House of Commons Hansard #293 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vote.


Witness Responses at Standing Committee on Governement Operations and EstimatesPrivilegeGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.


Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Madam Speaker, it is indeed disappointing to see both sides of the House continue to behave like that.

If the government can so blatantly be cavalier with committees, it is not surprising that others would be too. No doubt, Kristian Firth of GC Strategies saw how government officials appeared at committee and based his own conduct on that. Lines need to be drawn. Parliament's dignity must be defended. Parliament and its committee cannot continue to be seen as mere toothless entities to be ignored when questions become inconvenient, embarrassing or damaging to the government or to the witness.

I want to clear up some misinformation that I heard last night that was stated in the House. There are those in this place who stated that Kristian Firth from GC Strategies supplied all the information that was asked of him at committee. The fact is that he provided some answers and refused to answer other questions. Questions were asked of him where it was agreed that he would provide answers in writing the next day by 9 a.m. He provided some of these by 9 a.m. and some of these much later in the day. I am not going to quibble on that issue, but he refused simple questions that are at the heart of the ArriveCAN scandal.

GC Strategies, made up of Kristian Firth and his partner, was accused of helping to write the work requirements for a contract that GC Strategies specifically would win that contract, and that they did. Mr. Firth was asked that information. I want to read from the blues. The member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek asked, “For greater clarity, I'm looking for the individuals or individual that you would have met with in developing the criteria, not who signed off on the contract in this particular case. I do want that name, but now I'm asking, who did you sit at the table with to develop the criteria for this contract?”

Mr. Firth responded, “Again, I apologize, but after speaking with my lawyer, my stance still stands the same with the RCMP investigation.... I don't interfere with that.” He would not answer. Members will remember that he was sworn in. He was warned of the consequences of not answering the questions. This was his third appearance, so this was not a new experience for him.

Later, at committee, the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, on a point of order, said to him, “I'd like the chair to put the question to you, and you have an obligation to answer it, whether you want to or not, because of the rules that apply to Parliament, to its committees and to witnesses who come before it.”

We put forward the question to Mr. Firth. He responsded, “Again, I...appreciate the opportunity, Mr. Chair, that you've laid out clearly, but at this point, we're still remaining with our stance of there could possibly be a...RCMP investigation”. I went on to advise him, “I will advise you, as I'm sure you're aware, that you have parliamentary privilege, which would allow you the right to speak”, but he chose not to. We can see clearly here that Mr. Firth was given ample warning. He was given ample opportunity and he refused to answer.

Earlier, I mentioned the government's conduct in dealing with committee orders and privileges, and how it leads to such actions. In the previous McKinsey & Company study at OGGO, the Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc and NDP unanimously passed a production order for documents from both McKinsey and the government departments, demanding all contracts, reports, invoices, emails and documents between McKinsey and the government departments they worked for. McKinsey complied one hundred per cent. Guess who did not comply? The government departments did not comply. The Business Development Bank of Canada refused. Canada Border Services Agency refused. Canada Pension Plan Investment Board refused. Canada Post refused. The IRCC for citizenship and immigration refused. National Defence refused. Natural Resources refused. Export Development Canada refused. The Privy Council Office and the office of the Prime Minister refused. Atomic Energy refused. Canada Development Investment Corporation refused. The Department of Employment and Social Development refused. The Department of Finance refused. Veterans Affairs refused. The Public Sector Pension Investment Board refused. Trans Mountain Canada refused.

That was a unanimous order for the production of documents from the operations committee. I want to give an idea of some of the excuses as to why the government departments refused.

Mr. Matthew Shea, who is the assistant secretary to the cabinet from PCO says that there are privacy acts that apply. “We're also guided by 'Open and Accountable Government' [rules]”, which is a policy from PCO that he stated overrides parliamentary privilege and the supremacy of Parliament. He went on to say, “I think personal information and the Privacy Act is something that we have to be very sensitive to”, not the supremacy of Parliament but the Privacy Act.

Ms. Mélanie Bernier from PSPIB, who is senior vice-president and chief legal officer, actually lied to committee. She told us she could not provide the documents ordered by the committee because it costs money to translate. Then she went on to say that the money to translate the documents would reduce the amount of the pensions for public service employees, which is not true.

Mr. Matthew Shea returned, again, to committee and stated that, “A big part...of these requests, is the importance of, as a government, our working with the committee to find solutions”. It was not to obey the order of Parliament but to find solutions that suited him.

Filipe Dinis, chief operating officer of the Bank of Canada, actually wrote to committee explaining that the Access to Information Act had precedence over an order of Parliament and, therefore, they refused. It is no wonder that the Bank of Canada messed up inflation so badly, considering what their chief operating officer believes is the order of precedence. I can see their boardroom discussing monetary policy but deferring to the Access to Information Act when it comes to deciding how much money to print.

CPPIB also stated that it would be a disservice to the public interest to follow the order of Parliament.

Todd Winterhalt of Export Development Canada stated that they were guided by the Privacy Act as to what documents they could turn over to Parliament, not the supremacy of Parliament or an order of Parliament but the Privacy Act.

Immigration stated that it could not comply because it was too difficult to translate pages. My colleagues from the Bloc Québécois should think about that. Immigration refused an order of Parliament because it is too difficult to translate pages.

It gets worse. ESDC delivered documents that were redacted but not fully translated, which violates parliamentary privilege to table documents only partially translated. When we complained, they resubmitted without the French.

The refusal of these departments might be wide of the scope of the Firth issue, but it speaks to a bigger pattern committees face, especially the grand inquisitor committees like the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

In conclusion, we are seeing a clear erosion of respect for the privilege of parliamentarians. We have witnesses coming before committee and openly acting in contempt as they please. We have government departments openly defying orders passed unanimously by committees. We have witnesses refusing to answer questions simply because they decide not to.

We have to restore the rules of this place. We must restore the privilege of the members.

Witness Responses at Standing Committee on Governement Operations and EstimatesPrivilegeGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I just want to remind members. There are still conversations being had. I have raised it twice, and it is on both sides and from various parties.

I would just ask members to please take their conversations outside.

The hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan is rising on the question of privilege.

Witness Responses at Standing Committee on Governement Operations and EstimatesPrivilegeGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a great honour to follow my friend, the chair of our committee, the member for Edmonton West and the Edmonton mall, who made many excellent and important points.

I want to thank the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes for initially raising this matter of privilege yesterday. Of course, it was of critical importance that the matter of privilege be raised as soon as possible following the tabling of the report, although that also happened to be a time when the government operations committee was meeting and hearing from ministers. Therefore, I am very grateful for his intervention, as well as for the allowances that have been given so regular members of the government operations committee can share some additional important thoughts about the very serious privilege issues raised in the 17th report of the government operations committee.

The genesis of this question of privilege is the ongoing hearings at the government operations committee into the metastasizing arrive scam scandal. In many respects, this is not one scandal, but a family of scandals. I will not detail all the various aspects. I think members are well familiar with the tens of millions of dollars spent on an app and its 177 versions, many of which were not tested. It sent over 10,000 people into quarantine falsely and unintentionally as a result of the fact that it was not tested. Companies were given contracts that had no IT experience and simply subcontracted all the work, did nothing and collected a massive commission along the way. There was a complete absence of records in many cases, and there are allegations of records perhaps being deleted or never being created in the first place.

As well, the Auditor General revealed that, at points along the way, the contractors sat down with people within the government to discuss the terms of the contract. The company involved in setting those terms was then able to bid on the contract, which effectively rigged the process.

We have a rigging of the process, absent records, an app that did not work and sent people into quarantine falsely and unintentionally, and an enormous waste in government. Compounding this is evidence of criminal activity in the form of the fraudulent altering of resumés by one of the same contractors.

We often speak in the opposition about the problems of cost, corruption and crime. In the case of the arrive scam scandal, we have all three going on here.

Of particular relevance to the privileges of Parliament, in this scandal, we have seen just how the committee has been engaged by various witnesses over the course of questioning. This has compounded members' concerns about the situation regarding the scandal. There were many instances of officials and people outside government lying to the committee, accusing others of lying or contradicting themselves. For instance, there were senior public servants accusing other senior public servants of lying to the committee. Obviously we have a massive problem here: Many people are not telling the truth to a parliamentary committee and do not seem to appreciate how serious parliamentary committees' roles are supposed to be.

Just last week, at the government operations committee, we had Kristian Firth and Darren Anthony separately, two separate principals at GC Strategies.

In my questioning of Darren Anthony, we could see at one point, when I asked him a question, that he was reading a statement off-screen. When I asked him if he was reading a statement or speaking from the heart, he said, without any kind of obvious show of conscience, that he was speaking from the heart.

In previous testimony, we had Kristian Firth himself making clearly contradictory claims over the course of two hours.

We also had Cameron MacDonald and Minh Doan accusing each other of lying about who was responsible for making this app.

Although there are unanswered questions, we know that there is a campaign to hide information from various quarters and to hide information from the government operations committee. We know that we are being lied to and that witnesses are choosing not to appear, are doing everything possible to avoid appearing, or are showing up and intentionally stonewalling the committee.

This raises further questions about the nature of the scandal and what might be motivating these attempts to hide information, but it also raises questions of privilege, of the rights of members of Parliament to be able to ask important questions and get answers.

What our committee has been clear on from the start is that what we are interested in is finding out the truth. We are interesting in finding out why these dubious characters were selected by the Government of Canada to build this app, why so much money was spent, what happened to the records, who made the decision, who is telling the truth, and who is not. These are questions that we want answered.

I have always felt that it is in the best interest of witnesses to simply come before the committee and honestly answer questions and tell the truth. The committee has, I think, responded much better to witnesses who have sought to be forthright in explaining why they did what they did and then trying to offer a defence for their actions, rather than prevaricating, refusing to answer, refusing to appear or hiding information.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of the characters, both inside and outside of government, have chosen the path of ducking and prevaricating, avoiding, and that makes us wonder what further information they are trying to hide. What are they trying to hide that is leading to this constant stonewalling of the committee by government witnesses and by external witnesses?

On matters of privilege, I want to highlight the key principles at stake in this question. Since I have been a member of Parliament I have been surprised at how many times witnesses, both inside and outside government but who seem to have close relationships with government, do not seem to appreciate the centrality of the principle of the supremacy of Parliament.

In a proper, functioning democratic society, the elected legislature has to be supreme. Of course, on day-to-day matters, the executive, the public service and other institutions exercise an enormous amount of power. However, Parliament has to be supreme. Parliament has to be supreme. That means that when Parliament passes laws, they have to be followed by the executive, by the Prime Minister and by people outside of government.

It means that the regulatory powers that governments have come from the legislature and are limited by the legislature. It also means that Parliament has the ability to conduct investigations, and the committees of Parliament have the ability to conduct investigations. They have constitutionally protected powers to call witnesses, to order the production of documents and to insist on answers to their questions. It is part of the supremacy of Parliament that, in order for parliamentarians to be able to do their jobs, they need to be able to access documents, order witnesses and get answers to questions.

This is so foundational to our system of government, yet in the last Parliament, shockingly, when I was working on the Winnipeg lab documents issue, we came up against the fact that the president of the Public Health Agency, a very senior official in the government, simply did not seem to believe in the principle of the supremacy of Parliament. The issue was important. Clearly, now that we know more, the issue of the Winnipeg labs documents was very important.

Underneath that, of perhaps even greater importance was the supremacy of Parliament, which was being challenged by that official, who said, “Actually, I do not have to answer your questions and I do not have to provide documents.” In response to that, the last Parliament took significant action and ordered responses. Those responses were not forthcoming, and that official was eventually summonsed to the bar here and admonished. Sadly, that episode ended with one of the political parties changing its position on it, which meant that a majority of Parliament was no longer ordering those documents.

However, for a period of time, Parliament took very seriously that assertion of its prerogatives of the supremacy of Parliament, and rightly so, because it is foundational to our democracy. If we were ever to go down the road of saying that Parliament is not supreme, that maybe the Privacy Act takes precedence and that maybe the executive can ignore Parliament, that would mark a serious erosion of democracy. In asserting this principle of parliamentary supremacy, not only are we defending our role as legislators, but we are also defending the democratic foundations of our country.

In the case of the orders to Kristian Firth and Darren Anthony, on multiple occasions, the committee ordered these witnesses to appear. They repeatedly refused. I think it was evident in discussions with them, and they had legal counsel as well, that they did not appear to appreciate just how serious it was that a parliamentary committee was ordering them to do something. I can only infer from that, as my colleague from Edmonton West alluded to, that they had learned the wrong lessons from actions by the government. I infer that they had not seen modelled in previous incidents the fact that parliamentary committees insist on having their rights respected.

However, the committee was insistent, and we had a motion that came to the House that was concurred in unanimously. It ordered Mr. Firth and Mr. Anthony to appear; this meant that, if they had not appeared, they would have been taken into custody by the Sergeant-at-Arms. Therefore, they appeared at the last possible minute, but once they appeared, they did everything possible to double down on their lack of respect for the principle of the supremacy of Parliament. They presented a bald-faced challenge to the core democratic principle that the people get to decide and that the people, through their democratic representatives, are supreme within our system of government.

Presumably under the advice of their lawyers, they decided that they could simply defy our core democratic norms, disregard the democratic rule of law and not respect this principle of the supremacy of Parliament.

We know that committees have these powers to work on behalf of the House, to order documents, to summon witnesses and to insist on answers to questions, and we have seen time and time again an effort to erode this principle through refusal to comply with these powers. However, I commend the government operations committee on drawing a firm line at that point and saying that enough was enough. It said that it needed not only to get to the bottom of what happened in the arrive scam scandal but also to defend our democratic institutions and the principle of parliamentary supremacy. Furthermore, it needed to insist that this is not merely a place of pageantry but the deliberative assembly of one nation, where we work out our differences and answer big questions. In order to do that, it had to be able to exercise its powers to access information.

I commend the committee for firmly asserting and standing on that principle and for standing up to the efforts of officials, contractors and lawyers of others to try to defy it. We will stand firm for democracy and against democratic decline; we will defend the role of Parliament and the supremacy of Parliament against all challenges. We are doing that today in this question of privilege.

When the witnesses were told by the chair that they had to answer the questions, and when the questions were put to them not by individual members but by the committee, Mr. Firth in particular said that he would not answer. He provided no clear reason for this. He said that there might hypothetically be an RCMP investigation on the matter at some point in the future. He said that, based on speculation he had read on Twitter, he thought there might be an investigation; as such, he refused to answer the question.

In the face of such defiance, in two minutes, the committee unanimously agreed to empower the chair to present a report to the House outlining the material facts of this breach of privilege. This was an extraordinary show of unity at the committee, which I hoped would be continued in the House. The committee unanimously, immediately, without debate, agreed to my motion to refer this matter to the House.

As a matter of process, I think it is important for Canadians to understand that parliamentary committees have these awesome powers, which are necessary as part of democracy and the supremacy of Parliament, but their enforcement process is quite circuitous. When parliamentary committees feel there is a violation of privilege, they have to provide a report to the House that provides the details of that violation of privilege. The House then considers the matter, but the committee has to agree to it first. As I have worked through cases like this before, it can be very difficult, as we saw in the case of the Winnipeg lab's documents, to get the committee to come together to provide the report to the House in an appropriate, fulsome and timely way that actually moves it forward.

In this case, the committee was clear and unanimous in wanting to expedite this issue, and I commend it for that. I had hoped and I do hope that we will see a similar unanimous response from the House. I encourage all members to stand up for their roles as members of Parliament. We come here initially as representatives of our constituencies, but we also come into the House as members of a deliberative assembly of one nation to speak on behalf of the people who send us here to try to get to the bottom of the serious problems facing our nation. We do so principally as individuals, not as creatures of political parties. The rights of individual members have to endure, and protecting the rights of individual members and of this institution is necessary for making our democracy strong.

Therefore, let us all push back against efforts to reduce or diminish this institution to mere spectacle. Let us defend the powers and prerogatives of Parliament and let us bequeath to future generations a stronger, not weaker, Parliament by moving this question of privilege forward, by defending the rights of committees to do their job and by resisting the pressures of democratic decline.

I hope you will find a prima facie case of privilege and that we will be able to take the further steps necessary to insist that Mr. Firth, and all witnesses, show up when they are told to show up, answer questions forthrightly and provide the documents that are requested. This will be a critical test for the House, for this Parliament and for us as leaders, whether we defend this core principle of democracy or allow it to erode. I hope to see a positive ruling on this. I know, at that point, members will be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

I want to say briefly that yesterday, in response to this, the member for Winnipeg North implied that the information requested was eventually provided. That is certainly not the case. I know the member for Edmonton West emphasized that this was not the case. The report that was tabled with the unanimous support of the committee emphasized that the information was not provided. The reason why the committee was quick and united in taking the position it did was that the information was not provided. It has not been provided since. The chair has confirmed as much, and I can confirm as much as a member of the committee. This is very much still an outstanding item.

Again, we must insist on respect for our democracy and we must, through this process, educate government officials, the legal community and anybody who is representing those who come to Parliament about the principle of the supremacy of Parliament.

Witness Responses at Standing Committee on Governement Operations and EstimatesPrivilegeGovernment Orders

7 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

I want to thank the hon. member for his input on this question of privilege. I know the Speaker is waiting for a few more pieces of input before making his decision.

I wish to inform the House that because of the delay, pursuant to Standing Order 30(7), there will be no Private Members' Business hour today. Accordingly, the order will be rescheduled for another sitting.

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

Persons with DisabilitiesAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.


Bonita Zarrillo NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, caregivers are stretched, burnt out and doing their best to offer care to loved ones every day, but with the rising cost of living they cannot wait any longer for financial support from the government. Liberals need to act now, keep their promise and stop abandoning caregivers and the people they support. The government promised to make the Canada caregiver credit refundable, but it has not fulfilled that promise and the lowest-income people are impacted the most. This needs to stop.

We are in an affordability crisis. Unpaid carers are struggling to keep up with the cost of living. With the additional costs associated with caring for others, they are finding it even more difficult to make ends meet. The caregivers the government relies on to keep people healthy and supported deserve better.

When it comes to the people that unpaid carers support, many of whom are adults with disabilities, they are still waiting for the Canada disability benefit. Like the caregiver refundable tax credit, it is still an unkept promise from the government.

I am very worried about the government's ability to deliver the Canada disability benefit, because, as we found out during COVID, CERB payments were not able to get to persons with disabilities easily. The government does not have a way to identify people with disabilities living in poverty. Using the disability tax credit, or DTC, is absolutely not acceptable, and here is why.

I recently put forward an Order Paper question asking what the average income is for persons who receive the disability tax credit. The answer that I got back from the CRA was this:

...while the question requests data based on those in receipt of the disability tax credit...the CRA’s DTC income data is structured based on claimants.

The one-to-one relationship between claimants and certificate holders is difficult to ascertain, with the possibility of more than one individual being a claimant on the same certificate. For this reason, CRA is unable to provide the income breakdowns of certificate holders, the beneficiaries, and is not in a position to respond in the manner requested.

In response to my question, the CRA is not able to identify who has the disability tax credit and is also living in poverty. This reality means that the government cannot distribute the Canada disability benefit to the people. It needs adequate data and technical infrastructure from the public service to make the Canada disability benefit a reality.

Almost two years ago, HUMA, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, called upon the government to consider the possibility of codifying all people with disabilities in order to facilitate the ease of payment of future benefits for disabled persons, and to codify from their provincial support programs. The government's response did not even address the solution and instead deferred this to provinces and territories. Again, I am asking today that the Minister of National Revenue rectify this situation immediately.

Back to the caregiver tax credit. Making this tax credit refundable immediately is an absolute necessity. Therefore, in the upcoming budget, will the Liberals finally live up to their promise and deliver a refundable tax credit to caregivers and show them that they matter?

Persons with DisabilitiesAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Mississauga—Erin Mills Ontario


Iqra Khalid LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to answer the question from my hon. colleague, the member of Parliament for Port Moody—Coquitlam, regarding the Canada caregiver credit.

From the outset, I should clarify that the Canada Revenue Agency's responsibility is to administer a tax policy once implemented, whereas the role of the Department of Finance is to actually develop that tax policy.

Indeed, the CRA administers the Canada caregiver credit on behalf of the Government of Canada. The Government of Canada understands the sacrifices that Canadians are making to care for their children, their spouses, their parents and other family members. This is why we have improved the income tax relief provided for caregivers, to recognize the impact their caregiving expenses can have on the ability to pay tax. In 2017, the government replaced multiple caregiver credits with differing criteria with a single credit: the Canada caregiver credit.

This credit is simpler. It is designed to provide better support to those who need it the most.

Let us define who is eligible to claim the Canada caregiver benefit. Canadians may be able to claim the Canada caregiver credit if they support their spouse or their common-law partner, who has a physical or mental impairment.

They may also be able to claim this credit if one or more of the following individuals depend on them for support because of physical or mental impairment: their or their spouse's or common-law partner's child or grandchild or their or their spouse's or common-law partner's parent, grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, niece or nephew, if they resided in Canada at any time in that year.

For the 2023 taxation year, the Canada caregiver credit provides tax relief on an amount of $7,999 for expenses for the care of dependent relatives with infirmities, including those with disabilities, such as parents, brothers and sisters, adult children and other specific relatives. It also provides $2,499 for expenses for the care of a dependent spouse or common-law partner or a minor child with an infirmity, including a disability.

In total, about 535,000 individuals claimed an amount for the Canada caregiver credit for 2020. For 2023, it is projected that about $255 million will be provided in federal tax relief under the Canada caregiver credit.

The CRA works to ensure that caregivers have access to the Canada caregiver credit if their respective situation allows. In fact, the ultimate goal of the CRA is for everyone in Canada to receive all the benefits and credits to which they are entitled. The CRA is proud of its community volunteer income tax program, the CVITP, and in Quebec, the income tax assistance volunteer program, the ITAVP, which support this goal. Through these programs, the Government of Canada supports community organizations and their volunteers, who offer free tax clinics to people with modest incomes and simple tax solutions, including people who are caregivers.

In fact, the CVITP and the ITAVP are an integral part of the CRA's efforts to ensure that vulnerable and hard-to-reach people have an easier time filing their income tax and benefit returns. I encourage all to do the same this tax season.

Persons with DisabilitiesAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.


Bonita Zarrillo NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member and I share a goal, which is to make sure that all people in Canada easily receive the entitlements that they are entitled to in their income taxes.

One that is very hard for people to find and one that they do not know about is this Canada caregiver tax credit.

I will go back to two points. One of them is that the caregiver tax credit needs to be refundable, because those lowest-income people, those people who do not have incomes that allow for a full allowance on their tax credit, need that refund back. They spend the money to care for their loved ones, and they really need that to be a refundable benefit. This is a tax credit that the government promised, and they need to fulfill this promise.

I also just wanted to address the first thing that the member said about the difference between applying a law and a bill and implementing it. What I am highlighting for the member is that the CRA, at this point in time, has no way to implement the Canada disability benefit, to identify a DTC recipient along with their income.

Persons with DisabilitiesAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.


Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her advocacy on this very important issue.

The CRA administers a long list of benefits and credits intended for Canadians on behalf of the Government of Canada. Among these are not only the Canada caregiver credit, but also the Canada child benefit, the Canada workers benefit, and the GST and HST, just to name a few. Last year, the CRA also successfully administered new programs, such as the grocery rebate, the interim Canada dental benefit, which I know the member has been a strong advocate for, and the one-time top-up of the Canada housing benefit.

Let us be clear. To support vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations, one of CRA's flagships is definitely the CVITP. It is really important for us, not only as members of Parliament, but also as a community, to make sure that people have access to filing their taxes and that people are aware that these benefits and credits are available to them. Over these next 30 to 50 days, we are going to make sure that everybody knows how to do that and has access to it as well.

International DevelopmentAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.


Kevin Vuong Independent Spadina—Fort York, ON

Mr. Speaker, on December 14, I raised with the Minister of International Development the numerous media reports of UNRWA employee involvement in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack against Israel.

I asked if the minister still held the view that regardless of an UNWRA employee literally holding an Israeli citizen hostage, he still regarded UNWRA as a “trusted” agency. This is important because, unlike the minister, several UNWRA donor countries, our allies, did not share that same glowing view and quickly suspended funding to UNWRA pending an investigation.

How is it possible for UNWRA to be held in such high esteem by the minister and the Liberal government when evidence indicates UNWRA is joined at the fanatical hip of Hamas?

I am glad the minister was able to at least admit allegations against UNWRA were “very disturbing” and that Canada’s concerns had been expressed to the head of the agency. These concerns should be clearly conveyed because, and I do not think members would be surprised to hear this, but Canadian taxpayers are not keen on funding listed terrorist organizations.

On February 1, in response to my question, the minister said that the government was awaiting the results of the UN investigation and did not want to “jump to conclusions”, but the investigation’s final report is scheduled to be published on April 20, and the Liberal government restored UNWRA funding on March 8.

Does the minister have a secret ability to time travel? Did the government know something no one else did? It did not wait for anyone to jump, or not jump, to conclusions. It simply made its own. Moreover, on March 8, the Liberal government reinstated UNRWA funding, despite the ongoing UN investigation and despite the fact that the government had been briefed with additional information that very morning of that same day.

What led Canada to jump the gun on resuming UNWRA funding? I thought the minister had said they would wait for the results of the investigation. How would the Canadian government know what that final report had found when the investigation has not finished and the report has not even been published yet?

Instead, let us examine what the Liberal government did know prior to its decision to restore funding to UNWRA on March 8. It knew that Hamas is deeply embedded in UNRWA and in key posts. It knew that Hamas members dominate UNWRA’s education system. It knew that Hamas uses UNWRA facilities for military activities. It knew that UNWRA’s education system incites hatred and even glorifies suicide bombers.

On that Friday afternoon of March 8, when the Liberal government reinstated funding, it also knew that at least 15 UNWRA employees were involved in the October 7 terror attack. It also knew that nearly 2,000 UNWRA employees, more than just a few bad apples, but one in six, are members of a terror organization. That is the extent of what our government knew, yet it still decided to reinstate funding.

Let us not stop there. It also knew that there are six UNWRA school principals in Gaza who are Hamas members. As well, 11% , or one in nine, of UNWRA’s facilities contain terror infrastructure.

What kind of madness has permeated the Government of Canada to restore funding to an agency more concerned with the advancement of terror than it is with any humanitarian work on behalf of the innocent Palestinian people?

International DevelopmentAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario


Anita Vandenbeld LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development

Mr. Speaker, we unequivocally condemn Hamas's brutal terrorist attacks on October 7, which included the killing, maiming and abduction of innocent civilians. Nothing can justify these abhorrent acts. Canada continues to support Israel's right to defend itself in accordance with international law.

At the same time, Canada has been deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and its impact on civilians. Since the start of this crisis, our position has been centred on the firm belief that more assistance is needed in Gaza, not less.

Canada was the first G7 country to provide aid and is one of the largest donors, with $100 million provided for civilians so far, but much more needs to be done. We have done airdrops, and we are now exploring ways to have a sea corridor to get this vital aid to the innocent civilians.

Following allegations that some UNRWA staff were involved in the heinous October 7, 2023, Hamas attacks on Israel, the United Nations put in place important procedures to respond to the allegations and enforce its zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism within its organizations, including UNRWA.

Canada has reviewed the interim report of the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight on this matter and awaits the final report with interest. Canada welcomes the ongoing independent UNRWA review, led by Catherine Colonna.

As these investigative processes unfold, UNRWA is working on reforms, and the Secretary-General has taken steps to strengthen monitoring and accountability within UNRWA. Canada will continue to work closely with the United Nations, UNRWA and other donor countries to ensure UNRWA meets its obligations and is able to continue its relief efforts.

Canada is satisfied that the UN and UNRWA are undertaking a serious process of investigation, action and long-term review. On March 8, Canada announced it would resume its funding to UNRWA. Other donors have done so as well, namely Sweden, Australia and Ireland, and the European Union has proceeded with its disbursements to the agency. We will continue to closely follow the investigation.

Civilians' needs for humanitarian assistance are growing by the hour. Famine is projected at any time in Gaza. There is a need for essential supplies and services to reach Palestinian civilians. UNRWA has an important role as a provider of food assistance to over 1.1 million people and is sheltering over a million across 150 emergency shelters, most of which are in UNRWA schools.

Each day, UNRWA provides around 23,000 medical consultations, recreation activities to 11,000 children, and psychosocial support to over 9,000 people. The agency represents a lifeline to the vulnerable civilians in Gaza.

We assess UNRWA to be an indispensable partner in aid delivery in Gaza at this time of profound humanitarian crisis, and we continue to support the organization's valuable provision of services in other areas of operation across the region.

International DevelopmentAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Kevin Vuong Independent Spadina—Fort York, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me be very clear: No one is against Canada funding any organization in Gaza or elsewhere in the region that actively seeks to provide humanitarian assistance and a better life for the Palestinian people. That is not in question.

The Palestinian people need every assistance and support they can get to live in a just and durable peace, and so does Israel. However, it is unconscionable to fund an agency that has been so deeply infiltrated by Hamas terrorists. Unless UNRWA can clean up its Hamas infiltration, Canada cannot continue its funding and cannot continue to turn a blind eye to that militarization and ideological takeover of UNRWA by Hamas.

The Liberal government needs to take its legal and moral duty to safeguard and protect Canadian taxpayer dollars seriously, ensuring that we are not funding terrorism, and find the courage and political will to find a real solution to getting innocent people the humanitarian aid that they need and deserve.

International DevelopmentAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, the international community must continue to provide humanitarian aid to those who so badly need it in Gaza. On January 30, Canada announced $40 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help the most vulnerable Palestinian civilians.

This brings Canada's total commitment to $100 million. As is the case for all humanitarian and development funding to the Palestinians, our additional assistance will be subject to a robust, enhanced due diligence process to ensure that no funding gets into the hands of terrorist groups like Hamas.

Let me be clear: We are going to continue to remain focused on getting more aid to the innocent civilians in Gaza.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.


Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I enter into debate with regard to the carbon tax. I asked the ministers a question here last November about the impact that the carbon tax was having on Canadians. The effects have, since that time, only gotten worse.

We hear tragic stories each and every day of people who cannot afford to heat their homes because of the crippling cost. In fact it has become a common thing for seniors, families, young people, small business owners, farmers and folks on fixed incomes to send their energy bills to me. In many cases, they highlight the cost of the carbon tax. I hear so many other stories of people who are facing the consequences of the increased price of food at the grocery store and of the impact the carbon tax has on every aspect of the cost of living. Canadians are the ones feeling the pain.

This is the first opportunity since the non-confidence vote that took place here only a number of hours ago, when there was a clear opportunity for members of Parliament from every political party to clearly say that enough is enough. The 23% increase coming on the carbon tax will take place on April 1, even though it is abundantly clear that Canadians are not in favour of it. It is abundantly clear that provinces are not in favour of it. In fact, seven provincial premiers, including two Liberal premiers, have said publicly that it is time to stop the hike that is coming. It is time to get things under control.

MPs from all parties were given the chance just a few short hours ago, just as Conservatives have given the opportunity on many occasions, to take the simple step to reduce the skyrocketing costs that Canadians are facing at every step of the supply chain. In this place, I have talked extensively about how incredibly disappointing it is, as it was in the vote only a number of hours ago, that Conservatives have stood alone in standing for Canadians.

We often hear the government talk about rebates. It talks about climate plans. It talks about everything being so fantastic and about how things in this country are moving alone incredibly well. However, we see the incredible pain that has been inflicted upon Canadians by an ideological Prime Minister and a government that is out of touch with the challenges that are truly being faced by regular Canadians.

It is time for change. It is time for a fresh outlook. It is time to put control back in the hands of Canadians. Whether that is by scrapping the carbon tax, axing the tax to make sure it is Canadians who make the choice to do what is best with their hard-earned dollars, or whether that is by putting Canadians back in control of every other aspect of their lives, it is time for change in this country. That is what Conservatives are offering, yet as the vote showed only a few short hours ago, it is clear that it is only Conservatives who are truly on the side of regular, hard-working Canadians, while the left-leaning parties in this place and across Canada have abandoned the people they have for so long said they support.

The choice is clear. It is just too bad that we are not in the midst of a carbon tax election, when every Canadian could demonstrate that choice and elect a Conservative majority government to axe the tax.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Mississauga—Erin Mills Ontario


Iqra Khalid LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that we can use all the buzzwords that we want in the world, “spike the hike” or “axe the tax” or whatever fancy words that we can come up with, but that does not lead to common sense. In fact, I am really thinking about former prime minister Brian Mulroney today. He actually was a common-sense Conservative who wanted to fight climate change. He did what was necessary and that is what we need to do today: what is necessary.

I realize that no amount of legislative action or policy is going to eliminate the hot air coming from those Conservative benches, but we do need to take action on what climate change means to Canadians. We know that we need to fight climate change. We need to better protect our communities.

You, yourself, Mr. Speaker, in your community, would have felt and understood the realities of what climate change really is and know the importance of acting now.

I am proud to be a part of a government that is working to fight climate change. We are going to do that with our pollution pricing system. That plan is working. The reality is that we are putting a price on pollution. It is the lowest-cost way to reduce pollution causing climate change. As the member opposite is aware, our system is revenue-neutral. It is well established that the cost to Canadians and the Canadian economy to achieve our emissions reduction goals by other means would be far greater.

As I alluded to earlier, while this system allows us to effectively reduce our emissions, it also makes life more affordable for Canadians by ensuring that they are receiving more money back into their pockets than they paid. Every three months we are delivering hundreds of dollars back to families through the Canada carbon rebate, which gives eight out of 10 families more back than they paid, while ensuring that big polluters are paying their fair share.

In provinces where the federal fuel charge applies, a family of four will receive up to $1,800 in Canada carbon rebate amounts for the 2024-25 fiscal year. Residents of these provinces will receive their first of four quarterly Canada carbon rebate payments starting next month in April.

Our government also understands that Canadians who live in rural areas face unique challenges by having to travel longer distances for school, work, groceries, etc. That is why we are proposing, in Bill C-59, to double the rural top-up to 20% of the base rebate amount in recognition of their higher energy needs and more limited access to cleaner transportation options.

In addition, our government is continuing to implement various financial support initiatives for Canadian households. This includes support for home retrofits, energy-efficient heat pumps and electric vehicles.

Doing nothing to fight climate change is simply not an option anymore. The price to pay for inaction would be way too high and that is why we are acting. Young people in our communities tell us how they want us to continue to invest, to continue to make sure that we are fighting climate change and to make sure that all of us have an opportunity to live in a safe society and a clean society in the future.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to take a moment to recognize a dear friend who passed away a number of weeks ago, Jesse Marchand, my childhood best friend. Over the last number of weeks I have had the chance, of course, to think much about the time we shared together, whether that was going to the park, swimming in sloughs, which we called “going shrimping”, or going to youth group. He was taken far too soon as a consequence of drugs.

It is tough to find words to share with his loved ones during this time, but I send all the love in the world from Danielle and I, and the entire Kurek family, to Ron and Louise, Jesse's sisters, his partner Janine, and the dogs that he loved so much, Gus and Tucker. It is never easy to lose a friend, let alone under tragic circumstances like these.

Rest in peace, Jesse, my friend. I wish we could have spent more time together. Danielle and I are praying for the entire Marchand family as they navigate this incredibly difficult time of loss.

I will just remind this place how important it is to say to our loved ones, to our friends and to our family members that we love them before it is too late.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

March 21st, 2024 / 7:30 p.m.


Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I offer my sincerest condolences to the member opposite for his loss, and I offer supports to the family of Jesse as they deal with this very difficult time.

It is in moments like these that we really need to understand why austerity and cuts just do not do it. We need to save lives, and that is why we appointed a minister to deal with mental health and addictions. That is why we have a strategy to combat this really difficult issue that communities deal with on a daily basis, whether it is an opioid crisis, individuals' stress and mental health or through the Kids Help Phone.

There are ways we can provide that support, and that is not by cutting funding to these services. I encourage the member opposite to continue to support, especially through our budget, the very important things that need to be funded in order for us to provide support, so we can continue to save lives and so more Jesses are not lost in this world.

Carbon PricingAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

The motion to adjourn the House is now 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 7:35 p.m.)