Responsible Canadians; glued to the TV set

Jinny Sims (NDP) Speech May 23, 2013

So on Thursday evening I was sitting at home, watching the new norm of midnight debates in the House of Commons and I came across this speech regarding Bill S-12 (Incorporation by Reference in Regulations Act) by NDP MP Jinny Sims.

What makes this so remarkable? Well for starters have a look at the video and given the tone, sarcasm, and complete randomness it made me literally laugh out loud. I was one of those “responsible Canadians” that was “glued to the TV set” and interested in this debate wondering “wondering what on earth members of Parliament are discussing tonight.” She was speaking right to me!

Quite literally I had no idea what they were discussing and I had a complete failure at figuring out what they were saying, but this speech just made me fall over laughing. Just listen to the tone, and the sarcasm that you’re not sure if it’s serious or not. No offense to Ms. Sims, but this is a brilliant speech that I believe to be a “filler” because it really didn’t speak much about the bill and was more random and fulfilled the debate time for the bill because they all just want to pass it through to committee.

Every time I watch it, I just laugh again and am so happy that for the past few months I can sit glued to the TV set and occasionally get a bitchin’ speech to rant and rave about. Simply put, this is a masterpiece speech and thank you to Ms. Jinny Sims for making my day!

A transcript and reference for the speech is found below.

Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims (Newton—North Delta, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak tonight in support of Bill S-12, an act to amend the Statutory Instruments Act and to make consequential amendments to the statutory instruments regulations. New Democrats are supporting this bill at this stage, so it can go to committee to be clarified and big questions that are being asked can be answered.

I sometimes think that, in this Ottawa bubble, we use language and terms and put stuff out there, thinking the public is going to be able to understand what is being debated in the House of Common tonight and what MPs from across this country are here discussing at 8:45 p.m. until midnight. Being an English teacher, I always want to see something in the title that will give me a clue or some kind of a lead. If I were not here but sitting in my living room, I would be wondering what on earth members of Parliament are discussing tonight. That, to me, is a huge issue.

We talk about participatory democracy. We televise the glorious debates that go on in this most august House, and we know there are people across this country, who might only be my mother, the member’s grandmother and somebody else’s daughter, who are sitting at home glued to the TV set watching this. There are Canadians who care and watch CPAC. They watch because they really are engaged in the subjects we are discussing. I think we do them a disservice at times with the language we use and present. I worry about that at times, but I am sure we will talk about that at length.

As members have said previously, we are really talking about changes to either static or ambulatory—are those not wonderful words; one could write poetry with them—regulations that are buried in legislation that can be changed as a result of other laws or regulations being changed without ever coming to the House. That should give us a little concern, and I hope it does.

There are some facts and figures that were quite shocking even to me after being here for two years. This is a quote from the Justice Canada Federal Regulations Manual, 1998, page 3, in case any of you need bedtime reading. I am sure it will be great. This is what it states:

There are, at the federal level alone, approximately 3,000 regulations comprising over 30,000 pages, compared with some 450 statutes comprising about 13,000 pages. Furthermore, departments and agencies submit to the Regulations Section on average about 1,000 draft regulations each year, whereas Parliament enacts about 80 bills during the same period. The executive thus plays a major role in setting rules of law that apply to Canadian citizens.

Therein lies the rub.

As much as we are sending this bill on to the committee stage, when do the stark numbers really strike home? Whereas Parliament deals with 80 bills in a year—though we might be able to do more if going until midnight might be the new norm going into the fall as well, especially with all the time allocation and closure motions—when 1,000 regulatory changes are made or draft regulations presented, one really begins to worry about the state of our democracy.

What happens when changes are made by regulation, it invests so much power in the hands of the executive, in the hands of ministers and those regulatory changes sidestep parliamentary oversight and parliamentary debate, debate here, going to committee, being fine-tuned, coming back here and debated again. As parliamentarians that really should give us pause to stop and think about what our role is as parliamentarians.

There are some things that do make sense to be in regulation. For example, we would not want to spend weeks, months and years in here discussing what the interest rates should be at the Bank of Canada. That is sort of like an ambulatory regulatory change. Quite honestly I would not want to spend months and years discussing that.

However, on the other hand, there are regulatory changes that are made that I would want to discuss in the House because they could affect how Canadians live and work, how they retire and how they spend their leisure time. Therefore, we cannot think that this is just a technical document, that it is a housekeeping bill, purely technical. When we think of how it will be applied in the future and how many regulations are introduced each year and then get changed, sometimes at ministerial whim, we really have to worry. As the previous speaker said, there were lots of questions he was asked and he said “I just don’t know the answer”. Reading the legislation, those things are not very clear at all.

As I was going through the legislation, it made me stop and think that sometimes what we consider as just a technical change, a little housekeeping, actually ends up impacting people’s daily lives. I can remember from another life, when I was a teacher, when a provincial government decided it was going to do some housekeeping, get rid of a lot of the red tape around the identification and designation of students with special needs. What happened with that? Overnight after the regulatory changes were made and the red tape was gone, children who had very specific and legitimate diagnosed learning needs on a Friday, by the following Monday, they no longer had those needs. It gave the government reason not to fund them.

Even though at the time in British Columbia, many people welcomed getting rid of the red tape and a lot of stuff that surrounded this, but people did not realize that removing a word here, or a phrase there, was going to have such an impact on families of students with special needs.

Therefore, we have to be very careful. I know we are talking about international and national agreements and all of these regulations that change in other places, but one of these days what if there is a government that makes some changes and that automatically forces embedded changes right here that impact us and our everyday lives. I think we would be very concerned.

The other thing we are very concerned about is that we are a bilingual nation. It is embedded in our Constitution and yet we know a lot of these regulations are not available to the public in a bilingual manner, so we want to ensure they are there.

Let me step back a moment for I have misspoke.

What I am looking for in this document is an explicit guarantee that when these regulations are embedded, static, ambulatory, I do not care what the name is, they are there in both official languages. We want to ensure we have that. We also want to strengthen this document in ways that ensure there would not be that kind of view.

It is always good to look at accountability and specificity. We live in this electronic age or age of technology, as it is also called. I am not as familiar with the full range of technology, but I do know that today my children, grandchildren and the young people I know, as well as many young-at-heart retirees, spend much of their time on the computer and want that kind of access. They want to access the regulations, to read them, understand them and know their history. However, at the age of 19, I was quite happy to know none of what was in the backroom.

When my children or grandchildren do research now, and it is amazing to watch the twins, who are in grade eight, they go much deeper with it because everything is available to them on their computer. They ask the kind of questions I would not have asked at their age. Therefore, we have to ensure we make available to the public not just the change that has been made, but what it was like before and what the impact of that change would be. I do have some reservations that none of that will be discussed, and that should be concerning for all of us.

I hear a lot about accountability and transparency. We need all of that. This document came from a place that is not so popular for many these days. I know it has gone through some scrutiny and some changes have been made. However, we are supporting it so it can go to a p
arliamentary committee where it can receive microscopic scrutiny and where we also hope our colleagues across the aisle will not behave as they have at other committees I have attended. We have taken amendments that ministers have suggested and we thought we have had agreement on and suddenly they are not there. We hope that when they go to committee and our official opposition amendments are brought to that committee, that they will be considered on their merit and not rejected because they come from the official opposition.

A couple of my colleagues look aghast, as if that never happens. I can assure them that I have sat at committee and have seen that happen over and over again, even where we have had committee members say that it is a good amendment or have had ministers say that they know we have some concerns and that they will be quite happy to put this line in. Then when we put the criteria they have suggested in word for word it is suddenly opposed. It leaves us second-guessing what the real agenda is. We do worry about that as well.

There are quite a few issues I could bring up with respect to accountability and the ability to work together.

I have a great deal of concern around regulations. I was absolutely shocked as a member of Parliament at how much substantive change could be made to the laws of this land through changes to regulations. We have seen a huge transformation in the area of immigration that has impacted people. A lot of that work and a lot of those changes were never debated at a parliamentary committee. Nor did they come to this august body, the House of Commons, to be debated. These changes appeared on a website through a press conference. A minister can make all of these changes.

At the same time as I support this legislation, I also have a deeply held concern over the subversion of democracy as more and more power is vested into the hands of ministers and the executive branch. I am not trying to take any shots at my colleagues in government, because I believe a lot of this was started by the party that sits in that corner right now, especially when I look at immigration.

Just take a look at what happened the Friday before we went back to our ridings for home week. On Friday afternoon, we received massive changes to family reunification. I sit as a vice-chair of the immigration committee, but we did not receive the changes there. I come to Parliament on a regular basis, but the changes were not discussed here. The changes were made in an announcement that was absolutely floundering. I have talked with people in communities who are just reeling from the changes, and they are so fundamental that they have put into question our commitment toward community-building and our commitments toward families. Yet all of those changes happened without any debate in the House.

The income requirement has been increased by 30% before somebody can sponsor his or her parent to move to Canada. Yet many people in the House and across the country have enjoyed the benefits of family reunification over the years. We all talk about the value of family.

Then we look at this. One in five Canadians is born outside of Canada.

We have introduced a lottery system for family reunification. We have told Canadians right across this great country that no matter where they come from, only 5,000 applications will be taken each year. I never looked at it until I was talking with a group in my riding and somebody said that it was like the lottery, that individuals would have to wait many years even to get in line to come into the country. By the way, when people apply, it is not a guarantee, that is when they can join the line. What have we done there?

I could go on at length about other things that have happened in this parliamentary democracy that shut down debate. We have seen them happen. There have been closures and time allocations. I hear rhetoric that this is all about accountability, that this is just about cleaning up things. Forgive me for thinking that we have suddenly moved to a new phase of parliamentary debate in the House.

As I said, we support this legislation going to committee. We hope the regulations will have the kind of transparency and the kind of language that the average person will comprehend.

Sims, Jinny Jogindera. “Incorporation by Reference in Regulations Act” Edited Hansard. Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. 41st Parl., 1st sess. Vol. 146 No. 254. 2013. Parliament of Canada. Web. 23 May. 2013.

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