Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.
I'll call the meeting to order. As everyone knows, we're still doing Bill C-97 and our continuation of clause-by-clause. We ended yesterday by finishing up with division 20.
We'll start with division 21. We have a witness here from Veterans Affairs. Faith McIntyre is the Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic Policy with VAC. This relates to the Veterans Well-being Act.
If there are any questions on division 21 in clauses 318 to 322, we're open to that. I see none and there are no amendments in this section. Are we in agreement to carry clauses 318 to 322 on division?
(Clauses 318 to 322 inclusive agreed to on division)
The Chair: You get off easy, Faith.
(On clause 323)
The Chair: Starting with division 22, we have witnesses here from ESDC: Milena Gulia, Director of Policy and Research, Canada Student Loans Program; and Rachel Torrie, Senior Analyst, Canada Student Loans Program.
If there are any questions for officials, we're open to that.
Before we start examining this section, I first have a question in order to clarify something. Could someone explain the difference between the Canada Student Loans Act and the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act, so that members of the committee are aware? Essentially, the proposal is that the same changes should apply to both acts. I would like to know the difference between the two.
As you can imagine, the Canada student loans program has been in operation since the 1960s. Over the course of its evolution, we have introduced various changes along the way.
We have two pieces of legislation that cover off different loan regimes. For example, under the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act, we cover borrowers who came under our direct lending regime that was introduced in 2000. The reason why we have two pieces of legislation is to cover off any of those remaining. They're quite small in number, but nonetheless, this covers off any remaining loans that still fall under the previous regime.
My first amendment in this section is similar to the next one. It follows up on testimony we have heard about the proposal for loans only to be subject to interest six months after students have completed their studies.
We have heard that interest on student loans generates $700 million per year for the country’s coffers. That is far beyond the cost of the program. Simply put, the government is getting rich at the expense of students. That seems to me to be what we can deduce from this.
Students have taken on debt in order to be able to finish their studies. The cost of the studies is too high, so they have to go into debt in order to be able to finish them. The Government of Canada is getting rich at their expense. It would perhaps be to their advantage to put that money somewhere else. Those $700 million could help them to buy a house, for example, to look after their needs, to have children, or to improve their professional skills. In our opinion, those $700 million should stay in the pockets of the former students.
We are proposing that student loans be interest-free for borrowers. That is our proposal. Why limit the interest exemption to six months when it could apply to the entire loan in the future?
That is my proposal, Mr. Chair. I hope that you will find it to be in order and that you will accept it.
The BIA legislation that we put in place following on budget 2016 greatly increased the Canada student grants. The BIA legislation takes a number of steps to make student loans more affordable for Canadian students coast to coast. It's an approximately $1.7-billion investment expenditure to reduce the cost of student loans for students. We've done a lot on that front and we continue to do a lot.
With that, I'll be rejecting this amendment brought forward by Mr. Dusseault.
For example, we brought in a measure to help students, so they didn't have to pay back their student loans until they reached an income of $25,000. To date, that has helped over 325,000 student borrowers who received that support. We are undertaking a number of tangible measures on that front.
I wouldn't be able to give you that assessment right at this moment. When you think about it, we are already asking, through the budget 2019 announcement, for $1.7 billion to cover the cost of reducing the interest rate, as well as the grace period. The bulk of that amount is for reducing the interest rate.
If you can look at it in terms of that volume of figure, you would see whatever additional amount beyond the $1.7 billion in order to reduce interest rates entirely. It would be a significant amount.
It's prime plus 2.5% or, on the fixed, it's prime plus 5%. As interest rates have come down, it has obviously become cheaper to borrow. It would have been really expensive in the late 1990s to the 2000s.
That's been fairly steady. It has gone down over the last couple of years. Our forecasters at the office of the chief actuary expect the default rate to remain fairly stable over the next number of years.
We are resigned to this when our banks and credit unions are charging the interest. However, it is more difficult to accept that governments are charging their fellow citizens interest.
That is the confirmation that the government has given us today, from the lips of Mr. Sorbara. The government is not at all embarrassed to go looking for billions of dollars in students’ pockets. The money goes directly into the consolidated fund and is used to finance all kinds of other measures. Basically, this is a revenue stream for the Government of Canada.
I am a little disappointed that we still lack ambition in this area, exactly as I was saying yesterday about other areas. The government has no ambition and takes only small steps forward, when it could do much more by leaving the money in the pockets of former students who have sacrificed a lot and borrowed money from their government. We are taking billions of dollars in interest right out of their pockets today. It is not the banks demanding that interest, it is the Government of Canada.
It wouldn't be the savings to students. The average savings to students over the lifetime of their loans would be $2,000 under the proposed amendments that are currently before order in council, not through this legislative process. The $1.7 billion is the investment.
What about the writeoffs for uncollectible loans in the past few years? I'm assuming the government sometimes can't collect on certain student loans. Is there a procedure by which it writes them off? What is that amount?
I'm thinking that the impact of Mr. Dusseault's amendment would be to perhaps alleviate some of that concern. I'm trying to get at the numbers here.
In the grand scheme of the entire portfolio of student financial assistance, I would just like to point out as a point of clarification that the overall operating cost of the Canada student loan program in 2017-18 was $2 billion.
The program itself includes a number of components, as you know. There is the repayable portion, which is the actual Canada student loan. There's also the non-repayable portion, which refers to our Canada student grants and our repayment assistance plan. The balance of that $2 billion reflects the full cost of all of those components of the program.
As a point of clarification on a point made earlier, I believe that the $700 million that was referred to, in terms of coming in through our interest rate charges, reflects the interest rate investments coming in, but it also helps to defray the costs of the non-repayable portion of the Canada student loan program, which includes the Canada student grants and the repayment assistance program features as well.
In regard to the default payment, the writeoff for 2018-19 was just over $160 million, approximately. In the grand scheme of this portfolio, it is quite small.
At the risk of repeating myself, as I said at the outset, two acts apply to student loans. The amendment I proposed and that has just been voted on was about the Canada Student Loans Act. This amendment applies to Canada Student Financial Assistance Act, and it may be even more appropriate.
Basically, as we said just now, the first act applies to a tiny part of the loans because it applies only to those from before the 2000s. It is a reasonable assumption that it would be quite rare to still find students who took out loans before the 2000s and who are finishing their studies today. Perhaps a few are left.
The amendments proposed to this second act apply to loans taken out since that time. That being the case, it is even more important to have the government’s support. The government must stand either with the students or with the interest, the money, generated at the expense of the students who have finished their studies.
My proposal here is the same as the one I made earlier, that is to put an end to the interest on loans made to students under the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act. That would put an end to this practice that allows the Government of Canada to become rich at the expense of the students to whom it loaned money so that they could finish their studies.
We should be able to expect that our governments will invest in our students and give them every opportunity to succeed in life, specifically by no longer taking money out of their pockets once their studies are over. It is therefore our hope that, this time, the government will listen to reason and will give those students a real break, not just for six months, but forever.
I hope that the government will support this measure. Basically, if it is ready to grant them a break for six months, why not do so forever, on the entire loan?
I hope I can expect both the government and my Conservative colleagues will agree to support this measure. This time, I hope I have the support of the members of the committee.
Along the same lines as I discussed in the prior amendment, the BIA legislation contains a number of measures that will help students. As the officials commented, there's about a $2,000 saving per student who is exposed to having student loans, with an expenditure of $1.7 billion. It's a large step in addition to the measures that were brought forward in 2016, which increased the Canada student grants by 50% for low- and middle-income students.
(Amendment negatived: nays 5; yeas 4 [See Minutes of Proceedings])
(Clause 325 agreed to on division)
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Torrie and Ms. Gulia.
(On clauses 326 to 335)
The Chair: There are no amendments on clauses 326 to 335, but we do have officials here on the Canada National Parks Act. Could the officials come up for divisions 23 and 24?
I think some of you were having fun on the bridges this morning, as some of the rest of us were. Traffic's not as heavy in P.E.I., if you want to settle there.
We'll start with division 23 on the Canada National Parks Act. There are no amendments on either that or on the Parks Canada Agency Act. Before I call the question on clauses 326 to 335, are there any questions for officials on any of those clauses?
We'll start with division 23, which is on the Canada National Parks Act, and I guess I should introduce the witnesses as well. We have Mr. McNamee, Director, Protected Areas Establishment, and Mr. McDonough, Executive Director, Pacific and Mountain National Parks. You have a guest with you as well.
Are there any questions for any of the officials on any of these sections?
This is like a question, or a commentary, almost. Is there a reason of urgency behind why we're amending the boundaries of the Lake Louise ski area in a budget bill—an omnibus budget bill? This truly makes it omnibus and I have a problem with that. I don't have a problem with what's being done or the details of it. I'm just wondering why this is in the budget bill. Is it due to expediency or cash outlays?
National Parks is a revenue generating agency, and these are also two private businesses. Concluding the ski area boundaries is the final step in quite an involved planning process. This provides them with business certainty as well in terms of their revenue.
There are two processes, one for Mount Norquay and one for Lake Louise. Each one was probably a two-year process; it would vary. It involved extensive public consultation, discussions with the operators and environmental assessment. Both of these operators agree with these amendments as put forward.
There are no amendments for clauses 326 to 335. Are we in agreement on carrying those clauses on division?
(Clauses 326 to 335 inclusive agreed to on division)
The Chair: Thank you, folks.
We are turning to division 25, entitled “Various Measures Related to Indigenous Matters”. We welcome as our witness Jean-Pierre Morin, a Departmental Historian, Strategic Policy Directorate, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.
This is a technical amendment. The amendment is required to add a new clause to fix the coming-into-force date for subdivision A to no later than July 15, 2019. This amendment ensures that the coming into force of this legislation is aligned with the consequential amendment relating to the transfer of appropriations.
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, I would like to thank you for your letter of April 9, 2019, inviting our Committee to consider the subject matter of Part 4, Division 25, Subdivisions A, B, C and D (Clauses 336 to 386) of Bill C-97....
They go through the name of the act. It continues:
On Thursday, April 11, 2019, the Committee agreed to undertake a study of the subject matter of Clauses 336 to 386 of the Bill. On Tuesday, May 14, 2019, the Committee heard from senior officials of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, of Indigenous Services Canada, and of Justice Canada. Following this testimony, the Committee met today and considered recommended amendments to the Bill.
Today, after hearing from the witnesses and considering the provisions contained in Clauses 336 to 386 of the Bill, our Committee has agreed to the appended motion.
Thank you for the invitation to contribute to your deliberations. I wish you a productive discussion....
There is a motion attached, as follows:
Motion adopted by the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs on Thursday, May 16, 2019....
1) Based on testimony we heard at our Committee, we are satisfied that the legislation, as currently drafted, achieves its intended purpose; however, we encourage the government as they move forward to ensure that they are proceeding with their work on a distinctions basis.
2) We believe that the these new departments are already better serving the distinct needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis, based on recognition and implementation of rights, respect, cooperation, and partnership and will continue improving the delivery of services, while supporting acceleration of Indigenous Peoples’ visions of self-determination. This legislation will, however, bring further clarity to our Indigenous partners regarding which of the new departments are now responsible for specific issues and programs.
3) We encourage the department to have a robust communications plan in place to inform both Indigenous peoples in Canada and officials working within the two departments of Indigenous Services and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs on the changes that will be enacted by this legislation.
That's it. There are really no recommended amendments, just those suggestions.
There are no amendments coming from that committee. I'm wondering—and I know that my colleague across the way is a deep well of knowledge—where these amendments are coming from. INAC is actually sitting right next door to us. They're the parliamentarians with expertise to look at this. We've asked other committees to provide that expertise. I think that at this table I would actually lean on Mr. McLeod more so than anybody else on issues like this because it has a direct impact on the communities he serves.
That will be the compliment I'll give you, Michael.
I'm wondering what the rush is here. Why these specific amendments? Why didn't INAC provide them or the government caucus members from that committee express themselves? Some of these look like more than just technical amendments.
I know that witnesses before the committee are only officials. When Conservative members tried to move a motion to have more witnesses appear, it was voted down, so nobody from outside the parliamentary precinct was able to come to testify before the committee to speak to potential amendments or to the impacts that sections in this omnibus budget bill would have on their communities or their organizations.
If none of these amendments were brought forward there and voted on, I'm wondering where they're coming from and what the inspiration is for them. None of these were in the letter from the expert committee. If the finance committee sent a letter somewhere else, we'd assume that people would listen to us if we provided tax expertise on a bill that they were considering. I think the same thing would apply if the immigration committee reported back to us. I think we got told that yesterday by government caucus members.
In the past, it's happened that this committee has had to consider Criminal Code amendment provisions in the omnibus budget bill that created the DPA process. I do remember that several members here, some of whom are no longer members of this committee, were quite upset at the way the government then tried to hoodwink us into approving them on a late Tuesday night.
Going back to the committee letter, Mr. Kmiec, they say at one point, “however, we encourage the government as they move forward to ensure that they are proceeding with their work on a distinctions basis.”
The government has moved a series of recommendations. I don't know whether they're related to that or are technical amendments, but the government certainly has the right to do that.
I would like to echo my colleague’s remarks. Yesterday, the government once more made the case that no amendment is necessary, for the simple reason that other committees have previously decided that none were necessary. In this case, the other committee responsible for studying this matter felt the need to send us some detailed comments, the wording of which leads me to believe that it wants us to make changes, but without providing specific recommendations. Today, the government is proposing a number of amendments to those provisions.
I have a technical question on amendments LIB-11 and LIB-16. My impression is that they have to be studied together, but I really do not understand the reason for amendment LIB 11. I am not sure whether the law clerk or the officials can help us. Clause 336 is already a clause in itself. I am having difficulty understanding why amendment LIB-11 creates a new provision and then amendment LIB 16 seems to allow a coming into force date to be decided for that subdivision specifically, rather than for the entire bill.
Could we have some clarification on that from the person submitting this amendment, or from anyone else? I do not really understand why we need amendment LIB-11 for the mechanism to be able to work.
The amendment seeks to add the expression “Enactment of Act” above the text. This was not really necessary from a technical and procedural point of view, but the decision was to introduce the amendment. There is really no problem with adding that text.
I am the vice-chair of the indigenous committee. I know my colleague Mr. Kmiec has spoken to this particular section, but I want to reiterate that this is a significant change, when you take a long-standing government structure and create two new structures.
As he indicated, we specifically asked for witnesses to speak to this particular issue. We also asked the officials if there were any issues or concerns. I refer to Bill S-3, where we asked if there were any issues or concerns.
Once we had witnesses, we soon realized that this particular bill was a mess. I am very concerned that the government has embedded in an omnibus budget bill—something that they promised they would never do—something that is significant and that came to our committee. The Liberal members voted down the ability to have additional stakeholders as witnesses to talk about what was happening. Do you know what? Now we find some problems with the bill, and this is probably one of many problems that are going to be identified because of the sloppy process.
No one will compete in the symbolism and the selfies of the “Thank you for your donation” Prime Minister. When it came to the hard work of getting things done and working with aboriginal communities to improve their quality of life we'll take no lessons from this new government. This is a government that violated the constitutional obligation and the duty to consult when it vetoed the northern gateway pipeline, a pipeline supported by 80% of indigenous communities along the pathway, who have now lost hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits, thousands of jobs for their young people and numerous other opportunities to advance. The Prime Minister of course has now become famous for firing the first-ever female indigenous Attorney General.
I know, Mr. Chair, you're getting uncomfortable here because you don't like to hear these things about your leader but they are realities.
You've allowed Liberal members to regurgitate PMO talking points unrelated to the actual substance of the bill for the last three days and the gavel has not slammed once to interrupt them, but the instant I start talking about some very uncomfortable truths related to the Prime Minister's hypocrisy on indigenous files all of a sudden you and other Liberals get very uncomfortable and start to squirm and bang gavels.
The hard reality is that this Prime Minister is focused on selfies and symbolism rather than substance and results. I could read into the record comments from senior first nations leaders about the incredible disappointment they have experienced since this government took office with the manner in which he has attempted to use the indigenous file for his own personal self-aggrandizement and celebrity status at the expense of people who deserve so much better. If the members across the way would like to have that conversation we will continue with it.
Liberal amendment 12 responds to requests by indigenous partners to use language that is aligned with the wording of section 35 of the Constitution Act. Accepting this proposed amendment will demonstrate a willingness to use that language, language that best responds to the interests of our indigenous partners and also reflects what senators have heard in testimony at the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
I have a question for the officials or the mover of the amendment: have the implications of changing the wording been considered in the bill?
We would move from a “recognition” of rights to an “affirmation” of rights. Can someone explain to me the difference between the recognition and affirmation of rights, as well as the legal implications that this change could have? This change affects the preamble of the proposed legislation. Although limited in scope, the preamble to an act is still important.
The change is in response to a request from our indigenous partners, who have been asking for a number of years that we now use the word “affirmation”. This word changes the way the government defines indigenous rights. Recognition simply means that the government recognizes rights, while affirmation means that the government affirms what is already there. This change in the meaning and use of the term is intended to better align with the interests of First Nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada.
It's more a question of changing the terms used in recent years, even last year. From the outset of consultations on the recognition of indigenous rights, First Nations, Inuit and Métis asked the government to change its use of those terms. It was during the drafting process that we realized that this text needed to be adapted.
INAC officials also appeared at the indigenous and northern affairs committee across the way. I know there are now two departments handling different sides of the indigenous file. One is services, and the other is more on the treaty side.
Aside from the impact of changing wording in the preamble, why didn't officials at committee there—and maybe you can't answer this; it's an open-ended question—itemize this? You said this is a long-standing thing, that the government has been changing from saying “recognition” to “affirmation”.
It has been a consistent request from aboriginal groups, Métis groups, indigenous groups and individuals. Why wasn't it caught over there? Why was it caught here instead?
This issue was raised during the aboriginal peoples standing committee of the Senate, most specifically. There were several requests at that time to make that specific change. The decision was largely based on those hearings.
Liberal amendment 13 also reflects testimony heard at the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, to which the official just referred.
This amendment ensures clarity that the services and programs are also applicable to eligible indigenous governing bodies. By accepting the amendment, there will be clarity that the establishment of Indigenous Services Canada will not change or modify existing services, programs or policies provided by the department to indigenous governing bodies, and clarifies the scope of the services provided by the minister to include those services relating to the governance of indigenous governing bodies.
This amendment is in line with the other two amendments and is intended to establish some certainties in the proposed legislation.
In this case, we want to provide certainty that indigenous leaders will be eligible for services and programs. The proposed amendment provides greater certainty that the creation of Indigenous Services Canada will not change or modify the delivery of services and programs already provided by the department or the department's current policies with respect to indigenous governing bodies.
This amendment also clarifies that the minister's provision of services includes those related to the governance of indigenous governing bodies. This reflects one of the key priorities of indigenous partners, including the Assembly of First Nations. This proposed amendment also reflects the testimony heard by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
Mr. Chair, this amendment is to bring clarity that the annual report of the department will be based on a distinctions-based approach that will allow for comparison between indigenous groups and other Canadians. The amendment will ensure better reporting on the measures taken to address the socio-economic gaps by ensuring the particular needs and considerations of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Is the use of the words “First Nations, Inuit, Métis” rather than “indigenous”, once again, the result of a new practice by the government's legislative drafters? Can we expect the word “indigenous”, which we are seeking to replace here with this amendment, to no longer be found in Canadian legislation at all and to always be replaced by those words?
No. It was a specific request made to the Senate committee. The intent is not only to make a clear distinction between Inuit, First Nations and Métis, but also to ensure a comparison between the indigenous groups themselves.
This amendment is required to add a new clause to fix the coming into force date for subdivision A to no later than July 15, 2019. This amendment ensures that the coming into force of this legislation is aligned with the consequential amendment relating to the transfer of appropriations.
The coming into force date is set at royal assent. This allows an interval between the royal assent of the supply bill and the two acts creating departments, so that things are aligned with the supply bill.
Mr. Chair, this one is also similar to the previous one. This amendment is required to add a new clause to fix the coming into force date for subdivision B to no later than July 15, 2019. This amendment ensures that the coming into force of this legislation is aligned with the consequential amendment relating to the transfer of appropriation.
Mr. Chairman, this amendment responds to the requests by indigenous partners to use language that is aligned with the wording of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Accepting the proposed amendment demonstrates a willingness to use language that best responds to the interests of indigenous partners, and it also reflects what the senators heard in testimony at the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
This amendment responds to a request by indigenous partners to ensure that the recognition of treaties between indigenous peoples and the Crown are part of the guiding principles of the department. This amendment brings clarity and reinforces the existing practice of the department on recognition of treaties and it also reflects testimony at the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
Mr. Chairman, this amendment responds to a request by indigenous partners to ensure that the recognition of treaties between indigenous peoples and the Crown are part of the guiding principles of the department. This amendment brings clarity and reinforces existing practices of the department on the recognition of treaties. By accepting this amendment, greater clarity is brought to the minister's role in the negotiations of treaties and other agreements on behalf of the Government of Canada.
This amendment also reflects the testimony at the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
This amendment is required in order to add a new clause to fix the coming into force date for subdivision B to no later than July 15, 2019. This amendment ensures that the coming into force of this legislation is aligned with the consequential amendment relating to the transfer of appropriations.
This amendment is required to ensure the entry into force of the amendments concerning the First Nations Financial Transparency Act do not come before the entry into force of subdivisions A and B. This amendment is necessary to ensure there are no gaps or inconsistencies in ministerial authorities.
We will now move to another topic. For the benefit of those listening, we are now talking about the Federal Prompt Payment for Construction Work Act.
As members of the committee will recall, we heard a number of presentations on this proposed legislation, which is at the very least historic, given all the work that has been done in some provinces to enact similar legislation. What is being proposed today is to make it a federal act applicable to federal construction work on federal lands. So the scope is limited, but it's better than nothing. According to the presentations and the department, that's about 2% of construction work in Canada. It's still better than nothing. At least we are making progress. This may encourage other provinces to move forward and cover even more ground.
Furthermore, I find it a little disappointing today to see that, around this table, only the NDP has taken some of the recommendations seriously and proposed amendments to reflect what was said before the committee. A number of witnesses mentioned that the proposed legislation needed to be strengthened and that, while it was good and a first step, more needed to be done to ensure that the construction industry would enforce the legislation in the desired way. We wanted to make sure that certain terms would really reflect the reality in the sector.
The first proposal of five is intended to clarify, at the beginning of this act, that it also applies to construction projects involving federal real property or federal buildings carried out as part of a public-private partnership with Her Majesty. This is to reassure industry that it applies not only to projects for which a contract is entered into directly between Her Majesty and a contractor, but also to projects that could be carried out in a public-private partnership. According to a witness, the same thing had been said in Ontario.
It's just to create certainty on this side. I hope to have the support of the committee for this amendment, in order to reflect what the committee heard and what a particular witness proposed.
Once again, I very much thank the member for his important work.
The amendment the member has put forward is.... I wouldn't use the word “redundant”, but P3s are already contemplated in the act and specific reference to them is not necessary.
In addition, the legislation is written in a manner that clearly identifies that from Her Majesty to any P3 contract, payments must be made by 28 days after the receipt of a proper invoice. Any payments to the P3 contractors are to be paid 35 days after receipt of the proper invoice on P3 projects. This occurs on substantial completion or at specific milestones only.
With that feedback, I'm apt to reject the member's amendment.
My thanks to the member for his comments. This confirms Parliament's intention in the public records. At least we're making progress. It clarifies that this covers PPPs. At least those watching our debates will know that Parliament's intention was to include them. Like one of the witnesses we heard, I would have preferred it to be written explicitly, but it's better than nothing.
This is to the officials. What would be the impact of making this amendment, because it sounds from Mr. Sorbara that, in fact, this is already being done and there is no problem. This would be redundant, but there's no law saying that the government has to do it the way.... That's contractual law. It's not parliamentary law like the actual law of the land. Is that the distinction between the two?
This amendment is also in response to the testimony we heard before the committee about the possibility for a contractor and the government, in this case Her Majesty, to revise an invoice.
In the text before us today, there is an obligation to provide a proper invoice. That goes without saying. Then there is the obligation to pay it within 28 days of receipt. However, as witnesses have mentioned, it is not clear whether there is an opportunity to revise the invoice during the 28-day period. In practice, if a review were to take place, it could delay payment, since a new invoice would be issued.
The purpose of the amendment is for the proposed legislation to recognize that, even if the parties discuss and the invoice is revised during the timeline, the first invoice is still proper and the timeline applies as soon as the first proper invoice is sent.
I understand that we have the discretionary possibility to review an invoice. However, will the date of the proper invoice have to change?
For example, if a proper invoice is sent on April 1, the parties revise the invoice and a revised proper invoice is submitted, what date will be used to determine the beginning of the time in which the invoice must be paid?
That would be the consideration. It would be unlikely that they'd want to change the date of the invoice because you want to maintain the payment frequency so that everybody down the chain would know when to expect their payments. Any discretion that would be exercised would probably remain within the payment scheme and the timing already established.
You have just clearly identified the problem: it's a discretionary decision.
We suggest that the proposed legislation include the possibility of revising an invoice, but without changing the date of the current proper invoice. That way, there will be no discretion. This will not allow Her Majesty to negotiate a new invoice in order to extend the payment period or defer the duty to pay.
This amendment has merit, although Mr. Sorbara thinks it is unnecessary. If we always rely on ministerial and government discretion, we can sometimes be very disappointed. It is better to include it in the proposed legislation to ensure that the discretion granted will not be misused.
We continue to review the proposed legislation in order. We now look at prior verification, which is discussed on page 349.
Witnesses have stated—again, I am not making this up—that the terms used in the construction industry and those used in the proposed legislation should be more in line with each other. They should be more in line with the practices and habits of the construction industry. Attention was drawn to the word “verification” when it comes to prior verification. Some witnesses said that the term is not common in the construction industry and that it is better to use the word “certification” instead.
I hope to get my colleagues' support on this issue, so that the terms used in this legislation reflect those used in the sector, instead of using terms that less accurately reflect the reality of the stakeholders affected by the legislation.
Let me explain the difference between the terms “verification” and “certification”. In our view, certification is perceived as the process of providing a person with an official document attesting to a level of achievement, while verification is the process of establishing the veracity, accuracy or validity of something. The term “certification” is more limited in its application and may suggest that, even though an official certificate is not a condition for submitting a proper invoice, it may be necessary to verify that the work has been performed. The use of the term “verification” allows for more effective control over possible abuses of the provision.
Once again, we are continuing the study in order. We are now on page 352 of the bill, talking about the same proposed legislation.
The following clarification should be added:
(1.1) The dispute over the non-payment may include a dispute respecting the cost of services or materials in relation to a proposed change to the contract or change order.
As one witness told us, changes or corrections may be made while a contract is being executed. If clients want more or less, and want to change certain things in the contract, they can do so. Of course, the clients are the ones making those decisions. Disputes may arise because of non-payment related to amendments to the contract.
The idea is to clarify that the dispute may relate to the costs of an amendment to the contract. According to one witness, this clarification was needed. The purpose of the amendment is to clarify this point and provide certainty for stakeholders.
What would be the frame of reference at the federal level, since prompt payment legislation is something that's been brought in at the provincial level? How would specifying only one potential subject for dispute impact other measures from being disputed?
We have a larger list that would be put into the regulations. Including one here would change the reference and the order and the worth of the one particular dispute. We would probably want to deal with them all on an equal basis as opposed to having one carved out on its own here.
We continue with the topic of disputes. This amendment deals with dispute resolution and experts who can make decisions on disputes.
Witnesses mentioned that they would like to be sure that experts can deal with a number of disputes involving the same parties and issues and bring them together into a single decision.
Witnesses noted that it is possible that several dispute resolutions may address similar or identical issues. In their view, the proposed legislation should recognize this and give experts the right to bring disputes together in order to make a single decision on all the issues raised in the disputes.
The amendment seeks to ensure that this is included in the text of the proposed legislation. Once again, this gives experts confidence that they will be able to do so. Some people will say that, in practice, it will be possible for experts to bring disputes together, but it is always better to write it into the legislation.
Once again, thank you to our colleague for raising the amendment and focusing on this issue. However, the subject is to be dealt with in the regulations. Therefore, I think the amendment that has been proposed should not go ahead.
Very quickly, on the whole adjudication process, there are quite a number of items. This is a very important one and it would be dealt with in the regulations. Bringing it into legislation, as I said earlier, gives greater precedent to this one over the rest of the process that will be defined in the regulations, but it is a very important element that we do need to address.
I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to introduce the first and last amendments to this bill that's quite a few pages long.
The proposed enabling legislation gives the Governor in Council the power to make regulations. This amendment is intended to give it one more regulatory power. The intent is to add a paragraph so that the Governor in Council can provide for the “cases where labour and material payment bonds and performance bonds are to be provided". This proposal comes directly from a witness from the Surety Association of Canada. He wanted to ensure that the regulatory powers granted by the legislation included a power for payment bonds.
This would give contractors in the contract execution chain the certainty of being paid. This would provide a mechanism to protect subcontractors as much as possible. They often find themselves picking up the tab if the contractors become bankrupt or insolvent. This would establish with certainty that the Governor in Council has the authority to make regulations for that.
I hope to have the support of my colleagues around the table. It is a very reasonable amendment, which was proposed in this exact form by a very knowledgeable witness. This deserves our attention today.
Again, thank you to Mr. Dusseault for his hard work in bringing forward these amendments.
I will be rejecting this amendment. The reason is that the contract security was not intended to be addressed in this legislation. It is already included in government contracting policy. For information purposes, standard Government of Canada construction contracts require contract security when the construction contract is estimated to be $1,000 or more.