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Stéphane Dion Speaks in the House on the Budget Implementation / Omnibus Bill

Posted on May 1, 2012

Hon. Stéphane Dion

On April 30th, in the House of Commons, Mr. Dion denounced the many worrisome – even dangerous – measures the Conservative government is attempting to sneak past Canadians via the Budget.

Hon. Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Malpeque.

Why does the Conservative government insist on copying the Americans on whatever works the least for our neighbours to the south? Does it not feel like this is the U.S. Congress, in light of this gigantic, omnibus budget bill, which touches on everything and runs in all directions?

The Conservative government has turned a budget implementation bill into an omnibus bill, an ideological steamroller that allows the Conservatives to push through important measures that deserve a thorough review, but without too much controversy or any serious, careful examination. What we are doing here today is nothing more than a mock debate.

Never before have we seen a Canadian government try to amend so many laws under the guise of budget implementation. Back in 2010, the Conservative government used the same scheme to amend no less than 24 laws, but this time, the government is smashing its own record. It is using a 431-page budget bill to amend no less than 70 laws. In almost every case, these amendments have little to do with the budget or any financial issues in general, but they have everything to do with the Conservative ideological agenda.

In fact, barely 30 of the 431 pages have to do with any fiscal measures, while no less than 151 pages amend legislation surrounding environmental protection. That is why our colleague, the hon. member for Etobicoke North, proposed that the government at least agree to remove the part regarding the environment and introduce it as a separate bill.

The government is once again showing its complete contempt for the parliamentary process and its utter disdain for parliamentary democracy as we practice it here in Canada. As a result, the Standing Committee on Finance will be the only way to review, albeit in a jumble and all at once, an unheard of quantity of changes and shifts, often serious and significant, but on which the committee has little or no expertise. And yet this government is completely unwilling to consider any amendments, by saying that it is not in our tradition to make amendments to a budget implementation bill.

In doing so, the government is thwarting not only Parliament, but also Canadians, who will not be allowed to speak out on the pros and cons of these many measures.

We cannot intelligently debate or properly scrutinize in a budget issues as crucial as the weakening of several pieces of legislation and the elimination of a number of environmental regulations, the end of protecting fish habitat, the power given to the government to reverse decisions by the National Energy Board, the weakening of the Food and Drugs Act and the power given to the minister to make exemptions from that same act. Nor can we properly scrutinize in a budget bill the countless changes made to areas as disparate as assisted human reproduction, the abolition of the inspector general position at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the gradual change in the old age security eligibility age to 67, the cancellation of thousands of immigration applications, the end of the requirement that the Auditor General audit the financial statements of a series of agencies including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the end of the requirement that the President of the Treasury Board report to Parliament every year on how he is implementing the Public Service Act, and so forth.

All these complex and contentious matters cannot be properly examined at the same time. The Liberal motion we are debating today warns the government against this questionable haste that jeopardizes the health and safety of Canadians, especially in a context of budget cuts where the government is cutting the scientific capacity of Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, to name only three examples.

It is not as though the Conservative government has shown an exceptional capacity to openly and thoroughly debate a number of issues simultaneously. On the contrary, this government avoids questions, turns a deaf ear to objections and does not want to hear contrary arguments. For example, how many times have we asked the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to justify why he is closing the rescue centres in St. John’s and Quebec City, a move that many experts say will put lives in danger on the St. Lawrence River, in the gulf and in the Atlantic.

Why are they closing these centres when there is every indication that there will be no real savings, when the minister’s own staff is skeptical about it, and when the Commissioner of Official Languages has pointed out serious shortcomings in the delivery of these essential services in French? Members of the Conservative government and caucus will bear responsibility for this thoughtless, ill-conceived and dangerous measure taken without proper debate.

I will give another example. It is cruel of the government to, without a valid reason, force tired, ill and disadvantaged Canadians to work two more years before they are able to receive an old age security cheque from the government for $540 a month. The government maintains that this measure is the only way to ensure the sustainability of the program. However, we have been trying to tell the government that many studies, including its own, those of the chief actuary, the parliamentary budget officer and the OECD show that such is not the case.

What does the government think of these studies? It should stop evading the question. I challenge my Conservative colleagues to show that I am wrong about these studies, which they probably have not read. I invite them to read these studies before punishing Canadians and forcing them to work to the age of 67. Such serious matters should not be buried in a budget. They should be diligently studied and properly debated.

In conclusion, we must vote in favour of the Liberal motion, not only because the measures I just talked about are inherently bad, dangerous and unfair and not only because they stem from the ideological dismantling of the federal machinery under the guise of improving federal finances, but because they are an affront to parliamentary democracy, which does not belong to the Prime Minister or the Conservative party, but to the Canadian people.

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