Craig Speaks Against Omnibus Budget Implementation Act (Bill C-38)

May 11th, 2012 - 3:52pm

Thursday May 10, 2012

Mr. Craig Scott (Toronto—Danforth, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to rise in the House today to speak on behalf of my constituents of Toronto—Danforth and all Canadians who are deeply worried by the Conservative government's assault on democracy in the form of this omnibus budget implementation act.

A full one-third of Bill C-38 is dedicated to the gutting of environmental regulation and protection. In addition, the bill includes a series of previously unannounced measures that will contribute to a less transparent and more secretive environment.

These measures include a massive gutting of the powers of the Auditor General. In addition to the content of the bill, we take issue with its undemocratic nature.

The Conservatives truly are trying to hide from oversight and avoid accountability with this bill, both in terms of how it is going through the House and its content. It is inappropriate to put so many sweeping changes to so many different areas in a single budget bill. This is purely inappropriate legislative behaviour.

I will touch on just some of the areas hammered by Bill C-38, starting with the environment. This week, 10 of the leading environmental organizations launched a protest campaign to raise awareness of the huge threat the Conservative budget represents to the environment. However, they equally wish us all to understand the onslaught against democracy itself represented by this bill. Parliamentary democracy is under assault by the wholesale regressive transformation of federal environmental law without serious opportunity to debate and scrutinize, and much of the change in the budget bill is transparently intended to cripple the elements of participatory democracy that are part of current environmental law.

The campaign of these 10 brave groups is called Black Out Speak Out or Silence, on parle! in French, and it asks Canadians to darken their websites on June 4 as a form of collective national protest. Why do I say that they are brave? It is because members of the Conservative government have already attacked them as being radical, extremists and money launderers, and the budget itself seeks to chill their participation in education and advocacy around the environment by encouraging Revenue Canada to go after its charitable status. They know they will be targeted by the government and its big-oil partners and front groups.

In fact, the government has earmarked $8 million at least to help the Canada Revenue Agency go after charities ostensibly engaging in political activity or being funded by so-called foreign sources. In the hands of a government at war with environmental and social justice organizations, this is a frightening new spending initiative.

Finally, on the theme of the environment, I will mention a matter close to the hearts of the people of Toronto—Danforth. There is no renewal of the ecoenergy home retrofit program that was very popular with Toronto residents, including those in my riding and, most important, very valuable as a sustainability measure.

I will now pick up on the theme of removing oversight and accountability. The budget implementation bill would create a much more secretive and non-transparent government through removal and closure of oversight powers and bodies. Bill C-38 would eliminate the mandatory Auditor General oversight of financial performance and reporting by no less than 12 agencies by removing provisions that require the Auditor General to audit accounts, financial statements and financial transactions. This includes the Canada Revenue Agency, ironically enough.

As if that were not enough, it would also eliminate the position of the Inspector General for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, which would drastically reduce accountability at CSIS, especially since we know that the Inspector General's recent reports have been critical of CSIS and the government. I think it is fair to assume that this critical scrutiny is most probably the reason the Inspector General would be eliminated as an institution. Once again, this shows that the government is dealing another, not just hammer blow but sledgehammer blow to the core foundations of our democracy.

I will now briefly speak to old age security, OAS. I hope to speak later in the day on the private member's bill. I will simply say the obvious. The Conservatives did not campaign on cutting OAS. Davos was the context for the Prime Minister to spring this on us. Now we know that the age of eligibility will rise over time from 65 to 67.

“Rise over time” are the key words because that has allowed the government to spread the disingenuous message that it is not current seniors who need to worry about this budget, but those coming afterward who just have to plan their affairs. This is the ultimate in wedge politics.

Seniors who now know they are “safe”, in the government terms, however, are among the most outraged. I can attest to that by virtue of the most recent byelection campaign I was part of and talking to people since. They are thinking of those coming after them, unlike the government, and do not buy into the crass assumption that they will not care and, therefore, will vote for the Conservatives because they are shielded from the immediate effect.

On housing, the people of Toronto—Danforth are extremely disappointed that there is nothing for affordable nor social housing in the budget bill and this has been condemned by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which stated:

A healthy housing sector, able to meet a broad range of needs, is a vital part of the economic and social wellbeing of any community.
Local governments have been implementing an array of initiatives to increase and preserve the supply of rental and affordable housing. ...municipalities are doing their part; but they can’t do it alone.

Cities have clearly been left out on housing, on transit and on other fronts.

Furthermore, yesterday, the Mental Health Commission of Canada released its mental health strategy and stated the importance of affordable, secure and safe housing for people living with mental health problems and illnesses and yet there is nothing in this budget for them.

Other important cuts are buried in the bill and/or indirectly created by the bill, such as cuts to CBC Radio drama. As we know, all drama programming of Radio One has been eliminated. I have been receiving many complaints from my constituents. One wrote the following:

...cutting the CBC's budget is detrimental not only to the Canadian arts community and the listening public, but to political culture in Canada.

I could not agree more.

As demonstrated by an article in the The Globe and Mail on April 12 by Kelly Nestruck, drama programming nurtured numerous playwrights and actors and allowed them to gain national attention while furthering the public's understanding of politics and society.

Afghanada, for example, not only “was the source of employment of an astonishing number of young Canadian playwrights”, but it also was the only drama to further our understanding of the causes and the legacy of the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan until the very recent wave of stage plays have finally rolled out.

It is a shame that the government is cutting spending on areas like CBC Radio drama that have had a long and culturally valuable history of informing, stimulating and, yes indeed, entertaining Canadians.

To conclude, the Conservatives clearly do not understand the connections between healthy communities and the health of the economy.

So what are we doing about it? These sweeping changes are going through the wrong forum. They should not be hidden in a budget bill in this manner. Trojan Horse budget bills should not become the new normal.

If the government is not afraid of being held accountable, it should agree to work with us in order to split this bill up into several bills.

Unfortunately, it appears that the government has already rejected the possibility of splitting this bill into more manageable tranches for Parliament to study. I hope there is still time for it to reconsider.