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View Pierre Poilievre Profile
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
2020-03-09 11:04 [p.1769]
That an order of the House do issue for any document prepared by any department, agency and Crown corporation since November 4, 2015, discussing warnings or concerns of economic downturns, their potential impact on the fiscal framework, or advice or recommendations on how to deal with them; and that the documents be provided to the House within 45 days following the adoption of this motion.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
2020-03-09 11:05 [p.1769]
Mr. Speaker, today is an occasion for us to reflect upon the economic events that are unfolding before our eyes. To do so, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Edmonton Mill Woods.
Let us begin with the story of the grasshopper and the ants:
One fine day in winter, some ants were busy drying their store of corn, which had gotten rather damp during the long spell of snow. Presently came up a grasshopper and begged them to spare a few grains. “For,” he said, “I am simply starving.”
The ants stopped work for a moment, though this was against their principles. “May we ask,” said they, “what were you doing with yourself last summer? Why did you not collect a store of food for the winter?”
“The fact is,” replied the grasshopper, “I was so busy singing that I hadn't the time.” “If you spent the summer singing,” the ants replied, “you can't do better than spend the winter dancing,” and they chuckled and went on about the work.
The ants had been responsible. They knew that the sunshine of the summer would not last, that it was merely one season of the year, so they worked hard to accumulate and set aside grain for the difficult times they knew would be ahead. What did the grasshopper do? He assumed that the sun would always shine and that times would always be good, and that therefore he did not need to do anything but dance and sing and play.
It is no so long ago that the sun was shining on the global economy. In the years 2016, 2017 and 2018, things were quite good. The U.S. economy was roaring, having some of the best growth it had experienced in two decades. Commodity prices had recovered from their lows in 2014, and interest rates were as low as one could expect them to be. In fact, it was almost a perfect coincidence of events where growth was high and interest rates were low, all of which maximized the sunshine that blanketed the economic countryside.
Conservatives said, “Like the ants, now is the time to store away the grains because the sun will not shine forever.” Liberals told us that we should dance and sing and spend. They said that we should spend the cupboard bare, and not worry about the bad times for the good times were here. They said that it was the time to squander those good times and to celebrate in a period of self-praise all the riches that fell from the sky.
Conservatives warned that one day winter would come, that trouble would arise and that we would want then to open our cupboards and find them overflowing with a surplus of supply to get us through those cold, dark months and into the economic springtime down the calendar. Of course, across the way the government said no and that it was going to continue to spend.
What did the Liberals do? In every single year since they formed government, their deficits have been bigger than they promised. They told us that deficits would never exceed $10 billion a year, yet they reached $29 billion. They told us that the budget would be balanced in 2019. That year came and went, and now they predict that the budget will never be balanced. They put us on track to add $100 billion to our national debt.
They did this all while the sun was shining, convinced that the economic laws of the four seasons had been abolished, that bad times would never return and that all we needed to do was sing, dance and spend. It appears winter may have arrived.
I looked at Bloomberg News today at 9:30. I quote:
Canadian markets were battered on all fronts as the collapse in oil sent shockwaves through a country with one of the biggest exposures to the commodity among the Group of Seven.
Stocks cratered 10% with the biggest drop since October 1987, the loonie weakened and government bond yields plunged to fresh records as investor pessimism deepened for an economy that barely eked out any growth in the fourth quarter and is already grappling with the coronavirus.
I emphasize again the last point in the Bloomberg article, that in the last three months of 2019 we had growth of 0.3%, and that was before the illegal blockades and before the coronavirus broke out and started to impact on global economic matters.
I go back to Bloomberg:
The slump in oil will exact another heavy toll on the natural resource-dependent country, which generates about 9% of its gross domestic product from energy and has the biggest exposure to the sector on its stock market at 15%.
Remember, that is the sector the Prime Minister wanted to phase out altogether, and it looks like he is achieving some success.
Not only would the ants be unhappy with the approach the government took to the good times; so too would be Keynes, the great economist leftists these days try to appropriate for themselves. In his great work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Keynes explained that during good economic times governments should run large surpluses and pay down debt in order to prepare a buffer and allow for economic stimulus when troubled times later come. That is exactly the formula followed by the previous Conservative government.
In the first two years it was in office, it paid off almost $40 billion of debt under Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty. To their credit, Chrétien and Martin in the years prior did likewise. That decision to pay down debt prepared us for the winter ahead. When the winter came, and it was a serious winter, we in Canada were more prepared than any other G7 country. We weathered that grand winter storm better than anyone else because our cupboards overflowed with the surplus of responsible planning and hard work that had happened in the summer months.
The current government, having done the opposite, now leaves us weak and vulnerable as we enter this winter period. Having rendered us so weak and so vulnerable, what can we do now to get us through the winter? We as Conservatives have a plan.
That plan would reduce taxes on workers and entrepreneurs to stimulate hard work, enterprise, investment and consumer activity. It would remove the anti-development barriers imposed by bills C-69 and C-48 which prevent us from shipping our resources from the Pacific coast, and from building pipelines to deliver them there in the first place.
We would require a two-for-one red tape reduction rule. That is to say if the government brings in one new economic regulation, it would need to get rid of two of them in order to remove the red tape that is holding back our economy.
We would replace wasteful corporate welfare, like the millions for Bombardier, Loblaws, Mastercard and BlackBerry, with lower taxes for all entrepreneurs to unleash their power to generate wealth and get us through these hard times. In other words, we want to unleash the fierce and ferocious power of free enterprise, which is the only source of prosperity that will get us through these difficult times.
We believe in responsible planning for trouble ahead. That planning did not occur, so now we as Conservatives step forward again with a responsible plan to get us through the hard times, to get us over the difficulties and to allow Canadians to fulfill their potential so that anyone who works hard can achieve his or her dreams.
View Darrell Samson Profile
Lib. (NS)
Madam Speaker, my colleague touched on many topics of importance, some of which I agree with, and one is when he talked about lowering taxes for Canadians. When we came into government in 2015-16, the first priority in that new Parliament was to lower taxes. Therefore, he is right when he talks about the importance of lowering taxes.
I disagree with my colleague, however, when he talked about spending money. We have not been spending money. We have been building a strong Canada by investing in Canadians. We added a million jobs, which is important, and we lowered the unemployment to the lowest in 40 years, which is very important to note.
There is a big difference between spending money and investing in Canadians. We have been investing in Canadians now for five years. The economy has been very strong and we are well prepared to weather any storm we face as we move forward.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
2020-03-09 11:16 [p.1770]
Madam Speaker, the facts are these. Canada's unemployment rate is higher than that of the U.S., the U.K., Japan and Germany. Four out of the seven G7 countries have lower unemployment. Under the Prime Minister, unemployment in Canada has been higher than the G7 average every single year he has been in office.
Our growth right now is 0.3%. It is projected to be 50% lower than that in the United States of America. There is nothing to celebrate about the government's growth in employment numbers.
What we are asking for in this motion, and I have no doubt the government will support it, is the release of all documents in which officials foretold the potential of an economic downturn. Was the government at any point warned by its officials at finance or industry about the economic downturn that could eventually come and what impact such a downturn would have on the size of our deficit?
We want to know if the government anticipated any of these problems. We surely did. We are on the record regularly warning that troubles like this could eventually appear. It turns out winter has come, just as we said it would. We want to know if the government knew these risks existed, if it ignored the warnings and if it took any preparatory action to defend Canadians against its impact.
View Dane Lloyd Profile
View Dane Lloyd Profile
2020-03-09 11:18 [p.1771]
Madam Speaker, I was just reading budget 2019-20 released by the Liberal government and its economic assumptions were that oil would be $55 to $65 a barrel. That is for West Texas Intermediate. We see this morning that it is currently sitting at just over $30 a barrel.
Can the member comment on how he thinks the government could have better prepared for this precipitous drop in oil and what he thinks the impact is going to be on the Canadian economy?
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
2020-03-09 11:18 [p.1771]
Madam Speaker, the member asks a very good question. That assumption of $55 for a barrel of oil is another example of the Prime Minister grasshopper who thought the sun would always shine and that winter would never come. He, as a result, spent the cupboard bare and squandered the good times, leaving us weak and vulnerable for the bad times.
Those bad times may have arrived. The oil price the member mentioned, West Texas Intermediate, is the best possible price we could imagine, that and Brent. Of course, we do not get WTI in Canada because we do not have enough pipeline capacity, so we get the Western Canadian Select price, which is lower still.
The result, of course, is that western Canadians will be devastated by this latest economic phenomenon. Hammered with anti-development laws, pipeline blockages and blockades of railroads that would otherwise be delivering agricultural goods, westerners are already suffering. This is another blow.
The government has imposed austerity on western Canadian workers with its anti-development agenda and now they will suffer more. That is precisely why the Conservative plan would repeal anti-development legislation, approve major projects and unleash the fierce power of the free enterprise system that built the prairie economy over generations. That is how we get through this winter.
View Tim Uppal Profile
View Tim Uppal Profile
2020-03-09 11:20 [p.1771]
Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me, speaking on behalf of my constituents, to rise and speak to this very important motion. It is a motion that my colleague from Carleton has brought forward, and one that I had the opportunity to second.
Throughout my ongoing consultations and interactions with constituents, I hear about the concerns of the people right across Edmonton Mill Woods. One of the most repeated concerns I hear, especially from those in the energy sector, is that they cannot find work.
Just this weekend I heard the story of James, a constituent in my riding who is just starting a young family. He had a great job, a well-paying job with benefits. He worked for a company that had been in operation in Alberta for over 25 years. Unfortunately he was laid off, as the company was forced to shut down and move its operations to the United States.
James has not been able to find work in over a year because of the economic situation in Alberta. He has seen first-hand the impacts the stalling economy has had on his living situation. It is situations like James' that are leading to the frustration, desperation and hopelessness at the root of the unity crisis we are seeing in western Canada.
To make matters worse, there is an unprecedented number of small businesses claiming bankruptcy. Canadians have seen the government raise taxes, spend wastefully and rack up massive deficits. Canadians are worried and for good reason.
We are here today for this important debate. We are calling on the government to provide documents discussing warnings or concerns of economic downturns, the potential impact on the fiscal framework, or advice or recommendations on how to deal with them, and that those documents be provided to the House within 45 days following the adoption of this motion.
We are requesting documents going back to November 2015 because today's economic situation is not something that just happened overnight. Many experts have been warning about this situation for many years.
Constituents in my riding of Edmonton Mill Woods and right across Alberta have felt the effects the Liberal government has had on the economy the hardest. Alberta saw four straight months of job losses at the end of last year, resulting in nearly 10,000 jobs lost in a four-month span. That is 10,000 families receiving the devastating news from their family members when they came home from work that they had just lost their job.
Investment is fleeing Alberta as regulations are strangling the energy sector and making it almost impossible to build pipelines in Canada. Instead of reducing regulation and bringing in smart rules to make Canada an attractive place to invest, the government brought in the most burdensome regulations on work. These have resulted in nearly $200 billion in oil and gas projects being cancelled, and 200,000 Canadian oil and gas workers losing their jobs over the last five years.
Bills like Bill C-69, the “no more pipelines” bill, and Bill C-48, the tanker ban, have unfairly targeted Alberta and have crippled its economy. We have seen the effects these bills and the lack of confidence in the government have had. This was highlighted most recently by Teck's decision to pull its application for the Frontier mine, a project that would have brought 7,000 construction jobs, 2,500 long-term jobs and billions of dollars in investment.
Investment continues to flee Canada while the demand for oil continues to climb right across the world. Foreign investment in Canada is down over 50% since the Prime Minister took power. This was most recently highlighted by Warren Buffet's decision to pull out of a $9-billion liquefied natural gas project in Quebec over concerns about how the government is handling the illegal railway blockades and infrastructure disaster.
This impact is worsened by the increased taxes as a result of the Liberal government. Since the Liberal government came to power in 2015, 81% of middle-income Canadians are seeing higher taxes, with the average income tax increase for middle-income families coming in at $840.
From the cancelled family tax cut to the cancelled art and fitness tax credit, to the cancelled education and textbook credit, the government has found a way to target every Canadian with higher taxes. As a result of these policies, 48% of Canadians are within $200 of not being able to pay their bills and their debt obligations. One-third of Canadians have no money left at the end of the month and are unable to cover their payments, falling further into debt. Adding to their growing concerns is the worry that the government has mismanaged the economy completely.
Businesses are experiencing the same harsh reality. Businesses are facing new carbon taxes and increased CPP and EI premiums. Thousands of local businesses across our great nation are no longer qualifying for the small business tax rate, or will see it reduced. While other G7 countries, such as the United States, United Kingdom and France, have all embarked on major tax reforms over the past few years to simplify the tax code and lower overall taxes, Canada continues to move in the opposite direction by increasing taxes and regulations, stifling our economy and having taxpayer dollars go up in smoke.
That is what the government is doing, while also spending these increased tax dollars at unprecedented levels. During the first four years of the Liberal government, the Prime Minister added over $72 billion to the national debt. This was after the Prime Minister, during the 2015 debates, promised, “I am looking straight at Canadians and being honest the way I always have been. We've said we are committed to balanced budgets and we are. We will balance that budget in 2019.”
However, here we are at the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year and we are staring at the reality of another deficit and nearly $100 billion added to our debt. There is no evidence that there was any increase in economic growth as a result of the spending.
There is also little to show for the frivolous spending. We can look at the $187-billion infrastructure program that the Parliamentary Budget Officer said resulted in zero increase in infrastructure built in Canada because the infrastructure plan did not exist; the $40 million to BlackBerry, where the CEO of the company candidly admitted he did not need the money; the $12 million to buy new refrigerators for Loblaws, a company that turned hundreds of millions of dollars in profits last year; or the $50-million handout to Mastercard. These examples are priceless.
Canadians are getting the short end of the stick again while seeing their hard-earned tax dollars going to waste and turned into subsidies for these Liberal-favoured companies. Let us contrast this with the Conservative plan that my honourable colleague from Carleton laid out.
Being the party of the taxpayer, we outlined our five-step plan focused on tax cuts for workers and entrepreneurs, a plan to phase out the deficit, eliminate red tape and free businesses, end corporate welfare for Liberal-favoured companies, and end wasteful Liberal spending that we have seen over the past four years. These are the types of actions needed to ensure our economy continues to function and that is why we bring forward this motion.
I am proud to support this motion in the House today. Canadians have seen the government raise taxes, spend wastefully and rack up massive deficits. Canadians are worried about the state of the economy, and for good reason, especially given the bleak reality our stock markets reflect today. The Liberals have squandered the good times, leaving us weak and vulnerable for economic turmoil.
As opposed to paying down the debt, the government racked it up while the world was stable and prosperous and spent at unprecedented levels. Canada's economic growth has slowed to 0.3% in the fourth quarter, the worst performance in almost four years, and this was all before the impact of the illegal blockades and coronavirus. The blockades have stifled our economy for weeks and affected small businesses across the country. The Prime Minister's sky-high taxes, wasteful spending and massive deficits have put Canada in an incredibly weak and vulnerable position, with the possibility of a made-in-Canada recession rapidly approaching.
As we continue to see the effects these illegal blockades have had on our economy and the increased concern of the effects of COVID-19, now is the time for the government to finally be transparent with Canadians, to provide us with its plans discussing warnings or concerns of the economic downturns and their potential impacts on the fiscal framework, and advice and recommendations on how to deal with them. Canadians are worried about what is next. The people in my riding of Edmonton Mill Woods, right across Alberta and across this country as a whole cannot handle more weakness and vulnerability from the government.
Canada's Conservatives have a plan to unleash our economy, reward hard work, eliminate waste and allow Canadians to fulfill their potential. We will continue to be the voice of hard-working entrepreneurs and Canadians today and demand that the Liberals get our economy back on track, so that Canadians can get back to work.
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2020-03-09 11:31 [p.1773]
Madam Speaker, I take issue with a number of the different points my hon. colleague has made, but I will focus my question on one. In a very brief way, he passed over his objection to the improvements we have made to the Canada pension plan. When I talk to constituents in the communities I represent, one of the top things I hear from the seniors who live in these communities is that they have real trouble affording the increasing cost of living. Did I hear correctly that the plan of the Conservative Party of Canada is to undo improvements, which will result in fewer dollars going to seniors in retirement? If that is the case, why does he want to cut benefits for seniors in order to pay for whatever the Conservative plan is shaping up to be?
View Tim Uppal Profile
View Tim Uppal Profile
2020-03-09 11:32 [p.1773]
Madam Speaker, what I talked about was providing a plan for businesses right across this country to be able to support workers to get back to work. We want to take the burden away from businesses, especially the small businesses that help to run this country. The Liberal government has created so much red tape and has burdened some of these businesses that they are unable to do what they do best, which is grow the economy and help support workers, so that they can provide for their families.
View Michel Boudrias Profile
View Michel Boudrias Profile
2020-03-09 11:33 [p.1773]
Madam Speaker, regardless of what people may think, we sympathize with our Conservative colleagues' concerns about the effects and economic impact of the energy sector slowdown. We realize that western Canada's economy is largely energy-based.
I do not know whether my colleague is aware that the reason this oil is not competitive on the international market today comes down to three key factors. The first is that it takes the equivalent of four barrels of oil to produce one barrel of this kind of oil, so production is non-competitive right off the bat when the price per barrel falls below $50 or so.
Since 2012, Saudi Arabia has literally cut the price of its oil by raising taxes within its own country to guarantee international dumping. Thanks to those two factors, Canadian oil is not competitive right now and probably will not be for quite some time. That is a business reality, not a political reality under the circumstances.
I understand the local and social concerns this can cause, especially on an economic level, but has my colleague considered any potential transition solutions for his province?
View Tim Uppal Profile
View Tim Uppal Profile
2020-03-09 11:34 [p.1773]
Madam Speaker, my colleague mentions the price of oil being part of the factor here. Yes, it is true the world price of oil makes a difference, but at the end of the day I have seen companies shut down in Alberta and move south to Texas where there is less regulation and more support overall for the industry and they are able to flourish. I am talking about burdensome regulations like Bill C-69 and other bills the Liberal government has brought in that are hurting our industry, such as Bill C-48, which is hurting the possibility of taking oil from Alberta to international markets. The problem here is mismanagement by the current government.
I would hope my hon. colleagues from the Bloc would support this motion so we could see the documents and what types of warnings were given to the government. Let us see what those documents say and how the government has reacted. I think that transparency is important to allow the House and members of Parliament to do our work and to know what types of warnings were given to the government well before this economic situation that has come up now.
View Matthew Green Profile
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-03-09 11:35 [p.1773]
Madam Speaker, the hon. member's colleague rose to regale us with tales of Aesop's fables. He acknowledged the variations of his stories, but he did not express the compassion and charity of Aesop's fables, nor did he acknowledge that a variation of this story is with the dung beetle, which is an improvident insect that finds that the winter rains wash away the dung on which it feeds.
The Conservatives have always maintained the billions in subsidies of the rich oil and gas companies. Will the hon. member finally acknowledge that the billions of taxpayer subsidies to the oil and gas sector are in no way in keeping with the free market, nor in keeping with his colleague's fable?
View Tim Uppal Profile
View Tim Uppal Profile
2020-03-09 11:36 [p.1773]
Madam Speaker, there are no subsidies to the oil and gas sector. The fact of the matter is that we are talking about taking off the burdensome regulations, the unnecessary regulations, regulations that are strangling the energy sector and that is a result of what is happening in Alberta with so many job losses.
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2020-03-09 11:36 [p.1773]
Madam Speaker, as always it is a pleasure to rise in the chamber and, in this instance, to contribute to the debate that largely revolves around the fiscal and economic health of our nation in uncertain and challenging times globally.
The sponsor of the motion went to great lengths to talk down the Canadian economy in an effort to score political points. I disagree with the vast majority of the points that he raised during his debate, so it is somewhat ironic that I plan on supporting the motion because the documents that may exist are not documents that we have any interest in keeping from the opposition nor the Canadian public.
Over the course of my remarks there are a few key themes that I hope to touch on, in order to provide an overview of the current economic and fiscal context in which we find ourselves; to highlight some of the emerging challenges that face the Canadian economy; and to introduce some of the measures that we have put forward in the past few years, which have yielded results far beyond what I thought possible when I was a candidate in the 2015 federal election campaign.
By way of background, it would be helpful to describe the context within which we find ourselves.
Canada is in a very healthy fiscal position compared to other developed economies in the global community. We are well positioned to respond to the kinds of challenges that are now making themselves present.
The narrative that somehow overspending has put us in a position where we cannot afford to deal with the challenges we are now facing is based on false pretenses. I honestly believe that it is designed purely to score political points based on misinformation, rather than making substantive points that contribute to the health of our democratic discourse in Canada.
The fundamentals of our economy are strong. We have seen extraordinary job growth in the past few years. We have seen, as importantly, that growth translate into benefits for middle-class and low-income Canadians. We have seen certain measures improve the competitiveness of our nation's economy and we have seen an overall improvement to the fiscal health of our economy.
Responsible management of the economy is at the forefront of our government. The mandate letter to the finance minister from the Prime Minister specifically mandates him to continue to see our national debt shrink as a function of our economy and to ensure that we preserve enough economic firepower to respond, in the event that an economic downturn does come to pass.
We have been planning to invest in Canadians to create growth but also making sure that we have enough fiscal room to operate, should the circumstances demand any kind of a change in course. Sometimes, the fiscally prudent thing to do is to take advantage of opportunities to invest that may exist.
If I look at the status of Canada's economy right now, what I see is a debt-to-GDP ratio that has actually been shrinking and is projected to continue to go down. What I see is the healthiest debt-to-GDP ratio of any G7 economy. Canada is one of only two countries within the G7 to have a AAA credit rating, the highest possible rating with all of the major credit agencies. Canada is one of only about 10 countries on the planet today that have a credit rating of this strength.
In addition, in our federal budgets that we table, we prepare for contingencies to deal with events that we may not have been able to foresee at the time of their crafting, specifically to deal with challenges that may present themselves that may not be apparent on the day a budget is tabled. Having that contingency in place is precisely the kind of thing we do to deal with emerging challenges, and I will deal with a few of them now.
Of course, the spread of COVID-19, or as most Canadian households would refer to it, coronavirus, in recent weeks may not have been something that could have been apparent months ago. When we became aware that this was an issue that needed to be dealt with, we responded professionally every step of the way.
When it comes to something like the coronavirus, I want to make clear that while it is also an economic issue, our number one priority is protecting the health of Canadians. I have been blown away by the leadership of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the level of co-operation with our international partners, whether it is the G7 or IMF on the economic side, or the World Health Organization on the public health side. I have also been blown away with the level of coordination between federal departments through the government operations centre, which was triggered by public safety in recent weeks, as well as the Public Health Agency's coordination of the efforts between the provinces and territories with federal measures that have been put in place.
To those front-line workers who are diligently protecting the health of Canadians, so that my family and I can sleep soundly knowing that we are in good hands, I want to thank them for their professionalism and excellence throughout.
I want to recognize that despite the fact that it is primarily a public health issue, there are also economic challenges that obviously arise when we see threats of this nature. We do not have to have a crystal ball to see that there is an impact on commodity prices when a particular region of the world has such a dramatic drop in demand that it suddenly has an impact on the countries that produce those commodities. This is having a particular impact on the metals and oil and gas sectors that Canada's economy has depended on for a very long time.
We also see that the travel and tourism sectors can be significantly impacted whenever there are affected regions of the world that have travel advisories. It also can have an economic impact at home. My home province of Nova Scotia was set to host the international women's hockey championship in the coming months. Unfortunately, out of concern of public health and safety, that event had to be cancelled. That will have an unfortunate economic impact on the communities that were so looking forward to hosting that tournament.
There is also an economic impact on global supply chains. Canadian businesses that may not be able to secure the products they rely on for the manufacturing process, for example, may not be able to provide their products to their typical end customers or they may have to pay a higher price. It is not lost on us that the events that are global in nature can have a very serious impact on us at home and they can also impact the general business and consumer sentiments. They can cause them to change course in the spending decisions they otherwise would have made.
One of the things we are doing to monitor the economic impact of this outbreak is to make sure that we have the resources in place so that Canada can maintain a world-class public health response. We also want to continue to monitor the impact on businesses and workers and ensure the measures that we are putting in place are going to serve the interests of keeping the Canadian economy operating at capacity.
We have a plan to increase our risk adjustment in the upcoming federal budget to make sure that we are planning for the potential impact that this illness could have on our nation's economy. We can look recently at the blockades that were canvassed in a number of debates in the House in response to the protests tied to the land rights issue in the Wet'suwet'en territory in western Canada.
We have also taken measures to address the economic impacts of the rail blockades. If there is a lesson to be learned from the past few weeks, it is that there is no straight path to reconciliation with indigenous peoples. Reconciliation requires dedication and hard work, and we have to recognize that there is still a lot of work to be done. This is a healing process that will involve good days and not-so-good days. We need to continue to show our determination.
Canada is a trading nation and we ship a lot of our goods to world markets by rail. Although it is too early to know the full impact of the blockades, we know that they were extremely challenging and frustrating for businesses and individuals. We have to keep in mind that many Canadians rely on rail transit networks to obtain basic necessities like food, to commute to and from work every day and to earn a living.
Thousands of workers were laid off, and many are still having problems. The situation is having real and immediate effects. Our government is working 24 hours a day to mitigate the economic risks of the rail blockades and to find a lasting solution.
From day one, we knew that we could not take shortcuts and that, no matter how difficult, dialogue was the best approach. Many people have criticized our approach, but it is working. For the most part, trains are running again. The people who were laid off are being rehired. Most of the blockades have been dismantled. In my opinion, the Prime Minister took the right approach even though other politicians proposed simple solutions to a very complex problem.
There is another emerging challenge for the Canadian economy. I do not know if I can even call it that, we have known about it for so long. I would be remiss if I did not raise the threat posed by climate change not only to our environment, but to our nation's economy.
The fact that we still have debates over whether human industrial activity is the primary driver of climate change is beyond me, and the fact that in the Canadian political context we still have debates on whether Canada can play a meaningful role in the fight against climate change is something that, as a representative who cares about this, I simply cannot accept. We cannot address challenges to our economy if we do not deal with the threats posed by climate change.
Canadians are feeling the effects today. We have seen storm surges in Nova Scotia, floods in New Brunswick, heat waves in Quebec and Ontario, droughts in the prairies, forest fires in the west and a glacial melt in the north. They are having a real impact on the traditional way of life of Canadians and on our economies.
Of course, there is also a direct economic impact. When representatives of the Insurance Bureau of Canada testified before the finance committee as part of our pre-budget consultations, they highlighted that in 1990, the losses associated with severe weather events was in the ballpark of $100 million. That number last year was in the ballpark of $2 billion, a twentyfold increase. I do not doubt that their motivations are pure, but I think they are motivated not only by the desire to do social good for our planet and environment, but also, as they represent the insurance industry, by the bottom line. If we follow the money, we can see that it costs more because life on planet earth has changed. We can address these challenges. They also testified that for every dollar in insured losses, three dollars in uninsured losses were being picked up by taxpayers today, whether municipal, provincial or federal. It is the same group of people who are now out of pocket far too much to deal with climate inaction over decades.
It is not just the cost of mitigating disasters or responding to floods that we need to deal with. There are also missed economic opportunities. When we look a the forest fires out west, we see that the impact they had on production, even in the energy sector, was immense.
Something that I am deeply concerned about, as I represent Nova Scotia, is what happened to the lobster fishery in Maine a few years ago because of high ocean temperatures. I fear that a similar kind of consequence will befall the lobster harvesters in Nova Scotia if we do not take action soon. I hope it is not already too late.
We also need to turn our mind to other things, not just the challenge facing our economy when we are dealing with climate change. There is a massive economic opportunity, according to Marc Carney, who is the former governor of the Bank of Canada and current governor of the Bank of England. He said there is a $26-trillion global opportunity.
The world is changing and we have to decide whether we want to change with it. If we choose to change and be a part of this transition, we will be at the front of a wave of economic growth that we perhaps cannot contemplate now.
In fact, we are seeing it already today. In my own community, the Trinity group of companies is helping with energy efficiency initiatives. It grew from a shop of about two people to dozens and dozens of employees. It helps homeowners reduce their power bills and emissions at the same time.
We are seeing investments in green infrastructure that are able to create jobs, put people to work and prevent the worst consequences of climate change for future generations. We are also seeing investments in research at St. Francis Xavier University, a university in my own backyard, to the Flux Lab, where Dr. David Risk has helped to discover a new gas leak detection technology that is helping energy companies reduce their emissions. It has put people to work not just in his lab, but at some of Canada's largest energy producers, which have now adopted this technology.
We have put forward the first national climate action plan, and we have introduced more than 50 measures. We expect to see growth in the green economy as a result.
However, while it is one thing to experience economic growth, it is another thing to make sure that it actually benefits everyday, ordinary Canadians. To grow the economy, we have made investments in infrastructure, which put people to work and strengthen communities, and in innovation through our universities, as I just cited. We have also triggered private sector investment.
We have changed rules around immigration to ensure that employers are not missing out on growth opportunities because they cannot find people in their communities to do the work. We have invested in trade to help grow the economy and are now the only G7 economy with free trade access to every other G7 economy.
We have cut the small business tax rate from 11% to 9%, making it the lowest rate of small business tax in the G7. We have also put new rules forward to accelerate the capital cost allowance right now for companies that are investing in ways to increase their production and put more people to work.
What is the result of these investments? There are more than 1.2 million new jobs in our nation's economy, including more than 30,000 last month. We are seeing record low unemployment, with more Canadians working now than at more or less any other point in our nation's history since we started keeping track of those statistics. However, it is cold comfort for someone living in poverty or who cannot afford the cost of raising a family to hear that there are a number of new jobs across Canada or that our GDP has, in fact, gone up.
That is why we have introduced policies like the Canada child benefit, which ended the practice of sending child care cheques to millionaires and puts more money directly into the pockets of nine out of 10 Canadian families. It is why the first thing we did when we came here after 2015 was advance a tax cut for nine million middle-class Canadians and raise taxes on the wealthiest 1% of income earners. It is why the first thing we did when we got here in 2019 was put forward a measure to reduce taxes for 20 million Canadians and eliminate federal income tax altogether for more than one million low-income Canadians. It is why we have advanced OAS benefits, reducing the age of eligibility for old age security from 67 to 65. It is why we have increased the guaranteed income supplement by 10% for low-income single seniors. It is why we made enhancements to the Canada pension plan, which I am learning the Conservative party now opposes, to ensure our seniors can have a more dignified and secure retirement. It is why we are tackling the cost of education by improving the Canada student grants program, changing the timeline under which students have to repay debt they may have built up while studying, and why we doubled the Canada summer jobs program to put more young people to work.
What we are actually seeing, despite the clever use of statistics by some of the members opposite, is that the typical Canadian household, when we consider the totality of our body of work, is about $2,000 better off today than it was before we took office. More importantly, as we have seen recently, is that more than one million Canadians have been lifted out of poverty in the past few years. We have achieved the single greatest reduction in poverty over a three-year period in the history of Canada. About 334,000 of the people no longer living in poverty, who were living in poverty just four and a half years ago, are Canadian children. This is the kind of policy development that we should be shouting from the rooftops and sharing with the world to demonstrate how to successfully manage the benefits of economic growth to support Canadians.
The Conservatives' attack on the Canadian economy is not, in and of itself, an economic plan. What we have, when we look at the facts, is a rate of job growth that most would not have thought possible when the Liberals were coming into power at the end of 2015. More importantly, we have seen that Canadians writ large are sharing in the benefit of that growth, rather than it being concentrated among the wealthiest 1% of income earners. We have also seen more Canadians lifted out of poverty than almost any member of the House could have imagined four and a half years ago.
All of this has taken place while we have maintained a healthy fiscal framework that allows us to respond to the changing dynamics of the global economy. If members do not want to accept my word on this, I would invite them to read the report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who confirmed this to be the case just a few short weeks ago.
Yes, the world is changing and yes, there are challenges. However, Canada is up to them now and will be as long as the we remain in government.
View Dane Lloyd Profile
View Dane Lloyd Profile
2020-03-09 11:55 [p.1776]
Madam Speaker, I am quite embarrassed by the member's statement. He is living in a fantasy world. It is time to get real. It is the government's job to give Canadians the straight goods.
He is talking about a $26-trillion green initiative. However, do members know who the biggest investors in green energy are in Canada? They are oil and gas companies. For every dollar that oil goes down, the Alberta treasury loses $355 million. Today's drop alone will cost the Alberta treasury $10 billion. We are seeing revenues collapsing across this country and the government is not prepared for it. Pension contribution liabilities are increasing. Revenues are dropping. Other expenses are increasing. The Liberals are not ready for these changes.
What percentage of the debt-to-GDP ratio is the government prepared to go to? Is it 50%, 100% or 200%? How far are the Liberals going to put this country into debt before they get real with Canadians?
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2020-03-09 11:56 [p.1777]
Madam Speaker, I accept that the member feels embarrassed in asking his question, but it is not because of the comments coming from this side of the aisle.
What we are seeing is the Conservatives coming to the very boundary of accusing the Prime Minister of causing a global drop in oil prices. Are they next going to blame him for the spread of the coronavirus in Iran or Wuhan? It is becoming a fool's errand to even engage, but I will do my best.
We recognize that there are structural challenges facing the global oil and gas sector. I actually spent five years working in Alberta, oftentimes in the oil and gas sector. This is not something that has come lately to my attention. It is something that the federal and provincial governments should have been preparing for a very long time ago.
What we are doing is investing in the Canadian economy. That is going to allow us to achieve growth not just in one sector of strategic importance, but across the board. At the same time, we are trying to help position Canadians so they can weather the storm and are preserving a fiscal economic framework that allows us to respond to these challenges.
Right now the balance sheet of Canada is the envy of the G7. We have come down to about 31% of our debt-to-GDP ratio. We were more than double that in our nation's fairly recent history. If there is a developed economy in the world that is prepared to respond to the challenges raised in the global marketplace, it is Canada's.
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
2020-03-09 11:57 [p.1777]
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, for his speech, including the part he delivered in French. I want to congratulate him on the quality of his French.
I was very interested in what he said about the economic opportunities offered by the transition economy, such as when he mentioned the former governor of the Bank of Canada and current Governor of the Bank of England, Mr. Carney.
I want him to know that I agreed with most of what he said, and I agree with what his party said it would do. However, I want to remind him that, if we look at how the government has actually spent money and what it is actually doing, that is the exact opposite of what it said, unfortunately. What is being done for the transition economy is not comparable to what is being done to support and develop the oil economy.
I would remind him that, during his party's first term in office, the sector grew by 24% and is still growing at 8% per year. No sector of the Canadian economy is growing at that rate today.
Furthermore, I would remind him that during the final year of his previous term, the Prime Minister announced more than $20 billion in support for this industry.
When will the government change course and support a transition economy instead of the 20th-century economy that is crashing today?
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2020-03-09 11:59 [p.1777]
Madam Speaker, first off, I want to thank the hon. member for his question and for giving me French lessons at meetings of the Standing Committee on Finance.
I hope he will not mind if I answer in English.
The fact of the matter is that we are in the midst of Canada's very first national action on climate change. With respect, we recognize that the energy sector is still very much a part of the Canadian economy, and we are not going to flip the switch and shut down this industry of strategic importance overnight.
What does the transition look like to me? It looks like making sure we have a price on pollution so that those in the conventional oil and gas sector are not necessarily able to operate without dealing with the costs of the externalities that have been borne by the rest of Canadians. It looks like creating a market for the next generation of fuels by developing a clean fuel standard. It looks like investments in energy efficiency, including the $56 million for my home province of Nova Scotia, to help homeowners make their homes more efficient. It looks like subsidies in electrical vehicles, which have received a level of uptake that we frankly did not contemplate, with 50% of the three-year subsidy eaten away in just the first eight months.
It also looks like investments in protecting nature that will put people to work in restoring some of the most important critical habitat to fight the biodiversity crisis we are facing and protect our carbon sinks. Recognizing as a social fact that the energy sector is still of strategic importance to Canada does not exclude the idea that we can be investing in the transition.
Canada has never seen a government put so much effort into the transition toward a green economy. I would be happy to continue the conversation with my friend, who I know is a big supporter of the transition. If we work together, I feel we can help Canada lead the rest of the world as we transition to a net-zero future.
View Gord Johns Profile
View Gord Johns Profile
2020-03-09 12:01 [p.1777]
Madam Speaker, the NDP will be supporting the motion, as we support transparency.
The member talked about contingency. He said that when times are tough the government can react. We have seen the biggest drop on the Toronto Stock Exchange today since 1987. We have seen oil prices lose 30% of their value over the last day. This is a different time.
We need a government with a plan. We need a government that is going to help diversify our economy, build more resiliency and invest in the future. The government has committed $17.1 billion to the Trans Mountain pipeline. What we need is a climate bank, a plan to build and invest in clean energy so that the workers who will be most affected will get jobs. We need to invest in salmon restoration and projects that are going to get people to work immediately.
Will the member come out with an immediate plan for Canadians who are being impacted by what is happening with COVID-19 and the crisis we are facing, which we have never seen before? We are expecting an emergency package right now for Canadians that will move us forward for the next generation and the future generations to come.
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2020-03-09 12:02 [p.1778]
Madam Speaker, it will take me a moment to unpack some of the different angles of that question.
With respect to COVID-19, yes, it requires a serious response, given the nature of the public health emergency we are dealing with. Respectfully, we have engaged the Government Operations Centre to make sure that all government departments coordinate their efforts. The Public Health Agency of Canada has coordinated efforts with all of the provincial and territorial health authorities to ensure that front-line care is meeting the quality of service that they would expect. We are coordinating our efforts with the World Health Organization.
We also recognize that there is an economic impact and, with respect, there will be details shared soon about support for those who have to deal with self-isolation to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
The member mentioned the significant drop in global oil prices as a result of the disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia in recent days. The fact is that we have been working on a transition and diversification of the economy for four and a half years. It is not the case that we suddenly need to respond because an emergency has popped up, though the situation does also require an acute response. The fact is that we have been diversifying the economy by investing in infrastructure and changing rules around immigration to bring a more talented labour force to Canada to fill needs when employers cannot meet the needs locally.
We have been investing in innovation to boost research, which is now paying dividends through the commercialization of new technologies that have been developed right here in Canada. We have been engaging in investment and trade to have new markets come to our country. We have been making the investments the member is now calling for during the past four and a half years and we are going to continue to make those kinds of investments because they are good for the Canadian economy and good for Canadians.
View Dave Epp Profile
View Dave Epp Profile
2020-03-09 12:04 [p.1778]
Madam Speaker, early in the member's comments he referred to Canada's AAA credit rating, and in response to a colleague he also referred to Canada's excellent present balance sheet.
Could he explain what the past five years of a Liberal government have done to contribute to those two conditions, or is Canada still riding on the crest of the previous government?
View Sean Fraser Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Sean Fraser Profile
2020-03-09 12:04 [p.1778]
Madam Speaker, I am glad to take this question.
The Conservatives often talk about the great recession, which was a real challenge and a global financial crisis, and how the Canadian economy was the first to emerge from that very challenging economic time, but what they never tell people is that we were the only G7 country to find ourselves, a few years later, in another recession that was driven by the Conservatives' failed economic policies of anti-growth.
With respect, the Conservatives racked up $150 billion of debt and had the slowest rate of economic growth of any government, and get this, since the Great Depression.
Over the past few years, what our government has done to preserve our fiscal health is make investments that grow the economy and have the benefits of that economic growth go to Canadians, all while monitoring a downward-trending debt-to-GDP ratio. This is sound economic policy, and I am happy to defend it any day of the week.
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
2020-03-09 12:05 [p.1778]
Madam Speaker, before I begin, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague, the member for Laurentides—Labelle. It is an honour for me to start things off.
On a more serious note, the global economy is in bad shape. The New York and Toronto stock exchanges both temporarily suspended trading this morning because stock prices were plummeting too quickly, as we also saw when the European stock exchanges closed. This is very worrisome, and it can be attributed to the panic created by the oil crash, which in turn can be attributed to the threat currently facing the global economy because of the coronavirus. I would add that even before those two events that caused stock markets to plummet, the global economy was beginning to show signs of a downturn. It was clearly already struggling.
According to widely reported statistics, global growth was pretty weak in 2019 at 2.9%. It is generally understood that when growth is at 2.5% or less, there is a serious risk of global recession. Things are not going well. Europe is also struggling, as it was even before the problems related to the coronavirus arose. The same is true in Asia, especially in Japan, China and other countries in the region.
In North America, the situation is not as bad, but growth is weak and, since the global economy is interconnected, the risks are real. We often get the impression that economic crises, no matter how big or small, happen roughly every 10 years. In fact, the last one was in 2008-09.
The global economy is struggling and now it is sustaining external shocks that we could not see coming, like the coronavirus, the plunge in oil prices and the resulting repercussions. The coronavirus is creating fear, which has crippled tourism all around the world. Some large regions, for example in Italy or China, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, are under quarantine. We can expect an additional slowdown and, since both local and global economies are interconnected, these shocks are likely to have adverse effects on all economic sectors.
If the economy were on a strong footing, then this shock would be temporary and the economy would return to normal growth after a few months. However, as I was just saying, there are already signs of a serious economic slowdown. The current situation might be bad enough to have a serious impact on the economy and plunge us into that phase of the economic cycle we call “recession”.
The problems of the tourism industry, the quarantines and the reduction in personal expenditures could result in the classic scenario of a decline in demand that would possibly trigger an economic crisis. I am certain that our colleague could tell us more about Keynesian analysis and possible solutions later today. I will be there because it will be very interesting, and I invite all my colleagues to come and listen to him.
In his analysis of the current situation, renowned economist Kenneth Rogoff, from Harvard, is introducing a new element by suggesting that there could also be a risk of a supply shock as the coronavirus could cause a downturn in supply. The global economy is so interconnected and supply chains so diversified that a quarantine in a given region, such as China, could slow production of a component used in the manufacture of cars, transportation equipment or other goods. A single missing link could halt and even paralyse the entire production chain in a given economic sector. This possibility is worrisome and the economist Rogoff has more to say.
The Chinese economy is now twice as big as it was during the SARS crisis in 2003. Every segment of the economy is in massive debt. Individuals, businesses and local governments all rely on income coming in regularly to be able to make payments, since they are all over-indebted and over-leveraged. This becomes very worrisome if a zone is quarantined. Individuals, businesses and municipalities will no longer be able to make their payments, which could cause a cash crisis. Everyone knows that China plays a big role in the international economy. This situation is very worrisome.
The economy could slow down because of a drop in demand and also a drop in supply. Basic economic theory tells us that a drop in supply can cause a drop in production, leading to an increase in prices and inflation rates. This is particularly worrisome because the potential inflation could make the traditional methods we rely on to recover from recessions less effective.
The reason inflation has been so low over the past few years is that the primary goal of most central banks is to keep inflation within a target range of 1% to 3%. I would add that it is also due to increased trade worldwide. All this interconnectedness has lowered production costs in every sector, which could explain why inflation has not gone up. However, if the coronavirus sets off a panic and countries start closing their borders, the gains from increased international trade could drop off, leading to an inflation problem.
As I mentioned earlier, the global economy was starting to show signs of slowing down, and we are now facing two problems, namely the coronavirus and the oil crash. Let us hope this is only temporary. However, it is extremely important that governments around the world take concrete steps to help us recover as fast as possible. These problems are so serious that they could mark the beginning of a crisis, and that is deeply troubling.
Naturally, the government will have to make use of its traditional tools. We have seen the Bank of Canada, which operates independently of the government, cut its policy rate. There is also public spending. The parliamentary secretary told us earlier that it is important for Canada to maintain a world-class health care system.
Canada's health care system belongs first and foremost to Quebec and the provinces. It falls under provincial jurisdiction. The federal government's role is to provide adequate funding for the health care system in accordance with its previous commitments, but we are seeing exactly the opposite. I would like to remind members that Quebec's former finance minister, who was a member of the Liberal Party, accused this government of engaging in predatory federalism because it is not honouring its commitment to provide better funding for health care. That really says a lot. There is still no social housing agreement between Quebec and Ottawa. Money for infrastructure is not being disbursed. These fundamental tools would be useful in dealing with current problems, but the government is making the process more difficult than it needs to be. Things are not moving as fast as we would like.
No short-term solution is very effective in boosting supply in an economic downturn. The crisis is an excellent opportunity to move toward the economy of the future. The parliamentary secretary was talking about a transition economy. In my opinion, the government really needs to get on that and stop insisting on remaining in the last century's economy. The price of oil has just dropped. It does not make any sense that the oil industry is receiving more government support than any other industry. We are talking about over $20 billion with cost overruns. That is what was announced just over a year ago. The government is stuck in the past. We need to diversify the economy, and Quebec has everything it takes to succeed in the transition economy.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2020-03-09 12:16 [p.1780]
Madam Speaker, it is important to recognize that the provinces and territories play an administrative role in health care. However, we have given historical amounts of transfers in health care dollars to the provinces. We recognize that Canadians, no matter what region of the country they are in, expect the federal government to play a role in health care delivery.
On a daily basis, Canadians are following the news on the coronavirus situation. Would the member not agree that Ottawa needs to continue to work with the provinces, which are responsible for the administration of health care, and with other stakeholders, including first responders and so forth? I would like his thoughts on dealing with the coronavirus and the importance of all of us coming together, including first responders, provincial and federal governments and others.
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
2020-03-09 12:17 [p.1780]
Madam Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for the comments and question.
This is a unique situation. It is often said that we can make numbers say what we want. The parliamentary secretary is correct to say that federal government health transfers to the provinces have never been so high. If we consider demographic growth and the increased cost of health services, the federal government has never contributed so little to health in terms of percentage of GDP or health spending. The provinces are having to take on more and more of our health care spending. We have to pay closer attention to the data.
I would remind my colleague that under the initial agreement, Ottawa was supposed to cover half of our health care spending. Ottawa was supposed to match every dollar spent by Quebec. The provinces and Quebec are currently asking the federal government to cover 25% of our health care spending. In other words, we are asking Ottawa to spend $1 for every $3 we spend and we are not even getting that. That is why Quebec's Liberal health minister called this predatory federalism.
Coronavirus presents a real threat. Everyone has to work together to limit the spread of this virus as much as possible, at least until there is a vaccine, which should arrive in a few months.
View Matthew Green Profile
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-03-09 12:18 [p.1780]
Madam Speaker, it is clear that the Liberals and Conservatives have managed the economy for the wealthiest and the multinationals. However, when it comes to helping people in our ridings, that is completely different. We know that the average person is $200 away from insolvency. Therefore, I was very happy to hear conversations around housing and the transition that includes workers, because all we have heard today is the transition as it relates to corporations and those making the most in our country.
Would my friend opposite consider supporting a true, just transition for workers that includes health care, a place for people to live, medication and child care? Would the members support us in investing in people? Would they support our Motion No. 1, for a true, just transition for workers in a green new deal?
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
2020-03-09 12:19 [p.1780]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments and his question.
I unfortunately have not yet read through the entire motion. In general, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois tend to be progressive, meaning that we are in favour of a social democracy, redistribution of wealth and support for the less fortunate. However, our views differ when it comes to respect for jurisdictions. We do not want Ottawa to take away Quebec's and the provinces' jurisdiction over health, for example. If the motion includes respect for provincial jurisdictions, we expect compliance with the Sherbrooke declaration. We expect the motion to acknowledge the right to opt out with full compensation.
Since the world economy has been slowing down, I want to remind the House that it is important to crack down on tax havens. States have fewer resources and OECD countries, such as the United States and Canada, are in debt because corporations and the wealthy are finding more and more tax loopholes and are abusing them. We must take real action and make things that are immoral illegal. Take, for example, the Toronto banks that all have branches in the Caribbean. We need to do something about this.
View Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Profile
Madam Speaker, I will discuss our position on the motion and share some of my own thoughts on this request.
As the Bloc Québécois critic for access to information and ethics, emphasis on ethics, I think it is important to explain what I think this motion is really about.
First of all, as several people have said today, the Bloc Québécois obviously agrees with the motion that an order of the House do issue for any document prepared by any department, agency and Crown corporation since November 4, 2015. Obviously, documents produced by any department should be disclosed and available to all parliamentarians.
I am a new member of the 43rd Parliament, and I have a lot to learn, but I know there are fundamental things we must do to be transparent, open and easy to understand, not opaque. Information relevant to public opinion must be entirely accessible. Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people about a particular subject.
The Access to Information Act requires that, upon taking up their positions, ministers proactively publish briefing materials within 120 calendar days of their appointment. The title and reference number of memoranda prepared for ministers by a federal institution must be published within 30 calendar days. Briefing notes prepared for the appearance of a minister before Parliament must be published within 120 calendar days after that appearance.
At present, there is no policy that provides for the proactive disclosure of these documents. Individuals must make a request to have access to all these documents pursuant to the act. They must then obtain a response within 30 days, unless an extension is warranted by the circumstances.
With respect to proactive disclosure, the Access to Information Act provides for time frames that are generally much longer than the 30 days to act on a request. It authorizes institutions to not act on a request for documents when they have already been made public. The commissioner has no oversight over documents that require proactive publication, including the application of exceptions. That is a step backwards with respect to the current law.
The commissioner recommends extending the scope of the legislation to ministers' offices, organizations that support Parliament and organizations that provide administrative support to the courts, with an exception to prevent any breach of parliamentary privilege and any violation of judicial independence.
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics made the same recommendation in the previous Parliament, a few months ago, with an exception related to parliamentary duties.
Today we should be talking more about the urgent need to amend this legislation, which is flawed. Considering all these aspects, that is where we stand regarding this disclosure request. I will put it another way. Whether or not we are talking about legislation, I think this is really about transparency, plain and simple. Transparency is an attitude that ensures clarity, intelligibility, and complete accessibility to information relevant to public opinion. Once we achieve that, then dialogue can begin. I have heard the government talk about dialogue on several occasions recently.
I would therefore expect transparency to include initiating a genuine dialogue. Let's not forget that dialogue helps build trust and significantly enhances the level of discussion.
I would like to share an example that demonstrates the benefits of transparency. In the early 2000s, I was working for a wood processing company. It was a hundred-year-old company with over 200 employees. I was working for the chief communications officer. Although the company was privately, not publicly, owned, we made the decision to release all of the company's financial statements, good or bad, on a regular basis.
Everyone was surprised by the numbers. There were many different reactions. Some people could not believe that the economic situation could have such an impact on them. They thought that, if it continued, the company would really have to take action, and that could hurt them.
What was the outcome? The quality of the products shot up. This enabled the company to make up ground on sales and exports, which require higher quality in a market that is evolving significantly.
Because the company was transparent, all of its members were more aware of how they could be affected. There was no need to ask employees to maximize their efforts to overcome the obstacles created by the market downturn.
Alternatively, what happened when we presented results that were a little more positive? This reassured employees that the company was healthy and that their jobs were safe. It also improved productivity. Employees wanted things to continue to go well in the hopes that they would one day get a raise.
The Bloc Québécois works for taxpayers. We do not manage private funds.
Would it not be better to use a day like this to debate fundamental concerns and make the health, safety and prosperity of our fellow citizens central to our discussions and dialogue?
I do not even dare calculate how much it is costing us today, March 9, to debate a request that should be accepted by the government in any case.
For all of these reasons, I think that we should be debating more fundamental issues, namely the prosperity, collective well-being and sustainability of our industries.
In closing, I hope that today's motion and any other motion like it need never again be part of such an official request. I hope that, from now on, we will be able to work together on urgent and important issues. Otherwise, I might be inclined to think there are documents in the public interest that cannot be disclosed to parliamentarians.
It should come as no surprise to learn that the government lacks transparency and is hiding things from us. When that happens, it prevents all parliamentarians from working toward the common good, even though that is what we were elected to do.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2020-03-09 12:30 [p.1781]
Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister in particular has been very proactive on the issues of disclosing information and in transparency and accountability. We saw that even before he became Prime Minister, when we, as the third party in the chamber, advocated for proactive disclosure for all members of Parliament. Even though it was not mandated, it was mandated within our caucus to provide information with respect to our expenses.
The request before us is for the government to continue to provide information so members of Parliament, whether in the House or at standing committees, are in a better position to make decisions.
I am compelled to provide comment in response to the member saying that we need to get into the real meat of the issues, such as Canada's middle class and some of the industries that are so vitally important to our country and the well-being of our nation.
What would my colleague across the way see as the most outstanding issue the government is facing?
View Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Profile
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question.
I think the government and all parliamentarians should address urgent and important issues. Every document that is in the public interest should automatically be disclosed so that everyone can see what we are doing. As I said earlier, when we have nothing to hide and we want to collaborate, then providing as much information as possible is the best way to enable dialogue and collaboration.
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