Mr. Luc Berthold (Mégantic—L'Érable, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue my speech of last Friday on Bill C-24. It will give me the opportunity to highlight the key elements I talked about last Friday for the benefit of those people who are very interested in these legislative changes, which directly affect us in every region of the country.
First of all, we were presented with Bill C-24, an act to amend the Salaries Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Financial Administration Act. We must admit that the title of the bill does not tell us much, and that is exactly what I am going to talk about. What I want to try to point out today is that the Liberal government does more harm with what it does not say than with what it does say, and that is very obvious in Bill C-24.
For the benefit of anyone watching us, this bill could have been called “an act to abolish the ministers for the regional economic development agencies and to centralize all regional economic development decisions in one location in Canada”. That would have been a more accurate title for this bill. It would have indicated to Canadians, as well as my colleagues across the aisle, I think, that this move is completely unacceptable for the various regions of Quebec.
Getting back to Bill C-24, all bills have a summary that clearly states the purpose of the bill. The summary of Bill C-24 states:
|| This enactment amends the Salaries Act to authorize payment...of the salaries for eight new ministerial positions. It authorizes the Governor in Council to designate departments to support the ministers who occupy those positions and authorizes those ministers to delegate their powers, duties or functions to officers or employees of the designated departments.
That summarizes the bill.
The summary does not say much about subclause 2(1), which states that “Paragraphs 4.1(3)(s) to (t.4) of the Act are repealed”. Those sections have to do with the ministers responsible for the regional economic development agencies. We have this one very short subclause and suddenly, poof, the ministers are gone, ministers that this government could not even be bothered to name, I might add.
In this government's view, what is the point of having a presence in all of the regions of Quebec, Canada and the west? There is no point at all, when one person in Mississauga is authorized to make all the decisions on all economic development projects from coast to coast to coast. That is the real problem, although it is not expressly said.
Once again, we need to be wary of what this government is not saying, because the real problems lie in what it is not saying, and that is where Canadians will pay the highest price. It is no wonder this government has produced such poor results over the past year in terms of economic development and job creation.
We are wondering what is going on because there is no longer a minister for economic development for each region of Quebec. How are members from either side of the House supposed to talk to someone about the economic difficulties facing their ridings, regions, or municipalities? Who are we supposed to talk to?
The 338 members of the House will have to schedule a meeting with the one and only minister responsible for economic development to talk about their files, or if not, they must talk to someone in his cabinet. In any case, we are going to have a lot of difficulty finding someone to speak to about the problems our regions are experiencing, because they are of no interest to the Liberals.
The diafiltered milk issue is a prime example. We used to be able to go and see the minister responsible for economic development in our region and tell him about all the problems that this is causing for the region and its SMEs, which are dairy farms. It is important to understand that, in regions like mine, a farm is not just a farm. A dairy producer is a small business that supports the family, employees, the local convenience store, tractor and truck dealers, and others.
This will have a huge impact on local economies. We are not talking about just one farm. Any given riding can have 10, 12, 100, 200, or even 300 farms. The government is letting the problem drag on. Every now and then, the government says it will deal with the issue and that someone will take care of it at some point.
Today, the Minister of Agriculture announced plans for a new agricultural policy. The policy does not yet exist, but it will someday. Today, though, he did not say a word about diafiltered milk even though he was the one who told us back in May or June not to worry because there would be a meeting before the summer and a solution would be found.
Now here it is nearly November. The last day before November, October 31, is Halloween, a day for frightening people. In this case, the government could not wait for Halloween to frighten people about diafiltered milk. We have been raising the subject for a year and telling them that there is a problem and it is hurting dairy farms in our regions, our small and medium-sized businesses.
What is going to happen on Halloween night when kids go trick-or-treating? The dairy producers of my riding will not even be able to hand out Halloween candy to the kids. They cannot afford it; it is that simple. How sad.
Meanwhile, the softwood lumber issue is affecting thousands of jobs, including hundreds in my riding and hundreds in my colleagues' ridings. In the ridings of many of the members across the aisle, the current situation is having a direct impact on sawmills, since negotiations with the United States are not going well at all, because the government really does not care about resolving this matter. Why are the negotiations not working? Who in cabinet is going to stand up and speak on behalf of the various economic regions? We no longer have ministers responsible for regional economic development.
Not only does Bill C-24 abolish them, it abolishes them forever. It is really troubling.
Since this is a new government, those folks over there do not really realize what those regional ministers did. What does a minister responsible for an economic development agency do? I will refer directly to the Canada Economic Development website to explain what an economic development agency does. There are six regional development agencies across Canada that each represent one of the country's various regions.
|| Regional Development Agencies across Canada help to address key economic challenges by providing regionally-tailored programs, services, knowledge and expertise that: build on regional and local economic assets and strengths; support business growth, productivity and innovation; help small- and medium-sized businesses effectively compete in the global marketplace; provide adjustment assistance in response to economic downturns and crises; and support communities.
Further, it explains that:
|| Each Regional Development Agency brings a regional policy perspective in support of the national agenda through: regional economic intelligence to support national decision-making.
I will repeat that because it is important, and I will add the words “minister responsible” to put this in the context of a cabinet minister. This gives us:
|| Each [minister responsible for a] Regional Development Agency brings a regional policy perspective in support of the national agenda through regional economic intelligence to support national decision-making.
That is the problem. There is no longer anyone in cabinet capable of bringing a regional perspective when it comes to making a national decision. What happens as a result? There will be consultations on just about everything because there is no minister who has taken the time to consult the people of their region. There is no minister who is aware of the economic development of their own region. There is no minister who is capable of talking to cabinet about the repercussions of bad national decisions, because this type of minister no longer exists.
I have a lot of respect for the current Minister of Economic Development. Imagine that. One man alone has to make decisions for the economic development of all the regions in Canada.
I was the mayor of Thetford Mines for seven years. Thetford Mines is small town with a population of 26,000.
There are eight wards in that town, and there were ten when I was mayor. Every municipal councillor had different priorities. As surprising as it may seem, we needed a representative in each ward so that when we were at the council table, he would give us his opinion on the development of our town. We had a population of 26,000. Canada's population is much greater than that. There are different regions, the economy is different, and yet we are left with only one person to stand up for all of Canada's regions around the cabinet table.
In closing, this kind of decision by the government is going to lead to these kinds of results. The economy is stagnating. Despite all the spending by this government, the Bank of Canada, the IMF, and the OECD have revised their forecasts for Canada downward for this year and the next. Good jobs are rare. The vast majority of new jobs created under the Liberals are part-time jobs. Meanwhile, the cost of living is increasing. It is difficult for Canadians to buy a house, and the new federal regulations will ensure that even fewer people will buy homes.
The economy relies on the regions, which in turn rely on their small and medium-sized businesses. Will the current government understand this? Will it change its position on Bill C-24 and once again give our regions a regional minister to stimulate employment and create real, sustainable jobs in the SMEs of our regions and Canada?
Mr. David de Burgh Graham (Laurentides—Labelle, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to participate in the debate at second reading stage of Bill C-24, which would amend the Salaries Act so that it better reflects today's realities.
Priorities in government change and the portfolios assigned to cabinet ministers change with them. Take for example, the ministry of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Hon. members will find that there are many portfolios whose names and responsibilities have evolved over time. The Laurier government had a minister of railways and canals. We have a minister of transport who oversees many more modes of transportation. The Laurier government had a postmaster general, while today those responsibilities fall under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Public Services and Procurement. The Laurier government had a minister of the interior and superintendent-general of Indian affairs and one of the responsibilities of that minister was to promote immigration to the Prairies. That minister's many responsibilities have since been assigned to different portfolios, including that of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
To respond to the changing needs of the times, the Laurier government appointed the very first labour minister to cabinet, a young William Lyon Mackenzie King. What is more, three titles in the ministry were not considered part of cabinet: the solicitor general, the controller of customs and the controller of inland revenue. This serves to remind us of just how much priorities change. A prime minister must have the flexibility to keep abreast of those changes and adjust his or her ministry. When the cabinet was sworn in on November 4, 2015, five ministers were appointed under the terms of the Ministries and Ministers of State Act. Nevertheless, they took their oath of office as full ministers and they have had full standing and authority, including salary, since day one of this government.
The addition of these new positions to the Salaries Act speak to the priorities of our times, just as Laurier's ministers spoke to his time. Laurier was the first French-Canadian prime minister. He argued that Canada's linguistic duality could make our country a key player on the international stage. Today, we are proud to be part of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. In addition to her responsibilities as Minister of International Development, the Minister for La Francophonie pursues Canada’s strong and engaged commitment to the 80 governments and member states of la Francophonie. Together we represent more than one-third of the United Nations’ member states and account for a population of over 890 million people, including 220 million French speakers.
The Minister of Small Business and Tourism also represents a priority that did not exist in Laurier's time, when Canada was predominantly an agricultural nation. Today, our small businesses are the backbone of Canada's economy. They create jobs, they support communities, and they provide a launching pad for our best and brightest to create world-class companies. The Minister of Small Business and Tourism helps these people thrive and contribute to a strong Canadian economy. Her efforts to help small businesses grow and prosper contribute to building a strong middle class in Canada.
Like the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, the Minister of Science has a mandate that contributes to the competitiveness of Canada in a global, knowledge-based economy. Science plays a key role in providing the evidence for sound policy decisions. Support for world-class research is critical to making innovation a national priority, and the minister is helping promote the science that will drive an economy that is both prosperous and environmentally sustainable.
The Government of Canada is the largest single investor in our country’s sports system. Its investments in Canada’s able-bodied and parasport athletes was recently on display in the excellent results Canada achieved at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio. These results encourage all Canadians, especially our young people, to get involved in sport and recreation. The Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities promotes healthier Canadians through sport and recreation and helps to ensure greater accessibility and opportunities for Canadians with disabilities. She plays an important part in pursing the government’s goal of fostering and celebrating Canada’s diversity and making sure that all Canadians have equality of opportunity.
This goal of promoting diversity applies, as well, to the work of the Minister of Status of Women. One hundred years ago, women first earned the right to vote in Canada, starting in Manitoba. Last year, Canadians saw the first ever gender-balanced federal cabinet and, for the first time, a minister is dedicated fully to gender issues.
This government has made gender equality a priority. The minister champions gender equality, addresses the issue of violence against women, advances women's economic security and prosperity, and increases the representation of women in leadership and decision-making roles.
What does diversity look like in 2016, Mr. Speaker? Let us look to the role and influence of women in Canada. In Laurier's time, women did not even have the vote. The priorities of today’s cabinet have changed since his day. In the Speech from the Throne last December, this government outlined its priorities for our times. They include growth for the middle class; a clean environment and a strong economy; diversity as Canada's strength; security; and open and transparent government.
Five new titles have been added to the Salaries Act so that the Prime Minister can name ministers to pursue those objectives. As society changes, Canada’s needs will continue to evolve. It is important that we provide prime ministers with the flexibility to respond to these changes. This Bill represents an important step in that process and I urge honourable members to support it.
Mrs. Karen Vecchio (Elgin—Middlesex—London, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-24, an act to amend the Salaries Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Financial Administration Act.
The bill can be broken down into three major components: the legal creation of eight new Liberal ministerial positions, including three ministers; the elimination of six regional development agency ministers; and the amendment to the Salaries Act so that all ministers are paid equally.
Before I start speaking directly to these points, I want to share with everyone the importance of economic development agencies. I have seen first hand in my own riding the positive impact of federal economic agencies, and more specifically, of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
In 2009, the federal government created FedDev Ontario. Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced this agency, recognizing the global recession and the specific challenges in every region of the country. The agency was created to deal with the specific and distinct needs of southern Ontario, tailored to the priorities of the region. The agency was developed as a tool to help businesses and communities succeed with necessary resources.
At the time, the prime minister appointed the hon. Gary Goodyear to tour and engage workers, businesses, and community leaders. Gary was a member of Parliament from Cambridge who not only represented the area but was able to see the issues first hand and work with leaders to create solutions for the economic downturn.
Through the creation of this agency, many incredible opportunities came to fruition, and over $1 billion was provided over five years. Mr. Goodyear's job was to work with the departments and account for putting programs into action, working to expedite funding for economic development, diversification, and community development.
Programs included under FedDev Ontario were the community adjustment fund, the National Research Council industrial research assistance program, the community futures program, and the Business Development Bank of Canada.
Overall, the agency's mandate was aimed at addressing the short-term economic needs of the communities hit hard by the economic recession. FedDev was able to announce a number of important initiatives, including an $8-million investment to build an air cargo terminal at the London International Airport and improvements to Highway 8 in co-operation with the Province of Ontario.
All that being said, I believe that we have a very competent minister currently at the helm, but I believe that expecting one minister to personally oversee all the important projects that fall under his portfolio is asking for failure. I believe that we need to have someone accountable for all the money that floats through these agencies who has knowledge of an area and the specific needs of that area.
Although I have travelled this beautiful country a bit, l recognize the vast differences from region to region. The needs of Atlantic Canada are vastly different from those of Alberta, yet currently they both need assistance. They need someone on the ground advocating on their behalf and recognizing what works best in their own communities. I feel that it is not the time to have one minister accountable for all the money and all the projects. I think this is reckless and poorly thought out, regardless of the efforts of the current minister.
That leads me to point number one: the creation of eight new Liberal ministerial positions. We see the government chopping the important positions at the economic development agencies yet creating new positions when we do not even know what they are for. Maybe if the government could share its plans for what the ministers are, it might get greater support from the opposition. Instead, it is proposing these new positions with no information.
The government is asking for a blank cheque payable to someone for something. Does that sound transparent? I would urge the government to just tell us. Let Canadians know what it is doing and why. These are simple requests, but instead, we are being asked to support Bill C-24 with no further information. The ministers have not yet been named. We have no idea what they will be doing, and we have no idea why they will be doing it.
The government was elected one year ago today on slogans like “transparency”, and today I am speaking and questioning the government on its plans. I thought I would be silly and maybe help the government with the meaning of transparency, using the ever so competent source, Wikipedia, which says, “Transparency is operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed.”
If Wikipedia gets it, why does the Liberal government not? Why are we voting on something in the House of Commons that is so unclear? Why are we voting blindly on an issue? The Liberals are asking us to support something about which we have no idea. Truly, it is sounds like something I would say to my husband in the car. If I am not positive about the outcome, I usually say to him, “Trust me”. I know then that it is between him and me, not 30 million taxpayers, and that I can therefore be accountable to him.
However, we are being asked to give carte blanche authorization for something we do not know about, so the words, “trust me”, just cannot matter. When we are asking the government to give us some sort of ideas, we should be privy to what those requests are, especially when there are three new ministers that will be set up.
Finally, I would like to touch on the ministerial equality proposal. The Prime Minister proudly announced his gender-equal cabinet. Shortly afterwards, it was pointed out that he had appointed only women to junior ministerial positions. I am 100% supportive of the idea of gender equality, but as many of our colleagues have pointed out, the solution to this “oops” is taking all of the junior ministers and giving them more money. Any woman fighting for gender equality sees the holes in this solution.
Let us just break this down to the simple facts. These are the following portfolios that are currently junior ministers: the Minister of all Francophonie, the Minister of Science, Minister of Small Business and Tourism, the Minister of Sports and Persons with Disabilities, and the Minister of the Status of Women. All of these positions are very important and necessary, but the Prime Minister is trying to end the gender gap in his own cabinet by saying these positions are equal to those of senior ministers.
This is not about gender parity; it is about saving face and protecting his reputation as a feminist. I find his solution quite an overreach and very degrading. Each of these women in their portfolios works hard, but if we asked them, not one would say they have a job that is equivalent to the Minister of Finance or the Minister of National Defence. There is a very big difference.
In our caucus, members who were previously in these positions speak frankly and honestly. Their roles are very different and their portfolios are much smaller and focused. The role of senior minister comes with a deputy minister and a larger departmental budget, as this is needed.
This one-tier approach is not modernizing and I question whether this is about gender parity or ministerial parity. Truly, this is neither. This is not about pay equity or equal pay for equal work, as my NDP colleague had clearly pointed out in her opening speech last week.
Let us look at this in simple terms. We talk of this as being about all ministers at the cabinet table having equal jobs. Let us be honest. I will take this back to something I have a lot of experience with, which is the restaurant business. If I am looking at a restaurant, I would look at the different roles that were set up. We would have the executive chef, the sous chef, the order cook, the manager of the front of the house, the servers and bartenders. We would have everyone. At the end of the day, everyone needs to work to make this restaurant work and every single person has a very important job to do, but the onus will be on the executive chef and the manager. Although the executive chef is out there doing the meals and doing the meal planning, the sous chef will be cutting celery and carrots.
We are trying to say that some of these small roles are not as small as they seem. The thing I have problems with is that when we look at this, we all need everyone to work together at the cabinet table and be equal, but that does not mean their jobs are equal. We cannot compare what a person does as an executive chef or a minister to what a sous chef does or to what a junior minister may do. I am not trying to say that these roles are not very important, because they are, but at the end of the day, let us look at the work.
We talked about ministerial parity; let us now talk about work parity. Do we see these ministers doing the same amount of work that the ministers of state are doing? I think the answer is very clear and it is no.
Would I truly want to be the Minister of Finance setting up a budget for 2017 and also having to do a full forecast? That is a lot of work. Would I want to be the Minister of Justice who has to deal with almost every single bill that comes through the House of Commons? Absolutely not. Those are overwhelming things.
On the other side, I do recognize the importance of these junior roles, but saying they are not junior roles does not make them more senior. I really appreciate all of the work that we have done. We have just come out of an excellent 2016 Olympics, but does that make the Minister of Sports' role as important as the role of the Minister of Finance?
I want to show that huge difference because there is a huge difference. I think for us to say there is not would be rude, and the only reason that some people are not willing to say so is that she is a woman. Therefore, we have to say that it is an equal role. It truly is not an equal role.
We also look at the Minister of Status of Women, for whom I have great respect. She does an excellent job going around and checking important things about women throughout the country, including violence against women. Once again, is that role as great as that of the Minister of Justice? I am using these two women for comparison's sake, because they have different roles but are both female. Let us look at the two of them as equals.
We have the Minister of Justice, who was recently involved with a huge bill like Bill C-14. She is dealing with different aboriginal issues, with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and with health issues. She is dealing with so many different things. We have to recognize that the job of the Minister of State for the Status of Women is a very focused one and does not include all of what the Minister of Justice may do.
I also look at the Minister of Health. I have great respect for her and the work she has to do. We have to understand how comprehensive her job is, not only working on her own role but working with all of the provinces.
We are sitting here talking about job parity, but this is not about job parity because if it were about job parity, we would be looking at equal work, and this is not equal work.
If I were in small business and paying everyone the same, I would go bankrupt. Our government has to look at this as not being about equal work. This is about a time when the Prime Minister last year appointed his cabinet, which was scrutinized through the lens of his statement that his cabinet was gender-equal. The media pointed out that he truly did not have a gender-equal cabinet so because some of those ministers were ministers of state. Therefore, we are now giving large increases to those ministers of state, chopping off the words “of state”, and saying that they are equal. Let us be honest. Changing the name of minister of state and making it “minister” and not increasing the workload and saying that they are the same as everyone else who is sitting along that front bench is not true. I think we all have to sit back and see that.
I asked a question earlier of my colleague the parliamentary secretary, because I know that in my own region I have an excellent parliamentary secretary who works very hard. I sit there, and before I question the minister of state, I am thinking “How is this going to roll out?” Although I know she works very hard, should I expect that in time the parliamentary secretaries are going to be saying, “I do a lot of work as well because when the minister is not here I sit here on Fridays, and when the minister is not available I take a lot of the calls and requests”.
What is going to happen? Is this going to be a snowball effect so that the next thing we know, even a critic like me will get a raise? To me, that does not sound right. Our work is as members of Parliament and we are elected to come here, making the amount of money that we do. Yes, they got a cabinet position; congratulations, they get more money. But at the same time, they are working hard and all members of Parliament should be working hard for all Canadians.
I want to go back to the three main topics here. We are talking about removing the regional ministers, which I feel is very unnecessary. As I indicated, even in my own hometown we have seen great things done because of the impact and the knowledge of those ministers. I am not going to sit here and say that the minister is not doing a great job, but he has a huge role. By having people under those regional agencies, they have first-hand experience and knowledge of those particular files and how they can see Canadians in economic development.
The other issue is the mystery three ministers that we discussed. We talk about transparency. We need to see that transparency. If the current government wants us to support three more ministers, tell us why, tell us who, and tell us what they are going to be doing in the future and how they are going to benefit all Canadians.
Finally, on the issue of ministerial parity that I just wrapped up on, if we break down all of the issues involved and really look at them, I want all of the government members and every member here saying, “Is this the right bill to support?” I cannot support a bill when there are so many unknowns. I cannot support a bill when there is talk of parity that really is not parity. As well, I cannot support a bill when I know that as a result, we will be cutting the Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions agency, the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency minister, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario minister, the Federal Economic Development Initiative in Northern Ontario minister, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency minister, as well as the Western Economic Diversification Canada minister. All of them have great tasks and great roles. I think it is very important that they continue to sit at the cabinet table to have that impact and to be able to advocate for their regions in the current cabinet and government.
Mr. Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to contribute to the debate on Bill C-24.
I am always interested when governments present bills. We have to understand the motivation of a bill in order to really judge its worth. Part of my comments today are going to be about what I think the motivation for this bill really is, and hopefully in assessing that, we will be able to get a better sense of the worth of the bill.
The government would have us believe that there is an important principle of equality at stake in this bill, but in fact, the bill fails to manifest any greater equality between ministers or between men and women in cabinet, for that matter, than the existing legislative regime. It entrenches an important regional inequality created by the new Liberal government.
In the press release issued by the government when it introduced the bill, it said that the legislation is meant to show that “The Government of Canada is committed to creating a one-tier ministry that recognizes the equality of all Cabinet members.”
That statement strikes me as a little strange. I wonder how many governments regularly issue statements affirming that they do, in fact, value the opinion of the people they put around the cabinet table. I cannot imagine that there are that many. I would think it goes without saying, that if prime ministers put people at the cabinet table, they do in fact value the opinion of those members of cabinet.
I found it passing strange that the government felt the need to let Canadians know that it does actually take cabinet members seriously. In the post-2015 world, I suppose anything really is possible.
In addition to being odd, the statement about a one-tier ministry is also vague. It is not exactly clear in what sense the legislation will make all cabinet ministers equal. For instance, there are a number of ways in which cabinet ministers might be found to be equal or unequal. They might be equal or unequal, as the case may be, with respect to pay, experience, title, resources, competence, and so on.
Some of these things are obviously not fixable by way of legislation and some are. It is clear to me that the bill, obviously, has to deal with those equalities or inequalities that could be established by legislation.
We still have to figure out what exactly is the relevant sense of equality that the government is trying to zero in on here. The kinds of inequalities between ministers that could be addressed through legislation are differences in resources, pay, level of responsibility, and in title. I want to come to those in a little bit.
First, I want to give members some of the context for the bill as I see it, and briefly explain the changes contained in the bill. The origin of the bill goes back to a year ago today, after the election, when the Prime Minister said, about building his cabinet, and having committed in the Liberal platform to include an equal number of women in cabinet.
When he announced the new cabinet, observers quickly noticed that, excluding himself, there were 15 male ministers, 10 female ministers, and 5 female ministers of state to assist other ministers. Ministers of state are not department heads, and before the election received less pay than ministers. This meant that five of the female cabinet members were to be paid less, and enjoy less responsibility than their male colleagues.
Despite having almost, but not quite, achieved his promise of including an equal number of men and women in cabinet, for the benefit of the Prime Minister and other members who may wonder, 16 is not equal to 15. Despite that, he had clearly not achieved gender equality in cabinet.
It is fair to say that this was an embarrassment for the Prime Minister. If he did not feel embarrassed, he probably should have. It was an embarrassment because the Prime Minister showed a lack of competence in simple math, failing to recognize that 16 men is not the same as 15 women, and that it does not balance.
It was also an embarrassment because the Prime Minister, who went out of his way to promote himself as a feminist, filled all his junior cabinet posts with women, thereby creating a gender gap in both pay and responsibility inside his cabinet.
Either that is embarrassing because it exposes a rather superficial feminism, and shows that the Prime Minister is willing to do just enough to get credit for being a feminist and no more, or it is embarrassing because it shows a complete lack of comprehension of the different cabinet posts that were available to him, and the tools that were available to him to build a cabinet. He clearly did not understand, if he was sincere in his feminist intention, the difference between a minister of state and a minister.
It may, in fact, be a bit of both. That would be even more embarrassing. The bill, as it stands, seems to suggest that it is actually a little bit of both. I will get into why.
Consider that the Prime Minister could have avoided this embarrassment by simply adding, or eliminating, one minister of state, and ensuring that those positions were distributed equally between men and women. That would have solved the gender difference in cabinet.
He could also have avoided the embarrassment if he knew his options a little better, and apparently he did, or does, because the bill, I think, adds to the confusion about what the options are for building a cabinet. He could have established, under the authority of the existing Ministries and Ministers of State Act, ministries of state for the five ministers of state. These could have functioned, essentially, as mini-departments resourced by reallocating staff and funds from other departments.
A minister of state responsible for a ministry of state would be the head of that ministry of state and not assigned to assist another minister. Furthermore, under existing legislation, ministers of state responsible for a ministry state are already mandated to receive the same pay as ministers or department heads. That is another way that the Prime Minister could have avoided both the pay gap, and alleviated that gap in responsibility between those positions.
For those keeping score, now, in terms of cabinet positions, I have mentioned three. There are ministers, ministers of state for a ministry of state, and ministers of state to assist.
This bill purports to create a further type of cabinet member, currently referred to in legislation simply as minister. If Bill C-24 were to pass, cabinet members would now be referred to as ministers for a department. Then a new type of minister would be created called ministers for whom a department is designated. Those ministers who are currently ministers of state would be converted to this new kind of minister, minister for whom a department is designated.
Bill C-24 allows that:
|| The appropriate Minister for a department...may delegate, to a minister in respect of whom that department is designated, any of the appropriate Minister’s powers, duties or functions...A minister in respect of whom a department is designated...may use the services and facilities of that department.
That might sound familiar, because I know all members are very familiar with the Ministries and Ministers of State Act, and they would have noticed, I am sure, that it sounds a lot like section 11 of the Ministries and Ministers of State Act that states that a minister of state to assist:
|| ...shall exercise or perform such of the powers, duties or functions of any minister or ministers having responsibilities for any department or other portion of the federal public administration as may be assigned or transferred to him...shall make use of the services and facilities of the department or portion of the federal public administration concerned.
The language is very similar because the positions, at the end of the day, are very similar. They enjoy a similar level of responsibility, and are resourced in pretty much exactly the same way.
When we read it, it is a little bit like the first time we see an infomercial for a Snuggie, where they are saying, “Here's this blanket, with a lot of great conceptual innovation and new features”. We are sitting there thinking, “Isn't that just a backwards bathrobe, really, made of fleece?” There is this awkward tension where we are thinking, “No, this is not really a new thing, it's just a repackaged old thing, and I've already got one, so I don't need to buy a new one”.
There is no practical difference between ministers of state to assist and ministers for whom a department is designated.
If the government insists on having a new name for the same old thing, I would like to submit a different one. I think ministers formerly known as ministers of state would be a much catchier and probably more to the point title for these new ministers. Perhaps there will be an amendment at committee to that effect.
Bill C-24 is the government's response to the Prime Minister's awkward cabinet launch last fall where he pretty much fell flat on his face, but it is not clear how the bill really fixes anything. We know it is a response to that. We know that is where it comes from. The question is, “Does it fix any of that? Does it actually do the work that the government has identified as needed doing?”
If the idea is simply to close the gender wage gap, needlessly created by the Prime Minister, the bill is unnecessary.
First, the Prime Minister did not have to choose to appoint only women to minister of state positions. The gap could be closed by making more women full ministers and some men ministers of state. That would be fine.
Second, existing legislation allows the government to pay ministers of state the same as ministers. In fact, it has been doing that for years, so legislation is not required to do that.
Third, as I mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister could have created ministries of state out of the resources of existing departments, giving those ministers of state more authority and responsibility within the government and the current legislation would have required that the government pay them the same as ministers, not just choose to, but require them to do so.
If the idea of this bill is to close the gender responsibility gap needlessly created by the Prime Minister when he appointed only women to positions of ministers of state, then the bill is also unnecessary. This, too, could be solved simply by making more women full ministers and some men ministers of state or by establishing ministries of state.
If the idea is to eliminate the difference in administrative responsibility between ministers and in that sense make them equal, then the bill fails to do that, too. There will continue to be a difference between ministers for departments, on the one hand, and ministers of state to assist ministers for whom a department is designated, ministers formerly known as ministers of state or whatever the government ultimately chooses to call them. There is still going to be a real difference of administrative responsibility between those positions. They will not be equal in that sense, so the bill, if that is the point, is a failure.
Keep in mind that what I am trying to do is identify the relevant sense of “equal”, in which this bill would make them equal. As everyone can see, I have given it a lot of thought and I have not been able to come up with anything. I do not think it is because it is there and I cannot find it. I think it is because the conclusion of my study of the bill shows that it is not there.
Moreover, there is nothing wrong with having people at the cabinet table who have different levels of administrative responsibility. When the Prime Minister fell flat on his face in his cabinet unveiling because he did not manage to create gender equality in the cabinet, people were not outraged at the fact that there were ministers of state and ministers. No one said, “I can't believe the ministers aren't equal.” They said, “I can't believe that the Prime Minister, who calls himself a feminist, is not treating female members of the cabinet equally, because he's giving them junior roles in cabinet instead of senior roles in cabinet.” That was the issue. The issue was not that there were legitimate differences in administrative responsibility and corresponding titles. Again, it is not clear what real problem the bill is trying to solve.
The fact that ministers of state do not have a department or are called ministers of state instead of ministers should not detract from their contributions to discussions about war and peace, budgets, or other policy issues around the cabinet table. They are all entitled to sit there and if other cabinet ministers do not take them seriously simply because of their difference in title, that is not a legislative problem, that is a problem in organizational culture, and this bill will not fix that either. That would require real leadership from the Prime Minister.
Somewhere deep down, I think the government actually knows this. That is why it is not repealing the Ministries and Ministers of State Act. It is keeping that option open. In fact, in the speech by the member for Winnipeg North, he made a point of pointing out that the government is not repealing that act. It is keeping the option of ministers of state around.
There is an awkward tension in the principle that it is stating there. On the one hand, the government is saying that there is something wrong with having ministers of state, because that creates an inequality in cabinet. If, in the future of this ministry, the government wants to appoint ministers of state, I think Canadians should rightly say that, by the government's own standards, it has now decided to have inferior cabinet ministers and superior cabinet ministers.
I do not think that would be right, because I think there is a role for legitimate differences in administrative responsibility, but the government is arguing against that and yet not repealing the act, which I find strange. It helps right now to make a grand show of not having ministers of state, because what is driving the bill is this need to make up for and reduce the sense of shame and embarrassment by the Prime Minister for having failed to do something that he said he really wanted to do, which was to bring gender equality to cabinet.
If having ministers of state is not compatible with having a one-tier ministry, and having a one-tier ministry is an important matter of principle for the Liberals, I do not see why they would not just repeal the Ministries and Ministers of State Act, although, for the record, I want to say I think that would be a terrible idea. It is just a logical consequence of the arguments that they have been advancing on Bill C-24.
Interestingly, Liberals are locking in another choice they made: the choice not to have stand-alone ministers for regional economic development. This is another sense of equality we might talk about: regional equality.
Here the government is actually locking in a bad decision that goes hand in hand with the decision it made to centralize the management of the various regional economic development agencies in one minister. That means only one region of the country gets a minister from the region who understands the needs of the region, because he or she, and in this case it is a he, lives there and represents that area. All the other regions do not get that benefit and so they are not being treated equally.
Granted, it is the government's prerogative to experiment with new ways of doing this, but I think it made a poor decision. This kind of centralizing of decision-making for agencies that have a deliberately regional mandate does not make sense and ultimately is not helpful. The government wants to try something new and it is doing that, but I think the government will find that it does not work. Why are the Liberals closing the door behind them and making it harder to go back to a model which I think works better, which is actually having ministers from the regions in charge of the local regional development agencies? Particularly in tough economic times, the government may find in time that it is worth making it a full-time job of a cabinet minister to do that. That is what the government is taking away by doing this and that does not make sense.
The Liberals are leaving their options open with slush ministries or extra ministries that have not been designated yet. They are leaving their options open, even though they are saying there is some matter of principle at stake in not having ministers of state, but they are keeping the act around just in case they want to appoint some anyway. The Liberals embarked on a centralizing experiment when it comes to regional economic development, and they have decided instead to tie their hands. That does not make sense to me. They have their priorities backward.
People in Elmwood—Transcona would prefer to have a minister from western Canada who knows and understands western Canada's economy making the detailed decisions about how the government is going to encourage western economic diversification. I believe that people in other parts of the country feel the same way about their own region. The government should leave itself with more options, not less, when it comes to managing regional economic development. The government is creating three as yet unspecified ministries in the name of flexibility, so why not retain the flexibility it already has with respect to regional economic development?
Where does this leave us? It seems to me this bill was drafted by the minister's personal communications team with the full dearth of understanding of legislative and parliamentary process that that implies. The bill is not really about furthering any principle of equality. For any of the government's proposed goals in the bill with respect to equality, and I have gone through an exhaustive list of different senses of equality that the government might mean, Bill C-24 either fails or is completely unnecessary.
The bill would create an expanded and more complicated set of cabinet-building options for a Prime Minister who already did not understand the options that were available to him, while tending to mask real differences in responsibility by maintaining the tradition of junior and senior cabinet posts, and let me be clear that is what a minister for whom a department is designated is, while conferring the same title on each cabinet member.
The Prime Minister wants to be lauded for bringing real gender equality to cabinet, but in order to do that, and instead of taking real action on that, he is just glossing over the fact that his ministers formerly known as ministers of state really are just ministers of state with a better salary and a better title.
It is no secret that where the Prime Minister is concerned, style trumps substance. It is shocking to see that tendency drilled down to the level where it is starting to interfere with a relatively straightforward administrative matter such as determining what act of Parliament would authorize the payment of ministers of state. That is something else.
The end result is that we are forced to consider a bill that is a colossal waste of time. The Liberal government has been criticized for having a notoriously light legislative agenda, but the goal of those critics was not to encourage it to produce nonsense bills that would not change anything but rather that we might spur the Liberals on to introduce meaningful legislation that would help move the country forward. For instance, if they want a quick short list off the top of my head, they could move to repeal Bill C-51. They could move to protect Canadian water by reinstating the Navigable Waters Protection Act which was decimated in the last Parliament. They could reinstate the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. That would get us back to a baseline of where we were before the last 10 years of government.
If the Liberals wanted to go further and begin improving on that baseline, they could bring forward legislation granting pay equity for Canadian women, which they have said they are going to wait until the end of 2018 to do. They could bring in a meaningful rail safety regime instead of continuing to rely on industry self-regulation, and the list goes on.
There are so many important issues facing the country that are crying out for government action and we are stuck with a bill that is really just about easing the Prime Minister sense of shame at having botched his own cabinet debut.