Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to share some thoughts on this bill. I will begin by saying that I was asked by the sponsor of the bill, the member for Etobicoke North, and by the parliamentary secretary, the member for Niagara Centre, if I supported the bill? My answer was unequivocal. I said that I absolutely supported it, which means there are some things in the bill that make sense, but there are some concerns that need to be addressed.
To simply support it outright would probably cause some difficulty, unless we are absolutely sure, and I think this process will allow this to happen, that we will have an opportunity to make some changes.
Let me focus on a couple of things. I would not be surprised if the opposition supports a bill of this nature simply because the process which would be put in place would allow the opposition the opportunity to vote against every user fee that the government might deem necessary to put in place. To my friend, there is clearly an opportunity for political grandstanding if this is not handled properly, not that my hon. friends opposite would ever do that. Therefore we would be politicizing the process of putting in place fees, users fees, that were necessary for the proper functioning of agencies, departments of government. On the other hand, should Parliament not have a role in the oversight? That is where the balance here makes some sense.
I tend to agree with the principles the member has outlined in the bill of the need for more parliamentary oversight. We have to be careful about the process, not necessarily in terms of one fee or one issue, but in terms of the huge operation of public institutions in the government. In fact, there is even a suggestion that this could impact into the private sector whenever we deal with agencies or corporations that are regulated by government bodies. The obvious example would be Bell being regulated by the CRTC, or the music industry, or television or something of that kind. Some people might like it if we could have a more hands on ability to affect the fees that Bell charges. I do not know that we want to take the government, any government of any political stripe, down the road where we interfere to that level.
One issue is that when we at any level of government deal with a particular project, we should deal with the big picture. We should not micromanage. I do not believe that is what we were elected to do.
I use the example in days gone by when I was in municipal government. I was president of the Peel Non-Profit Housing Corporation, which builds housing projects. When we built a housing project, some members of the board literally wanted to pick the colour of the curtains or the design of the building. That is not the role of the board of that corporation. The role is to approve projects, put in place the financing and give the professionals the opportunity to build the facility, deliver it on time and hopefully on budget. To have the politicians involved in the everyday decisions and management of it would frankly cause me some concern.
I have spoken to the member about this. I believe if the bill receives approval in the House, it will go to committee. I am told it may go to the finance committee. It perhaps should go to government operations. I would ask the member to give some thought to that. It is more of an operational situation. The finance committee might find itself too busy to deal with the bill in a timely fashion.
One area I would want to deal with at committee would be the impact on crown corporations. In my role as parliamentary secretary of transport, the balance of that statement is four crown corporations. My role in working with the minister is to work with Canada Mortgage and Housing, Canada Lands, Canada Post, Queen's Quay and the old port of Montreal.
The concern I have is that many of these corporations, and I will just give a couple of examples, like Canada Post, CMHC and the Mint, have been given commercial mandates. They have a responsibility to market their services and products.
Canada Post is renowned throughout the world. It is a very typical Canadian institution. At home we tend to denigrate Canada Post and say nasty things about it. Yet there are some 26 countries throughout the world which hire the international marketing arm of Canada Post to help them do a better job of delivering mail in those countries. As is often so typical, a service developed here in Canada is recognized in other parts of the world in a better way and with greater acknowledgement of its success.
CMHC has a commercial mandate. The commercial mandate takes it to the point where it runs a very large and successful mortgage insurance operation. If it were impacted on the setting of its fees by the fact that it had to go through the actual fee setting outside the commercial realm or if it had to come to a parliamentary committee, we would be putting an unfair burden upon that corporation. It does have to compete. GE Capital has a mortgage insurance arm and it would be under no such obligation to come before a parliamentary committee to set its fees.
We have to look at some exemptions if we are to look at this. We have to be able to say that perhaps there are some fees or some areas that are more directly involved with Parliament and should have greater oversight and involvement. However clearly we should not penalize crown corporations or private sector corporations in their ability to compete in the marketplace.
This comes to the very issue of the role of Parliament versus the role of government. We have had calls recently for a vote in this place on whether Canada should participate in a war in Iraq if a resolution comes down through the United Nations. It seems to make some sense to the people on the street that Parliament should make that decision. However the basic fundamental problem in differentiating between the role of Parliament and the role of government goes to the very root of my argument with regard to micromanaging.
The government has certain executive responsibilities. The government is the Prime Minister and the cabinet. The rest of the people members of Parliament in support of the government or members of Parliament in opposition to the government. Technically the government is that group of men and women who form the governor in council, which is the cabinet of the government, and they have a responsibility. If they had to come to Parliament for a vote every time they needed to make a decision which had widespread impact on the country or in our relationships in foreign affairs, because of the debates we see in this place where positions are entrenched because of certain beliefs and certain political parties, the risk would be that we would paralyze the country and make it impossible for the government to fulfill its mandate.
That does not mean Parliament should not have a lot to say and a lot to do with regard to all these decisions. That is why we have the committee system and the opportunity to go forward with ideas, good ideas such as Bill C-212.
Let me just wrap up by saying that having identified a couple of concerns to my colleague, the member for Etobicoke North, I hope we can take out of the bill some of the areas that would lead to micromanaging, that would hurt the commercialized mandates of crown corporations and private sector companies and that would take Parliament as a group into the areas in which frankly none of us were elected to be involved. At the same time, if we adopt the principle involved here, we can say that we stand for more accountability and transparency in the setting of user fees because at the end of the day, a user fee is simply another form of taxation. It may be voluntary taxation. In other cases it is mandatory and people require it.
I could go on about whether we should have user fees in health care, which would be the obvious one that comes to mind. That would not be a voluntary user fee, and our party is opposed to that. However I do not want to get into the debate of that issue in relationship to this bill.
We should support the bill in principle and send it to committee. However there needs to be an awful lot of work done among the member sponsoring it, the committee and the government to make this a useful tool where we can say to the people of Canada that we have indeed improved the system of governing this great nation.