IN THE HOUSE ~ Speech on Budget 2018 - Bill C-74

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Mr. Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby, NDP):  

 Mr. Speaker, I will talk about the size and scope of Bill C-74. I would like to start with the size. I have been here for a few years, and a number of my colleagues have been as well, and we recall the worst years of the Harper government, when massive 300- and 400-page bricks would be dropped in the middle of the House of Commons.

    Those omnibus bills, as part of the budget implementation act, were designed to hit sometimes a couple of dozen areas and various pieces of legislation. It was a deliberate tactic, which was anti-democratic and designed to hide from the Canadian public what was actually in the budget implementation act. Of course, we spoke very loudly about that, as did many Canadians, seeing it as a fundamentally anti-democratic approach to government, with 300 or 400 pages touching 24 or 25 different pieces of legislation. What it did was hide the intent of the budget in a very real way.

    At that time, we were the official opposition, but the Liberals, as the third party, also rose in this House and repeatedly condemned the Harper government for putting in place anti-democratic omnibus legislation. My colleagues will recall Liberal members standing up and saying that having 300 or 400 pages of legislation that is dumped in one brick hitting 24 or 25 different pieces of legislation is fundamentally anti-democratic. It does not allow Canadians to know what is really in the budget implementation act, and it does not provide the kind of clarity and transparency that hopefully we would all seek to see in a budget implementation act, which is perhaps one of the most important pieces of legislation brought forward by Parliamentarians, who are elected by the people of this country to come together and discuss transparently and democratically the nation's business. This piece of legislation is one of the most important.

    Thus, my colleagues can understand my complete dismay when the Liberals, just a couple of weeks ago, tabled their budget implementation act. We have had previous budget implementation acts of 300, 350, 400, and sometimes as many as 450 pages of legislation tackling 27, 28, even 29 different pieces of legislation.

    The Liberals made commitments of sunny ways and a new approach to transparency. We all recall, back in 2015, the Prime Minister making those commitments, that the Liberals would take a completely different approach to governance, that they would have respect for democracy and bring in a different type of electoral process, putting away first past the post. The Liberals also said very clearly, many times, that they were going to do away with omnibus legislation.

    However, what did the Liberals table? They tabled the largest omnibus bill in Canadian history, 556 pages, amending not just 28, 29, or 30 different acts, but 44 separate pieces of legislation. It is nearly 100 pages longer than any of the omnibus legislation we have seen in the past, which the Liberals used to criticize and attack. We are 100 pages beyond what the Conservatives used to do, 100 pages beyond the Harper record. We have the biggest, fattest, and least transparent budget implementation act in Canadian history.

    There is no other way to put it. This is a profound betrayal of everything the Liberals said they stood for in 2015, every commitment they made to Canadians at that time, and every speech the Prime Minister and other Liberal MPs made in the House of Commons saying that they were going to do away with omnibus legislation. The size of this is beyond belief. We have never seen anything like it, 550 pages. It is beyond anything the Harper government imagined or was able to table. It is that much worse.

    It will come as no surprise to you, Mr. Speaker, that in the coming days we will be endeavouring to put the case to you, because, as Speaker of the House of Commons, on behalf of all Canadians, you have the ability to divide or carve up this omnibus legislation and create stand-alone bills that can be voted on separately. That power, which has been given to you, Mr. Speaker, is sacrosanct and so important. When the government is refusing to heed Canadians' calls, when it is refusing to be transparent and democratic, then the Speaker of the House of Commons has the ability to intervene, and we will be asking and laying out the case in the coming days for you to do just that. It is fundamentally important.

    That is the start of what is probably one of the most cynical budget implementation acts we have ever seen, cynical in its size and in its scope. Before I go into those details, let us talk about what the current situation is for the vast majority of Canadians, because this is very germane to the debate we are going to be having over the next few days. Far from having sunny days and sunny ways, as the Prime Minister likes to say, as he goes around the globe to various meetings, Canadians are actually struggling to make ends meet in a way that is perhaps unprecedented, beyond the depressions and recessions we have seen in the past. We now have a new reality that the government should have taken account of.

    The new reality is that the average Canadian family now has, inflation-adjusted, the worst family debt load in any period in Canadian history. The average Canadian family is struggling under a worse debt load than it had under the Great Depression or under recessions. It is struggling under a massive debt load far beyond its annual earnings. That debt load is making it difficult for so many families in this country to make ends meet.

    The average Canadian family is now surviving on temporary or part-time work. Despite the fact that the finance minister will stand in the House and say how things are rosy out there, the jobs that are being created tend to be temporary in nature. They do not allow for the family-sustaining type of employment that the NDP has always promoted and that we believe very strongly in achieving. However, that takes investments, forethought, and planning, which we do not see from the government.

    When we look at the situation of the average Canadian family, as the price of housing goes up and rents go up, the homelessness and the housing prices are beyond belief. The debt load is considerable and growing. For most Canadians, temporary or part-time work, or cobbling together a series of part-time jobs, is the alternative they have economically.

    That is the context of the budget, the context that the government should have paid close attention to. Instead, the Liberals tabled the largest and most fundamentally anti-democratic omnibus piece of legislation in Canadian history, 100 pages beyond anything Mr. Harper did, and they did so in such a timid way that even the scope of the budget itself has been eroded.

    It is profoundly cynical as a budget implementation act because it goes far below where the budget was, which was already very timid, so we are looking at an extremely timid budget implementation act in terms of what it seeks to achieve. At the same time, it is fundamentally anti-democratic in the size of what has been dumped into this omnibus legislation.

    What could have been in this budget implementation act and should have been in the budget? We talked about this a number of times. I spoke at a press conference with Jagmeet Singh, the national NDP leader, a very charismatic and energetic guy, and we gave some direction to the federal government as to what it should put in the budget. One of the most important items was tackling what is a profoundly unfair tax system. I also intervened in a letter to the finance minister with the hon. member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, who is an extremely effective member of Parliament, and we spoke about gender equality.

    When we look at what is in the budget, we see absolutely nothing that touches on the issue of tax fairness. Tens of billions of dollars is going offshore that the government refuses to cap or take action on in any way. In fact, on the current government's watch, more of these very egregious tax treaties, which are basically no-tax treaties, are being signed with notorious tax havens like Antigua, Barbuda, Grenada, and the Cook Islands. The Conservatives signed them all the time. However, the Liberals are signing even more.

     The Liberals did nothing to tackle the issue of the stock options loophole, which is a nefarious loophole that in the latest year we have figures for helped 75 wealthy corporate CEOs pocket $6 million each, for a grand total cost to Canadian taxpayers of half a billion dollars. That was $6 million each, on average, for 75 of Canada's wealthiest corporate CEOs who used the stock option loophole. Jagmeet Singh and I directed our comments to the finance minister and the Prime Minister stating that it needs to end. The Liberals could have chosen to end the stock option loophole and take action on the issue of tax havens. However, they did neither. They are allowing that privilege, the transfer of wealth that we are seeing, and a growing inequality in this country, such that now a third of the Canadian population has as much wealth as two Canadian billionaires, something that came out just a few months ago and continues to reverberate with regular Canadians because they see the inequality in the tax system. They see a tax system that is built to be profoundly unequal, and of course they are reacting, because the Liberals and the Prime Minister promised in the last campaign to take action against the proliferation of tax havens and the profoundly unfair tax system that makes sure that tradespeople, small business owners, nurses, or truck drivers pay their fair share of taxes, yet someone who is running one of Canada's biggest and most profitable corporations does not have to worry about that.

    As members know, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has now estimated the real marginal income tax rate for Canada's biggest corporations at less than 10%. It is at 9.8% on average. There are a lot of corporations that are not paying any tax at all. However, the average tax rate is now 9.8%, which is far lower than for regular individuals, who are working hard each and every day to put food on the table, seeing an erosion of their services, and participating in a tax system that is absolutely and profoundly unfair.

    That is what could have been in this budget implementation act. However, there is no sign of that at all.

    We would expect that there would be provisions from the budget in the budget implementation act. This is something I would like to tackle now.

    When we talk about the scope of the budget implementation act, there are two things that come to mind immediately. The first is the issue of pharmacare. I have spoken in this House many times about constituents, as have my colleagues. All of us have raised specific cases as to why it is important to have pharmacare in this country. First off, as a country we pay too much, and many Canadians are left to choose between putting food on the table or paying for their medication. Jim, whom I have cited a number of times, is outside here, just off Wellington Street, and begs every day for the $580 he needs every month to pay for the medication that keeps him alive. Because there is no pharmacare, Jim and so many others like him are forced into that awful choice.

    We, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and every expert who has analyzed this issue have said that bringing in pharmacare makes sense from a whole range of perspectives. Overall, it actually saves money for Canadians. It allows us to bring down the costs of medications. It reduces costs for some small businesses that pay up to $6 billion a year for medical plans that allow their employees to have access to medications.

    Therefore, for all of those reasons, it made sense to bring in pharmacare. We certainly heard in the weeks coming up to the budget a refrain that the Liberal government was going to bring in pharmacare, so we should watch out, because this budget was going to steal the NDP's thunder. We are happy to have our ideas stolen; we just do not like to have them gawking at our ideas, because gawking does not mean they are implementing them, which is what they should be doing. They should be implementing pharmacare right now. That is what they should be doing.

    We saw in the budget that instead of doing anything practical to address the issue of pharmacare, the Liberals promised a study, and that was it. There was nothing more. As a result, the scope of the budget implementation act is a mighty failure when it comes to actually putting in place programs that matter.

    We then come to the issue of gender parity. My colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith has been a very articulate spokesperson on this issue. We raised it with the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister prior to the budget. There were some words in the budget about moving forward on pay equity. We saw that. We read that. Yes, the government was going to implement pay equity, finally, after decades.

    Then, as I madly perused the 556 pages of the most massive and most bloated omnibus legislation in Canadian history, I looked for something that indicated that the Liberals would implement pay equity, but there was nothing, not a word. The Liberals promised it in the budget, and they have already broken their promise with the budget implementation act a couple of weeks later. It is unbelievable. It was an issue that the Liberals admitted it was time to take action on. In the transfer from the budget to the budget implementation act, it is not as if they were trying to scale it down. At 556 pages, they were dumping everything they could into it, but they decided not to dump in pay equity, which was actually in the budget and could be in the budget implementation act as a respectful and democratic way of processing the commitment that was made in the budget, but there was absolutely nothing. It is another broken promise, another fail. It is appalling to me.

    Therefore, looking at the scope of the budget implementation act, not only do we see all sorts of things thrown into the BIA that should not be there and that we will be requesting that you remove, Mr. Speaker, so that we can have the appropriate democratic process even though the government does not seem to want to respect that, but there are also things that should be there that are simply not. That is the real failure of this budget implementation act.

    It is so cynical in its nature. Everything that the Liberals said they stood for in 2015 they no longer stand for. We all saw those promises about making Parliament work, making it more transparent and democratic. On every commitment that they made to the public in 2015, we are seeing exactly the opposite in the greatest, most bloated omnibus legislation in Canadian history, not tabled by the Harper Conservatives, as bad as they were, but tabled by this Prime Minister's Liberal government. What a failure for those Canadians who have been waiting for decades for pay equity. What a failure for those Canadians who have been waiting for decades for pharmacare so that they do not have to beg to raise enough money to pay for their medication or do not have to choose between paying the rent and paying for their medication. On behalf of all those Canadians across the country who were hoping to see a different approach from the current government, I can say we are all profoundly disappointed by this budget implementation act.

As a result, we will be voting against Bill C-74.