May 3, 2012
Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to address Bill C-38 on behalf of my constituents in Mount Royal.
While my constituents might understandably assume that the bill relates to the budget, in fact this 400-plus-page omnibus bill actually has very little to do with the budget. Many of the proposals therein have particularly deleterious consequences for the environment. Accordingly, I will be splitting my time with our environment critic, the hon. member for Etobicoke North.
A related problem is that while this budget implementation bill is supposed to flow from the budget speech, which itself is not only a financial statement but a statement of values and a reflection of priorities, this budget, in its reflection of priorities, does not note or even utter the words “social justice”. It does not note or even speak of “fairness” or “equality”. It does not note or even reference the Charter whose 30th anniversary we celebrate this year, nor does it reference or note anywhere the word “humanitarian”.
While the budget speech did outline certain measures that we see legislated in Bill C-38, this budget implementation omnibus bill goes above and beyond anything we have seen and beyond any of the enabling authority of the budget itself.
In its 400-plus pages, there are amendments to more than 60 statutes. It covers everything from fisheries to nuclear safety, from territorial borrowing limits to air transport. It is an enormous hodgepodge, bundling together legislation not unlike Bill C-10 that does not allow for the necessary differentiated parliamentary discussion and debate, let alone the necessary oversight of the legislation. It imbues the executive with arbitrary authority to the exclusion of Parliament, thereby serving as a standing abuse to the canons of good governance, transparency and accountability. Indeed, this alone should be cause for its defeat.
As Andrew Coyne has put it, and I quote, “The scale and scope is on a level not previously seen, or tolerated”. He notes that this bill makes “a mockery of the confidence convention” and that there is no “common thread” or “overarching principle” between the legislative items therein, let alone its standing contempt for Parliament in matters of process and procedure.
Moreover, and again on the crucial issues of parliamentary process and procedure, which are principled concerns, while the bundling together of disparate pieces of omnibus legislation as a confidence bill is problematic enough on its own, this bill is slated to go to the finance committee in its entirety. Accordingly, the review of the environmental regulations therein, which overhaul, weaken and undermine the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and environmental protection as a whole, will thus not be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, where it belongs. The provisions that abolish the First Nations Statistical Institute and make changes to the First Nations Land Management Act will not be the subject of examination and study by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, where it belongs. I can go on with numerous examples in this regard.
If circumventing proper and thorough parliamentary review in committee was not enough, the government, as we saw earlier, has invoked time allocation to limit the amount of time and discussion on this bill.
I am not suggesting that invoking time allocation, as the government has done again and again, or the use of an omnibus vehicle, as has occurred with Bill C-10, are against the legislative rules. What I am suggesting, as have many commentators, is that its use here and now on this particular omnibus bill is unnecessary, prejudicial, suprisingly undemocratic, in effect, unparliamentary and otherwise unsubstantiated and unwarranted.
Surely if Parliament had to debate something like going to war, it would be easy to see why we might time-allocate to ensure we get to the most pressing debate first, or if there were court decisions that affected many statutes, we might easily welcome an omnibus bill that would make the same change to many statues. What is so disconcerting with Bill C-38 is that the government need not be in a rush. There is no coherent or compelling theme to the omnibus proposals contained in the bill.
The opposition is not opposed to some of what is in Bill C-38. For example, the proposed changes to the custom and tariff rules sound reasonable. What we are opposed to is the take it or leave it, one size fits all omnibus approach to legislating that does not allow the necessary differentiated and deliberative oversight or review, or review by the particular and appropriate parliamentary committees. The government and the opposition can co-operate if the government would simply respect the opposition and be responsive in debate.
Again, I will remind my colleague that the government assumes that its legislation in every instance is perfect and, in so doing, believes there are no amendments that need even be tendered let alone adopted. This occurred in the case of Bill C-10 when, in response to amendments I introduced at the time, the government summarily rejected them because they came from the opposition, it seemed. It reintroduced the amendments on its own, a matter that could have been avoided, as the Speaker then noted in terms of the procedural complications that then ensued. Moreover, while I will be voting against this bill in large part because of the way it was introduced and how it is being pushed through Parliament, in terms of matters of process and its abuse, I will use my remaining time to outline some of my objections to the substance of the bill. Regrettably, time is limited and I therefore cannot address every flaw of this legislation.
First, Bill C-38 marginalizes low-income seniors by increasing the qualifying age for OAS from 65 to 67. While the government claims this change is necessary, and it did so just now in debate, for the sustainability of OAS, this contradicts Canada’s chief actuarial officer and the PBO, who agree that the change is unsound and unnecessary as the current situation and system is sufficiently sustainable.
Second, the government proposes to close the files of federal skilled workers who applied prior to 2008, without any chance on their part to review or appeal this decision. It is not surprising that some have announced plans to take the government to court over this as a matter of fundamental fairness and due process. Indeed, all who apply to Canada should have their applications judged on their merits, not an arbitrary deadline set by the minister and applied in a retroactive fashion.
Third, cuts are being made to various food inspection agencies. These agencies keep Canadians safe and secure while ensuring the food chain is not contaminated. The government has yet to explain how these cuts would not prejudice the health and safety of Canadians or how food safety would be maintained in the absence of complete and adequate funding.
Fourth, the true nature of public service cuts in this bill still remains unknown. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates that in addition to the 19,200 positions being eliminated in budget 2012, there will be a further 6,300 jobs cut as a result of the government’s previous strategic reviews that have yet to be implemented, and a further 9,000 cuts as a result of the government’s budget operating freeze. That would create a total of 34,500 federal public service job cuts associated with this budget cycle alone. As well, the Parliamentary Budget Officer agrees that the government’s figure of 19,200 public service jobs being cut does not represent the full number. He said, “…additional job losses will be required. …we’re actually talking about cuts on top of cuts”.
I raise this in particular to note that we are being asked to rubber-stamp the government’s agenda without the necessary information, in a manner that precludes the necessary oversight and review and when it is clear that there are inconsistencies with what the government is saying and what independent experts assert. Parliamentarians must be afforded the facts and figures upon which they are being forced to pronounce, as was the case in Bill C-10. We did not receive it then and we are not receiving it now. This, in effect, amounts to a kind of standing contempt of Parliament.
Fifth, and my colleague from Etobicoke North will speak further to this in a moment, this bill rewrites Canada’s laws on environmental assessment and repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, weakening our environmental regulations but with consequences far beyond this.
In an email just this morning, a constituent wrote this. Considering that when environmental damage is caused, it has a domino effect on our food and water and thus affects Canadians’ health and livelihood, these issues are actually also human rights issues. We have the right to safe clean water, safe accessible food and the myriad of other essential benefits we get from a properly functioning ecosystem.
Sixth, we have the elimination of a series of libraries and archives throughout different departments as part of the latest budget cuts, including the Canadian Council of Archives, which may close as soon as this Friday. This would affect historians, researchers, the media, Parliament and the public who deserve to have information preserved in addition to access to this information.
While I do not have time to elaborate on what this bill includes, I will close with a note about what is not in this bill. This bill does not address that which must be addressed. First and foremost is job creation, not just loss of jobs. Nor does it address the issues that matter most to my constituents in terms of social justice, access to justice and the promotion and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Accordingly, and with this I close, whether it is marginalizing low-income seniors by increasing the qualifying age for OAS or cutting funds to regional development programs that create jobs or not announcing any new funding for affordable housing when the existing program funds are set to expire soon, this budget is simply wrong-headed, misguided, prejudicial and disconnected from the needs of Canadians and from my constituents.
In short, Bill C-38 marks a sad chapter in Canadian parliamentary history.
Ms. Francine Raynault (Joliette, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his remarks. There is a lot of talk about the environment, which is a hot button issue.
We know that the Liberals signed and ratified the Kyoto protocol. But why did the Liberal Party not do anything to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Hon. Irwin Cotler:
Mr. Speaker, in truth, we did reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We also introduced a bill in the House to this effect, but it was defeated by the government.
I think that my colleague from Etobicoke North, an expert in the field, will answer that question.
Mr. Ted Hsu (Kingston and the Islands, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, my distinguished colleague did not have time to talk about the effects of the closure of libraries and archives, and the lack of access to libraries and archives.
I would ask my colleague to speak briefly about the impact that this loss of knowledge and history will have.
Hon. Irwin Cotler:
Mr. Speaker, it will be very damaging in terms of both the teaching and appreciation of history. However, this is not just about history; we are also talking about getting rid of all the sources of information and every source that has to do with history, science and knowledge. Both members and the public need this information. The public is affected by this decision.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the government thinks it is promoting oil internationally, the tar sands, yet it has taken such a retrograde attack on anybody who asks questions. It is so militant about dismantling the process.
Does my hon. colleague not think good luck to poor Enbridge trying to sell its products internationally, when it has to explain that it is coming from a country that has stripped environmental standards down to third world conditions, that in the end what the government has created is a situation where it will be considered an environmental pariah on the international stage because of its continual militant attacks on basic public process, basic public participation, and vilification of anyone who speaks out, that at the end of the day the last thing big oil wants is to have friends like that?
Hon. Irwin Cotler:
Mr. Speaker, what is disconcerting is not only the overall approach with respect to environmental protection, or the absence regarding environmental protection, but the prospective chilling effect that the critiques of critics have on the overall discussion of this issue as a whole.
We saw the same thing with regard to Bill C-10. We see the same thing with regard to Bill C-26.
There is a pattern here in which those who criticize the government, if it is in matters of criminal justice, are said to be on the side of the criminals and not on the side of the victims, or on the side of the child pornographers and not on the side of those who seek to protect children.
This kind of indictment, and it is not even by innuendo but indeed indictment, by chilling debate, by silencing dissent, does credit neither to the substance of the legislation, which should be allowed to be debated on the merits, and there is no more compelling concern in that regard than that which relates to the environment, nor to the democratic process itself, which should allow for all forms of discussion, debate, dissent, critique and the like.
We are missing this, not only in this debate but on other bills as well.