In Debate on Trojan Horse Budget Implementation C-38

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):  

   Mr. Speaker, first, I want to once again thank the staff and pages for all their hard work last week and indeed throughout the year. Without them this place would not function and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I thank them all.

     New Democrats have fought this Trojan Horse budget bill every step of the way. We proposed that this massive and unprecedented 425-page bill be split into separate sections to permit proper study of its substantive measures, but unfortunately for the people of Canada, the Conservatives refused. Now we hear from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that legal advice provided to him has determined the government is in fact withholding savings measures and is not just breaking the law and contravening the Parliament of Canada Act, but also is breaking the Federal Accountability Act.

     In response to this omnibus bill, the NDP caucus organized alternate public hearings in Ottawa and other cities across the country in May of this year to ensure that Canadians' views were indeed heard. I attended the hearings in Ottawa and I also hosted one in my riding. We heard many witnesses outline their concerns about this massive budget bill and how it impacted their lives, their jobs, the environment and Canada as a whole. The picture they painted was not pretty.

    We tried to make this bill better at committee and report stage. We introduced hundreds of amendments that would have corrected the most egregious parts of Bill C-38. We wanted to take the sting out of this legislation and make it better, but the Conservatives defeated every one of our amendments. The votes that took place last Wednesday were a testament to the opposition's resolve and the dire need to make changes to Bill C-38, yet all amendments were just ignored and even openly mocked by members opposite, so here I stand once again in the hope that we can drive some sense into members opposite.

   This budget implementation bill is supposed to implement the budget, but it goes far, far beyond what was outlined in the recent federal budget. Quite simply, it is profoundly inappropriate for any government to put so many sweeping changes in so many different areas to more than 70 pieces of legislation as this bill does. It is bad public policy. It is becoming abundantly clear that the government members opposite are trying to hide from their obligation to provide responsible oversight. Rather, they seem determined to avoid accountability.

    I have spoken to this bill previously and in those remarks I have outlined the impact this bill will have on the retirement of future generations. We know that changes to old age security will have the biggest impact on the poorest people. Sadly, senior women and those with disabilities will be most affected. While the Conservatives claim it is necessary, the reality is that OAS is sustainable. It is sustainable now and in the future. We can absolutely afford to ensure all seniors are free from poverty and live in dignity in their retirement. A secure retirement is about making smart choices and intelligent practical investments. I say to the government that it makes much more sense to invest in people, our seniors, than in unnecessary megaprisons, expensive fighter jets and unaffordable tax breaks for profitable corporations.

    The choices made in this so-called budget bill will have a dramatic impact on the Canadian landscape. I want to highlight a few of the choices the government has made.

     The Conservatives claim that budget 2012 is about job creation, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that this budget will cost 43,000 Canadians their jobs. In fact, the budget actually plans for unemployment to rise.

    Speaking of unemployment, Bill C-38 concentrates power in the hands of the minister in regard to what constitutes a reasonable search for work or suitable employment for those on employment insurance. Unfortunately, the bill does not provide any details about what the new definitions of “suitable employment” or “reasonable search” might be, but we have already seen the minister freelancing and defining “suitable employment” in a manner that will hurt hundreds of thousands of Canadians. The government is asking Canadians to just trust the minister.

     EI is funded by Canadian workers and Canadian employers. EI belongs to them. It is not government money, yet the government believes it is all right to force many of those unemployed workers to accept a 30% pay cut in work outside their field. This is unacceptable.

    Another decision made by the Minister of Finance is to gut environmental protection regulations. Canadians want their government to take action to fight climate change and protect our environment. Instead, Bill C-38 reduces Canada's accountability on the world stage by repealing the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. By dropping out of Kyoto, Canada will no longer be required to report on its emissions. By bowing out, the Conservatives have made us the laughing stock of the rest of the world.

     In fact, a full one-third of Bill C-38 is dedicated to environmental deregulation. The government is doing all the negative things it announced in the 2012 budget and more. Bill C-38 delegates environmental assessments to other authorities, including the provinces. Once again the government is downloading federal costs and responsibilities onto other levels of government.

    The bill also takes aim at environmental groups. It amends the rules for determining the extent to which a charity has engaged in political activities. It grants the Minister of National Revenue the authority to suspend a charity's privileges with respect to issuing tax receipts if the charity, according to the minister, devotes too many resources to political activities. This attack on charities is in part aimed at environmental groups that have actively opposed the government's reckless inaction on the environment.

    Bill C-38 also has consequences for our fisheries. It changes the rules around fish habitat protection and the deposit of deleterious substances in fish-bearing waters, and it weakens regulation regarding disposal at sea. Our oceans are already at risk, and the government is determined to make things worse.

   Let me remind the government that as members of Parliament, we are stewards of this country and its environment. It is our job and our absolute obligation to protect that environment for future generations. By passing the bill, we would utterly fail in this task. The changes to environmental regulations will most tragically impact future generations.

    Perhaps the most egregious part of this Trojan Horse bill is its size and scope. Its flagrant disregard for democracy and accountability is breathtaking. Within Bill C-38 also lies the single largest move to restrict accountability by way of the broad reduction in the oversight powers of the Auditor General. The Conservatives claim that the Auditor General requested these changes, but the reality remains that his office was impacted by the government's austerity agenda.

   The Conservative government is so hell-bent on cutting spending that it is willing to roll back government oversight on key areas like food safety. Imagine, reduced oversight by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the agency that ensures the safety of the food we feed our families.

   The bill also eliminates mandatory Auditor General oversight of financial reporting on 11 other key agencies: Northern Pipeline Agency, Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Exchange Fund Account, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canadian Polar Commission, and Yukon Surface Rights Board.

   There are many more issues with the bill, but I do not have time to outline them all. No one does.

     I do, however, wish to point out one more very troubling issue. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said repeatedly that MPs are not getting the information they need in order to reasonably exercise their power of oversight.

   How can we as members of Parliament in good conscience vote on a bill for which we do not have all of the necessary information? As I already said, the Parliamentary Budget Officer requested a legal opinion and it showed that the government is breaking the law of Canada.

    I fear for democracy in this country. The bill is designed to strip away accountability, increase ministerial powers and hide financial data. It is an affront to the democratic process. It seeks to hide within the confines of budget implementation a wide array of things that will undermine our country.

   (1825)  

Mr. Paul Calandra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, CPC):  

    Mr. Speaker, it is difficult listening to that speech coming from this member because as I am sure members will recall—and if they do not, I will remind them—that this is a member who was actually a cabinet minister in the Ontario government in the nineties, which actually ran one of the highest, fastest deficits in the history of the province. It almost bankrupted the province, but thankfully, the Conservatives took stewardship later on and righted the ship.

    However, in its time in office that Ontario government actually unilaterally shredded the collective agreements of hundreds of thousands of Ontario workers, forced them to take days off, cut their salaries without even asking them and rammed that through.

    My question for the hon. member is this. Why does she and the NDP hate workers to the extent that they would actually rip up their contracts, as was done when that member was a minister of the Crown? Why does the NDP dislike families so much that it would vote against tax cuts for our families, the GST? Why does the NDP hate seniors so much that it would vote against the GIS?

     Is she not embarrassed that the NDP is nothing more than a protest party that stands for nothing?

 

Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Mr. Speaker, I am delighted that this member has finally had the courage to ask that question of me instead of into some blank space, because I was indeed a member of that government.

    Let me tell him just some of the history. Brian Mulroney, and members may remember him, brought in a free trade agreement. At that time, he said there would be training money for Ontario and there would be all kinds of support for all those unemployed workers.

   Five hundred thousand job losses later, there was nothing for the workers of Ontario. There was no training. In fact, that government reduced employment insurance to the point where people were being forced onto welfare. We had welfare rolls that we could not manage.

   Then, to add insult to injury, that same Mulroney government decreased the amount of transfers.

   It was a very difficult time, thanks to Conservative governments.

   With regard to all the other things that he seems to think were important, I have a very concise response, too. We would have been fine if there had been no Conservative government in this country—

   (1830)  

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):  

    Order, please.

    Questions and comments.

    The hon. member is rising on a point of order?

 

Mr. Paul Calandra:  

    Mr. Speaker, I just want to clarify. The reason they stripped the workers of their rights back then was that we brought a free trade agreement in that has created—

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton):  

    Order, please. That is not a point of order. We are into debate as to the facts and, of course, that is a principle in the debate as it goes.

    Questions and comments.

    The hon. member for Saint-Lambert.

[Translation]

Mrs. Sadia Groguhé (Saint-Lambert, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for her remarks. As she pointed out, this massive omnibus bill goes way beyond the budget. Once more, the Conservatives are trying to rush their bill through without letting Canadians study it carefully, let alone the hon. members here. To make things worse, they are trying to include changes that will reduce transparency and democracy even more. Can the hon. member comment on this affront to our democracy and to parliamentary debate?

[English]

Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  

    Mr. Speaker, what is happening to our democracy is absolutely terrifying. This is 425 pages of so-called budget implementation and no opportunity to fully respond. This is 72 pieces of legislation that are being changed. An undertaking like that should be considered over months and years, not in a matter of days.

    The Conservatives are pleased that they have given all these hours. Yes, they have given hours. However, an ordinary budget implementation bill is about 30 or 35 pages long.

    The current government has committed a travesty against the people of this country.

   Fortunately, there is an opposition. New Democrats are standing up for our country, our democracy and the people who are counting on us to save our social safety net and protect them from what can only be called unfair austerity and a deliberate destruction of what we value.