Speeches | Two speeches on the third reading of Budget 2012, Bill C-45

06 December 2012

Honourable senators, six hours each would be about what you would need to even scrape the surface of what is wrong with Bill C-45. In its conception, it is wrong, which we have been discussing for the last two and a half hours, because it is an omnibus bill, which, for all the reasons pointed out, is reflective of an erosion of democracy. It is substantively flawed in so many ways that you will find each of us who speaks to it today will have to prioritize the elements of distress within it.

I have chosen to do that by speaking to one particular element of government leadership and policy weakness that, among many others, leads me to the inevitable, inexorable conclusion that I will vote against Bill C-45. I know that may come as a surprise to honourable senators, but I find that I cannot support it. One of the major reasons is that this omnibus bill, including as many things as it does, does not address the fundamental weakness in this government's approach to a national energy strategy. That is to say, they have not got a national energy strategy.

I am not sure that anybody has done this, but I would expect that if one polled Western industrialized democracies, one would find that Canada may be the only one that does not have an energy strategy. Yet, as the Prime Minister wants to say, we are an energy powerhouse, an energy superpower — or we are about to be; it depends how he is putting it at any given time. One has to ask Mr. Harper how he thinks we will achieve or sustain this status of energy superpower if we have no leadership. Will it happen by itself? We have no national energy strategy. We have no national environmental strategy. We have no national health care strategy. We have no national suicide prevention strategy. There is no "national" in this Prime Minister. It is as though he is washing his hands of it and saying that this will all be taken care of by the markets. I ask this question, of course rhetorically: Would the market have won the Second World War? I do not think so. I think it needed some leadership.

There are two fundamental reasons that there needs to be urgency on the part of this Prime Minister and this government about a national energy strategy. The first reason, and this was the theme of the Energy Committee's great report, Now or Never, is the phrase coined by our former colleague Senator Angus: Our energy superpower status is in peril. It is in peril because we have a single international export market for our oil and for our gas, and that is the United States, and the United States will be self-sufficient in both of those things within, Mr. Prentice would say, five years. Others might say 10 or 15, but it will not be very long, and once that happens a huge chunk of what this economy is based upon will be gone.

If one had to define government incompetence, what would be a better definition than a Canadian federal government that, after seven years in power, cannot move along the process of building a pipeline in energy-rich Canada? That is the first sense of urgency. We are not building any kind of infrastructure that will allow us to diversify our markets.

The second urgency is climate change. I know there are still those people, and the Prime Minister is one, who in their heart of hearts deny climate change. The Prime Minister does not have the guts to say it, but his actions show that he must believe it.

As I said the other day, just ask the people in New York whether there is not a dramatic economic, social, human cost to climate change. Ask the people of the West Coast fisheries and the East Coast fisheries, whose jobs have evaporated along with the fish, if there is not a cost to climate change. Ask those in the forestry industry, as they see the forests of this country dying and with them many thousands of jobs. Ask the people of the North, and ask the farmers who have experienced unprecedented floods and droughts. Ask the people who are suffering from all kinds of unprecedented storms if there is not urgency to dealing with climate change. Ask them if there is not economic impact.

One thing that we in this country know for sure is that when Canada faces challenges like these, economic and otherwise, they do not get fixed by 13 separate jurisdictions working in silos. There must be national leadership. If you need evidence that this Prime Minister has no sense of that, that he in fact runs in the other direction, look at what is happening between British Columbia and Alberta. That is a fundamental problem. Two provinces cannot achieve agreement on how to build one of those pipelines. I am not surprised. Premier Clark is paid to represent the interests of B.C. and Premier Redford is paid to represent the interests of Alberta. They are paid to represent provincial interests.

Let me think for a minute. Who would be responsible for representing national interests? Well, that would be the Prime Minister, but has the Prime Minister met with those two premiers? No. Has the Prime Minister said "no" to their explicit request to meet with them? Yes, he has. Have major senior business leaders in Alberta and probably elsewhere said that the Prime Minister should play a role in mediating between these two provinces? Yes, and the answer is still "no."

To take it a little further, how could one have an economic strategy and economic success, how could one rally all the forces, all the resources and all the possibilities, and how could one inspire and motivate action, success and achievement of objectives if the CEO of a company said, "I will not talk to my 13VPs; I will just let them handle it. We will not sit around a table together and figure out how to bring people together and prioritize and help each other and supplement. We are not going to appoint people who are good at certain things to deal with those things, and we are not going to work out conflicts between departments"?

That is exactly what is happening in Canada. This is not the Canada that I know. In the Canada that I know we have a Prime Minister who leads.

Great challenges attract great leaders. Climate change is a challenge of historic proportions. The economic challenges that are facing the resources in the West are of historic proportions. Great leaders are drawn like a magnet to challenges like that, and weak leaders leave them and go and find something else. They say there are problems. They blame somebody else. Honourable senators, great leadership is not about excuses and about saying there are problems.

We did not hire the Prime Minister to do the easy stuff, did we? We hired the Prime Minister to do the hard stuff. Sure it is hard, and sure the provinces are difficult to deal with sometimes, and sure Mr. Harper might get beat up a little bit, but we hired him to do the tough stuff. The tough stuff is leadership, and leadership is not about excuses and about denying big challenges. Leadership is about grappling with and embracing big challenges and about results. We do not have a result on a pipeline; we cannot build a pipeline. We do not have a result on a national economic strategy of which that would be part. We do not have leadership; we do not have a result on a national energy strategy.

What could we do to get that? First, we have to start framing the issue differently. At the root of this is probably the government's contention that if we deal with climate change we will wreck the economy. As I have said many times, if you want to wreck the economy, just continue doing what you are doing, that is, not dealing with climate change, because the risks in climate change are absolutely infinite. Ask the people of New York how infinite that is. Ask the people of Staten Island what infinite economic risk is. They are suffering it right now, and this is happening all over the world.

The risks for us go one step further, because when people finally get it, as Mr. Bloomberg did when he endorsed Mr. Obama on climate change, they will be looking at this country — as they already are — very differently, and not all that positively. That can have huge economic consequences and huge consequences for our stature, our influence and our ability to negotiate economically and otherwise in the world.

We have to correct the idea that dealing with climate change is an economic problem, that it will wreck the economy. It is quite the contrary. We fundamentally restructured the economy to win the Second World War, and that did not wreck the economy. It generated one of the most successful Western industrialized economies in the world, and it has sustained a standard of living practically unparalleled in the world for the last — I was going to say 70 years, but I will subtract the last 7 years because it has not been doing so well under this government.

A corollary of that is the idea that alternative energies or renewable energies do not work because they are not economic. Well, great leadership has vision. There was great leadership in the oil sands. I can remember going to the oil sands in 1991 or 1992 with Eric Newell, who was then the CEO of Syncrude and later became the chair. He is a remarkable and lovely man. I asked him what it cost to make a barrel of oil sands oil. He said it cost $25. I asked him what he was selling it for. He said they were selling it for $10. They were losing $15 on each barrel of oil, which meant it was not economic, but a number of people had the vision to know that economies of scale, new technologies, changing market structures and changing prices would make it economic and, in fact, make it the engine of our economy, and now it is. It is a key engine of our economy.

Why get squeamish when it comes to renewable energy? Why is the government backing down on solar and why does it not want to lead on wind, tidal and all these other ideas and possibilities?

The second thing is the idea that somehow the government has no role to play in all of this. Back to Syncrude; Syncrude would not be what it is today, if it existed at all, if it had not been for the Liberal Government of Canada taking a 12 per cent equity position in Syncrude in the mid 1970s. That meant a lot of investment and some risk, political and otherwise, but thankfully they did it.

So why are squeamish now about alternative renewable energies? That is because there is no leadership and there is no vision. The government and the Prime Minister cannot grasp that he has an obligation to lead us somewhere different than where we are today because today is not sustainable.

What other elements would there be of a national energy strategy? I am not saying the Prime Minister needs to embrace a carbon levy or a cap and trade, although he once did embrace a cap and trade, but he needs to understand something that our Energy Committee heard repeatedly from witnesses, business people especially but others as well, and that is that everyone knows we have to price carbon. Not one single person said that regulation is the way to go. In fact, it is far more expensive.

As Bob Rae said in an excellent speech on energy strategy several weeks ago, we have to have a debate about this and we have to stop this stuff where somebody sticks their head up, mentions pricing carbon, and gets it hacked off. Great political leadership understands when you can play politics. There are times when you do that, but you do not play politics on this issue at this time.

The Prime Minister has a special obligation. Honourable senators, if he came into this in a reasonable way and said, "I want to sit down and talk about this," it would kill the division and the polarization around this issue, and we could have a reasonable debate, and we need to do that. In fact, it might be something on which the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources could provide some very good insight.

We need to have a strong and significant commitment in this national energy strategy to renewable energy. Renewable energy means investment. It means jobs. It probably means more jobs than what you get from traditional energy development in the long run. It means creativity. It means innovation. It means new markets that we will lose if we do not get on this.

We need to focus on energy self-sufficiency. I am really struck by the argument that is made over and over that Keystone is a no-brainer for the U.S. because the U.S. needs to buy our ethical and secure oil because they are getting unethical and insecure oil from questionable sources around the world. The Conservative government should consider that, in fact, that is the same place the Maritimes are getting their oil, and Quebec is getting its oil from the same place. Where is the leadership from this government and this Prime Minister on ethical and secure oil for Eastern Canada?

Mr. Oliver says we will never subsidize a west-to-east pipeline, ever.

Mr. Oliver, maybe it does not take subsidies. Maybe it just takes leadership. How would he know? He is just taking the industry's word. I have a lot of respect for the industry, but of course they have interests and they do not represent the national interests. They represent the shareholders' interests, as they should. We are taking their word as a matter of faith that somehow it is not economical to ship it that way and it is not economical to refine it. There are lots of companies that have excess refining capacity outside of Canada, and they will not argue that we should build refineries here.

Could the government not at least bring together the stakeholders and do a study on the economics of a west-to-east pipeline, a study on refining oil and other products in Canada, a study on maybe finding markets in Europe for our oil that we could refine in the Irving refinery, for example, in Eastern Canadian refineries and ship to Europe? Of course, that would be if we had such a reputation in the world that Europe would bother to buy from us, but we have a very serious problem with our reputation.

The national energy strategy should focus on distributed energy as a way of promoting rural development and sustaining rural communities and sustaining agricultural communities. We all worry. I know Senator Plett from Manitoba probably worries every day about what is happening to rural Manitoba communities because these communities have problems sustaining their economies. Well, distributed energy, solar and wind, is done largely rurally, so it would be a wonderful way to sustain. When one builds a big power plant, some of that is good it is in one spot and it spreads its power over huge areas, but it does not spread its jobs or its economic opportunity. Distributed energy does through biomass and farmers, et cetera.

We should not be attacking the environment and the environmental groups. We should be embracing them. That is what the forestry industry did. The forestry industry finally got over this idea of saying, "If they only understood us, they would not be reacting negatively." You know what? They did understand them, and that is why they were reacting negatively. We can keep pounding and pounding and pounding the same argument, but it is not working because people get it.

You have to get really good on social licence. You have to get really good on the environment and reducing greenhouse gases if you are going to get social licence, and that is where the two come together. That is where we can reduce the polarization of this debate. Whether you are 100 per cent in favour of the environment or 100 per cent in favour of development, you are not going to get development until you get social licence, and you are not going to get social licence until you get good on the environment.

That is the new reality. Leadership would see that reality, and leadership would not be playing the old game and would not be running from the real challenges. That is what we do not have. We do not have national leadership on a national energy strategy or any number of other things. In fact, I can hardly think of one thing we do have national leadership on, and I am saying to myself, "Could the Prime Minister please fill that void? Would someone fill that void?" We need it.

That is a major reason why I am not voting for this bill. If I had the full six hours to myself, I could come up with a whole bunch more reasons. Thank you.

Speaking to third reading on this bill, I have had some time to think about this government as the debate has raged on. It is time we had some serious debate in here.

I started to ask myself some questions about this government and to try to find — order; come on. I started to ask myself some questions that captured the essential elements of this government, and then to analyze them to try to find what the central theme was that would answer each of these questions in a comprehensive way.

The first question I asked is this: Why is it that this government provides no national leadership? I have discussed today and at other times how lacking it is on a national energy strategy. There is no national climate strategy, no national suicide prevention strategy, no national economic strategy.

Just as an aside, there is a great irony that this government claims that it has provided great economic leadership.

Then I ask: What have they done? They will say they cut taxes. Then I will say, well, why is it that that would have contributed in any way to economic stimulus when the minister himself is frequently out in the public beseeching companies in Canada — criticizing them, actually, for not investing all this money they have saved and that they are hoarding from cut taxes in creating jobs. The tax cuts have not created jobs. That the minister's only initiative is to keep begging companies to invest this money is evidence in and of itself that all that has happened is that their balance sheets are great. They saved a lot of money from not having to pay taxes. They have cut taxes, but that has not worked. They have not touched the banks, thank God, because the banks are an element of strength. They did not do that. In fact, they would have hurt the banks. They have not reduced consumer debt because consumer debt is significantly high and dangerously high — Mr. Carney will tell us that; the Minister of Finance himself will tell us that — so they have not cut consumer debt. They have not cut government debt — no. They have increased government debt — pick a number — $150 billion. The Conservatives have not balanced an unbalanced budget since 1912; they did not balance a budget in the 20th century; and they have barely balanced a budget in the 21st century. They have not reduced government debt, which would be a strong economic initiative. They have not enhanced the balance of trade. In fact, the balance of trade has now gone negative. There are 1.4 million Canadian unemployed, and growth is on for less than 1 per cent, maybe 0.6 per cent this year, which is 20 per cent of growth expected in the U.S. economy. Here is a government that says it is providing economic leadership, but what has it done? Not on a single parameter of economic leadership, of economic stimulus, of economic policy can you say they have done anything.

Why is it this government does not provide national leadership? That was my first question. My second question is this: Why is it that this government cannot balance budgets?

I read an interesting article after the minor, minor, minor cabinet shuffle — I do not know when it was, this summer or last summer — and I remember this fawning reporter writing about how Mr. Harper did not change his cabinet because he had his team in place that he really believes in. One of the examples was he said he was really happy with Mr. Flaherty because everybody knows that Mr. Flaherty is going to balance the budget. No he is not. Mr. Flaherty will never balance the budget. You heard it here first: He is never going to balance the budget. As soon as interest rates start going up, each 1 per cent will be $6 billion, $7 billion, $8 billion, $10 billion. He will not balance the budget. Conservative ideology will not allow him, ultimately, to do it. That is the second question.

The third question is this: Why is it, in the process of what they are doing, that this government so disregards democracy? We had that debate earlier in the debate about the omnibus bill. Why is it that they so disregard democracy?

The next question: Why is it that they see so many Canadians as enemies? Why are they against so many Canadians? Why are they against environmental NGOs? Why are they against religious charities? Why are they against any number of charities? Why is that? Why do they find themselves arrayed against Canadians in so many different ways? Why is it that they do not want to hear from MS patients? Why is it that they will not undertake their responsibility to talk with Aboriginal peoples? Why is it that the premiers of the provinces and the territories are somehow out there and against them? Why is it?

These are the questions: Why do they not provide national leadership? Why can they not balance a budget? Why do they so disregard democracy, and why are so many Canadians seen by them to somehow be external and, in some senses, an enemy?

Of course, there is a single answer to this — the theory of everything, if you will — an answer that comes down to real leadership. One of the fundamental components of great leadership — read about it and they will tell you — is that great leaders focus on an objective. The trick is to pick the right objective. The problem with this government is that its objective is to cut government. They hate government, so their objective is to cut government. That might be a perfectly fine objective in one sense, if it could be shown that cutting government actually achieved the objective that a good government would want achieve, and that would be to make Canada better and to make life better for Canadians. The problem is that if you pick the wrong objective and focus on the wrong one, and if leadership, such as it is on the other side, focuses on the wrong objective, you will get to the wrong place. That is exactly what is happening here. Your single objective is to cut government. That has overwhelmed the government's view of the world. I believe that; I really do. It is like Churchill saying, "My objective is to cut government." He would not have won the war. His objective was to win the war. The objective of government is to make Canada better and to make life better for Canadians.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: If the president of Toyota hated cars, what kind of company would Toyota be? If the Prime Minister of Canada hates government and focuses on almost nothing other than cutting it, what kind of government will we get? You know what kind of government we will get? The one that we see right now.

With that observation in mind, let us start to think about why it is that this government does not provide national leadership. National leadership would require a greater reach, in some senses, of federal government. They cannot cut provincial reach, so they simply cut federal reach. One thing to do with that is to do nothing. Do not talk to the provinces about how they might work out better health care. Do not talk to the provinces about a national energy strategy. Do not talk to the provinces about a national economic strategy because that would extend the reach of government. Extending the reach of government, in that way, would achieve the real objective — a better Canada, a stronger economy, fewer unemployed, better competitiveness, international diversification of our oil and gas markets. I can go on. Those objectives, which clearly would make Canada better, are not necessarily served by an ideological obsession with simply cutting government for the sake of cutting it. That is why we do not get national leadership. That answers the first question.

The second question is this: Why can they not balance a budget? Because they hate government. They do not know how to manage it. They do not listen to their public servants, who, in fact, are not their enemies. That would be another class that I think they sometimes see as enemies. Their public servants would give them good advice, tell them what to do and allow them to set the priorities that will make things work and to cut the things that do not work. That is what happened in the 1990s, and that is why we had nine consecutive surplus budgets. If you hate government, you do not know how to manage it. That is why you will never balance a budget.

Why do they disregard democracy so? Yes, Parliament and democracy and all of those processes that protect our rights are cumbersome, but democracies that are successful cannot have precipitous change. It does not work. You have cumbersome, difficult things that you have to work through. You have give and take and the adversarial process because, if you ever allow it to happen, you actually get better ideas and solutions. If you hate government, you hate that stuff. You do not understand that, if it is seen as an inconvenience. At least it is a necessary inconvenience for stronger policy, for achieving that objective that should be your objective — a better Canada, a better quality of life for Canadians and for our children. That is the answer to the third question.

The fourth question: Why is it that this government is arrayed against so many Canadians? Canadians need government sometimes. Environmentalists need to have some government leadership to fix climate change. Of course, they are your enemy because you want less government. Religious charities have a right to participate in debates about things. I disagree with them sometimes, but they have a right to participate. However, you get that kind of debate going on, and it is cumbersome and means more government so that you array yourself against them. Patients might just tell you that there is a way to solve the MS issue and that there are some things that you could do, but that would require a greater federal reach into what you see as a provincial jurisdiction, though it is a shared jurisdiction, in fact. You do not do it.

There is a single answer to those four questions. There are also many other questions that could be brought into that.

You have an ideological obsession with cutting government, and you have been pulled off of the real objective, which sometimes might be served by less government but generally might not be. Certain things, like national leadership, are not served by less government, or, at least, not by less leadership. It is not expensive to have the Prime Minister meet with the premiers, is it? That does not take a lot of government, but it takes more government than you can stomach.

In my more moderate and generous moments towards the government, I will say that it is not necessarily incompetent all the time. However, I do believe that it has an incompetent ideology that, at the very least, it implements very competently. It has an incompetent ideology. Where has the right-wing, hard-nosed ideology ever worked to make a society in this world better? Where? Just give me an example. It did not work in Britain. It did not work in Germany. It is not working in the United States. It did not work with George Bush, and it did not work for Mitt Romney. In fact, when Romney was a successful governor, he was governing from the centre, as a liberal. Just tell me where it is that the right-wing ideology works. It is an incompetent ideology. It does not work. I may be willing to say that you are competent to implement it, but that is about where it ends. The results are the same.

There are these questions that can only be answered, or at least partly answered, by this one answer, which is that you hate government. You do not know how to manage it. You want to cut it, and you have lost the real objective, which is making this country better for Canadians. That is our objective, and I do not see any of that being fulfilled in this bill. That is another reason why I am not voting for it.

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