Mr. Speaker, the matter in question will be examined by the House of Commons independent Ethics Commissioner and the Senate's independent Ethics Officer. We look forward to the outcome of their independent investigations.
In the meantime, we hope to toughen the rules in the Senate as they relate to senators' expense accounts by eliminating the honour system and requiring that senators have proof for every single expense that they claim. The Liberal Party's leader in the Senate has publicly stated that he is blocking those changes. I encourage the member for Wascana to change his leader's mind.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be able to rise and add to this debate on the third reading of Bill C-52.
Today is an important day in history, as it turns out, because this date in 1887 was the first day a train actually arrived in Vancouver. That train had a picture of Queen Victoria on the front of it, which I am sure the members opposite will be very glad of.
Our rail system has some problems, and those problems have been caused by years of neglect by governments with respect to the monopolistic position the rail companies are in vis-à-vis the rail shippers, the people who actually use the rail system. I will not go into the problems we have with the rail passenger system, which has suffered untold neglect by both the Liberals and the Conservatives.
In 1995, the Liberal government decided to sell CN, which was at the time one of Canada's biggest rail shipping companies. I am not going to answer a question from the members to my left about whether we are going to re-nationalize CN. That is not the point. The point is that when a public entity is given to the private sector, one must look at the consequences of that decision. If one of the consequences is to have created a virtual monopoly, then one needs to have put in regulatory controls to balance the playing field. That the Liberals did not do. I have heard from the member for Winnipeg North that the member for Wascana is a champion for the shippers, but from 1995 to 2006, his government was in power, and the Liberals did nothing to protect the rail shippers from their decision to privatize one of Canada's two large rail-freight operations. The shippers finally complained loudly and long enough that this Conservative government said that it would do something about it. That was in 2007.
Here we are in 2013, and I hear the parliamentary secretary and others saying to hurry up and pass this bill. We have been talking about this for seven years. Let us hurry up and have a bill to talk about. Finally we do, and it is flawed. That is one of the reasons I am here to talk about this bill today. It is not that we are not supporting it. We do sometimes have to hold our noses and support flawed legislation, because it is at least one step forward. However, we could have gone six or seven steps forward, and the Conservative government chose not to.
In 2008, as a result of a lot of pressure from the shippers, who said that they were being held hostage by the rail companies, there was a rail service review. That service review came up with a report in early 2011, before the current government was elected. In its platform, the Conservatives pledged to do something about it, but interestingly, even though the rail service review was in, it was not in the Speech from the Throne. There was no indication that this bill would be part of the legislative agenda of the current government. In fact, the Conservatives did not actually propose legislation. When the rail service review report was put in place, the Conservatives then tried mediation. They tried to talk it out between the parties and see if they could work it out. The problem is that talking does not work if one of the parties is so enormous that it absolutely controls the other.
Then the member for Trinity—Spadina put forward a private member's bill, Bill C-441, that would deal with all the steps of the problem. It would deal with the service level agreements, the price and a whole bunch of the issues the rail shippers had determined were their problems in dealing with this David and Goliath situation. All of a sudden, the Conservatives said, “Whoops, we forgot. We had better put a bill forward”, and Bill C-52 magically appeared.
The trouble is that Bill C-52 does not actually deal with some of the shippers' problems. It deals with one in particular, and really, that is all that has happened in this bill. It would deal with one of the shippers' problems, which is that they do not have the right to a service level agreement in their negotiations with the rail companies.That means that they do not have the right to negotiate, to firmly fix in their contracts with the rail companies, that, yes, a train will arrive on Saturday when their grain is ready to be shipped; yes, there will be 12 boxcars; yes, those boxcars will make it to Vancouver by two weeks from Saturday. Those are the kinds of things the shippers said they just cannot get.
Finally, we have a piece of legislation that would actually deal with that, in a roundabout way, by saying that if the shippers cannot work it out with the rail companies, then they would have the right to an arbitrated process. Therefore, the shippers would now have a right to an arbitrated process that would give them that service level review.
I am being reminded, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Brossard—La Prairie.
Therefore, one piece of the puzzle would be solved. As a result, this party will be supporting the bill at third reading but wishes that it had gone further.
The shippers would now have the right, as a result of the bill, to an arbitrated service level agreement. However, that arbitration would come at a cost. The shippers themselves would have to pay for half the cost of that arbitration process.
The railroads have deep pockets. Paying for an arbitration process, for them, would be like a small flea on the back of an elephant. It would mean nothing to them. However, to the shippers, it may mean something. There would be no assistance from the government in the cost of this arbitration process. That is one problem.
The railways have a monopoly on price, as well, and price is not part of what could be arbitrated. The price is something that would be subject to negotiations only between the shippers themselves and the railroad. The railroads would not have to do anything about the price in this arbitration process. All they would have the right to talk about and all that could be arbitrated would be the service level agreements.
Railways have a habit of charging extra fees. Airlines have extra fees now. Passengers are charged for bags. Apparently some airlines charge passengers to use the overhead bins. There is one airline in Europe that is going to charge passengers to use the bathroom.
The railways do the same thing.The railways have the ability, as a part of the service level agreement, to set up fees, which the shippers will pay if their product is not ready on the day they suggest or if there is any other problem the railways might consider the fault of the shippers. The shippers do not have any reciprocal rights.
That is something else that is missing from the bill. The shippers cannot charge the railways a fee if they are late. In fact, the government has said that if the railways break these agreements, the shippers' only recourse is to go to the courts for recompense from the railway companies.
Again, we are dealing with a David and Goliath in the courts. We now have the situation where small wheat farmers in central Alberta, who are barely making ends meet with their wheat farms because of the demise of the Wheat Board, are actually going to have to sue the rail companies, at their own expense, because the rail companies failed to meet their arbitrated service level agreements. That is yet another penalty for these poor shippers.
The shippers have told the government, and we in the NDP agree, that a mechanism by which the shippers could arbitrate a penalty regimen back to the shippers would be appreciated so that if the railways break the service level agreement, the shippers would know what they were going to get and would not have to go to court. That is done all the time in labour arbitrations and labour negotiations.
The government claims that it is not going to do it here. It is saying that the shippers should speak to the courts.
In closing, I would like to say that we in the NDP will, in fact, be supporting the bill. However, there is a lot more the bill could have done, but every single one of the amendments we proposed was rejected by the government at committee without, really, a whole lot of thought.
Mr. Speaker, if we would just let loose a bit, we could really have quite an interesting debate on the budget in this House. We could really talk back and forth with one another about what we think should be in there versus all the fantasy comments being made.
It is a very convincing argument, if somebody on the other side is actually listening to it and believing it. Again, that is what governments do. I have been there. We stand up and promote our budgets and say that they are the best thing since sliced bread. We all do it. However, our job on this side at the moment is to ensure that we show its flaws.
I am happy to be standing here and speaking. This will be the 10th budget I have been asked to evaluate and vote on since I was elected to the House, so I have been around long enough to have seen them from all sides. In that time, I have seen both good and bad fiscal plans. Again, I have to say that I think budget 2013 is probably the most disappointing because of the federal fiscal strategy we are being asked to consider. It is not a strategy I think Canadians would really want us to support.
Let us have a bit of history. In 2006, the Conservative government came to power by making outlandish guarantees, and the Canadian public, or 39% of it anyway, bought those outlandish guarantees. In fact, the Conservatives promised to leave any notion of Conservative fiscal tendencies buried in a sea of red ink. At the time, the Prime Minister made the absurd commitment that he would somehow reduce taxes while also making radical spending increases, and we all know that this does not work. Of course, what did the Prime Minister do? He increased spending, a move that erased the $14-billion surplus the Conservatives inherited from the Liberals when they came into power. What did they do with that? They immediately turned around and invested it. Some people would say that they used that $14 billion of taxpayer money to buy the votes for the next election. Whatever happened, they got $14 billion and spent it very quickly. I can only imagine that Brian Mulroney would have loved to have had something like $14 billion to spend on all the things he wanted to try to achieve with a majority government.
Unfortunately, once the Prime Minister had recklessly spent the cupboard bare, he started increasing income taxes, payroll taxes. Then the Conservatives found new and creative ways to levy hefty fees and tariffs on everyday essentials, such as cancer wigs, household appliances, home heating oil and even blankets. Then, of course, what came? It was a severe rollback of vital income supports and social systems that low-income Canadians rely on each day for survival. The current government slashed support for seniors; attacked middle-class families; and advanced policies that all but slam the door on anyone who is sick, elderly, underemployed or generally working class.
However, this is not the first time Canada's finances have been run into the ground at the hands of the so-called Conservative Party. The last time a Conservative government actually balanced a federal budget in Canada was 101 years ago, in 1912. I know that the Conservatives would like to rewrite history, but they cannot erase everything. That is clearly in the history books. The last time any Conservative government ever balanced a budget was 101 years ago. When we hear all this wonderful pie-in-the-sky stuff, we have to keep that in mind. That Prime Minister was Robert Borden. He too inherited a surplus from a good Liberal predecessor, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Just as the current government did, Borden managed to maintain it for only one year before dropping into deficit. It sounds as if our current Prime Minister is following the Borden example through excessive spending and reckless budgeting.
Between 2006 and 2008, the Conservatives put Canada back into the red, well before, not after, there was any recession. Well before, we were already in debt. Despite their rolling promises of restraint and prudence, they have not balanced the books since.
Now in budget 2013, the Conservatives promise that they will eliminate the deficit by 2015. Of course, they have made that promise before, and they just cannot seem to hit their targets. So far, the Conservatives have missed every target, but they expect us to believe that on the eve of the next federal election, somehow they are going to have fixed up the mess and will have balanced the budget.
I think a closer look at the financial plan would provide every reason for all of us as parliamentarians, and all of us as taxpayers, to be very suspicious of the pie-in-the-sky numbers that the Conservatives are talking about.
It has been said by my colleague from Wascana that the Conservative playbook contains seven simple tricks.
They inflate revenues by basing their fiscal planning on optimistic projections of economic growth. They ignore the reality, as they have before, that their numbers have never been correct. Time and time again their forecasts have been proven to be wrong, as both the IMF and the Bank of Canada have done once again in the past month.
They also create the illusion of financial flexibility. Conservatives have lowballed the reserves that should be in place to serve as fiscal shock absorbers against future economic setbacks. They have no contingency plan other than spending on the national credit card.
When a government department does not use all of its budget, the excess money lapses back to the treasury. The Conservatives are counting on very large lapses over the next several years. In other words, they are making big announcements, hoping that everything will go the way they want it to go.
While cracking down on those who do not pay their taxes is an absolute necessity, and for that we give them two points of credit, the Conservatives claim of a balanced budget depends heavily upon quickly collecting billions in unpaid taxes. That seems highly improbable, given that they are also chopping millions of dollars from the same agency that is supposed to be going after the cheaters.
For big programs like infrastructure, the government claims to be increasing investments. We talked about that a bit earlier. However, any increases are actually years away, and our cities and FCM know that. It is a trick called “back-end loading”. In reality, the build Canada infrastructure budget has been slashed, not increased by $1.5 billion, in each of the next two years.
Despite false claims to the contrary, the government is increasing taxes in dozens of nefarious ways, on everything from hospital parking fees to blankets. The two biggest types of Conservative tax hikes are higher tariffs on imported goods and higher employment insurance payroll taxes. Again, this would hurt our small businesses in Canada that we need to be promoting.
Then there is the one that they are forever planning: using all these tricks to concoct the false illusion of a balanced budget by 2015. The Conservatives will claim to have met their fiscal objective just before an election, and before proof to the contrary can become available we will be back into another election.
We all know that people struggle with their day-to-day expenses, from diapers to Kleenex, to formula and healthy food. The cost of raising a family is growing in Canada. We all know seniors who rely upon that monthly OAS/GIS cheque to keep their lights on and food on the table. This is in our rich Canada. We all know of someone who is desperately looking for work so they can keep their family in their home. These are the people who budget 2013 has forgotten: working-class Canadians who do not fit into the Conservative plan.
The Conservatives are trying to trick Canadians into thinking they have the experience necessary to champion the economy, but in reality they are little more than professional grifters with a billion-dollar publicly funded advertising budget that is constantly telling us how well we are doing with the economic action plan that is paid for by them. It might be time for the Prime Minister to admit that while there are solutions, he is not thinking of them.
The budget includes a bail-in regime that would allow banks to generate capital by dipping into the savings of their account holders. The budget increases taxes and tariffs on middle-income Canadians and businesses, and the budget abdicates federal responsibility for a range of important scientific, social and economic programs.
I think budget 2013 betrays the trust of Canadians and shows just how devoid of compassion and trust they are.
Mr. Speaker, I am fully aware of the fact that events in other countries far away may not seem like a worthy subject for an emergency debate. Nevertheless, after the events of this weekend in and over Syria, the statements made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs with respect to the possible use of chemical weapons and reports today that no one is quite certain who exactly has access to these weapons and what their potential impact would be, and in light of the fact that over 70,000 civilians have been killed in Syria, that the violence is continuing and, in fact, escalating and that the refugee situation in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon has become even more serious, I think this subject is worthy of an emergency debate. I would hope that you would consider it to be worthy of an immediate response by the House.
I do not think we can go on much longer without actually talking about this as a Parliament. I realize full well that the attention of many people is on other events that go on in the House from day to day. Still, we have to recognize that in terms of the threat to the security not only of the Middle East but of the whole world, this situation would certainly appear to be deteriorating rapidly. I think it is necessary for the House to become more engaged in dealing with its impact on civilians, its impact on Syria's neighbours and its impact on the security of the world so that, I would hope, we would be in a position to respond to it.
My colleague from Wascana has reminded me quite rightly that it is also important for us to realize the impact these events are having on Syrian Canadians and on a diaspora that is quite widespread in Canada and around the world. They have an enormous sense of frustration in not seeing an adequate response by Canada, among many other countries, to the extent of the tragedy under way in Syria.
In point of fact, Mr. Speaker, the total federal tax burden as a share of our gross domestic product is at its lowest level since 1965. Some $200 billion in tax relief, $3,200 for the average family and almost all of those tax cuts opposed by the member for Wascana and the Liberal Party.
Why does the member not just 'fess up? We know the Liberals want to raise the GST back from 5% to 6% to 7%. Do they not?
Mr. Speaker, I would point out to my hon. colleague from Wascana that the budget was actually tabled in the House almost 50 days ago. There has been ample discussion in question period about some of the items referred to in the budget. There have been answers to clarify many of those questions, and we know that this place always gives good answers to good questions.
I am not sure which Liberal finance minister's budget it was in 2001, but I would remind that hon. member that in 2001 there was a slightly larger bill than the present budget implementation bill and closure was forced on that. Members had three days in the House of Commons to debate that bill. There was no option for it to go to more committees than just one.
I would suggest that through transparency we are providing more opportunities for politicians to debate the budget implementation bill and more opportunities for witnesses to state their concerns or their support for what is in the budget.
Order, please. The hon. member for Wascana still has the floor.
The hon. member for Wascana.
The electoral district of Wascana (Saskatchewan) has a population of 75,717 with 57,746 registered voters and 172 polling divisions.
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