Third reading of Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act and the Competition Act

By: The Hon. Clément Gignac

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Parliament from across the Ottawa River, Ottawa

Hon. Clément Gignac: Colleagues, today, I would like to speak to Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act and the Competition Act.

I want to begin by making it clear that I do not intend to make any amendments to this bill and by saying that I will keep my remarks brief, because I am in favour the initiatives set out in the bill. You are therefore no doubt wondering why I am rising. The reason is that I want to speak out in this chamber, loud and clear, against the very little time that was allocated to studying this bill.

It’s nothing personal against the Government Representative in the Senate or the chair of the National Finance Committee, the Honourable Senator Mockler. On the contrary, as a member of the steering committee, Senator Mockler informed me on Monday at noon that we would have a hard time analyzing and passing this bill before we rise for the holidays, unless we were to take exceptional measures, such as holding a meeting in Committee of the Whole. According to my research, this was the first time in 10 years that the Senate has resolved into Committee of the Whole to debate an economic bill.

Honourable senators, I must admit that I was not familiar with that exceptional procedure. Like my two colleagues from the Canadian Senators Group, I was left wanting more, since each of us were allotted only three and a half minutes to ask questions of the two ministers with responsibilities in the economic sector.

Allow me to publicly thank the leader of the Canadian Senators Group for insisting earlier this week that the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance hold a special session immediately after the Committee of the Whole to hear a few witnesses on this bill.

Hats off to our clerk, Mireille Aubé, and her two analysts, who, with less than 24 hours’ notice, managed to secure the attendance of four witnesses at our committee yesterday afternoon.


Honourable senators, this bill passed first reading in the other place on September 21 and was received here in the Senate on Monday evening of this week. Allow me to point out that the finance committee of the other place was able to devote over eight hours of its time to this bill and heard from nine witnesses. At first glance, you will probably find that reassuring.

However, you should know that the Canadian Bar Association wasn’t able to testify, but it did submit a brief, which I have here. It is 30 pages long and contains 19 recommendations.

Moreover, during the clause-by-clause consideration in the other place’s committee, four amendments were presented and adopted. To me, that’s clear proof that this bill, the first reform of the Competition Act in 35 years, undoubtedly deserved a much more sober second look here.

Honourable Senators, you can no doubt sense a little anger, or at least a little intellectual frustration, in this speech I’m giving as a senator and member of this upper chamber, which is known as the place of sober second thought.

This week, I didn’t feel as though we were part of a bicameral system of Parliament with two chambers. Instead, I felt like I was sitting in the basement of the lower chamber, being treated like a second-class parliamentarian. It’s as if someone had forgotten that we are senators, no doubt of different political persuasions, but all with one common denominator: the desire to do the right thing in a transparent way for the good of Canadians.

I would like to thank my colleagues on the steering committee of National Finance, who agreed to raise the tone a little in the commentary presented last night. Usually, at National Finance, we use gentle, polite and courteous words. This time, we raised our voices a little, pointing out that we found it contemptuous that the committee had so little time to analyze the bill.

Honourable senators, I will close with that. Unfortunately, I think I’ve caught Senator Carignan’s nasty sore throat, so I will end here and probably won’t be able to answer your questions. Thank you.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): I do have a question. Can I ask you, colleague, to reconsider?

Senator Gignac: That’s the only question I’ll answer, and only out of respect for Senator Gold.

Senator Gold: Thank you, senator. It’s very important that we here in the Senate have enough time to give bills the attention they deserve. That is the best way to proceed, and it’s always my hope, even though bills sometimes show up on our legislative agenda very late.

Senator, my question is this: Did you know that my office recommended that the National Finance Committee do a pre‑study of this bill, which would have included the participation of — Excuse me, I’ll restart.

The bill was in the other place, and we didn’t know exactly when the Senate would get it, but since it’s a priority for the government and Canadians, did you know that my office suggested doing a pre-study that both ministers would have been a part of? The Finance Committee was ready to receive them Tuesday morning, but certain leaders refused. Not all of them, but enough of them that we didn’t get the consensus we needed to do the pre-study, given the calendar. Are you aware that it’s—

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Senator Gold, please ask your question.

Senator Gold: Are you aware that the Government Representative Office suggested that the committee conduct a pre-study, which would have allowed for more time to study and debate this bill if the proposal had been agreed to? Unfortunately, it was not.

Senator Gignac: Honourable senators, I was not aware of all of these dealings or negotiations between the leaders. With all due respect, thank you for sharing that information with us. We often see this in connection with budget implementation bills: the National Finance Committee frequently conducts pre-studies because it can sit almost whenever it wants.

I was therefore very surprised that the approach normally followed for budget implementation bills was not being used. Naturally, I was frustrated, at an intellectual level. We are talking about the Competition Act, which is no laughing matter. It is a very serious issue. Senator Deacon, our expert, who unfortunately does not sit on the National Finance Committee or on the Banking Committee . . . We were unable to split the bill in two to send the competition provisions to the Banking and Economy Committee, which would have studied them carefully, and the excise tax provisions to the National Finance Committee. We sometimes divide things up when we examine budget implementation bills. This time, we did not even have the opportunity to do that.

This is the first time that I’ve encountered a situation like this. I don’t think I was the only one feeling frustrated. At the same time, Canadians understandably need relief. I just wanted to mention it, all partisanship aside, because I think that we are all here to improve the lives of Canadians, regardless of our convictions.

You know, I have only one commitment outside the Senate, and it’s a voluntary one. I chair the board of directors of the Collège des administrateurs de sociétés. Good corporate governance is very important to me. What we’ve seen this week is not good practice, it is bad practice.

I wasn’t aware of that, but I appeal to all four leaders. Please, next time, during your negotiations — I understand, I was in politics for three and a half years and I know what that can entail — when it comes to bills like this, work together to authorize a pre-study. It’s necessary.

Let me make a prediction. When I look at the Canadian Bar Association’s brief, which is about 30 pages long and contains 19 recommendations, it’s quite clear that there will be amendments to this bill over the next few months. Things are going to happen. This legislation has not been examined properly. We really weren’t treated like parliamentarians in the upper chamber. We were mistreated.

As I said in my preamble, Senator Gold, this is nothing personal against you or the chair of the National Finance Committee. It was damage control, and we had to deal with the decisions that were made.

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