Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise at report stage to speak to Bill C-15. In the seven minutes I have, I will try to be very economical and focus on a few points that have been mentioned by other members.
I have a very strong view about the improper use of omnibus budget bills, and I want to reflect briefly on the history of omnibus budget bills.
The mandate letter to the hon. government House leader makes it clear that he is directed to “end the improper use of omnibus bills”. Therefore, having fought very hard in the spring of 2012 against Bill C-38, the omnibus budget bill, I want to canvass this because I think it is important for me to say out loud that this is not an improper use of an omnibus bill but it comes dangerously close.
Omnibus budget bills between 1993 and the 2000 were generally around 12 pages long. The biggest omnibus bill that I had seen was in the spring of 2005 under the previous Liberal government of Paul Martin, which topped 120 pages. People actually protested that the Martin government's 2005 budget bill, at 120 pages, was too long, including the leader of the official opposition at that time, who went on to become prime minister and became the champ of all inappropriate and improper uses of budget bills.
This budget bill, at 179 pages, is clearly the longest omnibus budget bill from a Liberal government. However, it is a piker compared to the abuse of democracy that we saw under the previous Conservative regime.
In the year 2010, we saw an omnibus budget bill that was 883 pages long. In the spring of 2012, we saw the first part of an omnibus budget bill that was 440 pages long, with a second part in the fall, which was another 400 pages long.
What makes an omnibus bill appropriate or inappropriate? If in one piece of legislation we are working toward a single purpose and all pieces of the legislation stem from that single purpose, it is an omnibus bill all right, but it is not improper. What happened in the spring of 2012 is that Bill C-38 destroyed our Environmental Assessment Act, which was not mentioned in the budget, destroyed the Fisheries Act, repealed the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, and changed the National Energy Board Act. No fewer than 70 laws were changed at that time.
Therefore, let us not muddy the waters. The warning to my friends in the Liberal government is that they should not tread too far. This one should have split out the commercialization of the Wheat Board. We needed to study that separately. However, overall, this one is not an improper use of omnibus bills; rather, it just flirts with the word “improper”.
What is good and what is not good about this? Obviously, there is much in this budget to like. I was disappointed because I thought there would be more to like, and there are two specific elements I must mention, before we move to Standing Order 31s, that are really unfortunate and, in fact, egregious.
In terms of the good things, there are changes to the employment insurance program that I welcome. However, as many groups have said, including those who testified before the finance committee, we need to go further and fix EI to get it back to the systems we had before the changes of the Conservative regime. Therefore, while it is certainly better to have the changes we just made, I tried in committee to make amendments to deal with the long-tenured worker, the idea that one has to work for seven years to qualify for those pieces. We have not yet seen the reversal of the changes to seasonal workers. We need to see that.
In the case of the child benefit program, I agree with the Canadian Teachers' Federation, which described it as a good first step to alleviate childhood poverty. However, I found this evidence from the Canadian Teachers' Federation really telling, and we should all take it on board as parliamentarians. It stated:
Each day in our classrooms, Canadian teachers engage with children and youth who are hungry, tired, and struggling due to poverty.
I talk to teachers all the time. We need to do much more for our children. This is just a very small first step.
With respect to veterans, I would say that the Liberals kept their promise to open the veterans offices across Canada that were wrongfully closed. They have done some things that will change the permanent impairment allowance and the grade determination. This is an improvement. However, we still need much more to be done for our veterans, just as we do for pensioners.
The National Pensioners Federation made the same point. The increase in GIS for pensioners is very welcome, but it is $2.60 a day. The maximum improvement for poor seniors in this budget is $2.60 a day. That is not enough.
There is more that I liked in the budget, such as cultural industries and better deals for students, although the money needs to be improved. However, there are two pieces that are completely egregious. One is found on page 221, where the fossil fuel subsidy to liquefied natural gas is left in place until 2024. This is a violation of the Liberal election promise to end subsidies to fossil fuels.
Also, at pages 166 and 167, we see a commitment to keep environment assessment in place under the Bill C-38 version, which as I just mentioned, destroyed our environmental assessment regime. Specific reference to continue to fund CEAA under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, is offensive to all of us who understand environmental law.