Mr. Speaker, I thank my cynical friend from Skeena—Bulkley Valley for his comments.
What we have an abiding—not new-found—love for is common sense and balance. My friend calls the criteria impossible to meet. The court outlined factors that the minister must consider for applications. They seem like common sense to me: the impact of such a facility on crime rates; the local conditions indicating a need for such a site; the regulatory structure in place to support the facility; the resources available to support its maintenance; and the expression of community support or opposition. None of those sounds radical to me.
My friend mentions support from various folks. That is a fair comment because there are some. I will remind the House of the comments by the president of the Canadian Police Association that I quoted in my speech, which basically said it is vital for the views of local police to be taken into account, among other things. Therefore, this is not a new-found love for anything other than simple common sense and balance.
Before I recognize the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, I know all members will be very excited this weekend to take in the 101st Grey Cup. I know the House probably has divided loyalties, but for the rest of the day as we sit here and contemplate, let us think of the foresight and, indeed, maybe providential choice by the Fathers of Confederation to choose green to be the colour of the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, I hope my hon. friend from Skeena—Bulkley Valley will start listening, because I am trying to answer his question. It is unfortunate that he mischaracterized completely our position and what our leader said and did when he was in Washington. To say that we have sanctioned the Conservatives' energy policy or their environmental policy would mean that he has to have had his ears plugged for years. He certainly did not listen to my speech if that is what he thinks. He certainly has not listened to any of the speeches members on this side of the House have been making for a long time.
Where the NDP have really blown it is that they fail to understand the economics of this. They fail to recognize that the product we are talking about will be refined where it is cheapest to do so, which is typically near a large urban area. However, they decided they wanted to interfere in that process, that they should decide where the bitumen is upgraded and the oil refined. They have failed to recognize that even if they are right that they should be determining where this should be done, the resulting product would still have to move somehow. How would it be done unless there are pipelines like Keystone and energy east?
The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-4, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures. It was interesting to hear the Conservative House leader talk about the planned deficit reduction and how the Conservatives were ahead by $7 billion. A good question that would be welcomed at some point for the government to answer is exactly how much of that deficit reduction was as a result of money that did not flow to approved programs and services. We have certainly heard from communities that money they expected to see or proposals they had submitted had not been funded, despite the government announcements. Therefore, it would be good for the House to know that.
This bill is the second act to implement budget 2013. It is another budget implementation bill that is about 300 pages. This legislation amends or repeals 70 pieces of legislation. Some of what it tackles is: it strips health and safety officers of their powers and puts nearly all of these powers in the hands of the minister; it significantly weakens the ability of employees to refuse to work in unsafe conditions; it moves to eliminate binding arbitration as a method to resolve disputes in the public service; and it guts Canada's most venerable scientific research institution, the National Research Council.
I want to thank our House leader, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, for raising the fact that once again the government has limited debate. This is the fourth attempt by the Conservatives to evade scrutiny by parliamentarians and the public. In the past we had Bill C-38, Bill C-45 and Bill C-60. Canadians deserve an opportunity to hear a detailed, thorough, in-depth study of such wide-ranging pieces of legislation, yet we have the limiting of the ability of the House to scrutinize the legislation. Why should we care about that?
In the past we saw the government bring forward legislation that had errors in it. Because of the complexity of the legislation and the length of time we had to review it, the government had to bring forward subsequent legislation to correct that.
This legislation is fixing something that happened due to a technical mistake in Bill C-60, which would have doubled the taxation level of credit unions and caisse populaires. In September, tax experts discovered that the changes made in Bill C-60 would result in Quebec taxpayers being overburdened on dividends compared to taxpayers in other provinces.
Because I only have 10 minutes, I will focus on three particular aspects of the legislation.
First, the legislation would reduce the number of permanent members on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
Second, it would fix the mistakes with respect to the tax hike on credit unions.
Third, it would push ahead the Conservative plan on the $350 million tax hike on labour sponsored venture capital funds.
With respect to veterans, Bill C-4 would reduce the number of permanent members on the Veterans Review and Appeal Board from 28 to 25. What is disappointing is that it was an opportunity for the Conservatives to bring forward separate legislation that looked to improve the Conservative record on veterans affairs. We know the NDP has not always been happy with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, but simply changing numbers will not improve the situation.
In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, the veterans office has closed and veterans are now forced to go further afield in order to get the services they require.
Just so Canadians understand a bit about the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, of the 76,446 Canadian Forces' clients of Veterans Affairs Canada, 1,400 are totally and permanently disabled and 406 of them will not receive a pension or allowance from the Canadian Forces.
The plan proposed by the ombudsman is based on an actuarial analysis to accurately determine for the first time how current benefits neglect certain veterans and will continue to neglect them unless changes are made quickly. Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent has said that more than 400 of the most severely disabled veterans in Canada are not eligible for the Canadian Forces pension plan, while hundreds of other permanently disabled veterans could suffer the same fate and risk spending their retirement years at a lower standard of living than they had before the age of 65 due to sufficient income.
Certainly in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan we hear regularly from veterans and their families about their difficulties in accessing services, that they cannot get access to some services that they expected and that the money that is available simply does not respect and honour the service to our country that many veterans made.
I have spoken in the House previously about my father being a long-serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces and I am proud to say that I grew up on army bases from coast to coast.
I have a letter from a former member of the RCMP that talks about the assault on health care benefits for members of the armed forces and the RCMP. I will read a brief note from that because I think this is part of what the Veterans Appeal Board hears about the discrepancy and the difficulties in funding and whether a member is entitled to funding. The member said:
I have written...expressing my concern and profound disappointment with the fact that the government has arbitrarily decided to claw back so many necessary treatments after we risked our health and indeed our lives...I was assured that my health and the welfare of my family would be looked after. That sacred trust has been unabashedly broken.
While that in and of itself is repugnant, my greater fear is that once the members begin to see that their efforts in ensuring the safety of Canadians may actually result in huge costs to them, they will necessarily become more hesitant to engage in actions that risk their health and well being. This policy is short-sighted, unfair and contrary to Canadian values.
When we ask members of the armed forces or members of the RCMP to risk life and limb, we need to respect that when they come back to Canada or when they retire from the forces, they are treated in a fair and respectful manner. It would be incumbent upon the government to actually work with veterans and their families to ensure the services provided are adequate.
The second piece I will touch on is fixing the mistake on the credit unions' tax hike.
The bill introduces changes to fix a legislative error the Conservatives made by rushing the last omnibus budget bill through. Their mistake hiked taxes on credit unions to 28%, instead of the intended 15%.
I will read from the Credit Union Central of Manitoba remarks to a House of Commons standing committee on Bill C-60. The reason I quote from that previous presentation is because it highlights the importance of credit unions in our communities. In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan we have a couple of different credit unions and they are very important in all of our communities, but in particular, in some of our smaller communities. The Credit Union Central of Manitoba said:
Many credit union branches are in communities that other financial institutions vacated because they were not deemed profitable enough. Our business model, paired with fair tax policy like the additional deduction, has made it both possible and attractive for credit unions to grow in places where our competitors have retreated.
It goes on to say that the removal in Bill C-60 of the additional deductions of credit unions would simply compound the impact of regulatory demands by requiring credit unions to pay a higher portion of their net income in federal tax and further reduce their ability to build capital, invest in new technology and stay competitive.
This was a brief that was presented when Bill C-60 was in the House for a reading and because we had limited time to debate that, there was not enough attention paid to that and other presentations on the impact of Bill C-60, so now we are amending that mistake.
It concludes its presentation by saying:
I would argue that this tax deduction has proven to be good public policy. If it were to remain in place it would continue to be good public policy because it will help credit unions provide effective competition in the financial services sector and assist with the federal government's stated desire to increase competition in this sector. It would also represent good public policy by helping maintain strong financial services in as many communities as possible and contribute to the sustainability of the many communities in rural Canada where credit unions are the only financial institution.
On the venture capital program, this has been a very successful program in British Columbia. There was an evaluation of the venture capital program and it indicated that not only did it contribute to job creation, but it also contributed to the fact that it helped grow companies which then went on to expand and become more successful companies.
Removing the supports for that program is unfortunate, particularly when the government continues to talk about the importance of job creation and supporting small business. Therefore, we would like to see the government reverse its decision on that.
I will continue to do my best to try to encourage all members to observe the rules of decorum during question period and I will pay particular attention in the next few days to the issue the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has raised.
I suspect the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley will be posing the Thursday question.
As members are no doubt aware, the government House leader came back to the original point that was raised just last evening. Not that I would go through the entire process of how a ruling comes before the House, however, I am now in the process of going back and looking at the arguments that have been made. We now have the response from the government, further interventions from the member for Avalon and the member for Timmins—James Bay, and again the hon. government House leader.
I do not feel I need to hear more on the subject. I think the facts have been laid out. Certainly if through the deliberations and consultations I feel that there may be the need for more explanation, I can certainly come back to the House and ask for that. However, at this point in time I am satisfied that I have heard the main points of the matter.
The member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley did give notice to the Chair of a new question of privilege, and I will give him the floor now.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to join in a debate that I find increasingly difficult to stay out of. The more I listen to some of the diversionary tactics being put forward by my Conservative colleagues as they try to obscure the depth and the breadth of the real substance of the issue that we are debating today, the more increasingly uncomfortable I get. They either do not get it or they are deliberately trying to avoid the reality of what they are doing today to undermine, sabotage and diminish our parliamentary democracy as we see it today.
I agree with my colleague from St. John's and also my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley who made the point that there is nothing untoward, nothing particularly unconstitutional about prorogation. However, when that legitimate parliamentary procedural tactic is abused in a systematic way, it undermines and diminishes the integrity of the parliamentary democracy that both sides of the House dedicate ourselves to.
Maybe the masterminds, the architects of their strategy, realize it, but I am not sure some of the backbenchers realize what a fragile construct we enjoy in our Westminster parliamentary democracy. It requires the two requisite parts to play their roles, to effectively debate and test the merits of legislation put before us. Our strict and rigid guidelines with which to do that are being systematically undermined as we speak because there is nothing normal about using prorogation to avoid being accountable to members of the House of Commons, and by extension to the people of Canada that those members of the House of Commons represent.
By the same reasoning it is completely an affront to democracy to bypass after prorogation the normal negotiations that often take place in order to put certain pieces of legislation of particular merit and virtue back where they were before prorogation.
What is happening today and what my colleague from St. John's was trying to point out is that the government is trying to do an end run on all of that. The Conservatives are trying to have it both ways. They prorogued Parliament to avoid accountability for the increasingly embarrassing Senate scandals. They delayed for an extra six weeks because they said they needed more time to craft a new legislative agenda for the fall session. That is what they told the general public. Yet when we have taken this extra six weeks off so that they can presumably recalibrate their legislative agenda, the first item of business, Motion No. 2, would reinstate everything that happened before. Everything would start exactly where it left off as if prorogation never happened. The Conservatives cannot have it both ways. They should not be able to have it both ways. I would argue that it is an affront and it should offend the sensibilities of any member of Parliament who considers himself or herself a democrat.
The Senate scandals are perhaps deeper and more fundamental than we even realize. I am sure Conservative members are reeling with shock and horror at every revelation that comes forward. It now becomes apparent that the good senator currently at the eye of the hurricane is not going to go gently into that good night. In fact, he is going to go down kicking and screaming, and he fully intends to take a lot of people down with him.
The Conservatives have not done a very good job of avoiding the very reason that I believe they prorogued Parliament, but let us put it in context.
The whole idea of prorogation and a new Speech from the Throne is to put forward a new vision for where the government wants to take the country. A Speech from the Throne should not simply tweak existing programs or make minor alterations to what had already been under way. We did not hear anything of substance in the Speech from the Throne to deal with what I believe is the biggest problem that Canada has right now, and that is the fact that it has now become increasingly obvious and declared by the courts that the 2011 federal election was decided by widespread electoral fraud.
One would think that the ruling party, the government in power, would be concerned by this now that the courts have ruled that in 246 ridings, by their count and they are not finished their examination, there was widespread fraud that sought to undermine the democratic process and deny Canadians the right to cast their ballot in a free and fair election, free of intimidation, harassment and molestation. In fact, people systematically tried to deny Canadians the right to vote. That should horrify every person in this room. Yet the Speech from the Throne is silent on it and there is nothing in the legislative agenda to correct it in the 18 months or two years that we have before we go to the polls again in another federal election. We are just as vulnerable to those who would seek to defraud the electoral system and steal another federal election by cheating. It concerns me that not a single word in the Speech from the Throne deals with this, whether it is robocalls or widespread electoral fraud. As I have said, people should be horrified by this.
The Conservatives have made reference to the loophole loans bill. In fact, we used to call it the Mazda bill because it was the Conservative member for Mississauga—Streetsville who used his own Mazda dealership to loan himself a quarter of a million dollars to run his election campaign. Of course, when is a loan not a loan? If one never pays it back it is not really a loan, it is a gift or a donation. This is what gave cause to bring in some kind of a loophole bill to plug this loophole. We are not going to have any satisfaction in that either.
We have a problem. We have a serious democratic deficit. We have a democracy that is really only a facsimile of a democracy. I mean, our democracy today in 2013 reminds me of one of those California strawberries or those tomatoes from the supermarket that taste like cardboard. It looks like a tomato but it does not taste anything like a tomato. That is kind of what the public sees. They see us going through the motions of a democracy here, but in actual fact the people across the aisle with their logic that the end justifies the means in every single case have been sabotaging and undermining this fragile democratic structure that we call the Westminster parliamentary system in every way imaginable.
Going back to the widespread electoral fraud, one has to look to motive and opportunity I suppose any time one looks for who committed an offence. The courts have been very helpful to us, but failed to point out specifically, or could not say specifically, that it was the Conservative Party of Canada that orchestrated this widespread electoral fraud. However, the courts did say that it was the Conservative Party of Canada's CIMS database that was used to orchestrate this widespread electoral fraud. One looks to who would benefit from cheating at this level. I mean, why would all the NDP and Liberal voters be phoned in a riding and lied to that their polling station had moved? I do not think we would do that ourselves.
These are some of the concerns that I have as I listen to this debate about what is really red herrings and smoke screens. We are debating the relative merits and virtues of having a museum change its name, when the big picture here is that we have a democratic deficit that is severely problematic. I do not know how we can continue unless that is dealt with. Therefore, if one is going to prorogue Parliament and come back with a Speech from the Throne, one is either negligent or demonstrating wilful blindness if one does not talk about what I think is the most serious thing facing us today as members of Parliament.
I have mentioned the political loans bill, but I would also like to point out some of the things that are happening in Parliament today, never mind political loans and electoral fraud. There is the whole notion of omnibus bills. We are dealing with an omnibus bill now. Essentially this motion is omnibus by nature in that it affects however many pieces of legislation introduced in the 41st Parliament.
However, there are two things I would like to point out about what is problematic in the period of time leading up to the situation in which we find ourselves. This whole notion of omnibus bills is, by its very nature, undemocratic and has to be challenged. We have 60 or 70 pieces of legislation rolled into one with a few hours of debate and a few hours of committee hearings. Some of the things that happened within those omnibus bills are wide, sweeping and deserve a great deal of national attention and scrutiny. How much time did we really spend in the House of Commons on the issue of changing the age of retirement from 65 to 67? How much time were we allowed? How much time at committee could we call witnesses to ask them about the need to change the age of retirement to 67 years old?
There were pieces of legislation affected by these omnibus bills that had huge impacts on industrial sectors where not a word was spoken. It was by accident that we stumbled across one bill that was repealed and was called the construction fair wage and hours of work act. It set minimum wages in the construction industry. Then the same omnibus bill has changes to temporary foreign workers legislation where people can get a temporary foreign worker in 10 days. In one step, they would eliminate the minimum wage laws for construction workers to where people can pay them the provincial minimum wage, and in the second step they invite contractors to bring in temporary foreign workers within 10 days. How is a fair contractor in this country who hires construction workers at a living wage ever going to compete on another job if contractors can now pay a minimum wage on a federal construction project and bring in temporary foreign workers? These things would have come up if we had the opportunity to test the merits of their arguments with rigorous, robust debate as was intended by the very structure of the House of Commons.
Then these things go to committee stage where they also gerrymander the type of witnesses we can hear. Committees used to be the last bastion of some non-partisan co-operation, where we would leave our political baggage at the door and do what is right for the country. I have been a member of Parliament for awhile here. I was here when the Liberals had a majority government and I was the only NDP member on that committee. I used to move amendments to pieces of legislation and have them succeed. That sounds like pie in the sky today, it sounds like a fantasy.
Mr. Speaker, do you know how many amendments have been passed? You probably do, or the table can help us.
Not a single amendment to a single piece of legislation in the entire 41st Parliament has been allowed. Does that mean the Conservatives have a monopoly on all good ideas? Does that mean they would not benefit from any suggestion from anyone? Amendments are being denied and declined on the basis of where they come from, not the merits of the language.
This is what I mean about undermining some of the most fundamental principles of our parliamentary democracy. It is almost absurd when we think about it. The Conservatives will not allow any controversial subjects to ever be debated anymore. We used to have some really interesting exchanges. Studies that I think elevated the standard of political discourse in the whole country occurred at parliamentary committees once upon a time, but not anymore. If we suggest a study that is any more challenging than pablum, we will not get it through. The Conservatives will deny it. They want to tie us up with busy work for 18 months, studying nothing and producing reports that go nowhere and gather dust. That is the state of the nation.
I am not proud of it and in fact I think we are wasting our time. In actual fact, our democracy is in tatters. We are getting these omnibus pieces of legislation so there is no scrutiny, no oversight, no due diligence, pieces of legislation flying past us. We hardly even get a chance to read them by the time this guy, the House leader for the Conservatives moves closure. He sometimes moves closure on the same day that he introduces legislation. There is nothing unconstitutional about time allocation or closure. It is permitted by our rules, but it is supposed to be the exception, not the rule. When I asked how many amendments were allowed into legislation, I could pose the same question about how many pieces of legislation had time allocation applied to them. The answer is easy: all of them, every single bill, every stage of every single bill. Time allocation and time allocation, it is absurd.
I would not have believed 10 years ago that this would be the state of the House of Commons and that our parliamentary democracy would have been so undermined, so eroded and so diminished that we find ourselves in this almost embarrassing situation. That is what I mean when I say we have a mere facsimile of a democracy. It is enough, perhaps, to fool an, unfortunately, quite unengaged public, but for those of us who are locked into this situation, it is depressing. I have talked about the parliamentary committees that used to be a last bastion for some semblance of co-operation. They, too, are gone.
The Conservatives seem to have the attitude that the winner takes it all. In actual fact, when a party wins a razor thin majority, with 39% of the popular vote, the system is such that there is an obligation to take into consideration some of the points of view put forward by the majority of Canadians who, quite frankly, did not vote for the Conservatives. They voted for the people on this side, and they are putting their ideas through their representatives to have them added to the mix and to make good legislation that is for the whole country. That is the way it is supposed to work. However, again, it sounds like some distant fantasy dream now, because I have not seen any evidence of that kind of responsibility whatsoever.
I have a real concern that there are fundamental changes going on in society. There is an agenda going on. There might be two parallel legislative agendas going on. One on the face of it and another, far more sinister, situation going on behind the scenes. I am concerned that the Conservatives have essentially launched a war on the middle class. I saw a bumper sticker the last time I was in Washington that said “at least the war on the middle class is going well”. The same could be applied to this country.
The Conservatives are consistently trying to undermine the influence of unions. There is going to be an attack on labour. They are running out of red meat issues and hot button issues that they can raise funds for their base with. I am surprised they gave away the gun registry and that they finally did do away with it because that was the real money-maker for them, was it not? They were fundraising on the gun registry for years. That has gone.
The Conservatives do not have the Wheat Board to raise funds on anymore, so how are they going to excite their base? They could pick on the public service pension plans, they could pick on unions and they could try to pit worker against worker. It is easy pickings. It is the last refuge of the scoundrel to start picking on the public service and blame workers' pensions for the deficit hole that they have dug for other reasons. We can almost predict that is coming down the pipe.
The Conservatives are going to declare war on what they call “legacy costs”. They have already done away with the minimum wage laws associated with construction workers, the largest employer and the largest industrial sector in the country. Now the Conservatives are going to pick on public servants and say that their pensions are too fat. They will get into the Sun Media newspaper chain and try to convince other working people that the public servants have big, fat pensions.
It is one of these mug's games that is offensive, but it is effective. I can almost guarantee that the Conservatives will be fundraising on that.
I would like to go back, if I can, to another element of what I believe is widespread electoral fraud and some of the examples. I have an example of one guy who phoned me during the federal election, Gerald McIvor, who is an aboriginal man who lives in my riding. He received a phone call on election day, telling him that his voting station had moved across town. He replied that it could not be across town as he and his wife had just voted right across the street. He could see the voting station from his window. They had just got back from voting, so the caller was wrong. He demanded to know who it was, but the caller refused to say and hung up.
This is the kind of thing that went on right across the country and nobody is talking about it. We have been waiting for legislation to fix this since God knows when. We would think that if the Speech from the Throne would create a new vision for Canada, there would at least be some recognition of the problem that took place in the last election, so we could go with some confidence into the next federal election, knowing that our forefathers went to war to fight for democracy and that it is still alive and well in our country.
I put it to the House that it is not. It is sick, it is tattered and it desperately needs attention.
For the benefit of all hon. members, while there is indeed a list of unparliamentary terms and words in Beauchesne's, the practise of the House is to look at how words are used in the context of whether they cause disorder in the House, and so on. I note that in this particular case it was not in reference to an individual member or parliamentarian, but was rather a general reference.
That said, members should be discouraged from taking up the kind of language that can cause other disorder in the House. I certainly appreciate the comments of hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, although the end of her comments was not necessarily helpful toward creating the kind of goodwill that we know works well for a good civil debate in the House of Commons.
We will now go to the response. The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.
Pursuant to Standing Order 67.1, there will now be a 30-minute question period.
We will maintain the same rotation that we did last session. I will recognize the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.
It being Thursday, I understand that the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley would like to ask the traditional Thursday question.
The electoral district of Skeena--Bulkley Valley (British Columbia) has a population of 91,926 with 61,318 registered voters and 201 polling divisions.
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