Interventions in the House of Commons
 
 
 
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View Andrew Scheer Profile
CPC (SK)
Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister can take great comfort in knowing that a real plan for the environment is coming at five o'clock. What it will not include is special deals for Liberal insiders.
Under the Prime Minister, well-connected friends of the Prime Minister have done very well. He rewards his well-connected billionaire friends with taxpayer handouts, like $12 million to Loblaws. He interfered in a criminal court case to help his corporate friends at SNC. He targeted entrepreneurs and small business owners while protecting his vast family fortune.
Why do the well-connected Liberals and the wealthy always get a better deal under Liberals?
View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition mentioned his climate plan.
We have been waiting 416 days to see this climate plan, but members will forgive Canadians for being a little skeptical about what is going to be in that climate plan, because the Leader of the Opposition thinks that pollution should be free. He thinks that plastic pollution is not a problem. He will not admit that climate change contributes to extreme weather events, and he continues to not understand that the only way to move forward on creating better energy projects is by protecting the environment at the same time.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Members will recall that back in 2015, the Prime Minister made a whole series of commitments, including that he was going to work with all members of the House of Commons. Instead what we have seen is a new tool, never used in parliamentary history before, gag closure.
It is a particular motion that does not allow opposition members, once the gag closure motion is moved, to even utter one word on government policy, to offer any amendments, to ask any questions, to, in any way at all, intervene on the bill, the legislation, the business before the House. It has been moved several times already in the last couple of weeks. So much for the solemn commitment to improve the functioning of Parliament.
The Liberals also promised they would do away with omnibus legislation. The Harper government was renowned for that, throwing a whole bunch of different bills into one piece of legislation and throwing at the House of Commons. It was profoundly disrespectful to members of Parliament and profoundly disrespectful to Canadians.
However, the Liberals have doubled down over the last four years. They have now presented more pieces of massive omnibus legislation than in any other Parliament in our history.
Members will recall that Liberals and the Prime Minister talked about bringing in democratic reform, actually reforming our election process so every vote would count. That would make a lot of sense. Canadians voted for that. The Liberals only got 39% of the vote and yet they have 100% of the power in the House of Commons. They bring in gag closure, they bring in omnibus bills and that promise, that solemn commitment to bring forward democratic reform has been thrown away.
The Liberals also talked about dealing with climate change. Tomorrow they will be rubber-stamping a pipeline that will destroy any opportunity for Canada to meet any commitments that have been made internationally.
The member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie estimated that even before the pipeline, it would take Liberals 200 years to meet the Paris commitments. The planet will not exist at that time if Canada continues to be as irresponsible as the government has been, both under the Conservative government and the Liberal government.
The Prime Minister solemnly promised he would address the massive housing crisis in the country. Tragically, we know that is not the case. The Liberals said that they would address the health care crisis and promised, yet again, that they would bring in pharmacare. I think it is the third time, with a Liberal majority government, that Liberals promised to bring in pharmacare and yet have failed.
After four years, we have a litany of broken promises. Perhaps one of the most significant promises, even though this bill has not attracted a lot of interest, is the broken promise on information being provided to the Canadian public. That is why I call Bill C-58 the “another Liberal broken promise” bill.
The Liberals committed back in 2015 to provide information to the Canadian public. That makes a lot of sense. Canadians have a right to information from the government. It does not belong to the Harper government. It certainly does not belong to the Liberal government. That information belongs to Canadians.
Putting in place an effective information regime that allows people to access information, important government information, important information that should be available to the public, was a commitment the Liberals made back in 2015. Like so many other commitments, it has ended up on the scrap heap.
The Information Commissioner called Bill C-58, the “another Liberal broken promise” bill, regressive and went so far as to say that the access to information regime would be better under the status quo than under Bill C-58.
Is that not a sad commentary, that a Liberal government, four years later, has so little to show for itself except for a litany of broken promises solemnly delivered in 2015? Canadians believed them. I certainly thought, and I think most Canadians believed, that when the Prime Minister made those solemn commitments that he had at least the intention of keeping them. However, the Liberals have not. As the Access to Information Commissioner reminds us, the bill that the Liberals have brought forward is worse than what currently exists.
How did the Liberals fall so short? Despite committing to so many things, discarding their promises on the scrap heap of broken Liberal promises history, how did they even get the access to information wrong? Four points need to be brought to bear regarding why the Liberals failed so lamentably on access to information.
To be sure, the Conservatives did the same thing when they were in power. They said they would enhance access to information for the public, recognizing that Canadians felt they should have a right to access the information that was available to the federal government. It is a fundamental tenet of democracy, that information available to the federal government is available to Canadians. When we do things in the House of Commons and speak in public, that information is available. When government ministers do things in private, that should also be available through access to information.
It is the Canadians' government. It is Canadians who choose their parliamentarians. It is Canadians who ultimately decide who governs them. Because of this, it is fundamental that Canadians have access to information.
Bill C-58, which is worse than the existing access to information law, has a number of key exemptions or shortcomings, deliberate attempts to undercut the access to information regime that the Liberals planted in the legislation. It has essentially put poison pills in the legislation. They have a beautiful title about enhancing access to information, but we must look at the details, as New Democrats do. We always do our homework and always pore through legislation to ensure there is at least a semblance of reality in what is written in the legislation, as opposed to the political spin that comes from the Liberal government.
First, there was a recommendation that the coverage of access to information include ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's Office. This is another key commitment from the 2015 election that has been broken. Given the incredible scandal regarding SNC-Lavalin, it is absolutely fundamental that Canadians can access information related to what transpires in the Prime Minister's Office and in ministerial offices. It is a no-brainer. So many democracies around the world have already incorporated into their access to information regimes that ministers' decisions and decisions of the prime minister's office, that type of correspondence, are subject to access to information rules. Unlike in so many other democracies, the Liberals deliberately exempted the Prime Minister's Office and ministerial offices.
Second, as the Information Commissioner has long recommended, there has to be appropriate sanctions for non-compliance. If the government or government members try to get around access to information rules, there should be sanctions for that. However, that is absent from the bill as well.
The Information Commissioner was critical of what the Liberals offered in access to information, because it would do nothing to reduce delays or extensions. This means the Liberal government can basically rag the puck and ensure that information is not available to the Canadian public.
In the last Parliament, when the New Democrats were the official opposition, we spoke out repeatedly about the Harper government doing this. It simply delayed things beyond belief to ensure that for all practical purposes, access to information was simply not available. Again, the bill would do nothing to address this.
The bill would also do nothing to narrow exemptions for ministerial advice or cabinet confidence, ensuring that, with a broad brush, the Liberals could simply stop the access to information system to which Canadians have a right.
This is the fundamental point I need to make. Yes, Liberals made a whole series of commitments that they have ripped up with complete disregard to the solemn commitments made to the Canadian public. They basically threw them out the window.
However, in terms of access to information, this is one of the most egregious broken promises. The Liberals could have approached this in an open way. They could have said that they actually do want to make sure Canadians have access to information from their government and that this is a fundamental aspect of democracy. They could have said that they would work with the NDP, because we have always been the number one champions in this House of Commons for access to information. We believe fundamentally in it, and, as in so many other areas, we and members in the past have always championed the most effective approach possible on access to information, including the member for Timmins—James Bay, who has felt very strongly about this and has worked in this regard for years.
The Liberals could have done that, but instead they rejected the NDP amendments and refused to improve this. We now have a bill before us that can only be chalked up as another Liberal broken promise. As the Information Commissioner said, the status quo is actually better than what the Liberals have produced. That is a shame, and we are voting against it.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Greg Fergus Profile
2019-06-13 15:23 [p.29112]
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the message received from the other place with regard to Bill C-58, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
I would like to recognize that this is my first official duty debating a piece of legislation as Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government, who is a fabulous minister, I might add.
I also want to acknowledge the many stakeholders who were involved in getting Bill C-58 to this point, starting with our colleagues in the other place, who conducted a very thorough and thoughtful study of this bill.
I must also recognize the contributions of parliamentarians and stakeholders and particularly the contributions of the Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner in the development of Bill C-58, as well as, of course, our colleagues on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics who worked long and hard on the amendments being proposed.
I would especially like to note the interventions of a number of indigenous organizations, their influence on the matters we are considering today and with whom the government is committed to engaging more closely on these matters in the future.
Together, the ideas and suggestions in the letters and presentations at both committees contributed to ensuring that the concerns of Canadians were taken into consideration and reflected in the final version of the bill.
I would remind the House that the bill would implement some of the most significant changes to the Access to Information Act since it was introduced more than 30 years ago, changes which have not been seen since the advent of the World Wide Web. This is part of the Government of Canada's continuing effort to raise the bar on openness and transparency.
We believe that government information ultimately belongs to the people it serves, and it should be open by default. That is quite simply a fundamental characteristic of a modern democracy, and the bill reflects that belief.
In that context, we welcome many of the proposed amendments that would further advance this objective. I would note, however, that two of the amendments would effectively legislate matters that are beyond the intent of the bill, whose purpose, I would remind the House, is to make targeted amendments to the act.
Those targeted amendments include providing the Information Commissioner with the power to make binding orders for the release of government information and the creation of a new part of the act on the proactive publication of key information.
For the reason that it goes beyond the intent of the bill, the government respectfully disagrees with the amendment that would limit time extensions to respond to a request to 30 days without prior approval of the Information Commissioner.
The government is declining this proposal because these provision have not been the subject of consultation or thorough study in the context of the targeted review that led to Bill C-58. This proposal risks having unintended consequences, particularly for the office of the Information Commissioner.
The government does agree with our friends in the other place that the time extension provisions merit further study. These will be examined as part of the full review of the act which Bill C-58 requires to begin within one year of royal assent.
For the same reason, the government respectfully disagrees with the proposal to create a new criminal offence for the use of any code, moniker or contrived word or phrase in a record in place of the name of any person, corporation, entity, third party or organization. Once again, the provisions of the Access to Information Act concerning criminal offences have not been the subject of consultation or thorough study in the targeted review. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to review changes to this provision in the context of a full review.
A third amendment of concern would require the Information Commissioner to review the operation of proposed part 2 of the act regarding proactive publication and report the results to Parliament on an annual basis. Giving the commissioner oversight of proactive publication by institutions supporting Parliament and the courts would create the potential to infringe on both parliamentary privilege and judicial independence. For this reason, the government respectfully disagrees.
It is also proposed that the Information Commissioner's ability to receive and investigate complaints related to fees and time limit extensions be removed from the act. While the government recognizes the intent of this amendment, which relates to some of the other proposals that were advanced, the commissioner's authority to receive and investigate complaints regarding waiver of fees would be removed from the act, an outcome I am certain hon. members on all sides of the House would agree is undesirable.
Similarly, as the amendment with respect to the extension of a time limit was not agreed to, we must preserve the powers of the Information Commissioner to receive complaints concerning time limits and to investigate these complaints, and therefore this amendment is not necessary.
With these few exceptions, the government is pleased to accept the proposed amendments in the message from the other chamber, subject to some technical adjustments to ensure the proper functioning of these provisions.
For example, we agree with the proposed amendment that would eliminate the government's authority to set and collect fees, apart from the application fee. As the government has committed to Canadians, it will continue to charge no fees other than the application fee of just $5.
A related amendment proposed in the message would retain the right of requesters to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner regarding decisions to waive the application fee. While the Senate amendments would have removed that right, we consider that the Information Commissioner should continue to have oversight over the way the authority to waive fees is exercised by institutions.
Some of the amendments proposed in the other place would foster and, in some cases, require more extensive consultations and better communication between the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. This is paramount to continue to ensure privacy protection while the government seeks to foster more openness and better access to government documents.
The bill already provides the Information Commissioner with new power to order the release of government information. To ensure that this does not compromise the right to privacy, an amendment proposes that the Information Commissioner must consult the Privacy Commissioner before ordering a release of personal information. This amendment also proposes that the Information Commissioner have the discretion to consult the Privacy Commissioner when investigating a complaint regarding the application of the personal information exemption. Both of these and some related amendments were suggested by the commissioners themselves, and the government has previously indicated that it supports these amendments. We believe they will strengthen the protection of personal information and further safeguard Canadians' privacy rights.
The government also accepts an amendment that would retain Info Source. Government institutions will continue to be required to publish information about their organization, records and manuals. Canadians seeking to exercise their right of access to government records will continue to have access to this tool.
As hon. members are surely aware, the government processes tens of thousands of access requests each and every year. It is an unfortunate fact that in a small number of cases, the requests are made for reasons that are inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. They may be made to harass a certain employee or work unit, for example. Such requests can have a disproportionate effect on the system and slow down resources on legitimate requests.
The government agrees with the amendment from the other place that the power of government institutions to ask the Information Commissioner for approval in order to refuse to act on requests should be limited to requests that are vexatious, made in bad faith or that would constitute an abuse of the right of access and would backlog the system. That would enable government institutions to focus their efforts on legitimate requests after having obtained approval from the Information Commissioner.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main objectives of Bill C-58 is to provide the Information Commissioner with the power to issue binding orders for the processing of requests, including the disclosure of records.
The commissioner would be able to publish these orders, establishing a body of precedents to guide institutions as well as users of the system.
Originally, in order to give the commissioner time to prepare to assume this power, it would not come into force until one year after royal assent. However, the commissioner has asked that this power be available immediately upon royal assent. Reflecting the value it places on the commissioner's perspective, the government has already indicated its support for this amendment.
Another amendment asked for the Information Commissioner to file her orders in Federal Court and have them enforced as Federal Court orders. Under Bill C-58, the Information Commissioner's orders are legally binding without the need for certification. We believe that this amendment is unnecessary and would add a step in the process.
However, the government will look at these amendments at the one-year review of the act, with a year's worth of experience under the new system.
Providing the Information Commissioner with the power to issue binding orders to government and institutions is not a trivial change. It is a game-changer for access to information. Whereas now the Information Commissioner must go to court if an institution does not follow her recommendations, Bill C-58 puts the onus on institutions. Should they disagree with an order by the Information Commissioner, institutions will have 30 days to challenge the order in Federal Court.
As for the courts, I would remind the House that the government accepted an amendment that would ensure that Bill C-58 does not encroach on judicial independence. As the House knows, part 2 of the bill would impose proactive publication requirements on 260 departments, government agencies and Crown corporations, as well as the Prime Minister's Office, ministers' offices, senators, MPs, parliamentary entities and institutions that support the courts.
The amendment would also enshrine in law the proactive publication of information of great interest to Canadians, particularly information relevant to increased transparency and responsibility with regard to the use of public funds.
This includes travel and hospitality expenses for ministers and their staff and senior officials across government, contracts over $10,000 and all contracts for MPs and senators, grants and contributions over $25,000, mandate letters and revised mandate letters, briefing packages for new ministers and deputy ministers, lists of briefing notes for ministers or deputy ministers, and the briefing binders used for question period and parliamentary committee appearances.
Putting these requirements into legislation will ensure that Canadians will have access to this kind of information automatically, without having to make a request. It will impose a new degree of transparency on this government and on future governments.
As passed by the House, Bill C-58 would require similar disclosure by the judiciary.
Concerns have since been raised about the impact that the publication of individual judges' expenses could have on judicial independence, and those concerns are exacerbated by the fact that, due to the traditional duty of reserve, judges express themselves only through their judgments and can neither defend themselves nor set the record straight. The amendment proposed in the message that would require the publication of judges' expenses according to each court, rather than on an individual basis, would address these concerns and include additional measures to increase transparency.
The government also welcomes and accepts the amendment to remove the specific criteria requiring requesters to state the specific subject matter of their request, the type of record being requested and the period for which the record is being requested.
This was included in the original bill as a way to ensure that requests provided enough information to enable a timely response.
We listened to the Information Commissioner's concerns about this clause and especially to the indigenous groups who told us that these provisions could impede their access rights. I just want to note that this amendment, along with several others proposed in the message, was suggested by the former Treasury Board president when he appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in October.
The proposal and acceptance of this amendment reflect the government's commitment to guaranteeing that indigenous peoples have access to the information they need to support their claims and seek justice for past wrongs, for example.
As members can imagine, when it comes to records that are several decades or, in some cases, more than a century old, asking someone to state the specific subject matter, type of record and period requested may constitute a barrier to access.
I also want to assure the House that the government has taken careful note of the feedback from indigenous groups who felt that the governments did not consult them properly when drafting Bill C-58.
To respond to these concerns, the government supported the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the National Claims Research directors and the Indigenous Bar Association in surveying selected first nations researchers and policy staff about the issues they were encountering with respect to access to information, compiling and analyzing the results in a discussion paper, and undertaking a legal review of Bill C-58.
Nonetheless, we recognize that further work is needed, with greater collaboration between the government and indigenous groups. I would draw the attention of the House to a letter written by the former president of the Treasury Board and sent to the committee in the other place. The letter detailed specific commitments to engaging indigenous organizations and representatives about how the Access to Information Act needs to evolve to reflect Canada's relationship with indigenous peoples, including how information and knowledge of indigenous communities is both protected and made acceptable.
This engagement, as with all engagements with first nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation, will be founded on the fundamental principle of “nothing about us without us”. The government is committed to ensuring that programs, policies and services affecting indigenous peoples are designed in consultation and in collaboration with them.
In that regard, I would remind the House that this bill represents only the first phase of the government's reform to access to information. A full review of the functioning of the act would begin within one year of royal assent of Bill C-58, with mandatory reviews every five years afterward to ensure that the Access to Information Act never again falls so far out of date. I would add that the government recognizes that engagement with indigenous communities and organizations needs to be a central part of these reviews of the act.
In conclusion, I would recall for the House that in its fifth global report, issued in 2018, Canada was ranked number one in the world for openness and transparency by Open Data Barometer, well ahead of many other nations, including many so-called advanced countries. I would note that in this most recent report the author states:
The government’s continued progress reflects a strong performance in virtually all areas—from policies to implementation. Its consistent political backing has been one [of] the keys to its success.
Bill C-58 would continue to advance our progress toward more open and transparent government.
I again thank our friends in the other place for helping to make a good bill even better. I share the Information Commissioner's opinion that Bill C-58 is better than the current act and urge all members to join me in supporting it.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2019-06-13 16:51 [p.29124]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for highlighting many of the issues we have with Bill C-58, and a lot of the failings of the government when it comes to transparency.
My colleague joined us recently on the operations committee, beating out 98 other Conservatives who were desperate to join me on that committee. Before he joined us, the committee put together a report on whistleblowers. Canada has some of the weakest whistleblower protections for public servants in the OECD.
The committee put together a unanimous report on how we could better protect public servants. We heard story after story, very similar to that of Vice-Admiral Norman, of public servants who came forward and had their lives destroyed by the government for daring to expose corruption and negligence, almost identical to Vice-Admiral Norman's story.
We put together a unanimous report, submitted it to the government. The then Treasury Board president, Scott Brison, took the report, promptly threw it in the garbage and did nothing. Later, we summoned him to the committee and he refused to return to the committee to report on why he was doing nothing to protect whistleblowers.
We have seen the Liberal government time and again refuse to be transparent. Are these the actions of a government that is trying to be open and transparent?
View Gérard Deltell Profile
CPC (QC)
View Gérard Deltell Profile
2019-06-13 16:53 [p.29124]
Mr. Speaker, I have been on the OGGO, the government operations and estimates committee, with the member for the last year. I have learned a lot from his experiences.
I would remind the House that he was the one who highlighted the fact that in the last budget, the government did not calculate correctly. That was not a big surprise for us. The Liberals were elected by talking about a zero deficit in 2019. The reality is exactly the reverse of that. There is a huge deficit of nearly $20 billion.
The member raised a very serious issue. Civil servants should have the protection necessary to blow the whistle when things are not going well, as far as they are concerned. Those are the first witnesses. Civil servants are the first witnesses to how things could go wrong and how we could fix it. For that, they should have all the protection necessary.
Hopefully, those civil servants will have all the protection they need and also will not have to suffer attacks from other people, especially those driven by a political agenda, as happened, unfortunately, to one of the bravest soldiers we have in the Canadian Army, Vice-Admiral Norman. He had to suffer for the last two years because of the Liberal government.
View Gord Johns Profile
NDP (BC)
View Gord Johns Profile
2019-06-13 18:53 [p.29141]
Mr. Speaker, as members know and the government has heard, we are supporting the bill. However, at the same time, the Liberals are shutting down debate with a super-closure motion for the fourth time. This is something that even the Harper government did not do and did not impose on Parliament. The minister is going to have an opportunity to speak for 20 minutes and we are not even going to have a chance to ask any questions. There are a lot of concerns. We actually would like the bill to go even further.
I would ask the government why it has decided to take away the democratic right of this place. The Liberals promised they were going to be moving forward in an open and transparent way, listening to the concerns of Canadians. However, here we go again, where they are imposing a super-closure motion to move this legislation forward without even hearing the concerns of Canadians from coast to coast to coast around this important piece of legislation.
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Catherine McKenna Profile
2019-06-13 18:54 [p.29141]
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member opposite for his advocacy on the environment. I know how much he cares about the environment, and I have seen his actions.
This is a priority piece of legislation. We have listened to Canadians from coast to coast to coast. We have had two parliamentary committees, two expert panels, but this bill languished in the Senate for almost a year, because Conservative politicians did not want it to continue to move forward. They did not understand that the environment and the economy go together.
The good news is that there were very conscientious senators who recognized that we have the opportunity to get this bill right. They proposed amendments. We accepted the amendments that would strengthen the bill, and we need to move forward now.
View Joël Godin Profile
CPC (QC)
View Joël Godin Profile
2019-06-07 11:23 [p.28791]
Madam Speaker, how can the government be happy about making Canadian taxpayers poorer?
On average, hard-working Canadians have $800 less in their pockets, and the Liberals are happy about it. Millions of Canadians are still not earning enough to pay their bills and debts. Worse still, the government has mortgaged our children's and grandchildren's future by leaving them a deficit in excess of $80 billion.
Will the Liberals stop wasting Canadians' money?
View Joël Lightbound Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Joël Lightbound Profile
2019-06-07 11:24 [p.28791]
Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, I am sure he knows the opposite is true. A typical Canadian family of four has $2,000 more under our government than it had under the Harper government.
Why? Because we stopped giving gifts to the wealthiest. We stopped sending cheques to millionaire families. Our approach is clearly more progressive and inclusive. While it is important to note that the member voted against our measures, there are 12,780 families and 23,640 children in his riding who receive an average of $5,760, tax-free, every year. That is huge.
View Joël Godin Profile
CPC (QC)
View Joël Godin Profile
2019-06-07 11:25 [p.28791]
Madam Speaker, I have plenty of respect for my colleague from Louis-Hébert, but I have to say, the Liberals are total hypocrites.
The Liberals are strangling Canadian families. They eliminated the children's fitness and arts tax credits. They think Canadians are stupid. They send them money with one hand and take even more away with the other. Canadian families have $800 less in their pockets. This behaviour is irresponsible and dishonest to Canadian families.
When are they going to stop wasting Canadian workers' money?
View Joël Lightbound Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Joël Lightbound Profile
2019-06-07 11:25 [p.28791]
Madam Speaker, what is dishonest is quoting a study from the Fraser Institute that has been widely discredited for failing to consider the Canada child benefit. This benefit is making a huge difference in the lives of the families of the 23,500 children in his riding who receive it. It is insulting that the Canada child benefit was not taken into account.
He also mentioned the public transit tax credit, something the members across the way have been bringing up for months. What did the public transit tax credit offer? A maximum of 15%. A Quebec City resident who bought a pass for the Réseau de transport de la Capitale would get a total of $13 a month at the end of the year, when they filed their tax return. That is not in the same ballpark as the Canada child benefit.
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2019-06-06 17:31 [p.28767]
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for Edmonton Strathcona for her work in introducing this bill and also for her advocacy and passion on environmental issues. We crossed over for a very short time when I was a brand new member of Parliament on the transport committee. I admired her intelligence, her work ethic and her ability to bring a perspective that represented her constituents' interests to every issue.
The proposed bill would establish a Canadian environmental bill of rights, and procedural rights would be built into that. Before I get too deeply into my remarks, I would like to advise the hon. member that the government is supportive of this bill at second reading to send it to committee. Of course, as the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands raised, there is a limited amount of time in this Parliament.
As the sponsor of the bill recognized in her remarks, our party membership at our convention in April 2018 was also behind this idea. It is deserving of an analysis so that we can better understand how adding a level of justiciability to environmental protections would enhance the quality of our environment for Canadians.
I note in particular that as a result of the committee study on CEPA done in 2017, the government tabled a response indicating that it would be undertaking consultations that would identify how to implement adding a rights-based approach to environmental protections under that piece of legislation. Those consultations are ongoing.
Before we get into the technical aspects, it is important to reflect on why this is important.
The environment is an important priority for any party that might find itself in government and for all Canadians. We rely on it for our livelihoods. We rely on it for our health.
It is not just us. Nature is important to protect for its own sake. I note in particular what an eye-opening experience it has been for me to serve in this capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. One of the things that has jumped out at me every time I have read an article or visited a community that has seen the impact of wildlife loss is that since the 1970s, we have seen 60% of the world's wildlife lost. Canada, along with four other countries, represent three-quarters of the world's remaining wilderness. We have an opportunity, and in my mind an obligation, to do something about it.
I note in particular the historic investment of $1.3 billion we have made toward protecting nature. This is the single largest investment in protecting our natural environment in the history of our country. We are seeing projects roll out that are protecting critical habitat. They are protecting spaces for multiple species that will benefit for generations. We have examples in my own riding, along the St. Mary's River or the Musquodoboit Valley, which are home to important ecosystems that house species at risk. They also serve as important climate-mitigation infrastructure that occurs naturally, and perhaps more effectively than mankind is able to develop on its own.
Of course, a healthy environment is not just about protecting nature and biodiversity. We have the looming threat of climate change as well. We cannot depend on human health if we do not have environmental health. When I see coal plants continuing to burn, potentially for decades, we know that we are putting our communities at a heightened risk for lung disease and for childhood asthma, among other things. When I see the storm surges on the east coast that pose a physical risk to the residents who live there, the heat waves that have taken lives in Ontario and Quebec and the forest fires that continue to rage in western Canada, I know that we have a responsibility to take action. It really does impact our right to live if we do not have an environment that allows that to take place.
That is why we have embarked on the implementation of an ambitious agenda to reduce our emissions. It is so we can reach the level of reductions to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.
We know that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the global average and that we are feeling the consequences today. That is why we are moving forward with a plan that includes over 50 measures to help reduce our emissions.
We talk at length in this chamber about the government's initiative to put a price on pollution. What we are seeing is that by 2030, we are actually going to have 90% of our electricity generated by non-emitting sources.
We have made the single largest investment in the history of public transit in Canada. At the same time, we are taking advantage of the opportunities in the green economy by protecting our environment.
If we are to believe Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, there is a $26-trillion global opportunity in the green economy. By positioning ourselves in the front of that wave, we can do the right thing by our environment, protect the health of our communities and capitalize on economic opportunity. It would be irresponsible not to take these actions, based on the crass economics alone. We also know that there is a moral obligation to take this action.
Turning more directly to the issue of the substantive and procedural protections that could arise under an environmental bill of rights, I want to point out that substantive and procedural rights exist under federal legislation and policies today that provide important rights to Canadian citizens that could potentially be complemented if we better understand how a bill of rights could add to the protections, both substantive and procedural, that already exist.
I note in particular that under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, CEPA, there are opportunities for public participation when it comes to the pollutants we deal with in our society. We also know that there are protections for whistle-blowers who report those who violate the federal laws that are on the books. There are obligations around transparency for companies that use pollutants and there is an opportunity for individuals or groups to take civil action against offenders against the obligations laid out in that piece of legislation, and we are making efforts to enhance our transparency through proactive disclosure of information relating to the pollutants that we know are making their way into Canada today.
Good information is necessary. If we are not basing our decisions on facts, science and evidence, we cannot have much faith that the decisions we are making are going to lead to the outcomes we want.
It was disappointing for me during the last Parliament, before I got involved, to see that there was an effort to limit how much federal scientists could talk about their own research. In Nova Scotia, it was a big deal at home when we saw that the research that existed on the books at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography was being disposed of. This kind of information exists for a reason, and it is to help legislators make good policy that will improve the quality of our environment.
I note that there are other pieces of legislation at play as well that provide rights for the public to take part in discussions around the quality of our environmental laws. If we look at the Species at Risk Act, we see that any person can apply for a status assessment of a given species. A person could also request an assessment of imminent threat, and there is a duty on the government to make public the information about the status of different species. These are rights to allow the public to understand what information is out there and what research the government has done so that people can better understand what policies are being implemented, or perhaps not being implemented, and advocate changes that will help protect our environment.
Bill C-69 has come up over the course of the debate already. One of the things that this piece of legislation was designed to do was improve public participation in the decision-making process for major projects, including the need for early engagement. That gave the public an opportunity to take part before all of the decisions had been made, decisions that would eventually be litigated on the back end. In particular, we made a serious effort to help bring in the voices of indigenous communities across Canada to ensure that they have an opportunity to participate as well.
Bill C-69 would improve the public registry so that the public can have access in a timely way to the information about projects that are being proposed and can understand not only the opportunities for participation but also the current status of projects and the potentially adverse social, health or environmental consequences that could arise as projects go forward. It is all about making sure that good projects can proceed and that the economy can grow at the same time that we are making sure that the social outcomes we want—in particular, the protection of our environment—are not lost.
There are also laws, such as the Federal Sustainable Development Act, that put obligations on the government to enhance the accountability and transparency of the work of federal departments when moving forward with laws or policies that could have a negative impact on our ability to live sustainably in our environment.
The question is, why do we need to advance this piece of legislation to the next stage to better understand the consequences that could arise? The protections, substantive and procedural, that I just laid out exist, quite frankly, in a scattered way. The idea of having a central bill of rights that could allow the public to better understand where their substantive and procedural rights exist is appealing to me and deserves to be better understood.
There are people who are disproportionately impacted by decisions around the environment, whether it is elderly people, children who will disproportionately bear the consequences of climate change or expectant mothers who will experience a different impact on their personal health and the health of their child. These are serious things that we should be considering, and I think that this bill is worth sending to committee so that we can better understand how to best implement the procedural and substantive rights.
I look forward to continuing the conversation with my hon. colleague off-line to ensure that we do not lose the momentum behind this idea because, quite frankly, it is an important discussion to be had in determining whether we should move forward with an environmental bill of rights.
I want to thank the folks back home in Central Nova who have raised this with me. It is important, and I welcome their advocacy.
View Luc Berthold Profile
CPC (QC)
View Luc Berthold Profile
2019-06-03 16:36 [p.28470]
àMr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today on behalf of my constituents in Mégantic—L'Érable to speak to the motion moved by my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent.
I will read out the motion so that everyone can understand why I am speaking today. The motion states:
That the House:
(a) take note of the importance of a free and independent press to a healthy democracy;
(b) express its belief that it is inappropriate for partisan political actors to pick winners and losers in the media in an election year;
(c) condemn the inclusion of Unifor, a group that has taken and continues to take partisan political positions, in the panel that will oversee the distribution of the $600-million media bailout; and
(d) call on the government to immediately cease trying to stack the deck for the election with their media bailout and replace it with a proposal that does not allow government to pick winners and losers.
There are not many days left in the 42nd Parliament, and today we are discussing one of the most important issues for our democracy. My colleagues and I have been called upon to speak on this issue since the Liberals were elected in 2015.
Let us not forget how the Liberals deceived Canadians during the election campaign. The promises they made were certainly ambitious, but they clearly had no intention of keeping them.
Here is one promise they made in the throne speech:
To make sure that every vote counts, the Government will undertake consultations on electoral reform, and will take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system....the Government will promote more open debate and free votes...it will not resort to devices like...omnibus bills to avoid scrutiny.
Those statements were taken from the throne speech, which was read by the Governor General when this government first took office.
Let us also not forget the Liberals' promise to balance the budget in 2019. They promised to run small deficits and to balance the budget in 2019. Instead, they ran big deficits, and they are no longer even giving us any idea of when they will balance the budget. The Liberals have completely lost control of the public purse. Today, it is clear that their promise to be an open and transparent government was an empty one. They may have meant well, but things always seem to turn out the same way with the Liberals.
When Liberals are in power, all they care about is protecting their friends, holding on to power at all costs, breaking the rules they do not like, painting pretty pictures and saying all the right things to hide what they have done or failed to do, and constantly distracting Canadians from the issues that matter most to Canadians.
Not long ago, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change revealed the Liberal government's real strategy in a bar. She said that if you stay on message and repeat it louder and louder, people will totally believe it.
Here are some examples of things the Liberals tried to keep quiet: the Prime Minister's extravagant trip to India, his vacation on the Aga Khan's private island, the Prime Minister's ethical breaches, the Minister of Finance's French villa, political interference attempts in the SNC-Lavalin affair, and, more recently, the Mark Norman case.
It is also worth mentioning repeated attempts by the Leader of the Government in the House to change the rules governing members of Parliament. Whose interests would that serve? The Liberal government's, of course. Doing so would rob the opposition of the tools it uses to stand up to the government and fully engage in its essential role: holding the government to account for its actions.
This brings me to the first paragraph of today's motion:
That the House:
(a) take note of the importance of a free and independent press to a healthy democracy;
All the examples I just gave probably would not have come to our attention if not for the importance of a free and independent press. Trust between the public and the media is a direct result of the people's belief that the media is independent of their government. However, the Liberal Prime Minister has introduced a plan worth $600 million that will be distributed to the Canadian media right before the upcoming election. The Prime Minister himself chose the members of the panel that will decide how to distribute the money. He will not commit to following their recommendations. He will not allow the panel's deliberations to be public. He is asking the panel members to sign non-disclosure agreements. The Canadian Association of Journalists is now wondering whether to take part in the process, and it is calling for greater transparency.
I would like to quote a press release issued by the Canadian Association of Journalists, not the Conservative Party.
The Canadian Association of Journalists, or CAJ, said that its paramount concern is transparency and that its ability to participate will hinge on having measures in place that ensure an open and transparent public process. The CAJ noted that, so far, much of the process appears to have taken place out of the public eye through closed-door meetings between governments, newspaper owners and lobby groups. It believes that, for journalists, whose legitimacy depends on public confidence and trust, the process must be open and debate must be rigorous, thorough and in view of the public.
Furthermore, the CAJ said that combining this with the requested confidentiality agreements could create a situation where a media outlet that is critical of a minister or his or her government is denied funding and the CAJ is barred from discussing this publicly. It said that, to ensure the panel has no appearance of partisanship, regardless of whether or not it does, the panel’s full independence must be the rule.
We cannot be accused of attacking journalists when the journalists themselves are saying that the Liberals' scheme is jeopardizing their own independence. Why does the Prime Minister want to make a decision behind closed doors about which media outlets he will help? Is he hiding that he is trying to rig the election? Does he understand the harm he could do to Canadian journalists if he does not show them greater respect?
Now let us move on to paragraph (c) of this motion, which calls on the House to condemn the inclusion of Unifor, a group that has taken and continues to take partisan political positions, in this panel. Unifor is a big union, by far the union that represents the largest number of journalists in Canada. I am saying this for the benefit of people in Quebec who may not have heard of Unifor. The Prime Minister invited Unifor to sit on the panel that will oversee the media bailout. Many journalists and Canadians were shocked by this appointment. Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor and the Prime Minister's close friend, made it clear that his union will be the Conservatives' worst nightmare for the 2019 election. He had no qualms about posing for a picture with his cronies, billing them as the resistance working to stop a Conservative government from getting elected. When is the Prime Minister going to put an end to this anti-democratic charade?
That is not all. For people who want to know more about Mr. Dias and what he thinks about the Conservative Party, I will translate what he said in his tweets, which were reported by two media outlets. First, he said that he was indeed speaking out against the Conservative leader. Then Mr. Dias said he was not going to tone down his anti-Conservative campaign and that he would probably ramp it up, because the Conservative leader had irritated him over the past few days. Such is the attitude of the president of Unifor. He is the one being appointed to an independent panel to select which media will be entitled to receive funding from the Liberal government.
This is a union whose president is committed to openly campaigning against the Conservatives with money from its members. I could cite many journalists who are furious with this decision, who do not accept that their union is making such statements and who are against the government interfering in the granting process. This process has to be non-partisan, open and transparent. It has to be the opposite of what the Prime Minister has done so far.
The government is going down this dangerous path with Unifor and letting the fox guard the henhouse. It is in the fox's nature to want to eat the chickens, and Jerry Dias has clearly expressed his intention to eat Conservative in the next election. How can we trust Mr. Dias? We can still maintain the independence of our media. To start, the government must remove Unifor from this panel.
I was a journalist for many years. I worked at a local radio station. There is always a thin line between the influence of business partners and the influence one can have as a journalist. Fortunately, journalists have always maintained their independence. However, the government's actions are not going to protect journalists' jobs.
Unifor's president must be removed from the panel and the government must go about this in the right way, in an open and transparent manner, to protect the independence of journalists and Canada's democracy.
View Rachael Harder Profile
CPC (AB)
View Rachael Harder Profile
2019-06-03 18:17 [p.28485]
Mr. Speaker, I think the point is clear that the Leader of the Opposition has been told that Unifor will be his worst nightmare going into the next election.
The point is that this is clearly a very partisan organization. This is an organization that very much is against the Conservative Party of Canada and very much campaigning on behalf of the Liberal government, which means that now this whole exercise just became very political in nature.
I do not think we can argue with that point. It is very clear what has been said and what the motive of this union is. Therefore, $600 million are on the line and where they go will be determined by this partisan group of individuals. It is not only that. The majority of the money is being withheld and is going to only be given to these media outlets post-election. This means there will be an awful lot of motivation given to them, through the withholding of money and the promise of funds after the election, to cover the 2019 election in a very particular way. It does not take a great deal of intelligence to determine what that way is.
Of course media outlets will be encouraged, if not manipulated, to cover the election of 2019 from a Liberal vantage point rather than from a fair one that is non-partisan in nature. Why is that? It is because there are $600 million on the line and they want a piece of the pie.
I have clearly outlined that there is problem with regard to the independence, but it is not just me who says that. There is far more being said by journalists throughout the country.
Andrew Coyne said, “It is quite clear now, if it was not already: this is the most serious threat to the independence of the press in this country in decades.”
Don Martin said, “The optics of journalism associations and unions deciding who picks the recipients of government aid for journalism are getting very queasy.”
Jen Gerson, CBC and Maclean's, said, “If any of these associations or unions”, so the eight individuals who have been selected, “could be trusted to manage this 'independent' panel, they would be denouncing it already.”
Those are quite the statements.
Chris Selley, the National Post, said, “Liberals' media bailout puts foxes in charge of the chickens.”
I and my Conservatives are not the only ones pointing out significant concerns with the decision to give out $600 million of government money to media outlets across the country. Clearly, this is an attack on the independence and the freedom of our press.
In addition to that, it is a matter of protecting democracy and of ensuring media outlets actually cover the story of the day without being pressured by the government to do it one way or the other. As soon as the government offers money to media outlets, all of a sudden the press feels the pressure to cover stories in a way that would perhaps paint the government in a positive light. That is not okay; that is not the Canada we belong to.
We see the lack of independence and the lack of freedom in places like Turkey, Russia and China, where it is dictated how any sort of news will be covered and granted to the people in those countries. In Canada, we very much depend on the government staying out of the way and allowing press to cover a story from whatever angle that media outlet should choose.
The other problem with this is that there is no transparency in the application and review process. This concern has been brought up by the CAJ within the last couple of days. It has pointed out that there needs to be a more transparent process in moving forward with this, that those who apply for this funding should be listed online and that the process for applications for this funding should be made transparent. This should be put online and made available to the Canadian public. After all, the Liberals are taking Canadian taxpayer dollars and using them to help media outlets. That process needs to have greater transparency to it.
In addition to that, there should also be some transparency with regard to not only those who apply, but also who is rejected and why. Why are they rejected? It is fair that many Canadians, many journalists and many of those on this side of the House have a concern that the government will be quite biased in the way that it selects people. I say the government because, make no mistake, that while there are eight individuals on the panel, I have my suspicions that they are nothing more than eight puppets with the current government pulling the strings.
The entire independence and freedom of the press is being called into question with this $600 million bailout. In addition to that, our democracy is being put in jeopardy, as well as just a lack of overall transparency and good governance. It is absolutely terrible.
Furthermore, with regard to credibility, one journalist wrote, “The minute the union starts helping a government divvy up taxpayers’ cash for the benefit of news outlets, there is quite rightly a perception that reporters’ coverage is being bought off.” Whether that is the case or not, there is that perception. He goes on to explain that the credibility of a journalist is of utmost importance, that our journalists work hard to maintain the credibility and trust of the Canadian public. By the government giving $600 million to the free press, it calls into question that credibility. There is a problem there.
This is not the first time the Prime Minister has put his interests above those of Canadians. He does this quite often. In the NAFTA agreement, he said that he would get a good deal for Canada. He said he would not allow ink to go on paper until tariffs were removed. However, he put ink to paper. Meanwhile, we still had tariffs on steel. We still had tariffs on aluminum. We had tariffs on softwood lumber. We allowed the U.S. to take a good chunk of our market with regard to dairy. We allowed it to take a good chunk of our market with regard to auto and implement quotas. At the end of the day again, we saw where he put his image before the needs of the Canadian people.
Further to that was the students summer jobs program. We watched again as the government put itself first. It imposed a requirement on organizations that they would need to sign off on a value statement, that they would need to sign off on a set of beliefs and values in order to receive dollars from taxpayers. If organizations were not willing to sign this value statement, or this attestation, then they could not have any of that money. Again, the government was not acting in the best interests of Canadians. Instead it was acting in the best interests of the Prime Minister and the image he wanted to portray.
The problem with this was that many faith-based organizations could not sign the Prime Minister's value statements. Those organizations do tremendous work. They look after the homeless. They look after those who live in poverty. They help refugees come to Canada and settle here. They run summer camp for kids, many who are underprivileged kids. The Prime Minister actually refused to give them a dollar because they would not sign his value statement. That is wrong.
With the carbon tax, again, the Prime Minister is wanting to put forward this image of himself as someone who cares for the environment. He gets this great idea about putting a tax on pollution. Then all of a sudden people will no longer need to drive their cars to work, put clothes on their back, food on their tables or heat their homes in -30°C. That is not the case at all. That is ridiculous. It lacks any sort of logic.
What have we watched over the last four years? We have watched as emissions in the country have gone up. We have watched as the government is further away from meeting its targets than we have ever been as a country.
The current Prime Minister has the audacity to say he is standing up for Canadians, but he is standing up for no one other than himself. He wants to maintain his image, propagate his ideals and manipulate Canadians along the way, when it is all based on a foundation of deception.
With Bill C-71, the Prime Minister said he wanted to look after the safety and well-being of Canadians, and in order to do that he would go after those who legally acquired their firearms, who were properly vetted to have a firearm and who legally used their firearms, because that would take all criminals and gangs off the street. He thinks he will help make this place a safer country if he shuts down the sports shooters and the hunters. That is the Liberal logic. It is terrible. It is more about image than it is about serving the well-being of this country and the Canadian public.
Meanwhile, the same government put another bill in place, Bill C-75. Do members know what that bill did? It rewarded terrorists. It rewarded those who force marriage. It rewarded those who engage in genocide.
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