Libby speaks out against the Budget Implementation Act



House of Commons


May 3, 2012

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):  

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Western Arctic.

I want to begin my remarks today on Bill C-38 by saying, and it should be said, that this clearly is not only a budget implementation act.

I found it very interesting to listen to the parliamentary secretary’s comments just a few moments ago when she chided the Liberal member for the record of the Liberal government, bringing in a massive omnibus bill as well. I remember that bill, C-43, but it is curious, because I seem to remember that the Conservatives in opposition at that time certainly had lots of concerns about what was hidden in that massive bill. I think it was about 1,000 pages. I remember the debates in this House about how the Liberals were trying to hide things and rush them through.

Here we are today in 2012 with another budget implementation bill, which is anything but. It has become a massive cover for putting through major public policy issues under the guise of a budget implementation bill.

I want to say, just for the record, that it is really bad public policy. It is a terrible way to make decisions. It is a direct attack on the ability of members of Parliament to examine legislation.

Much of the stuff that is in the budget implementation bill should be coming to the House as stand-alone legislation. When we go through the list, go through those 422 pages that comprise the current budget implementation act, we can just see how far-ranging the directions are in the bill.

For example, we know it is raising the age of eligibility of OAS and GIS from 65 to 67, something that the Prime Minister never campaigned on in the last election. For heaven’s sake, it repeals the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, meaning that the government is no longer required to report on its emissions under the act. That is in a budget bill? The Conservatives are putting that through in a budget bill? Is there something they want to hide from Canadians? I think so.

As we have heard many times in the House, it guts the environmental assessment regime and fish habitat protection. Again, this should be stand-alone legislation that the government should have the guts to bring forward on its merit and be willing to debate in this House, instead of trying to sneak it through in a budget implementation bill.

Just in terms of the changing environmental assessments, this would have a major impact on my province of British Columbia, on things like the Enbridge pipeline, where there has been incredible public interest in being involved in a democratic public process to comment on the environmental impact and assessment of that project.

What is the government doing? It uses the budget and the budget implementation act to actually shut down and to gag the public and say that not only is it putting short timelines on these major assessments but it will also delegate authority to other authorities, including the provinces, so it is basically narrowing the opportunities people have to comment on these important things.

To add insult to injury, not only does the bill gut environmental requirements; it also goes after civil society organizations by saying that the Canada Revenue Agency will tighten up what kind of political activities they can be engaged in. There is an attack on both sides, by legislation and by trying to fetter and gag the work that very important organizations do in our country to bring awareness to these major environmental projects that have a huge impact on all of us.

Here are a few other little gems in the budget. It would repeal the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. I am familiar with this, because as a city councillor in Vancouver over many terms, we actually used the federal fair wage act to set a benchmark for what we did municipally to pay fair wages to municipal contractors.

Now all of a sudden this act is gone. It has been there for decades. I do not know how far it goes back, but it has been a benchmark of what is considered to be fair wages.

Presumably this is now being completely eliminated because the Conservatives want to give more handouts to their corporate buddies and they want to undercut union wage rates. This is an attack on labour, just like we have seen with Bill C-377, where the government is attacking labour and trying to allege that they are not transparent organizations when we know they are. This is hidden in a budget implementation act.

It would also amend the Employment Equity Act so it would no longer apply to federal contractors. This is a major shift in public policy. I was part of the standing committee that reviewed the Employment Equity Act. It has to be reviewed every five years. The federal government is mandated to cover employment equity both in terms of its own direct services and of all the areas it covers like transport, airlines and banks. To amend the Employment Equity Act so it no longer applies to federal contractors is just a sheer gift and bonus to the Conservatives’ buddies in saying that things like employment fairness, fair wages and ensuring diversity in the workplace would not count anymore and they would not have to worry about it. This is a major and dramatic shift in public policy.

I also want to mention a few local things that are very concerning to me, such as the cuts to the CAP program, which is purely mean-spirited. Low-income people who can currently gain access to the Internet through the community Internet access program would no longer have access to that. This is just a small thing, but it really does affect people. We live in an Internet age but there are lots of Canadians who still do not have their own computer or access to the Internet and they use the community access program to have that opportunity and capability. Why on earth would the Conservatives go after that? Why would they target people in that way?

As the health critic for the NDP, I want to speak briefly about some of the health aspects in the few minutes I have left.  

We have said in this House many times how absolutely staggering a $31 billion decrease in health transfers to the provinces would be. This is a massive shift. The Conservatives unilaterally made a decision about health transfers in this country without any negotiation, debate or co-operation with the provinces and territories. It is something that is unheard of. This is a major assault on our health care system.

It goes even further than that. One of the little sneaky things that is in the budget is the amendments to the Food and Drugs Act to give the Minister of Health more power, supposedly on the basis of streamlining and improving the efficiency of various classifications of foods and drugs. However, it would basically give the minister more power to set up her own regulatory process and go outside the system. Again, this is something that should be coming forward in its own piece of legislation.

I will conclude by talking about what the budget does not address.

I live in Vancouver, and in Metro Vancouver probably the greatest issue we face is the lack of affordable housing. I have met with the Canadian Rental Housing Coalition in Metro Vancouver, which by the way, is made up of building owners, apartment owners, tenant groups and co-op housing groups. It is a broad coalition and they are all saying the same thing: the federal government must be part of a solution to build affordable housing in this country.

Where do we expect workers to live if they are paying 50% or 60% of their income in rent? The hotel workers and the people who work in the stadiums, on the waterfront or in the service industry can no longer afford to live anywhere close to where they work. This is a major issue in Metro Vancouver and also in other Canadian cities, yet there is not a single word in the budget implementation act that would make this a priority. It is just zero. It is as if it does not exist anymore.

We look at the contrast of the handouts to the Conservatives’ friends in the corporate world while ignoring the real priorities of Canadians for basic human needs like housing, shelter, good pensions or even access to the Internet. All of these things have either been ignored or cut.

This is a terrible budget, a terrible bill. We should be offended as parliamentarians that this budget implementation bill is so broad. It has so much in it that we cannot even begin to debate, especially now that there is a gag order on the time we have for debate, which was passed earlier today. What an affront to parliamentary democracy.

We are here to stand up to say we oppose the bill and will use everything we can to oppose it all the way.