Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka for his insightful comments earlier on the importance of Bill C-21. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the House for allowing me to rise today to speak to why I think it is important to support Bill C-21, the red tape reduction act.
As members know, Bill C-21 is an important piece of legislation when it comes to how the government relates to and engages with one of the drivers of Canada's economy, which is small business.
As one of the members of the Red Tape Reduction Commission, I feel privileged to rise to speak to this issue today. One of the key drivers of the commission was that helping businesses succeed in Canada requires doing all we can as a government to decrease the administrative burden that regulations impose on businesses. Bill C-21 represents a strong step toward accomplishing this goal for many reasons.
In my time today, I would like to focus on one of those reasons in terms of the importance of enshrining into law the government's one-for-one rule. This rule, which has been in effect since April 1, 2012, has already proven to be effective in controlling and even reducing red tape regulations that hurt small business. It works by placing strict controls on the growth of regulatory red tape for businesses by applying a very simple principle: for every new regulation that is added that imposes an administrative burden on businesses, one must be removed. In addition, regulators must offset any increase in the administrative burden as a result of regulatory changes with equal reductions in existing regulations.
Canada is one of the first countries in the world to give the one-for-one rule the added muscle of legislation, making it the most aggressive red tape regulation in the world. What is more, we know that it works. The one-for-one rule has already proven successful in system-wide controls and regulatory red tape that impact businesses. Specifically, as of June 14, 2014, it has resulted in a net annual reduction of over $22 million in the administrative burden imposed on businesses, estimated annual savings of 290,000 hours in time spent dealing with regulatory red tape, and a net reduction of 19 federal regulations taken off the books.
By giving the one-for one rule the added muscle of legislation, this Conservative government has clearly demonstrated just how committed it is to reducing unnecessary regulations for businesses. We know that time spent navigating red tape is valuable time that small-business owners could otherwise use to grow their operations and create jobs.
When I speak about red tape, I am referring to the unnecessary and undue compliance burden placed on small businesses. A compliance burden is exactly the time and resources spent by businesses to demonstrate compliance with federal government regulations. It can include planning, collecting, processing, and reporting information; completing forms and retaining data required by governments; inspection costs; and time wasted waiting for regulatory decisions and feedback.
There are many areas of Canada's economy that benefit from discreet regulation, like safe food, air space control, workplace health and safety, and so on. However, every regulation that requires paperwork, equipment, or training imposes compliance costs on a business. At some point, regulations get into diminishing return territory when the cost, time, and effort required to comply with the regulations outweigh the benefits conferred by the regulation.
Our Conservative government recognizes this red tape problem, and through measures like the one-for-one rule, it is taking measures to curb it.
A couple of years ago, I participated in the Red Tape Reduction Commission, which consulted a wide cross-section of Canadians for ideas on reducing the onerous administrative overhead for Canadian businesses. What I heard was the feedback of hard-working small-business owners who were absolutely fed up with over-regulation, tedious paperwork, and valuable time wasted.
This past week, I stood proudly by our Prime Minister, fellow members of Parliament, and the executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the CFIB, Laura Jones, in the Niagara region. Through talking to and hearing the stories of small businesses within my riding as well as Canadian small-business representatives like Ms. Jones of the CFIB, one thing becomes immediately clear: red tape heavily limits the ability of small businesses to grow.
I would add that the CFIB had Red Tape Awareness Week last week, from January 19-23. This is actually very good timing as we introduce this legislation. I would also mention that I had a chance to work with Ms. Jones on the red tape reduction round table, and it was a great experience.
To put it in the words of our Prime Minister, red tape and administrative burdens all represent “a silent killer of jobs” in this country. Although Canada has been recognized by the OECD as having a sophisticated and mature regulatory system that continues to maintain high levels of health, safety, security, and environmental protection, the OECD has also recommended that reducing undue regulatory costs would help to improve Canada's economic performance.
Let me be clear. Applying the one-for-one rule and giving it the legislative shape it requires to fulfill its mandate does not in any way compromise the presence of important health and safety regulations. Put simply, we are not repealing health and safety standards. We are making it less of an administrative nuisance to comply with them.
Canadians can count on this government and its regulatory system to uphold the public trust and to continually enforce the health and safety standards that protect everyday Canadians.
One of the aspects of the red tape reduction plan I am most proud of is the level of public consultation and transparency that informed its approach. As a government, we listened to the advice provided by small-business owners from across the country, and we reflected very carefully on that advice.
We understand the necessity of enforcing regulations that maintain Canada's high standards for safety and protection. We believe that regulations can and should co-exist with freeing businesses from unnecessary, costly, and time-consuming red tape.
I would like to remind my hon. colleagues that reducing regulatory red tape was one of the commitments we made to Canadians in October 2012, when we first announced the red tape reduction action plan. This plan is one of the most aggressive in the world today for reducing red tape, and with its implementation, Canada is bringing a new level of discipline to how we regulate and create a more predictable environment for businesses.
I would like to update members on the progress we have made in this important effort. In all, the red tape reduction plan introduced six system-wide reforms to the federal regulatory system to limit regulatory creep and to free up small businesses to focus on what they do best, which is to grow and create jobs.
This plan has helped businesses meet challenges in the areas of payroll, labour, and trade. It has further introduced time-saving measures, such as single windows and electronic submissions.
We have made substantial progress in implementing the reforms outlined in the plan. As well as the one-for-one rule, a number of other reforms are advancing well. For example, federal regulators have stepped up efforts to ensure that new and existing service standards are publicly posted, making the approval process for complying with regulations more transparent for business. In addition, departments have posted 40 forward regulatory plans on their websites, providing early notice of upcoming regulations so that stakeholders can provide input and prepare for their implementation.
All of these initiatives are proving their value and are further demonstrating this government's commitment to a transparent and safe system for business growth that is not weighed down by unnecessary red tape.
We have also saved small businesses in Canada $75 million annually through the application of the small business lens.
In the fall of 2014, the government published the administrative burden baseline, a key commitment of the action plan that clearly tracks the total number of requirements that impose administrative burdens on businesses.
Finally, we have also put into place a regulatory advisory committee. This committee's main task is to provide the President of the Treasury Board with advice on the fairness and reliability of the government's annual scorecard report.
We recently published our second score card report during Red Tape Awareness Week. It shows that we continue to eliminate unnecessary rules and costs that have been a source of frustration for Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs across the country, while maintaining high standards for the protection of the health and safety of our citizens.
The bottom line is that this report confirms that we have made tangible progress in cutting red tape for Canadians and businesses.
Let me now turn to a few examples of how departments are putting the red tape action plan into action. There are numerous examples. I am thinking of the launch of buyandsell.gc.ca at Public Works and Government Services Canada and the modernization of food safety regulations through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Safe Food for Canadians Act.
There is also the launch by Canada Revenue Agency of the new online mail service for Canadian small businesses. The service allows businesses to communicate with CRA online, helping streamline their interactions with the agency.
CRA also launched My Business Account, the online enquiry service where business people or their representatives can ask the agency tax-related questions about their accounts online and receive answers online. I know one of the things we heard over and over again was the frustration of business people to call and not be able to get anything actually in writing. That made it difficult for them when they called someone, were bounced around, and went to different people. This is a very direct response to what we heard in talking to small business people.
As well, CRA introduced a one-stop web page for businesses, allowing them to easily find information and service options relevant to their tax situation.
In addition, Statistics Canada has improved communication with survey respondents to better explain the purpose of business surveys. The changes include redesigning printed material and improving a section of its website.
These are just a few of the many departmental actions that are under way to reduce red tape. The one-for-one rule and other red tape reforms demonstrate our resolve to improve Canada's regulatory system and help businesses focus their energies on seizing new opportunities. They are part of the broader commitment to ensuring Canada is playing its A game when it comes to creating the right environment in which businesses can grow and create jobs.
Bill C-21 is smart legislation that would help Canadian businesses become more productive and succeed in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The red tape reduction act would require that regulators take seriously the requirement to control the amount of red tape imposed upon businesses, and the related costs. The legislation is also designed to be tough. It would challenge regulators to think through how regulations could be designed and implemented in ways that would not impose unnecessary red tape on businesses. While it would be tough, it would nevertheless offer a great deal of flexibility. The government's commitment to maintaining Canada's high standards for health and safety is unwavering and will not come at the cost of helping small businesses succeed.
The legislation would also be timely. As members know, one of the government's top priorities is creating a climate in which businesses can innovate, invest in the future, and create economic growth and jobs. That is why, despite what is happening in the global economy today, Canada has and continues to post one of the strongest job creation records in the G7, with more than 1.2 million jobs created since July 2009.
I would add that over 85% of those jobs created since July 2009 are full-time positions and almost two-thirds are in high-wage industries.
Looking ahead, this government believes Canada is positioned for sustained economic growth. We are one of the few countries that can boast of having both declining taxes and low debt. Our government remains committed to eliminating the deficit. This would ensure we continue to create a business climate here in Canada that invites investment, prosperity, and growth. Canadian businesses have to be playing at the top of their game to succeed and to compete in a global economy. This is especially true in uncertain times, such as those we have faced since the 2008 global recession. By reducing debt, we could free up tax dollars that would otherwise be absorbed by interest costs. We could then reinvest that money into things that matter to Canadians, such as health care, public services, or lower taxes. I would add that reducing debt would also strengthen the country's ability to respond to economic shocks, such as global financial crises.
It is worth remembering that, when the hard times arrived in 2008, Canada was in a position of economic strength compared to our international partners. This allowed us to put in place one of the most comprehensive stimulus packages in the world. At the time, international observers such as the International Monetary Fund were predicting that Canada would have one of the fastest recoveries. I am proud to say that these predictions have come true, given our relative economic, financial, and fiscal strength.
Our red tape initiatives all demonstrate the government's ongoing commitment to helping Canadian businesses succeed, and they are part of a broad strategy that is present in almost everything we do. We only need to look at the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study analyzing the ease of paying taxes in 189 countries. The study, called “Paying Taxes 2014”, found that a business in Canada takes 25% less time than a business in the United States to prepare, file, and pay its taxes each year. Furthermore, the study said that Canada is the only G7 country to rank among the top 10 countries based on the overall ease of complying with tax obligations.
Balanced budgets and responsible fiscal management have been keys to helping small businesses succeed, as well as to our success as a country.
Through real action such as enshrining the one-for-one rule in law, we are making the regulatory system more conducive to economic growth. We are creating a more predictable environment for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, and we are freeing entrepreneurs from the burden of regulatory red tape.
Our government is focused on the drivers of growth and job creation—innovation, investment, education, skills, and communities—underpinned by our ongoing commitment to keeping taxes low and returning to a balanced budget. This is our plan for Canada. I hope members of the House will join us in enshrining the one-for-one rule into law to help Canadian businesses succeed.
I talked about how this all fits together and I look at the acronym TIRE, which this government has used: T is for taxes and trade; I is for infrastructure, investments, and immigration; R is for R and D, red tape reduction, and relationships; and E is for entrepreneurship. If I could just go through those, members will see how it all ties together. I talked in my speech about how we look at reducing red tape, but that is just one thing in a large array of things that the government has done to make Canada more competitive.
I will start with the T for taxes and trade. Our government looked at reducing taxes for business to make us more competitive on the world stage. In addition to that, we have fostered additional trade deals—the European free trade deal and all the numerous deals that this country is working on right now—because we realize, as a net exporter, that we need to sell our goods and services around the world. There is no way that 35 million people could sustain the type of GDP that we have come to enjoy without the ability to trade. That is the T in TIRE.
I is for infrastructure, investments, and immigration. We have continued to move forward on immigration reforms to make sure we look at bringing the best and brightest people into this country. We have looked at continuous investments. We look at the Detroit bridge that stalled under the previous Liberal government. We have worked hard to make sure we can get our goods and services to the U.S. in a timely way given the fact that it represents one of our largest trading partners at over 75%. We have spent money on massive infrastructure, and we will continue to commit to infrastructure over the next 10 years as we realize that is important for the sake of our country.
I talked about R and D and trying to make it more targeted, more specific, and more timely. I have just spent my whole time talking about red tape reduction, which is absolutely huge.
The last letter is E for entrepreneurship. Our government has started a venture capital fund, or we have set aside $400 million where we could try to attract, realizing that it is tough sometimes for companies to get started. One of the issues that continues to be there is access to capital. We believe we can continue to create the climate in this country. We will not only continue to lead the world in development but will continue to lead the world in jobs, and Canada will be the best country in the world in which to live, to work, and to play.
moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.
It is always a pleasure to rise in the chamber to not only represent my department but also the people of Parry Sound—Muskoka. Our anniversary just came up for some of us. I am currently in my 10th year of representation at this point. I want to thank the people of Parry Sound—Muskoka for their confidence in me, but I want to talk about this legislation as well.
It is one of the first of its kind in the world and it will enshrine into law a rule that has been in place since April 2012 administratively in this government and it goes to our pledge to the people of Canada to continue to find ways to create new jobs, growth, rebuild our economy and create new opportunity. One of the ways we do that is by supporting small businesses in our communities and promoting small business growth throughout the country.
Our plan to reduce the administrative burden will of course help us achieve these objectives.
What would the bill do? Quite simply, when a new regulation that imposes an administrative burden is introduced, the law would require that another one be repealed. I think what we do is unprecedented in these kinds of operations around the world. Specifically, we monetize the value of the administrative burden and then declare that the monetary value be offset by other regulatory changes. I believe this enhances transparency and accountability. We further do so in an annual report that reports on the implementation.
However, it is important to note what the bill would not do. It would not compromise public health, public safety, or the efficient operation of the Canadian economy.
The bill would not compromise public health, public safety or the Canadian economy.
Some may ask why reducing red tape matters. Well, red tape gets in the way of jobs and growth and improving Canadians' lives. Complying with the information obligation of twelve of the most common federal, provincial, and municipal regulations in five sectors of the economy works out to a total cost of $1.1 billion per year for our small businesses. On average, the annual time per small business establishment to comply with legislative tax requirements was 15 hours, at an annual cost of $1,724 to these small businesses. This is a hidden tax that hits the little guy or gal hardest.
It is four years now since we launched the Red Tape Reduction Commission. We asked how red tape was killing jobs and we asked for recommendations on how to fix these problems. This commission went coast to coast. We had 15 round tables in 13 cities, with over 200 participants, along with online consultations and a dedicated website. We heard that Canadians needed one for one, and they needed what became known as the red tape reduction action plan.
We introduced this regulation as a pilot project in April 2012. It has reduced the administrative burden by $24 million and achieved a net reduction of 20 regulations.
To give an example, we changed the Corporations Returns Act to collect financial and ownership information on corporations doing business in Canada. Now only corporations with revenues of more than $200 million, assets of over $600 million, or foreign debt and equity over $1 million will have to report financial and ownership information. There are 32,000 businesses that will no longer be required to file this complex government return. This one change saves our small businesses $1.2 million per year.
Here is another example: Health Canada has reduced its red tape by amending regulations in order to allow regulated pharmacy technicians to oversee the transfer of prescriptions from one pharmacy to another, a task that was previously restricted to pharmacists. This enables pharmacists to focus more of their time on direct patient care and on running their business.
This initiative has cut red tape by $15 million a year.
We also changed amendments for Northwest Territories and Nunavut Mining Regulations. We have simplified the licensing, we have encouraged holders of mineral claims towards development, and we have modernized the tenure system in this regard, which has saved over $600,000. Examples of successes like these are going to save almost 100,000 hours of wading through red tape per year.
I should mention that I am here as the President of the Treasury Board. It is the Treasury Board that in fact enforces this rule, and we have indeed ensured compliance.
What are the next steps?
It is time to take this highly successful pilot project and enshrine it in law.
We committed to this, I should add, in our Speech to the Throne, and that is why the bill is here in the House.
What is the message that we are sending by supporting this bill? What are we saying about Canada? We are saying that Canada is open for business. We are saying that we are on the side of job creators, and we are saying that government is committed to protecting Canadian businesses and employees and to growing the economy.
I will read into the record, if I might, some commentary on this bill, starting with Laura Jones, who is the vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She stated:
The federal government is showing tremendous leadership in implementing its ambitious red tape reforms. Wrestling with reducing red tape requires the ‘stick-to-itiveness’ and political leadership that we are seeing from Ottawa. It’s heartening that the messages that we are getting from the Prime Minister, [myself], and their colleagues that they are in this for the long haul.
Then there is Kevin Dancey, president and CEO of the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, who stated:
We applaud the federal government's early accomplishments in reducing red tape barriers faced by Canadian entrepreneurs and business owners. The government's reiterated commitment to a sustained approach over the long-term is encouraging. A persistent approach is the remedy required to identify and develop solutions to effectively reduce the compliance burdens and associated costs faced by Canada's business community.
Also, there is Helen Long, president of the Canadian Health Food Association, who stated:
The government’s focus on the reduction of red tape has already made an important impact on our and many other industries.... CHFA and its members stand ready to support the government in its efforts to further reduce the red tape burden on Canadian business, and to allow them to focus on innovation and job creation instead of administration.
Finally, Carole Presseault, regulatory affairs, CGA Canada, stated:
These measures should give Canada’s small and medium businesses more time to focus on growth, innovation and job creation.
That is exactly the point. We want small businesses to focus on growth, jobs, and innovation in our economy.
I want to talk very briefly about the small business lens.
Introducing a small business lens to regulatory creation is part and parcel of this bill as well. Businesses that represent over 40% of Canada's private sector GDP and almost 50% of all jobs in the private sector have requested that when we look at regulation, we take the time to look at it from the point of view of the small business. How will the proposed regulation affect them and their ability to operate, innovate, and create new jobs?
Therefore, we have this is as part of the rules in our law as well. This will happen, this small business lens, when a regulatory change imposes over $1 million in annual nationwide costs and has an impact on at least one small business. That is the test.
Now, as a result, regulators will have to ask themselves if the information we are asking these small businesses for is already being collected by another government department. As a former small business owner myself, I can say that nothing drives one crazier than filling out a form in triplicate from one level of government or one government department and then, the next day, getting another form asking the same questions. We heard that from small businesses. I remember it well when I operated my own small business.
Therefore, we are demanding that regulators at Treasury Board know what is already being collected by another government department so that we do not have to overburden our small businesses, and we want this in the law if it is passed by this House.
Here is another question. Is there another way to regulate that would be less burdensome, rather than automatically saying, “We've got a problem.” We hear this all the time in Ottawa: “Folks, we've got a problem. We've got to solve a problem. How are we going to solve the problem?” The constant advice we get is, “Well, if we just pass this regulation, we would solve the problem.”
Maybe there is another way to solve the problem. Maybe there are other ways, if we use our noggins a bit, that we can solve the problem without overregulating our small businesses.
The third question is, are we communicating in plain language? I hear time and again from small businesses that understanding what government is asking of them is sometimes very difficult, so if there is going to be a burden, we want to let the burden be on the bureaucracy, on the regulators, to actually speak in plain language so that people can understand what they say.
This is part of a 20-point small business checklist that regulators would have to fill out and publish and have signed by the minister responsible as part of their package to Treasury Board before Treasury Board would consider whether this regulation was the right thing to do. Of course, this would mean greater transparency as well.
Very briefly, here are some other changes.
Service standards for 24 high-volume regulatory authorizations have been created, covering more than 60,000 transactions with businesses each year. There would be 32 departmental forward regulatory plans to let small businesses know what is coming around the corner. They would publish these forward plans so that small business has either the time to adapt or the time to react and say to government, “You know what? We understand what you're trying to do here. We agree that something has to be done, but maybe there's a better way to deal with it that doesn't involve, always, further regulating small businesses.”
Then there is the annual scorecard.
I released the first and second annual scorecard on the red tape reduction action plan so Canadians can see just how much progress we are making. The scorecard is independently vetted by a regulatory advisory committee.
In conclusion, let me put it this way: low taxes, less red tape, more growth, more prosperity, balanced budgets, safe streets and communities, and a belief that this is the best country in the world in which to live and in which to do business. That is our aspiration and that is our record, but we want to move forward as well.
Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour, as always, to rise in the House and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and speak again to Bill C-15 on the devolution of powers in the Northwest Territories.
At the outset, certainly the New Democrats support the principle of devolution, and I will speak a bit about the importance of devolution in a country as large and diversified as ours. However, we are concerned about clauses 136 and 137 of the bill, which would fold the regional municipal planning boards into one. We believe those changes would not be in the spirit of the negotiations with the people of the Northwest Territories and first nations. This is an outstanding problem that needs to be addressed. We can do good devolution, but we need to ensure that the voices of the people are properly heard.
My own region of Timmins—James Bay is larger than the United Kingdom, but there are many isolated fly-in communities. There are attempts under way to develop hydro resources and copper and diamonds, yet we also have communities that live in intense poverty, a veritable fourth world. Some of my communities are called “Haiti at -40°C”.
When we go into these communities, we see that the federal government has done a very poor job in fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities and in basic credible management to ensure that development occurs. If we were to talk to people in my region from the mining sector and first nations, we would hear one common voice asking, “Where is the government? Why is the government not doing its job at the table?”
We are trying to get development off the ground in a community that has no doctors, no grade school, and 20 people living in shacks. If a mining company is attempting resource development where people will be hired, we have people who have not been able to graduate. We need the federal government at the table doing its job. We also need the province doing its job. This is why I think that with the issue of devolution in the Northwest Territories, we have to look at it through the lens of how to ensure that development is equitable across the vast terrain of our country where we have smaller populations.
I will give a few examples of the failure of vision in how things have been handled.
The Ring of Fire is a massive mineral resource development project in the northwest of my riding that could impact development for generations to come. Members will remember when the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka was appointed. He was going to be the special point person and the Conservative government was going to make the Ring of Fire happen. The Conservatives were going to be the champions of the development of the Ring of Fire. Well, they all ran away from that one; we do not hear a peep out of them. We also saw how the provincial Liberal government completely botched it.
When we go into the communities, there is frustration because of the extremely high level of poverty. If we asked people in those regions about mining, they would say they understand that mining is going to happen, but it has to be done right with environmental protections and proper consultation.
Consultation is not just a matter of a fiat from Ottawa telling all the little people how they are going to live; it is about respecting the land and the traditions. Without the federal government or the province at the table, this multi-billion-dollar project is sitting on idle.
In my region, simple projects could have been moved ahead through devolution of authority. For example, Attawapiskat has been without a grade school for years. Children are being educated on a toxic brownfield, but the current government walked away at the eleventh hour on a long-term plan to build a school. The then minister of Indian Affairs, Chuck Strahl, said at the time that building schools for children was not a priority. The community was ready to build that school. This was a big project, and the community had financing through a bank. This was innovative. This was grassroots. They had bank financing and all they needed was the federal government to sign a tuition agreement. We could have had a new way of getting schools off the ground, but we had a belligerent government and a closed-minded bureaucracy, and that school was not built. This led to the whole push for Shannen's dream, which ended up at the United Nations with Canada being shamed on the international stage about its basic legal obligation to build schools for children.
As for the outcome of the Attawapiskat housing crisis, in 2011 we had a plan to build 30 new rent-to-own houses in the community. They were not asking for handouts from the government. This was a community that had gone to the CMHC. They were ready to move forward. All they needed was a ministerial guarantee to sign off. The minister refused to sign and those 30 houses were not built.
However, it was not just the current government that dropped the ball, it was also the provincial government. In communities on the James Bay coast, we do not even have the land base to expand the community, despite the fact we have growing populations, because the province sits and claims the land. There is no one up in those regions on the James Bay except the Mushkego Cree, yet Queen's Park has the temerity, the gall, to say it is all provincial land, that they need its sign-off. Why is it not signing off? We will never see the province show up at the table when these simple things need to be done, so our communities are stuck in a catch-22 between a belligerent and incompetent federal government and a provincial government that believes its citizens of the James Bay region, because they are Cree, are somehow not citizens of Ontario. As a result, simple projects do not move forward.
We have the same problem with policing, just as they do in the far, far north, with our Nishnawbe-Aski police service that represents all the peoples of Treaty 9. I was at the funeral of the two young men who burned to death in the police detachment in Kashechewan in 2006. To call it a police detachment is incorrect; it was a shack out of which the police were delivering services. Two young men were trapped in there and burned to death, horrifically. Out of that inquest, light was finally shone on the substandard conditions that police face in these regions, with high levels of PTSD and young police officers killing themselves. There is no support from the federal or provincial governments.
One the issues we had was the need to ensure that we just had basic, proper police units. In Kashechewan the government did not want to put in fire sprinklers because it would cost money. It would be illegal anywhere else in the province of Ontario to have a public building without sprinklers, but they got away with that on a reserve because the feds were not going to worry about it and the province was not going to spend the money, and two young men burned to death.
We now have a situation in Fort Hope where plans to build a proper police detachment to ensure security for the police officers, as well as the citizens, has been derailed by the current government after multiple negotiations. It has simply abandoned it.
We hear from Chief Elizabeth Atlookan, who has written the government, saying that “It is imperative that construction of this new detachment commence immediately as costs for the transportation of materials will increase as the end of the short winter road season”.
In writing to their member of Parliament in Kenora, she says, “I request you to do everything possible to secure funding for the construction of this new detachment”.
These are communities that live with very narrow building windows, where if we do not get the sign-off to get this police detachment soon and we do not get those supplies up the road, then we will lose another year. In consequence, the police and communities are left at risk, and the cost to the taxpayer goes up and up.
It is the serial incompetence of the government in managing files in the far north that has led us, time and again, to see good projects sit on someone's desk and not be signed off on until the price has gone up 30% or 40%, because every year it gets harder and harder to move supplies up.
This is the situation that we face in our region, so is the lens that we should apply to the issue of devolution.
We support devolution in the Northwest Territories. This is a good, important step. However, taking the regional-municipal water and planning boards and folding them up, despite the opposition of first nations and the concerns raised, is another example of the government just not getting it. It does not understand that if we are to do proper development in Canada, we have to do it credibly and do it in consultation with people. People are not against development, but they want it done right. When we have a good program like devolution, I am very sorry to see the government undermining it and throwing a monkey wrench into it by playing around with the development of the water boards in the region.
Mr. Speaker, earlier today we got the great news of yet another incredible achievement by our athletes in Sochi. At the debut at the winter Olympics of the women's ski slopestyle, Canada has taken the gold and bronze medals, putting Canada to the top of the medal standings for the first time in our history.
The women competing in free-style skiing this Olympics remember their comrade and hero, Sarah Burke, who died while training two years ago. She pioneered the sport, and with or without the tribute to Sarah on their helmets, it is clear they hold Sarah's memory and spirit in their hearts.
Today's gold medallist is the daughter of fellow resort operators in Ontario, a family we grew up with and admired for their drive and their dedication to family and business. Nineteen year old Dara Howell is the pride of Huntsville, Ontario. I know that Doug, Dee, and Brent, and the entire Howell family are immensely proud.
Today, I join with the member of Parliament for Parry Sound—Muskoka and all Canadians in congratulating Dara Howell, gold medallist, Sochi 2014.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to speak in this chamber, representing the people of Timmins—James Bay.
I am a strong believer in the Westminster system of government. I believe that it is a good system of government and that it could be one of the best in the world. However, we are seeing a continual undermining of the Westminster tradition by the current Conservative government.
Bill C-520 is called an act to support the non-partisan officers of Parliament, but anybody back home knows that in the Orwellian language of the current Conservative government, the opposite is involved.
In listening to the Conservatives here this morning, we have heard them talk about accountability and transparency. What they mean is accountability for everybody else and transparency for everybody else but secrecy for them and loopholes for their friends.
The bill is brought forward by the member for York Centre, who is now famous for his attempt to turn the most historic and sacred site of Judaism into a photo op for his re-election. Here is a man who is telling us it is all about making sure the systems of Parliament are able to do their job. However, it means that this backbencher would set up a system where the people whose job it is to investigate Parliament would now be investigated, not by Parliament but by the members of the governing party. There is a provision in the bill that would allow any backbench Conservative or any senator to demand an investigation of the Auditor General or the Lobbying Commissioner.
It is interesting that the Lobbying Commissioner has no power to investigate Conservative senators. It does not matter how many junkets they fly on, how many corporate boards they sit on, or how many times big oil takes average Conservative senators out to Hy's Steakhouse and wines and dines them. The Lobbying Commissioner has no ability to investigate a senator; a senator is protected. However, a senator would be able to demand an investigation of the Lobbying Commissioner. That is the intent of the bill.
The Ethics Commissioner has no ability to investigate whether Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy were involved in an illegal $90,000 payout, which is now being investigated by the RCMP. Why? It is because the Ethics Commissioner has no ability to touch Mike Duffy. However, with the proposed legislation, Mike Duffy could have demanded an investigation of the Ethics Commissioner.
Members might not realize it, but over in the supposed upper chamber, they actually do have an Ethics Commissioner. She is probably the quietest person in Ottawa, as she actually needs permission from her own senators to investigate. Therefore, if we are looking at the involvement of senators Tkachuk, LeBreton, Stewart Olsen, and Gerstein in this illegal cover-up, well, we cannot ask the Ethics Commissioner over in the Senate to investigate whether or not all those key people in the Conservative Party were involved in illegal activities, because she actually needs their permission to investigate. She has to beg the senators before she is allowed to launch an investigation.
However, Senator Gerstein, the bagman for the Conservative Party, and Senator Tkachuk, who is accused of telling Pamela Wallin to whitewash her calendar, so the RCMP would not find out, would have the power to demand an investigation into anything the ethics officer does. That is the world the Conservative government is bringing us into.
This is now a country where we see a supposedly stand-alone, non-partisan institution like Canada Revenue Agency being put to use investigating charities. Why is it investigating charities? It is because the Conservatives will use the levers of government against any charity that has the nerve to stand up and speak about the petro-state.
We have Canada's spy agency overseen by Chuck Strahl. A cabinet minister who stepped out and became an Enbridge lobbyist got appointed as the head of the spy agency. I guess it is a step up. The last guy the Conservatives had in charge of the spy agency was Arthur Porter. Is he not now hiding out in a Panama jail having been caught for money laundering and issues of gun running and fraud? This is the man who the Prime Minister of this country thought should oversee the spy agency, so I guess Chuck Strahl was a step up.
However, Chuck Strahl is working for Enbridge. Now the spy agency gets its orders from the National Energy Board to spy on Enbridge's enemies. They had a secure briefing, and the luncheon for the secure briefing with the National Energy Board and Canada's spy agency was actually sponsored and paid for by Enbridge.
This is the kind of insider access we are seeing now, and the government thought there were no problems with that.
Now other officers of Parliament could be investigated. The government could go after the Commissioner of Lobbying.
Let us look at the issue of the Privacy Commissioner. The Privacy Commissioner has an international reputation. She has taken on big data. She has asked for tools to be able to keep up, but the government does not want that. When the government lost the personal data of 500,000 Canadians, what was its response? It sat on it.
If we are to be accountable to Canadians, and if we find out that personal information has been either lost or stolen, the first thing we should do is alert those people, to protect them from identity theft and fraud. It is not so with the Conservative government. Its objective is to protect hapless ministers. It sat on the loss of information for over a month.
The New Democratic Party asked the Privacy Commissioner to investigate other breaches. We found out that over one million Canadians have had their data stolen, hacked, or lost, and of all those cases, only 10% were reported by the government to the commissioner. The Conservatives do not care if personal data is being stolen, because they do not want their ministers to look bad.
The next time the New Democratic Party asks the commissioner to investigate why data is being lost and why senior citizens' financial information may have been stolen under the government's watch, the government would be able to demand an investigation into the officer of Parliament whose job is to protect Canadians, just like what the member from York did and made himself famous.
With respect to access to information, we hear gibberish from the other side about all the data sets that the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka is handing out. The Access to Information Commissioner has talked about ministerial offices becoming black holes of information. She cannot touch the information. When the member for Parry Sound--Muskoka took $50 million in border infrastructure money—money that could have kept guns and drugs out of the country—and spent it on trinkets in his riding, he could say there was no paper trail, because he knew the access to information officer did not have the power to demand the paperwork that we knew was there.
Canada was a world leader in terms of access to information. Canada set the benchmark. Since the Conservatives have taken office, Canada has dropped to 41st place, to 51st place, and now we are at 55th place in the world. Angola and Colombia are further ahead.
What would the government do in response? It would make it possible to demand an investigation into the access to information commissioner should he or she put any heat on a government agency.
I could go on about Elections Canada. The government did not consult with Elections Canada. The Conservative government is a government of serial cheaters. Who did it hear from? The government heard from all the Conservative members who are under investigation for electoral crimes and misdemeanours, and they are the ones who have decided that the electoral officer will no longer be allowed anywhere near the ice to protect Canadians.
At the end of the day, this legislation is about undermining the fundamental pillars that support democratic accountability in this country. This legislation would allow backbenchers and senators to protect their own interests by attacking the officers whose job is to stand up for Canadians, to ensure accountability, to ensure transparency, and to stop the insiders, the well-heeled, and the big boys sitting in the back room from misrepresenting and undermining democracy in this country.
We in the NDP will be opposing this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise on behalf of the people of Timmins—James Bay to speak to this important bill, Bill C-15, on the issues of devolution and the further development of the far north.
Through representing a far north region in Ontario, I really appreciate and understand the importance of the devolution of power to the communities and regions that are very different from the rest of Canada, and that they be allowed and given the tools they need to advance.
Unfortunately, the government has failed on so many levels in dealing with issues of the far north. In my own region we see complete failure of infrastructure in community after community in the far north. The Conservatives' only attitude is very colonial. They want the resources, and they want them out as fast as they can get them. They treat the people who live there like they are a subject population.
I see also how they bungle these projects, because their idea of fast is to try to get things as quickly as possible without thinking about the need to develop the economy in any sustainable, long-term or cohesive manner. I point to the bungling of the Ring of Fire.
The Ring of Fire is in my region of Timmins—James Bay. It may be one of the largest mining discoveries in the last half century, $3.3 billion of value at this point. There is an important need to get it right because we have seen how often things have been done wrong.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Joliette.
In my own region where I live in Cobalt, I see the poisoned lakes. I see all the wealth that was taken out of communities such as Cobalt. Not a single paved road was left in any of Coleman Township, which at one time was the richest municipality in all of Canada. I have seen the cave-ins from the mines that were left. I see that all across northern Ontario and northern Quebec, wherever I travel.
The idea was that we would take the resources out and leave the communities behind with whatever they could get by on. I look at the issue of devolution in terms of the revenue agreement. In the far north of Ontario, all our resources go to Queen's Park. We have one of the richest diamond mines in the world right near the impoverished little community of Attawapiskat. All the royalties from that mine go to Queen's Park, yet the people of Attawapiskat are basically living in shacks on top of each other. They do not even have the room to build a proper townsite. We would have to get that permission from the province. If we asked the Province of Ontario about Attawapiskat, we would be told it is not Ontario's responsibility, because those are federal people. Of course, the feds have shown a complete disinterest in Attawapiskat.
It is amazing, nobody else lives up there except the Mushkego Cree. They do not even have access to their own land. As one women in Kashechewan told me, it is like being raised in a prisoner of war camp in her community. There are little postage stamp communities, while the vast resources around them are controlled by the province, which takes the resources out and they are sent to southern Ontario, paving the roads down there. The issue of devolution and the development of communities is something we really understand.
Going back to the Ring of Fire, the minister from Muskoka was to be our great leader on this. He was to be the man who got it all done, just like he got everything else done around here, and Cliffs has walked away from the project. They said they are tired of the lack of action, the lack of planning. The first nation communities are still sitting at the table saying they need the environmental issues dealt with. What happened to the big leadership of the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka? He shrugs and says it was a provincial responsibility.
That was not what the Conservatives were saying a few months ago when it looked like they would try to get some of the glory of the Ring of Fire. We notice that the issue of the Ring of Fire is vital for the development of northern Ontario, sustainable, planned, ensuring that the rivers and the lakes are not polluted, putting a proper road and transportation system in, working with the provincial Ontario Northland Railway to get a railway in there, to build sustainability. The feds walked. They blew it.
We have a motion at committee to look at the Ring of Fire, to find out what happened. However, the Conservatives go in camera and kill the study of the Ring of Fire, the same men and women who stand up and say they are the defenders of resource development and they understand the economy. They only understand their excuses when they blow it.
I am very interested in the issue of devolution, but there are some issues that have been raised that are very concerning. One is the amendment on the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which would create the environmental screening process for the Northwest Territories. The amendment will replace the current structure of regional land and water boards, which were created through land claims final agreements with the Northwest Territory aboriginal governments, with a single board.
Here is the kicker. The amendments also reserve to the federal minister the approval of all land and water usage in the Northwest Territories, which could easily circumvent the powers that were transferred to the first nation communities through devolution. Would any Canadian trust any minister on that side to do the right thing when it comes to water management or land management?
Let us just look at what the Conservatives did in their last omnibus bill. They stripped the environmental protections for 99.997% of all lakes and rivers in this country. Why is that? It was so they could push pipelines through faster, so they do not have to worry about the shut-off valves and can just go through any of the waterways.
It is funny. There are only 97 waterways that are still protected in this country. The rest of it is open season for these guys. If someone wants to dump tailings or run a pipeline through, this is their baby. Out of the 97 lakes and rivers that are protected, 12 of them are in the riding of the Muskoka minister. Lake Rosseau where Goldie Hawn gets her feet wet in the summertime, that property is protected. Twelve lakes in his riding are protected.
Do members know how many waterways in Quebec are protected? Four. In the massive region of Quebec, four are protected. The member for Parry Sound—Muskoka squirrels away 12 so that he can be happy with all his rich friends down at the cottage, and maybe they will invite him over to the barbecue and he will get Jeff Bridges' autograph. Twelve, that is the same as what the Conservatives have reserved for the entire province of British Columbia.
This is about a government that has turned environmental protection and planning into an absolute mockery, which is why Canada is seen more and more as an international outlier. While the Liberals and Conservatives go down to Washington to try to promote the Keystone XL pipeline and outdo each other, our reputation is that this is a government and a third party that no one wants to deal with. The government has systematically undermined and trashed environmental standards so that its friends with the big oil agenda can get things as fast as they want, as quick as they want, and it is too bad about the planet.
We want to move towards devolution but we do not want to see anyone on that side able to put their fingers into the development of waterways and the environment in the far north. We know that the Conservatives' only attitude is to get it as quickly as possible, and too bad about the next generation.
I want to go back to the lakes and rivers, and the importance of it. Our friend, the Muskoka minister, who blew the ring of fire, was the man who allowed Vale and Xstrata to take control of the two greatest mining companies that Canada has produced, the international giants, Inco and Falconbridge. They were pretty much run into the ground under his watch.
The man who has grabbed 12 out of the 100 lakes to protect for his rich friends, is he not the same guy who took $50 million of border infrastructure money that should have been used to stop gangs and guns from coming across the border? What did he do? He was building fake lighthouses in Muskoka with it. Of course there was no paper trail.
Normally people who take money like that and spend it in such an egregious fashion get the bounce. In the government, if someone is that bad, they get promoted. He is now the President of the Treasury Board, the man who is supposed to ensure that everyone else accounts for their dollars. We see him kicking the crap out of the poor civil service, blaming them, going after them and going after their pensions.
Here is the man who took $50 million and does not have a piece of paper that he can show for it. Then, of course, we did find there was a lot of paper in his office, he just pretended there was not. We managed to find that through access to information.
These are not the kind of people we want to allow anywhere near environmental planning. We want to keep them away. We have to have some sort of ring fencing to keep them away and to keep their hands off it.
We think devolution is really important, but devolution has to be based on the principle that it is the people on the ground, the people in the far north, who should always have the final decision-making about what happens in their region.
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are cutting off northwestern Ontario. Residents in my riding are being ignored by a federal government that is supposed to represent them.
Thunder Bay—Superior North is a vibrant region with a wealth of natural resources, and it has contributed a great deal to Canada's economic development for several hundred years, but now it gets little in return from the government. Unemployment is still a pressing concern for northwestern Ontario, and the government has failed to turn it around.
Across Canada we have seen the number of temporary foreign workers double in just one year under the Conservatives. Almost half the supposed new jobs the government has claimed to have created have not gone to Canadians. Workers in my riding are worried that many new jobs in the Ring of Fire will go to temporary foreign workers.
Like in many regions, tourism is a vital component of the economy of northwestern Ontario and Canada, but the industry is in crisis. According to the World Tourism Organization, in the last 10 years, international arrivals in Canada plunged from over 20 million to just 16 million last year. This past year, the government cut the Canadian Tourism Commission budget by 20% to $58 million, half what it was a decade ago. This has impacted not just Thunder Bay—Superior North; it is a disaster in the making for the entire Canadian economy and our soaring balance of trade deficit.
What is more, the service cuts in my riding are unprecedented. I am flooded with letters and emails from my constituents about their inability to access important government services. The Conservatives have closed the Thunder Bay Citizenship and Immigration office totally. They have cut 25 positions at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada in Thunder Bay, making things even more difficult for unemployment insurance recipients, who had trouble before.
In February, the Thunder Bay Veterans Affairs office is scheduled to close. Ten employees in the office will lose their jobs, and over 2,000 veterans, many of them young veterans, and their families will now have to drive over six hours to Manitoba for dedicated service. Veterans have been told to just call a 1-800 number or go online for support with the submission of complex benefits forms concerning their serious physical and mental health issues.
The government has insisted that veterans in my riding will be able to just go to the local Service Canada centre for support, but over 20 jobs have been axed there, with constituents already unable to get the assistance they need.
The Conservatives have long promised action on first nations education, yet we have seen no new funding commitments at all, despite the fact that aboriginal students are funded at only half the level of other students in Ontario.
We in northern Ontario have been calling for years for FedNor to be an independent, stand-alone regional economic development agency, as in eastern and western Canada. Former NDP member Tony Martin introduced legislation that would have made FedNor an independent economic development agency governed by a regional board of directors, and I have raised this issue many times in this House.
FedNor needs to be free from political interference. We already know about FedNor project funding that was funnelled through the constituency office of the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka, but the government hid this from the Auditor General when an investigation was launched.
After reviewing this record, I ask again: Where is the concrete plan for supporting service provision and economic development in northwestern Ontario?
Mr. Speaker, in a week that has been dominated by the drama of a Senate scandal and the political noose that is tightening around the Prime Minister's neck, the Conservatives' latest budget implementation bill all but flew under the radar of Canadians' attention. Despite this, Bill C-4 is profoundly important to my constituents in Hamilton Mountain.
As with all budget implementation bills, I always look forward to them with some hope. I am always optimistic that the government will recognize the trajectory of economic indicators and play a positive role in mitigating potential negative impacts for hard-working Canadians. However, while hope springs eternal, my optimism vanishes when I crack the spine of the latest Conservative budget bill. Bill C-4, unfortunately, was no exception.
In fact, this latest Conservative effort was summed up perfectly by the Toronto Star's columnist, Chantal Hébert, who aptly described the content of the 308 page bill as amounting to “a handful of sometimes half-baked and always ill-defined promises”. It was indeed a huge disappointment.
We returned to Ottawa last week after a summer recess from parliamentary proceedings that was extended by yet another prorogation. All of us have had plenty of time to knock on doors in our communities and talk to the very people who are most directly impacted by the government's budgetary policies. I certainly did that this summer. What I heard was continuing anxiety about stagnating wages, job insecurity and high household debt. Those fears are well-founded; they are not based on paranoia.
Let us review some of the facts. Over the past 35 years, under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, incomes have increased for the top 20% of Canadians, but have decreased for everyone else. There is 80% of Canadians who have seen a drop in their income. Our economy has grown by 147%, yet the real income of the average Canadian family has dropped by 7%.
At the end of last year, Canadians' household debt reached 166% of disposable income. Canada's total household debt is now dangerously close to the peak levels prevailing in the United States just before the 2008 economic crisis. Indeed, the Bank of Canada is now referring to this debt as “the biggest domestic risk” to the Canadian economy. This is not only a burden on Canadian families, it is a threat to our entire economy. Yet, all the Conservatives have to say to the millions of families struggling to make ends meet is that they have to make do with less, and their children have to make do with less.
Conservatives have done nothing to reign in the high cost of living for families. They have done nothing to guarantee retirement security for seniors. They have watched a generation of middle-class jobs disappear, but they have done nothing to create the next generation of middle-class jobs. We can and must do better.
It is time to put the interests of Canadians first. The budget implementation bill could and should have been the perfect opportunity to do just that. It should have made life more affordable for hard-working families. It should have created quality well-paying jobs. It should have ensured secure retirements. It should have fostered opportunities for young Canadians. What we got instead was a continuation of the austerity agenda, which is premised on the mistaken belief that we can cut our way to prosperity.
As David Olive from the Toronto Star noted in March of this year:
...sucking demand, or cash, out of an economy with cutbacks to government spending--including essential services and infrastructure upgrading--merely adds to the jobless lines and cuts household incomes. That, in turn, drives up social-spending costs related to mounting unemployment.
It is not as if the finance minister were oblivious to that. He, himself, has repeatedly warned of the threat that household debt poses to the economy, yet neither his spring budget nor Bill C-4 does anything to offer help to Canadians.
In a scathing review of the Conservative record on the economy, Michael Harris said, in iPolitics:
Apart from pitching a free-trade deal with Antarctica, the PM has nothing to offer on the economy besides glowing self-appraisals, bad commercials on the public dime, and discount-rate foreign workers inflating his dismal job creation numbers.
He also said:
The PM and his government are not good managers. The nauseating repetition of the claim that the Tories know what they’re doing with the country’s finances will not make it so. They’ve pissed away more money than Madonna on a shopping spree—a billion on the G8--20 meetings that put a dent in the world’s Perrier supply and little else.
They just plain lost $3.2 billion and the guy in charge over at Treasury Board is still there [...]
They are such good fiscal managers that we now have the highest deficit in our history.
With that as the backdrop, let us have a look then at Bill C-4. Unfortunately, its provisions would do nothing to prove the previous statement wrong. Instead of acting on the economy and creating jobs for an agenda of growth, the Conservatives are doing the exact opposite. Instead of creating jobs, they are continuing their ideological attacks on Canadian workers. A full third of the bill is designed solely to undermine the rights of workers.
The bill would eliminate the basic right of workers to a healthy and safe workplace, and continues its attack on the federal public service. Allow me to say a few words about those outrageous changes.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that Bill C-4 would place the lives of workers in the federal sector at risk as a result of the cynical amendments that the Conservatives would make to the Canada Labour Code. The bill would attack the right to refuse dangerous work, a hard-fought right that offered basic protection to Canadian workers. By redefining and limiting the word “danger” and undermining the work and expertise of health and safety officers by giving many of their powers to the minister, the Conservatives are essentially saying that forcing workers to work in unsafe conditions is absolutely fine by them. No New Democrat will support that. No worker should ever be forced to work in unsafe conditions and I cannot believe that any member of the House would ever knowingly vote to put workers in harm's way.
I urge my Conservative colleagues to please do the right thing and respect the rights of workers. With lives literally hanging in the balance, I urge them to ignore the party whip and do what they must know is the right thing to do, which is to oppose these objectionable changes to Canada's labour laws.
In fact, let us delete all of the labour sections from the omnibus bill. The changes that Bill C-4 would make to the Public Service Labour Relations Act would eliminate binding arbitration as a method to resolve disputes in the public service. What could possibly be the motivation for that, other than to prompt labour unrest and conflict with civil servants. Again, if my Conservative colleagues do not believe in gratuitous attacks on the very people who serve both them as government and the Canadian public, then they must vote to oppose the bill.
I am sure all members heard the interview that the Conservatives' colleague, the MP for Parry Sound—Muskoka and President of the Treasury Board gave on CBC Radio in Ottawa yesterday. It must have given every Conservative backbencher pause. The minister was being asked about sections of the bill that arbitrarily designate what “essential services” are. This is important because, as members know, any public servants that are deemed “essential” are not allowed to go on strike. That is a very serious infringement of a fundamental right. In essence, the government is stripping workers of their full collective bargaining rights.
In the very tense exchange with the CBC reporter that I referenced above, the minister absolutely refused to spell out how the government would use this new power. The President of the Treasury Board said, “I am waiting for this legislation to pass and then details will come forward.” That is contempt of Parliament. How can we be asked to vote for something that is not defined?
In the interview, the minister suggested that border guards would be deemed “essential”, but he hedged on scientists. When he was asked whether he would clarify who would be deemed “essential” ahead of the upcoming contract negotiations with a large number of bargaining units over the coming year, the exchange got downright testy. He would not deny that he could change whom he deemed “essential” at any time, including in the middle of the bargaining process. I would commend the verbatim record of that exchange to all members of the House, and Bill Curry has helpfully reproduced it for us in The Globe and Mail.
To recap, we are being asked to approve a bill that fundamentally would change collective bargaining in our country, yet we are not allowed to know the details before we vote. Instead of being ashamed of that, the minister became downright hostile when interviewed on CBC Radio.
That attitude is all of a piece when it comes to the way the current Conservative government operates. Whether it is the Senate scandal or this budget bill, there is zero accountability. The Conservatives have utter disdain for Parliament, and by extension, for the Canadians who elect us to represent them here.
I am not worried about my voice being silenced; the government should be so lucky. However, I am profoundly worried about a government whose members believe they are above the law, a government whose members believe they can do whatever they want, a government whose members believe the end always justifies the means. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our number one priority has to be to address the real priorities of Canadians. That is what I was sent here to do, and that is the responsibility that my NDP colleagues and I take very seriously.
No, I cannot vote for this budget implementation bill, and I would encourage members on all sides of the House to oppose it with me. At best, we are being asked to adopt a pig in a poke. At worst, we are continuing down a road of stagnating wages, job insecurity and high household debt. Canadians deserve better. As parliamentarians, we can and must do better. As a member of the government in waiting, I can tell members that an NDP government will do better, starting in 2015.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today on our official opposition motion on the recent Auditor General's report on the missing $3.1 billion.
I have to say that there are days as an MP on this side of the House when I do not know whether to laugh or cry. On the surface, we can shake our heads and poke fun at the government that cannot find $3.1 billion of taxpayers' money. We know what we do at home when some money goes missing. We look under the bed and in the washing machine. Maybe a few Canadians check socks. Yesterday we asked the government if it checked the banana stand.
All kidding aside, we are not talking about some loonies or toonies or change. We are talking about $3.1 billion. This is the stuff accounting teachers use with their students as prima facie evidence of accounting gone wrong. This is where one wants to cry rather than laugh. This comes from a government that has inflicted on Canadians ad nauseam its economic action plan commercials for itself. It is more wasting of taxpayers' money.
The Conservatives have made outrageous claims about being good managers of the economy, when the evidence, such as the missing $3.1 billion, tells the real story. This is the government that brought Canada the $50-million spending spree of the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka for the G8 summit, with gazebos and the paving of the yellow brick riding that had nothing to do with security. Is this where we should be looking for the $3.1 billion for security measures?
We saw the financial fiasco of the F-35 jets. Are their fumes where we should be looking for the $3.1 billion?
In the past, we have seen economic mis-managers spend money on government programs that did not exist. Coming from Northern Ontario, I know the fiction of FedNor's spending claims from the President of the Treasury Board.
Is it any wonder that when someone with the integrity and independence of Kevin Page, the former Parliamentary Budget Officer, pointed out this incompetence, the government chose to shoot the messenger rather than conduct the business of the government in a proper fashion?
The ridicule of the Conservative government's spending and accountability knows no bounds. Richard Cléroux writes, in his Straight Talk blog, that the President of the Treasury Board is a treasury minister who has lost his treasure. The minister claimed the money was not lost, that it was only an accounting difference between him and Michael Ferguson, the Auditor General. Mr. Cléroux suggests that the treasury board minister might not be wise speculating that the money might have been spent in Afghanistan and on border crossings. Mr. Cléroux reminded Canadians that the minister “spent $50 million on building public toilets in a farmer's field, a gazebo in a town, buying a $2 million cruise boat that wouldn't float, and the killer—paying $1 million to have somebody carve a fake, miniature lighthouse out of an old tree stump...If anybody out there comes across a $3.1 billion bundle somewhere in a government office, you'll know whose it is”. Others are calling the government's explanation a fancy fudging of facts.
The minister acknowledges that the individual reporting by departments is not followed by whole government reporting. If we do the math, it is pretty simple. Add up the different departments and get the bottom-line figure. However, it does not add up. We are out $3.1 billion.
Let us be clear about the importance of security and anti-terrorism initiatives. They are needed to meet the post-9/11 security environment. No one disputes that, but with all the spending cuts happening, we need to be sure we have value for our spending. We need to know where this money is going and whether we are getting the security we are paying for. We have a problem when the Auditor General tells Canadians he does not know and cannot determine how this money was spent. It is a real concern that the government shows such a lack of interest in monitoring overall spending on national security.
The government loves to blame the previous Liberal government for getting us into this mess, and there is some truth to that. However, it is the Conservative government that in 2010 let drop the commitment to strategically monitor overall spending on national security. It was the Conservative government that stopped providing annual reports on where all the money was going.
The Auditor General found that $3.1 billion was missing between 2011 and 2009. What happened in 2010? Both the Auditor General and the Assistant Auditor General had some interesting things to say about that. The Auditor General said:
Our audit only went up to this time period, and at the end of this time period this method of reporting was stopped.
It seems that when the Auditor General found that the Conservatives were not counting money properly, the government's answer was to simply stop counting. That is banana-stand nonsense.
We can do better. We must do better.
I am the mining critic for the official opposition. We have a 20-member mining caucus that met this week to look at what a proper national mining strategy might look like, one that could support the good-paying jobs and the investment the mining industry makes in our economy, which was $35 billion in gross domestic product in 2011. A mining strategy that can pay dividends for Canada when it is done in a sustainable fashion is good management of the economy.
My leader has made it clear that for these natural resources projects, it is not in Canada's best interest, not even for our bottom line, to take as much resources out of the ground in as short a period of time as possible to sell to whomever, usually foreign countries, with foreign companies getting most of the profit. This does not serve Canadian interests now or future generations. We in the party know something about sound economic management. It means paying attention to both the bottom line and the social good. It is not surprising, as a federal government report indicated, that, taking into account all governments and all parties, NDP governments have balanced the books more than any other party. Whether it is mining or national security, we can get it right. That is good fiscal management.
That is not what we are talking about today with this missing $3.1 billion. Where is that money?
During his audit, the Auditor General asked the Treasury Board Secretariat for information to help him explain how the balance of $3.1 billion, allocated between 2001 and 2009, had been used. Although no clear explanation was given, the secretariat worked with the Office of the Auditor General to identify several possible scenarios: the money may have lapsed at the end of the fiscal year for which it was allocated; the money may have been spent on different public security and anti-terrorism activities and reported as part of ongoing program spending; or the money may have been carried over and spent on programs not related to the initiative.
With this motion, we are calling on the Conservatives to make public, by June 17, 2013, a detailed summary of all departmental expenditures specifically related to public security and anti-terrorism initiatives between 2011 and 2009 and to give the Auditor General all the necessary resources to perform an in-depth forensic audit until the missing $3.1 billion is found and accounted for.
Surely it is time to stop politics and actually take the issue of preventing terrorism seriously and account for the money spent on anti-terrorism initiatives. Conservatives are bringing forward initiatives and unnecessary laws that infringe upon our civil liberties without actually being able to explain whether the whopping $3.1 billion allocated for public security and anti-terrorism initiatives was actually spent, and if so, how, and on what programs.
Ordinary Canadians need to know why $3.1 billion of their taxpayer money is missing and why the Conservatives are not doing everything in their power to find where the $3.1 billion went and what it was used for. We will leave no stone unturned to try to get to the bottom of this boondoggle. That is a real economic action plan.
If the Conservatives have nothing to hide, why do they not make it transparent and release all necessary documents to the Auditor General to make sure the $3.1 billion is found and accounted for?
Mr. Speaker, I listened very attentively to the member's comments. However, the crux of the matter is that consumers will be paying more for bicycles, baby carriages, school supplies, household goods, wigs, housewares, iPods and MP3 players, and the list goes on. There are at least 1,300 items on the list.
What is interesting is that the minister would not have even had to raise all of these taxes on Canadians if he had watched his own spending. I will give an example.
It was not easy to come up with these numbers because everything is somewhat hidden with the current government. However, the total that I have with respect to the G8 legacy fund money that the minister spent in his own riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka is $45,758,945. That is how much taxpayers' money he spent on his own riding. I will outline all of that spending for everybody in the House and those watching on television later today. It should be a good time, and I ask everyone to listen in.
My question to the member is this: when did he finally decide that it was okay for the President of the Treasury Board to spend $45 million of taxpayers' money in his own riding?
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative omnibus bill has declared open season on Canada's lakes and rivers. Of the 30,000 lakes across this great country, only 97 will be protected, almost all are in Tory ridings and 12 are in the riding of the gazebo king, the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka. He protected Lake Rosseau that is home to Hollywood millionaires. He protected Lake Joseph where a cottage will set one back a cool $5 million.
I love Muskoka, but does the minister really think exclusive lakes of millionaires are worthy of more protection than the lakes in the rest of Canada?
With regard to government employment levels, for each of the federal electoral districts of Parry Sound—Muskoka, Macleod, Haldimand—Norfolk, Halton, Edmonton Centre, Central Nova, Mégantic—L'Érable and Eglinton—Lawrence: (a) what is the current total number of federal employees in the riding; and (b) what is the total number of anticipated job reductions in the riding for the fiscal year (i) 2012-2013, (ii) 2013-2014, (iii) 2014-2015?
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-377, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations).
The bill before us seeks to require trade unions to publicly disclose their financial statements. The reporting requirements contemplated by the bill are completely unnecessary, but the government knows that.
In Canada's trade union movement, financial statements are audited and reported to elected boards of directors, to all union locals, and to delegates at conventions. Annual audited statements must be filed with both provincial and federal labour boards. The Canada Labour Code requires that financial statements be available to members. Where those statements are not routinely provided to all members, individual union members can request them from their locals and directly from labour boards. The process is open, fair, democratic and accountable.
What is really being advanced by this bill is a dangerous and unprecedented move to advance the government's agenda of undermining the balance of labour relations in Canada by tipping the scales overwhelmingly in favour of employers.
Trade unions are profoundly democratic institutions. The leadership is elected by the membership and serves at the pleasure of those members. The relationship between a union's leadership and its members is one of transparency and accountability. A union is accountable to its members, just as comparable not-for-profit and tax-exempt entities, like think tanks, professional associations and trade boards are accountable to their members.
With this legislation the government is once again breaching the bounds of fundamental fairness by demanding that trade unions release their financial information to the public. Importantly, it is only trade unions that would be required to do so. Entities such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the law society, and the Fraser Institute, all of which enjoy the same kind of tax-exempt status as unions, are curiously not mentioned in the bill. When the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale first introduced this legislation as Bill C-317 in the last Parliament, he was asked why it targeted unions alone, why the same provisions would not apply to other not-for-profit agencies or societies. He was unable to answer that very basic question.
Clearly the labour movement is being singled out for attack in this legislation. Equally clear, the decision to uniquely target labour is ideological, unbalanced and vindictive.
Why are we here today debating a bill which on the surface appears to remedy a wholly invented problem?
We are here to debate legislation that would have the effect of hog-tying unions as they conduct their daily business of representing and advocating for working women and men. With this bill the employer sitting across the negotiating table would have ready access to all the financial information it might need to wage a war of attrition designed to bankrupt a union.
With this legislation the employer would know exactly what resources the union has and how far those resources will stretch. The employer would be handed a report that tells it exactly how much the union can spend on a grievance, whether the union can afford an organizing drive, and precisely how much is in the strike fund. It is absolutely outrageous.
Would the government contemplate any other negotiation between two parties where one side was legislatively required to hand over financial information that provided the other side with a spectacular competitive advantage?
This is legislation that corrupts the very idea of fairness and balance in negotiations between parties and undermines the fundamental right of free collective bargaining.
In grasping this we can now see the real purpose of this legislation. It is not intended to improve transparency or accountability. It is intended to deliver to the government's corporate friends a cudgel with which to hobble Canadian unions as they seek to represent their members.
We have seen the government's determination to sabotage free collective bargaining before, and this bill represents one more breach of common sense and responsible management. Never mind that labour rights are ostensibly protected by international conventions. Never mind that the balance of labour relations in this country has been relatively stable for decades. Never mind that organized labour in Canada represents more than three million men and women from coast to coast to coast. In every major dispute since they came to power, the Conservatives have responded with heavy-handed tactics expressly designed to hand the employer a win: disingenuous referrals to the labour board; the imposition of wage settlements that are lower than the employer's offer; draconian back to work legislation announced before labour disruptions have even begun.
Employers in this country now know beyond a doubt that there is no need to engage in free and fair collective bargaining, because the moment workers contemplate exercising their rights, the government will side with the employer and legislate those rights away. To the simple-minded government this must seem terribly convenient. In fact, it is a dangerous undermining of an always fragile balance in labour relations that will further destabilize an already flagging economy.
We have seen that the government's obdurate evidence-free ideological determination to punish those it sees as its political enemies trumps good management and fairness every time. Like a spoiled child, the government's reactionary knee-jerk propensity to attack any individual or organization that has the temerity to disagree with its world view knows no limits. We have seem it lash out at civil servants, scientists, NGOs, even churches, and now Canada's labour movement is again in the crosshairs.
If the government were really interested in accountability and transparency, it would first take a long hard look inward. Its own record is abysmal, from withholding Afghan detainee documents to the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka's multi-million dollar pork-barrel extravaganza, from an inability to tell Canadians how much the omnibus crime legislation will cost taxpayers to ministers and senior officials jetting about on Challengers, from failed multi-billion dollar sole-sourced F-35 purchases to electoral fraud. The Conservative government's call for accountability is sanctimonious nonsense. Its house is made of glass.
If the government has any real interest in accountability and serving the voters who sent us here to represent their interests in sound fiscal management, in making the lives of hard-working Canadians just a little bit easier, there is a long list of initiatives for workers to which it could and should turn its attention and resources.
Unemployment and underemployment for example are growing problems which the government continues to ignore. The real unemployment rate is 11%. Almost two million Canadians are out of work. Student unemployment last summer was a staggering 17%.
Conservative Party talking points aside, the truth is that the government has no job creation plan. That is why the NDP has called on the government to take positive steps to kickstart job creation.
The government should abandon its disastrous corporate tax spending policy and instead use that $3 billion to $4 billion a year for job creation measures that work. We should be providing a new higher tax credit for every new employee who stays on the payroll for a year. We have called on the government to cut small business income tax by two percentage points to encourage local job creation and investment, and to invest in infrastructure projects to address the infrastructure deficit, create jobs and boost competitiveness and living standards.
New Democrats want to invest in green infrastructure and renewable energy to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy and to invest in skills training for workers in transition and leading-edge industries. Instead, the government, bereft of a job strategy, has given away billions in subsidies and tax breaks to corporations without any condition that they create or even protect jobs for Canadians. When the victims of these failed Conservative policies attempt to access the employment insurance system, one in three of them are turned away.
That is why a previous Parliament voted to support my motion to expand and enhance EI benefits. That motion called for the elimination of the two-week waiting period for benefits, a reduction in standardization of the hours of qualification, and an increase in weekly benefits. Our caucus has tabled specific proposals in this Parliament to promote job creation, and to make EI the effective and responsive safety net Canadian workers have paid for.
Canadian families want action on jobs. When they become the innocent victims of the economic downturn, they deserve the support of their government. What do they get from the government instead? A petulant and gratuitous shot at Canadian workers that further weakens their collective position.
This legislation is as unnecessary as it is irresponsible. It is nothing but a partisan assault on the men and women who go to work every day to provide for their families and the unions who represent them.
I call on all members in the House to stand up for working families and vote to defeat this ill-conceived bill.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed that $50 million that had been earmarked to improve border infrastructure was used to finance projects proposed by friends of the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka. Furthermore, he told us it was simply a matter of a small adjustment, when in fact, he increased the funding by 166%. This scheme was meant to distract parliamentarians and the Auditor General.
Why does the Prime Minister not reprimand his ministers for this flagrant abuse of their fiscal authority?
The electoral district of Parry Sound--Muskoka (Ontario) has a population of 90,281 with 69,514 registered voters and 199 polling divisions.
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