The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I do not want to waste precious time, so I will begin speaking about Bill .
The measures set out in Bill concerning the CBC could not have come with more ironic timing. Last Friday was World Press Freedom Day.
Throughout the world, May 3 serves as a reminder of the important role a pluralistic, free, independent press plays in a democracy. However, this year also marked Canada's drop in the world press freedom index rankings. Last year, Reporters Without Borders, a respected organization, ranked us 10th. This year, Canada is ranked 20th, behind Costa Rica, Namibia, Andorra and Liechtenstein. We fell 10 spots in one year.
Reporters Without Borders mentions a number of factors to explain this astonishing drop. It noted the Government of Canada's actions, specifically the threats to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. Take note, members opposite.
The government finds itself in a serious and surprising situation. This is another brick in the wall of shame that is actively being built here in Ottawa. Our international reputation is all but destroyed. Do I need to point that out? Moreover, the government is steadily attacking the CBC day after day, which is only making matters worse.
Those attacks continue with Bill , which allows the government to have a say in employees' working conditions and certain journalists' salaries. That is a shocking infringement on the public broadcaster's independence. It is clear that Bill C-60 challenges the CBC's independence, particularly its journalistic and editorial independence.
Canadians across the country have been writing to us—to me and my colleagues—for days to express their dismay and anger over the government's attempt to hijack management of the CBC. The CBC has been at arm's length from the government for nearly 80 years; it is a democratic tradition.
Liberal and Conservative prime ministers have done what they had to do throughout that time; that is, a number of governments from both parties have taken the opportunity to cut the CBC’s budget, but they all have chosen to respect the independence of the public broadcaster. Governments come and go, but they do not meddle with the independence of the CBC.
Today, it is clear that it is not very difficult to tear that down. It takes an insidious bill, a bill like this one, that gives the government the right to impose collective agreements, to decide the terms of employment for non-unionized employees and the salaries of journalists, bureau chiefs and news anchors.
To date, every government had restrained itself and chosen to respect a broadcaster funded by taxpayers, yes, but accountable not to the government, but directly to the public. It is that very restraint that characterizes the conduct of democratic governments toward the public broadcasters they fund.
Over the last few days, hundreds of Canadians have written to me as heritage critic for the official opposition and to my colleagues. I am sure that members in the government benches across the floor have also received a lot of emails about this. Canadians are angry about this attempt to threaten the independence of the CBC. Canadians are angry about the government's attempt to end 80 years of independent public broadcasting in this country, free from interference from the government.
I have the feeling that people are frankly outraged that the government would dare to meddle with what is actually a democratic tradition in Canada: the healthy distance between government and public broadcaster.
It is that distance that means that a CBC journalist can report that $3.1 billion simply disappeared from the government’s books and still know that his employer will not be asking him to tone it down in the next report because the minister is twisting its arm. It is that distance that means that a news anchor can decide that such information deserves to be given to Canadians, without having to worry that the government thus tarnished might decide to interfere in his next employment contract.
We see that the government wants to apply the same medicine to other cultural crown corporations like the National Arts Centre, Telefilm Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts. The cultural community is speaking out against this. The Independent Media Arts Alliance, in particular, has denounced the threat to the statutory independence of the Canada Council for the Arts. In a letter to the , the alliance states that doing this is harmful to the spirit and principle of a crown corporation.
I note that these principles of independence are laid out by the Canada Council for the Arts. In its fundamental values, it states that it maintains “an arm’s length relationship from government, which allows the Council to develop policies and programs and make decisions without undue political pressure or influence”.
The Canada Council also supports “freedom of artistic expression from control or dominance by external forces such as governments and markets”, a value to be reinforced by the arm’s length relationship.
We know that these measures will have a negative effect on the delivery of the services provided by these cultural agencies and their ability to attract personnel.
Obviously, the Conservatives’ goal is to diminish the independence of these public institutions, which play important roles for creators in particular. The Conservatives seem to be exhibiting a complete lack of interest in the very concept of an independent crown corporation: the space there has to be between government, politics and crown corporations.
The leader of our party, my colleague from , summarized the problem well yesterday afternoon. When it comes to advancing its ideological agenda, the government is not the least bit bothered about interfering with independent crown corporations. For example, it tells them how to manage their employees, how to administer collective agreements, what salaries are appropriate and how many pencil sharpeners and paper clips they should buy.
However, when a problem arises in those crown corporations, the government waves the white flag and says it has nothing to do with them. When a crown corporation makes a mistake or its managers do something wrong, all of a sudden the government cannot do anything. They are independent crown corporations. That is very handy. Suddenly, the statutory independence and arm’s length status of crown corporations is back in fashion, according to the government.
But it gets worse. As members undoubtedly know, Library and Archives Canada is our national archives. It is an institution that is the guardian of our most precious historical documents and even a few artifacts from the War of 1812—for the pleasure of Library and Archives Canada. However, things are not going well over there. In the opinion of the archivists, librarians, archaeologists, historians and numerous professions that have previously been represented at Library and Archives Canada, things are even going very badly.
Acquisitions of historical documents have virtually come to a halt. There has been a full stop in document lending to other libraries, researchers and historians not based in the national capital.
Let us talk about this code of conduct imposed on the employees, professionals, experts and scientists at Library and Archives Canada, prohibiting them from attending conferences without authorization, one of several faux pas—including the one we talked about earlier—of a public institution out of control.
When we went to see the , who incidentally seemed embarrassed, and we asked him whether he was going to intervene and whether he thought, as we did, that all this was going too far, he dared answer us that Library and Archives Canada is an independent crown corporation. That is what he said in the House and subsequently in Le Devoir.
Once again, if a problem arises that makes them uncomfortable, they quickly hit the panic button and say it is not their fault.
In this case, however, the minister is on the wrong track because Library and Archives Canada is not at all an independent crown corporation. Not at all. According to its mandate, it is part of the federal government under the administration of the Minister of Heritage. There is nothing less independent than that, unless the minister himself fills the coffee machine.
It seems difficult for this government to grasp the concepts of crown corporation, independence from government, arm's length and independence. They seem subtle. These crown corporations are independent. This is not complicated. For better or for worse, whether or not it pleases the government, they are constituted as entities independent of the government, in the public interest, because they must have some distance from political power.
As for the government, the Conservative Party may make a show of many principles, but I would like it to show a little consistency. Are crown corporations independent or not? They will have to make a choice.
In conclusion, apart from this budget that hurts the Canadian economy, apart from these same old solutions, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer has shown, these same old austerity measures that will slow growth and cost thousands of jobs, apart from this economic shambles and lack of vision, hundreds of people have written to us because they are concerned about the independence of their public broadcaster, the CBC.
Ian Morrison, the spokesman for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, recalled that the difference between a public broadcaster and a state broadcaster lies in its distance from the government.
In addition, tens of thousands of signatories to petitions, including that of friends.ca, have reaffirmed their support for the independence of the CBC.
CBC management clearly questions the relevance of this government initiative. It states that its employees are neither public servants nor servants of Her Majesty, and it says it needs flexibility so that it can attract the necessary talent.
CBC unions have denounced the attack on free collective bargaining and the fact that the government is taking control, violating the Telecommunications Act and giving itself the right to intervene in the CBC's production operations, finances and day-to-day business.
Like many other crown corporations, in particular cultural ones, the CBC must remain free of political interference. Public broadcasting, by its very nature, means that the broadcaster represents and speaks on behalf of our culture, not the government.
I join the legions of Canadians who are opposed to this attempt to undermine the independence of public broadcasting in this country, and I urge the government to abandon this measure.
Mr. Speaker, today I am speaking in the House of Commons in support of economic action plan 2013. This piece of legislation is an integral part of continuing Canada's economic success.
Economic action plan 2013 would implement constructive job growth measures. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said:
...this is a good budget for small business. ...[the Minister of Finance] has done a solid job by remaining on course to eliminate the deficit while announcing some important measures for Canada's entrepreneurs.
This is something extremely important to the entrepreneurs in my riding of Simcoe—Grey.
The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal said:
We welcome the government's commitment to maintain focus on a balanced budget in 2015-2016 without increasing the tax burden, while putting in place a new plan for our infrastructure and proposing measures to support innovation, research and collaboration between companies and academic institutions.
I would like to remind my colleagues that strengthening Canada's economic and fiscal well-being has been a top priority of our government for the last seven years. With an uncertain global economy, we remain focused on ensuring Canada offers the right environment to attract the business investment necessary to create more and better-paying jobs, improving the standard of living of all Canadians. We do that knowing that we already have a strong economic record, one that Canadians can look to and trust as we once again face economic headwinds emanating from abroad.
Contrary to what the official opposition may believe, our economic policies to date, epitomized through Canada’s economic action plan, have worked and placed Canada on the right track.
Margaret Thatcher once said, “Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.” Our government's plan has provided Canada with competitive advantage for today, an advantage on which we will capitalize to ensure prosperity for tomorrow.
The facts speak for themselves. Since taking office in 2006, our government has pursued a positive agenda to make Canada's economy stronger, thus helping to create better, high-quality jobs. This has included lowering taxes over 150 times, supporting entrepreneurs and opening more markets to Canadian goods with increased trade deals.
Canada has more than recovered all of its output as well as all of the jobs lost during the recession. In fact, since July 2009, employment has increased by almost 900,000 net new jobs, the strongest job growth among the G7 countries over the recovery. Real GDP is now significantly above pre-recession levels, showing the best performance in the G7.
While it is gratifying to highlight Canada's economic strengths, we also know we cannot afford to be complacent. Today's advantages will not carry forward into tomorrow simply by good luck or good intentions. This is especially true in an all too volatile global economy. Though coming from beyond our borders, a number of external threats have had, and can have, severe consequences on the Canadian economy. Members can rest assured that the government is cognizant of these challenges and will remain focused and disciplined on the things that we can control. That is why economic action plan 2013 sets out a low-tax plan to eliminate the deficit and return to balanced budgets by 2015-16.
Economic action plan 2013 sets out a plan that I know my riding of Simcoe—Grey would benefit from this year and for years to come. Let me highlight some of its key components.
Canadians count on good, reliable, lasting infrastructure. It is important to our quality of life and strengthens our communities. That is why our government launched the building Canada plan in 2007, the largest federal infrastructure plan in our nation's history. In fact, over the last six years the federal government has supported over 43,000 infrastructure projects across the country, and this year we are going even further. We will be moving forward with a new building Canada plan.
One key component of that plan is an indexed gas tax fund payment. The economic action plan would allow for increases to the payments made under the fund starting in 2014-15. Payments are currently $2 billion per year; this index would see the sum increase by $100 million increments year over year. In Simcoe—Grey, municipalities would benefit immensely from this, with upgraded roads, bridges and rail.
As mentioned, this is only one component of our government’s plan to provide over $70 billion in predictable infrastructure funding for the next 10 years—the largest and longest federal investment in job-creating infrastructure in Canadian history.
The reality is that whether it is building better roads to reduce congestion and keep people and goods moving or building bridges that link us to each other, infrastructure is key to our nation's success.
The economy and job creation remain job number one for our Conservative government. While Canada is on the right track, today there are Canadians seeking work while Canadian businesses are looking to hire skilled workers. The Canada job grant, which is part of economic action plan 2013, is our government's newest measure to bring employers and Canadians together. Through the Canada job grant, funds from the federal government would be matched by both provinces and territories as well as employers to help ensure that Canadians get the skills required for the high-demand jobs of today.
This initiative would allow both small and large companies, such as Honda in Alliston, Munro in Essa, Creemore Springs in Creemore, Sheldon Creek Dairy in Loretto, and Hamilton Bros. in Glen Huron, to ensure that their employees have the skills they need to succeed. A shortage of skilled tradespeople could hold Canada's economy back.
With a demand for skilled workers to maintain economic growth and with Canadians still looking for work across the country, this is a priority for our Conservative government. It is taking action to help ensure that Canadians are connected to jobs and the economy so that we have the skilled tradespeople we require for economic growth and long-term prosperity.
As members know, there have been growing concerns regarding decreased water levels in the Canadian Great Lakes, in particular in my riding of Simcoe—Grey with Georgian Bay, which is bordered by the towns of Blue Mountain, Collingwood and Wasaga Beach.
The Great Lakes are not only the natural pride and joy of our local residents but are implicitly tied to the housing and property markets in the region and are important drivers of the local tourism economy in Simcoe—Grey.
Economic action plan 2013 would aid in sustaining our Great Lakes by reviewing the findings of a study requested by the International Joint Commission. Our government is working diligently to review the findings and recommendations of the International Joint Commission's work on water levels to make sure that the upper Great Lakes are a focus and have been a focus of this government so that all Canadians can enjoy this region of the country for years to come.
Farm families are also the backbone of our country, as they are in my riding of Simcoe—Grey, whether potato growers or apple growers. This is why our Conservative government has delivered support to farmers and the agricultural sector since 2006. We have invested in Growing Forward 2, which supports innovation, competitiveness and market development for Canada's agriculture sector.
As part of economic action plan 2013, we are delivering on a number of new measures to support Canadian farmers, including increasing and indexing the lifetime capital gains exemption to $800,000, thus making it easier for farmers to plan for their retirement and transfer their family farms to the next generation, which is something I hear about every day in my riding.
We are also helping part-time farmers by doubling the current deduction limit under the restricted farm loss income tax rates from $9,750 to $17,000.
This government is committed to supporting and recognizing veterans. The government is proud to honour the dedication and sacrifice of those Canadians who served our country in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.
Economic action plan 2013 confirms that total investments of $1.9 billion over seven years would be made to ensure that disabled, ill and aging veterans and their families would receive the support they need. This is something I have heard about at significant length because CFB Borden is a sizable base in my riding where we train hundreds upon hundreds of Canadians to make sure our military is strong.
Economic action plan 2013 proposes to simplify the funeral and burial program and more than double its reimbursement rate from $3,600 to $7,376.
I strongly believe that all of the initiatives I have highlighted today will greatly benefit the people of Canada, by creating a higher standard of living for Canadians today and a more prosperous nation that will continue to be a world leader tomorrow.
Winston Churchill once said that he was easily satisfied with the very best, and I take those words to heart.
The government and I both aim to deliver the very best to Canadians and to the people in Simcoe—Grey. Thus, I ask the members of this House to support the swift passage of this bill and to facilitate the implementation of Canada's economic action plan 2013, a bill that I know would provide the very best in economic opportunities to my constituents in Simcoe—Grey and to Canadians across the country.