Mr. Speaker, this Thursday, Constable Warren Neil Fo Sing, a resident of Markham—Unionville, will receive the Medal of Bravery from His Excellency the Governor General.
Constable Fo Sing, along with his York Regional Police colleague, Constable Michael Alexander Mulville, will receive this award for their efforts to save a man who was trapped on thin ice in Markham last April.
I have had the privilege of being a York Region MP for 13 years and I can say without hesitation that the York Regional Police serves the entire region, and the city of Markham, with honour and distinction. This is a select group of citizens from whom we ask a tremendous commitment: that without thought, they put our health and safety ahead of their own. Constable Fo Sing and all of those receiving decorations this Thursday have gone above and beyond this commitment.
On behalf of the residents of Markham—Unionville, let me thank them.
Mr. Chair, I rise in the House this evening to speak to our government's efficient and successful response to Typhoon Haiyan.
Before I begin, however, I would like to offer my condolences to all those who have been affected by this disaster. They do remain in my thoughts and prayers.
The images we are seeing on a daily basis and the stories of the victims as well as those of their families here in Canada are heart wrenching. The destruction of lives, livelihoods and infrastructure is staggering. General estimates are that the number of those affected is between 10 million and 13 million people in nine regions and that nearly 40% of those affected are from central Visayas.
The UN estimates that some 2.5 million people are in dire need of food assistance. Also, at least 5.1 million workers across the affected areas have lost their livelihoods. As members can see, this is a truly serious situation, and this government has stepped up.
Canada has been standing with the Philippine people from day one of this terrible tragedy. In fact, even before it hit, our government realized the severity and dangers the typhoon posed. Our government reacted pre-emptively to ensure that relief operations would be ready to go as soon as possible.
We allocated $30,000 to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to help them prepare their relief operations. On the day the storm made landfall, November 9, our Canadian government provided $5 million in support for the provision of emergency shelter, water, food and other essential services. On November 10, our government committed itself further to relief efforts when the hon. Minister of International Development announced the Typhoon Haiyan relief fund.
This fund will match the eligible donations Canadians make to registered Canadian charities over a four-week period, and I would just like to correct the record: it is from November 9 to December 9, 2013.
On November 18, the right hon. Prime Minister announced that Canada would contribute $15 million to aid efforts. Now today, the hon. Minister of International Development announced further support of needed supplies that will come from DFATD's emergency stockpile.
This means the contribution of the Government of Canada is the fourth largest in the world to the relief effort. Canada's contribution will increase even further when the matching fund closes. It is encouraging that after only a few days the fund is close to $20 million.
Canadians are generous people. With nearly three weeks to go, imagine how much impact they will end up having toward helping the Filipino people.
It is not only monetary contributions that have made our government's and country's response so effective and successful. On November 13, the right hon. Prime Minister announced that our renowned disaster assistance response team, DART, would deploy to Iloilo. In Iloilo, DART has provided clean water, emergency medical aid and logistical support. The amazing work of the DART cannot be overstated.
I must also commend my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, for the outstanding job he has done in making sure the team responded effectively and continues to do so.
From the very first moment DART set foot in the Philippines, it has been instrumental and successful in providing immediate assistance in this complex humanitarian emergency. I will tell members just a few of the things that DART did yesterday.
Two DART mobile medical teams provided medical services, while another mobile medical team provided similar services in Panay. Also, engineers were clearing the road, one of the many roads they have been clearing so that aid can reach areas that were cut off. In President Roxas in the eastern Capiz province, engineers also set up a water purifier capable of providing 50,000 litres of safe drinking water a day. Since landing in the Philippines, the DART engineering team has also repaired a hospital generator, which has allowed staff to undertake critical surgical operations.
As members can see, the actions of our government and agencies are making a real impact on the ground.
However, please do not take my word alone; hear what others have said about the response and actions of our government.
A vast number of people, organizations and political parties have commended this government. The Filipino secretary of foreign affairs, Albert del Rosario, has thanked Canada for the funds that our government is contributing toward emergency relief activities, the contributions of provincial governments, the deployment of DART and the generous contributions of the Filipino Canadian community.
Yesterday, Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Programme, said yesterday, “as of November 18, World Food Programme has scaled-up assistance and reached nearly two million people...in Leyte Province with 1,130 megatons of rice and 11 megatons of high-energy biscuits...Canada's support is essential in meeting immediate needs, so thank you once again”.
I would also like to draw attention to the fact that this was made possible because Canada is the second largest donor to the World Food Programme.
As members can see, Canada's commitment to humanitarian assistance is strong and we will continue in this regard.
Another ringing endorsement came from Hossam Elsharkawi, director of emergencies and recovery at the Red Cross. On the Power & Politics with Evan Solomon show, Mr. Elsharkawi applauded our government's response and the response and generosity of the Canadian people. He said,“This is absolutely welcome news. Canadians have been generous so far. They continue to be generous with this particular disaster and others”.
I am also happy to see that our government's contributions have also been marked by my hon. colleagues across the aisle. On November 14, the member for Davenport said, “[W]e are happy to see that DART has been deployed in the Philippines. We think this is the right move on the part of the government, and also welcome the commitment to expedite visas for those who are in the Philippines who meet the criteria that the government has put. I think that these are the right ways to go”.
On November 18, during a post-question period scrum, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie echoed her caucus colleague by saying:
“Listen, we are pleased with the government's response, the rather quick response of the department, and today's additional announcement”.
The member for Markham—Unionville also congratulated this government on our response. He said, “I also agree with sending the helicopters there. Don't forget the Philippines is a lot of little islands. It's hard to get around. And I think the short-term response of the government is good”.
Although the House is usually the scene of highly charged party politics, it is good to see that our parties can have the same view when it comes to dealing with a natural disaster. I want to sincerely thank my colleagues for their comments and their support. It is apparent that all parties realize that we must put the safety and well-being of others before everything else, including party politics. That is what has driven our response to help our fellow human being.
This past Sunday, I attended a fundraising event in Mississauga organized by a grassroots group of Filipino Canadians. I congratulate Julius and his team of volunteers who organized a lively program of music, dance and martial arts demonstrations to keep the audience engaged. The money they raised will be given to World Vision to help the relief efforts. It was wonderful to see so many Canadians come together out of the goodness of their hearts and contribute. It showed that the response to this horrible tragedy has been a full team effort.
This government, our military and, most important, the Canadian people have shown that we all will do what we have to ensure that those affected by this tragedy get the necessary aid.
Mr. Chair, I will be splitting my time with my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
All of us in the House, the people's House, and across Canada have been shaken by the frightening images of devastating Typhoon Haiyan and by the terrible human suffering. Although the ultimate toll of destruction is not yet clear, it is estimated that nearly 13 million people are affected, including over four million displaced and two and a half million in need of food aid.
We keep the people of the Philippines in our thoughts and prayers, as we do Filipino Canadians across our country who are anxious about their family and friends back home. We also keep the aid, emergency workers and military personnel who are working around the clock in harrowing conditions in our thoughts and prayers.
All of us are relieved that a major international relief mission is under way to help the survivors and that Canada is part of the effort. The United Nations pledged $25 million; the United States $20 million, aircraft carrier USS George Washington and officials from U.S. AID; and the United Kingdom $16 million, a Royal Navy warship and Royal Air Force military.
Last week the United Nations and its partners launched an appeal for $301 million to provide humanitarian assistance. As of Saturday, the appeal is 26% funded.
We recognize that the Canadian government contributed $5 million to the aid effort as well as paying for the Disaster Assistance Response Team. We are thankful for the generosity of Canadians who have now donated almost $20 million, and we must remember that the government is matching Canadians' contributions.
The Liberals wish to offer our full support for the aid that the government has provided and promised to match in donations. However, given the lessons we have all learned from the tragedy in the Haiti, would the government consider two other measures? Would the government extend the deadline for matching funds until the end of the calendar year? Would the government grant visa extensions for students, temporary workers and workers from the typhoon area?
We expect financial support to increase as more information becomes available. Official estimates of what it may cost to rebuild and restore the affected areas of the Philippines now runs to almost $6 billion and many survivors will be dependent on aid for months to come. We do not want the government to think that this money is the end of Canada's role in this tragic event.
Canada is home to a significant Filipino diaspora and we must be ready to do more in the future when called upon by the international community.
Ensuring that everyone has safe drinking water remains a major challenge, as does the need for emergency shelter and basic protection for women and children as 500,000 homes have been destroyed. An estimated 3.2 million women and 4.6 million children need psychosocial support and protection.
Let me recognize the tremendous courage, resiliency and strength of the people of the Philippines. The airport in Tacloban, which was almost entirely destroyed in the storm, has emerged as a relief hub with numerous aid flights landing each day carrying food, generators, heavy-lifting equipment, medicine and water and people are getting the vital relief supplies they need.
Let me finish by continuing to encourage Canadians to help by contacting the Canadian Red Cross, UNICEF Canada or other organizations involved in the relief effort. Canadians have a generous and proud history of providing help in times of crisis.
Let us commit to the Filipino community in Canada that in the weeks ahead we are here for it to listen, to be a source of strength, to help solve problems, to be a source of refuge. Let us also commit to work tirelessly with our partners across the Philippines and around the world to reach those in need and support their recovery.
Our assistance must not only save lives today, but must also reduce the risk of disaster tomorrow. We must help strengthen the resilience of local communities.
Our friends in the Philippines face a long, hard road ahead, but they must be assured that they have a friend and partner in Canada.
Order, please. Before I go to the member for Markham—Unionville, I would just remind all hon. members to pay attention to the Chair for the signal when their time is complete. If they would like to make a presentation on the matter, the floor is available to all hon. members.
The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
If the hon. member for Markham—Unionville has completed his remarks that is fair. We would now proceed with questions and comments to him and proceed through the sequence of speakers. The next slot on the speaking agenda may or may not be for the Liberal caucus. If the member would like to proceed in that way that is fine. If he would like to continue with his remarks that would also be acceptable.
Mr. Speaker, this is a big day today. I just exchanged pleasantries with the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, and it is his birthday. We are expecting to maybe put forward legislation identifying today as a national holiday.
I am happy to put in my two cents' worth on this important bill. This is a significant and important piece of legislation, and certainly my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, during first reading of the bill, identified the fact that our party will indeed be supporting it because we believe in the spirit of the bill and that, in essence, it would be an important step forward. I also recognize the fact that my colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville, had tabled the first motion before Parliament in February 2009, calling for the parliamentary budget officer to be made an independent officer of Parliament. That is worth noting as we begin to discuss this particular bill today.
Although this bill is about the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, it is hard to talk about it without talking about the first Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page. For obvious reasons, the two will be inextricably linked. My thoughts on this bill will therefore be very respectful of the experience Mr. Page had over his five years as PBO, and his comments on the office, including the challenges that he faced and the worries he had about its future if not strengthened and protected.
One of Mr. Page's comments sums up the issue around transparency and accountability under the current government. He summed it up well when he said, “Our institutions of accountability are in trouble. Parliament does not get the information and analysis it needs to hold the executive...to account.” Of course, “the executive” refers to the Prime Minister and cabinet. Later in his comments he said, “In a culture where secrecy is far too common and analytical dissonance is not welcome, the future of my office, the legislative budget office is in doubt.”
This is a debate that has taken place here in the chamber, but also right across this country in the court of public opinion. I believe it was one that Mr. Page put forward. Canadians understand the significance around this issue and certainly are respectful of the courage, the vision and the passion he had for this position, and as well of his ability. It has been proven time and again, issue by issue, that the Parliamentary Budget Officer was very often closer to reality than what we were hearing from the government benches and the spin around the various issues or crises of the day.
Mr. Page is a man who dedicated five years of his life to the service of Parliament and to Canadians to provide and promote financial transparency and accountability. Seven years ago, the current government promised a new standard of accountability. We know the Conservative government rode in on the white horse called “accountability”, promising a different era, certainly a more open Parliament and a more open government.
We have not seen that. That horse has been dead for quite some time, as much as the government might want to beat it. In the eyes of most Canadians, whether the horse ever arrived in Ottawa or not, it is certainly gone now. The government had a golden halo of transparency that was very much touted and highly talked about, but that halo is considerably tarnished now.
That is what happens when the standard method of operation is “do as I say, not as I do”. It is very significant, in the wake of what transpired this past week, when we saw the former Conservative member for Edmonton—St. Albert comment, “I barely recognize ourselves and worse I feel that we have morphed into what we once mocked.”
I certainly do not agree with everything the member has said or with his views on many issues. However, I think it was eloquent, poignant and truthful. Many Conservatives across this country, certainly Conservatives in my riding with whom I have great friendship and for whom I have great respect even though we may have different political views, are very concerned about how the government has taken those principles of transparency, openness and accountability, and just sort of put them in the back of the bus.
The departure of the member for Edmonton—St. Albert brings that to a very poignant point in the life of the government.
Bill C-476 stands for principles, including the principle that the parliamentary budget officer should be an independent watchdog and provide independent analysis to Parliament, not cheerleading for the government.
The purpose of the office itself is to help with forecasts on economic and fiscal planning, help with costing new programs, and help with the scrutiny of departmental apportionments and appropriations. We have seen the debacle with the F-35s. The numbers continue to change. I think it was my colleague, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, who first brought the issue around the F-35s to the House two and a half years ago.
We were given a snow job then. We were given numbers that certainly dismissed any concerns around the procurement of the F-35s. It was with a clear vision, clear thinking and a commitment to get to the truth that the Parliamentary Budget Officer pursued what was real within the tendering process. Through those numbers, the Parliamentary Budget Officer was able to bring it around to what many other nations across the world that were involved in the procurement of this particular aircraft knew all along.
I want to commend my colleague, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie. I want to again echo support for this bill on behalf of our party. We think the parliamentary budget officer should be independent from the executive. The role of the PBO is essential in providing this House with the important information that it needs, so that it can base its decisions on truth, not spin; on fact, not fiction; and on hard numbers.
It is for those reasons that we will stand and support this piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I was not referring to any individual member or their behaviour here. I was talking about a motion in the House of Commons. When the member for Markham—Unionville went through the list of consequences of this motion, Canadians could not reach any other conclusion but this is ridiculous. My colleague talked about this being a media stunt. I would like him to address the issue. How could any journalist with any integrity see this as anything but ludicrous?
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak to this. I have been listening to the debate in the House and I heard the member for Markham—Unionville say in his speech that the motion was poorly worded. I want to challenge that because I think it is not a poorly worded motion; the motion is quite beautiful. It is beautifully worded and it is elegant in its simplicity. It says:
That all funding should cease to be provided to the Senate beginning on July 1, 2013.
I do think it is beautiful in its simplicity. We need to do something about the Senate. Look at the situation we are in right now when it comes to the Senate.
What are the facts? What do we know? We are constantly being told that the Senate offers us this house of sober second thought. I think that is debatable. I will return to the sober second thought part.
The member for Wellington—Halton Hills pointed out that we need to speak respectfully about Parliament. That includes the Senate, the other place. I would argue that it is the senators who are bringing disrespect to Parliament, not us who are here in this chamber. They are the ones who are bringing disrespect to Parliament.
This so-called house of sober second thought, these sober second thinkers, are also filing false expense claims. We know that to be true. They are also misleading the public and Parliament about where they live. We know that they are abusing public funds. We know that they find the forms that ask them where they live to be confusing and difficult to understand. We also know that they are driving around with expired licence plates.
I think that Canadians have paid enough money for this undemocratic institution and it is time that we stop spending millions of taxpayer dollars on this institution. The Senate is costing taxpayers $92.5 million a year. Frankly, that is $92.5 million too much.
The member for Markham—Unionville said that this motion is idiotic. Tell that to the British House of Lords because they do not get paid as a right. They do not get paid for being lords. They do not have a salary in the House of Lords. Those folks get paid sort of a per diem for showing up. I would ask this question. Is that an idiotic way of doing things?
The Liberals and Conservatives insist that we cannot do anything about the Senate. They say it is too big a constitutional issue, and once we open up the Pandora's box of constitutional issues no one will ever agree. We will go into this dark abyss of constitutional pandemonium, never to escape. Give me a break.
The NDP does not believe this. That is why we are talking to Canadians first. That is the first step, talking to Canadians. I have been going door-to-door quite a bit at home, and at every single door people are asking if I can tell them what is going on with the Senate. This is what folks are talking about. We want to tap into that and see what people are saying. The NDP has launched our petition to roll up the red carpet, which people can sign, saying that this institution is outdated and it is time to get rid of it.
After talking to Canadians, we need to start talking with the provinces. It is not that difficult. We can start with these baby steps. Let us talk to the provinces. Unfortunately, we have a Prime Minister who refuses to meet with the provinces. He has not been to the Council of the Federation. I cannot remember when he was there last, or if he was even there.
The Liberals and Conservatives are insisting that they cannot do anything, that it is sad and unfortunate but their hands are bound. This is it. It is lovely. It is simple. It is elegant. Here is a solution. Let us pass this motion. There is nothing stopping us from doing this.
I have heard some comments about the constitutionality of this motion. It is not unconstitutional to adopt a motion saying that the Senate should be defunded. The constitutionality of any subsequent legislation is a separate issue. This in itself is no problem. The sole purpose of this motion is the signal that it sends that the Senate is an illegitimate drain on the public purse.
Let us do it. Let us move to the House of Lords model. Those guys are doing just fine. I do not think what they are doing is idiotic. There is not a lot of response to that. The cat has their tongues, the Liberals and Conservatives, because I do not think they treat the Senate as a house of sober second thought. They treat it as a fundraising arm for their parties. They want to keep appointing senators so they can go out and raise money for their parties on the taxpayer's dime.
Let us look at who is in the Senate. There are David Smith and James Cowan, and they are the co-chairs of the Liberal campaign. They are campaign directors. I get along with James Cowan. I have worked with him. He is a nice guy. We are both from Nova Scotia and we have done some work together. We get along because we have a lot in common and we both like politics. I also get along with the Halifax Federal Liberal Riding Association president, Layton Dorey. He and I have a lot in common. We like to talk politics and we can shoot the breeze. I get along with these folks, but there is a big difference between Layton Dorey and James Cowan, because Layton Dorey is not being paid by taxpayers to do the work that he is doing for the Liberal Party.
Let us look at the Conservatives. The chief fundraiser and chair of the Conservative Fund Canada is a senator. They should go for it, fill their boots, do all the fundraising they want to do, but they should not be able to do it on the taxpayer's dime. We should not be paying for a fundraising arm of these political parties. Let us remember that they are being paid, in total, $92.5 million. Senators are campaigning for the Conservatives and Liberals, while being paid by taxpayers and I do not think that is what Canadians are paying them for. If they are doing useful work for those parties, then those parties should be paying them out of their own coffers as fundraisers.
The raison d'être of the Senate, when it was formed at Confederation, was one of sober second thought, with representatives from the provinces bringing regional interests to Parliament in doing that kind of political analysis on policy debates. Senators were supposed to be an integral part of our democracy, but we have seen anything but in the past 146 years. Fundraisers, failed candidates and senior party staffers have all been appointed time and time again to the upper chamber and the reality is that senators appointed by partisan prime ministers have a poor record of defending our regional interests.
When I first arrived here, I spoke with our then democratic reform critic from Hamilton Centre and told him that I was from Nova Scotia, that there were Nova Scotian senators and I was conflicted about our position on abolishing the Senate. He asked when was the last time a senator ever stood up for Nova Scotia. I realized that they did not, they just did what their parties told them to do.
Here is what they are told to do. The Climate Change Accountability Act passed in the House by a majority of democratically-elected members of Parliament. We acted on the will of the people and the will of the people was to pass climate change accountability legislation. When it got to the other place, it was voted down. This is what Marjory LeBreton, the Conservative Senate house leader, stated:
We were as surprised as anyone else that the Liberals forced a vote on second reading of this bill. But once the Liberals presented us with an opportunity to defeat the bill, we of course were going to take it and defeat the bill because the government does not support this bill. The fact of the matter is this was not part of a strategy, this was something that landed in our laps. It was an opportunity to defeat the bill and we took the opportunity.
That evening I was upstairs in this very place with Jack Layton, our then NDP leader. I had never seen him so angry. I had never heard him yell. He was beside himself with rage about how a bill in the House of Commons could be passed by democratically-elected MPs and when it got to the Senate, the senators said it was gone. It was unbelievable. It is $92.5 million too much.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
Mr. Speaker, the leader of the official opposition has introduced a bill that the Liberal caucus will have no trouble supporting, because it is something we have been calling for for a long time.
Indeed, the first motion calling for the PBO to be made an independent officer of Parliament, tabled in the House of Commons on February 3, 2009, was sponsored by our Liberal colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville. His motion also called on the government to “co-operate fully with the Parliamentary Budget Officer on all matters with respect to which he is called upon to report”.
If that motion from February 3, 2009, had been implemented, we would all be better off. The Parliamentary Budget Officer would have been better able to do his job independently.
Better late than never, which is why the Liberal Party supports Bill C-476 and why it is urging the government to support it as well, so that it can be examined in committee. We want this bill to be examined in committee because we think it is in the best interests of the public.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer needs to have more independence and a more meaningful role. The Parliamentary Budget Officer must report directly to Parliament, without having to go through the Library of Parliament.
That said, I doubt that these changes—although they are welcome and necessary—will eliminate the hostility the Conservative government has shown for anyone who refuses to blindly sing their praises or cover up their mistakes.
What is the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer? This person's role is to provide objective and independent analysis that may, on occasion, call into question the validity of the government's views and initiatives.
The Prime Minister cannot stand that. It has become clear that this government reacts very poorly and very aggressively to criticism and to independent thinking, whether from officers of Parliament, government scientists, foreign observers, the media or even government backbenchers.
The government would be better off keeping an open mind to these independent analyses. It might learn something that would help it fix past mistakes and avoid making new ones.
No one can deny that the Parliamentary Budget Officer produced some excellent analyses. Instead of shooting the messenger, the government should have listened to and respected what he had to say.
Here are some valuable PBO contributions: he analyzed the long-term cost of the Afghanistan mission; he showed how much the provincial penitentiary systems will have to pay in order to comply with the Conservatives' flawed crime agenda legislation; he produced a thorough report on the true cost of the F-35, generally considered accurate; and he proved that the old age security program was fiscally sustainable with the 65-year qualifying age, which was an assessment also echoed by the OECD.
The government responded to these obviously credible analyses with contempt, denial and attacks, dismissing them out of hand. Of course, the government was not obliged to accept the Parliamentary Budget Officer's analyses and conclusions. The government had every right to contest them.
However, the government should then have provided its own costed, detailed analyses before taking a stand on such important issues. Before imposing its decisions on the people, a competent government would have agreed, even demanded, to have these issues studied in detail.
Does the age of eligibility for old age security need to increase from 65 to 67? That is a fundamental question. Canada is the only modern, democratic country where the government has made that type of decision without providing any serious research to back it up and without having Parliament debate it thoroughly.
Instead of profiting from such a great Parliamentary Budget Officer—whose term just ended—and instead of engaging in productive dialogue with him, the government did nothing but viciously attack him as an individual.
In 2009, the government tried to cut the PBO funding by $1.3 million, one-third of the total budget. Public pressure eventually forced the government to find that money through the estimates.
In March of 2010, the PBO published a report showing the government would not balance the budget in 2014-15. The finance minister dismissed the PBO as wrong, but was unable or unwilling to provide any analysis to substantiate this rejection of the PBO's projections. Today, we all know that it is the finance minister who proved himself wrong.
When the PBO published a document showing the old age security program was sustainable in February of 2012, the Minister of Finance called Kevin Page unbelievable, unreliable and incredible.
Conservative senators moved to find Kevin Page in contempt for using the courts to access government spending data. The government refused to give Kevin Page information to which he is legally entitled under the Parliament of Canada Act. The government changed the PBO job vacancy notice in order to find someone ready to make compromises. Compromises?
Should someone compromise the truth? Should someone compromise in an effort to please the government and help cover up its mistakes? Should someone compromise on what should be disclosed to or hidden from the public, from taxpayers? It is not the Parliamentary Budget Officer's job to fiddle with the numbers or mask reality. His role is to produce precise, rigorous, uncompromising analyses.
What can we expect from a government that will not stop undermining the Parliamentary Budget Officer along with every other aspect of parliamentary democracy?
The government and the Prime Minister have never ceased to abuse the Parliament of Canadians. In 2008, they broke their own law on fixed election dates. They prorogued Parliament twice in order to circumvent the Commons, and they refused to hand over the F-35 documents despite a House order. They used time allocation or closure 32 times since the 2011 election. They forced committees to meet in camera, hidden from the public, for important debates and witness selection. They made improper use of omnibus budget bills to alter acts of Parliament that had little to do with the budget. They attacked the Veterans Ombudsman. Then we had Bev Oda misleading Parliament on the serious question of who altered a federal document.
Faced with a government that openly displays such contempt for parliamentary democracy, that refuses to hear any criticism, that is so suspicious of independent thought and is so afraid of the truth, any measures to help strengthen our Canadian parliamentary institutions deserve our attention.
That is why Bill C-476 should be examined, supported in principle and thoroughly scrutinized in committee. In addition to being very useful for the future of the parliamentary budget office, which is a new institution, the debate on this bill and all the questions it raises could—or so we hope—incite the government to really think about the true meaning of parliamentary democracy.
Order, please. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
Order. The hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
Before we resume debate, I will let the hon. member for Markham—Unionville know that he has 20 minutes allowed for his speech but, in accordance with an order taken earlier this week, I will need to interrupt the debate at 15 minutes past the hour.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the motion of October 24, 2012, moved by my colleague on the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, the member for Markham—Unionville. He moved that the seventh report of the said committee presented to the House on June 20 of this year be concurred in.
The intent of this committee report is clear on its face and in its recommendations. The intent is to finally institute long-overdue and widely called-for reforms to strengthen the capacity of Members of Parliament to effectively deliver their constitutional duty to review and approve federal estimates and spending.
It is widely recognized that one of the primary responsibilities of Parliament, and consequently its elected members, is the approval of the funds required to meet the government's financial obligations. This is known as the business of supply.
Each year, the Crown delivers to the House of Commons its spending plans or estimates for parliamentary scrutiny and approval. It is important to recall that it is Parliament that has the sole authority to grant the supplies.
O'Brien and Bosc, in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2009, reiterates the powers of Parliament to review and approve spending and the duties of the government to enable a process to deliver that duty:
The manner in which Canada deals with public finance derives from British parliamentary procedure, as practised at the time of Confederation. The financial procedures adopted by the Canadian House of Commons in 1867 were formed by the following principles:
These principles are important. We have the government frequently referring to past matters. This is an important matter, the very point of the foundation of this nation.
The first principle states:
that although Parliament alone might impose taxes and authorize the use of public money, funds can be appropriated to Parliament only on the recommendation of the Crown (royal recommendation), in Canada represented by the Governor General;
The second principle states:
that the House of Commons has the right to have its grievances addressed before it considers and approves the financial requirements of the Crown;
The third principle states:
that the House of Commons has exclusive control over the business of public finance (taxing and spending) and all such business is to be initiated in the lower house;
The fourth principle states:
that all legislation sanctioning expenditure or initiating taxation is to be given the fullest possible discussion, both in the House and in committee.
That last principle is the very crux of the report and recommendations from my committee: that all legislation sanctioning expenditure or initiating taxation is to be given the fullest possible discussion, both in the House and in committee.
It is widely acknowledged that the various House of Commons standing committees are intended to play an important role in assisting the House with the scrutiny of planned and actual spending and performance, but therein lies the rub.
Unfortunately, it has long been acknowledged that Parliament does not effectively fulfill its role and standing committees are at best giving perfunctory attention to the government's spending plans. The information provided to members of Parliament in committees is simply lacking in the detail necessary to ensure an informed vote. That is one of our most profound obligations here as representatives of the people of Canada.
In fact, in some recent instances the committees have been denied the opportunity to review the estimates at all because of tight deadlines imposed by the government.
Three recent reviews of the estimates process have been conducted with the objective of addressing this long-standing record of failure: a 1998 review by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs; a 2003 review by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates; and the recent 2012 six-month-long review by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, hereinafter referred to as “the committee”.
A total of 75 recommendations were made to Parliament in the first two reports. In January 2012, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, or the committee, determined that few changes had been made by successive governments to act on these recommendations, and many of the barriers remained to delivery of this parliamentary duty.
The committee decided to revisit the constraints with appropriate officials and experts and to identify and address the most critical problems. Our committee worked diligently and co-operatively over six months, producing a focused consensus report with 12 modest recommendations. The many experts who work in these matters who came before us from around the world encouraged our committee to work in a non-partisan manner and to try to work together on a consensus with some strong recommendations. I can attest to that, and it is clear in the face of the report that across parties we worked diligently and came forward with a very logical plan to improve the role of members of Parliament in these important decisions.
The stated objective of the report was improving members of Parliament and committees' access to timely, understandable and reliable information on estimates, as well as the support and capacity necessary to complete an informed and constructive report to Parliament. As reported, the end goal of the committee study and recommendations to the House was to enhance transparency and accountability, agreed key elements of good governance and supposedly the very foundation of the government of the day.
As mentioned previously, the committee worked diligently to forge a consensus report, one that was practicable and readily acted upon in a timely manner. That determination was formed in concert with leading experts from around the world who had familiarity with the experience in other jurisdictions and with our own parliamentary procedures. There was only one dissenting opinion.
Both opposition parties supported expedited action, on the advice of experts, for the appointment of the Parliamentary Budget Officer as an officer of Parliament, along with a requisite enhanced budget. Regardless, it was the consensus of the committee that the mandate and function of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer merited study by our committee, including the option of reporting directly to Parliament as an officer of Parliament.
One would logically assume that as the committee is composed in the majority of Conservative members of Parliament and the review proceeded over a six-month time period that the recommendations that the Conservative members concurred in, along with those of us in the opposition party, had been vetted and received concurrence of their party. The government, in its response to the report, has in some instances supported recommendations and committed to action. In a number of instances, the Conservatives responded that the required actions are the prerogative of Parliament.
We just heard moments ago from the representative of the government that even in its response the government did not suggest that these matters be referred back to the committee. The government members simply stated that many of the matters that we were raising are the prerogative of Parliament to determine, which is precisely the reason why we wish the report to be concurred in, so we can move forward and begin taking action to improve our capacity in this place.
The government, in its response to the report, has in some instances supported recommendations and committed to action. In a number of instances, it responds that the required actions are the prerogative of Parliament. The government has outright rejected some of the other recommendations.
The President of the Treasury Board has committed to action by March 31, 2012, on at least two of the recommendations. An ongoing evaluation of accrual-based budgeting and appropriations would be completed and reported, as well as a model and timeline for transitioning estimates and related appropriations based on program activities. This would allow members of Parliament to review spending within a context of actual program delivery. We look forward to these changes. I know that all members of the House look forward to these reforms, and hopefully they will be expedited following the report in March of next year.
Where the government held that a number of the recommendations are simply within the purview of Parliament, it logically follows that the report be concurred in so that Parliament can proceed with the recommended reforms.
Regrettably, the government has also opposed a number of the key recommendations. Notable among those were changes to the timing and configuration of the tabling of the budget and estimates. This would have enabled members of Parliament to review proposed spending against the budget by also having access to information on actual programs and policies.
The suggestion was why not—like other jurisdictions including New Zealand, Australia and South Africa—simultaneously bring forward the budget, the estimates and the plans and priorities so that we can have a full debate on the substance of the proposals of the government. This, we were advised by experts, is the practice now followed in a number of other jurisdictions and is highly recommended as the more constructive and informed process.
What appears doubly odd in the refusal to accept the sensible recommendation is that it was the President of the Treasury Board who wrote to the committee at the outset of its study recommending consideration of exactly these reforms. The government also rejected the recommended review of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. I am now left deeply confused because just before I rose to speak, the government suggested that the matter can perhaps be referred to the committee. Therefore, perhaps there is a change of mind, and that review is useful.
The decision to reject the recommendations of the PBO is disconcerting for a number of reasons.
The PBO was created by the Conservatives with the stated objective of improving the flow of timely and accurate information to enhance the capacity of members of Parliament to deliver their duties to review government spending, which is precisely the objective of our review, precisely the task that was assigned to us.
The government of the day created that very position to assist us in that review. Of note, in 2004, the Standing Committee on Finance, following an extensive review, recommended the establishment of an independent budget officer reporting directly to Parliament. Despite 2006 election promises made by the Conservatives to create this independent budget officer, after winning the election the Conservative government enacted the PBO office but reneged on the commitment of an independent budget officer reporting to Parliament.
During the course of the six-month study, strong support was expressed by parliamentary experts for the creation of an independent office of the PBO, including his critical role in supporting and enhancing the capacity of MPs to effectively do their jobs.
As Prof. Joachim Wehner at the London School of Economics and Political Science testified:
The first [change that could be considered] is to protect and enhance the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
[S]ome adjustments are possible to the legal framework for the Parliamentary Budget Officer. In particular, this role could be strengthened...if he were a full officer of Parliament. Moreover, steps could be taken so that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has total access to all relevant information.... I see some scope for strengthening it also on the basis of international experience.
Those views were echoed by Robert Marleau, the former clerk of our House of Commons, who said:
The PBO should be the core staff of this committee. The PBO should be moved out of the library into the committees branch, and made a full-fledged officer of the House. Half of his budget should be spendable by this committee [of government works and operations] on studies, and the other half by other committees on estimates, as they apply for it.
This view was echoed once again in testimony by John Williams, well known to the House and now chief executive officer of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption. He said:
I think the Parliamentary Budget Officer should be an officer of Parliament serving this committee, very much like the Auditor General serves the public accounts committee. Therefore, it would have the staff and the resources to do that program evaluation and also have the access to the documentation too.
We certainly know that is the question of the day, access to that information. Major concerns have been raised throughout the term of the current PBO regarding constraints on his ability to effectively deliver his legislative mandate due either to denied or delayed access to financial information and limited resources available to his job.
As far as I am aware at this date, numerous senior departments and agencies have yet to respond fully to the PBO request for information on spending, savings and cuts. I am advised today that the recalcitrant list of senior agencies and departments has now provided some information. I am advised by the PBO office that it is still not sufficient. Included among those recalcitrant entities were Finance Canada, Treasury Board, Privy Council Office, Citizenship and Immigration, Canada Revenue Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
As the end of the term of the current PBO is imminent, now is the logical point in time to openly assess the terms of his mandate and the adequacy of the resources allocated to effectively deliver the services needed by Parliament. The concurrence by the government in the committee report provides the opportunity for the government to finally deliver on its commitments to openness, transparency and good governance.
I therefore call upon the government to concur in the report so that the government and Parliament can work together to expedite the reforms necessary to finally effectively deliver their mandate. By simply concurring with this thoughtful report and committing to work with all members of the House, the government could finally, in truth, claim credit for removing the blindfolds and handcuffs on the democratic process.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I take great pleasure in speaking in favour of the speedy passage of Bill C-45, jobs and growth act, 2012.
I am also pleased to congratulate the Minister of Finance for the outstanding job he is doing on behalf of all Canadians.
Canada is recognized internationally for the sound economic and fiscal policies of our Conservative government. Leadership on the economy is something that average Canadians who work hard, obey the law and pay their taxes understand.
While there are many benefits to passing Bill C-45 for the people of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, in the short time I have, I intend to focus on those aspects of this second budget implementation bill that are of interest to my constituents.
I intend to focus my comments on the Navigable Waters Protection Act. I've listened to a number of comments, starting with those of the Leader of the Opposition, which are ill-informed at best and misleading at worst, about this part of the budget bill and I believe it is important to set the record straight. Historically, the impetus behind the Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882 was the result of representations made by Ottawa Valley lumbermen looking to protect the principal means they had at the time to bring their product to market.
In the 19th century, when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was legislated, rivers played an important role in the commerce of our great nation. The lumber trade of the upper Ottawa Valley relied upon rivers to bring the logs to market. Twelve years before the Navigable Waters Protection Act became law and three years after Confederation, Parliament passed An Act Respecting Certain Works on the Ottawa River. This act gave the federal government exclusive legislative authority in the construction of any works to ensure the Ottawa River is navigable. This was done to protect commerce and done years before the Navigable Waters Protection Act. That legislation is still on the books today.
What Canadians find misleading is when opposition members read things into the legislation that do not exist. Environmental protection for such things as pollution and fish habitat is covered by other legislation, not the Navigable Waters Protection Act. It was never intended for that purpose when it was written 140 years ago. The opposition may wish to stay trapped in the past, but our government believes it is time to leave the 19th century for the 21st century.
The public right of navigation is a common-law principle that dates back to Roman times. To my paddling friends, nothing in Bill C-45 detracts from the right to navigation in Canada. We respect the navigable qualities of any body of water that is indeed navigable, recognizing that any contemplated works need not compromise or undermine the recreational status of any body of water that is now or was previously the domain of paddlers.
This brings us to the Petawawa River. The decision by the federal government to include the Ottawa and Petawawa rivers in the list of 62 rivers retaining navigable waters constitutional jurisdiction protection was based in part on the real concern, on my part as well as that of my constituents, that the provincial environmental assessment process is being manipulated by the Ontario government to match a hidden agenda called the Green Energy Act. We needed to take an extra step to protect the Petawawa River.
In the province of Ontario the so-called Green Energy Act has been used to stifle democratic debate at the local level, running roughshod over the objections of local residents who are now being forced, through their power bills, to pay for unwanted and unnecessary power projects. Projects are being promoted under the guise of so-called green energy, when in fact the only green is in the pockets of the Liberal Party insiders who lobbied for 20 years to have industrial wind turbine contracts at outrageous financial subsidies. The collapse of the Liberal Party of Ontario and the resignation in disgrace of its leader led to the migration of these same individuals to Ottawa into positions of influence with their federal cousins.
The town of Petawawa unanimously passed the following motion at its September 4, 2012 council meeting:
That the Town of Petawawa advises the Premier of the Province of Ontario and his Ministers of Energy and Infrastructure, the Environment and Natural Resources that it does not and will not give any support or sanction to any project that is seeking or will be seeking ministry approval under the 2009 Green Energy act and in particular its “feed-in-tariff” provision.
To quote councillor Treena Lemay, who moved that motion: “The act promoted 'fast tracking' of environmental approvals for all electricity infrastructure projects, removed the long-established local planning process and left rural residents without effective noise complaint protocols and municipalities with no voice in their own community development”.
I thank councillor Treena Lemay for her leadership on this issue at municipal council.
In the case of the Petawawa River, plans to construct dam-like structures would destroy the fish habitat as well as recreational activities, including whitewater kayaking that now takes place on the river. I support the residents of Petawawa and their town council in objecting to the damming of the Petawawa River and will continue to object at the federal level until this proposal is withdrawn.
I share the concerns expressed by the Ontario Rivers Alliance about the fate of our other Ontario rivers, like the Vermilion. To quote the alliance:
We all want Green Energy, but let’s ensure it is truly Green, and not the “Green-washed” version that is being proposed for many of our Ontario rivers.
While I appreciate the concerns of Ontario residents and groups like the Ontario Rivers Alliance about the need for a federal presence in certain instances to provide a system of checks and balances to ill-conceived legislation like the Ontario Green Energy Act, these checks and balances remain in place with the passage of Bill C-45.
When the Navigable Waters Protection Act came before Parliament previously in 2009, I was honoured to welcome Jack MacLaren, a seventh generation Renfrew County orchard farmer, to appear before the Standing Committee on Finance. Mr. MacLaren contacted me after he ran into trouble with the Navigable Waters Protection Act. In his case what should have been a simple matter became a complicated issue because of a piece of legislation dating back to the 1980s.
I had also been contacted by municipalities that complained to me about the time and expense to clean out a municipal drainage ditch because of the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
In short, it is clear that changes are absolutely necessary to this act.
The other issue I intend to respond to is the criticism by the opposition that Bill C-45 is too detailed and complicated for them to understand. The opposition call Bill C-45 omnibus legislation, hoping that Canadians will buy into its delay tactics because it would rather complain than do its job.
Bill C-45 is the second budget bill. Here, I draw members' attention to a debate in the House that took place on June 13 of this year on the first budget bill between the opposition member for Markham—Unionville and the hard-working Conservative member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore. In that exchange the opposition member complained about a program he claimed was cancelled by our budget. Our government member responded with shock at what he had heard. He proceeded to set the record straight, reading directly from the budget that the program in question, the Canadian innovation and commercialization program, had not only been funded for another three years but had also been built up and made permanent. This led the member for Etobicoke--Lakeshore to ask the opposition member if he had even read the budget. The opposition member obviously had not read the budget, which brings me to my last point.
The opposition has had a copy of our budget for months, with plenty of time to analyze the budget document. If they were doing their job, they would be ready to debate and scrutinize all aspects of the budget now. Opposition for the sake of opposition is not acceptable to Canadians. The Library of Parliament can help out with a legislative guide for all things not understood, like the history of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This is why it is so important at this time to modernize a 140-year-old piece of legislation and proceed with the passage of Bill C-45.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support a number of petitions referring to Canada's 400-year-old definition of human being and asking Parliament to bring that into the 21st century. The petitioners are asking Parliament to stand up for the principle that every human being is created equal and every human being has an inherent worth and dignity.
In particular, I have a petition with almost 300 signatures from the riding of Mississauga—Erindale. I have a petition with almost 400 signatures from Calgary, Saskatoon, Vancouver Island, London and Bruce Grey. I have petitions from the riding of Scarborough—Rouge River, which together accomplish almost 1,200 signatures, many of whom are women. I have a petition from the riding of Markham—Unionville, which together have almost 1,300 signatures. I have a petition to the same effect from the riding of Oak Ridges—Markham with 300 signatures. I also have a petition from the riding of Scarborough—Agincourt with almost 300 signatures.
I have received petitions from all across the country with thousands of signatures but I will stop there for today.
Mr. Speaker, last week, the member for Markham—Unionville said that he thinks that the solution to the eurozone debt is “...putting massive funds into the scene. If the funds are massive enough, that will calm the markets”. Yesterday, his interim leader made the outrageous claim that “any Canadian transfer to the IMF...goes on our books as an asset”.
With such irresponsible economic policies, it is no wonder that the Canadian public relegated the Liberals to the third-party status. The Liberal position is no better than the leader of the NDP's position. He advocates for billions of Canadian tax dollars to be sent to bail out Europe's banks.
This is Europe's debt problem. Europe should act and must not delay.
The electoral district of Markham--Unionville (Ontario) has a population of 127,191 with 88,931 registered voters and 206 polling divisions.
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