In Debate: Why the Trojan Horse Budget Bill Bad is for All Canadians

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):  Madam Speaker, I am happy to have this chance to speak in the House today about this Trojan Horse budget. I was concerned that all discussion would be shut down by the government because, unfortunately, this is a budget that includes many separate bills that have very little to do with fiscal management.

If passed, this omnibus bill of over 400 pages would do little to get our economy going or to help people get back to work. What it would do is gut environmental protection, rewrite Canada's fishery law and change the age of retirement in this country.

While this so-called budget implementation bill is supposed to implement the budget, it would go far beyond what was outlined in the recent federal budget. Quite simply, it is profoundly inappropriate for the government to put so many sweeping changes to so many different areas in this omnibus bill. It is bad public policy and it is becoming abundantly clear that the members opposite are trying to hide from their obligation to provide responsible oversight. Rather, they seem determined to avoid accountability.

I want to highlight some of the key changes this bill would make.

It would raise the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS from 65 to 67.

It would repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. This would mean the government would no longer be required to report on its greenhouse gas emissions under the act. It would gut the environmental assessment regime and fish habitat protection in order to speed up major projects, including pipelines.

It would give cabinet the ability to ignore the National Energy Board and approve a project that the NEB has turned down. It would delegate environmental assessments to other authorities, including the provinces, and would change the definition of “interested parties” to weaken public participation in environmental decision-making to exclude anyone not directly affected by a project.

It would eliminate the Inspector General of CSIS. This would drastically reduce accountability at CSIS.

Also, it would eliminate Auditor General oversight of a number of agencies.

It would repeal the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. This would allow employers to undercut union wage rates for construction workers engaged in projects funded by the federal government.

It would amend the Employment Equity Act so that it would no longer apply to federal contractors. This is a direct attack on women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities.

It would amend the rules for determining the extent to which a charity has engaged in political activities and would modify the rules for registering certain foreign charitable organizations as donors.

It would amend the Seeds Act to potentially allow private contractors to perform food inspection.

It would also remove foreign ownership rules for wireless telecommunications companies with less than 10% market share, and would allow foreign-owned companies to grow beyond a 10% market share.

It is very interesting to note that the Conservatives claim that budget 2012 is about job creation, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer says that this budget would cost 43,000 Canadian jobs. In fact, the budget actually plans for unemployment to rise.

Bill C-38 would also gut workers' rights. As I indicated, it would repeal the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, which was created in the 1930s to set minimum standards for wages and hours of labour for construction workers engaged in projects funded by the federal government. In practice, removing these minimum standards would allow employers to undercut prevailing wage rates. How would making it difficult for workers to provide for their families help create jobs?

The bill would also amend the Employment Equity Act so that it no longer would apply to federal contractors. This is a direct attack on women, aboriginal peoples and visible minorities, as I said. Ten years ago, it was recommended that the employment equity provision for the federal worker contract program be strengthened through legislation. Instead, the government is deliberately weakening these provisions.

Bill C-38 targets immigrants with its proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2008, by allowing for a returning of the applications from federal skilled workers who applied to come to Canada before February 27, 2008. It would cause the fees of these workers to be refunded. What is not clear is how and who decides who gets pushed out of line and whether or not it will be voluntary. This is not a fair way to deal with the immigration backlog. Many of these applicants have already waited for years to have their applications considered.

The bill would also amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to authorize the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to give instructions establishing and governing classes of permanent residents as part of the economic class.

As I mentioned previously, Bill C-38 proposes changes to OAS by gradually raising the age of eligibility to retire from 65 to 67. While the Conservatives claim that this is necessary, the reality is that OAS is sustainable as it is and we can absolutely afford to ensure all seniors are free from poverty and live in dignity.

This is about making smart choices and intelligent practical investments. It makes much more sense to invest in people, our seniors, not in megaprisons, fighter jets and tax cuts to profitable corporations.

New Democrats fundamentally disagree with this proposed change to the age of retirement, and seniors do too. According to CARP, its members soundly reject raising the OAS eligibility age and see better ways to help younger Canadians, such as increasing job opportunities. CARP has been clear and is on the record stating:

The age of eligibility for OAS should not be increased from 65 to 67. If there is a need to relieve budgetary pressures, there are other options such as the potential savings from health care reform or the reduced military spending once the Afghan mission is complete. A fundamental change such as raising the OAS eligibility age should be fully debated especially given that the issue was not put before the voters and the implementation date is far enough away to allow for measured deliberations. 

Unfortunately, the government is curtailing debate and attempting to silence those who do not agree with it.

CARP is not alone. The National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation argues that the government is not being honest about the ability to pay the OAS obligations. Several economists, internal finance department studies and even the Parliamentary Budget Officer all conclude that the existing OAS obligations are sustainable. The government's own figures prove that OAS is affordable now and in the future, because after 2030, the cost of OAS as a proportion of GDP will decline rapidly and significantly.

 Tragically, in its efforts to sell this so-called OAS crisis, the feds have found some seductive words to try to persuade young workers and make them believe that making matters worse for them in retirement is somehow a fairness issue. Talk about the big lie. The current generation is not just being squeezed by income inequality, but will also face declining retirement security in their senior years.

Quality pension plans are under attack in both the public and private sectors. Only one-third of Canadian adults can afford RRSPs. The CPP is not being upgraded, despite the near consensus of provincial finance ministers just over a year ago that it was important to make pension improvements. Now the government is preparing to make negative changes to OAS for future retirees.

It does not have to be this way. Spending, taxation and other public policy decisions are always, in the end, political decisions.

I am convinced the people of this country do not believe the government is doing the right thing. They have been very clear that they do not wish to see the decline of our OAS.

How could a responsible government ever contemplate such a thing while recklessly proceeding with the purchase of non-tendered fighter jets and corporate tax cuts that continue to deny the country the needed revenue to finance our social programs? For the fifth year in a row, the government has given huge tax breaks that are tacked on to the public debt. It is the next generation that will pay the bills and be denied a decent pension. Some fairness.

It is not just me or seniors' organizations that see the problems here. Edward Whitehouse, leader of the OECD pension team, has clearly stated:

The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes....Long-term projections show that public retirement-income provision is financially sustainable. Population ageing will naturally increase public pension spending, but the rate of growth is lower and the starting point better than many OECD countries. Moreover, the earnings-related public schemes (CPP/QPP) have built up substantial reserves to meet these future liabilities.

We need to listen to this with clarity. It is pension expertise. It is also essential that we consider the people who will be hurt--

The Deputy Speaker:  Order. The member's time has elapsed. Perhaps she could conclude through questions and comments.

The hon. member for Brandon—Souris.

Mr. Merv Tweed (Brandon—Souris, CPC):  Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague's comments. I have heard it repeated over and over again. I am not sure if the thinking is that the more often it is said, people will start to believe it.

I have a very simple question for the member. She talked about the new prisons being built in Canada. I have searched everywhere and I am not having any luck finding a new prison. I wonder if she might be able to provide us with the address.

An hon. member: Osoyoos, British Columbia.

The Deputy Speaker:  Order, please. The hon. member for London—Fanshawe has the floor.

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Madam Speaker, I am grateful for the question, and I am grateful for the comment from my colleague.

In addition to the fact that capacity within our current prison system has been increased significantly by the government, at great cost, for unreported crimes, apparently Osoyoos, British Columbia has a new prison, thanks to the so-called crime bill.

Ms. Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.): Madam Speaker, I was struck by the member's words around old age security and the next generation paying the bills. I agree with those concerns, however, I want to talk about the next generation paying the bills with respect to damaging our environment.

We know from Michael Porter of Harvard Business School and many other researchers that companies that have strong regulations are more innovative and more profitable. We know that ecosystem services are incredibly valuable for the air we breathe, the ocean's sea food and the water we drink. They are very expensive to replace when we destroy them.

I wonder if the member could talk about human security in terms of having an environment that is sustainable over the long term and continuing to provide those services. Who is going to pay the bills if we screw things up as the Conservatives are doing?

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Madam Speaker, it is interesting that the government keeps talking about the economy versus the environment. There is no economy without a clean, sustainable environment. There is no future for our children or for any economy unless we get things right.

We know that right now billions of dollars have been set aside and billions have been spent to clean up the messes of the past, the various sites across the country that are polluted and are causing harm to human health, the land and the air. Billions have been spent because there was no protection and no environmental standards in the past. We are paying for that in spades.

Unfortunately, when the government trumpets how effective it has been in cleaning up these hot spots, it fails to mention it has only managed to get half of that cleanup done, and people are still in jeopardy. Reducing environmental protection now will mean that in the future, our children will pay a hefty price and our environment will be further jeopardized.

Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):  Madam Speaker, in the House I have mostly bemoaned and raged against the changes to environmental laws, but I want to support what the member has been saying about changes to old age security.

How could such a fundamental change to our old age security system have been brought in when it was not debated during the last election campaign? It was only mooted at an international conference in Davos, and now we find our whole scheme for old age security is being changed.

Mr. Richard Harris: Madam Speaker, on a point of order, I do not want to debate this, but I am sure the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands knows that the proposed new prison that is going into the Oliver-Osoyoos area is a provincial prison, not a federal prison.

The Deputy Speaker: That is a matter of debate. It is not a point of order.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

The Deputy Speaker: Order, please. The member for London—Fanshawe has 40 seconds to respond to that last question.

Ms. Irene Mathyssen:  Madam Speaker, this was done by stealth. The government never told Canadians it would raise the age of retirement. It never told seniors that future generations would be asked to pay this incredible price.

The young people the Conservatives keep talking about who will be paying this terrible debt are trying to raise families. They are trying to manage huge tuition debts, mortgages and a lack of job creation in the present. The reality is that they will not have a decent retirement at all. This bunch will, but not the seniors of the future.