Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand and speak in favour of Bill C-212 in the name of the member for Etobicoke North. Not only has he brought forward this bill, I had a similar bill on the Order Paper and I have removed my bill in favour of his, so it is difficult for me to speak with anything but favour for this particular piece of legislation.
I should correct one thing. The member for Medicine Hat continually said that the cost of a passport was $65. I will clarify that. In fact, let me say for all those people listening, if there are any, that the cost is $85. The fee was increased not that long ago. If the member for Medicine Hat feels that in Alberta the fee is still only $65, he is mistaken. The fee is $85 and it is the same across the country. I ask that my office not be inundated with calls telling me that the people we have been helping with passports over the past numbers of months have been charged the wrong fee. They have not been. It is $85. However, that is the issue here: fee for service.
Conceptually, the idea of a fee for a service is not something that we could not accept. We do it all the time. We have a fee for service when we ride a bus. We have a fee for service when we go to a swimming pool. We have a fee for service when we are provided with any number of services, whether they be municipal, provincial or federal. Conceptually or philosophically, it is not such a bad thing to have a fee for service.
Those people who are in fact taking the service should in fact be the ones responsible for paying a portion of that fee. A passport is a perfect example. If you or I as an individual wish to apply for and receive a passport, which by the way is one of the finest documents that we as Canadians can ever own, then we should be responsible for some of the cost. But this is where the issue comes to a grinding halt. Just what is a fair cost? What is a fair fee for service? What value are we as Canadians receiving for that fee for service, for that cost recovery?
Conceptually what it was is that departments were supposed to recover some of their costs. There is a budget in a department. A department provides these services and attempts to recover some of the costs it has to pay out in staff time, office time and other operating costs. That in itself is fair.
But what is not fair is not being able to tell the people who are paying the fees for those services what they are getting for that service and what portion of cost recovery is acceptable to the department. That is where this whole thing falls off the rails and that is why Bill C-212 is so vital and absolutely important in trying to bring it back on the rails.
There is an advantage there, but there is also a huge disadvantage. I will give members a couple of examples. One that is dear and close to my heart, and why I was putting my bill forward as well, is a operational department within PMRA. It said that it had to recover a certain proportionate part of its costs to operate this department. Those costs to the users have been increasing quite dramatically over the past number of years.
Those users are saying that this is impacting them. It is impacting them now in trying to get a registration from what is now called the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. It has been costing them a huge amount of money to get a registration for a product in this country, to the point where a lot of the producers of those products are backing off and saying it is now not economically feasible for them to go through all the regulatory process and pay all of the exorbitant fees for a very small part of the market. They are backing away, and my constituents, and in particular my farmers, do not have the advantage of these types of pest controls they need in order to continue in their agricultural pursuits.
There are other examples. Certainly with export licences, in agriculture particularly, it is now simply a matter of a piece of paper. There is not even much of an inspection that goes on when a person exports potatoes from Prince Edward Island, for example, into the United States. It is now simply a matter of a piece of paper that costs an extreme amount of money, with no inspection. Effectively it is simply a matter of a tax grab; it is trying to find more dollars to pump into the department. That has to stop.
What has to happen is identified in Bill C-212 by the member for Etobicoke North and it is pretty sound. As a party, we will be supporting it. It says, “Let us do a cost benefit analysis. Let us find out exactly what services are being provided for these costs”. It is quite simple. I agree with that and I think the department should agree with it. If we are providing the service to a group of individuals, then tell us exactly what services they are getting for that cost.
Let us also look at the overall cost recovery budgets of the departments to find out if it is simply a matter of grabbing taxes to pay for their operations without being more efficient in their operations. That is important too. We cannot have inefficiency running amok, which we see happening on occasion, in fact for most of the time in the departments on that side of the House. What we have to do is get more efficiencies built into our organization so we do not have to recover as many costs in the first place and that those licensing fees can be reduced accordingly. That is very important.
The best part of the bill and the worst part in reality is that if I am a user and I have to pay a fee that I object to I have to go to those same people who levied the fee. They may say that I am right, that it is inefficient, it is charging too much and that it will reduce the fee, but that does not happen. In reality those departments do not like to admit their mistakes.
However now Treasury Board is saying that we need an appeal but we need it to go to the same people who levied the fees. That is ridiculous. The bill is saying that we should have an independent adjudicator to whom we can go and, even if I do not win my argument, at least there is a perception that I am listened to, that someone will take this seriously and listen to my arguments so that maybe the fees can be reduced accordingly. That is embraced in the bill. I appreciate that and I think the bill should go forward.
I believe Treasury Board is moving to bring forward another policy statement. Let us not get caught up on this. Let us go forward with this private member's bill. Let us put it on the table and make sure the government has to deal with it because, quite frankly, the new policy that is being brought forward is no better than the old policy.
The member for Etobicoke North as well as others on this side of the House have caused a little bit of concern and consternation in the departments. Individuals are saying that there are some fires so they may as well put them out and bring forward their own policy. However that policy is no better than what is in place at the present time.
Let us not use that idea from the Liberal side of the House to say that they are already working on that so we can just forget about this private member's bill and let the departments come forward. Let us not fall into that trap. Let us make sure the legislation goes forward because it is sound. In my opinion it has better proposals than were brought forward by the departments themselves. Let us not make the mistake that simply because there are people looking at it from the department side it will fix itself. It does not fix itself.
The problem with user fees, as I said conceptually, is sound as long as there are two things: first, a cost benefit analysis for the service being provided; and second, we recognize that there is a certain percentage of the cost recovery based on efficiencies of the departments themselves.
The third issue has to do with the economic competitiveness that we have in the country now. We need to ensure we have the ability to compete in the global market and in order to do that we need to ensure we can control our business costs. This is an uncontrollable cost. This cost is currently workable but not acceptable. However that is not to say that the departments cannot at some point in time arbitrarily increase those costs without anybody having an influence as to why and how.
The question of the passport is a prime example. We do probably 250 passports a month out of my office. Arbitrarily the department made a decision one week to raise those fees from $65 to $85. We were not even notified of those increases until after the fact. When my constituents come to me for a service and I do not even have the right number or any argument as to why that number was raised, to me that is a ridiculous opportunity from a department itself.
I appreciate the bill coming forward from the member for Etobicoke North. It is a similar bill to one I had tabled originally with respect to cost recovery and licensing fees. I would suggest that on Wednesday everybody, not only this side of the House but on that side of the House, should hold the feet to the fire of the departments that arbitrarily increased those fees to an exorbitant amount.