Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today. I want to welcome back my colleagues on all sides of the House. We have important work to get to and I am looking forward to starting that important work with our discussion today on Bill C-21.
As the NDP critic for small business, government imposed red tape and the paper burden faced by Canada's entrepreneurs remains one of the primary concerns raised with me by business owners as I continue to consult with them on how government can create the conditions for them to grow their businesses and create jobs from coast to coast to coast.
Whether it is the local bakery or the flower shop, small and medium-sized businesses are the heart of our local economies and the backbone of thriving, prosperous communities. It is these small business owners who create jobs, employ our neighbours, and support our charities. I can speak to that truthfully as I ran the United Way in Sudbury before I was elected in 2008. It was the small and medium-sized business owners who came out to support our charities and support the United Way, and so many of them across our communities. That is why it is so important that the government do all it can to support the growth of small businesses and why New Democrats support common sense solutions to reduce the paper burden and the compliance costs small businesses face when dealing with the government.
New Democrats believe in reducing the paper burden and implementing solutions that would have the potential to eliminate red tape for businesses. Young entrepreneurs and family businesses are key to a prosperous economic future for Canada. We need to ensure they are using their time as efficiently as possible. The goal of reducing the paper burden for job creators is laudable.
According to a report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, various forms of regulatory requirements spread across all levels of government cost business owners an estimated $30 billion a year in time and money. This particularly concerns small and medium-sized businesses because the annual cost of regulation per employee is highest for enterprises with less than five employees. I think of all of the businesses in my riding, many of them are what we call the businesses on Main Street. These businesses are doing great work. They start at seven o'clock in the morning and finish at nine or ten o'clock at night. They have five or less employees. However, these businesses lack the financial capacity to hire someone dedicated to regulatory compliance. Therefore, these costs often are internalized as lost opportunity costs because it is the small business owners themselves who are faced with the daunting task of filling out the piles of paperwork that a business is obligated to file.
With that being said, while we are happy to work with Canada's entrepreneurs to make their interaction with government as simple and cost-effective as possible, New Democrats also believe regulations that are in the public interest should be maintained. It is not just a question of managing the number of regulations on the books but of determining which regulations are working for Canadians and which are not. It seems like common sense.
Most importantly, government regulations that protect health, safety, and the environment of Canadians should be a priority. Unfortunately, the bill only pays lip service to that obligation. In fact, only in the preamble to the bill does it state that the enactment would not apply to regulations that protect the health and safety of Canadians. Even more worrisome, there is no mention of the word “environment”. The preamble states, “Whereas the one-for-one rule must not compromise public health, public safety or the Canadian economy”. There is absolutely no mention in the bill of the environment.
An hon. member: That speaks volumes.
Mr. Glenn Thibeault: It does, Mr. Speaker.
New Democrats are not alone in expressing our concerns about this impact. As I said, it is worrisome that there is no mention of the word “environment”. It is also reprehensible. New Democrats will specifically seek to address this in an amendment during the committee stage of the bill's proceedings.
We have some validators on this. Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, has underscored the importance of ensuring the proper enforcement of health and safety regulations, stating that “Regulations, and their proper enforcement, can literally save lives. But sometimes only a horrific mishap will make the point.” Unfortunately, we recently had a very stark reminder of what can happen when deregulation runs amok with the tragic incident at Lac-Mégantic last summer.
The labour movement is not alone in underscoring the importance of regulations that protect the health, safety, and environment of Canadians within the context of the bill. In the lead-up to the introduction of Bill C-21, Laura Jones, from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, who has been quoted numerous times by the other side, stated that rules that are necessary to protect health, promote safety, and protect the environment are important and should not be classified under the definition of red tape.
What is most concerning about this sloganistic approach to easing the paper burden on small business is that the Conservative and Liberal track records from the past when it comes to safeguarding regulations and standards that protect the health and safety of Canadians have been abysmal.
As I mentioned earlier, the tragedy in Quebec has put rail safety in Canada back in the spotlight after decades of deregulation by the Liberals and then Conservatives. Largely, this descent into deregulation can be traced back to 1999 when the Liberals further deregulated rail safety by continuing to implement the safety management systems approach adopted by Mulroney's Conservative government. This approach has allowed rail companies to self-regulate rather than requiring them to adhere to operational safety standards jointly established by government and the industry. Unfortunately, we have seen a shocking example of how unchecked deregulation can cut short the lives of dozens of individuals and reek havoc on an entire town in what seemed like the blink of an eye but was really the result of a slow march toward a dangerous self-regulatory approach.
Further, with its October 2014 budget implementation act, Bill C-4, the Conservatives introduced changes to the labour code that will significantly restrict the powers of health and safety officers in federal workplaces. This is yet again an attack on Canadian workers that could have serious consequences for individuals in the workplace.
Let me speak briefly as to why the issue of health and safety regulations is so important and why New Democrats believe they should be exempted from the mandate of Bill C-21. In Canada, over 1,000 people fall victim to workplace accidents every year, while a growing number of Canadians are losing their lives or suffering from work-related illnesses. Regrettably, this number has been going up for the past 15 years.
I think we can all agree in the House that any injury, any death in the workplace, is one too many. Unfortunately, all too often families are left to pick up the pieces when loved ones are suddenly taken away while on the job. No one should ever have to leave their home in the morning wondering whether today is the day they die at work. In our country, three people are killed on the job every working day. Left behind are families and friends devastated by the loss of their loved ones.
Given the sad reality of how tenuous health and safety conditions continue to be for many of Canada's workers, it begs the question: If the Conservatives are really serious about the health and safety of Canadians, why not explicitly exclude regulations that protect health, safety, and the environment from the application of the bill?
New Democrats need more than the government's word or the preamble of a bill, which is subject to interpretation. We want assurances that the one-for-one rule would not apply to regulations that impact the health, safety, and environment of Canadians.
Canada's entrepreneurs are resourceful and innovative by nature. They are well positioned to succeed in the 21st century economy. However, to help them create the jobs we need in Canada, we need to make sure government is providing new entrepreneurs with the services and the supports they need to succeed. For instance, there are a variety of government services to assist businesses, but as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has pointed out, they are offered by many different governments, different agencies, and different departments. Finding and applying for the right service can also be time consuming, and many small business owners are forced to hire expensive consultants to navigate that bureaucracy. That needs to change. However, Bill C-21 does nothing to address this growing concern.
One aspect of this issue, which often gets lost in the conversation around the need to reduce the paper burden, is that dramatic cuts to the public service represent an additional layer of red tape for small business owners as they are forced to wait longer for the answers they need to maintain and grow their businesses.
New Democrats were staunch opponents to the cuts made by the Conservative government, cuts that have had a major impact not just on our most vulnerable citizens but also on business owners who are placed on hold in what can seem like a never-ending queue. While the Conservatives like to brand themselves as the party that is open for business, their cuts to front-line public services has left a closed sign hanging in the window of government service delivery during precisely the time when small business owners need a leg-up because of the economic downturn. This has left entrepreneurs out in the cold, not to mention the impact it has had on job recovery in our country.
That is why the bill is such a misnomer. On the one hand, the government is using a sloganistic approach to improving the efficiency of government in responding to the needs of our job creators. Then, on the other hand, it has undermined the ability of the government to deliver services and respond to inquiries from those very same job creators with its reckless public sector cuts. New Democrats believe the government should be focusing on real measures to help small business owners grow their businesses and not just half measures through a self-promotional bill.
If the Conservatives truly wanted to help small businesses they would not be dragging their feet when it comes to taking real action to curtail the excessive fees credit card issuers charge merchants. Small businesses are being gouged every day. On average, they must pay about $200 or more in fees for every $10,000 processed. Despite dismissing a recent case against Visa and Mastercard, in a rare move the Competition Tribunal called for a regulatory framework to deal with anti-competitive practices. So far, the Conservatives are really only paying lip service to the plight of small merchants by finally admitting that action is needed to lower merchant fees.
I could talk about the time when I went to the great riding of Winnipeg Centre. My colleague from that great riding and I went out to talk to small business owners in the Forks, which I think is the name of that great little place that is around there. We had business owners trying to track us down to talk to us about their concerns with respect to how much they are having to spend every year, some of them talking about tens of thousands of dollars, just to be able to accept credit cards, and the credit card fees that they have to pay. Some of them have even said they have had to stop taking them, which is having an effect on their businesses. They said they were not hiring people. They were not expanding their businesses because of these fees they were having to pay.