Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.)
|| That, given the undisputed privileges of Parliament under Canada's constitution, including the absolute power to require the government to produce uncensored documents when requested, the government's continuing refusal to comply with reasonable requests for documents, particularly related to the cost of the government's tax cut for the largest corporations and the cost of the government's justice and public safety agenda, represents a violation of the rights of Parliament, and this House hereby orders the government to provide every document requested by the Standing Committee on Finance on November 17, 2010, by March 7, 2011.
He said: Mr. Speaker, for many months in this House and across the country, the Liberals have been pointing out the cruel irony of the Conservative government preaching a new-found doctrine of so-called fiscal restraint. It certainly was not there between 2006, when it first took power, and late 2008, when the global recession arrived.
During that period of time, the Conservatives increased federal spending by three times the rate of inflation. They wiped out all of the contingency reserves and prudence factors that had been built into federal budgets to serve as fiscal shock absorbers against sudden adverse developments. They put the country back into deficit again before, not because of, but before there was any recession to blame.
Now, suddenly, they have religion. Now they are going to get prudent all of a sudden, so they are telling average Canadian families there is no room for them on the government's agenda. There is no room for family care, no room for early childhood development, no room for help with the costs of post-secondary education and no room for a better Canada pension plan, while they simultaneously load billions of dollars on big, expensive, high-risk Conservative spending schemes like $10 billion to $13 billion on prisons and jails, like $16 billion to $21 billion on stealth fighter jet airplanes with no mission statement and no competitive bidding to get value for money, and $6 billion every year in extra tax cuts for the richest 5% of Canadian corporations, not for small business, just the big ones.
For months we have asked the government repeatedly to provide a factual rationale for these odd and bad choices but we have received no response, Therefore, last November, in the Standing Committee on Finance, our critic, the hon. member for Kings—Hants, put down a detailed motion demanding a full financial analysis. The Parliamentary Budget Officer was asking for much the same thing. Again, there was no response.
Belatedly, while still concealing all the details, the Conservatives came up with the lame excuse that details could not be provided because of cabinet confidences. That was clearly false.
Our Liberal finance critic took the case a step further last week by raising a question of privilege in the House. Again, nothing but belligerence and obfuscation came from the government.
Two nights ago we took another step. We gave notice of the motion that we are moving as the subject matter of this opposition day debate, a House order for the production of documents. Suddenly, at long last, there were rumours that the government might have something to table, some answer to the questions we had been asking.
We have no idea what that rumour entails. We will look into the details, if there are any details, but given the months of stonewalling, given the last minute, death-bed nature of this repentance, if it is one, and given this government's always grudging attitude toward Parliament's unmistakable right to know, the motion we have selected today remains vital and necessary. This is all about a government that is afraid of the truth and determined to hide it in a vast variety of ways.
Not since 1873, when Sir John A. Macdonald was trying to evade responsibility for his railway scandals, has a Canadian Parliament been as abused as this one today by government schemes to obscure transparency, stifle accountability and hide the truth. Never before has a Canadian government been as pathologically partisan, ideological and obsessed with secrecy and control.
It is Conservative standard practice to so limit and manipulate information that it becomes impossible for Parliament to do its job of holding government to account. It becomes impossible for Canadians to judge their government because hard facts are simply concealed. It becomes impossible to know in truth what is going on and, without knowledge, democracy is impaired.
Oh, yes, the Conservatives can pass all of the fine-sounding accountability acts they want, but these become a mockery when the Prime Minister prorogues Parliament twice in one year, padlocks the central institution of our democracy twice in one year to evade tough questions about his government's misbehaviour. All that fine legislation becomes a mockery when the government sends its ministerial staffers to deliberately and repeatedly interfere with access to information laws. It becomes a mockery when the government condones, even encourages, ministers to falsify documents and then tell the opposite of the truth.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer, a position designed and created by the Prime Minister and an officer personally selected by the Prime Minister, warned this week that Parliament was being subverted by the government's obsession with secrecy. He cannot do his job, and MPs cannot do their jobs when the government will not provide the necessary information or, when it does provide it, the information comes out in such garbled or falsified form.
With respect to the two specific requests for information mentioned in the motion before the House today, one relating to extra corporate tax cuts for the privileged few and the other to enormous new prison costs, Mr. Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and every other relevant authority have debunked the notion that this information can be hidden from Canadians because it somehow involves a cabinet confidence. It does not.
One journalist noted the other day that the government uses the false excuse of cabinet confidence to hide information in the same way that Richard Nixon used the excuse of executive privilege. Both are equally odious and wrong, but it is a telling point that the Conservative government seems to aspire to Nixonian standards, complete with its own list of enemies who need to be silenced.
More importantly, Mr. Speaker, the claim of cabinet confidence is simply irrelevant, as you made abundantly clear in your landmark ruling on April 27, 2010, about the obligations of government to produce documents when requested to do so by Parliament.
After an exhaustive review of all the arguments and all the authorities going back 125 years, the Speaker reached three essential conclusions: first, that holding the government to account is the House of Commons' fundamental right, undisputed privilege and, in fact, an obligation; second, that in order to discharge that obligation, the House of Commons must have unfettered access to complete and uncensored information; and third, that any limitation on the method by which that access to information is accomplished must be determined not by the government, but by the House of Commons. The House of Commons decides the process, not the government. As the Speaker said so clearly last April 27, when the House duly adopts an order following proper notice and debate, as we are doing today in this debate, the government must comply.
Why is the information about prison costs so important? It is because Canadians need to verify the work of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. He determined that one or two of the government's crime bills would increase costs to taxpayers by $10 billion to $13 billion, and that little, if any, of that new cost had been budgeted. Where will it come from and at whose expense? Parliament needs to know. Canadians also need to know the additional costs associated with 18 other bills of a similar nature for which no cost analysis has yet been provided and for which no budget provision has been made.
Canadians also need to know if every bit of attrition in the size of the public service, which is the Conservatives' one and only plan to reduce the deficit, is being more than offset by the hiring of new prison guards, so that at the bottom line there would really be no attrition at all and, therefore, no savings at all and, therefore, no deficit plan at all.
Canadians need to know how many mega billions in total will be spent on U.S.-style megajails, which have proven in America to be a failure in terms of public safety.
Why are jails the Conservative governments biggest job creation plan? Why are jails the Conservatives substitute for social housing or mental health services or aboriginal inclusion or education? These questions need answers.
Furthermore, why is the information about extra corporate tax cuts important? It is important because Canadians need to verify the analysis done by the Department of Finance showing that corporate tax cuts are the least cost-effective way to generate immediate jobs. That is the federal Department of Finance saying that corporate tax cuts are the least cost-effective way to generate immediate jobs.
Canadians also need to verify the work of the chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada, who says that the job creation value of the government's extra corporate tax cuts is “trivial”, “a drop in the bucket”.
Canadians need to know what would be gained by extra corporate tax cuts on top of the 35% reduction in corporate tax rates in Canada that has taken place over the last 10 years. Since Canada already had the lowest corporate tax rate in the G7, except for the UK, before these latest Conservative tax cuts; since Canada already had a 10 point or 25% tax rate advantage over the United States; and since Canada already had a globally competitive corporate tax rate before these latest cuts, what is to be gained by more, and for whom?
Six billion more dollars in borrowed money will need to be repaid at some future date by our children and grandchildren to finance an extra cut now for the biggest and wealthiest 5% of Canadian businesses. To a lot of Canadians that sounds out of whack. Only 1 business in 20 stands to gain, only the privileged few.
Meanwhile, every employer and employee in Canada, including every small business that employs a single soul, is going to be paying more taxes this year because the Conservatives are imposing increased job-killing payroll taxes through higher employment insurance premiums. This year, next year, the year after that and the year after that, up and up those payroll taxes will go.
The Conservatives will rake in $1.3 billion more this year in these higher payroll taxes, then $3 billion more next year, then $5 billion more the year after that and then $7 billion more. Over four years more than $16 billion will be taken from every employer and every employee on every Canadian job. Most especially, small business will pay.
In the perverse logic of the Conservative government, it cuts taxes on the corporate profits of big business while it increases taxes on the jobs created by small business. It just does not make sense when they can find billions to blow on jets and jails and extra corporate tax cuts.
It also does not make any sense why the Conservatives give the back of their hand to average middle income Canadian families struggling to make ends meet.
Is there help for family caregivers looking after sick or aging loved ones at home? No, the government says that would be reckless. Is there help for young parents looking for a child care space so they can earn a decent income for their family? No, the Conservatives say, because they just do not believe in that.
Is there room for a voluntary supplementary Canada pension plan to help secure a respectable retirement for two-thirds of Canadians who do not have adequate pensions? No, say the Conservatives. They will only promote private sector plans, even when that means expensive management fees, lower earnings, less participation and less security.
What about access to higher education? If a student gets the grades, should the student not get to go to university or college, or get the trades training he or she may need? From the Conservatives the answer is no, that students just do not matter as much as jets and jails and extra corporate tax cuts.
Canadians need the financial details that we have requested in our motion today in order to analyze these very strange Conservative priorities. However, this motion attacking unreasonable and destructive government secrecy is important for another reason too. The specific issues that we have mentioned are symptomatic of a much bigger problem, a government that so distrusts Canadians and is so obsessed with controlling everything all the time that, in the process, it erodes democracy.
I have mentioned the arbitrary padlocking of Parliament by prorogation; the tampering with access to information laws; and ministers falsifying documents, trying to cover up and then failing to be truthful.
I hear the Conservatives chuckling on the other side about their transgressions. Well, Canadians are not laughing.
However, there is so much more. The Conservatives instruct their ministerial staff to thumb their noses at parliamentary committees. Contrary to law, they refuse to appear and answer questions.
A Conservative senator warns women's groups to shut up if they ever want to gain anything from this malevolent government.
The nation's single best source of reliable data, Statistics Canada, previously admired around the world for its accuracy and integrity, is now crippled and dumbed down so that the government can base its decisions on bias and ideology rather than hard evidence.
Public servants are threatened and intimidated to keep their mouths shut, the most graphic cases being Richard Colvin, and also the scientists who work for Environment Canada.
Parliamentary watchdogs are systematically attacked, belittled and coerced into toeing the government's line or they get hounded out of office: Linda Keen at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission; Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer; the Chief Electoral Officer; the Ethics Commissioner; the Information Commissioner; the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development; Paul Kennedy, chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, Peter Tinsley, the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission; Munir Sheikh, the Chief Statistician; Colonel Stogran, Veterans Ombudsman; and the list goes on.
In addition to that, outside of government, dozens of groups and organizations are treated the same way, being put on the enemies list or hit list, including the Canadian Council on Learning; the Canadian Teachers' Federation; the Rights & Democracy organization; women's groups; and advocates for the poor and the disadvantaged. There are many more, including KAIROS, of course, which this government hated and wanted to silence so much that it went so far as to falsify a document and then tied itself up in knots.
That is typical of a Conservative culture of defeat. On our side, we will fight it every step of the way.
Mrs. Shelly Glover (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this very important motion concerning, among other things, the ongoing discussions at the finance committee on the Liberals' plan to increase taxes on job-creating businesses and, consequently, on workers, consumers and families. As a mother of five children, I can say that this would hurt my family, along with many others, particularly single mothers.
Before I begin, let me be clear up front that there has been some confusion as to what we are talking about with respect to our Conservative government's low tax plan. This is not a new plan. This is a plan that was first introduced in 2007 and passed by Parliament in 2007. This is a plan that has been in law since 2007. This is a plan that has been accounted for in the government's books since 2007. Most importantly, over 110,000 businesses have been making their investment and hiring decisions based on our low tax plan since 2007.
I note that at the time the Liberals were more than supportive of lowering business taxes. Indeed, this is what the Liberal leader had to say in the fall of 2007 on the subject. He stated:
|| I am convinced that a further reduction in the corporate tax rate cut is the right thing to do...How, for the sake of good jobs and rising living standards, can we encourage Canadian companies to increase their investments? The answer is simple... lower the corporate tax rate--
I repeat that good jobs and rising living standards are what the Liberal leader believed are affected by lowering corporate taxes. However, under their new leader, the Liberals have shifted even more dramatically to the left and embraced the business bashing rhetoric and tax and spend philosophy of their NDP coalition partner.
The Liberals' dramatic shift to the left, along with their reckless plan to hike taxes on business, is now the centre of debate here today. The tax hike plan is really getting Canadian businesses and the people who work for them very nervous, especially as they try to climb out of the worst global recession since the 1930s in a period of tentative recovery.
I know the sponsor of today's motion is from the province of Saskatchewan, which is where I was born. I would ask him to talk to his constituents and the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce. I am not sure that he has done that yet. If he had, I am not sure he would be so keen on demonizing businesses in his home province and advocating for punishing tax hikes.
I would ask him to listen to what the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce wrote in an open letter. It stated:
|| The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce is extremely disappointed to see the issue of planned business tax reductions, and the ability of Canada's businesses to foster sustainable economic growth, which has become hostage to political manoeuvring...
|| Following through on the business tax reduction agenda is critical to moving from government- and Canadian taxpayer-funded-stimulus to a private sector-led recovery. The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce believes improving the business climate to trigger private sector investment is the most significant economic issue now confronting Canada...
|| The alternative to that, of course, is an increase in taxes. We do not believe raising taxes would be good for growth or employment...
||...the tax reductions parliamentarians have endorsed since 2007 will free up capital to be put to work growing Canada's businesses and its economy... If parliamentarians renege on their commitment to continue with promised tax decreases, you can be certain that many businesses will not be able to pursue their plans.
I am going to suggest the people of Saskatchewan will not look too kindly on a politician who suggests that taxes be raised in their province, hurting their local businesses and costing them local jobs for their families. I am also going to suggest that the Liberal Party actually talk to small businesses. In recent weeks, shamefully, the Liberal Party has been standing up bizarrely claiming small businesses want to pay higher taxes.
To be clear, that is 100% wrong and Canadians need to know that. I know because I stood right beside Catherine Swift, the head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business when she said she supports our plan.
For the record let me quote what the CFIB actually said:
|| I'd just like to clarify that the corporate income tax reductions are not exclusively a big business issue for a lot of different reasons. The small and medium-sized business sector is very integrated with the large business sector in Canada. Therefore, measures that benefit one also benefit the other. We also have seen, right through the economy, that our very competitive corporate tax climate, which is viewed around the world as very attractive, already brought investment to Canada, and naturally, that's a win for everyone, all businesses and also for the creation of employment. I think also...when a plan gets announced, businesses take that into account in their own planning and to change this now in the middle of the game, I think, creates a lot of very serious problems in terms of our reputation as a country on the international scene and also for our businesses here in Canada.
Having clearly heard that quote from the CFIB in its entirety, I ask once and for all that the Liberals stop distorting the views of Canadian small businesses about the Liberals' tax hike plan. In fact, the member for Kings—Hants should apologize for intentionally misquoting the CFIB.
This all goes to a larger issue. What we have here is a fundamental disagreement. Our Conservative government believes hard-working Canadians should not be paying higher taxes. We believe lower taxes help job creation and economic growth. Our low tax plan has already shown signs that it is working and making Canada an attractive place for business to invest and create jobs.
I think of one example that all Canadians could relate to, which is Tim Hortons and what transpired a few years back. Tim Hortons, that Canadian icon, actually left Canada in the 1990s like many businesses at the time because of the high tax policies of the previous Liberal government. But after Parliament passed our low tax plan in 2007, Tim Hortons recognized that Canada was once again open for business and not solely open to tax business like under the Liberals. Tim Hortons swiftly moved back to Canada as a direct result.
In the words of a Calgary Herald editorial at the time:
|| Talk about a double-double blessing! ...Canada's national coffee--Tim Hortons--is leaving Delaware and coming home, for all the right reasons. That is, after years during which Canadian business rightly complained of being at a tax disadvantage compared to its U.S. competitors, the pendulum has swung and Timmies now reckons it will do better north of the border.... [I]t shows Canada is doing something right. Rule one in public economics is that people respond to the incentives they're offered. That a company such as Tim Hortons is prepared to go through the upheaval of moving its head office to take advantage of a lower tax environment shows business tax cuts...are starting to work.
Clearly, a strong economy means more financially secure Canadian families.
But the Liberal opposition believes Canadians and Canadian businesses are not sending enough of their hard-earned money to Ottawa. That is why the Liberals are pushing for higher taxes, be it a GST hike, business tax hikes or an iPod tax, to help fill government coffers in Ottawa. Why would we do that to Canadians? The Liberals would use taxpayers' money to bankroll their big government schemes, like providing benefits to people after a 45-day work year.
Clearly, when it comes to taxes we have different views.
This debate has been occurring at finance committee over the past few months. Over the course of the committee's prebudget consultations, group after group and expert after expert was asked what they thought of our government's low tax plan and what they thought of the Liberals' tax hike plan.
What did the finance committee hear? The testimony was nearly unanimous in support of our Conservative government's plan to keep taxes low for job creators and against the Liberals' plan to attack them. Groups like the Mining Association of British Columbia, the Conference Board of Canada, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce, the Conseil du patronat du Québec, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the Mining Association of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and more were all united in telling the finance committee tax hikes are a bad idea for our economy and for jobs.
As the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told the committee:
|| The single most important or most damaging thing the government could do at this point to stall the recovery would be to cancel the planned tax reductions. Business has been planning on them. The private sector has been hiring based on them.... If suddenly those were repealed at this point, the impact would be to get business to shelve its plans for expansion and getting people back to work.
I am stunned. The Liberal-Bloc Québécois-NDP coalition recently banded together to endorse a Liberal motion to essentially harm Canada's economic growth and kill jobs, especially after all the witnesses before the committee so strongly supported our Conservative government's ambitious plan to support job creators.
Even more recently, the finance committee invited Ian Lee, the director of the Master of Business Administration program at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business. We asked Ian Lee at finance committee what he thought about the debate on business taxes. Here is what he said at length:
“I've followed the debate over the past two months and I'm just astonished at the debate. There has been no reference to the OECD, to their 10-year tax policy research branch studies. They have published dozens and dozens and dozens of studies which have concluded irrevocably without condition that corporate taxes are the most harmful type of tax for economic growth. There is no ambiguity in the research. None, none, zip, nada. So I know that's going to upset some people but that's a fact....The OECD research for 10 years, across many, many scholars, has found that income per capita goes down. Or you can put it in reverse: the lower the corporate taxes, the higher the income per person. The scholarship is very clear on that. So I'm answering your question: if corporate taxation goes up, income per capita will go down....The scholarship is unambiguous and an increase in taxes is merely a disguised tax on workers or consumers. That's all it is.... It's going to raise prices or cause wages to go down.”
That was an expert, Ian Lee, on making sure corporate tax reduction continues. Mr. Lee's findings have been supported recently by experts like the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, University of Calgary Professor Jack Mintz, and many more who have released detailed reports showing our low tax plan is crucial to keeping Canada's economy strong. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Indeed, I would like to draw the attention of Parliament, and especially of Canadian families, to one finding in particular from the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters' report.
We know debates like this can get a little theoretical. We know sometimes we can get lost in big and competing numbers, but let us bring it down to a more personal level. To do that, let us look at two numbers from the report of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters. The report, which is available online, indicated for the final two portions alone of our low tax plan, among the many economic benefits would be an increase in personal incomes of Canadians by a whopping $30.4 billion, or an increase of 2.4%, and an increase of personal income of $880 per capita. That is $880 per person.
That might not seem like a lot of money to a Liberal leader who summers in France, but for the average Canadian family, that is a big amount. That is what this debate is all about: jobs, economic growth and how we can make Canadian families more financially secure.
I recognize there is some debate today about our government's record of transparency versus the Liberal record, but I am quite comfortable with what our government has done to better inform Canadians about how we spend their tax dollars. Indeed, we are the government that created the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. We are the government that passed a law requiring all federal departments and agencies to produce detailed quarterly financial statements. We are the government that produced groundbreaking progress report after progress report on the economic action plan, something even Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, said, “really put Canada almost at the forefront in fiscal transparency and stimulus”. That is our record.
What is the Liberal record? It is spending scandal after spending scandal that had to be uncovered, everything from the sponsorship scandal to the HRSDC boondoggle, to the wasteful long gun registry, and the list goes on and on.
Today's debate is also about transparency and who will stand up for taxpayers. On that, only our Conservative government has been clear. We will not support tax increases on workers, families and businesses. We will stay committed to our low tax plan to create jobs.
Mr. Daniel Paillé (Hochelaga, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint Boniface has a number of good intentions, but her Tim Hortons in Saint Boniface is a lot like the ones in my riding of Hochelaga. Even the Tim Hortons on Ontario Street in Montreal has always paid taxes to Quebec and Canada. Delaware is not the problem. The fact that the company became Canadian again, as she said, is the result of an initial public offering that was done by the parent company, Wendy's, which has owned Tim Hortons for many years. Obviously we will learn these kinds of things.
We are here today because on November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance, of which I am a member, adopted a motion. I will read some points:
|| The committee also orders that the Government of Canada provide the committee with electronic copies of the following...
We were not asking a lot. We did not want a tonne of papers. We wanted electronic copies of the five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates from 2010 to 2015. If the Department of Finance was able to publish budget documents last year, it is because it had them.
On November 17, 2010, we asked for detailed cost accounting, analysis and projections, including assumptions, for each of the bills, conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board guide to costing. Again, it was already there. We asked about what the Treasury Board had and asked that it be sent to us electronically.
The committee's motion says the following:
|| That the committee orders that all information requested in this motion from the Government of Canada be provided to the committee within 7 calendar days.
That is what we wanted on November 17. Now it is February 17, three months later. We asked for the information within seven days, but we have still not received anything 90 days later. On November 24, seven days after our request, we received a response saying that “projections of corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate income tax rates are a Cabinet confidence. As such, we are not in a position to provide these series to the Committee.”
That is why we are here. Upon its return on February 3, the Standing Committee on Finance looked at the Government of Canada's pitiful response. We spoke to the committee chair, who, I must add, does a wonderful job. And this is what was written in the committee chair's report:
||...the Committee wishes to draw the attention of the House on what appears to be a breach of its privileges by the Government of Canada’s refusal to provide documents ordered by the Committee, and recommends [the Standing Committee on Finance, on which the Saint Boniface member sits] that House take whatever measures it deems appropriate.
I raised questions in the House as recently as yesterday. I first spoke about how the Parliamentary Budget Officer has spoken out against the government's obscurantism and the fact that it too often uses the cloak of cabinet confidence.
I was asking if the government would understand a basic principle of democracy: House privileges exist and the federal spending power is granted to the government by us here in the House. The power comes from here. Therefore, in order to grant that power, we need information.
The President of the Treasury Board replied that if the Parliamentary Budget Officer wanted information, all he had to do was call him and the Treasury Board president would provide it. I poked fun at him and suggested that the two of them had gone out for a beer to discuss it. That is not how a government works or how it should work.
Today's motion states that the Canadian Constitution gives Parliament the absolute power to require the government to produce documents, yet the government persistently refuses to do so, despite our reasonable request. We requested electronic documents and information that have been available in past years. Thus, our requests are reasonable.
Three months later, we have received nothing, absolutely nothing. Is it important? Everyone here has been elected to this House. What are we all doing here, on either side of the House? We are here to exercise a certain power. That power is not to simply sit here on this side of the House and complacently admire what the government does. Some members choose to do that, and that is fine. Let them sit there and complacently listen to what the government tells them to do; let them read their planted questions and complacently read their members' statements. However, they are not exercising the power given to us by voters. I represent Hochelaga. Other members represent other ridings. The voters give us a mandate to exercise some power in the House. Some members have the power to govern, yes, but the power of the House exists and we must exercise it. During the next election—very soon, according to rumours—some voters will say that they sent us to Ottawa to exercise some power and that we failed to do so. That is a serious judgment.
What do we need to exercise power? We need information. It is a universally recognized fundamental principle that information is power. It is our right. You know that better than I do, but I just want to reiterate that to inexperienced hon. members. A long time ago, almost 100 years ago, in 1916, Bourinot said that “it is the constitutional right of either House to ask for such information as it can directly obtain by its own order from any department”.
We can keep quoting from our procedural guides. As a new MP, I read the House of Commons Procedure and Practice from cover to cover because if I am going to sit here I want to know how things work. It says that, legally, “Parliament has the ability to institute its own inquiries, to require the attendance of witnesses and to order the production of documents”. Why does it say that? Because documents are essential to the proper functioning of Parliament. It says that quite clearly.
Further, the Standing Orders talk about the standing committees, which brings me to my point. The parliamentary secretary, who is still here, can sit on those committees. What do the standing orders say about the standing committees? They say the same thing: that we can order the production of documents, etc. It is essential to committee work, they say. To order the production of documents we can adopt a motion to that effect. That is what we did. According to the Standing Orders, this power is absolute and has no limits.
They cannot say: “There are limits”. As long as the request is reasonable, we can ask for a document and obtain it.
Further on, it says that if something happens and we do not obtain the documentation, one option at our disposal is to move a motion requiring the government to produce it.
I have not been a member of Parliament for very long. However, this is the second time we have found ourselves in this type of situation. On April 27, 2010, the House took the government to task over documents pertaining to Afghan detainees. Probably all of us have children and grandchildren. When they are admonished once, it does not mean that it applies only the one time and that they can misbehave again. At a given point, enough is enough. This is now the second time, at least since I entered federal politics. It is not right.
On April 27, the Speaker ruled that it is an indisputable privilege, on which the parliamentary system is based, and he ordered the government to do its job.
In the case of the Afghan detainees, national security was the reason given by the government. Today, they are claiming cabinet confidence. Every day, they invent something new. They will invent something else for the next time. I am still trying to understand why the Conservatives are doing this.
Just yesterday, the second question I asked the President of the Treasury Board was why it had become a secret. I even gave him some possible answers. Does the government have something to hide? Is it incompetent? Intransigent? Incapable? Inept? Powerless? Insolent? Motivated by ideology? Perhaps the government does not want to provide the information. For ideological reasons, it wants to hide things.
We have a fine example, that of the Minister of International Cooperation. She hid the facts for one year. We wonder why she did it. She did not do it inadvertently, out of incompetence or for lack of authority. She was motivated by ideology. She did not want to make it seem as though she had changed the recommendation. The government does have the right to decide, but it must do so appropriately, without hiding anything, and without preventing us from exercising our authority to ask questions.
Information management by this government is an issue, and unfortunately not just in this case. There is also the long form census. That is another fine example. Ever since Canada came into being, there have been census forms. We have measurements, we have the right to statistics and information. Why? To exercise power.
I am thinking of the father of the member for Louis-Hébert, who is my brother and a noted demographer. Where will he go for information? His entire career has been based on information collected during the census. What will he do? What will future demographers do? We are talking about the power of information and information management. The Information Commissioner is complaining because it takes too long to get information. Why are they not providing the information? Why are they keeping it? It is important because we are talking about corporate taxes. Corporate taxes are important because our tax system is based on what? Either we tax individuals or we tax businesses.
If we decide to tax businesses, we tax SMEs or we tax large corporations. The government says that it wants lower taxes for large corporations. Why? It must give us some information on that.
Since 2007, the taxes for SMEs have been cut from 12% to 11%, a difference of 8%. But for large corporations, taxes have gone from 22% to 15%, a difference of 32%. Anyone who is familiar with the second derivative can calculate that the tax cut for SMEs is four times lower. I want to know because we believe that tax policy is important. I want to know where the Conservatives are getting their numbers.
The Bloc Québécois has released its budget bible for this year. We think that it should be Quebec's turn. The bible was given to the Minister of Finance. The Minister of State for Finance was there, as was the member for Saint Boniface. They said that it was serious work, and it was. We worked hard with the information we had and we want to continue to do so.
I have the 2010 annual report of the Royal Bank of Canada right here. It is not the report for 1810 but for 2010. The estimates of the taxes that would be payable if all foreign subsidiaries' accumulated unremitted earnings were repatriated are set out on page 125. We have the information from the Royal Bank. The estimates are $763 million for 2010, $821 million for 2009 and $920 million for 2008. I have information. I can say whether or not I agree. I can form my own opinion because I have the facts. The government is hiding the facts from us.
For as long as we are here, we will act as an ethics watchdog. We know what the Liberals' ethics led to. We need only look so far as the sponsorship scandal. They wanted to circumvent or violate the law but they were punished. The Conservatives think that exercising power means having complete control. That is not what it means to exercise power.
Public funds do not belong to the Liberal Party of Canada. They know that; they paid for it. Public funds do not belong to the Conservative Party of Canada. The money is not theirs. They cannot do whatever they want with it, however they want, without any accountability and without telling us how they are using it.
The Bloc Québécois's opinion has not changed. Why are we working toward independence for Quebec? There are three reasons: to sign our own treaties, pass our own laws and collect our own taxes. We want to have a tax policy that will make it possible to distribute the wealth much more effectively. We have the means to do it because we have information on this subject. A lack of information about big business restricts my freedom. I do not think that I came her to have my freedom restricted.
Ms. Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Vancouver East.
Normally I am pleased to debate issues in the House and to bring the concerns of Hamilton Mountain residents to bear on the important public policy matters that affect their everyday lives. Issues like jobs, pensions and health care are all issues that merit much greater attention from the government.
Today we are using up valuable House time on an issue that should never have had to come before us. We are calling on the government to release information that we should have had as a matter of right.
Let us just go back to the genesis of this issue. In November, the Standing Committee on Finance asked the government to release two things: the costs associated with its justice bills and the projections of corporate profits before taxes. In the past, governments have routinely released such information, and that is as it should be because access to information is essential for members of Parliament to carry out our jobs.
It is worth reminding Conservative members in the House that in our system of responsible government, the government must seek Parliament's authority to spend public funds. That means that Parliament has an obligation and a responsibility to scrutinize the government's books and to hold the government to account. The ability to do that is the very cornerstone of our democracy. However, instead of sharing that essential information with members of the House and with Canadians, the Conservatives are using every trick in the book to avoid accountability.
In response to the standing committee's request for information, the government sent back curt responses that such information constituted a “cabinet confidence”. That is completely absurd, and it is in contravention of the Access to Information and Privacy Act.
Let me remind members what that act says. Section 69(1)(b) states the cabinet confidence defence does not apply to “discussion papers the purpose of which is to present background explanations, analyses of problems or policy options to Council for consideration by Council in making decisions”. It goes on to say, “(i) if the decisions to which the discussion papers relate have been made public”.
Both in the case of corporate tax cuts and the costs of the government's crime agenda, the decisions are public. Laws were drafted to comply with these decisions, they were debated in the House and they were passed by this chamber. It is absurd to maintain that they are somehow still private. They could not be any more public. Therefore, the background documents with respect to their costing should be available to anyone with $5 and a form, let alone a branch of Parliament acting under due authority.
The Conservative government ran on a platform of greater transparency and accountability. That is how it promised to differentiate itself from the previous Martin government, when the Liberals were mired in the sponsorship scandal.
I want to remind members that it was only five years ago that the Prime Minister wrote an impassioned op-ed piece in the Montreal Gazette in defence of government transparency. Here is what he said:
|| Information is the lifeblood of a democracy...Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent or corrupt governance can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.
Back then he was upset because he believed the Liberal government was intent on weakening the Access to Information Act, which is the law that gives Canadians the right to request federal documents.
Now, almost five years later, that same Access to Information Act, which the Prime Minister defended so vigorously is in shambles. Despite the fact that the act mandates a response within 30 days, Canadians seeking access to information regularly complain that many departments now take as long as a year to release files. When they finally do, records are often so heavily censored that they are unreadable and essentially useless. At one time, the act was a cornerstone to holding governments to account.
Records released under the law have exposed government wrongdoing and the waste of tax dollars.
It was an access request from the Ottawa Citizen that led to the resignation of Liberal defence minister Art Eggleton after it revealed in May 2002 that his office had awarded an untendered contract to his former girlfriend.
Access requests from the Globe and Mail helped uncover revelations that members of the Liberal Party were involved in illegal dealings involving federal sponsorship and advertising budgets, a scandal that led to the Gomery Commission in 2004.
The Canadian Alliance, later to morph into the Conservatives, was one of the most effective users of the law. Party researchers used it to obtain records that helped expose the so-called billion dollar boondoggle as well as other cases of poorly managed tax dollars.
However, that was then and this is now. Once in government, the Conservatives immediately clamped down on the release of information to the point where information commissioner Robert Marleau, head of the independent watchdog that oversees the law, complained in 2008 that the government had created a “fog over information”.
It is now at the point where Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has publicly said that MPs are losing our ability to do our constitutionally mandated jobs because the growing government secrecy means that MPs lack the information needed to cost new initiatives.
By any objective measure, government secrecy has reached unprecedented levels in Canada. Even a landmark ruling by the Speaker of the House has done little to ensure greater transparency by this Conservative government. Members will remember that seminal decision only too well, because it dealt with the release of documents pertaining to Afghan detainees. When the Speaker finally weighed in, he clearly upheld Parliament's right to have access to information.
Yet here we are again. Motions to release information duly passed by a standing committee of the House are being wilfully ignored by the government. The refusal of the Conservatives to release the information requested is, at its base, a fundamental attack on Parliament.
Lest anyone who is watching this debate on television today thinks that this is an isolated incident, let me be clear. Parliament is just one of many public institutions that has come under attack from the Conservative government. In fact, Jim Travers of the Toronto Star described the persistent government attack on Canada's institutions as vandalism. The independence of the regulators and senior civil servants has never been so brutalized.
The list is long. Linda Keen, the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, was fired by the government for doing her job. As Auditor General Sheila Fraser observed, that sacking had a “chilling effect” throughout the whole civil service. It now realizes that anyone who criticizes the Conservative government is putting his or her job on the line.
Here is a short list of those who have been told they will not be reappointed after challenging the government's world view: Paul Kennedy, head of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission; Pat Stogran, Veterans Affairs Ombudsman; Peter Tinsley, chairman of the Military Police Complaints Commission, who was investigating the torture of Afghan detainees; and Marty Cheliak, head of the Canadian firearms program. The head of Elections Canada, Philip Kingsley, was driven out of his role, and his successor, Marc Mayrand, has been subjected to constant attack, including a number of court cases against Elections Canada by the Conservative Party.
There have been others, too, who have not just been summarily dispatched from public service, but whose positions have been eliminated by the government, representing a loss to all Canadians. In that category are: Dr. Art Carty, science adviser to the Prime Minister; Karen Kraft Sloan, ambassador for environment and sustainable development; and Jack Anawak, ambassador for circumpolar affairs. Those important jobs are all gone.
Then, of course, there are those who find themselves attacked publicly for having the temerity to criticize the government. Foreign Affairs official Richard Colvin, Canada's chief statistician Munir Sheikh and Kevin Page are just three of the most prominent examples.
The Conservative government will go to any length to silence its critics, including shutting down the very place in which I am speaking today.
It was that prorogation of Parliament which suddenly made the public sit up and take notice. Silencing MPs by locking the doors of Parliament to suit the Conservatives' narrowly partisan agenda created a huge backlash by Canadians. They realized that the silencing of MPs meant their voices were no longer being heard in the single most important democratic institution in this country. The Prime Minister's obsession with secrecy and control was eroding their democratic freedoms. In the end, it is that public outrage that may well prove to be the government's downfall.
Canadians want transparency and accountability from the government and they deserve nothing less. That is why I will be proud to vote in support of the motion before us today.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow my colleague from Hamilton in the House today. She made some excellent points in her presentation.
I rise in the House today to speak in support of this motion that has been put forward by the official opposition.
I have been a member of Parliament now for 14 years. I cannot remember a time when we have had so many motions come forward where we have had to go to extraordinary lengths to compel the government to provide very basic disclosures so that parliamentarians can do their job.
The motion before us today, as has been pointed out, stems from the work of the Standing Committee on Finance when it was attempting to determine some basic facts last year. It wanted to know what the true costs were for the implementation of various justice bills that had been passed by the House, as well as the costs to the justice system for jail time. These are basic facts that we need to know. That is one item.
The finance committee also attempted to determine the costs of the government tax cuts to the largest corporations. Again, this is basic information that the finance committee needed in order to do its work.
It is quite incredible that what ensued from this premise is basically a battle that has taken place between Parliament and the government. It is not the first time that we have seen it. It is quite shocking that we are here today debating this motion and trying to force the government through a motion of Parliament to provide information so that members of Parliament can actually do their job.
I remember last year when we had the incredible situation in Afghanistan and there were documents that had not been released by the government. As a result of the historic Speaker's ruling from last April, wherein he ruled that parliamentary privilege did indeed require that members need information in order to do their work. As a result of that ruling, a special committee was set up to come to terms with a proposal that would allow those documents to be released. The committee actually was set up. The NDP members decided not to participate because we felt that the parameters around the special committee that was set up were so severe and so restrictive that it would be very difficult for any information to be released. Ironically, since that committee has been set up, in actual fact not one single document has ever been released. That is another story but is very much related to the matter that is before us today.
Here we are again dealing with another issue requiring disclosure and transparency of information. However, what underlies what is before us is the fact that I believe we are facing the most authoritarian and secretive government that we have ever had in the history of this country.
I remember when the Conservative government was elected. It claimed it was elected on a mandate of accountability and transparency. We have gone through the whole sponsorship scandal in Quebec. We have had the Gomery Commission. The Conservatives were riding high and claiming they would change the way things were done, that when conducting business they would do so keeping accountability, better access to information and protection of whistleblowers in mind.
I have heard the government House leader say that many times, over and over again. I think the Conservatives dream it in their sleep. Their first bill was the accountability bill and yet look at where we are today. We are now in a place where members are unable to perform their duties as members of Parliament. They are unable to function adequately on standing committees because they cannot get the basic information required to analyze bills and expenditures, to come to conclusions about government priorities, to determine where effective spending is taking place and where waste is taking place, and to know what the true costs are of some of the legislative measures that have come forward.
I find that very demoralizing. It is very demoralizing for the Canadian public. It adds to the level of cynicism that we see in the public arena about politicians and about the political process.
When we add to that the closure of Parliament itself, the prorogation that has taken place at lease twice under the Prime Minister, that this place has actually been shut down, the doors have been locked, we are not even allowed to come to work to do our job on behalf of our constituents, is really quite shocking. People feel very disturbed that our democracy is being undermined and eroded incrementally, but when we look back and look at the bigger picture, we begin to realize just how much things have changed.
In 2009, when I was involved in one of the committees debating one of these justice bills, Bill C-15, mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, I tried very valiantly to find out what the costs would be for the implementation of that bill, what it would mean for provincial systems, what it would mean federally. It was impossible to get that information. There was no evidence that was forthcoming. Yet, we were faced with a Conservative government that was hell-bent on a propaganda campaign that the bill would solve drug problems in local communities but it could not provide any evidence that mandatory minimum sentences would work and it could not provide any evidence as to what it would actually cost.
As we have seen, we have had some estimates from the Parliamentary Budget Office, the one independent office that we do have, that were grossly higher than what the government itself has estimated. But, still, we do not have the true and full picture of what that bill, Bill C-15, would cost, never mind all the other bills that have come forward.
The motion that is before us today affirms the undisputed privileges of Parliament under our Constitution for the government to produce uncensored documents when requested. It is a very important motion.
The fact that we have to bring it forward in this House, that we have to debate it, that we have to vote on it, is a reflection of the seriousness of the situation that we are facing, that there is a now a battle that is taking place between Parliament and the Government of Canada. It is not a battle that we want to have. We want to work in an environment where disclosure does happen, where information is flowing, where officials can come forward and provide information and not live in fear of punishment or retribution because they have disclosed information. All of that seems to have gone.
We are now living in an environment of secrecy, an environment of political control through the Prime Minister's Office, an environment where people are afraid to speak out, an environment where the standing committees of Parliament can longer function and do their job. That is why this motion is before us today.
I am sure that the motion will carry. As the motion outlines, it would order the government to provide these documents to the Standing Committee on Finance by March 7.
The reason that we need these documents is to make an objective evaluation and determination about what the costs of the corporate tax cuts are. There has been a lot of debate about the corporate tax cuts. Members of the NDP were very concerned about how the public purse has been, in effect, robbed, as a result of corporate tax cuts. It was $6 billion in the latest round.
Ironically, these corporate tax cuts were started by a former Liberal government. They were supported by the Liberal opposition in recent budgets.
We need an examination of the real costs of these corporate tax cuts. We need to have an evaluation of what the impact would be on our public services, our community services. This is a very core issue to how government functions and how Parliament functions in terms of making a balance between revenues and expenditures and priorities as to where those revenues should go.
Having this information and understanding the real costs of these cuts is imperative to the work that we do. I support the motion, and I demand, as other MPs are demanding, that this information be disclosed by the government.
Hon. Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by informing you that I will be sharing my time with my former leader, our colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.
The motion currently before the House, which my colleagues spoke to earlier this morning, lays out some very basic principles of parliamentary democracy. As the House leader for the New Democratic Party correctly noted a few minutes ago, this is about the ability of elected representatives to have information to base our decisions on as important matters as votes in the House that often involve the spending of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money.
The government has been one of the most secretive governments in Canadian history. Many times we have seen its efforts to withhold or manipulate freedom of information or the access to information process. They have stonewalled parliamentary committees. They have even written manuals on how to disrupt committees, if at some point they see a committee headed in a direction that they as government members do not like or, probably more likely, which some junior assistant in the Prime Minister's office does not like as he watches his television in the Langevin Building. They have gone to a great lengths to withhold information from the Canadian people and their elected representatives in the House.
Therefore, this motion once again seeks to require the government to do what constitutionally and democratically it should want to do, and that is to make available accurate, reliable information to parliamentarians and Canadians on matters as important as the spending of billions and billions of dollars.
The motion seeks in particular to obtain the necessary information with respect to the irresponsible borrowing of money to cut corporate taxes for the largest, most profitable corporations in the country, and also with respect to the justice agenda, which the government wants to trumpet all the time but for which it refuses to even identify the cost associated with many of these regressive and failed American policies.
Another area that is of great concern to us is the government's continuing refusal to make public information with respect to another very important expenditure, its proposed expenditure for the acquisition of the F-35 stealth bombers. With the amount of money involved, these things should not be called stealth fighters but “wealth fighters”. In fact they are more likely to be “wealth bombers”.
The government has, on every occasion, given half information or information that is unreliable, or, in many cases, it has refused outright to give members of Parliament information relating to the expenditure of the largest procurement in military history. It is proposing to do this massive military procurement on a sole-source basis without any public competition whatsoever.
The Conservatives announced their intention to purchase 65 fighter planes without a bidding process. They made the announcement in the middle of the summer, hoping to avoid criticism. They did not do so when Parliament was sitting last spring. They decided to wait and announce the purchase when the members were no longer in Ottawa and Parliament was not in a position to ask any serious questions.
Even worse, the Conservatives refuse to make public any of the details regarding their purported study and why they chose the F-35, when we know that they did not even take the time or make the effort to seriously look at other options before deciding to purchase the F-35, probably for ideological reasons.
The Conservatives refuse to reveal the actual cost of this choice, this airplane. It was initially valued at about $50 million per plane. Then it went up to $70 million per plane and now it has gone up to $90 million per plane, and it just keeps going up. They refuse to come clean to Canadians regarding the price of that fighter jet.
The Conservatives have also refused to tell us what the real in-service support cost will be. In-service support for 20 years costs at least as much as the acquisition price of the airplane. All of the experts have been clear that at minimum we can double the acquisition price to see the 20-year in-service support cost.
The Conservatives try to make us believe that the in-service support cost for the F-35 will in fact be less than the acquisition cost, which they have evaluated, without any proof or information, at $9 billion. They are pretending that the in-service support would add another $7 billion, for a total price tag of $16 billion.
On this side of the House, we have not been able to get any information as to how the government arrived at these numbers. The member for Vancouver South asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer to look into this matter last spring. We wait with great interest for a report that will hopefully shed some light on the real cost and the real financial impact of both the acquisition and the in-service support.
The government has refused to make public the statement of requirements for the replacement of our CF-18 fighter jets. The Minister of National Defence claimed, in a rather surreal moment at a committee meeting we had to force in September, that the statement of requirements was protected by copyright.
That would make no sense at all if the statement of requirements were drafted by the Canadian Department of National Defence. However, if the statement of requirements were drafted by an American aircraft manufacturer, that might explain why they might claim a copyright privilege on what should in fact be an internal Canadian defence department document.
The government has refused to make that statement of requirements public. The Minister of Public Works and Government Services, at that same committee, admitted that the department had received it, but the government has refused to make that public.
The Conservatives have claimed that the F-35 is the only plane that meets Canada's air force needs. Yet at the defence committee, we heard at least four other aircraft manufacturers say that they currently produced an aircraft that met the only requirements the government has made public in a document they called, the high-level mandatory requirements.
There are four other companies, therefore, that are saying they would be happy to submit to a competitive public process. Based on the only information the government has made public, they believe their aircraft would meet those requirements. That is why the only way to bring clarity and responsibility to this reckless financial process is to have a public competition and allow those companies to tell Canadians and the Government of Canada what they are willing to do, not only for our air force but also for the aerospace industry.
Madam Speaker, as I said, the Conservatives claim they looked at other options. However, they refuse to give us any information about how many times they visited other aerospace companies. We know they went often to Fort Worth, Texas, to visit Lockheed Martin and look at the F-35.
I asked the person responsible for the project, Colonel Burt, to give us those figures. He told us he would let us know how many times they visited Boeing, Eurofighter, Saab and Lockheed Martin. It has been a few months now, and we have not heard anything. The government must be embarrassed that it did not bother looking at any other aircraft.
The Conservatives have been spreading other falsehoods. They are saying that it was the Liberal Party that committed to purchasing that plane in 1997. On the contrary, it was a Liberal government that supported the development of that aircraft, which generated nearly half a billion dollars in economic spinoffs for our aerospace industries. Until 2008, the same Conservative ministers, including Jim Prentice, who was the industry minister at the time, and Michael Fortier, the former public works and government services minister, issued press releases from the Government of Canada confirming that continued participation in the development phase of the aircraft in no way meant that the federal government was committed to purchasing it.
If the government were saying two years ago that continued participation in the development phase of the airplane in no way obliged Canada to buy the plane, then it is surprising to hear the government then stand up to say, “No, it was a Liberal government 14 years ago that made the decision to buy that airplane”. This is another example of the government's inability to come clean with Canadians.
This is really an issue of democracy. If the government wants to spend billions and billions of taxpayers' dollars, it owes it to Canadians to come clean on the real cost and to show, with documents, what it is asking Parliament to vote for.
That is why this motion is so important for Parliament and for democracy.
Hon. Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, the question is, how far does the Conservative government plan to go in its attack against the proper functioning of Canadian democracy? This is the basic question that would once again have to be asked if the government were to vote against the motion of the member for Wascana.
A hostage to its culture of secrecy, the government is turning its back on Canadians and depriving them and their elected officials of the right to obtain essential information that the government has no real reason to hide.
It is unbelievable. Like the member for Beauséjour said, the government expects the members of this House to support, without argument, the purchase of extremely expensive warplanes, while this same government made its choice without holding a bidding process, without knowing whether these were the best planes in this post-cold war era, and without providing updated estimates or specific analyses from the Department of Finance regarding the cost of purchasing and maintaining these planes. All we know is that the cost will be exorbitant.
Canadians have the right to this information. It is their money that is being spent. Their elected officials need this information to make an informed decision. This is not a matter of state secrecy. The government must tell Canadians how much the F-35s are going to cost them based on the Department of Finance's most recent estimates and analyses. How much? Why is the government so afraid to reveal this amount?
It is even more important that we obtain this figure because the Auditor General has already criticized the government for cost overruns and extremely long delays in the area of military procurement.
Another thing the government is hiding is the cost of its megaprison program, its delusional prison regime. Against all common sense, the government is stubbornly insisting on bringing a bad anti-crime strategy to Canada, a strategy that failed everywhere, including Great Britain and Australia, and that the Americans themselves no longer want to use because it does not reduce the rate of crime or recidivism. On the contrary, this simplistic strategy drove these rates up. It overcrowded prisons and clogged the prison system forcing governments to bleed themselves dry to pay for these megaprisons.
What this all boils down to is that there is less money available to help victims, less money to equip our police officers, less money to prevent crime, and less money for healthcare, education and the environment.
On January 7 in The Washington Post, and as reported in The Kingston Whig-Standard today, Newt Gingrich is urging American legislators to think and act with courage and creativity to “save on costs without compromising public safety by intelligently reducing their prison populations”.
Newt Gingrich is not precisely a lunatic leftist intellectual. In talking about the recidivism rate, Gingrich describes it as a catastrophic disaster and says that “half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years”.
Do we want that in Canada? Absolutely not, especially when everyone knows and can prove that the crime rate in Canada is going down thanks to the effective and rigorous strategy used by the Liberal governments to fight crime and protect Canadians.
This Conservative government, which has already reduced its budget to help victims by 43% and its budget to prevent crime by 70%, needs to tell Canadians how much it is going to cost them to import the mistakes that others are trying to correct.
The government is racking up bills, but refuses to put a value on them. It is unheard of. Where is the transparency it used to go on about? Once again, the Conservative government is flouting the Access to Information Act. Under section 69 of the act, the cost analyses of bills are not cabinet confidences.
It is insulting: they have to nerve to demand that parliamentarians support a litany of bills, on behalf of Canadians, without disclosing the government's cost estimates for those bills. The government is mocking people and flouting parliamentary democracy. It is showing contempt for the people and their representatives.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer puts a figure on these extravagant expenses. He is warning us about the additional billions of dollars the Conservatives' prison plan could cost the federal and provincial governments. The government is disputing the findings of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but where is the government's credibility? Let the government make its own analyses public, and then we will see how serious it is or how irresponsible and incompetent it is.
Let us look at the most recent ill-conceived bill, Bill C-59, which the government got passed quickly yesterday with the Bloc's help. Instead of targeting only major white collar criminals, this piece of legislation will mean that thousands of petty criminals who are ready to return to society, rehabilitated, and whose risk of recidivism is low will unnecessarily be kept in prison at high cost. We are talking about 1,500 people a year, more than 60% of whom are women. The cost of this exorbitant measure: $130 million a year. In the meantime, there is nothing to provide more resources to help investigators find the fraudsters, nothing to accelerate the legal process to recover the funds lost by the victims and nothing to help the victims recover their money.
Unlike what it claims, the government does nothing for victims. On the contrary, its appalling policies will increase crime and, therefore, the number of victims. Canadian taxpayers have a right to know how much this mess will cost them. It is their money, after all. And how much will it cost the provinces, which are struggling with huge deficits and which do not know how to pay for the increasing costs of health care, schools and universities?
Why is the government so afraid of making these figures public? No doubt because they will expose the Conservatives' incompetence and ideological blindness. Imagine. The government wants to waste up to $6 billion a year in borrowed money to fund additional tax cuts for corporations, when it has already sunk us into a deficit of over $50 billion, when corporate taxes in Canada are already 25% lower than in the United States, and when the Minister of Finance himself thinks that there are better ways to stimulate the economy. If the government wants the luxury of having such a costly and questionable policy, it should at least have the decency to back it up with figures.
The official opposition is not asking for the moon. It is simply asking the finance department to make public its projections about pre-tax corporate profits. That is routine information that the department made public up until 2005, that is, as long as there was a Liberal government. It is not a state secret.
But I am talking about the government and the finance department when really it is the Prime Minister who is at fault. He controls everything and wants to impose his culture of secrecy and his penchant for withholding information on everyone. He is keeping a minister who, on two occasions, not just one, misled the House. And he allows his ministers to ferociously attack the Parliamentary Budget Officer instead of engaging in an open, adult dialogue with him.
This Prime Minister prefers to personally attack the Leader of the Opposition in petty, pathetic televised propaganda instead of providing him, and the rest of us, with the information that we need and that we have every right to see in order to do our job, which is passing legislation that is good for Canadians, with full knowledge of the facts.
The Conservative government, with its culture of secrecy, is threatening the proper workings of Canadian democracy. This time, it has achieved the impossible. It has beaten its own record for withholding information. The government needs to recognize that and can start by complying with the motion by the member for Wascana and producing all the documents requested by the Standing Committee on Finance.
Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue, CPC):
Madam Speaker, today I rise to debate another misguided Liberal motion on our plan to reduce taxes for Canadians and get tough on crime.
Whenever a Liberal talks, it seems it is about raising taxes. We prefer to take another tack and talk about lowering taxes for Canadians.
It is a good thing our government has a long record of providing tax relief for hard-working Canadians such that I could continue all day, which I am sure all members here would enjoy.
The Liberals could also talk long about their own tax record. Unfortunately, it would be to discuss all the ways they would like to increase taxes, such as a GST hike, an iPod tax, a carbon tax, and it goes on and on.
Let us look at our Conservative government's tax record. Since taking power, we have cut over 100 taxes. We are cutting taxes in every way that we collect them, from excise taxes and sales taxes, to business taxes and personal taxes.
One of our first actions on taking office was to reduce the GST by 1%, to 6%, but we did not stop there. We then reduced the GST by another 1%, to 5%.
Of course, whenever we cut taxes, we hear howls from the Liberals. Indeed, the Liberals were so incensed that we would lower Canadian taxes that the member for Kings—Hants, when asked if he would repeal the GST cuts, said, “Absolutely”. He was joined later by the Liberal leader, who would infamously say, “I'm not going to take a GST tax hike off the table”.
Thankfully for Canadians and their wallets, the tax-and-spend Liberals are not in power and a Conservative government that believes in lower taxes is.
This is a government that believes in lower taxes for Canadians, like our seniors, and has demonstrated this with tax relief measures such as pension income splitting. This is one of the most significant tax changes for seniors and is saving some seniors thousands of dollars every year on their income taxes. This is a move that was praised by seniors' groups. The New Brunswick Senior Citizens' Federation said, “On behalf of the 21,000 seniors citizens we represent in New Brunswick, we commend you for introducing the opportunity for our seniors to utilize pension income splitting. This change will mean additional moneys for our seniors who are mostly on a very limited fixed income”.
We also doubled the pension income credit and increased the age credit amount by over $2,000, but our Conservative government did not stop there. We introduced the child fitness tax credit to help parents get their kids into organized sports. We introduced the child tax credit to provide much needed assistance for families across this country. We introduced the public transit tax credit to help people make the decision to take public transit. In our local newspaper this morning when it looked at a raise in the cost of public transit in our community, one of the young students said, “I have that public transit tax credit, so it helps ease the pain”.
We lowered Canadians' personal income taxes and, perhaps more important, we introduce a tax-free savings account, the most important personal savings vehicle since the introduction of the RRSP. Nearly five million Canadians are already benefiting from having their capital gains earned tax free.
In the end, the most important thing is what our record of tax relief means for families. Our tax relief measures mean a lot for Canadians. The tax savings for a typical family is $3,000. Let me say that again: a tax savings of $3,000 for the average family. That means a lot for the average family in Canada. I am proud to be part of a government that has made that happen.
Let me turn again to the topic that brings us here today: our tax relief for businesses. Let us review some of the ways our government has reduced taxes for businesses.
We reduced the federal capital tax in 2006 which was seriously harming business investment in Canada. To encourage provinces to remove their capital taxes, we introduced the temporary financial incentive to help provinces remove their capital taxes. With our help, by 2012, capital taxes will be eliminated. We reduced the small business tax rate to 11% in 2008. We also increased the income eligible for this lower tax rate from $300,000 to $500,000. It was a move that recognized that innovative and growth-oriented small businesses play a vital role in the ongoing health of our economy.
To help Canadian businesses weather the global economic storm, in Canada's economic action plan we also introduced a number of temporary tax measures to stimulate the economy. For example, to promote the exploration and development of Canada's rich mineral resources, the mineral exploration tax credit was extended in budget 2010. This temporary 15% credit provides important benefits in terms of employment and investment, especially for rural and remote communities. This is especially helpful in my home province of British Columbia. In the words of the Mining Association of British Columbia:
|| With British Columbia’s mining industry emerging from recent economic challenges, MABC is encouraged by this federal budget's initiatives that will help ensure that recovery does not falter.
|| MABC was pleased to see...a one year extension of the 15 percent mineral exploration tax credit....combined with a stay-the-course plan to continue reducing corporate income tax rates...important to the recovery currently under way in the mining sector.
As the previous quote alluded to, we are lowering business taxes from over 22% in 2006 to 15% by 2012, as passed in 2007 by Parliament.
Canadians are benefiting from permanent tax relief that is broad-based, fiscally durable and structurally sound. Lowering taxes on job creators means that more jobs are created. It is a simple calculation, but an important one. It is one that has been confirmed by leading economists in Canada. The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters as well as Jack Mintz, one of Canada's top private sector economists, have shown that lowering business taxes means thousands upon thousands of more jobs for Canadians.
At a time when we are exiting a global economic recession, now is not the time to hike taxes on job creators. Liberals used to know that, but instead, they have decided to turn a blind eye for cheap political gain.
The member for Kings—Hants knew this when he said, “We cannot increase corporate taxes without losing corporate investment. If we lose corporate investment, we have a less productive economy.... That means fewer jobs. That means more poverty”.
The member for Wascana knew this when he said, “Canadians deserve the facts” and that the NDP leader's “numbers are simply wrong, and he is trying to obscure the true benefits of business tax cuts, namely jobs and economic growth”.
I agree with the member for Wascana. Canadians do deserve the facts.
If we want higher wages, more jobs and a higher standard of living, we need the business investments that result from our government's tax cuts on job creators. Are our efforts paying off? Without a doubt, yes. Compared to other major industrialized countries, Canada is indeed weathering the recession better than most. Our strong economic, financial and fiscal fundamentals have contributed to that success, along with our economic action plan.
Over 460,000 more Canadians are working today than in July 2009, the strongest job growth in the G7. Compare this labour market recovery to the ongoing labour market challenges in the United States, where employment remains well below its pre-recession level. Tax relief for Canadian businesses has without a doubt contributed to Canada's relative success.
Whether the Liberals really appreciate it or not, tax relief has helped build a solid foundation for economic growth, job creation and better prosperity. Improving the competitiveness of the Canadian tax system of course requires collaboration among all governments to help Canadian businesses compete globally. Fortunately, reducing business tax makes so much sense the provinces are following our example. B.C., Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba have also reduced their provincial taxes on businesses.
The Liberal Ontario finance minister, Dwight Duncan, is a stalwart defender, saying, “Scrapping...corporate tax cuts would hurt the fragile economic recovery by raising taxes on the...forestry and automotive sectors”. He said that scrapping them is “about the most shortsighted, dumb, public policy pronouncement one could envision”. Liberals proposing a shortsighted dumb public policy? Shocking, I know.
The fact is that along with the provinces we are helping Canada build a strong foundation for future economic growth, job creation and higher living standards for Canadians, to the point where Canada is now increasingly recognized as a model for business taxation.
A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal noted:
|| Twenty-two years ago we wrote an editorial--'North to Argentina'--warning Canada that economic prosperity isn't a birthright but requires sound policies like free trade. Nowadays, that's a lecture Canada could credibly deliver to Washington on business taxes.
The government also recognizes that unnecessary regulation imposes significant costs on business and adversely affects productivity and economic growth. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that businesses in Canada currently spend over $30 billion each year complying with regulations. Over the past four years, the government has taken important steps to reduce the administrative and paperwork burden on Canadian businesses.
In March 2009 the government met its target of reducing the paperwork burden on companies by 20% and eliminating almost 80,000 regulatory requirements and information obligations with which businesses must comply.
To sustain that momentum, this January the government followed through on its budget commitment and announced the creation of the Red Tape Reduction Commission with parliamentarian and private sector representatives. It will work to reduce the burden of federal regulatory requirements on Canadian businesses, especially small and medium businesses. As a member of that commission, I must say it is working extraordinarily well. It will consult with Canadians and Canadian businesses to identify irritants that have a clear detrimental effect on growth, competitiveness and innovation. The commission will provide advice on permanent solutions to control and reduce the overall regulatory compliance burden. I am honoured to be a part of that commission finishing the job.
It is important to remain vigilant in maintaining Canada's position on the world stage. That is why our Conservative government's number one priority remains the economy. Canada's economic action plan was intended to help guide the economy while being ever mindful of the country's long-term future. It has provided a balance between stimulating our economy in the short term and building our capacity in the long term. The plan is working in every region of Canada's family--
Mrs. Cathy McLeod:
Madam Speaker, it is also important to acknowledge the intervention of my colleague. The context of our current economic situation really creates the conversation in the debate. I appreciate that and ensure that I tie it all together.
In every region of Canada, families and businesses are paying less tax and unemployed workers are receiving better support and new training. Many job-creating infrastructure projects are nearing completion, while colleges and universities are benefiting from new investments. Canadian manufacturers are still in the process of recovering from the recession as they continue to deal with rising commodity costs and intense competition from all over the world.
Reducing business taxes, therefore makes more sense. It will leave more money in the hands of manufacturers that can then make necessary investments in their workforce and in their plants to compete and grow in domestic and global markets. It is no wonder then that the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters say that the question is not if we can afford corporate tax cuts, it is can we afford not to.
We have more than 110,000 businesses in Canada that are benefiting from our tax relief on job creators. By encouraging these 110,000 businesses to grow and encourage more and better paying jobs for Canadians, business tax cuts are raising the standard for living.
A $6 billion tax hike will do the opposite. It will stop our recovery in its tracks and hurt job creation. It is irresponsible, it is pure politics and it is short-sighted.
If Liberals do not believe what our Conservative government has to say, maybe they should listen to the former Liberal finance minister and Liberal deputy prime minister, John Manley who said, “I support the plan to reduce the statutory corporate tax rate to 15% by 2012”.
These reductions have been supported by governments from the left, right and centre of the political spectrum. Behind the strategy is a recognition that few things matter more to Canada's economic health and future prosperity than our ability to attract and retain investment.
For a number of years, Canadians relied on a cheap dollar to make our goods more competitive in foreign markets, but those days are gone. To compete for investment today with our strong dollar and growth in many of our export markets, which are still weak, Canada needs a significant tax advantage.
I do not think we should underestimate the benefits of these changes. We are transforming how Canada is seen by investors looking for places in which and from which to do business globally. Reforming the tax system in a way that promotes business investment and growth is a hugely positive move.
To tie it all together in terms of accountability, our government, not only through the Federal Accountability Act but also through the Parliamentary Budget Officer, is giving the tools to Canadians and to all the parties in the House which were unknown in the past.
Again, I am proud of our government. I am proud of the important work we are doing in terms of tax reduction. I am very proud of the tools that we have been providing to all parliamentarians.
Hon. Shawn Murphy (Charlottetown, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kings—Hants.
I am very pleased to rise today to speak on this issue. I submit it is a very important issue that goes right to the heart of our democracy and the role of the executive and Parliament within our democratic system.
I will speak first about the duties, responsibilities and obligations of members of Parliament individually and of the House of Commons, collectively.
There is a fundamental constitutional obligation on us individually and collectively to hold the executive to account. Our job is not to govern, it is to hold to account those who do. Basically members of Parliament have four fundamental roles: approve, amend and negate legislation; approve, amend and negate tax measures in legislation; approve or negate requests from the government for the appropriation of moneys from the public purse through the estimates process; and, most important, to hold the executive to account and ensure they are fulfilling those roles and functions that have been delegated to them.
The last speaker did not mention one word, one sentence, that dealt with this motion. We have lost sight of that very fundamental role. Some members in the House talk about decorum, which is very important, but the more important issue is for members of Parliament to do what they are supposed to do.
Every member of Parliament, government and opposition, has a constitutional duty and obligation to hold the executive to account, and both are to blame in many instances. In some cases, opposition MPs emphasize too much in drumming up scandal, real or perceived. At the same time, MPs from the government side toe the party line and read only the lines that are given to them in the morning by the Prime Minister's Office.
Right now Parliament and democracy are under attack. We have had two prorogations, the long form census travesty, and the current Minister of International Cooperation debacle. As well, we now have a motion before this House on the absolute refusal of the executive to give costing information about crime bills and projections on corporate tax cuts. Again, these are simple costing measures that have always been available to Parliament and should be available to Parliament.
Parliament has certain tools, and this was affirmed in the recent ruling of Speaker Milliken in April of last year. I quote:
||--procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of government documents, even those related to national security.
|| But it must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the house to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the houses.
What we are talking about today is a very simple request for the costing, which is available. Deputy ministers have all acknowledged that this is available information. It is in the domain and circulated within the executive. That is one request.
The other request has to do with the corporate tax cost projections. This is very simple financial information. There is no constitutional reason, no legitimate reason, no public interest reason why this information has not been made available to Parliament. I would point out that all constitutional and procedural scholars agree with that premise.
This tool has been around for centuries. This followed the creation of our Westminster system which started in or around the year 1208. It is a tool available to Parliament in fulfilling its constitutional duty to hold government to account, and as I pointed out before, Parliament, at all times has an overriding duty to act responsibly, to act in the public interest.
Now we have a situation where that tool, and I submit democracy itself, is under attack. We have a situation where the Prime Minister will do anything in his power to undermine Parliament. When he was first elected he published a booklet advising Conservative chairs how to stop any progress in committee, to hold up committee meetings, to shut them down, leave, adjourn, anything at all. He prorogued Parliament twice. Any officers or senior public servants who disagree with him are blacklisted: Linda Keen, Paul Kennedy, Kevin Page, the list goes on.
We had the Afghan detainee issue which had to go to the highest office, the office of the Speaker, for a ruling. I just quoted from it.
The situation is very clear. Now we have before us the cost of the crime bills and projections dealing with corporate profits and corporate taxes. Nothing could be simpler. This is information that should be available to members of Parliament and parliamentary committees. To say it is a cabinet confidence is not correct.
However, I should point out that in refusing this to Parliament, Parliament being the people, what the Prime Minister is saying is that Parliament does not count, and he is also saying that the people do not count. He is saying that if he wants to give out this information, he will do it, and if he does not want to do it, he will not and it is none of Parliament's business and, more important, it is not the public's business. He is saying that he will do what he wants to do and it is none of their business.
This is sad. We have a person in power who, I submit, has absolutely no respect for Parliament, the institutions of democracy and the role of Parliament. It is nothing less. The previous speaker talked about tax cuts and seniors' pensions. It is not about that. It is nothing less than a frontal attack on democracy, democratic institutions and the very foundations upon which this country was built and started, in 1867.
This is how countries get themselves in trouble. All it takes is for many people just to shrug their shoulders, do nothing and say, “I'm still getting my pension. The roads are still paved. We still have relative peace. I don't care.” All it takes is for people to do nothing. If Parliament is not functioning properly, this leads to a lesser country, degrades institutional integrity and more constant attacks. It is a vicious cycle.
This is not a partisan issue, it is not a policy issue, it is the institution itself that is under attack and there is an obligation on each and every one of us, individually and collectively, to stand on our feet and protect this institution of Parliament.
My suspicion is the motion will pass, but it will sadden me when I see government MPs who took their oath of office to protect this institution vote against this very motion.
Unless and until we can get every member of Parliament to acknowledge his or her role within this institution, Parliament and all its institutions will continue to degrade and depreciate.
I think I have made my point clear. Members will understand how I am going to vote on this motion. I certainly welcome any questions.
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, despite being elected on a platform of openness, transparency and accountability, the Conservative government has been obsessed with controlling and restricting the flow of information and hiding facts from Parliament and the people of Canada.
Most recently, the Conservatives have been obstructing the work of the Standing Committee on Finance by hampering Parliament's attempts to gain a better understanding of the government's fiscal position and the costs of the government's legislation.
The Conservative government refuses to reveal to parliamentarians the actual cost of their American-style legislative measures to supposedly combat crime.
The Conservatives have yet to come clean with the details on the full cost of their crime agenda and corporate tax cuts, months after they were first asked for it by the finance committee. On both accounts, the Conservatives have falsely claimed that disclosing the requested information would be a breach of cabinet confidence.
The previous Liberal government had no problem providing projections of corporate profits. In November 2005, in its fiscal update, the Liberal government actually provided that very information on page 83 of the public document for the mini budget, the fiscal update of that time. In fact, it was common practice to provide Parliament with the projected cost of legislation before MPs were asked to vote on it. That is what is important.
This is not a debate today about the merits of corporate tax cuts versus payroll tax cuts, versus investments in health care for middle-class families. That is the broader issue, but the real issue today is why will the government not tell members of Parliament the cost of the corporate tax cuts. Why will the government not tell members of Parliament the cost of its U.S.-style criminal justice agenda so that at least before MPs vote on that legislation, particularly at a time when we have a $56 billion deficit, we know the cost and how much these decisions will add to that record Conservative deficit?
The government's excuses were so unbelievable that last week I asked the Speaker of the House to find the government in contempt of Parliament.
The government is preventing parliamentarians from doing their work by refusing to share this information with them.
In our system of responsible government, the government must seek Parliament's authority to spend public funds. Parliament has an obligation and responsibility to hold the government to account and to scrutinize the government's books.
A knowledge of the actual costs is particularly important in these times of deficit and future budget cuts.
The primary role of members of the House is to monitor the use of public funds. Without the appropriate information, members cannot fulfill this role.
Today I am rising in support of this motion. We are appealing to the government to come clean with the information. At a time when we have a $56 billion deficit and Canadian families are having trouble just making ends meet, where every dollar counts, this secrecy around public dollars must end.
John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail put it well earlier this week when he said:
|| The Harper government uses “cabinet confidence” the way the Nixon administration used “executive privilege.” The Liberals provided projections of corporate profits when they were in government. And it is ridiculous for the Conservatives to maintain that the cost of their law-and-order legislation is a state secret.
How is Parliament to judge the wisdom of that legislation if it cannot measure the legislation's projected impact in terms of prisons built and guards hired?
This latest episode reinforces the point that the Conservative government's determination to keep such a tight control on information makes it impossible for one to judge their government or for Parliament to do its job.
The fact is that over the last five years there has been an insidious erosion of access to basic information that has made it difficult for Canadians to judge their government, or for parliamentarians to do their jobs representing their constituents.
Since taking power, the Prime Minister has refused to co-operate fully with access to information requests. In fact, the number of cases in which Ottawa discloses information has dropped from 40% to 16%. The fact is that in 2010, the Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, admitted that there was a lack of will on the part of the government to be transparent, that Canada was no longer an information leader.
This Conservative government has become notorious for its culture of secrecy.
All Canadians will remember the Speaker's ruling on the Afghan detainee issue. The ruling was a tough pill to swallow for the Conservatives, because it proved the supremacy of Parliament and the role of parliamentarians to hold their government to account. It is an indisputable privilege, obligation and responsibility we have as parliamentarians.
However, the Conservatives appear to have learned absolutely nothing from that ruling. They continue to obstruct the work of Parliament by habitually denying the information that we as parliamentarians need to do our jobs.
Since the Parliamentary Budget Office was created, the Conservatives have vilified the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, and stonewalled his requests for information as his office works to ensure the accuracy of the government's financial pictures.
Nearly a year after the Conservative government's 2010 budget promised to find $17.6 billion in savings through public service attrition, the Conservatives have consistently refused to provide any details.
Parliamentarians need to know how the Conservatives are going to reduce the size of the public service, or how they will get their spending under control and return Canada to balanced budgets. The only thing that we have learned is that they plan to hire 5,000 more correctional officers, presumably to staff the prison expansions associated with their as yet uncosted justice legislation.
Is it any surprise that in November the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report showed there was an 85% chance of the finance minister and government failing to meet their target of getting Canada back to balanced budgets by 2015-16. The reality is that the finance minister has never met a deficit target in his tenure; his numbers do not add up. The government that he is part of tries to prevent Parliament from having the numbers.
Now that it has become clear the Conservatives will persist in giving a further $6 billion in tax cuts to Canada's largest corporations despite the fact we have a $56 billion deficit, it is looking even less convincing that we will get back to balanced budgets under this Conservative government's big spending, big borrowing ways.
At a time when Canadian families are being squeezed and every dollar counts, this kind of secrecy around public dollars is unconscionable. It is not the government's money; the money belongs to Canadians. We are here to defend the public purse.
As the Globe and Mail said in its editorial this week:
|| Its position is untenable. This is a government that stresses fiscal rectitude and the promotion of financial literacy. Why should Canadians be told to ask more informed questions about private investment or borrowings, on the one hand, and give the government a blank cheque on the other?
It is time for the Prime Minister to end this practice of attacking and trying to intimidate senior public servants and parliamentary watchdogs, including the Parliamentary Budget Officer. It is time to stop curtailing access to information. It is time to stop hiding behind the false pretense of cabinet confidence when the information the finance committee has requested, the costs of the corporate tax cuts and the Conservatives' American-style criminal justice legislation, is vital for our decision-making in Parliament.
It is time for the Conservatives to start respecting Parliament and the Canadians who chose this parliament and Canadian taxpayers, and tell them what their agenda will cost.
Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on a motion of the official opposition, the Liberal Party.
Allow me to read the motion. It is fairly long but also complete.
|| That, given the undisputed privileges of Parliament under Canada's constitution, including the absolute power to require the government to produce uncensored documents when requested, the government's continuing refusal to comply with reasonable requests for documents, particularly related to the cost of the government's tax cut for the largest corporations and the cost of the government's justice and public safety agenda, represents a violation of the rights of Parliament, and this House hereby orders the government to provide every document requested by the Standing Committee on Finance on November 17, 2010, by March 7, 2011.
As this motion indicates, the Standing Committee on Finance requested access to a certain number of documents it needed to be able to do its parliamentary work. The government refused to provide, forward or make these documents available to the committee.
This is very similar to the saga of the documents pertaining to the allegations of torture in Afghanistan. In that case, the Speaker ruled that the parties must come to an agreement or that there would be contempt of Parliament.
It is unfortunate that the Conservative government, a minority government, is seeking not only to govern as though it were a majority government but also to keep parliamentarians in the dark and prevent them from having all the relevant information. Parliamentarians are holding the government accountable on a certain number of issues. Clearly, the government has to be accountable.
This is extremely disturbing. I have not been a member of the House for very long, only since 2000. Under Jean Chrétien's majority government, which was never an ally of the sovereignists, I never heard of the possibility of a question of privilege leading to contempt of Parliament. And yet, at the time, we were dealing with a majority government. There is something in this government's attitude toward parliamentary institutions and the way democracy should be lived that closely resembles a certain degree of contempt.
We therefore do not hesitate in supporting this motion. I believe that, if the motion is not respected, it will surely lead to another question of privilege. Let us hope that we will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The government consistently relies on pretexts such as national security and cabinet confidence. The decision of the Speaker of the House in April was very clear: parliamentarians are entitled to have access to all necessary information, in an uncensored format. In matters of state security, the Bloc Québécois and the other opposition parties—I believe that they too have consistently maintained this position—are prepared to find accommodations, as was the case with the documents dealing with allegations of torture in Afghanistan.
In this case, however, the government is acting as if the opposition parties were unschooled in these matters when, in fact, we have shown ourselves to be flexible in the past.
In this particular case, we are dealing with documents that have nothing to do with national security whatsoever. In what possible way would knowing the cost of tax breaks for big corporations be a risk to the Canadian state? That information has nothing to do with national security. I do not believe that our allies or enemies in the world are going to glean strategic information based on knowledge of the cost of the tax breaks announced by the Conservatives.
The same is true when it comes to the cost of the Conservatives' justice and security agenda. We know full well how obsessed they are with mandatory minimums. I do not see how the costs associated with this political choice, this ideologically driven vision of the Conservatives that focuses more on punishment than it does on rehabilitation, are a state secret. These documents should be submitted uncensored to the committee and made available to all parliamentarians so that they can, quite simply, do their jobs.
This is not the only area in which the government is trying to hide the facts in an effort, once again, to avoid being accountable. KAIROS, which we are currently debating in the House, is another example. We were deluded for several months into thinking that it was officials that made the decision. I even tracked down a response from the Minister of International Cooperation on April 23, 2010, in which she stated that CIDA, in a report to her, had suggested that the KAIROS grant be cancelled. We are talking about a substantial amount of money for a humanitarian organization like KAIROS—over $7 million. The Conservatives tried to pull the wool over our eyes. Eventually, a document was obtained through the Access to Information Act clearly indicating that the recommendation made by senior officials had been tinkered with. The word “not” was inserted into the funding recommendation signed by the minister in November 2009.
When we got that in December 2010, or one year later, the versions began to change in one way or another. Even today it is hard to understand the real ins and outs of this affair, apart from the Minister of International Cooperation having failed to tell the truth. We hope the Prime Minister will punish her for that, unless—and this is a theory that is constantly gaining ground— it turns out that she did sign the document authorizing funding for KAIROS. When the PMO and the Prime Minister found out about it, they asked the Minister of International Cooperation to stop the funding for purely ideological reasons with little basis in fact. So the little word “not” could have been added after the minister had signed.
That is all speculation, but it shows how far things have gone. Trying to find the truth is like playing a game of Clue, instead of just gathering all the facts and drawing conclusions in a calm, well informed way.
I am talking about KAIROS here but it could be the long form census. For several weeks, the Minister of Industry tried to make us think that was a Statistics Canada recommendation. The chief statistician resigned in order to demonstrate his disagreement with the government’s decision. Once again, they tried to cover up the truth and prevent us from doing our jobs.
But there is more to it than that. In the case of the census, without the obligatory long questionnaire in its previous form, not only parliamentarians but scientists, sociologists and demographers as well will be denied objective information. That is perfectly consistent with the Conservative way of doing things. Instead of making decisions on the basis of facts and reality, they do it on the basis of an ideology and worldview at odds with reality. Not only do they try to keep us in the dark, but they are interfering with the tools that parliamentarians, experts and scientists in all sorts of fields need in order to study reality on the basis of objective facts and identify problems and solutions. It is very worrisome.
It is obvious as well that the Conservatives are trying to infiltrate the entire machinery of government. We saw it recently with the partisan appointments to the CRTC. There is also the whole Rights and Democracy saga. They appointed people to this supposedly independent organization in order to turn it into a conveyor belt for spreading Conservative government policy on the international scene. They infiltrated the board of Rights and Democracy and fomented a crisis in an organization that had enjoyed great credibility in Quebec and Canada and around the world. They are still persisting in this and intend to reappoint two of the administrators responsible for the current crisis at Rights and Democracy.
When then Prime Minister Mulroney, a Conservative, created Rights and Democracy, he appointed a former leader of the New Democratic Party, Ed Broadbent, to head it. This was meant precisely to send a very strong signal that Rights and Democracy was independent of the Conservative government and could do its job as part of its network in civil society.
That is not the approach the Conservatives take today. They are going to do everything possible to bring Rights and Democracy to heel so it will be a mouthpiece for government policies, particularly in the Middle East. As we know, and I am not telling anyone anything new, they have abandoned the traditional Canadian approach of taking a balanced position on the Middle East, particularly in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now Canada stands foursquare behind Israel, regardless of what the Israeli authorities do.
We saw the best example of this in recent weeks when the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and I call this shameful, the very morning the dictator Mubarak left office, rounded up opponents and supporters of Mubarak back to back, as if the opponents who were fighting against a dictator were just as responsible as the ones advocating for him. That is extremely disturbing.
This is not one of our priorities, but I mention it for our Canadian friends and for Canada’s image in the world. Canada’s failure to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council was no accident.
We see the same thing at Radio-Canada. There are partisan appointments that try to put pressure on Radio-Canada. Yesterday, again, the Minister of Immigration said that Radio-Canada journalists lie all the time. They are trying to intimidate Radio-Canada journalists and, in fact, all journalists. They know as well as I do that the Prime Minister only gives interviews now to journalists who are sympathetic to the regime. It is part of the effort to infiltrate and control the federal public administration, crown corporations like Radio-Canada, and independent agencies, and again I will make the connection with KAIROS. By cutting its funding, they are trying to muzzle an organization that is totally independent of the government that obviously, like all non-governmental organizations, needs public funding. They are being denied the resources to make their voice heard to counterbalance the polices of the Conservative government, particularly in the area of international cooperation and international relations.
I have spoken out against this attempt by the Conservatives to stage a quiet takeover of the machinery of government. So far, I have not even mentioned certain religious groups that use their privileges to try to influence Conservative government policy, federal policy. I will not have a chance to do that, but we can certainly tell that there is that intent and a well-planned strategy behind it all, to take control of the machinery of government and put it to work for the Conservative Party and its ideology.
I would like to use my remaining time to critique the government's positions and to argue for access to information we need on the tax cuts for big corporations. This is a political choice that is not only extremely questionable, but comes at a time when there are major strategic choices to be made, particularly with a looming deficit of over $55 billion.
Since coming into power, the Conservatives have instituted a slew of measures to reduce the tax burden on small and medium-sized enterprises. We have no problem with this when it comes to SMEs. We know full well that these SMEs create jobs in Canada and Quebec, and that they are suffering horribly from the effects of the rising Canadian dollar. Once again, the rise in the value of the Canadian dollar has been driven by the spike in oil prices and the federal government's choices with regard to energy. These choices, and the economic crisis itself, will have an impact on the public purse.
It stated in black and white in the Minister of Finance's budget that there would be a very steep increase in employment insurance premiums. This tactic smacks of a return to a strategy that we had hoped was a thing of the past: using employment insurance fund surpluses for purposes that are not stipulated in the act or that are not in the spirit of the act. This is a return to the ways of the former minister of finance, Paul Martin. The writing is on the wall. That much was clear from the Minister of Finance's budget. There will be a tax increase in the form of higher employment insurance premiums—and this increase will be very steep.
We fully supported the decisions made in this area. There was a drop from 12% to 11.5% in 2008, and then a further decrease to 11% in 2009. This reduction was fast-tracked in response to the economic crisis. We were fine with that choice.
It was announced that as of January 1, 2007, the total allowable revenue for a small company to qualify for the reduced federal tax rate would increase from $300,000 to $400,000. We have no issue with this either.
However, we have a problem with a number of things. There are the big tax cuts for large corporations, especially banks and the oil sector. Their tax rate was 19.5% in 2008 and will be 15% in 2012. That is a very large tax cut with no structural effect on the Canadian and Quebec economies. There is proof of that. It was not just yesterday that they started giving tax cuts to big businesses as well as the small and medium-sized ones.
It is understandable in the case of small and medium-sized businesses that there will be setbacks that explain the need for cuts. But there is no structural effect in the tax cuts the government is announcing because they do not force large corporations to improve their technology or engage in research and development. We think it is more to the point to have tax incentives for adopting behaviours that are good for the economic future. That is true of Canada and it is true of Quebec.
These tax cuts have not had a structural effect. The proof is that productivity decreased again in Canada over the last quarter. What is happening? The tax cuts are going straight into the pockets of the shareholders and company owners. The savings are not reinvested productively and have only fuelled speculation over the last few years.
As I said, it was not just yesterday that the federal government embraced this strategy. The Liberals did the same thing. Paul Martin substantially reduced the taxes on big business as well. That is not the way to ensure a solid, lasting economic recovery. The money could be used in much more productive ways.
If we cut the taxes on large corporations—to an extent we would very much like to know—how are we ever going to return to a balanced budget when our deficit exceeds $55 billion? Somebody is going to have to pay. There will be cuts, either to services or to transfers to individuals and the provinces. Or else there will be another tax increase, in one way or another, for small and medium-sized businesses, that is to say, a tax increase for the middle class and the most disadvantaged.
It is quite obvious. It is mathematical. There is no other way of doing it. We think they can ask the oil companies and the banks to do their share in this collective effort we call taxes. At present the oil companies receive benefits that come from subsidies on the order of $1.3 billion a year and the banks are using tax havens to avoid their responsibilities.
We will be supporting the Liberal motion.