Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Calgary Shepard.
The ask in Bill C-2 is $7.4 billion, and the bill is being rushed through the House, with little time at committee to deal with another $7.4 billion expenditure. A lot of these types of situations have happened over the last couple of years, since the pandemic started. I recall that back in early 2021, there was a $52-billion spending bill, and the government wanted Parliament's approval in literally four hours, with little opportunity for oversight and little opportunity to provide any sort of transparency or accountability on that spending. Now, here with Bill C-2, we are being asked to approve $7.4 billion.
I want to focus on a couple of points today. Number one is who is left out in Bill C-2. I think it is very important that we recognize who is being left out in the bill. Second, I want to focus on the issue of accountability, transparency and oversight, which are severely lacking in the bill. The member for Carleton asked finance department officials where this money was coming from, and all we heard were crickets. He suggested that maybe there is a money tree in this country that the government is picking money from, but there was no answer. These are the types of questions we could deal with if we had more time.
I am really fortunate to come from the riding of Barrie—Innisfil, which is also known as “Terminal 4”. There are a lot of Pearson airport employees and airline, travel and tourism employees who live in my riding. Many of them have felt anxiety not just over the past 18 months in trying to pick up the pieces of their lives as the travel and tourism industry has been decimated, but also over the fact that in the last couple of days, we have seen advisories from the Government of Canada on travel. They are really curbing back some of the decisions that Canadians have made to travel over the holidays, to travel internationally to warm destinations, which typically Canadians do, or to travel to simply visit family in the United States. A lot of that is not happening, and it is having a serious impact on our travel and tourism industry, particularly the airline sector, which we know has been hard hit over the course of the last 21 months, and those in the travel adviser business, such as travel agents, many of whom have been left out over the course of the last 21 months from many of the benefits the government has provided for relief. Now they are being left behind again.
I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Tourism say that they will have to apply just like everybody else, but from the discussions I have had with the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, applying simply does not work. These people did not qualify because many of them are independent travel advisers. They do not have brick-and-mortar properties and do not have storefronts. They work out of their homes. However, they provide $2.4 billion in revenue, at least they did in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
Many of the 12,000 independent travel advisers in this country, like Heather Kearns and Charlene Caldwell from my riding, did not qualify for any of the pandemic benefits. As a result, they have seen a drop, like a drop off a cliff, in their businesses. Oftentimes, they are paid for bookings when those trips happen, so members can imagine what it would be like if we booked travel and that travel got cancelled and clawed back, or if we did not get paid for anything we thought we would be booking.
It has been an awfully difficult 20 months for travel advisers, and it is going to continue that way. What Bill C-2 does not address directly is the demand from the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, which is for some sort of bridge financing to make it much easier for them to access government programs. I think that is a failure of Bill C-2.
The other thing, which we have heard about from seniors, is the GIS clawback. Many seniors are suffering right now. There is an affordability crisis going on this country, and the cost of home heating, gas, groceries and hydro is disproportionately affecting seniors not just in my riding but right across this country. Many seniors thought to apply for the CERB, and as a result of receiving it, they are now finding out there are GIS clawbacks. The government does address this, but not until May 2022, so many of those seniors will continue to suffer as a result of the affordability and “just inflation” crisis that is going on right now.
Those are a couple of what I think are serious faults in this piece of legislation.
Over the last couple of days, I have heard, as I expect many colleagues in the House have, from travel advisers and other people in the travel and tourism industry about how worried they are over the latest travel advisories, particularly at a time when Canada will be seeing its busiest period of travel. Many of those travel advisers will simply lose more income, so we should have broader supports available in Bill C-2 for the travel and tourism industry. They are not addressed in this piece of legislation, and those independent travel advisers will be severely impacted by this.
The other thing we want to see in Bill C-2, and this to me is extremely troubling, is the level of accountability and transparency that was requested by members of the Conservative Party at the finance committee, in particular for oversight. A FINTRAC report was done, and I will remind Canadians that FINTRAC stands for the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada. Its job is to monitor literally every financial transaction that happens in this country. It issued a report, and it was not until an ATIP request made by Mr. Ken Rubin, who is an Ottawa researcher, was received that the extent, scope and scale of the CERB fraud occurring in this country was known. What the Conservatives were looking for, as part of the amendments to Bill C-2 that were not included in the latest iteration of the bill, was an audit, based on the FINTRAC report, by the Auditor General, a review of some of the CRA actions that have gone on to investigate this simply to pursue the fraudsters.
I will provide some examples of what was in the FINTRAC report, and why this is so disturbing and should be disturbing to Canadians, given the scale, scope and amount of fraud. Who was involved in the fraud is also important.
This report was first published in 2020 by FINTRAC. Do members know how many investigations have been done by the Canada Revenue Agency since? It is zero in 21 months. That in and of itself is disturbing. What the Conservatives were trying to do was bring amendments to the bill so we could investigate that on behalf of Canadians, or at least allow the agencies responsible for investigations to look into the issue of fraud.
The FINTRAC report is an interesting read, and I encourage everybody to read it. I will certainly post it on some of my social media sites. There is a great summary in it, but a lot of the information is redacted. I know my time is short, so I will quickly summarize some of the challenges that went on with FINTRAC and why it was important that they be investigated. It states:
Reporting Entities indicated that criminal organizations, using stolen IDs and individuals recruited via social media, are operating "CERB scams" in certain cities....
This was in 2020, so it is in the present tense. It continues:
...prepaid cards are loaded with CERB benefits and other laundered funds.
Reporting Entities indicated that clients who do not meet the CERB eligibility requirements, or who are fully employed, still apply for, and receive CERB benefits....
A Reporting Entity noted that scammers are using stolen personal identifying information to apply online for CERB/GST refunds and arranging for funds to be deposited onto prepaid/reloadable cards.
We also heard about the gangs and criminal organizations that were using the CERB to fund the purchase of guns.
This is critically important to Canadians. The government shovelled billions of dollars out the door with no oversight, accountability or transparency. We as Conservatives think it is important to investigate this.
There is one other thing I will say. The other day at the ethics committee I asked for members to consider a motion to look into the over $600 billion in pandemic spending that has not been accounted for by the government. That motion was rejected at committee by the Liberal members.
We need to get to the bottom of this so that Canadians have confidence and trust in the government and to make sure we understand where the money is going. It is disappointing to see that amendments on accountability and transparency were not part of the amendments accepted for Bill C-2, and it is difficult to understand why.