Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the Liberal opposition day motion. I must admit that this is one opposition day motion I like a lot and that my party will be supporting.
I would like read the motion. I listened to a lot of speeches and I never heard one word by any government member dealing with this motion in any way, shape or form. It reads as follows:
That, given the undisputed privileges of Parliament under Canada's constitution—
—and, obviously, the government does not believe that because it is disputing it—
—including the absolute power to require the government to produce uncensored documents when requested, the government's continuing refusal to comply with reasonable requests for documents, particularly related to the cost of the government's tax cut for the largest corporations and the cost of the government's justice and public safety agenda, represents a violation of the rights of Parliament, and this House hereby orders the government to provide every document requested by the Standing Committee on Finance on November 17, 2010, by March 7, 2011.
That is the actual wording of the Liberal opposition motion today. The question is why a party in the House would have to bring a motion like this in the first place. There are many other topics the Liberal Party could be dealing with and that we could debating today in the House, rather than presenting a motion requiring the government to do something that any sensible government would and should do in the first place.
A member of the Bloc spoke earlier today and I was rather impressed by his comments when he was drawing the parallel between this particular fight and the fight last year with the government over the Afghan detainee issue.
At that time the government said it could not provide the information because it involved national security. It was able to sell that argument to the public somewhat. Some members of the public might believe there may be some national security aspect to the information and that it should not be released.
However, the member went on to say that the information we are asking for now is the costing of tax cuts into the future. It is actually a projection. How could that possibly be called a national security question? If the Conservatives do not call it that, they will call it something else.
What possible argument could they have for not providing the information? Obviously they did not have an argument because, at the end of the day, they ended up tabling information just a couple of hours ago, which we have not had a chance to thoroughly digest yet. However, from what we can see of the information, it is certainly not the complete or full information that we would expect before we are required to make parliamentary decisions in the House, which could have long-lasting effects and cost billions of dollars.
The second part of the motion is the cost of the public safety bills. This is an issue that has been before the House for some time. There has been a lot of debate about it. We know that in other jurisdictions, the United States and elsewhere, there is a requirement that when a bill is brought in, it be fully costed.
As I had indicated briefly before, during election campaigns, reporters will be chasing all party leaders for costing of items. It is just something that is done. Why and how the government thought that somehow it could bring in this whole program of so-called tough on crime initiatives without anyone asking whether there was a cost to these items was absolutely crazy for them.
Therefore, we know the government has the information and we have been asking for it. Just two days ago in a committee meeting on Bill C-59, the Abolition of Early Parole Act, the Liberal member for Brampton West asked a question of Ms. Mary Campbell, the director general of the Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate at Public Safety Canada. He asked her if she had the information regarding Bill C-59 in terms of its cost, and if she could not provide it, did she have it all.
Her answer was, “I have most of that information. It's part of my responsibility in terms of developing legislation to consider costs. Yes, I have most of that information or access to it.”
She told the member for Brampton West that if she did not have it, she had access to the information he was looking for.
However, she also said that the issue was the disclosure of it. She stated, “As I said, the government has indicated it's a cabinet confidence.”
Therefore, the member for Brampton West continued, “So you've provided the costing information to the government about what it would cost for these changes?”, meaning Bill C-59.
She responded, “I said that I have the information or access to it. I really can't talk about what I've provided the government in any detail because I think that is cabinet confidence of advice.”
Finally, the member for Brampton West asked, “So if the government asked you, in theory, to provide it, you would be able to answer that question for them?”
She stated, “I think I'm able to answer almost all questions that I'm asked about legislative proposals.”
There is the answer to the question. The information is available just like we knew it would be. The information is there. The Liberal member asked three times at committee and Ms. Campbell said she had it and had access to it, but she could not give it to him because the government said it was a confidence issue and, therefore, he could not have that information.
That is a terrible way to be running a government. It is little wonder that the government finds us quite upset with the approach it takes and that the Liberal Party has brought in its motion, which will get the approval of all three parties in the House.
The government knows it is not a matter of national security. Therefore, it knows it will have to provide the information sooner or later. Therefore, perhaps the government thinks that somehow this information will be damaging if the public were to know how much it would cost to implement a crime bill.
Given that the Conservatives know when the election is going to be, or at least they think they know, perhaps their strategy is to put this off until after an election. The Conservatives want the benefit of running on the tough on crime agenda but not have to answer any questions on what the cost of that agenda would be. That is my guess at this point, because I know that the government will have to provide the information.
Some of this information can be put together just by extrapolation. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh has done calculations. In the case of the two-for-one remand credits, the member for Ajax—Pickering asked the government what those would cost. I believe he was told that the cost would $90 million. When he consulted with the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the latter said, no, the cost would $2 billion a year. Of course, the final costs are projected to be somewhere in the $10 billion to $13 billion range.
Also, there are implications for the provinces. No less than a few days ago, we had the Premier of Ontario being quoted in one of the national newspapers as saying that the federal government was simply transferring costs to the provincial governments. With the Conservative government planning to bring in $9 billion worth of prison development in the near future, we are going to see a lot of that cost absorbed by the provinces.
The provinces will be under a lot of pressure as they are already. The federal government will not just assume the extra costs, the provinces will as well. The government is off-loading part of that agenda onto the various provinces. The provinces are probably fearful of that, which, to me, is probably the reason the government is trying to hide the information.
When we ask for information from the government and, if it is a straightforward answer, it provides it. If the government does not see any negatives in providing us with the information, it will provide it to us. There is a lot of concern on the government's part about providing this information, perhaps because it thinks members of the public will be upset when they find out the true cost.
Bill C-59 was a good example. All the presenters at committee simply wanted their money back. They were not there to hear about the parole law for white-collar criminals in jail being changed from one-sixth to one-third. They will be quite surprised with the tough on crime government when they find out that Mr. Jones will stay in prison for an extra year. He received an 11 year sentence--