Second Reading - Bill C-10, An Act respecting certain measures related to COVID-19
Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-10, An Act respecting certain measures relating to COVID-19, and specifically the financial implications of the bill. This bill is requesting $2.5 billion in relation to COVID tests. It also provides the Minister of Health with authority to transfer COVID tests and related instruments to the provinces and territories and to bodies and persons in Canada.
Bill C-10 was introduced in the House of Commons on January 31, and received first reading in the Senate on February 21. Honourable senators may recall that during Question Period on February 9 in this chamber, I had asked the Minister of Health why this Bill C-10 did not provide any information on how the money will be spent. The bill is a mere eight lines and does not provide any details on how the $2.5 billion will be spent and does not impose any accountability requirements.
The issue of transparency and accountability of the $2.5 billion was also raised in the House of Commons on February 14 during Committee of the Whole. At that time, the Minister of Health committed to providing a report every six months on the dollar amount spent, the number of tests acquired and their use in the following months. As stated by the Minister, he said that “. . . this will be a way of ensuring that there is significant and necessary accountability on the part of the government . . . .”
If the minister were truly interested in accountability, this commitment should have been included in the bill.
Honourable senators may recall that I have previously indicated that requests by government for money cannot be considered in isolation of one bill. And this is also true of Bill C-10. The government’s December 17 fiscal update also proposed to provide $1.7 billion for the procurement of rapid test kits. So in addition to the $2.5 billion being requested in this Bill C-10, another $1.7 billion is being requested in Bill C-8, which is presently before the House of Commons. Specifically, Part 6 of Bill C-8 is requesting $1.7 billion, “in relation to . . . (COVID-19) tests.”
Supplementary Estimates (C) was tabled in the House of Commons on February 19 and will be studied by the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. Supplementary Estimates (C) for the Department of Health discloses a third funding request of $3.2 billion for rapid tests, and another funding request by the Public Health Agency of Canada for $750 million — also for rapid tests. So that is $4 billion being requested in Supplementary Estimates (C).
Yesterday, the Parliamentary Budget Officer released his report on Supplementary Estimates (C). He said that the proposed spending of $4 billion in Supplementary Estimates (C) is a duplication of spending being sought through Bill C-8 and Bill C-10. So why is the government requesting money for the same initiative twice? This is very concerning. If Parliament approves the same funding twice, there will be $4 billion available to the government to be spent on some other project. Government can simply transfer the funding to other operating expenses and spend it on other projects.
In closing, I will summarize my financial concerns about Bill C-10. First, the bill does not provide sufficient information on how the money will be spent. Second, there is no accountability mechanism included in the legislation. While the minister did indicate verbally in the other place that he would provide an accountability report, there is no commitment in the bill itself. Third, the same $2.5 billion in Bill C-10 and the same $1.7 billion in Bill C-8 are being requested in Supplementary Estimates (C). Why is there a duplicate funding request in Supplementary Estimates (C)?
Honourable senators, these issues should be addressed by this chamber before Bill C-10 is approved. Thank you.