are learning in the media about how western democracies are dealing with new types of threats and new types of attacks. There have been allegations of undue foreign interference in the British Brexit referendum, the United States' 2016 presidential election and the French 2016 presidential election, to name but a few. Canadians are rightly concerned about the potential impact of foreign interference in our elections as well.

I have heard from the engaged residents of my riding of Parkdale—High Park, and indeed from Canadians from around the country, that we cannot be complacent. In 2019, we need to anticipate and ward off the threat of foreign interference in order to secure and strengthen our democracy.

This is why our government recently announced its plan to safeguard the upcoming election. The plan is built on four pillars. One is enhancing citizen preparedness. The second is improving organizational readiness. The third is combatting foreign interference, and the fourth is working with social media platforms. In particular, Canada's security agencies will work to prevent covert, clandestine or criminal activities by foreign actors.

I would like to remind members of this House that Canada also has a robust political financing regime. We know that to date there is no evidence that foreign actors have unduly influenced previous elections in this country. As a result, Canadians can feel confident in the outcome of our past elections and in our democracy as a whole, but that does not mean we will rest on our laurels. To the contrary, we are being vigilant to address potential threats. Our government has already taken action to address potential avenues of undue influence in advance of the upcoming 2019 federal election.

In addition to the government's recent announcement, our government has passed Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act, which received royal assent on December 13 of last year. The Elections Modernization Act strengthens Canada's democratic institutions and restores Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic processes. This generational overhaul of the Canada Elections Act will allow it to better address the realities facing our democratic system in the 21st century, including requiring organizations selling advertising spaces to not knowingly accept election advertisements from foreign entities.

Our legislation draws heavily on the recommendations in the Chief Electoral Officer's report on the 2015 general election and on studies by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

The member for Red Deer—Lacombe opposite has already outlined a number of measures in Bill C-406, measures that are redundant when one considers Bill C-76. This is because Bill C-406 has already been considered by our government as part of the Minister of Democratic Institutions' commitment to review spending limits for both political parties and third parties.

This review also examined third party financing and the potential impacts of foreign contributions and interference in Canada.

While Bill C-406's objective of preventing foreign interference in Canadian elections is worthy in principle, the mechanisms outlined in this legislation would be ineffective.

Allow me to explain. A major issue with Bill C-406 is that it seeks to legislate the actions of people outside Canada, such as foreign entities or persons making a contribution to a Canadian third party. These provisions have an extraterritorial aspect, which would be extremely difficult to enforce. We know of these difficulties from other acts that have attempted to legislate actions outside of Canada.

It is clear that the measures in Bill C-76 are enforceable, whereas those in Bill C-406 are problematic, because Bill C-76 addresses the problem from a different perspective. While Bill C-406 seeks to prohibit someone outside of Canada from contributing to a third party, Bill C-76, which has received royal assent, prohibits Canadian third parties from using these contributions. In this way, the problem of foreign influence is brought under the umbrella of our established domestic regulatory regime for third parties.

There are also a number of unfortunate drafting errors in the bill, which would further make the argument that the provisions are difficult to enforce. In one case, the bill refers to subsection 363(1.1) of the Canada Elections Act, which is a provision that does not exist in either the act or in Bill C-76. As well, while the bill creates two new prohibitions on foreign contributions, it neglects to enact corresponding offences, which would lead to significant enforcement difficulties. The two must go hand in hand, and the latter is absent here. There are no corresponding offences listed in the bill.

Further, Bill C-406 misplaces the new rules regarding third party election advertising in part 18 of the Canada Elections Act, the part that deals with financial administration of political entities, instead of placing them in part 17 of the act, which deals with third party election advertising. This would lead to confusion for Canadians and political actors about which sections of the Canada Elections Act apply to which entities.

I would like to mention that certain measures in Bill C-76 that have to do with foreign interference were strengthened by amendments adopted by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. When Bill C-406 was introduced in June 2018, the measures in Bill C-76 had not yet been improved by the committee's meticulous work.

Bill C-76 initially only limited the prohibition against using foreign funds to an election period, something I mentioned in my first contribution to this debate. However, there is now a new provision that stipulates there is no explicit time limit to this prohibition, thanks to helpful amendments brought forward at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This change brought Bill C-76 in line with the measures introduced in Bill C-406, which also do not stipulate any time limit. Canadians can therefore be assured that foreign influence will be guarded against at any time, rather than only during the pre-writ or writ periods of an election.

Strengthening and protecting our democratic institutions should not be a partisan issue. On that, there is agreement. In Canada, our free and fair elections contribute to our strong democracy, which is revered around the world. Canadians rightfully expect their elected officials to come together and work hard to ensure our elections are accessible and we are doing our utmost to ensure foreign money has no place in our elections, which is essential to the health of our democracy.

I want to thank the member for Red Deer—Lacombe for the chance to continue this important discussion on foreign influence in our elections. We can expect that Canadians will become more interested in this topic in the lead-up to the federal election this fall.

To conclude, while Bill C-406 identifies an important issue for Canadians, the tools the bill proposes cannot be effectively enforced, which is why the government will not be supporting Bill C-406.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, I will begin where my colleague across the aisle left off and say that, yes, in principle, there are good intentions in the idea of limiting funding from foreign entities to third parties.

We are all concerned about foreign interference in our elections, in our democratic systems, here in Canada and basically around the world. We have seen some rather troubling front-page headlines recently. This interference is a direct attack on our democracy, our democratic systems. We must take notice and come up with solutions to avoid it. Obviously, funding leaves the door wide open to interference.

Let me be clear. We in the NDP fully support the idea of limiting foreign contributions to third parties. However, we are very concerned that this bill will not meet that objective.

There are a number of problems. Some have talked about problems implementing what the bill proposes. There are many such problems. There are extraterritorial issues here, which are significant and complex, so yes, there will be implementation problems.

That said, the thing that concerns me the most is the major loopholes in this bill. It essentially talks about contributions for election advertising purposes. Why only advertising? That is a loophole, because a third party could receive money and divert it for other purposes. The third party could take a foreign contribution that was meant for a specific purpose and use it for advertising instead. By limiting the focus to advertising, the bill undermines the primary objective, which is to combat foreign influence.

Advertising is one aspect, but there is so much more. There is the question of the definition of a foreign entity. The bill uses the definition from the Canada Elections Act. That definition includes individuals who are neither citizens nor permanent residents and corporations that do not carry on business in Canada. That is rather interesting. It is 2019. In 2019, there is no shortage of small companies all around us, but there is also the private sector and the vast number of multinationals. That means that if we exclude individuals only, then we leave the door open to multinationals and welcome them with open arms because they are not excluded. They can continue to make contributions to third parties for advertising during election campaigns. They are not covered by this bill.

That is very interesting because the Conservatives always seem to be fairly selective when we talk about defending democracy and election financing.

I listened to the speech given by my colleague who talked about the Tides Foundation and environmental organizations, which often address issues of global concern, since the environmental challenges we are facing are global challenges that know no borders.

Listening to my Conservative colleague's speech, I got the impression that he is really bothered by environmental groups and that he thinks we should stop letting them speak. Multinationals, however, should be able to keep doing what they are doing.

I find that rather ironic. I also find it ironic that the Conservatives are the ones who raised this concern about political financing when they are the ones who decided, at one point, that public funding for political parties was not a good idea.

They said that it was really not a good idea and that we should do away with it. I found that rather sad. When I was young, I would vote for the NDP in Quebec at a time when people did not really know much about the NDP yet. I would tell myself that the NDP would surely not win in my riding but at least the party I believed in would get a couple of bucks from my vote. The Conservatives preferred to do away with that practice.

Does that mean that there is no public funding for political parties? No. Public funding for political parties still exists because now, when I make a donation to a political party, I am entitled to a tax refund.

This tax credit is not a form of public financing, but it is for people who, like me, earn enough income to pay taxes. It is a fact that those who give the most money and who have the most money are the ones with the largest tax refunds. However, there are no subsidies for political donations for people who have very low incomes. They pay out of pocket.

I find it ironic to see the Conservatives rise in defence of Canadian democracy, when so many of the measures they took when they were in power only served to undermine it.

That said, as one of my colleagues suggested, I hope that we will be able to take a non-partisan approach to this. It would be so wonderful to avoid petty games on matters like electoral reform, democratic development and the preservation of our institutions.

However, it seems to me that this bill, which is difficult to implement and full of holes, is still quite partisan.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-406, tabled by my colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe, which would amend the Canada Elections Act to ban foreign contributions to third parties for election advertising purposes.

Some of the comments we heard prior to my intervention go to the very reason I think this legislation is so important. I want to point to the comments from the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, who was very clear that he is not going to support this legislation, but then said that there is no proof whatsoever that there has been any interference in Canadian elections in the past. That just proves how naive the Liberal government is in the situation we are facing right now. We have a group out there, Leadnow, that is, on its website, bragging about how many ridings it influenced in the 2015 election. It is a third-party group that spent more than $1 million in the 2015 election, and almost 20% of those dollars were raised by foreign actors.

The government is saying, and I guess we really should not question this, because it has sort of been the government's theme all week, as well as in the last couple of weeks, when it comes to SNC-Lavalin, “There is nothing to see here, nothing to fear. We have everything under control. Just go to bed at night and sleep well.”

The proof is there that there was certainly influence in the 2015 election by foreign entities funding third-party groups in Canada that were going to specific target ridings and having an impact on the Canadian election.

If this had come up four years ago, I was one of those who would not have thought it was an issue. However, that changed significantly during the 2015 election campaign. Many of us here in this House helped our colleagues and friends in other ridings when they were doing their door knocking and canvassing. I remember going to Calgary Centre during the 2015 election, and I was shocked by the number of lawn signs I saw on public boulevards and public spaces. What surprised me was the fact that those lawn signs outnumbered every political party two to one. These signs were not Liberal, New Democrat, Green or Conservative. These lawn signs were put up by Leadnow and Tides. The amount of money those groups spent in that one riding was incredible. We had third parties spending more than $1 million in a campaign.

Let us put that in perspective. The average party in a constituency probably spends about $50,000 to $75,000. This group spent 30 times that in our election. To say that there is nothing to see here and that there is no proof of foreign funding having an impact on Canadian elections is extremely naive. It shows why this private member's bill, Bill C-406, brought by my colleague, is so important. I am very proud to support it.

When we talk about the activism that is going on in our country and having an influence on our elections, that should be extremely concerning to Canadians. In the presentations we have heard so far, I think everyone has said that Canadian elections should be decided by Canadians.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Brussels and meet with many of our NATO partners and representatives from those countries. We talked about foreign influence in their elections. It was a top priority for our NATO partners, who are doing everything they can to address cybersecurity and tightening up their own elections legislation to limit the opportunities for foreign influence.

Canada is not immune to this. We have a Liberal government that passed Bill C-76 with minimal strategies to address foreign funding. That is concerning. This private member's bill, Bill C-406 would close that loophole when it comes to the influence foreign funding would have on future Canadian elections. We are not immune. It has happened. If we do not do something about it, it is going to happen again. Elections are sacrosanct in a free and sovereign country.

Times have changed. Unfortunately we have seen it in the United States and in other western democracies. We have seen it in Canada. Our elections are open and vulnerable to foreign influences, whether at the cyber level or through the funding of third party organizations that are well organized and target specific ridings to make an impact.

We should not allow that to happen. Third party associations should not be allowed to accept foreign funding for use in Canadian elections. Bill C-406 would close that loophole to ensure that third party groups cannot not accept foreign funding, period. This would make things easier to enforce and track, ensuring that Canadian elections are protected.

However, we should not be surprised that the Liberals are leaving this loophole there. They have been quite clear that they have no issues with foreign entities and actors influencing Canadian policy. We have a Liberal government that ensured that Canadian taxpayer dollars were used to fund summer jobs for Leadnow and Tides, groups that actively protested against Canada's energy sector. Liberals should not allow these foreign funds to impact our decision-making on our own economy, on massive infrastructure projects, and on nation-building projects like pipelines.

We have seen what has happened with Trans Mountain, a project that is integral to Canada's economy, but they tell us not to concern ourselves with foreign actors influencing the Canadian economy and our natural resource sector, or with the more than 100,000 jobs that have been lost as a result of the activism that most often comes from foreign entities.

If Liberals are going to turn a blind eye to that, it only makes sense that they would turn a blind eye to foreign influences in Canadian elections. This is no mystery. Foreign money has been used, and as I said, these third party groups are actively, in the public and on their websites, bragging about how successful their efforts have been in influencing a Canadian election.

This is not a conspiracy theory. This is not speculation. It is proven. In fact, as I said, Tides spent more than $1.5 million on influencing the Canadian election. That got the attention of the Canada Revenue Agency, which is investigating Tides regarding how that money was raised and spent. For the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions to say this has never happened is very disconcerting. He is parliamentary secretary to the minister, who should be extremely concerned about the influences foreign entities and actors could have on the Canadian election. The parliamentary secretary was being quite honest when he said it was not an issue or a problem, and that we did not need any legislation to protect ourselves from this. In all honesty, I find that to be ridiculous. It is proven that this is happening.

We are now in an election year, and it is quite clear that the Liberals are not going to take this issue seriously. This is not something they are addressing earnestly. They are refusing to take steps to close the loophole.

I find it interesting that the Liberals and my colleague from the NDP keep talking about this being a non-partisan issue. I am not saying this is a partisan issue. I am saying there is a very clear void in the legislation. We are bringing forward an opportunity to correct the mistake in Bill C-76, which did not have the teeth needed to ensure that Canadian elections are protected.

Elections are a foundation of Canadian democracy, plain and simple. If we cannot trust that our elections are fair and that Canadians alone are deciding who forms our government and who represents them in their constituencies, we have a very serious problem.

Bill C-406 would end any opportunity for foreign influence in a Canadian election. The integrity of our democracy and of our electoral system is at stake, and I would ask all members of the House to support Bill C-406. It is a priority.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2019 / 6:15 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I would like to address a number of the points my colleague across the way raised this evening.

The first is something we do not do enough, which is to recognize the incredible role Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections play in ensuring one our fundamental pillars of democracy is healthy. I would argue that it is envied around the world.

People from many countries around the world come and visit our election officials. Apolitical election officials are often requested to visit numerous countries so they can explain why Canada has been as successful as it has been over the years at ensuring it has a very healthy and vibrant democracy.

I appreciate and recognize the importance of the independent offices, whether it is the Ethics Commissioner, or the ombudsman or Elections Canada. We appreciate their contribution to our system of parliamentary procedures and democracy as a whole.

One of the most interesting comments I heard about the bill was by the parliamentary secretary, and members should take note of it.

A great deal of effort was put into bringing forward Bill C-76. When it was debated at second reading, we clearly indicated that if members had ideas on how to improve the legislation, they should bring them to committee. We often hear that from this side of the House, something we never heard when Stephen Harper was prime minister. The Prime Minister and other members have talked about bringing issues to committee.

In fact, there were a number of ideas raised at committee. It was interesting that the parliamentary secretary made reference to Bill C-76. The original bill only prohibited the use of foreign funds during an election period. However, once it went to the procedure and House affairs committee, amendments were put forward to make it illegal for third party to use foreign funding at any time to engage in partisan activities.

This brings it in line with what Bill C-406 proposes. It is not a perfect alignment, as has been pointed out. The opposition believes that if we pass a law here, we will have no issues in implementing it outside Canada's jurisdiction. That is questionable.

What Bill C-406 hopes to achieve was achieved by Bill C-76. There was debate and presentations were made at committee to enhance the bill and make it stronger. This should have been taken into consideration with respect to the bill before us now.

Bill C-76 has now received royal assent. The member who introduced Bill C-406 was not necessarily aware of that. We need to reinforce the fact that it is now the law of the land.

I have been around for a number of years. I can remember the legislation that was brought in by former prime minister Stephen Harper in regard to reforming the Canada Elections Act and the incredible resistance to the changes that the Harper government received. There was very little support for the legislation. There was a great deal of opposition from political parties. More importantly, many different political stakeholders in Canada, whether they were academics or average citizens, were talking about issues such as the identification cards and how people were being disenfranchised and so forth. That was the type of legislation that Stephen Harper brought in when he was Prime Minister.

As to the support that we have for Bill C-76, and when I say “we” I am referring to something more than just the Liberal Party or the Government of Canada, there was widespread support for many of the changes for the modernization of our elections act. It received wide support.

I talked about changes at committee stage then and it fell on deaf ears. Today we have a government that is committed to more transparency and more accountability, especially when we talk about the issue of elections—

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I want to remind the member for Foothills that he had an opportunity to speak. Somebody else has the floor and he knows that in the House we respect others who have the floor, so if he wishes to speak more on this, then I would suggest that he wait until the proper time comes along.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the point that I was attempting to get at is that, as a government, in bringing forward changes to the Canada Elections Act, there was a great deal of consultation and effort by not only the minister but the standing committee and many members on all sides of the House. Ultimately, we have very strong and robust election laws as a direct result in good part of the fine work of members on all sides of the House and the many individuals who contributed to that legislation.

Contrast that to the legislation that was brought in by Stephen Harper. If the member feels that this is so critical now when nothing has really changed in the last few years, why did Prime Minister Harper not bring in that change to the Canada Elections Act at the time? I suspect that it might have had something to do with the arguments that were used against it at different points in time. I believe the legislation that we now have put in place, which has received royal assent, deals with the issue that the Conservatives are trying to raise.

If the Conservatives would reflect on some of the posturing that has taken place, they should reflect on their own behaviour in terms of the transparency and accountability issues we have been raising consistently as we try to look at ways in which we can improve democracy and accountability by political parties to Canadians.

An example of that is challenging the Conservative leader to open up his fundraising meetings. He has not done that yet. Why not? When they talk about accountability, why not have accountability to the electorate right from the leader of the Conservative Party by saying these are the people who are attending? Why not open it to the media? This is something our Prime Minister and government members are still encouraging opposition members to do. There is more work to be done. We are anxious to be able to continue on in that way.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to take a few minutes to speak to Bill C-406 and more specifically to two clauses of the bill that are essential to any self-respecting democracy that wants to manage its own democratic affairs and that does not want to give others the chance to influence its democratic process.

I just listened to my colleague's speech and I have to wonder whether he agrees with the Clerk of the Privy Council and cabinet secretary, who shared his concerns with the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights this afternoon.

He said, “I worry about foreign interference in the upcoming election, and we're working hard on that.”

The purpose of the bill introduced by my colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe is to prevent this foreign interference in the next election. Groups like Tides Foundation and Leadnow invest millions of dollars to defeat candidates and influence the democratic process even here in Canada. If a Canadian group took Canadians' money to try to influence the election, it would be part of the democratic process. We have a major problem when we let foreigners interfere in our elections, with money obtained who knows where, by targeting very specific ridings where candidates are standing up for their values and their country and hoping to represent their constituents.

The interests of these groups are not those of the voters. These groups become involved because they perhaps have a chance to beat someone in a riding, to get out their message and to score points on the international scene by stating that they influenced the outcome of an election in Canada. That is something that happens and it will happen again if we do nothing. Therefore, we must guard against this interference.

I am pleased that the Clerk of the Privy Council raised his concerns this afternoon about the major role that this foreign interference could play in the next election. That is why our colleague from Red Deer—Lacombe is asking that we prohibit any foreign entity from making a contribution to a third party for election advertising purposes. It also proposes to prohibit any foreign entity from making a contribution to a third party for election advertising purposes that comes from money, property or the services of another person or entity that was provided to that person or entity for that purpose.

That is clear. I believe that Canadians are mature enough to make their own decisions. I believe that Canadians who want to influence the election can make a donation to the various political parties and strictly Canadian organizations. Why would we allow foreigners to meddle in our electoral process? That is completely unacceptable.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member will have a little over six minutes to finish his speech the next time the bill comes before the House.

The time provided for consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise here this evening to expand on a question I asked the minister regarding the Supreme Court decision on the Redwater case, which involved the bankruptcy of Canadian resource companies and their obligation to clean up their abandoned wells and mines. The case covered both the federal responsibilities under bankruptcy law, provincial responsibilities for natural resources and the dual responsibility for both levels of government to protect our environment.

In the Redwater case, the Alberta courts had ruled that the trustee in the bankruptcy of a resource company could absolve itself of obligations to clean up and reclaim its inactive wells and instead give priority to paying off its creditors, the banks. Therefore, the considerable costs of cleanup and reclamation would fall to the provincial government in this case, to taxpayers. On January 31, the Supreme Court reversed this decision and found that bankruptcy was not an excuse to absolve companies or their trustees of their environmental liabilities.

Why is this important? First of all, the issue of inactive and abandoned wells is a very large and growing problem. There are over 122,000 inactive wells across western Canada, and most of those wells have absolutely no prospect of ever operating again. That is almost a quarter of the wells out there. Most will require cleanup and reclamation in the near future. Many are on private land, on farms, where they impact the work and lives of farmers who are no longer receiving rental payments for those wells. The cost of this reclamation work will be in the billions of dollars. Increasingly, those costs are being borne by Canadian taxpayers.

This issue goes beyond abandoned oil and and gas wells. The cost of cleaning up the oil sands has been estimated at over $100 billion. Who will pay for that? The federal government will say it is the problem of the Alberta government, but what about resource projects north of 60, in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut?

The Faro Mine in Yukon was abandoned 20 years ago. It is a 25-kilometre-square moonscape of toxic waste. The federal government has already spent about $300 million maintaining the site over the past 20 years and has barely begun to clean it up. It is estimated that Canadian taxpayers will have to pay another billion dollars to do that for that one mine alone.

The Giant Mine outside Yellowknife is a similar story. Over its life, the mine spewed tons of arsenic across the landscape, and the site still oozes arsenic and other toxins. Remediation of the Giant Mine includes the freezing of arsenic waste forever—for eternity. Eternity, as Woody Allen says, is a long time, especially toward the end. The cleanup has already cost a billion dollars. That cost will continue to go on, with the taxpayers paying those costs forever.

Will the federal government be looking to change the federal laws regarding bankruptcy and abandoned mines and wells? When will we truly have a regulatory system where the polluter pays, instead of one in which some corporations profit from reckless exploitation and let taxpayers pay for the cleanup?

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Paul Lefebvre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, Lib.

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay for his question, since it gives me a chance to reiterate our government's position.

Given that we debated this issue yesterday evening, the House will not be surprised to hear that our position has not changed.

Our position could not be any clearer. No company has a licence to pollute. Companies cannot do so in the course of their regular operations. They cannot do so as they wind down their operations. They cannot do so if they abandon their operations. They cannot do so if they go bankrupt.

In the case of orphan wells, we understand the range of interests at stake. Indeed, this matter transcends provincial jurisdiction over natural resources and federal responsibilities under Canadian bankruptcy legislation.

Canadians depend on the federal government to ensure that Canada's oil and gas pipelines are built securely and operated safely. That is why we put in place the Pipeline Safety Act, which came into force in June 2016, creating a culture of safety across Canada's oil and gas sector. Companies are held liable regardless of fault and are required to have the resources to respond to incidents.

In addition, we will continue to strengthen our pipeline safety system, including through the proposed new Canadian energy regulator act. Through Bill C-69, we would ensure that projects were designed, constructed, operated and decommissioned in a way that was safe for the public and the environment.

The National Energy Board regulates interprovincial and international pipelines in the Canadian public's interest. It ensures that Canada's pipelines are safe and secure. The NEB has a comprehensive compliance program for regulating facilities throughout a pipeline's life cycle and has the power required to hold companies accountable during construction, post-construction, operation and abandonment.

We have confidence in the National Energy Board as a strong, independent regulator committed to maintaining the highest standards of pipeline safety.

The importance of the energy sector cannot be overstated. That is why our government has taken strong, decisive action to support competitiveness in the oil and gas sector and to help the sector enhance sustainability, thereby enabling the industry to create the jobs we need while protecting the environment Canadians depend on.

Our government will continue to work with provincial partners to ensure that companies that develop Canada's resources have the tools they need to respond in the event an incident occurs.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, companies are polluting and are getting away with it, whether it is under provincial jurisdiction or federal jurisdiction, and that has to change.

The Liberal government is fond of saying that the economy and the environment go hand in hand. The saying should be that we cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy environment. Too often the government uses that to mean that we cannot take steps to protect the environment without concurrent steps to protect the short-term economic gains that actually put the environment at risk.

Natural resources are the backbone of the Canadian economy, and most resource companies act in a responsible manner and provide good jobs for Canadians and clean up after themselves. However, we must have regulations in place that ensure that corporations that pollute our environment pay for cleaning up that pollution and that environmental protection comes before the protection of corporate interests.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, Lib.

Paul Lefebvre

Madam Speaker, we have to take steps to ensure that companies are and will remain responsible for their pipelines.

We are continuing to strengthen the legislation to make sure our regulatory regime is modern and effective.

We have a strong, independent regulatory body to ensure that Canada's pipelines are safe for the environment and for Canadians.

We are also taking steps to help our oil and gas sector compete and become more sustainable. That is what Canadians told us they want: an economy that works for everyone, that builds healthy, prosperous communities, that generates jobs and that protects the environment.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I am happy for the chance to bring this issue back to the House. It is of very serious importance to my constituents and for all small business owners in Canada.

Back in October, I asked the Minister of Environment a very specific question regarding the Liberal carbon tax and the devastating effect it will have on small businesses in Canada. I spoke about a company in my riding, Bert Baxter Transport, whose diesel fuel cost for its trucks is going to rise dramatically each year, increasing to about $400,000 per year by 2022. This is just for diesel costs alone and does not include all the other expenses that come with running a business.

Furthermore, should the Liberal government get re-elected, it has not given a plan for the carbon tax after 2022. This means the cost to small businesses in Canada will continue to soar, with some reports saying it could go as high as $300 per tonne or higher. If the government is unwilling to be forthcoming with its plan for the future, how are Canadians supposed to plan ahead to ensure they are still able to pay for their bills each month, especially those who run businesses or those employed by small businesses?

In my initial question, I had asked where the discount was for small businesses such as Bert Baxter Transport, given that the Liberals were keen to give major exemptions to big corporations in order to, in their words, protect jobs and keep them in Canada. This is interesting given that the majority of employers in Canada are actually small businesses. This is especially true in my riding, which is rural and depends on these enterprises to keep the local economy going.

As most are aware, the energy industry in Canada, especially in western Canada, has not received much support from the Liberal government. Bert Baxter Transport is part of the energy industry. Not only has it struggled due to the general lack of support by the government but it is now being told it has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more per year just to fuel up its trucks. It gets no exemption and no support from a government that is meant to help businesses, not hurt them. These businesses continue to keep up with all the latest and newest energy-efficient technologies, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, yet their government still heaps new taxes on them.

This lack of support for these individuals and thousands of others like them became even clearer this week when a convoy of trucks, mainly from western Canada and many my constituents, including Bert Baxter Transport, rolled into Ottawa and up to Parliament Hill with the aim of drawing attention to the current plight of energy workers in Canada. These people, who are already feeling alienated by the Liberal government and who are struggling, will be hit hard by the carbon tax. All they want is the government to recognize and champion the contributions that they make to the economy, yet they and their business operations are essentially vilified for working in the oil and gas industry.

It seems very hypocritical for the Liberals to give major exemptions to major corporations, to the tune of an 80% exemption or more, when small family-owned and operated businesses will have their expenses skyrocket to the point where life is no longer affordable. Why is it the giant corporations, whose emissions are significantly higher than companies like Bert Baxter, are getting a break when the average, hard-working small business owner is not?

I was extremely frustrated by the minister's non-answer to my initial question. My constituents deserve to feel heard and supported. Bert Baxter Transport is just one of many companies that may be forced to lay off more employees or eventually close their doors for good because of this carbon tax. They do not want to hear the minister spout off figures about heat waves in Quebec or droughts in Saskatchewan because, believe it or not, they are very well aware of them. They have lived it for centuries. Canadians want to know what their government is going to do for them, because so far it seems the answer is to make life more expensive.

I will put the question forward again with the hope of getting an honest and fulsome answer. Given that companies like Bert Baxter Transport will have their operating expenses increase dramatically due to the Liberal carbon tax, where and how much will their exemption be?

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Paul Lefebvre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, Lib.

Madam Speaker, like many Canadians, Mr. Baxter runs a successful small business and he wants to know how pricing carbon pollution will affect his business.

The federal carbon pollution pricing system will increase the cost of his fuel by about 5¢ per litre when it comes into effect this spring. However, it is also true that the federal government will return all of the proceeds collected back to every household, including Mr. Baxter's, as well as to small businesses and other sectors that will face higher costs.

The majority of direct proceeds from the fuel charge will be returned directly to individuals and families through climate action Incentive payments. Canadians in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick can claim this payment when they file their taxes this year.

The government will also use proceeds to support small businesses like Mr. Baxter's. Small and medium-sized enterprises are a critically important part of the Canadian economy. Providing direct support will help them take climate action and lower their energy costs, while keeping them competitive.

In Saskatchewan, the government estimates that nearly $300 million in proceeds will be available over the next five years to support SMEs in that province. Proceeds are also being earmarked to support schools, hospitals, colleges and universities, municipalities, not-for-profits and indigenous communities.

Through Canada's climate action and clean growth plan, the Government of Canada is providing additional financial support to help companies invest in actions that will increase their energy efficiency and reduce their exposure to carbon pricing.

For example, since 2016, the Government of Canada has allocated over $336 million for investments in public transit projects in Saskatchewan, projects like bus fleet renewals in Saskatoon and Moose Jaw. In addition, over $416 million is allocated for investments in green infrastructure in Saskatchewan for projects that will reduce emissions, build resilience to the impacts of climate change or provide additional environmental benefits such as clean air and clean water.

Canada's climate plan will also help the trucking sector get cleaner over time. Between pricing carbon pollution, new regulations on emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and financial support to help develop new clean technologies, we will see more and more trucks that pollute less. There are many technologies that already exist, like using regenerative braking, new technologies to monitor and maintain tire pressures at optimal levels, more efficient engines and alternative fuels.

Carbon pollution pricing is a necessary and common sense way to reduce our emissions, invest in a cleaner tomorrow for our kids and grandkids and help Canada compete in the emerging global low-carbon economy.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, it is apparent that the parliamentary secretary and the minister have never been to Saskatchewan and have no idea what it is like to live in rural Saskatchewan.

He talks about giving money for green energy and for transportation systems. He should try taking a ride in a truck from Maryfield, Saskatchewan to see a doctor in Regina, which is a drive of over two and a half hours. Try doing that with anything but a truck at this time of year, when it is -40o outside, the snow is blowing, the roads are covered in ice and black ice and these people have to get around.

The parliamentary secretary talks about giving money back. The Liberals initially said they were going to give 100% back. Now it is only 90%, and who knows what it will eventually come to. The one thing they are not saying is what it is going to cost if they get back in power.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, Lib.

Paul Lefebvre

Madam Speaker, the clean growth and innovation spurred by pricing carbon pollution will help position Canada for success in the economy of the 21st century. Pricing carbon pollution will reduce our impact on the environment at the lowest costs for consumers and businesses, for the sake of future generations.

This is just one part of our national plan to tackle climate change and grow the economy. Our plan includes over 50 concrete measures, from policies, regulations, standards and investments, to achieve our goal. In addition to putting a price on carbon pollution, the plan also includes complementary measures to reduce emissions, like regulations for electricity, vehicles and fuels. It also includes financial support, such as the low-carbon economy fund, which supports emissions reduction projects across Canada.

TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Independent

Erin Weir Independent Regina—Lewvan, SK

Madam Speaker, earlier this month, I asked whether the federal government was offering to share the cost of restoring needed bus service in Saskatchewan. I did not get a very specific answer that day, but the next day, news broke that the federal government had offered cost sharing to Saskatchewan but unfortunately our provincial government had turned down the money. I would like to use this adjournment debate to examine what the federal government offered and what it should potentially offer, going forward.

As reported in the media, the federal government's offer was an amount of $10 million to all four western Canadian provinces to replace the service lost when Greyhound withdrew from western Canada. Saskatchewan would have received about $2 million.

A large part of the reason that amount is so low is that the federal government was only proposing to replace the service lost from Greyhound. Greyhound only provided interprovincial routes from Saskatchewan. Routes inside the province were operated by a provincial crown corporation, the Saskatchewan Transportation Company. Therefore, the federal government was not proposing anything to replace the service lost when our Saskatchewan Party government shut down and sold off that enterprise in 2017. The Sask Party said that it would have cost $85 million over five years to continue operating the STC routes, which of course is an order of magnitude greater than what the federal government had offered to replace just the lost Greyhound service.

To put these numbers in context, budget 2017 unveiled a $20-billion transit fund. It allocated this money between the provinces, mostly according to existing transit ridership. That funding formula skewed very much in favour of large metropolitan centres that already had well-developed transit systems and a large number of people already using those systems. This focus on existing transit ridership disadvantaged smaller provinces such as Saskatchewan.

To provide some numbers, the federal government's formula gave Saskatchewan 1.6% of the transit funding, whereas our province comprises 3.2% of Canada's population. In other words, the federal government is providing transit funding of $320 million to Saskatchewan, whereas our equal per capita share of the money would be more like $640 million.

Of course, as members know, most federal transfer programs are allocated on a strictly per capita basis to the provinces. Therefore, the case that I would make is that by simply providing a fair per capita share of transit funding to Saskatchewan and making it clear that this money can be used not only for urban transit but also for interprovincial and rural bus service, there would be more than enough funding to restore needed bus service in Saskatchewan to replace not only the routes abandoned by Greyhound but also the routes that used to be provided by our provincial crown corporation, the Saskatchewan Transportation Company. I hope the government will agree to this approach, going forward.

TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Terry Beech Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Lib.

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation for raising this very important issue.

Greyhound's decision to discontinue western service on October 31, 2018, impacted many communities across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, as well as northern Ontario. Intercity bus service remains an important transportation option for Canadians, particularly seniors, youth, indigenous peoples and individuals in rural and remote communities. Without it, Canadians could have a difficult time connecting with friends and family in other communities, as well as accessing important community services such as health care.

While most intercity bus services fall within the jurisdiction of provincial governments, we stepped up because we recognized the magnitude and interprovincial nature of Greyhound's departure from these provinces and have worked diligently to develop solutions to address the issue. On October 31, 2018, after collaborative work with the provincial governments, the federal government announced its plan to address Greyhound's service reductions. The first part of the plan includes a willingness from the federal government to offer support on a transitional and cost-shared basis to the provinces affected so that they can fill the gaps in service left behind by Greyhound on October 31.

Recently, the Minister of Transport reached out directly to his counterparts in the provinces, including the Province of Saskatchewan, where gaps remain to reiterate the federal government's offer of support. The federal government remains ready and willing to support the provinces in addressing their intercity bus needs.

We know that more needs to be done to ensure Canadians continue to have access to intercity bus transportation options. For several years, intercity bus services have been reduced or eliminated in many parts of Canada. That is why the federal government also announced its commitment to continue collaborating with our partners to develop innovative longer-term solutions to address the surface transportation needs of all Canadians.

TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Independent

Erin Weir Independent Regina—Lewvan, SK

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for providing a very good account of why intercity bus service is so important.

The parliamentary secretary suggested that the federal government would fund only interprovincial service, but of course, the federal government has chosen to fund urban transit, which is clearly within provincial jurisdiction. The federal government could choose to fund other bus service within provincial jurisdiction as well if it wanted to offer the money.

The parliamentary secretary seemed open to future federal support or future federal offers. I wonder if he could clarify whether the Government of Canada will make its public transit infrastructure fund available to provinces on an equal per capita basis and whether it will make those funds available not only for urban transit but for intercity transit.

TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Lib.

Terry Beech

Madam Speaker, of course our government is proud of the unprecedented and historic investments we are making in transportation.

As it refers to Greyhound, which was the original question, and its withdrawal and our reaction to that withdrawal, as announced by our government on October 31, 2018, the current focus is on helping affected provinces fill the gaps in service left by Greyhound. Because of the wide-scale impact of these service gaps on many communities in these provinces, it is important to work quickly and diligently to ensure as minimal a disruption as possible.

We will continue to work hard for communities across the country, and it is our hope that our provincial leaders and partners will do the same.

TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The motion that the House do now adjourn is deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:55 p.m.)