Colleagues, I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to the 99th meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. Today's meeting will continue our study of Bill . I would like to welcome our minister with us today, the Honourable Bardish Chagger.
Welcome, Minister, thank you for being here.
Colleagues, we will have the minister with us for approximately one hour. Following that, the PCO officials will remain until 12:45, if needed. I will need at least 15 minutes at the end of the meeting to deal with committee business so our analysts can discuss with you the drafting of our report on government advertising. If, however, questions have been exhausted prior to that, we will suspend, excuse the witnesses, and go directly in camera to talk about the draft report.
Minister, I understand you have some opening remarks. We'll try to keep your remarks to about 10 minutes. If it looks like you're going over time, I'll try to catch your attention and ask you to wrap it up so we have more time for questions from our colleagues around the table.
With that, Minister, the floor is yours.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and colleagues.
I bring with me today my deputy, as well as Martha, a privy council officer.
Today, it is my pleasure to speak with you on how the government is equalizing the status of all members of the Prime Minister's ministerial team and ensuring that the government continues to have the flexibility to deliver on its commitments to Canadians.
The Salaries Act authorizes the payment, out of the consolidated revenue fund, of a ministerial salary to individuals who have been appointed to ministerial positions listed in that act. There are currently 35 ministerial positions listed in the Salaries Act, including the position of prime minister. From time to time, the list of ministers in the Salaries Act changes to align with the priorities of the government of the day and the prime minister's preference with respect to the composition of the ministry. This is not new. Legislation amending the list of ministers in the Salaries Act was enacted in 2005, 2012, and 2013.
Canada needs a modern, agile, and flexible government that's organized in a way that is suited to delivering on its priorities and commitments. These amendments help us to do precisely that.
The legislation does away with administrative distinctions and makes equal the status of all ministers in the current ministry by adding to the Salaries Act five ministerial positions that will replace five current minister of state appointments. Conventionally, ministers of state have been considered junior ministers because they have most often been appointed to assist other ministers with their portfolio responsibilities. This way of thinking and operating is not suited to the current content, as it fails to address both the importance of the subject matters at issue and the value of equality to this and our government more broadly.
The five new ministerial positions to be added to the act are the Minister of La Francophonie; the Minister of Small Business and Tourism; the Minister of Science; the Minister of Status of Women; and the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.
These are important positions, with roles and responsibilities becoming of full ministers.
The Minister of International Development and La Francophonie pursues Canada's strong and sustained commitment to the 80 member states and governments of the Francophonie. Together these constitute more than one-third of the United Nations' membership, and they account for a population of more than 890 million people worldwide, including 220 million French speakers.
The Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development contributes to the competitiveness of Canada in a global, knowledge-based economy through supporting scientific research and the integration of scientific considerations in the government's investment and policy choices. The Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development is the lead minister for a number of science-related funding programs, including the Canada research chairs and several portfolio agencies, such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, NSERC. Innovation is a key priority for our government, and science will help us continue to build an economy that is both environmentally sustainable and prosperous.
The Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities promotes healthier Canadians through sport and recreation and works to ensure greater accessibility and opportunities for Canadians with disabilities. The minister has been tasked with developing legislation to transform how the Government of Canada addresses accessibility and leads on a number of important funding programs, including the enabling accessibility fund.
The Minister of Status of Women champions equality, addresses issues of gender-based violence, advances the prosperity and economic security of women, and works to increase the representation of women in leadership and decision-making roles.
In my role as Minister of Small Business and Tourism, I support Canada's small businesses, the backbone of our economy, by helping them grow through trade and innovation in order to create jobs, support communities, and launch world-class companies. I am also working to grow Canada's tourism industries by promoting Canada as a world-class destination for international tourists.
As you can see, these portfolios are important to our economy, to Canadians, and to the government. Formalizing the status of these five appointments as ministers in full standing will reflect the importance of these five positions and the expectations placed on the people who occupy them. Once these positions are added to the Salaries Act, with the adoption of Bill , the orders in council that assign these ministers to assist other ministers will be repealed, and these ministers will be in law what they already are in practice: full ministers.
I would like to take a moment to address the issue of cost. The cost of the current ministry will not change with the enactment of Bill . Only the payment mechanism will change. Let me explain. Ministers whose positions are listed in the Salaries Act receive their ministerial salaries under that authority and from the consolidated revenue fund. Ministers appointed under the Ministries and Ministers of State Act receive salaries determined by the , and they are paid from the applicable departmental vote, as provided for in annual appropriation acts. That has been the legislative framework for over two decades. Once BillC-24 is passed, the former ministers of state will be appointed to the new Salaries Act positions and will be paid under the authority of that act.
All 30 members of the 's ministerial team already receive the same ministerial salary. That has been the case since our first day in office, and it will not change with the enactment of this bill.
Bill will create a framework that will allow these ministers to continue to be supported by existing departments in carrying out their responsibilities. No new departments will need to be created as a result of this legislation.
Bill C-24 will increase the number of ministers that could be paid a ministerial salary under the Salaries Act from 35 to 37, including the Prime Minister, which represents an increase of two ministerial positions that could be paid from the consolidated revenue fund. Let me point out, however, that the currently has 34 ministerial positions available to him under the Salaries Act, but he has appointed only 30 individuals to the ministry. This bill is not fundamentally aimed at growing the ministry. Its goal is simply to formalize in legislation the equal status of the current ministry and to modernize the act to enable more flexible and adaptable ministries in the future.
Bill amendments are not just about addressing government priorities in the immediate term. We also want to ensure that future ministries can be structured in ways that meet emerging priorities.
To enhance the flexibility of government, Bill would add three untitled ministerial positions to the Salaries Act. These positions can be titled at the discretion of the Prime Minister to reflect the priorities of the time. In this way, the Prime Minister can adjust his or her cabinet and its positions to respond to changing priorities or challenges facing the country.
The alignment of all regional development agencies under one portfolio, especially under the minister responsible for national economic development, is another example of this. We now have regional and national expertise all working together. This creates better synergy and opportunities for greater progress, and provides the flexibility needed to make a real impact in communities across Canada.
The regional development agencies will all continue to fulfill their mandates of supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in becoming more innovative, productive, and export oriented. They will continue to work with communities and economic development organizations to identify and generate opportunities for local economic growth. They will also continue to provide programs and services to entrepreneurs and communities that build on the distinct competitive regional advantage. All the regional agencies working together will ensure cohesion between them, help grow the economy, and deliver results to Canadians in all regions of the country.
Having them all report to Parliament, to the minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, serves to highlight the important role economic development plays across Canada's regions.
Finally, the legislation also changes the legal title of the Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to reflect the fact that the Prime Minister has taken on the role of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister.
To conclude, these changes formalize what has already been in practice since day one of this government. The cabinet is a group of equals, and non-legislative steps have already been taken to recognize the equal status of its members. These amendments address an administrative constraint in current legislation and catch it up with the structure of the ministry as it operates today.
We are resolute in our belief that a modern ministry that prioritizes equality, fairness, and flexibility will provide better outcomes for all Canadians.
I would like to thank the honourable members of this committee for their time and for inviting me to share my views. I look forward to your questions and your comments.
With that, Mr. Chair, thank you.
Well, the minister said from day one, so I'll accept that.
I just want to get back again to the ministers. We've heard so much about their being equal. We had a very learned professor here on Tuesday whose comment about what your government is doing was, “I would say it's dishonest”, that's the word I would use. She was talking about the equality of the cabinet.
You kind of confirmed what I have been asking, which is does the not have the same authority as another minister, such as the ? We also see it in the responsibilities and in the budgets. Our friends at public accounts were here just before us, and we were looking at the spending. , who signs reports too, has $2 million spent. spent $885,000 in her budget, you spent $837,000, and heritage $1.9 million. Sports was $770,000 under ; Ministers and spent $900,000. It seems that a very specific set of responsibilities is given, not only power and authority.
I just want to move over now to the changes under the economic development. Your comment was, “It's better for the regions”, but I just want to read a couple of comments from stakeholders. La Presse, for example, says that Quebec manufacturers and exporters in the chamber of commerce are happy. Montreal ministers, however, are worried about what will happen with the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec, which seem to have dropped off the radar. Business leaders used to have an attentive ear in Ottawa under previous systems.
Here's a quote from the Cape Breton Post:
||How much attention will the minister pay to Cape Breton based on his political influence? Not much, according to White. The more you push those (agencies) out to big centres like Toronto, Ottawa, or maybe, Montreal, as the base of decision-making for those organizations, the less they are in tune with the regions that they're trying to help the most.
We have limited time but I have nine pages of quotes from various stakeholders, including stakeholders that your east coast MPs heard at various round tables. I am just trying to figure out how you can say it's better for the regions, when you're actually taking away direct input from the stakeholders in the regions.
Maybe we can take a step back and look at the new full ministries: Minister of La Francophonie, Minister of Science, Minister of Small Business and Tourism, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, and Minister of Status of Women. I don't think any of us—at least, I hope none of us—sitting around this table wouldn't agree that those ministries deserve the full support of departments. They deserve the full resources of any other ministry. Without this Bill , that support, those resources, that empowerment, that authority to do these important jobs for Canadians under these important topics simply would not exist.
Therefore, to say Bill is unnecessary is to almost say, “La Francophonie is not important.” It's to almost say, “Science doesn't matter.” It's to almost say, “We don't care about small business and tourism. We don't care about sport and persons with disabilities, or the status of women.” I know nobody around here thinks that, or would ever say that, so I just think we want to make sure that we appreciate that legislation is necessary under the Westminster model to authorize and to allocate resources as the government of the day sees fit. That's why we're here today: as part of the legislative process.
I don't think it's a waste of time. I don't think it's an unnecessary use of parliamentary resources. In fact, I think it's an essential use of those resources. Without having a committee to do it, without having first, second, and third readings in the House, these things wouldn't get done. You can't just wave a magic wand and make some presidential order like some governments can do, and make things happen. The legislative process, my friend, is tedious, takes resources, takes time, and takes effort, but it's important, it's necessary and, in fact, it's fundamental to our democracy.
Mr. Chair, I just wanted to make sure that everyone around the table is aware of what we're doing here and what this process is.
I don't know, Minister, if you have any thoughts on the process itself.
No, it was just in general.
In terms of advice, I want to go back and follow up. Mr. Drouin made some comments about a previous government and the numbers. In fact, on the efficiency with which the government operated, he missed that point. The talked about the whole-of-government approval and the whole-of-government approach, but we forgot to talk about or I didn't hear her talk about responsibilities and also I didn't hear her talk about the efficiencies.
This comes from an excerpt from the federal Liberal Atlantic caucus subcommittee on innovation, in May of this year, concerned about how “processing times dilute business growth, and create inefficiency and uncertainty. Some businesses have had to obtain bridge funding while waiting for ACOA funds.” It says, “These circumstances are disruptive to business development.”
Then the concerning part to any government should be that the “...perception among some that standard processing times”—because this is now centralized—“at ACOA have increased approximately threefold over the past year and a half, and that requiring Ministerial approval unnecessarily delays the process. For example, a 30-day processing time is now taking 90 days.”
It then says, “...centralized decision-making is viewed unfavourably as impeding the agility of programs.”
Knowing that, in your position, what would you suggest to the minister regarding centralization, in terms of making these improvements, so that we get back on track and the regionals actually have some influence nationally?
Part of the project around Bill has been to try to narrow down why it is that this legislation is necessary and why it's important for Parliament to spend time on it. We heard earlier that one of those reasons is to bring legislation into harmony with the current practice of government.
An earlier line of questioning I was pursing was why we're doing that in the case of regional economic development ministers but not in the case of the different kinds of ministers. The government is not using ministers of state, so presumably, if you wanted the legislation to go here, you would get rid of it, particularly so if there's a principled objection to having ministers of state. This seems to be the case in the debate about whether you have a one-tier ministry or a two-tier ministry.
That's not clear, but I don't expect you to answer that. It's more of a comment than a question.
The other aspect of the legislation seems to be creating equality of ministers, and I've been trying to hone in on what the relevant sense of equality is because it's not exactly clear to me, if I'm being generous. I think there is a superficial answer, which is that it's nice to be called “minister” as opposed to “minister of state”, and maybe get taken more seriously.
In any event, what we did hear from the government House leader was that, with this legislation, the five ministries that we've been concerned about largely in the debate—although there's a sixth now because the Minister of Indigenous Services is currently a minister of state—are ministers to assist. One of the things that Bill will accomplish is that there will no longer be ministers who assist other ministers. Is that true? Is that one of the goals of Bill C-24, to eliminate scenarios where other ministers are characterized as assisting full ministers?
Colleagues, I'll reconvene.
I have one quick update for the committee's consideration. At some point we have to get into the drafting instructions for the report on government advertising. From a procedural standpoint, Mr. Shipley can speak to his motion. We will continue speaking to the motion as long as there are people on the speakers list.
However, as chair, I will have the ability to interject at any time, just to be able to deal with matters. We will have to go in camera to deal with the drafting instructions. If that happens, we will resume again with the person who was last on the speakers list and continue in that fashion.
I want to make sure everyone is aware, procedurally, of what will happen. I want to make sure, particularly with the report on government advertising, that the drafting instructions have been given, and we can move on whenever this motion has been dispensed with.
In other words, I may be interrupting in about 10 minutes or so. Mr. Shipley, until then, the floor is yours.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and all of my colleagues.
I don't suspect it would be an issue with wanting to actually look at this.
When tax reforms come in, they basically affect every jurisdiction, and certainly the majority of the job creators in my province and in every province across the nation. We know that for sure. Every MP, regardless of what position or what party we are in, has been receiving a multitude of calls, letters, and emails regarding concerns on these tax reforms.
One of the concerns is that in July, in the middle of summer, the government dropped this onto our businesses—as they have done with a couple of other things, actually. Another was in agriculture, in terms of a national strategy policy and Canada's food guide. That said, they dropped this in the middle of summer, when people are away, when families are engaged in what families want to do in the summer across Canada when we can spend some time with family, and they then put in a 75-day consultation time.
I think they forgot.... I'm not sure why. But in agriculture that's huge. Summer is a busy time in agriculture, because they are in the midst of finishing the planting. The livestock people are in the midst of harvesting, and then obviously, through the summer we are into a number of crops that are being harvested. But then to stop it in October, which is sort of interesting, just after kids have gone back to school.... Small businesses are planning for the year. They're getting ready for the seasons that come up, and of course, agriculture is then into the main harvest.
Right now we have individuals from all businesses, and we've all heard their concerns in terms of these tax reforms, particularly about the targeting of small business owners. If I remember right, two-thirds of small business owners make something like $63,000 or $70,000 a year. The government has chosen to target these individuals, these family.... I would love to take the opposition to all the family-run small businesses that you're targeting that are anguished because they don't know what to do, whether they're in farming or they run a bicycle repair and sales store, or they're running their Tim Hortons or McDonald's franchise. And it's compounded in Ontario by a number of things the Liberal government in Ontario has put on.
The interesting part that really bothers me is that I get the question, “What about the and the ? They are multi-millionaires and have all this money. What extra are they paying?” I say, “Right now, until they change it, there is no impact to them. It's all about you.” That becomes another frustrating part for them, because they look at it and say, “But he talks about the middle class.” I say, “Yes, pretty much every day, then turns around and sticks it to you at every opportunity—except he did give you more for child care, but actually if you go back, the cost extra to you, as the middle class”—as they call it; I call it the middle-income earners in our country—“you'll see you're now dinged about another $800 more than you were before they took office.” It is a concern.
That's part of the reason this has come forward.
The other part of it, Mr. Chair and colleagues, is that there is an incompetence that has happened within the governing Liberal Party, because they say they're going to raise the taxes to generate income.
What they aren't talking about is what the professional accountants and economists in my riding are saying. I think they're likely as wise as the ones giving the government their expertise and advice, but these guys—and these ladies, quite honestly, who are amazing at the public meetings—are raising huge issues about what this is going to do to impact our families. These are not the large multinationals that are in the public domain. They're not the offerings that we see in the TSX. No, no, these are the ones you see when you drive down the main street. I don't care if you're on the main street of Toronto, Hamilton, Fredericton, London, Strathroy-Caradoc, or Wallaceburg in my area, these are the folks on the street, folks. These are the guys who have the engineering or the manufacturing along the side....
To go back to the incompetence, they'll say, “But I was told...and we believed them. When they got elected, they promised...” Well, actually, they promised at every meeting that we would have this small deficit of $10 million. Now that's going to double or triple, “But don't worry, because we're going to tax that top 1%. We're going to tax those rich people and give it to you.”
They hoped to have raised a couple of billion dollars out of that, but in fact, when you start taxing people, things actually go in the reverse, so now, instead of gaining $2 billion, they have lost revenues of $1 billion. Instead of having a plus now, they're in the negative.
They promised our small business people that they were going to lower that business tax down to 9%. I'm waiting for the to actually step up to the plate on that promise also, but he hasn't mentioned that. He hasn't mentioned it to our small business people. He just hasn't done that, but what he wants to do is bring forward these reforms that protect the elite and protect those who don't have to worry, so here we go.
I think that for everybody here, this is a concern. I think it's important for all of us, and I'm sure my friends on the other side will want to know what the potential impact is. I don't know how we can talk to these folks without giving them...because there are all kinds of stories out there right now, but nobody will give the details. This will help us.