Speech ~ C-86 (second reading) Budget Implementation Act, 2018, No. 2

Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby)

Madam Speaker, I will start today by talking about the process of contempt of Parliament that has been undertaken, and you will be judging very shortly the government on this account. I will continue by talking about some of the Potemkin measures in the budget. I then will conclude by talking about what the NDP would be doing if this were a budget implementation act from the NDP and how different it would be. That comparison is very important for Canadians to know.

First, I will talk about the immense and ridiculous size of this record omnibus legislation, which is 850 pages. One can only call it ridiculous in nature when we talk about the number of clauses and subclauses and the amount of time the government is giving us, with its bulldozer mentality, to consider each and every one of the clauses.

When we talk about omnibus legislation, there are a couple of things that are important to read into the record. One is that the current Minister of Public Safety, when he responded to a Conservative omnibus bill that was less than half as massive as what the Liberals have put forward this week, said at the time, “ It is a complete dog's breakfast, and deliberately so. It is calculated to be so humongous and so convoluted, all in a single lump, that it cannot be intelligently examined and digested by a conscientious Parliament.� That was the Liberals then in referencing something that, as I said, was half as massive as what we are forced to consider this week, the largest and the worst omnibus bill ever presented in Canadian Parliament.

I also want to read into the record, because it is very relevant and pertinent, the Prime Minister's commitment back in 2015 when Canadians voted. At that time, the Liberals had spent years decrying the Conservative penchant to move forward with omnibus legislation, even though I almost think fondly back to those days of Conservative omnibus legislation that was only one-third or one-quarter the size of what the Liberals have put forward. However, there are many aspects that I do not think any Canadian would fondly recall. At that time, the Prime Minister said:

We will not resort to legislative tricks to avoid scrutiny....

Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals. We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.

The Liberals have not brought an end to the undemocratic practice. As members know, we are now dealing with the largest and worst omnibus bill in our history. What are the consequences of that?

As I mentioned earlier, I have been endeavouring all week, on behalf of Canadians, to find one simple fact. How many clauses and subclauses are in this legislation? I have asked department officials. I asked at committee. I have asked the parliamentary secretary. None of them have been able to respond to that simple question on how many clauses and subclauses are in this massive bill.

This is relevant, because the Liberals have committed to only 13 hours of legislative scrutiny at the committee level and only a few hours of debate in the House of Commons. Therefore, if we are talking about, as some people are estimating, 5,000 clauses and subclauses, then members can do the math.

An important part of any parliamentarians work is to scrutinize, debate and review legislation to ensure it will do what it purports to do and that it is not full of errors, as we have seen in the past when botched legislation has been sent back by the courts. It costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars when Parliament gets it wrong. Therefore, I asked repeatedly, but have not received a response.

However, if we take the estimate of 5,000 clauses and subclauses, the Liberals are giving us nine seconds per clause, per subclause. They are giving us nine seconds to review, nine seconds to hear witnesses, nine seconds to speak to each of the myriad of clauses and subclauses the bill. This is absolutely ridiculous, irresponsible and contemptuous of Parliament and the work we have to do as parliamentarians. They should be pulling back on the legislative bulldozer and allowing parliamentarians the opportunity to do the job we are paid to do.

Just this morning at finance committee, I raised questions around just one of these subclauses and was unable to get a response. Major changes are proposed with respect to the charitable sector, basically meaning that a charity is no longer considered as such if there is any indirect support or opposition for a political party.

I asked a very simple question. I asked if it meant that if an environmental foundation that would be in complete disagreement with the Liberal government and the purchase of a massive pipeline mentioned that the Liberal government had purchased this pipeline and the foundation did not agree with that position, that it would be in direct opposition to a political party. I received no answer. It is apparently going to be defined by CRA, and we are hoping to get that information at finance committee in the next few days.

However, that is just one subclause. Our nine seconds have already finished and we have uncovered some complete ambiguity that may have a major impact on the charitable sector. However, there is no answer and so we move on.

Nine seconds for clause or subclause is absolutely contemptuous of this Parliament and of the work of parliamentarians. I would suggest it is contemptuous of Canadians when a massive bill of that nature, which has so many fundamental changes, is brought in and talks about the tax code and the implications of it on the charitable sector. For the Liberals to allocate nine seconds for clause or subclause is beyond belief and certainly flies in the face of everything they committed to in 2015.

In 2015, the Liberals said that they would be better than Stephen Harper. They are much worse when it comes to these massive budget bills, which they used to decry when they were in opposition. There is no reason for it, no reason at all.

What does Bill C-86 contain? It contains a number of bills. Looking at the titles, it seems that it may contain useful legislation, like the one on pay equity, for example. We have been calling for pay equity in the House and in committee for years. Unfortunately, the women of this country will have to continue to wait for years for this measure to take effect. The members of the committee wanted to hear their opinions on that, but since the committee has only nine seconds to examine each section of the bill, it will be impossible to hear testimony that gets to the heart of the matter.

This bill contains even more measures, such as the legislation that calls for the budgeting process to take gender equality and diversity into account, the department for women and gender equality act, the international financial assistance act, and the poverty reduction act. None of these bills have anything to do with the allocation of resources to meet objectives.

This bill is meaningless. It does not allocate the resources and investments needed to do anything other than put titles on these bills. There are at least seven bills that should be deliberated and examined separately, but the government refuses to do so. The government wants this bill to pass even if we do not have enough time to carefully study all these issues.

There is another aspect to this, and I will go back in history because this is an important point.

Grigory Potemkin was a member of the Russian court. When the Empress Catherine was travelling from one village to the other, he would erect Potemkin villages, and this has become part of the English language as well as many other languages, including French. Because of the incredible poverty of the Russian peasants and because of the dearth of any sort of services or supports in these rural areas, he would temporarily erect these villages with false fronts. Once the carriage of the Empress Catherine passed by, he would dismantle these false fronts and take them to the next village.

That is indeed what we are seeing with the budget, which contains a number of Potemkin bills. There is talk about things that are important, like reducing poverty and ensuring there is gender equality and international financial support, but there are no resources beyond that. The Prime Minister, a little like Empress Catherine, is going to be talking to Canadians over the next few months about these wonderful bills he has put forward, but there are no resources to go with the bills. There is nothing that gives meaning to the words and titles of the bills included in this massive omnibus legislation.

Canadians are living through the greatest family debt crisis in our nation's history and, in fact, in the industrialized world. Canada placed last among the OECD countries in terms of family debt. There are crushing levels of family debt, because Canadians are forced to pay for their medication and their housing costs are skyrocketing, while their wages under the previous and current government have stagnated. Given the scope of the family debt crisis, my constituents and I have lived through the greatest housing and homelessness crisis we have seen in our country's history. Seniors, students and families are not able to keep a roof over their heads because the price of housing has soared, and the federal government, since the elimination of the national housing program, has done nothing to build housing, to put roofs over people's heads, so that families can settle in, feel comfortable and not have to feel they have to struggle between paying for food, rent, medication, or their heat in one of the coldest winters on the entire planet.

In the midst of that family debt and housing crisis, we have a series of Potemkin bills brought forward by the finance minister for the benefit of the Prime Minister, in the same way Grigory Potemkin brought forward the Potemkin villages for Empress Catherine. It is not something that has a meaningful impact on the lives of people.

We are hoping that pay equity will have a real impact. It is something the NDP has struggled and pushed for for years, but it still appears to be far off on the horizon, years away. We will not be able to take the time at committee to see how that portion of the bill could even be improved, because the Liberals are allocating, unbelievably, nine seconds per clause or subclause for examination. That is ridiculous.

Anyone on the streets of our country would say it is unbelievable that a government that came to power saying it would put an end to these practices has actually doubled and tripled down and become so much worse than even Stephen Harper was in terms of contempt of Parliament and putting massive pieces of legislation forward that are not subject to proper examination and scrutiny.

This is a hollow shell. It is a massive bill. It has implications for the charitable sector and a whole range of other areas, but the time allowed is so scant and our questions are not being answered in any forthright way, which means that ultimately the Liberals may succeed in ramming the bill through. Canadians cannot take any comfort in this, because no proper legislative scrutiny has been allowed. Also, the simple question that I have asked repeatedly this week, about how many clauses and subclauses there are in the bill, remains unanswered. We are not talking about a trick question. It was very simple. I have pretty well asked it in response to every bill I have had the jurisdiction to examine. Every time there has been an answer. However, this time, with regard to this 850 page bill, there has not been any sort of answer at all.

What approach would we take? How would Jagmeet Singh and the NDP bring forward a budget implementation bill? To start, we would not be putting an 850-page brick in the House of Commons, and ramming it through in a scant few days.

What New Democrats would do is separate out the bills, even if they are Potemkin bills, for proper scrutiny. Pay equity deserves scrutiny and witness testimony from women's groups and unions that have been strong advocates of it for years. They deserve a hearing, but they will rarely be given one because of the Liberals' intent to ram this through.

We would separate out those bills and subject them to scrutiny. We would meet late at night. As members know, we are considered the worker bees of Parliament. We try to do our homework. We do our best to take on that mandate of examining, scrutinizing and offering better solutions for government legislation. That has always been our place in the House. We are hoping that soon Canadians will chose another role for us, as the Government of Canada. In the meantime, as the second opposition party, we will continue to play that important role.

If it were our budget implementation bill, it would be separated out. We would be talking about different pieces of legislation. We would be allowing that appropriate scrutiny.

More importantly, if it were our budget implementation bill, each one of these initiatives would come with real resources. New Democrats would have tackled fair taxes so that we can feel, with some confidence, that every Canadian is paying their fair share. We heard repeatedly in the pre-budget hearings about businesses that are seeing unfair competition from big, foreign web giants who come here, scoop up the advertising dollars and do not pay a cent into the Canadian economy. No action has been taken on that. No action has been taken on the overseas tax havens that cost us tens of billions of dollars.

This will be embarrassing to the Liberals, because in just a few months' time, the Parliamentary Budget Officer will come out with his analysis. He has finally obtained, after a five-year struggle, first with the Conservatives and then with the Liberals, one in which he threatened to take them to court, the information he needed from the Canada Revenue Agency to measure the tax gap. Within a few months time' we will have the tax gap, the money going to overseas tax havens and to web giants. It will be embarrassing to Liberals not to have taken any sort of action. They have no credibility on this.

New Democrats would be investing in housing now. I did a press conference earlier this year, as members know, with Jagmeet Singh, our national NDP leader, where we said that we needed to accelerate immediately and invest $2 billion into housing. It is at a critical level. We are seeing seniors and students left on the sidelines. We need to make sure that that housing is put into place immediately.

We would be investing in child care and pharmacare. These are not just smart investments for the quality of life of Canadians. If we are talking about gender equality, not having child care puts the lie to any pretence of the government to actually being a feminist government. If it is not putting in place child care, the government cannot pretend to actually be working for gender equality in this country. Child care also helps our businesses to compete. It helps our labour market.

There is a whole realm of reasons why it is smart economically, as well as socially, to put in place things like child care and pharmacare. As we know, we are wasting billions of dollars more right now on medication that Canadians need. So many Canadians are not even able to access the medication, because we do not have in place a universal pharmacare program. A New Democrat BIA, if it were presented today, would include and put that in place so that Canadians could feel comfortable knowing that they could take their medication and afford it.

New Democrats would be investing in health care and education. We are the health care party, and we always have been. Tommy Douglas, our first leader, founded universal public health care in this country. We would be standing behind that, providing the necessary funding for it, instead of eroding it as we have seen happen under the Conservatives and Liberals.

New Democrats would be making sure that we are taking care of Canadians, because that is best for Canadians. It is also best for our economy, and it is best for Canada.

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