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View Michael Ignatieff Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, before we start this debate, I have a few words for you. You are at the end of your term as Speaker of the House, and I would like to express how much fondness and respect we all have for you. Your rulings have left their mark on our country's history.
Mr. Speaker, you have taught us all, sometimes with a modest rebuke, sometimes with the sharp sting of focused argument, to understand, to respect and to cherish the rules of Canadian democracy, and for that your citizens will always hold you in highest honour.
This is a historic day in the life of Canadian democracy, the democracy that you, Mr. Speaker, have served so well. I have to inform the House that the official opposition has lost confidence in the government.
The government no longer has the confidence of the official opposition.
Our motion asks the House to agree with the finding in the 27th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented on March 21. This was a historic finding. It was the first time that a parliamentary committee has found the government in contempt.
Today, with this motion, we ask the House to do the same, to find the government in contempt and to withdraw the confidence of the House.
With this motion, we are calling on members of Parliament to condemn the government for its contempt of Parliament and to withdraw the confidence of the House. This is a historic day in the life of Canadian democracy, but it is also an opportunity for us to confirm our commitment to parliamentary democracy and its fundamental principles.
What principles are we talking about? That the government has the obligation to provide members of this House with the information they need in order to hold the government accountable to the people of Canada.
The principle at stake in this debate goes to the heart of parliamentary democracy: the obligation of a government to provide members of this House with the information they need in order to hold the government accountable to the people of Canada.
We are the people's representatives. When the government spends money, the people have a right to know what it is to be spent on. Parliament does not issue blank cheques. For four months, the opposition has asked the government to tell the Canadian people the true cost of its budget plans. For four months, we demanded to know how much Canadian taxpayers were being asked to pay for fighter jets, prisons and corporate tax breaks. For four months. this House and the Canadian people were stonewalled by the government and they are being stonewalled still.
For four months, we have been trying to hold this government accountable. For four months, we demanded to know the real cost of the fighter jets, prisons and tax breaks for major corporations. For four months, we did not get a single answer, aside from the contempt and arrogance of this government. And today, still, we have no answers.
We were shocked, but we were not surprised. After all, this is the same government that shut down Parliament twice, the same government that was forced, by one of your rulings, to hand over documents to do with Afghan prisoners, and we are still waiting for those documents.
In the case of the Afghan documents, the government's excuse for withholding the truth was national security. In the case of the budget documents, it invented something about cabinet confidence, but actually it did not even bother with an excuse at all.
But you, Mr. Speaker, would have none of it. You, Mr. Speaker, held that the rules of our democracy require the government to answer the questions that Parliament wants answered. The matter was sent back to a committee for action and it came back with a finding of contempt. That is why we are where we are today. The House must decide whether the government has broken a basic rule of our democracy and therefore, whether it can remain in office.
For our part on this side of the House, there is no doubt. You, Mr. Speaker, have spoken, the committee has spoken, and now the House must speak with a clear voice. It must say that a government that breaks the rules and conceals facts from the Canadian people does not deserve to remain in office.
With one clear voice, the House must declare that a government that does not respect democracy cannot remain in power. We have had enough. If this vote results in an election, the Canadian people will have the opportunity to replace an arrogant government with one that respects democracy.
To those who say an election is unnecessary, we reply that we did not seek an election, but if we need one to replace a government that does not respect democracy with one that does, I cannot think of a more necessary election.
It is not just democracy that the House will be called upon to affirm this afternoon. The House should also affirm Canadians' hunger, nay their longing, for change. It is time to change Canada's direction. It is time to get us on the right path. After five years of Conservative government, it is time to say enough is enough. Enough of the politics of fear. Enough of the politics of division. Enough of the politics of personal destruction.
Enough is enough. We need to look at the government's priorities. It wants to spend 1,000 times more on fighter jets than on helping students in CEGEP and university. We reject the government's priorities. It is offering less to seniors for an entire year than what it spent on one day of the G20. We say no to this kind of waste. The government wants to spend 1,000 times more on prisons than on preventing youth crime. Again, we say no. This government's priorities are not in line with the priorities of Canadian families. We have had it. Enough is enough.
The priorities of the government laid bare in that thin gruel that we saw earlier this week reveal a government out of touch and out of control. There is no credible plan to tackle the deficit because there are no numbers any reasonable person can believe in. There is no vision of how to sustain our health care system. There is not a word about affordable housing, not a word about child care, and nothing for the pressing needs of Canadian families in poverty.
Instead, we get jets, jails and giveaways to oil companies, insurance companies, and banks that are doing just fine, thank you very much.
So we need a change. We need to focus scarce resources where they really matter: early learning and child care; college and university education for all, especially for aboriginal and immigrant Canadians; energy efficiency and green jobs; family care for our loved ones in the home, and security and dignity in retirement. We need all of this plus a clear plan to clean up our country's finances and get us back to balance without adding to the tax burden on Canadian families.
These are the priorities of our people. These are the needs that we must serve. These are the priorities at home. However, let us not forget the priorities abroad. We have so much ground to catch up. We have a government that has lost our place in the world and lost our place at the Security Council of the United Nations.
We need a government that restores our honour, our credit, and our prestige on the international stage, a government that understands the deep and committed internationalism that dwells in the hearts of all Canadian citizens.
We need a government for the people, a government that is accountable to the people and that serves the people and democracy.
I want to conclude by saying a few words about democracy. Some members of this government have been charged with electoral fraud. A member of the Prime Minister's inner circle is accused of influence peddling. Enough is enough. People are fed up.
I return to where I started, to democracy, to the abuse of power. We have a government whose most senior members stand accused of electoral fraud. We have a Prime Minister who appointed, as his top adviser, someone who served prison time for stealing money from his clients, someone who now faces accusations of influence peddling, and is under an RCMP investigation.
Canadians look at that picture and they say, “We have had enough”. This House has had enough, enough of the abuse of power and enough of the bad economic choices.
We have a government with unique distinctions. We have a government with the largest deficit in Canadian history. It is the highest spending government in Canadian history. It is the most wasteful government in Canadian history. Finally, it is the first government in Canadian history to face a vote of contempt in this House.
This is a government and a Prime Minister that is out of touch and is out of control. It is time for a change.
Mr. Speaker, I urge all of the members to support our motion.
View Scott Brison Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Scott Brison Profile
2011-03-24 10:30 [p.9169]
Mr. Speaker, I forgot. I read the memo from the Prime Minister's Office and I thought that change had taken effect. I apologize. You are quite right. It is not that government. It is the Canadian government, which is something that party over there seems to forget quite frequently.
The Conservatives have betrayed farmers by cutting $418 million from Agriculture Canada's budget. There is nothing in this budget to compensate farmers for these cuts. The Conservatives are trying to balance their budget on the backs of Canadian farmers.
The Liberal Party has committed to developing a national food policy and to put the flex back into AgriFlex, as farmers have asked for. That is federal funding that can be used for practical programs and investments in the RMP in Ontario and ASRA in Quebec, improved crop insurance or a livestock market price insurance program in the west, and a bi-Atlantic program in the east. We will invest in and support agricultural research. We will support important agricultural events including, of course, the Hants County Exhibition, Canada's oldest agricultural fair. I would be remiss not to mention that. The Liberal Party will support getting more healthy, high-quality, home-grown foods on Canadian tables.
Canadian families are finding it more and more difficult just to make ends meet. With a record youth unemployment rate of 15%, too many young Canadians are losing hope. Canadian families are now facing record levels of personal debt. A typical family in Canada today now owes more than $1.50 for every dollar of annual income. In fact, that is not only a record in Canada but it is higher than American families. Canadian families are struggling now with rising food costs, medical costs and higher tuition.
They are barely able to pay the bills now, and they are wondering how they are going to get by when interest rates start to rise.
However, hard-working, low income Canadians, many of whom are juggling more than one part-time job just to pay the bills, do not seem to factor into the Conservatives' vision of Canada. The Conservatives have deliberately excluded low income Canadians from qualifying for measures under this budget, like the family caregiver tax credit and the volunteer firefighters tax credit.
The Conservatives accomplished this exclusion of low-income Canadians from these programs by making the tax credits non-refundable. These tax credits will only help Canadians who have earned enough money that year that they actually pay income taxes.
The Liberal Party would recognize the work of all volunteer firefighters and all family caregivers regardless of their income. This would include Canadians who have left their jobs and have taken unpaid leave to take care of sick relatives, the very people who are most in need of help. These people would not qualify for the Conservatives' family caregiver tax credit.
It seems like the poor just do not exist in the Conservatives' Canada. The Liberal Party sees things very differently, and we would not leave low income Canadians out in the cold to fend for themselves.
We believe government programs should be accessible to all Canadians, particularly low-income Canadians who often need the help most.
Last fall, the Liberals announced a real family care plan with a refundable tax benefit for working families worth up to $1,350 per year that would help all low- and middle-income Canadians. We also announced a six-month family care EI benefit to help Canadians who take time off work to care for sick or aging relatives.
However, in this budget, the Conservatives deliberately excluded the poorest caregivers with a paltry $300 in a non-refundable tax credit that is not available to low-income Canadians. Under the Conservatives, a Canadian taxpayer earning $20,000, with a dependant, would not qualify for any help as a caregiver. It is outrageous, it is unfair and it is un-Canadian for the Conservatives to discriminate against low-income Canadians.
As Liberals, we have a fundamentally different view of Canada compared with the Conservatives.
The Conservatives divide Canadians into categories. They tailor their policies toward potential Conservative supporters and they ignore everyone else. If anyone does not support the Conservatives' agenda, he or she is not seen as part of their Canada.
Liberals are nation builders. We reject the Conservative politics of division. Instead, we aim to govern on behalf of and to defend the interests of all Canadians, and that includes low-income Canadians.
Much ink has been spilled on how this budget will affect seniors. The fact is this budget actually cuts federal support for seniors over the next five years. That is right. Transfers to seniors over the next five years are half a billion dollars less than they were in the last fall economic statement and almost $3 billion less than in budget 2010. That is even after we include the paltry increases to the GIS for seniors. The GIS increase works out to about $50.00 a month for seniors who qualify. That is less than a cup a coffee at Tim Hortons every day.
Also, the clawbacks to this measure are punitive and unjust. Under the Conservatives, a senior who earns just $170 per month in his or her pension is considered to be too rich and that this new $50.00 a month GIS supplement would be clawed back. And if they have a pension of $366 a month, they are too wealthy, according to the Conservatives, to receive even a penny of this GIS increase.
The GIS increase is simply Conservative crumbs, especially when we consider that Conservatives are spending 20 times more on tax cuts for the wealthiest corporations. Shockingly, unbelievably, the Conservatives want to give 20 times more to the richest corporations in Canada than they want to give to Canada's poorest seniors.
It is very clear that seniors in poverty are not the only ones getting overlooked by the Conservatives in this budget.
Transfers for children's benefits also go down by $1 billion over the next five years under this budget, which means that over the next five years the Conservatives are actually budgeting less support for seniors and children living in poverty.
The budget has no plan for child care or affordable housing. It is completely silent on the most serious challenges facing our country such as, how we are going to pay for rising health care costs. Everybody knows that the demand for health care is rising. As Canadians in the baby boom generation start to retire, they are going to place a greater demand on government services and at the same time we know that the tax base is shrinking as fewer people are working to pay for these services.
Rapid changes in our society will lead to more and more people without jobs, and more and more jobs without people. We need to invest more in learning and in training.
There is no credible plan in the budget to address the reality of rising health care costs in Canada or the absolute essential need to invest significantly in training, retraining and lifelong learning. This is important because we are on the eve of the most important negotiations with the provinces on health care.
Where is the plan to deal with health care costs after the 10-year Liberal health care accord expires in 2014?
We were part of that cabinet back in 2004. At the time, the Martin Liberal government put $41 billion into health care, the largest single investment in health care in the history of Canada in any health care accord. That was at a time when the federal government was in surplus and many provinces were in surplus.
Today, we have a federal government that has racked up a record deficit. We have provinces struggling with deficits. We have health care costs rising and we know we have these negotiations coming up with a deadline for 2014. Yet, nowhere in this budget are these negotiations discussed. Nowhere in this budget is there money being set aside to plan for this important investment that would protect the public health care system in Canada. There is no mention of this negotiation. For the Conservatives, the public health care system in Canada is not really a priority.
The budget does not provide a credible plan to return Canada to balanced budgets. In fact, instead of getting us back to balanced budgets and putting aside money to invest in health care, the Conservatives are deliberately gutting Canada's capacity to invest in health care and education with reckless spending on corporate tax breaks, fighter jets and U.S. style mega prisons. Conservative spending is out of touch and it is out of control.
This budget spends 1,000 times more for fighter jets than for post-secondary students. This is a government that is spending 1,000 times more for prisons than on youth crime prevention. The Conservatives spent more on the G20 in a single day than this budget offers Canada's seniors for an entire year. The Conservatives spent three times as much on self-promoting advertising than this budget has for family care over the next 12 months.
It is clear that the Conservatives view this budget as only a marketing exercise. It is full of spin. It has a few small attractive gimmicks, baubles and trinkets, but it does nothing to address the main priorities of Canadians.
The other day the member for Cape Breton—Canso said that this budget reminded him of a salesman who once tried to sell him a car. The car had a knock in the engine, there was smoke coming out of the tailpipe, the transmission was slipping and it was leaking oil. My friend, the member for Cape Breton—Canso, pointed out these flaws to the salesman. The salesman said: “Yeah, but you gotta listen to the sound system”.
The Conservatives are trying to distract Canadians from the waste, the rot and the corruption in their government by creating some noise. The Conservative budget certainly has a lot of noise. It also has a $43 billion black hole.
There is no mention in the budget of the Conservatives' plan to waste billions and billions of Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars on schemes that have nothing to do with the priorities of Canadian families. There are no details on their plan to spend a staggering $30 billion on untendered fighter jets. To put that in perspective, that is more money than the government spends on health care in an entire year. It does not tell Canadians in this budget, but the Conservative government plans to send a bill for $1,000 to every man, woman and child in Canada to pay for the fighter jets.
This budget has no details on the Conservative plan to spend $13 billion on U.S. style prisons. That is just the price tag for one of its prison bills. Thank goodness we have the Parliamentary Budget Officer who continues to provide Parliament with some information on the costs of the Conservative agenda. We know that the government refuses to provide Parliament with the real costs.
The Conservative regime still refuses to provide Canadians with detailed information on the cost of 18 of its crime bills. The Conservatives want members of Parliament to vote on legislation without knowing how much it would cost Canadian taxpayers.
This is fundamentally anti-democratic. All members of Parliament, opposition and government members of Parliament, have the same fiduciary responsibility and constitutional obligation to know the cost of the legislation that we are asked to vote on. Canadians are wondering, why the Conservative secrecy?
That is why the Conservative government was found in contempt by a parliamentary committee earlier this week. It is a historic first in Canada. In fact, it is a first in the British Commonwealth parliamentary system for a government to be found in contempt of Parliament. It is not a good first. It is not something that any of us is proud of. In fact, we are embarrassed with the government and how it treats Parliament. At a time when the world needs a Canada that is helping build a more peaceful and stable democratic world, we are not setting a very good example when we have a government that is attacking the democratic institutions that keep us free here in Canada.
This is about more than just Conservatives' contempt for Parliament. It is about their contempt for the citizens who chose this Parliament. It is about their contempt for taxpayers who pay the bills.
The Conservatives continue to hide the real costs of their agenda. With all of the items that are not in this budget the question we must ask ourselves is, can we trust the government to tell us the truth? Can we trust the government to give us the real numbers?
The budget reminded me of the fall 2008 now infamous economic statement. Back then everyone knew that the Conservative government had spent Canada into a deficit even before the recession began. People recognized that the Conservatives had increased spending by 18%, three times the rate of inflation, in their first three economic statements. The Conservatives knew that too and that is why they wanted to hide that fact from Parliament and from Canadians, so the finance minister cooked the books and announced the government would sell over $10 billion worth of assets in order to get to a tiny little $100 million surplus. Ontarians will recognize this trick because it is the same trick that the same Conservatives played in Ontario when the same minister used the same trick of false asset sales to try to hide the fact that the Conservatives had put Ontario into deficit.
In reality, in the fall of 2008, there was no real plan to sell assets. In fact, we asked day after day for the list of assets that were to be sold. As a former minister of public works, I can say that there is at least a year between when one has to actually determine what one wants to sell and a process to actually sell it. The government said that it did not have a list, or rather refused to provide us with a list at that time. There was no list. The Conservatives had no information on assets to sell because it was a phony asset sales plan. A year later, the Conservatives quietly cancelled the plan before anything was sold. The Conservatives went on to give Canadians a record $56 billion deficit.
In yesterday's budget the Conservatives announced what they called a strategic and operating review. It is part of their attempt to pretend that they will cut spending and balance the budget, but once again, the budget does not provide any details whatsoever about these cuts or their restraint. No wonder neither the Parliamentary Budget Officer nor the International Monetary Fund believes the government's numbers. Both the PBO and the IMF have shown that the Conservatives' promise to balance the books simply is not credible.
The Conservatives have added nearly $100 billion to the debt since 2008. They have undone all the sacrifices that Canadians have made to pay down the debt. In fact under the Conservatives, the combined federal-provincial debt to GDP ratio has reached 82%. That is higher than the U.K., France, Germany and it is almost as bad as the Americans.
Let us remember, it was the previous Liberal government in the 1990s that took on the deficit and balanced the books for the first time since 1969. Under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, the Liberals delivered nine consecutive balanced budgets, but according to the PBO, the Conservatives will not balance the budget any time soon.
The finance minister likes to say that the government is on track. Let us be clear. The government is on track to add $200 billion to the federal debt by the year 2015-16. The Conservatives are mortgaging our children's future to pay for their ideological schemes, their bad priorities and their reckless spending. They are hiding the true costs of their agenda and they are asking MPs to vote on laws without telling us how much these laws will cost Canadian taxpayers.
In doing this, Conservatives are showing contempt not just for Parliament but for Canadian citizens and taxpayers. They are breaking the rules to hide the facts. They are doing this to cover up their wasteful spending and out of control and out of touch priorities.
As we see from the budget, Conservative spending is out of control and out of touch with the priorities of Canadian families. What we see from this budget is more of a government that cannot be trusted to tell us the truth and respect Parliament. It is time to end the Conservative gravy train and to show some respect for taxpayers.
For this reason, I would like to move the following amendment, seconded by the member for Beaches—East York. I move that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “that” and substituting the following:
the House not approve in general the budgetary policy of the government because the government and its policies are out of touch with the economic needs and priorities of Canadian families.
View Robert Carrier Profile
BQ (QC)
View Robert Carrier Profile
2011-03-24 13:56 [p.9197]
Mr. Speaker, after listening to the litany of projects in the Quebec City region that have come to nothing under the Conservative government, I would like to ask my colleague what she thinks of members who say that it is important to be in power, to be in government.
Does that mean that there are first-tier and second-tier members throughout the country?
View Christiane Gagnon Profile
BQ (QC)
View Christiane Gagnon Profile
2011-03-24 13:57 [p.9197]
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. It says a lot about what the Conservative members think of democracy. Members have to be elected to Parliament, they have to be in government. The Conservatives have not understood that the opposition is there to monitor the government’s actions. They would prefer it if there were 308 Conservative members in the House who got to make decisions without ever being criticized.
They have not understood what a true democracy is. It always makes me smile when I see the Prime Minister go to another country and say that he is going to help it. I will not single out any particular country. The government wants to bring democracy to other countries, but perhaps it should start by taking a look at Canada. That is what we are asking for. The situation is quite shocking. Things often get heated because the Conservatives have no respect for the work done by opposition members, whether they be Liberals, New Democrats or members of the Bloc Québécois.
Rather than saying that a particular member is whining, the Conservatives should consider that the member is analyzing an issue, consulting different segments of the population that they do not consult, and relaying those perspectives back to them. A democracy means allowing people to speak. Yesterday, we were told that we were not capable of reading a budget. That attitude is truly contemptuous of how seriously all members here take their work.
View Chris Charlton Profile
NDP (ON)
View Chris Charlton Profile
2011-03-24 17:15 [p.9228]
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to participate in the debate on what is almost certainly going to be the last Conservative budget of this Parliament and, we hope, the last Conservative budget Canadians will have to endure for a long time.
Let me begin my comments this afternoon by reiterating what the NDP said on budget day. A month ago, the NDP leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, met with the Prime Minister to discuss the budget. He set out a clear message: focus on the priorities of middle-class families or be prepared to go into an election. We proposed reasonable budget measures despite the fact this is a government we have not supported.
However, New Democrats do believe that it is important to try to make Parliament work and we owe it Canadians. Therefore, we told the Prime Minister that in this recession, middle-class Canadians are working harder than ever before to make ends meet. Household debt is at an all-time high and the costs of everyday essentials are going up.
After years of the well connected and big business getting all the breaks, we believe it is time for families to get a break. We want to build a Canada where no senior lives in poverty, a Canada where no family has to go without a doctor, where every Canadian can retire with security. Clearly, the Prime Minister does not. The Prime Minister had an opportunity to address the needs of hard-working middle-class families, but he missed that opportunity. He just does not get it.
In the midst of mounting scandals, the government could have put political games aside and worked with other parties. It could have achieved practical, affordable results that would help families now and show Canadians that Ottawa can work for them, but the Prime Minister chose not to do that.
We called on him to create new positions for doctors and nurses for the five million Canadians without access to family medicine. The Conservative budget does not do that.
We called on him to help Canadians with ever-rising energy bills by removing the federal sales tax from home heating. The Conservative budget does not do that.
Because a quarter of a million seniors live in poverty today, which is a national disgrace, we called on the Prime Minister to ensure that no senior lives in poverty. The Prime Minister's budget will not do that. Because every Canadian deserves to have access to financially secure retirement, we called on him to set goals to increase benefits to the Canada pension plan. The Conservative budget does not do that.
Nothing in the budget has persuaded us that the Prime Minister has changed his ways and that he is prepared to work with others in Parliament to give middle-class families a break. That is why New Democrats cannot support the budget as presented.
Let us look at the budget in more detail. As I said, it was critical to my NDP colleagues and I that this budget be about helping seniors and the middle class. While the Prime Minister likes to point to soaring bank profit, taking that as proof that the recession is over, we have been focusing on an economic recovery that leaves no one behind. Clearly, hard-working families are far from enjoying any benefits from the so-called end of the recession.
Let me remind members in the House of the latest data. Yes, the government is right on one point: Canada's big banks are, indeed, raking in the cash. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, the big six banks earned over $6.5 billion and a record-breaking $21.58 billion for the past four quarters. Shamefully, the banks used half of those profits, a staggering $11 billion, for executive bonuses. Then, just to add insult to injury, those same six banks received an annual bonus from Canadian taxpayers of almost $890 million.
Are you kidding me, Mr. Speaker? We cannot afford $700 million to lift every senior out of poverty, but we can spend $890 million on corporate tax cuts just for the banks? I do not believe for a second that this will pass the nod test for anyone who is analyzing the Conservatives' budget priorities.
By reducing the corporate income taxes that government collects, the Conservatives are depriving the treasury of billions of dollars that could and should have been invested in Canadians. At a minimum, instead of giving tax cuts with no strings attached, they should have been focused on creating jobs. Job creation continues to be one of the most important issues for Canadians.
The government's own figures reveal that it has fallen 240,000 jobs short of its own targets. In fact, in the past three months, we lost almost 24,000 full-time jobs in this country. With the annual growth of population in Canada at 1.5%, there should be 280,000 new jobs created each year just to maintain our country's level of employment, but we are heading in the opposite direction.
When we look at the data, it is clear that the government's claim of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs is misleading. In February 2011, Canada had 156,000 fewer full-time jobs than before the great recession began in October 2008. It is no wonder that Canadians simply do not share the government's optimism about their economic futures.
The Conservatives' budget does nothing to improve the situation. Despite the title of the budget proclaiming it to be a plan for “jobs and growth”, there is little in this budget that would give hope to the unemployed of a sustained job creation strategy. As the Toronto Star columnist, David Olive, warned so succinctly in his article entitled, “A budget worth defeating”:
Continued meaningful stimulus programs are not necessary, [the Prime Minister] feels, since the nation’s all better now.... As with a U.S. stimulus program that ended prematurely, Canada risks a return to slow growth as [the Prime Minister] turns now from stimulus to austerity.
In truth of course, it is very selective austerity. He had no problem finding $6 billion for additional corporate tax cuts, or $9 billion for U.S. style mega jails, or a whopping $29 billion for shiny new F-35 fighter jets.
This budget spends $10 for corporate tax reductions for every $1 it has for seniors. When it comes to job creation, again there is no money to be had.
On the contrary, the $4 billion in cuts to the federal public service will mean cuts in both jobs and services. The ministry that is tasked with helping Canadians through programs like EI, training and disability pensions is seeing its own cut of half a billion dollars over the next three years.
While I am on the topic of EI, let us look at another noteworthy fact from the budget. Over the next five years, EI premiums will exceed benefits by $15 billion. Given that forecast, it is absolutely shameful that the budget did not include any progress on enhancing Canada's employment insurance system. This is workers' money and workers need it now to put food on the table for their families. We know that EI stimulates the economy because the money paid out will go directly back into the community. People who are unemployed are not socking their benefits away in tax free savings accounts. They are spending that money on everyday essentials like food, clothing and shelter, mostly in their local community. EI thus helps hardworking Canadians and the local economy.
However, clearly poverty reduction is nowhere on the government's radar. There is nothing in this budget for affordable housing either, nothing for childcare, no increase to either the child tax benefit or the universal child care benefit and no real commitment to lifting seniors out of poverty.
One of the key proposals that we put before the Prime Minister was to help Canada's most vulnerable seniors with an affordable increase to their guaranteed income supplement. With $700 million, or half of what the government spent on the posh G8 and G20 summits, we could have ensured that no senior would have had to live in poverty. What did the budget do? It gave less than half that amount of money to three times as many people. It will not even come close to eliminating poverty for Canadian seniors. It is an absolute disgrace. Seniors have worked hard all their lives and played by the rules, but now everywhere they turn, every bill they open, they are paying more and getting less.
Just look at consumer prices. Overall, they rose 2.2% in the last year. Everything is going up except people's incomes. Energy prices rose 10.6% over the last year. We live in Canada. Heating our homes is not an option. How are seniors and middle-class families supposed to cope with that kind of an increase? Simply put, they cannot. That is why we proposed to take the HST off home heating. It was a reasonable proposal, especially when the budget reveals that the federal government is raking in $9 billion from the HST. We could and should have a longer discussion about how that is even possible when the government assured Canadians that the HST would be revenue neutral. I have to say there was no prouder moment for me in this Parliament than when my NDP colleagues and I stood in opposition to both the Conservatives and the Liberals and voted against the HST.
Let us look at the cost of gas next, another commodity that is not only rising in price but is also subject to the HST. Gasoline prices rose by a whopping 15.5% in the last year. Drivers faced double digit price increases for gasoline in every province except Manitoba. Every penny per litre increase in the cost of gasoline means an additional $1 million per day in profits for the oil companies. The 20¢ increase over the past six months therefore means an astonishing $20 million per day for the already super profitable oil industry and 95% of that price increase goes directly to the bottom line of the oil companies. Yet, the Conservative government is continuing to give these companies an additional bonus with taxpayers' money by lowering the tax levies on those super profits. Canadians are shaking their heads and saying enough is enough. It is time to cut off the support for these corporate welfare bums and start acting on the priorities of seniors and middle-class Canadians.
Let us get to the other two priorities that Canadians told us had to be in this budget, and that we submitted to the Prime Minister on their behalf. The first was ensuring that Canadians can count on their pensions when they need them, by strengthening the Canada pension plan. Specifically, we needed to see a commitment from the government that it move to an eventual doubling of the CPP benefit. Instead, the budget offered vague rhetoric with no real goal. Frankly, that is not good enough.
Only one-third of Canadian workers have a workplace pension.
Similarly, only a third of Canadians contribute to an RRSP, and those who do, just watched billions of dollars in precious savings vaporize during the recession. The current system is leaving too many people without the retirement savings they need. There is too much at risk and not enough security.
In past crises, Canadians have come together to create solutions, to minimize risks by sharing it. That is what we did when we created public health care and yes, that is what we did when we created the public pensions that are now the only reliable part of our whole retirement security system.
Let us face it, for more than a generation wages have failed to keep pace with the cost of living and most Canadians have not been able to save what they need.
The best way to help today's workers save enough money for tomorrow is through an improved Canada pension plan, which is why we propose that over the next several years we lay the foundation to double CPP benefits for the future. The CPP has been proven time and again to be a safe, secure and efficient retirement savings plan. Plus the CPP is portable from job to job, across provinces, keeps up with inflation, and is backed by the government. Because the CPP operates independently from government, there is no cost to taxpayers. In fact, there is the potential for governments to save over time.
We all need to save more for retirement. Putting that little bit extra into the CPP makes more sense than investing it into risky RRSPs. It is safer, easier, in fact, it is effortless, and it earns more.
I know that my time is just about up, but I want to say at least a few words about our fourth budget ask, as well.
Currently, there are five million Canadians without a family doctor. What is the government's answer to this crisis? It wants to incent doctors and nurses to work in northern and remote regions. That strategy is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The Conservatives are not creating a single new doctor with that strategy. Instead, they are taking doctors out of urban centres and moving them elsewhere in the country. That is hardly a solution. The shortage of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals is acute in all parts of the country.
The Canada health accord comes up for renewal in 2014. I thought that this budget would have risen to the occasion and laid out a blueprint for the challenges ahead. But, instead, there is silence. I suppose I should not have been surprised. The Conservatives never did keep their promise of a comprehensive patient wait times guarantee. All we had was a handful of pilot projects that left most patients out in the cold.
The government's big plan to train more doctors, which was announced with such fanfare last month, turns out to have a target of just 100 doctors for the five million Canadians who have no doctor now.
As the president of the Canadian Medical Association rightly pointed out on February 28, Canadian health care is “deeply troubled” and the Prime Minister is failing to take any active role to fix it.
The Council of Canadians echoes that sentiment. Here is its reaction to the health care part of the budget:
The budget was released yesterday and health care is anything but a top priority.
We need a government who will invest in comprehensive community care (home care and long-term care) and is willing to look at sustainable solutions to the current health care challenges, not a government who listens to the pharmaceutical lobbyists hoping to pad the pockets of their investors and share holders.
This budget is a great disappointment for Canadians looking for the Conservatives to stop playing political games and get something done for them.
The Prime Minister had the opportunity to address the needs of hard-working middle-class families and seniors but sadly, he chose instead to manipulate an election call while trying in vain to blame others for it. He chose to ignore the struggles of families and instead spent tax dollars lining the pockets of corporate Canada and the wealthy.
In this budget and in the appalling behaviour of the current government, particularly in recently months, the Prime Minister has shown the House of Commons and the people of Canada nothing but intransigence, arrogance, small-mindedness and contempt--contempt for our democratic institutions, contempt for Parliament and therefore, contempt for Canadian families and seniors.
View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2011-03-10 12:03 [p.8886]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from St. Paul's for making reference to Jim Travers who recently passed away. I will begin my speech where she left off in her remarks as to what Mr. Travers may think of the state of democracy as it is today.
I will remind members and all Canadians that our democracy is a fragile construct at best. If we are not vigilant in reinforcing it, buttressing it and strengthening it in everything we do, then the inverse is true. It begins to diminish, deteriorate and to be undermined incrementally. These incremental changes are sometimes so subtle that we hardly notice them, but when compiled they create a critical mass that, without overstating things, threatens the integrity of the democracy that we are duty bound to uphold in the House of Commons today.
In a seminal piece of political commentary that Jim Travers wrote on April 4, 2009, for which he won the 2009 National Newspaper Award, he pointed out that, as a foreign correspondent for many years, he witnessed democracy beginning to unfold in many of his postings in Africa and other places he lived. At the same time as he was watching the state of democracy in those underdeveloped nations, he thought of Canada, as he put it, as a cold but shimmering Camelot where ballots, not bullets, changed governments, where men and women in uniform were discreet servants of the state, where our institutions were structurally sound, where corruption was firmly enough in check that scandals were aberrations, demanding public scrutiny and sometimes even justice. He went on to lament that he was witnessing Canadians allowing their democracy slip.
I forgot to mention that I will be splitting my time with my colleague for Hamilton Centre.
My colleague from Hamilton Centre and I both attended Jim Travers' memorial on Tuesday night, along with about 1,000 well-wishers from all walks of life, but notably politicians, journalists and people in those industries, lamenting his loss.
Mr. Travers pointed out that our Camelot was under siege because, as I point out, incrementally, step by step, death by 1,000 cuts, we are witnessing the erosion and the deterioration of the institution that our fathers very proudly built up. He stated what his response would have been in the 1980s, by saying:
I would have rejected out of hand the suggestion that Parliament would become a largely ceremonial body incapable of performing its defining functions of safeguarding public spending and holding ministers to account. I would have treated as ridiculous any forecast that the senior bureaucracy would become politicized, that many of the powers of a monarch would flow from Parliament to the prime minister or that the authority of the Governor General, the de facto head of state, would be openly challenged.
Yet every one has happened and each has chipped away another brick of the democratic foundations underpinning Parliament. Incrementally and by stealth, Canada has become a situational democracy. What matters now is what works. Precedents, procedures and even laws have given way to the political doctrine of expediency.
That sets the framework for the debate we are having today on the Bloc Quebecois' opposition day motion that is blowing the whistle, sounding the alarm, sending an alert to Canadians that if we are not careful the very institutions by which we define ourselves as Canadians will be undermined, diminished and, in fact, will disappear.
There were a series of events leading up to the opposition day motion that outlines the threat to democracy. I will frame my remarks by citing the opening of this opposition day motion.
That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology....
I will not go on, but I would say that it is at the expense of putting the best interests of Canadians first and the lofty ideals of accountability and transparency that the Conservatives promised Canadians when they took power five years ago.
I will begin with the in and out scandal itself, which is one of three offences that we are citing here today.
We want our government to fix health care, not elections. It offends the sensibilities of Canadians to see a systematic, deliberate, premeditated and well-orchestrated conspiracy to defraud the spending limits of the Canada Elections Act.
I would mention that the spending limits of the Canada Elections Act is one of the fundamental cornerstones of our democracy and, I believe, it is one of the things that differentiates us from the Americans. We believe big money in the United States has undermined democracy to a great extent. We believe in this country that nobody should be able to buy an election based on having deeper pockets or a fatter chequebook. Yet, that is exactly what the Conservatives have done by willingly and knowingly put in place a scheme to exceed the spending limits and gain an unfair competitive advantage over the other parties.
All we want is a level playing field so that Canadians can decide the merits of a party based on its policies, platform and promises, not based on being carpet bombed and blitzed by advertising campaigns that have little to do with what the government actually intends to do.
I will point out the echo effect of this offence. It is even more egregious that these riding associations that conspired with their party to defraud the Canada Elections Act enjoy an echo effect in that the ill-gotten gains from the first offence went on to bankroll the Conservatives' next election campaign in 2008, compounding the offence.
I point out as well that there is a whole second tier to the in and out scandal, which has been talked about very little. While 67 riding associations conspired to defraud the spending limits for advertising purposes, another 50 riding associations conspired to defraud the spending limits on polling. This is rarely talked about. Sixteen of those 50 riding associations conducted complete in and out transactions, such as the member for Essex I believe, where $20,000 were transferred into their bank accounts and within 24 hours or so that same $20,000 was transferred out. However, this time they said that it was for polling.
What a ludicrous notion. No one would ever conduct a public opinion poll in his or her riding in the middle of an election campaign. It would be a complete waste of money. However, the national party spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on daily national polls throughout an election campaign.
In this case, the second ridiculous thing is that one could not spend $20,000 on a local poll in one riding association. I do not think it can be done. I have had estimates and they range from $2,500 to $4,500 for a 400-person, 20-question survey. This was a way for the federal party to exceed its spending limits and call national expenses local expenses so that it could also get the rebate in its local riding association.
I look forward to the RCMP and the Director of Public Prosecutions expanding the charges laid to include this second polling scheme.
Let us not forget that when the Conservative government says that it is co-operating fully with the investigation, the RCMP had to kick down the doors of the Conservative Party headquarters with a search warrant and seize all of its records and documents. It did not do it co-operatively.
We also must not forget that 31 summons were issued by the ethics committee and the Conservatives advised 31 people to ignore the summons to the ethics committee. That is an erosion of parliamentary democracy.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
View David Christopherson Profile
2011-03-10 12:13 [p.8887]
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for outlining some of the reasons that we will be pleased to support this motion. It is the second opposition day motion this week that speaks to the falling fortunes of the current government and explains why.
Like my colleague, I want to focus on the initial part of the opposition day motion, which reads:
That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology—
It is really difficult to know where to begin. The government has given us an embarrassment of riches for comment on its the disregard for democracy.
Let me preface my comments by acknowledging that being partisan and engaging in partisan activities are part of this place and part of what we do. It is recognized in the guidelines that the role of an MP, among other things, is also to be a member of a party and to participate in caucus activities that, by their nature, are partisan. That is a given.
However, what is so important to the integrity of our democracy and our parliamentary system is to recognize and, more importantly, respect the parameters of that partisan activity, particularly as they apply to being in government.
We are on a very dangerous slippery slope and are accelerating quickly.
One of the most important things about our parliamentary system is the fundamental starting point that all members are honourable and all members are honest. Now, being human, that does not always hold to the end of the day, but that is an important part of how we start. That is why people are referred to as “the hon. member”. And so to mislead the House in any way, or mislead fellow parliamentarians in committee, and quite frankly, not to tell the truth, is a huge issue. It is a very big deal in our parliamentary system because without respect for those parameters, we are ultimately left with chaos.
If there is not a set of rules accepted and respected by everyone, that means that everyone feels free to work outside the rules, basically becoming outlaws. Yet without laws, we are in chaos.
The government wants it both ways: It wants the rules for the rest of Canadians but to be able itself to do and say what it wants as long as it furthers the business, not of Canada or the “H” government, but the partisan interests of the Conservative Party of Canada.
After talking about misleading members and misrepresenting the truth, let me start with the fact that the government has said for days, weeks, and months now that it does not want an election. I am sure the Conservatives would be quite prepared to jump up on their hind legs right now and say, “We don't want an election. We support what our Prime Minister has said and our government House leader and everyone. We don't want an election.” The Prime Minister says it. The most senior ministers of the government and all the backbenchers all say, “We don't want an election”.
They do not want an election, and yet on March 3, just a few days ago, my colleague from Alberta received a document, which I understand was hand delivered. Our own mistake with the same member of the Conservatives was due to confusion with last names, and someone got a phone call and an email that they should not have. However, my understanding is that this document was hand delivered. But I will leave that aside.
What is interesting about this right now is the way they talk about ethnic groups and ethnicity. It is a pretty sensitive subject in this country. A lot of people feel that some of the language in this document and the way the Conservatives have looked at some things are getting close to the line.
However, I want to focus on the following. Remember that this whole PowerPoint presentation was about urging ridings to get involved and to try to find another $200,000, as if the Conservatives did not have enough money in their war chest. They are squeezing the riding associations to come up with another $200,000 so they can do an advertising buy.
The focus for me, to tie it to what I commented on earlier, is the presentation's reference to “TV Buy Costs—Pre Writ”. It refers to a “Heavy deployment over Two Weeks (Starting March 15)”, with the “Official 'Launch' on March 20 (India Cricket Match)”. This was to be “Pre Writ”, starting on March 15. The letter is dated March 3. The only way to have a pre-writ period is when one knows when that writ period will be. Lest anybody wonder, the writ period is an election. So these are pre-election activities starting on March 15.
The government has not been telling Canadians the truth. It is ready and eager for an election. It does not want to be seen that way, but there is the proof.
An. hon. member: Please, speak up a bit.
Mr. David Christopherson: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, the hon. member says he cannot hear me. I will be glad to speak up a bit so that he can hear every single word of these condemnations. If he continues, I will take a moment to wait until he gets his seat so that I can mention this to him personally, if he wants to continue this back and forth.
The presentation refers to pre-writ weeks and March 15. Yet the Prime Minister has been telling people that he does not want an election and that it is the irresponsible coalition that wants the election because it does not care about Canadians. He claims he is telling Canadians the truth that he does not want an election, yet the Conservatives' own documents make it very clear that we are now in the pre pre-writ period and that all of this will culminate in an election. It looks like an election is coming.
I so hope that in this period, when we talk about integrity and honesty, we will get a chance to talk about what has happened with KAIROS. This issue itself is enough for this government to be condemned for denying funding for church groups that are doing excellent humanitarian work. I have not yet heard a criticism of the work KAIROS does other than some false things from the government. That alone is an issue, but let me take it to the next step, to the Minister of International Cooperation.
I have a copy of a document with three signatures. The first one is of the acting vice-president of the Canadian partnership branch of CIDA. Under that signature is the signature of the president, and I am assuming that is the president of the Canadian partnership branch. Just above the signature lines is the recommendation:
—that you [meaning the minister] sign below to indicate you approve a contribution of $7,098,758 over four years to the above program.
Might I also just note that on this page it also says:
Primary local partner—the organization works with 23 well-established local partners trusted by KAIROS.
The benefits this organization shows for that work that it does are just exponential.
Anyway, the two officials who signed the document recommended that funding be approved. After these senior people signed the document recommending the funding to the minister, the minister either personally inserted the word “not” or personally directed that it be inserted.
I want to give KAIROS credit on this. I saw one of its t-shirts that said “KAIROS is going away”, but it had the word “not” in a red circle. The t-shirt was out within 48 hours, which I thought was brilliant.
They changed this after those people signed the document--
View Johanne Deschamps Profile
BQ (QC)
View Johanne Deschamps Profile
2011-03-10 12:29 [p.8889]
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé. My remarks will be a bit more moderate, but my message will come across just the same.
I am pleased to take the floor today to demonstrate to the House the government's disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology. As soon as it was elected, in January 2006, the Conservative government radically changed Canada's official development assistance and foreign policies by concentrating on its own economic and trade vision.
It deliberately abandoned the African continent. Up until then, African countries were getting a sizeable portion of our official development assistance budget. In 2009, the Conservative government decided Africa would no longer be a priority, and eight African countries were dropped from the priority list, including Rwanda, Niger, Burkina Faso and Benin. The 2005 list included 14 African countries, but only 7 were left on the 2009 list.
The Conservative government preferred to prioritize countries with which it is signing or negotiating free trade agreements, such as Ukraine, Colombia, Peru and Honduras. Although these countries do experience poverty, CIDA's 2005 list of priority countries included more poor countries than the 2009 list. Under the Conservative government, Canada’s foreign policy has become merely a trade policy.
Over many decades, Quebeckers and Canadians earned a good reputation abroad thanks to their respect for human rights and international law and their fervent support for democracy, advocating diplomacy rather than the use of force. A majority of Canadians still support these values and principles, but since the Conservatives are in power, economic prosperity, militarism and the security agenda have replaced the values that once were so distinctively Canadian on the world scene.
This is another example of how this government has imposed its regressive ideology on Canada's official development assistance. During the G8 and G20 summits in June 2010, the government said that one of its priorities was maternal health, a millennium development goal. That is a very commendable and admirable priority. However, CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, refuses to fund abortion, even though many experts say it should be included in order to cover all women's health needs.
The women of Quebec and Canada have won this freedom of choice, and the debate is closed. In Canada, women have the right to choose to end a pregnancy and they have access to all the care and services required for that choice. So why did the government remove all funding for abortion in its assistance plan for women in developing countries, if not to appease groups that advocate this conservative ideology?
Since coming to power, Conservative members have been introducing bills meant to surreptitiously reopen the abortion debate. One such example is Bill C-484 introduced by the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park. That bill would have given a legal status to a fetus, which has no such status under current laws.
Another perfect example is Bill C-510 introduced by the member for Winnipeg South. That bill patronizes women by implying they are frequently coerced into abortion, but the vast majority of women make their own decision to have an abortion and take full responsibility for it. It is clear that, once again, the Conservative government was trying to limit a woman's right to choose regarding abortion, by making women feel isolated when making such a decision.
This government will stop at nothing to promote its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology, as it demonstrated with non-governmental organizations, civil society representatives and human rights groups.
The government is refusing or cutting funding for organizations that dare to criticize it, question its motives or voice a different opinion. The Canadian Council for International Co-operation, or the CCIC, and KAIROS, two organizations that are internationally recognized and known for their excellent work, had their funding requests denied by CIDA.
All of the controversy surrounding the refusal of funding for KAIROS clearly shows that the Conservative government is prepared to go so far as to allow a minister to falsify documents and make misleading statements to the House in order to ensure that there is no deviation from its ideology and that it can freely promote its partisan interests.
Shocked and disturbed by this behaviour, the members of the opposition raised a question of privilege. Yesterday, the Speaker of the House ruled that the Minister of International Cooperation did indeed abuse the privileges enjoyed by members of the House of Commons and that she could be found in contempt of Parliament if the opposition decides to take the matter that far. What is outrageous is that the government's ideology is harmful to democracy. We condemn the autocratic approach of the government, which has demonstrated on numerous occasions its total lack of respect for democracy and the parliamentary system.
The government has gone even further by imposing its regressive ideology on projects that it funds abroad. The government fears the unions in Canada, so it tries to stifle them abroad. Canada could help to improve the situation of workers in Mexico and other southern countries, but the Government of Canada is refusing or cutting funding for cooperative programs with labour organizations. CIDA ended funding for the CSN and the Centre international de solidarité ouvrière for their projects designed to support workers in the south.
Not only has the government interfered politically in official development assistance and let pro-life groups dictate its policies, but it is also slowly destroying Canada’s image abroad. It goes even further. It is even changing the terminology public servants should use. International organizations and NGOs have all agreed on a common terminology, but it seems it does not suit the Conservative government anymore. In order to avoid the key words often used by women’s organizations and other groups dedicated to the protection of rights, the Conservatives are imposing a whole new terminology on diplomats.
Under the Conservatives, “gender equality” does not exist anymore. It has been replaced by “equality between men and women”. We should not talk about “child soldiers”, but”. The terminology is being changed. When talking about rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the word “impunity” has been replaced by “prevention”. These are serious changes that show how much this government is under the influence of its strong right wing.
The crisis in the Rights and Democracy organization revealed the true face of the Conservatives. By appointing people who subscribe to the Conservative ideology to the board, the government could keep this organization under its control. But this organization should be instead at arm’s length from the Canadian government if it is to perform its work adequately and keep its credibility.
There is a long list of actions taken by the Conservative government to change Canada’s foreign policy to please its partisan base. The government does not realize how badly it is tarnishing Canada’s image abroad. When it failed, last fall, to win a seat on the UN Security Council, it should have understood that its radical positions are hurting its diplomatic relations.
In conclusion, the fundamental concern we all have is how far the Conservative government is willing to go to promote its regressive ideology.
View Luc Malo Profile
BQ (QC)
View Luc Malo Profile
2011-03-10 12:42 [p.8891]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her comments.
When our NDP colleague said previously that the government was preparing for an election, even though the government says repeatedly that there will be no election, we need only recall the promise broken by the Prime Minister himself. He had a bill adopted in the House, stating that elections would be held on a fixed date from now on, every four years. But, in September 2008, he decided all by himself, totally unexpectedly and without respecting his bill, to call an election.
How can we believe the Prime Minister when he says that he does not want to call an election, when he is, himself, willing to break the laws that he promoted, presented and had adopted in this House, like the bill relating to fixed election dates every four years?
My colleague spoke about breaking the most elementary rules of democracy, and we need only think about prorogation. When this House decides to adopt bills, to reach a consensus to move in the direction of common interest, public interest, and when this does not suit the government and does not fit in with its ideology—the member spoke about ideology—it decides to shut down Parliament. I would ask my colleague to comment on that.
View Johanne Deschamps Profile
BQ (QC)
View Johanne Deschamps Profile
2011-03-10 12:44 [p.8891]
Madam Speaker, that is hardly enough time, but in short, the Bloc opposition day motion today wants respectfully to show that the Conservative government is prepared to do anything, that it does not like to abide by democratic rules and that it sees Parliament as an obstacle that must be circumvented. It is prepared to go so far as to prorogue this House when it feels cornered or to use whatever means necessary to impose its ideology and maintain the same direction it has been taking in order to please the conservative base.
View Claude Bachand Profile
BQ (QC)
View Claude Bachand Profile
2011-03-10 13:27 [p.8896]
Madam Speaker, I would like to inform you, as I begin, that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.
I have prepared a few notes, as is my habit when making a speech. I wondered what title I would use if I were to present a dissertation on the Conservative Party and democracy. I have decided to entitle my speech, “Conservative ideology is incompatible with democracy”. I will have only 10 minutes to try to defend my point of view. I will give six examples.
I will start by saying that we must never take democracy for granted. We are supposedly in the shrine of democracy here, where parliamentarians can express themselves freely. But since the Conservative government came to power we have seen a rather draconian shift in the importance of democracy. The Conservative Party gives us daily examples of how it deliberately sidesteps democracy. As I was saying, I have six examples to give.
First, let us talk about circumventing the rules on election spending limits. We have adopted certain rules in Canada, which are very different from those elsewhere in the world. I go regularly to the United States, where there are almost no rules. An American congressman is elected every two years. If he does not have $1,000,000 in his account at the start of the election campaign, he is considered beaten. But who gives the congressman his $1,000,000? Usually it is big corporations. This is an attack on democracy, because once the money has been received, and there is no ceiling there, people call and request favours. If someone has given us $100,000 or $200,000, it is hard to say no.
Here, we have established a different system, and it is important. We cannot spend more than so much for a party and for a candidate. When ways of circumventing that are found, that is an attack on democracy. That is precisely what the Conservative Party did with its scheme, its sleight-of-hand, in sending money from the national party to certain constituencies, which was then sent back to the national party. This scheme allowed the Conservative Party to spend $1.3 million more than the maximum permitted. That is playing with the rules of democracy, and it is unacceptable.
Now, I would like to talk about the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who, using the property and services of Canadian taxpayers, sent a letter on his own letterhead to immigrant groups to ask them to contribute and be generous with the Conservatives. Who does he think he is, the pope of immigration? Does it mean that without him, you could be excommunicated? It is as though he has the last word on immigration. As though the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP have no say on immigration. This kind of racial profiling is dangerous, because the minister knows full well it can have an impact on these groups. And for them, he is a sort of authority. Not only did he use his own letterhead, but he also used his office: his staff, paid for by taxpayers, participated in the operation. That is another attack on democracy. When a minister blurs the line between his role as a member of the party and his government duties, it becomes dangerous for democracy. The minister has been criticized, and he should understand that when he is caught doing something like that, he should not make an assistant take the blame. He has ministerial responsibility. He must take responsibility and hand in his resignation to the Prime Minister.
Now, I would like to talk about a minister who alters documents. We have the minister responsible for CIDA, who signed a document granting the funding requested by KAIROS, and who then, a few days later, had the word “not” added. This word was written in by hand on the letter. It is very clear to us that the minister signed the letter to grant funding.
Then, probably under pressure from the Prime Minister, she wrote “not” on the document, or someone close to her did. Once again, it is a matter of ministerial responsibility. This is an example of how they play with democracy.
First they say they will give the money, then they say the opposite. On top of that, they come out with all kinds of theories, all very confusing, to defend themselves, so confusing in fact, I would remind the government, that the Speaker of the House issued a ruling yesterday that said it is impossible to do that and that it does not work.
They are trying to mislead the House. In particular, they are trying to mislead members of the opposition. In a democracy, how are we supposed to do our job if the government is always trying to hide things from us and mislead us?
This minister should also tender her resignation to the Prime Minister, but she refuses do so. She is sticking to her guns and others have come to her defence. Every so often, regarding issues that have nothing to do with her case, she stands up to reply, to try to restore her reputation, but if you ask me, her reputation is beyond saving.
Let us turn our attention to the federal government that must now call itself the Prime Minister's government. That is a good one. Louis XIV said “I am the state”. The Prime Minister is saying “I am the government”. That might fly with Conservative backbenchers, but for the opposition, that is definitely unacceptable. Who does he think he is, this Prime Minister? A monarch? A king?
I would remind the House that although “monarchy” and “democracy” nearly rhyme, a monarchy is the antithesis of democracy. In a monarchy, a group of courtiers surround the king, and the people have no say. The Prime Minister must not think that such behaviour will be accepted. In my dissertation entitled “Conservative ideology is incompatible with democracy”, those are some examples.
While we are dealing with the costs of the proposed measures, perhaps I should talk about the Afghan detainees issue, because I sit on the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan. We spent months asking for the documents, but the government refused to provide them on the ground that they included state secrets. Later, the law clerk of the House conducted studies and said that if the House of Commons is to fully assume its democratic role, the opposition must do its work. However, if the opposition is not allowed to do its work, there is a problem on the legislative side. That view was expressed by Mr. Walsh, the law clerk.
So, we kept pressing the issue and we eventually compelled the Speaker of the House to make a landmark ruling. Moreover, yesterday, the Speaker also ruled on the minister's behaviour and on the documents that are required to estimate costs and to determine whether the budget is sound. There again, the Conservatives got caught by the Speaker of the House of Commons regarding democratic issues.
The king, who sits to the right in front of me during question period, decided, on the issue of Afghan detainees, in seigneurial and royal fashion, to suspend our proceedings, to prorogue the House and to tell us to go home, this in the midst of an economic crisis. And we had to be content with that.
Incidentally, in the days and weeks that followed, the polls reflected the undemocratic decision made by this government. We are not a monarchy. We are a democracy, and the Conservative government must realize that.
The last example is the one to which I just referred. Indeed, opposition members are asking for studies that support the political choices that are going to be made in the budget. How much do prisons cost? Why is the amount set at $30 billion? How much will the F-35 cost? How does the government come up with that figure?
Finally, since I only have 15 seconds left, I am going to repeat the title of my essay, namely that the Conservative ideology is incompatible with parliamentary democracy.
Again, the title of my essay is “Conservative ideology is incompatible with parliamentary democracy”.
View Carole Freeman Profile
BQ (QC)
Madam Speaker, the current Conservative government is hands down the most undemocratic government we have ever seen in Ottawa. Personally, I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics since 2008, and I have lost track of how many files have been submitted to this committee concerning undemocratic behaviour by Conservative government members.
The Bloc Québécois felt it was important to present the motion we are discussing in the House today because the Bloc is the vigilant party here in Ottawa. Since it arrived on the federal scene, the Bloc has never looked back and it has been committed to keeping watch over the federal government, no matter which party is in power.
In its day, the sponsorship scandal was the most significant breach of the rules of democracy that the Bloc had ever uncovered on Parliament Hill. Today the Liberals may be outraged and cry foul about the Conservative Party's undemocratic behaviour, but no one has forgotten that the Gomery commission proved that for years the Liberal Party of Canada also successfully trampled the basic rules of democracy to ensure that it remained in power in Ottawa.
The day after their minority government was elected in January 2006, the Conservatives wrapped themselves in a cloak of integrity and transparency. We had hoped that they had learned a lesson and would keep their promises, but it was all just smoke and mirrors. In fact, over the past five years, this minority government has continued to develop slick schemes, each more unacceptable than the last, to ensure that it would keep control of power and act as though it were a majority. This government rivals the Liberals in the art of misleading parliamentarians and the people they represent.
The Bloc Québécois is presenting this motion today simply because it believes there is an urgent need to unmask the Conservatives' undemocratic behaviour and denounce them loud and clear in this Parliament, which is the most tangible symbol of democracy in our society.
In our parliamentary system, Parliament is the ultimate representation of democracy, freely expressed during an official election. The government that takes office must serve Parliament and the public and ensure that all elected members can fully represent their constituents. We are dealing with a minority government that, since taking office in January 2006, has been playing hide-and-seek with Parliament and constantly tries to obstruct Parliament's rules. This attitude weakens democracy, provokes crises that breed cynicism and destroys the average citizen's trust in politicians.
The Bloc Québécois has always been committed to fighting against any attacks on democratic institutions, any abuse of power by the government, any affront to the autonomy of independent institutions, any undue restrictions on access to information, and any hindrance preventing elected representatives of the people from fully representing their constituents.
Since January 2006, there has been overwhelming evidence to show that the Conservative Party does not want to abide by democratic rules. Allow me to name just a few instances of that: prorogation of Parliament on two occasions despite the wishes of the majority of the elected representatives; control over information delivered to the media on the decisions and activities of Parliament; the in and out process used during the 2005-06 election campaign to establish a national ad campaign paid for by local candidates, a process deemed illegal by Elections Canada; boycotting of certain parliamentary committees, specifically the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, on which I sit, through multiple absences, refusals to provide required documents and filibusters to block the work of the committee; the control by the Privy Council Office over sensitive access to information requests addressed to the government, an attitude we also see in the departments. For example, an employee at the Department of Public Works ordered officials to unduly delay publication of documents that were comprising to the government.
Let us not forget the scandalous imposition, by the Prime Minister, of a directive to his employees and employees of all ministers prohibiting them from appearing before parliamentary committees, specifically the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which was investigating the control exerted by the offices of Conservative ministers over access to information requests.
With regard to controlling access to information requests, the Information Commissioner is currently conducting a formal investigation of three ministers, and we are still waiting for the results.
All these facts clearly show that the people can no longer trust the Conservatives to restore access to information. The Conservative government demonstrated the extent of its culture of secrecy during the last parliamentary session, when the Speaker of the House had to demand that it produce the documents on allegations of torture in Afghanistan.
The most recent misstep in terms of respect for democratic rules was made by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who showed a clear lack of judgment as the person responsible for immigration in Canada. As a number of my colleagues have already pointed out, he participated in a partisan activity involving cultural communities and newcomers, even though he is responsible for ensuring that everyone is treated equally. He acted more like a Conservative minister of propaganda for ethnocultural communities. That is the true nature of this Conservative government, which claims to be transparent and responsible. It is a government of propaganda that has proven to be very good at manipulating information and voters.
Being ethical and transparent is a question of will. No rule can take the place of political will and vigilance. The best example to date of the excesses of Conservative propaganda is the unbelievable directive that was sent to public servants late last year stating that, in federal communications, the words “Government of Canada” should be replaced by the Prime Minister's name followed by Government. The directive was from the Prime Minister's office.
We checked and found that, since December, the expression “Name That Cannot Be Said In The House Government” has spread like wildfire in public departmental communications. You practically do not see “Government of Canada” any more. But the “Name-that cannot be said-in-the-House Government” now oversees us. Must we all be transformed into Harry Potter to defeat He Who Must Not Be Named? Stay tuned.
This directive turns out to be the best piece of political propaganda from the Conservative Government of Canada. Today, the Bloc Québécois wishes to warn citizens and have them truly understand the dangerous drift that has threatened our democracy since the Conservatives came to power in Ottawa.
Imagine if this Conservative government won a majority in the next election. I cannot envisage it without shuddering. Action is urgently needed. Our democracy is in jeopardy.
Come next election time, Quebeckers will know that they can no longer count on the government of the person who I cannot name in the House if I wish to abide by the essential rules of any effective democracy.
View Yves Lessard Profile
BQ (QC)
View Yves Lessard Profile
2011-03-10 15:53 [p.8919]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate our colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for the tremendous work he is doing. We have been working together for some years now, and I know how concerned he is with justice.
His question allows me to go back to something. There is a sort of contempt here for parliamentary authorities. When someone responds that way to a job as exceptional as the one that we did, it is contemptuous. The work was done in the context of Canada's parliamentary institutions. Even though we have different opinions on the status of Quebec, we, the Bloc members, are respectful of Canadian institutions because we know that a country needs democratic institutions like these. When someone responds that way to such an exceptional job, done by members from all parties, it is contemptuous of the democratic institutions and the work that we have done.
View France Bonsant Profile
BQ (QC)
View France Bonsant Profile
2011-03-10 15:57 [p.8919]
Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time there has been mention of the cynicism that reigns within society. People are disillusioned and are increasingly abandoning politics.
In the last federal election, the voter turnout was only 58.8%, according to the Chief Electoral Officer. Thus, less than one-quarter of all voters elected the government. This is a very sad record, since we would need to go back to the 19th century to find a turnout so low.
This sad situation might be explained by a number of reasons. People may have the impression that politicians believe they are above the law, that politicians show a lot of partisanship and that they make misleading statements. Do you not find that this describes the Conservative government's actions very well?
The Bloc Québécois finds that this government's ideology is an affront to democracy. For the Conservative Party, the House of Commons is the equivalent of a monkey wrench stuck in the gears of the Conservative strategy, which aims only to keep the party in power. This shows its entire lack of respect for the principles that form the basis of our democracy.
Sine the Conservatives came to power in 2006, a number of ministers have found themselves in embarrassing situations. Their exaggerated partisanship and their attempts to control information are the reasons for that.
On March 3, 2011, an employee of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism used the public resources of his office. The minister's director of multicultural affairs mistakenly sent a member of the NDP a fundraising letter for a Conservative advertising campaign. The letter provided a detailed outline of the Conservatives' strategy, and we learned that only certain cultural communities were being targeted. The minister's government letterhead was used, which violates the rules.
The minister also adopts a client-centric approach although he is responsible for all newcomers. It is absolutely unacceptable. The Minister of Immigration has been mixed up in a number of cases that highlight this government's questionable strategy. A government certificate bearing the immense logo of the Conservative Party and sending an ultra-partisan email to a refugee defence agency can be added to the list of the minister's ideological actions. But the minister does not even have the courage to assume his responsibilities. He refuses to leave office and places the blame on his former employee.
In December 2010, the minister responsible for CIDA was asked a question in committee about who had altered a document coming from the agency. By adding the word “not”, someone had cancelled the decision made by officials to grant financing in the amount of $7 million to the KAIROS organization. However, the minister admitted in February that she herself had altered the document in order to cancel the KAIROS financing.
This action reflects the Conservatives’ lack of sensitivity towards the causes defended by this organization. But, more importantly, the minister lied to the committee and misled the representatives of the people. Since then, she has not been allowed by her one and only big boss, the Prime Minister, to answer any questions from the opposition. When she answers a question relating to this matter, she simply reads a memo from one of her assistants about the situation in another country. So she is just deflecting questions.
The Speaker of the House said yesterday that the minister has violated parliamentary privilege. She may be declared to be in contempt of Parliament. This depends on the actions of the opposition in the coming days.
Regardless of how this case ends, it is the duty of every parliamentarian to denounce this reactionary behaviour. When members of the cabinet violate the rules of the House as she did, it only increases the cynicism felt towards politicians.
Late in 2010, public servants received a directive ordering them to replace “Government of Canada” with “Preparation H Government”. The Prime Minister is thus trying to show that he is the government and that he is the master of Parliament. How can we avoid comparing him to Big Brother, the omnipresent fictional character who rules the state? You might also feel that you are living in a storybook world of wizards, in which the state is run by a Government Who Must Not Be Named.
Some public administration experts make a parallel with King Louis XIV, who said “I am the State”. I should point out that Louis XIV reigned over France during the 17th and 18th centuries. This is what we call a regressive ideology.
While we are on the issue information monitoring and control, I must mention the obstruction by the Minister of Natural Resources and his lack of transparency. Back in October, one of the minister's assistants resigned—another one—when the media revealed that he had tried on three occasions to prevent the disclosure of government information. Around the middle of December 2010, we learned that two other assistants of the minister had also tried to block an authorized access to information request. While he was the Minister of Public Works, the minister's office impeded the disclosure of information on the asbestos issue and on the preparations for the U.S. president's visit, in 2009.
With these numerous cases of obstruction and lack of transparency, we can no longer talk about isolated incidents but, rather, a true culture of secrecy. The minister gives a lot of work to the Information Commissioner's investigators. We also have doubts about the minister's defence, who pleaded ignorance. This is yet another cabinet member who refused to resign despite those wrongdoings.
The circumvention of election campaign rules by the Conservatives is certainly the best example of the Conservative government's behaviour. This government will do anything to remain in office and to promote its partisan interests. A few days ago, the Federal Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the Federal Court, which supported the Conservatives' view on their election financing scheme. This issue dates back to 2006. To better understand its impact, I am going to mention the facts surrounding this controversy.
During the 2006 election campaign, the Conservative Party exceeded the spending limit by one million dollars. Four major Conservative organizers were involved in that illegal scheme, including two who are now senators. That is probably a prerequisite. I am referring to the in and out scheme used by the party's strategists. The Conservatives tried to circumvent the rules by involving local organizations in their calculations of election expenses to pay for national ads. In 2007, the Conservative Party took Elections Canada to court. That takes some nerve. The arm's length body refused to pay back the election expenses claimed by 67 candidates, of which more than one third are Quebec candidates.
Last Tuesday's ruling supports Elections Canada's stand. The organization says that the Conservatives divided over $1 million among candidates who had not yet reached their individual spending limit.
When it comes to spending limits, the Canada Elections Act is essential to the health of our democracy. It ensures a level playing field among candidates, so that money is not the overriding factor in an election campaign. However, as we know, the Conservatives are a little too fond of the American model. They would like to see the day when spending limits are abolished. Remember their attempts to abolish public financing for political parties, so as to muzzle opposition parties. In its decision, the Federal Court of Appeal points out on a number of occasions the Conservative Party's wrongdoings.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that this government has no intention of respecting the will of the people's representatives who are gathered in this House. There are a number of reasons to denounce the conduct of the government, namely: the unacceptable actions of several of its ministers; its self-promotion through government communications; the circumvention of the election rules by its party; and its blatant lack of transparency, despite putting its hand on its heart.
For these reasons, I am asking all members of this House to support the Bloc Québécois' motion.
View Nicole Demers Profile
BQ (QC)
View Nicole Demers Profile
2011-03-10 16:44 [p.8926]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss the motion that we moved this morning. First, I would like to say that I will share the time I have with the member for Outremont.
Contrary to what the member for Saint-Boniface says, it was not rhetoric that we included in this morning's motion. We ourselves did not decide that the Conservative Party had violated the Elections Act and the Access to Information Act. Nor did we decide ourselves that the government had broken the law when it came to telling the House the truth.
We moved this motion because we had proof and because the Speaker of the House himself showed us yesterday that, in two of these cases, we had reason to doubt the accuracy of what we were told in the House.
As for election fraud, it has been proven that even Conservative members from Quebec made claims for amounts of money that belonged to the people of Quebec, because these members represented Quebec. They were not entitled to the money they received to run in the election. Because they were not entitled, they should have to give it back.
We are not the ones who decided this; it was the appeal court. I think that the appeal court judges are smart enough to know the difference between election fraud and an in and out transfer. The member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre tried to make us believe that all of the other parties took advantage of the same scheme, but I must point out that we never submitted false invoices and we did not request any refunds from the Chief Electoral Officer. That is why we were not accused of anything. What we did was legal. The Conservatives are under investigation because what they did was illegal.
I would also like to remind members of some rather comical incidents. If we look back, we should have seen this coming. We should have already been thinking that something was not right about what the Prime Minister was telling us when he was in the opposition. For example, on June 18, 2004, LCN reported that the Conservative leader had adopted a brand new slogan to appeal to Quebeckers: “Un gouvernement propre au Québec”, while the slogan of the Bloc Québécois was “Un parti propre au Québec”. Already, the Prime Minister was confused and was trying to use our good idea for himself.
On another occasion, he also said that he thought people should elect a cat person because if you elect a dog person, you elect someone who wants to be loved. If you elect a cat person, you elect someone who wants to serve. He said that in an interview with Kevin Newman on Global National on April 5, 2006. He could have also said that if you elect a cat person, you elect someone who likes to serve himself.
And even before he destroyed everything that was happening at Status of Women Canada and before he destroyed the hopes of women in this country and in Quebec, Andrée Côté, the director of legislative reform at the National Association of Women and Law, which had to shut down because its funding was cut, wrote this on January 18, 2007:
Exactly one year ago, to the day, January 18, 2006, in the midst of an election campaign, [the Prime Minister] declared:
“Yes, I'm ready to support women's human rights and I agree that Canada has to do more to meet its international obligations to women's equality. If elected I will take concrete and immediate measures, as recommended by the United Nations, to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women.”
On the federal election date of January 23, 2006, his party was elected to office. In spite of its minority government status, the government was quick to set in motion a series of policy decisions that have sent a resounding message, namely: that women’s equality and the promotion and protection of their human rights is not of concern to this government.
To finish up with the anecdotes, I would like to remind the members that it was also said that by refusing to testify before the Standing Committee on Public Safety, the member for Beauce and the members of this government were trampling on the foundations of ministerial accountability and parliamentary democracy:
And above all else, they are violating the formal commitments they made during their 2006 election campaign. “The time for accountability has arrived,” declared the Prime Minister on page 1 of his party's election platform. It seems that that time has come and gone.
I have another quote from the Prime Minister who, as Leader of the Opposition, told the Montreal newspaper The Gazette the following, the year before he came to power:
Information is the lifeblood of a democracy. Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent or corrupt governance can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.
When he became Prime Minister, his attitude appeared to undergo a shift of considerable proportions.
According to Lawrence Martin in The Politics of Control, “It often took the Conservatives twice as long as previous governments to handle access requests. Sometimes it took six months to a year”.
Moving on, I would like to refer to the director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Kevin Gaudet, who has said there should be an investigation to determine whether the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism routinely misused government resources to win votes.
I believe our motion clearly describes the facts as I just listed them in this House. We did not conjure this motion completely out of thin air. We thought about it very carefully and reflected on it after a series of indisputable facts that we have listed and that I could continue to list for several minutes.
Of course we are going to ask all members of this House, or at least all opposition members, to vote in support of our motion. In closing, I would like to remind the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre that in 2005, the Prime Minister himself wanted to sign and then did sign a letter to form a coalition with the Bloc Québécois and the NDP. If a coalition can work for him, it can work for others, too.
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