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41st PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 094

CONTENTS

Monday, March 12, 2012




House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 146 
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NUMBER 094 
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1st SESSION 
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41st PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer

    The House met at 11 a.m.

Prayers



Private Members' Business

[Private Members' Business]

Breast Density Awareness Act

    The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-314, An Act respecting the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

  (1105)  

[Translation]

Speaker's Ruling 

     There is one motion in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-314, standing in the name of the hon. member for Vancouver Centre. At first glance, it appears that this motion could have been presented in committee.

[English]

    However, in submitting her motion for consideration at report stage, the member for Vancouver Centre provided the Chair with a written explanation in which she outlined her efforts to propose a similar amendment during the clause-by-clause study of the bill, and where she explained that her amendment was based on the testimony of witnesses who had appeared earlier in the meeting. As the committee desired to proceed with the clause-by-clause study of the bill immediately after hearing from the bill's sponsor and other witnesses, she did not have time to avail herself of the drafting services of the parliamentary counsel assigned to the bill.

[Translation]

    Upon presentation of her amendment, the member was cautioned by the chair of the committee that there was some concern over certain legal terminology her amendment contained that might have had the undesired effect of infringing on the financial initiative of the Crown. In this case, there was not sufficient time for the chair of the committee to carry out the necessary consultations and provide a definitive ruling on admissibility. As a potential remedy to this unusual situation, the chair of the committee suggested to the member that she might wish to submit her amendment at the report stage instead.

[English]

    Having received the committee's consent to withdraw the amendment, the member for Vancouver Centre explained that she was able to consult with parliamentary counsel and the legislative clerk assigned to the bill. She was thus able to prepare a motion for the report stage which she feels, and I agree, does not appear to infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown. Therefore, due to the exceptional circumstances outlined above, the Chair has selected for debate the motion submitted by the member for Vancouver Centre.

[Translation]

    I shall now propose Motion No. 1 to the House.

[English]

Motions in amendment  

Motion No. 1
    That Bill C-314, in Clause 2, be amended by adding after line 20 on page 3 the following:
“(d) ensuring, through the Canadian Breast Cancer Screening Initiative, the collection, processing and distribution of information on best practices for the screening and detection of cancer in persons with dense breast tissue.”
    She said: Mr. Speaker, this is a very simple amendment. It says that there is already a Canadian breast cancer screening initiative. This vehicle, without any extra cost or work whatsoever, can conduct the collection, processing and distribution of information on best practices for the screening and detection of cancer in persons with dense breast tissue.
    This is necessary because we listened to many witnesses who said that there are some places where this is being done well in Canada. There are other places that are doing some fairly remarkable innovative work in collecting this information. Witnesses felt it would be quick, easy and very valuable if other provinces and areas could use some of those best practices. Those provinces and areas would not have to reinvent the wheel because in many practices currently there is excellent work being done. It has been done for long enough now that there is evaluation that says this works very well.
    There have been suggestions from the Canadian Cancer Society and cancer associations that in places like British Columbia the outcomes from breast cancer screening, treatment and surgery are by far the best in the country, by a really large percentage. We need to look at some of the areas which are doing good work, borrow it and use it without having to spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel, as I said before. This would be very beneficial.
    This is an excellent amendment that would really enhance the bill to a great extent.
    Mr. Speaker, Bill C-314, An Act respecting the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue, is a piece of legislation that I have drafted because I truly want to make a difference. I want to ensure more women are aware of the impact of dense breast tissue on the analysis of a mammogram.
    The bill would encourage the use of existing initiatives to increase awareness among women about the implication of dense breast tissue for breast cancer screening, and to assist women and their health care providers in making well-informed decisions regarding screening. It would recognize the work done by the provinces and territories and by many organizations in working towards these important goals. It outlines partnerships that our government has developed to enhance understanding of and to disseminate information about dense breast tissue during screening. I want to thank members from all parties for their support of this bill. I know full well that we are all anxious to ensure the bill passes as quickly as possible.
    I would like to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Centre for her support and interest in this bill. She has expressed a desire to ensure best practices are disseminated. She has pointed out that Bill C-314 refers to sharing, through the Canadian breast cancer screening initiative, information related to the identification of dense breast tissue during screening and any follow-up procedures.
    Indeed, the Canadian breast cancer screening initiative already helps us look at the best ways to raise awareness of dense breast tissue. The initiative also helps provide screening performance information and support evidence-based decisions.
     Launched in the early 1990s, the initiative fully respects the role that provincial and territorial programs play in the early detection of breast cancer in Canadian women and the importance of sharing information and exemplary practices. In fact, it enables provinces and territories to continually share information on their screening programs, and discuss what they are learning.
    To ensure strong collaboration and to work in a collective fashion to assess breast cancer screening programs, the government established the federal, provincial and territorial national committee for the Canadian breast cancer screening initiative. The committee is instrumental in providing us with the opportunity to work with provincial and territorial governments to measure screening program performance throughout the country and to develop better screening approaches.
    This committee also includes non-governmental organizations, medical professionals and stakeholders. This allows for more opportunities for dissemination of practices, as well as for sharing different views. The initiative is aimed at evaluating and improving the quality of organized breast cancer screening programs. By facilitating information sharing about breast cancer screening across Canada through governments, practitioners and stakeholders, it can achieve this goal.
    The bill clearly outlines the need for the Government of Canada to “encourage the use of existing programs and other initiatives that are currently supported by” the entities that have a role in breast cancer screening, be it prevention, detection, treatment, monitoring, research or the provision of information. Collaboration amongst these entities is instrumental.
    Members will note that there is a great deal of good work under way through the Canadian breast cancer screening initiative. Jurisdictions are working together, sharing best practices and discussing questions that are important to them.
    The amendment brought forward by the hon. member is consistent with the goals and approach of the initiative. The national committee has well-established partnerships to undertake identification and distribution of information on best practices. The committee can direct analysis on breast cancer screening, including best practices for dense breast tissue.
    The dissemination of information and facilitation of use of best practices in screening in assessment are key objectives of the initiative. Provinces and territories can use this information for their respective breast cancer screening programs. The proposed amendment speaks to the need for collecting and processing information on best practices for breast cancer screening, and more specifically dense breast tissue. This is a fundamental part of the initiative. It is already enabling us, along with our provincial and territorial colleagues, to look at the best ways to raise awareness of dense breast tissue.
    The Public Health Agency of Canada, through the Canadian breast cancer screening database, collects, synthesizes and distributes information on the breast density of women who are screened. It provides this information to provincial and territorial breast screening programs to support the development of best practices.
    The concerns with the amendment are with regard to the word “ensuring” used in the proposed amendment. The work of the Canadian breast cancer screening initiative is not controlled by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and as such should not be ensuring the collection, processing and distribution of information or ensuring the identifying, synthesizing and distributing of information.

  (1110)  

    Therefore, while l appreciate the intention of the hon. member for Vancouver Centre, I do not see the need for this amendment. As we all want to get the bill through, I ask my fellow colleagues to continue to show support for the passage of the bill. Greater awareness and information about dense breast tissue will enable us to make a difference. It would help women and their doctors make well-informed decisions regarding breast cancer screening.
    Again, I want to thank the member for Vancouver Centre for bringing this issue up. I hope all my fellow colleagues can continue to support the bill.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-314, An Act respecting the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue. As a young woman, I am aware that I am at risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, we all are, because breast cancer can affect anyone, both men and women, young and old.
    According to the statistics, 23,400 Canadian women and 190 Canadian men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. Age is an important factor. It is a fact that older women are at greater risk. In 2011, an estimated 80% of cases were diagnosed in women over the age of 50. Young women are also at risk. It is estimated that 3,500 new cases, or 14%, were reported in women between the ages of 30 and 49 years, and 965 cases, or 4% of cases diagnosed, were women 40 and under.
    According to the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast. The breast tissue covers an area larger than just the breast. It extends up to the collarbone and from the armpit across to the breastbone in the centre of the chest. Each breast is made of mammary glands, milk ducts and fatty tissue. The breasts also contain lymph vessels and lymph nodes, which are part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps fight infections. Lymph vessels move lymph fluid to the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes trap bacteria, cancer cells and other harmful substances. There are groups of lymph nodes near the breast under the arm, near the collarbone and in the chest behind the breastbone. Cancer cells may start within the ducts or in the lobules. Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer.
    As a woman, I know the importance of mammography, which is a low-dose x-ray of the breast. Mammography pictures, or mammograms, show detailed images and views of the breast from different angles. The breast is placed between two plastic plates. The plates are then pressed together to flatten the breast. Compressing the breast tissue helps make the images clearer. Better quality mammography and increased participation in organized breast screening programs have led to more breast cancers being detected earlier, which means successful treatment is more likely. Unfortunately, this test does not always detect cancer, especially among women with dense breast tissue. In such cases, doctors may opt for scintimammography or an MRI. A biopsy is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of cancer.
    Breast density is a radiological concept, but it has a major impact on the accuracy of mammogram interpretation. Dense breast tissue is a concern for all radiologists, as well as epidemiologists and gynecologists. A dense breast appears white on a mammogram because it contains little fat.
    Breast tissue is quite variable. Changes in breast tissue are hormone driven and occur throughout an individual's lifetime. For example, young women typically have denser breasts than older women because breast tissue becomes less dense as women age. However, even though older women's breasts tend to contain more fat, women of any age can have dense breast tissue.
    Bill C-314 requires the Government of Canada to encourage the use of existing initiatives to increase awareness among women about the implications of heterogeneous or dense breast tissue for breast cancer screening, and to assist women and health care providers in making well-informed decisions regarding screening.
    Although the purpose of this bill is to improve breast cancer screening for women with dense breast tissue, we believe that it should go further still. Why not institute accountability measures to shorten waiting lists and ensure that women have access to timely screening?
    Any bill designed to improve breast cancer screening should include federal funding for national breast cancer screening programs for all women, which should be systematic, free and available without a doctor's referral, beginning at age 40.
    Health care workers and women who are concerned about breast cancer need more than just encouragement in order to raise awareness and promote best practices.

  (1115)  

     The government should put in place standards. Under these standards, all provincial programs would start screening women for breast cancer from age 40. The standards should include the regular and optimal use of digital mammography machines such as MRIs and ultrasounds for screening purposes. Lastly, screening standards should focus on the particular challenges of screening for breast cancer among women with dense or heterogeneous breast tissue.
    The Quebec breast cancer screening program is a good example of a screening program with very good results. Screening using a mammogram targets women aged 50 to 69 and is carried out, systematically, every two years. According to data from Quebec's health and social services department, the breast cancer mortality rate for women who are systematically screened dropped by at least 25% between 1996 and 2006.
     It is high time that the federal government showed leadership by adopting a funding plan and implementing a real national strategy to improve breast cancer screening in Canada. That also means honouring the commitments made as part of the 2003 and 2004 health accords, including the commitment to reduce waiting times and increase the number of doctors and nurses to ensure that women at risk have access to primary care or specialists as quickly as possible.
     Experts and organizations fighting breast cancer are asking for more and agree that this project does not go far enough.
     The Canadian Breast Cancer Network does not believe that this bill will improve screening procedures for those women most at risk of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer survivors direct the network. It is a national link between all the groups and individuals concerned about breast cancer, and its members, partners and founders include the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Breast Cancer Society of Canada.
     The Canadian Cancer Society supports a bill that would improve cancer screening measures, particularly for patients with dense breast tissue. However, the society believes that this bill will not produce concrete results for patients living with breast cancer and their families.
     Lastly, Quebec's association of hematologists and oncologists says that while it is important to increase breast cancer screening, we cannot forget about other kinds of cancers. Improvements need to be made in the prevention of and screening for all cancers. We must not concentrate all our efforts on one single category of women or type of cancer.
     I wonder when this government will start to take this issue really seriously? The Conservative government introduced a bill that will in no way improve the lives of Canadian women. The government must start thinking more seriously about this issue in order to prevent even more women from developing this destructive disease.

  (1120)  

    Mr. Speaker, Bill C-314 seeks to improve breast cancer screening measures for women with dense breast tissue.
    One woman in nine is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, and one in 29 will die of it. The current mortality rate is 21%. Risk factors can be both genetic and environmental, and breast tissue density is one of those factors, hence this bill.
    Women with high breast tissue density face two challenges: the probability of developing breast cancer is higher and screening is more difficult because the X-rays are harder to read. It is therefore important to improve care for women with dense breast tissue because of the increased risks to their health.
    This bill seeks to do that and:
    
...requires the Government of Canada to encourage the use of existing initiatives in order to increase awareness among women about the implications of heterogeneous or dense breast tissue for breast cancer screening, and to assist women and health care providers in making well-informed decisions regarding screening.
    Still today in Canada, not all women are fully informed about breast cancer. As a former nurse, I know that not all women—far from it—have access to a family doctor and therefore to the chance to discuss the risks with a professional. Sometimes people in remote areas do not have the same access to health care as others. Sometimes women end up not having access to full and accurate information about breast cancer, its risks and the importance of screening. And the doctor ends up not having access to the patient's complete medical file because she has several different files. These women see a doctor when they go to emergency. In the long term, there is no continuity of care because doctor visits are always one-offs.
    Women may be seen by their family doctor, and now by specialized nurse practitioners who may also work in this area. Nurse practitioners will ask questions, analyze risk factors, conduct assessments, teach women to perform breast self exams and help them do so. These concrete measures can help these women. If a woman does not have access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner, she will not know that she may have access to screening programs and, consequently, will not take advantage of them.
    I believe that it is important to talk about this. Breast cancer will result in the death of 14 women a day in Canada in 2012. It is a very important issue. Screening and awareness of the risk factors are also major issues. Early diagnosis and treatment greatly increase women's chances of survival.
    Women with dense breast tissue should be made aware of it and should undergo more tests before being given a diagnosis because cancer is more difficult to detect in x-rays of dense breast tissue. The more tests, the great the difficulty. Consequently it is important to promote detection screening to these women. It is also important to promote and to circulate this information among health professionals so that they can screen women.
    We often see people die from cancer because of this. We must not take it lightly.
     The Canadian Cancer Society's website talks about the determinants of survival. It points out the factors related to the cancer control infrastructure, such as the availability and quality of early detection, diagnosis and treatment.
    Depending on where a woman lives and the quality of infrastructure available, and depending on the timeliness of detection, she will have a greater or lesser chance of dying of cancer.
    This is not an equitable situation. In my opinion, access to health infrastructure should not be one of the determinants of breast cancer survival.

  (1125)  

    The fact that such is the case in Canada in 2012 does not make any sense. And this should also not be the case for any other illness. For example, to date, Nunavut does not have a formal screening program.
    We therefore really need to do more than encourage the government to get the message out and to facilitate screening. Clearly, we need more concrete action. We need better access to health care and infrastructure; we need more family doctors, more nurses and more nurse practitioners; and we need improved prevention measures. We must decrease wait times—which have reached record highs—for tests and treatments. We must improve access to medical specialists who are better able to diagnose and treat these patients. We must work with the provinces to come up with a national strategy to combat breast cancer that is fair to all women, regardless of their geographic area or their income.
    We have no choice. We must really discuss this with the provinces. We need real leadership on this issue. For example, Canada should abide by the 2003 and 2004 health accords, which were meant to improve the accessibility, the quality and the viability of the public health care system.
    In order to prevent all these bills on health from being just words written completely in vain that look good on paper but do not contain any concrete measures, we should ensure that they include measures such as federal funding to create systematic breast cancer screening programs for all women across the country. These programs should be made available free of charge, on a voluntary basis, to women aged 40 and over. Right now, the systematic program that exists in Quebec is free for women over the age of 50.
    I would like to take a few minutes to talk to you about my cousin Linda, who passed away from breast cancer when I was in Vancouver in June. Her daughter had just had her first baby when Linda learned that she had breast cancer. She was only 42 years old when she died. I believe that this is a concrete example of why systematic screening programs should be made available free of charge to women as early as age 40, not age 50. This is a good example, and I thought it was important to talk about what happened to my cousin. I was close to her, and 42 is very young. I thought it was important for members to be aware of this.
    Such bills should also include standards requiring that existing provincial programs begin screening women at age 40. Early detection is essential and should be a priority. We know that. I do not know if people understand this, but the earlier in a person's life breast cancer—or any type of cancer—shows up, the more likely it is to be aggressive, because an immune reaction takes place. The stronger the immune system's reaction, the more aggressive the cancer can be. That is why very early detection is important, as I just explained.
    Similarly, any health-related bills should include standards for existing screening programs to optimize and standardize the use of digital mammography equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound units. Women should have access to these devices, which, once again, improve detection rates, particularly for women with risk factors such as high breast density.
    Health-related bills like this one must go farther: instead of offering vague suggestions, they have to propose practical measures. This must be done together with the provinces and territories, of course, because health is under provincial jurisdiction. It is important to truly work with the provinces to develop an action plan. If we do that, we can hope to save lives. If health-related bills are too vague, they are not useful; they are nothing but nice ideas on paper that do not really change anything for the better.

  (1130)  

[English]

     Is the House ready for the question?
    Some hon. members: Question.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): In my opinion the nays have it.
    And five or more members having risen:
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 14, 2012, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Suspension of Sitting  

    The House will now suspend until 12 p.m.

    (The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:34 a.m.)

Sitting Resumed  

    (The House resumed at 12:01 p.m.)


Government Orders

[Government Orders]

  (1200)  

[English]

Air Service Operations Legislation

    That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, a bill in the name of the Minister of Labour, entitled An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations, shall be disposed of as follows:
(a) the said bill may be read twice or thrice in one sitting;
(b) not more than two hours shall be allotted for the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill, following the adoption of this Order;
(c) when the bill has been read a second time, it shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole;
(d) not more than one hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the Committee of the Whole stage of the said bill;
(e) not more than one half hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said bill, provided that no Member shall speak for more than ten minutes at a time during the said stage and that no period for questions and comments be permitted following each Member’s speech;
(f) at the expiry of the times provided for in this Order, any proceedings before the House or the Committee of the Whole shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the stage, then under consideration, of the said bill shall be put and disposed of forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment, and no division shall be deferred;
(g) when the Speaker has, for the purposes of this Order, interrupted any proceeding for the purpose of putting forthwith the question on any business then before the House, the bells to call in the Members shall ring for not more than thirty minutes;
(h) the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to a motion proposed by a Minister of the Crown;
(i) no motion to adjourn the debate at any stage of the said bill may be proposed except by a Minister of the Crown; and
(i) during the consideration of the said bill in the Committee of the Whole, no motions that the Committee rise or that the Committee report progress may be proposed except by a Minister of the Crown.
    Mr. Speaker, I am here today to explain why we put an act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations on notice. The reasons for introducing this bill are threefold.
    First, we are acting to protect the Canadian economy. A work stoppage at Canada's largest airline would be detrimental to our economic recovery.
    Second, we are acting to protect the public interest. March break is one of the busiest travel times of the year and a work stoppage right now would affect hundreds of thousands of Canadian families who have made travel plans. In fact, over one million passengers are scheduled to travel with Air Canada over the course of this week.
    Third, we are acting to protect all of those additional employees who would be affected by a work stoppage at Air Canada. Air Canada directly employs 26,000 people, but its operations have an indirect impact on an additional 250,000 employees. Many of these people have families and these families rely on the livelihoods of these employees for their daily living expenses.
    As members may recall, last June there was a three-day strike by Air Canada's customer service and sales agents. It was quickly resolved by the parties and Canada's economy was spared unnecessary harm.
    Also, in 2011, when talks broke down between Canada Post and CUPW, the union representing Canada Post employees, we acted decisively by introducing and passing the Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act. Again, Canada and its hard-working businesses and workers were spared from continued hardship in that case.
    Canada faces a new challenge today: Canadians are faced with two potential work stoppages. Talks have broken down between Air Canada and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Talks have also broken down between Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association. Just as they did last year, these developments create uncertainty and doubt where we need stability and certainty, because stability and certainty help keep Canada in business.
    I would invite members to ask their constituents or in fact anyone in Canada right now about this and they will hear what I have been hearing, that we cannot afford this work stoppage. It is that simple. The risks are too great and we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to act. That is why I would like to ask this House to support an act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.
    This is an important bill. We have tried to avoid the need to step in, but this measure is necessary because there is something vital at stake. As parliamentarians, we have to take a stand on this issue. We need to take a stand for Canada's recovering economy. We need to take a stand against uncertainty in this matter. We need to take a stand and demand a better solution in the interests of all Canadians.
    I will take a few minutes to elaborate on each of these points.
    Like other industrialized economies around the world, Canada is coming out of a difficult recession. Our economy has weathered the storm well, but we are mindful that these are uncertain times and that we cannot afford to take our relative good fortune for granted.
    Our government is proud of its record of sheltering Canadians from the worst effects of the downturn and laying a foundation for recovery. As of February 2012, our employment rate was at 7.4%, which is an improvement over last year. There is definitely some wind in our sails, but that also means it is a risky time for Canada.
    We cannot afford to have disruptions that draw attention and resources away from a growing economy because there is so much potential there. We cannot let a labour dispute in a major industry get in the way, and a labour stoppage that cripples a major transportation sector is certainly no exception. We depend on air service; that is a fact.

  (1205)  

    It is not just industry that depends on air service, but individual citizens as well. They depend on air service for work and for leisure. The sheer size of our country means that Canadians depend on air service more than citizens of most other nations do.
    A work stoppage would have important financial implications for Canada's economy. There is no doubt it would adversely affect our efforts to revive our economy and create new jobs for citizens. A 2009 working paper by the International Labour Organization, ILO, states that for every job lost in the airline sector, up to 10 jobs could be lost elsewhere. Estimates of the impact of a stoppage on the Canadian economy vary, but some put it as high as $22.4 million for each week of work stoppage.
    Consider what this could mean to businesses. A work stoppage at Air Canada could mean the loss of sales at home or abroad. Would businesses be able to recoup those losses? There is really no way to know. Would a business be able to quickly adapt and find alternative solutions? Again, we cannot say, because a labour dispute creates a ripple effect, one ripple of uncertainty after another.
    What is clear is that a work stoppage at Air Canada would be bad for Canadians. It would be bad for the workers, and it would be bad for business. Even a short strike could be very costly. For example, in 2005 a one-day wildcat strike involving ground crew workers at Air Canada in Toronto saw 60 flights delayed and 17 cancelled. We have to take a stand against uncertainty.
    Let us talk about what a labour stoppage could do to the company as well. The airline business has high fixed costs and it has a low profit margin, and that is at the best of times.
     In April 2003 the financial pressures on Air Canada became so severe that the corporation applied for bankruptcy protection. Air Canada emerged from that protection in September 2004 under a court approved plan which saw it stripped of its assets and restructured under the name, ACE Aviation Holdings Incorporated.
    Consider what happened after the 2008 global financial collapse when commercial credit markets all but froze. Companies like Air Canada which provided defined benefit pension plans suddenly faced much higher funding obligations. The combined effect of the recession, less air travel, and Air Canada's contractual obligations led to further challenges for Air Canada.
    In 2008, in order to avoid the threat of bankruptcy again, Air Canada had no choice but to secure additional loans to keep it going. The company at that time was also able to get the co-operation of its unions to extend its collective agreements without any work stoppages.
    The potential for a work stoppage involving Air Canada's pilots and the technical maintenance and operational support employees is creating more uncertainty and more instability for Air Canada.
    Air Canada has indicated that it is already feeling the effects of the labour uncertainty. It has to cancel flights on a daily basis and cargo shipments are suppressed. That could be the tipping point for an airline already operating on the very edge of profitability.
    Let me take a moment to recapitulate the developments in these two separate disputes that we are talking about today.
    The IAMAW, the machinists, represent a unit of approximately 8,200 employees. They are responsible for the technical, maintenance and operational services, including the mechanics who service Air Canada's aircraft and those who handle the baggage and the cargo. Their collective agreement expired on March 31, 2011.
    On December 2, 2011 a notice of dispute was sent by the employer to our offices at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services. On December 21 Madame Louise Otis, a conciliation commissioner, was appointed to assist the parties in their negotiations from outside of the labour program. Madame Otis is a very respected former jurist in the province of Quebec.
    On February 10 the parties reached a tentative agreement. In her report and recommendations which she shared with me, Madame Otis said the following:
    Taking into consideration the situation of the Parties, the tentative agreement is reasonable and fair. The negotiation process, which was carried out diligently and competently, has been exhausted. I do not recommend that negotiations be resumed or that a mediator be appointed. Under the full circumstances, I consider that a reasonable agreement had been reached.

  (1210)  

    Unfortunately, she wrote this in response to the fact that this tentative agreement was rejected by 65.6% of the union members, having had the tentative agreement unanimously recommended by the negotiating committee. Therefore, on March 6, 2012. the union provided me with its strike notice.
     I want to reiterate that one point I made. These parties reached a deal which the union membership did not ratify. That is very important to remember because a similar situation has occurred with the Air Canada Pilots Association. The collective agreement covering a unit of approximately 3,000 pilots expired on March 31, 2011. On March 17, 2011, the parties reached a tentative agreement in direct negotiations without the help of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The negotiating team recommended the deal because it was subject to ratification by the union membership. On May 19, the union informed the employer that the membership voted to reject the tentative agreement. In October 2011, a notice of dispute was received by our program from the employer in the matter, and on November 10, 2011 a conciliation officer from the Department of Labour was appointed.
     This conciliation period was extended three different times in an attempt to provide more time for the parties to reach a deal. A mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was appointed and met with the parties on a number of occasions. On two separate occasions, February 6 and 13, I met with both parties to urge them to reach an agreement and stressed the importance of a deal for the Canadian public.
    During the last meeting with the parties, I informed them that I would be appointing two new co-mediators to assist them in reaching a deal and that they would be entering into a process that could take up to six months because they had indicated to me they needed the time. However, despite all this assistance and despite both parties confirming in writing that they would co-operate with the co-mediators and comply with the six-month mediation process, the union sought and received a strike mandate from its membership. The pilots voted 97% in favour of strike action.
    On February 17, the two co-mediators, Madame Justice Louise Otis, who had just been successful with the machinists, and Jacques Lessard from my department, met with the parties. However, following this meeting, Madame Otis determined that it was necessary for her to tender her resignation, the reason being that the details of the mediation on that first meeting were made public by the pilots association. Madame Otis, being a well-respected former member of the judiciary, felt this failure to observe confidentiality would further hamper the efforts of any mediator to assist the parties in reaching a deal. This breach of confidentiality by one party at the table was instrumental in the resignation of a well-respected former judge. That speaks volumes about the state of bargaining in this matter.
    Finally, this brings us to the reason for introducing the bill. On March 8, the employer gave notice of its intent to lock out the pilots on Monday, March 12 at midnight.
    I want to take a moment to stress to members of the House that the parties in the case of the pilots association had reached a deal too. They had concluded their collective bargaining process but again, that deal could not be ratified.
    As a matter of interest, Air Canada has reached a deal with every bargaining unit that it negotiated with over the course of this fiscal year, six bargaining units. Eight times within those six bargaining units, Air Canada came to the table, reached a deal and shook hands with the respective union bargaining teams, only to find that four of those deals were rejected by the union membership.
     This has gone on long enough. This labour uncertainty is eroding the public confidence in travelling. While it goes on, Canadian businesses, travellers, workers, students, parents, seniors and professionals and many others are feeling the pressure. How will businesses manage their travel obligations? How will families take their vacations? What about the 45,000 passengers who fly across the oceans daily? What will Canadians do? We just do not know. In all fairness, these are not questions that Canadians should have to be asking themselves, especially at a time when Canada's economy is still in recovery.

  (1215)  

    It is important to remember that there is more at stake than the matters being dealt with at the bargaining table.
    The employees represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, IAMAW, want to be treated fairly, and the pilots represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association, ACPA, want to be treated fairly. I understand that. It is very important. What I also understand is there are millions of Canadians who depend upon air service. They want to be treated fairly too. In fact, as I stated earlier, over one million passengers are scheduled to fly with Air Canada over the March break period. This is an incredibly bad time for hundreds of thousands of families with travel plans to be faced with work stoppages. Additionally, Air Canada is simply not in a position where it can afford the risks associated with a prolonged work stoppage. Our economy is also vulnerable.
    As stated in the preamble to the Canada Labour Code, free collective bargaining is the basis for sound industrial relations. The code gives the parties in a dispute the right to strike and walk out. The federal government only intervenes in situations where the public interest is negatively affected. This is true, for example, when the national economy is affected by the threat of a work stoppage, as in this case.
    I have no doubt that a work stoppage at Air Canada is contrary to the best interests of Canadians and Canadian businesses. I have no doubt that a work stoppage could cause serious harm to the health of our recovering economy. The economy and the public interest would certainly be affected in this case and the legislation is clearly necessary. That is why the bill must be passed. It would protect our economy and would ensure that Canadian businesses and communities would not continue to suffer.
    Some would say that we should do nothing and that we should let this dispute come to its natural end, whatever that may be. That would certainly be easier for all of us, but I say that we must do the right thing rather than the easy thing. Canadians expect us to show leadership and they expect us to act.

  (1220)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, this is déjà vu all over again.
    I have a question for the Minister of Labour. She is not the Minister of Industry, but rather the Minister of Labour, for workers, industries and anything to do with labour. I would like to read part of today's motion:
e) not more than one half hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said bill, provided that no Member shall speak for more than ten minutes at a time [we are limited to 10 minutes] during the said stage and that no period for questions and comments be permitted following each Member’s speech.
    The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives workers the right to unionize and to have free bargaining. The minister said so herself. We have the right to debate bills in Parliament. Yet according to this motion, there will not even be a question and comment period. We have seen this before. During the Canada Post lockout, the government intervened and lowered workers' wages even more than the employer was going to do.
    What did workers ever do to this Conservative government to make it hate them so much and deprive them of their fundamental rights? What is this government trying to do to workers? It uses the argument of the economy or certain people, but we cannot compare a group of individuals to 3 million people and say that the 3 million people do not want it. This takes away the fundamental rights of workers. I wonder if the Minister of Labour, who is not the Minister of Industry, would be able to explain that to workers, not just to Canadians. Workers have fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as I outlined in my speech, we went to extraordinary measures to ensure there was free collective bargaining at the table. We appointed an outside conciliator. We have monitored the files. Indeed, since I became minister in January 2010, it has been an incredibly important file to us. We recognize from an economic, social or any other point of view, that avoiding an impasse and avoiding a work stoppage is worth far more than having to deal with a work stoppage once it has happened. We put that effort in.
    As the Minister of Labour, I am very proud of the efforts we have made with the parties. We have found success in a number of cases. In fact, 94% of the time matters are settled in collective bargaining. This is a unique case. It is a unique case because of a number of external factors.
    What I would say to all workers and all Canadians is that at the end of the day, the Canadian public interest is the greater interest. It is the one that has to be taken into consideration, as well as what is happening at the table. That is why we are introducing the legislation.
    Mr. Speaker, my friend and colleague, the minister, and I both wear X-rings. We are both Cape Bretoners and no one more than a Cape Bretoner would understand the hard fought battles of Canadians who won that right for free, open and fair bargaining.
    What raises my concern is the actions of the government that we have seen time and time again. We have seen rights taken away from pilots, flight attendants, groundworkers, baggage handlers and mechanics. Some 22,000 Air Canada employees have seen their rights evaporate over the last year with the actions undertaken by the government. That adds up to one big wrong. It was employees who over 10 years took rollbacks to ensure this was a viable company. Once it declared bankruptcy 10 years ago, it started the rollbacks. The company has saved $2 billion on the backs of the workers.
    Could the minister not see the injustice, especially in light of the bonus to be paid to Calin Rovinescu, the CEO of Air Canada? He signed on in 2009. By being there for three years, he gets a $5 million bonus at the end of this month. Does the minister not see herself as being complicit in this grave injustice?

  (1225)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his shout-out to our Cape Breton roots. I am the proud daughter of a union family. I am sure that a lot of folks in the chamber are shocked by that. However, that being said, we need to balance the interests, as the member knows.
    I point out that with respect to his home constituency, where I was brought up, as a result of a work stoppage at Air Canada, Sydney, Nova Scotia would receive absolutely zero air service and would be cut off from the rest of Canada.
    Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for her speech. The economy is extremely fragile now and because of that many citizens are very concerned about what type of action this work stoppage would have and what kind of impact it would have on their lives.
    In my riding of Simcoe—Grey, many families are extremely concerned over this March break period. They may be unable to see their families or spend time with loved ones.
    The minister has stated that we will take this bold action. I want to commend her for that. Maybe she could tell the House what efforts she has taken in the past to ensure that we did not come to this impasse and why now this bold action to ensure we can avoid this work stoppage?
    Mr. Speaker, I will share with the parliamentary secretary my concerns for my constituents with respect to the travel. We have heard many calls in the office with respect to concerns regarding March break travel. They have also expressed concerns, especially in my riding, about whether they will have jobs because they work for ancillary services of Air Canada in the case of a work stoppage.
    The member has brought to my attention the fact that we have used an extraordinary amount of resources of the federal government in helping along these six separate bargaining units. Much of the time of my staff in the department has been focused on trying to get these parties to a resolution.
    Indeed, last year, it was recognized by the Minister of Finance and put in the budget that we should try to do more preventive mediation because that actually helped the parties. We had great success in other sectors. For example, TELUS had an acrimonious work stoppage a number of years ago, but through work with preventive mediation, its last collective bargaining session was very seamless and both parties walked away from the table with a deal.
     I hope Air Canada takes the same opportunities with its unions to utilize the services of Labour Canada more and avoid this kind of situation.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. minister's presentation on the Air Canada labour disputes with two unions representing the pilots and mechanics.
    I share the concerns of the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso that we in the House repeatedly are interfering in independent collective arrangements between employers and employees in areas that do not represent essential services.
    As inconvenient and disruptive as it would be, and I agree with the minister, I have tremendous concern for people who have planned March break vacations, but where does this stop? We are clearly undermining free and fair collective bargaining rights.
    The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the B.C. hospital workers case that collective bargaining rights were human rights, and I am afraid we are undermining something very essential to the health of this society.

  (1230)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member brings up a good point of when interventions occur. Taking a look at the history of Parliament since 1950, Parliament has intervened between 31 and 35 times with respect to these matters. Normally they are in the transportation and the logistics field. That is just a reflection of the reality in 1950, as it is now. We are a large geography. We depend upon our interconnectivity, both in air and rail, and we have to ensure that we keep both people and goods moving.
     That is compounded by the reality of the economy and the economic recovery today, and that is why we need to intervene in this matter.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I note with sadness that this has all been said before. It is sad to have a bill or a motion of this type from the government. I am going to explain this, so that Canadians understand.
     Yes, it is true that it is a break week and that people want to enjoy their vacation time. I very much sympathize with that. I am also a human being and I know that there are families who have planned vacations. However, at the same time, workers have rights, fundamental rights according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They have the right to negotiate freely. As I watch the government continually intervene in negotiations, as the Conservative government does, I think it sends a direct message to employers that they do not need to negotiate. They can take as much as possible from their employees because the government will not tolerate lockouts or strikes, and it will legislate to force workers back to work. In the meantime, the employers get everything they want. They can rely on the government to support them in their battles.
     I find this unacceptable and wrong. That is not what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for when it comes to unions. The Supreme Court has even stated that workers are entitled to negotiate freely. It is wrong for the government to interfere in this manner. The government can assist parties by way of conciliation and mediation, and help them reach an agreement, but it should not be interfering in this fashion.
     Moreover, there is a lack of respect for democracy in the House of Commons. Earlier, in my question to the minister, I referred to time limits. Not only is the government taking away employees' right to strike or the company's right to lock out employees, no debate is even allowed in the House of Commons. The bill may be read twice or thrice in the same sitting. One, two, three times in one sitting and it is done.
     First we hear, “not more than two hours shall be allotted for the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill, following the adoption of this Order.” That is two hours of debate. Then, “when the bill has been read a second time, it shall be referred to a Committee of the Whole.” We then hear that at the very most “not more than one hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the Committee of the Whole stage of the said bill.” One hour, no more. Then, the motion says, “not more than one half hour shall be allotted for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said bill, provided that no Member shall speak for more than ten minutes at a time during the said stage and that no period for questions and comments be permitted following each Member’s speech”.
     Where are they going with this, Mr. Speaker? What are they doing to our democracy and the fundamental right to have a Parliament to debate such important questions?
    The minister herself said that this was an important issue. Last week in Toronto, the Prime Minister himself said—and I find this hard to believe—that a part of him did not want to intervene in the dispute. Give me a break. Where is the Prime Minister? I do not have the right to say his name, but I think that everyone in Canada knows who the country's Prime Minister is. He is the same person who wants to intervene to raise the retirement age to 67. He is the same person who intervened in the partial strike by postal workers, not only to say that he was legislating them back to work, but also to intervene in the collective agreement. The employer, Canada Post, was going to give workers a 2% wage increase, but the government intervened and lowered it to 1.5%. The government said that Canada Post employees did not need a bigger wage increase than public servants. The government intervened directly in the negotiations.
    I am going to say this to Canadians and workers. Last year, it was the postal workers. Today, it is the pilots and maintenance workers at Air Canada. Tomorrow, it may be them. The government's argument is that we cannot allow a group of people to blackmail the rest of Canadians. The interests of all Canadians must be defended.

  (1235)  

    The government could apply the same argument to the negotiation of every collective agreement. It could apply the same argument to the economy, to the mining industry. For example, if the miners at a large mine in Sudbury went on strike, there is no denying that it would have a negative impact on the entire city. However, striking is a fundamental bargaining right. It is not up to the government to intervene. This is not a matter of health and safety. It is not an essential service. I am anxious to hear what the industrial relations boards will have to say about it.
    And there is more. Air Canada has just said that it is going to lock out its pilots the minute maintenance workers go on strike. This basically means that the government is cracking down not only on the unions but also on the company itself. Air Canada could say that its right to declare a lockout is being taken away. Once again, I do not believe it. Talks are being held between the company and the government. The minister herself said that the company was having financial problems.
    Let me talk about Air Canada's financial problems. My colleague from Cape Breton—Canso said earlier that the president received a $2 million bonus. My colleague is indicating to me that it was $5 million that Mr. Milton, the former president of Air Canada, left with when he washed his hands of Air Canada and all its problems. He collected $80 million in salary from the company. It was Air Canada's workers who paid for all that; the ones who ensure that people boarding a plane receive services, from flight attendants to baggage handlers. All those services are delivered by these workers and Air Canada now wants to make cuts in order to offer cheaper flights. That is good for the general public, but not for the workers.
    The problem is that they are not the only ones who will be affected. Who will be next? That is the message the government is sending to industry. I do not like the fact that this is happening during March break either, but whether it happens now or in April, May or June, the flights are always full. This is always going to affect travellers. Air Canada's workers will never have the right to negotiate freely, a right guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They will never have the right to strike. What is happening to the balance of power between workers and employers?
     The Minister said in her presentation that the union representatives, the people at the bargaining table, had made recommendations to the workers, and they had not accepted them. That is like thinking the workers are required to abide by the recommendations made by the bargaining committee. However, when the government wants to speak ill of the union, which it has done repeatedly, it says the employees never get a say and it is always the union bosses who decide. I have always said there are no union bosses. The real bosses are the members. The members have the democratic right to put a team in place that will bargain for them. It is up to the members to decide whether the offers are sufficient or not, not the team. The team can make recommendations.
     I have been a union representative and I have made recommendations that the members refused. I was not angry with them. It is their union; it is their association. It does not belong to the bargaining committee or the company or the government.

  (1240)  

     The union is the members. The bosses have always been the members and we need to respect the members. They are the ones who chose to join a union. They are the ones who pay their union dues, and the union is accountable to its members.
     How does this work? Bargaining is initiated. A presentation is made and it is followed through to the end. At the end of the process, the union presents its members with a collective agreement and makes a recommendation. The day when the bargaining committee decides for the members will be the day there is no more democracy and the union no longer belongs to them. So we have to be careful here, be careful about the message we are sending. That is why there is a vote, a sacred vote. It gives the members the chance to vote democratically within their union, so that it is their own decision and not their representatives’ decision.
     I have participated in many union meetings and I have never hesitated to tell people that the union is not the people at the table, or the president, the vice-president, the treasurer or the secretary. The union is them. It belongs to them; it is their association. We must not be ashamed of having unions in this country.
     The reason we have a fine country, one that is considered to be among the best in the world, the reason we have good conditions, with pension funds and the right to stop work if the job is dangerous, the reason we have all these conditions in collective agreements is that there are unions. People should go to other countries or the third world to see how workers are treated. Should we be going back to those days?
     I charge the Conservative government with being anti-worker and anti-union. During the negotiations with Canada Post, the Conservative government could have intervened to say that it was sending the parties to arbitration to have an arbitrator resolve the problems. That is not what it did. Its bill even included lower wages than the employer was proposing. There cannot be more interference than that. It is not possible to be more anti-worker than that, when the employer promises 2% and the Conservative government reduces it to 1.5%, if you can imagine. Where is the respect?
     On Friday, the Prime Minister said that part of him refused to intervene in the dispute. I doubt that very much. We need to remind the Canadians who are watching us today that this is the same government that wants to push the age of retirement up to 67 years. It is the same government that has no respect for the men and women who get up in the morning and go to work and build this country. The Conservative government wants to blame it all on the economy. It should stop spending money on F-35s, gazebos and fake lakes and put the money where it belongs, instead of making working people bear the burden. Then we might well have a smaller deficit in this country.
     There is one place where the money might be spent. In our offices, we get telephone calls criticizing the cuts being made in the public sector in relation to employment insurance. How is it possible for this government to decide to close over 100 Service Canada offices when workers are losing their jobs and have to wait 40 days before they receive employment insurance benefits? That is insane. There will be only 22 offices left. That is all connected with the cuts that have a negative impact on working people and on the services provided to Canadians.
     Today, the minister has the nerve to stand up and say that she is working in the interests of Canadians, while at the same time the services provided by Service Canada are being cut. All Canadians and Quebeckers are going to lose services to an extent never before seen, be it in relation to old age security benefits, the Canada pension plan or benefits paid to veterans. We are the only country doing this.
     For example, the United States and England will not be reducing the benefits paid to veterans and will not be cutting the services provided to veterans in their next budgets, while that is what Canada will be doing in the next budget. The Conservatives voted against the NDP motion.
     For all these reasons, and to give working people their rights, we must not be ashamed to stand up and say that there are fundamental rights in this country, and we will defend them.

  (1245)  

    The Conservative government is making all Canadians pay the price, and that is not right. The government sent a clear message to companies that if they have problems, the government will help them out. Without that, Air Canada would already have negotiated a collective agreement. The airline would have had no reason not to. There is no longer a balance of power; the employer has it all.
    This motion is anti-democratic. It would take away our right to hold debates in the House of Commons. The government plans to introduce another bill this afternoon or tomorrow to take away Canadian workers' labour relations rights.
    One day, Canadians will decide what kind of Canada they want. Do we want to build prisons, buy F-35s, spend tons of money and attack workers' pension plans? People will decide what kind of government they want. I am sure that this is not the kind of government they want.
    Ask anyone planning to get on a plane what they think of an Air Canada strike, and of course they will say that they do not want it to interfere with their trip. I sympathize with those people, but I want the employer and employees to go back to the bargaining table to negotiate a collective agreement. The government has to send a message to both parties that it will not negotiate for them and that they have to do it themselves. In the long term, that will be a better investment for the economy, democracy, employers and workers' rights.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, both the ACPA and the IAMAW shook hands at the table with Air Canada following thorough collective bargaining sessions. Why does my hon. colleague believe it is okay for these unions to turn their backs on the deals that they shook hands on and use Canadian families, when they travel, as leverage?
    Mr. Speaker, if my dear colleague had listen, I told him why.
    The leader of the union cannot dictate, like the Conservative government is trying to do today in this House. The union leader cannot dictate a collective agreement to the employees because the union belongs to the to the membership not to the officer. The only power the officer has is to make a recommendation on the collective agreement, which was done.
    At the end of the day, I hope my Conservative colleague across the way believes that the members in any association are the ones who make the last decision, not the leadership. That is what the government has argued all along. It keeps referring to the union representative as the union boss. The only boss I know of in a union is the membership. The union belongs to the membership. The union organizes, it fights, it goes to the streets. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers lost blood in the fight. They went down fighting to have a union, to have health and safety and a pension plan.
    Today the Conservative government wants to take it away, the same way it wants workers to work until the age of 67. This is totally wrong and we will fight back. We will fight back for all Canadians, all labour organizations, all men and women who get up in the morning and put in a hard day's work. We will not go backwards in 2012. The workers are not the ones who should pay the price, not at all.

  (1250)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Acadie—Bathurst for his speech.
    The Minister of Labour said that she was reluctant to intervene. I think that she was actually in a hurry to intervene, citing a very fragile economy. She first talked to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board about health and safety issues. That is ridiculous, because those issues are not even part of this dispute.
    I have two questions for the member from Acadie—Bathurst. First, the minister said that job action would have a devastating effect on the economy, but provided no numbers or evidence to support that claim. Second, does the member think that the minister is sending us an implied message that the air transportation sector is an essential service?
    Mr. Speaker, there are two sides to this.
    Let us first talk about the negative impact on the economy. Disputes sometimes take place. These things can last a week, two weeks, three weeks or a month. That is when a dispute becomes harmful to the economy and we should consider what can be done. But that is not at all the case here. The government announces five months ahead of time that if there is a strike or lockout, it will intervene. It is completely interfering in the negotiations, which upsets the balance of power between the two parties. It is as though the minister told Air Canada to sit back and do nothing, because the government plans to intervene and get the collective agreement that the company wants. The problem with this government is that it interferes. The government should not interfere; instead, it should simply appoint mediators and conciliators. That is the government's job.
    Furthermore, as for essential services, last year the government was already looking at the possibility of declaring the economy an essential service in the Canada Labour Code. Come on. If it did that, it would mean the end of bargaining and the end of unions. They would no longer exist. Well, that is the Conservative government for you. It suggested the economy should be considered an essential service. Any employer could then simply claim that a strike would harm the local or national economy, and the right to strike would be over. This goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If something like this were to go to the Supreme Court, I think we would win. The government is going further than any other country in the world right now by taking away the right to strike and the right to lockout.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to know what my colleague thinks about this motion and the situation of the economy. If we count speaking times, seven members will have the opportunity to speak, if everyone uses their time. That means that 2.27% of the House will have the opportunity to speak to this bill. I think this is a complete lack of democracy. As well, she says it is to protect the economy because of the situation.
    I would like my colleague to answer my question. Air Canada is an airline, but are there other airlines in Canada? If someone really has no choice but to travel, can they do business with another airline? Are there buses in Canada? Are there cars, trains, boats or other things? Are Canadians absolutely incapable of travelling if Air Canada is the only one affected? Is it the economy in its entirety and transportation capacity in Canada that are completely threatened by this strike, or is it only a portion, with alternatives for people who really have no choice?
    Mr. Speaker, there are several airlines: CanWest, WestJet and Porter, or Air Transat for people going on vacation. There are indeed airlines. As she said, there are boats, ferries and all sorts of things. In any event, the economy could be used as an excuse for everything. That is what I am afraid of here: the economy can be used as a pretext everywhere. It will always be an excuse. Fundamental rights cannot be taken away from working people.
     I want to remind Canadians about the Canada Post case. That was a small group, if we compare it to 33 million people. The government said that 33 million people were going to be deprived of their mail. That was true, but by saying it they automatically deprived those people of a right. It meant that those people did not have that right.
     Now it is Air Canada. The government says this is going to prevent people from travelling, so they lose their rights. Who else is going to lose their rights? Who? That is what is disturbing. This is a fundamental right that our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents fought for. To put an end to those battles, workers were given rights: the right to bargain and the right to strike legally so we do not have street fights, so that blood does not run in the streets. That is what was done so that working people would have the right to be respected.
     The Conservative government is taking that right away from them. That is not right; it is unfair and it is unacceptable. I say that this way of doing things is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government is taking away the right to debate in the House, here, because that is indeed what this is: only 2% of the debate on an important subject will take place. The minister herself says it is important, but she is depriving the workers of fundamental rights.

  (1255)  

    Mr. Speaker, my father worked in maintenance at Air Canada for 30 years. Today my thoughts are with him and his former colleagues.
    The minister talked about the tremendous efforts the government is making to facilitate the negotiations, and she said that the workers had refused attempts to reach an agreement. That is an edited version of the story, and it attempts to demonize the workers and the unions. We still do not know why these workers refused the agreement, what they are calling for and what working conditions are important to them.
    Since the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst is an expert on these matters, perhaps he could refer to the Canada Post case and tell us what the workers wanted in their agreements and what they were not willing to give up. Can he give us any information on what Air Canada's workers want as working conditions, which they are not willing to give up?
    Mr. Speaker, Air Canada's employees have been making concessions for 10 years. For the past 10 years, they having been working to save Air Canada. While they were making efforts to save the company, Air Canada's former president took off with $80 million in his pockets. Another president left with $5 million in his pockets. In the meantime, the workers gave their all. Today they are saying that it is their turn to have better conditions, better wages, a guaranteed pension and a better schedule.
    All of us here know, but maybe Canadians do not: between flights, Air Canada workers do not even have a place in the airport where they can go to take a break. They do not even have a room where they can go and sit down. They walk around and sit on the benches like passengers do. Those are the types of things they want, improvements to their working conditions. Now, the government will decree that the workers will not get what they are asking for, because it is going to step in. The minister herself said that things were not going well for Air Canada and that the government had to intervene. She did not say that things are not going well for the employees, but for Air Canada. She is the Minister of Labour and she has to provide for the well-being of the employees as well.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is an episode of Groundhog Day here. Here we go again with more back to work legislation presented. The government is injecting itself in the midst of a labour dispute with a private company.
    I would like to go back and comment on some things the minister shared during her speech. She said that Parliament has intervened in various labour disputes in the country over 35 times since 1950. That may be so. If we look at essential services, and what is considered to be essential changes over time, there are times where intervention is warranted. It would be interesting to go back and see, of those over 35 interventions by Parliament, how many have been preceded by a motion to limit debate on a bill that was not even seen yet. The government is setting the table in limiting the debate even before we see the proposed legislation. We have seen some pretty archaic legislation presented by the government, certainly in the case of Canada Post. I would like to know how many interventions have been led by notice restricting the amount of debate on a particular motion before it even came forward.
    She also indicated during her comments that the government was taking this action as an important and integral step so that the economy of the country would not slow down, so that this work stoppage would not interfere with the progress that has taken place with the economic recovery in Canada.
    I would like to take a moment to reflect on the progress. We know now that 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed. This number has continued to grow since October of last year. We know that there are more unemployed young Canadians. The youth unemployment rate in the country right now is about 14.7%. Even more compelling than that is the shrinking participation rate of the youth workforce in the country over the last number of months. Some young Canadians have given up seeking work. They are disengaging from the economy.
    We know that people are unemployed for longer periods of time. In 2008, the average duration of unemployment was 14.8 weeks. Last year, that duration was 21.2 weeks. Under the stewardship of the Conservative government, we are reaching record highs in youth unemployment. Its answer to that is to close the youth employment service centres across the country and give young people even less of an opportunity to find employment. That has been its approach. If it is doing this for the economy, I am sure Canadians are saying, “the government has helped enough, step away from the economy, the damage has been done”.
    I would think the impact on the economy of this particular strike would be marginal. It would be fairly limited. There are other carriers in the country. WestJet, Porter and various air carriers offer other opportunities to travel across the country. Most business operators, even though they still travel and use air travel during the course of regular business, use the technology we have available today. Skyping and Internet calling are very commonplace.

  (1300)  

    Coming from a small community like Sydney serviced by Jazz Air, if we are not able to get to Halifax with a connector flight, we certainly can still get access to it because there are other ways to get out of Sydney. Whether or not this is an essential service, let us look at the transit strike in Halifax. A great number of the residents normally access that public service on a daily basis, ensuring that they can get back and forth to work. That strike has been going on for eight weeks now. Therefore, comparing a public transit strike with this particular lockout and the legislation being brought forward by this minister is like comparing apples and oranges.
     We see this as a heavy-handed approach on the part of the government to inject itself here. It is certainly not new. This is the fourth time the government has injected itself into the midst of a labour dispute, and we have seen the actions undertaken by the government in these cases. We know that employees at Air Canada, the grounds crew, baggage handlers, machinists, pilots, flight attendants and customer service attendants, have all been impacted by the actions of the government. Those 48,000 employees have lost their right to free and fair collective bargaining. If we throw in the postal workers, about 75,000 Canadians have lost their rights. All of those lost rights add up to one colossal wrong, and it is wrong on the part of the government to inject itself here.
    I am going to give the minister some kudos here because I think she did what she could leading up to this, and I am going to recognize that. She changed the mediator. She did not inject her own personal views into this but saw that the talks were stalling and put in another mediator. If we were in power, we would have done the same thing. However, it was the past actions of the government that gave an indication to the management at Air Canada that the minister was going to come forward with legislation regardless of the outcome of the mediation talks. The management believed it could count on the government to bring forward back to work legislation; that is where the well was poisoned. The landscape was changed as a result of the minister's prior actions because Air Canada management knew this was coming.
    What is happening with Mr. Rovinescu, the CEO of Air Canada, is that the Minister is really doing his job. He should be compelled to find a way through these negotiations, to find some way to accommodate his workforce so that the airline can continue to operate and serve Canadians. Knowing the minister is coming forward with this legislation makes his job easier. In his situation, at the end of this month, he will get his $5 million bonus. That is unbelievable. Over 10 years, since Air Canada filed for protection under the bankruptcy laws, we know that the concessions made by the workers total $2 billion. They had wage rollbacks and benefit concessions totalling $2 billion over 10 years. They have done their part to bring this company around and to help Air Canada survive.
    When Mr. Milton left, he got a golden handshake of $80 million on the backs of the workers. Now we have Mr. Rovinescu picking up $5 million. I know $5 million does not look like a lot to some people on the government side, but it is not bad. His job is just made that much easier knowing that the Conservative government will come up with back to work legislation.

  (1305)  

    It rattles the morale of this company. It further wedges the worker-management relationship within Air Canada and serves no one well. It further hurts a great airline. Every Canadian complains about the weather and we complain about Air Canada. There is not a lot of love for Air Canada by those who have ever lost a piece of luggage or ever been delayed by them. For them, it is about that darned Air Canada.
    I fly three weeks of the year back and forth to my riding and a few times outside of that. I do not think there are any people at any company who have a tougher job and do a better job than the people at Air Canada. The disregard and disrespect for their rights shown by the government is shameful.
    Judging by some of the comments made, there is no justification for the steps taken by the government. I want to read a couple of quotes, if I could. The union president, Paul Strachan, from the Air Canada Pilots Association talks about the track record of the government injecting itself into past disputes and the concerns about that. He states that “It does affect the bargaining landscape, absolutely” and that the power to intervene is like the “sword of Damocles hanging over the heads” of all union negotiators.
    Dave Ritchie, the Canadian general vice-president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, says:
    I asked [the minister] to stay out of the process, but she didn't, so I am disappointed in her move. I'm not too happy about it.
    He added that it hurts their relations.
    However, it is not just union officials who are going on the record talking about the actions of the government. There is a quote from George Smith, Air Canada's former director of employee relations and now a professor at Queen's University. He talked about the interference of the government in the current dispute and in past disputes. He is a person who sat at the table a number of times and who has been through many negotiations over the years. He argues that if disputes are placed in the hands of arbitrators, management is unlikely to get what it wants. That is a fact.
    In his own words:
    We had strikes and lockouts over my 10 years at Air Canada and the government never had to intervene.
    This has all the appearances of the federal government doing what's best for the country but really it's a disaster.... If you are negotiating a difficult labour contract, the process is being taken out of your hands and the government will do it for you. The “showdown” element which hurts in the short run but results in a fair settlement is gone. The net result will be labour agreements that are uncompetitive.
    That comes from a respected voice, a guy who sat on the other side of the table representing management in many negotiations.
    We know that hammering out labour agreements is a difficult process. Certainly, when we consider the global economy, we see that many businesses are just trying to stay on their feet through these tough times. However, I think that most Canadians understand when they work for a company that has been able to sustain itself and to right itself that they were part of the good work that went on to make sure that company was competitive and stayed afloat and, really, has grown over the last number of years.

  (1310)  

    There has to be an opportunity provided to those workers who contributed to that success. There has to be an opportunity to share in that success. However, even just the opportunity to share in that success has been taken away by the government. That is what is egregious and truly unfortunate in this case.
     We have seen this time and time again where two parties sit down and think they have an agreement in place. The representative of a union representing 8,000 or however many people may leave the table thinking he or she has the bases covered. However, it is not for the union executive to say they have a deal, but instead that they are willing to take the deal back to their membership.
     Once a union executive signs off at the negotiating table, it probably has a pretty good feel that it has a chance of getting it through their membership. However, it not a fait accompli, not a done deal. They go back to the membership and have a vote and, in this case, it has been rejected, which just gives them the wherewithal to go back to the table and address the shortcomings of the proposed deal. That is their responsibility and what was going to take place in this case.
    However, with the government coming forward with legislation, the management has seen the end of the movie already. One could say that they had a deal in place and that everything was done already, but that it not the case. The union membership has to sign-off on any tentative deals. That is why these are called tentative deals, because they are pending the acceptance of the membership. The union executive takes the deal back to their membership and if it gets voted down, we then go on to the next aspect of the process. In this case, they did not get the opportunity to do that.
    This is the situation we find ourselves in. I am sure the government has legislation on the shelf ready for it to plug in the name of a company, whichever one is currently in a position to take its membership out and force management to come forward with serious considerations. However, we certainly have not seen any kind of resolve on the part of the government to be seriously supportive of fair and open collective bargaining. We have seen the government compromise that, and I do not think we can get it back. The dye has been cast. I am sure the public service unions in this country know they are in the crosshairs and that they have some tough times ahead. Certainly they are watching the upcoming budget with a great deal of anticipation. However, make no mistake about it, this government will certainly be willing to bring the hammer down on them as well.
    To wrap up my comments, it is unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation again. It is unfortunate that the government has taken away the fair right of unions to negotiate fair collective agreements. The government has tilted the playing field in favour of the company. I think organized labour in this country has been dealt a blow since the Conservative government came to power and it is something we are going to see more of in the years to come.

  (1315)  

    Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague's comments regarding the strike and there are two things that stuck out in my mind.
    First, he indicated that he did not believe this was an essential service. Coming from small rural communities, I beg to differ.
    The member also provided some quotes from Captain Paul Strachan, the president of the Air Canada Pilots Association. I will give the him another quote and ask him for comment. Mr. Strachan testified before the Senate transport committee that he believed Air Canada was an essential service for this country and “...a cornerstone of our entire economy”. We happen to agree with Captain Strachan that it is an essential service and important for our economy.
     Why does the member disagree with the president of the union and why is he in favour of jeopardizing our fragile economic recovery? Again, he quoted Mr. Strachan on the one hand and then on the other hand said it was not an essential service. That is in direct contradiction with the language Mr. Strachan used before committee.
    Mr. Speaker, rather than finding ourselves back here in the House time after time discussing back to work legislation imposed by the Conservative government, the government might want to scope out what essential services actually are in this country and then there would be one blanket over all of those essential services. Maybe that is the debate that should be taking place.
    If WestJet and Porter, two private airline companies, find themselves in the same situation as Air Canada, will the government bring in back to work legislation with them? That is the question that needs to be asked.
    We know we have access to other service providers, other great Canadian airlines and VIA Rail. There are other modes of transportation that Canadians can use.
    In order for the government to make it easy on itself, I would suggest that it map out what is considered an essential service here in this country.

  (1320)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring forward on a personal note an issue involving the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba.
    We need to understand that the government has never been a friend of Air Canada workers, whether they work in Winnipeg, Mississauga or Montreal. We could talk about the flight attendants base or the pilots base in Winnipeg or the overhaul centre that was in Winnipeg. These are all important and valuable jobs to the province of Manitoba and yet Air Canada literally shafted the workers by not standing up for them. In the case of the overhaul maintenance workers, Air Canada allowed a form of privatization into a different area even though it had a legal obligation to maintain those jobs.
    For the last couple of years, the Government of Canada has not stood up for those workers and now we see labour legislation being brought in once again to not allow free collective bargaining in an important industry.
    Does my colleague understand and appreciate why many of the workers at Air Canada feel that the Conservative government just does not care about the worker, that it seems to support Air Canada over the worker? Does he not think that is unfair in terms of the free collective bargaining process?
    Mr. Speaker, under the public air act, commitments were made to certain communities with regard to staffing levels and the allocation of resources in particular areas. That came about when Canadian Airlines and Air Canada merged. It is important to ensure that Air Canada abides by the commitments made through that act.
    The government claims that Air Canada is a private company and, as such, it does not want anything to do with it. However, in this case, the government is treating Air Canada like a public service provider. It is duplicitous on the part of the government the way it treats Air Canada. It is hands off when it is a private firm, when it is in the interest of the workers, but when, in a case like this in contract negotiations, the government says that Air Canada is like a federal public service so it puts itself in the midst of the situation in an effort to bring it to a close because the Conservatives feel it is their responsibility as a government.
    I can see why the member is confused with the government's approach to this particular case.

  (1325)  

    Mr. Speaker, in the context of this debate, my largest underlying concern is that we are undermining collective bargaining rights. However, when I focus on pilots, what comes to mind is the great hero "Sully" Sullenberger who landed a plane on the frozen Hudson River. One of the things that came to light in his interview after that great feat of heroism was his concern that pilots were not being paid enough, that the competition in the U.S. was allowing pilots to fly passengers when earning under $20,000 a year and that the cutthroat nature of the industry meant that passenger safety was at risk.
    If the government is going to intervene, would it not be nice if just once it intervened on the side of increasing wages instead of undercutting the workers in favour of management? If that were to happen, then maybe there would be an incentive for management to come to a fair term and deal with its workers.
    In this case, does the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso think we might be undermining safety?
    Mr. Speaker, when my friend and colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands made reference to landing a plane on a frozen body of water, I thought for sure she was speaking of J.A.D. McCurdy on Baddeck Bay .
    Her point is absolutely valid and real. With the actions undertaken by the government, we certainly have not see anything that would lend itself to increasing safety within the operational guidelines of Air Canada. Rather, it has been, “What can we do to help our big corporate friends and certainly help along the management at Air Canada?” Whether intended or not, that is what has happened in this case.
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso is an active member both in the House and in his community, so I suppose t he was in his district over the weekend. How would he have returned back here to make that eloquent speech this afternoon if the airline had not been in the air? Is Air Canada not essential to him and to the service that he gives to this country?
    Mr. Speaker, it is as convenient as heck. Is it essential? Absolutely, positively not. We would have driven to Halifax by car. We could have taken a train from Halifax and came up yesterday. We were delayed as it was. It is certainly convenient but it is not at all essential.
    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the necessity of the bill that the Minister of Labour has given notice on, an act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.
    Keeping Air Canada flying now is essential to the economy and travellers. Over one million hard-working Canadians and Canadian families have scheduled travel with Air Canada over the March break period. Those people are depending on the government and we think that the travelling public overwhelmingly expects the government to act. As much as we wish that these disputes could have been settled among the three parties themselves, government action is essential to keep the airline flying and Canadians travelling. We will not sit by and let the airline shut itself down. We need to act to provide for the continuation of air service operations at Air Canada.
    We are not doing this to take sides. We are not doing this to punish any of the parties. We also are not doing this because it is an easy solution to a difficult problem. We are doing this because it is the right thing to do. We need to do this because it is necessary to protect the Canadian public and Canada's economy recovery that we are all counting on for growth and prosperity in the years to come. Time is of the essence. We must act now.
    We need to ensure that Air Canada's operations continue at regular peak period capacity before serious damage is inflicted on our economy. We need to act before Canadian businesses suffer and go elsewhere, and before travelling Canadians have their vacation plans ruined. Under these circumstances at the present time, this is not what the economy needs and it is certainly not what the travelling public needs.
    Would our government have preferred that the parties come to an agreement on their own? Absolutely. My hon. colleague, the Minister of Labour, is on the record saying repeatedly that the best solution to a labour dispute is when the parties can resolve their differences together without a work stoppage. In fact, 94% of labour negotiations in Canada are settled without a work stoppage. That statistic is not lost on either employers or unions in Canada. There is a better way to solve these disputes and the better way is the path chosen by the parties in an overwhelming majority of cases. In spite of what we wish and, of course, what we find works in the majority of cases, these points do not change the fact that the two disputes are still before us today.
    We need to consider the following. On February 10, 2012, IAMAW and Air Canada reached a tentative agreement. However, on February 22, 2012, the union informed the employer that its membership had rejected the agreement. On March 17, 2011, ACPA and Air Canada reached a tentative agreement. On May 19, 2011, the union informed the employer that its membership voted to reject the tentative agreement. That is two tentative agreements that Air Canada reached with two separate bargaining units, two tentative agreements that the respective union memberships voted to reject.
    The threat of labour action can be a tool in labour negotiations. It can bring pressure to bear on an employer, which is a legitimate prerogative, but the effect of this pressure does not end at Air Canada. Everyone who depends on air transport feels it and is potentially affected by it. That includes those who are travelling for business, school, new opportunities, vacations or to visit their loved ones.
    As everyone knows, Air Canada has an excellent safety record. Air Canada follows rigorous safety rules and procedures. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers represents Air Canada employees who are responsible for the technical, maintenance and operations services, including cabin grooming, aircraft cleaning, the handling of baggage and the purchases and distribution of parts and supplies. In effect, they are a fundamental component of making Air Canada transportation operations move smoothly, safely and efficiently. They are skilled workers who cannot be easily replaced.
    In addition, Air Canada's pilots are responsible for the operation of the aircraft, the safety of passengers and crew members and all flight decisions once in the air. The pilots are obviously a fundamental and key component in the safety of Air Canada's operations. Again, these are highly -trained and skilled workers who are not easily replaceable. Therefore, work stoppages by either of these groups of valuable workers would have a far-reaching economic impact. A work stoppage could threaten the very future of Air Canada. The direct impact on Air Canada could be severe at a time when it is facing financial constraints.
    We need to consider the impact on the travelling public and businesses that use Air Canada. To properly understand the scale of that impact, it helps if we look at the size of Air Canada's operations. Air Canada is Canada's largest domestic U.S. transborder and international airline and the largest provider of scheduled passenger services in the Canadian market, the Canada-U.S. transborder market and in the international market to and from Canada. Air Canada serves over 32 million customers annually and provides direct passenger service to 170 destinations on five different continents.

  (1330)  

     A disruption at Air Canada could cost the Canadian economy as much as $22.4 million a week for every week that it is allowed to continue. However, financial figures are only one of the ways that we can measure the cost of a labour dispute. There is also the cost of jobs lost. There is the cost of lost time and of missed opportunities for every business that relies on Air Canada. There is the cost of someone being stranded, or someone whose business is grounded.
    We must also consider the impact on other Air Canada employees. There are approximately 25,000 staff directly employed by Air Canada and there are another 250,000 staff members indirectly related to Air Canada who would be affected. Many of these employees have families. If the airline were to be grounded, all of these direct and indirect employees, as well as their families, would be affected.
    As we see, every action has consequences. There would be a ripple effect as the losses are compounded affecting stakeholders in the process. The reduced operations at Air Canada would adversely affect Canada's airports and Air Canada's third party suppliers. What about the passengers? Alternative carriers are not always readily available. Even if passengers switched to other modes of transportation, as suggested by the member opposite, they would suffer inconvenience as well as extra costs. Those who could not switch may be left in a difficult spot and could find themselves stranded at an airport or elsewhere.
    As we have said before, over one million passengers are scheduled to travel with Air Canada over the March break period. That is a huge number of Canadians. That means hundreds of thousands of Canadian families' travel plans would be affected or even cancelled due to a work stoppage. What is clear is that these two labour disputes involve more than just Air Canada and its machinists and aerospace workers, more than just Air Canada and its pilots. It involves all Canadians who are stakeholders, whether they want to be or not. Clearly the public interest is at stake and that is why we must act for the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada.
    Some might ask what today's actions say about the status of collective bargaining in Canada. Let me address that point. The Canada Labour Code strikes a balance between rights and interests of employers and workers. The code reinforces a long-standing tradition of co-operative labour management relationships. It recognizes the principles of freedom of association and free collective bargaining. It promotes the negotiation of terms and conditions of employment and the constructive settlement of disputes.
    The Canada Labour Code does not promote government intervention. Rather it is designed to help labour and management settle their differences on their own. The code provides a framework for constructive dispute settlement in federally regulated workspaces and this process is usually all that is required. As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of collective agreements are negotiated successfully, with compromises made on both sides. If the parties are unable to resolve their differences on their own, the Canada Labour Code provides a process of conciliation and mediation.
    The first step in this process is one where the parties file a notice of dispute with the Minister of Labour. The minister can then appoint one or more conciliator officers. If the conciliators are not successful, mediators can be called in. These mediators work intensively with the parties to avert a work stoppage and if these efforts fail, the Canada Labour Code also allows the employer and the union to offer binding arbitration if they both agree. Twenty-one days after the conciliation process ends, the union acquires the right to strike and the employer acquires the right to lock out their employees. At that point, the union must give the employer and the Minister of Labour 72 hours notice in advance of a strike. The employer must do the same if it plans a lockout.
    Let me give the House a little background on these two disputes to show how the Government of Canada has worked to try to help each one of these parties every step of the way. The collective agreement covering a unit of approximately 8,200 employees engaged in technical, maintenance and operating support functions expired on March 31, 2011. The workers represented by IAMAW have been working without a renewed contract since that time. On December 21, 2011, a conciliator commissioner was appointed to assist the parties in their negotiations. Even though both parties reached a tentative agreement on February 10, with the assistance of a conciliator commissioner, it was defeated in a ratification vote by the union membership on February 22. The parties acquired the legal right to strike or lockout on March 12.
    In the case of the Air Canada Pilots Association, its collective agreement, which covers 3,000 pilots, expired on March 31, 2011. On March 17, 2011, the parties reached a tentative agreement. However, on May 19, 2011 the deal was rejected by a vote of the ACPA membership. Again, another tentative agreement reached by Air Canada and one of its bargaining agents was rejected by the union membership. A conciliation officer was then appointed to assist the parties on November 10, 2011. Further to that, two co-mediators were appointed on February 16 of this year to work with the parties through a six month mediation period.

  (1335)  

    Despite all of this assistance, including meetings with the Minister of Labour, the parties have been unable to reach a deal.
    The minister spoke very clearly on this issue, saying:
    Our Government is concerned that a strike at Air Canada would have a significantly negative impact on families and our national economy....We encourage both parties to avoid a work stoppage and restore confidence for the traveling public and Canadian job creators that rely on commercial air services.
    This government believes in the principle of free collective bargaining. We have made the resources of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service fully available to both parties in an effort to help them reach a negotiated arrangements. However, despite these efforts, work stoppages are still being considered.
    These disputes have gone on long enough. We will not wait to see how much damage a work stoppage could do to our fragile economy. History teaches us a sober lesson about what happens when we stand by and do nothing.
    Thirty-five work stoppages have occurred in the air transport industry since 1984. Six of these stoppages, about a fifth of them, have involved Air Canada. The most significant of these was in 1998, when 2,100 airline pilots went on strike for 13 days. Financial industry analysts tell us that Air Canada lost about $300 million because of the cancelled flights. That was 13 years ago, in a booming economy, both domestically and internationally. The severity of the damage this time around would be unimaginable.
    Markets do not like uncertainty. Businesses do not like it either. There would be a price paid for every day that we let uncertainty overtake our air transportation system.
    Air Canada is already struggling. Just a few weeks ago, Air Canada reported a higher than expected $80 million fourth-quarter loss. Now it has to contend with the cost of a strike by its machinists and aerospace workers.
    All other avenues have been explored to resolve this dispute. Government action right now is necessary to solve this problem. It would end the uncertainty of this important sector of our economy. The business of Canada depends upon this, not just our industry but also our citizens. Canadians are counting on the Government of Canada to do the right thing. They expect us to act to protect our economy, to protect jobs, growth and prosperity. Ensuring the continuation and resumption of air service operations at Air Canada would help restore that certainty.
    We need to keep the planes in the air. We need to keep our economy moving and working and not lose the momentum that we have worked so hard to create over the last number of months. Therefore, I urge my fellow parliamentarians to support the government in keeping Air Canada flying. Let us work together to do the right thing for all Canadians.

  (1340)  

    Mr. Speaker, she said that she believed in free bargaining. I do not know if she believes in unions. The Prime Minister says that he is kind of divided on the issue and does not want to get involved.
    However, by telling business months in advance that the government will not tolerate, for example, Air Canada not flying because of the economy, would she agree that it sends a message to businesses that they do not have to negotiate with their employees, that they should do what think needs to be done and that the government will be there to legislate the people back to work, thereby taking away their Charter of Rights to be in a union? Workers have the right to go on strike. The employers have the right to have a lockout. It is a private sector. It is not essential services. In this case, for the government to get involved the way it is, is it not the wrong route to take, or is it really the route the Conservative Party wants to take? It hates the unions and workers. Is that the case? When we take a look at Air Canada after it called for bankruptcy protection for 10 years to redo the company, the president left with $80 million in his back pocket. The last one—
    Order, please. The hon. parliamentary secretary.
    Mr. Speaker, we are very disappointed that all three parties have been unable to come to a solution.
    Given our fragile economy, a work stoppage is simply unacceptable. The government is moving forward with this legislation in an effort to ensure we protect our national economy and our families.
    March break, as I mentioned, is upon us and millions of Canadians are travelling. We want to ensure that Canadian parents, families and our economy are protected, and that is why we are taking this action.
    Mr. Speaker, the question posed by my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst is really the nub of the problem.
    The negotiating team cuts the best deal it can and then brings it back to the membership. The government seems to have a problem with that. Does the parliamentary secretary reject the democratic right of the union membership to reject and vote against that offer?

  (1345)  

    Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned before, the best solution that we can come up with is one to which all the parties agree. What has failed to happen is for the parties to come to an agreement. That is why the government feels there is a need to take action to ensure we protect the Canadian economy in these fragile economic times. That is why last Friday, we moved to protect the Canadian economy. That is why we will take action to ensure Canadian families are protected.
    As I mentioned in my speech, we have given ample opportunity on numerous occasions to both of these organizations. We provided opportunities for all parties to negotiate over a significant amount of time. However, the time for action is now to protect the Canadian economy.
    Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague. Have we reached a point in time where lockouts and strikes are old technology? I have looked at what we see in the labour disputes of today and of yesterday. The people who are against one another effect so many others who have no stake in the issue at all.
    Could the member share with us her thoughts on whether we have outgrown lockouts and strikes and have to look to different technologies to solve disputes?
    Mr. Speaker, it is very important that all of the parties have had the opportunity to negotiate. The government has provided the opportunity to have the use of a conciliator and a mediator. The parties have not come to a resolution on this issue. The damage to the economy would be overwhelming and unimaginable. We want to ensure that we protect the national interest and Canadians families. That is why the government is moving forward now with legislation. We need to act now to protect the Canadian economy.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to comment on something the parliamentary secretary, as well as the minister, said. She said that the labour code did not support or call for government interference in collective bargaining. I agree with that statement, yet the minister and the parliamentary secretary do not seem to understand the importance of fair and free collective bargaining. The government seems to consistently interfere with that fair and free collective bargaining process. It continues to rob the parties involved of their hard-earned rights, the rights for both the employer to leverage its negotiations and lock out the employees, as well as the employees' right to leverage their solidarity and power to go on strike.
    Why is the government on a full frontal attack on the hard-fought rights of workers and working people, the rights for which they fought for decades and decades?
    Mr. Speaker, I beg to differ. Our government is here to protect families and to protect the national economy. We are here for all Canadians and moving forward to ensure we protect the national economy. Taking action to ensure Air Canada continues to fly and there is not a work stoppage does exactly that. It protects Canadian families and the economy.
    Mr. Speaker, the government seems to be overlooking that many Air Canada employees have families too. The government needs to be sensitive to that fact. Those employees believe in the free collective bargaining process, something in which the government obviously does not believe.
    Where was the Government of Canada when Air Canada was turning to Aveos and getting rid of the overall maintenance base in Winnipeg? When the Government of Canada should have been standing up for those Air Canada employees, it threw its hands up in the air and did nothing. Why did the government ignore Air Canada workers when it came to farming out certain aspects of its responsibilities that were set when Air Canada was privatized in 1988? Where was the Conservative government then?

  (1350)  

    Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my speech, there are 25,000 employees at Air Canada outside of these two union groups who will be affected by the stoppage. There are also another 250,000 Canadian families that will be indirectly affected by a work stoppage. Moving forward on this helps to ensure that the 25,000 Air Canada employees who are not involved in these two unions and the 250,000 Canadians who are indirectly affected by this, will continue to work. Most importantly, we need to understand that this affects millions of Canadian families. We need to ensure that those families know we are taking action for them to protect the national economy and their jobs.
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. parliamentary secretary's speech was very fulsome and logical, but I would not expect anything less from one of Canada's pre-eminent surgeons.
    Given that the minister has referred a question on health and safety to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, CIRB, regarding both of these threatened work stoppages, why does the Minister of Labour think that government action is necessary at this time?
    Mr. Speaker, the minister referred this matter to the CIRB in an effort to determine whether a work stoppage at Air Canada would have a negative impact on Canadian families. We want to ensure we are doing the right thing. That means determining whether transport of cargo, something as valuable as a vaccination for a child in the north, or moving patients to a southern facility to receive the care they need, would be impacted by an Air Canada work stoppage. I want to commend the minister for sending this matter to the CIRB to look at the health and safety risks that may occur because of a work stoppage.
    Mr. Speaker, I am actually not very pleased to have to stand again and speak to an issue of this nature, dealing with a motion to cut the time we can spend debating the issue of whether we should support the back to work legislation which the Conservatives have sponsored.
    I listened to the Minister of Labour's speech. She said that there is more at stake than what is at the bargaining table.That statement is very true. What is at stake with the legislation and the particular approach the Conservatives have taken?
    First, when we talk about process in the House, we have a motion that is dedicated to eliminating any discussion on this issue. That is one thing that is very clear. We have some very significant issues with that.
    The Conservatives are basing their argument on the principle that this work stoppage, this labour issue, is going to affect the national economy very seriously. We have heard other things from the member for Simcoe--Grey. She said that the work stoppage and disruptions could cost Air Canada $22 million a week. Carried over a year, that figure would be about $1 billion. Out of a $1.5 trillion Canadian economy, it does not appear to be as large a figure. If there was a two or three week labour stoppage, we would be dealing with an impact on the economy of less than $100 million, according to the figures supplied in the speech that was just given.
    We are dealing with legislation that is ostensibly put forward for one reason only, to stop the labour dispute because it affects the economy, yet the figures that have been given are laughable.
    I also heard concern about not being able to get vaccinations into northern and remote parts of the country. Anyone who lives in a remote part of our country realizes that Air Canada is not the provider of transportation services there. A strike would have to include First Air, Canadian North, and many other sub-carriers which carry people all over the country. They are not part of Air Canada. The remote regions of our country are not going to be impacted tremendously by this labour dispute. That is just not going to happen.
    As for the issue of major Canadian transportation across the country, there is another airline that does that very well: WestJet. It does not have executive seats. Maybe that is one thing the Conservative Party is worried about. I walk past many government members on the way back to economy class on Air Canada when I go across the country. I would put that as a very serious consideration.
    The bill has more at stake than what is at the bargaining table. Since it got its majority, the government has been dedicated to crushing labour. It identifies organized labour as a prime opposition to its continued hold over the country. The government is taking very firm action right at the beginning to make sure it separates what it considers to be its problem from its legitimate place in Canadian society, with legitimate rights of collective bargaining. This is what is going on here. It is another step. Perhaps it is not as dramatic as the postal work stoppage that we had to deal with in June, but it is one which is clearly along the same lines.

  (1355)  

    Let us talk about what the Conservative government has not done for the aviation industry to help these companies so that they can afford to pay the workers a decent wage. One is that the government views the industry as a cash cow.
    If we look at what the U.S. government charges its airport facilities for rent versus what the Canadian government does with our airports, we would see a remarkable difference. On the one hand the government says it does not want to get involved in a labour dispute, but on the other hand it collects money from the very airline it is supporting. That has made the airline less competitive in the world. Many Canadians cross the border to get flights from the United States. We see that loss of passenger services.
    All these things add up to airlines that cannot compete as well. It is not about the cost of wages. Many other factors enter into why our airlines are having trouble today.
    Is it the number of passengers on the flights? No. Actually the number of passenger seats that are filled is higher than it has been for a long time. In other words, domestic flights are fuller than they have been in a very long time, so the aviation industry is actually healthy when it comes to that.
    It is not healthy in the extra charges, the security charges. What we have to pay for security in Canada, a country where security is not--
    Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. it is hard for me to concentrate on my colleague's remarks as members opposite are carrying on loud conversations.
    Order. This matter has been raised before, that there is noise in the chamber prior to question period. I would encourage all members to listen to their colleagues. Certainly today it is not anywhere near as loud as it often is.
    The hon. member for Western Arctic has about a minute left.
    Mr. Speaker, there is a difference between people being quiet and people actually listening. I will leave it at that.
    When it comes to domestic travel, as I mentioned, the numbers are way up and the aviation industry is healthy in that regard. However, the government has imposed other charges on the industry in the last few years. It upped the security fee. Canadians who fly with our airlines pay three or four times what the Americans pay for security charges. That hurts the industry as well. The government continues to do things which hurt the industry. It sees the industry as a cash cow and that is wrong.

  (1400)  

    Order, please. The time for Government Orders has expired. The hon. member for Western Arctic will have 12 minutes when the House returns to this matter.

Statements by Members

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Habitat for Humanity

    Mr. Speaker, before I begin my statement on Habitat London, I would like to congratulate the Western University Mustangs men's track and field team for winning their first CIS national title this past weekend.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
    Mr. Speaker, since its inception in 1993, Habitat London has built homes for 34 local families. While the houses are simple, they provide families with a home where they can feel safe and comfortable.
    Our Conservative government believes strongly that partnerships with community organizations like Habitat for Humanity play a vital role in creating opportunities for families while building stronger communities. I am pleased to inform this House that our friends at Habitat London are expanding their affiliate to Oxford, Middlesex and Elgin counties. Between 2012 and 2016, Habitat London will build homes and serve 38 families. This is more than the number of homes built in the previous 18 years combined.
    I am pleased to support Habitat for Humanity London. I congratulate Habitat London's CEO, Jeff Duncan, and his dedicated team for their commitment to a stronger London and a stronger Canada.

[Translation]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, just a few days ago, Le Devoir reported that, in the Laval region alone, developers have been given permission to fill 25 of the region's last remaining wetlands.
    I am very worried about this continuing trend. When he was a minister in the Quebec government, the member for Outremont fought, with the determination for which he is known, against the destruction of wetlands and even ordered that a building site be restored to a wetland in my riding of Laval—Les Îles. Last May, Quebeckers voted en masse for a party that stands up for the environment and Quebeckers' values.
    I intend to work hard to draw attention to the wetlands issue during the conservation study that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development has just begun.
    Mr. Speaker, we in the New Democratic Party will work hard to protect Quebec's natural areas and green spaces and to improve co-operation between the federal and provincial governments on the environment and sustainable development.

[English]

Focus for Ethnic Women

    Mr. Speaker, last week I celebrated International Women's Day by attending an awards banquet for Waterloo region's Focus for Ethnic Women. This unique volunteer-driven group has, for many years, provided support for women facing the challenge of re-establishing their lives in Canada.
    The room was full of articulate, effective women from the four corners of the earth successfully contributing to our community in a great many ways. I was reminded of the infamous Canadian law which would have hindered so many successful women by failing to recognize them as “persons”. We can be grateful that law was reformed in the last century. We all win when everyone's fundamental human rights are recognized.
    Special congratulations are deserved by the women who won awards: Margaret Skowronska-Binek for achievements as an immigration lawyer and Ann-Marie Marston for a successful banking career. Hats off to Focus for Ethnic Women.

Arctic Winter Games

    Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Liberal Party, I would like to congratulate the over 2,000 competitors who competed in this year's Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse, Yukon highlighting traditional Arctic sports and Dene games.

[Translation]

    The very first Arctic Winter Games were opened in 1970 by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. More than 40 years later, the games continue to honour the athleticism and pride that are part of the culture and unique traditions of northern Canadians.

[English]

    Canadians from coast to coast to coast cheered on our competitors from the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik and Northern Alberta, and celebrated the victories of northern Canadians.
    Rachel Kinvig from the Yukon, age 15, was undefeated in both the 7 dog/13 kilometre and the 6 dog/10 kilometre dog mushing competition. Andrew Bell from Kugluktuk, Nunavut, age 27, won the gold in the Arctic sports triple jump open male competition.
    Congratulations to all the competitors from Canada and abroad, their coaches and supporters, as well as the volunteers and organizing committee who made the 2012 Arctic Winter Games a resounding success.

  (1405)  

Carmen Corbasson

    Mr. Speaker, it is with profound sadness that I rise in the House today to announce the passing of former Mississauga City Councillor Carmen Corbasson on Saturday morning.
    “Carmen”, as everyone affectionately knew her, was a selfless, truly dedicated public servant both in the years she worked as the executive assistant to councillor Harold Kennedy and then in her 16 years of representation in Mississauga's Ward 1.
    She put her fingerprint on just about everything that happened in her community. She was never afraid to speak out and was one of the few people in politics I know who returned every call and email. Carmen was a true grassroots politician who will never be forgotten. Her grace under fire and ability to truly listen to people are legendary.
    Carmen leaves many, many friends but also her daughters, Lisa and Julie, granddaughter Summer, grandson Gabriel, her great partner, Sebastion, and beloved dog, Maggie.
    My family and I join thousands in saying “we will miss our Carmen each and every day”.

[Translation]

Telecommunications

    Mr. Speaker, the telecommunications industry is one of our economy's most dynamic industries. However, the effects of this industry are not all positive. Recently, in my riding, a cellphone company put up four cellphone towers less than 15 metres high without consulting anyone.
    The current legislation does not require these companies to consult municipalities, city planners or residents prior to construction. Given the increasing number of companies that offer wireless services, the government needs to adjust its policies so that towers are not just being built haphazardly.
    To the extent possible, we must ensure that Canadians are not seeing towers erected right next door to their homes. This is what happened to a resident of Mercier, who says that she cannot sell her home because the tower that was erected several metres from her backyard is scaring off potential buyers.
    I am calling for changes to Industry Canada's policy by joining my voice to that of this resident and the mayor of Châteauguay who has said that the current approach is outdated and that the precautionary principle should be applied given the harmful effects that microwaves may have on health.

[English]

Herbert H. Carnegie

    Mr. Speaker, it is with great sadness that we learned of Herb Carnegie's passing this weekend. Herb Carnegie was a good friend to many in York region and, indeed, all of Canada.
    He was known as many things in his remarkable 92 year life: hockey trail blazer, philanthropist, author and mentor. To me, perhaps most vividly, he was someone who always put the interests of youth at the forefront. His future aces program aimed to inspire youth to be their very best and to enhance character-building initiatives. Fittingly, a hockey arena and school are named in his honour: the Carnegie Centennial Arena in North York and the Herbert H. Carnegie Public School in Vaughan. Among his many awards, he was named to the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada. In 2006, he was made an honorary police chief with the York Regional Police.
    I invite all Canadians to join me in recognizing the remarkable life of Herbert H. Carnegie.

Mattawa Voyageur Days

    Mr. Speaker, today I want to recognize the continued success of the Mattawa Voyageur Days festival in my riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming. For the fifth year in a row, Mattawa Voyageur Days has been named one of the top 100 festivals in the province by Festivals and Events Ontario.
    Voyageur Days includes many exciting events, including regional talent night, the lumberjack competition, canoe races, performances by noted Canadian musicians and a choreographed fireworks show that should not be missed. This year marks the 15th anniversary of Voyageur Days. Festival organizers expect to see 35,000 visitors and locals attending events in July.
    I want to congratulate the community of Mattawa on organizing this festival and sharing its beautiful town with festival goers each year. I am proud to represent the community leaders in Mattawa who make Voyageur Days a success. I encourage all who are able to attend the festival to do so.
    Folks should get their wristbands early.

[Translation]

Alain-Grandbois Cinematic Cultural Centre

    Mr. Speaker, in the Portneuf village of Saint-Casimir, a large cultural project is nearing completion. In a few weeks, the Ciné-centre culturel Alain-Grandbois will finally open its doors.
    The Ciné-centre is a cinematic interpretation centre that promotes culture. In addition to providing a meeting place for people who work in the film industry and the general public, the centre also highlights Saint-Casimir's heritage by giving new life to the old cultural centre that was built in 1947.
    Since environmental protection is also part of the centre's mission, it will host the ninth edition of the Portneuf environmental film festival, the first francophone festival of its kind.
    The centre's name pays tribute to Alain Grandbois, the great poet and writer from Saint-Casimir. Considered Quebec's first true modern poet, Alain Grandbois sparked our imaginations with his tales of travel and discovery of the world's hidden secrets.
    Congratulations to Léo Denis Carpentier and his team for their work on this outstanding project. I wish the Ciné-centre culturel Alain-Grandbois great success and I hope to see you at the Portneuf environmental film festival in April.

  (1410)  

[English]

Japan

    Mr. Speaker, it has been one year since the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Japan. Canadians remember and honour the memory of the thousands of people who perished due to the devastating events of that fateful day.
    During this solemn time, our hearts go out to the families whose lives have been changed forever. We think of the children who lost their parents, the parents who lost their children and the seniors who lost their families who were to follow them. As Canadians, we admire the amazing resilience of the Japanese people in the face of such devastation. The people of Japan are an inspiration to us all.
    The Japanese continue to rebuild their lives and their communities. Canada responded quickly in the aftermath of these disasters. We will continue to support the rebuilding efforts of the Japanese people. Japan and its people are our friends, our partners and our neighbours. On behalf of all Canadians, our thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese and their families in this difficult time.

[Translation]

City of LaSalle

    Mr. Speaker, this year, LaSalle will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, it owes its name to René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, born in 1643 in Normandy. He settled in the region that was later called Lachine—meaning China—because of the great explorer's ambition to find the route to Asia.

[English]

    Just like its illustrious namesake, it was builders and labourers who founded LaSalle in 1912. These women and men had that same energy and determination which gave rise to the industrial boom of the Island of Montreal.

[Translation]

    Settlers named Bergevin and Newman were followed by others named Caruso, Singh and Wong. Newcomers from Italy, Nigeria, Pakistan, Cameroon and many places in between have found LaSalle to be a vibrant, welcoming and respectful community where they can work and live together. I am looking forward to taking part in the festivities to commemorate the centenary of LaSalle and to celebrate the rich heritage of this forward-looking community.

[English]

Nigeria

    Mr. Speaker, on Sunday, March 11, 2012, a suicide attack outside a Roman Catholic church in Jos killed several people, sparking panic and clashes. This violence follows another attack on a church in Jos on February 26 for which Boko Haram claimed responsibility.
    Canada condemns unequivocally these latest cowardly attacks in Nigeria. The victims were targeted because of their religion. Canada sees religious freedom as a fundamental human right. We must not let terrorists undermine it or set religious communities against one another.

[Translation]

    On behalf of all Canadians, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims. We wish a speedy recovery to those who are suffering due to this senseless violence. The Canadian High Commission in Nigeria is working actively with Nigerians to restore peace, especially in Jos. We strongly support the people and the government of Nigeria in their efforts to fight terrorism, and to reinforce stability and unity against this scourge.

Town of Mount Royal

    Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to commemorate the centenary of the Town of Mount Royal.

[English]

    First conceived as a model city initiative of the Canadian Northern Railway, it is now home to a diverse and dynamic community, rich in history, culture, tradition and sports.

[Translation]

    Indeed, this model city was designated a Canadian national historic site in 2008 because it is a “remarkable synthesis of urban renewal movements of the early 20th century.”

[English]

    Today, the Town of Mount Royal is a veritable green oasis, with 20,000 trees for 20,000 residents and an exceptional quality of life. A series of celebratory events is planned through the hard work and dedication of the Centennial Celebration Society.

  (1415)  

[Translation]

     On this memorable occasion, I would like to commend the mayor, Philippe Roy, the municipal counsellors, volunteers and residents of Mount Royal.

[English]

    Here is to the next 100 years.

41st General Election

    Mr. Speaker, last week the Liberal interim leader denied the Liberals have the ability to conduct centralized calling. That is a shocking statement, because the Liberals have been using their U.S.-source Liberalist for exactly that purpose, including during the last election. We know that the opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the last election.
    We have also heard the shocking revelations that voters in Guelph were targeted by deceptive robocalls from the member for Guelph's campaign. Interestingly enough, Liberalist.ca shows that the Liberals were training their campaign workers to use robocalls on the afternoon of April 30, just hours before a Liberal campaign worker sent illegal, anonymous messages to voters using an assumed name, from a bogus phone number.
    Why is the Liberal leader trying to cover up the existence of Liberalist? What kind of dirty tricks are the Liberals teaching their volunteers?

[Translation]

41st General Election

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are so rude. The rogue Conservative who organized the fraudulent calls in Guelph hid behind a rather pathetic alias: Pierre Poutine from Separatist Street. Using that particular street name demonstrates just how much contempt and prejudice the Conservatives feel towards Quebeckers.
    The Conservative fraudster needed a false Quebec identity and that was the best he could come up with. How disrespectful. This name, Pierre Poutine, perfectly illustrates all the scorn this government feels towards Quebec. It is unfortunate that Conservative members from Quebec are content to just read their little note cards word for word, because it would have been a good opportunity for them to stand up for us. Quebeckers already know that this government does not share their values. Now, with this Pierre Poutine business, they also know that it is playing tricks behind their backs and laughing at Quebec.

[English]

41st General Election

    Mr. Speaker, on April 30, 2011, the Liberal Party's national campaign held a secret training session for Liberal campaign workers to teach them how to use robocalls. Hours later, the phones in Guelph were ringing off the hook with a Liberal dirty trick. Someone was calling residents with an anonymous and misleading message from a fictional character named Laurie MacDonald. These were fake Liberal calls from a fake phone number from a fake Liberal volunteer using a fake name.
    The member for Guelph has admitted that he paid for these illegal and unethical phone calls to fight the NDP surge. If these calls were simply an “oversight”, why did he wait until he was about to get caught to come forward? It just does not add up.
    We know the opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the last election. How many other Canadian households did it target with this illegal campaign?

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[Translation]

41st General Election

    Mr. Speaker, today we learned that a Conservative will finally be blamed for the fraudulent calls in Guelph. Yet last week the Minister of National Defence said that the guilty party had been found. I have to say that this whole affair is very strange.
    Can the government tell us who the new scapegoat is in this Conservative scandal?
    Mr. Speaker, we have learned a lot today. According to CRTC rules, part IV, section 4(d), “...telecommunications shall begin with a clear message identifying the person on whose behalf the telecommunication is made. This identification message shall include a mailing address and a local or toll-free telecommunications number...”.
    The Liberal member for Guelph admitted to using fake names and numbers for his robocalls. He broke the law. He should stand up in the House, apologize and answer questions about his actions.
    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' arrogance is truly astounding. They will not take responsibility for anything.
    Canadians want the Prime Minister to take this fraud seriously. People want to know who is behind this, which Conservative strategists are involved.
    If the Prime Minister has nothing to hide, then he should order a public inquiry. Let us clean up politics. Let us clean house. That is what people want.

  (1420)  

    Mr. Speaker, we support Elections Canada's efforts to find out what really happened in the riding of Guelph. What we do know is that the Liberal member for Guelph has admitted to making illegal calls and breaking the law.
    Now we want to know what the Liberal leader and the Liberal Party knew about it. Those calls were dirty, illegal and Liberal.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the President of the Treasury Board said that he wanted to change the culture of Ottawa. Changing the culture, like replacing Liberal scandals with Conservative scandals, a culture where people can rig elections, a culture where the Prime Minister does not answer questions, a culture with no accountability and no transparency, and a culture of denial and partisan attacks.
    If the Prime Minister wanted to change the culture, he must take responsibility. Will he?
    Mr. Speaker, last week, the Liberal leader indicated that suggestions being brought forward by myself and this party were, indeed, wacko. Unfortunately, they have proven to be absolutely true because we now know that the member for Guelph paid for illegal robocalls that concealed the fact that the calls came from his Liberal campaign. The Liberals used a bogus number and a fictitious character. They broke the CRTC regulations. They broke Elections Canada laws. They have acted in a fashion that is disgraceful, deceptive and dishonest.
    Mr. Speaker, Canadians want answers to the ever-widening pattern of voter suppression that happened under the Conservatives. Now we understand today that a Conservative will be coming forward to admit responsibility for his or her role in the voter fraud in Guelph. That is a good start, but who paid for those calls? Who provided the scripts and why are they the same scripts that are being used in other ridings? Is there something else the government would like to tell us about its role in this before it comes to a public inquiry?
    Mr. Speaker, Elections Canada is the agency that is charged to deal with this.
    However, what we have learned, and this is what the Liberal leader must respond to, is that the Liberal leader provided training sessions for Liberal members at one o'clock on Saturday, April 30. They trained them on Liberal robocalls. What the Liberal member for Guelph then did is conduct a phony robocall that broke the CRTC's regulations and broke the Elections Canada Act laws. Indeed, the Liberals have acted in a fashion that is disgraceful, deceptive and dishonest, and I will say it outside.
    Mr. Speaker, the issue here is not the incompetence of the Liberals with their campaign. It is about voter fraud that happened under the Conservatives.
    Now we have a Conservative who is coming forth and the government pretends that he acted alone. Who paid for those scripts? Who gave him the money to make those calls? Why did he have access to the national Conservative database? Do the Conservatives really think that Canadians will believe that the guy who named himself after cheese curds and gravy is behind this as though he is some kind of robofraud equivalent of Dr. Evil? When will the Conservatives come clean with their involvement in this coordinated campaign of voter harassment?
    Mr. Speaker, once again, it is the unsubstantiated smear campaign of the NDP.
    What we know and what we have evidence of is that at five o'clock on Saturday, April 30, in the riding of Guelph, the Liberal member for Guelph placed an illegal robocall. These deceptive robocalls used a phony number, a phony person and they attacked and suppressed votes in Guelph. That was the real intent behind them.
    The Liberal candidate and the Liberal Party has acted in a fashion that is deceptive, disgraceful and dishonest.
    Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member is so certain about his phony allegations, perhaps he would agree with me that the time has now come for a royal commission into what happened in the last election and what happened in previous elections to ensure that it never happens again.
    I can assure the hon. member that nobody on this side has anything to fear from a royal commission. We ask for it, we demand it and the people of Canada require it. Is it willing to do it?
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

  (1425)  

    Order, please. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.
    Or, Mr. Speaker, we could just go to liberalist.ca and we could observe on page 105 where it advises the Liberals that they should pick a caller ID for the robocall, that it must be a land line and should be a phone number that recipients can call to contact their team about the robocall.
    However, that is not what the member for Guelph did. In fact, the member for Guelph used a completely bogus phone number with an exchange that does not exist.
    The Liberal Party has acted in a disgraceful, deceptive and dishonest fashion. We know it made hundreds of thousands of these calls because the Liberal Party paid millions of dollars for these calls to be made right across the country.
    Mr. Speaker, Elections Canada is fully aware of that voice drop. This was an issue-based call that could have easily been tracked back to our service provider. It was totally different from the fraudulent calls that came from Pierre Poutine on election day. It was included in my financial return and I disclosed it to Elections Canada. I have been fully open and co-operative with Elections Canada.
    On the other hand, the deputy campaign manager in Guelph is running and hiding from Elections Canada. When will the Conservatives finally start co-operating with the election fraud investigation?
    Mr. Speaker, it is not uncommon, when confronted by substantiated evidence, where folks will in fact confess when they have broken the law. That is what the member has done. He has confessed to the fact that he has broken the Elections Canada Act and broken CRTC regulations.
    For the last number of weeks, that member has conducted an unsubstantiated smear campaign against this party and this Prime Minister but not once did he breathe a word to this House that he had conducted those illegal calls.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, we believe, as I am sure the New Democrats do too, that Canadians want a public inquiry, a royal commission. That is what we want. That is what we demand.
    Is the government willing to create a royal commission? Clearly, Canadians want a public inquiry, a royal commission to get to the bottom of all of this.
    Mr. Speaker, let us consider for a moment the hon. leader of the Liberal Party's audacity. Over the past few weeks, members of the Liberal Party have been rising in the House to conduct a smear campaign against our party, knowing full well that the Liberal Party and its members made illegal calls to voters in the riding of Guelph.
    The leader of the Liberal Party should rise and apologize to all Canadians for his party's unlawful behaviour.
    Mr. Speaker, in 2006, the Conservatives were caught red-handed conducting an in and out scheme. They recently decided not to appeal because they are guilty of violating the Canada Elections Act. And yet, during the last election campaign, we once again saw mystery cheques for $15,000 being given to RMG in a number of ridings across the country. Some candidates admitted that they paid $15,000 and did not receive any services in return.
    This is the 10th anniversary of the Liberal sponsorship scandal, and clearly nothing has changed in Ottawa.
    When will the Conservatives change the legislation to give Elections Canada more power?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is right in saying that the Liberal Party has not changed since the sponsorship scandal.
    The problem is not a loophole in the legislation. The legislation is here. I have it in my hands. The problem is that the Liberal Party refuses to obey the law. The Liberal Party is breaking the law.
    I am therefore calling upon the Liberal Party to rise and explain why it hid the fact that it broke the law during the election.

  (1430)  

    Mr. Speaker, in reality, we simply traded Liberal scandals for Conservative ones. It is the same old same old.
    Let us talk about the facts and the connections that the Conservatives do not want to hear about. First, we know that a plan was put in place to interfere with the voting process. Second, we know that the person or persons responsible are connected to the Conservative Party. Third, we know that Elections Canada's investigation extends much further than the riding of Guelph.
    If the Conservatives are not afraid of getting to the bottom of this matter, will they change the legislation to give Elections Canada more power and will they hold a public inquiry?
    Mr. Speaker, the opposition told us that our allegations were completely ridiculous when we said that the Liberals had paid millions of dollars to make hundreds of thousands of calls and that some of the calls that may have resulted in complaints were made by the Liberal Party.
    However, we now know that the hon. member for Guelph, a Liberal, broke the law. He has since admitted to doing so. So what we have been saying from the beginning is completely true. The Liberals should rise in the House and explain their unlawful behaviour.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians know there were dirty tricks on the last campaign and they want an inquiry. What are the Conservatives hiding?
    Elections Canada is now asking for the age of those who received the fraudulent calls and evidence suggests that an overwhelming number of those targeted were seniors. We are talking about seniors who are vulnerable to being misled and who were first identified as not supporting the Conservatives.
     How can the Conservatives be so underhanded that they would attempt to trick seniors out of their right to vote? Why did they target seniors?
    Mr. Speaker, this party and the Prime Minister enjoy fantastic support from seniors right across the country because they know this party has stood up for them.
     We know there were deceptive calls made in the last campaign. We know it for a fact because we gathered evidence on it. However, the member for Guelph, for the last number of weeks, has taken part in this opposition unsubstantiated smear campaign. He has done so knowing full well the entire time that his campaign ran these illegal robocalls into the riding of Guelph, but he never indicated it to the House. He has acted in a fashion that is disgraceful, deceptive and dishonest.
    Mr. Speaker, that is a pox on both their houses.
     What we are seeing is evidence of a coordinated nationwide campaign to target the most vulnerable voters. Of course, the Conservatives have been going after seniors for a long time. First, they want to raise the OAS and take away seniors' right to retire in dignity. Now they want to take away their right to vote.
     Conservatives will stop at nothing to get what they want. Canadian seniors are paying the price. Why are the Conservatives targeting seniors?
    Mr. Speaker, when we brought in budgets that increased the age credit, not once but twice, the NDP voted against it. When we brought in legislation to increase OAS, the NDP voted against it. When we brought in legislation to introduce pension income splitting, the NDP voted against it. We have no apologies to make with respect to what the NDP has done with seniors.
    However, what we can also say very clearly is that the opposition, the NDP and Liberals, has taken part in an unsubstantiated smear campaign for these past two weeks. We know now that the liberal member for Guelph conducted illegal robocalls into his riding. He acted in a fashion that is deceptive, disgraceful and dishonest.

Elections Canada

    Mr. Speaker, given the government has formally and finally indicated its intent to support our motion and the amendment to clean up elections and increase the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to demand documents from parties in future and past elections, now it is time for the government to put its money where its mouth is.
    Will the government give a clear, unambiguous commitment today that after tonight's vote, when it honours its commitment to support our motion, it will indeed honour that vote and bring in the legislation within the six months specified in the motion, yes or no?

  (1435)  

    Mr. Speaker, the government has been clear. We support the motion that was before the House last week. The Conservative Party is assisting Elections Canada with its work.
    However, the fact remains that the opposition paid millions of dollars for hundreds of thousands of phone calls that it made in the last election, including the Liberal member for Guelph, who has finally admitted that he paid for illegal robocalls, concealing the fact that they came from the Liberal campaign.
    Canadians need to know how many other illegal phone calls were paid by the Liberals in the last election.

[Translation]

Government Appointments

    Mr. Speaker, Alain Sans Cartier, Mario Dumont's former chief of staff, has been given a plum patronage appointment at Canada Post. Howard Bruce, who ran three times for the Conservatives, was made a member of the National Parole Board. As for Bernard Généreux, he was appointed to the board of directors of the Quebec Port Authority.
    The Conservatives treat the boards of directors of transportation agencies as though they were their playthings. When will they stop making patronage appointments?
    Mr. Speaker, it is rather interesting that the member did not mention the qualifications of the people appointed to the boards of directors. These people have all the administrative qualifications needed to sit on boards of directors. They will make good administrative decisions for these boards. Jacques Tanguay, who resigned from the board of directors of the Quebec Port Authority, had never before worked in the ports industry and did an excellent job. These people are very competent and will continue to do a good job.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the line at the patronage trough keeps getting longer. Last Friday, Jennifer Clarke, a failed Conservative candidate, was appointed to the Prince Rupert Port Authority. Generous donor Andrew Paterson got the job at the Canada Post Corporation. The Quebec Port Authority got stuck with another failed Conservative candidate. The riding president for the finance minister was dropped on the Oshawa port.
    Why will the Conservatives not work on a real jobs plan instead of rewarding their insider friends?
    Mr. Speaker, I think that over 600,000 jobs created in our country is a very good plan. All appointees are great Canadians who have the skills and experience necessary to ensure that Canada does not trail in this global economy, and the economy is still our main goal.

Air Canada

    Mr. Speaker, we can see that the Conservatives are not working for Canadians.
    Once again, the Conservatives are threatening to introduce a bill to force Air Canada back to work in the event of a strike or a lockout. The government must respect the right of employees to collective bargaining.
    Why are the Conservatives attacking this fundamental Canadian right? When are they going to stop interfering in labour disputes?
    Mr. Speaker, disruption at Air Canada will damage Canada's fragile economy that is recovering and it would have an immediate effect on those hundreds of thousands of passengers and, indeed, a million passengers in the next week who are flying Air Canada as a result of the March breaks across the country.
    We have been following the negotiations closely. Unfortunately, despite hard bargaining, the parties have failed to reach an agreement. That is why today our government will take further action to protect the travelling public. We will table legislation to sustain its services for Canadian families and businesses.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, this does not respect the rights of workers.
    The Conservatives must respect the right to collective bargaining that Air Canada workers and other Canadians enjoy. Why are the Conservatives ignoring that right?
    The Conservatives cannot choose winners and losers. Will this government do the right thing and urge both parties to negotiate in good faith? Can the Conservatives promise us that they will not intervene in the dispute?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, our government has made ample opportunity and availability for conciliation and mediating services, and indeed extraordinary means too, appointing conciliators from the outside in each of these disputes to try to help the parties get to a deal, but they simple have not done so.
    We are faced right now with a strike and a lockout at Air Canada, which is an incredibly important piece of our economy and incredibly important to the travelling public.
    I feel much more strongly introducing this action and having the Canadian public feel certain and know what is going on, rather than taking the position of the opposition members just letting matters happen as they may and wishing for good luck.

  (1440)  

41st General Election

    Mr. Speaker, this is not about robocalls. This is about election fraud.
    In my riding, Susan Lapell was called by a real person, claiming to represent a Conservative candidate. Not only was she given the wrong polling station, but after Ms. Lapell corrected him, she was told that she could vote twice, once in her regular polling station and again at the other one.
    When will the Prime Minister take responsibility for his horrible example of election fraud?
    The Liberal member for Guelph paid for illegal robocalls that concealed the fact that the calls came from the Liberal campaign. He did so in a deliberate fashion.
    We know that members of the Liberal Party and the NDP have spent millions of dollars to make hundreds of thousands of calls. We need to know how many other illegal calls were paid for by the Liberal Party. The Liberals should provide all of that information to Elections Canada right now.
    As I said, the Liberal Party and the Liberal leader have acted in a fashion that is disgraceful—
    Order, please. The hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's.
    Mr. Speaker, a government's number one priority is to ensure the integrity of our democratic system, and that includes election financing.
    Three Conservative members of the Vaughan riding association have sworn affidavits that there was a second and third bank account containing hundreds of thousands of dollars used to fund other Conservative candidates, which is in contravention to the rules.
    What is the government doing to ensure Elections Canada investigates these serious allegations?
    Mr. Speaker, all of the allegations made by the hon. member are entirely false. The activities of the Vaughan riding association and those of the member for Vaughan in this campaign have complied fully with elections laws. That is my first point.
    My second point would be that I really fail to see what this has to do with the administration of government business.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, in many ridings, including Eglinton—Lawrence, Etobicoke Centre, York Centre and Nipissing, hundreds if not thousands of people voted without being on the voters list and without presenting valid proof of residence.
    The Conservatives are blaming Elections Canada and saying that Elections Canada is ultimately at fault for not being able to prevent Conservative organizers from engaging in such hijinks.
    What will the government do to protect the integrity of Canadian democracy and ensure that no one stuffed the ballot boxes?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member very well knows that voter registration is the responsibility of Elections Canada, not political parties, and any specific complaints arising from a specific riding can be directed to Elections Canada.

[Translation]

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, with great secrecy and without explanation, the Conservatives are about to announce major reductions in support staff on military bases. Approximately 700 jobs are slated to be eliminated. Families throughout Canada are concerned for their future.
     Can the Minister clarify whether or not he intends to get rid of support staff on Canada's military bases?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, secrecy? Speculation? It is called a budget, and leaked documents and speculation about what will be in the budget are not helpful to the military, the public service, or anyone else.
    I am very proud of the fact that our government has made historic investments in the Canadian Forces, over a billion dollars annually. We have invested in infrastructure, personnel, equipment, and in readiness. Guess what? On each and every occasion, the member opposite and his party voted against those investments.
    Mr. Speaker, understandably, military communities across the country are worried about these looming job cuts. Military bases are crucial to the local economy and are often the largest employer in the region. We have been raising this issue for a long time but cannot seem to get a straight answer from the government. Today, so far, is no exception. However, I am ever hopeful.
    Will the government finally reassure military communities that it will not cut the jobs of support staff for our troops?

  (1445)  

    Mr. Speaker, what I will do is ensure that the member opposite and all members know that we will continue to make investments in the Canadian Forces, as we have been since taking office. Unfortunately, what we can expect from the member opposite, as we have seen throughout his time and his party's time here, are continued votes against every investment we make in the Canadian Forces, whether it be for equipment, whether it be for new bases and infrastructure, whether it be for every means possible to aid and assist our brave men and women in uniform. That is what the member opposite has done. That is what his party has consistently done.
    Mr. Speaker, a curious thing happened in Washington 10 days ago. The minister came out of his emergency meeting with the same talking points and a renewed commitment to the F-35. The Americans came out of the very same meeting with confirmation that the price of the F-35 was going up, again.
    Did the Americans share this news with the minister, or keep him in the dark? If he was advised of the price jump, why is he not telling Canadians? What is the price of the F-35?
    Mr. Speaker, the Royal Canadian Air Force plays an important role in protecting our sovereignty and defending our interests at home and abroad. Canada's CF-18s are nearing the end of their usable lives. A contract has not been signed for replacement aircraft, and we have set a budget for replacement aircraft and have been clear that we will operate within that budget. We will make sure that our air force has aircraft necessary to do the job we ask of it, regardless of what the member opposite thinks.

Search and Rescue

    Mr. Speaker, while the Conservatives are spinning their wheels on the F-35, too little is being done about search and rescue. It is three years to the day since the terrible helicopter crash that killed 17 people in the Newfoundland offshore. We know the dangers but the government still does not get it on search and rescue. It has delayed the purchase of search and rescue planes yet again. There is no progress on response times, we have inadequate search and rescue in the north and not enough helicopters to get the job done.
    When will the Conservatives finally make search and rescue a real priority in the country?
    Mr. Speaker, search and rescue of course is a huge priority for this government, and for all governments. We have 18 million square kilometres of territory to cover. We have made investments. We continue to do so. We made improvements to the protocol recently in response to the tragic incident in Makkovik. We continue to work with all levels of government, as ground search and rescue responsibility rests with provinces and territories. We continue to do all we can to support our SAR techs, who are true heroes, each and every day as they carry out their important duties around this massive country of ours.

Justice

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians are rightly concerned about crime. Canadians are constantly demanding from government a justice system that will keep them safe in their streets and communities. Victims of crime need to know that the justice system is there for them when they need it.
    Since it was first elected in 2006, the government has been steadfast in its commitment to strengthen Canada's justice system. The safe streets and communities act will crack down on child pornographers, drug dealers, and car thieves. It will ensure that those who commit serious offences receive appropriate sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes.
    Could the justice minister please update the House on the status of the safe streets and communities act?
    Mr. Speaker, I am happy to report that despite the usual obstruction and delays by the opposition, the final vote for the safe streets and communities act will take place tonight.
    We promised Canadians that we would pass this legislation within the first hundred days of sitting, and that vote is going to take place tonight. We are keeping that promise.
    I know the opposition would rather shut down the House, but given that victims' groups, law enforcement agencies, and 6 out of 10 Canadians support these measures, the opposition should welcome this final opportunity to get on board and crack down on violent crime in our country.

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, the federal crown has a legal duty to consult aboriginal peoples and to consider and accommodate any potential impacts of project activities on their rights and title. As early as 2010, officials warned that the northern gateway project to ship raw bitumen could be at risk if the government did not properly consult and assist aboriginal peoples.
    Will the government finally respond to the demands by first nations and Métis for direct consultation on the risks that this project poses to their lands, waters and peoples?
    Mr. Speaker, we take our obligations on the duty to consult very seriously. The northern gateway project is under environmental assessment and environmental review. A part of that review involves aboriginal consultation. That is exactly what this government is committed to and we shall fulfill that duty.

  (1450)  

    Indeed, Mr. Speaker, the government was also warned several years ago that failure to sufficiently fund first nations' participation could invalidate the pipeline review process. Yet according to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the government has committed less than a quarter of the funds needed. Contrary to what the government claims, it is not foreign interests that could undermine the NEB process but the refusal to recognize the rights and interests of aboriginal peoples.
    Will the government commit today to finance full and fair aboriginal participation?
    Mr. Speaker, what I can say is that we are funding aboriginal participation in order to fulfill our duty to consult. One can always argue about dollars. The commitment has meant that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent over the last few months and the total commitment is in the millions of dollars.

[Translation]

Health

     Mr. Speaker, the shutdown in production at the Sandoz plant has plunged the entire country into a serious crisis, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. The whole drug supply system has been shaken. There is an increasing number of shortages. There has even been a shortage in chemotherapy drugs since the fall. Our patients are being deprived of vital treatments. Putting a band-aid on the wound and blaming others is clearly not effective.
    When will there be a real strategy to avoid fresh drug shortages?
    Mr. Speaker, if you read between the lines, it is clear that the NDP does not understand provincial areas of jurisdiction and wants to encroach on these areas.
    This shortage is a result of provincial decisions to have sole source agreements. They sign these agreements, not us.
    The Minister of Health is taking steps to help the provinces with this issue. Health Canada is going to assist the provinces and territories to identify alternative companies and fast-track the approval process.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this crisis is getting worse every day and the government's finger pointing is cold comfort to the patients who are paying the price.
    Mr. Speaker, you agreed to a debate tonight because you know this is an emergency. Why is the government still in denial? The fact is Canadians are going to have to wait longer and longer for important surgeries and procedures. Instead of empty words, the government needs to take responsibility for anticipating, identifying and managing the shortages of medically essential drugs.
    Will the Conservatives stop blaming others and take leadership in solving this crisis?
    Mr. Speaker, we are taking leadership, but I think the NDP members need to talk with one another, as they do not seem to be on the same page. As a matter of fact, at the health committee last week the NDP member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord filibustered and prevented the committee members from voting on a motion to look at this issue. Perhaps the hon. member opposite could discuss how we as parliamentarians are taking the issue very seriously and suggest that her colleague vote with us next time.

Search and Rescue

    Mr. Speaker, the minister from Labrador held a meeting to explain the new protocol for search and rescue and basically said, “There is no need to call us; we'll call you”. However, is that really enough? If we look at the situation, another important question is, why would the rescue centre send orders to helicopters in Goose Bay to do the job when they are not able to fly for mechanical reasons? Bad weather or not, why send out helicopters that just do not work?
    Will the minister from Labrador rise in the House and agree that this situation also needs to be looked at?
    Mr. Speaker, deliberately or otherwise, the member is confusing the issue. The issue is not, “Come if you can”. The issue is how the Canadian Forces respond to a ground search and rescue request. Weather is a factor, of course, as is availability.
    The reality is that we are constantly in a state of deciding where the optimal location is for the Canadian Forces' assets. We are constantly improving. Just last week we had communications between the Canadian Forces and other territory and provincial responsibilities. We will continue to update those efforts constantly.

  (1455)  

Service Canada

    Mr. Speaker, with cuts to search and rescue, the decommissioning of CFB Goose Bay, the failure to secure a Churchill Falls loan guarantee, and cuts to federal jobs, the member for Labrador has been mum on it all. The one and only commitment made by the regional Minister for Newfoundland and Labrador to the people of our province is the promise that seven Service Canada employees working out of Goose Bay will continue to work for Service Canada in Goose Bay even after the office is no longer engaged in processing EI applications.
    Can the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs highlight for the House what specifically those seven Service Canada employees will be doing in Goose Bay after EI processing is terminated there?
    Mr. Speaker, as explained before, we are in the process of modernizing and automating the EI system to serve Canadians better. There will be a—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order. The hon. Minister of Human Resources has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, there will be a consolidation. Right now we have over 120 centres where backroom processing operations are done. We are going to be consolidating those down to 22, because that will be more efficient, more effective and more responsive to the needs of Canadians.

Foreign Investment

    Mr. Speaker, foreign takeovers of our strategic industries should only be allowed if it can be clearly demonstrated that these are in the best interests of Canadians. I cannot imagine any upside to losing our domestic control over grain production and grain marketing.
    Will the government commit to doing a full review and undertaking regarding the takeover of Viterra by Glencore Xstrata? Will it agree to intervene if it cannot be clearly demonstrated that this is in the best interests of grain producers and the general public for their food security and their domestic control over our food supply?
    Mr. Speaker, unlike the opposition, our government understands the importance of attracting foreign investment to our economy. Foreign investment helps Canadian companies to grow and innovate, and provides new opportunities to connect our firms to the world. Our government will continue to welcome investments that benefit Canada.

Employment

    Mr. Speaker, on foreign investment and in so many other ways we just cannot trust the government. For instance, 3,000 families lost a breadwinner last month, 15% of young Canadians are now unemployed, nearly 40,000 Canadians gave up looking for work last month, and it has been 10 days since the Minister of Finance stood up to answer a question in the House of Commons.
    Last weekend we had ministers bragging about cuts in the Conservative budget that will put many more Canadians out of work. Maybe that is why the Minister of Finance is refusing to answer. Why will he not answer for his policies? Why will he not speak? Why will he not explain the job losses to Canadian families?
    Mr. Speaker, if there is any explaining to be done in the House it would be by the NDP and that member for voting against every initiative that we have put forward to help Canadians, initiatives that have actually helped over 610,000 Canadians since July 2009. That is an important policy we put forward.
    We are actually working on a budget. I am not sure they understand the issues around a budget, but we are working on a budget and it will once again focus on jobs and the economy.

International Co-operation

    Mr. Speaker, people around the world are worrying about the Assad regime's increasing use of violence against the Syrian people. Thousands of victims are being displaced from their homes and are in desperate need of emergency medical care, food and shelter. As this conflict continues to escalate, so does the need for humanitarian assistance.
    Can the Minister of International Cooperation update the House as to our government's response to the humanitarian needs in Syria?
    Mr. Speaker, we remain very concerned about the thousands affected and call for immediate safe and unhindered humanitarian access. Humanitarian groups, however, are now able to provide aid sporadically and under insecure and dangerous conditions in Syria. Today I am announcing that Canada will support their brave efforts so that victims can receive the needed food, medical help and other assistance they require.

Intergovernmental Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, I will recap question period for the minister responsible for Newfoundland and Labrador and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
    Questions on intergovernmental affairs files: no answers. Questions on search and rescue in Newfoundland and Labrador: no answers. Questions on standing up for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador: no answers.
    I say to the regional minister from Newfoundland and Labrador, and I see him at the end of the House acknowledging my question, here is an easy one: What exactly do you do here?

  (1500)  

    I would remind the member for Avalon to address his questions to the Chair and not directly to his colleagues.
    The hon. Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
    Mr. Speaker, I was asked what I do. My answer is that I represent the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in the best way that I know how.
    I will say one more thing. I invited Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to join me to represent Newfoundland and Labrador on this side of the House during the election, but you chose not to.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order. Hon. members should address their answers to the Chair and not directly to their colleagues.
    The hon. member for Hochelaga.

[Translation]

Homelessness

    Mr. Speaker, two Hochelaga organizations that deal with drug and homelessness problems have been waiting for months for financial assistance from the federal government. The work done by CAP Saint-Barnabé and Dopamine is crucial in the fight to eliminate drug use and drug-related prostitution and to help the homeless get off the streets. They need money and it is urgent. The situation in my riding is explosive. Yet the government is twiddling its thumbs. Funding applications have been submitted and are on the minister's desk. What is the minister waiting for and why does she refuse to take action?
    Mr. Speaker, in funding organizations that combat homelessness, we are determined to make the best possible use of taxpayers’ money. However, there are often more applications than there is money. No organization has a monopoly on funding. Organizations always have the option of making another application.

[English]

Air Canada

    Mr. Speaker, last week the Minister of Labour asked the CIRB to carefully examine whether a work stoppage at Air Canada would have a negative effect on the health and safety of Canadians.
    This being the beginning of March break, over one million passengers, hard-working Canadians and their families, could be affected by a labour stoppage. Labour stability in the air transportation sector is critical for the Canadian economy, the economic recovery, and the confidence of the average Canadian traveller.
    Could the Minister of Labour give this House an update on the status of labour negotiations with Air Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said before, the government is very concerned that a disruption at Air Canada will damage Canada's fragile economic recovery. We have been closely following the negotiations and despite the hard bargaining over the past few weeks, it has not elicited a collective agreement. That is why today our government will take that further action to protect the travelling public, the Canadian economy and the public interest by introducing legislation to sustain air services for Canadian families and businesses. We will take the swift action that is needed to ensure that Canada's economic recovery is not negatively affected.

[Translation]

Air Transportation

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Transport is flip-flopping on the Neuville airport file. A few months ago, he said that it was a matter of provincial jurisdiction and that the federal government had nothing to do with it. Last week, he changed his tune. Four ministers in the Quebec National Assembly sent him a letter to express their concerns regarding the project, and the Minister of Transport told us that it is in fact a matter of exclusively federal jurisdiction. There is a flagrant lack of consistency here.
    If he really takes this project seriously, why is he ignoring Quebec's concerns and refusing to consult the municipality and the people who oppose the plans for this airport?
    Mr. Speaker, I think the complexity of this issue is completely beyond the member's grasp. It is a very serious issue, and Supreme Court rulings have defined the jurisdictions and the approach in this area. No one is talking about an agreement signed between the municipality of Neuville and the developer. It was signed by mutual agreement. I was not the one who signed it. We have a protocol signed by the mayor and the developers. How does she explain the fact that no one is saying that?

  (1505)  

The Budget

    Mr. Speaker, first we had Davos, where the Prime Minister thought it was a good idea to reveal his government's priorities to our international partners before informing us here in the House or telling Canadians. Now, this past weekend, certain ministers treated some Conservative supporters to excerpts from the federal budget, which is not supposed to be presented until March 29. Such privileged information could be considered an unfair advantage, similar to insider trading.
    Will it take an RCMP investigation, like the one conducted in 2005 on the leaks regarding the income trust policy, for the Conservatives to respect all voters and protect this privileged information?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I will assure the hon. member that no such thing has happened. We are in the process of working on the budget.
    My hon. colleague from the NDP very inappropriately pointed out that the Minister of Finance is not here with us today. I would ask him to stand in his place and apologize because we actually know what the finance minister is doing.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a point of order. In the past few days, I have been accused twice by Conservative members of filibustering at the Standing Committee on Health, last Thursday in particular. That is not true. It is not my fault if the chair of the Standing Committee on Health did a bad job of planning the 11 minutes provided for discussing the motion on—
    Order, please. This is not a point of order, but rather a matter of debate. If the member has something else to add, he may do so during the next question period.
    The hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, on a number of occasions the Minister of Transport has taken the liberty of stating that my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier is incapable of understanding an issue. Based on the number of evasive answers from those opposite, which might reflect an inability to understand an issue, we would—
    Order. That is not a valid point of order.

ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

[English]

Government Response to Petitions

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's responses to 13 petitions.

Protecting Air Service Act

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House

Procedure and House Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 16th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
    The committee advises that pursuant to Standing Order 91.1(2), the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business met to consider the items added to the order of precedence as a result of the replenishment on Thursday, February 16, 2012, and recommended that the items listed in the report which it has determined should not be designated non-votable be considered by the House.

  (1510)  

[Translation]

    Pursuant to Standing Order 91.1(2), this report is deemed concurred in.

    (Motion agreed to)

[English]

Justice and Human Rights  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).
    The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House with amendments.

International Trade  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on International Trade in relation to the study of the comprehensive economic trade agreement with the European Union.
    This agreement would allow us to capitalize on a population of 500 million, a third of the world's GDP. This would be the most comprehensive free trade agreement, if passed, in both of our respective jurisdictions. It is much more comprehensive than NAFTA. A witness told committee that this agreement would add $1,000 per year to the average Canadian household.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.

Petitions

Abortion  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition from people from western Manitoba.
    The petitioners note that Canada is the only nation in the western world, in the company of China and North Korea, without any laws restricting abortion. Therefore, they call upon the House of Commons and Parliament to assemble and speedily enact legislation that restricts abortion to the greatest extent possible.

[Translation]

Seniors  

    Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present.
    The first petition is signed by 99 people from my riding of Acadie—Bathurst, who are asking the government to maintain funding for old age security and to make the necessary investments to enhance GIS benefits to lift every senior out of poverty.

Public Services  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition comes to us from people in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec. I am pleased to present a petition containing over 4,575 names calling on the government to reverse plans to cut jobs and public services by $4 billion; to maintain and improve federal public services to all Canadians; and to reverse corporate tax cuts as a cost-effective way to reduce the deficit.
     The petitioners believe that public services are a major contributor to the security and prosperity of our families and communities. Cuts to services undermine our safety, our health and our environment and reduce families’ spending power, hurting the economy.

[English]

Multiple Sclerosis  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition to file today signed by a number of people across a broad swath of central Saskatchewan, including the great constituency of Regina—Qu'Appelle, who are expressing their concern about chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency.
     The petitioners call upon the Minister of Health to consult experts who have practical experience in dealing with CCSVI. They urge the minister to proceed with phase III clinical trials on an urgent basis. They also urge the minister to require follow-up of patients with Doppler ultrasound and clinical examinations in the period after their treatments, whether those treatments happen in Canada or abroad.
     This is one of a long series of petitions from the Saskatchewan people expressing concern about this very difficult condition because one of the highest incidents of MS and CCSVI in Canada occurs in the province of Saskatchewan.

Human Trafficking  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to present a number of petitions from people across Canada who are calling on our government to put forward a national action plan to combat human trafficking in our country. This was a national action plan that was announced during the last election. These people want to see that this is done.

Human Rights  

    Mr. Speaker, today I rise to present petitions on behalf of members of the greater Toronto area with respect to human rights in Sri Lanka.
     We know the United Nations had a panel of experts who studied the conditions of what happened during the last phase of the war. There were credible allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity took place on the island of Sri Lanka.
    The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to urge the United Nations to immediately establish an independent, international and impartial mechanism to ensure truth, accountability and justice in Sri Lanka.

  (1515)  

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition from the electors in Kingston and the Islands who call upon the Government of Canada to assume direct responsibility through Environment Canada for monitoring, in a long-term way, climate change in the Canadian Arctic and to make those data freely available to interested researchers.
    This is especially urgent now because we know there will be imminent termination of funding for year-round operations at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory and getting long-term data from measurements like that will be very important for understanding what will happen to the Arctic when climate change occurs. We know that the Arctic will be most affected and, if we want to have sovereignty over the Arctic, we should be understanding of what is happening up there.
    I believe the government would support this because the Minister of the Environment once stood up in question period and said, “Our government believes that what gets measured gets done.” I hope the government will commit to measuring the effects of climate change in the Arctic.

Abortion  

    Mr. Speaker, I have four petitions from the riding of Yellowhead.
     The petitioners recognize that the Supreme Court said that Parliament was responsible for enacting abortion legislation. They request that the House of Commons enacts legislation as fast as possible to restrict abortion to the greatest extent possible.

Telecommunications  

    Mr. Speaker, recently the Minister of Public Safety stood in his place and declared that those who do not agree with the government's lawful access legislation are standing with child pornographers.
    That is what the minister is saying to the people in my riding who signed this petition expressing their grave concerns over the Conservative government's online spying bill.
    Putting aside the minister's insult, not just to the people of my riding but to people right across the country who are concerned about the bill, the folks who signed this petition did so because they believe that the fundamental underpinnings of a democratic society is the protection of privacy—
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I understand that this is the time for petitions but it was my understanding, procedurally, that members were not supposed to speak for or against a petition. It is my understanding that the member has clearly taken a position on this, which is against the Standing Orders.
    I would encourage the hon. member for Davenport to provide a brief summary of the petitions that he is presenting. We could then accommodate more members who wish to present petitions.
    Mr. Speaker, the people of Davenport have grave concerns about the government's lawful access legislation, in particular the underpinnings of a democratic society or the protection of civil liberties and privacy.
     That is what the petitioners are concerned about and that is what I present, respectfully, to the House today.

Income Tax Act  

    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and present a petition on behalf of the people of South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.
    The petition states, in part, that one of the hallmarks of a stable and mature democracy is financial transparency and accountability, that the majority of Canadians believe that labour unions should be required to disclose how they spend their union dues, and that labour union financial transparency would allow Canadians to gauge the effectiveness and financial integrity and health of unions.
    The petitioners ask that the House pass the disclosure legislation as quickly as possible.

Bottled Water  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon to present two petitions.
    The first petition is on the subject of the use of bottled water in federal buildings and within the House of Commons. It comes from Canadians from coast to coast, from my riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands all the way to Ontario, and some from Quebec.
    This is an issue that many Canadians are concerned about, both from the point of view of solid waste, the tapping of aquifers and the ongoing question of undermining our public services in potable and very high-quality tap water in Canada.

  (1520)  

Aboriginal Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, my second petition today is signed by people from an even wider variety of Canadian locations, Calgary, Toronto, Guelph, Hamilton and Saturna Island within my own riding.
    The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to cease and desist from promoting the northern gateway pipeline and, relevant to an exchange earlier in question period between the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, calls on full, fair and proper consultations in respecting first nations' inherent rights.

Abortion  

    Mr. Speaker, I wish to present three petitions on behalf of my constituents of Okanagan—Shuswap.
    The 249 petitioners are calling upon Parliament to enact legislation to restrict abortion to the greatest extent possible.

Questions on the Order Paper

[Text]

Question No. 410--
Ms. Hélène Laverdière:
     With regard to the Office of Religious Freedom: (a) when did the government decide to establish an Office of Religious Freedom and at whose request; (b) what is the mandate and the objectives of this office; (c) what is the budget breakdown of the office for (i) staff, (ii) programs, (iii) operations; (d) what is the reporting structure of the office; (e) what will the office produce; (f) how many people will be employed in this office and what will be their level; (g) what are the hiring criteria and salary levels for each person employed in this office; (h) how will this office work differently from other sections of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) already working on human rights issues; (i) who was consulted regarding the creation of the office, (i) when did the consultations take place, (ii) what are the names and affiliations of those who were consulted; (j) what are the names, positions, and religious affiliations of the guests who attended consultations on a new Office of Religious Freedom in October 2011, (i) how many people from religions including, but not limited to, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Buddhism were invited to the meeting, (ii) how were the panellists and participants chosen for the meeting with Minister Baird, (iii) who made the final decisions on panellists and participants chosen for the meeting, (iv) what discussions were held at DFAIT about inviting Amnesty International and why was this organization not invited; and (k) who are the employees responsible for the development of the Office of Religious Freedom within (i) the PMO, (ii) the Foreign Affairs Minister’s Office, (iii) other Ministers’ offices, (iv) DFAIT, (v) other government departments?
Hon. John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
    Mr. Speaker, the promotion and protection of human rights is fundamental to Canada’s foreign policy, and the Government of Canada believes strongly in the ability of all people to be free to practise their religion of choice. Canadians enjoy the rights and privileges that come with living in a free and democratic society in which human rights are respected. The government is also keenly aware of the struggles that religious minorities face around the world. During the Speech from the Throne on June 3, 2011, and again at the United Nations General Assembly, the Government of Canada committed to creating an office of religious freedom.
    At this time, no formal announcement has been made and work is ongoing. It is expected that the office will focus on areas such as advocacy, analysis, policy development and programming related to protecting and advocating on behalf of religious minorities under threat; opposing religious hatred; and promoting Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad. The budget for the office will be $5 million per annum for the next 4 years. The government expects to have more to say about this important initiative shortly.

[English]

Questions Passed as Orders for Return

    Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 409 could be made an order for return, this return would also be tabled immediately.
    The Speaker: Is that agreed?
     Some hon. members: Agreed.

[Text]

Question No. 409--
Ms. Hélène Laverdière:
     With regard to Ben Ali family members living in Canada: (a) what are the names of Ben Ali family members currently residing in Canada and for each individual, what is (i) their immigration or refugee status, (ii) the nature of their assets; (b) what actions has the government taken to freeze the assets of Ben Ali family members, including the Trabelsi and El Materi families, (i) what are the names of people whose assets have been or will be frozen, (ii) for each person, what is the nature and value of their assets, (iii) on what date were the assets frozen, (iv) if these assets were not frozen, why not and by what date will they be frozen; (c) will the government send assets seized from Ben Ali family members to the government of Tunisia; (d) on what day was Belhassen Trabelsi granted permanent residency in Canada, (i) how did he achieve permanent residency, (ii) were there any inconsistencies in Trabelsi’s application for permanent residency, (iii) is the government currently investigating Trabelsi’s status as a permanent resident and, if so, what are the preliminary conclusions of this investigation; (e) will the government extradite or deport members of the Ben Ali family from Canada; (f) since January 2011, what correspondence has the government had with Tunisian authorities with regard to Ben Ali family members in Canada, (i) what is the date and nature of the correspondence, (ii) what are the names of Canadian governmental officials involved in said correspondence, (iii) what response has the government sent to Tunisian authorities with regard to said correspondence; (g) what correspondence has the government received from the Tunisian community in Canada regarding the Ben Ali family and their assets, (i) what is the date and nature of the correspondence, (ii) what are the names of Canadian governmental officials involved in said correspondence, (iii) what response has the government sent to the Tunisian community in Canada in regards to said correspondence?
    (Return tabled)

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.
    The Speaker: Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Air Service Operations Legislation

Notice of Closure Motion  

[S. O. 57]
    Mr. Speaker, I give notice that with respect to the consideration of Government Business No. 10, at the next sitting, a minister of the Crown shall move, pursuant to Standing Order 57, that debate be not further adjourned.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act

Bill C-31--Time Allocation Motion  

    That in relation to C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, not more than four further sitting days after the day on which this order is adopted shall be allotted to the consideration of the second reading stage of the bill, and that, fifteen minutes before the expiry of the time provided for government orders on the fourth day so allotted to the consideration of the second reading stage of the said bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this order and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.
    Mr. Speaker, I might add that will mean there will have been debate on this particular bill on six different days.
    There will now be a 30-minute question period. I would ask members wishing to ask questions to keep their comments to about one minute and the minister to keep his responses to a similar length of time so that we accommodate as many members as possible. As has been done in the past, the Chair will give preference to members of the opposition respecting the principle of question period. Members of the government will be allowed to put questions but members of the opposition will be given preference in the rotation.
    The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh.
    Mr. Speaker, the government has moved 17 time allocation and closure motions since it got its majority and this is now number 18.
    Every time we do this, we set an all-time record in the history of this country and this Parliament going all the way back to 1867. The closest any government came to it was the Liberal government in the 2000 to 20404 time period and that Parliament sat for an even longer period of time before it set the record.
    How can one possibly continue to justify it when the provinces do not do it and England, Australia and New Zealand do not do it? Those all have parliaments similar to ours. Whether it is on this immigration bill or on any number of bills where the government has applied the motion, how does the government possibly justify it and then still claim that we will continue to be a democracy?

  (1525)  

    Mr. Speaker, we are a democracy because the government derives its mandate from the people as expressed in a general election. The government is ultimately accountable to the people for its actions, including its management of its legislative agenda.
    In that respect, it is a democracy, for example, because our government made a platform commitment to pass at all stages and bring into law the various provisions of criminal justice reform included in Bill C-10 within 100 sitting days. That was an undertaking to the Canadian people, for which, in part, this government received a mandate.
    Similarly, we made a very important election commitment to Canadians to take strong legislative action with the adoption of anti-human smuggling legislation, which is incorporated into the bill before this place, Bill C-31.
    Furthermore, we have made commitments to Canadians to bring in fundamental reforms to our broken asylum system, which are also incorporated in this bill.
    What we are seeking to do through this motion is to keep our trust with Canadians by adopting these measures, as opposed to listening to endless filibusters from the opposition, which, effectively, would preclude our ability to improve the asylum system. We must make these reforms before June 29 due to a coming into force provision included in legislation passed in June 2010.
    Mr. Speaker, that is quite a shameful answer for the minister to provide.
    The minister tries to give the impression that because the Conservatives received a majority government mandate, they have the authority to look and reflect on every brochure that was published during that election and say that because it was in a brochure they have the authority to limit debate and prevent members of the opposition or any member of this chamber from being able to participate in debate.
    That is something truly unique. That is not democratic. That is a majority government that has gone awry. It believes it can use time allocation as a tool to get what it wants. That is anti-democratic.
    My question is for the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. I would rather have the House leader answer the question but I do not think he is available or able to answer the question. What is the hurry that he cannot even allow for 15 to 20 hours of healthy debate on such a major piece of legislation that would impact tens of thousands of people?
    Mr. Speaker, there are several points.
    First, when the party to which the member belongs was in government, it invoked closure and time allocation more frequently than had any government in history. Let us be clear. It would be very interesting if he should care to answer this question. Is it his position that a future Liberal government would never use time allocation in order to manage its legislative mandate? If that is his position, let him say so. Let him bind a future Liberal government to that undertaking in a way that no previous Liberal government ever has been.
    Second, in terms of limiting debate and precluding members to speak to the legislation, that is nonsense. We are proposing having five full days of debate on this bill, which would permit dozens of members to give speeches and dozens more to ask questions and make comments before the bill even gets to committee for detailed review.
    I would further point out that there were already dozens of hours of debate on one-third of this bill, which is the human smuggling element, in this Parliament. There already has been fulsome debate on many of the provisions of the bill.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate what my colleague said. He stated that time allocation motions in similar parliaments, like the British Parliament or the Australian Parliament, are used only very rarely, in situations where there is an urgent need to act or there is a threat to public health and safety. I find it hard to understand how this Parliament could have been faced with threats to public health and safety 18 times since we have been sitting, and that is not even a year.
     I can give him an example. When we talk, as we are now doing, about the drug shortage we are experiencing, it seems to me that in this case, there actually is an urgent situation. There are lives at stake because of this problem.
     I would like to know how he can compare a situation like a drug shortage, where there are lives at stake, to a time allocation motion for this bill. To me, that makes no sense. It eliminates the entire idea of the urgent need to act on a matter of public health and safety, as well as making the idea of the appropriate use of a time allocation motion meaningless.

  (1530)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for raising examples of other jurisdictions that have the Westminster parliamentary system, including New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. I think it is very important that we always keep these examples in mind because their standing orders provide for the ability to limit debate on bills by using various motions.
     No parliament, no democratic chamber, can function if it is the intention of certain members to continue engaging in endless filibusters. That is the problem. Obviously, there must be a full debate in which all views are expressed, but ultimately, we have an obligation to Canadians to act on certain important issues and not to have endless debates. That is the question. It is a question of balance. Perhaps we should amend the standing orders of the House to adopt the process used in the United Kingdom and Australia, in order to strike a balance between the business of Canadians and open debate here in the House.
    Mr. Speaker, the question I would like the minister to answer has to do with some aspects of Bill C-31 that raise some very serious concerns.
    For instance, in Syria, there are between 400,000 and 500,000 Kurds who have no identification. The births of Kurdish children are not even registered. These people are going to wind up with no identity. When these people want to seek refuge in Canada—where we are supposed to be open to real immigrants and refugees who really need our help—are we going to tell them that if they come to Canada without any papers, without a passport, they will be thrown in prison until they can be identified, for perhaps up to five years?
    Mr. Speaker, perhaps the hon. member does not fully understand Canada's asylum system. First of all, he is talking about refugees from Syria. I would remind the member that Canada will accept approximately 20,000 refugees who are living in Syria right now, particularly refugees who have fled Iraq and obtained UN refugee status under the convention.
    We will accept about 4,000 refugees from Syria every year for five years. That is the biggest Syrian refugee resettlement program in the world. Our government is increasing the number of UN convention refugees by 20%. We already accept 10% of all of the world's resettled refugees. We are the global leader when it comes to protecting refugees.
    As for asylum seekers, it does not really matter whether or not they have papers when they arrive. All asylum seekers will have access to the same process involving the Immigration and Refugee Board.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the hon. minister gave the impression that when the Liberals had a majority back in the early 2000s, we were also big users of time allocation. Just to get the statistics right, over a four-year period dealing with some 153 bills, we invoked time allocation about 10 times. The Conservative government has been in power as a majority for about 10 months and I believe this is going to be the 18th time that it has invoked time allocation.
    Furthermore, if we look at when time allocation is moved, we would probably find that the Conservatives invoke time allocation after half as many hours as we would do when we were a majority government back in the early 2000s. They are not only doing it more often, but they are also in a big hurry to do it.
    Why does the government have an obsession with ramming everything through without proper debate?

  (1535)  

    Mr. Speaker, I reject the premise of the question. To the contrary, many of the bills which have been the subject of time allocation in this Parliament were subject to enormous amounts of debate in the previous Parliament. One of the reasons Canadians elected a government with a stable majority mandate is that they were tired of important public priorities being endlessly stalled by pointless opposition filibusters.
    I have been in the opposition. It is absolutely legitimate for opposition members on certain matters to express their dismay through such tactics as a filibuster on occasion. The problem is that in the previous Parliament and in this Parliament we have seen that kind of tactic used by opposition parties, especially the official opposition, to an extreme. Therefore, a platform commitment that Canadians have voted for, such as these efforts to combat human smuggling, would never be passed into law. They would never become law. We would never keep our commitment to Canadians. We would never have the legislative tools we need to stop human traffickers from targeting Canada were it not for the judicious use of the time allocation tool available through the Standing Orders.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the Minister of Immigration, we disagree on two definitions. The first has to do with democracy. To sum up what he said about democracy: Canadians go to the polls every four years to give a mandate to one party and that party can do whatever it wants.
    I disagree. Democracy is what we do here. We each represent a constituency in Canada. I represent the people of Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who have given me a mandate, as a member of Parliament, to speak to bills introduced by the government. I want to do that, but the fact that the government systematically moves time allocation motions, even before the debate even begins in many cases, prevents us from fulfilling that role.
    That leads me to the second definition that the minister and I disagree on: filibuster. How can the minister say that the opposition parties are going to filibuster before the debate has even started? What the minister is saying, in fact, is that a filibuster means hearing anything he does not want to hear or that he disagrees with.
    In a debate as crucial as the one on Bill C-31 and on a number of others we have had before, why does the government impose time allocation even before the debate begins in earnest, assuming that there might be a filibuster later?
    Mr. Speaker, quite the contrary. The hon. member is wrong because a number of measures in Bill C-31 were included in Bill C-4, which the current Parliament has debated for dozens of hours.
    Indeed, we saw the official opposition's clear intention to filibuster in order to prevent the introduction at second reading of a motion to refer the bill to the standing committee. That was clear. The opposition members have already had dozens of hours to continue their filibuster on the measures to fight criminal networks that organize human smuggling.
    We have to focus on the substance of the bill. It is very important for fighting criminal human smuggling networks. Human smuggling is a dangerous trade that kills thousands of innocent people every year. We have introduced reasonable measures to combat human trafficking.

  (1540)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, after hearing some of the explanations from the minister on this closure motion, it strikes me that he is missing part of the job of being an elected representative. There is a sacred trust to support the general public's understanding of how our parliamentary process works, not to mislead on how it works.
     For example, when there were repeated prorogations in order to avoid the consequences of the Conservative government's own actions, the Conservatives argued that other governments had prorogued. Yes, prorogation happens when the government's agenda is essentially completed, but it is not justified to prorogue in order to run away from a difficult situation.
     By the same token, of course closure is used from time to time. The minister put a false choice in his question when asking a Liberal member to promise there would never be closure. That falsely implies that it is either done all the time or it is never done. This undermines people's real understanding of how our political process works.
    I would like the minister to clarify that there are times when closure is appropriate, but not the way it is being used unilaterally, 18 times in the short time of this Parliament.
    Mr. Speaker, first of all, I hear implicit in that question an acknowledgement from the hon. member, which I appreciate, that time allocation is a legitimate tool in managing legislative business. I think what she is questioning is under what circumstances it is used. She suggested it ought not to be used unilaterally. I would submit that by definition, it is the government that has the responsibility for moving forward a legislative mandate and government orders which must trigger and vote in favour of time allocation when it is used, as was the case under the previous Liberal government and would be the case under any future Liberal government.
    On the substance of this, let me clear. In the last Parliament we had dozens of hours of debate on the human smuggling provisions now found in Bill C-31. Canadians were frustrated that the opposition refused to allow those measures to be adopted into law. We had an election. The Conservative Party made legislation to combat human smuggling a key priority in its platform. We had television advertisements on it. The Prime Minister spoke about it across the country. That constituted part of the democratic mandate that we received.
    Then we brought in Bill C-4. We had dozens of hours of debate on that bill and faced another opposition filibuster. Now we have included those measures in Bill C-31 and we know perfectly well what will continue if we do not use time allocation.
    Just in this Parliament already we have had 18 hours of debate on the human smuggling provisions, 73 speeches and, I would submit, probably more in the previous Parliament. There has been already more than ample debate on these measures. It is time for us as a Parliament to act to combat human smuggling and to keep our commitment to Canadians to do it.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to repeat my earlier comment because I do not think that the minister gave a satisfactory answer. There are legitimate reasons to move a time allocation motion. As I explained, such motions are to be used when dealing with threats to the health or safety of Canadians, situations in which deaths are imminent or could occur within days if Parliament does not intervene immediately. That is not the case here. The example I gave was the drug shortage, which really is an emergency situation.
    Does the minister agree that using time allocation for any number of other reasons is completely ridiculous? Such motions are to be used only in an emergency, so, does this demonstrate lack of respect for the rules and practices of Parliament? Should such motions be used only when there is an immediate threat to the health and safety of Canadians? What does my colleague think?

  (1545)  

    Mr. Speaker, I do not agree. When a bill is important and is part of the commitments that our party made to voters, we have to study it for a certain time in committee, then move on to the final vote. The opposition is trying to prevent the committee from studying the bill and prevent the final vote. The opposition is trying to prevent the government from keeping its promises. We have made promises.
    Bill C-31 is urgent because it concerns people's safety. Every year, thousands of people around the world die during human smuggling. As we have seen in the news, human smuggling rings are trying to organize long, dangerous trips to Canada from Africa's west coast. We are going to need these tools soon.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. minister for making himself available for half an hour to discuss why we should not be limiting debate on a bill of this importance.
    I would like to ask the hon. minister if he does not think that a bill of this magnitude and importance would be improved by ensuring that when we bring forward sweeping changes to refugee and immigration law, the government has the support of those people most intimately involved and most knowledgeable? I refer to groups like the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and the Canadian Bar Association. We should have legislation which we are sure would meet any charter challenge before we pass it.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's contribution to debates in this place, but I could not disagree with her more strongly on this particular point.
    There is a widespread consensus that the current asylum system is dysfunctional. Yet there are certain discrete special interests, including the so-called refugee lawyers association, that are the core special interests who want to protect the status quo. They are opposed to any meaningful reform. Frankly, any model of refugee reform that that organization supported would continue the dysfunction of the asylum system.
    What we are proposing in C-31 goes above and beyond our legal and humanitarian obligations under both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN convention on refugees. It proposes an asylum system that would be universally accessible and that would respect absolutely our obligation of non-refoulement of people deemed to be in need of our protection. It would provide access to a full and fair hearing at an independent quasi-judicial body, which again goes above and beyond our charter and UN convention obligations. It would create for the first time a full and fact-based appeal at the refugee appeal division, accessible to the vast majority of failed asylum claimants who lose at the first instance.
    This is something that I think any reasonable person could support. However, we will not allow ourselves to be blocked from meaningful reform, to provide protection to real refugees by the special interests who have helped to create the problems in the first place.
    Mr. Speaker, I am very disappointed to see the government invoking time allocation for the 18th time in the very short life of this Parliament.
    More than that, I am a bit dizzy watching the minister flip-flop back and forth on this issue of the value of debate in this House. There was a time, it seems, when the minister did not use filibuster and debate in this House as synonyms. I go back to the debate around Bill C-11. The minister is on record and I would like to quote his comments about the development of Bill C-11. He said in June 2010:
    I am pleased to report that the proposed reforms in the original version of Bill C-11 received widespread support. However, many concerns were raised in good faith by parliamentarians and others concerned about Canada's asylum system. We have, in good faith, agreed to significant amendments that reflect their input, resulting in a stronger piece of legislation that is a monumental achievement for all involved.
    I would like to hear from the minister how he reconciles those comments made in June 2010 with his support for time allocation today.

  (1550)  

    Mr. Speaker, yes, we are pleased with the outcome of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in the previous Parliament. We continue to be proud of the work done by all parliamentarians.
    However, I make no bones about the fact that the ultimate outcome was not optimal in terms of protecting the integrity of Canada's immigration system. Since the adoption of that bill, we have seen a huge and growing wave of unfounded asylum claims coming particularly from the European Union. It is bizarre to see a situation where now, since the adoption of that bill two years ago, we are getting more asylum claims from the European Union than we do from Africa or Asia.
    I think any sensible person would say that is bizarre, particularly given that virtually none of the European asylum claimants even bother to show up at their hearing. Virtually all of them, of their own volition, abandon or withdraw their own claims. However, almost 100% of the claimants show up at the initial interview that is required in order to get the status document to qualify for welfare and other social benefits.
    This is a huge gaping hole in the integrity and fairness of our immigration system. it is the responsibility of Parliament to act. Yes, to debate it, but ultimately to act.
    We have already had 100 speeches on the human smuggling provisions included in Bill C-31. That clearly indicates the intention of the opposition to continue an endless filibuster.
    Mr. Speaker, the government is trying to say it does not want any more members of Parliament to debate Bill C-31. It will allow for two or three or whatever number works, but there is a limit. It is trying to prevent members of Parliament from debating the bill.
    The minister tries to justify it by saying we have had endless debate on human smuggling over the last year. The minister is fully aware that Bill C-4 is non-existent now. Bill C-31 not only replaces it, but it adds a whole new aspect to the bill.
    It is an issue of affording MPs the opportunity to debate. This is something this new Conservative majority government has refused to do 18 times. This is but one example. The government killed the Canadian Wheat Board, with which I know the minister is familiar, using time allocation.
    My question is why is the government, time and time again, resorts to time allocation as a way to prevent legitimate, honest debate inside the House of Commons, thereby stealing the voices of Canadians--
    The hon. minister.
    In fact, Mr. Speaker, we are proposing five days of debate at second reading, a fulsome opportunity for members to participate. This is in addition to 73 speeches in this Parliament on many of the major provisions of the bill, and 27 speeches in the previous Parliament.
    This never typifies the problem. I remember appearing at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration a few months ago. The hon. member used his entire five minute allotment for questions to complain about not having enough time to ask questions. That is precisely the problem.
    Yes, Canadians want debate, as I do in this place, but they want debate to lead to meaningful action. This government has a commitment to Canadians to stop the human smuggling and to protect our asylum system. We must act in that respect.

[Translation]

    The member for Richmond—Arthabaska for one last question.
    Mr. Speaker, we now know how this government operates. To this government, winning a majority spelled the end of debates and the beginning of installing its ideology. It figured it had four to four and a half years to pass everything it was unable to pass when it had a minority. We know that.
    Now, the public is suffering the consequences. Workers are seeing their rights violated. We see what the government did with Air Canada. It has gotten to the point where special legislation is introduced before there is even a dispute. That is pretty bad; it is unheard of.
    I imagine this government will never cease to amaze us, even if, here in Parliament, we are less and less surprised.
    My question for the minister is quite simple. He was the one who ensured that the opposition parties and his government could manage to work together to draft a bill on refugees, namely Bill C-11, that was acceptable to everyone. Then he simply decided to scrap the whole thing and come up with Bill C-31.
    He accuses the opposition of wanting to stall, but why did the government not reintroduce Bill C-11? Everyone agreed on it and there would have been no systematic obstruction.

  (1555)  

    Mr. Speaker, again, one of the important commitments we made was to take action against human smugglers. That was a promise we made before the last election. We debated this issue for days. The opposition prevented the adoption of legislative measures to combat human smuggling.
    We renewed this commitment during the election campaign. We were elected on a mandate to take action on this and we introduced Bill C-4, which was again blocked by the opposition's stalling tactics. At some point, after dozens of speeches, we have to put words into action and allow the committee to study at length the legislative measures we are proposing to combat human smuggling.

[English]

    The time for questions has expired.
     The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): In my opinion the yeas have it.
    And five or more members having risen:
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Call in the members.

  (1635)  

[Translation]

    (The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
 

(Division No. 152)

YEAS

Members

Ablonczy
Adams
Adler
Aglukkaq
Albas
Albrecht
Alexander
Allen (Tobique—Mactaquac)
Allison
Ambler
Ambrose
Anders
Anderson
Armstrong
Ashfield
Aspin
Baird
Bateman
Benoit
Bezan
Blaney
Block
Boughen
Braid
Breitkreuz
Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Newmarket—Aurora)
Brown (Barrie)
Bruinooge
Butt
Calandra
Calkins
Cannan
Carmichael
Carrie
Chisu
Chong
Clarke
Clement
Daniel
Davidson
Dechert
Del Mastro
Dreeshen
Duncan (Vancouver Island North)
Dykstra
Fantino
Findlay (Delta—Richmond East)
Finley (Haldimand—Norfolk)
Galipeau
Gallant
Gill
Glover
Goguen
Goodyear
Gosal
Gourde
Grewal
Harris (Cariboo—Prince George)
Hayes
Hiebert
Hillyer
Hoback
Hoeppner
Holder
James
Jean
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's)
Kenney (Calgary Southeast)
Kent
Kerr
Komarnicki
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
Lake
Lauzon
Lebel
Leef
Leitch
Lemieux
Leung
Lizon
Lobb
Lukiwski
Lunney
MacKay (Central Nova)
MacKenzie
Mayes
McColeman
McLeod
Menegakis
Menzies
Merrifield
Miller
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Nicholson
Norlock
O'Connor
Obhrai
Oda
Opitz
Paradis
Payne
Penashue
Poilievre
Preston
Raitt
Rajotte
Rathgeber
Reid
Rempel
Richards
Richardson
Rickford
Ritz
Saxton
Schellenberger
Shea
Shipley
Shory
Smith
Sopuck
Sorenson
Stanton
Storseth
Strahl
Sweet
Tilson
Toet
Toews
Trost
Truppe
Tweed
Uppal
Valcourt
Van Kesteren
Van Loan
Vellacott
Wallace
Warawa
Warkentin
Watson
Weston (Saint John)
Wilks
Williamson
Wong
Woodworth
Yelich
Young (Oakville)
Young (Vancouver South)
Zimmer

Total: -- 152

NAYS

Members

Allen (Welland)
Andrews
Angus
Atamanenko
Aubin
Ayala
Bélanger
Bellavance
Bennett
Benskin
Bevington
Blanchette
Blanchette-Lamothe
Borg
Boulerice
Boutin-Sweet
Brahmi
Brison
Brosseau
Byrne
Caron
Casey
Cash
Charlton
Chicoine
Chisholm
Chow
Christopherson
Cleary
Coderre
Comartin
Côté
Cotler
Crowder
Cuzner
Day
Dion
Dionne Labelle
Donnelly
Doré Lefebvre
Dubé
Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona)
Dusseault
Easter
Eyking
Foote
Freeman
Fry
Garneau
Genest
Genest-Jourdain
Giguère
Godin
Goodale
Gravelle
Groguhé
Harris (St. John's East)
Hassainia
Hsu
Hughes
Jacob
Julian
Kellway
Lamoureux
Lapointe
Larose
Latendresse
Laverdière
LeBlanc (Beauséjour)
LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard)
Leslie
Liu
MacAulay
Mai
Marston
Mathyssen
May
McCallum
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
Michaud
Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue)
Morin (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord)
Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine)
Morin (Laurentides—Labelle)
Murray
Nantel
Nicholls
Nunez-Melo
Pacetti
Papillon
Patry
Péclet
Perreault
Pilon
Plamondon
Quach
Rae
Rafferty
Ravignat
Raynault
Regan
Rousseau
Saganash
Sandhu
Scarpaleggia
Sellah
Sgro
Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor)
Sims (Newton—North Delta)
Sitsabaiesan
St-Denis
Stewart
Sullivan
Thibeault
Toone
Tremblay
Turmel
Valeriote

Total: -- 118

PAIRED

Nil

    I declare the motion carried.
    The member for Random—Burin—St. George's on a point of order.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills arrived after the government whip had taken his seat, so his vote should not be counted.
    Mr. Speaker, a week or two ago I clarified what the rules were. After I sit down, there may be a gap of time, but the key point is when the Chair says the motion. The Chair did not say the motion and therefore he can vote.
    Mr. Speaker, my understanding of the rules is that as long as members are in their seats before the Speaker gets up to read the motion that is being put, all is in order. I am surprised the whip for the Liberal Party was not aware of these rules that had been clarified only recently in the House.
    I specifically recall that the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills had taken his seat before I rose from mine. I believe that clarifies the matter.

  (1640)  

[Translation]

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act

    The House resumed from March 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
    Resuming debate. The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle has five minutes.
    Mr. Speaker, earlier, I asked the minister a question and he did not really give me an answer.
    I am wondering what will happen to refugees who arrive at our borders in some very specific cases. In general, I find that Canada's international reputation has suffered greatly. We have always been regarded as a progressive country that is open to people from all over the world who need our help. Our reputation is being greatly compromised. We have become a host country for the brothers-in-law of dictators who come and buy luxury mansions in our posh neighbourhoods, in Montreal, for instance. Construction companies are going to build prisons in Libya and others will provide electricity to a corrupt regime in Syria. We are losing ground all along the line.
    What are we going to say to Kurdish refugees who come from Syria without papers? Are we going to invite them to stay, saying that we have safe housing with bars on the windows and that they can stay there for at least a year, and maybe up to five years? I did not really like the minister's response.
    These are the questions that are raised by such a shoddy bill. This bill affects so many aspects of our international reputation that we have to wonder if we will ever re-establish it. And, of course, there are also the Canadian security firms, or security firms operated by Canadians, who help fleeing dictators by taking care of logistics for them.
    We are wondering where the government is going with our international policy in general. Bill C-31 sends a very bad message. Soon we will be the laughingstock of the world.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I wish to share my time with my colleague the member for Richmond Hill.
    It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak today in support of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act. Bill C-31 would restore integrity to our asylum system by making Canada's refugee determination process faster and fairer, resulting in faster protection for legitimate refugees and faster removal of bogus claimants.
    Canada has a well-deserved international reputation for having the most generous and fair immigration system in the world. Canada provides protection to more than one in ten refugees resettled each year worldwide, more than any other developed country in the world. However, the fact is that Canada's asylum system is vulnerable to abuse.
    There are countless stories in the media on almost a daily basis about bogus refugees, serious criminals, and those who have committed crimes against humanity who are trying to take advantage of Canada's generous asylum system. This abuse wastes limited resources on bogus claims while legitimate refugees have to wait in a queue behind them. It also undermines public confidence in our immigration system.
    Canadians are generous and welcoming but we have no tolerance for those who refuse to play by the rules and abuse our generosity. The current flawed refugee system has made Canada a target for those who are all too happy to take unfair advantage of us. As a result, too many taxpayer dollars are being spent on people who are not fleeing genuine persecution, but seek to exploit Canada's generous asylum system to receive lucrative taxpayer-funded health care, welfare and other social benefits.
    The facts speak for themselves. For example, in 2011 Canada received more refugee claims from the democratic and human rights-respecting countries of the European Union than from Africa or Asia. Last year alone, a quarter of all refugee claims were made by European Union nationals.
    Once these bogus claimants land in Canada most of them are eligible for a generous range of taxpayer-funded social services and benefits within days of arrival. They can then receive benefits for years as they wait for their refugee claims to be heard under the current slow system.
    Virtually all of the refugee claims by Europeans are eventually withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. In fact, in many cases, the refugee claimants themselves eventually decide to return to their country of alleged persecution. These claims are, by any definition, bogus. These bogus refugee claims from Europe cost Canadian taxpayers more than $170 million per year.
    Bill C-31 includes three sections, all of which are aimed at improving the integrity of Canada's immigration system.
    First, the bill includes further refugee reform. While the Balanced Refugee Reform Act that was passed in 2010 was a much needed improvement, it did not go far enough to ensure that our refugee system was working as effectively as possible. For example, Bill C-31 would allow the government to designate countries that are not generally refugee producing, such as those in the European Union. Claims from these countries would be processed on average in 45 days compared to more than a thousand days under the current system. It is baffling to most people that the current system takes on average more than a thousand days to hear a claim, but it is the unfortunate truth.
    Second, the bill includes provisions from Bill C-4, the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. These provisions include an increase in penalties for those who organize human smuggling events and the provisions aim to discourage anyone from using the services of human smugglers to come to Canada. It is important to note that there is one important difference: Bill C-31 includes an exemption from detention of minors under the age of 16.
    I want to be clear, because there is a lot of intentional misinformation being spread about the detention aspects of the human smuggling provisions. Once the identity of a claimant has been established and a refugee claim is approved, which would be within a few months under the bill in many cases, individuals will be released.
    Through the human smuggling provisions, our government is sending a clear message that our doors are open to those who play by the rules, including legitimate refugees, but we will crack down on those who endanger human lives and threaten the integrity of our borders. Human smuggling is a despicable crime and Canadians think it is unacceptable for criminals to abuse Canada's immigration system for financial gain.

  (1645)  

    Finally, Bill C-31 would provide the government with the authority to collect biometric data, in this case fingerprints and photographs, from visa applicants who want to enter Canada. Biometric data are much more reliable and less prone to forgery or theft. Implementing biometrics will strengthen immigration screening, enhance security, and help reduce identity fraud. It will prevent known criminals, failed refugee claimants and previous deportees from using a false identity to obtain a Canadian visa. It will also bring Canada's system in line with many other industrialized countries such as the U.K., the European Union, Australia, the United States and Japan.
    Canadians have given our Conservative government a strong mandate to improve Canada's immigration system. Taken together, the measures included in Bill C-31 will help our government to put a stop to those who seek to abuse our generosity. The bill will save Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years. It will provide protect to genuine refugees in a more timely manner while allowing us to remove more quickly the bogus claimants who cheat the system and abuse our generosity. That is in the best interests of Canada and of genuine refugees.
     The NDP is against this bill and has now made that much clearer. Unfortunately, its members even tried to kill this bill before any substantive debate was allowed to happen or it be studied at committee. That is more proof that they are more interested in playing games than working with the government to move forward with important pieces of legislation reflecting the priorities of Canadians.
    Yet interestingly enough, when asked about Bill C-31, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, the opposition critic, had this to say:
    Well, I think what we need to do is build a system that has a fast and fair determination process. And that’s something that I’ll give [the] Minister...credit for. I do think that’s what his intention has been all along. And we all want to work towards that. We don’t want endless dragging on of this stuff because refugees, when they come here, you know, they do qualify for basic sustenance...it is at the cost of the Canadian taxpayer.
    So we do have an interest in making sure there’s a quick determination that’s correct and fair and get these people into our communities, working and being productive taxpaying members of our society if they’re bona fide refugees.
    We want a fast, fair system where we can give a sanctuary to people who need it quickly and we can weed out the people who don’t have valid claims, get them through a fair process. And if they’re not valid at the end of the day, deport them out of Canada swiftly.
    I agree with that statement by the NDP immigration critic, which is exactly what Bill C-31 aims to do. This is why I call on all members of the House to work with our government in the best interests of Canadians and support Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, and ensure its speedy passage through the House.

  (1650)  

    Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of his speech, the member said that the current asylum system was open to abuse. While that statement may be true, the bill leaves a different kind of opening for abuse available to the government. I refer specifically to the ability of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to actually determine which countries are safe or not, without reference to any third party, without reference whatsoever to a panel of experts, which was the agreement between all parties in the last Parliament. They had agreed that this would be an appropriate way to avoid abuse of the system.
    The types of abuse we can name are the following. Countries could be placed on a safe list for foreign policy considerations, even though they are not safe. If a different minister or the Prime Minister decided that he wanted to put a country on a safe list for foreign policy considerations, we may end up being able to turn down refugees.
    I would like the member to say how we can avoid this kind of possible abuse under this new legislation.
    Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely false. There is no such unilateral power on the part of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The minister will take advice in consultation with Foreign Affairs and from our posts overseas, and he will certainly consult with experts in this area before making those decisions.
    Mr. Speaker, let us be perfectly clear on this: The minister under this legislation is taking the responsibility upon himself to say that he as minister will determine henceforth who is going to be on the safe country list. Before that, it was going to be an advisory group that would provide the recommendation. The advisory group would be made up of professionals, individuals and different stakeholders, to ensure that the right countries would be on the safe country list.
    Why does the government need to have the sole discretion to determine who should be going on the safe country list and who should not when the advisory panel, which at one time the minister favoured, has now been thrown out the window?
    Mr. Speaker, we all know the common saying that a decision made by committee is like camel designed from a horse with a hump on it. I think if we go through that process it would take a long time to make these decisions.
    In the regulations the minister has a very transparent process whereby he consults with professionals and other departments related to our overall foreign affairs relationships to determine where these safe countries are.

  (1655)  

    Mr. Speaker, this bill has a number of aspects that are likely to be found in violation of the Charter of Rights, particularly the section allowing detention without access to counsel for up to one year for any group of people coming to Canada designated by the minister, without criteria, as an irregular entry. I find that the most egregious section, but there is much in this very complex bill that is worrying.
     There are very tight timelines for people arriving here to make a decision and to file within 15 days their appeal and to find a lawyer. There is unrealistic pressure on people coming to our shores, including the requirement that people be put in detention up to one full year without access to counsel.
    Would the hon. parliamentary secretary explain how this would pass a charter challenge?
    Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with the premise of that question. Anyone who comes to this country and is landed would be given the full treatment under the charter in recognition of their refugee claim. Whether they are detained or not, I think it is grossly unfair to have them wait over thousand days before we process their refugee claims. I think 35 days is much more humane and fair. It would certainly be a swift removal so that they would know exactly where they stood with respect to their refugee claim.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act. It is legislation that will improve this country's immigration system in a number of very important ways. Immigration is central in our country's history to our prosperity, our international reputation, our generosity and humanitarianism, and our great success as a nation.
     In so many ways Canada is a country that was built by immigrants. Since Canada's earliest days, we have opened our doors to millions of newcomers from everywhere in the world. They have helped to make Canada the peaceful, free and diverse country that it is today.
    My family is one of those families that came here as immigrants. My mother, Panagiota Bissas, and my father, John Menegakis, came in the mid-1950s, 1956 and 1957 to be specific. My parents were given every opportunity and are excellent examples of how people from all over the world have come here and have built families and certainly have contributed to our beautiful nation.
    Whether those newcomers are pursuing economic opportunities, seeking to unite with family members, or looking for security and stability or asylum, Canada has long been a destination of choice for people around the world.
    The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of immigration. That is evident in all of its actions and policies. Since 2006 the government has had the highest sustained level of immigration in nearly a century. In fact, since 2006, the Conservative government has welcomed an average of 254,000 people per year. This is a 13% increase over the level of immigration under the previous Liberal government.
    We have also continued to strengthen and support our generous refugee system, which is an important expression of Canada's compassion and humanitarian convictions and of our international commitments. Canada remains one of the top countries in the world to welcome refugees. In fact, we welcome more refugees per capita than any other G20 country. Because our government understands the importance of the immigration system to Canada's future, we also understand the importance of remaining vigilant about keeping that system functioning in our national interest. To do so, we must always be prepared to make improvements to the system according to changing circumstances and identified shortcomings. Indeed, a dynamic country such as Canada requires dynamic and flexible immigration policies that adapt to the times.
    It is the government's responsibility to ensure that we have a strong, effective and efficient immigration system. That is why I am very pleased to be speaking today about legislation that is designed to fulfill exactly that responsibility.
    Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, aims to strengthen Canada's immigration system in three very specific ways. It will further build on the long-needed reforms to the asylum system that were passed in Parliament in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. It will also allow Canadian authorities to better crack down on the lucrative business of human smuggling by integrating measures which the government previously introduced in the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. It will enable the introduction of biometric technology for screening visa applicants which will strengthen our immigration program in a number of ways.
    I mentioned earlier the fact that our refugee system is among the most generous in the world and that Canada admits more refugees on a per capita basis than almost any other country. That is certainly true, but when there is a system in place as generous as Canada's, it is particularly important to guard against the abuse of that system and our generosity.

  (1700)  

    Indeed, for too many years our refugee system has been abused by too many people making unfounded claims. Our system has become overwhelmed by a significant backlog of cases. More recently we have grown more and more concerned about a notable upsurge in refugee claims originating in countries that we would not normally expect to produce refugees. This is adding to the backlog.
    I was certainly surprised to learn that Canada receives more asylum claims from countries in Europe than from either Africa or Asia. Last year alone, almost one-quarter of all refugee claims to Canada were from European Union nationals. Let us think about that. European Union countries have strong human rights and democratic systems similar to those in Canada, yet they produced one-quarter of all the refugee claims to this country in 2011. That is up 14% from the previous year.
    It can take up to four and one-half years from an initial claim to remove a failed refugee claimant from our country. Some cases have taken more than 10 years. The result is an overburdened system and a waste of taxpayers' money. For too long we have spent precious time and taxpayers' money on people who are not in need of protection at the expense of legitimate asylum seekers.
    In recent years virtually all EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. That means the unfounded claims from the 5,800 European Union nationals who sought asylum last year to Canada cost Canadian taxpayers an astounding $170 million.
    Many members of the House will remember that back in June 2010 we passed the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. The act contains long-needed improvements that will result in faster decisions and quicker removal of those failed claimants who do not need our protection. However, it has become clear that gaps remain and that further reforms are certainly needed. We need stronger measures that are closer to the original bill we introduced in March 2010.
    The measures of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, will build upon the reforms passed in 2010. These new measures will further accelerate the processing of refugee claims for nationals from designated countries that generally do not produce refugees. It will reduce the options available to failed claimants to delay their removal from Canada. As well, with this new legislation we expect that taxpayers will save about $1.65 billion in just five years.
    An Edmonton Journal editorial stated:
    Given the financial stress placed on our system by those numbers, there has to be a more efficient, cost-effective means of weeding out the bogus claimants from Europe and elsewhere. Simply put, we cannot continue to give everyone the benefit of the doubt when it costs that much money and taxes our social systems unduly to do so.
    [Bill C-31] is a tough, no-nonsense document that speeds up the review process and takes much of the financial burden off the Canadian taxpayer...Bill C-31 is worth supporting.
    Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star said:
    I do think our refugee system is, if not quite broken, under a tremendous amount of stress. The acceptance rates for some of these countries—Hungary, Czechoslovakia before a visa restriction was imposed—are one, or two, or three per cent. So it's a tremendous burden on a system that really I don't think we have that much to apologize for.
    So I think there is a lot of public policy behind this....I think this might put the system more or less on a better, stronger footing for genuine refugees.
    In conclusion, these measures will help prevent abuse of the system and will ensure that our refugee determination process works more effectively. This will definitely be accomplished while maintaining the fairness of the system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees.

  (1705)  

    I urge all members of the House to support this important bill which will make important reforms to strengthen Canada's asylum system, something which is desperately needed and on which the previous Liberal government refused to act.

Business of the House

    Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find support from all parties for the following motion. I move:
    That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, during the debate tonight pursuant to Standing Order 52, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair.
    Mr. Speaker, my office has been consulted by the Conservative Party on this motion. I do not wish to block the motion. I see that all the other parties are in favour. I gather this is more or less a routine procedure with respect to emergency debates to have a motion that says all parties consent that we really do not have to be here. I find it unfortunate, but I certainly will not block it.
    The Chair appreciates the point raised by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
    Does the hon. member for Peace River have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    (Motion agreed to)

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act

    The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague serves with me on the citizenship and immigration committee.
    The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has been tasked with studying biometrics as an option for immigration, monitoring entry into and exit from the country, and yet before the committee has even finished the study and produced a report, the government is saying that this is going to become legislation. Does the government not respect the standing committees that are established in this Parliament?
    Mr. Speaker, I do not necessarily accept the conclusion which the hon. member has come to, that the government does not respect the wish of the committee.
    Certainly this legislation is the framework which gives the minister and the ministry the opportunity to pursue the good work they do to ensure that our borders are secure at all times. I know that the minister is waiting with much anticipation for the results of our very important study. We are studying the issue of security and biometrics, which will give an additional tool to officials to ensure that those who are seeking to come to Canada are indeed the people they claim to be, and that they are good, law-abiding citizens in the countries from which they come.

  (1710)  

    Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member could comment on the component where the minister can say that someone is an irregular arrival. He is referring more to arrivals by boat, but it also applies to individuals who would land at any of our airports.
    Someone who is labelled as an irregular arrival could be detained for up to a year. After that detention there would be a five-year waiting period before the person would be able to sponsor someone. A 26-year-old man who has left a country where his life was threatened and has managed to escape that country would be waiting years. It would be five or six years before he could even put in an application to sponsor someone, his child, for example, which could then take another five or six years. His six-year-old child would be 17 or 18 years old by the time the child arrived here.
    I wonder if the member could comment in terms of the fairness of that aspect of the legislation.
    Mr. Speaker, let us talk about fairness. Without question, Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, Canadians, and we are hearing this every day in our ridings, have no tolerance for those who would abuse our generosity and would take unfair advantage of our country.
    At some point we have to have a balance. We must take action to crack down on the abuse. Our government is committed to strengthening the integrity of Canada's immigration system.
    Mr. Speaker, one of the changes that has been made to the bill from the previous human smuggling bill is the detaining of children under the age of 16.
    Could the member comment on that specific change and how it strengthens the bill?
    Mr. Speaker, the protecting Canada's immigration system act will make our refugee system faster and fairer for everyone. It will put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer-funded health and social benefits.
    At the same time, the bill will provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beaches—East York.
    I rise today to add my strongest objection to Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System act. I find it ironic that the bill would be given this title. It would do anything but protect our immigration system. In fact, the bill would set out to dismantle our immigration system, damaging it legally, socially, morally and internationally. I find the omnibus nature of the bill very disturbing.
    This particular bill groups together two major pieces of legislation, Bill C-4, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System act, and C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform act from the last Parliament. Then it introduces the mandatory collection of biometrics for temporary residents. These are three major issues that deserve adequate attention and debate.
    I have already stood in the House and expressed my strong objection to C-4, yet components of the bill reappear here in C-31. The bill would attack refugees rather than human smugglers. By placing an overwhelming amount of power in the hands of the minister, the bill would allow the minister to designate a group of refugees as an irregular arrival. If the minister believed, for example, that examination for establishing identity could not be conducted in a timely manner, or if it were suspected that the people were being smuggled for profit, or a criminal organization or terrorist group was involved in the smuggling, designated claimants would then be subjected to a number of rules. They would be mandatorily detained on arrival, or on designation by the minister, with no review by the Immigration and Refugee Board for their detention for a year. Release would only be possible if they were found to be true refugees. If the Immigration and Refugee Board ordered their release within a year, even then the Immigration and Refugee Board could not release people if the government said their identities had not been established, or if the minister decided that there were exceptional circumstances.
    Decisions on claims by designated persons could not be appealed to the Refugee Appeal Division. A designated person could not make humanitarian and compassionate applications. A designated claimant could not apply for permanent residency for five years. If the person failed to comply with the conditions or reporting requirements, that five year suspension could be extended to six years.
    This raises a number of concerns. First, this is extremely discriminatory as it would create two classes of refugee claimants: real refugees and designated claimants. This is possibly a violation of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms' equality rights, as well as the refugee convention, which prohibits states from imposing penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence.
    Second, detention without review is a clear violation of the charter rights. The Supreme Court already struck down mandatory detention without review on security certificates. This legislation would imply indefinite detention on the basis of identity with no possibility of release until the minister decided that identity had been established. Arbitrary detention is also a violation of a number of international treaties.
    Third, designated persons would have no access to the Refugee Appeal Division. This means that these claimants would not have the right to an appeal, thereby removing any system of checks and balances.
    Additionally, the mandatory five year delay in applying for permanent residency would further delay the family reunification process, forcing claimants to wait eight to ten years to be reunited with their spouse or child living overseas. Last, this legislation would create an undue barrier for humanitarian and compassionate claims. I am extremely concerned with the idea that the minister could name someone a designated claimant based on irregular arrival with no explanation of what constitutes an irregular arrival.
    If we look at the history of the legislation of this nature, introduced by this government, we can see that it has glaring resemblances to Bill C-49 in the last Parliament.

  (1715)  

    Bill C-49 was hastily drafted by the government when Canadians witnessed the spectre of boats coming to the shores of British Columbia, carrying some of the most damaged and wounded people on earth. These were people fleeing, as the minister has rightly pointed out, one of the worst civil wars in the world, in Sri Lanka. Never ones to pass off a good photo op, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the Minister of Public Safety were in British Columbia, holding news conferences where they publicly accused the people on these boats of being bogus refugees, harbouring terrorists and trying to jump the immigration queues. They called these people “queue jumpers”.
     I find this extremely confusing. The government seems to be speaking out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, we have the Minister of Foreign Affairs referring to the Sri Lankan civil war as a great atrocity where numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed. On the other hand, we have the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the Minister of Public Safety accusing people fleeing this very violence of being bogus. This is completely absurd. Which one is it?
    Some of the refugee claimants and the refugees who arrived on the MV Sun Sea now live in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge River. Many of them have told me stories of their trip to Canada and their arrival in British Columbia. Many of them had UNHCR refugee cards. Upon their arrival, the people who greeted them gathered all of their refugee cards. When there was not the same number of cards as people, all the people aboard were told that they had not presented adequate identification and documentation when they came. Regardless of whether they had refugee cards, they were all detained. Thankfully, many of these people have now been released, but some are still in detention. Some of these people who had refugee cards are still being detained.
    I am going to go back to the idea of an irregular arrival. This concept is not defined in this legislation. Based on the history of this bill, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that irregular arrival means arrival by boat. This bill is essentially saying that people who arrive in an irregular fashion, or by boat, are not refugees but rather are criminals. This bill is saying that people who wish to flee war, conflict or persecution but do not have the means to pay for a plane ticket so instead risk their lives by throwing themselves onto a rickety cargo boat and spending months crossing an ocean are not real refugees. No, the government is saying they are criminals. They are not real asylum seekers. They are not really fleeing a horrible situation, leaving behind their homes, livelihood and families with hopes of creating a better life here in Canada. No, these people are criminals. This is what this bill and the government are telling us.
    Furthermore, if they fail to provide adequate identification, they can be detained without review. Most refugees who come to Canada do not have documentation, regardless of which process is used to enter the country. When people flee their home nation, they leave everything behind. How can we expect people who have left a war-torn country to carry valid identification? This concept of queue jumping, as the minister likes to say, is completely bogus. These people still must go through the same immigration process as any other immigrant to Canada. When people are fleeing persecution or war, they cannot be called queue jumpers. For refugees, there is no queue to jump. There is no lineup for people who are in serious danger; people living through a civil war; or people being persecuted because of their gender, religion, sexual orientation, et cetera. When people's lives or the lives of their families are called into question, there is no line. These people must leave their country immediately. Once they are safely here in Canada, they must joint the same queue as everyone else who wants to gain some sort of status in our country.
    The second part of this bill comprises of Bill C-11, from the last Parliament, and the calling of safe countries. In the 40th Parliament, after a lot of work and compromises, Bill C-11 passed this House with all-party support. It was scheduled to come into effect this spring. However, before the legislation that was passed by this House could even have a chance to come into effect, the members opposite have including the original legislation, Bill C-11, excluding any part of the amendments that were accepted by all parties, in this current omnibus bill. The government has not even given the original Bill C-11 from the last Parliament a chance to work.

  (1720)  

    The Conservatives are using fear-mongering and fear tactics to scare the current immigrants in Canada and current Canadians. They are pitting Canadians against immigrants and new immigrants against other newer immigrants. This type of fear tactics is absolutely wrong.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her informed and enlightening speech.
    When I was a teacher, I often told my students that it is impossible to find a simple solution to a complex problem. However, I get the impression that this has become the Conservatives' speciality. They present everything to us in black and white as though it were possible to cut right down the middle and say that there is a good side and a bad, black and white, when, in reality, life is full of grey areas to which we need to learn to adapt.
    Is this bill not just another example of a black and white view of a problem? I would like the hon. member to provide some clarification in this regard.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. The immigration system in Canada is very complex. Just saying that we are going to put a whole bunch of legislation together, that we are stopping debate on it and not letting the democratic process run itself out, that we are just going to make safe countries, that we are going to stop people who are coming by boat because there are fake refugees in our country and that we are going to now ignore the parliamentary processes that have been established by ignoring the committee and the work that the citizenship and immigration committee is going to be doing, or is doing, is absolutely another example of the government's black and white easy fix to every problem, “Let's just rewrite the law, because that's what we do”.

  (1725)  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on the point to which the member just made reference. I, too, sit on the citizenship and immigration committee. We are spending thousands of tax dollars to do a study on biometrics.
    Like her, I was surprised that the government introduced a bill with regard to it. We are still in the midst of a study. I would argue that the minister is, once again, undermining the work of the citizenship and immigration committee.
    Could she be clear and succinct on the point of the minister undermining the efforts of the committee?
    Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree with my colleague from Winnipeg. The minister is clearly undermining the processes of the citizenship and immigration committee. The committee has been tasked with the job of looking into whether biometrics would be a good way to go for the government and for our country to protect the safety and security of our borders. Yet, instead of waiting for the committee to hear expert witnesses and feedback from Canadians and then waiting for the report from the committee, the minister just goes ahead and says that he has made the decision and that he does not care what the committee says.
    Once again, he is going ahead, undermining the committee and not respecting Parliament and the processes that we have in Parliament.
    Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the speech and the questions and answers between my colleagues who sit on the immigration committee. However, I want to tell members I have a completely different perspective on this, and that is the question I would like to put to the member.
    We just completed a report on backlogs. One of the first things the minister did was listen to what we had said about the whole issue around super visas for parents and grandparents to come to this country in a much quicker manner. The committee made the recommendation. The committee discussed this for a number of weeks. The minister made the decision even before the committee had finished the work. There is not a minister who is listening more closely to his committee and to the reports that are coming forward than the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.
    Let me also point out that there is backlog upon backlog in the refugee system, an average of 55,000 per file. I would like to know why the member and her party will not support a process that would quicken this and ensure that refugees, true refugees, come to our country in the appropriate time and appropriate manner.
    Mr. Speaker, it is funny that the day after the minister came to the committee, when we were contemplating looking at the possibility of super visas, he then went off and made an announcement. Was it suggested at the committee because he was ready to make an announcement?
    The same thing happened here. A committee is looking at the potential of biometrics, but it has not even decided if biometrics is a good way to go. We are still listening to experts from Canada and around the world who are providing us with their expertise. The committee has not even made a report, yet the minister has already made his decision as to what he will do.
    This is not a minister who waits for the report and study to come from a committee before making his decisions. This is a minister who makes decisions and then makes a suggestion to the committee that it should study this. It is really the opposite of what the parliamentary secretary is saying.
    Mr. Speaker, as yet another member of the citizenship and immigration committee, I am pleased to stand and talk to Bill C-31, although I am disappointed to have to do so under time allocation.
    Bill C-11 of the previous Parliament, which Bill C-31 seeks to replace, is due to come into effect in June 2012, a mere three months from now. Bill C-11 was a product of a minority Parliament, but according to the minister, it was also the product of good faith, something that should guide the way that all Parliaments, minority and majority alike, function.
    The minister told Canadians that he listened to all the speeches on Bill C-11 and that:
    During the debates and consultations, the government took constructive criticism into account and recognized the need to work together with the opposition to design a bill that reflected the parliamentary consensus.
    What emerged from this approach to developing legislation, according to the minister himself, was “a stronger piece of legislation...a bill that is both faster and fairer than the bill as it was originally tabled”.
    That progress, that monumental achievement for all involved, as the minister once described Bill C-11, is now about to revert to the slower, less fair, weaker piece of legislation in the form of Bill C-31 and the collective wisdom that informed Bill C-11 all but erased. What is left is a bill characterized by a terrible irony.
    This is a bill that is meant to set out how to treat people who have fled their country of origin on the basis of persecution or fear of persecution on grounds that are protected by human rights laws and convention. Yet this is a bill that is dismissive, if not actually contemptuous of the rights and freedoms that Canadians and citizens of many other countries around the world feel are fundamental.
    The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, for example, is not reflected in the bill. Bill C-31 carries over from Bill C-4 the power of the minister to create a second, or in the terms of the bill, a “designated” class of refugee that face mandatory detention upon arrival. Such detention in the absence of good reason and sound process clashes with section 7 of our charter, which provides for the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
    Further, group detention of refugees implies the detention of individuals without specific assessment and therefore grounds. Such arbitrary detention raises a violation of section 9 of our charter, and that is the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
    The fact that there is no review of the detention for at least 12 months raises further issues. Section 10 of the charter requires that everyone arrested or detained has the right to be informed promptly of the reasons therefore, retain and instruct counsel and to be informed of that right, to have the validity of the detention determined within 48 hours and to be released if the detention is not lawful.
    These are not the rights and freedoms of Canadians alone. They are what we call “human rights” and we consider them to be inalienable. In the language of our charter, they “belong to everyone”.
    Long before our charter, we were signatories to the Charter of the United Nations. As a signatory to the UN charter, we reaffirmed our “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small...”
     What follows is our signature on a number of United Nations declarations and conventions and our participation in that organization all for the purpose of putting these beliefs into practice. Most relevant to today's debate is the International Bill of Human Rights, the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Today I would like to focus on the latter and the treatment of children under Bill C-31.
    Bill C-31, as we know, reintroduces Bill C-4 to the House with some minor changes. One of those changes is with respect to the treatment of children in that Bill C-31 does not commit children to detention, but nor does it say what becomes of the kids who arrive in a group that the minister declares irregular.

  (1730)  

     International declarations with respect to the rights of the child go back almost a century. Over this time, what has remained constant in the successive iterations of such rights and the recognition that: children embody human rights; that they are entitled to special safeguards, care and assistance, including appropriate legal protection; that, “for the full and harmonious development of the child”, they should grow up in a family environment.
    And finally, and therefore:
...the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance....
    Such consideration and commitments to children and their families who form part of an irregular arrival are nowhere to be found in Bill C-31.
    Interestingly, and hopefully instructively, others have gone before us to measure the impacts of mandatory detention of child refugees against the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
    Australia, as the government side will know, has a mandatory immigration detention system. It applies to children who arrive in Australia without a visa, so-called “unauthorized arrivals”. The Australian Human Rights Commission studied the impacts of this system and concluded that this system breached the following convention provisions: article 37(b) and (d), which is to ensure that detention is a measure of last resort for the shortest period of time and subject to effective independent review; article 3.1, which is to ensure that the best interests of the child are of primary consideration in all actions concerning children; article 37(c), which is to ensure that children are treated with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity; and article 22.1, article 6.2 and article 39, which all protect the right of children to receive appropriate assistance, to ensure recovery from torture and trauma, to live in an environment which fosters health, self-respect and dignity, and to enjoy to the maximum extent possible their right to development.
    It further found that children in immigration detention for long periods of time were at high risk of serious mental harm and that the failure of its country, Australia, to remove kids from the detention environment with their parents amounted to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of those children in detention.
    In short, the commission recommended the release of children with their parents and that immigration detention laws be compliant with the convention and based on a presumption against the detention of children for immigration purposes.
    I have taken this time to review the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission because it is a cautionary tale. Australia has gone before us down this path of immigration detention and, if it were not already obvious, there is at least now laid at the feet of the government more than ample evidence to suggest that it proceed with the detention of children and their parents in full understanding that such action is in conflict with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and causes harm to children and their families.
    It is, in part, I am sure, because for our historic commitment to human rights, that from time to time people end up on our shores seeking safe haven or asylum from persecution and yet Bill C-31 proposes to deny to others the very rights and freedoms that define this country for ourselves and in the international community and make us so proud to be citizens of it.

  (1735)  

    Mr. Speaker, regarding exemptions, the bill does include an automatic exemption for the detention of minors under the age of 16 and adults 16 years and older would be released from detention as soon as they receive a positive opinion.
    I would like the member to acknowledge that this has been addressed for the children who are detained.
    Mr. Speaker, the bill would not protect the unity of the family in these circumstances, with the detention, effectively incarceration, of parents. It is very unclear in fact that the separation of parents from their children who arrive together in what the minister deems unilaterally to be an irregular arrival.
    Mr. Speaker, under Bill C-11, which passed unanimously with the support of the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Conservatives, there was an advisory council that would ultimately determine and recommend to the minister what countries around the world would be designated as a safe country to be put on to a safe list.
    Now the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has changed his mind thinking he knows best and that he alone should be the one who makes the determination.
    Given the consequence of that particular designation, would he not agree that this is the wrong way of approaching the putting together of a safe country list and that the government should support an amendment that would be brought forward from the Liberal Party saying that it should be an advisory group, not the individual minister, that makes the determination of which country is a safe country?

  (1740)  

    Mr. Speaker, I concur with the concerns of my friend from Winnipeg North. One of the hallmarks of the bill is the excessive powers that would be placed on or assumed by the minister himself. Without any disrespect to the minister, these are complicated issues and issues with respect to designated countries of origin should most certainly have the input of experts.
    I remember not too long lots of noise coming out of the Conservative Party with respect to human rights abuses in China. Without commenting on the validity of those concerns, the government changed its tune on the issue of human rights, which, at one time, was a bar to trade with that country. Suddenly, China, without having changed its position with respect to human rights, became a friend .
    There is clear evidence that such powers should not be assumed by the minister because they will be abused for partisan purposes.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on a question asked by the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification earlier.
    I understand that the requirement for the mandatory detention of children has been removed. If the parents are mandatorily detained and are given the option of what to do with their children, most parents who have just fled from somewhere and are seeking asylum would want to keep their children close to ensure they are keeping them safe.
    What is the government really trying to do with these children? Is the government saying that it will not mandatorily detain them but that it is really the parents who are putting their children in detention centres? Is the government just trying to pass the buck once again?
    Mr. Speaker, as a fellow member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, my colleague will be well aware of the testimony brought to that committee by experts in matters of immigration, particularly refugee matters.
    It was an expert who brought our attention to the study done by the Australian Human Rights Commission on the effect of detention on children and separation from their parents. The impacts are quite alarming. The separation from family seems to be a clear contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Mississauga—Brampton South.
    I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system and we are acting on that mandate.
    Bill C-31 would make significant improvements for our refugee system. It would crack down on human smuggling and provide the government with the ability to collect biometric data from foreign visitors to Canada. This legislation would make Canada's refugee system faster and fairer. It would put a stop to the abuse of our generous immigration system while, at the same time, provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need.
    Bill C-31 is the latest step by our Conservative government to ensure that our immigration system is no longer being abused by foreign criminals, bogus refugee claimants and human smugglers.
    Today, I will focus my remarks on the provisions included in this bill pertaining to biometrics.
    Canadians from coast to coast to coast have told our government that the safety and security of their families is one of their top priorities. They want their government to pursue policies that keep criminals off the streets and foreign criminals out of the country. They should expect no less. Our Conservative government has listened and is doing exactly that. Bill C-31 would provide the government with the authority to collect biometrics, fingerprints and photographs from foreign nationals who want to enter Canada. Security experts from across the globe agree that fingerprints are one of the most effective ways to determine the true identity of an individual and to combat identity theft and fraud.
    Biometrics would be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics would improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat to Canada out. In short, biometrics would strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system and help protect the safety and security of Canadians while helping to facilitate legitimate travel.
    The use of biometrics would put Canada in line with most other western countries that are already using or preparing to use biometrics in immigration matters, countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, the European Union, New Zealand, the United States and Japan, among others. Unfortunately, there are countless examples of serious criminals, human smugglers, war criminals and suspected terrorists, among others, who have entered Canada in the past.
    I want to provide the House and all Canadians with some real-life examples of cases that clearly demonstrate the need for biometrics to be implemented. For example, Esron Laing and David Wilson were convicted of armed robbery and forcible confinement. They returned to Canada three different times. In fact, they are known as the yo-yo bandits because, just like a yo-yo, they kept coming back. I know that three times seems like a high number but I am sad to say that many serious criminals are deported and manage to return Canada many more times than that.
    Another example is Anthony Hakim Saunders who was convicted of assault and drug trafficking. He was deported on 10 different occasions and, just like the yo-yo bandits, he kept coming back. Edmund Ezemo was convicted of more than 30 charges, including theft and fraud. He was deported and then subsequently returned to Canada eight times. That is incredible. Dale Anthony Wyatt was convicted of trafficking drugs and possession of illegal weapons. He was deported and returned to Canada on at least four separate occasions. Kevin Michael Sawyers was convicted of manslaughter. He was deported and returned to Canada twice. Melando Yaphet Streety served a jail sentence in Canada after he was linked to four underage girls working in Toronto's sex trade. This criminal was deported and then returned to Canada within the same year. Once he returned to Canada, he continued his life of crime.
    My final example is the case of a human smuggler from Iran who the IRB found has repeatedly engaged in the despicable crime of human smuggling. There really are few crimes lower than human smuggling. He was removed in 2007 after he arrived in Canada with a suitcase full of fraudulent identification in his briefcase. However, using false documents yet again, he managed to enter Canada a year later.

  (1745)  

    Unfortunately, this is only a small sample of the serious criminals entering and re-entering Canada. There are even cases in which serious criminals were able to re-enter Canada 15, 19, and even 21 times using false identities and documents. This absolutely has to stop.
    Our officials are very highly trained and do their best to catch identity theft and fraud. However, fraudsters have become more sophisticated, and so have the documents they produce. Biometric data will go a long way to determining the true identity of criminals and preventing them from entering Canada in the first place.
    After years of inaction by previous governments, our Conservative government is taking the prudent action required to end this. We will be unwavering in moving forward on the implementation of biometrics.
    Unfortunately, we are moving forward without the support of the opposition. The NDP and the Liberals are opposing this bill and the authority to implement biometrics as an integral part of this bill. Not only do they not support the implementation of biometrics included in this bill, but the opposition also voted against the funding needed to put biometrics in place. In other words, the opposition NDP and the Liberals have repeatedly voted against our government putting a stop to serious criminals, like the ones I listed above, from entering Canada and living in neighbourhoods among their constituents, my constituents, and all Canadians who just want to protect their families from foreign criminals.
    The opposition is on the wrong side of Canadians on the issue of biometrics. They are off-side with the numerous security experts and other stakeholders who have praised our government's decision to move forward with biometrics. For example, according to The Globe and Mail, the implementation of biometric identification such as fingerprints and photos for people who apply for visitor's visas is a “...welcome change [that] will guard against the use of false identities”.
    The Montreal Gazette had this to say:
    The collection of biometric information is a sensible security precaution that will be a valuable tool in preventing people from slipping into the country with false identities.
    On this side of the House we believe in facilitating the process for legitimate travellers and we have taken several steps toward that end. However, our government also takes seriously its responsibility to keep serious criminals, suspected terrorists, and war criminals, among others, out of Canada.
    Canadians, including my constituents in Etobicoke Centre, have made it clear that they want us to take action to protect their safety and security. That is exactly what our Conservative government is doing with Bill C-31. Biometrics is one of the most effective ways to ensure that criminals can no longer use increasingly sophisticated false documents to enter Canada.
    In short, biometrics will strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system. In fact, all of the changes included in Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, are aimed at deterring abuse of Canada's generous immigration and refugee system. With these proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of Canadians will be protected.
    I urge all members of this House to stop and listen for a moment, to support this important bill and ensure its timely passage in this House.

  (1750)  

    Mr. Speaker, from one member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, through you to another member, I would point out that we are currently engaged in a study at the committee on the very issue of biometrics. Lots of experts are coming to talk to us. It surprises me to see the member opposite giving such a hearty speech in support of biometrics. In my world, we would call that prejudice, the making of decisions and coming to some judgment about biometrics before we have even done the study and listened to the experts.
    I am wondering, what does the member opposite actually think we are doing at the standing committee when we are actually studying, listening, and talking to experts on the issue of biometrics?
    Mr. Speaker, it is not a prejudice to defend the safety and security of Canada and the families in our constituencies. It is an important role and responsibility our government has.
    As the parliamentary secretary has said earlier on, that the minister listens, as he did in other matters involving the committee. He listened and acted early, especially on issues with visas. He is listening now as we go through committee and listen to experts talk about biometrics and securing our borders.
    Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the member makes reference to the fact that biometrics would have resolved those horrendous or terrible crimes he talks about. Most Canadians, I think, would believe that refugees who had committed those type of crimes and were deported would have had their biometrics take already, such as fingerprints and live ID pictures.
    It is only after being in power for six years that the government has finally brought biometrics to the table. It bundled biometrics in with other aspects of legislation to which the opposition is opposed. Therefore, I question how genuine the member's belief is that the opposition is somehow supportive of these criminals when he knows full well that we are not. I would ask him to provide more clarity on that issue.

  (1755)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am not suggesting that the opposition is in league with criminals. However, I think they are short sighted in their opposition to this bill and because of that they will allow more criminals to enter Canada.
    This government has a responsibility to respect all Canadians and their families from these types of criminals entering Canada and biometrics will be a significant feature in doing that.
    This is a forward-thinking government. We act. We do not wait, and we get it done for Canadians.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for his extremely well done speech. He serves the committee well and understands the file. I wanted to ask him a question from his riding's perspective.
    We can come to the House of Commons and speak to particular issues and the impacts they have across the country, but this is really one of those issues that hit home time and time again in each of our ridings. The member deals with visas and permanent residency and refugee applications in his caseload, as well as the folks who come into his office to talk about those. I am wondering if he could allude to how much this bill would assist him from a local perspective in delivering local services to his constituents.
    Mr. Speaker, I think biometrics would go a great length to help us solve a lot of the open files that we have and have seen in the past, not only in my riding but also in other members' ridings. It would eliminate the confusion that exists in some of these cases and files.
    I think this is the right road and the right path for Canada and all Canadians.
    Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak in the House today on Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act. I congratulate my hon. colleague, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, for tabling this important legislation. I encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-31 to ensure that it passes into law.
    Canada has a proud humanitarian tradition of providing protection to those who need it. Every year of the roughly 20 countries that resettle refugees, Canada annually resettles between 10,000 and 12,000, or one out of every ten refugees resettled globally.
    In fact, my father came to Canada as a refugee and today I find myself in this hallowed chamber because of Canada's generosity and compassion. My parents worked hard for years, raised a family and created jobs for Canadians. They were always grateful to Canada and proud of their new homeland.
    There is no doubt that our government is committed to continuing this proud tradition of ours. That is why we will uphold Canada's previous commitments to resettle more refugees. By 2013, Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees, an increase of 2,500 refugees since 2010. That is an increase of 2,500 refugees.
    Our generous immigration system is not only t