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David McGuinty, M.P., Ottawa South
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this very important debate. Let me say from the outset that I completely understand the need for Canada to have the appropriate balance in monitoring communications and collecting information that is important when it comes to our collective security.
I say that because several years ago, I was commencing a three-week international visitor program in the United States. My first day of those three weeks was in Washington, which happened to be the morning of 9/11, and thus began my three weeks throughout America. I learned a lot about security and the evolution of security thinking, and apparatus, on a continental and global basis.
However, listening to the government views on this, and I have listened intently now for most of the day, I would like to remind the House that a lot of Canadians are deeply concerned and troubled by this. I have an international airport, the Ottawa Airport, in my district. I have received many comments and questions about what is going on in that airport as people fly in and out of our national capital, including, by the way, 65,000 foreign officials each and every year.
This motion today is a simple one. For Canadians who are watching, listening, or reading, it means simply that we would create an all-party committee to oversee the activities of the Communications Security Establishment Canada. This would, of course, be in keeping with what is already happening in other jurisdictions. A similar committee exists in the United States. There is one in the United Kingdom. One is in place in New Zealand, and yet another is operating in Australia. We are talking about having a fixed number of MPs, sworn to absolute secrecy, who would play an important role in monitoring the activities of this particular organization’s agency, to make sure that Canadians’ collective paramount right to privacy is maintained and upheld.
As I listened to the government members respond to this, I was perplexed. Only several years ago, all parties in the House came together, in a report of 2004, and agreed to create an all-party committee. In fact, the government brought in legislation saying it would do precisely that. The Minister of National Defence today was a member of that committee, who spoke perhaps most strongly in favour of doing this. Therefore, why has the government flipped its views in this regard? We have seen, as I just explained, other jurisdictions that are doing this. They are our partners, working with Canada on a daily basis with respect to security matters. Why would the government resist this?
If I could sum up the government’s position, it would go something like, “We actually want more secrecy, but we cannot say why because that is a secret”. That is what we heard the Prime Minister say today during question period when he was asked precisely about this question. His answer was that he could not say anything about this because it was secret. That is not reassuring for Canadians.
I have to ask, where are all the Conservative libertarians? Where are all the former police officers, the remaining lawyers, or the military officers in the caucus, who all swore an oath to uphold the rule of law? Can they categorically look at each one of their constituents and say there is absolutely nothing wrong going on here, when we know there are committee reports that say “Houston, we may have a problem”? They cannot say that. Where are those voices? What has happened to those people? What has happened to the caucus? It is deeply troubling to hear what the government is saying.
One would think that the Conservatives, and the Prime Minister in particular, would be in favour of improving oversight. Here is one reason as to why, one incident to justify why they might be in favour of that. Let us all harken back to the Iraq war. Let us harken back to the the former leader of the opposition, now Prime Minister, writing an open letter to major American dailies in New York City and Washington, attacking the Canadian government for not participating in the Iraq war when the the former prime minister Jean Chrétien made the fact-based decision not to participate in the Bush war.
In contrast, one would think, knowing what we know now about the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction, despite the assertions by the entire security apparatus of the United States, and that it was a construct and a fiction foisted on the world, which decimated America’s security reputation for the decade that followed—
Interruption by the Hon. Gordon O’Connor.
Mr. David McGuinty:
Mr. Speaker, I hear the former minister of defence asking for an answer. Let me explain it for him. We would think they would have learned their lesson. They should be demanding more oversight. They should be demanding more information, as parliamentarians, so they do not, to put it in blunt terms, get sucker-punched again.
It is quite astonishing to hear the Conservatives say that this is not a positive step for Canadians who are concerned. He is a part-time commissioner, a former judge. I know lots of former judges. I am sure he is a good person. A part-time commissioner is overseeing this entire apparatus. What is wrong with having a group of MPs, sworn to absolute secrecy, to ensure this is properly monitored on behalf of the Canadians who elected us into this House to do the job?
I do not want to see ghosts here. Canadians are very fair-minded. However, because there is no real answer forthcoming from the government, no real rationale, except that it is all okay and all works just fine, Canadians are going to conclude that maybe there is something wrong here, that maybe there is something being hidden by the Conservative government. The voices previously, who spoke strongly in favour of this, are now all silenced. Former ministers of defence, current ministers of defence, and former ministers of justice, have all sworn to uphold the rule of law, and they all know better. There has to be a reason, because a man or a woman always acts for a reason.
I would like to hear from the Conservatives sometime today as to what the real reasons are here. Why are they resisting setting in place a no-cost measure? The Minister of Finance is looking for low-cost or no-cost measures. Other than my bill to eliminate his partisan advertising, which is no cost, here is an idea that is no cost: set up a committee of well-meaning, good-faith, hard-working MPs from all parties to give Canadians assurances that their communications in an airport establishment, or elsewhere, are not being monitored and tracked. That is a reasonable ask by any party; it is a reasonable ask by any citizen.
Earlier we heard a parliamentary secretary ask why they did not do it when they brought in the bill and the construct years ago. Well, it is interesting. As President Clinton once said in a speech that I was privileged to hear, “knowledge is doubling” every 18 months. The pace of knowledge and the change in knowledge is actually accelerating. For any members in this House to think that the technology, then, is anything approximating the technology today, clearly they are not following trends. Back then we could not do a quarter of what we can do today, perhaps 10%. Given these changes and this rapid evolution of technology, it is incumbent on us to keep up with the times. One of the ways to do that is to have an all-party committee that can transcend time, so to speak, and follow these developments and be briefed on a regular basis.
What are the capacities of the agency now? No one here is attacking the agency, or the goodwill and the good faith of the people who are working there. I am sure we would all agree that they are motivated by the desire to do right by Canadians, to follow within the four corners of the statute that empowers them to do what they are doing. However, when Canadians hear about their communications being perhaps followed, monitored, and acted upon when they are inside airports, and the airport authorities reveal, as the Ottawa airport authorities revealed to me, that they knew nothing and have nothing to do with this, that is a problem.
For the life of us on this side, we cannot understand the resistance or reluctance of the Conservative government to ensuring that Canadians’ privacy is paramount and that it is protected today and going forward.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be here to debate this important opposition day motion brought by the NDP, and I commend the NDP for bringing it. It is a very timely issue at the doors in our communities across the country. All of us as MPs are hearing about these proposed changes. All of us are getting feedback, and all of us are getting pressure from different parts of Canadian society with respect to the five-point plan put forward by, I would argue, not simply Canada Post but by the Government of Canada and the minister whom we have just heard speak. In fact, my thesis, the common thread that will weave itself through these remarks over the next 20-odd minutes, is that this report and effort brought forward by the Conservatives is simply not good enough.
I am privileged because Canada Post is headquartered in my riding. I have many neighbours and constituents who work with Canada Post. They may be managers. They may be financial officers. They might be postal workers. There are good people working with Canada Post, and I salute the good people with Canada Post, whether they are on one side or the other of, in my mind, a seemingly artificial divide between management and labour. There are good people in management, there are good people on the floor sorting mail, there are folks who are delivering mail now at night-time. There are a lot of good people with the corporation, and I salute and commend them for their years of service in helping to build the tradition of Canada Post.
However, having looked at this plan extensively, having heard from witnesses at committee, having heard from hundreds of Canadians across the country, and my colleagues here in the Liberal caucus today are nodding in agreement because they are getting the same feedback, this five-point plan is simply not good enough. It does not, in my mind, meet the abilities of Canada Post. It does not meet the creative possibilities for our crown corporation at all.
When the minister stands up and talks about other jurisdictions having to make difficult choices, she is only partly right. It is true that other jurisdictions like Canada Post are facing challenges, with respect to the sustainability of service, with respect to electronic communication, and with respect to a transition in their core business areas. However, when I hear the minister speak and highlight, for example, the changes going on now in Britain, I am hard-pressed not to believe that, in fact, the government’s ultimate intention is to drive Canada Post into privatization. That is where the Conservatives would like to go. It is what they did with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. It is what the Minister of Finance tried to do in Ontario with Ontario Power Generation’s transmission lines before he created the 407 private highway. It is what they do.
They take cherished Canadian public services like the postal service, they take the corporation involved in delivering that cherished public service, and they begin to run it down. They begin to talk negatively about it. They begin to talk about its being too expensive. They talk about it as being, in the case of Atomic Energy, a sinkhole costing all kinds of money. They run down the asset and then they turn around say, “We really would like to see this asset privatized”. It is part of the conditioning that the Conservatives use as a tactic with respect to Canadian citizens, instead of spending better energy and good energy in trying to improve a plan on a go-forward basis to keep postal services for Canadians who deserve them.
I have always believed that government has an obligation to get the big things right, and postal service is one of the big things that Canadians count on.
Going back to testimony that was heard at committee before Christmas, we remind Canadians that of course these changes were sprung on them the day after the House rose, just before the Christmas card delivery rush.
This plan was foisted on unsuspecting Canadians, on unsuspecting municipal governments, provinces, businesses, trade organizations, et cetera. We heard from these different actors in Canadian society when we convened the transportation committee to ask the president and CEO of Canada Post and other witnesses to give us their views because there had been no meaningful debate. What testimony confirmed is that Canada Post and the government under the Conservatives appear to be stuck in a time warp. It is the 1960s all over again: management versus labour, and labour versus management, and never the two shall meet.
We confirmed that the union heads never had a series of meetings with senior management at Canada Post. We confirmed that the minister would not meet with senior labour representatives. We confirmed that the minister—the fifth, by the way, in seven years—refused to bring management and labour together at one table to ask how we can find a better plan, a better approach going forward, for Canadians who count on Canada Post services.
It is an ill-thought-out plan. What we saw was Canada Post management retaining the good services of the Conference Board of Canada. Again, I am privileged to have the Conference Board of Canada headquartered in my riding. It is a good think tank. It does solid econometric analysis. So we had on the one hand management retaining the Conference Board of Canada and on the other we had labour retaining the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Each group decided to put up its blue-chip panellist research outfit, claiming that it had one answer and the other had the other answer. It was a clash of the research institutions.
Meanwhile, Canadians get a five-point plan sprung on them by surprise, and frankly, they do not care who has retained whom for their analysis or for their substantiation of the changes they want to bring to bear on Canada Post services. Canadians do not really care about that. They care about the net effects of what is being proposed by Canada Post, and these net effects are very serious.
Before I turn to those net effects, I want to pick up on something the minister said earlier. This is a common refrain from the Conservatives, and it goes like this. They are not responsible for Canada Post’s plan. They are not responsible for VIA Rail. They are not responsible for Atomic Energy of Canada. They are not responsible for the Port Authorities. No, says the Minister of Transport, they are all independent. They are all arm’s-length, and they are all independent.
It reminds me of the magnificent moment years ago in the provincial legislature in Ontario. At least six of the frontline cabinet ministers here under the Conservative government were trained at the heels of Premier Michael Harris. Mr. Harris came to the floor and said that they were not the government. They came to fix the government, said the then-premier of a majority government.
It is a ruse. It is an attempt to distance oneself from responsibility, as the fifth minister in seven years with responsibility for Canada Post, by trying to label, to publicly disavow and disown, the crown corporation. That is very unfortunate because it leaves Canadians in the lurch. They do not want to see their government disown its responsibility for this crown corporation.
On the contrary, Canadians believe that it is the responsibility of the government and the Minister of Transport to ensure that Canada Post’s plan makes sense for ordinary people. Clearly the plan presented by Canada Post will not help ordinary Canadians.
That is why we in the Liberal Party have decided to do three things.
First, we have submitted a number of access to information requests to get more information with respect to the government’s correspondence. That is working. It is working hand in glove with the corporation because it is not Canada Post’s plan; it is the Prime Minister’s and the Government of Canada’s plan.
Second, we are submitting a number of order paper questions to get more information on what is really going on for Canadians.
Third, yesterday I had the privilege of meeting with our Parliamentary Budget Officer. On behalf of my colleagues and our caucus, I asked that the Parliamentary Budget Officer perform a major investigation into the financial claims being made by the government that this will amount to savings or better fiscal probity for the corporation. We will get to the bottom of that by asking an independent body like the PBO, with the backstopping of Library of Parliament research, to find out whether the numbers being used by the Conference Board of Canada, for example, hold up to independent scrutiny. I am not casting aspersions on the good character or good faith of the Conference Board. However, I think it is incumbent on all parliamentarians to ask that an independent group examine these numbers.
Why do I conclude that it is the government’s plan? When the plan was delivered we would have thought the government and the minister responsible for the corporation would have said “Thank you so much for the plan. We’ll take it under advisement. We will examine it. We’ll come back to you after performing our own analysis and we’ll respond.” That is not what happened. Moments after the plan was released a statement was issued pronto presto which said that they support the plan 100%.
For the life of me, I cannot imagine how a single Conservative MP on that side of the House could look a constituent in the eye and say that this plan cannot be improved, that all of the creative possibilities were exhausted by 21 senior managers, labour representatives and the entire team at Canada Post. I cannot believe that any MP on the Conservative caucus who is hearing from constituents is able to assure them without a doubt that every single option was explored. They cannot because the Minister of Finance, through the Minister of Transport, is exerting pressure on the board at Canada Post to achieve the elimination of deficit numbers by 2015 so they can go forward and offer goodies to the Canadian people for an election campaign. Let us be honest.
Let us be honest. That is what the Conservatives are doing. That is why the Conservative members are so slow to ask important questions to improve the plan proposed by Canada Post. The Conservatives did not raise any questions. They do not have the right to raise questions. However, I am sure that they are listening to what their constituents are saying in their ridings.
Let us talk about some of the effects. Let us start with our seniors.
Everybody in this room and every Canadian knows that as a population we are aging. More and more of us are becoming older, more senior. We all believe, and say collectively to our seniors, that it is better for our seniors to stay in their residences. We facilitate choices to help seniors stay in their homes for as long as they can, to live independently with dignity and safety. We are now sending a message to our seniors that the mail service they require and depend on for their pension cheques, telephone bills and newspaper subscriptions will not be delivered to their door any more. Rather, they are expected to go to an outside location to pick up their mail. It is -27°C with the wind chill in the city of Ottawa. It is about -25°C to -30°C across the entire country, except for parts of the west. Do we really expect seniors to go outside?
I know that the president and CEO of Canada Post made remarks about fitness. Tongue-in-cheek, I said to him that this is some sort of postal ParticipACTION program but it is not serious. With ice and slush, winter, it is not serious for Canadians who are seniors living in their homes.
Let us talk about disabilities and Canadians with disabilities. We have a growing percentage of Canadians with disabilities, as this is also connected to an aging society.
In 2012, approximately 3.8 million people, or nearly 14% of Canadians aged 15 and older, reported being limited in their daily activities because of a disability. These results come from the 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability.
Almost 14% of Canadians 15 years old and older reported being limited in their daily activities because of a disability. That is almost 14% today, and it is growing.
Leaving aside the unfortunate connection between poverty and disability in Canadian society, which is another issue, another debate, why are we saying to our Canadians with disabilities that they are not going to get mail delivery and that whatever mail they are depending upon they are going to have to pay more for sending and/or receiving?
I do not think this has been thought through, at all, in terms of the practical ramifications for Canadians with disabilities. That testimony was elicited from Bob Brown, who came to committee and told us that the Council of Canadians with Disabilities had not been consulted.
Similarly, again looking at effects, let us turn to our small businesses. The Conservatives love to say that small businesses are the engine of the Canadian economy. In fact we all agree, on all sides of the House, that is the case. Three out of four jobs are created by businesses with 50 employees or less. We know that to be the case.
However, when the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business came to committee to testify about these changes, he said they were blindsided. They were never consulted by Canada Post. They were never consulted by Transport Canada. The largest single trade association, representing tens of thousands of small businesses, was never asked what the effects would be for business if we raised prices for stamps, eliminated door-to-door postal service five days a week, et cetera. Not a single question was raised. No dialogue was ever had with this group.
The Conservatives cannot deny it. They know it. Very unfortunately, this is going to wreak havoc on our small businesses.
More and more Canadians are doing the right thing. More and more young people today are not asking the question of who is going to hire them. On the contrary, they are asking who they are going to hire. As a result, particularly by women, we are seeing more and more start-up businesses and more and more small businesses in people’s homes. With these changes, the consultants, the IT experts, all those folks who are running small businesses, are going to be hit and hit hard.
Last, turning to our municipalities, the costs to municipalities, the maintenance of these community mailboxes, the location of these boxes and the potential expropriation of land was not thought through.
In a letter from Mike Bradley, Mayor of the City of Sarnia, he stated:
There has been no consideration or thought given that this will create a significant tax increase at the local level across this country from coast to coast and, while municipalities may look to other alternatives, there is also legal limitations through legislation….
This was not thought through. All of these effects on our seniors, on Canadians with disabilities, on our municipalities and small businesses is now wreaking havoc.
In conclusion, Canada Post can do better. This Minister of Transport needs to put labour and management together at one table and use our creative possibilities and our thinking to come up with a better plan so we are not the only OECD country in the world to eliminate door-to-door services, and effectively, under the guise of improvement, move toward the privatization of our postal system.
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Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra maintained his silence Thursday over mail delivery delays in the GTA, as calls mounted for him to publicly address the problem […]
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