Mr. Speaker, Bill C-38 amends or repeals 70 different pieces of legislation. It is 425 pages of legislative text with 753 clauses.
There has been a lot of focus on the length of the bill. In fact, my party and I are more concerned with the breadth of the bill and the range of legislative changes made by Bill C-38. In fact, that is much more important than the number of words or pages. To put this in perspective, it often takes just a single clause in Bill C-38 to repeal or introduce an entire act.
Proposed in Bill C-38, we now have an entirely new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in clause 52. This one clause replaces decades of environmental protection and oversight in Canada.
Clause 441 repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act.
Clause 447 increased the old age security qualification age from 65 to 67.
Clause 686 abolishes the National Council on Welfare.
Clause 699 repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.
Clause 711 introduces an entirely new Shared Services Canada Act.
These are just a sampling of a few of the 753 clauses contained in this legislation.
Under the Conservatives, budget bills have grown tremendously in breadth. These pieces of omnibus legislation have become more complex, affecting widely disparate subjects and putting them into a single bill. At the same time, the Conservatives are limiting Parliament's ability to examine these different topics in several ways: first, by limiting the amount of time we have to examine the legislation before rushing it through committee; second, by limiting the number of expert witnesses we can hear from at committee; and third, by limiting the debate on this legislation in Parliament.
There is another way that the government is operating at committee to try to subvert reasonable debate and quash any dissension to its views. We heard from a number of witnesses who spoke at length in opposition to parts of this legislation. National Chief Shawn Atleo spoke to our committee. Perversely, most of Mr. Atleo's testimony and the intent of his testimony were actually expunged from the report that the committee presented. Contrary to what the researchers provided, the governing members on the committee worked together to ensure that we would effectively expunge any piece of testimony that may be critical of the government's system.
The same was done with Tom Siddon, a former minister of fisheries in a Progressive Conservative government, who said that this legislation would make “Swiss cheese” out of the Fisheries Act and warned us of the remarkably harmful damage to the Fisheries Act that would be rendered by this legislation. Most of the intent of his testimony was effectively expunged from the final report.
Over 600 clauses are included in parts 1, 2 and 4 of the bill, but the finance committee had just over a week to hear from a grand total of 57 witnesses from outside of the government. Most clauses in this legislation were not properly examined by the finance committee or addressed by even a single witness. Simply put, the process to study Bill C-38 was a farce.
Unfortunately, last spring the Conservatives learned that parliamentary process does not seem at the present to matter a lot to Canadians. They also learned this in Ontario with the omnibus bills of the Harris government.
I mentioned last spring that it was this Conservative government that became the first government not only in Canada but in the British Commonwealth parliamentary system to have actually been found in contempt of Parliament by the previous Speaker and House.
Elections are about a lot of issues. Sometimes an issue will resonate with Canadians and sometimes it will not. In that election, for whatever reason, a lot of Canadians did not seem to be paying attention to the fact that we had a sitting government that had been found in contempt of Parliament.
The Harris Conservative government in Ontario repeatedly used massive omnibus legislation. It disrespected Parliament, disrespected taxpayers and got away with it.
The Conservatives have in some ways been positively reinforced for negative behaviour, but things are changing. We are increasingly hearing from Canadians. We are hearing from them through all forms of media, whether it is opinion letters in newspapers, online fora, or in person.
Last evening I was at my home in Cheverie and I took my Gator down to the end of our drive to plant some trees. A fellow on his motorbike out for a Sunday evening drive stopped to speak to me. I had not met this fellow before. He told me that he has paid a bit of attention to politics but has never been involved, but he wants to get involved now. He said this has gone too far, that the Conservative government is out of control. He said that what we are seeing in Ottawa is not a democratic government.
I hear that also from people at the farmers' market in Wolfville. They tell me that the government wants to celebrate the veterans of the Second World War who fought for our freedoms, but they want to know how the government can on the one hand celebrate the sacrifices and commitment of the veterans who fought for our democratic rights and freedoms while on the other hand attacking those same democratic rights and freedoms.
I am hearing that from people in my riding, and I am hearing from members of our caucus from across Canada that increasingly Canadians are noticing and are willing to get engaged and involved to find a better alternative.
This is not esoteric parliamentary procedure stuff that the Conservatives are trying to pretend. This strikes to the core values of respect for Parliament and democracy.
I will be speaking later about our inability to get legitimate information from the government about the legislation we are going to vote on, but suffice it to say that by limiting public debate and oversight, the Conservatives are hoping that Canadians will be too distracted by process issues to notice what they will really be doing with this legislation. The Conservatives are trying to distract Canadians with the process issues, and a lot of us have focused on the process issues. The Conservatives are quite happy about that, because they do not think Canadians really care about the democratic institutions that govern us and defend our freedoms. The Conservatives are wrong. They are betting against the goodwill, the good faith and the intelligence of Canadians in the long term.
I want to talk about a couple of the changes being made that the Conservatives are largely ducking responsibility and accountability for. One is the OAS change. The Conservatives are saying that this is really not a cut. They should explain that to a low-income Canadian who is looking forward to becoming 65 to quality for OAS. Let us look at who will be affected by these changes.
Forty per cent of OAS recipients make less than $20,000 a year. Fifty-three per cent of OAS recipients make less than $25,000 a year. The Conservatives are telling Canadians that they will have 11 years to start saving a bit more money. It is pretty hard to tell people who are making $20,000 a year that they have to save more money, and that is effectively what the Conservatives are telling a lot of Canadians.
The Conservatives are telling Canadians that they are living longer, that they are healthier. Lawyers, accountants, members of Parliament or journalists can probably work, if health permits, until 75 or 80 years of age.
My father was a businessman. He worked until he was 82. However, in the case of manual labourers, working in a cold, damp fish plant on a concrete floor every day, on their feet all day; welders; physical labourers; carpenters; or pipe fitters, chances are by the age of 65 their bodies are ready for a break. There was no consideration of these people, the low-income Canadians being affected by this.
The government is quite happy that the issues around Bill C-38 have focused on parliamentary process and not on the actual issues. We have lots of time before the next election to ensure that we get back to those substantive issues with Canadians.
I am hearing from a lot of industries across Canada, and specifically in Atlantic Canada, on changes to EI, particularly from significant employers in seasonal industries, including horticulture. They tell me that these changes could wipe them out, that programs to support seasonal workers are part of the production chain of agriculture and horticulture, not just in Canada but globally. They say that any impediment to the use of seasonal workers or seasonal worker programs in the horticulture industry could wreak havoc on their capacity to be competitive with industries in other countries.
The legislation is also hurting Canada's international brand by tearing up 100,000 immigration applications. The Conservatives are imposing their unilateral decision to reduce health care transfer payment growth to the provinces and territories. They are enabling themselves to target charities with which they disagree. While they are at it, they have eliminated groups with which they disagree, including the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Rights and Democracy, and the National Council of Welfare. What do those groups have in common? Number one, they were set up decades ago. Number two, they reported to governments and would disagree with governments from time to time. Number three, their funding was continued under both Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments, which could accept the principle that governments do not just fund organizations that agree with them. They have a responsibility in a functioning democracy to accept truth from experts, from people who spend their lives dealing with these issues, like the National Council of Welfare that understands the issues of poverty in Canada, or the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
Most people have accepted that we cannot put in silos the economy on one side and the environment on the other, that good environmental policy can actually be good economic policy and that the jobs of the future are going to be increasingly green jobs, including areas of opportunity in cleaner conventional energy in places like the oil sands where we can develop those technologies. Why then, for goodness' sake, would the Conservatives get rid of a government council that has operated for decades dealing with this issue, just at the time when Canada has to deal with the issue of bringing the economy and the environment together?
Bill C-38 reduces the Auditor General's oversight of a number of government agencies. It reduces democratic oversight of Canada's spy agency by abolishing the office of the Inspector General. It eliminates a number of the government's reporting requirements on climate change and public service jobs. It makes changes that some experts are warning us are unconstitutional, like changes to parole hearings.
However, I believe Canadians are hitting a tipping point where we will no longer accept this anti-democratic style and substance of the government. For some time the Conservatives have been starving Canadians and members of Parliament of the information we need to have informed debate and to make informed decisions.
The Conservatives treat Parliament as an enemy, one that they try to starve of information and co-operation. They refuse to provide basic information, for instance about how much legislation would cost. In the fall of 2010, I put forward a motion at the finance committee, demanding that the government provide us with information about the costs of the F-35s and of its prison agenda. My motions were adopted, but the government continued to refuse to disclose the information. I appealed to Parliament through a question of privilege. I argued that MPs have a fiduciary responsibility to Canadians. We must know how much legislation would cost before we vote on it.
This is not just a responsibility we have as opposition members of Parliament. It is very important that the members of Parliament in the government recognize that the Conservative MPs have the same job description that we do. We have the same fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers and to citizens and to our electors to know the cost of the legislation we are voting on. To vote blindly, without even demanding that information, is to not do our job. That is effectively what the Conservatives are failing to do when they are complicit with a government that starves Parliament of this vital information. The Conservative MPs are failing to do their job. By denying us that information, the government is denying Canadians this information.
That is why we see today that the Parliamentary Budget Officer, appointed by the Conservatives, has been pushed to the limit where he is not being given information on legislation from the government. He asked for simple information on the impact of cuts over the future fiscal years. He received the response that the government cannot provide him with that information. A legal opinion came out this morning that the law the Conservatives are breaking is section 79.3 of the Parliament of Canada Act. We have a government that is actually breaking the law. This law gives Parliament, through the Parliamentary Budget Officer, free and timely access to any financial or economic data. Who brought in that law? I think it was the Conservatives. It was part of their Accountability Act. So they make the law and then they break the law.
The reality is that the Conservatives, many from the Reform Party background, rode into Ottawa on this white horse of accountability, defending the interests of Parliament against the executive, defending the interests of the taxpayers against those who would not defend their interests here in Ottawa and those who would not provide them with information on legislation. Now it is the Conservatives who are quashing all that. The reality is that the Conservatives, who won an election promising openness, transparency and accountability, are the least open, least transparent and least accountable government in the history of Canada.
We have a responsibility. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has a responsibility to do his job. He takes that seriously. He has asked for information, not on his own behalf but for Parliament, so that members of Parliament can do their job. Our parliamentary system relies on hon. members to act honourably and it expects that members of Parliament's questions will be answered fully and completely. However, when MPs ask substantive questions to ministers or even to officials at committee, these questions are routinely evaded or ignored. Even order paper questions are now ignored. Shortly after budget 2012 was released, I submitted several order paper questions, seeking a government-wide breakdown of financial information in the three most recent budgets. I believe I am the only MP to have done this. The response from the government was basically “no”. In fact, it sent me a copy of the table that I referenced in my request and asked for more detailed information. It simply sent me the table, to add insult to injury.
In disrespecting Parliament and members of Parliament, the Conservative government is disrespecting the Canadians who chose the Parliament. It is in disrespecting Parliament, and not giving us the cost of legislation, that the government is disrespecting taxpayers.
We will have, in the coming years, an opportunity to debate with Canadians some of the substantive and deleterious impacts of this legislation on the lives of Canadians. It is very important that we fulfill our responsibility as MPs to defend this Parliament against a tyrannical government that no longer cares about Parliament and the democratic rights and freedoms of Canadians.