Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-38, the 425-page omnibus budget implementation act. It would, among other things, gut Canada's environmental laws; break the Conservatives' election promise by raising the age of eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67; create uncertainty for businesses, workers and seasonal industries with changes to EI that attack rural Canada, Atlantic Canada and the provinces; and that would hurt Canada's international brand by tearing up 100,000 immigration applications.
Bill C-38 imposes the Conservatives' unilateral decision to reduce health transfers to the provinces and territories. It allows the Conservatives to target charitable organizations they disagree with.
It would wipe out groups such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Rights and Democracy and the National Council on Welfare. All of these groups have one thing in common: over the last 30 years, and in some cases more, these groups were independent. They were funded through the government, but they took independent positions based on evidence that was sometimes contrary to the governing party, which was, in some cases, Liberal governments, in other cases, Progressive Conservative governments. However, the current Conservative government is the first government that actually de-funded these groups simply because they disagreed with the governing party.
Bill C-38 would reduce the Auditor General's oversight on a number of government agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Northern Pipeline Agency. It would reduce oversight on Canada's spy agency by abolishing the office of the Inspector General. It would repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. It would eliminate a number of the government's reporting requirements on climate change and public service jobs. It would make changes that experts warn are unconstitutional to parole hearings.
The finance committee spent a few days studying the legislation since the House last debated the bill. A finance subcommittee was struck to examine part 3 of the bill, which was focused on environmental measures. However, this study took place while the environment committee was travelling to Alberta and Nova Scotia, which limited the ability of key MPs with expertise on the environment to participate in the Bill C-38 study.
The subcommittee's report on Bill C-38 was a disgraceful whitewash. The main report did not include any reference to public opposition to the bill, with the exception of a single reference that completely misrepresented the testimony of former Progressive Conservative fisheries minister, Tom Siddon. Mr. Siddon, who was the fisheries minister from 1985 to 1990 in the Mulroney government, said:
They are totally watering down and emasculating the Fisheries Act.
They are really taking the guts out of the Fisheries Act and it’s in devious little ways if you read all the fine print...they are making a Swiss cheese out of [it].
That was said by a former minister of fisheries, a Progressive Conservative activist and minister.
Mr. Siddon was part of a group of four former fisheries ministers, two Liberal and two Progressive Conservatives, who wrote a letter warning the government of the disastrous effect the bill would have on our fisheries.
The subcommittee's report endorsed the changes made to the National Energy Board despite having heard from witnesses who were overwhelmingly opposed to these changes.
Today, Barrie McKenna's article in the The Globe and Mail argues that Bill C-38 undermines:
...the NEB’s authority and independence [and] turns back the clock on five decades of credible resource regulation.... The omnibus bill gives Ottawa carte blanche over as many as 750 decisions a year. That is a lot of authority for Canadians with their X mark in the voting booth to grant a cabinet dominated by one man. It delegitimizes the NEB and injects needless uncertainty into the process.
Furthermore, industry was not calling for a lot of these changes. In fact, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, CAPP, stated that the NEB plays “a very important role in ensuring that we’ve got [a] secure, reliable, affordable energy supply for Canadians, and sustainably develop our abundant energy resources”.
The main finance committee studied parts 1, 2 and 4 of the bill. We heard from officials and a total of 57 witnesses on the 636 clauses contained in parts 1, 2 and 4. To be blunt, the study was a farce. The committee's timeline was rushed, leaving us unable to examine many aspects of the legislation.
We were not given the chance to hear from a single witness outside of the government on a large number of the issues. For instance, we did not hear from any municipal leaders, despite the impact of Bill C-38 on communities.
The main finance committee did not hear from any witnesses from aboriginal groups, even though this bill proposes a number of changes that will impact them directly, such as changes to the First Nations Land Management Act. Parliament has a responsibility to consult with Canada's aboriginal peoples before making these changes.
National Chief Shawn Atleo did appear before the subcommittee. He said:
To date, first nations have not been engaged or consulted on any of the changes to the environmental and resource development regime proposed within Bill C-38....In its current form, part 3 of C-38 clearly represents a derogation of established and asserted first nations rights. If enacted, it will increase the time, costs, and effort for all parties and governments, as first nations will take every opportunity to challenge these provisions.
That testimony, by the way, before the subcommittee was expunged from the subcommittee's report, which the government of course controlled and basically wrote at the committee level.
We did not hear from any railway companies, even though Bill C-38 would increase their share of costs for railway crossings by 500%. The government did not allow us enough time to conduct a proper study of this bill.
The finance committee heard from only one witness on the issue of the changes to the oversight of Canada's spy agency, outside of government officials. That was Paul Kennedy, a former senior assistant deputy minister at public safety, responsible for national security activities and former chief counsel to CSIS, who called these changes to CSIS “sheer insanity”.
The finance committee only heard from one witness on the changes to parole hearings who described the changes as unconstitutional. The Canadian Bar Association also wrote to the finance committee to warn us that these changes in Bill C-38 were unconstitutional.
Many of the witnesses we did hear from were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the changes in the bill. Tyler Sommers of Democracy Watch told the committee:
I don't think that anyone, to the best of their abilities, could represent their constituents when there's a 500-page bill that affects virtually every aspect of Canadian society.
The issue here is not just the length of the bill; it is the breadth of the bill and the number of sweeping changes that are totally unrelated. The reality is we have an environment committee with members of Parliament, with expertise in the environment. We have an aboriginal northern affairs committee with members of Parliament, with an expertise in that area.
If we broke down this bill and not only enabled individual legislators at the committee to study the changes and the legislation in separate bills, but ultimately to vote on them, we would actually be respecting democracy and we would be respecting Parliament. However, the Prime Minister is not interested in that.
In terms of some of the changes on old age security and EI, the government is targeting some of the most vulnerable Canadians. Old age security changes are being rushed through. The Conservatives are saying that we should not to worry, that they will not take effect for 11 years and that if people are 53 years old, they can start saving more money. For goodness sake, 40% of Canadians make less than $20,000 per year. How are they supposed to save money on that? Who gets OAS? The reality is that 40% of the people getting OAS make $20,000 a year or less and 53% make less than $25,000 a year.
This is targeting Canada's most vulnerable. It is an affront to democracy and it is an affront to Canada's most vulnerable who will pay a price for this neo-conservative agenda, which is not well thought out and is an attack on some of Canada's lowest-income people, an attack on rural Canada and an attack on Atlantic Canada.