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37th Parliament, 1st Session
EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 020
Friday, February 23, 2001
|CANADA ELECTIONS ACT|
|Bill C-9. Second reading|
|Mr. Peter MacKay|
|Mr. Paul Szabo|
|Mr. Jim Pankiw|
|Mr. Peter MacKay|
|Hon. Lorne Nystrom|
|Mr. Rick Borotsik|
|Mr. Deepak Obhrai|
|Mr. Joe Comartin|
|Mr. Derek Lee|
|STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS|
|Hon. Andy Scott|
|Mr. Jay Hill|
|Ms. Sarmite Bulte|
|Mr. Mauril Bélanger|
|LONG DISTANCE CHARGES|
|Mr. Marcel Proulx|
|Mr. Myron Thompson|
|NUNAVUT TRADE SHOW|
|Ms. Nancy Karetak-Lindell|
|Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral|
|Mr. Eugène Bellemare|
|Ms. Carol Skelton|
|Mr. Irwin Cotler|
|Hon. Lorne Nystrom|
|Mr. Yvan Loubier|
|Mr. Rodger Cuzner|
|MEMBER FOR WINDSOR WEST|
|Mr. Rick Borotsik|
|Mr. Serge Marcil|
|Mr. Deepak Obhrai|
|ORAL QUESTION PERIOD|
|Mr. Chuck Strahl|
|Hon. Maria Minna|
|Mr. Chuck Strahl|
|Hon. Maria Minna|
|Mr. Chuck Strahl|
|Hon. Herb Gray|
|Mrs. Diane Ablonczy|
|Mr. Mark Assad|
|Mrs. Diane Ablonczy|
|Hon. Herb Gray|
|Ms. Caroline St-Hilaire|
|Mr. Mark Assad|
|Ms. Caroline St-Hilaire|
|Hon. Herb Gray|
|Mr. Réal Ménard|
|Hon. Herb Gray|
|Mr. Réal Ménard|
|Hon. Herb Gray|
|Mr. Bill Blaikie|
|Hon. Art Eggleton|
|Mr. Bill Blaikie|
|Hon. Art Eggleton|
|Mr. Loyola Hearn|
|Hon. Herb Dhaliwal|
|Mr. Loyola Hearn|
|Hon. Herb Dhaliwal|
|Mr. Charlie Penson|
|Hon. Art Eggleton|
|Mr. Charlie Penson|
|Hon. Art Eggleton|
|Mr. Pierre Brien|
|Hon. Ralph Goodale|
|Mr. Pierre Brien|
|Hon. Ralph Goodale|
|CORRECTIONAL SERVICE CANADA|
|Mr. Keith Martin|
|Mr. Lynn Myers|
|Mr. Keith Martin|
|Mr. Lynn Myers|
|Mr. Larry McCormick|
|Mr. Larry McCormick|
|Mr. Gurmant Grewal|
|Hon. Hedy Fry|
|Mr. Gurmant Grewal|
|Hon. Herb Gray|
|Mr. David Pratt|
|Mr. Larry McCormick|
|Mr. Svend Robinson|
|Hon. Herb Gray|
|Mr. Joe Comartin|
|Hon. Jim Peterson|
|Mr. Bill Casey|
|Hon. Herb Dhaliwal|
|Mr. Gerald Keddy|
|Hon. Herb Dhaliwal|
|Mr. Jim Pankiw|
|Mr. Lynn Myers|
|Mr. Jim Pankiw|
|Hon. Hedy Fry|
|Mr. Jean-Yves Roy|
|Mr. Pat O'Brien|
|Mr. Jean-Yves Roy|
|Mr. Pat O'Brien|
|Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick|
|Hon. David Collenette|
|Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick|
|Hon. David Collenette|
|Mr. John McCallum|
|Ms. Sophia Leung|
|Mr. Garry Breitkreuz|
|Mr. Larry McCormick|
|Mr. Garry Breitkreuz|
|Mr. Larry McCormick|
|Mr. Paul Crête|
|Hon. Jane Stewart|
|POINTS OF ORDER|
|Oral Question Period|
|Hon. Jim Peterson|
|Mr. Jim Pankiw|
|Mr. Jason Kenney|
|SALES TAX AND EXCISE TAX AMENDMENT ACT, 2001|
|Bill C-13. Introduction and first reading|
|Hon. Jim Peterson|
|QUESTIONS ON THE ORDER PAPER|
|Mr. Derek Lee|
|CANADA ELECTIONS ACT|
|Bill C-9. Second reading|
|Mr. Gurmant Grewal|
|Division on motion deferred|
|MARINE LIABILITY ACT|
|Bill S-2. Second reading|
|Hon. Maria Minna|
|Mr. Ovid Jackson|
|Mr. Jay Hill|
|Mr. Mario Laframboise|
|Hon. Don Boudria|
|PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS|
|Bill C-237. Second Reading|
|Mr. Jay Hill|
|Mr. John Maloney|
|Mr. Réal Ménard|
|Mr. Joe Comartin|
|Mr. Rick Borotsik|
|Mr. Larry Spencer|
|Mr. Jay Hill|
EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 020
HOUSE OF COMMONS
Friday, February 23, 2001
The House met at 10 a.m.
CANADA ELECTIONS ACT
The House resumed from February 22 consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, be now read a second time and referred to a committee
Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak this morning. I have but a few moments left to discuss Bill C-9 before the House.
Mr. Speaker, allow me to congratulate you for the deportment which you brought to this Chamber yesterday while you were presiding over the official visit of the British Prime Minister. I must say that you brought great humility, humour and your usual candour to the Chamber. You certainly carried yourself well in that role.
With respect to the bill, this is a piece of legislation that will go from this Chamber to the committee where there will be an opportunity to review some of the prevalent sections of the legislation itself.
We have been led to believe that the changes brought about by the bill, which, as I mentioned yesterday, resulted from a decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal, will in fact set this matter right.
The past election demonstrated the need to examine in greater detail this issue of a permanent voters list. There were numerous occasions where many members of parliament encountered constituents who arrived at the polling booth and were sadly not able to vote. This of course comes at a time when there is declining participation in elections. Perhaps one of the most important exercises in the examination of the legislation is to ensure that this situation does not continue. We must ensure that we are encouraging not discouraging people from taking part in this important democratic process of voting.
Although this is a bill that is quite procedural in nature, there is a fundamental principle behind it that goes to the very heart of parliamentary democracy, that is, encouraging voters to participate in the electoral processes.
The definition with respect to the number of candidates that must run in an election to allow a party to have the official designation on the ballot is addressed. The situation surrounding donations and the blackouts that occur during elections is also addressed, so that information as to results in some regions is not brought into play as a factor in another region because of the width and breadth of this country and the attached time zones.
The Progressive Conservative Party, at this point, is certainly supportive of the legislation. We look forward to full participation at the committee level to bring forward possible amendments that would improve and enhance the bill which is our role as members of parliament.
Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member referred to voters lists and some of the problems we had with them. I think the hon. member will know that this was the first election under which we had permanent voters lists. I think all members would probably concur that there was substantive difficulty.
I wonder whether the hon. member has any comment with regard to the propriety and the feasibility of a good voters list using a permanent model, given what he knows from his own experience about what happened.
Mr. Peter MacKay: Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my remarks, I think that is perhaps the underlying most important aspect of the bill.
The difficulty, as the hon. member is clearly aware, is the nature of this country, the high level of mobility and the number of students, for example, who are attending university. The permanency of the residency I suppose is the very issue.
What I have found and I think the common experience of many members was the need for the checking and what was traditionally done prior to elections of having individuals go out and ensure the veracity of the current list, which, to my way of thinking, is tantamount to repeating the way the process was before.
This leads to questions as to how permanent the list is and whether we should examine the list by going back to the old way of doing things, which was to simply, with ample time prior to an election, going out and enumerating and finding out where people are and ensuring that the lists are correct.
Given the enormity of that job, it is natural that there will be some mistakes. There will never be perfection in this system, but to suggest somehow that a permanent list will capture everyone would be fooling ourselves, given the high levels of mobility. The enumeration process will be relied upon heavily in most instances, and it is a return to a system that we have had for many years.
Mr. Jim Pankiw (Saskatoon—Humboldt, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time I have spoken in the House since the resumption of parliament, but it is my first time participating in debate. I congratulate you on your election as Speaker. I very much respect and appreciate the job that you did as Deputy Speaker in the last parliament and I look forward to your favourable rulings in this parliament.
We are continuing the debate on Bill C-9 from yesterday when unfortunately the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle made reference to a private member's bill that I introduced in the House. My private member's bill would seek to change the current number of members required to be designated as an official party in the House. The proposal in my bill is that a party would require 10% of the seats in the House of Commons. I made the proposal on the basis that I thought it was a reasonable amount. If a party cannot achieve 10% representation then the benefits that accrue to official parties ought not to be available.
In other words we use taxpayer money to assist us as official parties in carrying out our duties in the House of Commons and, as in the case of the official opposition, holding the government accountable for its actions. I am not speaking about benefits available to each member of parliament to represent his or her constituents. I am not proposing that should in any way be changed or altered whatsoever, but I am referring to the parties in general.
The current rule is 12. If a party does not have 12 members it does not get those benefits. My proposal is that 12 is too low a number. It is less than 5%. My proposal is 10%. It was only a proposal.
If the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle would like to amend my bill and suggest 5%, I would be open to that. I do not think it is unreasonable to say that the benefits of being an official party and the financial resources made available to it will be allowed if the party has 5% of the seats in the House of Commons. Surely that is not too onerous a level to achieve.
What I take particular offence to is the manner in which the member, quite frankly, misled and misrepresented my bill and my position. First, let me make it very clear that he went to great lengths to say that this was official Canadian Alliance policy when in fact it is a private member's bill. He has been in the House long enough that he ought to know the difference. He should not misrepresent my private member's bill or misrepresent the official policies of the Canadian Alliance.
Mr. Paul Szabo: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am becoming somewhat concerned about the usage of the terminology misrepresented and misled in the context of the member referring to another member in this place.
The Speaker: I do not think the hon. member has stepped over the line yet and I am sure that he will not. He knows the rules and I think he will exercise judicious restraint.
Mr. Jim Pankiw: Indeed I will, Mr. Speaker. That is exactly the type of favourable ruling I was referring to.
What I am saying is that it is a private member's bill which I introduced to engage members in debate on what number of MPs a party ought to have to receive the resources provided to officially recognized parties. I do not think 5% or 10% is an unrealistic number to have. However, I was pointing out that the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle tried to link that to the Canadian Alliance when in fact it was not fair for him to do so.
I took further offence when I reviewed Hansard today. Unfortunately I was not in the House to draw attention to the fact that the hon. member was misrepresenting my position. According to Hansard he made, quite frankly, vicious personal attacks on members of our caucus. He referred to us as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble people and then made disparaging comments about members of our caucus who wear cowboy hats.
I am sure there are many farmers and ranchers in the riding of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle who wear cowboy hats. Is he saying that they are somehow prehistoric people? That is what he was insinuating about members who have been elected to the House of Commons to represent their constituents.
It raises this question: Why was he engaging in that type of gutter politics and smear tactics? He was doing so to distract attention from the issue. He does not want to engage in the debate on whether or not 5% or 10% is a reasonable number to have in the House of Commons in order to receive official party status. He therefore engages in the longstanding New Democratic Party technique of trying to distract attention from the issue by engaging in personal attacks. It is highly inappropriate.
The member was confusing my private member's bill with Bill C-9. Bill C-9 is about the elections. It is about getting one's name on a ballot, what would constitute an official party and being able to put a party's name on the ballot. I am in no way opposed to the number of members being 12. I would support it being two. If two people want to run in a federal election and call themselves a party, they ought to be able to do that. Whatever rules and privileges we can extend to people who are running in elections, we ought to accommodate that and encourage people to participate and engage in the democratic process.
I want to highlight that my private member's bill in no way has anything to do with that. My bill is after the fact. Once the election is held, once we have accommodated people as much as possible to engage in the democratic process, to call themselves parties and to participate in elections, once the people have spoken, then we need to apply a certain standard. Indeed, right now we do; it is 12 MPs. I am simply suggesting it should be a percentage, and that 5% or 10% would not be unreasonable.
The purpose in that, further to what I have already said, is to eliminate official party representation in the House of fringe or marginal parties, such as the New Democratic Party, and to stop financial resources from accruing to them. If there is any doubt about that, we had the privilege yesterday in the House of being addressed by the prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, the leader of the labour party. I would like to quote from his speech. He said:
Finally on trade I just want to say this last point. It is time I think that we started to argue vigorously and clearly as to why free trade is right. It is the key to jobs for our people, to prosperity and actually to development in the poorest parts of the world. The case against it is misguided and, worse, unfair. However sincere the protests, they cannot be allowed to stand in the way of rational argument. We should start to make this case with force and determination.
Clearly the opinion of the leader of the labour party of Great Britain, the prime minister of Great Britain, is that the NDP's opposition to expanding our free trade zones is irrational and, in his words, misguided and unfair. That just highlights and underscores the type of fringe, marginal party that the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle represents. My private member's bill was simply designed to prevent resources from accruing to fringe parties.
I will also take the opportunity to criticize the Liberal government. If we are interested in electoral reform, why would we not extend the discussion and the scope of the bill to include Senate reform?
For decades regional alienation has been occurring in the country, and part of the reason is because of the poor democratic processes that are in place. We could undertake a lot of initiatives to improve democracy and improve the ability of members of parliament to represent their constituents. I will not get into all the things we could do in the House of Commons but I do want to talk about the Senate.
Why would we not elect our senators? It would obviously be more democratic and more representative of the will of the people. Senators supposedly represent people in the provinces they come from. They debate and review legislation that comes from the House. However, to have those people appointed is an affront to the very regions they are supposed to represent.
I have taken the initiative of writing to the former premier of Saskatchewan, Mr. Roy Romanow, on a number of occasions over the past several years while he was still premier. I urged him to enact a senatorial election act that could be done in conjunction with municipal or provincial elections in order to minimize cost and ensure efficiency. It would allow the people of Saskatchewan to choose who they wanted to represent them in the Senate as opposed to the current practice in which the Prime Minister appoints friends and people who have benefited the Liberal Party in some way. This is not a unique or even novel idea.
Alberta has a senatorial election act and has elected senators in waiting. Unfortunately the Prime Minister refuses to respect the democratic will of the people of Alberta and appoints people he has chosen to represent them in the Senate. Ideally we need to reform the system so that senators who are elected automatically become senators. However, as a first step, surely the Prime Minister could recognize and respect the democratic will of the people of Alberta and appoint their chosen and elected representatives, Bert Brown and Ted Morton, to the Senate.
My purpose in writing the premier of Saskatchewan was to encourage him to enact a similar piece of legislation in his province so that we could elect senators in waiting and increase the pressure on the Prime Minister to abandon his undemocratic ways and start appointing democratically elected senators.
Unfortunately the premier of Saskatchewan at the time, a New Democrat, refused to accede to my request and implement such an act. That was most regrettable, but it underscores some of the hypocrisy in the New Democratic Party. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle talks in the House about fairness and trying to improve the democratic process and yet the former New Democratic premier of Saskatchewan would not enact a senatorial election act that would let people choose who they want to represent them in the Senate. It is quite unbelievable.
I have taken the initiative to write to the new premier in Saskatchewan and I am waiting for his reply. I hope he is more favourable toward my suggestion. I hope he will be more democratic and try to assist the democratic process in Canada, something the former NDP premier was unwilling to do.
Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): Mr. Speaker, I could not help but notice the righteous indignation the hon. member cloaks himself in when he speaks of hypocrisy and of his efforts to bring about an elected Senate.
I hope that would include the newest member of the Senate under the reform alliance banner. In that other place, I would suggest it is only appropriate that, in keeping with official party stance, he would step down and run in British Columbia. I would hope the hon. member would encourage him to do so.
I also must refer briefly to the member's private member's bill, Bill C-273, in which the Progressive Conservative Party is referred to as a fringe or marginal party. I take exception to that and think the hon. member, in all humility, might rethink the wording of the bill.
The Progressive Conservative Party, as we all know, goes back to the very origins of the country. It has run candidates in every election since Confederation and has run candidates in every region of the country. I ask the hon. member to reflect with some hubris upon the roots of his own party, the Reform Party.
When his party first arrived in the Chamber many people used the same unkind words, fringe party or marginal party. From those humble roots his party has now achieved official party status and has become the official opposition.
I caution the hon. member to perhaps choose his words carefully and reflect a little bit more broadly on the origins of his own party when he starts castigating and using that type of inflammatory language in the Chamber.
I would be very interested to hear his comments.
Mr. Jim Pankiw: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raised a couple of questions. First, of course, he drew attention to the fact that the former president of the Progressive Conservative Party, Gerry St. Germain, a very respected and noble Senator, is now a member of the Canadian Alliance caucus. We are very proud and happy about that.
The question though was whether, in keeping with our official party policy, I would encourage Senator St. Germain to resign his position and seek to be elected as a Senator. I very much encouraged him to do so, and he himself has offered to do that. Should the Prime Minister be willing to commit himself to appointing the democratically elected senator, Senator St. Germain would resign his seat and seek to be elected. I hope that adequately addresses the question from the hon. member.
The second point the hon. member made is that my private member's bill describes not only the NDP but the Progressive Conservative Party as fringe parties. I think he has a legitimate point. Although the NDP is very marginal and has ideas that are, in the words of the prime minister of Great Britain, misguided, unfair and irrational, I think that meets the definition of fringe.
On the other hand, I agree with the hon. member with regard to the Progressive Conservative Party. It has a proud tradition in this parliament. Unfortunately it has lost favour with the general public to quite a degree, although its principles and policies are very much consistent with our own. Very often members of both parties find themselves in agreement with each other.
Indeed, the PC Party does not meet the definition of fringe party. My bill perhaps is unfair in the sense that there is a lot of common ground between our parties and our principles. It does not make sense that such good progressive ideas are held in two parties divided. Seeking to find more and better ways of co-operating and working together against the regressive policies of the Liberal Party should be encouraged, and I would certainly welcome that.
Hon. Lorne Nystrom (Regina—Qu'Appelle, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I notice the member took offence to some of the things I was saying. People who are watching and listening today should realize that the Alliance Party, through the hon. member, has introduced a bill stating that an official party should have at least 10% of the members of the House, which is 31 members, or should have members in three provinces. The Bloc, of course, comes from only one province.
The member would classify as a fringe party 63 members of parliament: all the Bloc, all the Conservatives, all the New Democrats, the voices of one-third of the Canadian people. Those three parties received about 33% of the vote. Is that democracy? Is that inclusiveness? Is that empowering people? Is that what the Reform Party and the Alliance Party stand for? Do they stand for excluding the voice of the people in the House of Commons?
There is the party with a former leader who went across the country talking about the equality of people, saying “Let the people in. Let the west in. Let the people speak. Let us treat everyone equally”. Now those members have a bill in the House of Commons that would mute the voices of one-third of the people in the country.
People should know where the reform alliance party stands. Never has anyone in the history of the House of Commons moved such a draconian bill. No one has ever tried to do this before. It would mute the voices of one-third of the people.
The left in the country will be around here for a long time after the Reform Party disappears. I do not know whether the member has any sense of history in terms of the contribution of the CCF and the NDP in health care, social programs, the mixed economy and the charter of rights, all of these institutions. Maybe he was not a very good student of history.
I want to ask him this: why would he propose an idea that is so contrary to what his former leader used to say about the equality of the people, which was that everyone is equal and should have a voice in the House of Commons in the Parliament of Canada? He wants to exclude 63 MPs representing a third of the electorate. That is the most draconian idea I have heard since the ideas that came out of the era of Joe McCarthy in the United States.
Mr. Jim Pankiw: Mr. Speaker, the member is doing it again. He says “the Alliance Party through this member”. In another part of his missive he asks “Is this what the Alliance Party stands for?”
I tried to be as clear as I could in my speech. I will reiterate it. This is not official Canadian Alliance policy. It is simply a private member's bill. His question is, why would I propose such an idea? I proposed such an idea because in the words of the prime minister of Great Britain, the NDP is misguided, unfair and irrational. If such a fringe party is represented in the House, maybe we ought to examine the rules around that.
The member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough pointed out that his party is not really a fringe party, that it in fact has a proud tradition and often advocates very progressive ideas and policies which would improve the prosperity of all the citizens of our nation. I agree with him.
The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle takes offence to the number of 10% and the fact that my bill would also exclude the Bloc because there would have to be MPs from three provinces. My rationale, my purpose, in doing this is that a lot of Canadians are offended that the Bloc Quebecois gets financial resources even though it represents only one province and has as a specific purpose the splitting up of our country.
It is just a private member's bill. I am open to suggestions and amendments. If the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle wants to propose that we delete the three province requirement because it is unfair to members of the Bloc and that we lower the 10% to 5%, I am open to that proposal.
I therefore seek the unanimous consent of the House to make my bill votable with the proviso that the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle would propose an amendment to lower the 10% requirement to 5% and drop the three province rule.
The Speaker: I guess it is a proposal. I do not think the hon. member is asking for consent for all that, surely, at this point. We are not debating his bill today. We are on debate on a government bill at the moment. Given the complicated nature of this matter, I think asking for unanimous consent might not advance his cause.
Mr. Rick Borotsik (Brandon—Souris, PC): Mr. Speaker, we are on government business and I wish we would get back to that piece of legislation. However, it was the member himself who brought up private member's Bill C-273 at great length during his conversation.
I have a simple question. As one of those parties that he has deemed to be fringe, is the 10% requirement a defence mechanism that the member is putting forward because he recognizes that the official opposition has fallen down miserably in trying to put forward that opposition to the government and must depend now upon those same fringe parties that he refers to, that is, the NDP, the Conservatives and the Bloc members? Quite frankly, the credibility of the official opposition has been eroded to the point where no one will believe them or listen to them any longer. Is this only a defence mechanism to try to make sure we do not have the opportunity, with the limited resources and the limited questions we have, to in fact put forward questions in a much more effective manner than the member's party has been able to do?
Mr. Jim Pankiw: Mr. Speaker, first of all the hon. member says that he is representing a party that I have deemed to be fringe. I thought I clarified that and highlighted the idea that really the only fringe party in the House of Commons, by definition of the prime minister of Great Britain himself, is the NDP, because it is, in his words, misguided, unfair and irrational.
The other question the hon. member had was about why I am introducing the bill, whether is it a defence mechanism or something. In fact, I reintroduced the bill in the House of Commons. I introduced it in the last session of parliament. I think it is a good cause and is something the House of Commons should examine: what is a reasonable level of representation in parliament before an opposition party gets access to the resources that are provided to hold the government to account? That is the purpose of my bill.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Calgary East, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleagues from the other side that the Canadian public only two months ago gave their verdict on that party and that is why those members are sitting at the other end of the Chamber, almost on the way out. Perhaps they will understand, since they are sitting here talking about democracy, that it was the Canadian public that made them lose their seats to the other party. Let us keep that in mind.
An hon. member: You guys did well in Ontario, did you?
Mr. Deepak Obhrai: We went up. You went down. Perhaps they can understand that the Canadian public has made its choice. The public has said where those members are going to sit.
Let us go back to Bill C-9. It is a pleasure for me to rise and speak on Bill C-9. This is a bill the government brought in because of a court ruling. It seems to me, and I can never understand what the government seems to be doing, that this bill is destined to go back to the courts. It came from the courts and it is destined to go back to the courts because it is a flawed bill.
The bill is saying, based on the ruling from the courts, that the government will recognize a party with 12 or more candidates. The government will recognize that party only on an election ballot. The government will not recognize it as a registered party. The difference between being on the ballot and having registered party favours the old parties, including my party—the Canadian public has chosen us to be the official opposition, contrary to whatever the members opposite want to say—and it favours the government.
It seems to me that the government is trying to protect itself. If the trend carries on and the NDP and the other parties keep losing ground, then the bill will apply to them too. If they lose one or two candidates, they will lose party status in the House as well.
We are talking about registered parties. Let me tell the House what a registered party gets. A registered party gets electoral voter lists. A registered party gets the ability to issue tax receipts, which allows it to do fundraising. It is also allowed to provide rebates on election expenses. Most importantly, if for some reason the party is suspended, the bill would allow the party to have its assets liquidated.
What is happening here is that we are creating two classes of parties in the country, registered parties and eligible parties. I do not understand why we would want to do that.
Smaller parties ran in my riding in the November election: the Marijuana Party, the Communist Party and the Natural Law Party. There were also five from the other registered parties.
The Marijuana Party was running on the basis of getting out its message. That is fine. I thoroughly enjoyed having their members as my opponents and debating with them on the issues. They had one simple message they wanted to get out to the public, which was that marijuana be legalized for medicinal purposes. That was their only message, because a Mr. Krieger, who is in jail at this time, was and is using marijuana as a medicinal purpose to counteract pain. He wanted this message to get out. That was fine. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get out one's message. After all, we do talk about freedom of speech. We cherish freedom of speech.
Why can we not have these eligible parties become registered parties? Perhaps the government can give me a good reason. If it is good enough to recognize a party's official status in this esteemed House, why can we not recognize anyone who is putting up 12 candidates as a registered party? Why are we creating two systems here? I will never understand this.
We have a lot of things we can do, but here is a bill that is destined to go back to the courts. The bill addresses nothing, yet we have important issues to be addressed. There are issues about reform. There is the reform of the Senate, and my friend talked about reforming the House so that members of parliament can speak on behalf of their constituents. As is evident and as has been stated time after time, the power of what is happening in the House is with the Prime Minister's office.
We are on the committees, but we know they are irrelevant because at the end of the day everything comes from one person. Democracy in parliament has been eroded over the years, a legacy from past governments of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. That is why the Conservative Party has been relegated to the back rows of the House. This is the legacy that party left, a legacy of the eroding of democracy, of all aspects of power being concentrated in the hands of the PMO.
These issues need to be addressed. The Alliance has put forward a lot of good proposals for debate. The other parties even agree with us on this, in regard to a private member's bill. We are elected by the people of Canada. We are their voice. However, this is my second term and, based on experience, I can tell my colleagues that our voices here are not heard, nor are the voices of government backbenchers.
Let us address the issues that are important. Let us address the fundamental points of freedom of speech, transparency and the ability to allow those who want to speak on behalf of Canadians speak. Let them be allowed. The bill before us does not do that. For these reasons we are opposed to the bill.
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—St. Clair, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I made my first address in the House yesterday. You were not in the chair at the time, so I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election. I wish you well in your position and I wish you the best in terms of dealing with the stress that the job creates.
With regard to the legislation before us I wish to make several points. We are in support of the thrust of the bill to provide party status to those groups that can muster 12 members to run on their behalf.
Our concern is much more with the inadequacy of the bill on a number of other points. Recognizing the time I have, I wish to address the lack of updating the permanent enumeration list from the perspective of the experiences I have had. I have now ran on three occasions, and on each occasion I was confronted with similar problems that resulted in the inability of people in my riding to vote on election day.
I will use one example. As a result of the unfortunate death of Shaughnessy Cohen, there was a byelection in my riding in 1999. There was construction going on at the time in the town of Tecumseh in one of the suburban areas.
When I ran again in the November 2000 election, I happened to be canvassing door to door in that area. I was knocking on doors of some people that I had met in the previous two election campaigns, but then I crossed the street and I began consistently running into residents that had clearly not been put on the voters list. I was with a couple of supporters and we decided to cover the whole area to see who was not on the list. It turned out that it was a new subdivision and well in excess of 100 voters were not on the voters list.
The point I suppose I should emphasize is that at this stage it was only about seven or eight days before the election and all these people had some significant difficulty voting on November 27. If a regular enumeration had been conducted prior to the vote and during the election period, these people would have been easily picked up and they would have had minimal or no difficulty on election day.
I should make a point that the returning officer in our area was not somebody who neglected her responsibilities. In fact I thought she was quite positive in the way she did her job. She did it as effectively as she could but was hampered both by the shortness of the election period and by the other tools that she did not have.
There were other areas where we had trouble. The one of particular concern to me was with immigrants to Canada who had only recently achieved the ability to vote under the Canada Elections Act. We have had a major in-migration in my riding, particularly from the Middle East. There are some difficulties with language. As a result a number of people in two areas of my riding where they tended to settle were not on the voters list. If an enumeration were conducted we would have been able to identify those people, get them on to the voters list and facilitate their ability to vote.
In many cases, when these individuals did go to the polls, they had particular difficulty because of language. Often they spoke English or French but they had difficulty with the language. They needed extra support in order to work their way through the system and had to bring the proper identification in order to vote on election day. Again, a good number of them ended up being disenfranchised.
There are certain areas in my constituency with people who are of low income. We have, as is the case in a number of other major municipalities, a housing problem. These individuals often have difficulty affording housing and are moving on a regular basis. The lack of enumeration of these individuals during the election period again tends to disenfranchise them. They end up being disenfranchised almost on a class basis because they are forced to move often due to the cost of housing. We are caught in a situation where we disenfranchise them.
A number of these people often have difficulty with their identification and are not able, even if they are determined enough to go to the polls on election day, to produce the necessary identification.
In one area of my riding it is a financial issue. If people show up at the poll and do not have their identification with them, they have to actually take a bus, because the poll is so large, go back home, get their identification and then come back. Those few dollars that it cost them is often enough to dissuade them from voting on election day. So we disenfranchise them.
The University of Windsor, although not located in my riding, has a number of students who come in from outside to vote in the riding where they may be residing while they go to school. The lack of enumeration restricts a number of them and they often have difficulty on election day producing identification that would make it possible for them to vote. They end up being disenfranchised.
We all know the figure that has been publicized, the one million plus voters who were not on the voters list on election day on November 27, 2000. That, by any standards, is unacceptable in a democratic country.
We would ask the government to reconsider the legislation and to provide additional amendments that would make it possible to have enumeration conducted during the course of the election.
Mr. Derek Lee (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, throughout the debate today and yesterday, I could not help but notice that the flow and the subject of the debate involved issues way beyond the scope of the bill that is before the House for discussion.
I am a little disappointed in the debate because there are some important issues that lie behind the court decisions that the House is now acceding to in considering the bill. I am not referring to the speaker who just spoke, but most of the previous speakers have wanted to address issues like the voters list or other issues related to democracy and the effectiveness of the electoral machinery that we use in Canada.
In an attempt to bring our record closer to the issues that are in front of us, I would ask the member a couple of questions. Hopefully he has had a look at the bill and knows the issues that are in there. There are of course the technical issues and a few amendments that are referred to as technical amendments. However, there is also the issue of allowing individuals, who are part of political parties that do not meet the 50 candidate threshold, to show themselves as members of parties.
I am trying to elicit an acknowledgement from the member that the proposals in the legislation to allow an individual and at least 11 other candidates to show themselves as a party on a ballot is fair, and that the 12 person threshold is fair.
This has not come up very often, but sometimes the House and the government are called upon by the court to reconsider an issue based on the court's opinion. In this case, the proposed amendments are as a direct result of court of appeal decisions and opinion. The government has introduced a bill to do that.
I am asking the member to comment on the appropriateness of the House responding directly to an exhortation or an opinion from a court to revise our laws so that they are more charter compliant.
Mr. Joe Comartin: Mr. Speaker, at the outset of my comments today I made it clear that I was in support of the number 12. I felt that the legislation as far as it went on that point was appropriate. We need to have some number. I think as a House we have accepted that, and the Ontario Court of Appeal has made it clear that the number 50 was unreasonable. The use of 12 seems to be appropriate. It is in keeping with the acknowledgement of party status in the House if that many members are elected.
Should the number be 10, 14 or 15? I suppose arguments could be made in that regard, but 12 seems to be accepted because of the historical significance of elected members within the House. I thought I had made that clear at the start of my comments but if I did not, I apologize to my friend across the House.
I will go back to the point the member raised about the way the debate has gone and the fact that so many people have raised other issues. I think that is the inadequacy of the legislation. It does not address a number of other very crucial issues, some of which I have spoken to. Enumeration, in particular, should have been addressed. I thought we had some sense of that from the House leader earlier in the session, that something more extensive would be forthcoming.
I reassert all the comments that I made in my original address, but to address his particular question, I made it obvious that we do support the number 12 in order to achieve party status for electoral purposes.
STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS
Hon. Andy Scott (Fredericton, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to rise today to congratulate AKD International, a business in my riding which participated in the team Canada mission to China.
AKD International signed a contract valued at $2 million with an educational bureau in Shenzhen to deliver high school and community college programs using an integrated Chinese-New Brunswick curriculum. It signed a contract valued at $3 million to establish a broadband information technology infrastructure at the Beijing Concord College.
AKD International also signed a memorandum of understanding and letters of intent for projects worth $22 million, of which $7 million is Canadian content. I want to congratulate AKD.
I also commend the Prime Minister for raising the important issue of human rights while on this trade mission. The recognition of fundamental human rights must be a prerequisite for any form of interaction between civilized societies.
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Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, in 1992 the Minister of Transport surrendered control of the Vancouver International Airport to a privately controlled airport authority. This authority learned well from the government that created it. According to a Vancouver Board of Trade report, the authority operates with a lack of explicit accountability, something that has become a trademark of the government.
Calls from the business community at the airport for the authority to make itself more accountable to the users of the facility have been dismissed as unnecessary. The authority is quite happy to leave things as they are.
No wonder. Its biggest decision last year was how to spend a $49.5 million surplus, yet it continues to overtax passengers with its terminal user fee. Taxing when there is a surplus, where have we heard that before? The authority must be Liberal.
It is way past time the federal government took a second look at just how autocratic this authority has become. The contractors and thousands of employees who work for it deserve more accountability.
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Ms. Sarmite Bulte (Parkdale—High Park, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, on February 24 Estonians mark the 83rd anniversary of the declaration of Estonian independence.
This is not only a day of celebration for Canadians of Estonian heritage, but also an opportunity to thank Canada and Canadians for offering Estonians refuge in a new homeland in the aftermath of World War II.
It is an opportunity to thank Canada for its steadfast support of Estonian independence through the dark days of the Soviet occupation of Estonia. It is an opportunity to thank Canada for its support in rebuilding Estonia after the re-establishment of Estonian independence in 1991. Finally, it is an opportunity to thank Canada for its support of Estonia's aspirations to join NATO in the very near future in order to secure a lasting peace and stability in Europe.
On this special day, Canadians of Estonian heritage look forward to the future with hope and optimism for both Canada and Estonia, and for even closer economic, political and diplomatic ties between these two countries.
To this end, I am pleased to announce that on February 22 Estonia officially opened its embassy in Ottawa.
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Mr. Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, earlier this week I had the opportunity of commenting on scientific achievements of last week, including landing a satellite on an asteroid and installing a lab in the International Space Station.
Those two achievements in and of themselves are quite astounding, but they are also rooted in other achievements of note. For instance, 92 years ago today, on February 23, 1909, the Silver Dart, designed by Canadian engineer John McCurdy, made the first powered heavier than air flight in Canada, in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, to be precise. A few years before that, in December 1903, the Wright brothers had achieved the first ever controlled powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
I would like to suggest that the 100th anniversary of the first ever powered flight, December 2003, would be an ideal time to officially open the long delayed new wing of the National Aviation Museum and dedicate it to the indomitable spirit of the men and women who gave us this marvellous adventure of human flight.
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LONG DISTANCE CHARGES
Mr. Marcel Proulx (Hull—Aylmer, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Quebec government's bill 170 will force the merger of the cities of Hull, Aylmer, Gatineau, Buckingham and Masson-Angers on January 1, 2002.
Unfortunately, a number of the 220,000 residents of the big new city will have to pay long distances charges if they want to phone each other. This is the case between Aylmer and certain areas of Gatineau, as well as between Aylmer and Buckingham-Masson-Angers.
All these fellow citizens of the newly created municipality will not be able to speak to each other without paying long distance charges.
I have therefore made representations so that they will not have to phone each other long distance, from the very first day of the existence of the new city of Hull-Gatineau.
I invite the management of the CRTC and of Bell Canada to co-operate in this matter and to abolish these long distance charges.
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Mr. Myron Thompson (Wild Rose, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, almost a year ago the minister for customs publicly announced to smugglers and cross border criminals that he planned to increase security at 32 of our 147 border crossings in Canada.
The minister went a step further and listed the 32 crossings and what he planned to do at each site. I compliment the minister on giving this practical guide to criminals on which border points to avoid.
The only thing these initiatives have accomplished is to increase traffic at our unmanned border crossings where criminals know they can cross into Canada without even slowing down.
The government has single handedly created a punishment free zone for all international criminals. We have loosened our border to the point where our American neighbours no longer trust our citizens travelling south, where jets are free to land without inspection and where international felons know that our justice system is reluctant to extradite.
Only Walt Disney himself could have designed this resort for criminals that Canada is fast becoming.
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NUNAVUT TRADE SHOW
Ms. Nancy Karetak-Lindell (Nunavut, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, on March 1 the 10th annual Nunavut trade show will take place in Iqaluit. Small business owners, entrepreneurs, retailers and government organizations from all over Nunavut will enjoy opportunities to promote their goods and skills to the public. Interesting workshops will take place.
I thank my friend, the hon. member for St. Catharines, who will be attending the Nunavut trade show to learn about the unique challenges of northern businesses and to share his expertise on small and medium size enterprises.
I look forward to this dynamic trade show which highlights the energetic and creative businesses that populate Nunavut.
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Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral (Laval Centre, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the auditor general is clear, and I quote:
The employment insurance act does not specify how decisions on eligibility are reached or how appeals are to be carried out. This situation has gone on for several years now, and to date no steps have been taken to make the process transparent. Employers and unemployed workers are still at a disadvantage when dealing with the federal bureaucracy.
It is a regular occurrence for people who have been treated unjustly to be deprived of benefits for years. The Liberal government's attitude is unacceptable and disdainful.
By neglecting to follow up on the constructive criticism by the Auditor General of Canada, the government is demonstrating how little importance it attaches to treating workers fairly.
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Mr. Eugène Bellemare (Carleton—Gloucester, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada announced this week that the number of people on employment insurance had decreased by an average of 7.2% since last year.
This fact shows the enormous job the federal has done in creating jobs. The throne speech pointed out, in fact, that at least 2 million jobs had been created since the Liberals took office.
It must be said that this announcement occurs in a particular context. We note that Canada has experienced the longest period of economic growth since the 1960s.
The federal government is doing everything it can to make Canada a leader in the economic community. And it has met its objectives. Even the boldest.
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Ms. Carol Skelton (Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, this morning I recognize an event that will be going on this weekend in my riding of Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar. The Hull Canadiens, an over 50 hockey team from Hull, Quebec, have travelled to Biggar, Saskatchewan, to play hockey in the communities of Landis, Saskatoon and Biggar.
Twenty people from Hull are staying in Biggar this weekend and are enjoying the hospitality of the Biggar Oldtimers and the Biggar community.
Last year the Hull Canadiens, with hockey players from Hull and Montreal, and Stuart Busse from Biggar, travelled to Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland to play hockey as ambassadors of Canada and Canadian recreational hockey.
I congratulate the Hull Canadiens and all the organizers from Biggar for this wonderful cultural exchange and I wish them a great weekend.
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Mr. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, Sri Lanka is not only one of the worst of contemporary killing fields, but one of the most tragic in terms of humanitarian consequence.
The indicators are chilling. Over one million internally displaced people with UNHCR have a limited mandate for protection. There are over 12,000 unresolved cases of disappeared persons, second only to Iraq. Both government and LTTE forces have been implicated in a variety of humanitarian abuses, with civilians as target and victim. The UN special rapporteur on violence, who is herself Sri Lankan, has emphasized government complicity by security personnel in sexual violence. UNICEF has expressed concern for child victims of war and denounced the LTTE's use of child soldiers.
Given the above, we should therefore be encouraged by two lesser known developments. First, we are in the second month of an agreed upon and long awaited ceasefire in Sri Lanka and, second, a Quebec coalition for peace in Sri Lanka has been founded by one of my own constituents, which ought to augur well for an enhanced humanitarian sensibility within Quebec and Canada to developments in Sri Lanka.
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Hon. Lorne Nystrom (Regina—Qu'Appelle, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada endorsed the cruel and useless bombing of Iraq by the United States and the United Kingdom without any regard for the consequences of those illegal bombings on the people of Iraq, wounding many and probably killing some.
Ironically, one of the consequences of our country endorsing that bombing of innocent civilians is that it has also thrown a financial bomb at Canadian wheat producers.
Last year our farmers exported 262,000 tonnes of wheat to Iraq, worth about $50 million, primarily from my home province of Saskatchewan. One of the results of the endorsement by our government of the bombing of Iraq is that Iraq has now informed our Canadian wheat exporters that it will no longer accept wheat from Canada. This has just driven another financial spike into the coffin of our prairie grain producers.
Our farmers are already suffering enough. They are in Ottawa today lobbying for better prices and for a better deal from our federal government and now they have lost yet another market because of the action of the government across the way.
Let us stop the bombing in Iraq. Let us lift the economic sanctions and save another market for Canadian grain producers.
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Mr. Yvan Loubier (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the Conference Board of Canada tells us that there is no problem in the oil industry, that everything is doing the best it can. The petroleum free market is in good shape. But who is in good shape?
Shell Canada has announced unprecedented profits of $858 million over the past year. Petro-Canada's profits are $893 million and Imperial Oil's, $1.4 billion. Clearly, the oil companies are in good shape.
These three companies control 75% of the market. They are suspected of collusion in setting their prices and they are governed by toothless competition legislation.
Most importantly, however, they were involved in the Conference Board report analyses. And so how, as judge and jury, could they do otherwise but say that everything is fine and nothing must be changed?
When will the federal government stop mocking the public and pass real legislation on competition that will have teeth as pointed as those of the oil sharks?
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Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Bras d'Or—Cape Breton, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as the member of parliament for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton it is a great pleasure to stand in the House today and offer congratulations to a constituent of mine, Natalie MacMaster, on her recent Grammy nomination for best traditional folk album.
The fiddling sensation from Troy, Inverness County, has dazzled audiences in community halls from Judique to Glencoe to sold out performances on the world stage. Earlier this month she was named instrumental artist of the year at the East Coast Music Awards and her latest CD In My Hands won a Juno award for best instrumental album in 2000.
Her energy and ability are matched only by the passion she demonstrates for her musical roots. Natalie MacMaster is truly a remarkable young woman and has emerged as a wonderful ambassador for Cape Breton Island. We wish her continued success in her future endeavours.
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MEMBER FOR WINDSOR WEST
Mr. Rick Borotsik (Brandon—Souris, PC): Mr. Speaker, I rise today disheartened to have heard the comments made yesterday by the member for Windsor West. The words from the Deputy Prime Minister were inexcusable given his long years of experience as a parliamentarian.
In response to a question from the right hon. member of parliament for Calgary Centre, the Deputy Prime Minister stated “He has a lot of nerve lecturing to me about the law. Which law school did he ever graduate from?” These base and appalling comments by the member for Windsor West are insulting to every member of parliament in the House. It is our duty as legislators to question the government on any matter of concern to Canadians. It is our right.
I am not a lawyer. My right to question the laws of the House comes not from a law school but from my democratic right given to me by my constituents. My question to the Deputy Prime Minister is this: because I am not a lawyer do I have the right to stand and make this statement today in the House?
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Mr. Serge Marcil (Beauharnois—Salaberry, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the House that this is Guide-Scout Week.
It is essential that Canadians support the activities of the Guide-Scout program. In Canada, this program began in 1910. Since then, it has enriched the lives of many young Canadians. Together, the Association des scouts du Canada and the Boy Scouts of Canada have close to 253,000 young members.
I salute the contribution of the scouting movement to our society. Since their creation, boy scouts' and girl guides' organizations have been helping young people thrive. At a time when we are so concerned about the health of young Canadians, the scouting movement helps them develop physically, intellectually, socially and morally.
I invite Canadians to show their support for a movement that does an excellent job with young people.
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Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Calgary East, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, Canadians view break and enter crime as more than a property offence. They view it as a personal violation worthy of firm punishment.
A 1997 report by the city of Calgary police service indicated that break and enter offences were the number one concern of Calgarians.
I will be introducing a private member's bill on Wednesday that will amend the criminal code and impose a minimum two year sentence for repeat break and enter offenders. Statistics show that a high rate of repeat offenders are committing 80% of all break and enter crimes. This says to me that existing penalties are not deterring repeat offenders.
Many provinces are also calling for tougher sentences. Home invasions, because of break and enters, have led to violent incidents. Keeping this in mind, I hope my colleagues will support this initiative.
ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Mr. Chuck Strahl (Fraser Valley, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, we now know that the CIA, our own foreign affairs department and the Sri Lankan government warned that the organization called FACT has been used at times as a front for an international terrorist group. The immigration department is also saying the same things in its arguments at the supreme court this week.
The minister responsible for CIDA attended the fundraising dinner. Did she or did she not receive a confidential briefing note warning her that FACT has been associated with an international terrorist group?
Hon. Maria Minna (Minister for International Cooperation, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have said many times in the House that I went to a community cultural event that was celebrating new years. Hundreds of people were at the celebration. In fact when I spoke that evening I explicitly discussed the importance of peace negotiations in Sri Lanka. That was very well received by the people.
My main concern is to ensure that there is negotiated peace in Sri Lanka and that we have peace.
Mr. Chuck Strahl (Fraser Valley, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the question was pretty straightforward: Did she receive a confidential briefing note?
The answer is, yes, she did. I have a copy of that note in front of me. The note clearly indicates that the minister was warned ahead of time that the organization at times raised funds for international terrorism, yet she ignored it.
When she had this briefing note in her hands prior to the FACT dinner, why did she decide to support a group that she knew was used at times as a front for an international terrorist group? Why did she do it?
Hon. Maria Minna (Minister for International Cooperation, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, there were a great many organizations there that evening which were part of the festivities. I do not judge all the Tamil community as being part of a terrorist group. I attended, as I said, a cultural event that evening which was attended by hundreds of people, Canadian citizens and contributing citizens of the country.
I spoke very openly that evening about the importance of peace and negotiated peace in Sri Lanka, for which I received a great deal of support. Other members on this side of the House are working toward that kind of solution for that country.
Mr. Chuck Strahl (Fraser Valley, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the minister stands in her place and says that it is okay to go to these dinners because everyone else is doing it, but everyone else did not have access to a confidential briefing note warning them about the association between FACT and that criminal organization, the international terrorist group.
FACT has been associated as a front organization for an international terrorist group. The CIA confirmed it. Our own foreign affairs department confirmed it. The Sri Lankan government confirmed it. Immigration officials confirmed it. CSIS confirmed it. Her own personal briefing note confirmed it.
When everyone else in the country seemed to know about it, why did the minister attend a fundraising dinner for an organization associated with international terrorism?
Hon. Herb Gray (Deputy Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. minister gave a very clear answer. She attended what she considered to be a cultural event. She made a vigorous plea for settling problems in Sri Lanka by peaceful negotiations.
Why does the Alliance oppose that type of constructive effort and engage in what amounts to a smear of hundreds of thousands of people of Tamil origin in the country who are not involved in terrorism or anything inappropriate in this country or in Sri Lanka?
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Mrs. Diane Ablonczy (Calgary—Nose Hill, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, there is worse to come.
News stories in today's La Presse and the Globe and Mail raise still more questions about the Liberal government's commitment to and fitness to protect public safety and its openness to terrorism and organized crime.
An alleged top mafia figure who is wanted for murder and is on Interpol's 500 most wanted list was given a Canadian visitor's visa by the government.
Why on earth would the government give a safe haven in Canada to someone who is known and wanted as a criminal?
Mr. Mark Assad (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, when the department learned about the case the officials proceeded to detain the person. We will do everything possible to remove these persons from the country as soon as possible. That is what is being done now.
Mrs. Diane Ablonczy (Calgary—Nose Hill, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, is the parliamentary secretary seriously suggesting that we give visitor visas to people who are on Interpol's most wanted list and that we do not have a clue that is happening? That is ridiculous. Canadians should not be sleeping easy in their beds with that lot in charge of the public safety.
What we do know is that the public works minister wrote a letter trying to get permanent landed immigrant status for the wife of this character. The status was granted in record time and then the wife turned around and made a sponsorship application for her husband who is on Interpol's most wanted list.
Hon. Herb Gray (Deputy Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said something about the minister of public works that is absolutely inaccurate and has been categorically denied by him. I want to read in part from a statement that he issued today.
Mr. Gagliano repeats that the only correspondence by the staff in his constituency office...
—this is not from him—
—sought to enquire about the progress in the file of Maria Sicurella, who had applied for permanent resident status.
The hon. member should withdraw her allegation. The minister did not write a letter in the way she said, or any letter, in support—
The Speaker: The hon. member for Longueuil.
Ms. Caroline St-Hilaire (Longueuil, BQ): Mr. Speaker, this morning, we read in the newspapers that Immigration Canada has granted one of Interpol's 500 most wanted criminals entry into Canada.
How does the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration explain the fact that Gaetano Amodeo, who has been charged with murder and Mafia connections in Italy, made it through her department's entire investigation process?
Mr. Mark Assad (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as we mentioned, departmental officials are looking into this. All the people involved in this kind of situation are detained as soon as possible.
The department did its job and now we will wait and see.
Ms. Caroline St-Hilaire (Longueuil, BQ): Mr. Speaker, setting aside the far from reassuring comments of the parliamentary secretary, how does this government explain the ease with which Mr. Amodeo got through the entire Immigration Canada system, unless there was active and direct intervention by the minister of public works?
Hon. Herb Gray (Deputy Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have before me the statements made today by the minister in which he categorically denies having intervened directly or indirectly in the case of Gaetano Amodeo, an Italian national now being detained by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
I am replying to the question because I have the statements by the minister, who is not in the House today.
Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, BQ): Mr. Speaker, this is incredible.
Let us recall that in 1994 the minister of public works admitted that his past and his relationship with Augustino Cuntrera were an error in judgment and kept him from a cabinet post.
Will the Deputy Prime Minister agree that this same minister of public works ought to be relieved of his duties until such time as an independent inquiry has been carried out and the matter fully clarified? It is a matter of honesty and integrity.
Hon. Herb Gray (Deputy Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is spreading false statements concerning the Minister of Public Works and Government Services because, I say again, the minister categorically denies any direct or indirect intervention in the case of Gaetano Amodeo.
Once again I would add that the minister has again said that the only correspondence from his riding office was an inquiry into progress with the case of Maria Sicurella. This was merely a standard administrative follow up and in no way a—
The Speaker: The hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve.
Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, BQ): Mr. Speaker, let us get serious here. Are we as parliamentarians not entitled to expect that a man admitting to having committed an error in judgment in 1994, and heading the massive government contracting machinery, would not only be totally above suspicion but also committed to having no relationship whatsoever with anyone who was connected with the Mafia in any way?
Hon. Herb Gray (Deputy Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I believe that the premises in the question of the hon. member must be rejected categorically.
The underlying premises are false, since the minister has categorically denied having intervened in the case of Gaetano Amodeo either directly or indirectly. It is his staff, not the minister himself, who carried out what was nothing more than a standard administrative follow up. The words of the hon. member are therefore wrong and I feel obliged to correct them.
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Mr. Bill Blaikie (Winnipeg—Transcona, NDP): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of National Defence.
The Prime Minister seems to be sowing a bit of confusion with respect to not just the Canadian position but also the American position on national missile defence. On the one hand he appeared to suggest that they would not proceed without the approval of NATO, China and Russia, and then the next day he appeared to backtrack on that position.
What is the Canadian understanding of the American position? Are they prepared to proceed even if China, Russia and NATO partners object, or not?
Hon. Art Eggleton (Minister of National Defence, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I think the member would have to ask President Bush and the United States government that kind of question.
The Americans have said that they will consult with all those who are interested, the allies, as well as those who are concerned about global security issues, such as Russia and China, although Russia itself seems to admit that there is a problem with security. Russia is proposing an alternate missile system. It understands, as the Americans do, that there is a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
However, the Prime Minister has stated quite clearly that we have not been asked to take a position. The Americans have not put this in place yet and have not indicated the parameters of it.
Mr. Bill Blaikie (Winnipeg—Transcona, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it does not seem to bother the Prime Minister to pronounce on the American position. I thought maybe the Minister of National Defence might be willing to at least do what the Prime Minister does, but perhaps he could help us with respect to the Canadian position.
The minister talked about parameters, technology and it not having been put in place yet, but what is the position of the Canadian government in principle with respect to a national missile defence, something which in principle violates the ABM treaty. Do we have any principles on this or do we just wait and see how the situation develops? Is there any principle in the Canadian position?
Hon. Art Eggleton (Minister of National Defence, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we are consulting on the matter. How can we make a decision when the Americans have not even made a decision? It is the Americans who are proposing this as a security and protection for themselves, but they have not told us exactly what it is or when they will do it. How can we possibly make a decision based on that?
I think the Prime Minister, the foreign affairs minister and I have been quite clear about this. Let the Americans continue to consult with their allies, the Russians and the Chinese, and to concern themselves with the various treaties that exist, such as the ABM treaty, and then we will have something further to talk about in a decision making context.
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Mr. Loyola Hearn (St. John's West, PC): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
The Canadian Coast Guard in Newfoundland plans to decommission one of its search and rescue vessels, remove staff from 11 lighthouses and pull 50% of its helicopter service. It is also planning to get out of the business of freeing whales trapped in fishing gear, the results of a cutback in the work at the St. John's and Stephenville maintenance yards.
How does this jive with the coast guard vision statement, to lead the way in marine safety, service and protection of the marine environment?
Hon. Herb Dhaliwal (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the government has taken a number of actions to improve our search and rescue. When we came into government, we put the fisheries and the coast guard fleet together to create synergy so that we could provide more service and respond more quickly.
The hon. member should stand up and congratulate the government. Last year we made an announcement of $115 million to improve search and rescue across Canada.
Mr. Loyola Hearn (St. John's West, PC): Mr. Speaker, the minister should read the auditor general's report. Due to the minister's refusal to let fishermen move to larger boats, more and more smaller boats are forced to go further and further to sea to catch their quota. More marine activity is being generated around the oil and gas offshore activity. The main shipping lanes in the western world are around the coast of Newfoundland.
In light of this, how can the minister even consider cutting back on the safety, service and protection, not only of the marine environment but of lives as well? Why is Newfoundland the only place to be punished? How are we going to free Willy?
Hon. Herb Dhaliwal (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is totally wrong. If he would look at the facts on what we have done in search and rescue, he would see that we have actually improved search and rescue and continue to do that.
The government is very committed to the public safety of Canadians. This is a priority for us. Our coast guard men and women will continue to do the excellent work they have been doing right across the country.
* * *
Mr. Charlie Penson (Peace River, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, this week we learned that Canada is mothballing almost half our military planes and helicopters. Ironically, at almost the same time, a Mexican newspaper reported that Canada has provided a $65 million loan to Mexico to purchase 29 military helicopters for them to fight crime in its country.
Does the government believe it is more important to fight crime in Mexico than it is to patrol our own borders for drug smugglers and illegal immigrants?
Hon. Art Eggleton (Minister of National Defence, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, yesterday we had Prime Minister Blair complimenting the Canadian forces as peacekeepers and their great skills. Today we have the Canadian Alliance running them down again.
The truth is that we will not sacrifice any of the patrolling that is necessary of our coastline to ensure our sovereignty.
Mr. Charlie Penson (Peace River, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I am not quite sure how the government will do it. It is at it again over there. This is the same government that has not replaced all the helicopters needed to protect Canada's borders, the helicopters it cancelled in the military helicopter deal a few years ago.
The Export Development Corporation could find $65 million in its budget to loan Mexico money to purchase its helicopters. Is it not ironic? This pattern is becoming all too familiar. National interests are being sacrificed so those folks across the way can play international boy scout. When will they get their priorities straight?
Hon. Art Eggleton (Minister of National Defence, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the dedicated men and women who make up our Canadian forces are doing an excellent job. We are making sure that we are investing in the equipment they need to be able to do their job. We have new helicopters on order. We have new helicopters coming this year for search and rescue, even more than we had before. We have a maritime helicopter program that is well under way to replace the Sea King as well. We will provide the tools that our dedicated men and women need to do an effective job.
* * *
Mr. Pierre Brien (Témiscamingue, BQ): Mr. Speaker, rather than assume its responsibilities and calm consumers in the face of the high cost of gasoline, the federal government was satisfied with a study by the conference board at a cost of over $500,000, whose conclusions were favourable to the industry and supported government inaction. It was released yesterday. However a document dated last October contains word for word the same conclusions as yesterday's report.
Why did the government wait until after the election to release this study? Why did it not have the courage to make it public during the elections when it had the conclusions of the report in hand?
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, when the report was commissioned last year, we indicated at the outset that we expected to receive the final documentation from the conference board around the end of the year 2000. That is approximately when the material was available. The conference board has proceeded to publish the official document almost on time. As was originally expected, it had absolutely nothing to do with any election campaign.
Mr. Pierre Brien (Témiscamingue, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the conclusions of the Conference Board have been known since October, but the government waited until February 22 to release them.
Finally, it seems clear that the conclusions were probably known ahead of time, since the start of committee deliberations, even.
Could we not say the Minister of Industry or the Minister of Natural Resources is mocking the public, since we know full well that Shell, Petro-Canada and Imperial Oil influenced this work, and the conclusions could be only favourable to the major oil companies and unfavourable to consumers? Who are the minister and the government protecting: the consumers or the petroleum industry?
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. gentleman tries to impugn the integrity of the conference board. I point out to him that the membership of the conference board includes Caisse de dépôt et de placement du Québec, Confédération des caisses populaires et d'économie Desjardins du Québec, École des Hautes Études commerciales du Québec, Institut de la statistique du Québec and le ministère des Ressources naturelles du gouvernement du Québec.
* * *
CORRECTIONAL SERVICE CANADA
Mr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, Maurice Boucher is a vicious gang leader. He is in jail for murdering two prison guards, yet he has two TV sets, unlimited food and his own gym.
Could the government explain to the Canadian public why a man who is convicted of killing two prison guards has these privileges while they do not? Is this Liberal justice?
Mr. Lynn Myers (Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the government continues to work effectively, not only with Correctional Service Canada but with all law partners across the country to ensure that people who must be in jail are put in jail in a manner consistent with the values of Canadians.
That is precisely what happened here. We are ensuring that somebody who should not be on the street is not and somebody who should be put away is. That is what we on the government side do.
Mr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member is mistaking Liberal values for Canadian values.
Let us take another example. We have Ian Gordon. What does he do? He murders his girlfriend with an axe. He goes out, teaches a course, comes back and murders two little girls with an axe. What is happening? Liberal values say that this man has to serve only two years of a maximum security sentence in a maximum facility. Where is he now? He is in a medium facility.
Maybe the member across the way would like to explain to the Canadian public and the House why this murderer is spending time in a minimum security prison and not in maximum security.
Mr. Lynn Myers (Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, Liberal values always say that we will ensure that people who break the law will have the consequences they deserve. After that we will try to rehabilitate them in a manner consistent with the values of Canadians.
What I reject out of hand are the values of members of the Alliance: the Alliance values of scaring Canadians, the Alliance values of always fearmongering and the Alliance values of playing cheap politics with very serious cases. That is who they are. They are not the way we are. We defend Canadian values.
* * *
Mr. Michel Guimond (Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, BQ): Mr. Speaker, with the chief veterinary officer of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency just back from Brazil, where he led an investigation into food safety, we learn that the European Union feels that Canada is not complying with the essentials of community food safety requirements.
If the minister can invoke the principle of precaution to justify the embargo on Brazilian beef, can he explain why he is not applying this same principle of precaution here in Canada? The problem is here, not somewhere else. Here in Canada.
Mr. Larry McCormick (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, Canada is very fortunate to have one of the best tracking systems in the world. Our food is exported around the world. Our reputation is second to none around the world. The country has been BSE free for years and our tracking system will keep it that way.
Mr. Michel Guimond (Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether the parliamentary secretary is going to—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh.
The Speaker: Order, please. The House seems to be full of exuberance today, but it is difficult to hear the hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans.
Mr. Michel Guimond: Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time that Health Canada has been on the hot seat. There was the tainted blood scandal, cancer causing breast implants, the whistleblowing by scientists on bovine growth hormones.
What the European Union objects to is Canada allowing the unrestricted sale of cancer causing hormones that might pose a threat to human health.
How can the minister justify allowing the use of these hormones in Canada when they are banned in Europe because they are a threat to health? Is this the best system in the world?
Mr. Larry McCormick (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Canadian government is strongly committed to providing the highest possible level of food safety to consumers of Canadian food products. The food safety system has served Canada well. In fact, as late as yesterday the EU, based on its own sampling, found that there was no evidence of drug residues in Canadian products. We have the safest food in the world.
* * *
Mr. Gurmant Grewal (Surrey Central, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, in preparation for the upcoming United Nations world conference against racism, the multiculturalism minister is hosting a national consultation in Ottawa today. Canadians will remember that during the recent federal election the immigration minister's name calling fanned the fires of racism in Canada.
Did the multiculturalism minister insist that the immigration minister attend the consultation given her antisocial behaviour and misunderstanding of the fight against racism, or is the immigration minister refusing to attend?
Hon. Hedy Fry (Secretary of State (Multiculturalism)(Status of Women), Lib.): Mr. Speaker, what I have heard from the consultations that I have done, regional as well as this national consultation, is that the slippery slope on the first step to hate and to any kind of racism is stereotyping.
We have heard day after day in the House stereotyping, which means taking one group and giving them all kinds of epithets. It is called McCarthyism. It is attributing to people in the country who belong to a racial minority that they are terrorists, et cetera. That is stereotyping and it leads to hate. That is what we have to deal with in the House.
Mr. Gurmant Grewal (Surrey Central, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the immigration minister offended millions of Canadians who supported and voted for the Canadian Alliance. While the multiculturalism minister spent her time and taxpayer money running a campaign to fight racism, the immigration minister ran around labelling Canadians.
Will the Prime Minister demand that the immigration minister apologize for her catcalling and order her to attend the conference so that she may begin her schooling to learn some respect for Canada's cultural diversity?
Hon. Herb Gray (Deputy Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the immigration minister is doing an outstanding job as minister, as a member of parliament and as a representative herself of the diversity of our great Canadian family. When the hon. member asserts otherwise, it shows why he and his party are totally unworthy of the support of Canadians, especially those from groups other than the traditional majority groups.
* * *
Mr. David Pratt (Nepean—Carleton, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Given the recent and very serious events in other countries regarding food safety, I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary a more pointed question with respect to what specifically the Government of Canada is doing to ensure that the food that we eat is safe.
Mr. Larry McCormick (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned previously, the government is strongly committed to the health of Canadians.
As proof of this commitment, I am pleased to announce in the House that our government has approved an investment of an additional $32 million to ensure that in the future Canada's food safety system could continue to provide Canadians with the highest level of protection.
This investment represents funding to improve the control and regulation of veterinary and drug residues in food producing animals and food products of animal origin. Canadians have a right to expect an effective and efficient food system, and that is what they get.
* * *
Mr. Svend Robinson (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Human Resources Development. The minister will recall that the House unanimously passed a motion in 1998 condemning the discriminatory treatment of British pensioners living in Canada and the failure of the British government to uprate their pensions.
I understand that yesterday Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a meeting with our Prime Minister, effectively said that his government was not prepared to take any action on behalf of these pensioners.
What action is our government now prepared to take on behalf of the 140,000 pensioners? Specifically will the government launch a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights to end this discriminatory treatment?
Hon. Herb Gray (Deputy Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member unfortunately is wrong in his assertions. The Prime Minister raised this matter vigorously with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. Prime Minister Blair of Britain confirmed that in his press conference and Prime Minister Blair said, based on my recollection of the transcript of the press conference, that he would look into the matter further.
This was raised vigorously by the Prime Minister. Mr. Blair in his press conference responded to this by saying he would look into it further. I think that should be recognized by the hon. member.
* * *
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—St. Clair, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Prime Minister may feel satisfied with the way he has dealt with the legitimate concerns of British pensioners living in Canada by saying the matter is being dealt with in the U.K.
However, perhaps he would explain why his government continues to ignore a problem clearly within the scope of his government: thousands of Canadian citizens facing crippling taxes on their U.S. social security benefits. They have been calling for relief from the government for over four and a half years without success.
Both the finance minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have acknowledged the problem yet have chosen to do nothing about it. When will the government take action to address the gross injustice faced by the Canadians asking for social security fairness?
Hon. Jim Peterson (Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions), Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I assure members this is an issue we have under consideration and we are pressing for changes.
* * *
Mr. Bill Casey (Cumberland—Colchester, PC): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. For 60 years the Cobequid Federal Fish Hatchery of Cumberland county served industry and government, but in 1997 the department of fisheries announced a great new policy of divestiture with a great deal of fanfare.
Now, only two and a half years later, the experiment has failed; the policy has failed; and the fish hatchery is closed for the first time in half a century. Will the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans restore the fish hatchery to its former level and not punish the area just because the policy failed?
Hon. Herb Dhaliwal (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, fish enhancement has been an extremely important part of DFO and we do that across the country.
I am not familiar with the particular hatchery the hon. member has referred to, but if he provides the details for me I will certainly want to get back to him and make sure I provide a full answer to his question.
Mr. Gerald Keddy (South Shore, PC): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should be familiar with the Cobequid hatchery. He should be familiar with Coldbrook hatchery and the Mersey hatchery because lots of questions have been asked on them before.
The issue is simple. His government and his department gave Salmon Care hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of supplies, juvenile fish and other things, and it was a colossal failure, a complete and utter failure. What was the total cost to Canadian taxpayers and where is the new plan?
Hon. Herb Dhaliwal (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I said in my earlier answer, I will take this question under advisement.
Fish enhancement is an important part of DFO. I am not familiar with all the details in this question, but I will get back to him with a full response.
* * *
Mr. Jim Pankiw (Saskatoon—Humboldt, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government has posted a job advertisement for an administrative position with correctional services, but the criteria for determining who will get the job is not ability, education or experience but rather race.
Since 90% of all Canadians oppose racist employment equity and affirmative action programs, will the Liberal government abandon its prejudiced and discriminatory hiring policy?
Mr. Lynn Myers (Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I can tell the member that when the government hires people it wants qualified, good people to do the work of the government in an effective and efficient manner consistent with the values of all Canadians.
What I reject out of hand is any kind of allegations members of that party opposite are prepared to make about racism and other things. They are the last to talk.
Mr. Jim Pankiw (Saskatoon—Humboldt, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, this is not an allegation; this is fact. I have the ad right here. Race is the criteria that it will use for hiring.
The Liberals need to understand that it is not possible to discriminate in favour of somebody on the basis of race without discriminating against somebody else because of their race.
What does the minister say to people who are discriminated against because they are not eligible to apply for a job on the basis of their skin colour?
Hon. Hedy Fry (Secretary of State (Multiculturalism)(Status of Women), Lib.): Mr. Speaker, Statistics Canada and other groups have now done studies which have shown that because of the colour of their skin there are people with equal qualifications in the country who do not get jobs and who get half of the jobs they are qualified for.
It is our duty as a government to ensure that all Canadians, regardless of the colour of their skin, are able to find work fitting their qualifications and to remove the barriers that race creates in this effort. It is a clear statistical fact.
* * *
Mr. Jean-Yves Roy (Matapédia-Matane, BQ): Mr. Speaker, yesterday, on the issue of softwood lumber, the Minister for International Trade told the House, and I quote, we hope “that we are headed toward free trade, and we want to make sure that—we will have a smooth transition to free trade”.
The minister's wishy-washy approach puts Canada in a vulnerable position in its negotiations with the United States.
Can the minister tell us what he meant yesterday when he used the word “transition”, if not that he is considering negotiating other quotas to please the Atlantic provinces and the United States, at the expense of Quebec producers of softwood lumber?
Mr. Pat O'Brien (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for International Trade, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the minister was quite clear that there is a consensus in Canada against proceeding with a quota type arrangement. The long range goal of Canada is very clear in softwood lumber. It is to have free trade in softwood lumber with the United States.
The minister will be in Washington on Monday and he will be raising this question very vigorously with U.S. trade representative Zoellick.
Mr. Jean-Yves Roy (Matapédia-Matane, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the minister says he hopes for a return to free trade with the United States as regards softwood lumber.
If this is true, is the minister prepared to support a motion from all members of the House simply asking that Americans go back to free trade and nothing else?
Mr. Pat O'Brien (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for International Trade, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the member would hardly expect me to arrogate unto myself the right to speak for the Minister for International Trade. That is exactly what he asked me to do. I will not take up that silly suggestion.
I will reiterate what I said. The minister has been very clear on the fact that the goal of Canada is to have free trade in softwood lumber with the United States. I repeat, he is raising that issue on Monday with trade representative Zoellick.
* * *
Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick (Prince Albert, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, Canada has no established process to deal with rail mergers. The transport minister claims that the government will not be caught flat footed, as it was with the Air Canada-Canadian Airlines merger.
As CN and CP both operate in the U.S. they would be subject to a very substantial review process while Canada has no similar process. There is much discussion about a possible major rail merger. Does the transport minister have a plan and a process in place to deal with any such merger?
Hon. David Collenette (Minister of Transport, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend is correct in saying that parliament in its wisdom or lack thereof in 1996, when it passed the Canada Transportation Act, took away the merger review provisions that were previously in the National Transportation Act, 1987.
This was somewhat controversial as the hon. member will know if he reads Hansard from those times. That is why there was specifically a clause included in that bill to have the act reviewed within five years.
I have named a panel of five prominent people who are looking into the act and I have specifically mentioned coming up with a strategy on rail mergers.
Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick (Prince Albert, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, when the government was confronted with the Air Canada-Canadian Airlines merger it was quite apparent there was no review process in place for such a merger.
The Canadian travelling public has paid a very high price for this crisis management approach to mergers. Other than the ineffective Competition Act, when will the government have a meaningful rail merger review process in place?
Hon. David Collenette (Minister of Transport, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talks about the crisis management approach with respect to the airlines, but I might remind the hon. member, who is from western Canada, that in December 1999 Canadian Airlines was two days away from bankruptcy. It did not have the cash to meet payroll. That would have meant 16,000 people, many of them in western Canada, out of their jobs and absolute chaos in the air system.
I admit it has not gone 100% the way we wanted it to go, but I would challenge the hon. member. I think the airline restructuring has gone incredibly well, considering the huge number of issues that had to be dealt with in a very short period of time.
* * *
Mr. John McCallum (Markham, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the United Nations has declared 2001 the Year of International Volunteers. As we know, many Canadians benefit from the tremendous efforts of volunteers across the country.
My question is for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue. Could she tell the House how volunteers are assisted by her department's community volunteer income tax program?
Ms. Sophia Leung (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the CCRA has sponsored the community volunteer tax program since 1971. This year marks its 30 year anniversary.
CCRA trains volunteers throughout the country to help seniors, people with disabilities and low income groups complete their income tax returns and receive their benefits. We are very proud to have such a program for volunteers to make such a contribution.
* * *
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, yesterday about 3,000 farmers joined a rally in Winchester, Ontario, to get the Liberals finally to pay attention to the ongoing farm income crisis. They have been forced to take drastic action because the Liberal government refuses to pay attention.
The agriculture minister's delaying tactics and refusal to take any real action will force thousands more producers off the land. This hurts all Canadians. How many bankruptcies, how many suicides, how terrible does the disaster have to become before the agriculture minister wakes up and gets emergency funds into the hands of farmers?
Mr. Larry McCormick (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, certainly a lot of farmers gathered together yesterday. We on this side of the House have been meeting with producers from across the country. We feel for them because the grains and oilseed sector has been heavily attacked by the subsidies from the European Union and the United States.
We did sign a very historic agreement with the provinces this past year. In fact we are already committed to providing up to $5.5 billion to help these people. It is not enough. Our minister has been looking for every resource possible, and we will deliver.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, this is the problem; all talk and no action. The agriculture minister's AIDA program has failed to help the majority of farm families.
Over two years ago he announced his meagre attempts to help.
He has given the impression to the media and our city cousins that he has done a lot to assist farmers, but barely 50% of the funds announced have reached farmers.
Yesterday Statistics Canada confirmed what everyone but the Liberals know. Cash receipts are down for the third year in a row for grain farmers and soaring input costs are pushing farmers further into the dirt. Why does the government not keep its promises?
Mr. Larry McCormick (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, for my hon. colleague's information, it is nice to tell one-half of the story but under the former AIDA program 90% of the money has gone out to these producers. They have the money.
We provided tens of millions of dollars last year, hundreds of millions of dollars in interest free money for our producers in the spring. We also made available several hundreds of millions of dollars in the fall, interest free so they could sell their crops. In fact we have done a lot in the last seven years. In the Speech from the Throne we committed to that and we will be doing more.
* * *
Mr. Paul Crête (Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, BQ): Mr. Speaker, on Friday, February 9, the television program Vr showed that the Minister of National Revenue, who is responsible for that part of the Employment Insurance Act, was not at all aware of the fact that it discriminates against employees working for their spouse or for a relative, by imposing on them the burden of proving their insurability, and by treating them like cheaters.
Since Bill C-2, which is currently under review, is silent on this discrimination, is the minister prepared to correct the section of the act that equates workers who are related to their employers with cheaters?
Hon. Jane Stewart (Minister of Human Resources Development, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it is very important to ensure that those receiving employment insurance benefits are indeed eligible for them. In certain cases where there are family organizations we have to ensure that there is an arm's length relationship. We will continue to do this in an effective way.
I would like to confirm that very few are turned down, but in the interest of applying and ensuring the act is adhered to the minister of revenue does these investigations.
* * *
POINTS OF ORDER
ORAL QUESTION PERIOD
Hon. Jim Peterson (Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions), Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Windsor—St. Clair asked me a question relating to U.S. social security benefits. Just so that I do not mislead him I will undertake to get back to him.
Mr. Jim Pankiw (Saskatoon—Humboldt, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. During question period I made reference to a job advertisement and I would like to table the document.
The Speaker: Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to table the document?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
Mr. Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. With respect to the tabling of that document, I would point out that Canadians can see on the Internet that the government is posting job descriptions with a race based hiring criterion.
The Speaker: I think the hon. member for Calgary Southeast, with his extensive experience, knows that he is engaging in a debate and not really raising a point of order.
SALES TAX AND EXCISE TAX AMENDMENT ACT, 2001
Hon. Jim Peterson (for the Minister of Finance) moved for leave to introduce Bill C-13, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
* * *
QUESTIONS ON THE ORDER PAPER
Mr. Derek Lee (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
The Speaker: Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
CANADA ELECTIONS ACT
The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Gurmant Grewal (Surrey Central, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak to Bill C-9, the Liberal government's proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act.
The purpose of Bill C-9 is to amend the Canada Elections Act which became law on September 1, 2000. The Liberals passed the bill only a few months ago, but we are correcting their mistakes.
We are doing the work today that we asked them to do in the 36th parliament. We do not mind helping them again to do their homework, but we are disappointed that Canadians did not choose to send us to Ottawa to do our work, because we would have done our work right the first time.
Bill C-9 will overturn the current law that requires a party to have at least 50 candidates before it can be identified as a political party on the election ballot. The Liberals will now require parties to possess 12 candidates in order to be recognized as political parties and be entitled to certain benefits and privileges.
Only registered parties are eligible to obtain the final list of electors, to obtain free broadcast time for political announcements and to issue tax receipts to donors on behalf of the party. Only registered parties are entitled to such benefits and privileges.
Canada's chief electoral officer confirms the number of candidates. The 12 candidate minimum conforms to the requirement that a party have at least 12 members of parliament to receive official status in the House of Commons, as the fifth party has.
Let me explain how the Liberals arrived at the magic number of 12. The Liberals are trying to make it as hard as possible for any political group to challenge them at the ballot box. In their twisted logic they have figured out that they would be too ashamed and embarrassed to make the required number of seats any higher than the number of seats required by the House for a party to qualify to be recognized as a political party.
I am sure that members will remember that in the last parliament the Liberals originally set the bar high at 50. It is a lot more difficult to field 50 candidates in an election than 12 or so. The Liberals like the number 50. They were crushing a number of parties and preventing them from qualifying for certain privileges and benefits. They have been forced to lower the bar and to allow smaller parties to have a greater level of participation in our democracy.
In the last parliament the Liberals kept the bar high at 50 candidates for what they knew would be the last time. In the most recent election the Liberals could put in a fix by denying parties with less than 50 candidates from being major political parties in Canada.
Before the Liberals passed the previous Canada Elections Act during the last parliament, the official opposition warned the Liberal government that the 50 candidate rule should be dropped. We told them upfront, but who listens on the other side? I spoke to that bill in various debates in the last parliament.
We had the approval of most of Canada's smaller political parties for the proposal, but the Liberals did not listen at that time. It appears perhaps that they are listening now.
Even so, parties with 12 candidates will be allowed to have their party's name on ballots but will still not be able, as will parties with 50 candidates, to provide donors with tax receipts, to access the list of electors or to obtain free broadcasting time on TV.
Those three things are crucial for a political party to be able campaign and to have its message communicated across the country. Those three things are very important, and parties with 12 members will not be entitled to such privileges.
With Bill C-9, the bill we are debating today, the government would create two tiers of political parties with different sets of privileges. On one hand, registered political parties with 50 or more candidates would possess all possible benefits. On the other hand, political parties with less than 50 candidates would possess few benefits other than having their name on the ballot if they have at least 12 candidates.
Bill C-9 continues to discriminate against smaller parties. It is not only undemocratic, it is anti-democratic as well. The Canada Elections Act should be neutral and should treat everyone equally and fairly. Canadian voters, not the government, should decide whether a political party or candidate is worthy of their vote. It should not be up to the government to decide, it should be up to Canadians.
The Liberals are trying to pass the legislation because a court case has necessitated changes to the Canada Elections Act. As the House will recall, in my speech in the last parliament I warned the House of possible legal action. I told the Liberals that they were exposing the Canada Elections Act to a legal tussle, and now here it is. If they had listened at the time this probably would not have happened.
The Ontario Court of Appeal decided the case in August 2000. The court decided that the Canada Elections Act provisions concerning the identification of political parties on election ballots was invalid. The court said that the provisions were invalid and suspended its decision for six months, until February 16, 2001, so that parliament could address the court's decision.
If this had been done right the first time we would not be doing it again. We could be spending the valuable time of the House, as well as of the court, on something more important.
Bill C-9 also clarifies the calculations of the electoral expenses limit. If the revised list of electors differs from the original list, the candidate's expenses will be adjusted accordingly.
The reimbursement of election expenses is also covered in the bill. Under section 435 of Bill C-2, which was a bill in the previous parliament, only registered parties, and not the small parties we must define today, will be reimbursed for election expenses providing they obtain either 2% of the national vote or 5% of the votes in the ridings in which they endorse candidates. Those are two conditions parties must satisfy before they get any reimbursement for election expenses.
Bill C-9 does not amend the reimbursement of election expenses provision that was in Bill C-2 in the last parliament. Therefore this section will be discriminatory against smaller parties.
Again I am standing in the House and warning the government. It should get its act together and correct these mistakes so that the Canada Elections Act is neutral, fair and treats everyone equally.
The Canadian Alliance, and my colleagues on this side, proposed election rebates. We do not believe it is fair that only registered parties, and not the smaller political parties, are eligible for these benefits.
Another important point in the bill is the fundraising activities. If Bill C-9 is not amended, as we are asking, it will be difficult for the smaller parties to engage in fundraising activities.
Bill C-9 does not make amendments to the income tax provisions of Bill C-2 which was debated in the House and passed in the last parliament. The provisions are discriminatory. Receipts can be issued on behalf of registered parties during and in between elections. Whereas, candidates of non-registered political parties, the ones we talked about earlier, can only issue receipts during the writ period. How can they prepare themselves to have their messages conveyed to Canadians when they do not have enough resources? They are not permitted have fundraisers between elections.
During those 36 or 37 days they can receive funds and issue tax receipts to donors. Other than the writ period, they are not entitled to raise any funds or issue tax receipts. When tax receipts are not issued, it is very difficult to get money donated from someone to a political party or a political cause. That is very unfair.
I will move on to another point about asset liquidation. Under clause 394 of the former bill, Bill C-2, with respect to registered parties which failed to run 50 candidates, they become suspended and the assets of a suspended party need not be liquidated if the party applies for re-registration within six months. However, if they do not apply within those six months then they are suspended. Bill C-9 does not amend this very important provision. The Canadian Alliance does not believe that a party should have to liquidate its assets under any circumstances, which is exactly what the Ontario Court of Appeal decided.
The Liberal government may be facing another court challenge over this if this clause is not amended. We are telling the Liberal government what to do about this bill to avoid any potential lawsuits. Whether or not it listens to us is another story.
The voting process is another issue. Among other technical matters, Bill C-9 also stipulates that if the chief electoral officer wishes to examine alternative voting processes, such as electronic voting, the alternative cannot be used without the approval of the House of Commons and Senate committees. Why does the chief electoral officer, who is supposed to monitor elections in Canada, have to get permission for electoral alternative electronic voting, for example, or other alternative methods to make the process efficient and effective?
There are some other changes in the bill but most of them are housekeeping changes. Under the current legislation, only the approval of the House of Commons committee is required. This sounds to me like a way to prevent change, but I will reserve my comments and allow the committee that will hear this bill, and many witnesses over time, to decide what this section really means.
I look forward in seeing how the committee proceeds. I look forward to seeing whether it will give a fair chance to witnesses to come forward and whether or not its recommendations will be taken into consideration. The amendments to the former Bill C-2, which were discussed in the committee, were ignored.
Let me talk about the relationship of Bill C-9 to Canadian Alliance policy. Canadian Alliance policy states:
To improve the representative nature of our electoral system, we will consider electoral reforms, including proportional representation, the single transferable ballot, electronic voting, and fixed election dates, and we will submit such options to voters in a nationwide referendum.
The government House leader is in charge of the bill. He was in charge of the last bill during the last session and did a very bad job. I apologize for making this comment, but all the good amendments which we proposed and those which were discussed in committee were not taken into consideration. Even when the red light was flashing signalling a warning that there might be some court actions, the House leader ignored it. Now, the House leader is heckling me on this.
While the bill does abandon the 50 candidate rule, it does not go far enough to democratize our electoral process. We believe all parties should be treated equally and fairly, not merely those with 50 or more candidates. All political parties should be treated fairly and equally. That is called real democracy.
The Canada Elections Act is a mess. Not only are the Liberals not learning fast enough, I do not know if they are learning at all. They do not have the political will to make a fair and level playing field for all political parties to contest an election.
The level playing field is very important. Equal opportunity for all political parties is very important but it is not there. The Liberals not only have it in the back of their minds but they also have it in the front of their minds to have an elections act that will benefit the governing party, which in this case is the Liberal Party. That is why they did not listen to the Alliance amendments in the last parliament and will try to ignore our amendments once again.
The bill maintains the most objectionable provisions of the Canada Elections Act. Our elections should be democratic, free and fair, offering equal opportunity to all candidates and all political parties. This would be a great way to start a new session of parliament.
The weak, arrogant and corrupt Liberal government that lacks vision is wasting an opportunity to modernize and democratize the patronage ridden Canada Elections Act. It has this opportunity again. Our election act is even worse than the election acts in developing countries and where this government's representatives go to monitor elections. If our own elections act is a mess, is not democratic, how can we send our representatives to developing countries to monitor their elections? I do not know if we are practising what we are preaching at home.
The members of the official opposition have proposed a number of worthwhile amendments to the bill. We will continue to do that. It is our job, not only to criticize the government, but also to propose amendments, suggest new ways and worthwhile change to open Liberals' eyes. As usual we are holding a flashlight for them but they are closing their eyes. They refuse to look when we shine the light into their intellectual darkness.
The Liberals resist change. That is why they do not want parliamentary reform. That is why they do not want to democratize our electoral system. The more I think about it, I am quite convinced that the Liberals' actions are not just undemocratic, they are anti-democratic. The government is the dictatorship of the 21st century. It is nothing short of a dictatorship when it will not accept amendments that would improve the system.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): Is the House ready for the question?
Some hon. members: Question.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): I declare the motion carried.
Mr. Gurmant Grewal: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I heard some members on this side of the House say no. I said no. I would suggest to the Speaker that the no was probably not heard because some members were making noise. This should be taken into consideration.
Ms. Marlene Catterall: Madam Speaker, these things do happen, and although I believe your ruling was quite correct, there were not five members in the House who stood. We would be quite willing to accept the objections of the opposition if it were willing to agree, by unanimous consent, to defer the vote until Tuesday night.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): Is that agreed?
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): The recorded division on the motion stands deferred until Tuesday.
* * *
MARINE LIABILITY ACT
Hon. Maria Minna (for the Minister of Transport) moved that Bill S-2, an act respecting marine liability, and to validate certain bylaws and regulations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Ovid Jackson (Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, Lib.): Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and speak to Bill S-2, the marine liability act. It is the reincarnation of Bill S-17 which died on the order paper during the last session of parliament.
The bill introduces for the first time Canadian legislation regarding shipowners' liability for the carriage of passengers and new rules for the apportionment of liability in maritime law. At the same time, it will consolidate existing marine liability regimes, which are currently scattered throughout various statutes, into a single statute.
This important Canadian legislation will modernize the Canada Shipping Act to make sure it concur with the legislation. Some 40 million Canadians travel by sea. There are various oil spillages. Liabilities have resulted all around the world, in Europe, in Canada and in Greece. The act will consolidate and make shipowners responsible. It will take away the fact that in the fine print on tickets and so on they can exempt themselves from looking after their liabilities to Canadians.
Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, Canadian Alliance): Madam Speaker, I was taken aback a bit by my hon. colleague along the way in that he made quite a succinct speech on an important piece of legislation. Obviously there is a need to adjourn the House for the weekend or something. I am not sure exactly what is happening here.
At the outset of my remarks this afternoon on Bill S-2, the marine liability act. and because I only had 10 minutes to reply to the Speech from the Throne, I will begin by congratulating you, Madam Speaker, on your appointment to the chair; the Speaker on his election; and your colleagues who occupy the chair from time to time. I know it is not an easy task riding herd on this place. I not only congratulate you but will endeavour to support you in as non-partisan a way as possible from time to time when you are called upon to make a tough ruling.
I also wish to thank my supporters as I did in quite a succinct manner during my brief remarks in reply to the throne speech a couple of weeks ago. As all of us know, regardless of what party we represent in the House of Commons, we would not be here without the support, hard work and monetary donations of many individuals back in our respective ridings from coast to coast to coast. In light of that, I assure the people who supported me back home that I indeed greatly appreciate their support.
I have been very fortunate. I have run in four election campaigns dating back to 1988 when I was unsuccessful. People who supported the Reform Party of Canada's principles and policies at the time stepped forward to work hard on the party's behalf and ultimately on my behalf when I became the candidate, which saw me elected with about 56% of the vote. I believe that increased to 66% in 1997 and almost 70% in the latest election in November 2000.
I am always quick to point out that I do not take it as a great affirmation that I am doing such a terrific job that 70% of the people who show up at the polls would mark their ballots for me. I take it as 70% of the people who were looking at the alternatives on election day decided to support in this case the Canadian Alliance's principles and policies first and foremost. They obviously decided to support the leadership of our present leader. The reason I would get those types of numbers is primarily the support and the word of mouth translated throughout the riding of Prince George—Peace River by the people as much as by me.
I thank each and every one. I obviously would not have time to record the hundreds of people who are members of the Canadian Alliance in Prince George—Peace River and all the people who gave so willingly hours of their time to volunteer to make my re-election campaign ultimately successful.
Hon. Don Boudria: And now to the bill.
Mr. Jay Hill: Madam Speaker, I will get to the bill. The hon. House leader of the government probably has some urgent business back in his riding that he must attend to and would like to see the House adjourn early today, it being Friday afternoon.
I wanted to describe as well, as a lot of my colleagues did when they gave their first speech, the riding that I am so pleased to represent and have represented now for seven years in the House of Commons.
The hon. government House leader might be interested to know that the riding of Prince George—Peace River is the only riding in Canada that actually straddles the Rocky Mountains. It is some 200,000 square kilometres in size. It is the eighth largest riding as far as geographic size is concerned. While it is difficult to get around in a riding so large, and certainly my hon. colleague from Skeena is well aware of the problems that are inherent in that, the reality is that it is enjoyable as well to represent a large rural riding. There are terrific grassroots, hard-working people from one end of the riding to the other.
I am very pleased and honoured, as I have been for the last seven years, to represent the people of Prince George—Peace River not only in the House of Commons, but also try to be a worthy representative of those people when I am out in the real world speaking on their behalf.
Bill S-2, the marine liability act, is a multifaceted bill that will finally legislate protection for Canadians travelling by water in a manner similar to the protection that has existed for decades in the aviation industry. Many Canadians have been waiting a very long time for the House to resolve that issue.
The reason I say that Canadians have been waiting a long time for the MLA is that this is its third incarnation. It has died on the order paper twice, the first time as Bill C-59, the carriage of passengers by water act, and the second time in October of last year. Both times were the as a result of a premature, unnecessary election call by the present Prime Minister. I am hopeful that the Minister of Transport and his government are serious about passing the legislation this time.
When we think about it, marine travel is one of the oldest modes of transportation in the world. One only needs to think of Samuel de Champlain, Eric the Red and Christopher Columbus to realize just how long we have been travelling the high seas. However, it is now the year 2001 and we are without comprehensive laws defining liability for those travelling and working in the shipping industry.
If one has spent any time in Vancouver or elsewhere on the west coast, one will appreciate the incredible volume of cruise ships that travel the Strait of Georgia and the inland waterways toward Alaska. The port of Vancouver alone handled over 800,000 cruise ship passengers just last year. The cruise industry has also grown on the east coast of Canada, with the ports of Halifax, Saint John and Quebec City showing considerable growth in cruise ship traffic.
On both coasts, greater numbers of people are taking to the water on ferries, whale watching ships, fishing boats and pleasure craft. It is hard to believe that these vessels and their millions of passengers operate without a legislative framework defining liability for damage to property, injury, loss of life and the economic and legal consequences of maritime accidents.
It is also hard to believe that the government opposite has allowed the bill, as I said earlier, to die twice on the order paper, leaving a void of liability in one of Canada's busiest modes of transportation. We are fortunate that the void in shipping liability does not extend to the protection of our coastlines and marine environment. We have had for some time legislation establishing civil liability for pollution from ships.
One of the merits of Bill S-2 is that it extracts these laws from the Canada Shipping Act and combines it with other relevant marine liability legislation into a single act.
We do, however, have concerns about whether the wording of the provisions for civil liability accurately reflect the intent of the legislation. The clause in the bill devoted to establishing civil liability for pollution from a ship deals with all types of pollution, yet the clause creating this liability itself speaks only of oil pollution. We believe that this clause requires closer examination to ensure that the marine environment is adequately protected from all sources of pollution.
The remaining pieces of legislation that found their way into the marine liability act included the Carriage of Goods by Water Act provisions for the limitation of liability and marine accidents and the Canada Shipping Act provisions for fatal accidents.
In addition to consolidating existing liability laws into a single reference, Bill S-2 also introduces two new liability regimes that are long overdue. I am referring to the rules regarding apportionment of liability and to the rules defining the liability of shipowners for the passengers they carry on their ships.
The introduction of rules for apportioning liability will finally bring the federal court up to speed with developments in the provincial court systems. The provincial courts have had rules regarding apportionment of a liability for years, but because marine claims are considered to be exclusively a federal jurisdiction, claimants and their families have been unable to rely on these rules when suing for compensation for injuries or in the case of the death of a family member.
As a result of this void in federal law, claimants have had to rely on antiquated common law principles. These laws provide that if the defendant can prove that the claimant contributed in any way to his or her injuries, awards would be forfeited. That is a very unjust and unacceptable situation. With the passing of this federal bill, courts will now have the ability to hold each party accountable for their actions. The percentage of liability will correspond with the percentage of fault.
I wish to illustrate this with an example. If a tour boat were to sink as the result of the captain's negligence and all the people on board wearing life jackets survived except the one individual who refused to wear a life jacket, the captain would be liable for the accident but not 100% liable for the loss of life. By refusing to wear the life jacket some liability would be assumed by the passenger and under the existing law he or she would not be entitled to any compensation. Clearly this is unacceptable and we are pleased to see that the government is finally taking steps to correct that situation.
Another new provision of the bill is the introduction of a system for establishing a shipowner's liability for commercial passengers. As I mentioned previously, it is unconscionable that a country which sees in excess of 40 million passengers carried by water each year does not have legislation protecting those passengers. While we are pleased to see the reintroduction of the passenger liability provisions, we do not believe that this protection goes far enough. Put simply, the limits are too low and there is no guarantee that the claimant will ever see the money.
The passenger liability section of the bill caps the maximum amount a shipowner will ever have to pay a claimant at $350,000, regardless of the extent or severity of his or her injuries. This is a result of basing our domestic legislation on an international agreement that has not been updated since 1990. I encourage the government to take the lead internationally on this issue and set limits that would provide real benefit to passengers injured in Canadian waters.
When comparing the amount of compensation available to passengers on ships, it is interesting to note that there is no limit for liability for passengers travelling by air.
Our other concern, and the most significant one, is that there is no requirement for shipowners to provide proof that they can meet their financial commitment to passengers after an accident. I believe this omission seriously undermines the entire premise of the legislation.
I urge the government to act quickly to establish an enforceable regulatory framework for issuing operating certificates and requiring proof compulsory insurance or financial responsibility.
The area of commercial shipping is not the only area of water activity where the government is not doing enough to protect Canadians. The government is very quick to assert its authority over all Canadian waters, including the lakes and rivers of the provinces, but it is very slow to develop policy relating to the use of those waters.
Here I would like to give a personal example. When I was a young man I was fortunate enough to be able to save enough money to purchase a boat for waterskiing. I learned to water ski at quite a young age. It is interesting to note that while I had to insure and license the trailer for the boat there was no requirement, other than a sort of convenience requirement, to register the boat itself.
My understanding is that this continues to this day, that there are a lot of boats for which the province or the federal government requires no registration. It is a matter of convenience. The view is that if the boat owner registers and gets a bow number for the boat, in the event of an accident or misuse of the boat the number would be helpful to the authorities in ascertaining the actual legitimate owner of the boat.
However, in many cases I have found that the new owner of a boat does not actually transfer that number with the registry of shipping for small watercraft. It is never transferred to the new owner. There are probably thousands, if not tens of thousands, of watercraft on our rivers and lakes that have never had their ownership transferred to the new owners. There is no real strong deterrent to force them to do so.
There is no requirement for insurance, none whatsoever, when one operates a small pleasure craft. It astounds me that this situation is allowed to continue.
By way of an example of that, one day we were waterskiing on the lake that is near my hometown of Fort Saint John. As is often the case when slaloming, if people are not used to starting out on one ski they start on two skis and drop one. At some point in time hopefully they can remember where the other ski is and go back and pick it up. On that particular day, we came back after the skier had finished. I was operating my boat. We picked up the ski, threw it up on the bow of the boat and took off. The wind caught the ski, flipped it and quite severely cut a friend of mine. He had to be taken to the hospital and get some stitches.
I was very fortunate that he was a good friend of mine. I was quite young at the time and was not worth a lot of money anyway, so even if he had not been a good friend and had decided to sue me for damages, I do not think he would have got a lot. That is the whole point of the story.
Hon. Don Boudria: But is he still your friend?
Mr. Jay Hill: He is still my friend and that is quite remarkable. I thank the hon. government House leader for his interventions. It certainly keeps the debate a bit more lively and keeps me on track.
The point of the story is that today in Canada, with the situation of small pleasure craft not being required to be properly licensed and insured, if someone is injured or is fatally injured and dies, there is no way other than civil litigation in which to sue the owner of the boat for damages if it is proven that he or she was operating the craft in a negligent way. One never knows if that person has any net worth to make it worthwhile suing.
It seems to me that there is something wrong with that. In every other mode of transportation in Canada, there is a requirement that the operator be licensed and insured, either federally or provincially. What is it that makes watercraft so special that they are exempt from these concepts?
I encourage the government to bring in legislation that would grant the provinces the ability to regulate recreational boaters. It is time that we recognized that Sea-Doos should be treated equally to Ski-Doos and that yachts are no different from cars when it comes to responsible and safe operation.
I would be remiss if I did not express that we take exception to the fact that the bill originated in the other place. I note that this is the second time the bill originated in that other place and that during this session the Senate gave first, second and third reading to the bill in a single day. I also note that the bill is not identical to Bill S-17, the previous incarnation that was introduced.
In the previous version of the bill there were provisions in part 1 dealing with the relationship of dependency that could not be defined because the matter was under debate in this House. This is a prime example of why this place is the only place where it is acceptable for legislation to originate and to be debated, amended and voted on.
Had the previous version been introduced in this House, it would have been debated after the debate on dependency had been concluded. This would have ensured that the bill would have been passed correctly the first time and would not have required amendment after the fact, as it were.
I understand the rationale behind utilizing the other place when this House is congested with business, but at the beginning of a session, indeed, at the beginning of a parliament, I do not feel that this is the case.
The fact is that this House is the only one with elected representatives who are accountable to their constituents. The other place lacks the legitimacy, credibility and accountability to serve as the originator of government legislation. Until such time as the other place is true triple E—elected, equal and effective—my colleagues and I will be opposed to its intervention in legislative matters prior to their consideration in this Chamber.
The majority of marine industries affected by this legislation support it, as do the majority of the provinces. The sole exception is Quebec, which believes the bill interferes in provincial jurisdiction.
Earlier in my remarks I addressed the official opposition's concerns with the bill. Although these concerns are serious, it is our intention to support this legislation at second reading.
I am pleased to sum up by saying that we will be supporting this legislation. I look forward to other interventions from my colleagues about this legislation as they point out whatever they feel are the flaws or the attributes of the legislation.
I also look forward to having the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations deal with the legislation. I suspect it will be the first legislation referred to the standing committee once we pass it at second reading. In that light I must relay a concern that I have in regard to the inaugural meeting of the standing committee on transport, which occurred just yesterday.
I need to explain something to the viewing audience, the people out in the real world, because they probably will not be able to make the connection as to why what I am about to relate to them should be of importance to them.
At an inaugural meeting of a standing committee a number of things take place. The clerk takes the chair initially until such time as a chairman is chosen by the committee. I have no dispute with the fine gentleman who spoke just before me and who has been acclaimed as the chairman of the standing committee on transport. Likewise, there are two vice-chair positions and two individuals are elected to fill those roles.
A number of other procedural things take place at the inaugural meeting, one of which is what I want to discuss right now for a few moments. It is the matter of time allocated for questioning witness who appear before the committee. A motion was put forward yesterday at the standing committee for transport which basically suggested that after a witness appears before the committee and makes a presentation, there will be questions—as at all committees—but the time allocated to the parties to question the witnesses will be equal.
In other words, the original motion was that it would start with the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition, for 10 minutes of questioning, then go to the government, the Liberals, for 10 minutes, and then to the other three parties, the Bloc Quebecois, the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservatives, each for 10 minutes.
If that had been allowed to stand, it is very easy to see that on one front people watching on television might think it is fair, because there are five recognized political parties in the House of Commons and they would all receive 10 minutes to question a witness. I respect the fact that committees are a power unto themselves and they decide, but I think it is important that we relate these types of stories to the Canadian electorate so that it understands what takes place.
The reality is that on any committee on which I have served there was some balance for the representation in the House of Commons. In other words, if the government is a majority and has over 50% of the seats in the House of Commons, legitimately it has a larger number of people serving on the committee, seven or eight members versus three for the Canadian Alliance, a couple for the Bloc Quebecois and one each for the two smaller parties.
There is a fairness aspect. If there are seven or eight members of the Liberal Party sitting on that committee and participating, and they all have to share, as in this case, a 10 minute spot to ask questions, it stands to reason that many of them would not get to ask even one question of a witness on behalf of their constituents. I think that is unfair.
The original motion was defeated. I voiced that objection on the part of both the Liberal government and the Canadian Alliance: that if that motion were allowed to go forward it would be unfair to the parties that have the largest number of people or the largest representation in the House of Commons. It was defeated, whereupon an amendment was put forward and the motion was re-introduced. It basically said that questioning of witnesses would go to the Canadian Alliance, as Her Majesty's loyal official opposition, for 10 minutes, then to the Liberals on the committee for 10 minutes, then to the next party, the Bloc Quebecois, for 10 minutes, and then to the Liberals for 10 minutes, to the New Democrats for 10 minutes and the Liberals for 10 minutes. It would alternate back and forth.
While that solved one problem in the sense of being fair to the Liberal members who sit on the committee, because we would now have a situation where the Liberals, the government, would get half the questioning time of the witnesses who appeared, it was grossly unfair to the official opposition. Anybody who does any math can understand that there are 66 members of the official opposition, whereas the two smaller parties have 12 members and 13 members each. If the Alliance has its full allotment of MPs sitting on that committee, we have three people present to share one 10 minute slot to question someone, whereas the NDP and PCs get a full 10 minutes for one member.
I raised that as a concern, but it did not seem to resonate well with the other four parties, as one can imagine, because of partisanship. The Liberals got what they wanted, and of course the other parties, in particular the two smaller parties, had representation totally out of balance with the representation they have in the House of Commons.
I raised that matter, but we were constrained by time because the bells were ringing for a vote. Even when a standing committee is sitting, a call to come to the Chamber for a vote takes precedence; the committee meeting has to adjourn so that members can attend to the House and their duties here. I respect that fact. It is unfortunate that the debate was cut short on such an important matter.
I have been made aware through the official opposition whip's office that negotiations have been taking place and I appreciate that. Hopefully we can resolve this.
We must ensure that standing committees, as much as possible, operate in a non-partisan manner. I made the comment that it was grossly unfair to the official opposition. It might have been fun for the other four parties to all agree because they can simply raise their hands and vote. Our party has only three members on the committee, and whether we vote for or against is irrelevant. The government can set whatever procedures it wants.
If the Canadian Alliance is to properly represent the millions of Canadians who voted for it and who believe in its principles and policies, then the time its members are allotted to question witnesses should be in equal proportion to the support they have enjoyed.
Mr. Garry Breitkreuz: Democracy.
Mr. Jay Hill: My colleague from Yorkton—Melville is right. A fundamental issue of democracy is to have proper representation, and that is the way in which a standing committee should operate.
A lot of members of parliament from all parties question the work that can be accomplished and the amount of effort that is expended on standing committees. I have not had the opportunity to be around this place nearly as long as the hon. government House leader but it has been my observation over the past seven years that there is a huge variance in how standing committees operate. Part of it comes down to the way the chairperson chairs the meetings. The chairperson can set the stage for the operation of the committee, which may then operate in a quite non-partisan way and accomplish a lot of good on behalf of Canadians and parliament.
Conversely, I and many of my colleagues have had the misfortune of sitting on standing committees that operate in a very partisan manner. In many cases, for members from all parties who sit on such committees and endeavour to get something done, it is questionable whether they should even waste their time showing up.
With the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations starting off by taking this step, it was a gross unfairness to the official opposition. I made the comment that I shuddered to see where it would lead if the stamp that was put on the operation of the committee at its inaugural meeting was one of unfairness and partisanship. How can members of that committee be expected to put in the effort, to work hard and endeavour to accomplish something on behalf of parliament and of the citizens of Canada?
All too often we are constrained by time. When legislation comes forward we are given a 20 minute time slot in the House. When that is further divided in half it gives us 10 minutes to discuss issues of importance. We all know it is sometimes extremely difficult to get a point across in 10 minutes.
I recognize and have often had the opportunity to remark, when I speak in my riding of Prince George—Peace River, that in some ways I am becoming a politician. It now takes me 20 minutes to say what I used to say in three or four. Bearing that in mind, it is probably good that we are a bit constrained. Otherwise we would go on and on, dare I say, ad nauseam.
I wanted to bring that issue to the attention of colleagues, as well as to the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations, which will soon be discussing, debating and calling witnesses on Bill S-2 and other legislation and projects that the committee wants to undertake on behalf of parliament. I wanted to sort of red flag that issue in the hope that we could negotiate some other agreement between members of that committee, but also between members of all the other standing committees. We need to get a structure in place.
I do not think my two colleagues and I are asking for anything outlandish. We are simply asking for fairness in respect to the numbers. I suggested that perhaps questioning at that committee, and indeed at all committees, should bear some resemblance to what was agreed upon for question period where there is a weighting according to the number of seats each party has in the House of Commons.
I believe it should be similar to what happens in standing committees, with the exception I fully respect that they are supposed to operate in a non-partisan manner. In fairness to Liberal members sitting on those committees, they should have at a minimum 50% of the questioning time because they have a larger number of members present listening to the presentations of witnesses.
I draw my remarks to a close. Hopefully the government will see fit to communicate not only to members of the standing committee on transport but of all standing committees that they should endeavour to launch the committees and indeed operate in as non-partisan a manner as possible, in fairness to all committee members regardless of the party they represent.
We would like to see this thorny issue dealt with as quickly as possible. Then the committee could get on with the important work I am sure it will have over the life of this parliament.
Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ): Madam Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate you on your position of Assistant Deputy Chairman of the Committees of the Whole, and the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound on his election as chairman of the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations.
I would just like to inform the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River that the procedure in the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations is, obviously, the same as the one adopted when the Reform Party was the official opposition, and when the Bloc Quebecois formed the official opposition. So it is high time certain people stopped putting on airs. Obviously, we have adopted the same standard and the same procedure as in the past in the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations.
We are here today to discuss the bill on marine liability. This is an example of a bill on which all parties in the House were virtually unanimous. Why then is it not yet passed as we speak? We need to take some time to look at this, for it brings the whole Canadian parliamentary system into question.
Hon. members realize that the bill originated in the Senate. It could just as well have originated in the House of Commons. Then it would probably have had a chance to get passed before the last election. Once again, this is an example of how the parliamentary system complicates things, particularly for a bill of such benefit not only to the people of Canada but to people everywhere. Members understand because this bill deals among other things with oil spills, a major environmental concern.
Contrary to what the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt kept saying this morning, members know that any reform of the Canadian parliamentary system would require a close look at the Senate and at the millions of dollars it costs the parliamentary system, as well as all the endless delays without which Bills S-17 and S-2 for instance would have been passed much more quickly in the best interest of the people in Quebec and in Canada.
For the benefit of Quebecers and Canadians, I would like to briefly review the purpose of Bill S-2. The first part deals with personal injuries and accidents. It would allow the dependants of any person injured or killed in a marine accident to recover damages, which is not possible under the current legislation which will be replaced by this bill as soon as possible, hopefully in the days or the weeks to come.
Members will surely understand that, in the interest of all families, the Bloc Quebecois agrees with these new provisions that would allow, as I said, dependants of any person injured or killed in a marine accident to recover damages, as is often done under civil law.
The second part sets the rules for the appointment of liability. Obviously, this is based on the principle that, if several persons or ships were responsible for an accident, their liability should be proportionate to the degree to which they are respectively at fault. If it is impossible to determine who was at fault, then the parties involved should be jointly liable for losses and damages, as is the case in Quebec civil society.
The Bloc Quebecois cannot be against such a principle, which respects the logic of Quebec law.
Part 3 of the bill deals with the limitation of liability for maritime claims. The purpose of these provisions is to limit maximum liability in terms of cash amounts or units of account. Obviously, this can be somewhat complicated for the general public.
Units of account are special drawing rights issued by the International Monetary Fund under the 1976 convention concluded in London and under the Canada Shipping Act. This liability in terms of cash amounts or units of accounts will now cover owners of docks, canals and ports who are responsible for an accident. Again, this would ensure that all parties responsible for an accident assume their share of liability.
The Bloc Quebecois totally agrees with this position with regard to maritime claims.
Part 4 of the bill deals with liability for carriage of passengers by water. The objective is to apply the liability of carriers that was included in the 1974 Athens Convention regarding the carriage by sea of passengers and their baggage to the carriage by water under a contract involving passengers or passengers and their baggage from a place in Canada to any other place in Canada, and which could even transit through a destination outside the country.
This includes compensation for passengers and their baggage. Therefore, from now on, all those who engage in the transportation of passengers by water will be responsible for damage caused to passengers and to their baggage under any contract or tour that would begin and end in Canada, even if the purpose of the tour is to go outside Canada, or to travel to foreign destinations. If they come back, these carriers will be held responsible for the passengers and their baggage.
The Bloc Quebecois supports this proposal, which is in the best interests of Quebecers and Canadians.
Part 5 of the bill deals with the liability for the carriage of goods. The idea is to implement the Hague-Visby rules and the Hamburg rules to the transportation of goods by water. This applies to a much more commercial type of transportation that involves ships and large shipments. In this bill, carriage by water is the same as carriage by sea. Shipowners will be responsible for marine transportation in Canada's territorial waters.
Part 6 deals with liability and compensation for pollution. Pollution is among the most important issues in this bill.
The goal is to make shipowners responsible for damage caused by an oil spill but that liability is limited in the case of shipowners governed by the international convention on the limitation of liability, the 1969 Brussels convention which was amended in November 1976 and in November 1992.
Ships governed by that convention are required to provide a compliance certificate that compels them to have an insurance contract or a guarantor who shares with them responsibility for any damage. This would permit those suffering damage to take action against the shipowner, the insurer and the guarantor.
The principle of Quebec civil law permitting proceedings against all those responsible, including the insurers and the guarantors is applied to the principle of shipping and marine damage. The Bloc Quebecois fully supports the bill's recommendations.
The second section of part 6 of the bill concerns compensation for pollution. It involves the implementation of the international oil pollution compensation fund. The public must understand that the transportation of oil will be covered by an international compensation fund. Clause 73 provides as follows:
73. If a claimant commences an action against the owner of a Convention ship or the owner's guarantor...the International Fund may appear—
The international fund is required to pay compensation through the fund administrator drawn on a compensation fund opened from a Government of Canada account and known as the ship-source oil pollution fund.
Clause 88 of Bill S-2, under the heading “Claims for Loss of Income”, enables an individual deriving income from fishing, the production of fish or the culture of marine plants, the owner of a fishing vessel and the individual processing fish on shore, who suffer a loss of current or future income or a loss of supply as the result of a discharge of oil from a ship to be compensated by the said fund.
All citizens, all workers in the fishing sector, all those who benefit from the product of fishing, may now, in the event of an environmental disaster resulting from a shipping accident causing a discharge of oil, be compensated by a special fund, the ship-source oil pollution fund. This is a bank account opened by the Government of Canada. I will explain later how shipowners will deposit money in this account.
The Bloc Quebecois agrees fully with this provision of the bill. It is time that not only all those who depend on products of the fishery for their livelihood are provided with some security, but also all those who benefit from commercial fishing, even those who farm aquatic plants, those who may benefit from the ocean's resources. These people will be compensated if ever there is spill resulting from a shipping accident.
Even though we are in agreement with the bill, there are always important questions to ask. We will no doubt have an opportunity to discuss these in committee before the bill is passed.
Clause 91 sets a maximum on the amount that the ship-source oil pollution fund may pay. This maximum is the same as the maximum in effect on March 31, 1990. This bill adds annual indexing based on the “Consumer Price Index, excluding the food and energy components”.
It is all very fine and well to decide to have a fund, to pay compensation and to set a ceiling, but the problem is that this is the same amount that applied on March 31, 1990, indexed but “excluding the food and energy components”.
It is inconceivable that the energy component would be excluded for a company or industry whose business involves energy, petroleum products and their transportation, given the millions and billions of dollars in profits they have made in recent years.
I hope the government will have the courage to force them to pay compensation that is indexed to include the energy component in the consumer price index.
Under the heading “Payments into the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund”, sections 93 and following require shipowners to pay a levy of 40 cents per metric ton in excess of 300 metric tons for shipments of oil imported by ship into Canada as bulk cargo or shipped by ship from any place in Canada in bulk as cargo.
Obviously this amount of 40 cents can be considered important, but once again we are back with the same problem as with the maximum amount. It is the same amount the industry was paying back on March 31, 1990. The bill states that the amount will be indexed annually according to the consumer price index, but again excluding the food and energy components.
The Bloc Quebecois will be insisting in committee on an amendment to this part of the bill so as to include the energy component for shipowners who are precisely the ones drawing benefit from this industry, which has become highly profitable in recent years.
This would represent a simple gesture of good faith toward all those who might incur damages and would like to see added to the annually indexed 1990 figures the cost of the energy component, which in this country has been one of the major causes of the increased cost of living.
Those who are listening will surely agree with us that the energy component has been the one most responsible for the rise in the cost of living, in the higher costs for Quebec and Canadian families. Energy costs have in large part been responsible for the increase in household costs in the past year and one-half, if not longer.
Moreover, the Government of Canada has even acknowledged this with the cheques it recently issued. This got a poor reception from the people who actually have to pay energy costs, who have to buy fuel oil, but many of whom were not included in this Liberal government largesse. Once again, because of the elections, they made another promise without calculating the impact on the good citizens of Quebec and of Canada. We trust that the energy component will be included.
I take the opportunity to pass the following message on to the Liberal government. Correct this error as quickly as possible. It is serious for anyone heating with oil, anyone facing increases in heating costs and should have received a cheque, regardless of their income.
These people have had a significant increase, sometimes as much as 80%, in the cost they pay for heating in recent years. Once again the industry benefited and not the public of Quebec and Canada.
We will agree with part 6, apart from the fact that, according to the consumer price index, the energy factor should be added to this indexing and not excluded from it.
The seventh part of the bill validates certain regulations, including those of the Canada Ports Corporation Act of 1983 and 1985, in addition to the regulations made under the Pilotage Act, the Laurentian Pilotage Tariff Regulations, 1992. We fully support the bill, which validates the tariffs for the Laurentian Pilotage Authority.
The Bloc Quebecois would like to point out the work of the Canadian Marine Pilots' Association and the International Maritime Pilots' Association, including the work of the lower St. Lawrence pilots and the pilots of central Quebec, who have had to fight for over 30 years for their profession.
Shipowners and members of the industry are constantly harassing pilots in the St. Lawrence Seaway and in central Quebec, in an attempt to eliminate their work, on the grounds that it is an excessive cost for their industry.
When a ship plies the St. Lawrence River and its affluents, it is taken care of by a pilot who is a member of the pilots' association to which I just referred. This pilot has the experience, skill, wisdom and knowledge required to avoid marine disasters.
It is important that in the bill we accept and recognize the Laurentian Pilotage Tariff Regulations.
I take this opportunity to ask the Liberal government to stop listening to shipowners who, again, are trying to make profits at the expense of pilots from the maritimes, the St. Lawrence River and central Quebec. These pilots are competent and they take charge of ships precisely to avoid natural disasters and oil spills in the St. Lawrence River.
We must stop criticizing and instead consolidate the work of these pilots, who are not the only ones in the world doing that job. There are pilots' associations on the Mississippi and elsewhere in the world, including in countries with large rivers and affluents.
Once again, we must try to send a clear message to these pilots, whose role it is to protect our environment and particularly to be responsible for a ship, regardless of its destination, whether it is Canadian or foreign owned, that they must take responsibility for it and ensure its safe arrival at ports along the St. Lawrence and all its tributaries.
I think that this is the best security we can obtain as Quebecers and Canadians. We must ensure our constituents, the people we know, Quebecers and Canadians, those around us, that there are people who are working to try to stave off future environmental disasters, the human errors made by captains unfamiliar with the difficulties of the St. Lawrence and its tributaries.
We are therefore taking this opportunity to pass this message on to the government and also to congratulate and thank marine pilots of whatever allegiance—because there are several marine pilots' associations—but especially those working on the St. Lawrence and its tributaries, the St. Lawrence and central Quebec pilots' associations, and all those doing a good job of trying to protect the environment of Quebec and of Canada.
The Bloc Quebecois is in agreement with part 8 of the bill concerning transitional provisions.
It has been my pleasure to present my position on a bill which, I repeat, should be passed as quickly as possible.
As I said at the beginning, it is sad that the Canadian parliamentary system, such as it is, delayed the passage of this bill before the last election. This is a bill originating in the Senate, with the result that there are very tight deadlines. The result was that a good bill, supported by all parties in the House, was significantly held up.
Hon. Don Boudria (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Madam Speaker, if no other member wishes to speak on this bill, I wonder whether we could put the question immediately to refer it to committee. I think that all parties are in favour of the bill, because I discussed this earlier.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): The motion is carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations.
(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): It being 1.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, Canadian Alliance) moved that Bill C-237, an act to amend the Divorce Act (joint custody), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, at the outset of my remarks I thank my hon. colleague for Skeena for seconding my bill today.
I am pleased to have the opportunity this afternoon to address my proposal for what I believe to be an important amendment to the Divorce Act. This is contained in private member's Bill C-237.
The purpose of the bill is to establish a new basis for sharing the custody of children following the divorce or separation of their parents. The bill would ensure that courts grant custody of a child to both parents unless there exists evidence that to do so would not be in the best interests of the child.
In 1985, Bill C-41 amended the Divorce Act, making it easier for Canadian couples to file for and receive divorces. The changes removed most of the blame from divorce proceedings. Since then, in effect, we have had no fault divorce. It is estimated that as many as 90% of divorces are now granted without a formal court hearing. Putting this 90% figure into perspective, 69,872 of the 77,636 divorces granted in 1995 did not proceed to the courts. The downside is that the remaining 10%, or 7,764, were the subject of protracted and at times difficult litigation.
In the same year, more than 47,000 children were the subjects of custody orders. Using the same 10% figure, it means that approximately 4,700 children were exposed to ongoing tension, fighting and at times even violence between their parents. It is the children who are the sole inspiration for the bill.
During the review of the Divorce Act in 1985, significant lobbying took place to encourage parliament to take action to protect the interests of children involved in divorce and custody battles. Parliament agreed that the subject required extensive review and established a Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access that eventually released a report in December 1998 entitled, “For the Sake of the Children”. Unfortunately, this was two years following the passing of the amendments to the Divorce Act and many of its recommendations have yet to become law.
The committee was comprised of senators and members of the House of Commons from all parties. They set aside their partisan differences to examine and analyze the impact of custody arrangements on children of divorced or separated parents. I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to commend all members of the special committee for their work on this very difficult and sensitive subject.
The committee approached its work with great determination and travelled from St. John's to Vancouver and conducted 39 meetings where it heard from no fewer than 500 witnesses. These witnesses included individual parents, children, fathers' organizations, women's groups and professionals, including lawyers, judges, social workers, psychologists, physicians and others. The committee paid particular attention to what was being said by all of the witnesses and one resounding conclusion was reached. Dramatic changes were needed in the way parenting arrangements are decided following divorce.
The committee concluded that there was difficulty with the current provisions of the Divorce Act, as it focuses solely on granting custody of the children to one parent and access to the children by the other parent.
Courts rarely impose joint custody orders in the absence of the consent of both parents. It is thought that unless the parents could work together amicably and constructively enough to set up their own custody and access arrangement, joint custody would not be in the best interests of the children. There is considerable evidence to suggest that this assumption is deeply flawed.
Marital breakdown is not an appropriate time for parents to be making decision regarding the division of parental responsibility. Far too often the courts are granting custody arrangements that will result in the estrangement of children from not only the non-custodial parent but also the members of a non-custodial parent's family, such as stepbrothers or sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
Bill C-237 seeks to establish that the custody of the children will automatically be granted jointly to both parents. This represents a fundamental change to the current system of custody. We will no longer look upon the process as determining custody and access but as establishing joint parenting responsibilities.
Children define themselves by their parents. It follows that it is in the child's best interests to have continuing contact with both parents, based on the child's existing relationship with each parent as it has developed during the course of that child's lifetime.
It is very important for me to clarify that joint custody does not necessarily mean that parents start out with 50% access to their children. It means that the parents will have equal decision making authority with respect to the child on issues such as schooling, religious upbringing and medical care.
It is estimated that under the current system, 86% of children reside with their mother, 7% with their father, and that only 6% live under some form of joint custody arrangement. We recognize that these patterns generally reflect the division of child care responsibilities in intact households and that many divorcing parents agree to these arrangements because it continues with arrangements that existed pre-divorce or is otherwise in the best interests of the child.
By amending the Divorce Act to automatically grant joint custody we will be establishing a new starting point for discussions regarding custody of children. In these discussions both parents will be working from a position of equal footing and the children will no longer be pawns in divorce proceedings.
The proposed amendments also contain a number of additional provisions relating to the authority of the courts in determining the best interests of the children. The court retains the ability to amend the custody agreement where it can be demonstrated that the child has suffered mistreatment by one of the parents. The court also has the ability to amend the custody agreement for a definite or indefinite period of time or until the happening of a specific event or it can attach conditions that it feels are fit and just.
There is also additional protection for parents who enter into joint custody arrangements. For example, the courts may include in any order a requirement that the custodial parent provide advance notice to the non-custodial parent of any intended change of address. In addition to being of obvious benefit to the non-custodial parent, this also provides a benefit to the children, as it allows sufficient time for changes to be made to parenting agreements and to analyze the impact of the move on the child.
In advancing these amendments to the Divorce Act, Canada joins countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and many states in the United States in the establishment of joint custody laws.
The bill is about putting the interests of the children ahead of the interests of two divorcing parents. It is about preserving the role and contribution of both parents and their extended families in the upbringing of children.
I would hope that all members of the House would join me in supporting the legislation for the sake of the children.
Mr. John Maloney (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Madam Speaker, as presented to the House, Bill C-237 proposes to amend the Divorce Act by creating new section 15.4, which would provide that courts grant the custody of the child of the marriage to both spouses jointly, unless it is the opinion of the court that to do so would not be in the best interests of the child.
Bill C-237 would amend existing subsections 16(1) and 16(4) of the act that currently authorize courts to grant custody of or access to any or all children of the marriage to any one or more persons, by deleting the references to custody so that these subsections would pertain only to access orders. In effect, the bill creates a rebuttable legal presumption of joint custody.
The Government of Canada announced a strategy for family law reform with respect to child custody and access in May 1999 when the Minister of Justice tabled the government's “Strategy for Reform”. This strategy includes fundamental principles for reform and emphasizes the need for a comprehensive government response to address those important issues that have an impact on children's lives. In light of this commitment to a comprehensive strategy, the Minister of Justice is not in a position to support Bill C-237.
The effect of Bill C-237 is to create a legal presumption of joint custody. There are four fundamental problems with this legal presumption.
First, it is inconsistent with the government's strategy for reform which rejects the idea that a one size fits all approach may be applied to all families experiencing separation and divorce.
Second, it is inconsistent with the recommendations of the special joint committee's report “For the Sake of the Children”.
Third, the bill is inconsistent with the government's commitment to work closely with the provinces and territories to develop co-ordinated reforms that respect the constitutional division of powers and responsibilities.
Finally, the bill potentially creates confusion by imposing a legal presumption of joint custody without defining what is meant by that term.
I have noted that Bill C-237 is inconsistent with the government's strategy for reform of the family law system dealing with child custody and access. Let me explain. The reform strategy was announced by the Minister of Justice in May 1999 when she tabled the government's response to the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, “For the Sake of the Children”.
The government's plan for identifying reforms, and in particular, reforms respecting amendments to the Divorce Act, is based on the primary principle that the individual needs, best interests and well-being of the children are paramount. The government's response notes that the Government of Canada has developed a strategy that is rooted in four principles.
The first principle is the desire to promote child centred reforms that focus on minimizing the negative impact of divorce on children. This strategy identifies the need to reform the legal rules, principles and processes that will better structure the decision making process in a child centred way and shift the focus of the family law system from parental rights to parental responsibility.
The second principle is the government's commitment to work closely with the provinces and territories to pursue co-ordinated, multijurisdictional efforts while respecting the division of powers and responsibilities in this area of shared constitutional jurisdiction.
The third principle refers to the critical need to explore a broad range of measures to support families going through separation and divorce, because statutory amendments alone cannot address many of the problems that are, in reality, only partly legal in nature.
The fourth principle is of the utmost importance for the matters we are currently discussing. It is the recognition that each family has unique characteristics and experiences divorce and separation much differently. It is exactly the reason why we do not want to apply a one size fits all approach such as that suggested by Bill C-237 to all Canadian families experiencing divorce.
Conflict levels of separating parents vary widely, as do individual children's needs. As well, children undergo developmental change over time and adjustments may be needed to allow for changing relationships and circumstances. The Government of Canada's reform strategy recognizes that no one model of post-separation parenting will be ideal for all children. For this reason, the minister cannot support the one size fits all approach that Bill C-237 attempts to introduce into the Divorce Act with the creation of a presumption of joint custody.
As indicated, the proposed bill is inconsistent with the recommendations of the special joint committee's report “For the Sake of the Children”. The special joint committee heard many arguments in favour of various different legal presumptions such as the one proposed by Bill C-237 when it held public hearings across the country.
The special joint committee held 55 meetings and heard from many witnesses across the country, including individual parents and children, women's groups, fathers' organizations, lawyers, judges, social workers, psychologists and physicians. The hearings highlighted the difficult, emotional and contentious nature of custody and access issues and confirmed that the very different and often conflicting views continue to be held, both about the problems and about the reforms that are required.
The special joint committee's report entitled “For the Sake of the Children” acknowledged that one of the most frequent requests at these hearings was that the Divorce Act be amended to add a legal presumption. However, the special joint committee decided not to recommend a legal presumption. Instead, the report states on page 42:
Presumptions in favour of joint custody or the primary caregiver have been adopted in a number of US jurisdictions, but in some cases legislatures have subsequently withdrawn them after finding that they were not having the intended desirable effects. Presumptions that any one form of parenting arrangement is going to be in the best interests of all children could obscure the significant differences between families...Presumptions can also have a negative effect of compelling families who might otherwise have been able to make constructive, amicable arrangements to apply to a court, if they want to avoid the application of a presumptive form of parenting arrangements.
The special committee carefully considered and rejected the use of legal presumption, such as the one that Bill C-237 attempts to introduce into the Divorce Act. This is another reason why Bill-237 should not be supported.
The government is committed to working closely with the provinces and territories. I am concerned that Bill-237 is inconsistent with the government's commitment to collaboration and partnerships in this area of law. This is one of the four fundamental principles of the government strategy for reform, to work closely with the provinces and territories to pursue a co-ordinated, multi-jurisdictional effort while respecting the division of powers and responsibilities in the area of shared constitutional jurisdiction.
The federal and provincial governments have specific constitutional powers with respect to family law, and the territorial governments have specific responsibilities under their original acts. The federal Divorce Act generally applies where parents are divorcing and need to settle issues such as child custody, access and support. Provincial and territorial laws apply when unmarried parents separate or married parents separate and do not pursue a divorce, as well as to some issues involving divorce proceedings.
Currently the federal Divorce Act and provincial and territorial legislation all have the same general legal principles to govern custody and access disputes. Bill C-237 would impose a legislative presumption that is not found in any of the provincial or territorial statutes. If the federal law is reformed without corresponding changes to the provincial or territorial laws, we risk creating confusion and uncertainty leading to more conflict between parents and increasing litigation. This would only aggravate the difficulties experienced by children.
The bill amending the Divorce Act could also have serious implications on provincial and territorial court procedures and court services. The provinces and territories have constitutional power over the administration of justice. This includes responsibilities for establishing the rules of civil procedure and administering court services within their jurisdiction, including procedures respecting Divorce Act matters.
Arguably, specialized court services and programs would be necessary to assist families who had a joint custody order imposed on them by the courts without their agreement. This could be the result of the proposed Bill C-237 presumption of joint custody. Members of parliament from every party should be concerned about supporting a bill that could have this kind of potential impact on the provinces and territories while seeking their prior co-operation and commitment.
It is critical to remind ourselves that developing and implementing family law reforms is a complex task. The challenge in reforming the Divorce Act is to identify terminology that is consistent with a child centred approach and is carefully defined so that there is a clear and accepted understanding and use by both the courts and the public. I believe that the proposed Bill C-237 does not meet this challenge.
The bill creates a presumption of joint custody without clarifying what this means. Does joint legal custody mean shared decision making? If so, can we force parents to make joint decisions concerning their children when they are unwilling or unable to communicate with each other? This would be particularly dangerous in a high conflict situation. How can this be in the best interests of the child?
It is also possible that the bill is imposing a joint physical custody arrangement that would require each of the parents to be responsible for the daily care of the children for an equal amount of time. This may not be appropriate for many families. I believe that children's living arrangements should be determined according to what is in their best interests as opposed to ensuring an equal division of time between the parents.
Separation and divorce are difficult for children. The family law system must be responsive to their needs. The bill could aggravate an already difficult situation for families. It would impose a “one size fits all” approach. That is inconsistent with the government's strategy for reform and that was rejected by the special joint committee. It could create significant demands on provincial and territorial services without seeking their prior co-operation and commitment. It also introduces a legal presumption without providing clarification of what it means.
I know that the government has spent a considerable amount of time working closely with the provinces and territories to develop well considered reform proposals. To this end a number of background research papers have been prepared and several more are underway. Work is also underway evaluating the impact of legislative reforms recently undertaken in other countries. Public consultations will be taking place this year on specific reform proposals.
Developing and implementing family law reform is a complex task. Although we need to work quickly, we also need to take the time to insure that we get it right.
Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, BQ): Madam Speaker, as always, it is a pleasure to end the week in your company, at least the parliamentary week, because, as we all know, the work of a member of parliament is never done.
I want to commend our hon. colleague for his initiative. Unfortunately, I have to advise him that we will not be able to support his bill for a number of reasons that I will try to explain.
When these issues come up we have to remember that they are dealt with in the civil code, the justice system in effect in Quebec, where equality in law for both parents is enshrined in section 587 and subsequent sections. It is called parental authority and parents are considered the tutors of their children. That comes with a number of duties and obligations. This legal reality is enshrined in our civil code and cannot be questioned unless one of the parents is found to be unreliable by a court of justice. I am not sure how relevant this bill is, at least for Quebec.
Second, a federal-provincial-territorial task force will be making recommendations concerning family law and I will have the opportunity to come back to this issue later on. It will consider the need to reform the Divorce Act. Although well-intended, I think the bill introduced by the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River is a bit premature.
This also leads me to say that it is a bit illogical to have the federal government responsible for the Divorce Act, while the provinces are responsible for decrees of judicial separation, and Quebec is responsible for the celebration of marriage.
It was my pleasure to take a course in family law at the University of Ottawa a few years ago. If Michelle Giroux, my law professor, is watching, I send her greetings and want her to know I intend to make use of what she taught me.
There is some inconsistency in the distribution of jurisdictions, since one is hard pressed to find the logic behind Quebec's being able to legislate on marriage matters, particularly the formal requirements, on matters relating to the civil code and the right of judicial separation, while the federal government is responsible for divorce.
Does that mean that custody, fair access, something parents and guardians must have, is not a problem? No, let us make no mistake, it is an important issue.
It is such an important issue that, for a number of months, a joint parliamentary committee, comprising MPs and members of the other House, travelled across Canada. The committee made recommendations. It led to this report, which I want to show those in the gallery. It is called “For the Sake of the Children”.
To give an idea of the import of the phenomenon of divorce, I would like to read calmly, what I consider to be the essence of the report. I will not read too quickly, out of respect for the interpreters. I quote “Because of the high rate of divorce, over 47,000 children were affected, in 1994 and 1995—” You can see that this is a fairly recent phenomenon. The quotation continues “—by custody orders under the Divorce Act”. This is the legislation for which our colleague is seeking amendments to sections 15 and 4.
The report goes on:
As a result, more children—and younger children—are experiencing rearrangements in their households. Their parents' remarriages or other new relationships following divorce compound the complexity of these children's lives.
Dissolution of the marriage has a heavy impact on the children of the marriage. This is self-evident. Some 75% of divorced men and women remarry. Everyone has emotional needs, we all need to have someone in our lives. So 75% of people whose first marriage ended in divorce remarry, and children from first marriages have to develop relationships with step-parents.
In 1992, 13% of divorces were of second marriages. Why should we as parliamentarians be concerned about this? Because divorce is not just a marginal phenomenon. Members will remember that, at one time, a couple wanting a divorce had to go through the Senate and it was an exceptional procedure. This is no longer the case. Not only is divorce more accessible as an institution, but it is no longer left entirely up to the courts. Quebec has set up a mediation process between spouses, and it is working very well.
What happens with the bill proposed by our colleague? It is based on the presumption that custody has to be shared, and this makes me wonder. I consulted with my colleagues, particularly the women in our caucus since they carry a lot of weight within the Bloc Quebecois. They reminded me that presumption of shared custody is not a good thing per se unless both parents have clearly indicated that this is what they want. Shared custody must come from a common desire if it is to be fully effective from a legal perspective as well as from the perspective of the quality of life of the children, who are our main concern.
When a divorce decree is issued by the court, the judge has total discretion to assess the respective situations of both parents. In some cases, the income and the situation of each spouse make shared custody possible. However, in other cases, shared custody is not an option under the circumstances. That is the reason why presumption of shared custody is not desirable.
Again, when we talk about divorce, it is important to understand the life experiences of those parents who want to leave each other and go their separate ways. But it seems to me that our primary concern should be the well-being and interest of the children. In my view, this is not the focus of the bill as worded.
As for the expertise of Quebec, where this assumption did not have the support of witnesses from Quebec who appeared before the joint parliamentary committee, we believe, once again, that the interest of the children must be our primary concern. What do we mean by “the interest of the children must be our primary concern”. There are apparently four considerations. The first is recognized in law. We could without any trouble find cases in which common law judges relied on this concern, making it part of the jurisprudence. We are saying that, in so far as possible, the child must remain in an economic situation comparable to the one that existed prior to the divorce.
That is why, when we speak of shared custody, we must be concerned about the ability of each parent to continue to ensure the material well-being of the children as it was before the divorce. We must also place primary emphasis on the ability and the right to remain, in so far as possible, in the same neighbourhood, in the same natural environment. Automatic shared custody does not seem to us to be desirable if it means that a child will be uprooted.
When I was a law student, I recall very clearly being asked to read a decision involving a parent who wished to move to Australia. The parent with custody lived in Toronto. There was a protracted legal dispute. We see how upsetting it can be for a child who is required, in the case of shared custody, to be uprooted for one parent or the other.
Since I have little time remaining, I will conclude by saying that we are unable to support this bill. I give my colleague credit for taking an interest in the matter and I hope that our debates on the topic are productive.
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—St. Clair, NDP): Madam Speaker, I rise to address this bill. By way of background, I am bringing to this the perspective of having practised family law almost exclusively for some 15 years and then significantly for another 12 or 13 years in the province of Ontario. I have also instructed in family law at the local law school as a sessional instructor and I have been a sessional leader at the bar admission course in Ontario as well.
There is a point I particularly want to address. If I understood the comments of the author of the bill, he is interested in avoiding what at times is the inevitable conflict between parents in the course of a marriage breakdown. I have to say to the member that my experience tells me the presumption he wishes to build into the legislation would inevitably have the effect of heightening both the amount of litigation that would go on and the level of hostilities between the parents.
In that regard, I draw to the House's attention some of the statistics he gave on the breakdown that exists in the country in terms of how custody arrangements are finalized. Members may recall that he made the point that in approximately 85% of all custodial arrangements custody resides with the mother of the children and some 6% or 7% with the father of the children, the remainder being joint custody arrangements.
As a bit of an aside, that 6% is a substantial increase from the time I first started practising law. I think it reflects some change in society and society's orientations and particularly in the orientation of women and mothers to be willing to look at a custody arrangement. It also reflects, I think importantly, the amount of additional time that male members of society are taking with the children in wishing to have that type of arrangement.
However, I want to come back to the reality of the process when marriage breaks down. What will occur, I prophesy, is that of the 80% of mothers who attain custody we will have a much greater number of them going to court if this type of bill and presumption are passed into legislation. We will have them going to court to rebut that presumption in order to establish sole custody in their names.
The end result is that instead of having 10% of all cases going to substantial litigation, which is the figure he quoted, we will have a greater number. As an aside, I can point out that does not mean those cases go to trial and are determined by a judge. What that means is simply that they are lengthy and protracted litigation, which oftentimes ultimately end up in settlement in any event.
However, what we will be having is a number greater than 10% in our courts. If we are really sincerely interested in protecting our children from the abuse they suffer from the litigation process, we will want to avoid this. I can speak to that personally from the fairly substantial number of contested custody cases I was involved in. There is emotional abuse of children as they suffer their way through the protracted battles between their parents. This proposed legislation would only heighten that.
From that perspective alone we would have to oppose this proposed legislation. There are a number of other points we could make regarding the validity of the presumption, but recognizing that it is this time of the week, I will leave my comments at that.
Mr. Rick Borotsik (Brandon—Souris, PC): Madam Speaker, it is now my turn to debate the bill that has been tabled by the member for Prince George—Peace River. I do thank him for putting it forward.
However, before we get into the bill itself and talk about the merits of this particular piece of legislation, I would first like to thank the member for Windsor—St. Clair for giving us his curriculum vitae and telling us of the experience he has through being a member of the bar, particularly in family law, because earlier today I commented about the Deputy Prime Minister, who made a comment yesterday about dealing with the law only if one is in fact a lawyer and which law school one should have come from. As I said earlier, I am not a lawyer but that does not stop me from—
Mr. Réal Ménard: Good for you.
Mr. Rick Borotsik: Thank you. Really, it is nice to be able to say that I have worked for a living, although I certainly would not suggest that the member for Windsor—St. Clair has not done so. However, this was an issue this morning and it behooves us as members of parliament to be able to stand in the House and talk about pieces of legislation.
I know for a fact that the member for Prince George—Peace River is not a lawyer either, but he did bring forward something that is very important to all Canadians, certainly to those Canadians who are affected quite dramatically by the Divorce Act and custody of the children.
I am pleased to rise to support Bill C-237, an act to amend the Divorce Act (joint custody), put forward by the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River.
The purpose of the bill is to ensure that courts grant custody of a child of the marriage to both spouses, unless there exists evidence that to do so would not be in the best interests of the child. As a supporter of change to the current structure of child custody and access, I was encouraged by the report of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access entitled “For the Sake of the Children”, which was mentioned many times in the House during today's debate.
The report came to the House in December 1998. The government's response to this report did not come back until May 1999. Yet nothing has been done. The inaction of the Minister of Justice has caused great frustration among Canadians who have been affected by marriage breakdown and the ensuing child custody battles.
I share the frustration of many Canadians knowing that our children will continue to suffer because the recommendations for change will not be legislated into law. Our party supports shared custody as long as it is in the best interests of the children.
The PC Party played an effective role on the special joint committee and we were a strong voice for the issue of shared custody. We feel that the courts should work in harmony with social services to ensure that no matter what the custody arrangement, the best interests of the children will be paramount. The PC Party has stated that it will continue its efforts to have the recommendations of the committee legislated into law.
As the Liberal government seems unwilling to take action on this issue, I once again commend the member for coming forward with a proposal that will move toward a more equitable treatment of both—and I stress both—parents involved in a child custody arrangement while ensuring, again, that the best interests are those of the children.
The judicial discretion permitted in the bill will allow a judge to make decisions in the best interests of the child, depending on the merits of the individual case. The bill states:
The court may, on application by either or both spouses or any other person, make an order respecting any or all children of the marriage that is different from the order provided for in subsection (1) where, in the opinion of the court, the best interests of the child or children so require.
I cannot stress that comment enough. It is for the children, and certainly it is a piece of legislation that brings the parents together to make sure that in fact is the case.
Every other section of the bill states clearly that decisions regarding the joint custody of the child will always be subject to judicial discretion. This protects the child while enhancing the rights of both parents.
There are other problems with the current system. After a bitter divorce some parents deny visitation access to other parents and use their children to get even with their former spouses. That is in fact happening, Madam Speaker, in your constituency and in my constituency.
Police have seen recent abductions of children by non-custodial parents who have become desperate after repeatedly being denied visitation rights. I am not defending this course of action, but it provides further evidence of the negative effect this has on children. Children are forced into a fugitive lifestyle.
Shared custody should help avert the often extreme animosity that exists between divorced parents fighting for access to their children. This would provide a much healthier environment, with less conflict, for children to grow up in.
I do wish that the Liberal government would take the necessary action to fix the problem. Seeing that this is not the case, I would suggest that each member of the House support this piece of legislation as a small part of the proper thing to do to move the issue forward.
I once again thank the member for the bill. I do support it on behalf of my party, the Progressive Conservative Party.
Mr. Larry Spencer (Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, Canadian Alliance): Madam Speaker, this is my first opportunity to rise in the House to speak to any legislation. I am not a graduate of too many schools. I guess I graduated from the same law school that Joe Clark graduated from, or so I heard today. I am not a lawyer, but I have taken courses. One course was the course of life.
The hon. member spoke of legal presumption. There are several presumptions I want to mention today that are actually already being made in the courts when it comes to divorce and custody. I also want to mention the fact that the reason many cases are not presented with a request for joint custody is that it is understood and well known that there is very little chance for that request to be granted because of these legal presumptions that are automatically being made.
I was not aware that I would have an opportunity to speak to this legislation so I will not quote statistics, legal points or that sort of thing, but I will speak from my experience as a family counsellor for the last 30 years.
First, I find the presumption is made that the female spouse in the situation is the better parent. I agree that in many cases this may well be true, but I also know of many cases in which it is not true. I know of a case in which a female parent was involved in drugs and in many kinds of activities that were wrong, yet she automatically got custody of the child and the father did not.
The second presumption that seems to be made in the courts I am aware of in the city of Regina is that the mother is always the one who is telling the truth. Insinuations can be made, the children given over and the case closed, just an automatic thing that happens.
Third, I think there is the presumption that the mother is the one with the most inherent right to be the parent. Again, I disagree with that. Usually that is the case, especially with younger children where the mother may do a better job, but I think recent studies tell us of the tragedy that is caused by the lack of a father in the family. We understand that over 70% of juvenile delinquents come from fatherless families, so it is extremely important that our children be able to maintain contact with their fathers.
The other presumption is that the mother is the one most likely to be subjected to continued abuse. I am not so sure that is always the case either. Perhaps mothers are the most likely, but in fact abuse does happen to the other parent. Many times the father suffers from that element of control in the aspect of being barred from seeing the children or the aspect of being totally controlled in regard to when, how and where he will see the children. It has reached the point where it is totally unfair.
Just this morning in my office I received from a constituent information about a website that I visited for about five minutes before coming to the House. The website listed many cases of suicide when fathers have been shut away from their children because of this automatic situation. They feel so hopeless and helpless, and many of them are committing suicide over this very thing.
Many of them are being asked to pay support beyond even their earnings. I know one parent in Regina, for instance, who was compelled to give 75% of his income to support his young children. That makes it a little difficult now in his new family. The mother is not always the one who may be the most likely to suffer abuse.
The fifth assumption that is made is that children would prefer to be with their mother. Again, this is false. In a case I know, the father plays with the children. The father takes the children on outings. The father is involved with the children in sporting events and many other things. The mother is not always the one who spends that kind of time with the children. So, it is wrong to automatically presume that the father is going to be the lesser of the two parents and to automatically give the child to the mother.
My final point is simply this. We as Canadians are big on human rights. We have gone through a period of time when everyone is most interested in receiving the rights they deserve. We fight for our rights. We are proud that we give rights to everyone. We extend rights so far that we end up with no rights ourselves sometimes, especially in our criminal system.
However, one thing we forget, one thing I have never heard mentioned by any lawyer or anyone else and something that I believe very seriously in my heart, is that every child in Canada deserves an equal right to two parents, not just one. The system we have now, which automatically presumes that it is okay to legislate one parent out of the equation except for financial situations and very limited access, takes away the right for our children have to two parents.
I would favour the legislation. It may not be the be all end all, it may not be the perfect solution, but if we could start from the premise that our children deserve the right to two parents then move to an equitable situation and work that out, we would be doing what is in the best interests of our children.
Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, Canadian Alliance): Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues from all parties who participated in the debate this afternoon. It is unfortunate that, like so many pieces of legislation, this private member's bill will not be votable and that this hour will be the only opportunity that members have to participate in a debate about such an important issue as joint custody or shared parenting as is the new term.
I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre for his eloquent remarks. I congratulate him on his first speech. I know he did not intend to speak today, late on a Friday afternoon, but he jumped to his feet and participated in the debate.
I also would like to thank my colleague from the Progressive Conservatives from Brandon—Souris for his support and for his supportive comments in this debate.
The member for Windsor—St. Clair also imparted his experience and wisdom that he accumulated when he worked in the real world, shall we say. I would dispute perhaps the fundamental opposition he voiced to the legislation, Bill C-237. If I understood his remarks correctly, he said it would probably result in more litigation, more than the present 10% that statistics show us.
I would pose the question why would it necessarily do that? Parents would understand that the courts would uphold the joint custody unless there was clear evidence of abuse, mistreatment or whatever reason the court might rule. However, it would have to be based upon fundamental, ironclad evidence that it would be not in the best interests of the child to have joint custody. Once it became the norm, I believe parents would accept that. They would quit using children as pawns in their otherwise very disruptive divorce settlements or separation settlements.
I would dispute whether it would necessarily result in an increase in that 10% number.
I congratulate the member for Erie—Lincoln on participating in this debate. I was appalled and saddened at his remarks but not surprised. I suspect that the general thrust of his speech, if not in its entirety, was put together by lawyers in the justice department for the Minister of Justice and perhaps passed to him. They may not all be his thoughts on this important subject.
If I understood him, his main argument was that the government in its infinite wisdom wants to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with this very important subject of shared parenting or custody and access. I would argue that the government has had time. How much longer can children wait? Every day that goes by there are children caught between their love, respect and devotion for both parents. Children are being hurt the most by the government's inaction.
We can go into all the legalities. As the member for Brandon—Souris said we are not lawyers, so I will not get into the legality of it. I believe very strongly that all of us as members of parliament, regardless of party, are being beseeched by citizens, parents and grandparents across the country on this issue. There has to be a time for action and it has to be now.
I could go on but we are out of time. I could talk about my own experience having just gone through a divorce some two years ago and the fact that I have three children. Now is not the time to go into that. Many of us have been touched by divorce. We have seen children who have been hurt when parents start warring in the courts or outside the courts. We must do something for them. I believe this was the first step we could have taken to go down that road to institute a system of more fairness and to help the children.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos): The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. Since the motion was not votable, the item is dropped from the order paper.
It being 2.23 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).