Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
First of all, I'll give an introduction and a context for my comments. Thank you very much for the invitation to appear before the committee, as members of Parliament review the second budget implementation bill for the 2013 budget. It's a particular honour to be able to appear as a witness since this committee, I understand, will be restricted to hearing only seven hours of witness testimony in addition to what you just heard from the minister over only two days of hearings.
In these two days, parliamentarians will not have an opportunity to meaningfully review the impact of all of the measures embedded in this legislation, which run from tax and spending changes, to EI reforms, to conflicts of interest in financial institutions, a brand new system of processing economic immigrants, and new rules for choosing Supreme Court justices. I have left out dozens of additional changes, including more than 60 amendments to the Canada Labour Code and a new restricted definition of “danger”, an appeal of that definition of danger that the Canadian Bar Association says turns the clock back by decades on health and safety concerns for workers.
In 1994, a freshly elected MP Stephen Harper asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to rule a budget bill out of order because of its sweeping scope. It affected public sector pay, it affected EI measures and payroll taxes, and a reduction in federal spending through the Canada assistance plan. It offered an extension of transportation subsidies and the ability for the CBC to borrow money for the first time.
At that time Mr. Harper said, “The subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles”. That omnibus bill, ladies and gentlemen, was 21 pages. This omnibus bill is 308 pages. It amends 50 pieces of legislation on a diverse array of topics, many of which have zero to do with the federal budget of 2013. it makes a mockery of the process of public oversight.
Consequently, and in keeping with the spirit that brought Mr. Harper and his Conservatives to power in 2006 and since on a pledge of accountability and transparency, this committee should split Bill C-4 into fiscal and non-fiscal measures in order to permit sufficient scrutiny of these incredibly important policy changes that are being proposed. Further, this committee should treat as separate and apart the non-fiscal measures that are major policy initiatives. These include the selection of Supreme Court justices, the fundamental changes proposed to the Canada Labour Code, and the selection process for new economic immigrants who will build the Canada of our future.
One simple way of accomplishing this proposal is to defeat these measures in Bill C-4 and invite the government to reintroduce these measures as separate pieces of legislation. This approach can also be used for matters that you view as time-sensitive, with such items put in a separate bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has queried why the federal government has under-spent its budgetary allocations by $10 billion each year for the past three years. Yet the second round of supplementaries that parliamentarians are considering are requesting $5.4 billion more to spend.
The finance minister's economic and fiscal update notes that the deficit is a surprising $7 billion smaller than forecasted just a few months ago.
It is hard not to feel that the public is being somehow gamed, that payments are suppressed in order to be able to declare great fiscal prudence, then picked up through supplementaries for which parliamentarians have even less time for scrutiny than this budget implementation bill.
In 2013, the budget implementation bill was delayed because of prorogation. Supplementary budgets will have to be passed with even less than usual oversight and there is no time to study a request for $5.4 billion. The integrity of the democratic process that assures there are checks and balances on the government's ability is at risk.
Though the Stephen Harper of 1994 has silenced his concerns over these procedural sleights of hand, he has inflamed that same ardour in many other people.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court controversy that led to the measures in this bill did not even arise until after the budget was tabled. The budget is being used as a Trojan horse to rewrite the Canada Labour Code and our immigration policies. These are not add-ons. They turn the workhorse of a budget implementation bill into a Trojan horse. I fear that Bill C-4 is starting to look alarmingly like a Duffy budget bill, stuffed with hidden measures and designed to mislead the public. But it can and should be amended.
Accountability and transparency were great principles in 2006. They are great principles in 2013 as well.