Mr. Speaker, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency is not the first agency the federal government has set up to take over its responsibilities. There have been a number of others, and we end up wondering why exactly Ottawa created these agencies.
To get to the bottom of the matter, I would like to cite a number of other recently created organizations Ottawa has delegated its responsibilities to, and by trying to find out what these creations have in common we may perhaps discover the profound reasons for the government's creating them.
One of them is Aéroports de Montréal. ADM, we will recall, decided to move international flights from Mirabel to Dorval, thus shelving a public investment of $2 billion and throwing the regional economy into chaos. The status of ADM is such that it has never had to publicly justify its decision.
I asked the minister about this, and he said, in substance, although not in these terms, naturally, “I wash my hands of the matter”. This is the Pontius Pilate type response so perfectly offered by the Prime Minister when he said “We can drop one of the two airports, this is not going to cause me to lose any sleep”. Obviously, had ADM not been created, the Minister of Transport would not have been able to treat the matter so offhandedly.
Nav Canada, another creation by Ottawa, is another private organization, which manages aids to navigation. Nav Canada does not have to justify its decisions either. If, some day, Nav Canada decided to remove the control tower at an airport, it would not have to justify its decision, even though public interest would be involved.
Again, in that particular case, if the federal government had retained its powers, it would not be so flippant in its answers and it would have to justify its decision.
Another good example is the millennium scholarship fund. As we all know, the federal government reduced its transfers to the provinces, including those for education, and it used the money saved to establish this millennium scholarship fund, obviously for political visibility. Here again, the body that will manage the $2 billion in public money will not have to justify any of its decisions.
These three initiatives are similar in that the federal government can act like Pontius Pilate, not provide any explanations and avoid the obligations it had in the past.
The customs agency seems to be structured along the same lines. It will not be accountable, even though we are told the minister will remain in charge, or that he will at least have the right to question its management.
The fact is that, by creating this agency, the federal government is avoiding responsibilities that it would otherwise have, as evidenced by clause 8 of the bill. Under this provision, public servants will not be governed by framework legislation such as the Public Service Employment Act. This means that 40,000 public servants, or 20% of the federal public service, will be at the mercy of the agency's board of management. The directors of the agency will certainly earn more than the department's senior bureaucrats currently do, but who will pay for this? It is the support staff, the record processing workers and others, in fact the majority of employees. The government is privatizing part of the public service.
When the minister is asked about this, he will say “I wash my hands of this. It's the agency, not me”. It is all very well for the minister to say he will retain a degree of control over the agency, but the same bill also states that the minister may authorize the commissioner or any other person employed or engaged by the agency to exercise or perform on the minister's behalf any power, duty or function of the minister under any act of parliament, with the exception of making regulations. In other words, this is an agency within the hands of a super-bureaucrat who is neither elected nor accountable.
We cannot really see what the public stands to gain from the creation of this agency. We do, however, see what those in power hope to gain from it. Once again, an opportunity to wash their hands of something. Once again, an opportunity to slough off any obligations for transparency they would have otherwise.
Once again, as well, an opportunity to play their favourite game of finding jobs for cronies, because clauses 15, 22 and 25 create a 15-member board of management. These, with the exception of the chair, the commissioner, a deputy commissioner, are appointed for three years from a list of recommendations. The chair, commissioner and deputy commissioner are appointed by the governor in council for a term of five years. Great jobs for political staff.
There are no longer any limits to the Liberals' arrogance. They are side-stepping obligations which any normal government assumes and preserves, since they are almost royal in nature. This federal government, however, is side-stepping them for the reasons I have given.
To be objective, however, I must state that there is one advantage to this bill. That advantage is that it will be even more help than ever in convincing Quebeckers that the only solution for getting out of such a rotten regime is sovereignty.