Speech: Bill C-43

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, since I was not able to get to the floor when my hon. colleague, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, was speaking, I want to thank him for his remarks.

I am pleased to hear the official opposition turning a light on the question of the economics of this country and what is generally considered an unquestioned benefit of developing the oil sands.

There are, of course, benefits economically to developing the oil sands, but there are huge economic risks in putting all our eggs in the bitumen basket. I appreciated my friend, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, asking, “What is plan B?” It does not seem to me that the current administration has a plan B.

Although it is not the subject or the pith and substance of the bill before us, I want to underline that it is important that we not just examine what is wrong with putting all our eggs in the bitumen basket from the point of view of the threat to British Columbia’s wilderness of these ill-advised, risky pipeline schemes and the risk to our coastline of putting bitumen mixed with toxic fossil fuel condensates, called diluents, and calling it “dilbit” and shipping it to refineries overseas.

This whole project is a decision that Canada is better off when we take a resource from northern Albert and do not process it in Canada but put it in pipelines to ship to other places, without any consideration of the climate impact and without any consideration of the environmental threats. The failure to even examine whether the economics line up is astounding, and I am pleased to hear another member raise that issue in this place.

However, I want to address the bill itself.

As we know, it is an omnibus budget bill. It is, again, over 400 pages long. It is the kind of abuse of Parliament that really constitutes a daily contempt of democratic process in this place.

Here is a bill that covers everything from aerodrome regulation to getting rid of the Canadian Polar Commission and replacing it with the Cambridge Bay research station, which is now called the CHARS.

There are sections of the bill that deal with patent legislation. We are told by experts in patents that they are not properly thought through and will cause real problems.

There are changes in social assistance that appear to be targeting the most vulnerable in our society. I want speak more to this issue and the way this piece of legislation would affect refugees.

There are changes in the way the Chief Public Health Officer is allowed to run the department.

These are very profound changes.

Before getting into the details of the individual changes, I want to make the point again that making changes in myriad, unrelated sections, most of them non-budgetary, is an offence to parliamentary process. I have raised this point in points of order, Mr. Speaker, and take your explanation that it is up to the House itself to set some parameters around omnibus budget bills.

However, it must be said again that up until the current Privy Council and Prime Minister, we have never had omnibus budget bills topping each other each year. There is a spring budget bill and a fall budget bill, so we have had about 900 pages of legislation in 2012, 2013, and 2014 in these omnibus forms. The contempt is compounded, because none of these have been adequately studied. Most of them go through the finance committee, which finds itself trying to deal with questions about high Arctic polar research and how aerodromes should be run. One piece of the legislation should properly be before the transport committee. Another piece of the legislation should properly be before the environment committee, but no, they are all bundled up and stuffed down the throat of the finance committee.

On top of having them in omnibus form, we also have time allocation, so there is not the time to bring in the witnesses who could explain all the provisions and how the bill would affect myriad areas of public policy. That is offensive.

On top of that, we had in this place independent motions from 20 different committees, which were, amazingly, what a coincidence, identical motions last fall. They were for the purpose of limiting the rights of members of Parliament from smaller parties, such as me in my own role as leader of the Green Party or colleagues who sit as independents or the newly formed Forces et Démocratie or the Bloc Québécois. Our opportunities to debate and to present substantive amendments at report stage have been eliminated by, I have to say, the Machiavellian expedience of 20 different motions in 20 different legislative committees that created the bogus “opportunity”, which I put in quotes, for members such as me to present amendments at each of those committees.

Some of these committees meet at the same time. I will not go into the details of how coercive, difficult, and unfair this measure has been. Never in the history of Canada has a majority party gone to such lengths to shut down individual members of Parliament.

I would like to turn to the aspects of this bill that are the most egregious.

I am very concerned about the change in the management of the Chief Public Health Officer. The bill changes his role from being the person responsible for his department to being subservient to a president of the organization, and no longer a deputy minister. The Public Health Agency is a relatively new institution in the history of this Parliament, but is an important office. When we face public health threats we need to know that our Chief Public Health Officer will not risk being told, “We would rather you not talk about that now. We want to keep that under wraps for a while”. That is a dangerous road to go down and it is being accomplished in this omnibus budget bill.

I am also concerned about the changes that have been made to the provisions that deal with the ways in which the federal government transfers money to provinces and the requirements around those transfers, changes that were almost under the radar screen before people noticed them because they were not trumpeted. In the past, social assistance transfers did not have residency requirements and there were provisions to make sure that the most needy would always be able to get social assistance. The changes that are being made in clauses 172 and 173 of Bill C-43 would make it much harder for refugees to gain that desperate assistance, despite refugees being the most vulnerable people in our society who get here with just the clothes on their backs. This does not accomplish it in one fell swoop, but is the first step in allowing a province to decide that a refugee claimant would not be able to get social assistance. It opens the door to the provinces to make those kinds of changes.

There are also changes to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. These changes do not affect questions of justice, fairness, and equity in our society but would make the whole area of patent law much less certain and much more confusing. Amendments were recommended by experts in patent law, but as with all opposition amendments, they were ignored and voted down at committee.

The piece of legislation that creates the Canadian high Arctic research station at the same time also eliminates what was previously the Canadian polar research station and the Canadian polar research commission. It is not at all clear how the two would merge. This bill repeals the polar research station. Of course, it must be noted that the current Canadian high Arctic research station facility, which is in the front window as the current administration’s commitment to science and is being built in Cambridge Bay in the Minister of the Environment‘s riding, is designed not to do any research on climate or ozone. It is specifically focused on research for resource development in the Arctic. It certainly is to be commended for highlighting the important and essential role of indigenous and traditional knowledge going forward. However, it is hardly appropriate in this day and age to focus so much research money in the Arctic and ignore climate, ozone, and the toxins that concentrate in the body fat of the wildlife that people of the north rely on for country food.

Let me sum up. These omnibus budget bills year after year are unbelievable. There was an omnibus bill in the spring and another in the fall. Each one made significant changes to a number of other Canadian laws without allowing enough opportunities for speeches or enough time to study or debate these major changes.

It is an offence to this place that we continually have omnibus budget bills forced down our throats and done so quickly with time allocation.

Once more, as a member of Parliament, I protest against these offensive measures, which strike at the heart of the role of parliamentarians.