Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks this evening by acknowledging that this week is the 25th annual National Public Service Week.
Now is the time to celebrate the tireless work of the more than 250,000 public servants who support the Government of Canada and ensure that the needs of Canadians are met.
I want to sincerely thank my officials who have supported me since the day I was sworn in as . They work hard to ensure that I am supported in my duties as minister. I feel proud and fortunate to work with such an exemplary group of public servants. Even more than that, Canada can be proud of the strength of its public service, thanks to individuals such as these. I thank them for all that they do.
I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to this opposed vote. This particular motion deals with vote 1, in the amount of $129,915,146, under Privy Council Office program expenditures, in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2018. Of this $129 million, $1 million deals with the creation of the new, non-partisan, merit-based Senate appointments process.
As the , I am mandated to “restore Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic processes”. My job is to improve, strengthen, and protect Canadian democracy.
I was honoured when the asked me to take on this portfolio, as, to me, it is one that touches every single Canadian. The effectiveness of our democratic institutions and the health of our democracy is one of the most defining features of our identity as a country. We know that when Canadians have faith in their institutions, they are engaged. It is when they lose faith in these institutions that they become disengaged from the process and disheartened by their lack of voice in the system.
Unfortunately, Canadians' faith in the Senate was shaken during the Senate expense scandal that saw the previous Prime Minister's Office directly interfere in the day-to-day operations of the Senate. We listened when Canadians told us they were losing faith in this institution. We listened when they told us they did not think the Prime Minister's Office should be interfering in the careful deliberations of the upper house. We listened when they told us the Senate should not simply be a rubber stamp for the government in the House of Commons, but instead should be conducting its important constitutional role as the chamber of sober second thought. Under the previous government, the reputation of the Senate suffered.
Canadians care deeply about their democracy. It is our job as legislators to ensure that we continue to strengthen and protect our great institutions.
That is why we announced in our 2015 election platform that, once elected, a Liberal government would set up a non-partisan committee whose members would be appointed based on merit and would propose candidates to the upper chamber to the .
We made this commitment to restore Canadians' trust in this institution. The Senate, after all, plays a pivotal role in our Parliament, and as it is written in our Constitution, we cannot pass legislation without it going through the Senate.
On January 19, 2016, we established the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments and launched a non-partisan, open, and transparent application process. It consists of three permanent federal members and two ad hoc members from each of the provinces or territories where a vacancy exists.
The independent advisory board has a mandate to provide non-binding, merit-based recommendations to the on Senate appointments by carefully assessing applications using merit-based criteria. The advisory board looks to identify Canadians who would make a significant contribution to the work of the Senate.
From now on, Canadians across the country will be able to apply to become a senator.
The changes we made reflect our commitment to make the Senate a more open and transparent institution, a Senate that is arm's length from the government and less partisan than ever before.
If Canadians want to apply to serve in the Senate, they simply have to visit the government's website, Canada.ca. Our government is committed to a merit-based assessment of Senate candidates. Our emphasis is on individuals who meet the merit-based criteria established by the government.
The first such criterion regards gender, indigenous, and minority balance. Individuals will be considered with a view to achieving gender balance in the Senate. Priority consideration will be given to applicants who represent indigenous peoples and linguistic minority and ethnic communities, with a view to ensuring that representation of those communities in the Senate is consistent with the Senate's role in minority representation.
The second criterion is non-partisanship. Individuals must demonstrate to the advisory board that they have the ability to bring a perspective and a contribution to the work of the Senate that is independent and non-partisan. They will also have to disclose any political involvement and activities. Past political activities would not disqualify an applicant.
The third criterion is knowledge. Individuals must demonstrate a solid knowledge of the legislative process and Canada's Constitution, including the role of the Senate as an independent and complementary body of sober second thought, regional representation, and minority representation.
The fourth criterion is personal qualities. Individuals must demonstrate outstanding personal qualities, including adherence to the principles and standards of public life, ethics, and integrity. Individuals must demonstrate an ability to make an effective and significant contribution to the work of the Senate, not only in their chosen profession or area of expertise but in the wide range of other issues that come before the other place.
Since spring 2016, our government has appointed 27 senators through the new appointment process. Whether they are from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario or British Columbia, those who have taken their seats in the Senate are all outstanding Canadians who are doing an excellent job on behalf of all Canadians. These new senators are from a variety of professional backgrounds; they are former judges, Olympians, engineers, civil servants, teachers, police commissioners and more, and they will add their knowledge and skills to the wealth of experience each member already brings to our institution.
While we have taken steps to modernize the Senate through the appointment process, the Senate itself has undertaken a number of modernization efforts to fulfill its important constitutional role. For example, the Senate has begun inviting ministers to appear at Senate question period. This gives senators an opportunity to directly question ministers in relation to their portfolios and mandates and to hold the government to account. I had the opportunity to appear before the Senate during its question period in February this year.
Furthermore, a new special committee was created in the Senate to deal specifically with Senate modernization. This Special Committee on Senate Modernization has released 11 reports to date on a variety of modernization efforts the Senate can implement within the current constitutional framework. These reports deal with issues such as question period, the speakership of the Senate, regional interests, and more.
On May 11, 2017, the Senate adopted the seventh report of the Senate Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament. This report implemented recommendations from the Special Committee on Senate Modernization that amended provisions in the Senate rules to allow any group of at least nine senators to be recognized either as a recognized party in the Senate, as long as the party was registered under the Canada Elections Act, or had been in the last 15 years, or as a recognized parliamentary group formed for parliamentary purposes. This change is a response to the influx of senators who are now sitting with designations of Independent or Non-affiliated. There are currently 43 senators who are not sitting as part of a recognized political party.
The Senate has also made changes to its committee structure. In December 2016, a sessional order was moved to increase the size of Senate committees to accommodate non-affiliated senators and to give them better representation on committees that is more in line with their numbers in the chamber.
The Senate is taking an active role in modernization efforts, and we applaud all senators for their hard work in this regard.
Our efforts to modernize the Senate by making it more open and transparent go hand in hand with our vision of governance.
We promised Canadians a government that is fair, open, and transparent, and that is what what we are doing. In addition to reforming the Senate, the gave me a mandate to deliver on other government priorities, such as significantly enhancing transparency for the public at large and media in the political fundraising system for cabinet members, party leaders, and leadership candidates.
I recently introduced Bill , an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing). This bill, if passed, will make political fundraising more open and transparent for Canadians.
Any fundraising activity with a ticket price of $200 or more and involving the , cabinet members, ministers, party leaders, and leadership candidates currently sitting in the House of Commons must be publicly advertised at least five days prior to the event. In addition, a list of everyone in attendance must be submitted to Elections Canada within 30 days so that it can be posted online.
Canada, it should be repeated, has one of the strictest oversight systems in the world when it comes to the financing of political parties. We have strict spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and a ban on corporate and union donations, but that does not mean we cannot do more to improve and strengthen our institutions.
Canadians have a right to know more about political fundraising in Canada. Bill will give Canadians more information than ever before on fundraising. This is part of my commitment and this government's commitment to protect, strengthen, and enhance our democracy.
This commitment also led us to introduce Bill . If passed, Bill would make it easier for Canadians to vote. It would make our elections more open and inclusive and would help to build confidence in the integrity of our voting system.
Specifically, the legislation would do the following. It would restore the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to educate and inform Canadians, especially young people, indigenous Canadians, new Canadians, and others about voting, elections, and related issues. It would help more Canadians to vote by restoring vouching and using the voter identification card as ID. Guided by the Charter of Rights, it would break down barriers preventing millions of Canadian citizens living abroad from voting in Canadian elections. It would invite more Canadian youth into our democracy by allowing voting pre-registration for Canadians aged 14 to 17.
If passed, this bill will strengthen the integrity of the electoral process by giving Elections Canada new tools to ensure that only Canadians with the right to vote are listed in the national register of electors. In addition, this legislation will increase the level of independence of the commissioner of Canada Elections.
Bill would keep our government's promise to repeal certain elements of the previous government's so-called Fair Elections Act, which made it harder for Canadians to vote.
We believe that Canada is better served when the franchise is extended to as many Canadians as possible, not restricted. We will continue to look at ways to encourage greater voter participation and engagement. We will continue to work with the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is currently studying the report of the Chief Electoral Officer, entitled “An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century: Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the 42nd General Election”.
The committee has been studying this report, item by item, and I would like to thank them for all the work they have done so far in that regard. I very much look forward to receiving their recommendations.
In closing, I would like to take this opportunity today to remind Canadians that our work is not finished. Indeed, as I carry out my mandate, I will continue to work hard to protect, strengthen and improve our democratic institutions. To that end, I am currently working with the and the to assess our electoral process' degree of vulnerability to cyber threats.
I will also be looking at bringing forward options to create an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders' debates during future federal election campaigns, with a mandate to improve Canadians' knowledge of the parties, their leaders, and their policy positions.
I will also review the limits on the amounts political parties and third parties can spend during elections and propose measures to ensure that spending between elections is subject to reasonable limits.
Our democracy is strengthened when Canadians can get directly involved in our process. While casting a ballot is one of the most important ways to make our voices heard in our democracy, we have to ensure that Canadians know that it can be so much more than that. We can do this by continuing to examine what barriers exist between Canadians and participation and by learning how to create pathways for meaningful engagement.
I intend to do just that.
Madam Speaker, before I begin, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am here tonight to speak about the estimates and about the part of the process that I am specifically charged with, which is being the critic of the Treasury Board and is also related to the budgetary things we find the government doing, the out-of-control spending we are watching, the fact that the debt is growing, and the fact that this will be put off to future generations. I will touch on a few things first, if I am allowed. I want to talk about what has been proposed by the government in terms of estimates and the reforming of estimates.
First, we should indicate that changes to the Standing Orders of the House are traditionally done with the unanimous consent of all parties. We do not take lightly the proposal to change the Standing Orders for estimates reform, although the government thinks differently. It thinks it can ram it through unilaterally and do what it wants. Its proposal would drastically reduce the time Parliament has to examine how government spends taxpayers' money. The government can improve this kind of accountability to parliamentarians without a change to the Standing Orders.
When it comes to the rationale for why the government is proposing to table the main estimates on May 1, the stated goal of the proposal is to delay them and therefore improve the alignment of the main estimates with the budget. However, there is no fixed date for the budget, or even a requirement by any government to table a budget, and there have been times in this country's history when it was appropriate not to table a budget in this Parliament. If we change the rules around what a government can and cannot do all of a sudden without that government agreeing to table a budget on fixed budget dates, then we are starting to take out the accountability factor that the government seems to want to have in terms of the House of Commons and parliamentarians.
Ultimately, alignment of the two documents will depend on streamlining the internal government processes and the timing of the budget, which are both under the full control of the government, so it should be very clear that a change in terms of when estimates are tabled could easily be done by the government without putting changes into the Standing Orders.
The primary implication of this change would be to drastically reduce, as I have mentioned, the time Parliament has to consider the main estimates for their approval. As this debate has been going on for some time, at least since the end of last year and into this year, several people have weighed in on it. I will read three quotes, and this is from the parliamentary budget office in terms of the report they wrote called “Considerations for Parliament in Reforming the Business of Supply”, dated November 22, 2016. The first quote comes from pages 11 and 12:
Unless the Government is able to present a clear plan to reform its internal management processes, this example shows that it is unlikely that delaying the release of the main estimates by eight weeks will provide full alignment with the budget.
In other words, the stated goal would not be achieved in terms of what the analysis of the parliamentary budget office said when it looked at what was being proposed. The second quote comes from the same document and it reads:
The Government asserts that Parliament does not play a meaningful role in financial scrutiny. [The parliamentary budget officer] disagrees with this view. We note that notwithstanding the Government’s performance information of admittedly poor quality, and their inability to reconcile the Government’s spending proposals, parliamentarians have performed a commendable job of asking pertinent questions in standing committee hearings, Question Period and Committee of the Whole.
Again, this is part of the analysis of the parliamentary budget officer in terms of what the government wants to do. The third quote comes from The Globe and Mail, November 2, 2016, which quoted the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, as saying:
On budget and estimates alignment, the report suggests that MPs should consider a delay in the tabling of main estimates until well after the start of the fiscal year. How does that improve financial control? Bureaucrats are effectively saying Parliament would review requested spending after the start of the fiscal year on April 1, with budgets tabled in late winter. If you start from the perspective of financial control, Parliament should see the fiscal plan, departmental plans and requested authorities (voted and statutory) before April 1.
The point of reading these quotes is that, to get our agreement to unanimously support this, we have been simply told to trust the government. At the end of the day, when we have brought up the issues, the essentially ends the conversation by saying we just have to trust the Liberals, because he has been in Parliament for so long, over 20 years, and he has experienced more of Parliament from the opposition benches than the government benches, and he knows that this would help.
Estimates reform is a worthy goal. It is one which many Parliaments have tried to tackle. However, this is done in such a way as to not want to take input from the opposition and to, in fact, reduce the amount of scrutiny that the opposition has. The bottom line, in many ways, is that Parliament would have less scrutiny by way of confidence votes on financial matters in the House.
Why does that matter to the opposition? It matters greatly, because many times in our country's history, especially in minority governments, there are times when other issues are crowding in around the administration of a minority government. On every occasion, to have a confidence vote is an important occasion for the opposition in terms of having a tool to hold the government to true account. Therefore, when we reduce those, we are taking away some of that. This is reminiscent in many ways of what was tried by the government with Motion No. 6.
Motion No. 6 was a reactionary, spiteful motion put before us which basically took away many of the powers that are given through our parliamentary democracy for the opposition to use to hold the government to account. In that scenario, Canadians spoke up, and told the government that it was wrong, and it eventually backed-off from Motion No. 6.
There are some parallels here to being told what it is we are going to have in terms of financial accountability on the government side to the opposition in saying, “Well, we just need to do it, because we feel it is the right thing.” This goes against the traditions of the House.
I want to tie this to the record of the government on financial issues or its economic record. We see in the overall scheme of things, especially now with what is being debated in the Senate today, there are escalations on certain forms of taxation being automatically put into the budget bill. Of course, our friends in the Senate are debating them today, and will continue to debate them whether this is good for Canadians or not.
In looking back, I want to focus on two things in terms of not only the broken promises, the $10 billion tiny deficit the Liberals campaigned on but also the things that really affect Canadians. However, my time has run out, and so I will stop there.
Madam Speaker, I find it somewhat ironic that we are tonight debating the main estimates, or the government's projection for what it is going to spend this year. It is ironic, because there is little if any chance the Liberal estimates bear any relation to reality.
Perhaps we need to change the parliamentary wording. All of us on this side of the House, and probably on the other side, would be more comfortable if we were to refer to it as the wild guesses put forward by the government. Perhaps, given its desire to legalize marijuana, we could call it pipe dreams. That would probably be a better description. Certainly, this spending program has no basis in reality.
If we want reality, I would encourage members to look at the accomplishments of our previous Conservative government under the leadership of Stephen Harper. During the worst economic downturn since the great recession, Canada had the best job creation and economic growth record among G7 countries. We reduced taxes to the lowest point in 50 years, with a typical family of four saving almost $7,000 per year from what they were paying under the previous Liberal government. Also, after running a targeted stimulus program that created and maintained approximately 200,000 jobs, we kept our promise to balance the budget, and we handed the Liberals a surplus in 2015.
Of course, we all owe our thanks to the late, great Jim Flaherty for his steady guidance over several years. Today, that surplus is a forgotten memory, lost to history, as are the Liberal promises of electoral reform, or a small budget deficit. Instead, we have out of control reckless spending with no plan to bring any fiscal order to Canada's finances.
The government may realize that money does not grow on trees, but it is hazy on where it comes from. Certainly, the basic economic fact that borrowed money must eventually be repaid, and with interest, does not seem to have made its way into the Liberal financial handbook. From what I can see, the Liberal economic plan is a simple one, stumble along blindly and hope the Conservatives will come back and fix it in 2019.
The Liberals have failed to grow the economy. According to the parliamentary budget officer, economic growth forecasts for 2016-2021 are lower today than they were when the Liberals started their spending spree. The PBO says the Liberals' infrastructure plan added only .06% to GDP, and created only 1,900 jobs in 2016-17, far lower than promised in budget 2016.
Philosopher George Santayana is often quoted as having said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I do not know whether he had the Liberals in mind when he made his observation, but the government certainly proves the truth of his observation. As in the 1970s, the Liberals' reckless spending is causing public debt to grow uncontrollably. Our nation still has not repaid the massive Liberal debt incurred then, and the government is adding to it and repeating it.
I have a message for the , information that may be new to him that he might find helpful in his planning. Borrowed money must be paid back. At some point in time, those who have been so eager to lend him money are going to want their money back, and definitely with interest. When that happens, he is going to have to find the money. He is going to look like crazy for money everywhere, and no better place, as the government has a history of doing, but to reach deeply into the pockets of Canadians to make up for its crazy spending it always repeats.
What has happened is that money has to be repaid. The obligation is obvious to us. The government has no idea how it will pay the debt back.
Madam Speaker, you and I both know how the is going to pay for this reckless spending. I suspect he knows, too, but he does not want to admit to Canadians that he has no plan. I am sure he knows Liberal governments have historically paid for overspending only by raising taxes.
In the words of Ronald Reagan, “Death and taxes may be inevitable, but unjust taxes are not.” We have seen this already.
The Liberals have already raised taxes on middle-class families, students, and small business owners, whether it is the CPP tax hike on youth, middle-class families, and small businesses, killing jobs and small businesses. They have cancelled incentives such as the children's fitness tax credit, the children's art tax credit and the textbook tax credit. The Liberals are raising taxes, all the while claiming they are not. The irony is that they claim they are not, while they are doing it, and doing it badly.
When they kept the small business tax rate at 10.5%, when it was supposed to down to 9%, and ended the hiring credit for small businesses, they showed they did not understand the importance of small businesses to the Canadian economy.
I was a business owner before entering political life, so I know how business works. The apparently does not understand that increasing taxes on businesses is not the way to create jobs. Increasing taxes on businesses kills jobs. That may be why the job-creation record of the government is so dismal, so low, and a disaster. I suppose that lack of understanding on the Liberals' part explains why they are so eager to impose a carbon tax on all Canadians, a move that will increase consumer prices on practically everything, while killing jobs in the process.
We need to protect our environment. However, I fail to see how a carbon tax, which will put people out of work, will help Canadians and our economy. I must admit the financial numbers the government has put forward are impressive. They are certainly not based on reality and are certainly not what Canada needs, but they are still impressive.
Looking at them, I can only come to the conclusion that the has missed his calling in life. He is obviously wasted in this place where the true nature of his talent is not appreciated. I would suggest that in the future, he present his budget, his estimates, his fiscal updates, and other financial statements not to the House, but to His Excellency the Governor General.
The minister may be unaware of it, but each year the Governor General presents an award for the best work of Canadian fiction published for that year. From what I can see from the numbers being presented to the House, the minister would be guaranteed to win this year's fiction award. Maybe in the future the Liberals will adopt some economic policies designed to help, rather than hurt, the Canadian economy and ordinary Canadians. I look forward to that day, no matter how unlikely it seems.
We really can learn from the lessons of history. That is why, after a few years of reckless Liberal government spending, we know the Conservative Party will be trusted by the Canadian people to put together a fiscal policy that will be in the best interests of all Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the main estimates tonight. I will pick up on a theme of the discussion so far, at least for part of the evening, on the topic of the estimates, particularly estimates reform and how we could do a better job of bringing financial transparency and therefore accountability to Parliament.
It was a theme of the early on in his mandate. He reached out to other parties to talk about it. He even presented a briefing package on some ideas he had for reform and how to address some of the problems, which had to do with a number of things. In some cases it is the alignment, as we have discussed tonight, between the budget document and the estimates documents. There is also a difference in the way the accounting is performed for each document. The budget is done under accrual based accounting, whereas we have cash accounting in the main estimates. There is sometimes confusion for parliamentarians around some of the line items because they are not attached to particular programs.
All these issues were identified by the , with some proposals to fix them. I, along with my fellow Treasury Board critic from the Conservative Party, noted that a lot of these reforms really were things that needed to be done administratively by government. They were not things that required a legislative fix.
In the beginning of this reform, if we looked at the 's reform package as a whole, it really was not a bad package. It is fair to say that if we could adopt it holus-bolus, it would move us in the right direction for parliamentarians and Canadians to better understand Parliament's financial documents and therefore provide more openness and transparency. The proposal for moving forward ended up being not the kinds of things a government could do administratively, which are ultimately required for those reforms to be a success.
However, the first ask was that we change the Standing Orders to simply allow the main estimates documents to be tabled later. That, in and of itself, does not provide any guarantee of better financial documents, financial documents that are easier to read. It does not provide a guarantee that the budget and the estimates will align. It simply allows the government to take more time to table the main estimates, which may well be used by a sincere well-meaning government to make those documents cohere. However, it may be abused by other kinds of governments we have seen in this place from time to time.
It is hard to understand why, with a well-outlined program for reform, the only thing the government seemed to be trying to aggressively advance, and in some ways it was putting the cart before the horse, was the one thing that would diminish accountability unless there was a lot of serious follow-up from the government.
We have cause to be skeptical at this point in the government's term about its good faith with respect to these kinds of things. The mood here, rightly, is far more skeptical about its commitment to openness and transparency than it was at the beginning of the term.
I offer up the example of Glen McGregor, a reporter from CTV. He recently asked, under an access to information request, to get an itemized list of the overall number of staff, not the particular staff, in the 's office and their salary range. What he got was a list with every name blacked out. That is hardly a step in the direction of accountability and transparency.
When the comes forward and asks us to trust the government and consent to backing up the date for the tabling of the main estimates, because it believes in being more open and transparent, and then a reporter wants to know how many people are employed by the Prime Minister's office and what their pay range is, not the specific people and the specific pay, and receives an answer that clearly flies in the face of openness and accountability, we have a reasonable cause to doubt the sincerity of the government and its proposed change.
This was the same tactic used by the Harper government when it was asked similar questions about the PMO.
When the Liberals were elected, they said they were going to make changes, that they were going to be more transparent and provide more accountability. Now the Liberals are asking us to change the Standing Orders in a way that would allow an insincere government to simply reduce time for scrutiny, and then they pull stunts like that, not providing legitimate information about their staffing and their spending when they easily could. It becomes hard to trust them.
The government is also becoming notorious for making big funding announcements but back-ending the funding. The Liberals talk about big numbers, such as $180 billion being invested in infrastructure, but just a tiny fraction of it will actually be spent in this Parliament, never mind this budget year.
The government says we should trust it when it wants to change the tabling date of the main estimates. It claims to be sincere. It says it wants more openness and more transparency, yet every day in question period ministers get up and misrepresent the amount of money the government is actually investing. We could pick any issue. The government is doing this with respect to defence, to housing, to child care, and it has done it with a number of other issues. I could spend a full 20 minutes just listing the policy areas where the government is daily misrepresenting information and executing a lack of transparency.
It makes me wonder, and I think fairly, whether we can trust the Liberals when they present their big shiny package of reforms to make the estimates better. They just want to do this one little thing for themselves first, and then they expect us to trust them that the rest will come.
We heard that from the apparently quite sincerely at the beginning of his mandate. He came to the access to information, privacy and ethics committee many times to say that he wanted to reform access to information laws in this country. He said he wanted a government that was open by default and that the shared his views. He stated it was in his mandate letter. He told us at committee that the government was going to move forward with its reforms to access to information and it was going to be done in a two-stage process. Incidentally, no reform is needed for access to information requests in order to disclose of the number of staff in the Prime Minister's Office and their salary ranges. They can just do it. They do not need to wait on reform for that.
If the Liberals wanted to model the kind of open and transparent government that they foresee by changing the Standing Orders and by changing the law, they could do it tomorrow. In fact, they should have started doing it well before yesterday, but they did not.
In terms of the commitment by the to have a two-stage reform to access to information, he made a couple of administrative reforms, but nothing in the law itself. We have waited a long time. In fact, we were supposed to be debating legislation in the House by now that would have changed the access to information regime, but we are not. Not only are we not debating it now, but we are not going to be debating it any time soon. That announcement was made by the minister himself. He announced that the changes will not be coming, at least not any time soon.
I raise this point because it is important. If we are being given the “just trust us” line by a government that wants to change the estimates process in a way that would ultimately reduce scrutiny unless the government was acting in very good faith, then as an opposition party it is our duty on behalf of Canadians to ask if we can trust the government on this proposal.
When we take into account the Liberals' behaviour in disclosing information under the current access to information regime, which they could do much more readily than they do, and when we take into account their record on other issues where they have said they were going to do something and then reneged, any right-thinking Canadian would look at their record and say we need to stick with what we have until they are ready to bring in more of the package at the same time so that some of the other elements that introduce more accountability and more transparency come with the change. That change would be tolerable if the other measures were in place. What is not tolerable is to move ahead with that alone and expect to get openness and transparency from the government later.
We just saw today a vote on a way to make appointment processes more open and more transparent. That did not come out of nowhere. That came out of a catastrophe on the government's part, in trying to nominate a candidate to become an independent officer of Parliament and failing miserably to select a candidate who could perform that function, because in order to be an independent officer of Parliament, the person has to enjoy the confidence not just of the government but of all the parties in Parliament.
There are ways of establishing processes that would allow them to nominate candidates that could hold the respect of all the parties in Parliament. We suggested one yesterday in our opposition day motion. After they criticized it, they said, “Everything else is good, but there is one thing we cannot agree to”, so we amended it to solve that problem for them. They still would not support that motion.
Again we hear, “Just trust us on the estimates reform. We are going to move ahead with this one tiny piece of the whole package.” The package together actually makes a lot of sense, but they are asking us to just trust them that they are going to follow up. It is simply not believable. On access to information, for instance, we just heard recently that in the Liberals' first 18 months in government, their track record on access to information is worse than the previous government's track record in its last 18 months of government. We are just not at the point anymore where the “just trust us” line is adequate.
It is important to try to understand these documents better, because significant things end up happening within the context of the main estimates. One of the consequences from these estimates in my home province is that the Coast Guard facilities in Gimli, Manitoba, and in Kenora are going to be shut down. An open and transparent government that was serious about having people understand what it was doing when it came to the finances of the country and the financial decisions that it was making would have gone out and consulted with people in the community and made it clear. It would not have buried it in a line item in the main estimates or in the budget. Government members would have gone out and talked to people in the community about the reasons for the closures.
It could be that the government felt those services were not effective. That is not what we hear if we talk to people in the community, who, with respect, know better than people here in Ottawa. I have asked before in this House, and I will ask again: how many of the seven Liberal MPs from Manitoba knew before it was announced that those Coast Guard stations were going to be closed, and what lobbying did they do to prevent it from happening? Clearly they failed, if they made any effort at all, but it would be nice for people back home to know what the Liberals are doing to represent people back home.
There is a story that just broke in the Winnipeg Free Press about Canada 150 money. A reporter who has followed the money said that Manitoba is clearly not getting its fair share of the Canada 150 funding. Again, where are the seven Liberals from Manitoba who ought to be advocating for us to make sure that we are getting our fair share? It was not until I raised the issue of the post-secondary institution strategic investment fund here in the House that we started to see at least some announcements being made in Manitoba under that fund. When we are talking about how the government spends its money, it is right to ask where the Manitoba Liberals are on those files and why it is that in a number of cases Manitoba has been consistently under-represented in terms of its fair share of funding.
It is another fair question to ask where is the federal government is when it comes to meaningfully dealing with OmniTrax, which has not been doing its fair share in terms of the community in Churchill. OmniTrax, after getting a sweetheart deal to take over the railway, has been getting a lot of money in public subsidies, and that money has been going to Denver, Colorado. It has not been reinvested in that railway. Now that there is a flood, the rail infrastructure is inadequate and the town of Churchill is in crisis because the people cannot get food and other supplies to town. We just have not heard the quick response that is needed to provide assurance to people in Churchill that they are not going to be left out in the cold by the current government. I say again, where are they and where is the money when we are talking about estimates and we are talking about a budget?
Those are just some of the problems.
I appreciate my colleague from the Conservative Party bringing up the issue of estimates reform, because it is an important issue and it is something we have to tackle. However, I emphasize that what it comes down to when we talk about reform is sequencing that reform properly to ensure that members of this House who are not in the government have the appropriate tools they need to hold the government to account all the way along. Otherwise, we are in a position of having to press them on reform.
Another important reform issue in this Parliament was the government's commitment on electoral reform. I think that speaks quite clearly to the character of the government and why people on this side of the House cannot trust it.
The government made a black-and-white promise that 2015 would be the last election under the first-past-the-post system. The Liberals spent a lot of money to break that promise. They struck a special committee that travelled across the country. It took up the time of Canadians who were calling for action and who were not paid to go to testify at that committee. If they had been paid for their time, because their time also matters, the bill would have been that much higher. The committee came back and put the report together, and it was tossed aside by the minister at the time.
Then the Liberals had the gall, I think knowing already they had no intention of keeping that promise, to go out and spend literally millions of dollars on a bogus survey that was designed to obfuscate the issue and give them an out, which was the special committee, because the Liberals, despite saying that they wanted Parliament to be a place where people would work together, were hoping that the opposition parties would not work together. The opposition parties went out, did that, and showed them a way to keep their own promise.
It is pretty wild when the opposition parties are working harder to keep government promises than the government itself. However, that was the situation. Not only were opposition parties working hard, but they were also willing to compromise in order to help the government keep its promise. Instead, the Liberals threw that out. They spent millions of dollars on a survey trying to hide the fact that there was the potential for consensus if the government would show leadership.
How can we have a government that shows leadership? I imagine the process looks something like having the leader of a party promising something during an election, putting it in the party platform, and having candidates across the country repeat that promise ad nauseam. Then that party would be elected and follow through on that commitment. That is how it would be done, and that is exactly what Canadians did. To say there was no consensus or that the government did not have a mandate to provide leadership on democratic reform is just obviously false.
Nevertheless, the Liberals broke that promise. They let down all the many Canadians who elected them for that express purpose. Then, when it comes to something as important as the scrutiny of their spending, they ask us to trust them to get around to the rest of the program if we do this one thing that could reduce the scrutiny of a government if it is not acting in good faith in the face of all of the broken promises and everything else. That is what the Liberals are asking us to do, and they should not be surprised if the answer is no, we do not believe we can.
It is for at least those reasons, and those that I have not had time to get into, that the NDP will be opposing the main estimates.
Madam Speaker, after nearly a decade of partisan exploitation by the previous government, we are following through on our commitment to Canadians to build a more effective and less partisan Senate that works for everyone.
Canadians elected our government on a promise of openness and transparency, and it is our job to stay focused on those who have put trust in us. The interests of Canadians should always be placed above political allegiances, and our government is committed to restoring and creating a less partisan Senate appointment process.
Canadians were clear in the last election. The status quo of the Senate needed to change, and since then we have made major strides to deliver on that promise. Believing that our government should focus its efforts on the priorities of Canadians and not on more rounds of constitutional negotiations, we have implemented meaningful changes and have developed a process to appoint senators that is merit-based and non-partisan, while also being more open and transparent than ever before. These advances are crucial to restoring the confidence of Canadians in the Senate and to reinvigorating an institution that performs vital functions in our parliamentary democracy.
Shortly after taking office, our government announced the establishment of an Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments in order to provide advice to the on potential candidates to the Senate. This independent advisory board is guided by merit-based criteria in order to identify qualified, hard-working Canadians who can make a significant contribution to the work of the Senate. Additionally, this criteria has helped to ensure that a high standard of integrity, ability to collaborate, and non-partisanship have become central qualities in every Senate appointee. This new Senate appointment process has also aided in reinventing the Senate's fundamental role in our parliamentary democracy, and has done so while staying within the framework of our Constitution.
Our government knows the important role the Senate plays in our Parliament, so following the announcement of a new Senate advisory board, our government moved quickly to appoint seven new senators whose appointments immediately helped to reduce the partisan nature of the Senate, while also greatly improving the representation of the provinces that currently hold the most vacancies.
Additionally, as part of our government demonstrating its commitment to the new appointment process, we named one of these initial independent appointees, Senator Peter Harder, to serve as the government's representative in the Senate. Born in Winnipeg, Senator Peter Harder was the first independent senator appointed under the new selection process, coming into the red chamber with nearly 30 years of experience in federal public service in addition to a decade serving as a volunteer in various organizations and as a member of several boards of directors. He also served as president of the Canada China Business Council.
Senator Harder was first appointed as a deputy minister in 1991 and continued with this role under five different prime ministers and 12 different ministers over nearly 16 years. This included time in the Departments of Immigration, Public Safety, Industry, the Treasury Board, and Foreign Affairs. As deputy minister, he oversaw the legislative process of countless bills and has appeared before the standing committees of the House of Commons and the Senate. In his current role as government representative in the Senate, he is leading efforts on reform for a more accountable and transparent institution, while also working within existing Senate rules to ensure Senate business can be effectively coordinated with the government.
Over the course of the three months leading up to the announcement of these seven new senators, the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments undertook broad consultations in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, and provided the with a number of qualified candidates. This process was designed to help ensure the Senate is reflective of Canada's diversity. From that pool of candidates, the selected the seven new senators to be appointed by the Governor General.
In addition to Senator Harder, this group included the likes of Chantal Petitclerc and André Pratte from Quebec, Justice Murray Sinclair and Raymonde Gagné from Manitoba, and Ratna Omidvar and Frances Lankin from Ontario. These senators are not only qualified appointments, but over the past year that they have spent in the Senate, they have embodied the true, hard-working nature that I know all parliamentarians aspire to.
As a result, I would like to take some time to highlight a few of these exceptional individuals. Having served in the justice system of Manitoba for over 25 years, Justice Murray Sinclair represents this hard-working nature. As the first indigenous judge to be appointed in Manitoba, in addition to being only the second in Canada, he served as the co-chair of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry in Manitoba, and as chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As head of the TRC, he participated in hundreds of hearings across Canada that culminated in the issuance of the TRC's report in 2015. He also oversaw an active, multi-million dollar fundraising program to support various TRC events and activities and to allow survivors to travel to attend TRC events.
I would also highlight Senator Ratna Omidvar. Since arriving in Canada from Iran, Senator Omidvar has proved to be experienced in issues concerning immigration, multiculturalism, diversity, citizenship, integration, and minority rights. Recognized in 2010 by The Globe and Mail as one of Canada's top nation builders of the decade, she was also chosen by The Economist magazine in 2015 as one of the top 10 diversity champions worldwide.
Senator Sinclair and Senator Omidvar not only represent the true importance of merit-based appointments but also demonstrate, above all, the impactful role a less partisan Senate can have in tackling some of the most important and pressing issues facing our country.
The appointment of these initial seven senators and the introduction of the independent Senate advisory board in the spring of 2016 was followed by the launch of the second phase of the independent Senate appointments process, which opened up the ability to apply to be a senator to all Canadians.
In recognition of the important role the Senate plays in regional representation, the second phase also included the appointment of eight additional provincial members of the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments. The appointment of these additional provincial board members not only improved the representation of all regions across Canada but also brought more voices to the table to contribute to making these important decisions.
Since taking office, our government is proud to say that we have made a total of 27 non-partisan, independent, merit-based appointments to the upper chamber through the new process. In doing so, we have respected the constitutional framework while also ensuring that our provinces and territories have increased representation in the process.
Our government knows the important and valued role the Senate plays in Parliament and in our democratic institutions. We greatly applaud the work the Senate itself has done in transitioning toward a more independent and less partisan institution. We respect that more senators from all political stripes have chosen to sit as independents. Above all, it is clear that these changes reflect a move toward a more open and transparent institution.
Take, for example, the nine current Senators who were previously chosen as partisan appointees but now sit as independents. These now independent Senators, many of whom were appointed by previous prime ministers as partisan nominees, chose to put partisanship to the side and instead focus on the importance of integrity, collaboration, and strength in Canada's democratic process. This choice not only respects Canada's constitutional framework but represents monumental strides toward a truly effective and less partisan upper chamber.
I would like to take some time to highlight some of these individuals. Appointed in 2013, after being nominated by former prime minister Harper, Senator Douglas Black is an example of someone who was originally appointed as a Conservative but chose to drop partisan stripes and become an independent in the interest of non-partisanship. As one of Canada's most influential lawyers prior to joining the Senate, Senator Black exemplifies non-partisanship by continuously working with members of all parties and putting the interests of Canadians first.
The same can be said for Senator Larry Campbell. A Liberal partisan appointed by former prime minister Paul Martin, Senator Campbell has spent his time in the chamber doing valuable work on topics ranging from drug policy to mental health and aboriginal issues. Much like Senator Black, Senator Campbell also chose to put the interests of Canadians ahead of political allegiances when he dropped his partisan stripes and became an independent. Building on this, our government has made clear that our new independent and non-partisan Senate appointment process will, above all, respect the independence of senators like Senators Campbell and Black.
Our government has time and again recognized the importance of a truly effective Senate and its fundamental function in our valued democratic institutions. Through its role in representing regional and minority interests in our legislative and democratic process, it is foundational to the framework of our parliamentary democracy.
The interests of Canadians should always be put before partisanship. Our government has been crystal clear on this fact and in our commitment to fixing the damage done by the previous government. We were elected on a promise to change what had become the status quo in the Senate. To meet the expectations of Canadians, we developed this new Senate appointment process.
This new Senate appointment process, in addition to the work the Senate itself has done to transition toward a more independent and less partisan institution, is crucial to restoring the confidence of Canadians in the Senate and to reinvigorating an institution that performs vital functions in our parliamentary democracy. Furthermore, it shows that a less partisan Senate is possible. As we move forward, we can continue to work toward a future in which the Senate can truly be seen to conduct itself as an effective legislative body.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise this evening to debate the estimates process and the main estimates. Too often Canadians probably have their eyes glaze over, and I am sure some parliamentarians' eyes glaze over when we talk about the estimates.
The estimates are the foundational role that Parliament plays in this place. The business of supply or withholding supply is a fundamental purpose of this place, one that dates back many generations before the House was established to our forbearer in the United Kingdom. It was at Runnymeade in 1215 with the great Magna Carta that the power of the purse, and the supremacy of Parliament in the business of the supply process were fundamentally established.
Fundamentally speaking, the government ought not and should not spend a dime of taxpayers' money without the approval of this place, yet time and time again, we see the Liberal government abusing the very supply process which we are debating tonight.
In fact, just a couple of nights ago we were in this place debating the Salaries Act, a standalone piece of legislation to give pay raises to certain Liberal ministers. When the tried to establish a gender equal cabinet, he forgot he was giving his female junior ministers a lower salary than their male colleagues, so he decided to introduce the Salaries Act. It was a conscious decision by the government to introduce a piece of legislation to increase the wages of certain ministers, certainly something that is well within the right of the government to do.
The Liberals forgot something. They forgot that this piece of legislation has not yet been passed by the House. It has not been passed by the other place either. Instead of passing the legislation, the Liberals decided to abuse the supply and estimates process. It did not go unnoticed by members of this place or the other place.
The Senate Committee on National Finance reported, in its 13th report in March 2017, its grave concern of the abuse by the Liberal government of the estimates process. The report stated, “Senators and Treasury Board officials also discussed the larger issues of parliamentary authorities and approval, and the proper usage of the supply process.”
The report went on to say:
However, the Supplementary Estimates are not intended to be a convenient mechanism for the temporary funding of needs that were foreseeable and could have been planned, particularly in the case where such needs have their own source of authority in an Act of Parliament. The Salaries Act for ministers, like the Parliament of Canada Act for MPs and Senators, authorizes the payment of ministers’ salaries out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund and also fixes the amounts of those salaries.
In direct notice in speaking to the government of the day, the committee stated:
Our committee is concerned about the recurrent practice of using supplementary estimates to pay certain ministers' salaries prior to the enactment of amendments to the Salaries Act, and raises this question in the context of Bill C-24.
The member from was just talking about the new independent senators in the other place. This report included independent senators, members of the other place, who expressed grave concerns about the abuse of the estimates process. We are seeing this tonight as we debate the main estimates. Rather, they encourage the Liberal government to fundamentally follow the rules of this place and the other place.
Citing Debates of March 25, 1981, the other place recommends, “A supply item ought not to be used to obtain authority which is the subject of legislation.” However, in at least two occasions, we have had estimates come through the House using the estimates process in place of a piece of legislation.
It cites paragraph 937, “The government may not use an appropriation act to obtain authority it does not have under existing legislation.” It goes on to cite Beauschene's Parliamentary Rules and Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, which cites those statements. Of course, we are all big fans of Beauchesne's sixth edition in this House. Particularly around this side of the House, we are very proud of the great insight we have from Beauchesne's co-editor, Mr. John Holtby, a distinguished member of our team who is always providing us with great insight into the rules of this place. Certainly, the estimates is one of those issues.
Therefore, we have a process, and it is one that has unfortunately been abused on these issues by the government across the way. Too often, the members on the other side forget that, in fact, they are not members of the government; that only members of the cabinet serve as members of the government. Each and every Liberal MP who does not serve in the government is a member of Parliament first. Those members may sit as Liberal MPs, but they are not members of the government. Fundamentally, we need to remember in this place that we are members of Parliament first, and it is our duty to this place to properly undertake the review of the estimates process.
When I was reading through the estimates process, I was intrigued by some of the issues that are being recommended and encouraged. I happened to turn to page 228 of the main estimates, dealing with PPP Canada, Public–Private Partnership Canada. It is intriguing that in 2015-2016, there was no money spent for investments; again in 2016-2017 there was $267,700,000 allocated; and again in this current main estimates $267,700,000. Is the government planning to go forward continuing to fund PPP Canada? We do not know.
In fact, we do not even know what is going to happen to the infrastructure bank. As we speak in this place, the other place is debating the infrastructure bank. Indeed, the government could have used the provisions through PPP Canada where it has money, where, tonight, we will be voting on $267 million for PPP Canada. We could get that money out the door, enhance public–private partnerships, and reduce the risk on the taxpayer. That money is in the main estimates, and yet, in the other place, they are debating splitting it out. Indeed, just hours ago, the hon. Joseph Day, the leader of the Liberal caucus in the Senate, gave an impassioned speech in the other place about this very issue.
I want to quote from the blues: “The analogy that occurred to me as I read the bill is that Bill C-44 is like one of those Ukrainian dolls. You open up the first doll and there is another doll inside it, and you open up the second doll and there is another doll, and you keep going and peeling off the onion skins. As you open one, another one is revealed underneath and under that another and another and another. But while that may be fun as a doll, it is absolutely no way to present legislation for proper study.”
That is coming from a Liberal senator. I know the member from Halifax was just speaking about what he called the improved Senate, the improved process. This is one of the Liberal senators who is concerned about this. Of course, another issue that we see coming forward is the issue of an automatic escalator in taxation. In the other place, again, Senator Joseph Day, the leader of the Senate Liberals, said:
The “effectiveness” of the taxes. How much is raised, I would suspect is the effectiveness. Those are the words of the government official, not mine. Colleagues, that is certainly a rationale for government coming forward in a budget bill and asking to increase the applicable excise tax rate, but I fail to see how it is a rationale for allowing future rate hikes without parliamentary scrutiny or approval.
When the officials were asked for precedents for such an extraordinary provision, they pointed to the tax brackets for personal income taxes, which rise automatically with inflation. But, colleagues, that indexation works to taxpayers' advantage. If a tax bracket goes up because of inflation, we pay less tax. That is nothing like the automatic excise tax increase.
Indeed, in the budget bill that is being debated in the other place right now, there is an automatic tax increase without ever again having the approval of this place or the other place. It is fundamentally contrary to some of the basic principles of the power of the purse in this place, and it shows the degree of respect that the government has lost for members of Parliament.
If we look back in the not too distant Canadian history, in the 1970s, granted it was well before I was born, but in the recent past of Parliament, in 1975, that great Liberal, Senator Joseph Day, said that parliamentarians felt they needed more time to debate the borrowing itself. In 1975, the borrowing authority was broken out of the supply process, and set up in its own dedicated process.
In 1975, the Speaker in this place ordered a borrowing clause struck from the supply bill related to supplementary estimates on the ground that under the House of Commons rules then established, its inclusion in the supply bill virtually precluded discussion of the borrowing provisions. After that, every year the government would have to come to Parliament and request, in a borrowing authority bill, the authority to borrow a stated amount of money for that year.
This is a fundamental power of this place and too often, we forget that. It was not too long ago as a perfect example of the disrespect that the government has for this place, the recent botched, boggled, failed appointment of Madeleine Meilleur as Commissioner of Official Languages. Fundamentally, Parliament was not involved in that process. Members of this place were not involved in that process. They were not consulted, they were simply told in a letter dated nearly a month after Ms. Meilleur was informed she would be the successful candidate. That is not consultation. Officers of this place ought to be chosen with fundamental consultation by members of this place.
The estimates process, the business of supply gives us the opportunity to pass judgment on the continued confidence of the government in office. The confidence convention means that cabinet, in this case the Liberal cabinet, is accountable to the House, and confidence can be withdrawn by a number of provisions including the supply process, including a vote on main or supplementary estimates. In this case, our opposition does not have confidence in the government, and we will be voting against the estimates because of that lack of confidence.
I wish to highlight one matter in particular. It is our national debt and ongoing deficit spending. We all vividly recall in the last election the then leader of the third party, now the , promising Canadians, giving them his solemn word, that he would run tiny $10 billion deficits for three years, and only three years, but by 2019, in time for the next election, we would be back to balanced budgets. That quickly went out the window with the very first budget of the . Now, over the next number of years, we will see continued deficit spending. In fact, the Department of Finance's own numbers show we will not return to balanced budgets until 2055.
Let me put that in context. My son Bennett just turned one on June 1. By the time the budget is balanced, Bennet will be 39 years old. He will be older than I am now, and that is pretty old. My daughter Ainsley, is about three years old. She will be 41 by the time the budget is balanced. We are putting the debt, the spending and the mismanagement of the Liberal government on our children's generation. It is unacceptable that by 2055, we will have $1.5 trillion in total debt, debt that will be paid back through the continued interest charges of future generations.
It is completely unacceptable that the government has given no plan for the return to balanced budgets. Our friend and colleague, the member for , the finance critic, asks the on a very regular basis, when will we return to balanced budgets. Each and every time, the waffles and fails to answer the question.
My constituents were hurt In my riding of . They are hard-working Canadians. They balance their chequebook each month. Small businesses balance their books each month. However, each and every month they find it harder and harder to continue to survive in their businesses because of the concerns and the issues being placed on them by federal Liberal government and the Liberal government in Ontario.
I spoke to one business owner not too long ago whose hydro bill tripled in the time that the McGuinty-Wynne Liberal were in office provincially. Now we are seeing at federal level the imposition of a carbon tax, which will only see the cost of running a business increase. It is not just businesses that are seeing their costs increase. Families are seeing their dollars stretched further and further each week because of the Liberal government.
I recall the very first bill brought before the House, Bill , which was what the Liberals called a middle-class tax cut. No one making under $44,000 a year got a cent out of that tax cut. In fact, those making between $100,000 and $200,000 were getting the biggest tax cuts out of that, but those making under $44,000 got nothing, not a dime.
In the first budget, the Liberals took away the fitness tax credit. They took away the arts tax credit for families that decided to put their children in arts programs or in fitness activities to improve their health. They got rid of the text book and education tax credit. I was at Carleton University earlier today, talking with current students and former students, and the importance of fundamentally helping our young people survive. Again, the Liberals are making it harder and harder for Canadians to get by.
I want to speak to home ownership for a minute and the changes the Liberals have been placing on the burdens of buying a home for the first time. We should be encouraging and helping Canadians buy their first homes. A strong society encourages home ownership, encourages Canadians to buy that first home rather than discouraging them from doing so, as we are seeing in the recent changes.
I want to close on where I started, and that is about the fundamental importance of the supply process and the estimates process. This process belongs to the House, belongs to Parliament, the power of the purse, the ability for parliamentarians, each and every member of Parliament, whether they are government MPs or not. This is our opportunity to pass judgment on the confidence we have in the government.
I have no confidence in the government, and I will be voting against the main estimates when they come to a vote later this evening.