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Third Reading, Budget Implementation Bill, 2019, No. 1

Honourable senators, I spoke at length last week on Bill C-97 at second reading. However, there is one issue which was subsequently discussed at Finance Committee and on which I would like to make some comments. That is the matter of “consultations.”

Our Finance Committee is concerned about the intent of consultations conducted by the government after hearing the dissatisfaction and frustration expressed by some witnesses. It was a recurring theme heard not only at Finance Committee but also at other Senate committees who were studying other sections of the budget bill.

One of our primary roles as a chamber of sober second thought is to ensure all stakeholders’ voices are heard in the legislative process, but the onus is on the government to ensure that it hears the views of all Canadians before tabling legislation. This includes transparent, concrete and wholesome consultations with industry and interested stakeholder groups that may be impacted by the proposed legislation.

While government officials who appeared before the various committees during the pre-study of Bill C-97 did indicate that they undertook consultations, we heard contradictory evidence from individuals and groups on a number of clauses of the bill — concerns that the government and its officials did not provide meaningful consultations and, in some cases, no consultations at all.

I can provide some examples. At the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, which was assigned Subdivision C of Division 9 of Part 4 of the Budget Implementation Act, government is proposing amendments to the Food and Drug Act, among other things to allow the Minister of Health to classify certain products exclusively as foods, drugs, cosmetics or devices, and also to provide oversight over the conduct of clinical trials for drugs, devices and certain foods for special dietary purposes.

Representatives from the agriculture and agri-food industry who appeared before the committee were quite concerned that they did not understand the implications of these changes on their sectors, especially in relation to existing regulations under the Safe Food for Canadians Act.

Carla Ventin, Senior Vice-President of Government Relations at the Food and Consumer Products of Canada, spoke at committee about the propose changes. She said:

The cumulative impact of all of these changes will permanently alter the landscape of the food industry in Canada. What exactly these changes will look like and the impact they will have on the sector and Canadians is unknown. That is part of the problem.

While we appreciate the government’s ambitious agenda, it has been a challenge for industry to keep up. We see consultations that are rushed with short turnaround for comments or that have unpredictable timelines. For industry, this means it can be difficult to provide meaningful input. For government, this means that critical issues can be overlooked. For Canadians, this can result in unintended consequences.

Officials from Health Canada in the next panel explained to the committee that these changes were meant to improve regulations around advanced therapeutic products in Canada. Officials said that the proposed changes would not impact the agriculture and agri-food industries. Only during the Senate pre-study of Bill C-97 did these stakeholders receive a clarification about the proposed changes.

In Part 1 of the bill, the government is proposing the Canada Training Credit, a virtual savings account that accumulates $250 a year with a maximum lifetime cap of $5,000 that qualified Canadians can claim to reduce eligible tuition and training fees.

When stakeholders and experts were asked in committee if the government had undertaken consultations in respect of these proposals, Mr. Dan Kelly, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said, “There was zero consultation whatsoever.”

Mr. Larry Rousseau, Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress, and other panel members, composed of tax professionals and academics, echoed those same sentiments.

In Division 25 of Part 4 of the bill, the government is proposing sweeping changes to Indigenous Services. Among other things, this division proposes the following: dissolution of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada by repealing the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Act; the creation of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada by way of the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Act and the designation of a minister responsible for overseeing the department.

It also proposes the creation of Indigenous Services Canada by way of the Department of Indigenous Services Act and designates a minister responsible for overseeing that department.

From my own preliminary reading of this part of the bill, I felt that the legislation wasn’t robust enough. In a letter to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, the President of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated wrote:

I appreciate that these proposed acts may be intended primarily for administrative purposes and to consolidate current government practice. Indeed, when I review them, I see little of substance, and perhaps partly for this reason many Indigenous groups have not commented upon them.

However, in a detailed submission provided with the letter, the organization highlighted its concerns with the lack of engagement on the part of the government when it was drafting this legislation. The submission read in part:

This section of the Budget Bill invites many questions. Put succinctly, it lacks clarity.

They went on to say:

It may be that these are simply “administrative matters” but administrative matters have both operational and political consequences in an environment that is ever-changing. The concerns we raise reflect the drafting of proposed acts in isolation from the Indigenous peoples affected by them. There has been neither consultation nor “engagement.”

Honourable senators, it is inappropriate to draft legislation that potentially affects our well-being for decades to come, in isolation, and then enact this as part of an omnibus budget bill on a tight schedule with little opportunity for input.

The Banking Committee also heard concerns from the Insolvency Institute of Canada regarding consultations on Part 4, Division 5 of the budget bill indicating the process was rushed and there was little to no meaningful consultation with experts in the field, of the proposed amendments.

In fact, the testimony of officials was so different from the testimony of stakeholders that the Banking Committee recalled the officials for explanation.

The last example is reflected in testimony received after we had second reading of the budget bill last week and after I spoke, when an official of the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, the CCSPA, testified on Part 4, Division 9 of the budget bill.

Here is what she said during testimony before the National Finance Committee:

CCSPA has been and remains committed to working with this government on supporting an efficient and effective regulatory climate for businesses . . . . Issues can’t be raised in isolation by departments without substantive consultation with key stakeholders.

She then went to say that her organization was given four days to provide comments on the legislation.

. . . we have asked for the department to provide us an overview as to what the legislation is, what the current policy is and what the future looks like under these new amendments, but we have not received it as yet.

She also raised the issue of the Canada Gazette whereby the budget bill proposes to remove the requirement that certain business information must be published in the Canada Gazette. Rather, it is being proposed that this information will be published on the government website.

The issue of the continuation of the Canada Gazette arose during another committee meeting during which assurances were given by an official that the Canada Gazette would continue publication. I am not sure now.

Honourable senators, I use the Government of Canada web site and those of its departments. It’s challenging, to say the least. I appreciate the concerns of the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association. Their concerns are well founded.

Honourable senators, that completes my comments on Bill C-97.

I’d like to thank the chair of the committee, again, Senator Mockler, Senator Pratte and Senator Day, the deputy chair, and all members of our Finance Committee, especially Senator Boehm, who was the sponsor of the bill, and other senators who spoke on the bill.

Also, thank you to our committee clerk, our analysts and other officials who provided assistance and support during our hearings. Thank you.

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