Mr. Speaker, I know Canadians are riveted with what is happening in Ottawa with all the scandals around the federal government. Nevertheless, in spite of Conservative scandals, there is important business that is continuing in Parliament.
I rise today to speak, once again, on Bill C-60, which is yet another Conservative omnibus budget bill. It was only weeks ago that the Conservatives brought Bill C-60 to the floor of the House and very quickly constrained debate with time allocation. They pushed it through the finance committee, allowing a total of only four meetings to discuss and study this bill. Here we are with a record number of debate limits due to time allocation by the secretive Conservative government. We are back with this omnibus budget bill and, again, it will receive only two and a half hours of debate.
While this is not the biggest budget bill ever, it is 115 pages and changes almost 50 pieces of legislation. This will have wide-ranging impacts on government departments, crown corporations, international trade, and foreign investment. It will affect the prices of basic household goods for Canadians. All the while, the Conservatives themselves are very secretive. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer cannot find out what the government is cutting, and these cuts to programs and services and austerity measures continue.
This omnibus bill would make changes to the temporary foreign workers program and the Investment Canada Act. It merges the Department of Foreign Affairs with the Canadian International Development Agency. It also introduces significant tax hikes on credit unions, small businesses and tariff hikes on thousands of products. The Conservatives are raising the prices on more than 1,200 consumer goods, from over 70 countries, by increasing tariffs $333 million.
Bill C-60 also undermines the collective bargaining process at crown agencies, such as the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, VIA Rail, Canada Post, and many more crown corporations. It also raises serious concerns about the independence of institutions, including the CBC, where we prize journalistic independence and integrity, and also the Bank of Canada.
Canadians across the country have been writing to MPs to share their concerns about this omni-budget 3.0. If they are to be considered, these are changes that merit more debate, more time, and certainly due process. In year three of Conservative omni-budgets, Canadians should not accept this skirting of the democratic process and democratic oversight as the new normal.
Allow me to quote what National Post columnist Andrew Coyne said about omnibus budget bills. He stated:
Not only does this make a mockery of the confidence convention, shielding bills that would otherwise be defeatable within a money bill, which is not: It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We’ve no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the [omnibus] legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet.
...there is something quite alarming about Parliament being obliged to rubber-stamp the government’s whole legislative agenda at one go.
It was last year that Mr. Coyne wrote that opinion, and of course the government continues with its omnibus legislation, blind and determined as ever.
The Conservatives do not trust Canadians, and Bill C-60, like the omnibus bills of years past, is evidence of their disdain for parliamentary process, the democratic process, and ultimately for Canadians. If they had been listening to Canadians, the Conservatives would be hearing the kinds of things I have been hearing from my constituents. Thousands of Canadians are writing to parliamentarians, telling us that sections related to the CBC alone are reason to stop this omnibus bill.
Respected members of the Canadian media are telling Parliament that this omnibus bill needs to be intercepted. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, the Canadian Media Guild, the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada and ACTRA are urging all of the Conservatives to use common sense.
The Canadian Association of Journalists has said that the provisions of Bill C-60 show the Conservatives' total lack of confidence in the ability of the CBC's board of directors and president to properly manage public broadcasting.
This bill is also the worst case of government interference in the CBC and its mandate as an independent broadcaster funded by taxpayers.
My office certainly has received countless letters, emails and phone calls from constituents concerned about how Bill C-60 will impact the CBC. Of course, Conservatives would have to talk to Canadians if they wanted to know this. Clearly, they are not.
Bill C-60 also phases out the credit union tax deduction that has helped foster diversity in our financial system in Canada. There is a great deal of concern from credit unions from coast to coast about the long-term effects of these changes. Fostering diversity in the banking and financial sector is a necessary element of a modern economy.
At the finance committee, we heard from credit union representatives about the concerns that this measure has raised in communities across the country. I would like to quote a couple of them.
Mr. David Phillips, president and CEO of Credit Union Central of Canada, told us:
The provision as it is now is pro-competitive. So when you take the provision away, when you increase the tax rate, what you're really doing is supporting greater concentration in the Canadian financial services industry. It's really a tax on the growth of credit unions.
Mr. David Phillips is saying that as it stands now it fosters competition. What the Conservatives are doing will eliminate competition, or greatly reduce competition. That was what Mr. Phillips said to the finance committee last month.
Mr. Garth Manness, CEO of Credit Union Central of Manitoba, notes that:
Now credit unions alone face the possibility of having to pay more of their net income in federal tax. Just as the banks did before, it is no exaggeration to say that some may begin to question the future viability of credit unions in many communities in rural Canada.
In some cases, they are the only financial institution.
Not only could people be left without access to a nearby financial institution, valuable and stable jobs at the credit union could be lost.
Again, that is from Mr. Manness when he appeared at the finance committee last month.
As the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, I know these measures will have a direct impact on my community. In my riding, the Ukrainian credit unions invest nearly $1 million annually in community programming, projects and educational initiatives that could simply disappear as a result of these tax changes. It makes no sense.
I recently met with representatives from the Council Of Ukrainian Credit Unions Of Canada which have a combined membership of over 63,000 people across Canada. The representatives I met with in Parkdale—High Park were shocked at the unexpected tax code changes for credit unions in Bill C-60. There was no consultation.
I share the concerns of my constituents, and many Canadians, that these new risk-reducing financial tools available to communities across the country threaten the overall diversity of the financial sector in Canada.
Bill C-60 is not what Canadians want. If the Conservatives were listening to Canadians, they would know that. If the Conservatives were listening to Canadians, they would be considering the advice of the very experts who appeared before the finance committee as witnesses on this bill.
For instance, labour relations expert George Smith told the finance committee that the changes in Bill C-60 fundamentally contradict the Canada Labour Code.
Now, Smith is not a union representative. For four decades, Smith was chief management negotiator for many businesses and crown corporations, such as Air Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway, and CBC. He was part of the privatization of Air Canada, the revitalization of the Canadian railway industry, including CN as a crown corporation, and the modernization of CBC's collective agreement.
George Smith, formerly in management at CBC, Air Canada and CPR, and now adjunct professor at Queen's University, stated:
Collective bargaining is messy. Sometimes it causes inconvenience. Labour disputes, I would argue, are short-term pain for long-term gain. But the product of a freely negotiated collective agreement is an agreement that both sides agree to and both sides then commit to implement. That gives management the certainty, and it gives the employees and the unions certainty in the business environment. It doesn't mean that those negotiations aren't difficult. But mandated change, in my experience, wherever it comes from, doesn't work.
Mr. Smith appeared at the finance committee last month. It is clear that his comments fell on deaf ears on the part of the government.
If the government were listening, it would hear the concerns of Chris Aylward, national executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, on the changes that would allow Treasury Board interference in labour relations at crown corporations. He said:
These changes are problematic because it essentially gives Treasury Board unfettered authority to interfere in [collective] bargaining with Crown corporations, removing effective control from the parties most directly affected. This is not a recipe for healthy labour relations.
These are the experts who are telling us this, and the government refuses to listen.
The message from Canadians on process for this bill and on the content is clear. It is, “stop this omnibus budget bill”. However, the Conservatives will not take their fingers out of their ears long enough to hear what Canadians are saying.
The changes proposed to Bill C-60 regarding Treasury Board interference with crown corporations do not stop at the CBC. There is also concern that they could impact the independence of the Bank of Canada.
I recently tabled a motion at the finance committee to study the impact of this bill on the Bank of Canada, but, of course, like every other motion that the NDP or other parties put forward, and every other single amendment, the Conservatives rejected it, voted against it, and refused to listen.
In a recent article in The Globe and Mail, Kevin Carmichael described the potential scenario that could arise following the Bill C-60 measures:
Say the governor wanted to hire a talented banker who worked at an investment bank that had become the focus of public vitriol for its role in the global financial crisis. Would cabinet interfere with the appointment if there were a public outcry? Or to prevent one?
Carmichael goes on to say:
It is impossible to rule out the possibility. Yet such a scenario hardly is far-fetched. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney hired Tim Hodgson, the former head of Goldman Sachs's Canadian operations, as a special advisor in 2010. Would Mr. Carney have thought twice if he knew his internal appointments risked political censure? Again, there's reason to wonder. And suddenly, we're on a slippery slope: a simple “accountability” measure risks hurting the central bank's reputation as an independent actor.
Again, this is from an expert financial journalist at The Globe and Mail. The Conservatives are willing to risk the independence of the central bank if it means giving more power to the Prime Minister's Office.
Bill C-60 would also make the temporary foreign workers program correct some measures. However, they would be a band-aid solution and would not get to the heart of the government's mismanagement of the temporary foreign workers program. While the Conservatives like to crow about their record on job creation, there are still almost 1.4 million Canadians out of work. At the same time, the number of temporary foreign workers have tripled over the last decade. There are now hundreds of thousands of temporary foreign workers working here in Canada.
Experts and community groups across the country are speaking out against the band-aid solutions offered in Bill C-60. Gil McGowan, president of Alberta Federation of Labour, where many of these workers work, said:
The bottom line is that Canadians are being displaced by temporary foreign workers, wages are being suppressed and employers are being allowed to abdicate their responsibility for training Canadians.
Miles Corak, professor of economics, has said:
Flooding the market with workers from elsewhere year in and year out—even during a major recession—is not about an acute labour shortage. It is nothing more than a wage subsidy to low-paying firms, a subsidy that stunts the reallocation of goods, capital and labour that is the basis for efficient markets.
What do the Conservatives have against free markets?
David Gray, a labour economist and professor at the University of Ottawa, said:
The temporary foreign worker program has become a convenient “out” for employers unwilling to pay higher wages. It should just address only acute labour shortages.
The Canadian Council of Refugees said:
[T]he CCR regrets the [temporary foreign workers] announcement did not address the rights abuses suffered by migrant workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation because of their precarious status.
Again, this testimony was all ignored. Canadians told us about serious concerns about Bill C-60, and we in the New Democratic Party stand with Canadians in saying that we do not support this omnibus bill. We will be voting against it.
Despite what Conservatives claim, this budget will actually hold back the Canadian economy, instead of accelerating it. It is eliminating thousands of jobs, cutting direct program spending and weakening GDP growth. It does nothing to address unemployment, record levels of household debt or rising inequality.
Putting people to work is clearly the best way to reduce our deficit, but instead, this budget is recklessly pursuing an austerity agenda that has made major cuts to services on which Canadian families rely. Now is the time, instead, to invest in the next generation that will lead the country. It is the time to meet the challenges facing Canadians head-on, but this budget shirks these responsibilities.
There is no need to risk journalistic freedom at the CBC. There is no need to trample on collective bargaining rights and processes that have served us well for decades. New Democrats know that investing in communities, pursuing sustainable economic development and supporting small and medium-size businesses is critical in creating high-paying jobs and in building a vibrant economy for generations to come.
Canadians are counting on us to listen, to understand the concerns of communities across the country and to put the public interest first.
In that regard, I want to propose a reasoned amendment, and I will read the reasoned amendment now. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House decline to give third reading to Bill C-60, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures, because it:
(a) weakens Canadians' confidence in the work of Parliament, decreases transparency and erodes democratic process by amending 49 different pieces of legislation, many of which are not related to budgetary measures;
(b) raises taxes on Canadians by introducing tax hikes on credit unions and small businesses;
(c) gives the Treasury Board sweeping powers to interfere in collective bargaining and impose employment conditions on non-union employees;
(d) amends the Investment Canada Act to triple review thresholds and dramatically reduces the number of foreign takeovers subject to review;
(e) proposes an inadequate band-aid fix for the flawed approach to labour market opinions in the temporary foreign worker program;
(f) proposes to increase fees for visitor visas for friends and family coming to visit Canada; and
(g) fails to provide substantive measures to create good Canadian jobs and stimulate meaningful long-term growth and recovery.
I will add that this reasoned amendment is being seconded by the member of Parliament for Saint-Lambert.
Mr. Speaker, last year the Conservative government removed most of Canada's rivers and lakes from the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Out of our hundreds of thousands of rivers and lakes, only 62 rivers and 97 lakes remain protected. What a travesty.
Bordering my electoral district of Parkdale—High Park in the city of Toronto is the Humber River, one of Canada's great heritage rivers, which is part of the historic Toronto Carrying Place trail used by aboriginal populations dating back over a thousand years.
The Humber River is the only Canadian heritage river accessible by subway, in the middle of our largest city, yet people can kayak and canoe on it, and in the spring when the steelhead run it is a wildly popular fishing spot.
Last week I seconded Bill C-502, presented by my colleague from York South—Weston, which aims to re-establish protection for the Humber River.
In recognition of June 9, Canadian Rivers Day, I will join with my community to protect the Humber River for today and for future generations.
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear the minister attempt to justify shutting down debate once again. As the member for Parkdale—High Park said, it has been 39 times that the government has limited the ability of parliamentarians to do their job. In this case, we have only had one hour of debate on the bill at this stage of its reading.
We are talking about a bill that is 115 pages long and amends 49 different pieces of legislation. When the bill had second reading, there was time allocation on that phase. Then it was referred to committees where people were unable to amend the bill. They had very limited time to call witnesses. In some cases, some committees only had one meeting on the legislation. Therefore, I hardly think we have had adequate time to give the bill the kind of study it requires. We saw this with the budget bill and now the budget implementation act.
As well, in this case, the government talks about how it needs to get this moving. Why did it not bring the bill forward earlier? The government controls the agenda for when a bill is called before the House for debate. It had ample opportunity to bring the bill forward so we would have the opportunity to study it in-depth and to call witnesses. Again, as the member for Parkdale—High Park pointed out, there are a number of different critical pieces of legislation that would be impacted by this, for example, the amalgamation of CIDA with foreign affairs and some changes to the way the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would be able to operate.
Why does the minister think parliamentarians should not have the opportunity to provide due diligence for legislation that will have impact so many other pieces of legislation?
Pursuant to Standing Order 67.1, there will now be a 30-minute question period. I invite hon. members who wish to ask questions to rise in their places at this point so I can get an assessment of how many members would like to participate.
Typically, questions and comments are about a minute long each. I think that today we can probably go a minute and a half. However, I would encourage all hon. members to pay attention to the Chair for a signal when the member's time is drawing to a close.
Questions and comments.
The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.
Mr. Speaker, I rise yet again to speak on Bill C-60, another Conservative omnibus bill that crams changes to more than 50 pieces of legislation into it, and which ought to have been split up and studied at various different committees.
This bill will have wide-ranging impacts, affecting everything from the price of an iPod to credit unions to foreign aid to journalistic freedom of the CBC. This omnibus budget bill makes changes to the temporary foreign worker program, to the Investment Canada Act, and it merges the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade with CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency.
This bill also raises taxes on Canadians by introducing tax hikes on credit unions, increasing the taxes on small businesses, and increasing the taxes on thousands of products that Canadians use every day.
It took generations to establish institutions like the CBC and the central bank, and some of these institutions are the envy of the world. However, this bill would undermine the collective bargaining process at many of our Crown corporations, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Via Rail, Canada Post, the CBC and the Bank of Canada.
These institutions have always been ambitious, but theirs was a vision grounded in hope and optimism. Canadians have always known that as a country we are stronger together.
Our leaders once had the wisdom to accept the independence of the Bank of Canada and the integrity of the CBC. They saw this independence as an asset to our country, not a threat to the power of government.
However, the Conservatives do not trust Canadians. Bill C-60, like omnibus bills before it, are evidence of this contempt. Many of the changes in Bill C-60 are cynical measures that will give more power to the Conservative government's inner circle while taking away the voice of Parliament from independent bodies, and ultimately from Canadians.
The Conservatives are making rash and ideological choices to push omnibus 3.0 through Parliament without talking to Canadians. If they had, they would have heard the kinds of things that I have been hearing from my constituents.
Parkdale—High Park, the electoral district I represent, is home to many Ukrainian credit unions. I recently met with representatives from the Council Of Ukrainian Credit Unions Of Canada, which has a combined membership of over 60,000 people across the country. The representatives I met with were shocked that they were not consulted in advance about these changes. These tax code changes were absolutely unexpected, and there was no comprehensive review of the sector before these changes were introduced in the budget.
The changes have surprised people and created worry and uncertainty for credit unions and the many Canadians who rely on their services. In my riding, the Ukrainian credit unions invest nearly $1 million annually in community programming, projects and educational initiatives, which will simply disappear as a result of these changes.
There is also a great deal of concern from credit unions from coast to coast about the long-term impact of these changes. We appreciate diversity in the financial sector and the banking sectors of Canada. They are part of modern economy, but I share the concerns of my constituents, and many Canadians, that these changes put that diversity at risk. However, the Conservatives would have had to talk to Canadians to know this.
My office has also been flooded with letters and emails and phone calls from constituents concerned about how Bill C-60 will impact the CBC, our national broadcaster. Thousands of Canadians are writing to tell Parliament that sections relating to the CBC alone are reason to stop this omnibus bill, to make changes to it. Last week I received a letter saying:
I do not want any politician exercising this kind of control over our national public broadcaster.
It is not a state broadcaster.
Another letter put it succinctly, saying, “What can I do; Where do I protest..”.
Canadians have made it crystal clear. They do not support these measures, so why are the Conservatives not listening?
Respected members of the Canadian media are telling Parliament that this omnibus bill needs to be intercepted. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, the Canadian Media Guild, the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada and ACTRA are urging all of the Conservatives to use common sense.
On issue after issue it is clear that Bill C-60 is not what Canadians want, and if the Conservatives were listening they would know that. If they had talked to Canadians, they would be hearing the advice of experts like George Smith, who has decades of experience in Canadian business. Smith was once the chief management negotiator for Air Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway and the CBC. At the finance committee Smith stated:
These proposed amendments to the Financial Administration Act, buried in Bill C-60, contradict both the spirit and intent of the Canada Labour Code...and create a role for government in crown corporation collective bargaining which is not contemplated in the Canada Labour Code.
Another issue of serious concern is the impact that this omnibus bill would have on the independence of the Bank of Canada. Last week, I tabled a motion at the finance committee to study the impact of this bill on the Bank of Canada, but the Conservatives voted against it, as they vote against every proposed amendment. However, in a recent article in the The Globe and Mail, Kevin Carmichael, one of Canada's most respected financial reporters, discussed my motion and affirmed that measures in this bill could gravely impact the independence of the bank. Again, the Conservatives are willing to sacrifice the independence of our central bank and the national interest, if it means giving more power to the Prime Minister's Office.
Another measure in omnibus bill 3.0 makes changes to the temporary foreign worker program. These measures are a band-aid solution that does not get to the heart of the government's mismanagement of the temporary foreign worker program. Experts and community groups across the country are speaking out against this band-aid solution.
When is it enough? Canadians are saying, once again, that they do not support this omnibus budget bill. Canadians have serious concerns with the measures in Bill C-60, and until those concerns are addressed, we cannot support this bill and we will not support this bill.
There are serious issues facing our country, but budget 2013 does not rise to meet these challenges. It does nothing to address unemployment, record levels of household debt or rising inequality. Instead, the Conservative government is more concerned with rearranging power to give more power to its inner circle and less voice to Canadians.
Let us not forget what this budget is not doing. It is not getting Canadians back to work. It will not stimulate growth. Instead, this budget is squarely focused on a job-killing austerity agenda that has made major cuts to the services that Canadians rely on. Putting people to work is clearly the best way to reduce our deficit.
There is no need to play big brother with the Bank of Canada. There is no need to trample on credit unions that so many communities rely on. There is no need to spend millions on an advertising budget that Canadians do not agree with.
Instead, New Democrats know that investing in education and infrastructure, making life more affordable for Canadians, supporting small and medium-sized businesses and creating high-quality, high-paying jobs is the best way to get our economy back on track.
Canadians are counting on us. They are counting on New Democrats, and I dare say all of this Parliament, to show leadership and bring forward the ideas and proposals that will work in the public interest, not the private interest of a few insiders. We need to put Canadians first. This budget does not do that.
I see that my time is up. I look forward to the questions and comments from my colleagues.
The member for Parkdale—High Park will have four minutes remaining for her remarks when the House next resumes debate on the question.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the opposition day motion with really a sense of sadness, sadness because as the finance critic for the official opposition, I have sadly had a front row seat in watching the greater opacity, the greater lack of information by the government when it comes to financial matters. From its omnibus bills to its time allocations to its silencing of opposition testimony, it has become frankly a bit of a chill in Ottawa.
Now I think we get a sense of why some of that is. What we are debating now with this opposition day motion by our party, the NDP, is the misplacing of $3.1 billion contributed to the coffers of Ottawa by Canadians across the country. It is not just any amount of money. This money was put in the hands of the government in trust to be spent on public security and anti-terrorism measures. The fact that the government cannot account for this money, as witnessed by the Auditor General in his recent report, is frankly shocking, but it is in keeping with the general lack of reporting, the lack of transparency by the government.
It is a government that forced the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which was a position created in fact by the Conservatives and an officer who was put in place by them, Kevin Page, to go to court to try to get some of the information from budget 2012 in terms of how government was spending and which departments, programs and services were being cut by the government. Now we find that even the government does not seem to understand, or know, or be able to find monies that were put in its trust and for which it would be responsible.
Before I continue, I will be sharing my time with the member for Edmonton—Strathcona.
The motion we are debating today is really calling on the government to issue documents from 2001 to the present, to account for this money on natural security. That is when these funds were initially allocated and that this public security initiative was created. What we are calling for is all of the public security and anti-terrorism annual reports that were submitted to the Treasury Board Secretariat, all the Treasury Board submissions made as part of the anti-terrorism initiative, all the departmental evaluations of the initiative, all the Treasury Board database information established to monitor the funding, all of these records be public and made available to the House, in both official languages, by June 17.
That is all we are asking for, that this basic information about the dollars given to Ottawa by Canadians across the country for a very serious purpose, the anti-terrorism public safety initiative, that this money be made available and that the Auditor General be given the necessary resources to perform an in-depth forensic audit to find the $3.1 billion that is unaccounted for by the government.
At the same time as this money has gone astray, no one can find out where it is. Under budget 2012, the government has made significant cuts to public safety. A total of $687.9 million will be cut from public safety by 2015. To outline some of these cuts, $143 million to the Canada Border Services Agency, the CBSA, will mean the elimination of 626 full-time equivalents, including about 325 front line officers. A further 100 positions may be affected in the CBSA.
To put this into perspective, I come from the city of Toronto, the largest city in the country. Like other communities across the country, we have concerns about handguns that are illegally smuggled into our country and fall into the hands of youth, especially, as well as others. Far too many young people in our communities have died because of the illegal use of handguns that were smuggled into the country.
To think that the Conservative government would cut over 600 border security guards from patrolling our borders and at the same time it cannot account for if, whether or how it spent $3.1 billion is frankly shocking and I know it is unacceptable to the constituents in my riding of Parkdale—High Park and to Canadians right across the country.
The government is also cutting intelligence agents from the CBSA and sniffer dog units. Under budget 2012, it scrapped the Inspector General of CSIS, who was put in place to ensure accountability there. The government is also cutting almost $200 million from the RCMP. While it is making what I would call reckless cuts to public safety measures, at the same time it seems to have misplaced over $3 billion that was allocated to protect our public safety.
While we are hearing a lot of stonewalling from the other side on this issue, what we are calling for with this motion is for the government to stop playing politics with our public safety and our hard-earned tax dollars and just give the Auditor General the information that he needs to fully account for where this money has gone.
Was it properly spent or improperly spent? Let the Conservatives give us the documents so all Canadians can find out what happened to the money. That is all we are asking for. It is very simple and straightforward.
We are hearing a lot of stonewalling on the other side of the House. We are hearing that the Auditor General did not find that any money was misappropriated. He did not find that any money was misappropriated because there were no documents saying where the money was. There were no documents to tell if it had been spent, not been spent, if it had been turned back into a previous budget, put forward into a future budget or spent on public security. Did it go to the President of the Treasury Board's gazebo? Did it go to a fake lake in Toronto?
We do not know where this money went. It could be lost in loose change down sofas across the country. We have no idea. However, there are clearly some serious spending problems with the government and with the public safety and anti-terrorism initiative because the money was not monitored properly, may not have been spent properly and clearly has not been properly accounted for.
The Auditor General needs the documents to be able to track the money and to find out on behalf of hard-working Canadians. They do not get to say "I just lost a third of the money I was supposed to report" when it comes to tax time. They have to account for every penny. Therefore, the Auditor General has to get the documents he needs to properly account for $3.1 billion in missing funds.
We urge the government and all members in the House to support this New Democrat opposition day motion to give the Auditor General the information he needs and do the job we were elected to do on behalf of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to present three petitions from constituents.
The first concerns the interim federal health program for refugees. Parkdale—High Park is a riding that has had the good fortune to welcome many newcomers, including refugees over the years. However, vulnerable refugee claimants are already being denied basic health services, such as medication, psychiatric treatment and hospitalization.
The petitioners call on the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to reverse the cuts to the interim health program for refugees and maintain Canada's reputation as a compassionate and humanitarian country.
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park is always well-researched, well-spoken and logical. I thank her for her recent topic.
I wonder if she heard my statement today at the beginning of statements by members. Mr. Stern of the London School of Economics has said that Canada is facing a huge carbon bubble with the risk that if we continue to export huge volumes of fossil fuels and do not diversify our petro-economy, at some point the bubble is going to burst, and it will cost us thousands of jobs and huge amounts of economic benefit to Canada.
Would she like to comment on that, particularly given that her leader has made very valid comments about how rushing the huge volume of oil into other countries has put our loonie and our economy at risk in other ways?
Mr. Speaker, I agree with what my colleague from Parkdale—High Park said about this government's fiscal incompetence.
Unless it manages to balance the budget, in 2015 we will have our eighth consecutive deficit with this government. The Conservatives only balanced the budget in 2006 and 2007 because they inherited a big surplus that we, the Liberals, left them. Before that, the last time a Conservative government balanced a budget was in 1912. These people do not know how to manage an economy.
My colleague from Parkdale—High Park said that measures were urgently needed to meet the needs of families.
What specific measures would address these needs?
I agree with her, but I would like to hear specifics.
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-502, An Act to amend the Navigable Waters Protection Act (Humber River).
Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the member for Parkdale—High Park, to request leave to introduce a bill to amend the Navigable Waters Protection Act with respect to the Humber River.
Last year, the Conservative government removed most of Canada's rivers and lakes from the Navigable Waters Protection Act through its omnibus budget implementation bill. Out of Canada's hundreds of thousands of rivers and lakes, only 62 rivers and 97 lakes remain protected. That is simply not enough.
Today, I am seeking to restore the Humber River to protection under the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The river is a Canada heritage designated river, part of the historic Toronto Carrying Place trail and has over 800,000 people living within its watershed.
The Humber River has its headwaters in the ancient rock of the Niagara Escarpment and the glacial hills of the Oak Ridges Moraine. It flows through a rich mosaic of Carolinian forests and meadows, past farms and abandoned mills, before meandering through the largest urban area in Canada, Metropolitan Toronto, passing by my community of York South—Weston.
The Humber is the backyard of not only Toronto but Mississauga, Peel, York, Brampton, Caledon, King, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Aurora, et cetera. It is a unique river that flows through the most densely populated area of Canada, but still retains many of its natural and cultural values.
By placing the full length of the river, all 126 kilometres of it, back into the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Humber would be once more protected from unbridled development, requiring full environment assessments with public consultations for any project, be it transportation, pipeline or other development to be conducted to ensure the health of the river before going ahead.
This is a river worth protecting and I look forward to support for my bill by all members of the House.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Mr. Speaker, as we all heard just moments ago, I think I touched a nerve with the leader of the official opposition, the member of Parliament for Outremont, when I suggested that this private member's bill did not have a cost to it. When I suggested that the NDP, in fact, also has a history and a record of doing these kinds of things without any regard to cost to Canadians, the official opposition leader suggested that I was not being honest about their propositions for budget 2013. The leader of the official opposition is either embarrassed by the launch the NDP did for budget 2013, or he has selective memory, for whatever reason. We would leave it to him to explain that.
However, let me read from the transcript of the official launch of the party's, that is the NDP's, new campaign around budget 2013 held at the National Press Theatre, March 18, 2013. Here is a question from a journalist:
I'm just wondering if you could kind of, you know, focus on specifics in terms of the price tag. How much does the NDP want to spend on the various aspects...? Can you kind of provide some more fiscal details in terms of how much money you'd spend?
The member who just spoke, who is the finance critic for the NDP, the member for Parkdale—High Park, responded to that question from the journalist at the news conference, saying:
I'm not going to pull out one piece and say here's the price tag because I think it's a shift in approach.
Then the question from the journalist was as follows:
But in this campaign, has the NDP..., does it lay out how much an NDP government would spend on the investments in the infrastructure or on pensions or on the small businesses?
Of course, the finance critic for the NDP said:
No, as we get closer to an election, we usually cost these things out specifically.... We're making recommendations to the government for their budget on Thursday.
Again, it speaks to the misleading comments made by the NDP opposition leader. He obviously has something to hide, because he does not cost his own private member's bill, again, because it is going to cost substantial money not only for Canadians but for a number of other organizations that bear the brunt of decisions made by government.
I appreciate this opportunity to express our concerns regarding Bill C-476, an act that would make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an officer of Parliament.
As everyone knows, accountability and transparency in Canada's public and democratic institutions are characteristic of this government. It was our government that promised to scrutinize public expenditures more closely. The first thing we did was implement one of the most comprehensive and complex pieces of legislation on accountability ever passed in this country.
Through the Federal Accountability Act and the accompanying action plan, we brought in a series of accountability reforms. Among these reforms were the designation of deputy ministers and deputy heads as accounting officers, the five-year review of the relevance and effectiveness of departmental grant and contribution programs, the new mandate for the Auditor General to follow the money to grant and contribution recipients, the law requiring departments to send results of public opinion research to Library and Archives Canada within six months, and the removal of the entitlement of political staff to priority appointments in the public service.
These reforms were followed up with others. They included new electoral finance rules and restrictions on gifts to political candidates; the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act; the new Conflict of Interest Act; tougher penalties and sanctions for people who commit fraud involving taxpayers' money; the clarification and simplification of the rules governing grants and contributions; the extension of the Access to Information Act to cover agents of Parliament, five foundations and the Canadian Wheat Board; and of course, a strengthened Lobbying Act to ensure that lobbying is done fairly and openly.
In all, our Federal Accountability Act and action plan made substantive changes to 45 federal statutes and amended over 100 others, touching virtually every part of government.
Furthermore, we took steps to ensure that Parliament and Canadians are better informed about public spending. Among other things, this meant improving financial reporting. For instance, since April 2011, the government has been preparing quarterly financial reports on spending for departments, agencies and crown corporations. In that regard, we have adopted a private sector practice, whereby publicly traded companies have been required to publish quarterly financial reports for years.
This is but one example of the government's leadership in supporting the work of parliamentarians, and there are many others. I would add that our leadership in supporting the work of Parliament is evident in the fact that the Public Accounts of Canada, one of the most important accountability documents prepared by the government, has consistently received a clean opinion by the Auditor General of Canada. As the record shows, our government is as committed as ever to providing more timely and relevant information on its many and varied activities to parliamentarians and Canadians.
Creating the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is another way we strengthened Parliament's authority to closely examine how taxpayers' money is spent. Our government established this office in 2006 in order for it to provide Parliament with independent analyses and research on economic and budget issues and thus to increase Parliaments's ability to hold the government to account.
As we know, the first Parliamentary Budget Officer did just that. Under the Library of Parliament, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has the mandate, resources and the necessary independence from the government to do his job.
However, with Bill C-476, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, the hon. member opposite wants to change all of this. The bill would separate the Parliamentary Budget Officer from the Library of Parliament and make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an officer of Parliament with his or her own department.
The changes proposed in the bill would have several serious impacts. The role of the PBO would change significantly, becoming less responsive to the research and analytical needs of parliamentarians while at the same time creating confusion about the respective roles of the PBO and the Auditor General. We could expect to see some duplication of functions between the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Library of Parliament. We would very likely see an increase in cost associated with the office.
If the bill is passed, the office would become a separate department in its own right, with its own staffing and administrative support requirements. This means that more of the PBO's funding would be diverted to bureaucracy, particularly for services such as corporate administrative support for information technology, which is currently shared with the Library of Parliament, rather than to providing services to parliamentarians.
We support a non-partisan and independent Parliamentary Budget Officer. Our commitment to this office is stronger than ever. Furthermore, the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, as we know it today, is a responsible and affordable component of our accountability and transparency framework.
It has the mandate. It has the resources and the independence needed to perform its role and to hold the government to account. It is doing its job of providing independent fiscal and economic analysis, and it is serving parliamentarians and Canadians very well. We will continue to ensure that it has the independence necessary to do so. That is why we will not support the bill.
In closing, having witnessed the personal attack by the leader of the official opposition just moments ago, l must say that these accusations and allegations he throws out are, frankly, not true. They are misleading, and in my opinion, will actually damage his reputation as someone who wants to become prime minister of Canada. When he accuses other members across the way of untrue situations, he ought to look at himself in the mirror. He was, in fact, a Liberal cabinet minister. He is now leader of the federal NDP. I would ask him to perhaps take into consideration his own record, which is lengthy, of flip-flops over decades of political experience. I on this side will continue to do my job with the utmost truthfulness and dedication to my constituents.
Order. The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park has the floor.
Order. The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to stand and speak to Bill C-55 on behalf of our party and on behalf of the constituents of Parkdale—High Park. We are glad to see that the government is finally responding to an important obligation, as illustrated not only through our Charter of Rights and Freedoms but also as dictated by the Supreme Court of Canada.
It is ironic that based on a Supreme Court decision, the government has until April 13, 2013, to comply, and it is scrambling to get this legislation passed. It is ironic, because I am the NDP's finance critic, and I have seen over the last year how the government has brought closure and time allocation time and time again to limit debate. I have seen how it has rammed through legislation on a whole range of Conservative priorities and how it has bundled seemingly disparate pieces of legislation into omnibus budget bills and has pushed them through the House with amazing speed.
Yet here is an obligation to protect civil liberties, an obligation to comply with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and an obligation to protect the privacy rights and civil liberties of Canadians, and we have seen the government dragging its heels over the last year. I can only conclude that when it comes to protecting the oil industry, the government works with amazing speed, but when it comes to protecting civil liberties, it seems to not have the same amount of speed.
Nevertheless, we are glad to see Bill C-55 before the House, and we believe that it is essential that it be passed. The bill is about wiretapping. It addresses the public's concern that the ability of our security and police forces to engage in wiretapping is a right that is balanced between personal freedom and the need to ensure quick action when public safety is at risk. It is the ability of citizens to not have undue surveillance of them or to at least be informed if they are the targets of such surveillance.
What are we talking about with respect to wiretapping? This goes to section 184.4 of the Criminal Code. Under that section, a peace officer would be allowed to intercept and essentially wiretap private communications if the peace officer believed, on reasonable grounds, that the urgency of the situation was such that authorization could not be sought with reasonable diligence or obtained under any other provision, meaning that a delay would cause serious harm to public safety. It would also be allowed in a situation where the peace officer had reasonable grounds to believe that wiretapping, or an interception of private communications, was necessary to prevent an unlawful act that would cause serious harm to persons or property and that the originator of the private communication or the person intended by the originator to receive the communication was the person who would perform the act that would be likely to cause or harm the intended victim.
We are talking about a potential situation where a crime or public harm could take place and where there would not be the normal ability to seek proper approvals from the proper authorities.
This dates back to a 1993 law that has been tested by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found that, in fact, the law was overstepping the rights of Canadians under the charter. It gave the government a year, up until April 13, to correct the legislation. That is what we are dealing with today.
It is important that electronic surveillance, or wiretapping, is a measure that must include oversight and accountability so that the public is protected. The court has now said that we should expect nothing less.
We have studied the bill in the public interest and with respect to the rule of law, the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We note that the government had intended with a previous bill, Bill C-30, and with other pieces of legislation to extend the rights of the state to intercept private communications. I remember one quote from the public safety minister, which became rather famous, which was that if we did not support the bill on that matter, we were with him or with the child pornographers. That, of course, was horrifying to many Canadians who just wanted to make sure that their privacy rights were protected.
We believe that these changes are reasonable and that they are compliant with the Supreme Court decision. We note that there are many who have validated this position. They were heard at the committee studying the bill. The Criminal Lawyers' Association, the Canadian Bar Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and other organizations all testified that the bill would lead the government to comply with the Supreme Court decision, and they all supported these changes.
In essence, the changes would require the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Attorney General of each province to report on the interceptions of private communications made under section 184.4, which I outlined earlier. They would provide that a person who has been the object of such an interception would be notified within a specified period. They would narrow the class of individuals who could make such an interception and would limit those interceptions to offences listed in section 183 of the Criminal Code.
Bill C-55 is an updated version of the wiretapping provisions the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional. The court has established new parameters for the protection of privacy, and we believe that the legislation complies with those standards.
Canadians have good reason to be concerned about other measures the Conservatives were putting forward that would expand the government's ability to intercept communications. Their record has not been terrific on this.
We are in favour of Bill C-55 in that it upholds the rule of law, the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We support these measures.
We are concerned that the government left the introduction of the bill for so long while it was gutting environmental provisions, changing the Navigable Waters Protection Act and cutting food inspectors and CRA investigators. These provisions were rammed through under its budget implementation act. Yet something the government is compelled to do through a Supreme Court decision it left until the 11th hour.
I see that my time is up. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this and to defend the human rights and civil liberties of our constituents and Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy but hopeful heart that I rise today to share a message of support for Irene Atkinson, friend, neighbour and Toronto District School Board trustee for Parkdale—High Park.
Our community was devastated to learn that Irene had been seriously injured in a fire at her home on Saturday, March 16. The outpouring of support for Irene from all parts of our city and beyond is a testament to her tireless work as a trustee for more than 40 years.
Irene was a leader in transforming a desolate stretch of land into what is now Sorauren Park, used by thousands in our neighbourhood. As a trustee and activist, Irene has fought to keep community pools open, to address overcrowding in our schools and to advocate for clean electric trains, working closely with all levels of government to get results.
I was honoured to recognize Irene's passionate work for our community by awarding her a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal on January 20.
I urge Irene to keep on fighting. Our thoughts are with her and her family.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-48, the technical tax amendments act, 2012. It is a very important piece of legislation. While the legislation may be technical, it is nonetheless important legislation that would benefit all Canadians, providing the clarity and certainty to Canada's tax system.
Our government has conducted extensive consultations on the provisions of the bill, some provisions having been announced over a decade ago. As previous parliamentarians' efforts to pass these amendments were unsuccessful, the backlog has increased over the years, and it is more important than ever to pass these technical amendments. In fact, among those calling for Parliament to quickly pass the amendments includes the Auditor General of Canada, who in a 2009 report stated:
Taxpayers' ability to comply with tax legislation depends on their understanding of how the rules apply to their own circumstances. [...] Uncertainty about how the law should be applied can also add to the time taken and costs incurred by tax audits and tax administration.
I could not agree with the Auditor General more. However, it is not just the Auditor General who is saying this; it is all the other parties in the House, as the bill has all party support. In fact, earlier this week, during the finance committee study of Bill C-48, the NDP member for Parkdale—High Park, and finance critic for her party, said, “Obviously we support the goal of closing tax loopholes and making the tax system in Canada clearer and easier to understand for Canadians”. The NDP finance critic went even further, on Bill C-48's first day of debate, saying, “the official opposition [New Democrats] will be supporting the bill”.
One would think that after making such an unequivocal statement of support for the legislation that she and all NDP members would be eager to vote on this important piece of legislation and ensure its timely passage through the House of Commons.
Alas, the actions of the NDP seem to be at odds with the NDP finance critic's statement. I have to ask: What is the reason for the NDP delay? Even more puzzling, it is not simply the NDP finance critic who is displaying these bizarre tendencies; it is every member of the NDP. My hon. colleagues have all declared their support for the bill while at the same time trying to filibuster second reading, for over 100 days. This attempt to disrupt what is only the first stage in a long legislative process continues to delay the finance committee's opportunity to formally study the bill.
I have taken the liberty of reviewing the debate on the bill and, time after time, the NDP MPs are vocal in their support for this piece of legislation. For example, the NDP member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques said, “We will support this bill because it eliminates some tax loopholes and other measures that lead to fiscal inequity”. The NDP member for Beauport—Limoilou said, “It will be a great pleasure for me to support this bill”.
The NDP member for Manicouagan said, “We support the changes this bill makes, and particularly those aimed at reducing tax avoidance”. This sentiment was echoed by the NDP member for Surrey North, who said: “We support the changes being made in the bill, especially those aimed at reducing tax avoidance”.
The NDP member for London—Fanshawe said, “The bill makes important and long-overdue changes to the tax laws” , and then went on to say, “New Democrats support the bill..”. The NDP member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing said, “As the House is aware, the New Democrats are supporting the bill...”.
The NDP member for Scarborough—Rouge River even highlights that her reason for supporting the legislation is that many of the provisions have already been announced, declaring, “Once they've been announced, people accept them as adopted. It's for these reasons that we are supporting the bill”.
These kinds of comments from the NDP continue and continue. NDP member after NDP member have all voiced their support for this piece of legislation, which has been in Parliament for more than 100 days. Furthermore, all of these statements of support came on the very first day of debate; yet more than 100 days later, we are still debating the bill at second reading.
This is simply unbelievable. Why would members of the NDP support the legislation, but not ensure its passage at second reading to the finance committee for closer examination by their own NDP colleagues? One wonders what the NDP hopes to gain by prolonging the debate. Again, perhaps the members are unaware that many of the measures have already undergone extensive debate in this House.
In fact, Bill C-48 has been before Parliament for five months now, as it was introduced in November of last year. Do members know what this means? Clearly, the NDP members do not, and so I will spell it out for them.
Let me state again that the House of Commons has had more than 100 days to examine and debate this bill at second reading stage already. We have already had days and days of debate and heard hours and hours of speeches, but what has all this debate yielded from the NDP benches? As I have highlighted, it is repetition upon repetition of support and praise for this legislation.
Well, if NDP members truly do support it, I plead with the NDP to not stall second reading in debate. Let us work together and pass this important legislation that would help Canadians. Let us make Parliament work. That would be an important change for the NDP, as its members have repeatedly shown that they have a track record of delaying and opposing legislation that would be beneficial to Canadians. For an example of this, we need look no further than our Conservative government's economic action plan legislation in these recent years.
What is more, NDP members have shown time after time that they would prefer to vote against tax relief measures that help Canadians and our economy, such as the hiring tax credit for small business and the introduction of a tax-free savings account. They even voted against a reduction of the GST to 5%.
However, we all know what the NDP does support: a carbon tax. I find this very puzzling. On the one hand, the NDP would gladly support a reckless $21 billion carbon tax that would raise the price on essential goods and services for Canadians, but it would stall well-reasoned and thoroughly examined legislation like Bill C-48.
While the NDP finds these partisan procedural games amusing, Canadian taxpayers and businesses, who are waiting for these technical amendments to be passed, certainly do not.
Despite the NDP's bizarre position on this bill, Canadians can rest assured that their Conservative government will work to ensure the passage of Bill C-48 through Parliament so that taxpayers' confidence is not lost in Canada's tax system.
The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak today about Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians.
A disturbing trend has been developing in Toronto and every city in Canada. Young people, parents and especially those living on the margins are all too familiar with it: affordable housing is becoming less and less accessible for many Canadians.
As a Torontonian, I am in a good position to know that a national housing strategy is vital to the future of our city. We have known for a long time that it will require more than goodwill to address the issues of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. These are fundamental economic problems that are harming our country's economy.
Housing problems put an enormous amount of pressure on our cities, where the drivers of innovation, productivity and growth for the 21st century must be developed.
I was born in Toronto, and with my husband we raised our three sons in that city. I have seen first-hand the impact of rising costs of housing on families in Parkdale—High Park, the riding I represent, and in neighbourhoods across our city. Torontonians know well that our city's waiting list for affordable housing continues to grow. A year ago, that list reached an all-time high, with over 80,000 households on the waiting list. While a small number of those were able to find housing, many are left waiting, and not just for months; some are waiting for years, and some even decades. We simply cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer.
I recently received a letter from a constituent named Theresa, who urged me to support the bill. In her letter, she wrote that the right to housing is a core Canadian value that is centred on dignity, security and equality. She is absolutely right, and I thank Theresa for her concern and for taking the time to write.
Clearly, Canadians in Parkdale—High Park and neighbourhoods across Canada are watching us and they want us to act.
Given that Canada's household debt recently reached a critical level, we must now recognize that guaranteeing Canadians access to safe and affordable housing is not only one of the best ways to combat inequalities, but it is also vital to the health of our national economy.
Many international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, have warned our government about a steadily growing level of household debt, but our government does not seem to want to listen. The Bank of Canada and the IMF have said that the level of household debt in Canada is too high. It has reached 158%, which is unprecedented.
Household debt is the result of many economic factors, but it is important to recognize that housing constitutes a large part of every Canadian household's budget. Canada has a household debt level of 158%, but we know that mortgages make up 68% of that debt.
Bill C-400, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, is a call to action. This bill calls on the government to do what it too often forgets to do: take initiative.
We are not asking for a new department, a new commissioner or even a new report. We are simply asking the government to be aware of what families across Canada are experiencing and to take initiative instead of shirking its responsibilities.
Bill C-400 asks the government to partner with provinces, cities, aboriginal communities, and with the private and non-profit housing sectors, to create a national housing strategy.
Why is Canada the only G8 country in the world that has failed to do so? Why is Canada falling so far behind?
We know that inequality is on the rise in Canada and when we look at the tremendous impact that access to secure, affordable housing has on social mobility and opportunity and the general economic vitality of cities like Toronto, it is clear that housing is not only an enormous challenge but also a very promising opportunity for economic leadership. When we see these factors come together, including all-time high levels of household debt, rising housing costs and growing inequality, it is easy to see that this combination will threaten the long-term economic prosperity of our country.
For each dollar spent on housing there is $1.40 increase in GDP. If we are committed to ensuring long-term prosperity for generations to come, then we must get serious about a national housing strategy.
Looking back to the 1990s there is an alarming pattern of neglect of affordable housing. In 1993 the Liberal government cut permanent funding for new affordable housing. By 1996 it had downloaded the responsibility to provinces, leaving Canada virtually alone among the high performing economies of the world without a national social housing program. Then some provinces, like my own province of Ontario, were quite happy to download social housing to the cities with no resources to be able to support it.
It is unfortunate that the Conservative government, like the Liberals, has continued to neglect this key area of social policy. For instance, under the Conservative government, funding for the affordable housing initiative will be reduced from $582 million in 2012 to zero by 2015. By 2016 consolidated federal housing investments will have been cut to $1.8 billion, a cut of 52% in just six years.
These cuts and the absence of a housing strategy affect diverse groups in our community, from young people trying to get a head start to our seniors who hope to retire in peace and security. Each group is impacted by what the government has failed to do, which is to take leadership on affordable housing.
The last census found that 42% of young Canadians continue to live with their parents. For many this is due to the high cost of housing or the challenges of finding a job in today's economy. A survey conducted last year found that in my home province of Ontario, the number of seniors on housing waiting lists has risen steadily since 2004, reaching nearly 40,000 households, or one-quarter of all waiting households at the end of 2011.
Recent changes to EI will also have an impact on many Canadians' ability to afford housing, particularly at a time when funding for many housing programs is being phased out. With a loss of EI benefits, more households will be at risk of falling into core housing need.
As finance critic, I recognize that investing in our cities and taking leadership on affordable housing is a smart choice for our national economy. As a Torontonian and the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, I know from personal experience that this is an area of urgent concern to our community. I urge all members of the House to lend their support to Bill C-400, an act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. This initiative is long overdue.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Pontiac for sharing his time with me. It was my great privilege to welcome him to our committee. He will do a fantastic job in deliberations on such matters as strengthening the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
I was honoured today to second this important motion tabled by my colleague, the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, to reaffirm, strengthen and extend the critical mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, or the PBO.
One of our primary obligations as parliamentarians is to scrutinize the government's spending plans as outlined in budgets, estimates and the reports on plans and priorities. This duty applies to all members of Parliament regardless of political affiliation, opposition and backbenchers alike.
Two successive studies by parliamentary committees have identified a significant failure by MPs in delivering this duty. A unanimous report that I had the privilege of contributing to, tabled last fall and entitled “Strengthening Parliamentary Scrutiny of Estimates and Supply”, calls on the government to take action to improve the capacity of MPs to enable more meaningful scrutiny of estimates and supply. This report recognized the important role played by the Parliamentary Budget Officer in this process. The report noted an OECD finding that best practices for budget transparency require that “Parliament should have the opportunity and resources to effectively examine any fiscal report that it deems necessary”.
The committee heard testimony from an array of Canadian and international experts, who concurred that the PBO is a key player in improving and supplementing the capacity of MPs.
Dr. Joachim Wehner, associate professor of public policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, testified that in order to improve scrutiny of the estimates and supply, “The first [requirement]...is to protect and enhance the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.... Internationally, the Parliamentary Budget Officer of Canada is very highly regarded, and it's certainly a major change...in the degree the parliament in Canada has access to an independent, highly professional research capacity”. He added that the role of the PBO could be further strengthened if made a full officer of Parliament with total access to all relevant information. Dr. Wehner shared that his views were premised on international experience with such officers in other jurisdictions.
What is the PBO and where does his mandate arise? The PBO was created in 2006 with the enactment of the Financial Accountability Act. His mandate is clearly prescribed in law to “provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation’s finances, the estimates of the government and trends in the national economy”. He is also mandated to undertake research and assist committees in the review and analysis of estimates. Clearly, the PBO must have ready and open access to financial and economic data to deliver on these duties. MPs and committees have found this information and advice indispensable to their scrutiny of government spending and estimates. Accessibility to all information has regrettably been a matter of ongoing contention for the current PBO. He was ultimately forced to seek a court ruling due to access denials.
While the official opposition was pleased that the government operations and estimates committee report recognized the valuable role of the PBO, in a supplementary report the New Democrats also called on the government to take immediate action to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an officer of Parliament. Valuing his role, we also recommended that the PBO be legally mandated to report not just to the finance committee, but also to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates with respect to its estimates work.
This call is reflected in proposed legislation tabled by my colleague the MP for Parkdale—High Park. Our call is endorsed by Canadian expert Dr. David Good, professor at the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, who testified: “First, I would make the Parliamentary Budget Officer a full agent of Parliament to assist parliamentarians and committees. I think the role and mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer needs to be clarified and strengthened by making the office legislatively separate and independent of the Library of Parliament, thereby operating as a full agent of Parliament”.
The important work of the PBO is highly regarded in Canada and abroad. In fact, next week the Parliamentary Budget Officer will welcome the OECD network of parliamentary budget officers to Ottawa for their fifth annual meeting.
PBOs exist in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Australia and even Korea. As I said, the OECD network of PBOs is scheduled to meet in Ottawa to continue deliberations on improved parliamentary oversight of fiscal stimulus, deficits and risk management. It is most regrettable that they are arriving in this country at the very moment in time when there is a dispute over providing important information to the PBO and when we are facing a vacuum in accessibility to his important expertise.
Other countries provide analogous examples of providing support to elected officials. For example, the Congressional Budget Office in the United States of America, created in 1975, provides budget committees and Congress with objective information about budgetary and economic issues.
As mentioned, strong support for an independent Parliamentary Budget Officer has been voiced by experts who lauded Canada for the initial establishment of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Dr. Wehner spoke of the need, and I quote:
...to protect and enhance the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. A number of countries are creating similar institutions, and the Parliament in Canada has really been at the cusp of this development. Internationally, the Parliamentary Budget Officer of Canada is very highly regarded, and it's certainly a major change, in my view, at least, in the degree the parliament in Canada has access to an independent, highly professional research capacity.
He then added:
I believe that some adjustments are possible to the legal framework for the Parliamentary Budget Officer. In particular, this role could be strengthened, or the status 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. In the past I believe there have been incidents where departments have not been quite as forthcoming with providing information to the Parliamentary Budget Officer as perhaps they should have been. But overall, I see this as a very positive development, and I see some scope for strengthening it also on the basis of international experience.
There we have it. Even international experts are watching what is happening in Canada and what will happen with our PBO.
New Democrats have long supported the establishment of an independent PBO. New Democrats stood in the House and voiced their support for the creation of a Parliamentary Budget Officer in 2006. We remain in support of the PBO, regrettably now under attack by members opposite.
It would serve members opposite well to be reminded of their own previous support of an independent PBO and the value of objective analysis. The Prime Minister in 2006 said:
Such a body would ensure that the government is genuinely accountable for taxpayers' dollars and that we maintain fiscal discipline
The finance minister in 2006 said:
Governments cannot be held to account if Parliament and Canadians do not know the real state of public finances.
In fact, the Conservative 2006 electoral platform endorsed the creation of an independent Parliamentary Budget Officer. How attitudes have changed. Time after time the PBO has faced delays or denials to his requests for financial information. As I mentioned, he was forced to take the matter to the Federal Court.
Now in the face of his imminent termination, the government has dragged its feet in ensuring his timely replacement. The process for filling the PBO office took 18 months last time. MPs now will face review of the coming budget and estimates absent the PBO's analytical support. The simple answer is presented in this motion: extend the term of the current PBO.
What happened to the government members who once proposed support for the PBO?
I can personally attest to the value of his reporting and the assistance of his office in my participation in a parliamentary committee and my review of estimates.
We are meant to be stewards of the public purse. We can choose to support institutions that ensure informed decisions. An independent PBO reporting to Parliament offers that window. I call on all members to support this motion to make the PBO a true officer of Parliament.
The electoral district of Parkdale--High Park (Ontario) has a population of 102,142 with 74,899 registered voters and 186 polling divisions.
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