Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the remarks by the member for Ottawa—Vanier. He basically talked about workers' rights in Canada, especially in the public service.
We have been very fortunate in this country to have always had a reliable, non-partisan public service that was, until the last number of years, able to give advice to ministers, without fear of repercussions, in a non-partisan way. However, when I talk to people within the public service in this day and age, there is a tremendous fear. It is as if they are being attacked by ministers, by the President of the Treasury Board, and by the government itself.
There are a lot of public servants in the member's riding. I am seeing a real fear within the public service, and that has to be having an impact on morale and productivity.
I wonder if the member for Ottawa—Vanier is seeing the same thing, which is that ministries clearly do not accept advice they do not agree with. They have the right to turn it down, but instead of accepting that advice as good advice to consider, they seem to turn it around and attack the public service. I think all Canadians are the losers.
Mr. Speaker, co-operatives are businesses that are driven by democratic values and principles. They employ over 155,000 Canadians. They pay taxes on more than $50 billion in revenues, and they create jobs and offer goods and services in all regions.
The difference between the co-operative model and other business models is how the profits are used and that their focus is on long-term strategic planning, growth, and success. Co-operatives are more durable, and research has shown that new co-operatives are more likely to remain in business than any other new enterprises and are more resilient in economic downturns.
I am proud to be a supporter of the Canadian co-operatives industry, and I look forward to working with them to create even more jobs in our communities.
Tonight, please join me and my colleagues from Ottawa—Vanier and LaSalle—Émard in celebrating co-operatives at their annual reception at the Parliament Pub. I will see everyone there.
Mr. speaker, Reverend Moses Coady started the co-operative movement many years ago during the depression in Cape Breton. This effort helped rural communities across the Maritimes to improve their economic and social circumstances.
Mr. Coady led a movement that spread across Canada and around the world. Today, co-operatives in Cape Breton are thriving.
Two weeks ago, our co-operatives' advocate, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, travelled around my riding in celebrating Co-op Week. My colleague accompanied me to credit unions, co-op grocery stores, the United Farmers Co-op country store, the Bras d'Or Farmers Vegetable Co-op and the Victoria Fisheries Co-op in Neil's Harbour.
There are 9,000 co-ops across the country, with 14 in Cape Breton.
As rural Canada continues to struggle with economic hardships and out-migration, the co-operative movement, with more assistance from the federal government, could help them prosper.
I support my colleague's efforts to create a special parliamentary committee to determine the needs of Canada's co-operatives so we can help build on this model for many years to come.
Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on the observation made by my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier when he referenced an article from The Globe and Mail on the weekend about the Chief Justice. The article was on the issue of mentally ill offenders, and it said:
At least once a year, their status is reviewed by expert panels. After treatment, most of them return to society and resume normal lives. But under a federal proposal, it will become more difficult for those designated as high-risk offenders to be released.
Chief Justice McLachlin points proudly to a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada decision, R v. Swain, as the key move that created a new template for giving mentally ill offenders regular reviews.
“It said you can’t just lock up a person who has been found not guilty by way of their illness, and throw away the key,” she says. “That was the breakthrough.”
Endorsing the review-board system, she says: “The interesting thing is that the hearing process is staffed heavily by psychiatrists and I think it is well-supported by the medical side of things, by the police and by judges.”
At the ‘intake’ end of the system, however, Chief Justice McLachlin says offenders are too often warehoused...
The Chief Justice of Canada, who will likely be tasked with reviewing this legislation at some point in the reasonably near future, has said that the system actually works very well as it is.
Essentially, this is a reaction to an egregious set of facts and ultimately an attack on those who are the most vulnerable in our society, namely those who are mentally ill, dressed up in the name of victims. The ultimate irony of this entire process is that the victims who deserve every sympathy that we can afford them will actually be potentially victimized once more because of the system that the hon. Minister of Justice is proposing.
My simple question is to the Minister of Justice. Why will he not listen to his Chief Justice, who thinks that this is the wrong direction?
Mr. Speaker, I agree with the principle behind the question from my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier.
One of CBC/Radio-Canada's purposes is to be present in every region of the country in French as well. However, the member should communicate his idea directly to Hubert Lacroix and to the board of directors of Radio-Canada.
I know that Radio-Canada will be having a meeting this Tuesday or next. The opposition's suggestion is one that Radio-Canada should hear. He should talk to them about it. I want to be clear: this is a national Canadian broadcasting corporation.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
In my time, I would like to focus on two main items. The first is the contention we hear all the time from the government that Canada is doing relatively well. It is quite easy to be doing relatively well compared with the eurozone for example, which is in recession. However, I would acknowledge that relative to many countries, Canada is doing—
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada; the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, Canada Post.
Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier who talked about time allocation. When we discuss issues in this bill, there is a lot of subtext and the subtext pertains to stuff that is under the legislation, such as the issue of sharing material across the country that would be normally of the Museum of Civilization or, in this case, the Canadian museum of history.
A lot of members from different parts of the country would like to understand how this will work and have the ability to question that in the House. Naturally, we can follow up with the bureaucrats and that sort of deal, like we normally do as parliamentarians, but we certainly cannot do that now because the legislation has not passed yet. I am not saying that this debate should go on forever, but I would certainly like a bit more information as to how this is going to be implemented. I am sure the minister, who seems to be quite sincere about it, would do it.
One of the questions I have is about the motion that was brought to the House studying Canadian history, which was alarming in the fact that it was very prescriptive in what it would do, very narrow in certain areas. It certainly caused concern. We also heard what the parliamentary secretary said earlier. I do not know why the government would do that within the context of the committee and disrupt a lot of stuff, because now we have the same sort of questions on the museum, which we would like to have answered.
Yesterday, the members for Ottawa—Vanier and Toronto—Danforth both rose on a question of privilege regarding the possible premature disclosure of the contents of a government bill prior to its introduction in the House.
Both members referenced an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail newspaper that suggested that during the weekly Conservative Party caucus meeting, some Conservative members had expressed concerns about how specific sections of the bill were drafted and had asked that they be rewritten. The members for Ottawa—Vanier and Toronto—Danforth suggested that this demonstrated that the Conservative members may have been provided with the actual text of the draft bill in question. Both members emphasized the seriousness of the premature disclosure of bills and asked the Chair to investigate this matter.
In response, the Leader of the Government in the House assured the House that at the caucus meeting held by the Conservative Party that day, no draft copies of the bill or sections of it were circulated or displayed, nor were excerpts provided.
As members know, it is a well-established practice that the contents of a bill are kept confidential until introduced in Parliament, thus making their premature disclosure a serious matter. However, in this case, a careful reading of the arguments presented to the Chair about what transpired reveals that the concerns expressed appear to be based more on conjecture and supposition than on actual evidence.
Furthermore, the government House leader has stated categorically to the House that no copies, sections or excerpts of said bill were in any way made available to those who were in attendance at the caucus meeting. In other words, he challenges the supposition being made, and he insists that there was no breach of confidentiality regarding the bill.
In light of the lack of evidence and the minister's categorical assurances, the Chair considers the matter closed.
I thank members for their attention.
Mr. Speaker, next Tuesday, April 23, St. John Ambulance is hosting its first ever Day on the Hill. I would like to thank the member for Ottawa—Vanier and the member for St. John's East for helping make this day a success.
All parliamentarians are invited to attend one of several meetings to be held that day, to learn about the importance of first aid training and the valuable work done by St. John Ambulance. Members are also invited to a reception that evening, hosted by speakers of both the House and the Senate, where we will honour several people who have done the incredible act of saving a life.
Later this spring, St. John Ambulance will provide free CPR and free AED training to all parliamentarians so that we too will know how to save a life.
Since founding Canada's first St. John Ambulance Brigade in London, Ontario, Canada's tenth-largest city, St. John Ambulance has always had a close relationship with the constituents in my riding and I am proud to support it.
As my Cape Breton mother used to say, “community service is the price you pay to live somewhere”. When the price to pay is learning the skills to save a life, we should all be willing to pay that price. I look forward to working with all of my fellow parliamentarians in making a difference in our communities.
It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, Public Safety.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on January 31, 2013, by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier regarding the procedures of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada with respect to providing information to members of Parliament.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. opposition House leader and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House for their comments.
The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier charged that government procedures requiring elected officials to seek public information through the minister’s office, while ordinary citizens could obtain the very same information directly from the department, impeded him from carrying out his duties as a member, particularly as this information was required for him to prepare to ask questions during question period. He worried that it was the government’s intention to make it difficult if not impossible for him to serve his constituents.
The member further stated that he believed this disparity in procedures was being applied in such a manner so as to create an inequality of access to information between government members and opposition members.
The parliamentary secretary expressed the view that constituency-related duties of a member are not covered by parliamentary privilege and suggested that there are other ways for the member to obtain the information that he is seeking, namely through written and oral questions.
Given that a member’s access to accurate and timely information is an essential cornerstone of our parliamentary system, it is perhaps not surprising that, in the past, other members have raised very similar concerns about access to departmental information.
Simply put, the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier raises the question of whether an alleged interference with a member’s ability to access departmental information in a timely and equitable manner constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
When the hon. member first raised this matter, he spoke of the need to have a, “level playing field of access to information for the benefit of the constituents we have been elected to represent”.
A careful review of various precedents on the issue of whether parliamentary privilege covers a member's constituency responsibilities reveals that Speakers have been quite categorical in stating that parliamentary privilege applies only in instances where members were participating in what is deemed to be a parliamentary proceeding. On October 9, 1997, at page 689 of Debates, Speaker Parent explained:
The Chair is mindful of the multiple responsibilities, duties and constituency related activities of all members and of the importance they play in the work of every member of Parliament. However, my role as your Speaker is to consider only those matters that affect the parliamentary work of members.
In the same ruling, Speaker Parent added, at page 688 of Debates that:
in order for a member to claim that his privileges have been breached or that a contempt has occurred, he or she must have been functioning as a member at the time of the alleged offence, that is, actually participating in a proceeding of Parliament. The activities of members in their constituencies do not appear to fall within the definition of a “proceeding in Parliament”.
In a ruling on a similar matter on February 4, 2008, which can be found at page 2540 of the Debates, Speaker Milliken came to the same conclusion. Other Speakers have likewise had occasion to clearly define what constitutes parliamentary work or a proceeding in Parliament.
The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier did in fact attempt to make that very link to the proceedings in Parliament when he said that he needed the information in question as part of his work in preparing to ask a question during question period. It is the view of the Chair that this falls short of established definitions of parliamentary work. Again, Speaker Parent’s October 9, 1997, ruling is very instructive in this regard. He stated at page 688 of the Debates that:
After careful consideration of the precedents, I conclude that activities related to the seeking of information in order to prepare a question do not fall within the strict definition of what constitutes a “proceeding in Parliament” and, therefore, they are not protected by privilege.
For his part, the opposition House leader reminded the House of Speaker Bosley's ruling on May 15, 1985, at page 4769 of Debates, in which he declared:
I think it has been recognized many times in the House that a complaint about the actions or inactions of government Departments cannot constitute a question of parliamentary privilege.
This is not to say that the hon. member does not have a legitimate grievance or that the departmental response and process that he encountered does not warrant review, if only for its apparent inefficiency. The member may wish to approach the minister to see if a satisfactory accommodation is possible. In addition, as Speaker Milliken once suggested in a similar case, the member could also seek to have the appropriate standing committee inquire about the departmental procedures in place to assist members of Parliament in seeking information with a view to making recommendations for improvement.
However, as Speaker, I am obliged to assess situations of this kind within the strict parameters that flow from our precedents and usages as they relate to parliamentary privilege. It is beyond the purview of the Chair to intervene in departmental matters or to get involved in government processes, no matter how frustrating they may appear to be to the member.
Accordingly, in keeping with the precedents cited, the Chair cannot conclude that the member for Ottawa—Vanier has been impeded in the performance of his parliamentary duties and thus I cannot find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
I thank all members for their attention on this matter.
Mr. Chair, I will indicate at the outset that I will be splitting my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
Last week we got our first glimpse of the government's thinking on this conflict in Mali. It was instructive in a way that the government possibly did not intend it to be. When General Vance was asked what Canada's military goal in Mali is, he spent a lot of time sort of figuring out what our military goal is and finally settled on the notion that our military goal is actually to support France.
At one level, we actually do not have a military goal, other than to support France. I guess the follow-up question would be what is France's military goal in this region. We are left with the notion that, if we are supporting France, we have to hope that its military goal is the same as ours.
I would have preferred to have heard more directly from the government. There has been some dancing around by the parliamentary secretary and others, who are saying that the Sahel region is an area of significant interest to our security, and international and regional security.
Frankly, the parliamentary secretaries have been quite articulate. It would have been useful had the government, even a couple of weeks ago, articulated the issue of Islamicist insurrections, Islamicist threats to the region and to the area, and articulated a plan to us. Thus far we have heard bits and pieces of this and that, but no overall plan of what we will actually be doing in this area.
It is in our security interest that the Islamicist threat be contained, be degraded. I do not anticipate that it will actually ever be defeated, but certainly it can be put in a position where its ability to inflict harm on others is minimized to the greatest extent possible.
If there is a caution in all of this, it is to resist the temptation to be too ambitious. Mali is a bit of a mess, to put it delicately. There have been coups and counter-coups, and the rather shadowy Captain Sanogo operates on a level that is not entirely—and probably is not in any way—accountable, transparent or in any sense democratic.
He commands an army that is poorly trained and, frankly, is prone to taking into its own hands some extra-judicial killings. The Tuareg people do not recognize, at the best of times, the authority of the Bamako government. They are a very fierce and independent Berber group of people who have acquired, since the fall of Libya, a significant cache of armaments, and from time to time have hooked up with the jihadists to actually create a very formidable fighting force, which precipitated the intervention of the French just a few weeks ago
The whole situation with respect to the Tuareg is quite confusing. They do not recognize the Bamako authority. They make common cause with the jihadists, but as soon they try to declare the northern part of Mali as an independent Berber state, then the jihadists and they part company.
One of the things that has not been discussed this evening is the Islamicist concept of time. This is a 7th century version of Islam, and we have a 21st century military. Our sense of time is not their sense of time. Their individual defeat, such as what they are experiencing currently at the hands of the French, is not important to them, because they are doing “God's will” and when they are doing God's will, they can never lose.
I am going to turn the balance of time over to my colleague. I look forward to a few questions from colleagues in the House.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in my capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons in response to a question of privilege that was made on Thursday by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
I have had the opportunity to review the Hansard of his intervention and that on Friday by the House leader of the official opposition in his Hansard interventions. The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley also offered some precedents, which I would commend to the Chair. I also want to acknowledge the hon. gentleman's sagacity in citing those cases despite the fact he sits in opposition to the government which in its own nature makes me question his sagacity on a number of other issues, but I digress.
Besides the interventions you have already heard, Mr. Speaker, I would like to add two more authorities to those before you to assist the Chair in preparing a ruling.
As the government House leader remarked in his initial comments last week, the hon. member did not mention one of his parliamentary duties or responsibilities as a member of the House of Commons. Instead he referred to a matter of constituency business.
Page 117 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, offers a categorical summary of how the Chair has approached these issues:
In instances where Members have claimed that they have been obstructed or harassed, not directly in their roles as elected representatives but while being involved in matters of a political or constituency-related nature, Speakers have consistently ruled that this does not constitute privilege.
Finally, Sir, I offer a ruling of Mr. Speaker Milliken from February 12, 2003. The following passage from page 3470 of Debates would, I suggest, give guidance on distinguishing between occasions when questioning officials is and is not a matter for privilege. Again, I quote:
Members have an undeniable right to question and obtain information from the government in order to discharge their responsibilities of oversight. This function is chiefly carried out in two ways: by asking questions of government—
That is to say, to ministers and parliamentary secretaries here in the chamber.
—either during question period or by way of written questions, and through inquiries carried out by committees of the House. Both of these proceedings are protected by the full weight of parliamentary privilege. It is not the case, however, that the privilege to seek such information extends to every aspect of a member's activity.
In conclusion, when the facts advanced by the hon. member, regardless of the conclusions taken from them, and I certainly would not share the opposition's spin on them, are considered through the lens of these precedents and those quoted on Friday by the NDP House leader, I would submit there is no prima facie question of privilege to be found here.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the question of privilege raised yesterday by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
I listened to his question of privilege, which he raised to remind the House about his ability to access information from the government and government officials, which was being prevented by some sort of decree from the Prime Minister's Office suggesting to all civil servants, or at least the ones he was dealing with, that they could not respond directly to an inquiry from a member of Parliament.
The reason I have some sympathy for this is that I have had the exact same experience. I have approached the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or the Department of Transport to seek some basic information on behalf of constituents and been told that they are not allowed to speak to me. They say they must go through the Prime Minister's Office and that the Prime Minister's Office must first vet my question as to whether or not it is appropriate, and then vet the response as to whether it is appropriate as well. That takes the idea of civil servants into a whole new realm of definition, as if they work predominantly for the Prime Minister's Office as opposed to the Canadian people.
As a representative in the House, my friend has raised a question of privilege suggesting he is unable to perform his work and duties as a member of Parliament if the government has a policy and directive that prevents him from gaining the most simple and basic information required to answer questions on behalf of his constituents. I want to be clear: We are not talking about state secrets here, but basic, simple information that Canadians have paid for, because they in fact fund the civil service. It is not the privilege of the Prime Minister's Office to direct where those answers should go.
There are some struggles, though, that we find with this as a question of privilege. I will first quote from O'Brien and Bosc from page 109 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, who explain:
In order to find a prima facie breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to support the Member’s claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.
I think the last sentence is important for all members. The test is that our work here in Parliament must be what is impeded by the actions of the government.
On May 15, 1985, Speaker Bosley gave a ruling regarding the question of privilege raised by Douglas Frith, then the hon. member for Sudbury, Ontario, who claimed that his ability to serve his constituents was being infringed or impeded by a departmental directive restricting the release of information about a government program. In his ruling, Speaker Bosley explained the following:
...it has been recognized many times in the House that a complaint about the actions or inactions of government Departments cannot constitute a question of parliamentary privilege.
...the purpose of parliamentary privilege is to protect our speech in the House, the institution itself, and the institution and Members from threats, obstructions and intimidations in the exercise of our duties.
...I would have great difficulty in finding this matter to be within the realm of parliamentary privilege.
In Speaker Bosley's ruling and also in the guides we as parliamentarians use, while this case has merit in terms of what the government is doing to members of Parliament and as a result to Canadians, it is difficult to find the exact question of privilege the member seeks.
There was a similar case on October 9, 1997. Speaker Parent gave a ruling regarding a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Wild Rose, I believe a then Reform member and later Conservative member, concerning information allegedly denied to him by an official of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Speaker Parent went on to explain:
In order to fulfill their parliamentary duties, members should of course have access to the information they require.
The Chair is mindful of the multiple responsibilities, duties and constituency related activities of all members and of the importance they play in the work of every member of Parliament. However, my role as your Speaker is to consider only those matters that affect the parliamentary work of members.
He went on to say that:
I have concluded that this case constitutes a grievance on the part of the hon. member, but since this situation has not actually precluded the hon. member from participating in a parliamentary proceeding the Chair cannot find that a case of a contempt of parliament has occurred.
By saying this I do not want to diminish the nature or seriousness of the complaint raised by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier. I believe he may have a real cause for grievance. If the government is indeed purposefully withholding information from this member, it is putting him in a situation where he is not fully able to defend the interests of the constituents he has been elected to represent.
As I said yesterday, many of my colleagues also faced obstructions from civil servants who have previously been quite open to allowing members access to information that the public has. MPs are referred to the Prime Minister's office or the PCO in such a way that it becomes impossible for them to obtain information that is essential to their work.
This is a very serious situation and one that continues to get worse, not better, but it needs to be addressed through other means available to us.
I do want to point out that in determining whether the question raised by the member for Ottawa—Vanier is a question of privilege, we have to examine the effect the incident or event had on a member's ability to fulfill his or her parliamentary duties. In this case, I think members will agree that although this is, without a doubt, a deplorable incident, the member's ability to fulfill his parliamentary duties likely has not been affected.
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, Regional Economic Development.
Mr. Speaker, there is a lot to talk about in this budget but I will have to say it all in 10 minutes rather than 20 minutes. My colleague for Ottawa—Vanier suggests this might be bad news for me but good news for him. I always appreciate his thoughtful commentary on such matters.
I want to start by picking up on the point that my hon. colleague was making a moment ago in his response to a question. I have to say that I disagree with him somewhat. He complained that the budget bill is very large, as he was waving a copy of the budget, which is also very large. It is reasonable to expect that a meaty budget would produce a meaty and detailed piece of legislation.
Although I suspect a few of my constituents sit down and read most legislation cover to cover, I think that sometimes there is a tendency to expect that Canadians will not actually read the budget implementation act and that they will take it on faith that a very large bill is somehow inappropriate.
I want to point out that the nature of the many small detailed adjustments that are being made to government spending require a certain amount of space. To make this point, I will turn to Bill C-45 on page 228, which deals with pay for judges under the Judges Act. It deals with the salaries for every federally appointed and paid judge in the country, starting with the Chief Justice of Canada. It includes a series of amendments to the Judges Act because these salaries are legislated. Members would understand why we would not want to have judges salaries be discretionary, which is in order to preserve the independence of the judiciary. I will just read a bit of this to give a sense of why there is so much volume in this act.
210. Sections 9 to 22 of the Judges Act are replaced by the following:
9. The yearly salaries of the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada are as follows:
(a) the Chief Justice of Canada, $370,300; and
(b) the eight puisne judges, $342,800 each.
Puisne judges here are what we call associate justices. By the way, what has changed from the current Judges Act is that the actual numbers are changed because of salary increases from the current level.
It goes on:
10. The yearly salaries of the judges of the Federal Courts are as follows:
(a) the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal, $315,900;
(b) the other judges of the Federal Court of Appeal, $288,100 each;
(c) the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, $315,900; and
(d) the other judges of the Federal Court, $288,100 each.
11. The yearly salaries of the judges of the Tax Court of Canada are as follows:
(a) the Chief Justice, $315,900;
(b) the Associate Chief Justice, $315,900; and
(c) the other judges, $288,100 each.
It then goes on for every single provincial court, starting with Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and finally getting to the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, which is the very last one several pages on.
They all have different salary levels currently and we want to have them go up proportionately. There is no other way of doing this than by laying the text out in this manner and it takes a certain amount of space, which is typical of the kind of content we find in this budget implementation act. It is detailed, thoughtful, methodical and, by necessity, takes up space.
This is not, as some members of the opposition have suggested, the budget version of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. This is actually a very reasonable, methodical, practical way of dealing with the very complex business of managing a country's national government's expenditures.
The main theme of the bill is bringing practical restraint after years of expanding government budgets. Of course, these were the expansions in the government's budget that took place in the wake of the financial meltdown of 2008.
At that time, the argument was made very forcefully by the opposition that the government must spend more money on stimulus. Indeed, in early 2009, the government was told that it must spend more money on stimulus and go into deficit, since there was no way of spending more money when revenues were at the levels they were at then.
We were told we must do that as a condition of them not defeating us and replacing us as the government without an intervening election. That was the deal. While the budgets passed by our government in its minority period were not supported by the opposition, the opposition's criticism at the time was based on us not spending enough. We should be clear about that.
Now we are downsizing, or one might say re-sizing, from that expenditure. I am not a Keynesian. I do not think that is the appropriate way of dealing with a financial downturn. However, if one does believe in Keynesianism, as the opposition does and indeed many colleagues on this side do as well, then this is what Keynesians do when an economy is not contracting but expanding. They cut spending, do not increase taxes and try to build up the financial work chest that may be needed for some future financial crisis. It is at times of financial crisis when the economy is contracting that a government engages in stimulus spending. This is part of that cycle.
As I said, I am not a Keynesian, but I do believe in the part about trying to keep government spending reasonable and under control. I also believe in the general approach the government has adopted, which is making small adjustments here and there across that vast scale of government expenditures, rather than simply making radical, dramatic cuts.
That approach has been tried. Indeed, it was tried by the Chrétien government and by Paul Martin when he was finance minister back in the mid 1990s. I remember the budget of 1995 very well. I was a staffer on Parliament Hill at the time. Canada had a very substantial deficit at the time. We were heading into a situation where we could potentially face a lenders' strike. The government's response was to cut spending, which I applaud.
The way it cut spending was not approved of by the former Reform Party and PCs, and that was to cut transfers to provinces radically. It left all federal spending on direct expenditures intact, which was politically sensitive, but it cut radically on the transfers to the provinces. This had the effect of nailing the provinces on their primary expenditures: health care and education. These are the two areas that Canadians consistently indicate are the most important areas of spending to them. That had a very serious negative impact on the provinces.
Our government has tried to avoid harming transfers to the provinces. A very stable foundation of funding, both for equalization and for direct health care transfers has now been secured several years into the future. The adjustments that are being made are to direct federal expenditures. These are, naturally, very many because there are so many different areas in which our government engages in spending. There is everything from soup to nuts, from national defence to protecting the environment. It covers a lot of ground.
Much of that spending is non-discretionary. It is put in place by statute, which means the statutes must be adjusted. The example I just gave of the Judges Act is a typical example of the kinds of adjustments that are made to a statutory expenditure requirement. We have to go through and deal with it in detail. It takes up space and inevitably creates a substantial bill.
Frankly, that is why we needed to have more than one budget implementation bill. We had one in the spring and as promised one in the autumn to deal with that very substantial amount of work and to give the time in the intervening period for the kind of work that requires detailed thought on the part of ministers to achieve the goal of having reasonable expenditure adjustments that do not cause harm to the interests of Canadians.
I have just one last example. It involves my own constituency. As all good MPs do, I want to wrap things up by talking about my own constituency.
One area of cuts that we faced was an adjustment to the canals budget of Parks Canada, which is administered through the ministry of the environment. It had an overall adjustment to its budget downwards of $29 million, of which $2 million would affect the Rideau Canal system. It is Ontario's only world heritage site and an area of considerable cultural and recreational importance.
The initial approach adopted by Parks Canada was to try to achieve at least part of that cut by reducing the season. When that met with concerns, the minister intervened personally. A number of MPs drew this concern to his attention. That included MPs from more than one party because the canal flows through both Conservative and Liberal-held ridings, and I think even an NDP-held riding.
The result was that reasonable changes were made to ensure the season could remain its full length. The part of the budget that was most important to local Canadians was respected. The result is a change that saves money and at the same time allows for a reasonable and intelligent expenditure of those funds.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this good question from the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
I got this question on Wednesday, and I saw the letter that a large group of people wrote to me. Yesterday, I responded that Canada was proud to continue supporting peace and security in Mali and that I was happy to work with my colleague on this good policy.
The electoral district of Ottawa--Vanier (Ontario) has a population of 101,611 with 81,373 registered voters and 242 polling divisions.
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