Bill C-63 Budget Implementation Act, No. 2

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to review Bill C-63 at report stage.

I lament that we have time allocation in place, but I am grateful that I was able to grab the slot that occurs every 34 slots for someone in a position like mine: being in a party with fewer than 12 MPs. Time allocation tends to be a real detriment to the principle that all MPs in this place are equal. That is the principle of Westminster parliamentary democracy. Of course, the increased power of party whips and the increased partisanship within the House means that all MPs are equal in the way that George Orwell described all animals as being equal in Animal Farm. Some are more equal than others.

Regarding the rules on recognized parties, I only recently discovered that Canada is the only Westminster parliamentary democracy that has the notion that a party needs a certain number of MPs before they get the same rights as their colleagues. It is unique to Canada. It is replicated in our provinces and is something I would like to see removed someday.

In the meantime, the bill has already made history. It is the first time the new rules for parliamentary procedure on omnibus bills have been applied. I appreciate that the Speaker accepted to look at this and separate out the sections that did not appear to be within the same theme of action.

Omnibus budget bills became, I have to say, horrific in the Harper era. We had two omnibus budget bills in 2012, Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, that had nothing to do with budgets and were omnibus bills of the most egregious kind. The term “omnibus budget bill” became, in the public mind, something to be absolutely rejected and condemned. However, there is such a thing as a legitimate omnibus bill; there is such a thing as a legitimate omnibus budget bill. This one came close, but there were sections I appreciated the Speaker separating out.

For the most part, the debate in this place has been misplaced in tending to be, from the opposition benches, primarily about the Minister of Finance’s personal finances. We need answers to those questions, but not in the context of a debate on Bill C-63. Bill C-63 has much in it that I would urge colleagues to read closely, because I have read the bill closely, and there is much in the bill I like.

Although it did not go far enough, I certainly want to support the steps toward something the government promised. The Stephen Harper government promised to remove fossil fuel subsidies at the 2009 G20 summit. The promise has been on the books for some time that Canada would eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. It is, in that sense, a government promise that is not strictly a Liberal promise, but it is also a Liberal promise, and it was made in the platform and in the Speech from the Throne. We have seen very little done at the federal level to eliminate subsidies to fossil fuels. The accelerated capital cost allowance for oil sands investments was tapering off under the previous Conservative government. It remains in place for existing projects that are grandfathered under this very advantageous tax regime. It continues to amount to about $1 billion a year for oil sands companies, but it was once closer to $3 billion a year. People debate what is a subsidy and what is not, but a capital cost allowance is seen aspretty advantageous tax treatment that amounts to a subsidy.

The other one that has not been touched at all by the Liberals was one Stephen Harper brought in after he pledged to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies. That is the subsidy for the production of natural gas, particularly to assist liquified natural gas companies. It is hard to beat the one the former premier of B.C., Christy Clark, left in place for the Woodfibre LNG plant, which will amount to about $4,000 in public subsidies for every job created. Therefore, we are still subsidizing fossil fuels provincially and federally.

However, I was pleased to see what the bill would do on oil and gas drilling, in part one, although it would not go far enough. If a company had an unsuccessful oil and gas drilling experience, it used to get a 100% writeoff. Under Bill C-63, that would now be reduced to a 30% writeoff. That tax treatment would be better. It is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough.

The other piece in that same section that certainly is encouraging is better tax treatment for a real winner in renewable energy, and that is geothermal energy. We have known for a long time that we can do a lot with geothermal. We have seen countries around the world benefit from geothermal. The bill includes very good new tax treatment to encourage geothermal electricity.

There are also improvements in the bill on the donation of ecologically sensitive land. I was part of the national round table on the environment and the economy back in the day when the member for Ottawa South was the CEO. We took a real fight on to try to convince then minister of finance Paul Martin not to treat the donation of ecologically sensitive land as something that penalized the donor. People used to get dinged with a deemed capital gain, when they did not actually get anything; they were making a donation.

Over time, our tax code has moved consistently in the direction of better treatment. Bill C-63 would expand the kinds of land that could be donated and would improve the tax treatment. The ecologically sensitive land donations are quite welcome.

I also want to support the improvements in the tax treatment of nurse practitioners so that they would have some of the same tax treatment as other health professionals, which would improve their day-to-day lives.

Similarly, in division 10 of part 5, there are improvements to how the Energy Efficiency Act would operate. We definitely want to see more energy efficiency programming. It has been a big disappointment to me, and the Minister of Finance knows this, as I mentioned it to him recently, that we are not using the tools in the federal tool kit to approach climate change as if we take it seriously.

If we could go back and look at the current Minister of Public Safety’s budget when he was minister of finance, in 2005, and pull all those measures out and decide that they were a top priority for the government to put in the 2018 budget, I would be one happy camper. That would include ecoenergy retrofits, which we do not have. It would include support for electric and hybrid vehicles and improvement of the east-west electricity grid.

Those are the things we do not have in the budget, but at least in Bill C-63 we have amendments to facilitate a lot of energy products to include harmonization of regulations to enhance energy efficiency. Those are very welcome.

What I tried to change the most in committee, through amendments, was something that is generally positive or a step in the right direction, which is to give people the right to time off work if they or members of their family are victims of violence. It is obvious to anyone who thinks about it or has gone through it. If a person has been a victim of a violent assault, or if someone in the family, particularly a child, has been the victim of a violent assault, it takes time. That child will have to be taken to therapy appointments. People will have to go to therapy appointments.

If people are going to recover from the trauma, they need time off work. This legislation is very welcome. It would give employees, by right, time off work. However, the bill operates in such a way that employers would have the option to say that someone could not take less than a full day. Employees could not say that they just wanted a couple of hours off, because that was all they needed. Employees would have to take a full day, and this would be time off work without pay. I am very disappointed that my amendments did not get through, because in committee, we said that this should be time off with pay.

The evidence we heard in committee was overwhelming, certainly from Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, who pointed out that 90% of domestic violence survivors experience financial control issues.

If a spouse has been violently assaulted by a spouse, and in most cases it is the male partner who violently assaults his wife, and the wife is, generally speaking, in a reduced financial situation of independence compared to her husband, how does she manage, if taking time off work means she might lose her right to raise her own children because of the financial duress? These are the parts of the bill I would have liked to see fixed.

Greg Fergus – Hull-Aylmer

Madam Speaker, I thank the leader of the Green Party for her speech, and there are many parts I agree with, and also for her work at finance committee, of which I am a member.

My question is in regard to some of the tax treatment changes in Bill C-63. One of the elements the member mentioned was changes regarding geothermal energy and its tax treatment. I am wondering if I could give the hon. member the opportunity to talk more about the measures, some of the changes she wanted to bring, and how in future budgets she would look for changes in that regard.

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for those points and for his kind words about my work at the finance committee.

The geothermal regulations are found in a couple of places, primarily at subclause 104(1), on allowing the recovery equipment to be used in the process of both energy efficiency, meaning conserving energy, and producing energy. Geothermal has tremendous potential. A lot of reports the British Columbia Utilities Commission has issued, for instance, to B.C. Hydro have said to look at that potential. The potential is enormous.

People tend to think that it is kind of icy and geographically specific, such as in Reykjavik in Iceland, where there are geysers and it is clear that they get their energy from geothermal. However, geothermal is adaptable to almost every region of Canada. One could tap geothermal energy to warm a house in every part of Canada, certainly below the treeline. There is huge potential for the large-scale production of geothermal energy.

In the suite of renewable energy options, including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and tidal, Canada is abundant. When Stephen Harper used to talk about Canada as an energy superpower, that is where our superpowers lie: installing that equipment so that we never have to buy fuel again. Once we have solar capacity, once we have wind capacity, once we have geothermal, once we have tidal, we are not buying fuel to run energy-producing equipment. It is there for free. We just have to invest in it.

Pierre Nantel – Longueuil—Saint-Hubert

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from the Green Party for her speech. We do not hear often enough about alternative methods for finding heating, for example, below ground where the temperature is higher in the winter, regardless of where we are in Canada.

Another topic that we do not talk about enough is the Labour Code. I was listening to my colleague speak about the different types of leave and I wondered if she did not find it deplorable how little the government has done. We are finally talking about it and we could have respected the Arthurs report that proposed 10 days of family-related leave, but we stopped at three.

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, I absolutely agree with my colleague, the member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert.

In times like those, families must have access to financial support for days not worked. Without that support, it is truly hard to obtain leave.

It is pretty clear that when we are in these situations, if it is an opportunity we cannot use, it is not really an opportunity.