Hon. Joe Oliver (Minister of Natural Resources, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this second reading of the debate of the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act. This legislation would help bolster economic growth and ensure that Canada's economic and public finances remain sustainable over the long term. Today, I would like to focus on our government's plan for responsible resource development, a critical part of the economic action plan. It is a forward-looking piece of legislation that would help ensure that all Canadians benefit from our natural resource heritage.
Our abundant natural resources have always been the foundation of Canada's economy. They are at the very heart of what we have been and what we are as a country. They have fostered the development of entire communities and regions. They have contributed to carving out the character and identity of our people, and they have been a source of great national pride, from the birth of our country to the present. The global economy presents both opportunities and problems and we must make the right choices to ensure the prosperity and security of Canadians for generations to come.
There is a tremendous new global opportunity for Canada to capitalize on its resource development potential to stimulate jobs and growth in a period of global economic uncertainty. We have a country with an enormous amount of natural resources. We are an energy superpower. We are first in the production of potash, second in the production of uranium, third in the production of hydroelectricity and natural gas, and sixth in the production of oil. We have the third largest reserves in the world. We are a mining giant.
Canada is one of the leading mining nations in the world, producing more than 60 minerals and metals. In 2009, more than 220 principal producing mines, more than 3,000 stone quarries and sand gravel pits, and more than 50 non-ferrous smelters and refiners and steel mills were operating in Canada.
Canada is well positioned to benefit from the growing global demand for energy, especially oil. Our oil sands are the third largest proven reserve in the world. As conventional oil supplies are depleted, the International Energy Agency predicts that the world will become increasingly dependent on so-called unconventional sources of oil like that of Canada's oil sands.
As the International Energy Agency has told us time and again, traditional energy sources, oil and gas, will continue to be the dominant energy source for many years to come. In 25 years from now, even under the most promising scenarios for development of alternative energy technologies, fossil fuels will still be providing well over 60% of the world's energy. The demand for oil will be almost 15% higher than today. More and more, the growing demand for oil and gas will come from emerging economies where the appetite for other resources needed to fuel a growing economy is also rising.
Increasing demand for oil and gas and the opening of new markets for minerals and metals represent significant opportunities for jobs and prosperity for Canadians. The good news is that the demand in the world for the kinds of resources that we have in abundance continues to increase day after day, month after month, year after year. As global economic weight continues to shift towards fast-growing emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere, we must act to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. To do that, we must diversify our markets.
Currently, almost all of our crude oil exports go to the U.S. The U.S. is a great and valued customer, but that oil is being sold at a substantial discount because, quite simply, it has nowhere else to go. It is a buyer's market.
North American crude prices are some $20 a barrel below the world price and even lower for Canadian heavy crude. When we are exporting about 2 million barrels a day, it adds up to some serious lost revenue, over $40 million a day at current price differences. This lost opportunity represents lower revenue for producers. According to a recent analysis by CIBC, this price discount could cost Canadian producers $18 billion of lost revenue this year alone.
This also represents forgone tax and royalty revenue for governments, so less money to provide essential social services for Canadians. This is the impact of having our crude oil resources locked in by lack of transportation capacity. We have no way to deliver our oil to markets other than the U.S., so we are forced to take just about whatever American refineries are willing to pay. We simply cannot afford to take these kinds of losses year after year. It is costing us billions of dollars in economic activity and thousands upon thousands of jobs. That is why it is so critical for Canada to develop the infrastructure we need to diversify and deliver our oil and gas to new and growing markets, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. In the interests of Canada and Canadians, we need to act and we need to act quickly. Major projects such as pipeline infrastructure must not be subject to unnecessary delay.
The situation is getting even more serious than lower prices. It is estimated that without new export-oriented pipeline capacity, western Canadian producers will have to start putting limits on investment and job creation plans because there will be no way to get any more oil to the market.
We run the very real risk of missing out. With over $500 billion in potential resource projects over the next 10 years, we have a tremendous opportunity to create jobs and economic growth right across the country. These jobs will be in every sector of the economy, from manufacturing, mining, science and technology, to the services sector. However, this opportunity is not guaranteed. Canada is competing for capital with countries around the world. Fortunately, Canada has a lot to offer: attractive investment opportunities, a competitive tax regime and policies that do not discriminate against foreign companies. I saw the recognition of that opportunity in my trips to China and Japan this year.
Unfortunately, our inefficient, duplicative and unpredictable regulatory system is an impediment. It is complex, slow-moving and wasteful. It subjects major projects to unpredictable and potentially endless delays.
What our country needs is a 21st century regulatory system that protects the environment and is efficient, effective and expeditious. That is why this bill proposes a system-wide approach. With responsible resource development legislation we will focus our efforts in four areas: first, making reviews for major resource projects more predictable and timely; second, reducing duplication in the review process; third, strengthening environmental protection; and, fourth, enhancing consultations with aboriginal peoples.
Allow me to speak briefly about each of these areas.
The bill contains a number of measures to make the regulatory system more predictable and timely and to facilitate decision-making with regard to investments and planning.
That means, among other things, implementing reasonable and realistic schedules for reviewing major projects, consolidating the responsibility for environmental assessments to three agencies instead of 40, and focusing our efforts on major projects.
After consulting experts, we believe that the timelines for conducting an independent, objective, exhaustive, scientific study are adequate.
We have consulted with experts, including Gaétan Caron, the chairman of the National Energy Board, so we are comfortable that the delays, the timelines, are in fact adequate. We are also ensuring that our regulatory system has the resources needed to meet these timelines. We have reinvested $54 million into the major projects management office initiative to enhance the capacity of key regulatory departments and agencies to enable them to focus their efforts on major projects.
Furthermore, while the opposition likes to spread misinformation that the funding for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, or CEAA, has been cut, that is not true. We have renewed its base funding and increased its funding to more effectively carry out aboriginal consultations and environmental reviews on an independent, objective and scientific basis.
We are also ensuring that there is clear accountability in the system. The federal cabinet will make the go, no-go decisions on all major pipeline projects, informed by the recommendations of the National Energy Board. This is already the case for the vast majority of decisions across government, including under CEAA.
We believe that for major projects that could have a significant economic and environmental impact, the ultimate decision-making should rest with elected members who are accountable to the people rather than with unelected officials. Canadians will know who made the decision, why the decision was made and whom to hold accountable.
The bill also proposes measures to reduce duplication and regulatory burden. It would allow provincial environmental assessments that meet the substantive requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to be substituted for the federal government assessment. In some cases, the provincial process may be deemed equivalent to the federal process. However, these provisions will only be put into effect if the province can demonstrate it can meet federal requirements.
Even though we are making many changes to ensure that the process is efficient, we also want to make the environmental protection more effective. An expedited review is not synonymous with easier approval. We are not choosing between the two. By simplifying the process we are not compromising environmental protection.
The bill will ensure that we stop reviewing projects that have little to no environmental effect and focus resources on those projects that have the potential for significant environmental and economic impact. This means we will be getting out of reviewing projects like blueberry washing facilities, parking lots, or hockey rinks. Frankly, we should not inconvenience people and waste government resources on paper-pushing exercises.
As a safeguard, the minister of the environment will retain the authority to order environmental assessments on projects he deems need them. Importantly, the bill will introduce administrative monetary penalties from $100,000 to $400,000 for non-compliance by proponents with conditions imposed by the regulator.
Budget 2012 also introduced important maritime safety measures. Tankers will be double-hulled. There will be mandatory pilotage, mandatory aerial surveillance and improved navigation tools. We will also be increasing annual pipeline inspections from 100 to 150 and doubling annual comprehensive audits from three to six to identify issues before problems occur.
These measures will significantly increase the safety of major projects on the environment while ensuring the system is efficient.
The last pillar of our responsible resources development strategy is to enhance consultations with aboriginal peoples. The Prime Minister made it clear during the Crown-First Nations Gathering in January that our government takes seriously its duty to consult and accommodate. Our plan for responsible resource development contains several steps to move this agenda forward.
For example, consultation of aboriginal Canadians will be an integral part of the environmental assessment and regulation processes. One department or organization will be designated as the sole crown consultation coordinator for the review of specific projects.
The plan also calls for the use of memorandums of understanding and agreements with aboriginal groups and provincial governments in order to clarify expectations for the consultations with regard to project reviews. In addition, our plan helps achieve these objectives by encouraging positive long-term partnerships with aboriginal communities, in order for their members to secure more direct and indirect benefits from new major projects.
Over the last few years, our government has taken several key initiatives to put Canada ahead of the curve in today's highly competitive global economy. We reduced personal and corporate taxes. We invested in science and technology, alternative energy and environmental protection. We negotiated free trade agreements, reduced red tape and the regulatory burden and tackled government waste.
Our government's agenda is all about long-term growth, employment, prosperity and security for Canadians across the country. Responsible resource development is at the heart of that agenda. To capture the promise of jobs, growth and prosperity from our immense natural resources, the time to act is now.
Taken together, these system-wide measures will ensure our regulatory system is more accountable, efficient, effective and responsive to the needs of all Canadians.
Ms. Peggy Nash (Parkdale—High Park, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today deeply concerned about the bill at hand and about the direction in which the government is taking this country.
Bill C-38 is a massive 425-page omnibus bill that goes far beyond the measures in the budget. It includes many previously unannounced changes.
This is the Conservatives' first post-election majority budget and their true colours are showing throw.
During the election, the Conservatives did not tell Canadians that they planned to raise the age of eligibility for old age security. Canadians had to hear it all the way from Davos, Switzerland, months after the election. And yet, Bill C-38 raises the age of eligibility for OAS.
During the election, the Conservatives did not tell Canadians that they planned to do away with protecting our environment and fighting climate change. In fact, the Conservative platform claimed that they recognized that a healthy environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.
The Conservative platform also promised to conserve and protect our environment and to take action on climate change. They promised new investments to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including an extension of the eco-energy retrofit homes program.
And yet, a full one-third of Bill C-38 is dedicated to the gutting of environmental regulation and protection. It repeals the Kyoto Implementation Act. And that extension of the eco-energy program? It never happened. In fact, the Conservatives abandoned the program early, despite its economic success.
During the election, the Conservatives promised open and accountable government. Their platform claimed that they were here for integrity and accountability, and that they were committed to providing the principled, accountable government that our great country deserves. This was in the Conservative platform and yet Bill C-38 includes a series of previously unannounced measures that will contribute to a more secretive environment here in Ottawa by rolling back government transparency and accountability.
During the election, the Conservatives presented Canadians with one plan, but now that the elections are over, they are moving in the opposite direction as quickly as they can. Yes, the Conservatives' true colours are showing and I am deeply concerned and all Canadians should be deeply concerned.
My New Democratic colleagues and I strongly oppose the bill on both content and process grounds. Bill C-38 includes most of the major proposals announced in budget 2012, which we have vigorously opposed and to which I will return shortly. We also take issue with the undemocratic omnibus nature of the bill, which goes far beyond the budget. The tabling of such a large and wide-ranging bill in such a short time frame undermines Parliament by denying individual MPs the ability to fully inform themselves as to its content and implications.
Back in 1994, a young MP from Calgary took offence to the omnibus nature of the Liberal's budget implementation bill. This MP stood in the House and said:
|| I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that you should rule it out of order and it should not be considered by the House in the form in which it has been presented.
||...I would argue that the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles.
||...in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?
|| The bill contains many distinct proposals and principles and asking members to provide simple answers to such complex questions is in contradiction to the conventions and practices of the House.
That was said on March 25, 1990. Who said that? It was the young MP who is the current Prime Minister of Canada. His objection to the Liberal omnibus budget bill can and should be applied to the bill at hand.
In 1994, the Prime Minister argued that the Liberals' omnibus bill did not fulfill the required level of relevancy, that is that the items in the bill were too diverse and could not be reasonably grouped together in a coherent manner.
Let us see how this bill stacks up on this point. Among other things, Bill C-38 raises the age of eligibility for OAS-GIS, guts the environmental assessment regime, eliminates the Auditor General oversight on a number of agencies, repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, changes the rules for registered charities, amends the Seeds Act to potentially allow private contractors to perform food inspection and it changes the rules on foreign ownership of wireless telecommunications companies.
This is the definition of an omnibus bill and, applying the Prime Minister's own arguments, this bill should be ruled out of order. The measures in the bill are too wide-ranging to fulfill the relevancy requirement, and we agree that asking members to vote in a block on such diverse subject matters does not allow them to represent their constituents as our democracy requires.
However, once again the Conservatives are trying to ram legislation through Parliament without allowing Canadians and their MPs to thoroughly examine it. To make matters worse, they are trying to sneak through changes that will further restrict transparency and democracy in the future.
Bill C-38 would enact numerous changes that will limit the ability of Canadians and MPs to hold government accountable, with a broad attack on government transparency that was not present in budget 2012. These changes include weakening the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and undermining the authority of the National Energy Board, increasing cabinet discretion and ministerial power over a range of issues from immigration to food safety to approving pipelines, eliminating Auditor General oversight for many agencies, eliminating the position of the Inspector General for CSIS, and reducing reporting requirements to Parliament.
When did the Conservatives become so afraid of accountability? On this side of the House, we believe in a respectful and open Parliament and government.
We believe it is wrong to try and sneak measures past Canadians and to ram them through Parliament as quickly as possible, particularly legislation that will only make government less transparent.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said repeatedly that MPs are not getting the information they need in order to reasonably be able to exercise their power of oversight.
And while other Westminster parliaments around the world are working to improve fiscal transparency, this Conservative government is focused on reducing government accountability as quickly as possible.
New Democrats are focused on addressing the real priorities of Canadian families, such as creating good quality jobs, strengthening our health care system, ensuring a secure retirement for all and protecting our environment.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives are too busy focusing on gutting environmental protection and slashing vital services.
In the fall, the New Democrats tabled a motion that called on the government to take immediate action to grow our economy and create jobs. The Conservatives supported this motion with their votes but they have yet to turn these votes into action.
The Conservatives claim that this budget is all about job creation but the budget contains nine times more in cuts than in job creation measures and actually plans for unemployment to rise. There are already 1.4 million Canadians out of work. The current unemployment rate of 7.2% remains well above its pre-recession level of about 6%. For our young people, the future of our economy, the situation is even worse. Youth unemployment remains at nearly 14%.
Now the Conservatives say that they are creating jobs but, with the growth in the labour force, there is a net increase in the unemployment rate. In fact, since the Conservatives took office in February 2006, we have lost 365,000 manufacturing jobs.
In his appearance at the finance committee last week, the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed that the Conservatives' austerity budget would mean a further loss of 43,000 jobs and would slow Canada's economic recovery. Furthermore, he confirmed that when, combined with prior cuts, there would be a total of 103,000 jobs lost in the public and private sectors, a significant drag on our economy.
The government will claim these numbers are hypothetical, but Canadians know differently. They are dealing with the fallout. After all, when an industrial plant with 1,000 people closes, the impact is not isolated to those jobs only but also affects suppliers and small businesses in the community. It is the same when we lose over 19,000 public sector jobs. In fact, if the Conservatives were more focused on creating jobs for Canadians, why would they focus their efforts on paying consultants to review government spending at $90,000 a day. That is where their priorities seem to lie.
New Democrats support the ongoing review of government spending to ensure that our tax dollars are well-spent, but we believe in reviewing all government expenditures, including tax expenditures.
As Glen Hodgson of the Conference Board of Canada told the finance committee last fall, “value for money applies on the tax expenditure side as much as on the spending side”. We believe in policy based on evidence.
The evidence shows that the Conservatives’ massive corporate tax breaks have failed to create good quality, family-supporting jobs. The Minister of Finance recognizes that infrastructure investment has more than five times the economic impact of corporate income tax cuts, as he indicated in the appendix of budget 2009.
And yet, despite the evidence, this government is determined to continue on with its agenda of corporate tax cuts, while slashing jobs and services and planning for unemployment to rise.
Evidence shows as well that the OAS and GIS program is sustainable.
Pension and retirement expert Professor Tom Klassen of York University notes:
|| I haven’t heard any academic argue that there’s a crisis with OAS, which is why I was surprised a few days ago when the Prime Minister seemed to say there was a crisis...there’s got to be...more evidence that there’s a problem...I don’t see that evidence.
Numerous experts, including the Parliamentary Budget Officer, have confirmed that the OAS, the old age security, is sustainable in its existing form. Even the government's own latest actuarial report on OAS indicates that the OAS/GIS will account for 2.37% of GDP in 2011, 3.16% in 2030 and then will fall below today's level to 2.35% in 2060.
The cost of the government's proposed changes will throw tens of thousands of seniors into poverty. In fact, without OAS/GIS for two years, almost 100,000 recently retired Canadian seniors would be made poor today. In particular, the poverty rate for single senior females would rise from 17% to 48%, almost tripling.
Despite this evidence, the government is using the budget bill to balance the books on the backs of our seniors.
The evidence shows that good environmental policy is also good economic policy. Policy-makers in Germany have long understood this and today Germans are reaping the benefits of their foresight in the form of cutting edge innovation, superior global competitiveness and hundreds of thousands of quality jobs.
Unfortunately, under the Conservative government, Canada is near the bottom of the global heap in terms of investments in green initiatives and our economy is suffering for Conservative inaction. Under the Conservatives, Canada's environmental ranking has plummetted to among the worst in the world. In fact, the 2011 Climate Change Performance Index ranks Canada 57 out of 60 nations surveyed, well behind G8 countries like the U.K., France and Germany that all scored in the top 10.
Despite this evidence that they are heading on the wrong course, the Conservatives are determined to use Bill C-38 to gut environmental assessment, reduce Canada's accountability on the world stage by repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act and reduce the independent scientific advice available to guide policy making by shutting down the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
The Conservatives claim to be focused on efficiency and a review of government expenditures, but the evidence points to the contrary. With this bill, the Conservatives are leading the country down the wrong path. Just as effective government policy relies on evidence and effective review of government activities relies on government transparency, government spending reflects government priorities. Accurate, timely information about how much the government is spending and on what is crucial for Canadians to be able to evaluate if the values of their elected representatives are in line with their own.
Not only is the government not in the business of providing answers, with Bill C-38 it is deliberately dismantling requirements for government transparency and accountability. The opening of the 2011 Conservative platform characterized the election last May as a choice between principled leadership and opportunism. I wholeheartedly agree. This Conservative bill is highly opportunistic. Instead of telling Canadians their plans during the election, the Conservatives have waited until the campaign is done to show Canadians what they are really about. On this side of the House, we believe in principled leadership.
We believe it is wrong for the government to claim that it is focused on job creation, while cutting jobs and planning for unemployment to rise.
We believe it is wrong for the government to cut a seniors’ benefit program and throw tens of thousands of seniors into poverty.
We believe it is wrong for the government to gut measures that have been put in place to protect our environment and to turn its back on international action on climate change.
Finally, we believe it is wrong for the government to try to sneak legislation past Canadians and their MPs in a massive omnibus bill, especially when these measures deliberately seek to impede government transparency and accountability in the future.
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
||this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, because it:
||a) weakens Canadians' confidence in the work of parliament, decreases transparency and erodes fundamental democratic institutions by systematically over-concentrating power in the hands of government ministers;
||b) shields the government from criticism on extremely controversial non-budgetary issues by bundling them into one enormous piece of legislation masquerading as a budgetary bill;
||c) undermines the critical role played by such trusted oversight bodies as the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, the CSIS Inspector General and the National Energy Board, amongst many others, thereby silencing institutional checks and balances to the government's ideological agenda;
||d) raises the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement from 65 to 67 years in a reckless effort to balance the government's misguided spending on prisons, incompetent military procurement and inappropriate Ministerial expenses;
||e) includes provisions to gut the federal environmental assessment regime and to overhaul fish habitat protection that will adversely affect fragile ecosystems and Canada's environmental sustainability for generations to come;
||f) calls into question Canada's food inspection and public health regime by removing critical oversight powers of the Auditor General in relation to the Canada Food Inspection Agency all while providing an avenue and paving the way for opportunities to privatize a number of essential inspection functions; and
||g) does nothing to provide a solution for the growing number of Canadians looking for employment in Canada's challenging job market and instead fuels further job loss, which according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer will amount to a total loss of 43,000 jobs in 2014.
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-38, the government's budget implementation bill.
I would like to use my time to address four themes: namely how the Conservatives are, one, hiding the full impact of their spending cuts; two, breaking their election promise to protect old age security; three, using budget 2012 to ram through important changes to Canada that are unrelated to budgets; and four, failing to create good-paying jobs and recognize the important issue of growing income inequality in Canada.
Later on in this debate, my colleague from the riding of Etobicoke North, the Liberal critic for the environment, will speak on how the Conservatives are using this budget bill to completely rewrite Canada's environmental laws. We understand that streamlining environmental laws and protection can be a meritorious objective and approach, but there is a difference between streamlining and gutting.
The approach of the government to use an omnibus bill, the kitchen sink bill, to put all of these measures in the same legislation is to deny Parliament and committees the opportunity to subject this legislation to suitable scrutiny and enable us, as parliamentarians, to be both responsible and accountable.
I will first speak about the full impact of the government's spending cuts. The Conservatives are trying to hide the full impact of their cuts from Canadians by only talking about half of them. Allow me to illustrate that with a couple of examples.
We know the Conservative cuts will ramp up over four years until they reach $10.8 billion in ongoing cuts to the annual budget. However, budget 2012 only provides details on $5 billion of the $10.8 billion in ongoing cuts.
As we try to make sense of this budget, we must be mindful that the information the government released in budget 2012 applies to just under half of the overall cuts. That goes for the 19,200 federal public servants who will be laid off. Those positions that are being eliminated stem from just half of the cuts.
We hear about the ongoing cuts of $688 million to Public Safety, $153 million to Transport, $310 million to Agriculture and Agri-food and $378 million to international aid. Once again, those cuts are the result of just half of the overall cuts that are projected by the federal government. For the other half of the cuts we have precious few details.
From budget 2010, we know there will be an ongoing cut of $1 billion to National Defence and an ongoing cut of more than $1.8 billion to international aid. I do not know how the government can afford $16 orange juice, six star hotels, and several thousand dollars in limousine bills in that context, but that is another story. The only other person I know of who has stayed at The Savoy is Conrad Black, but that too is another story.
We read in the newspaper that Canada's foreign aid is being cut by $378 million, but that is not even close to the full story. When we add the cuts announced in 2010, we know the ongoing annual cut to foreign aid is at least $2.2 billion, which is roughly 50% of Canada's foreign aid budget.
We know the ongoing annual cut to National Defence is at least $2.1 billion, not the $1.1 billion introduced in budget 2012.
We know the ongoing annual cuts to the Government of Canada will be $10.8 billion, not the $5.2 billion announced in budget 2012.
What we do not know is the impact that these additional cuts will have on the programs and services offered to Canadians. We do not know how the other departments and agencies will be affected.
We do not know how many federal public servants will be cut in addition to 19,200 positions that were announced in budget 2012.
The government cannot cut an additional $5.6 billion without cutting programs and services.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that in addition to the 19,200 positions being eliminated in budget 2012, there will be a further 6,300 jobs cut as a result of the government's previous strategic reviews that have yet to be implemented, and a further 9,000 cuts as a result of the government's budget operating freeze. That creates a total of 34,500 federal public service job cuts.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer agrees that the 19,200 public service jobs that are being cut do not represent the full number. In his words, “Additional job losses will be required.... we're actually talking about cuts on top of cuts.” How many more federal jobs will be eliminated? The government is not telling Canadians or the public service the truth.
We do not know why the Conservatives are hiding the real figures. We do not know why they are not explaining to Canadians the cuts that are going to affect them. We do not know why the Conservatives refuse to give Canadians and Parliament all the information they need to have an informed debate.
As Liberals, we recognize the government is about choices and some spending cuts are necessary, even in good times. It was in that context that we, as a government--and I remember when the member for Wascana was minister of finance and the member for Markham—Unionville was the minister responsible for the expenditure review committee of cabinet. I served on the expenditure review committee of cabinet at that time. It is important to realize, to put this in context, that we were actually in surplus at that time.
It is important to also recognize that we agree, in principle, with reviewing government expenditures on an ongoing basis in surplus or deficit to ensure best value for taxpayers, to ensure that programs and services reflect actual need, not need that may have lapsed in the past.
It is also important to realize and to recognize the context of the surplus that the Liberal governments were delivering. The Liberal government had inherited a $43 billion deficit that was left behind by the previous government. Under the Liberal watch, Canada went from a $43 billion deficit to nine consecutive years of budgetary surplus that paid over $100 billion down on the national debt. And it was during those good times, during surplus, that we did expenditure review, but we did very differently from the way the government is doing it now.
In fact, we also cut Canadian taxes while maintaining a balanced budget and we introduced the largest personal income tax cut in the history of Canada. We also cut corporate taxes when we could afford to when we were in surplus. We cut payroll taxes.
Hon. Ralph Goodale: Thirteen consecutive times.
Hon. Scott Brison: Thirteen consecutive times, I am reminded by one of the greatest finance ministers we have ever had, the member for Wascana.
However, in terms of the way we conducted expenditure review, we identified savings very differently from the way the Conservatives are doing it. We were careful to provide detailed information to Canadians long before the cuts were implemented.
In fact, we can get all that information. It is still available on the Internet, at www.expenditurereview.gc.ca. I do not know how much longer the Conservatives will leave that up. But if we go to that website, we see, line by line, a description of which programs were being cut, where, when they were being cut, why it was being done and by how much. That was provided before the cuts were implemented. That is the level of detail that Canadians expect from their government in a functioning democracy.
It is important to keep in mind that was almost seven years ago. The level of transparency, in terms of information for Canadians that is demanded by the public today, has actually increased. The Liberal government that I was proud to be part of and the expenditure review committee that I was proud to serve on that identified billions of dollars of savings for Canadians, was more open and transparent then, seven years ago, than the Conservative government is today.
I will add that our decisions were made by ministers working in concert with public servants. We did not have to pay a consulting company $90,000 a day. We did not have to outsource our decision-making on those difficult decisions at the time. However, it is important that that level of detail be provided to Canadians today.
Unfortunately, now the Conservatives routinely hide even the most basic information from Canadians and members of Parliament. They are not just hiding this information from the opposition in a partisan sense, they are also hiding it from their own members on that side of the House. Members elected in the Conservative Party have the same fiduciary constitutional responsibility as part of their jobs to hold their government to account and to demand the information that members on this side of the House have.
Last year, the Conservatives were found in contempt of Parliament for hiding the cost of legislation that was before the House. They hid the cost of their crime bills and the cost of their F-35s. They refused to provide the information that Canadians needed in order to make informed decisions. They refused to provide that information to parliamentarians representing Canadian citizens. By hiding that information, they were attacking the very democratic foundation of our country. For that, they were the first government in the history of the Westminster system to be found in contempt of Parliament.
The Auditor General has since eviscerated the government for keeping two sets of books on the F-35s: a real set that was kept hidden from Canadians and the Parliament of Canada, and a phony set the Conservatives used during the last election.
Now the Conservatives are at it again. On Monday, the government held a briefing for MPs and senators on this budget bill. The legislation would implement changes, for instance, to old age security and raise the age from 65 to 67. Government representatives were asked how much these changes to old age security would change the cost of the program for Canadians. The government refused to answer. Worse, it said that we would find this information out after the bill was passed and when the chief actuarial officer updates his report.
The Conservatives would not tell us this information prior to the vote on the bill. They insist that these changes to OAS are necessary in order to save money. They say that the system is not sustainable. In reality, as we have heard from several reports, including Finance reports, reports from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and OECD reports, that is absolutely false. In Canada's case, old age security is sustainable as is.
As well, the Conservatives will not tell us how much these changes will save the treasury. They will not provide this basic information that we, as parliamentarians, need to make an informed decision. Is the real reason because these numbers would show Parliament the truth, that in fact OAS is sustainable? That we do not have to make these draconian changes that would punish our most vulnerable citizens? These regressive changes would hurt, in many cases, the poorest of the poor.
We do know that the Prime Minister is breaking his election promise to Canadians by raising the age of OAS from 65 to 67. He promised he would not cut Canadian pensions. This is a cut on Canadian pensions and an attack on low-income seniors.
We also know that the Prime Minister is ignoring the advice of the OECD, Canada's chief actuarial officer and the Parliamentary Budget Officer who all agree that these changes are not necessary. We know that the Prime Minister is ignoring his own experts on this matter. The experts agree that it is sustainable. Even if OAS were not sustainable, if changes had to be made, there are changes that could be made that would be progressive. For instance, we could adjust the clawback threshold. There are areas we could look at.
Let us look at who gets OAS. Some 40% of Canadians who receive OAS make less than $20,000 per year and 53% of those who receive OAS make less than $25,000 per year. Older single women living in poverty are disproportionately affected by OAS changes. To qualify for the guaranteed income supplement that is received by the poorest of the poor, Canada's most vulnerable citizens, one would have to qualify for old age security. Those people will lose about $30,000 over a two year period.
Now the government is saying that people can work a couple of extra years. Well, that may be fine if one is a politician, journalist, accountant, lawyer or consultant. However, it is a little tougher if one is a pipefitter, welder, carpenter or a woman working in a fish plant in Newfoundland in cold, damp conditions on a concrete floor all day. We have to think of all Canadians. Those who are doing physical labour are some of the most vulnerable.
It is important to realize that with these changes to OAS the government is saying that it is giving advance notice so that people can save a little more. How can families making $20,000 or $25,000 be expected to save a little more? I think this shows the degree to which the government is out of touch with the realities of Canada's working poor, and the realities of income inequality in Canada.
Raising OAS is only part of this kitchen sink bill. The reality is that this bill is 421 pages in length, has 753 clauses and amends 70 laws. It includes a complete rewrite of our environmental laws, a unilateral cut of 3% to the provinces for health care funding at a time when our population is growing, the tearing up of 100,000 immigration applications that have been worked on for years, sweeping changes to EI, and the removal of several laws including the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, and the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. It includes the elimination of several government bodies including the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the First Nations Statistical Institute and the National Council of Welfare.
The bill actually gives the Governor General a salary increase of $30,000, after taxes. I do not think our Governor General was pining for a pay increase. I am not sure if this kind of salary hike is appropriate at a time when government programs and services are being slashed.
The point is this is a very big piece of legislation. It covers a wide range of issues and areas of public policy. For example, included in the sweeping changes to EI is a change that would allow low-income recipients who find work to keep more of their income. There are some of us who may look at part of that and say, “Okay, that makes some sense.” However, we cannot support that when the budget bill also includes measures that would gut old age security for a lot of seniors, preventing them from receiving it at the time when they need it, or that potentially reduces Canada's environmental oversight and regulatory framework.
The Liberal member for York West has been championing, for a long time, changes to protect long-term disability pension plans. There are some of those measures in there. We could, if provided the opportunity, support some of those measures, but we are not given that opportunity because this is an omnibus bill. It forces us to vote for the entire kitchen sink bill and not exercise our responsibilities as parliamentarians to evaluate and support individual measures that may be meritorious while others would not be.
The general direction this legislation would take Canada is not something I would support, but there are measures in this bill that I could support. By bundling these different changes in a single piece of legislation, the Conservatives are denying Parliament the opportunity and the ability to fulfill its responsibilities to provide oversight and clear direction.
I would like to quote Andrew Coyne on this matter:
||....the practice has been to throw together all manner of bills involving wholly different responsibilities of government in one all-purpose “budget implementation” bill, and force MPs to vote up or down on the lot. While the 2012 budget implementation bill is hardly the first in this tradition, the scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated.... It makes it impossible to know what Parliament really intended by any of it. We’ve no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch, only that they voted for the legislation that contained them. There is no common thread that runs between them, no overarching principle; they represent not a single act of policy, but a sort of compulsory buffet.
Over the coming days this House is expected to continue its debate on this legislation. A number of changes in the legislation will be discussed. No doubt a number of changes will fall through the cracks. I expect the Conservatives are counting on this.
Finally, on the issue of income inequality, this was not an ordinary economic downturn. It is not an ordinary recovery. We are part of a global economic restructuring. Canada's recovery is being driven by our natural resource wealth. As such, we are seeing a commensurate higher dollar and a very different effect of the recovery on different parts of the country. We are seeing the crowding out of a lot of traditional high-value manufacturing jobs. We are seeing an increase in the gap between rich and poor.
In several recent polls, Canadians have indicated that the issue of income inequality is one of the most important economic issues facing the country and in some cases the most important. There is nothing in this budget addressing income inequality specifically, but there are measures in this budget that actually make it worse. We believe that income inequality should be on the agenda of the Canadian Parliament and this budget, among other things, denies Parliament the opportunity to have a fulsome debate on one of the issues that is important to Canadians, and that is growing income inequality.