Check Against Delivery – May 31, 2012, Anil Naidoo opening statement before House of Commons Finance Committee testifying on Bill C-38, the Conservative government’s Omnibus Budget Implementation Bill termed the ‘Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Bill’

Good evening, I want to thank the committee for inviting us to present.

My name is Anil Naidoo and I am here on behalf of the Council of Canadians, an organization which is over 25 years old with tens of thousands of members across every province and territory and with chapters in almost 80 communities across the country.

We take no corporate or government money and are therefore able to speak independently; in the interests of our members and in the broader public interest, as we see it.

The Council’s campaigns are focused on water, trade, public health care, energy as well as sometimes carrying forward our members concerns around issues of democracy and social programs.

Right now our Chairperson, Maude Barlow, is traveling around the Great Lakes holding town halls to protect this most precious body of water and we are simultaneously hosting a mining justice conference in Vancouver.

We have held meetings across the country on the Canada EU Free Trade Agreement, on Medicare, on bottled water, on many issues of concern to Canadians and our members.

Personally I am highly focused on the issue of water and want to note that Canada had an important breakthrough on Tuesday when this government recognized the human right to water and sanitation at the United Nations Rio+20 negotiations. This was long overdue and we are now focused on implementation.

The Council has been advocating for the human right to water for over the last 10 years, both internationally as well as pressing successive Canadian governments at home. We are pleased to have been part of the campaign to get the UN to recognize the human right to water and Canada joining the international community is clearly positive.

Recognizing the human right to water is in the public interest, but I am here to say that those parts of Bill C-38 that deal with water are clearly not.

This bill contains amendments to acts related to Environmental Assessment, Fisheries, Parks, Navigable Waters not to mention cuts to front line programs at Environment Canada and decades-long monitoring programs studying the health of our lakes, effluent-monitoring and water-use efficiency.

I know that others, including former Progressive Conservative Minister Tom Siddon, have presented many of these concerns to you already so let me suggest that as Members of Parliament, what this process is asking you to do is untenable.

To try and assess, in a matter of mere hours, the impacts of profound changes to 70 acts of parliament, which is contained in these 420 pages is daunting, but it is even more complicated than this – each paragraph impacts whole laws which are themselves massively complex.

We should not expect members of one committee to be asked to pass judgement on whether these changes are in the best interests of Canadians?

In your situation, I would appreciate more time before making such a major decision regarding these myriad acts and changes. Even a very short bill of a few paragraphs, such Bill C-36 will have a full review.

We all know that in one form or another majority government get bills passed, this is not the issue. What is at issue is whether members of parliament, including Conservative members get the time to grapple with the issues, suggest constructive changes and are confident when they vote that they are representing all of their constituents.

This ultimately goes to Canadians being able to have confidence in our system of government. Right now people are losing confidence in politics and I believe the reactions you are seeing to Bill C-38 are only going to build if there is no political solution to address our concerns about this challenge to our democratic institutions.

Our system is based on convention and tradition and I believe that this bill, while legal according to the letter of the law, does challenge the spirit of our parliamentary system.

I also want to address the framing of this bill, I believe that if we are truly focused on ‘Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity’, we must be focused on the environment as the foundation of a healthy economy and society.

Canadian environmental legislation is not frivolous, it was deemed necessary by previous members of parliament and governments. The reality is that the threats to our environment are increasingly enhanced due to industrialization and technology, not diminished, and removing critical checks and monitoring at this moment is very ill-advised.

I am asking you to send this piece of legislation back and ask for more time and thought to be put into the implications. This is not only about our democracy and our environment; it is also about future generations and the kind of Canada we want to leave to our children.

Bill C-38 represents an unacceptable level of centralization of control and removal of checks and balances. The range of groups allied against it should give the government pause. CARP is speaking out, health care professionals, archivists, charitable organizations, environmental groups, arts groups, public servants, former ministers and we at the Council of Canadians add our voice strongly to that growing list.

We can do better and it can start with the members of this committee asking for the leeway to fully vette this bill. If Canadians do not have confidence in their democracy then what choices are left to ensure accountability?

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