Third reading of Bill C-38, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measuresPublished on 28 June 2012 Hansard and Statements by Senator Art Eggleton
Hon. Art Eggleton:
I have a couple of follow-up comments to Senator Eaton’s presentation. She was talking about things that she feels passionate about. I understand that and appreciate her remarks.
I must say, in connection with the arts and culture comments, one of the things that I find about this government is what it gives with one hand and takes away with the other. There may be some increases. She points out that the Canada Council for the Arts is at the highest level ever. If one adds inflation, every year one could say that everything is the highest level ever. That does not tell us anything. The one hand does take away, the CBC being an example of that particular case. One has to be leery about the kind of things this government supports because it does cut an awful lot of other things as well.
About the question of charities, there is no doubt that some comments have sent a chill through the community. I do not see any problem with openness and transparency as long as we are also seeing it in the organizations that the honourable senator’s party might have more support for, such as the gun control folks.
Senator Eaton: It applies to everyone.
Senator Eggleton: Yes, that is fine.
Let me get on to three aspects of this bill. First, the legislative process; second, Senator Ringuette’s amendment; and third, the immigration issue that was before the Social Affairs Committee.
Honourable senators, we have heard a number of times, but I think it bears repeating once again, that the construction of Bill C-38 in its many, many parts is an abuse of parliamentary process and an abuse of power. It is simply not reasonable; it is not practical for reasonable debate on all of these issues, all in the confines of one bill.
We have had omnibus bills before. There is nothing new about them — either Liberal or Conservative, that is true — but there is nothing that compares in scope or scale to this bill that we have in front of us today. The bill is over 420 pages long, contains some 720 clauses, amends or repeals some 70 statutes, including major ones like Canada’s environmental assessment laws and the laws that protect fish habitat. It dismantles the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the National Council of Welfare that tries to help the poor people of this country, the Rights & Democracy organization, the Public Appointments Commission, the inspector general that acts as a check on CSIS, and the list goes on from there. It makes extensive changes to Canada’s social safety net, including Employment Insurance and Old Age Security.
The government justification is that it is all related to the economy. I guess you could say just about everything we do in one way or another is related to the economy. Maybe they are heading down the path of having one bill every year, just this one bill that will have everything in it because it all relates to the economy. I hear Senator Wallin saying it is a good idea. I think it is a bad idea, and I hope that my colleagues opposite, when they talk to the Prime Minister, when they talk to their cabinet colleagues, when they talk in caucus will say, “Let us not do it this way again. Let us keep a budget bill down to what are reasonably budget issues and deal with everything else in separate legislation.”
The Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Carignan, said earlier today that there had been a lot of discussion about these different parts of the bill in the committees. One thing I find strange, for a chamber of sober second thought, is that notwithstanding all the things that were said in the very limited time we had to hear from the public, not one of these things seems to find favour with any of the Conservatives in this chamber, not one. Did no one say anything worthy of an amendment? Did absolutely nothing come of that? Is this just a decision that it is the government all the way and that is the way it is, deaf ear to what people say, just support the government, stand up and support en masse? I think that makes a mockery out of the concept of sober second thought. What is sober second thought for if it is not to look at reasonable ideas and then try to make the kind of amendments that would make the legislation better?
Second, I will refer to three parts of the amendment Senator Ringuette put forward yesterday. I really have a hard time understanding why Old Age Security is in this bill at all when we have the Chief Actuary, other actuaries and the Parliamentary Budget Officer all saying that this is really not necessary. It does not take effect for a long period of time anyway, but it is really not necessary in terms of the public accounts of this country.
I am concerned how it will affect people. Many people probably will still want to work beyond 65. I guess most of us in here are doing that, and fine. I intend to work as long as I possibly can. I will work until I drop, so that is fine. However, I am in reasonably good health, at least at this point — knock on wood — but many people are not. There are many physical labourers who, when they come up to age 65, cannot really go on any longer. Many of them also do not make a lot of money. For them, the pension plan and perhaps the GIS as well as the OAS — because you have to have the OAS to get the GIS; remember that — are a needed boost at age 65, yet I see nothing that talks about those people. There is just some assumption that people can work beyond 65 now because we are all in better health. That is not the case for all, and that is the problem and what concerns me most of all about these people affected by this provision of Old Age Security. I support the amendment provision that says we should delete that clause.
Another one is the EI changes. New formulas are coming out. You have so long to look for a suitable job, and if you do not, then the next few weeks after that you get even less. I cannot remember all the schedules. I have not got them in front of me, but honourable senators know what I am talking about. It all seems to be based on the phrases “suitable work” and “suitable employment.”
The problem is these are not defined by the government, yet the devil is in the details. That is a very important element, and the amendment in this case says that the minister should be accountable to Parliament for that, not just the minister making the decision on his own. We are giving these ministers a lot of discretion to make decisions without any reference to Parliament. This should go to Parliament, and therefore, the amendment is to the effect that there be wider scrutiny and accountability and oversight by Parliament on the definition of “suitable employment,” and that definition should be submitted to both houses of Parliament for examination of impact and potential legal issues.
One further amendment is on immigration. This thing called “ministerial instructions” first came about in the budget bill of 2008. The minister — I think it is the same minister, Minister Kenney — has used it four times. This is beginning to accumulate. An awful lot of decision making about Canada’s immigration system is being done by ministerial instruction, which again is not reportable to Parliament. There is no oversight by the Parliament of Canada. That is wrong. This amendment, which particularly relates to a further ministerial instruction provision in Bill C-38, suggests the need for parliamentary oversight so that both houses of Parliament can examine for the impact and potential legal issues involved in any particular ministerial instruction.
The one particularly in Bill C-38 has to do with the fact that minister will now be able to set new categories, new subcategories, of skilled worker immigrants. He has a quota on each category, but there is no quota as to the number of categories. This could expand into something big, and I think we need more parliamentary oversight, more opportunity for sober second thought. What is Parliament if it is not able to provide that kind of oversight in either one of our houses? I think it is important that we do that.
Finally, let me talk further about immigration in the context hearings of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. We heard a number of representations, which are also being ignored, on temporary foreign workers. That is getting into quite a jumbled mess. We have a relaxing of the rules and oversight with respect to temporary foreign workers. Employers used to have to advertise for five days on the Canada Job Bank website. Things are being relaxed in that regard, and fewer will be subject to compliance review, all by audit.
Some of the witnesses also pointed out that the regulation changes that allow for temporary foreign workers to be paid 15 per cent less than the regional average wage will mean a huge advantage for non-unionized employers and will drive wages down. Concerns have been raised about the impact of all of that.
Conflicting with that is the attempt by the minister responsible for Employment Insurance to get more Canadians to take some of these jobs. We will have to keep a very close eye on that and see what happens.
The one that I want to finish with is most regrettable for Canada and Canada’s reputation in the world, and that is the deletion of the backlog of the federal skilled worker applicants. There are approximately 100,000 of them, and when you add their families in it affects some 300,000 people. These are people who have followed the rules and are now being told, “Sorry, we are no longer processing your applications. You can come back and file another application, but we have new rules in different categories. You can go back to the starting line again if you qualify.”
I do not think that helps Canada’s reputation for fairness. Canada has been considered to be a fair and just country, following rules and laws. Now we are suddenly saying that we are throwing this out. This will damage our reputation. People will say that Canada tells you to apply and then throws your application out and changes the rules.
In fairness, many of these people have waited many years to have their application processed. They put their lives on hold. Many of them put their education, their employment or getting married on hold because they thought they would be examined by the rules under which they applied. Now, suddenly, their hopes are dashed and they are told that their application is no longer being processed.
There is no need to do this, honourable senators. For people who apply under the new rules, the government is saying that it will take about three months, if that, to process applications. If they can do that, they can also put enough resources into getting this backlog dealt with in a fair and just way. This will probably be challenged in the courts as being contrary to law, but we will see what happens. To me, it is not so much the legal question as the question of reputation and our integrity in the immigration field. It is a question of fairness to these people.
In summary, I recognize that there are good points about the budget bill. In fact, some of us noted a couple of them in the committee. One is called the Canadian immigration integration project. It provides a free two-day seminar on integration, job search and foreign credential recognition. That is a good program, and I commend the minister for that. We think it should be expanded, as should attempts to support immigration in countries —
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I regret to inform the honourable senator that his time has expired.
Senator Eggleton: May I have five more minutes?
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is more time granted, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: You have five more minutes.
Senator Eggleton: Thank you.
There are good things in this budget but, unfortunately, it is badly flawed by other things. Everything but the kitchen sink is in here. It really should not be that way, and I hope that senators opposite will try to ensure that next time we do not get a monster omnibus bill steamrolled through the House of Commons and then through the Senate.