Honourable senators, before sharing my thoughts on the budget with you, I would like to remind the Senate of certain facts — not propaganda — about the Liberal government’s last three budgets.
In 2003, Canada enjoyed a $9.1 billion surplus; in 2004, a $1.5 billion surplus; and in 2005, a $13.2 billion surplus. I am talking about the facts, the reality and responsible people who managed the country’s affairs.
Let us now look at the last three budgets of the Conservative Party. In 2009, Canada was running a $55.6 billion deficit; in 2010, a $40.5 billion deficit; and in 2011, when we did a little better, a $29.6 billion deficit. All of that is to say, honourable senators, that Canada now has a national debt totalling $586 billion. Before this bill is passed, it is important to understand the direction Canada is heading in and what the current trend is. I think these numbers give us something to think about: the difference between a responsible government and one that does not know where it is headed.
It might also be worthwhile to point out the real title of the bill: An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures.
The part I have a problem with is the “and other measures.” As my colleagues mentioned, this bill amends 70 laws. It is 425 pages long and contains 753 clauses that require close inspection. The government would have us believe that this bill is about jobs, growth and prosperity.
I will show how the government’s lack of transparency, lack of integrity, and lack of consultation and collaboration with the provinces and the people are threatening Canada’s national unity, economic future and international reputation.
I believe that Bill C-38 is a virulent attack on provincial jurisdiction. Consider employment insurance. For all intents and purposes, the government is introducing subjective rules about suitable employment and what workers will be required to do. Of course, this will not typically affect workers earning $100,000 or more per year. During my speech, I will refer to conversations I have had with Canadians who have shared their concerns with us.
On June 23, Rick Mehta wrote to me — he may have written to all honourable senators — to say:
I am deeply concerned about the effects this bill will have on people by raising the age to qualify for Old Age Security. . . . any changes that further degrade income will limit the ability of these people to contribute to a healthy economy and will lead to decreased prosperity for the majority of Canadians.
Throughout this debate, people have contacted us to tell us what they think. I think it is our duty to listen to them.
Jean-Marc Fournier, Quebec’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, mentioned another attack in a letter he sent to the Minister of Finance on April 19, after the budget was tabled. This is what he said:
We know that the purpose of this measure cannot be to deprive our government of its ability to apply to businesses governed by this act the consumer protection rules that come out of the laws under our jurisdiction. Nor can the purpose be to deprive people of their right to take action against a bank, in accordance with the civil laws in force in Quebec.
He went on to say:
. . . Parliament cannot decide in a peremptory manner that provincial laws do not apply to a given sector.
I will share an excerpt from the minister’s response:
The legislative and regulatory standards that apply to banking must be exclusive and national so that the Canadian banking system functions effectively. Just as federal consumer protection standards applicable to banking do not apply to Caisses Desjardins du Québec and financial institutions . . .
When we amended the Bank Act in 1995, banks were placed in an area of provincial jurisdiction called the securities sector. Not too long ago, I believe, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the civil nature of the securities sector by rejecting the creation of a federal securities commission. You cannot do indirectly what cannot be done directly. Right now, when an individual does business with his bank and purchases shares through the subsidiary that handles brokerage, if there is a mistake, if the transaction goes wrong and the person was misinformed — this often happens with people of a certain age, who are careful with their money, but the person receiving these funds often does not honour their requests — if there is a conflict, the Quebec minister says that this is Quebec’s jurisdiction and Quebec will protect consumers.
As far as I am concerned, I believe that, in this case, jurisdiction over banks cannot be expanded. That is why I support our amendment to delete this clause in its entirety.
There is also interference in another area of provincial jurisdiction. It is all well and good to tell people that they can to go the United States for 48 hours, spend $800 and not pay customs duties. The problem is that if the $800 were spent in the Maritimes — or anywhere else in Canada, except Alberta — the province would collect sales tax. In this case, the provinces will be deprived of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue. I have not seen any indication that the federal government intends to compensate the provinces for this loss, nor that the provinces were consulted about this measure.
Another attack on provincial jurisdictions concerns old age pensions and the increase in the eligibility age from 65 to 67. Low-income earners who expect to receive an old age pension and the guaranteed income supplement will have to wait an additional two years and go on social assistance, because people who do manual labour or domestic work often no longer have the strength or physical ability to continue working in later years. I would add that not only were the provinces not consulted, but all experts agree that this measure makes no sense.
As for health care funding, that was obviously a unilateral decision. There were no negotiations with the provinces, thank you very much. As for major health issues such as mental health, which is supposedly the top priority, there were no discussions about specific problems. In this case, I am referring to savings, because I am talking about billions of dollars in lost productivity every year because people are sick.
Next, I would like to speak about the Fisheries Act. The last I heard, the Quebec fisheries minister was going to talk to the New Brunswick fisheries minister and they were going to come to an agreement on how to proceed. I thought that minimum standards and the management of the fisheries fell under federal jurisdiction since it is absolutely impossible to apply multiple laws when fish know no boundaries. The last I heard, the existing legislation was working fine. This sector is being left for the provinces to look after; I refer to the criticisms that my colleagues made earlier.
This budget implementation bill is also an attack on human rights. I do not need to tell you that the representatives of the Public Service Alliance of Canada are opposed to removing the requirement for federal contractors to comply with the Employment Equity Act. The reason is simple: there are groups that have trouble finding jobs and whose unemployment rate is higher. We need to implement measures and, most of all, we need to set an example. We set an example by requiring a company with over 100 employees that wins a contract worth $200,000 or more to have an employment equity plan in place to ensure equal rights for Aboriginal people, visible minorities, persons with disabilities and women.
There is no reason to repeal that provision. We are being assured that this will be done contractually. To me, it is not a matter of deciding whether to grant these people that right or not or whether to grant them the same rights as other workers. I think that it is important that everyone be treated equally and that, when there is an inequality in the system, it is up to the government to correct it. That is why governments exist.
With regard to human rights, there are two issues affecting Aboriginal people: First Nations land management and the First Nations Statistical Institute. We did not hear Aboriginal representatives say that extensive consultations were conducted in either of these cases. With regard to the First Nations Statistical Institute, we are referring to all the organizations, such as Statistics Canada, that describe the reality in Canada. The First Nations, more than any other Canadians, need to have accurate data to ensure that there are policies that serve interests we can discuss with First Nations groups based on objective figures. The government is simply going to do away with this institute.
There is also the elimination of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. We are certainly aware — no one more than I, coming from Quebec — that the centre has had operational challenges and personnel and leadership problems. However, it is inappropriate to abolish an International Centre for Human Rights in a budget, without discussing the matter with all the stakeholders and without ensuring that there is an organization in place to take over the centre’s mandate.
The only person who will be compensated is the president, and he was a friend of the Conservative Party. He will leave with a tidy sum, while all the other board members will simply be sent home, which will save the government a few lousy pennies. When we look at the billions of dollars of deficit, we can see that we are going to make up the shortfall by closing centres in this way.
The prerogatives of Parliament are also under attack. My colleagues talked about this, journalists talked about this, and even young people wrote to us about this. They told us that our role was to listen to them, to hear them. I spent hours listening to witnesses make excellent proposals, which we could have discussed, but all my colleagues know that there was no room for discussing, let alone improving this bill.
Something else I fail to understand is the fact that the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions is being tasked with overseeing CMHC. This is being billed as a protective measure for good governance. However, there is a conflict of interest because there will be two deputy ministers sitting on the board of directors. If the deputy ministers in question make mistakes, I suspect they will have to report to their minister or their department. Who will have the final say? The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions? The President of the Treasury Board? The Minister of Finance? This not only makes no sense, but there are two organizations in Canada that have dealings with the private sector, with businesses: Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada.
Oddly enough, in the case of one of these organizations, a bank, the Superintendent of Financial Institutions will not have oversight of its administration. If there was some logic to this bill, either all three or none of these institutions would be included. With respect to CMHC, we are very aware that it dominates the market, but it played a truly strategic and fundamental role during the 2008-09 economic crisis. Through the CMHC, the government rebalanced the finances of our major Canadian banks and, with the financial support of the U.S. and Canada, almost $100 billion in mortgages were bought by the governments in order to provide the banks with the liquidity they needed to sustain the Canadian economy.
It cannot be said that CMHC is poorly managed.
I will continue by saying that my colleagues spoke about charitable organizations, but I want to speak about someone who is highly respected in Quebec, Steven Guilbeault of Équiterre. He said:
. . . the government is giving itself immense powers. The Canada Revenue Agency will be able to suspend an organization’s charitable status if there is the slightest suspicion of non-compliance. It seems to me that the last time I checked we were still living in a country where the rule of law prevails.
If Mr. Guilbeault, one of the most respected people in Quebec, questions the approach of Bill C-38 when it comes to charitable organizations, I must say that we should pay attention and set some guidelines to ensure that there are no abuses.
Several other acts are covered by the bill and have nothing to do with the budget, such as the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Food and Drugs Act, the Seeds Act, the Health of Animals Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. There is no way I could ever justify this to Canadians as a budget implementation bill. These matters must be examined independently with experts in each field.
Who could forget the damage that has been done to Canada’s reputation on the world stage; this is fundamental. The elimination of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, the drastic changes to the entire environmental assessment process and amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act are all part of this measure, not to mention the abolition of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, whose independent experts recently stated that Canada is not likely to reach its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.
Caroline Hébert wrote:
My greatest concern is that the world does not know of our Canadian human rights failures among our First Nations.
Later, she states:
Canada wants to sell you its oil and gas but won’t trade its principles along with it.
She mentioned Mr. Harper.
Obviously, we completely agree that we should not be ruled by market forces. I think we have a right to manage our resources in a responsible manner, but the measures in this bill do not make us appear very responsible.
In closing, I would like to quote David Saints, who says:
We need to change our habits; we need to innovate; we need to create more sustainability and inclusiveness; we need to achieve a balanced economic system; and we need to remain optimistic, lucid, principled and responsible. Bill C-38 appears to promote the exact opposite. Please do not let this happen to our country.
That is what a Canadian citizen is begging us to do, a Canadian who votes at every election, is responsible and has been paying attention to our budget.
Like me and all of our colleagues, they are concerned that we have not been able to do our job properly, that we have been swamped with too many pieces of legislation in this one bill, that Canadians will not be well served by this process, and that it makes a mockery of our democracy.
I call on all honourable senators, Liberals and Conservatives alike, to vote against this bill.