Statement made on 28 June 2012 by Senator Pierrette Ringuette, Senator Catherine Callbeck, Senator Fernand Robichaud, Senator Jane Cordy, Senator Robert Peterson (retired), Senator Dennis Dawson, Senator Claudette Tardif and Senator Lillian Eva Dyck
Hon. Pierrette Ringuette:
Honourable senators, the Honourable Senator Carignan clearly indicated in this chamber that never in the history of the Senate had a bill been split up so that six committees could examine its content.
Senator Carignan thus recognizes the scope of Bill C-38 and the abuse of power that it represents, since it amends 70 laws. This bill contains over 750 clauses and, as I said yesterday, it is clearly an abuse of power. I am convinced that this bill demonstrates a lack of courage on the part of the Prime Minister.
Honourable senators, the short title of Bill C-38 is the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act. This bill is an attack on Canadian workers, because the government has sent letters of dismissal to over 19,000 public servants. Rumour even has it that the number of letters issued will increase to 34,000 and that world-class Canadian scientists and researchers will be among those receiving them.
Honourable senators, this is an attack on Canadian workers.
It is an attack on Canadian workers and, more particularly, on the low-income workers of Canada, on the workers who, in the last six years, have gotten poorer and poorer. We are attacking these workers because we are telling them that they will have to work two more years in order to receive OAS. We are telling them that they now belong to three different categories.
We are telling them that they now belong to three different categories of employed or unemployed workers.
It is a particularly strong attack on seasonal businesses and on seasonal workers that are needed for these businesses through the changes in the regulation of Employment Insurance. Is the honourable senator trying to tell me that we can justify the title of this bill: jobs, growth and long-term prosperity?
Let me tell honourable senators about another attack on jobs and Canadians by this bill. Let us look at the modification with regard to cross-border shopping. It is estimated that the federal government, through these changes, will be losing $17 million a year. However, let me remind all honourable senators that the federal government has an agreement with each of the provinces and territories with regard to the collection of HST at the border, at the entry level to Canada. Therefore, without even talking to the provincial premiers, the Minister of Finance of Canada has decided to reduce the Treasury Board income by $17 million a year federally, but also, by the same token, remove approximately $23 million yearly from provincial coffers to supply health care, education and home care — without even talking to the provinces.
Furthermore, this is an attack on Canadian workers because all these sales, estimated at a yearly $340 million to Canadians abroad coming back to Canada, will not be made in Canada. The Retail Council of Canada estimates that they will be losing Canadian jobs to the tune of 11,000 per year — 11,000 workers in the retail sector, most of whom are working for minimum wage in local, rural communities that face the U.S. border.
Honourable senators, Bill C-38 is an attack on Canadian jobs. It is an attack on Canadian workers.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Ringuette: Do not just take my word for it.
Marq Smith of Langley, B.C. says:
I don't understand it. The government is supposed to be in our corner, not encouraging people to go south to spend their money. And they're hurting themselves too, losing tax revenue. This doesn't help us as Canadians at all. I can't figure out the logic.
The Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce:
"By encouraging people to shop across the border, it literally takes money out of the pockets of business owners, their employees, and their families," said Shaver. "We are not sure how Mr. Lauzon came up with this idea or if he considered the impact it would have on our community."
Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce:
This proposal will allow Canadians to spend even more money in the States, which means fewer dollars, more bankrupt shops, and more lost jobs for our citizens.
The Mayor of Killarney, Manitoba:
The only incentive for any Canadians in the last federal budget was, "hey, shop American." To me, there's no rationale behind that whatsoever. It means that we could potentially lose an additional $150 per person in this community, per trip. How does this encourage the Canadian economy to grow?
Bruce McCormack, the General Manager of Downtown Fredericton:
. . . said he's already fielded calls from business owners who are upset by the change and how it will hurt their finances.
"This is a pretty big deal and we will be talking to our MP. I just think it's a shame that nobody was consulted," . . .
Just by this measure, Bill C-38 is not only removing income from provinces to provide health services and education, it is also removing $340 million from the Canadian economy. It is reducing, on a yearly basis — forever and ever until we have a change of government — 11,000 jobs in the retail sector.
The honourable senator is saying to us that we would be irresponsible if we did not adopt Bill C-38. We would be irresponsible if we did not support Canadian workers?
Another very interesting issue in regard to Bill C-38 is the lack of consultation related to health care transfer to the provinces. The Prime Minister has announced, two years early, before the agreement was due, that the renewal would be at only 3 per cent instead of 6 per cent.
Honourable senators must remember also that we are facing a major demographic change in Canada. In front of our National Finance Committee we had a research group called the Canadian Institute for Health Information. They provided us with a graph of the effect of age in relation to the cost of health care. They researched all of that.
For instance, for most of the provinces in this country, except Alberta, the age of the population is increasingly older. The graph that we have before us indicates that at a regular sequence of four years there is a dramatic increase in health care costs for the provinces with the aging population. That means the federal government has a responsibility to sit down with provincial premiers and look at the demographics and the cost and understand that health care should not be based only on a per capita basis but should take into consideration the cost as per the demographics of Canada.
We also know that there is a link between the level of health care cost and the level of individual income. There is also a direct relationship.
Honourable senators, before deciding unilaterally, why did Mr. Harper say that the health care transfer would be reduced by half? Why did he not sit down with provincial premiers and seriously look at the demographics and the impact of those demographics in regard to health care costs?
The Constitution of Canada, in regard to equalization and regional disparity, says at section 36(1):
Without altering the legislative authority of Parliament or of the provincial legislatures, or the rights of any of them with respect to the exercise of their legislative authority, Parliament and the legislatures, together with the government of Canada and the provincial governments, are committed to
(a) promoting equal opportunities for the well-being of Canadians;
(b) furthering economic development to reduce disparity in opportunities; and
(c) providing essential public services of reasonable quality to all Canadians.
That is also based on fair taxation and the varying capabilities of all provinces.
Honourable senators, again, the Prime Minister of Canada lacks courage.
Hon. Catherine S. Callbeck:
Honourable senators, I rise today to say a few words about the motion for time allocation to curtail debate on Bill C-38, the budget implementation bill.
As a member of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, I participated in most of the committee's examination of the legislation. I want to comment on the composition of the legislation as a whole.
As many honourable senators know, Bill C-38 is a massive piece of legislation. It comprises over 750 clauses, affects over 70 acts of Parliament and is roughly 429 pages long.
I am not the first to talk about the size of this legislation. Professor emeritus of political studies at Queen's University, Ned Franks, who is no stranger to the National Finance Committee, noted in 2010:
Between 1995 and 2000, budget implementation acts averaged 12 pages in length. From 2001 to 2008, they averaged 139 pages. In 2009, the two acts added up to 580 pages - 32 per cent of Parliament's legislative output that year.
Mr. Franks went on to say:
The 2010 Budget Implementation Act, Bill C-9, contains 883 pages of varied and unrelated legislative provisions. It could form close to half the pages of Parliament's legislative output for 2010. These omnibus budget implementation bills subvert and evade the normal principles of parliamentary review of legislation.
It appears that the Budget Implementation Act that we now have before us is cut of the same cloth. Once again we are being asked to curtail debate. This restriction on debate and consideration of the many items contained within this legislative smorgasbord has not been confined to the proceedings of this chamber and the other place.
There was a common thread among witnesses who appeared before the National Finance Committee, who expressed some frustration with the "kitchen sink" nature of the bill. I found roughly one quarter of the witnesses not representing a government department or agency expressed concern regarding the nature of the bill.
I want to put on record here for members of the Senate what some of these witnesses had to say. For example, on June 5, Andrew Jackson, the chief economist with the Canadian Labour Congress, noted:
We also regret the fact that there is not really a clear policy rationale for the changes that are being proposed, and we are forced to address them within a large omnibus bill.
Two days later at committee, Susan Eng, representing the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, or CARP, made the following remarks:
Finally, I would like to say a word on the democratic process. Our members reacted strongly against the bundling of the OAS changes within the omnibus bill, and they certainly want proper parliamentary debate for such an important issue, especially one that was never put before the electorate. CARP called on all MPs to support motions to separate the bill, splitting it into more manageable portions in order to allow for adequate deliberation. The Prime Minister himself once warned against the bundling of disparate issues into an omnibus bill because it was beyond the capacity of a single parliamentary committee to adequately consider all the dimensions of major public policy changes. Breaking up the bill, in the then opposition leader Mr. Harper's own words, would allow members to represent the views of constituents on each of the different components of the bill. We agree, and that logic should be applied to Bill C-38.
At the same time, Jim Stanford, an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers, shared the concerns of Ms. Eng as he went on to say:
First, I agree with the previous witness in that it is inappropriate to be discussing fundamental changes to a program this important within the context of a composite omnibus bill. The pension system is an enormously central pillar in an individual's life cycle, planning and decision-making, decisions that take decades to be implemented. Changes to that system have to be made cautiously, carefully and incrementally.
For example, we have the Canada Pension Plan system in Canada that is also very effective, but in order to change it, you have to go through a whole process of public discussion and consensus-building. You have to win the approval of provinces representing two thirds of the population before you change anything in the plan. You cannot just throw a couple of paragraphs into an omnibus piece of legislation and make a change on such short notice.
A week later, Erin Weir, an economist representing the United Steelworkers, advised the committee by commenting:
I do not see why this measure needs to be bound up with implementing the budget. There are a lot of things in Bill C-38 that actually are not necessary to implement the budget. I suppose that is the real question as to why the government has sort of tethered it all together and tried to ram it through.
The obvious question is: What does this government have to hide? Is the government afraid of a little healthy debate upon issues dealt with in this legislation that affect the lives of everyday Canadians? With the tactics being used by this government to sweep this massive legislation through Parliament, one would get the impression they think the bill is perfect as written, but this is not the case. Even the Finance Minister hesitated when he was recently asked by the media if he thought the budget bill was flawless. In fact, the minister said:
I'm sure there are items in the bill that could be improved and made better.
If the Minister of Finance is convinced there are initiatives in this bill that can be improved, then I think it is our duty as Canadians to identify them and provide the assistance he admittedly needs.
To review, it is possible that this legislation contains between one third and one half of the legislative output this government will generate all year. This government has imposed time allocation at every possible stage during consideration of this bill in the other place and is attempting to do so here as well. When witnesses have been asked to express their views on the composition of this bill, many say it subverts the normal principles of parliamentary review. Moreover, many have expressed concerns the bill contains non-budget-related items, items worthy of substantial investigation by committees of both chambers as well as extensive consultation with Canadians. On top of all that, the Minister of Finance himself is uncertain that this bill was the best he could do in his service to Canadians.
Honourable senators, armed with all this evidence, I feel that I have no choice but to vote against this motion of time allocation.
Hon. Fernand Robichaud: Would the Honourable Senator Callbeck take a question?
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Would the honourable senator accept a question?
Senator Callbeck: I would be happy to.
Senator Robichaud: I know that the honourable senator is a member of the National Finance Committee and that she examined this bill — not in its entirety because it is very long — but perhaps she can answer my question.
Some committees were charged with examining certain sections of this bill. How many committees produced written reports with comments so that the National Finance Committee did not have to examine the entire bill?
Senator Callbeck: I thank the honourable senator very much for the question. Six committees looked at this bill, including the Finance Committee. The chair and deputy chair of four of the other five committees came before us and were there for roughly half an hour to discuss their findings. For example, the Energy Committee's chair and deputy chair appeared for half an hour. I do not know how many pages and clauses there are in this bill, but half an hour does not do it justice. I am saying that there are so many pieces in this legislation that should be stand-alone legislation. It is absolutely ridiculous.
Back in 1995 to 2000, these bills averaged 12 pages in length, and here we are trying to deal with a piece of legislation at 429 pages.
I do not feel that the bill was adequately studied; I really do not. Certainly it was better than in the other place because we had six committees study it, but I still think that a lot of this should be stand-alone legislation given to individual committees.
Hon. Jane Cordy:Going back to the pre-study, I know in the Social Affairs Committee we looked at the immigration piece of the bill. I said every time we had witnesses that this immigration legislation should have been stand-alone legislation because it required a lot of in-depth discussion and study.
Our committee did not write a report. I understand that two Conservative members appeared before the Finance Committee to talk about what happened at our committee, and I also understand that we sent over all of the documentation we received and all the testimony we heard. Would the Finance Committee have time in studying a bill over 400 pages long to go over all of the testimony that all six other committees heard?
Senator Callbeck: I thank the senator for the question. We are both members of the Social Affairs Committee, and I agree that that section should be stand-alone legislation. It is important, and it deserves to be given adequate study.
Two members from the committee appeared, both from the government side, the chair and one other member. They were there for approximately half an hour. I did not see any written report from that committee. As I said before, the Senate has not done justice to this massive piece of legislation, 429 pages that should be divided up into several pieces of stand-alone legislation.
Hon. Robert W. Peterson:
Honourable senators, I rise to speak to amendments to Bill C-38 that impact charities, as well as to other recommendations that were not included in the budget but should be considered in the Senate committee.
As some senators may be aware, Bill C-38 amends the Income Tax Act to clarify the reporting of gifts to qualified donees, specifically in cases where those gifts are used by the qualified donee to carry out political activity. The intent of the amendment is to ensure that when a registered charity provides funding to a qualified donee that is then used for political activity, the registered charity making the gift reports this as part of its own political activities.
To that end, the term "charitable purpose" will be amended, as will the definition of "political activity." While these may not seem like drastic changes, I would like to echo the concerns raised by Imagine Canada, a charitable umbrella organization. The concern is that a strict interpretation of the definition of a political activity, particularly the use of the phrase "the purpose of the gift," goes beyond the intention of the legislation's policy goals.
To use an example provided by Imagine Canada, take the case of a registered charity making a gift of $1 million to another charity with $5,000 of that gift earmarked for political activity. Under one reading of the proposed definition, as political activity is a purpose of the $1-million gift, the entire $1-million gift would be considered political activity on the part of the foundation, even though only a small portion of it is to be used for political activity by the qualified donee. This discrepancy will no doubt constrain charitable activity.
Bill C-38 also introduces amendments that will require charities to provide more information on their political activities, including the extent to which they are funded by foreign sources. In consulting with various charitable experts, the intent of this measure does not appear to be to change the law regarding what constitutes political activity but, rather, the extent to which charities may fund the political activities of another qualified donee. However, it is anticipated that this will be very confusing for charities, which might be misinformed about the changes. This could further extend the advocacy chill that has been created by remarks made by members of the government. It is my hope that the government will devote a large portion of their CRA resources to clarifying these measures, ultimately allowing charitable advocacy to flourish.
Another change in Bill C-38 is a new requirement for charities in their T3010 tax form and how they are applied. A new set of questions will require more onerous reporting of political activities as well as questions related to financing. While a greater degree of transparency is welcome, it is my hope that reporting burdens will be kept to a minimum so as not to distract charities from their primary missions. New reporting mechanisms may be especially onerous for small and medium-sized firms, which may not have the expertise that larger charities have.
It is important to remember that new measures will add to the reporting burden, meaning added compliance and overhead costs. It is also my hope that the CRA will continue to consult with front-line organizations like Imagine Canada so that best practice procedures can be applied.
Again, I urge that a majority of the $8 million set aside in the budget be used for providing information to charities. This will also help ensure that charities do not accidentally overstep their accepted charitable purposes.
While I have spoken about various impacts of the budget, I would also like to speak to recommendations that have been made in committee but not included in the budget.
Charities have three major sources of revenue: donations, earned income activities, and government grants and contributions. In light of recent global economic conditions impacting the Canadian economy, it is imperative that donations to charities be encouraged to the greatest extent possible. Not only do charities conduct excellent work related to service delivery and policy creation, but the charitable and non-profit sector also represents a sizable portion of the Canadian economy — around 11 per cent.
The budget noted that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance is studying current and proposed incentives for charitable giving to ensure that the tax incentives are as effective as possible. However, the budget did not include the stretch tax credit for charitable giving, a recommendation that has been made by 70 per cent of charities in their recommendations to the committee.
The stretch tax credit is a tax instrument that would increase the federal charitable tax credit on giving that exceeds a donor's previous highest giving level. The tax credit would increase from 15 per cent to 25 per cent for eligible amounts below $200 and from 29 per cent to 39 per cent for eligible amounts above $200. This would encourage donations from those who have not given in the past, particularly younger families and those just starting their careers. I encourage the government to include this measure as an amendment to Bill C-38. Research shows that more than half of donors would increase their giving if there were better tax incentives.
The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates that after three years the incremental cost to the treasury in forgone revenue would be between $10 million and $40 million a year. The PBO estimates that within three years there would be up to 600,000 new donors and that median donations would increase by up to 26 per cent. A $10,000 cap on eligibility would also be targeted toward individuals and families who donate cash and have not benefited from previous tax measures that encourage large gifts of assets. Because there is no floor on a stretch tax credit, even those who can afford only smaller donations would benefit. This would also be an extremely beneficial measure for smaller charities that rely on a large number of small donations.
Another measure that I would encourage be included is an instrument that is currently being explored by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. The budget noted that HRSDC is currently exploring social financial instruments, and social impact bonds are cited as holding promise as a tool to further encourage the development of government-community partnerships. The budget also noted that HRSDC is modernizing the administration of grants and contributions and is testing ways to maximize the impact of federal spending. This would include pay-for-performance agreements and encouraging leveraging of private sector resources. These measures could have a positive long-term effect on the non-profit and charitable sectors.
Honourable senators, the goal of any policy should be to encourage, improve and facilitate, not to impede. It is my hope that the amendments I have highlighted and the measures I have recommended will be studied in depth in Senate committee. These are all positive amendments upon which both sides of this chamber should be able to agree. Canadians of all walks of life would be better if politics were set aside for philanthropy.
By the way, I think time allocation is an affront to the democratic process of debate on legislation.
Senator Cordy: Will the honourable senator accept a question?
Senator Peterson: Yes.
Senator Cordy: I was quite concerned to read an article about an interview with a member of the other side about charitable status. In it, she referenced the United Church. I am Catholic, and my church certainly works a lot with people living in poverty, with those who are less fortunate, and with those in our parish who may need health care, which would be a provincial and federal responsibility.
A government member from the Senate said, indeed, that the United Church would be considered a charity. The honourable senator talked about the term "political activities" and spoke about what we would think of the stereotypes as charities, but those who belong to places of worship certainly would contribute to these places. How will places of worship be affected by this bill? Will they lose their charitable status?
Senator Peterson: I thank the honourable senator for the question. Therein lays the problem. It is the definition of the term "charitable purpose" and "political activity" that is the issue. It could be far-reaching.
Right now I would think that particularly church charities would be reticent. It is my understanding that the Canada Revenue Agency will provide these definitions. I hope they will do it quickly, so that people will understand where they are in the picture.
Senator Cordy: However, will it mean that church organizations, synagogues or any organized religious groups will not be able to advocate on behalf of the members of their church or their synagogue?
Senator Peterson: The way it sits right now, my understanding is yes, they would be, because they would be countering government policy.
Hon. Dennis Dawson:
Honourable senators, I would like to begin by condemning the fact that the time for debate on this bill will be limited because of the government's motion for time allocation.
Parliamentarians are supposed to debate the government's proposed legislation. They are not supposed to rubber-stamp measures proposed by public servants or the executive. They are supposed to carefully consider the measures, talk about them, amend them, study them and ensure that taxpayers' concerns have been fully expressed.
I do not often quote Jason Kenney — and I am borrowing the quote from my honourable deputy leader, Senator Tardif — but that is what I will be talking about today.
I would like to talk to you about the erosion of the legislative process in Parliament. At the risk of boring some honourable senators on both sides of the chamber, I want to point out that I have been participating in the legislative process for 35 years now. That sometimes bores me too. In June 1977, 35 years ago, I was sworn in as a member of Parliament.
Some honourable senators are bored of hearing me say that I was here 35 years ago; so am I sometimes. Nonetheless, allow me to point out that many of you who now sit in this chamber were here with me 35 years ago. On this side, whether it is Senator Fairbairn, Senator Smith, Senator De Bané, Senator Baker or Senator Joyal, we were here. On the other side, I have friends across the aisle who were here in one capacity or another, either as journalists or as advisers to political parties, namely, Senator Segal, Senator LeBreton, Senator Duffy and Senator Wallin. Senator MacDonald was a political assistant with the Conservative Party.
Let me clarify: I am not trying to be nostalgic. I am trying to raise this for the purpose of historical context and to talk about one of the most serious issues we face as lawmakers today: the drastic and unrelenting regression of Parliament as an institution of political discussion and improvement, and the weakening of our institution. Honourable senators, as you well know, on both sides, we used to amend legislation.
Honourable senators, 35 years ago everyone took for granted that the legislation would be written by the lawyers at the Department of Justice, in cooperation with the Department of Transport, expecting that, when it was sent to the House of Commons, sent to the committees of the House of Commons, and then sent to the Senate and to committees of the Senate — and I am looking at my colleague from Quebec, Senator Rivest, who wrote legislation in Quebec — it would automatically be improved by that legislative study.
Honourable senators, we want the people who are concerned about a bill to give their opinion in order to improve it. The lawyers at Justice provided us with their best. They worked with department officials, but, nonetheless, they knew that the process of parliamentary democracy would require amending and improving their original drafts at all stages of the parliamentary process. This happened with minority and majority governments, under Conservative and Liberal governments.
There is no guilty side on this issue. We, as parliamentarians, should understand that if we do not assume our responsibility — and I know many honourable senators on both sides of the house are concerned with this subject — then we will become totally useless. If we do not make amendments, then why are we here? It is not only this chamber, however; trust me when I say that the other chamber is not doing a better job.
These people at Justice appeared with us in committees and, every time there was a step to be made to improve a bill, we would sit down with them in the legislative process and talk about how the bill could be amended. They would come back to us and write an amendment. We would do that all the time. It was quite natural. Hundreds of amendments were made in that way.
We did not present too many ominous bills in those days — and here I am talking about 35 years ago. For obvious reasons that we would not want to state today, we were proud to say that we passed 65 bills in one year. We were in a period where we thought that government had to get involved in everything. I do not propose to go back there, however, I do not think ominous bills are the solution. If we are supposed to be trading quantity for quality, trust me, this is not how we are coming out on this.
The bills we see going through these chambers have been getting progressively worse. This is not starting today, under the Conservative government; it was the same a few years ago under the Liberals. We are not taking into consideration what the stakeholders think, those outside of this place, outside of the Langevin Block and outside of the Justice Building. We were asking people to try to improve legislation. That is what we were supposed to do. I am sad to say that that is not what we are doing.
I have heard everyone here talk about the Liberal ominous bills. There is one basic difference between the Liberal ominous bills and the omnibus bills that we are passing these days: Our ominous bills were amendable. What a concept! The bill would be amendable. We would say, "Oh, my God, we have an improvement!"
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Senator Dawson: We have found a flaw in the bill and we recognize the fact that it has to be fixed. People on both sides would sit down, in committee or in the chamber, or between the leadership, and say, "This bill needs improvements. Let us do it together." That occurred with our omnibus bills.
In 2006, this government's first omnibus bill, Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, was amended significantly in both houses following in-depth study.
It was, by and large, the most important bill of the new Harper regime. He thought he was reinventing ethics. We all know how that turned out, but that is not the subject of my speech. Effectively, more than 150 amendments were presented — and I see here today some of the members of the committee at that time — by the Senate committee after there had been substantial amendments in the other chamber. These were sent to the House of Commons and what happened? They approved them. We must have been doing something right.
However, honourable senators, there must be something different today. As we talk today about Bill C-38, the people who write bills now and the people who work in the PMO are so good that they write them the first time — with 435 pages and 70 acts amended — and it goes through the system, from one end to the other, from the committees of the House of Commons to five subcommittees here in the Senate. We all find flaws. People on the other side know quite well there are flaws in these bills and say, "Well, we were told we cannot amend because it might delay the chamber and we might have to come back in July," which is not a nice thing, as everyone knows.
The reality is that we are losing our raison d'être and that would be bad for both sides. I look at the house leader on the other side as I repeat that it would be bad for both sides if we did not understand that we are part of the process. If we do not act as part of the process, then we will be irrelevant. I do not believe this chamber is irrelevant. I have been involved in this process for 35 years. I believe in the parliamentary process. I have been involved as a member of Parliament, as an intervenor from the outside, and now as a senator. The chamber of sober second thought was not created for blind partisan reasons.
I would like to talk to those in the 8-year club, of which some honourable senators here are members. I am part of the 35-year club. If senators really want to be relevant, they have to understand it is imperative to tell their leadership that they must be heard and they must put in amendments that will be in consideration of the stakeholders, not in consideration of their party leadership, not in consideration of their own opinions, but in consideration of what the taxpayers pay us to be here to do, and that is to change bills to improve them, not to weaken them or create extra infrastructure.
Hon. Claudette Tardif (Deputy Leader of the Opposition):
Honourable senators, here we are again. I rise to speak on yet another government guillotine motion, this time on the third reading of the massive ominous budget bill.
Senator Cordy: Is this a record?
Senator Tardif: It is a record.
Honourable senators, I am beginning to think that my colleague opposite, the Deputy Leader of the Government, must enjoy hearing my voice, since this is the third but I expect not final time in one week that he has obliged me to speak on a time allocation motion.
When the Deputy Leader of the Government rose to give his notice of time allocation yesterday on this budget bill — it is getting confusing, is it not, which time allocation motion we are talking about — he said that he had failed to reach an agreement with his counterpart on the other side. The agreement he sought to reach was to obtain a guarantee from me, as Deputy Leader of the Opposition, that the bill in question would be passed this week.
Honourable senators, I ask you the following: How could I deny my colleagues the opportunity to carefully study this bill and to speak on behalf of their regions? How could I agree to put a fundamentally unreasonable time limit on the debate of this massive and complex bill?
Senator Cordy: That would be undemocratic.
Senator Tardif: Exactly.
Based on my own convictions and those of senators in our caucus, I could not agree to such a request. This is why we are here today debating this motion. I am resigned to the reality that the use of time allocation is to become a regular tool for the government — the rule rather than the exception.
While I cannot expect to change the minds of the government leadership on this motion, I do hope that other senators opposite will carefully consider the motion that they are being asked to support today. The government has an assurance that this bill will eventually pass. It has a majority in this chamber, and any standing vote will turn out in its favour. It is only a matter of time.
Honourable senators, there is no malevolent, dilatory effort being undertaken here. Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is not being obstructionist for pure obstruction's sake. Let us understand clearly what is being proposed here. The government gave notice of its intention to use this closure motion after just one day of third reading debate on an ominous bill of 429 pages, 753 clauses, which introduces, amends or repeals more than 70 federal statutes. If the Senate were to consider every clause of this bill, the time limit the government seeks to impose would allow for 47 seconds of total debate per clause.
The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance only tabled its report in the Senate the day before yesterday, with over 33 hours of testimony from witnesses, plus an additional 36.5 hours of testimony from the five additional Senate committees that considered portions of this massive bill. How can the Senate possibly be in a position to complete its examination by the end of this day? If a senator wanted to examine the transcripts from all of these hearings, he or she would have literally thousands of pages to read through.
Honourable senators, it is getting to be a habit with this government, ramming legislation through the Senate as if this chamber were nothing more than a rubber stamp. This bill is not the only one being pushed through at the last minute. Today we begin debate at third reading on Bill C-11, a bill that was first tabled in the House of Commons on September 29 of last year. In those nine months in the other place, a total of 25 sitting days were devoted to study of the bill. Now the government in the Senate wishes to see it disposed of in this place in a matter of a few days.
Bill C-23, the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement, was in the house on two separate occasions, in the Fortieth and Forty-first Parliaments. There were a total of 12 meetings and 40 witnesses and over 12 months devoted to consideration. Here in this place, we again see the government expecting that the bill be passed within a few days and only hearing one witness.
It is true that this government holds a majority, but a majority government does not mean a government that does not listen. The senators of the opposition have real concerns about this bill — a bill that will have a real impact on the lives of all Canadians. Rather than using procedural manoeuvres to rush this bill through, the government should introduce a more convincing bill with a reasonable scope that might even receive some support from the opposition.
This type of mutual cooperation between the government and opposition benches in this chamber is not unusual. I like to think that senators from all parties take a certain pride in such cooperation.
I am not going to say anything more about this motion, because I believe that my remarks on the previous time allocation motions moved in this chamber in the past few days have made my position on this issue very clear.
Honourable senators, once again, I cannot support this time allocation motion.
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Would the honourable senator take a question?
Senator Tardif: Yes.
Senator Dyck: In her position as deputy leader, the honourable senator has a great understanding of how things work within the Senate. I know that senators on the other side are always talking about Senate reform and a Triple-E Senate — elected, effective and equitable. We hear a lot about having elected senators and how that will make this a more effective chamber. How does time allocation make the chamber more effective? We seem to see this all the time. They are limiting debate. How does that affect our jobs as senators? How will we be more effective if we are not given the proper amount of time to debate? What are the honourable senator's views on that particular question?
Senator Tardif: That is a huge question. Obviously, the Senate should be a chamber of sober second thought. We do need to have that time in order to carefully consider the legislation before us. That is the mandate that was given to us, according to the Constitution. We need the time to do our work, and it is unfortunate that there is a curtailment of debate.
Hon. Fernand Robichaud:
Honourable senators, could I have about 10 minutes to read the summary of this bill? I do not want to have to interrupt the reading and, if I were to be granted 10 minutes, then I could start reading right away.
If I were to read the summary, I think it would take me another hour. I could begin by reading Division 56 of Part 4.
Division 56 of Part 4 amends the Assisted Human Reproduction Act to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Reference re Assisted Human Reproduction Act that was rendered in 2010, including by repealing the provisions that were found to be unconstitutional and abolishing the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada.
I will now read Part 1 of the summary:
Part 1 of this enactment implements certain income tax measures and related measures proposed in the March 29, 2012 budget. Most notably, it [. . .]
Then come paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i), (j) and (k).
The summary continues:
Part 1 also implements other selected income tax measures and related measures. Most notably, it
. . . (a), (b), (c).
Honourable senators, I will dispense with reading all these divisions because I know that you will all read the summary before voting on the amendment proposed by Senator Ringuette and, of course, before voting at third reading stage.
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