[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, October 29, 1996
[Technical Difficulty - Editor]
Mr. Art Hanger, MP (Calgary Northeast): ...On the third point, we hear much about crime being on the decrease. However, violent youth crime is the largest growing category of crime in Canada. Canadians want young offenders who commit repeat serious property or violent crime to be tried in adult court. This motion would require that all such repeat offenders be automatically transferred to adult court, without the need for a special court order, process, or application.
If those concerns do not convince one, then I think the following should be considered. In October of 1996, a teenage girl who assisted in the screwdriver slaying and robbery of Kulwarn Dhiman was sentenced to only 10 months in custody. The girl, now 15, grinned following her sentence for manslaughter and robbery.
In May of 1996, after being apprehended, an 11-year-old boy who acted as ringleader in the gang rape of a 13-year-old girl told Toronto police he couldn't be charged because of the Young Offenders Act.
In March of 1996, three boys aged 14 showed no remorse when convicted of manslaughter and robbery in the beating death of an American fisherman in Prince Rupert, B.C. The man, nicknamed ``the gentle giant'' because of his size and kindness, was clubbed to death and robbed of $12.
In April 1995, a 13-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 15-year-old robbed and beat to death a retired Anglican minister and his wife in Montreal. The three showed no remorse. All received three-year sentences. The 14-year-old was the couple's paper boy and was angry because they never gave him a tip.
Madam Chair, this is my submission. I respectfully submit that due to the concern of crime in and among our young people, the committee seriously consider making this a votable motion. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Hanger.
Are there any questions from the members of the committee?
Mr. Frazer, you have no questions?
Mr. Frazer (Saanich - Gulf Islands): No. I'm familiar with most of the points Mr. Hanger has brought forward.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Hanger.
Ms Guarnieri, would you like to begin, please?
Ms Albina Guarnieri, MP (Mississauga East): This is the second time I appear before you to present my bill. I think you are already familiar with the content since you were all members of the committee, except for Mr. Frazer.
I am presenting Bill C-321 to the subcommittee for the second time because it has never been more clear that legislation to end concurrent sentencing is both necessary and urgent.
Earlier this summer, not just one but two multiple murderers were free on parole in Mississauga. Concurrent sentencing had given these repeat killers volume discounts for their crimes.
For John Lyman Kehoe, the second child he murdered did not affect his sentence, so he was free in time to create a third victim. On July 2, less than four months ago, Kehoe and another paroled multiple murderer ambushed a real estate agent, Wendy Carroll, slashed her throat, and left her for dead. She survived, no thanks to the justice system or the parole board, which opened the cages of her assailants. Wendy Carroll's life was nearly erased because our sentencing system erases victims.
Had John Kehoe served a second consecutive term of parole ineligibility for the second child he murdered, as Bill C-321 prescribes, he would not have been free to prey on Wendy Carroll or anyone else. I didn't have to do any research to find a case where a multiple murderer was paroled early and attacked another victim. It happened a five-minute drive from my house just two weeks after I resubmitted this bill.
This is not a theoretical issue. Bill C-321 is about correcting one element of a negligent sentencing system that disregards victims and places innocent citizens at risk.
In June, Allan Rock told the justice committee:
Having presented this bill to you before, I know there is no dispute as to whether it meets your published criteria to be deemed votable. Clearly it does. Yet you will see in your packages that your chair has made public that none of you voted to deem this bill votable on the last occasion and pointed out that there are ``pretty partisan politics'' going on there. I hope the rest of the committee has a different approach to what I believe is a very serious and non-partisan issue.
The perception left by the chair's public comments is that this committee does not view the issue of consecutive sentencing to be of sufficient consequence to warrant proper debate or even a vote in the House of Commons. Obviously the bill's advocates disagree with your previous stance, as do the MPs who were denied the opportunity to speak on the issue.
In your packages you will find letters of support for Bill C-321 from people for whom the current sentencing process is more than a theoretical issue. Here today in the audience are some of the bill's supporters. Debbie Mahaffy is here to see for herself what she calls casino justice, as are Sharon and Gary Rosenfeldt, whose son was one of the victims of the serial child killer Clifford Olson. They've all come in person today because they perceived that their letters to you last time fell on deaf ears.
I would conclude with comments from one of the most recent victims of concurrent sentencing, Wendy Carroll. She writes:
Madam Chair, I think she said it all.
The Chair: Thank you.
Are there any questions? Mr. Langlois.
Mr. Langlois (Bellechasse): Ms Guarnieri, I understand that the people you are targeting with this bill are irredeemable criminals such as Bernardo or Olson. We could also refer to Leopold Dion, a case that had occurred a few years ago in Quebec, and to whom the bill could also apply. Could you find some way to amend the bill so that it would be possible to plead cases that are not quite as obvious so that sentences are not necessarily consecutive and that the judge can benefit from some discretion? You're targeting everyone, you're aiming very broadly and thus you reach everyone, even those who could be an exception to the rule that you wish to establish.
There are people you have named and for whom, in my opinion, there is a need for judiciary discretion. Of course, the case of Bernardo is very clear: he was declared a dangerous offender and he will never leave prison. In the Olson case, I get the impression that the jury will settle his case rather quickly as well, though we shouldn't take anything for granted. Do you really want this legislation to apply to all criminals in this situation or to specific cases with aggravating circumstances such as those you mentioned at the outset?
Ms Guarnieri: I think that the fact you've asked that question proves that there is a need for a genuine debate about my bill. It also proves that the bill must be sent to the house for a more in-depth examination. If you can demonstrate that my bill would not work, I would ask you to tell the committee that, because I think my bill is very simple. People who kill other people should remain in prison for a very long time. That might be a simple way of reasoning, but the fact is that we're playing Russian roulette with innocent victims. In the case that I've cited, Mr. Kehoe and his friend, I'm sure that Ms Carroll would never have had to endure what she did if my bill had been in place.
Mr. Langlois: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms Guarnieri.
Now we have Mr. Gilmour for Mr. Breitkreuz. Welcome.
Mr. Bill Gilmour, MP (Comox - Alberni): Should I get straight into it?
The Chair: Yes, you may. You have five minutes.
Mr. Gilmour: Bill C-284 has to do with property rights. Garry understands the need to strengthen the property rights that have been debated in this motion, M-205. However, specific legislative measures to strengthen them have not. This bill has taken hundreds of hours of work by legislative counsel and the law and government division of the Library of Parliament. It's not a trivial issue. It's an issue that I believe should be votable because I think each member should be able to represent his constituents.
Particularly when it comes to the Liberals, the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau argued convincingly during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s for the inclusion of property rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I believe it's an issue that crosses political lines, and each member should have an opportunity to deal with it in the House.
Currently there is nothing in law that protects property rights, and there is no requirement in Canadian constitutional law that compulsory taking of property be affected by a fair measure that can be accompanied by fair compensation.
It's an issue that all of us need to deal with and I think Canadians want to deal with. I would urge all of you to consider that this be a votable motion.
The Chair: That was concise and to the point. Thank you.
Are there any questions?
Mr. Langlois: If you could further explain the bill, that would be helpful to me.
If you can give me a short explanation of the pith and substance of the bill, it would be helpful for me to make my decision.
Mr. Gilmour: The bill basically puts in the Charter of Rights that property rights be included, so that any level of government, particularly the federal government, cannot arbitrarily take away any of your personal property - for example, when putting a highway through - without fair and just compensation to the owner. That's the crux of it. It's to limit the power of government to deal with individual property rights.
The Americans and other governments have had it for years, but Canadians have not, and I believe it's time we dealt with this issue.
Mr. Langlois: If I understand you correctly, what you are aiming at is the 1960 legislation and not the 1982 Charter.
Mr. Gilmour: It is not in law at the moment. As I say, for hundreds of hours our legal counsel has looked at it. They agree that it needs to be put in there, that it is not currently protected and should be. That's where our legal department has spent an awful lot of time, legally, looking at the issue and seeing whether the protection is there. The protection is not, and it could be put in quite easily. It takes the will of government to do that.
Mr. Langlois: Merci.
Mr. Frazer: Mr. Gilmour, I'm seeking clarification here. As I understand it, this bill in no way attempts to take away the power of our level of government to expropriate property that is required for the common good; it just puts into place a mandatory, reasonable remuneration for that property if such action is taken. Is that right?
Mr. Gilmour: That's true, yes.
There are going to be times - for example, a highway going through your property - that it's in the common good. However, there is nothing in the law now that deals with compensation so that the owner gets a fair hearing and fair compensation for his property.
Mr. Frazer: So at the moment, the compensation is at the goodwill of the government.
Mr. Gilmour: Absolutely. It's arbitrary, and there needs to be a mechanism in there to deal with it so people have some kind of forum, so they can go before a third party and say, this is just and fair, and deal with it there rather than....
It's normally not the government but the bureaucrats who deal with it. They just take an arbitrary number, and the power of government is very heavy in this area.
Mr. Frazer: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Okay, Jack, you have to put on your other hat.
Mr. Frazer: Madam Chair and members of the committee, if you will forgive me, I'm going to read my presentation because of the time constraints you placed on it, and I want to be sure I get all my points in and stay within the time.
The Chair: That's fine.
Mr. Frazer: Parliamentary approval of Bill C-300 would ask government to recognize Canadians having served with the United Nations peacekeeping force by awarding them a Canadian volunteer service medal for peacekeeping. It would provide for a clasp to be worn on the medal ribbon representing the honour bestowed on Canadian peacekeepers and Canada by the September 30, 1988, award of the Nobel Peace Prize. The clasp could only be worn by those who had served on peacekeeping missions prior to the date of that award.
Committee members will be aware of the monument at the corner of Sussex Drive and Murray Street, erected to honour Canadian peacekeepers. They will also know that many Canadians will never travel to Ottawa to see it, and they will realize that the monument does not provide for individual recognition for those who won the honour for Canada.
In 1942 Canadian commander Lieutenant General Guy Simonds wrote to his commanders to say, and I quote:
Supported by the Canadian Association of Veterans in UN Peacekeeping, they have strongly endorsed the proposal. The Air Force Association of Canada passed a resolution at their recent convention. Additionally, I have received petitions containing more than 2,000 signatures from veterans across Canada, and I have letters of support from the Municipality of Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, from the City of Kingston, from the B.C. premier, Mr. Glen Clark, and a host of other letters.
The proposal is supported by both past and serving members of Parliament, such as: the chief government whip, Bob Kilgour; Stan Keyes; Simon de Jong; former MP and premier of P.E.I., Catherine Callbeck; the Honourable Sheila Copps; our Speaker, the Honourable Gilbert Parent; the Honourable Diane Marleau; Mac Harb; the Honourable Warren Allmand; Bill Blaikie; Jean Leroux; George Proud; and more. Also, in the last Parliament two MPs proposed similar bills but were not drawn.
Furthermore, in 1993 the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs recommended the award of the Canadian volunteer service medal for UN peacekeeping, but Parliament was dissolved before it was implemented.
On the other hand, Government House has thus far resisted the increasing pressure for a CVSM for peacekeeping. The chancellery and Canadian honour system accept UN peacekeeping medals as Canadian and claim that only one honour can be given for any specific achievement, act, or service, that new honours cannot duplicate existing honours. However, a precedent to counter this policy was set when a special volunteer service medal for Korea, initiated by parliamentarians, was approved in June 1991 and received royal assent on July 10, 1991.
In fact there is yet another precedent, because when Parliament acted in 1991 there was already a UN medal for service in Korea and a Canadian medal that shared the same ribbon with the commonwealth countries of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Thus Government House can no longer claim that only one honour can be awarded for each action. But it has not yet been willing to consider submissions regarding a CVSM.
Surely Parliament, as the voice of Canadian citizens, is a most appropriate forum to recommend honours and awards, and this in no way would usurp the royal prerogative of the government or Government House.
Internationally, such an award is not unique. Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Ghana, Poland and the United States already have distinctive national medal awards for peacekeeping. Sweden and Finland are establishing one, and New Zealand and Australia are now considering such an award.
Under Bill C-300, a CVSM for peacekeeping would not be limited to the Canadian military but would include members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other Canadian citizens who qualify.
In closing, Bill C-300 meets all the criteria this committee uses to select votable items or motions: it is of national significance; it will not discriminate for or against any region of Canada; it is clear in its meaning and can be effectively implemented; it is different from matters declared by the government to be on its legislative agenda; it is non-partisan; it is not contrary to federal-provincial or international relations, nor is it unconstitutional.
The award would involve approximately 35,000 people, and the estimated cost for ribbon, medal and clasp is under $200,000.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, what we are talking about here is a couple of pieces of medal and some cloth. But the significance of that medal and cloth really matters. What it says to those to whom it's awarded is that Canada recognizes the honour they have brought to our country, that Canadians recognize that they have voluntarily faced death and danger and accepted uncomfortable, sometimes horrible, conditions and repeated extended separation from their loved ones. It says they are appreciated.
The Chair: Mr. Langlois, a very thorough presentation. No questions.
Ms Grey, welcome.
Miss Deborah Grey, MP (Beaver River): Thank you. Could I ask what the quorum is for this committee?
The Chair: Quorum is three. Unfortunately Mr. Loney is at Foreign Affairs and we weren't notified in advance or we would have found a substitute for him. Because of the intricacies of the bills, we can't just grab somebody from the lobby and bring them down. It just wouldn't work. I think you're better off with the three of us.
Miss Grey: Okay, and you will report that, I'm sure, to the other crew.
My presentation will be short and sweet, Madam Chairman.
Thank you for the opportunity to come. This is motion 277. The wording of it, again, is short and sweet:
I have some real concerns about the fact that it is inconsistent, for starters, but some noise had been made in the previous census about people who were filling in ``Canadian'' and asking why they couldn't. It seems to me for the 1996 census there has been some kind of appeasement, to say, well, let's keep all those people quiet; we'll throw ``Canadian'' in. It's in section 17 but nowhere else.
Let me just sum up my remarks by saying that, first of all, I think this is divisive. Second, I believe it is discriminatory. Third, I think it forces people into categories... and in fact if you want to use the term ``ghettoization''.... We've seen this time and time again, and I know when you speak with your constituents they feel that sense of frustration. Fourth, it denies the right to say what my or your primary identity is. Fifth, this is the only country I know of where it is considered to be un-Canadian to call yourself a Canadian and to be very concerned about that and in fact proud of your nationality. I don't know of any other countries where they get themselves into this kind of a mess.
So I think it's a practical thing.
You will know also, after having studied the motion, that it does not contravene or conflict with any of the criteria under the précis of procedure, the eleven items on what makes a motion votable or not. I don't think it has any problem. I'm not going to read all eleven to you. That is boring and time-consuming. You know them already. Let me just say it doesn't contravene any of those criteria.
I think it would be well worth the committee's while to make sure this is a votable motion in the House of Commons.
The Chair: Thank you, Miss Grey.
Are there any questions?
Mr. Langlois: Ms Grey, you referred to using the word ``Canadian'' again in the 1996 census. In the 1991 census, were the questions different from those in the previous census?
Miss Grey: As I understand it, there was a great cry in 1991 that people were not free to put this down in their census form. They put it down anyway, with the risk that the enumerators and the people who were busy doing this were saying that people could go to jail if they did that.
I know many people across the country who took that risk. Obviously nothing came of it, but I do think it's rather strange that in our country we would not have a space to put ``I'm a Canadian and proud of it''.
Mr. Langlois: Would you have any objection to a line on nationality or origins so that the person can identify himself or herself? I'm thinking, for example, of Acadians in Canada who do not have a line to identify themselves as Acadians. Perhaps they could do so if there was a line to indicate that. Other people could use this as well. As a matter of fact, I was always surprised to see that there was no line to describe oneself as an Acadian.
Miss Grey: If we're talking about Canadians in general, I think the Acadian people certainly fall under the Canadian category, and they may want to get more specific. After having put Canadian, you might want to put anything else you like in there. But I do think the Canadian nationality or identity as an umbrella certainly deserves to be on the form.
Mr. Langlois: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Miss Grey.
Miss Grey: Great. Thanks, Carolyn.
The Chair: We're so efficient this morning, we're scaring ourselves.
Mr. Bellemare, you have five minutes to present your bill. If there are questions, we do that after your five-minute period is over.
Mr. Eugène Bellemare, MP (Carleton - Gloucester): Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I hope my bill will be as timely as my presence here today, as I must present my bill as soon as I arrive. I thank you for listening to me.
I've asked myself the question many times in the past:
are we the only country in the world where members of Parliament don't swear allegiance to the country and the Constitution? In my research I've discovered that perhaps we are the only country in the world where the MPs don't swear allegiance to country and constitution.
The provinces are behind, except for
the province of Quebec
which does swear allegiance to the people, the province and their constitution. I think they've shown the way to us.
The Province of Ontario is looking into this matter right now.
The question was, why do it?
As a matter of principle and practice, I have sworn allegiance to the Queen, and also I have added the particular addition I am presenting today. At my last swearing-in I did it. The clerk tells me I am perhaps the only member of Parliament who has ever done this. I'm proud of this, and I'm going to continue doing this every time I get re-elected. However, I think the rest of the MPs should do the same.
There is a reason we swear allegiance to the Queen, and there's a good reason; I accept that. But I think that since we have had a Constitution since 1867.... We've constantly amended the Constitution, because the Constitution is not the tablets brought down from the mountain by anyone. It is man-made - or person-made - and it needs to be looked at, modified and improved constantly.
Some people would say, well, what is the purpose of this? I think the main purpose is that we - each individual MP, each member of Parliament - owe it to our electorate. You're elected to represent a certain area - call it a constituency or a riding, in common terms - and you represent all the people, not just some of the people, and not just the people from your party. You represent everyone there.
Why is it that you represent these people? It's for the good of these people. It is to protect their rights and their liberties, which they've gained through the years. You're there to protect that, and that is why I say you swear allegiance to the country and to the Constitution.
There are clauses in the Constitution that some parties, some individuals, through the years, may not agree with. We changed some of the articles, and we did that for Newfoundland just a few weeks ago. From the beginning and through history they liked what they had in the governance of their schools. Because of the request of the population of Newfoundland, they've convinced us to change a particular part of the Constitution, which we've done.
So if there is anyone who has an obsession with some of the parts of the Constitution, it is not a proper reason to be anti-constitutional.
As a matter of fact, we all work within the Constitution. We've passed laws since we were elected in 1993. For example, if I were in the opposition, especially if I were in the official opposition, I would make bloody sure - really sure - that the rights of the individuals of my riding, my constituency, my province, my area, were protected, that their liberties were protected, and that we could constantly modify to improve the Constitution.
I think, Madam Chair, that anyone against the idea of having this bill votable must have a different agenda than wanting to serve his or her community.
The Chair: Are there any questions?
Mr. Langlois: Mr. Bellemare, the first time you presented the bill, your appearance lasted 37 minutes. I think you beat the record of all MPs before this committee. First of all, I would like to say that I'm pleased to see you before us once again. You were absent a long time. I'm happy to see you even though I do not always share your views, but as members of the large family of French-Canadians, I think that we do agree quite often.
Having said that, I have a fundamental objection to express because you're amending the Constitution of Canada through an ordinary bill. I even wonder whether this bill could be applied if it were passed. As a result, a member of Parliament of the 36th legislature could appear before a clerk and say: ``I pledge my oath to Her Majesty pursuant to Section 128, Appendix V of the Constitution. I swear that I will be loyal and faithful. I swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, but I refuse to swear allegiance to Canada.''
Could that person then be prevented from sitting as a member? That's my first question. In fact, you're not amending the Canadian Constitution, but you're making it an ordinary law. That's an objection that merits further reflection.
Secondly, there is always this political colouring that was quite evident that first time you presented your bill. We had stated that we could not vote on this, but you had asked for unanimous consent. Members of the Bloc Québécois had objected, and the Ottawa Sun had quoted you in a headline, which you may wish to correct or confirm:
``the rats came from the holes to say no to my bill''.
All this was coloured by politics. I will therefore ask you a clear question: If I were elected in the next election and that I had to swear an oath, would you agree that the fact that I had sworn that oath would prevent me from promoting my party's current agenda and work toward establishing Quebec as a sovereign country?
Mr. Bellemare: No, not at all. If I were a member of the Bloc Québécois, I would come back to the basic principle that I'm here to represent my constituents. Let's say I'm a Quebecker and also a member of the Bloc Québécois and that I want to change the Constitution so that we have a federation that is in keeping with my concept of it, as hypothetical as that may seem. First of all, I would say that there was a monumental error in the history of Canada when Canada was called Confederation, because we don't understand what a confederation is.
We'd have to go back to the history of the United States where, between 1677 and 1777, things were in a terrible mess because the States were stronger than the Union itself. Because of disputes between the states, it sometimes happened that goods could not even be transported from one state to another, because the state between them refused them passage. It was a question of taxation. The situation was horrible and the federal government of the United States was collapsing. Therefore, there were amendments that allowed a certain balance, and they ended up with a genuine federation where national powers would not choke off the states and the powers of all the states would not choke off the national government.
I would like to say that among separatists, there are some who are true sovereignists. And yet we always wonder if they are separatists or sovereignists and we start to set out definitions. The people of the Bloc Québécois that I have met often talk like sovereignists who want to examine the Constitution again and change it to have more rights to govern, like in the agreement of 1864 which served as a basis for the Constitution of 1867. Whether we have four regions or ten provinces or ten states as in the definition of the United States, is another matter. That's just semantics. But we have to strike a balance - and I'm still speaking as if I were a member of the Bloc Québécois - between the regions or the provinces and the federal government.
But you have to know how government works. With regard to municipalities, for instance, should the federal government interfere with the municipalities in the province of Quebec, the province of Ontario or other provinces? Absolutely not. That's a sector that's sacred for the provinces. Municipalities are the creatures of a province and not of the federal government. At the municipal level, they deal mainly with infrastructures and often activities that help on the social side, for instance unfortunate children or the poor. These are immediate services that serve to protect the individual.
If I were a member of the Bloc Québécois, I would say that I'm there to defend individuals. I want to ensure that all members of Parliament, be they from British Columbia or Alberta, respect me and respect the amendments I want to make. Newfoundland has made amendments during our Parliament! So if there are people from the Bloc Québécois, people from the Liberal Party which is in office right now, the Conservative Party or the Reform Party who want to amend the Constitution, that's their right. When they swear an oath, they are swearing an oath to the Constitution, not to the provisions of the Constitution, but to the concepts of the Constitution.
What is the Constitution? It's the protection of individuals. In the case of the Bloc, it's also a matter of the francophonie, the francophone cradle in North America; it's the management of those issues. That's the point I wanted to make. I would indeed be extremely concerned about a member of Parliament who does not want to protect the rights of his constituency, the rights of individuals. That's what's important.
For the time being, we swear allegiance to the Queen. There aren't many interpretations of that and we have to know the history of it to really understand its impact.
I want to clarify that situation and say that this goes beyond swearing an oath to the Queen. Some have even said that we should swear an oath to England, and monarchists will get excited and say that we don't understand our history or representative government. But that's not what I wanted to say.
The Chair: Monsieur Bellemare, has your -
Mr. Langlois: Has he made his point?
The Chair: Yes, I think so.
We're debating the bill here. He's trying for the 37 minutes. It's unfortunate that you reminded him.
Mr. Frazer, do you have any questions?
Mr. Frazer: Unhappily, Madam Chair, I do have a couple.
The Chair: That's fine. Mr. Bellemare will try to keep his answers very short.
Mr. Bellemare: Don't provoke my enthusiasm too much.
Mr. Frazer: Mr. Bellemare, if I understand correctly, by your motion you have done away with the swearing of allegiance to the Queen?
Mr. Bellemare: No.
Mr. Frazer: As the Queen of Canada?
Mr. Bellemare: No, no. This is in addition to what has gone through history. We cannot deny our history.
Mr. Frazer: Thank you. I have my answer.
The second question I wanted to ask you was with regard to what Mr. Langlois asked you previously: Could a member of the Bloc give this oath and still pursue the course they are pursuing? You said yes.
Mr. Bellemare: Yes.
Mr. Frazer: But I notice that really what you are saying is that they are responsible to represent their constituents.
Mr. Bellemare: Yes, all of them.
Mr. Frazer: But there's no mention of constituents in your oath. This is strictly to Canada, the House of Commons. It doesn't mention the people who elected you to send you to Ottawa.
As you probably know, our party very strongly supports the fact that a member of Parliament is responsible to his or her constituents -
Mr. Bellemare: That's right.
Mr. Frazer: - because they're the people he or she is representing.
Would you think that would be a worthwhile amendment to your...?
Mr. Bellemare: The principle of respecting a constitution is that principle that you respect people.
Mr. Frazer: But wouldn't it be worthy of including your constituents in the oath?
Mr. Bellemare: Yes, but then you will get involved with the legal experts of Parliament, who could find all of this extremely wordy. Yes, it could be amended. Would I object to that? Absolutely not.
We're moving from the idea of swearing allegiance to the Queen, and I think the Canadian community is not knowledgeable about what it really means. I think you could go out on the street and people would have a knee-jerk reaction that would be extremely negative.
If you go one step further and say, I want to add to that the country, well what is the country? It is not the rocks, it's not the Rocky Mountains, and it's not les montagnes du Québec. It's more than that; it's the people. The Constitution is the way we govern, and it's to respect the individual.
Yes, you could add all these things and make it clearer, if there were 289, 292 or 305 MPs next time around, but you could have a pretty long swearing-in motion.
That is the step in the direction the Reform would like. I wouldn't. I would be absolutely shocked if the Reform would be against this being votable, because this is what it means. What's its definition? It's expanding on what we have now.
Mr. Frazer: Thank you. I would just like to see it expanded a little more.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Thank you, and thank you, Mr. Bellemare.
Mr. Martin, welcome. You've recovered from infiltrating our conference this weekend?
Mr. Keith Martin, MP (Esquimalt - Juan de Fuca): Merci beaucoup, madame la présidente. Yes, the not-so-secret spy.
The Chair: There were several people who got very excited because they thought you were about to cross the floor.
Mr. Martin: As my other two colleagues, too.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair and good morning to all my colleagues. Madam Chair,
how much time do I have?
The Chair: Five minutes.
Mr. Martin: I'm here to ask your permission. I certainly hope you will make my bill, Bill C-252, a bill to amend the Criminal Code to ban anti-personnel landmines....
This is an issue that is a humanitarian disaster around the world. There are over 2 million landmines placed all over the world, primarily designed to maim innocent civilians. Every year 25,000-plus innocent men, women and children are ripped apart, killed by these devices, and many more times that number are actually harmed. The economic impact on these countries is absolutely massive, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to their economies every year.
As our role is shifting from a defence role more towards peacekeeping, the major threat to our peacekeepers who are out there in fact is from anti-personnel landmines. Tragically some of our soldiers have been killed or maimed by these heinous devices.
It is internationally recognized as a humanitarian disaster, and the international community needs to take a leadership role on this. Currently there are 16 countries in the world that have asked for a ban, and have a domestic ban on these devices, but Canada has not done that. We have asked the rest of the world to do that, but we have not taken the leadership role, along with these other 16 countries, to ban the production, use, and trafficking of anti-personnel landmines.
All of you received from my office a package illustrating the reasons this bill should be made votable. It fulfils all 11 criteria in the annex of A Practical Guide to Private Members' Business on why this private member's bill should be votable. So those 11 criteria are fulfilled, and I won't repeat them here.
The primary objection comes from certain military quarters. To counter that, I gave you a document done by over 12 top military advisers from around the world - including our Canadian representatives there - that dispels once and for all the military objections to banning anti-personnel landmines. This is by the top military people from around the world and was done for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Within 48 hours this document was supported by 78 top military personnel, including General Norman Schwarzkopf, over 25 other top United States military personnel, and our own General Lewis MacKenzie. That primarily dispels the primary objection to this bill.
We're asking the international community to ban these devices, but we're not prepared to do this ourselves. In the House of Commons... I have here just a small sampling of the requests from members across party lines for Canada to take a leadership role in banning anti-personnel landmines. They're here if anybody wants to see them.
There is cross-party support in the House of Commons. There is support in the Senate across party lines. It is something that we're all behind, and I think it would show a leadership role by the House of Commons to do this.
Lastly, I would like to ask each of you to look into your hearts to look at this issue and recognize it for what it is worth. I am speaking very personally here as somebody who has taken off the legs of people, innocent civilians who have had their legs blasted to pieces by anti-personnel landmines. I can only tell you that I have never seen anything more gross, disgusting and shameful than to allow these devices, which people cannot see, people cannot ask for, and which are designed primarily not against military personnel, but to maim innocent men, women and children. Some are even designed to look like toys so that children will pick them up and have their arms blown off.
There is no question that these devices need to be banned. I hope that each of you will give the House the opportunity to vote on this issue and for Canada to take a leadership role in banning these disgusting, horrendous, inhumane devices.
The Chair: Are there any questions?
Mr. Langlois: I would like to ask Dr. Martin for clarification so that I can understand the meaning of the bill properly. Is this with a view to banning exports, even for purposes that would be legal abroad, for instance selling this type of mine to a country like Bosnia, or is the aim solely to prohibit their use in Canada? I have some trouble understanding the scope of your bill and I would like you to clarify that for me. If this bill were passed, would Canadian weapons manufacturers be allowed to produce this kind of weapon and sell them to warring nations?
Mr. Martin: Thank you for your question. I would like to answer in English, please.
The bill deals with Canada - anybody in Canada - producing, selling, manufacturing, or trading anti-personnel landmines within Canada or without. It is that simple. So we can't sell, barter, trade, or make it within Canada, and we can't do that similarly with other countries abroad.
Does that answer your question?
Mr. Langlois: Very clearly. Colonel Frazer may be able to clarify that from a military standpoint. Thank you very much, Dr. Martin.
Mr. Martin: I would just draw your attention... you did receive this?
Mr. Langlois: Oui, I read it.
Mr. Martin: It shows very conclusively the military aspects of anti-personnel mines, what they're used for, and why these military professionals, active military soldiers, feel it has no place in modern warfare.
Mr. Langlois: Merci.
The Chair: Mr. Frazer.
Mr. Frazer: I guess, Dr. Martin, I have two concerns. First, I'd like to think that there was some prospect of success if Canada were to accept your bill and unanimously pass the concept that Canada would ban landmines completely.
However, as you are well aware, they're cheap, they're effective, and they're extremely difficult to guard against, so I think the odds of that happening are very low. I'm inclined not to support things that aren't achievable - if we can go that way - and that's one of the criteria we accept.
I, too, have had substantial experience with landmines, when I was in Zimbabwe. Basically 750 kilometres of the borders with Mozambique and Zambia were all mined, and to this day are basically unusable, except where they have created pathways through them.
So I'm very aware... I have seen people with legs off and the rest of it. Mind you, I haven't removed the legs, so I don't have your close scrutiny on that one.
But with regard to the military input you have, I guess you're aware that a minefield laid by a military outfit is very carefully mapped. They know exactly where every mine is, and it is their responsibility....
When the need for the mines has been removed.... Basically mines are used in a defensive perimeter, and they're put there to prevent people from infiltrating and achieving access to the area. When that need is no longer there, the military is required to lift them, and by virtue of the fact that they know where each and every one is, they can do that.
I wonder, would it not be better for your bill to go to this aspect: if you lay them, you are responsible for retrieving them, and if you don't do that, then you are responsible for any damage that occurs to equipment or people who are so damaged.
Mr. Martin: Thank you very much, Mr. Frazer.
You've really asked three questions. The first question asks whether or not this is an achievable goal. Yes, it is an achievable goal. Sixteen countries in the world.... I could draw your attention to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the success we have had with biological weapons. It is not absolute. Hence, what we saw with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, and the fact that even in some areas in Southeast Asia some chemical weapons are being used.
Having said that, I should state that the use of chemical weapons now is basically removed from the vast majority of countries that are engaging in hostilities. That is a very good thing, because it's diminished their effect on -
Mr. Frazer: Until they're back pushing war.
Mr. Martin: Well, we've seen it in the Middle East, in what happened in Kuwait. A lot of countries that could have used them did not use them because they were banned. Making this an international ban is effective in greatly diminishing the use of the substances. Chemical weapons are the example to be used.
Second, 16 countries have called for a ban, and they have eliminated their production. Belgium is perhaps the most striking example, because they've produced a large number of anti-personnel landmines. They don't do it any more, and they don't use them.
You have to start somewhere. You have to stop the production and the influx, because we're laying over 2 million a year and removing only 85,000. The cost to the international community is over $75 billion, as it stands.
The second thing you asked.... You've actually supported my claim in a sense, in that you've eloquently described what happens when mines are actually placed in countries where land is unusable. You gave the example of your great experience in Africa, but I'd also draw your attention to the more recent experience in Croatia, where they lose over $350 million of their gross domestic product every year because of acreage that is mined.
The third question you ask is whether it's advisable to put the onus on those who are laying the minefields, and that minefields are put out and mapped. Technically that's what should be done under international law. But as you and I both know, the reason we're putting this bill forward is the fact that those rules and regulations are simply not adhered to. In a battlefield situation, where landmines are often put forth very quickly, people don't come back and remove them.
Second, with weather, wind and changing patterns, mines move all over the place.
Third, guerrillas often go into minefields and move the mines from where they were placed. So even if you lay the mines and go back to pick them up... our Canadian troops have found that they're walking into minefields where the mines have been shifted. They're stepping on them and they're getting their legs blown off or are being killed.
So, while that is the law, the law is not being adhered to. What we have to do is prevent these mines from getting out there. That's why this bill is going to help do that. It's going to give us the moral, suasive power to do that.
Vice-Admiral John Shanahan is the Director of the Centre for Defence Information in Washington. He eloquently stated the problem we have. We all get around and talk about it, but we don't do anything about it. He said:
The Chair: Mr. Martin, I don't want you to perceive that I'm leaning in any direction by asking a question, since I haven't done so this morning, but just having been in Bosnia, I'm disputing your figures. When we were there, we were told that there are 4.5 million people originally in the area of Bosnia and there are over 2 million landmines there. You suggested there were 2 million in the world.
Mr. Martin: No, I'm sorry, that was my mistake. Two million were laid last year -
The Chair: Last year?
Mr. Martin: - and 85,000 were removed. But you're quite right: there are over 100 million laid worldwide, and that's probably just a fraction of the -
The Chair: Before we went to Bosnia and when we got over there, one of the most intensive things we were put through by the Canadian CIDA people was on how to avoid getting a leg or arm blown off.
I landed in Gorazde, and a little boy did exactly what you suggested. They had a red lunch box under a bridge. He picked it up, because he was hungry, and I guess he thought there might be food in it, and he blew his arm off right to the shoulder the day before we got there. They had a hard time saving his life because of the blood loss.
It's a beautiful country, and to realize that every leaf and every piece of brush could hide something that could maim you for the rest of your life.... It's very inhumane.
As I say, our difficulty in this committee - and I'm taking the time to explain it to you, because I don't want you to think that this is not a worthwhile bill - is that it's kind of like going to a dog show. Sometimes there are two mutts and a poodle, and you can pick the poodle. Sometimes there are three beautiful poodles, and it's a hard choice to make.
I think we all have sympathy with your bill. If it's not chosen today, just realize there were other very good bills presented, and if it is chosen today, then you were the poodle of the day. But it's a very difficult call.
Mr. Martin: I should have cut my hair, shouldn't I?
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
The Chair: No, it's hard. I'd like to explain to everybody who comes into the room that it's a very difficult decision, particularly today, since we can only pick one out of eight. It's a very tough decision, and we've had very good bills.
Thank you for your presentation. It's one we all empathize with.
Mr. Martin: Thank you for your attention.
The Chair: Mr. Assadourian, we're going to jump you over the next person because you're here and they're not. You'd have yelled at us if we hadn't, wouldn't you?
Mr. Sarkis Assadourian, MP (Don Valley North): I'm used to this. This is my fourth one, I think, so it comes with the experience.
The Chair: It's always pleasant, I hope.
Mr. Assadourian: Always. I have no reason to complain.
The Chair: Five minutes.
Mr. Assadourian: Five minutes is too much already, I think.
I'm sure you have received a copy of my private member's bill, identified as Bill C-335. As set forward, this is a job creation bill to address the issues of small and medium-sized businesses in Canada, which, as you and everyone knows, provide 85% of the jobs in the country.
Mr. Frazer: I thought the government did that.
Mr. Assadourian: The government provides the atmosphere, which is what we're doing now for the small and medium-sized business companies, to create the jobs.
As you note, the small businesses need loans from the bank more than any other business, and they are being charged 2% or 3% more than big businesses when they have a loan.
This affects only new banks, new foreign banks, coming in. It's a small step in the right direction. I'm not saying this bill is perfect. There is no bill that is perfect. That's why we have the system. Members can put their own private member's amendments to this bill.
That's basically what I have to say. It's a job creation attempt on my part. If at the end of the day it creates 5, 10, 15 jobs, I think that can be a proud achievement by each and every member on this committee or in this House.
That's all I have to say. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to try to answer them to the best of my ability.
You have four minutes to ask the questions now.
The Chair: No, we can take as long as we want.
Mr. Assadourian: Oh, okay.
The Chair: We make the rules.
Mr. Frazer, do you have a question?
Mr. Frazer: Yes, I do.
I have some concern, Mr. Assadourian, with the level playing field aspect. Would you agree that implementation of your bill would impose a little more risk on the part of the banks that were involved - because they would be required to lend to small or medium-sized businesses - than it would to the other banks? If you would agree with that, does that not impose an unfair imbalance on them vis-à-vis the other banks? Therefore, why shouldn't the other banks have to subscribe to this idea as well?
Mr. Assadourian: First of all, this applies to the new banks.
Mr. Frazer: Yes, I understand that.
Mr. Assadourian: It means that when you come in as a new bank, you know the rules they give.
Mr. Frazer: I understand that.
Mr. Assadourian: That's one point. Second, this will also put pressure on the other banks to get into the act and solicit business from small and medium-sized businesses.
I have figures here. A colleague of mine, Tony Ianno, prepared this for his own studies. From September 3 until December 31, 1995, the Bank of Montreal incurred $110 million in small business loans. CIBC's small business loans decreased by $152 million. National Bank's small business loans decreased by $0.6 million. The Royal Bank's small business loans decreased by $111 million. Scotia increased its small business loans by $171 million. TD decreased its small business loans by $116 million.
The bottom line is that we had $104 million less in the six months of last year to give to small and medium-sized businesses than we had previously. That's the thing that has affected the job creation figures of, for example, small and medium-sized businesses.
Mr. Frazer: As I recall, there were two increases in yours and -
Mr. Assadourian: One is the Bank of Montreal and the other one is the Scotia increase.
Mr. Frazer: I wonder why that would happen.
Mr. Assadourian: I guess they are smart business people. They see where the money is and they lend to those businesses.
Mr. Frazer: Is the same pressure applied to the other banks by that as would be applied by your -
Mr. Assadourian: As I said, this is only for the last six months of last year. It could be that previously they had the figures in reverse - I don't know - but these figures here are for the last six months of 1995.
Mr. Frazer: I guess I'm questioning whether it would in fact impose the type of pressure on the other banks that you think it might.
That's all. Thank you, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Monsieur Langlois.
Mr. Langlois: No, that's fine.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Sarkis.
Mr. Assadourian: Thank you.
The Chair: Well done.
Mr. Hermanson is here for Mr. Thompson.
Thank you for appearing for Mr. Thompson.
Mr. Elwin Hermanson, MP (Kindersley - Lloydminster): Thank you, and good morning. The last time I appeared before the committee, of course, it was for myself. I remember complimenting you on the difficult task you had and the hours you had to spend looking at all the bills and motions before you. Subsequently, my motion wasn't made votable, so I'll take a different tack this morning.
The compliments are by the wayside.
Mr. Thompson has a motion on the Order Paper, M-207, which states that, in the opinion of this House, since global markets are becoming increasingly more open, deregulated, diverse and specialized, and since not all farmers wish to participate in mandatory price pooling, wheat and barley producers in western Canada should be given greater flexibility and more choices by amending the Canadian Wheat Board Act to include a special two-year opting-out provision for those farmers interested in developing niche export markets.
Correct me, committee, if I am incorrect, but in the three years I've been a member of Parliament, I don't believe one agriculture motion has been made votable. I know that there have been several on the Order Paper. Some of them have won the lottery. I think, for instance, ofMr. Althouse's motion on potato marketing. I remember one of those. I had a motion on agriculture that was strong, but never a votable motion or bill.
It's very interesting that Mr. Goodale, last month, announced that he intends a whole day plebiscite this winter on barley marketing in western Canada. It would therefore seem that this motion is even more timely, that we should have a debate in the House, and that in fact the prairie farmer should have some idea of where producers stand on the issue.
We could get up in the House, debate this motion for an hour, and let it fall by the wayside, but I think because of the debate that's now raging on the prairies over how wheat and barley are marketed, it is only the responsible thing that we, as parliamentarians, give adequate debate to this issue. It can be done very well through this motion. We should actually put our money where our mouths are and take a vote on where we stand on the issue of marketing wheat and barley and whether or not we, as parliamentarians, think producers should have some mechanism of marketing their wheat and barley outside the Canadian Wheat Board as well as inside the Canadian Wheat Board.
This is not only a multi-million dollar industry, this is also a multi-billion dollar industry. It's an important issue. It has divided farm communities. It has divided farm organizations. It is certainly a hot political issue, which is affecting federal politics, provincial politics, municipal politics, and of course farm politics. I don't think by talking longer I can make a stronger case in favour of making motion 207 a votable motion. I would ask you to break ground - to use an old farmer's term - and make this motion the first agriculture motion votable in the 35th Parliament of Canada.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Hermanson. That was a very interesting tack.
Are there any questions?
Mr. Langlois: Mr. Hermanson, since I personally represent a rural constituency where there are many farmers who are not targeted by the Canadian Wheat Board, your motion is of great interest to me.
When you talk about specific sectors that would allow some farmers or some producers to withdraw from the Canadian Wheat Board, how many people do you think would not come under the Canadian Wheat Board? What would be the advantage for these people to no longer be under its authority if the government went ahead and passes motion M-207?
Mr. Hermanson: That's an excellent question, François. Right now every prairie producer of wheat and barley must market that wheat and barley through the Canadian Wheat Board. That is the only marketing avenue available, except for feed, wheat, and barley sold domestically. Feed, wheat, and barley can be sold farmer to farmer, farmer to mill, or farmer to feed lot operator. Any wheat or barley for human consumption, domestic or international, or any feed grain sold outside Canadian territory must be sold to the Canadian Wheat Board.
A number of farmers - for instance, those who grow organic grains - don't get good markets through the board because they're working with smaller amounts... just a few tonnes to a health food store. The Canadian Wheat Board is a huge marketing agency, which can't adequately market smaller amounts. Sometimes there's a market for particular varieties of barley or wheat, but the Canadian Wheat Board cannot segregate those amounts and make the sale on behalf of farmers.
Then of course there is the whole issue of whether or not farmers should have the right to sell their own products through any marketing system they choose. This is a philosophical debate, not an economic one. Some farmers believe they could get a better price by marketing outside the board, just as they market their other commodities. They all raise beef or grow canola or peas or lentils and sell these products outside the Canadian Wheat Board, and they do so very well. They believe they have a right to sell this product, because we're not talking about marijuana, we're not talking about guns or bombs or something that's harmful, we're talking about something that you grind into flour or malt into beer or whatever. They are very upset that the government can, against their will, indicate who is able to buy that product.
Mr. Langlois: Merci.
The Chair: Mr. Frazer.
Mr. Frazer: Mr. Hermanson, I know you mentioned there will be a plebiscite. It might be better if it were a referendum rather than a plebiscite, but presuming that you have some aspect on it, do you have any estimate of how many farmers would support this motion and how many would oppose it?
Mr. Hermanson: As I said, this is a very divisive issue. You will find that farmers on both sides of the issue would support this motion. There are very strong supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board that say if they make a commitment to market outside and are not back and forth between the two systems, they can accept that. What strong supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board are concerned about is a farmer who sits on the fence and says today he will sell in the open market and tomorrow he will sell through the Canadian Wheat Board... just however he fancies.
Mr. Frazer: Taking advantage of both systems.
Mr. Hermanson: Yes, taking advantage of both systems, cherry-picking the best markets, and therefore hurting both systems. A lot of the producers who want to market outside the Canadian Wheat Board are purists and would say they should be able to contract with whomever they wish, but that if the price of marketing freedom is that they have to opt out of the Canadian Wheat Board for a specified length of time, they're prepared to make that sacrifice just to have the right to market outside the Canadian Wheat Board.
There is support on both sides of the issue for this motion. Probably both sides would say it wasn't their first choice. Those in favour of the Canadian Wheat Board would rather see no opting out, but they prefer opting out to legal challenges, very costly public relations campaigns, and so on, which are costing farmers a lot of money. Farmers on the other side are saying they would like to contract with whomever they choose but that if they can't achieve that type of marketing freedom, they're happy to opt out and stay out from under the board for a fair length of time.
Mr. Frazer: So it would be your opinion that there's a majority of people who would.
Mr. Hermanson: I think a majority would support this, and I see it as a conciliatory move rather than one that would stir up and deepen division in the industry.
Mr. Frazer: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Hermanson.
Mr. Langlois: A supplementary question if you please. Mr. Hermanson, according to your argument this is an issue on which opinions were divided. Do you think that a large majority of voters from Western Canada, both Liberal and Reform of course, who are under the authority of the Canadian Wheat Commission, would be in favour of this motion if it were debated in the House?
Mr. Hermanson: Well, Mr. Langlois, we have mentioned this proposal and it has not been supported by the Liberal members. They have not supported any type of choice. Mr. Goodale has announced that he intends to hold the plebiscite on barley. If the vote by barley producers calls for choice, I think it would be very difficult for Mr. Goodale and for Liberal members not to agree with reform MPs that there is a need for more flexibility and more options for marketing prairie grains.
Mr. Langlois: Merci
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Hermanson.
Mr. Hermanson: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. Allmand.
Hon. Warren Allmand, MP (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce): Good morning.
This is a bill to amend the Canadian Citizenship Act to provide for a new oath of office. I've had this bill on the Order Paper for over 20 years. It's been debated a few times but never votable, and I've been campaigning for this principle, hoping that either my bill would pass or the government would introduce legislation to do the same thing.
The present oath applies principally to people who are immigrants and are becoming new citizens. They must, to become a citizen, take an oath or an affirmation of citizenship. It presently reads:
One friend of mine had gone to McGill University as a student. He decided he liked Montreal and liked Canada and decided to stay in Canada. After 20 years he decided that he would become a Canadian and give up his American citizenship. He went down, but when he saw the oath he refused. I tried to convince him to become a citizen, because I wanted him to vote for me, but he still refused. The poor man is dead now.
Also, I don't know whether you're aware of the case of Charles Roach. Charles Roach was a lawyer from Toronto, and he wanted to become a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada. At that time, in 1985, they had a rule that to become a lawyer in Ontario you had to be a Canadian citizen. So he went to get his citizenship. For him, it was a religious question. He was of a fundamentalist religion, and he refused to swear allegiance to the Queen. In his mind, she was the head of the Anglican Church. He went to the Federal Court on this and said it was against the charter to have to pledge allegiance to the Queen, the head of the Anglican Church, and he lost. He went to the Supreme Court and he lost. According to the last press release I had he was going to the United Nations. This was a press release from The Toronto Sun of July 23, 1994, and it says:
Those are just a few examples, but the purpose of an oath of allegiance for new Canadians is to assure loyalty to their new land, to assure good citizenship, and to remove ambiguity. In questions of allegiance, of loyalty, you don't want ambiguity, especially at this particular time. I submit to you that the present oath is ambiguous. The fact that we describe the Queen as the Queen of Canada is a legal fiction. There are many instances at the United Nations in which the Queen, in right of Canada, votes against the Queen, in right of the United Kingdom or Australia. The most flagrant example was with the Suez crisis, where Canada with several other Commonwealth countries... the Queen was voting against the Queen.
If you're still asking people to pledge their allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors, especially those who've come from other Commonwealth countries who want to come to Canada and be Canadians, it becomes a wishy-washy, ambiguous oath of allegiance.
What I'm proposing is consistent with many other moves that we as Canadians have made since the end of the Second World War. We only had our own Citizenship Act in 1947. Before 1947 there was no Canadian Citizenship Act.
We appointed the first Canadian Governor General in the late 1940s. We abolished appeals to the Privy Council and made the Supreme Court of Canada the final court of appeal. We adopted the Canadian flag in 1964. The Canadian anthem... we repatriated the Canadian Constitution in 1982.
On two occasions when the Conservatives were in power with Joe Clark as the Prime Minister, former Minister Crombie was the secretary of state. He had a study made of the subject and the study recommended a new oath of allegiance. Crombie put a bill before the House and it never passed. The Clark government was defeated, if you remember. The Monarchist League of Canada opposed it.
I've said to my friends in the Monarchist League, look, we have a very important issue in Canada of national unity. In my bill it says that we ask people to pledge allegiance to the Canadian Constitution. The Queen is an integral part of the Canadian Constitution. It's a question of changing the emphasis.
My bill does not abolish the monarchy. Perhaps I would like to do that sometime, but that's not what this bill does. It doesn't sever our relationship with the Commonwealth. There are many Commonwealth countries.
I don't know if you realize it, but Australia now has adopted a new oath of allegiance that does not mention the monarchy. It's different from mine. I have it here. I could read it to you. It's rather poetic.
The Chair: Warren, out of deference to the -
Mr. Allmand: Am I going on too long?
The Chair: You have, but that's okay.
Mr. Allmand: I'll just finish off then very quickly.
Recently our own governments made a study. The study and the polls indicate that there's a high support for it.
I have here an article from The Gazette dated September 9, 1996. The headline is ``Canadians Support Dropping Queen from Citizenship Oath''. It goes on to say that many polls have indicated that.
My final remark is in this period of time when there are questions of national unity in this country, we should make sure that new Canadians know what they're pledging allegiance to. We should have an oath that is meaningful.
I would like to see this debated and voted upon in the House. I hope many of you will consider that plea.
The Chair: Warren, it's just that fate is against you sometimes. We have eight bills, and we can only make one votable today, so please be persistent. If yours is not made votable today, you'll have to keep going for another 20 years.
Are there any questions here?
Mr. Langlois: Mr. Allmand, I taught constitutional law for a little over 20 years and I see something in your bill that has concerned me for a very long time and that is this attempt to disguise monarchy in Canada, as if certain people in Canada were ashamed of Canada's monarchic status. Moreover, next year, it will be 40 years since Her Majesty came to open a session in Canada. It's somewhat strange to have a head of state that is invited here every 40 years to open a session of Parliament. There is therefore a problem somewhere. Monarchy is quietly being pushed in the background until nothing at all is left of it. That might be the Canadian way of doing things. One day, we'll solve the problem when the term has disappeared from all oaths, from all officials symbols. Canada's seal has already been changed. With a new coat of arms proposed by the House of Commons the Union Jack would disappear.
As a Canadian citizen, I have no difficulty understanding this. Whether I accept it or not is another matter. I have no difficulty understanding that Her Majesty in right of Canada can, even before our own domestic courtrooms, hold a trial against herself, against Her Majesty in right of British Columbia. It's the same Majesty, the same sovereign. Therefore, if I'm capable of understanding a Quebecker and a Canadian, why shouldn't an immigrant understand the same thing? Why shouldn't an immigrant not be just as capable of understanding the current status of Canada, which is a monarchy?
In a monarchic system, the state is embodied in the person of the Sovereign, and it is subject, of course, to constitutional law conferred upon Parliamentary institutions, by the fact that we have a constitutional monarchy where the powers of the Sovereign are limited by certain texts.
Fundamentally, Canada remains a monarchy, and as long as it is, I feel that the oath should be addressed to the head of state that embodies the state. It is the personalization of the state, contrary to a Republican state like the United States where the American Constitution starts with the words ``We, the people''. Here, we cannot do that. I'm wondering whether we shouldn't have a debate on the status of Canada.
Right now, we have two kinds of Canadians: those who are able to understand that the head of the Canadian state is Her Majesty and those who arrive, who are new entrants and who have even fulfilled certain conditions, but who are unable to understand this. That's where I have a problem.
Mr. Allmand: Obviously, many Canadians and new Canadians can understand that we are a constitutional monarchy from an intellectual standpoint. Loyalty and allegiance are emotional things and not intellectual ones. I a lawyer and I can understand. I would therefore describe this as some kind of legal fiction.
to call the Queen, the Queen of Canada, the Queen of Australia, the Queen of the United Kingdom. Everybody knows she's English. She's not even a Canadian citizen herself. She thinks like an Englishwoman, which is fine. Her roots are there.
Even though I don't have to take the oath of allegiance because I was born in Canada, as you were, I have taken it on occasion because I attend the citizenship courts. It grinds me emotionally to have to take this oath. Intellectually, I can understand the legality of it, but like many laws it's a fiction. They say the law is an ass in many cases. If oaths of allegiance have any meaning, their meaning is to attract attachment, loyalty and so on.
I can understand your politics in this, Monsieur Langlois. I know it would be difficult for many people who are committed Bloquistes to swear allegiance to Canada. Perhaps it would be easier for them to swear allegiance to Her Majesty, because they know how ridiculous that is in many respects.
If we're going to have an oath of allegiance, and if we're asking people to be loyal to Canada when they become new citizens, we shouldn't ask them to consider the intellectual business about whether the Queen is the Queen of Canada and whether this is a constitutional monarchy. These are ordinary people. They're becoming Canadians. They want to pledge allegiance to Canada, and that's what I think our oaths should say. By the way, that's what the polls have said, that's what the two studies have said, and that's the way I think it should be.
Why have we been dragging our feet? We've been dragging our feet because there's a small group in Canada who still feels this is an attack on the monarchy.
It doesn't abolish the monarchy, nor does it abolish our place in the Commonwealth. It downplays the position of the Queen in the oath, and the emphasis is on Canada, not on the Queen. That is the way it should be.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Allmand and Mr. Langlois.
Mr. Frazer: Mr. Allmand, I've listened very carefully to what you were saying toMr. Langlois. It appears to me that what you're really proposing is a republic rather than a monarchy.
Mr. Allmand: Not at all. Absolutely not.
Mr. Frazer: But surely when one swears allegiance, one swears allegiance to the head of the country that one is in.
It struck me that your argument in the Suez situation, where the Queen was voting against the Queen, is really indicative of how this works. The Queen of Canada could vote against the Queen of the U.K. or against the Queen of Australia, because she, in that aspect, is representing the country of which she is the queen.
Therefore, while it may be illogical to some, it appears that she does represent the various countries of which she is the Queen.
Would the prospect of demanding that immigration officials do a better job of indoctrinating immigrants by explaining to them exactly what is happening when they swear the oath of allegiance not satisfy your need?
Certainly, I am concerned. I don't know what the answer is to the individual who found it difficult, because of religious reasons, to swear allegiance to the Queen as the head of the Anglican Church. That one I have a problem with. But when it comes to the other one, it strikes me that if the immigration people do their job properly, a new immigrant, no matter where he or she comes from, should understand exactly what is happening when he or she swears the oath of allegiance.
Mr. Allmand: No, that wouldn't satisfy me. I've been here through many of these debates.
I don't know if you remember the debate on the flag. We heard all these same arguments. Didn't Canadians understand that this was really a Canadian flag with the Union Jack on it? It wasn't really a British flag. Most of us weren't satisfied with that, finally.
It was the same with the anthem, God Save The Queen, as opposed to O Canada. I could go on and on. I can even remember when we changed the names on the mail trucks from the Royal Mail to Canada Post. The Monarchist League said this was the move to make Canada a republic. It wasn't.
I like our constitution with a parliamentary system and with the monarchy.
Whether we abolish the monarchy or not is another question. All this is doing is changing the emphasis in the oath to pledge allegiance to Canada and to the Canadian Constitution. I say in my notes that it's understood that the Queen is an integral part of the Constitution.
Mr. Frazer: If I may, if they don't understand that the Queen is the Queen of Canada, how would they understand that she's in the Constitution?
Mr. Allmand: To me that's not important. As I said, allegiance, loyalty and patriotism is basically an emotional thing. When you're fighting for your country you don't sit down and consider the legal niceties of whether or not the Queen is.... I don't think the people who fought for Canada were fighting for Her Majesty. They were fighting for Canada and for what we hold dear as Canadians, our values as Canadians. Britain was our ally; the United States was our ally; Australia was our ally.
By the way, I know there's a certain amount of controversy over this. For me, that's all the more reason why this should be made a votable motion. If you just take things that are safe - and I don't think you do all the time - what's the purpose of putting forward private members' bills?
The fact of the matter is that in the studies and the polls that have been taken there's overwhelming support for this in Canada, except for some people who are so attached to the Queen and to the monarchy that they think this is an outright attack on the monarchy. It isn't; it's a pro-Canada step.
I would like to see it debated in a more reasonable way and in a more complete way. I'd like to see it votable. But I've been trying, as I told the chair, for 20 years, and there's always this hesitancy to put it forward.
Mr. Crombie, who was a Conservative minister, put such an oath on the order papers. I'm hoping that Madame Robillard will as well, but that remains to be seen. This might put a little bit of spark in it, if this is declared a votable motion. She may move all the more quickly.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Allmand.
Mr. Allmand: You're welcome.
By the way, who is on the committee? I only see three members here. Is it just a three-member committee?
The Chair: No, Mr. Loney is normally here, but three members make a quorum. There are four members on the subcommittee.
Mr. Allmand: Thank you very much.
The Chair: Mr. McClelland, you're going to do your presentation ahead of Mr. Dubinski. You're here for Mr. Harris?
I'd like to remind the committee that we have Mr. Marleau coming at 12 p.m., so we'll probably be debating votable bills after his presentation.
Mr. Langlois: As I understand it, we will have to vote on time allocation in the House.
The Chair: Not that I want to put any urgency on your presentation, Mr. McClelland, but brevity is going to win us approval.
Mr. Ian McClelland, MP (Edmonton Southwest): Thank you very much, Madam Chairman. On a personal note, I would like to thank members of this particular committee. That's because a private member's bill that I brought to the committee was made law last week, I think. It was passed by the Senate.
The Chair: Was it motherhood and apple pie, or was it a serious bill?
Mr. McClelland: It was on the motherhood and apple pie side of the agenda; otherwise it would never have made it. But it was serious in that it saved us $1.2 million and moved Elections Canada along the road they wanted to go.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. McClelland: I do thank the members of the committee.
Mr. Frazer: He takes credit for it, but I seconded that bill.
Mr. McClelland: I'll get to Mr. Harris's bill. Members may recall that I had previously argued on behalf of Mr. Harris by asking that his original bill be made votable. It had to do with impaired drivers having a minimum sentence.
The bill went to the House. It was votable. It was defeated in the House. It had support from all parties, but it was defeated because it was in contradiction to the charter inasmuch as it's not possible to mandate a specific penalty.
So this bill is returning in the form of a motion. The idea is that, in the form of a motion, it will bring to the attention of the government the overriding concern that exists in all parts of our country over the fact that impaired drivers causing death is a serious criminal offence.
The original bill was supported with more than 20,000 signatures on petitions. It was supported by all of the various constituent groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, and various student groups, because it sends a very serious and necessary message to Canadians.
Statistically, it is a fact that our society has taken a completely different approach to impaired drivers in recent years than previously. Most of us - at least those of my age - can recall a time when impaired driving was not looked upon with the same gravity as it is today. That change in public attitude, as well as improved enforcement, has changed the nature of impaired driving in our country.
So this motion would give parliamentarians an opportunity across party lines to speak very positively in favour of the notion of continuing the pressure against impaired drivers.
With that, I would invite any questions.
The Chair: Are there any questions?
Mr. Langlois: Perhaps a brief comment on the bill that was tabled in the House and that provided for a minimum seven years in prison for anyone who caused the death of another person while driving when intoxicated. I personally supported the bill and voted in favour of it. In fact, I think that there was only about a 20 vote difference between the yeas and the nays.
So normally, I have no hesitation about this. But isn't this equivalent to asking the House to express itself twice in the same session on the same subject, if the motion was declared votable, given that there was a three hour debate on this and that at this stage, the opinion of Parliamentarians is known?
Mr. McClelland: I believe it would be worthwhile, given the gravity of impaired driving, to give Parliament the opportunity not just to speak to it but to pass the motion. The motion, of course, does not require the government to do anything. It is merely an expression of direction. Then it's up to the government to use it as it sees fit. It is conceivable that if Parliament, across party lines particularly, gives direction to the government by way of a motion, there is the possibility that it could be passed.
We might also suggest, given the fact that we've already had three hours of debate, that it be made a votable motion on one hour of debate. I don't know if that is procedurally possible.
The Chair: We don't have that flexibility as yet. We're studying our rules and what governs us, but at this point we don't have that flexibility.
Mr. McClelland: Thank you. Your point's well made, but the gravity of impaired driving is such that perhaps we should do it.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Langlois: Is there a time allocation motion before the House now?
Mr. McClelland: No, Bill C-35 is labour. I'll let you know if there is.
Mr. Langlois: Okay, fine.
The Chair: David, it's rather unusual to have a non-member present, but all members agreed to hear you in advance. We're a pretty nice bunch of people.
Mr. David Dubinski (Assistant to Mr. Bill Blaikie, MP for Winnipeg Transcona): My first comments are to thank you on Mr. Blaikie's behalf for allowing me to present on his behalf. He had a pressing engagement in his riding. I'm sure you're all familiar with that situation.
Mr. Blaikie's motion M-290 essentially calls on the government to consider amending the arms export control regime in Canada by requiring the government to undertake a study of the impact of a particular arms export on international security before it grants such a permit, and then to table that study in the House of Commons, again before the permit is granted.
This proposal would introduce two important innovations into the present system. In the present export control regime, you have a list of countries that are not eligible for arms exports. The proposal would put the onus on the government to show that regional or international security would not be harmed by a particular export, even if a country was on the acceptable list. That is, it puts on an onus to show that international security would benefit and improve and become more stable and secure as a result of an export, instead of simply holding the government in question to certain standards of behaviour.
Second, the tabling of the study in the House of Commons would add greater transparency to the process. It would therefore give parliamentarians and the public greater access to information about a situation that is inherently secretive.
Apart from the substance of the motion, I think it's worth saying that it meets several criteria for being a votable item of private members' business.
First, it's timely, because 1996 is the first year since the end of the Cold War when arms exports to Third World countries are up internationally. This is a fact that would need some imaginative public policy response.
Second, it's not an issue on which the House would otherwise have an opportunity to express itself in the near future. There is no indication that the government is planning to introduce such legislation in the near future.
Next, it's not a bad piece of legislation prima facie. There are no technical grounds on which it could be criticized. Indeed, the motion simply expresses the will of the House and leaves it up to the government to develop the particular procedures and legal instruments.
It's not a regional or parochial issue; it's obviously a national and international issue.
Finally, it's something that would interest all members of Parliament, in that it improves their capacity and ability to hold the government of the day accountable for an important area of its foreign policy.
So on that basis, I hope the committee would see its way to supporting this as being a votable item and allow the House the chance to express itself on a very pressing international problem. I'd be happy to take questions.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Frazer, we'll start with you.
Mr. Frazer: Thank you, Madam Chair. I do have some.
The classification of export permits for military products is a rather broad one. I'm wondering, both in the matter of time and expense, whether you have any idea what this would cost the Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct the studies and present reports. How about the timeliness of it? How long would it take them?
Mr. Dubinski: Again, I couldn't answer any of those questions specifically, but the purpose of the motion wouldn't be to set up the actual procedures of structures, but simply to add momentum to the movement of opinion. It says that the government should have a stricter arms control export regime in this -
Mr. Frazer: I'm not sniping at you. I would be glad to snipe at Bill Blaikie if he was here.
This smacks to me of more and bigger government and more government involvement in things. Certainly, I don't disagree with the thrust of what he is saying, which is that we should ensure that the export of arms to various countries is within the regulations as they're now laid down.
I'm questioning whether it is a viable proposition to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to conduct a study and then report the study to the House in every instance of a request for this type of export. The category is so broad that they might have to double their current strength in order to accomplish this.
That's my only question. Thank you, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Mr. White, I think you've been here before. You have five minutes to present, and then we'll ask questions.
Mr. Ted White, MP (North Vancouver): I'd like to begin by advising members of the committee that the idea for this Bill C-333 came from a crown prosecutor in the North Vancouver area. This was something that was spawned by someone who was intimately connected with the sorts of problems that are identified in the bill.
The crown prosecutor's name is Mr. Jay Straith. He handles immigration-related cases in the courts on the north shore of Vancouver, so he has quite a lot of practical experience in the field. In fact, he worked directly with legal counsel in the House of Commons to put together the framework of the bill.
The bill provides, through an amendment to the Immigration Act and the Criminal Code, for the deportation in lieu of sentence for refugee or immigrant applicants who are convicted of an indictable offence, which means a serious crime in other words.
The fact that a crown prosecutor initiated this bill is an indication to the committee that it's really not a partisan project. It would affect all areas of the country and be of great benefit to crown prosecutors from coast to coast.
The Chair: Are you expressing the opinion that crown prosecutors have no political affiliation?
Mr. White: No. In fact, I was just going to mention that this particular crown prosecutor is well known as a Liberal supporter. That's partly the reason why it's so non-partisan. He was able to approach me and discuss it. We both thought it was a great idea, and we proceeded from that point.
His intention in suggesting it was to improve the processing of these criminal refugee and immigrant applicants in the courts.
In terms of cost, it's quite likely that the enactment of the bill could save several millions of dollars a year in costs presently associated with trying to apprehend people who are trying to evade deportation. I think we're all familiar with the sorts of methods that can be used.
There are presently no government bills or motions before the House that deal with this topic, nor am I aware of any planned government initiative in this respect, although there is fairly strong public support for the idea, and it's quite easy to measure that support.
In addition, the personnel in the removals division of Immigration Canada in Vancouver have taken a look at the idea. They have indicated to me that they're strongly supportive. It seems very practical from their perspective.
Bill C-333 does not infringe upon any provincial areas of jurisdiction. If anything, it would be of great benefit to the provinces because it would assist them in dealing with problems that end up being of a provincial concern when they have to look after these people.
There's a provision in the bill requiring the prosecutor to give advance notice to the accused that he or she intends to apply for deportation in lieu of sentence. So we've also taken care of the human rights aspect by making sure that people know their rights before they even get into court.
In summary, it's a practical bill. It was suggested and developed by someone who's working right in the field and who has practical experience.
Of course, I feel that it deserves to be made votable. I hope the committee will agree.
That's the end of my presentation.
The Chair: Questions?
Mr. Frazer: Mr. White, I can't find it at the moment, but it seems to me in going through the bill that there was a provision such that anyone who was deported from Canada because of your bill would not be allowed to re-enter Canada for a period of three years.
Mr. White: They could not reapply for three years.
Mr. Frazer: Could you give me some sort of an indication as to what restrictions would then apply to this individual when they do want to get back into Canada?
Mr. White: The normal immigration restrictions would apply whereby a person would have to admit that they had been deported from Canada previously and for what reason. Presumably, it would then be up to immigration officials to make an assessment as to whether or not the person had proven that they were rehabilitated and had become suitable material to return to Canada.
I know there are a lot of people out there who feel that once someone is deported, they shouldn't come back ever. But the feeling was that there may be reasons to give a second chance to people. So that was built into the bill.
Mr. Frazer: But the conviction would remain on the individual's record despite the fact that he or she had not served any sentenced within Canada, right?
Mr. White: There would be a record that they were deported in lieu of sentence. So in effect the sentence is the deportation.
Mr. Frazer: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. White, what would you do if it was someone who had murdered? Would you deport them rather than deal with what they had done?
Mr. White: This is a decision for the crown prosecutor. It is left with the crown prosecutor to decide what would be best under the circumstances.
Certainly, the intent of the bill is to deal with the type of people who use the system in order to remain in Canada by continually committing crimes and then making sure they commit another one while they're out on parole. I think it's very common to find that sort of activity happening among certain criminal elements of refugee claimants.
So it's really to deal with those types of people, not the type of person with whom there's reason to believe it's appropriate for them to serve this sentence; it's something from which they can be rehabilitated and released into the community. I know that some people would feel they should serve their sentence here because they owe it to the Canadian people, but if you ask the general public - most crown prosecutors in the Vancouver area seem to feel this way. - a more appropriate sentence is to send them out of the country than for us to incur costs from these repeat criminals who are continually committing indictable offences.
With all due respect, I think that's going to be part of the debate once it gets to the floor of the House of Commons, and it may or may not have much bearing on whether we should vote on it. That would be a very important debating point.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation.
Mr. Langlois: Would you allow me a question? Mr. White, I don't really have any difficulty with the first part of Bill C-33 for someone who has been found guilty. But if we deport that person, we run the risk of deporting his or her spouse and dependents. Don't you think there's a problem here for people who have not committed any illegal act and who are deported from Canada because a member of their family is deported?
Mr. White: There is an option in the bill to deport the dependents as well, but they're not restricted from re-entering in the way in which the accused would be. Of course, it comes back again to the crown prosecutor to make the decision. While the provision is there, I'm certain that we can trust our crown prosecutors to make the right decisions under the circumstances.
The Chair: Thanks very much, Mr. White.
Ms McLaughlin, I see you've brought Mr. Solomon, who appears before this committee and pleads bills for others, to his own detriment on occasion. It's always a joy to see him here.
Ms Audrey McLaughlin, MP (Yukon): Are you suggesting that it is to my detriment that he's here?
The Chair: I'm not sure. You'll have to make that decision on your own.
Mr. John Solomon, MP (Regina - Lumsden): I was hoping, Madam Chair, that my presence would be helpful and supportive.
Ms McLaughlin: I believe, Madam Chair, that people have copies of the motion, so I don't need to go into that.
Let me start by saying that there's considerable interest in this motion in the north. I know that everyone regionally pleads unique circumstances, but I do think that there are some points I'd like to make today that support the importance of a vote on this issue.
I have received a letter of support from Jack Anawak, the member for Nunatsiaq, who is also extremely concerned. He feels that the impact of these cuts will be disproportionately severe for CBC North. He and I - I'll expand on this a bit - are worried about the potential losses or reductions in aboriginal language in programming. I can leave a copy of that letter with you, if you wish, Madam Chair.
Since the cuts were announced by the CBC board of directors - this time, obviously, there were larger cuts, which were $127 million - I would have to say that my office in Whitehorse has received more letters and calls on this decision than probably anything else.
I think the amount of public response is reflective of the importance of CBC North and the services it provides in both television and radio. If you don't get cable - you only get cable in major cities, such as Yellowknife or Whitehorse - then you only get CBC on television, so it's a very important source of information for people.
I'd like to point out just a couple of facts. In the past 28 months, CBC North has already dealt with budget cuts of $1.9 million and has laid off 30 staff. With this next round of cuts, CBC North will be reduced by 28% and CBC North television by 40%.
In the television area, it's ironic that a year ago, with great fanfare, a program called Northbeat was launched. That was the first television news program that actually reflected the views of northerners to northerners and others. Obviously, most of our news comes from British Columbia. Sometimes we like that news and sometimes we don't.
Aboriginal language programming, which is a very important part of CBC North, is very likely to be one of the first victims. I think that in these times, this is a very serious issue.
I'm told that it will likely spell the end of daily newscasts in Inuktitut. This is, of course, in Mr. Anawak's riding, as Inuktitut will be one of the two official languages in the new Nunavut territory. So in fact it can be argued that the cuts may violate the Nunavut Act, since the federal government has an obligation to provide basic services in both languages in Nunavut territory.
It's also interesting that CBC North, not Radio-Canada, provides French-language services in northern Quebec with a program called Boréale-Hebdo. There is a good chance that this program will see its last days as well.
I won't get into the red book promise, because I don't think it's worth debating at this point.
I notice that there are different views about the future of the CBC with members of the committee and different political parties, but I think an important and salient point here is that while all regions of the country are represented on the board of directors of the CBC, the north does not have a representative there. So in fact, through those decision-making processes, the north did not have someone on that board.
Finally, I just want to say that for many people in the north, CBC is the only connection with national and international issues. Yes, we do have other television stations, if you have cable, and we do have radio stations, but it is the CBC that provides the national and international perspective for many people on the issues of the day.
I mentioned also that it's the only news service that offers aboriginal languages. Throughout the north, the CBC, as I mentioned earlier, is really the one vehicle that connects different parts of the country as we're once again discussing issues of unity.
That's why I think this issue does deserve a full hearing in the House of Commons. As I mentioned, every other region did have someone on the board of directors of CBC representing a regional interest. The north did not. This is why I feel strongly that it is an issue that must receive full debate and be voted on.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms McLaughlin.
Are there any questions?
Mr. Langlois: I may have a comment to make. You don't need to convince me that as a result of budget cuts, CBC and Radio-Canada - especially CBC - are having a great deal of trouble fulfilling their mission which is to seek out the national identity that is part of their mandate.
So we have to be realistic and realize that if we cut the CBC budget and then ask it to compete with American networks like CNN for news or major networks like CBC, ABC, NBC or PBS for cultural or miniseries programming, the CBC will never manage to impose a Canadian sector or Canadian content comparable to what is produced in the United States. In that sense, I think that the entire CBC network should be reviewed, not only CBC North.
We're going to have an election campaign soon, and I think that the political parties can discuss this. However, I am particularly sensitive to the aspect that affects aboriginal people and which you have mentioned. This may be a circumstance that allows me to understand your motion better. Moreover, if this motion could be debated, perhaps all political parties could have a good debate on budget cuts.
It seems that there will also be advertising on the news at Radio-Canada. Will Molson sponsors sport news? We really don't know where we're going with this. There's a serious problem with public television and radio broadcasting in Canada, I'll grant you that.
Thank you for your presentation.
Ms McLaughlin: Thank you.
I agree that the basic issue is public broadcasting in general and whether Canada will have a public broadcasting network in French and in English and obviously with aboriginal languages.
I've taken up the issue of CBC North, obviously because of the area I represent, but also it's been important to reflect what constituents right across the north have said to me, not only in my own riding but in the Northwest Territories, Labrador and northern Quebec.
Mr. Langlois: Thank you.
The Chair: Have you any questions, Mr. Frazer?
Mr. Frazer: Ms McLaughlin, you mentioned that it's either CBC or cable in two centres and other than that you're out of luck. Is there no satellite reception up there at all?
Ms McLaughlin: If people choose to purchase it, I suppose they can buy those satellite dishes.
Mr. Frazer: Is this being done at all in communities?
Ms McLaughlin: It depends. Some hotels do, but for the average person it may be impossible.
Mr. Frazer: What I'm missing - and obviously you're very familiar with it, and I just don't know - is what will this leave the CBC with in the north?
Ms McLaughlin: If these cuts are proceeded with, you mean?
Mr. Frazer: Yes. What are they going to be able to present? That's what I'm looking at.
Ms McLaughlin: Well, what CBC has said publicly is they will do a lot of programming that is probably from the south. For example, every morning on the sports news from the Yukon we used to have a Yukon sportscaster. We now have a CBC sportscaster from Toronto, I guess. So I suppose most of the programming will be just feeds from the south - relays.
But the most important issue here is that even on the CBC board there was no voice for northerners. I worked very hard to get Radio-Canada on cable, at least in Whitehorse - and I'm talking about radio now - and we finally have the uplink on that. That is particularly important for French language programming and, as I mentioned earlier, for aboriginal language programming. I don't think there will be a lot of aboriginal language programming coming from the south.
The issue is that if we believe, as a society, that it is important that people be properly informed about political issues, issues of national and international importance, obviously these aboriginal language programs and French language programs are extremely important to make sure all people have access to information.
Mr. Frazer: I guess my question was going to that particular point. I agree with you that it's desirable. It should happen. But is this a matter then of the CBC applying priority to that sort of programming? I'm accepting that this might go to more of the southern programming coming in, but in fact the needs you're expressing are going to be met because the priority has gone to them.
Ms McLaughlin: Obviously, that's up to what CBC will decide. I think, however, as was mentioned earlier, you can cut only so much, and then you can't do anything. You can only decimate to a certain degree.
Consider the purpose of CBC North in particular - that's what I'm addressing - which is to both reflect the voices of northerners and national and international voices in that national dialogue, when there are 40% cuts already on top of what has been cut. No one is suggesting that we aren't all going to have to see some basic cuts, but we've already had very deep cuts.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms McLaughlin.
Ms McLaughlin: Thank you. I thank the member for Regina - Lumsden for his support.
Mr. Solomon: One quick comment, if I might, Madam Chair. I remind members that northern Canada is a huge expanse. To cover it with any kind of credibility and accuracy costs a lot more money than to provide the same sort of programming in southern or central Canada.
We have a CBC outlet in Regina, which is being cut back by 40%. That's quite significant, but in comparison it's nowhere near what has happened in the north, because they really do have that huge geographic expanse. I would remind members about that.
I think it's extremely important to keep our country together. The railroad united our country from coast to coast; CBC has been the unifying factor from coast to coast to coast, to borrow my former leader's phrase. I'd ask members to favourably consider having this motion be made votable in the House of Commons. Thank you.
The Chair: I don't remember, Mr. Solomon, but how did you do last time?
Mr. Solomon: I lost both, but I've got to keep trying.
The Chair: That's right. Thank you very much.
We'll now go in camera.
[Proceedings continue in camera]
[Public proceedings resume]
The Chair: Welcome here today. We have been charged with the wonderful job, again, of reviewing private members. There's been some controversy in the past six months or so over people thinking that if you meet the criteria, you therefore automatically become votable. They have called us a cockroach committee. This is not terribly flattering, and I think none of us resembles those little insects.
We have several things to look at. One is the ramifications of making everything votable, and I must assure you that we're not leaning either way at this time. Secondly, what would be the benefit of going back to a standing committee rather than a small subcommittee of three or four people?
We have a whole series of questions, but we would like you, if you feel comfortable, to chat a bit before we ask about your opinion of how it's functioning right now, how it got to this point, and whether there are any changes you'd like to see made. Then we'll ask you a few questions.
Welcome here today. I really appreciate your coming. It was very short notice, and we really appreciate it.
Mr. Robert Marleau (Clerk of the House of Commons): It's a pleasure to be here, Madam Chair. As you know, the table is at your disposal. At any time you require our attendance, we'll be happy to come and make the modest contribution we can.
If I may address your opening remarks in terms of whether we have any suggestions to make, ours would be strictly process suggestions at this stage. We don't have a particular preference as to how you decide to manage private members' business. We'll assist you on that.
The level of frustration about the perceived lack of effectiveness that might be building among members is often more due to political decisions you have to make rather than process advice we could give.
The Chair: Good. We agree on that. Thank you for throwing the ball back in our court.
Mr. Marleau: I'm often accused by my colleagues of asking what they think when I'm asked a question. I don't want to do that to you this morning.
In the context of the work you're doing, though, particularly the questions that you wish us to address, one of the issues you are looking at, or one of the recommendations that was made, I think maybe through your survey, is the possibility of stacking private members' business on one business day of the House. I would like to give you a quick historical overview.
This in fact was tried in 1983, following a report of the Lefebvre committee, which really began this watershed of change in private members' business. When the new calendar came into play and night sittings were abolished, there was a period from midwinter 1983 to early fall 1983, if I recall correctly, during which the three hours - there used to be three hours per week - were stacked on Wednesday. So the House met at 2 p.m., had Question Period and routine proceedings, then three separate hours of private members' business.
In those days all items were technically votable. They were effectively talked out. It rarely came to a vote. They would be talked to the end of the hour and then dropped.
There were some real difficulties with the stacking of those into one day. It quickly became apparent, I suppose mostly to the government of the day, that it broke the momentum of the legislative planning for the week. Somehow this one day between Tuesday and Thursday threw the debate of whatever was before the House off stride.
That's the only public statement that you will find in the reports of the committee when they commented on it.
As you know, Wednesday nights have all been sacred here, as are Wednesday mornings, which are caucus mornings. Rarely will you see a committee sit or the House sit on Wednesday night, unless there are extraordinary circumstances. The House literally emptied on Wednesday afternoons right after Question Period. Only those who had a particular interest in the next hour stayed.
The statistics show that there's also a diminution in committee meetings on Wednesday afternoon, which is currently a key afternoon, as you know, in our system for committee meetings. It's not that members took the afternoon off, as you no doubt suspect. They returned to their offices. They got more business done. They weren't on the same duty roster for the chamber. The pressure on committee chairs to manage their business on any day but Wednesday afternoon grew.
As a consequence, by September 1983, the House reviewed that and returned to the format of four private members' hours: one hour per day except Wednesday. They later added one for Wednesday, which is what we have now.
I just wanted to give you that as background, because I know it's an issue addressed here, and it didn't appear to me in the material that you had as an issue you're still considering. It's not that it wouldn't work on another day. Maybe it works on Mondays, but it was less than a success on Wednesdays.
The Chair: I'd like to make a comment. We find that a lot of people are travelling on Mondays and Fridays, so that would be difficult as well. I guess I shouldn't make political comments, but after reading a lot of background information, I find the relative interest in private members' hour increases dramatically when you happen to have a bill there and decreases just as rapidly when you don't. It's a chicken-and-egg argument. Is it a very interesting thing that has been diminished because of the rules, or have the rules caused the diminishment of the interest? I don't think we can answer that question here.
I'm pleased to hear that you have experimented with the Wednesday. That's the only day that came up amongst us as a day that might be doable, because Mondays and Fridays are difficult. It sounds to me like it's not doable either.
Mr. Marleau: I suspect the same dynamic, although this is a different Parliament 10 years later, would quickly set in because of the nature of demands on MPs.
The Chair: What would you think about the old concept of having at least 20 co-signators and then those 20 would at least show interest and be in the House?
Mr. Marleau: The signature to sponsor the bill does not necessarily carry over to the attendance in the debate, and for all kinds of reasons, as you know. By the time you say you'll support this bill, the way it is now structured you don't get a whole lot of notice as to when it will come to the floor of the House, and therefore you've made all kinds of other commitments.
Other than the demonstration of some collegial support for the concept being brought forward, I don't think you can translate that into more debate or more substantive debate.
The Chair: Do you have any other comments you want to make before we ask questions?
Mr. Marleau: In regard to the issue of all items being votable, which I know you've discussed and you've indicated there may not be a lot of support for, I wanted to make a comment that in the context of our parliamentary system.... I know my colleague here has a personal pet peeve with motions that expire. He believes that in a procedural sense the House ought to come to a decision on issues put before it. Otherwise, it seems as though you're wasting the House's time. The House is not just a debating society; it has to come to a decision. I say that before my colleague frowns too much.
If you go to a context in which all items are votable, I think you have to take into consideration the leadership issues, particularly on the majority side of the House. Ours is a parliamentary system, and I use a phrase to compare us with our American friends south of the border, that we have a system of government in Parliament versus a system of government by Parliament. Inevitably the concept of all issues emanating from a private member coming to a vote will bring the interest of the government of the day, minority or majority, into play.
So if we go back to the McGrath philosophy of private members' business - that is, Jim McGrath, who chaired the committee, wanted to see more opportunity for private members to impact the national agenda - you run up against the issues of confidence and the government's right to govern and those basic tenets of our parliamentary system.
I don't want to give you a lesson in political science; I'm just saying that you set into motion that dynamic. It's not simply by saying that private members' hour ought to be private members' time that I think any government can totally remove itself from what's going on in that hour. I don't have to point to examples where there seem to be some stresses from time to time between the government view and the private members' view. All items being votable would be an issue, I think.
One of the means by which you might want to test that is a procedure we have in our Standing Orders in relation to a bill. What I'm about the suggest you consider is not entirely foreign to our process.
We have a process whereby a taxation bill is preceded by a notice of ways and means motion. The ways and means motion sets the terms upon which the bill, once the motion is adopted, will be drafted. You could conceive of a way of rewriting the Standing Orders whereby a motion would come forward for a one-hour debate. You could have them all votable in that sense, if you wanted, which essentially would become, if adopted, the terms upon which a bill would be drafted. If it passed the House, you could then accelerate the legislative process by deeming it read a first time, forget about notice and those kinds of things, which is what we do with ways and means motions. You could provide for a one-hour debate at second reading because you've already had a one-hour debate on the concept, essentially the principle, and then follow the process as it is.
That would open up some of the difficulties you perceive now with bills backing up. I think it would also provide the leadership on the majority side, and in some instances on the minority side as well, a little more comfort in that there's a step there where they could debate the concept and swing the vote if necessary. But once the House has given its approval then the actual legislative process would go its own way.
The Chair: Can I interrupt you for a minute, because I'm not well-versed in this and the political science lessons are not wasted on me. Would you then suggest it be treated more as a motion and the actual drafting of the bill would not occur, and all the time that's involved with that, until after the first one-hour debate...?
Mr. Marleau: Essentially, yes, the motion would state the four corners of the bill, essentially the principle of the bill. The criteria you now use for selection of a votable item wouldn't necessarily be lost because the drafters would have to take that criteria into consideration as they draft things about the Charter of Rights, the Constitution, all of those things.
In terms of the issues this committee now addresses in selecting an item to come to a vote, such as whether it is time for a grandfather's week, the political issues could still be there when you choose the motion that will come forward to a vote. Or if you decide to make them all votable and let the House decide the politics of it, that's another option.
I think two advantages are that it could accelerate the legislative process, diminish a little bit the frustration you're now experiencing from your colleagues, and certainly reduce your workload.
The Chair: We wouldn't exist.
Mr. Marleau: You may still want to exist, but you may have to make fewer decisions, fewer selections, or resolve fewer conflicts. In that context it's one option you can look at, which is not entirely foreign to our procedure, since we do it for notice of ways and means. If a bill were drafted beyond the motion itself, then the Speaker would be involved, as he is now when the government brings in a bill that goes beyond the intent of the House on the adoption of the motion; it then becomes a procedural issue, not a substantive issue, at that time.
The Chair: I would suggest that borders on brilliance.
Mr. Marleau: It's right there in the Standing Orders. I can't take credit for it.
The Chair: Do it anyway.
Are there any other comments? Mr. Montpetit?
Mr. Camille Montpetit (Clerk Assistant, Procedural Services, House of Commons): It appears that the last draw created a major problem for you because of the fact that it's still on the Order Paper, still on the order of precedence - the six votable items were still there.
One way to decluster the order of precedence would be, instead of having another draw when we're down to fifteen items, to wait until we're down to a lower number, perhaps ten or whatever is needed for the committee to make the selection of the votable items. By waiting a little longer you would not have had the problem you had last week, which was unusual. I think it was the first time we had such a cluster.
Waiting until we're down to ten before proceeding to a next draw I'm sure will solve the problem you had last week.
The Chair: But to do that we would have to change the rules.
Mr. Montpetit: It's a simple change in the rules. You just change the word ``fifteen'' to ``ten''.
The Chair: Instead of changing a rule to address one problem that hasn't happened since 1984, can you give me other benefits to changing the rule? Would there be more benefits to us than just making sure this doesn't happen again in another ten years?
Mr. Montpetit: No, I can't think of anything. Previously we had twenty items. It was raised to thirty items in the last Parliament, with a draw to be held when the list was down to fifteen. You still have fifteen, which is at least three weeks, in theory.
Because the list was longer, the effect was to delay, and any votable item that was put down on the list for the second round had a delay of several days, if not weeks, before it came back up. By reducing the limit to ten before going to another draw, you speed up the turnaround in the order of precedence.
The Chair: You can't see any difficulties or problems with that? That would just be a minor change that would make sure this doesn't happen again?
Mr. Marleau: It puts a little more pressure on the committee to respond in a shorter period of time.
The Chair: I guessed that. I had a feeling. I was trying to get you to say it.
Mr. Marleau: It would also reduce some of the frustration, or the perception, the myth, that somehow this committee is from time to time dragging its feet just because it doesn't want to make selections. You'd be able to make more selections because the number would be more available. So I suppose it would be perceived by members that you're making more selections more often.
The Chair: That's a very good suggestion.
We managed to get through Anna Terrana's bill this morning simply by very good fortune. Debate broke down, so we were able to select one, and we actually came to a good consensus. It worked all right this time and we got through it.
Mr. Frazer: Except that there were other bills in there that we would very much have liked to make votable, and we just couldn't do that.
Mr. Marleau: In that context, Mr. Frazer, if you looked at the concept of the resolution, such as the ways and means or the old resolution of supply, you could still be more generous in the selection if you wanted to add more votable items, in that the House will again pronounce on second reading when it sees the bill. So maybe when you're selecting on the motion, you're selecting on the principle that is advanced by the private member.
It could be that the bill, once drafted, causes the House to have a totally different decision. Here I stray a little bit outside my expertise, but I do get phone calls from the bureaucracy on a regular basis asking what this bill means and where it's going and what the likelihood is of it passing. Sometimes when the bill is drafted first you get a reaction in the bureaucracy that can influence the minister related to the issue. The more that is written down at that stage, I would say the more a skilful bureaucrat has to formulate an opinion on.
The Chair: You mean we don't just pull out a crystal ball?
Mr. Marleau: No. The motion would give you a little more leeway in that the House will then again pronounce on second reading. I think to compensate the members who are involved in this process you have to reduce the time it takes to get a bill through private members. To do the motion and to keep three hours and drop down the list three times would only be adding to the frustration. I think they have to go in tandem if you consider that.
The Chair: For clarification, if we went to the concept of motions, you would suggest a one-hour debate in the House?
Mr. Marleau: Yes.
The Chair: At what point would it go to a committee?
Mr. Marleau: The resolution, once passed, would become an order to bring in a bill based thereon. You could draft Standing Orders, so that's an automatic process like the one we have for first reading. There could be a certain time delay provided, let's say within ten sitting days or whatever, and then it goes up the list for the second hour of debate for second reading. If it passes second reading, it goes to committee.
That's saying to the members that it's one time up the list, but it goes to committee just like it does now after second reading. Then it would follow the same process when it's reported back in the third reading. You economize one hour, which essentially provides more access to your list, but in essence you're having two debates on principle.
The Chair: Would you then reduce the time limit on speeches so that more people could participate in that hour?
Mr. Marleau: That cuts both ways, I would suggest. You're down to ten-minute speeches, except for the presenter or the mover of the motion. The more opportunities you provide for members to participate, the more members you have to have in the House on that subject. So when I say it cuts both ways, I mean you now need six members to keep an hour going. Depending on what your point of view is about the bill, if you reduce it to five, you're going to need twelve members.
So it could be an advantage, depending on the dynamics of that debate. It could be a disadvantage, depending on -
The Chair: It would also show interest, though. If the purpose of this is to bring bills forward that are of interest to all parties, have any chance of passing at all, and truly represent the needs of the constituents right across the country, you should be able to fill the hour quite easily.
Mr. Marleau: Yes, but if it collapses and comes to an early vote because of lack of interest, I don't think you serve that perception as well.
The Chair: What would happen, just in the time management of an increased number of votes...? I'm assuming there'd be a vote at the end of that hour.
Mr. Marleau: You're increasing, I suppose, by one the vote on the motion - the original resolution.
The Chair: For example, this morning we picked one bill out of eight. If all eight had a vote at the end of the first hour, we'd be up and down like yo-yos.
Mr. Marleau: One can presume that if you had agreement in principle on the resolution, there wouldn't be as frequent a vote on the second reading. You may have your hour debate, people say it's fine, we should let it go to committee, we've all had a vote on it, and we like the bill.
The Chair: I have one last question, Mr. Frazer, before I give you the floor.
Procedure and House Affairs actually was involved in drafting the legislation on Bill C-69, which was going to change the electoral boundaries. Would you also foresee more committee participation in the fine-tuning of these bills?
Mr. Marleau: I know the principle that was evolved by this government at the beginning of this Parliament, in terms of referral of bills before second reading to committee, was to let the committees have more scope in the development of the bill, almost as a sort of policy-expansion-through-legislation approach. I don't know that I, as an individual private member who has an idea and a particular proposal to make, want to submit it to that kind of policy expansion debate.
If I try to put myself in the shoes of a member who is determined to get something done, I may come out with a substantially different piece of legislation I no longer wish to be associated with. I can't control that in the way a majority House can, to some degree, guarantee that it can live with the consequences of that committee study.
It's a slightly different dynamic, but there's no reason why it can't work.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Frazer: Thank you, Madam Chair.
I just want to be very sure that I understand where you're going with the suggestion on the motions so that we wouldn't be here worrying about motions or bills. There would be motions, and they would come before the House for the first hour of debate. Would it then require that the House vote or accept that the bill should go forward to committee from there or be made into a bill? This would have to be a positive vote. Is that correct?
Mr. Marleau: Yes, it would be a positive vote on the main resolution, just like we have on notices of ways and means motions. The thing with notices of ways and means motions is that there is no debate on them; they're not debatable motions. Here we would suggest that you have a debate. That would be the principle upon which the bill then gets drafted. It would then be back for one hour of debate for second reading. There may or may not be a vote. There doesn't have to be a vote. A vote has to be demanded at second reading for most bills.
Mr. Frazer: Who can demand the vote?
Mr. Marleau: Any five members can demand the vote when debate has collapsed, or you could build in a procedure that at the end of that hour of debate it is deemed adopted. Don't have a vote unless a certain number of members demand it - 25, 15, 5, or whatever you want. We have those concepts in the Standing Orders as well, so if you want to economize on the second vote and you want the concept of the 20 members or whatever who supported it to go ahead, you could test the House and say that it's deemed adopted unless there's a formula respected.
Mr. Frazer: It then goes to committee?
Mr. Marleau: It then goes to committee and gets reported back.
Mr. Frazer: Our chairperson has suggested that to get more people involved, we might want to diminish the amount of time that's available.
We now have the prerogative of saying to the Speaker, I'm going to split my time with my confrère over here. Could that happen with ten minutes, as well?
Mr. Marleau: You could do that for ten minutes, but it's not currently allowed.
Mr. Frazer: I realize that. But is there anything that would prohibit it?
Mr. Marleau: It would be very easy to draft Standing Orders that say you're splitting ten-minute speeches.
Where there was an interest all of a sudden that more members wanted to speak, any member could be allowed to split his speech with a colleague. That would be very easy to do.
Mr. Frazer: If we were to declare votable all those motions that came forward, providing they met the criteria that is laid down, what would happen to us?
Basically, it strikes me that you are subject to the luck of the draw. Having been drawn and having met the criteria, what would happen if every motion was declared votable?
Mr. Marleau: There again there is the political side of things, which I'm cautious about commenting on. I don't want to predict how a majority might react or how a minority might react, because it's often the bill that's before the House rather than the process or the procedure.
On the perception side of private members' business, there is a certain amount of credibility in the current process to a bill that is designated votable by a committee of peers. They put one of their own through a certain process. They pronounce on the merits of the efforts, the contents, etc., so that when an item is designated votable it has a certain standing on the order of precedence, not just in terms of its content but also in terms of the fact that a group of peers has sanctioned it to some degree.
If you make them all votable, then declaring Hallowe'en a national holiday is at the same level as addressing a fundamental issue of criminal law.
Mr. Frazer: But would having Hallowe'en as a holiday meet the criteria? I submit the criteria could be made such that you couldn't have frivolous bills come forward, because they just wouldn't be accepted.
Today we had eight bills. There were some very good ones amongst them. They were just arbitrarily not allowed to go forward because of our constraints. It seems to me to be a shame. If the guy or the gal has met the criteria of going through the luck of the draw, and, for no good reason other than that there's no manoeuvring room, we've had to say no, this seems very undemocratic to me.
Mr. Marleau: There is no magic solution to this. There's only so much time. I would argue with you that the government around the cabinet table is quite often in the same position. There's only so much time left before the adjournment and there are only so many days. There are four opposition days - if only we had those.
That's the constraint, I'm afraid. You have to look more at techniques to accelerate and sort out the process than you can provide for things to come to a vote.
Mr. Frazer: But assuming that we are not allocated any more time than we have at the moment for private members' business, what would it matter if every bill that met the criteria were deemed to be votable?
Mr. Marleau: It matters in the context of the leadership, particularly on the majority side. But I won't speculate on that.
One of the techniques you might look at is having a half-hour debate for an item. You have an hour now. Perhaps you can look at a technique whereby on a day when motions are scheduled, you can just have a half-hour debate for some motions. If it's a bill, it's an hour. So you can move some time up towards the bills, which is where you seem to be coming from.
Mr. Frazer: You're coming forward with suggestions on how to do it. But my question was, what is wrong with just deeming you're votable if you're drawn and you meet the criteria?
Mr. Marleau: There's nothing wrong with this. Someone will still have to make the decision that you meet the criteria.
Mr. Frazer: That might be a committee such as this. It says, all right, let's look at this. If it meets the criteria then obviously it goes forward; if it doesn't, we say how about this?
Mr. Marleau: I see absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Mr. Frazer: That would at least put us out in the open, so the cockroach committee is not meeting in secret and not telling anybody what's going on. If we explain to people this does not meet the criteria for this reason, then obviously that's out in the open, and at least hypothetically it would take away the complaint.
The Chair: Mr. Montpetit, did you have a comment?
Mr. Montpetit: I think it was just addressed. I wanted to make a comment on the criteria issue. The criteria that exist now are a political creation. The criteria are not procedural. A political body will will have to be established so that the bill indeed meets the criteria.
I don't think you can go right out and say all items are deemed votable, provided they meet the criteria, without having to go through the political exercise of establishing the criteria first and then ensuring that they do meet the requirements of the bill.
The Chair: Could I also let Mr. Langlois get in. We have about 25 minutes and I have a million questions.
Do you have any that you'd like to ask, Mr. Langlois?
Mr. Langlois: One of the major irritants of the subcommittee on private members' business is the lottery. We're elected, we represent an average of approximately 100,000 people - in your case, it may be 200,000 or 250,000 - and we have to go through this lottery system whereas there may be excellent bills that are not drawn from the barrel and simply disappear. I have a lot of trouble with that.
If this subcommittee or a similar committee became a standing committee and met regularly to examine all bills that go into the barrel, that might be a solution. We might avoid frustration and allow the best bills to be examined. I agree with you that there's always some political colour to this. Even if we do non partisan work, we also do political work and we are not cut off from reality. Would it be possible to eliminate the draw through more work by a committee on private members' business?
Secondly, there is the problem that arose at the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs regarding the committee that rejected all clauses of a bill and refused to report it to the House. There is certainly a problem there.
I fully understood Mr. Parent's ruling according to which the House is always master of its domain and can even go and get the bill before the committee, but since a majority in committee that refused it would be somewhat surprising that another majority representing at least the same interests could order the committee to report.
In my opinion, if the bill was declared votable, if there was a vote in favour of it at second reading, that it was referred to committee and that all or the vast majority of the clauses it contains were rejected in committee, the committee should at least report to the House if only to allow the mover, at report stage, to present these clauses again so that the entire House can express its views, not just a committee of 14 people that may have defeated the clauses by a single vote.
Another possibility would be to allow referral of a private member's bill after first reading. Last week or two weeks ago, we had bill C-270 by Mr. Milliken on Governor General's warrants. If I'm not mistaken, this bill amended section 30 of the Financial Administration Act.
We were presented with an amendment that completely modified... There was only one clause. It amended section 35 and there were two paragraphs. I did not start a debate for political reasons; I was in favour of the bill and there was consensus. I could have argued at length with Mr. Zed that the amendment was not in order because it changed the very substance of the bill. There would have been a lot of precedents in support. If the bill had been referred after first reading, we would have had much greater flexibility as a committee.
During this Parliament, we've seen many bills that were purely alternatives to government bills to be tabled. If these bills had been referred after first reading, they could have been examined by the government and by a majority on the committee, so that in the final analysis, we would have had legislation duplication, where a private member's bill would have confronted a government bill.
This would allow for much faster interaction; if it were possible to hold a debate with one hour's notice given by the member who requests that the bill be sent to committee, the government could react more quickly and avoid duplication where on the one hand, the legislative advisors of members are asked to do work and on the other hand the legislative counsellors of the Department of Justice are asked to do the same work, sometimes twice for nothing.
With regard to the issue of motions, I will reflect on that before I give my opinion. That won't be today.
Here's my last concern, though not the least. The figures that you were kind enough to provide us with, Mr. Marleau, show that approximately 60% of bills that are drafted are never tabled. That's a serious problem.
I don't know if you have a suggestion for us, but that does not make sense. If the legislative advisors work for special interest groups that have bills drafted, that's one thing. However, we do have to have a way to limit the number of bills per member, because some members have a good production, whereas others never produce anything. It might be a good idea to limit this somehow. I am putting that idea forward, but I understand that this is a highly political decision.
Those are the points to which I wanted to draw your attention and especially benefit from your advice.
Mr. Marleau: I don't know whether there will be any advice, but there will at least be some perspective in my answer. In my opinion, your first and last points are related. You refer to the lottery. People smile when we explain how a private member's bill is chosen in the first place and how it is put on the House agenda. However, this lottery has existed for years because it seems that committees that have examined the issue have not found a middle ground to ensure equal access.
I remember that in 1988, the bill was drawn and not the name of the member. During the first session of 1988, over 100 bills were tabled by seven or eight members of a political faction that was doing front loading if you will in the order paper to increase their chances. Indeed, they did increase substantially. That's where we saw the abuse and the possibility that everything be chosen; one can increase one's chances according to the way one fills up the barrel.
We have gone back to the formula where you draw a name from a hat and the member chooses. This is fairer, but once again, it's a lottery. You are faced with decisions on a substantive issue. You would find it difficult to make a decision amongst yourselves as to who should be able to present a bill in the House. This is why you are faced with the lottery.
You say that 60% of the bills that are drafted disappear. We have examined this issue from an administrative perspective. A sub-committee of the Board of Internal Economy is going to be focussing on this issue. It will be working with the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs because, on the one hand, we are dealing with the employer's resources and, on the other hand, we are dealing with a legislative process that comes under your purview, which does not come under the jurisdiction of the Board of Internal Economy. You and the Board will have to get together to see if there are any possible solutions.
Should we be setting some rather drastic limitations and tell a member that he is entitled to so many bills during the course of a Parliament that he may use as he sees fit, in accordance with the political situation, or should we limit the number of times that he can present a motion for personal or political reasons, to display a certain legislative trend without necessarily using up the time of the House with a bill?
Secondly, when the resolution is passed by the House, it becomes a drafting order and, at that time, is given some priority over all the others. It is not put at the bottom of the list as are all of the others that seek a legislative debate outside of the House and those that are pulled from the draw and put on the House order paper.
This is the balance that we have to try to strike. I am the first to acknowledge that members need a more official tool, something that is not necessarily on the letterhead, but something which perhaps was given first reading in the House, to demonstrate their role as a legislator.
Part of the role played by an elected member is to show that he can have an impact on the House Order Paper.
I would like to go back to two other points. Referral after first reading is more or less a political issue. As a sponsor of a bill, to what extent am I prepared to be subject to this broader issue, in accordance with my perspective and my leanings as a legislator, without taking over your duties? I'm talking about the royal we. I think that this is an issue that you should be discussing amongst yourselves.
The decision made by the Speaker, Mr. Parent, concerns the obligation of our parliamentary committee to report on a bill referred to it by the House. From our procedural standpoint, I can tell you that something is not right when a creature from a larger body can defy this body. The House creates its committees and assigns their works, sometimes giving very clear instructions, and sometimes very vague instructions.
There is also the notion whereby, even if a member is a sponsor of a bill, the bill belongs to the House once it has been read a second time. And it no longer belongs to the member. I know that there is some confusion about this. The House is master of its Order Paper, and we must make sure that we do not substitute the private member for the microcosm represented by the committee. It would be more logical to have a window for testing the will of the House.
This would not require a big change to the House Standing Orders. We would simply need the political will to do so. The Indian Parliament, in New Delhi, has a rule ordering a committee to report on any bill within 30 days, unless the committee requests an extension. There are several techniques of this type in the Commonwealth. However, we need the political will to do this. This is a debate that you must have amongst yourselves.
I would like to go back to another aspect which perhaps accounts for the fact that 60% of the bills are not used. The frustration of the members with respect to the Private Members Business Subcommittee no doubt contributes to that. I want to go ahead with my bill, but I don't want to waste my time trying to get it through the House. Perhaps I am not lucky with the lottery or I don't have the time to fool around with it. Even if you think that I will submit the bill to you so that you can decide whether or not it is a voteable item, I have another agenda and I am going to get myself known elsewhere. This may contribute to that.
Aside from the selection that you make on the basis of the merits of a bill, you have not yet broached the issue of time allotment. I referred to this aspect earlier when I talked about the half-hour periods. When debating the merits of a bill of which you are very much in favour, it is not impossible for you to decide, with support in the Standing Orders, that it should be given an hour on the Order Paper.
For instance, should you feel that this bill will be passed by the House and that it is not in conflict with all kinds of things, you will decide that it is a voteable item and you will give it only one hour.
When the scope of the bill is much broader and deals with a national issue, a social trend, a moral question, etc., you will give it three hours. This is another technique for determining priority and allowing more subjects to be debated.
Mr. Langlois: Mr. Marleau, we have on several occasions discussed the possibility of securing a time envelope that we could manage ourselves. I think that we were about to submit this question to the Standing Committee. In my opinion, it is obvious that it does not require three hours of discussion to declare hockey and La Crosse Canada's national sports or to declare May 25th national mother-in-law day. This can all be decided in 45 minutes. We should have some time available which could be divided into time slots of one hour, one and half hour, two hours or three hours, in this fashion, we would perhaps be able to deal with more bills.
We would also apply the standards that you mentioned, namely, order of importance and other criteria. These criteria become arbitrary, but arbitrariness exists everywhere, even in our law courts. These are principles that the judges pull out of their hats. This is a definition of equity that we were given in law school. But we often judge on the basis of equity. What else do we do other than treat everyone equitably?
If we were to give the committee a bank of hours that it could manage on a basis of the bills referred to it, would that entail a major change to the Standing Orders?
Mr. Marleau: You know already that you have five hours per week. Let us assume that the House will not increase this envelope. Would it be politically possible for you to sell your peers on the idea of dividing these five hours in different ways in order to increase access while at the same time maintaining the equity criterion? I think that we could state something to that effect in two or three sections of the Standing Orders, unless my colleague has...
Mr. Montpetit: This would be a new concept that we would be integrating in the Standing Orders, but we could easily draft such a change.
Mr. Marleau: For the majority party, there would be no loss of time involved, in that the government would not be turning over part of its time to private members' business. Similarly, those who are perceived to be abusing private members' business would be viewed differently if they wasted a bit of time for... If a member were to judge another member's bill, or to make a value judgement against the other, the latter would perhaps feel less aggrieved in having to spend three hours on his question which he knows is important, whereas only a half an hour would be spent on mother-in-law day.
The Chair: I'm going to interrupt you because we have only six minutes left.
You suggest that this concept of allocating time by this committee could be drafted by you and looked at?
Mr. Marleau: Yes.
The Chair: Can I ask you some procedural questions? One of them is political. I'll ask you all my questions first. I know it's difficult for you to comment on the politics of it, but perhaps from your experience you can.
It has been suggested that we should not be doing our deliberating behind closed doors, that in fact we should be deliberating publicly. My understanding is that this is the way it's always been done, and it gives us more freedom not to have to fight for our particular parties, bills, etc. I'd like a comment on that.
Secondly, we've also been accused of having whipped votes sneak in, such as the cable television one. What would be the logistics or the difficulties of a roll-call vote in the House, not by party but alphabetically by riding, where the member would say yea or nay? Therefore you couldn't sit there and figure out how the Bloc was voting, how the Reform was voting, and how the Liberals were voting, and the Liberals could not figure out how the front bench was voting. Would that be a problem logistically, and would it be a problem traditionally?
Thirdly, we've looked at these criteria frequently, but I inherited them and I continued functioning under them. Is there anything in those criteria that you would consider to be a problem or that you think could use some refinement?
Mr. Marleau: On the latter, I suppose the criteria can always use refinement against the experience you have of applying them. Again, I think that is outside of the stuff that is strictly legal, constitutional, etc. Your toughest is defining what's trivial and insignificant as compared to what's not. I think how you refine that is contextual, and I really have no comment to offer.
On the issue of voting by roll-call versus the whips having a hand to play, in my opening remarks I tried to suggest that within the dynamic of our system it is the government's prerogative to control the agenda and to govern, but this is not necessarily my belief. Here I have much respect for what the Reform Party believes in this context as well, so I'm not taking a position.
Much of the Standing Orders is slanted in favour of the government to make sure it governs, and much of the Standing Orders also provides for the opposition to be heard. So I think you're running into a major stress factor in our system when you suggest that you can take the whips entirely out of every private members' hour, which I think is what you were suggesting.
I don't think the technique of changing how we call the vote will change that major stress factor. It may camouflage it, even to the point where you can't figure out why it didn't pass or it passed. I think the method you just suggested is a bit complex given the fact that we have to allow for absences when we're calling for those. Then the musical chair seating plans, which in our system are constantly moving, would also make it logistically a little more difficult but not impossible to do. Hopefully someday electronic voting will address a lot of those kinds of issues. In that sense, I'm not sure that's a solution.
In my view, the in camera concept is a misunderstood concept by observers of parliamentary affairs, particularly the media. It exists for a good reason. It exists for consensus building, which can be done outside the glare of non-participants, apart from people who don't have an input to the process.
When all is said and done, when you've heard all the witnesses and you've had all the representations, you want to come to a conclusion as a body. I think you not only have the right, but you certainly need the process of going behind closed doors and coming up with a report. If the up-front part were open, there should be even less suspicion about the closed-end part, which coughs up a report.
So I think the in camera process is a basic tenet. Cabinet does not sit in public. The boardrooms of major public corporations are not necessarily open. I'm not advocating closed government, but in the parliamentary process, when you know you have three different political views around the table, I think it's asking an awful lot of human beings trying to do good for their country to come to some major conclusions from time to time without the benefit of addressing each other as individuals in this game.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Langlois: Mr. Marleau and Mr. Montpetit, I would remind you that in the three years that it was chaired by Mr. Lee or Ms Parrish, this committee never once achieved a consensus in its reports. Had it been a public meeting, it would have been grandstand play. We would have had to put up with having people sitting behind us trying to control us in accordance with the instructions given by the whips. Everything would have taken a lot more time and I am convinced that we would get to the point where... I think that just about all of us would have dropped out and I think that the membership would have rotated much more often. While the current process is perhaps not ideal, it does work.
In concluding, I would just like to ask you - I know that there is a Bloc Québécois caucus and that these people are quite fussy about starting on time - if what I said in committee with respect to the vote...
Obviously, the vote begins on the government side. You have the first two rows and all the ministers who vote for or against private members' bills, which gives a lead to the other members.
And if the people were to vote at the table! Mr. Desramaux has already explained that if a recorded vote was called, it wouldn't be possible for the camera to follow the members. It would look like a Speedy Gonzales movie. Nevertheless, it would be possible to simply show the members' list on the screen, with the House as a background. The list could indicate how members voted, just as is done in the American Senate, where votes are recorded. I think that there is some political will and the procedure could be adapted.
Mr. Marleau: Yes, I think that the procedure could be easily adapted. The British vote in the lobbies, where they stand in single file in the order that they happen to be in. Until the whips announce the result, it is very difficult, unless you're standing by the door, to know how people voted.
Mr. Langlois: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for the time that you have given to us.
The Chair: Gentlemen, on behalf of the committee and all the MPs, I thank you continually for what you do. You do a wonderful job and have given us some very good ideas to ponder. If we need to ask you any more questions or clarifications, we will contact you. I thank you very much. It's been educational.
Mr. Marleau: Thank you very much.
Mr. Frazer: Madam Chair, did I understand that Mr. Marleau and Mr. Montpetit were going to give us some ideas?
The Chair: They were going to expand on the idea of how to make variations in recommendations on hours for each bill.
That was what you were going to do, as well as expand on your first proposal, which I thought was rather interesting.
Mr. Marleau: Do you want a draft on the resolutions and a draft on some time allocations?
Mr. Frazer: If you could, yes, that would be most helpful.
The Chair: That would be very nice. Thank you very much.
For the next meeting we're going to call the MPs who wanted to make presentations, of which there are five, and Herb Gray's office wanted to send someone to answer some questions as well. So we will have a meeting when we can again have Procedure and House Affairs cancelled so we can fit it into that slot. Is that suitable for everyone?
Thank you. The meeting is adjourned.