Mr. Marc Garneau (Westmount—Ville-Marie, Lib.)
|| That the House agree with the comments of the Right Honourable Member for Calgary Southwest on March 25, 1994, when he criticized omnibus legislation, suggesting that the subject matter of such bills is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put Members in conflict with their own principles and dividing the bill into several components would allow Members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill; and that the House instruct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study what reasonable limits should be placed on the consideration of omnibus legislation and that the Committee report back its findings, including specific recommendations for legislative measures or changes to the Standing Orders, no later than December 10, 2012.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to once again voice my concern, the concern of the Liberal Party and indeed the concern of a rising number of Canadians about the damage to democracy being done through the use of omnibus bills.
Concerns about the problems posed by omnibus bills have been growing for some time now. However, the lengths to which the current Prime Minister and his government have used—and I would say abused—budget implementation bills as kitchen sink omnibus bills have reached staggering and dangerous levels.
It is rather shocking to see that the Conservative government is continuing to produce bills like this. The government said it was open to suggestions from the opposition on issues affecting Canadians, but how many speeches have we heard this year about this impractical way of examining bills?
I have not compiled statistics on this issue, but we often hear the word “omnibus” in this House, in either statements or speeches during debate or question period, not to mention the many points of order.
In recent years, budget implementation bills have become increasingly long and complex. Although the length of a bill does not automatically imply that it contains a series of unrelated measures, we have seen that the bills introduced lately have covered an increasing number of topics.
Maclean's analyzed budget implementation bills between 1994 and 2005 and discovered that they averaged 75 pages. Since 2006, these bills have averaged well over 300 pages.
We all remember last June with Bill C-38, when we voted for nearly 24 hours on a long list of amendments proposed by the opposition parties in order to show that omnibus bills are essentially anti-democratic.
Given that the government has made it no secret that it intends to bring forward another omnibus bill this fall, I believe it is time for this House to recognize the detrimental effect these bills have on democracy in Canada and commit itself to find reasonable limits that could be put in place to end this practice.
When a government party abuses its power by proposing completely unrelated measures in a single omnibus bill, it deprives parliamentarians of their right to truly debate these various measures and to express their opinions on each of them by way of a vote. This way of doing things also gives Canadians less opportunity to share their opinions about the bill—whether favourable or unfavourable—and thus weakens our democracy.
Omnibus bills can play a significant role in the Westminster parliamentary system, but only when they are used to amend many laws that have a single purpose or, at the very least, a limited number of objectives. The Conservative government has abused its power by introducing several omnibus bills covering dozens of unrelated topics.
Other administrations have resolved this problem by reducing the number of subjects that can be covered by a bill to just one. For example, in 42 of the 50 American states, the constitution prohibits the excessive use of omnibus bills and, although this type of bill continues to be popular in Washington, D.C., Congress is currently examining a bill to put an end to this practice.
To understand the extent of the problem, we need only look back a few months at this spring's omnibus bill, Bill C-38.
Bill C-38 was one of the worst abuses of Parliament we have witnessed in this House. It was 425 pages long, it contained more than 60 unrelated matters, and it amended or abolished 74 pieces of legislation.
Of Bill C-38's 503 clauses, clause 52—a single clause out of 503—contained an entirely new act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, a whole new environmental assessment act contained within a single clause of a so-called budget bill.
On March 25, 1994, a young member of Parliament, who then represented the riding of Calgary West, rose in the House to complain that a budget bill, called Bill C-17 at the time, which was only 21 pages in length, was indeed an omnibus bill and that these types of bills were bad for democracy.
|| Mr. Speaker, 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.
He expanded eloquently saying:
||...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?
|| We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse? Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.
I heartily agree with these words spoken by the young MP from Calgary West. It makes me wonder how that young eloquent MP could ever have changed his views since becoming the Prime Minister of this country. It defies all logic.
I will give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt that he believed he was speaking the truth back in 1994. Indeed, his criticism back then resonates even more today.
||...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.
Let us put that into context with Bill C-38. With Bill C-38, if MPs wanted to vote for improvements to the disability savings plan, they had to simultaneously vote to kill the Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. With Bill C-38, if MPs wanted to vote against raising the qualifying age for old age security, they had to simultaneously vote against making the Governor General's salary taxable.
The government tells us that it will bring forward another omnibus budget bill this fall. Liberals have said repeatedly that we would like to tackle MP pension reform. What kind of choice would there be for MPs if those pension changes are included in an omnibus bill that also makes Canada's coasts more vulnerable to oil spills? We must ask ourselves why the government would choose to do that. Why would it cram so many different unrelated measures into a single bill?
I think that the Conservatives like this approach because it allows them to then accuse members of other parties of having voted against their initiatives.
The government claims that the reason is to ensure that it can get its measures passed in a timely manner. Unless several members of the Conservative bench have recently fled their caucus, the Conservative government still has the power to pass multiple separate pieces of legislation. That is what happens with a majority government.
As for timely passage, this is hardly a government that shies away from time allocation and closure. Indeed, it has set the record, so that argument simply does not hold water. That leaves us with two other possibilities. The Conservatives either do not believe Canadians will accept some of their mean-spirited unpopular policies unless they hide them amidst other popular measures, or they intend to attack MPs who oppose negative measures in the bill, accusing them of also opposing positive measures.
No matter which of these two is true, quite possibly both of them, the math adds up to an attempt to obscure the facts from Canadians, an attempt to hide the truth and impugn false motives on their opponents. As such, these represent an attack on transparency and on democracy itself.
The Prime Minister said it very well when he stated:
|| 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?
|| We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse? Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.
Why will the Prime Minister not listen to his own words?
It is not just the Liberal Party or the younger version of the Prime Minister who oppose omnibus bills. The Speaker's predecessors have expressed similar concerns about the use of such bills and where this could ultimately lead us.
On January 26, 1971, Speaker Lamoureux cautioned the House on the use of such bills and warned:
|| However, where do we stop? Where is the point of no return? ...The honourable member for Winnipeg North Centre, and I believe the honourable member for Edmonton West, said that we might reach the point where we would have only one bill, a bill at the start of the session for the improvement of the quality of life in Canada which would include every single proposed piece of legislation for the session. That would be an omnibus bill with a capital ‘O’ and a capital ‘B.’ But would it be acceptable legislation? There must be a point where we go beyond what is acceptable from a strictly parliamentary standpoint.
Given what we have seen in the House with the last few budget implementation bills, Speaker Lamoureux's concerns should be heeded. We are well on our way to becoming the “one bill a session” Parliament that he feared.
This Conservative government always manages to take advantage of procedural grey areas. The definition of an omnibus bill given on page 724 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice reads as follows:
|| Although this expression is commonly used, there is no precise definition of an omnibus bill. In general, an omnibus bill seeks to amend, repeal or enact several Acts, and is characterized by the fact that it is made up of a number of related but separate initiatives. An omnibus bill has “one basic principle or purpose which ties together all the proposed enactments and thereby renders the Bill intelligible for parliamentary purposes”. One of the reasons cited for introducing an omnibus bill is to bring together in a single bill all the legislative amendments arising from a single policy decision in order to facilitate parliamentary debate.
This is a simple and concise definition, which certainly does not apply to the budget megabill that was introduced in May.
Clearly, there is no longer any requirement for bills to focus on single topics, at least in the view of the Conservative government. The government simply lumps them all together and says it is all about economic well-being. The cabinet seems to view parliamentary oversight with great contempt, as an annoying rubber stamp that hinders it rather than the democratically elected body that holds Canada's government to account.
We should not have to remind the government that Canadians elect members of Parliament, not an emperor. Our entire system of democracy is based on our government being required to seek the consent of the democratically elected House. Omnibus bills hinder MPs from performing this elected duty.
Furthermore, Canadians who elect their members of Parliament have a right to know how they vote on different government measures. Omnibus bills deny Canadians that right. Clearly, rules must be put in place to reverse this practice before our democracy is further undermined.
We fully understand that the government has the right to manage the business of the House. It is the government. However, that management cannot be done at the expense of the basic democratic principles of transparency and accountability.
We also recognize that a rule that would arbitrarily prevent a bill from amending more than one act might be unworkable, given the reality of consequential amendments to other acts. However, a balance must be struck.
It is for that reason that this motion would direct the appropriate committee, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, to launch an immediate study to determine what reasonable limits should be placed on omnibus legislation.
While a 21-page budget bill would probably not cross the line, a 425-page bill that amends or abolishes 74 acts clearly would. We should ensure that Parliament does its work here to define that line and to put rules in place to prevent future legislation from trampling upon it.
When Parliament resumed this fall, I raised the specific issue of MP pension legislation. I made the point that the Liberal Party was ready and willing to vote in favour of whatever changes the government decided to bring forward. Given that Canadians had to tighten their belts in these fragile economic times, it is only right that we, as parliamentarians, should also set a good example by modifying our pension arrangements.
In addition to very clearly signifying this willingness to modify our pension package, I urged the government to fast-track a separate bill on this matter so that all Canadians could see how their individual MPs voted. That would have been the preferred democratic approach.
Instead, the government chose to ignore the Liberal proposal and announced that MP pension reform would be buried within the upcoming omnibus bill. Sadly, the government missed an opportunity to show how it cares about democracy.
Two weeks later, a motion that I had put on the order paper, a motion quite similar to the one that we are debating today, a motion for the procedure and House affairs committee to study ways of establishing reasonable limits on omnibus bills, was raised in that precise committee, although in camera. Again, sadly, I must report to the House that the motion has now disappeared from the order paper.
The Liberal Party does not intend to let go of this matter. Democracy is too important to be swept under the carpet. I look forward to those who will follow me today, and I genuinely hope that all of us in the House will demonstrate to Canadians that Parliament sets the example when it comes to putting democracy to the test.
In conclusion, let me read today's Liberal opposition motion one last time to refresh all of us and summarize what we will vote on this evening:
|| That the House agree with the comments of the Right Honourable Member for Calgary Southwest on March 25, 1994, when he criticized omnibus legislation, suggesting that the subject matter of such bills is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put Members in conflict with their own principles.
I hope that the Prime Minister will remember those words today and remind all of his colleagues on the government side of the House.
Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, today we get to learn what the Liberal priority is. This is the last day this year on which the Liberals can choose the subject of debate. Is their priority job creation? No. Is their priority economic growth? Apparently not. Is their priority tackling crime? No. Is their priority harnessing our resources to benefit future generations? No, apparently not. The Liberal priority, our subject for today, is procedure, more specifically an effort to make it harder for members of Parliament actually to get things done up here.
In March, our economic action plan was outlined in the House of Commons and it was voted on and approved in April. For decades, it has been the practice to have budget bills to implement budgets. That will continue this autumn. The economic action plan is a comprehensive plan that responds to Canada's fiscal and economic challenges. Our plan has helped create over 820,000 net new jobs since July 2009, of which 90% are full-time and nearly 80% in the private sector. However, as the global economic recovery remains fragile, especially with challenges in Europe and the United States, it is vital that Canada continues to show decisive leadership on the economy.
We will not allow the opposition to threaten our economic recovery with political games and obstruction of bills aimed at creating jobs and growing our economy. The real objective of the members of the opposition is to block our low-tax plan for jobs and growth because they simply disagree with it. The New Democrats, for example, would prefer implementing a job-killing carbon tax that would increase the price of everything, including gas, groceries and electricity. Bigger government would kill job growth. The NDP leader has tried to conscript his friends in the media to say that he has no plan to implement a carbon tax. After all, the NDP opposed the Liberal carbon tax in 2008. We now know why: the 2008 Liberal green shift carbon tax would only have generated $15 billion a year. That is far short of the more than $21 billion in government revenue the NDP has booked for its carbon tax in its platform. Apparently, the New Democrats opposed the Liberal green shift carbon tax because it was too small. The Liberal carbon tax would not have produced nearly as much tax revenue as the NDP proposal would. We will not go down the path of a job-killing carbon tax.
I take this opportunity to outline our priority, the economy and our government's strong economic record.
We have accomplished a great deal. Canada continues to be one of the top performers among the world's major economies. Despite the fragile state of the global economy, over 820,000 net new jobs have been created, as I just mentioned.
Our economic plan is working to help hard-working Canadians and to ensure that the government delivers more value for each tax dollar.
Canadians have made it quite clear that they expect their government to keep taxes low. We agree.
We are helping the average Canadian family to save $3,300 in taxes thanks to about 140 tax relief measures that we have introduced since 2006.
We will not give in to the NDP and the Liberals, who are calling for tax increases—like the $21.5 billion carbon tax proposed by the NDP.
The number one priority of our Conservative government remains the economy. With the global economic recovery still fragile, we are committed to creating jobs and economic growth by supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs through innovative measures like the small business hiring credit.
Canada's economic action plan 2012 will ensure long-term prosperity for future generations. Canada is the best country in the world, and we are fortunate to have an abundance of natural resources that the world needs.
Emerging economies such as China and India need our energy, minerals, metals, wood, wheat and grain, and many more things besides. If we can keep our economy moving swiftly forward to meet those needs, we will ensure our future prosperity, even in this time of global economic uncertainty.
That is why our plan works, with responsible resource development and a focus on developing new markets abroad.
This means jobs and prosperity across Canada, and with it the ability to provide first-rate services like health and education. Families will continue to be able to take advantage of the children's arts tax credit and children's sports and fitness tax credit. These credits make it easier for families to get their children involved in important parts of growing up.
Nonetheless, it is not just the youngest members of society who will get the benefit of our tax reductions. The tax burden can be particularly difficult for many seniors, especially those on a fixed income. That is why we have taken measures to remove over 380,000 seniors from the tax rolls entirely.
Employment insurance is an important safety net to help families carry on through difficult times after a job is lost. We believe that hard-working Canadians want to get back to work. Accordingly, we are taking action to deliver results on connecting Canadians with jobs.
We all have unique employment experience. With the changes to EI, this experience will be taken into account to support economic growth and meet the challenges presented by our aging population, not to mention the increasing global competition from specialized labour. We need to do a better job of connecting Canadian workers with available jobs.
The government believes it is important to provide Canadians who want to work with help getting back to work. That is why we are going to send relevant job postings twice a day to Canadians receiving employment insurance benefits. These job postings will come from a broad range of sources, including private sector job listings.
We will also provide Canadians with more and better information to make informed decisions about how best to conduct or expand their job search. The overall objective is to make it more attractive to work than to collect benefits.
We are also making savings to balance the budget in the medium term. The taxes spent to pay the interest on the debt are dollars that could be spent on better things or to lower taxes.
Families have had to tighten their belts through this tough economic period. Our government is doing the same. We have worked to identify waste, overlap and inefficiencies in government services. These act as roadblocks to ensuring real results for hard-earned tax dollars.
The House of Commons, we here in this place, will be reducing our own budget by 6.9%. On top of that, members' of Parliament and senators' salaries were frozen in 2010 and our government has decreased ministerial office budgets by 18% since 2010. Notably, we have had significantly lower expenditures than previous governments and, unlike the Liberals, we have not treated government jets as personal taxis.
We are now concerned about getting expenditures down. I am afraid that the New Democrats would be more interested in getting revenues up and that they would do it through a carbon tax, which would raise the price of everything for hard-working families—
Hon. Peter Van Loan:
Mr. Speaker, I shall continue as best I can knowing that the mover of the motion only spoke to two specific bills, one in 1994 and the one earlier this spring that implemented our budget. Within that context, I will attempt to speak to those two bills as you, Mr. Speaker, have limited our debate as such. That will create challenges, I think, for every member of the House and I look forward to seeing how they cope with that, but I will move forward on that basis.
The motion that the Liberal House leader made refers to statements that were made by the then member for Calgary West almost 20 years ago. We should put those comments in context. I also want to provide some other quotes from that debate in which the members of the Liberal Party, now the third party, would, I am sure, be interested.
The original comments were made as part of a point of order to the Speaker. The Speaker did not find in the Liberals' favour at that time. Mr. Speaker Parent ruled:
|| In conclusion, it is procedurally correct and common practice for a bill to amend, repeal or enact several statutes.
Therefore, the ruling was settled at that time, some 20 years ago almost, and here we are revisiting it today.
Prior to that ruling, members weighed in. I will remind the House about some of the comments from that debate. Take, for example, the following:
|| While the subject matter may be diverse, I suggest to the hon. member that given the fact they were all introduced in the budget, they form a whole, unified policy thrust which the government has put forward....
That comment, which talked about it as a coherent economic plan and gave the basis for putting all those measures in one bill, came, no less, from the Liberals' leading parliamentary expert, Peter Milliken, in support of the use of budget implementation bills. He went on to outline some of the items in the Budget Implementation Act, very similar to my comments earlier. He was talking about items like programs to stimulate job creation and economic growth, measures to help balance the budget and improvements to the employment insurance system, all items that were included in that bill. It sounds an awful lot like it addresses the same subjects that economic action plan 2012 does.
What the 2012 budget plan does is cover the exact same subject matter. Of course, Mr. Milliken's comments were on the Liberal 1994 budget, but it is striking how the subject matter of the items covered is exactly the same.
Despite the Liberals' track record, they brought forward this motion today. It runs contrary to their own record and it is not anything more than a cynical attempt to accomplish their actual agenda to try to block our government from implementing our economic action plan.
While our government is focused on creating jobs, economic growth and securing long-term prosperity, the opposition is, sadly, once again focused on political games and obstruction. We will not be sidetracked by those games and obstruction. We will continue to stay the course and implement our plan to continue to build on the 820,000 net new jobs created since July 2009 and get Canada through these difficult times of economic uncertainty.
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House, where the role of each member is to understand the government's proposals and to advance other ideas to improve the situation in Canada.
Contrary to what my government colleague was talking about, today's debate is precisely about the tactics used by the government, namely omnibus bills. Now that it has a majority, the government is abusing its power to use this procedure.
Unlike my colleague, my friend the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, I can talk about a subject for 10 minutes or more without always getting off the point, as the government does every day.
I will be sharing my time with the member for Toronto—Danforth, who has a great deal of experience and expertise in this area.
There are many who suggest that the debate today is in particular to what we have seen over the current year. In respect to the Speaker's earlier comments, I will touch briefly on the most recent example of the abuse of power of what is omnibus legislation, because it sets a certain context for today's discussion.
However, it is in the larger context of the gradual reduction and authority of the role of Parliament that brings us to support this motion and brings us cause for concern for where the current Conservative government is heading. In the context of the majority that it has, with the 100% of power that is given to it by our parliamentary system and by a voting system that we think should be changed to be more proportional, more representative of the intentions of voters, that was achieved through a vote of 39% in the last federal election, with a 60% turnout of all eligible voters, which actually equates somewhere down to a little less than 25% of all eligible voters having supported what mandate the government sought throughout the election.
Let us expand that to the notion that the Conservatives did not run on a number of the changes we saw in last spring's omnibus budget bill. There was no mention in the last election campaign to gut the protections in the Fisheries Act. To protect the notion that habitat is somehow connected to the resources of fish, that fish need a place to spawn, is somehow a foreign concept to the government. It included that in the bill.
There was no mention in the last election, in which the Conservatives received less than 25% of eligible voter support, of the notion of destroying the environmental assessment process, particularly in relation to large projects. According to what little evidence we did have from the Auditor General of Canada, who I hope the government still has some modicum of respect for, these were the facts. Under the changes proposed by the government, we would move from 4,000 to 5,000 environmental assessments a year down to somewhere around 12 to 15, not thousand, environmental assessments. We are not talking about small projects. We are talking about major mines, pipelines and significant projects that have some sort of environmental assessment, some place for the public to interact with the government, the proponents of the project and to raise concerns.
Later today, I will be intervening in one of those such processes around the Enbridge northern gateway pipeline, a process that the government also undermined midway through the use of these omnibus bills, which some will suggest is somehow only an issue for progressive-minded voters.
However, I will quote my friend, the knee-jerk lefty radical Andrew Coyne, who had some important things to say in his opportunity to speak to the public. He said:
|| So this is not remotely a budget bill, despite its name. It is what is known as an omnibus bill. If you want to know how far Parliament has fallen, how little real oversight it now exercises over government, this should give you a clue....But there is something quite alarming about Parliament being obliged to rubber-stamp the government’s whole legislative agenda at one go.
My friends from the Liberal corner of the House have been a little cute in their motion today because they have chosen to be supportive of the old version of the Prime Minister. When he was the member for Calgary West, he raised similar concerns over a much smaller omnibus bill. Now the government will try to slide those things away and say that it was a different context and a different time.
However, it is a good moment for New Democrats, as the official opposition, in seeking to renew and restore the faith that Canadians need to have in this parliamentary system and to be able to see the Liberals, now out of power, saying, “Mea culpa, we apologize for past abuses of power with this tactic“, which the Liberal House leader said today. They are sorry, in effect, but we have seen that movie before from Liberals. When in power, they go one way and then they get out of power and they realize the error of their ways and seek forgiveness from the public, it is a “one more time, please” notion. That is fine, but it is good to admit errors in judgment.
The Conservatives, when in opposition, had significant problems. We have quotes from the Minister of Canadian Heritage, from the Minister of National Defence and from virtually the entire front bench of the Conservative cabinet saying that this was an abuse of power when the Liberals did it. Now that the Conservatives are in power, this is okay, and in fact they will double down.
The only excuse the Conservatives have is that Liberals did it, but that is not much of a bar. That should not be the standard for them to say that the people they used to fight, they used to disagree with and fundamentally argue with, did things that were wrong, that this would justify them doing those same things, and in fact, making them worse by increasing the scope and scale, as they did last spring, in a bill of more than 400 pages that affected 70 acts of Parliament.
At one point, we were voting through changes in Canadian law at a rate of every seven to eight minutes. If Conservative members of Parliament actually took their jobs seriously and if they understood the fundamental nature of their jobs, they would hold government to account, including their own government. To suggest they had some comprehension of what they did every seven minutes, some understanding of what the impacts would be on fisheries, on employment insurance, on Canadian pensions, on the environmental assessment process, all things the Conservatives did not run on, but felt comfortable voting for with at such a frequency in rate, suggests they were all legislative geniuses. It suggests they were up all night, cramming page after page of all the implications in the assessments. We heard from people, both experts in those fields, be it in energy, fisheries, the environment or pension security, that these changes would have some significant and potentially very damaging consequences, people who are experts in the field of this place and in democracy.
I will quote Dr. Errol Mendes from the University of Ottawa, who said:
|| We are transferring responsible government under the centuries-old tradition of parliamentary democracy into PMO ( Prime Minister’s Office) government. And with PMO government, we have one-man government.
Dr. Errol Mendes is no radical. He has spent a lot of time studying, considering the ebb and flow of politics and the health and strength of our democracy, not just in Canada, but around the world. He and other experts agree about the path the government is taking us down as a nation. This is not just about an election cycle or one particular party's interest in ramming through a budget or a particular piece of legislation, this is about the general trend and trajectory of where our democracy goes.
Then for any Conservative to go out in the next campaign and lament that only 60% of Canadians come out to vote, meanwhile, showing such disdain for this place and for the roles that all members of Parliament face, is hypocrisy of the highest form. Whatever our political divisions on any given issue, be it the environment, or the economy or social programs, those are all well and good. However, on the exchanges that we need to have over the health and sanctity of our democratic principles, is where we should find that common ground. We should find that place where we say that the supremacy of Parliament is absolute.
It is not up to a prime minister, be he or she in a majority or minority position, to ram through legislation that has nothing to do with what the title or description of the legislation should be. There should be some holding, regardless of an individual's political orientation, to a belief that democracy still counts, that Parliament still matters.
A government that has broken every record in parliamentary history on closure and shutting down debate has nothing to be proud of with respect to that. The Conservatives have destroyed that common ground place to which Conservatives and progressives alike should aspire. We support the motion presented by my colleague from Montreal. We support the notion of them being in some sort of reform program and learning that what they did in the past is wrong and that has somehow opened up a precedence for this abuse of power to get worse and worse.
One does lament what the future is with the Conservative government. One does have hope, though, for progressives across the country who are uniting under the NDP banner and understanding that there is something better, something more to expect from our political leadership than this abuse of power that we so often see from the government today.
Mr. Craig Scott (Toronto—Danforth, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the motion today by starting with the observation that there are effectively two points to this motion.
One is that the motion asks us to agree with some sentiments expressed several years ago, almost 20 years ago, by the member for Calgary Southwest, who is now the Prime Minister, with respect to a certain characteristic of what he called omnibus bills and what we are now discussing as omnibus bills in the current Parliament.
The second point is a concrete recommendation to have the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs study and report on exactly what omnibus bills are and how in fact they can be regulated within the confines of parliamentary procedure.
I will start with the second part and say simply that we would, I believe, benefit from such a study. It would clarify practice and allow a serious discussion of how bills called “omnibus”, whether by the government or by the opposition, do or do not undermine parliamentary democracy and indeed democracy at large.
At minimum, through such a study there could be a debate, hopefully not in camera, on best practices without there needing to be a decision or recommendation to give more power to the Speaker to rule on a bill in terms of it being out of order or that it should be split. We could have a study on best practices that would actually share the sentiments of all members of this House about what ideal practice would look like. Then governments, including the present government in the years of its mandate and future governments, can make their own decisions about how they want to situate themselves within a best practices framework. That is all that this report need be. Therefore, I certainly would like to commend this second part of the motion to the House.
On the substance of the issue and the specific reasons for which the motion refers to omnibus bills as problematic, it is clear that the point of order raised by the member for Calgary Southwest in 1994 talks about the problem of diversity of content in what he was calling an omnibus bill. Members should remember that this was a 21-page bill versus the almost 500-page bill that we received, which passed the House in the spring, and a much larger bill that we hear will be coming at us. However, on the 21-page bill, he says:
|| 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?
His concern was that members of the House should be able to vote on specific issues more often than is permitted when omnibus bills, or something resembling omnibus bills, become standard practice. He sees it as a question of accountability to constituents.
I would suggest that it could also end up in the context of some kinds of bills being a question of conscience. There may be elements in a bill that members would very definitely want to vote for or against and want that known and on record.
It is certainly the case that the commentator from Postmedia, Andrew Coyne, also sees it in this way when he says:
|| But lately 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.... We have no idea whether MPs supported or opposed any particular bill in the bunch....
Keep in mind that 70 pieces of legislation were amended in the recent Bill C-38.
He goes on to say: “...only that they voted for the legislation that contained them”.
This is the concern specifically referenced in the motion, and it is a real concern for the reasons given by the Prime Minister in his former capacity as solely the member for Calgary Southwest, and as Mr. Coyne has just articulated the question.
It is also important to know that there is another dimension to this that is at least as worrisome. That is the subsequent use that governments or MPs from the government party make of an omnibus bill in their debates and references in the House, quite commonly in ripostes in question period. What will they do? An MP from the opposition will raise a question in question period on unemployment insurance or on food safety. Lo and behold, a minister will stand up, give some sort of answer and say that “In any case, you're the party that voted against” this, that or the other measure. “You're the person who did so, because you voted with your party”. What they are almost always referring to when that tactic is used is budget implementation bills. We know this.
We in the House know there can be many features of a budget implementation bill that everyone is perfectly happy to see and support. Almost always, when ministers answer in that way their reference points are precisely the provisions that accord a hundred per cent with the sentiments and policy of the opposition. The opposition would have voted for it if given the chance to vote separately. The government knows this.
Omnibus bills are dovetailing with what is effectively, and what we all know to be increasingly, a deliberate strategy of misdirection and indeed mistruth on the part of the government.
We must be very clear that this practice of responding to questions in this way, by attributing votes against matters that members of Parliament are perfectly in favour of, is very much a combination of deliberate party tactics. I hesitate to say this, but it is becoming more apparent that it is a culture and mindset that is taking over the government party. It is a mindset of complete subservience to a Prime Minister's Office and an approach that really plays fast and loose with the truth and demands that its MPs fall in line with that strategy.
Even today, the House leader managed to bring it up at one point in his response to a speech. He parroted the exact same nonsense we have been hearing for a month now with respect to a carbon tax. Why, I would ask, would so many respected journalists take to print over the last month to speak out on exactly this particular tactic of using the carbon tax spectre by the government, this culture of misdirection and mistruth? It is because they know that something profound is underway in terms of the extent to which untruth is becoming part of the democratic fabric of the country, to the point that we cannot talk about a democratic fabric if it takes hold as deeply as it is starting to.
I would add two final points about the democratic problems. One is the problem that committees cannot achieve any kind of scrutiny of omnibus bills. We have to take into account how democracy is profoundly limited by lack of scrutiny. We also have to understand that omnibus bills end up being a game of cat and mouse or even catch me if you can, because of how much time is spent just trying to understand what is hidden and buried in the bill.
Finally, we have to understand the role of the media. The media too need to be able to understand, report and critically discuss bills. In a world where we have media concentration and fewer and fewer journalists dedicated to this kind of enterprise, their task as part of the democratic enterprise is more and more compromised by the practice of omnibus bills.
Ms. Judy Foote:
Mr. Speaker, by throwing everything but the kitchen sink into this omnibus bill, the Conservatives have attempted to pull a fast one on Canadians, hoping that they would not take the time to consider each devastating page of the bill.
Fortunately, Canadians were not fooled and have expressed their outrage at the Conservative government by encouraging this motion today. Indeed, when we had the Liberal opposition introducing 500 amendments in an attempt to have the bill divided so that it could be voted on properly, we know that we and other parties were hearing from Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the Conservatives used their majority to push through the bill without amendment anyway.
That brings us to today, days before the Conservatives are set to introduce a follow-up omnibus bill rumoured to be even larger and more expansive than its predecessor.
While omnibus bills may present an easy opportunity for governments to introduce complex legislation affecting multiple acts, they are not always the most democratic approach. Lumping dozens of individual pieces of legislation together limits the ability of a voter to hold his or her member of Parliament to account by forcing a member's wide-ranging opinion into a simplistic yes or no.
For example, we expect the next Conservative omnibus bill to make substantive changes to parliamentary pensions. Let me be clear: I support reductions to parliamentary pensions, including my own, so they better reflect the Canadian standard. I think that is the fair and right thing to do. However, if the Conservatives decide, for instance, to include measures in their omnibus legislation that would continue their pattern of dismantling search and rescue in my province, Newfoundland and Labrador, then I would have a real difficulty supporting that particular piece of legislation. I made a commitment to my constituents to oppose any measures that would risk the lives of those who make their living at sea and I intend to keep that commitment.
Herein lies the dilemma with omnibus legislation. In such a circumstance, if I chose to support the reduction in parliamentary pensions, then I would also be forced to break a separate commitment to my constituents. That is why Liberals believe that measures to change the pensions of members of Parliament should be introduced through separate legislation so we have the opportunity to vote in favour of it. We have raised this point both in and outside the House of Commons time and time again, calling upon the government in fact to introduce a different piece of legislation with respect to the pensions of members of Parliament.
In the end, the Conservatives will undoubtedly continue their history of partisan gamesmanship and will predictably include these pension measures in their omnibus legislation, not because it is easier and because the pension measures are related to the budget, but because they can falsely claim that we did not support reducing our pensions if we vote against their millions of dollars in advertising or raising of EI premiums on job creators.
They know that their assertion is patently untrue, but they also know that it will make it easy for them to give stock answers in question period, as my colleague referenced in his earlier remarks. When we are holding the Conservatives to account for reckless policies, it gives the government the opportunity to stand and say, “Well, you voted against it”.
This scheme is insulting to the intellect of Canadians and is, at its heart, intentionally misleading. However, do not take my word for it. Let us listen to what the current Prime Minister, the right hon. member for Calgary Southwest, said in response to an omnibus bill on March 25, 1994:
||—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.
Keep in mind that the bill the member for Calgary Southwest thought was too diverse at that time to hold a single vote on was only 21 pages long. Twenty-one pages is less than 5% of the length of the last Conservative omnibus bill the Prime Minister introduced.
Ironically, the Prime Minister's reservations could not be more relevant than to his own omnibus legislation. The same Prime Minister who now tries to use an omnibus bill to sneak substantive legislation past Canadians previously asked:
|| 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?
|| We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?
He went on to suggest the following:
|| Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.
That is exactly what we are saying in our opposition day motion today. What the Prime Minister said in 1994 is exactly where we are coming from today. I would like to think that his view would still be applicable today if he were to be asked the question. Unfortunately, that is not the case and we are finding ourselves having to introduce this private member's motion dealing with omnibus legislation because of the actions of the government.
Ms. Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to speak to this Liberal motion on omnibus bills today and to why there should be a committee to review and report on how they may be used properly.
Omnibus bills are intended to be a tool for matters of housekeeping and efficiency, for grouping minor and uncontroversial updates into one place. They have a role. As a minister, I have used omnibus bills as they are intended to be used. They are intended to facilitate parliamentary debate by bringing together all the minor technical and administrative amendments to legislation that arise from a single policy decision, which is the critical part in how far Parliament and the Prime Minister have strayed.
I will not pretend that the phenomenon of abusive omnibus bills being used to bundle the major and consequential changes of numerous policy decisions is a new one, but I will contend that under the current government it has become an unparalleled expression of contempt for Canadians and a tool for the dismantling of a core principle of our democracy, that of Parliament's accountability to constituents.
In 2005, under another government, the budget bill was 120 pages long and at the time it was a record length. The opposition leader of the day, now the right hon. Prime Minister, asked:
|| How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation...?
Exactly, is what I would say.
He denounced omnibus bills as undemocratic and a “contradiction to the conventions and practices of the House”. That is exactly so.
Therefore, I would ask today's Prime Minister where his integrity was regarding Bill C-38, his omnibus bill, presented last spring? If his words of 2005 indeed expressed his convictions, I would ask this. What happened to his convictions?
Members were forced last June to vote on a block of legislation four times the length and with 400 times the impact on Canadians compared to the omnibus bill that he so decried in 2005. Why did the Prime Minister do that and why is he preparing another such travesty of an omnibus bill that is expected to be presented this fall? Why is his tactic, this misuse of omnibus bills, so wrong? Because it does not allow parliamentarians to do their jobs for the people they represent.
Let us look at Bill C-38 for a moment. It is 452 pages long, has 753 clauses and amends 70 different acts. First and foremost, it is an abuse of democracy to lump together such an array of massive policy change. Permit me to list a few examples.
Bill C-38 increases government's power over people's lives in many domains, such as immigration, access to employment insurance, pensions and industrial developments in people's backyards, to name a few.
As Bill C-38 increases ministers' individual powers over individual people's lives, it reduces the very accountability mechanisms that make sure these powers are not being abused. That is scary stuff indeed.
The breadth of policy change in Bill C-38 is breathtaking, such as changes to the very fabric of financial security for seniors, changes in justice that are fundamental to Canada's immigration intake process, and changes to our critical environmental safety net.
Bill C-38 gave Revenue Canada $8 million a year in extra money to intimidate and punish environmental and other not-for-profit organizations that dare to speak up in the public interest. How many Canadians wanted that? How many Canadians thought they were voting for that? That is 10 times the dollars that the government claims it will be saving by eliminating the Kitsilano Coast Guard search and rescue base in the heart of the busiest harbour in Canada. Many of my constituents, every one that I have heard from, is angry about the closure of that base because they know that it will lead to preventable deaths.
Therefore, Bill C-38 was an attack on democracy, an attack on the environment and an attack on Canadian values and the Canadian people. To lump these fundamental rewrites of policy and practice into a single bill that cannot be properly examined, understood, debated, communicated nor amended is an abuse of democratic principles. That abuse of democracy must end.
The Prime Minister used to agree with me on that but that was then and this is now. I would contend that the government's reliance on omnibus budget bills is a symptom of an underlying condition, the condition of contempt. This has been amply proven. The government has contempt for democracy, contempt for Parliament, contempt for the rule of the law, contempt for civil society and contempt for Canadians.
Canada is a country built on hard work, responsibility, freedom, equality, opportunity, compassion and respect for one another. Those are deep Liberal values but also Canadian values. Canada is a country in which contempt by its leaders for its people has no place. With Canada's history of sacrifice in defence of democracy, we must never forget that Parliament is important. What we do here and how we do it matters.
Having a healthy democracy is the Canadian way. Having a government that is accountable for its actions and decisions is the Canadian way. Having transparent processes and procedures is the Canadian way. Having a government that gives people the opportunity to get involved in politics and to participate in decisions that affect them is the Canadian way.
On the flip side, omnibus bills are an affront to democracy. They are an affront to Canada's political traditions. They are an affront to the rights of our people. There is a constitutional problem with omnibus bills because the legal boundaries are unclear. There is also a problem at the political level.
However, there are solutions. I am looking at the scope of the task ahead of us. The committee is just the first step.
The committee must do its work but that is just the first step. The committee must find out how this kind of abuse is prevented in other western Liberal democracies. It must propose changes to tighten up the latitude that exists for abusing omnibus bills and apply accountability that does not exist today.
We must ask ourselves this question: Is there not something fundamentally wrong with an electoral system, Canada's electoral system, in which 25% of eligible voters can provide a governing party with a majority, a government that can then proceed to make the kinds of major policy changes we saw in Bill C-38 without due process, without respect, with contempt and with impunity?
I can picture a day when our electoral system will strengthen democratic accountability and not weaken it. I can picture a day when the proportion of each party's public representatives in this place will more closely reflect the will of the voters. I can picture this renewed Canadian democracy creating the incentive for parliamentarians to really work together across party lines on the big challenges of the day. It is time to have that conversation with Canadians. How we elect our Parliament, how we govern ourselves, how we include and consult, and how we write and debate our legislation says something important about Canada and the kind of people Canadians want to be.
The government's abuse of omnibus bills represents secrecy, contempt, exclusion and meanness. That is not Canada, that is not who Canadians are and that means this abuse of power must be fixed. We can start right now by voting in favour of the Liberal motion to end the misuse of omnibus legislation.
Hon. Ted Menzies (Minister of State (Finance), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak against the motion brought forward today. I know my Liberal colleagues will be shocked at that but I do take exception to some of the comments that have been made here this morning and I will reflect on those.
To sum it up, we on this side of the House recognize that not only the Canadian economy but the economies of the world are in a fragile recovery mode right now and so it takes comprehensive plans to ensure we can deal with that fragile recovery. I would argue, and I will go on to explain why, that comprehensive legislation is required to enact a comprehensive plan.
We tabled a comprehensive budget early in the spring and it requires comprehensive legislation to enact that, just like it has for every other budget that has been tabled in this House throughout the years. There is nothing different about it. A government puts forward a budget that is actually the plan for the government and that plan impacts different pieces of legislation that need to be changed. That is exactly what was done in the first budget implementation act and we will see the continuation of that in the second budget implementation act. Because of that, I would argue that Canada, because of this comprehensive plan, is in the good recovery mode that it is in.
We have actually helped our businesses create jobs and grow the economy. On March 29, our government introduced the 2012 budget, the economic action plan 2012. It is a prudent and long-term plan to grow Canada's economy, create jobs and return to balanced budgets. When discussing this plan, we must consider it in a global context, as I referred to earlier. Thanks to the help of our Conservative government's economic leadership, Canada has fared much better than all of our G7 counterparts.
I will go through some of the examples. First and foremost, since July 2009, and I spoke to the job recovery, we now have 820,000 net new jobs, which is, by far, the strongest job growth record among all of the G7 countries. That is because we have a comprehensive plan and because we put forward legislation to enact that plan.
Second, more than 90% of all those jobs created since July 2009 are full-time positions and more than 75% of them are in the private sector.
Third, both the IMF and the OECD project that Canada will have among the strongest growth in the G7 countries in the years ahead.
Fourth, for the fifth year in a row, the World Economic Forum has ranked Canada's financial system as the safest and the soundest in the world. Our comprehensive budget implementation bills helped reaffirm that.
Fifth, three credit rating agencies, Moody's, Fitch and Standard & Poor's, have all recently reaffirmed Canada's top-tier triple-A credit rating. In fact, it was Fitch that recently praised Canada when it said:
|| Years of fiscal responsibility and a strong institutional setting created the conditions for an effective fiscal policy response to the global financial crisis. An early commitment to balance the budget over the medium term placed Canada's fiscal credibility ahead of many peers.
The list goes on, but the global economy does remain fragile and it is a different story than we see here in Canada.
In Europe, tremendous economic challenges remain, of which we are reminded all too frequently. The eurozone's real GDP contracted in the fourth quarter of 2011, was virtually flat in the first quarter of 2012 and has since contracted again in the second quarter of 2012. The most recent indicators out of Greece indicate that unemployment is about 25% and Spain is not far behind.
In budget implementation act one, we addressed those issues. That was a comprehensive legislation that needed to address EI and we did that.
In short, the situation is not pretty in some European countries and that is why their leaders need to firmly and permanently deal with their economic problem. The recent announcement by the European Central Bank in support of the European sovereign bond markets is a step in the right direction—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin):
I thank both the Minister of State for Finance and the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for their interventions. I understand that the question of relevance arose earlier this morning prior to my taking the chair at noon. I would like to make two points. The first is a general point and the second is more specific.
In general terms, there are rules in the Standing Orders that relate to relevance and repetition. It is fair to say that over the years chair occupants have taken a rather wide view of those two matters for the reason that the Chair does not want to unduly limit debate in the House and the opportunity for members to bring the facts that they feel are important or relevant to bear. There are times when the Chair asks members to come back to the matter at hand, but over the eight plus years that I have been in this place, I think it is fair to say that the Chair has taken a relatively wide view of the question of relevance. I think it is also fair to say that when members give a 10 or 20 minute speech, they will often use examples and make arguments that wander away from the principal matter before the House, but it is their responsibility to somehow connect it back to the question at hand.
I would encourage all hon. members to do two things.
First, when members make a presentation to the House, they be mindful of the business before the House and they be respectful of that business as well as the process. This place will function better if all hon. members make a good faith effort to do that.
Second, I would also remind all hon. members that wishing for a much narrower definition of what is relevant and wishing for the Chair to take a much narrower definition of that would have consequences beyond the matter before the House at that time.
I would ask all hon. members if they could balance those two principles. Again, it has been my experience that most of the time members do this very well. While some members take a circuitous route to come to the matter at hand, most of the time they do that.
I have a more specific comment. I have reviewed the blues from earlier today. When the question of relevance arose and when the hon. minister of state rose to speak, I listened very carefully to what he said in order to measure the relevance. Without getting into the substance of the debate before the House today, there is a question of the relevance of omnibus or comprehensive legislation and at what point that becomes inappropriate. The more specific suggestion is that the House ought to refer this to procedure and House affairs committee so it can come back with a ruling.
I heard the minister of state say that he disagreed with the motion before the House today, that he felt that omnibus or comprehensive legislation was not inherently unacceptable or inappropriate in this place. He further argued that matters such as the budget and budget implementation bills were by necessity broad in scope and that it was on that basis that he would vote against the motion.
Subsequently, my expectation is that the minister of state is bringing specific examples to light of how he feels, essentially making the argument that comprehensive legislation is in fact necessary and therefore suggesting that it is inappropriate and that the rules ought to be changed. He disagrees with that proposal. I respect the fact that there are other members in the House who would disagree with his point of view.
With that, I would ask the hon. Minister of State for Finance to continue, to be mindful of the question of relevance and to focus on the matter that is before the House, which is the opposition motion, and to move toward the end of his speech.
Hon. Ted Menzies:
Mr. Speaker, you do reaffirm my belief in the wisdom of the Chair. I can do this on a very repetitious basis, drawing every example I use back to the fact that it requires comprehensive legislation. If the opposition wishes that I do that, I may fall into what you have suggested is not appropriate, and that is repetitiveness. I will try not to do that either.
What I was speaking about was Europe and the threat to the global economy, the indecisions, the lack of a comprehensive plan among the European Union community.
I will go back to my first statement that a comprehensive plan requires comprehensive legislation. That is what the budget implementation act, Bill C-38, was. I suggest there will be comprehensive legislation following soon to implement the rest of a comprehensive plan to keep Canada on track.
Another example I would use is in the U.S. There seems to be some indecision down there, a lack of being able to make a firm decision, perhaps a lack of a comprehensive plan such as we had in Bill C-38, which was a comprehensive legislation.
The U.S. needs to get its fiscal house in order. We are well on our way to doing that. It also needs to ensure that there is certainty in the short term so markets and investors can be confident that economic growth will not be interrupted. That is what we saw in our comprehensive legislation in the spring.
In these uncertain times, Canada's economic stability depends on the implementation of a clear plan, a comprehensive plan to safeguard our economy. This situation demands that Canada cannot be complacent. We cannot allow political gridlock and instability to stall vital economic and fiscal reforms as we are witnessing in the U.S. and Europe.
Moreover, in a rapidly changing and global marketplace where Canada faces tough competition from emerging economies like Brazil, Russia, China and India, we cannot afford to delay action to support our economy and measures to return to balanced budgets.
Therefore, in budget implementation one, Bill C-38, we actually put forward solutions to allow our Canadian companies to compete.
I think the argument is very valid, that in order for our economy to continue to grow, we need to put in place legislation and we need to do that soon. We gathered it together in a budget implementation act and we will have the second one coming soon that actually does that. It will allow our Canadian companies to compete internationally, to be able to export their resources, to streamline that process and to ensure that it is an environmentally sound plan. That is all part of our comprehensive budget plan.
The challenges that our economy faces are not small and one dimensional and neither is our plan. It is comprehensive and ambitious. It responds to the magnitude of the threats that Canada faces in this uncertain climate today.
In order to implement the plan, certain measures require legislation to be adopted by Parliament. In April 2012, we introduced Bill C-38, the one I would suggest the Liberals are referring to here today, which included provisions to spur job growth, to keep social programs sustainable, to eliminate wasteful and duplicative spending of taxpayer dollars and much more, hence, the comprehensive budget implementation bill.
Let me give the members opposite some examples of this action and explain how we plan on spurring job growth. One is by developing our resources responsibly. The NDP, when it comes to resources, has suggested it would like to implement a job-killing carbon scheme that would increase the price of absolutely everything we buy and consume. That was not part of our plan and it never will be.
Our government knows that this would not work. Instead, we are focused on responsible resource development, which will streamline the review process for major economic projects by providing predictable timelines for project approvals. It will prevent long delays that kill potential jobs and stall economic growth by putting valuable investments at risk. Most important, responsible resource development will create good, skilled, well-paying jobs in cities and communities all across this great country while at the same time maintaining the highest possible standards for protecting the environment. That required a comprehensive piece of legislation, Bill C-38.
With emerging economies in Asia and around the world providing the potential to create even more jobs and growth, our government will act swiftly to implement its plan for responsible resource development in the interests of the Canadian economy.
However, that is not all, as we have much more to do. We are making employment insurance a more efficient program, one that is focused on job creation and opportunities by removing disincentives to work and supporting unemployed Canadians.
We are also helping build a fast and flexible economic immigration system to meet Canada's labour market needs by reducing the backlog in the federal skilled worker program, returning applications and refunding fees to those who applied prior to February 27, 2008.
Our government is also making fiscally responsible decisions to ensure that spending stays in check and does not go down the path that we have seen in many European countries. To help achieve this we are modernizing Canada's currency by gradually eliminating the penny from Canada's coinage system. This as well requires changes to legislation and is why we table comprehensive legislation. This alone will save taxpayers $11 million every year.
Nonetheless, this plan is about much more than reducing spending. As a government we have a responsibility to Canadians to ensure that Canada's social programs remain sustainable over the long term. That is why in budget 2012 we took action to ensure that the retirement security of all Canadians, now and into the future, is sound by placing Canada's old age security program on a sustainable path. Beginning in April of 2023, the age of eligibility for OAS and the guaranteed income supplement will gradually begin to increase from 65 to 67. These changes reflect demographic shifts in Canada's population and are necessary to ensure that OAS and GIS are available for future generations of Canadians. This also requires comprehensive legislation so that we can enact the necessary changes to make both of these programs sustainable.
The problem with the members opposite is that they do not think down the road; they do not realize the changes that we need to make to make sure that these programs stay sustainable.
Our government is taking real action to ensure that Canada's economy continues to create jobs and grow. What, you may ask, does our government's plan do for Canadian families and communities? That would be one of the best questions to ask here today and I shall answer it.
I will talk about economic action plan 2012 and how it builds on our government's strong record by proposing new measures for Canadian families. For example, our action plan will improve the application of the GST and HST and income tax systems to a number of health care services, drugs and medical devices to reflect the evolving nature of the health care sector and to better meet the health care needs of Canadians.
That was required both in the comprehensive legislation that we passed and in legislation that will be forthcoming soon. Specifically, it would mean exempting from the GST and HST pharmacists' professional services, other than their prescription drug dispensing services, which are already zero-rated under the GST and HST.
It would also mean expanding the zero-rated treatment under the GST-HST for corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses supplied on the prescription of an eye-care professional to include corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses supplied on the order of a qualified optician who is authorized, under provincial law, to issue such an order.
It would mean expanding the list of health care professionals on whose orders certain medical and assistive devices are zero-rated under the GST and HST so as to reflect the increasing involvement of health care professionals, such as nurses, in giving orders for these devices.
It would also mean adding to the list of non-prescription drugs that are zero-rated under GST and HST.
It is obvious that we needed to open up the Income Tax Act to do that. It is part of the budget. It was referred to in the budget. It is part of our action plan. It requires comprehensive legislation to do that. That is just one of the reasons I will be opposing the motion today.
It would also mean expanding the list of GST and HST zero-rated medical and assistive devices and the list of expenses a person may claim for income tax purposes under the medical expense tax credit to include such things a blood coagulation monitors for use by people who require anti-coagulation therapy.
Every time I say zero-rated, I see a confused look on the faces of the opposition members. This is not surprising since we all know that the Liberals actually favour higher taxes. Perhaps that is why they actually opposed our budget implementation act, Bill C-38.
We know what the Liberals do when they have a chance to support initiatives that would lower taxes for Canadian families. We have seen example after example. They simply vote against these measures. That is exactly what they did with policies like the refundable working income tax benefit back in 2007. That is exactly what they did with our government's economic action plan.
Let us take a look at some of the initiatives that would also help Canadian communities but which the opposition also voted against.
Our government's plan would make direct investments in research that would support our communities. Canada's position as a world leader in research excellence is a key source of the discoveries, innovations and advanced skills that not only result in better health outcomes but also drive job creation and opportunities in the knowledge economy.
The measures in the economic action plan would help strengthen Canada's leadership position by supporting industry/academic research collaborations, as well as advanced health and public policy research initiatives of strategic importance. We all understand how important that is. The minister sitting near me here today is leading that incredible challenge, and we are winning on that.
We are announcing new chairs at universities and colleges across this country. Why is that? It is because we enacted legislation that would allow and fund that. We are proud of that record.
We have many examples. For example, in the area of health research, we have allocated $15 million per year for patient-oriented research. That was part of Bill C-38, which the opposition voted against.
I could go on and on about all the things the opposition voted against, However, I think the fundamental comment I will finish with is that I am proud to oppose the opposition motion this morning. We have great reason to think we are on the right track.
Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mount Royal.
The government has repeatedly abused Parliament by ramming through outrageous omnibus bills. For example, two years ago the government introduced an 880-page omnibus bill, a grab-bag of bills that the government wanted to pass quickly. In fact, it was half of the entire workload of Parliament from the previous year. As a result, the government was severely condemned for turning the legislative process into a farce.
Most recently, the government introduced Bill C-38, the 400-plus page omnibus budget implementation bill. Through the bill, the government sprung sweeping changes on our country, affecting everything from employment insurance, environmental protection, immigration and old age security to even the oversight that charities receive. None of these changes were in the Conservative platform. They were rushed into law by “an arrogant majority government that’s in a hurry to impose its agenda on the country”.
The government's actions reek of hypocrisy. In 1994, the right hon. member for Calgary Southwest criticized omnibus legislation, suggesting that the subject matter of such bills is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles and that dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent the views of their constituents on each part of the bill.
The right hon. member is now using the very tactics he once denounced. It is a shame that he changed his tune when he was elected to the highest office in the land. Last spring's 400-page omnibus budget implementation bill contained over 60 unrelated matters, amended or abolished 74 pieces of legislation and devoted an astonishing 150 pages to destroying 50 years of environmental oversight. I quote:
|| This is political sleight-of-hand and message control, and it appears to be an accelerating trend. These shabby tactics keep Parliament in the dark, swamp MPs with so much legislation that they can’t absorb it all, and hobble scrutiny. This is not good, accountable, transparent government.
Real democracy would have allowed for the environment sections to be separated out from the omnibus bill and sent to the environment committee for clause-by-clause scrutiny. Bill C-38 repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, meaning that the assessment agency would be able to exempt a designated project from even going through the assessment process and that when environmental assessments do happen they will be narrower, less rigorous and have reduced public participation. Canada's environment commissioner says that “there will be a significant narrowing of public participation”.
We have since learned that hundreds of federal environmental assessments have been dropped. Canadians should know that after a mere 16 hours of study the finance subcommittee was left with many questions regarding the legislation. What types of projects will be included or excluded under the proposed changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act? What proportion and types of current assessments will no longer receive federal oversight? How will the government define whether a provincial process is equivalent to the federal process? How will the assessment of cumulative impacts be undertaken?
During the finance subcommittee's review, Ms. Rachel Forbes, staff counsel of West Coast Environmental Law, said she did not believe the new legislation would accomplish any of the government's four pillars: more predictable and timely reviews, less duplication in reviewing projects, strong environmental protection and enhanced consultation with aboriginal peoples. In fact, she suggested the amendments may hinder them.
Bill C-38 also repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, which addressed our most pressing environmental problem, namely climate change. The law required the Minister of the Environment to publish a climate change plan each year, a forecast for emissions reductions and a discussion of how the government performed the previous year and how shortcomings would be addressed. Repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act will result in a loss of domestic climate accountability measures. Repealing the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy will result in the loss of a unique independent, unbiased organization, that's only fault was publishing evidence-based reports that did not agree with Conservative ideology.
Canadians should be deeply concerned by the repeal of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act as the threat of climate change is serious, urgent and growing. Nine of the ten warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000. The extent and thickness of summer sea ice in the Arctic have shown a dramatic decline over the past 30 years, with the six lowest extents having all occurred in the last six years. More disturbing still, a 2011 article in the prestigious journal Nature showed that the duration and magnitude of the decline may be unprecedented in the last 1,450 years.
However, this summer, the amount of ice in the Arctic shrank to an all-time low, destroying previous records. While scientists are enormously concerned that these changes represent a fundamental change and very little is known about the consequences of drastic sea ice reductions, the Minister of the Environment was perturbed mainly about how navigation patterns might be affected.
Bill C-38 also weakened several environmental laws, including protection for species at risk and water, and nearly eliminated fish habitat in the Fisheries Act, putting species from coast to coast to coast at risk.
Tom Siddon, the former Conservative minister responsible for the current Fisheries Act, was extremely concerned by the amendments and stated:
|| This is a covert attempt to gut the Fisheries Act, and it’s appalling that they should be attempting to do this under the radar.
He also said:
|| They are totally watering down and emasculating the Fisheries Act...they are making a Swiss cheese out of [it].
At the finance committee, he reported:
|| The bottom line...take your time and do it right. To bundle all of this into a budget bill, with all its other facets, is not becoming of a Conservative government, period.
Equally astounding is the fact that Bill C-38 gave the federal cabinet the authority to overrule a decision by the National Energy Board.
The Conservatives have also cut $29 million from Parks Canada and in doing so are undermining the health and integrity of Canada's world-renowned parks, risking some of our world heritage sites, significantly reducing the number of scientists and technical staff, hurting relationships with aboriginal peoples and attacking rural economies.
It is important to remember that when the Conservatives came to power, they inherited a legacy of balanced budgets from the previous Liberal government but soon plunged the country into a deficit before the recession ever hit. It is absolutely negligent and shameful that the government gutted environmental safeguards in order to fast-track development and balance its books.
The government did not campaign in the last election on gutting environmental protection. As a result, Canadians rose up in the hope of stopping the Prime Minister's destruction of laws that protect the environment, the health and safety of Canadians, our communities, our economy and our livelihoods. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute are just some of Canada's prominent environmental organizations that called upon Canadians to speak out in defence of Canada's values of democracy and the environment.
The Black Out Speak Out campaign stated:
|| Our land, water and climate are all threatened by the latest federal budget. Proposed changes in the budget bill will weaken environmental laws and silence the voices of those who seek to defend them.
|| Silence is not an option.
We simply cannot afford economic development with reduced environmental consideration. We risk environmental disaster and cleanup costs, which we may pass on to our children. We must remember that we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
Canadians are entitled to expect much more than what they are witnessing today both in the protection of our environment and the protection of our democratic values, which our beautiful country was built on.
Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this debate on omnibus legislation. Like my colleagues, and particularly now my colleague from Etobicoke North, I agree with what the current Prime Minister stated in this place in 1994 when, as an opposition member, he criticized the use of omnibus legislation asking:
|| 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?
|| We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?
The complaint of the Prime Minister, then speaking as an opposition member in 1994, about the use of omnibus bills ought now to underpin his work as Prime Minister. Rather, he is forcing legislation through this place as he himself regaled against. Indeed, it is time that the House took action to study and restrict the use of sweeping omnibus legislation that, among other things, deprives MPs of the opportunity to undertake the requisite detailed and differentiated analysis of the diverse constituent elements in a given omnibus bill, deprives the members of the House of the necessary public oversight with respect to these bills and undermines public participation in the political process as well as the public right to know.
I am not suggesting that the government somehow does not have a right to pursue its policy objectives. What must be debated, however, is the integrity of the process used and the merits of the means chosen. The purpose of Parliament is not to serve as a rubber stamp of the government, to be disconnected from the people and our constituents, even in a majority Parliament. Indeed, the government has yet to explain how Canadians are worse off when this body does take the necessary time to study subject matter items in detail, to separate out disparate legislative proposals and thereby, as a result, to produce the appropriate high-quality legislation deserving of our Parliament and our people. Indeed, it would seem by his own acknowledgement in this place that the member for Calgary Southwest at the time acknowledged these same views in 1994.
Accordingly, my brief remarks will be organized around the discussion of two particular pieces of legislation, the recent federal budget implementation bill, and Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill. While those are the two latest and most blatant examples of the use and abuse of the omnibus process, the government has a pattern of bundling perfectly acceptable items with utterly untenable legislation, and does so not only to its peril but to the peril of its own case and cause.
The recent federal budget legislation, Bill C-38, is what I have referred to elsewhere as the hydra-headed Trojan Horse omnibus budget implementation bill, for it was as stealth-like in its scope as it will be and has been prejudicial in its impact, the whole constituting an assault on the integrity of Parliament and its members, as well as on the democratic process. That is putting it modestly and mildly.
Simply put, while this 400-plus page piece of legislation was supposed to be anchored in the budget, in reality it had very little to do with the budget. Rather, in its sweeping scope it introduced, amended or repealed more than 70 federal statutes with the omnibus Trojan Horse providing political cover for pervasive and prejudicial impacts on everything from Canadian retirement plans to environmental protection, from immigration to food safety. All of this was accomplished through sleight-of-hand omnibus legislation where, for example, one provision undermined the whole of our environmental protection safeguards.
This enormous hodgepodge, this disconnected bundling together of variegated legislative proposals, did not and does not allow for the requisite differentiated discussion and debate, let alone the necessary oversight of the legislation. It imbued the executive with arbitrary authority to the exclusion of Parliament thereby serving as a standing abuse to the canons of good governance, transparency, accountability, public oversight, cost disclosure and the like. Indeed, this alone should have been cause for its defeat.
As Andrew Coyne put it at the time, “The scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated”. He noted that the bill made “a mockery of the confidence convention” and that there was no “common thread” or “overarching principle” between the legislative items therein, let alone its standing contempt for Parliament in matters of process and procedure.
Moreover, and again on the crucial issues of parliamentary process and procedure, this bill was sent to the finance committee. Accordingly, the review of the environmental regulations therein, which overhauled, weakened and undermined the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and environmental protection as a whole, were thus not reviewed by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development where it belonged.
Similarly, the provisions that changed the First Nations Land Management Act were not the subject of examination and study by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, as my colleague from Etobicoke North identified, where they ought to have been deliberated. I could go on with numerous examples in this regard.
Moreover, if circumventing proper and thorough parliamentary review were not enough, the government invoked time allocation to limit discussion on the bill at every stage of the legislative process.
I am not suggesting that invoking time allocation, as the government has done again and again, violates the rules of this place. What I am suggesting, as many commentators have said, is that this use of it, particularly in the context of omnibus legislation, is unnecessary, prejudicial, surprisingly undemocratic, in effect, unparliamentary, and otherwise unsubstantiated, unwarranted and, frankly, is a contempt of Parliament and the people.
Surely if Parliament had to debate something like going to war, it would be easy to see why we might have time allocation to ensure that we get to the most pressing debate first. Or, if there were court decisions that affected many statutes, we might easily welcome an omnibus bill that could make the same change to many statutes at once, and that has been done by this House.
What is so disconcerting with the budget implementation bill is that the government need not have been in such a rush. There was no coherent or compelling theme, as commentators and experts have pointed out, to the omnibus proposals contained in the bill. Frankly, it could have used more study and, as we see with the current tainted beef scandal, the provisions on food inspectors perhaps warranted a more thorough review.
There are many issues that remain with the budget implement bill, not the least of which is the question of cost disclosure and the remaining possibility of a lawsuit from the PBO over the government's failure to be open and transparent about the extent of the budget cuts proposed and its cost impact.
In the matter of the omnibus crime legislation, Bill C-10, the problem with omnibus legislation is illustrated no less compellingly. While the same generic omnibus critiques operate in this context, namely, what Richard Poplak in a Globe and Mail piece termed “Chinese disease...hollowing out democracy”, for which Canadians are increasingly bearing the burden of this onslaught, I would refer to one case study of the government's omnibus failure: the amendments to the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, JVTA.
The JVTA was one of nine constituent bills of Bill C-10, one which received little attention. This landmark legislation, however, allowed, for the first time, Canadian victims of terror to sue their terrorist perpetrators in Canadian courts.
I supported the principles of the JVTA and had even introduced similar legislation in a previous session for that purpose. However, the government's version of this bill warranted improvement, which it did not allow for. Accordingly, I proposed a series of amendments at the legislative committee, explaining that I sought only to strengthen the government's bill. All of my amendments were summarily rejected by the Conservatives, as were all opposition amendments. Indeed, all 50 of my proposed amendments to Bill C-10 were summarily rejected. There was no debate or consideration given. In fact, I was accused of obstruction and delay for merely suggesting these changes. At the next meeting, the government moved to shut down debate entirely, a flagrant abuse of the parliamentary and legislative process.
Certainly a majority government has the procedural right to use its majority as it pleases. However, it ignores the opposition at its peril. Indeed, the government eventually realized the merit of my amendments and proposed them later as its own. Therefore, these amendments became part of the legislation in a dilatory fashion, prejudicing the outcome and even the improvement that could have been warranted in that legislation.
Simply put, legislation has to be examined on the merits and, when so examined, the Conservatives' omnibus crime bill revealed that it would result in more crime, less justice, at greater cost, with fewer rehabilitation opportunities for offenders, less protection and voice for the victims, and less protection for society. We are now slowly seeing the consequences of the legislation being that which we predicted at the time. In fact, we have situations and problems with regard with prison overcrowding, mandatory minimum penalties and the like, that are likely to be struck down by the courts. I could go on.
Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate this opportunity to address my hon. colleague's motion. However, from the outset, I want to point out to my colleagues across the way that the economy remains priority one for our Conservative government.
With the economic recovery still fragile, we remain focused on ensuring Canada offers the right environment to attract the best business investment necessary to create more and better-paying jobs and improve the living standard of Canadians. Ironically, one of the most effective ways to achieve this is through action opposed by the other side, to give job creators means to hire more workers by lowering their taxes, which is exactly what this government has done. Rest assured that our Conservative government understands that it is lower taxes that help stimulate job growth and that it is expanding markets for Canadian businesses that will help our economy thrive.
The fact is that we have a strong economic record, one that Canadians can look to and trust, as we once again face the economic headwinds emanating from abroad. In short, thanks to the prudent fiscal and economic decisions made before the downturn hit, Canada's economic and fiscal health today is stronger than that of most other developed nations.
When faced with the unprecedented global crisis, our government responded with Canada's economic action plan, which stimulated the economy, protected Canadian jobs during the recession and invested in long-term growth. The results have been both positively received and widely recognized. For example, the Canadian economy's performance on jobs and economic growth has been among the best in the G7. While we would like to see more progress, it is important to note that we have recovered and exceeded all of the output and all of the jobs lost during the recession.
Since July 2009, more than 820,000 net new jobs have been created, the strongest growth in the G7 by far. Certainly in my riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, we have seen a dramatic drop in the unemployment rate in our particular community. Virtually all of those jobs have been full-time positions. However, that is not all. Canada has the distinction of having the world's soundest banking system for the fifth year in a row, as affirmed two weeks ago by the World Economic Forum. Forbes magazine has ranked Canada number one in its annual review of the best countries for business.
Five Canadian financial institutes were named to Bloomberg's list of the world's strongest banks, more than any other country. Three credit rating agencies, Moody's, Fitch and Standard & Poor's, have all recently reaffirmed Canada's top-tier, AAA credit rating. What is more, our $3 billion U.S. bond issue earlier this year was widely subscribed, with EuroWeek magazine concluding that the fact that Canada is
||able to do a trade like that…cements its status as a true Treasury alternative and the best credit in the world.
Clearly, Canada's fiscal fundamentals are solid, and people are noticing. In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has praised Canada's economic record, saying:
|| Canada's path of great budgetary discipline and a very heavy emphasis on growth and overcoming the crisis, not living on borrowed money, can be an example for the way in which problems on the other side of the Atlantic can be addressed.... This is also the right solution for Europe.
While Canada's economic achievements are encouraging, our government understands that now is not the time to become complacent. There are international risks that can affect our outlook: the crisis in Europe and the slowing recovery in the U.S.
I would like to draw everyone's attention to the enduring sovereign and banking crisis in Europe. As the Prime Minister has observed, “The risks to the global economy stemming from the euro zone remain considerably elevated, with the capacity to affect all of us”.
In the eurozone, real GDP contracted in the fourth quarter of 2011, was virtually flat in the first quarter of 2012 and then contracted again in the second quarter of 2012. In addition, current indicators show little improvement, suggesting that the euro area economy is unlikely to see a sharp rebound in the near future.
Many nations, even those oceans away, are concerned about the impact of the eurozone crisis on their own economies. We are all obviously concerned about the situation there, but European leaders need to address their economic problems directly.
The recent announcement by the European Central Bank that it would support European sovereign bond markets is a step in the right direction. However, as the Minister of Finance has noted, we continue to wait for intentions to become actions.
Another serious issue of concern for the world economy is the long-term fiscal challenges of the U.S. This also has a short-term dynamic. Without a political agreement, a number of tax increases and spending reduction measures, representing about 4% of U.S. GDP, are scheduled to come into force at the beginning of 2013. This has been labelled the “fiscal cliff”. The U.S. needs to reduce its fiscal deficit over time. This point is clear. However, it also needs to ensure that there is certainty in the short term, so that markets and investors can be confident that its economic growth will not be interrupted.
Interestingly enough, it is Americans who are suggesting that the United States should emulate Canada's policies to improve their own economic situation. Indeed, just last year the finance committee travelled to the U.S. and met with congressmen and senators. At every meeting we went into, there was so much appreciation and people said we were so lucky to come from Canada.
Just a month ago, we received the highest praise from our American friends when Tom Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said:
|| We've got a strong example of the positive effect of good policies...—Canada. Why has our northern neighbor recovered faster and more robustly from the global recession than nearly all the other major economies? Due to a series of smart policy decisions.
||... Canada has transformed its economy while other nations continue to struggle. ...it is growing faster than many of its competitors. It has recovered all the jobs lost in the recession...
|| Let's take a lesson from the north and tackle these priorities now.
What a great quote from our American friends.
It is our Conservative government that understands what type of economic policies Canada will need to weather the storms beyond our borders. What better place to find examples of policies that create jobs, stimulate economic growth and secure Canada's long-term prosperity than economic action plan 2012?
With our largest historical trading partners, the United States and Europe, going through a prolonged period of economic uncertainty, we know this will put downward pressure on Canada's economic growth. We will not be able to rely on these trading partners to the same extent we did in the past. We must develop new markets and create new opportunities in dynamic parts of the world if we are going to keep raising our standard of living.
Our government is committed to increasing Canada's exports and creating conditions necessary for our homegrown businesses to compete in the global marketplace. Increasing Canadian export is key to our future growth. Our government believes that the sustainable growth agenda involves structural reforms, including trade liberalization that allows for Canadian businesses and their workers to fully compete in the global market.
Our government has already made Canada one of the most open and globally engaged economies in the world. In six years we have reached trade agreements with nine countries and are negotiating with many more. We have also concluded foreign investment promotion and protection agreements with 11 countries and are in active negotiations with 14 others. We are optimistic that our negotiations with the European Union will soon produce an ambitious trade agreement that facilitates increased Canadian exports to Europe. Recently, our Prime Minister met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ottawa to strengthen dialogue on this key initiative.
However, it does not end there. Combined with the government's commitment to increasing Canadian exports is our continued tariff relief to enhance the competitiveness of Canada's manufacturers and importers. In all, our government has eliminated more than 1,800 tariff items and provided more than $435 million in annual tariff relief to Canadian businesses. As a result, Canada is now the first tariff-free manufacturing zone in the G20.
Our government continues to create the right conditions to enable Canadians and Canadian businesses to feel confident to invest, to create jobs, to participate in the global marketplace and to grow our economy.
In fact, just last week the Minister of Finance announced new tariff relief for Canadian manufacturers to help create jobs and economic growth and enhance their competitiveness in the domestic and international markets.
Let me stress this point. Trade has long been a powerful engine for Canada's economy, driving it forward through some pretty tough times. It demonstrates the government firmly believes and our record demonstrates that.
Unfortunately, not all the parties represented in the House share that view. If the NDP had its way, we know that our economy would falter under its protectionist policies. That party has opposed almost every trade agreement that has come before the House. The Liberal Party just let the trade file languish during its time in government. Fortunately, on this side of the House, we take action.
Deepening Canada's trade investment relationships in large and fast-growing export markets around the world is integral to jobs and growth. In the past few years, our government has been aggressively expanding commercial relationships in the Asia-Pacific region to create jobs and economic benefit. The opportunities for Canada in this dynamic region are vast, with an economic growth rate that is two to three times the global average.
By 2040, China and India are predicted to be the number two and number four destinations for Canada's merchandise exports, with South Korea and Japan in the top ten as well. That is why we are pursuing a whole host of trade initiatives with Asia.
Let us consider the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example. The TPP's current membership represents a market of 510 million people and a GDP of $17.6 trillion.
At the G20 leaders summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, TPP partners announced their support for Canada joining this partnership and, indeed, it was an historic opportunity.
However, this trade effort in this region has some company. In addition to the TPP, Canada is pursuing a number of similar initiatives, including continuing trade negotiations with Japan and continuing exploratory discussions toward trade negotiations with Thailand.
Our government continues to take action to increase Canadian exports to China. China is the second largest two-way trading partner, after the United States, and bilateral trade is expanding rapidly. Fuelled by a 27% boost in Canadian exports to China, two-way merchandise trade reached $65 billion in 2011, accounting for 7.3% of Canada's trade.
Again, on a local note, I look at our forestry industry in British Columbia. That expansion into China in terms of its product has been absolutely critical in terms of its continuation.
More specific, from 2006 to 2011, Canadian exports to China rose from $7.8 billion to $16.8 billion, an increase of 115%. During the same period, Canadian imports from China rose from $34.5 billion to $48.2 billion, an increase of 40%.
Canada has a strong network of trade commissioners throughout China who can help Canadian businesses to asses the potential of the Chinese market, find qualified contacts and resolve any problems that might come along the way. This network was expanded in 2009, when Canada opened six regional trade offices to expand our presence to second-tier cities, the new drivers of the Chinese economic growth. Our country now has 11 points of contact for Canadian businesses in China.
To increase protection for Canadian business in China, earlier this month, we signed the Canada-China foreign investment promotion and protection agreement. This landmark agreement will provide a more stable and secure environment for Canadian businesses in China.
I could easily go on for another 20 minutes, highlighting our government's economic action plan initiatives to strengthen business competitiveness, for example, in resource development, immigration reform, cutting red tape. It is pretty clear that when it comes to creating the kinds of economic growth that will mean a brighter future for Canadians and their families, this side of the House knows the best route to getting there. Why? Because, unlike the Liberals, our government has a plan for jobs and growth and will continue to stick with it.
I urge my colleagues across the floor to stop voting against a plan that would create jobs, generate economic growth and secure Canada's long-term prosperity. Our Conservative government is creating the right conditions for Canadian businesses to compete around the world. Our government is absolutely committed to keeping Canada strong and prosperous, even in a volatile and uncertain economy. Maybe for a change the Liberals will get on board.
Mr. Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, indeed it is a good day to be debating this particular subject for several reasons. I will be splitting my time with the member for Kingston and the Islands.
The previous speaker talked about comprehensiveness as a defence of the omnibus legislation. However, something can be as comprehensive as one wishes, but if it is dumb, it is dumb. Whether it is layered with other material, it does not matter, it still comes out in the end as I said.
What we are talking about today in regard to omnibus legislation really runs roughshod over what we are trying to do in the House. We are trying to have a comprehensive debate and to get answers to questions that we have on particular situations, whether they deal with the environment or fiscal matters and taxation.
Lately, it has been hard in this House to have a debate in which members are not totally into their notes. We look at the speaking handed to us by people who are not elected. No offence to them, but do we not gather enough information when we go about in our ridings that we cannot stand up and say to this House and the country what it is that we are representing? Can we not come into this House, stand here and speak freely about what is happening in our ridings and how we are affected by budget legislation?
Come with me to a time in 2004 when we had the Atlantic accord. It was decent legislation that talked about the sharing of resources between Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Nova Scotia. We had serious negotiations about how to share revenues.
For example, I have always felt that the principal beneficiary of any particular resource should be those closest to that resource. The lion's share of the royalties of the oil extracted from the oil sands goes to the crown in Alberta. However, in this case, because the resources are offshore, they are in the jurisdiction of the federal government and so something had to be done.
Why can Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Nova Scotians not be principal beneficiaries of what is on their shoreline? It is what they fished for over centuries. If there is oil beneath those fish, obviously they should reap the benefits of that as well and be responsible for it.
We were engaged in a large argument but an agreement was reached between the then premiers, Danny Williams and John Hamm, as well as the prime minister of the day, the Right Hon. Paul Martin. The deal had to be put into legislation and it was put into a budget bill. There we have the message.
At the time, the Conservatives, including the now Prime Minister, the ministers from Newfoundland and Labrador and from Nova Scotia as well as the critics all said vehemently, “How dare you do that? How dare you take something as special as this and lump it into a larger budget legislation?”
Now, several years forward, all of a sudden we not only find ourselves getting special legislation like the Atlantic accord but also that other things are being added to the budget bill to a point where everything that was said before is now denied. It is now said to be different, that it is different in scope, to the effect that “We have the keys to the shop now; therefore, the shop has to change in our direction”.
I hope the message that we give to the Conservatives today will simply be this: When will they practice what they used to preach?
Let us take a look at 2006. Just before taking the reins of power, the Conservatives said that in order to benefit Newfoundland and Labrador so that it would be the principal beneficiary of its own resources, they would take the line that stretches 200 nautical miles from the shoreline and the federal government would own the species in that zone and manage and be responsible for them. Anything beyond that line would international and they would go through international forums to resolve issues. However, the Conservatives said that they would remove that line and unilaterally move it out a further 200 miles. What did they do?
As my hon. colleague from Avalon would say: “Nothing, not a thing”. We got nothing out of it.
This is the situation. The Conservatives went to the international forum and said they had a deal that actually gave them custodial management. Can members imagine that? They were actually going to move this line. Not only did they break the promise, not only did they backtrack, but they also pretended they did not. That has to be the worst of all. Not only would they lead us down the garden path and tell us something that they would not do, they thought we were stupid enough to buy it. They actually thought that we believed they had done it. It is like a political Cirque du Soleil. There are so many jumps and theatrics involved it is not even funny. They were going to move it unilaterally from the shoreline out further. Nada. Nothing.
To move on to this particular omnibus bill and look at what they did, say that everything we have ever wanted to do for this country were to be wrapped into one little pill we could swallow. None of it was debated. Given the fact that most of the members refer to talking points, we can understand where they are coming from with omnibus legislation, because every word is the same. Everything that is wrong with the other side of the House is wrapped up in talking points pertaining to something that we are not even going to do and never said we would do. How many times do they get up and read exactly what the other person has said?
There is a theory out there that if one can convince a hundred monkeys to do the same thing, the rest of society will think those monkeys are right. There we have the perfect analogy: If one says something hard enough, long enough, people just might believe it. The problem is that the Conservatives actually think that others will believe the same thing. To say it is laughable is the biggest understatement of the day. When do they practice what they used to preach? That is the issue here. Again, we used the quotation in the motion.
Bear with me on this one. This is my favourite. On March 25, 1994, the Prime Minister criticized omnibus legislation, suggesting that the subject matter of those bills was so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles. Congratulations to the Conservative Party of Canada. It has now run completely against its own principle on this one, yet it pretends it has not. When will it practice what it used to preach? That is the ultimate goal.
I would humbly say to the House when it comes to the legislation, what is wrong with taking this apart? The experts, the people who study legislation, have said that it should be taken apart to be looked at separately, and in particular that the environmental legislation in this omnibus bill is worthy of its own debate and having its own committee. When the Conservative government was first elected, it created a subcommittee on the environment alone. Now all of a sudden the environment is lumped into everything else that is on the go.
Here is a good one. The Conservatives are going to look at MPs' pensions. They should look at MPs' pensions. Now they will also look at perhaps unfreezing our salaries. So much for the pain. Freeze the salaries. That is right, freeze the salaries and take a look at our contributing more. If they were gutsy enough they would take this out of the bill and say they were freezing our salaries and looking at our pensions and that we would suffer as a result, just like every other Canadian is now. However, the backbenchers do not want to do that.