Alistair debates Bill C-74, the budget implementation bill
May 31st, 2018 - 11:47am
Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am really glad to be able to take part in the debate on Bill C-74, because I am getting an opportunity that unfortunately many of my colleagues will not get, because as all my colleagues know, we are now debating a bill under time allocation yet again.
Notice was given last night in the late hours of the night, when a few of us were still here maintaining our presence until midnight. Then, of course, the government moved the motion on time allocation earlier today. This is, I think, the 40th time the government has done this, in spite of its election promises to work with parliamentarians and to show more respect for this place. Promising something and then doing the complete opposite is the kind of action that breeds a lot of cynicism for politics. I would dare say that a lot of people who voted for the Liberals in the last election were expecting a lot better than they are currently getting. However, we will revisit that issue in 2019. I will be very happy to talk to my constituents about it.
Bill C-74 is the government's budget implementation bill for 2018. It clocks in at a hefty 556 pages. I do not have a copy of the bill before me, but members can be assured that it also serves well as a giant doorstop. It amends 44 separate acts. One of them includes a measure to establish a new greenhouse gas pricing act. We in the NDP believe that because of how big the bill is and how much debate there is over carbon pricing right now, that particular aspect of the bill could have existed as a standalone bill to give it the comprehensive debate it deserves.
There is a problem with introducing bills of this size and trying to ram them through the legislative process in a quick manner. The reason is that one can sometimes lose the fine little details. For example, it was discovered a couple of weeks ago that there is a measure buried in Bill C-74 under part 6, division 20, that appears to allow prosecutors to suspend criminal charges against companies in certain cases of corporate wrongdoing. We might legitimately ask in the House why a criminal justice matter is appearing in a budget bill.
I asked that question. I had the honour of serving as the NDP's justice critic last year, and I would expect such a measure to be in a criminal justice bill and to be studied at the appropriate committee, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Members need not take my word for it. We have quotes from the Liberal MP for Hull—Aylmer, who was a member of the finance committee. He said that the government seems to be “letting those with means have an easier time of it than those who don't have the means.”
The Liberal MP for Malpeque, who is the finance committee chair, also said that “...there is a huge question of whether this should be in a budget bill.”
Two Liberal MPs having discovered this and raised legitimate questions, but what did the Liberal-dominated finance committee do? It left that provision in and sent the bill right to the House, and here is where it is at.
That is one of the big problems with omnibus bills when they start throwing in all these different acts. Someone who thinks they are pretty clever in the PMO says, “We can just slip this in and I don't think it will get noticed.” They got caught this time. I do not know the merits of this particular part, but it deserved to go to the justice committee so that the justice committee, in its expertise, could call for the appropriate witnesses to deliberate as to whether this is really a good provision. It is not a measure that the finance committee is equipped to deal with, not when we are dealing with a 556-page bill.
I want to turn in the next part of my speech to the greenhouse gas pollution pricing. We believe this measure should have been put into a separate bill. I am among the people who believe we do need to have a price on carbon, since the evidence of climate change is there for all to see and we need to take some leadership. However, there is still a big debate going on in the country.
I believe it would have been to the government's advantage to split this off into a separate bill and to study it on its own merits. That way we could have called forth witnesses with expertise in this area who could have offered the appropriate testimony as to why carbon pricing schemes work and to deal with my Conservative colleagues' concerns about carbon pricing. They could have maybe offered some suggestions on how the government could mitigate the costs to low-income families and the costs to industries that are very fossil fuel reliant.
Speaking as the NDP's critic for agriculture, one of those sectors is agriculture. The Canadian Produce Marketing Association and the Canadian Horticultural Society have a problem with one aspect of Bill C-74 under part 5. They would like to see the definitions in the bill relating to farming encompass all primary agricultural activities and ensure that qualifying farming fuel would include natural gas and propane, which are increasingly common in the agricultural sector. They believe that after their consultations and research, the definitions in that part of the bill are incomplete and do not capture all of the primary agricultural activity. Agriculture is one of those sectors where farmers have to drive their tractors. They have to use natural gas to heat their greenhouses and it is a sector that, under current models, is very reliant on fossil fuels. We know there is a lot of innovation, research, and effort being made to transition off that, but the case as it stands now is that it is still heavily reliant on those fuels.
Given that so many farmers live so close to the margins and that the government has an ambitious agenda of reaching $75 billion worth of exports by 2025, I believe this is part of the bill that could have been studied as a stand-alone bill. I know as the agriculture critic that I would loved to have given some notice on behalf of my party and interested stakeholders.
I also want to talk about a few of the missed opportunities. I covered this in an exchange earlier today about the fact that there are no real measures in the bill to deal with tax evasion and avoidance. This is an issue that we have seen time and time again in Canada, where the wealthy and well connected are able to use tools at their disposal that ordinary Canadians just do not have, and are not paying their fair share. The Liberals failed to live up to a promise to get rid of tax loopholes associated with the stock options of rich CEOs.
Again, we see a failure to effectively deal with the corporate tax rate. As I mentioned before, corporations benefit from tax dollars being spent here. Our tax dollars build infrastructure like bridges, like roadways, and the railways that help corporations move their products. Our tax dollars pay for the administration of a legal system that ensures that corporations live under the rule of law and that if they ever have a conflict with a customer or a regulatory agency, the rule of law is there for them.
Our tax dollars also pay for social services that many workers require because they are not being paid a living wage. That is another issue that needs to be addressed. I know many of my colleagues in the House have constituents who are working full-time jobs, but still struggling to get by. They are having to make those hard choices between paying the rent and putting good quality food on the table.
I will end by talking about the government's recent purchase of the Kinder Morgan pipeline for $4.5 billion. That was certainly not a part of its election platform and was not mentioned in the 2018 budget, so the government is going to have to explain to the House and to Canadians where that money is coming from. Are the Liberals going to raise it from the Canada pension plan? Are they going to raise it from tax dollars? We would like to see where that money is coming from.
When we look at gaping holes in our infrastructure, especially rural broadband, the situation with drinking water quality on first nation reserves, the fact that the government can pony up $4.5 billion for a piece of infrastructure that belongs in the twentieth century, but ignore all of these other problems that are so prevalent in the rest of the country really goes to the heart of where the Liberal government's priorities are.
In conclusion, I appreciate this opportunity to speak to Bill C-74.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I listened very closely as the member commented on tax policies.
The member did not make reference to the hundreds of millions of additional dollars the government has included in two budgets to go after tax evaders. The member did not make mention of the tax that was put on Canada's wealthiest 1%. I will remind the member opposite that he voted against that tax on Canada's wealthiest 1%. The member did not make mention of the tax cut given to the middle class. The member did not mention the hundreds of millions of dollars going through the Canada child benefit, and what about the GIS? Again, it is hundreds of millions of dollars. Those programs have lifted thousands of seniors and children out of poverty.
The NDP consistently vote against these types of measures. Does the member have any regrets about not supporting some of those tax cuts for our middle class, or some of the programs that have lifted thousands of children and seniors out of poverty?
Mr. Alistair MacGregor:
Mr. Speaker, I did not mention those because that debate is now two years old. I can revisit if, if the member for Winnipeg North wants me to.
Speaking of seniors, the government is still failing to live up to its promise to establish a seniors price index. That was a clear promise that the government has broken.
With respect to the tax cuts for the middle class, the government keeps talking about them but has failed to define who the middle class is. This was not a middle class tax cut; this was a middle tax bracket cut. It started with people earning $45,000 and went up to people who earn $90,000. Every Liberal member of Parliament gave themselves the maximum tax cut. With the median income in Canada being under $45,000, people in my constituency got zero.
Ms. Sheila Malcolmson (Nanaimo—Ladysmith, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear more of the views of my colleague, the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford.
Is the member hearing in his riding, as I am in mine, people's absolute astonishment at the Liberal government when it, for example, said to veterans that they were asking for more than it can give? What confidence should we have in a Liberal government that somehow found $4.5 billion to buy the discredited 65-year-old Kinder Morgan pipeline, which was valued in 2007 at just $550 million? Does the government really believe the pipeline has increased in value so much in the 10 years since Kinder Morgan bought that asset? What does that say about the government's priorities?
Mr. Alistair MacGregor:
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith, my fantastic neighbour to the north, for that question. I am sure she will join me in recognizing the amazing work of the member for Courtenay—Alberni, who serves as our new veterans affairs critic.
We have spent many years working with veterans in our communities. When we hear talk about our veterans asking for too much, we think it is very shameful. I am sure the Prime Minister regrets making those comments.
The fact is that I believe we have a social, moral, and economic covenant with people who wear the uniform. When we ask them to serve on our behalf, we owe it to them to be with them every step of the way when they retire, when they need help, whether it is due mental or physical pain or trauma. That should be part of the full costing of any kind of military engagement. There should be continuous care from the moment people sign up until the moment they leave and the moment they are in old age. We have look after our veterans. It is the least we can do after asking them to do so much for us.