Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, it is critical that we trust in science and in our scientists. Despite recent challenges, I remain hopeful about global efforts to tackle climate change because of our history of innovation and leadership in science.
With that history in mind, I rise to recognize the 25th anniversary of the UV index, a scale invented here in Canada and adopted by the WHO and the UN Environment program internationally. In particular, I want to recognize the three Toronto-based Environment Canada scientists who invented the index: Jim Kerr, David Wardle, and Beaches-East York constituent Tom McElroy, now a professor at York's Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering.
“In a sense, we managed to put a hat on everybody in the world.” That is Tom's modest way of describing an incredible accomplishment, an accomplishment that has not only improved public health awareness but serves as a reminder of the progress we can achieve when we put our trust in science and give our scientists both freedom and funding to do their work.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, the black market has no age limit and no quality controls. We also know there is a better way. With tobacco use, we have seen a public health approach succeed, not prohibition but a focus on regulation, restrictions on public use, restrictions on commercial advertising, and a focus on education.
Fifty years ago, 50% of Canadians smoked tobacco. That number is now less than 15%. We do not write tickets to responsible adults for smoking a cigarette or drinking Scotch. We regulate and we educate.
Our approach to cannabis is driven by public health. There is a strict possession limit of an ounce; an age limit of 18, which provinces can set higher if they so wish; and a strict but sensible limitation on commercial advertising. In taking this approach, we recognize the potential harms associated with cannabis use, but we do not overstate them.
In January, the National Academy of Sciences released a literature review of the current state of the evidence and recommendations. Yes, we know there is an association between high cannabis use and psychosis. It is dose dependent and may be moderated by genetics. We also know there is an association between high alcohol consumption and mental health, and we are not criminalizing alcohol. Yes, we should seek to limit the harms of gambling, of alcohol, and of cannabis, but prohibition is not the answer. Our policies should not be permissive. Nor should they be fearmongering.
The leader of the Green Party recognized this as well.
We have struck that balance between Canadians as responsible adults and a public health approach. Legislation on this subject that satisfies a civil libertarian like myself and a former police chief, like my neighbour from Scarborough Southwest, is no easy feat. CAMH supports our public health approach, as does the Canadian Nurses Association.
I have a few comments from constituents of mine. One constituent, Mark Bartlett, says, “Education is the key here, education and not fearmongering, but based and grounded in facts, and education focused on responsible use. Abstinence is the absence of education. We should focus on responsible use that's related to driving offences, related to the risk of addiction because of the frequency of use, and the potential for reduced academic achievement because of the frequency of use.”
I have a few suggestions from constituents related to this legislation.
It is a wonderful thing that we are removing criminal offences for five grams and under for young Canadians. My constituents are certainly skeptical of the value of any criminal records or criminal charges and the use of the criminal law for possession at all.
On the sale to minors, there is obviously an incongruity between the sale of alcohol to minors and the sale of cannabis to minors. A number of constituents have raised this, and it is not to be part of this legislation, but forward-looking record suspensions and amnesty.
I will end where I began. Once we pass the legislation, it is important to undo the past injustices of this incredibly outdated law and to suspend the criminal records of any Canadian affected by a possession charge and a record. This was part of the original Liberal Party of Canada policy resolution, and we should certainly see that policy through.
I have a few comments on the idea that it is driven by dollars, which I have heard from my Conservative colleagues from the other side. We have been very clear that this is not a revenue driven approach, as it largely was to varying degrees in Colorado, but it is a public health approach. We are not looking to maximize revenues; we are looking to undercut the black market. Where we do take in revenue at the federal level, we plan to spend it on treatment and education.
When it comes to the social harms of cannabis, and I cannot emphasize this enough for my Conservative colleagues on the other side, we can take as just one example the potential social harms of cannabis versus a substance like alcohol. We know from the large literature review from the National Academy of Sciences that there are obvious risks for women consuming cannabis during pregnancy. We also know, though, that fetal alcohol syndrom is incredibly costly to our society. Three thousand Canadians a year are affected by this, yet I do not hear anyone in the House proposing a criminal law or ticketing option related to alcohol. We know the answer is regulation and education, and that is exactly what the legislation proposes.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, Gilda Radner once said that having cancer gave her membership in an elite club she would rather not belong to. We all know friends and family who have had membership in that club. I have lost uncles. My wife lost her mom. For years since, Amy has run a health-promoting supper program at Gilda's Club Greater Toronto, an organization dedicated to the idea that no one should face cancer alone.
Others, like Dr. John Dick, are working to ensure that fewer of us face cancer, and that those of us who do will face it successfully. Dr. Dick is well known for his pioneering research as the first scientist to identify cancer stem cells. Among many titles, he is the Canada research chair in stem cell biology, a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Toronto, and a senior scientist with the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. He is also the recent recipient of the Gold Leaf Prize for Discovery from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
To Dr. Dick from Beaches—East York and to all recipients of the inaugural Gold Leaf Prize, we thank them for their work.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I would like to note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Brampton East.
We have a youth council in my riding of Beaches—East York, chaired by two intelligent young women, Faiza and Noor. We meet once a month to talk about policy issues, about issues I should raise in Ottawa. They are helping our office host a drug policy town hall on April 19. When we last met, these young Canadians highlighted two particular issues.
The first issue was the boil water advisories on first nation reserves. There is a consensus that 150 years after Confederation, in a modern country such as ours, it is unacceptable for so many indigenous Canadians to be without access to a safe water supply.
In last year's budget, we committed $8.4 billion, over five years, to indigenous communities across Canada. This year's budget proposes an additional $3.4 billion, over five years, beginning next year. These investments are focused on better on-reserve housing; education, including new schools; health and, yes, clean water.
Yesterday, ourfinance minister noted that 18 long-term drinking water advisories had been lifted in first nation communities, with 71 still to go. Budget 2017 notes that we are on track to eliminate more than 60% of the remaining advisories within three years, and all by March 2021.
The second issue raised was youth employment. The theme is a common one. Young Canadians cannot get work experience without a job and cannot get a job without work experience. The question is principally one of skills and experience, not direct job creation but creating the conditions for job creation.
In budget 2017, we are focused on building those skills for young Canadians, with an additional $400 million over three years for the youth employment strategy, an ambitious goal, providing 10,000 co-op placements, an emphasis on digital skills and coding education for young Canadians, and more opportunities for STEM learning activities for Canadian youth. In the words of our finance minister, “We will help students get the skills and work experience they need to kick-start their careers.”
As an aside, it is important to note that we are investing in skills training beyond youth as well.
Speaking to the budget more broadly, our finance minister described it as both ambitious and responsible. It builds on the ambitious agenda set forth in our election platform, in the throne speech, in budget 2016, and it does so in a responsible way.
Building on our infrastructure plans in budget 2016 and the fall economic statement, this year's budget reiterates our commitment to investing in public transit and lays out a foundation for a national housing strategy and a national child care and early learning framework.
On child care and early learning, this budget provides $7 billion over 10 years, starting in 2018-19. It will help create more quality, affordable child care spaces across the country. That is over $500 million each year, 2018-19 and 2019-20. As a young parent, and hello to my wife and my seven-month-old Mackinlay back home, we have also made changes to help parents by making EI parental benefits more flexible. I have no idea how anyone manages to raise children in the city of Toronto without the help of parents or family. I am lucky to have parents to help with Mackinlay.
Our proposed changes will allow parents to choose to receive EI parental benefits over an extended period of up to 18 months and meet the platform commitment to do just that. EI parental benefits will continue to be available at the existing rate of 55% over a period of up to 12 months. However, if parents wish, they can take it up to 18 months at a lower benefit rate of 33% of average weekly earnings.
On housing, budget 2016 provided $2.2 billion over two years to give more Canadians access to more affordable housing. To build on these efforts, budget 2017 proposes to invest more than $11 billion over 11 years in a variety of initiatives to build, renew, and repair Canada's stock of affordable housing, to ensure Canadians have the affordable housing to meet their needs.
Mayor Tory has said that the 2017 budget improvements to the city's transit and housing infrastructure will ensure a stronger Toronto and that many of the funding commitments will help city council to build up a stronger and fairer Toronto. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has said that this budget's allocation-based transit plan puts cities in the driver's seat like never before and it creates a real opportunity to address the housing crises.
I have spoken before in the House of different kinds of deficits. For example, there are paper deficits and there are infrastructure deficits. When one considers how spending is allocated in budget 2017, it is important to remember that in many cases, including infrastructure spending, inaction costs more than action over the long term. Investments now are not only a matter of social progress; they are also a matter of fiscal prudence. The significant costs of inaction underlines much of budget 2017, from housing to tackling climate change to the new bilateral health agreements, and focus on home care.
On climate change, budget 2017 proposes to increase financing support for Canada's clean technology sector by making available more equity financing, working capital, and project financing to promising clean technology firms. Nearly $1.4 billion in new financing on a cash basis will be made available to Canada's clean technology sector.
As I represent a waterfront riding, I note that budget 2017 clearly states that supporting clean freshwater is an utmost priority and commits $70 million to protect our freshwater resources, to focus efforts on reducing toxic chemicals to improve water quality, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable use.
Environmental Defence has cheered measures on climate, including new energy efficiency standards for buildings. Budget 2017 would also modify the tax treatment for successful oil and gas test drilling to better reflect the reality of today's exploration technology and the principle that polluters should pay their fair share.
The government has also come to a number of bilateral health agreements with the provinces. In doing so, we seek to address the mental health funding gap; $6 billion over 10 years for home care and $5 billion over 10 years to support mental health initiatives. I would note, without going into detail, significant efforts to consolidate caregiving benefits will make a real difference to those looking after their elderly parents and family members.
This year's budget, building as it does on budget 2016, ambitiously seeks to build our country's critical infrastructure and our ability to meet the added challenges of climate change, an aging population, and an economy that continues to become more knowledge based. It does so in a responsible way.
The finance minister has referenced the fiscal anchor and our responsibility to ensure a continued decline in net debt to GDP. Our fiscal health will continue to improve, alongside the critical investments I have mentioned.
We remain committed to tax fairness. In addition to the budget allocation in 2016 to the CRA, we are investing an additional $520 million over five years to tackle tax evasion and improve tax compliance.
We have also made significant efforts to simplify the tax code.
I have had a number of constituents already raise concerns about the public transit tax credit. I would note, though, that with these tax credits, including the public transit tax credit, there is no evidence that it encourages additional participation. There is a low participation rate. I have used this tax credit. One has to save one's metro passes and file the requisite paperwork. For $200 or $250, it is a significant amount of effort for relatively low payoff. We are better off providing those targeted investments at the outset to make transit more affordable for everyone. It will increase participation if we did so.
We do not talk about data collection enough. In this budget, we talk about data collection with respect to housing and health. Specifically, with the health care system, there is an investment of $53 million over five years to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. In the city of Toronto, for housing in particular, affordable housing is quickly growing out of reach for those my age and younger. Statistics are very important for us to identify the problem and tackle it properly. The budget promises to give Statistics Canada almost $40 million over five years to develop and implement a housing statistics framework.
On data collection more broadly, it is largely about measuring success. Of course, we measure success against specific goals. This includes economic growth generally, but also the creation of economic opportunities on a more equitable basis, including by gender. To that end, a full chapter in budget 2017 applies a gender-based analysis to federal spending. This is an important step. It will help inform future budgets and spending. My youth council has highlighted gender equality, and this is one step to greater equality. Equal Voice lauded budget 2017 for its gender lens, noting it changed the way a government makes spending decisions.
There are other lenses to apply. I know my youth council is also interested in seeing a generational analysis applied to federal spending. We have done a lot for young Canadians in the budget, and we will continue to do a lot for them. A generational analysis will help us to measure how we are doing in relation to other age groups. It has been advocated by an organization called Generation Squeeze. I look forward to working with the parliamentary budget office to make it a reality.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I honestly did not expect to stand to address a Conservative question demanding more spending, but I am happy to address it. At the outset of my speech, I indicated that $3.4 billion of new money would flow to first nations.
The idea of budget 2017 is to focus specifically on and clarify where some spending allocations set out in budget 2016 will go. Therefore, when I said a national housing strategy, when I talked about child care, these were larger allocations set out in budget 2016, which we are now properly allocating to specific initiatives.
On the gender-based analysis, I would note that this is not the end of the story. We will continue this conversation in further budgets.
I would also note, having spoken to folks at the Parliamentary Budget Office, that they are keen to assess our efforts to bring a gender-based lens to the budget, and they will be doing the same.
I am happy to work across the aisle with the member to improve efforts on pay equity and narrow the wage gap, because it is absolutely unacceptable.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, today is World Blood Donor Day, marked by the World Health Organization.
I want to thank the hundreds of donors in Beaches—East York. This past Friday over 200 of my neighbours signed up to give blood at the Beach United Church, including Amanda Tiernan-Carpino, whose daughter Gigi was saved by a blood transfusion three years ago.
Unfortunately I am unable to thank the thousands of would-be donors across our country because of our continued policy effectively banning donations from gay and bisexual men, regardless of whether they are in a long-lasting monogamous relationship.
I am proud of the Young Liberals of Canada for raising attention to this issue and of my government for including a commitment in our election platform to end the ban based on science. Other countries, such as Portugal, Italy, Poland, Mexico, Argentina, and Chile, base donor eligibility on a combination of risk factors, not sexual orientation alone. Canada should do the same.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by briefly thanking the government for direct investments in my community of Beaches—East York specifically, with a major investment in Neighbourhood Link, now The Neighbourhood Group, which provides important employment services and settlement services in my community.
The government's first budget invests in productivity, people, and our planet. As a first budget, it follows through on many promises from October's election, from supporting veterans, to making post-secondary education more affordable, to investing in science and innovation, to restoring funding to the CBC, to increasing support for the arts, and to emphasizing data-driven government.
An essential plank of our platform was infrastructure investment. The budget proposes $3.4 billion for public transit infrastructure over the next three years, and $2.3 billion for affordable housing initiatives over the next two years.
It was especially encouraging to see $840 million recently committed to public transit in the city of Toronto. Importantly, the funds will go toward necessary maintenance and upgrades of the existing public transit system, often overlooked and unappreciated, yet critical work.
The commitment to invest in transit based on ridership figures is also important, as it commits our government to data-driven decision-making. More, there is renewed respect for local decision-making, and any unspent funds in a calendar year will be rolled into the gas tax transfer, giving municipalities the certainty of receiving the promised funds, no matter what.
I want to pause here to highlight the fact that the previous government also made significant investments in infrastructure. This is an area where there ought to be consensus in this House.
The budget also makes investments directly in families with children, and directly in seniors. These two investments are of particular note because they expand existing basic income programs. A basic income or guaranteed annual income is not a partisan idea. Those on the traditional left, who fight to end poverty, find common cause with those on the traditional right, who wish to see a less bureaucratic, more efficient administration of the welfare state.
A Canadian example of such cross-partisan advocacy can be found in our Senate. Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal has done much to raise awareness for the problem of poverty and has long called for the prescription of a basic income. Current Senator, Art Eggleton, also a long-time poverty awareness advocate, recently put forward a motion calling upon this government to establish a basic income pilot project. The Province of Ontario has heeded that call, and we should do the same.
I commend my colleague from Winnipeg Centre for bringing attention to the House, through the finance committee, the importance of a basic income. Of course, we already know the value of a basic income, a fact that our budget investments recognize through the Canada child benefit and the guaranteed income supplement.
As I said, in December, in my first speech in this House, our Canada child benefit is effectively a basic income for kids and families in need. It will provide a base amount of $6,400 every year for every child under the age of six, and $5,400 every year for every child between the ages of six to 17. It is targeted to those families who actually need the help. The more a family earns, the less it gets. In other words, it is fair. As implemented, it will raise hundreds of thousands of children, an estimated 300,000, out of poverty.
Now, there remains room for improvement. For example, the Canada child benefit should be indexed to inflation immediately. It should account for the total number of family members, not only children. As we continue to improve data collection in the future, we should assess whether we can account for differences in living costs between geographic regions within our country.
Still, when 25% of children in Toronto live in poverty, and well over 30% of children in the Crescent Town community in my riding, the Canada child benefit will make a real difference for many.
The guaranteed income supplement for seniors is another iteration of the same idea, with a different target group. The budget will increase GIS by 10%, or up to $950 more per year. It is estimated that it will mean increased benefits for 900,000 Canadians.
Both programs, the GIS and the CCB, are comprised of a single non-taxable benefit geared to income. As basic income guarantees, they are programs we should continue to build upon. A 2011 National Council of Welfare report tells us that the cost of poverty is greater than the cost of ending poverty. The answer is a basic income guarantee, or programs built on that idea.
As an aside, the cost of poverty is on full display in first nation communities, where we have underinvested in education, infrastructure, and overall support for years. We are witnessing the real costs of turning a blind eye to poverty, isolation, and a lack of opportunities. The budget commits over $5 billion to first nation communities over the remainder of our mandate. The investment is an important one, but more resources are required to close the gap.
Finally, the budget invests in clean technologies and sets funds aside for a low-carbon fund. Unfortunately, we are not currently on target to meet our 2° Celsius target.
I have sat in this House since December, wondering how members of the official opposition, committed as they are to free markets, ignore the consensus of economists who have identified carbon pricing as the market-based solution to fighting climate change. We need federal leadership on a carbon price. I am hopeful that a low-carbon fund will be used to provide incentives for provinces to increase their targets. We need to be more ambitious if we are going to meet our commitments in Paris.
My own view is that we should propose a carbon price based on federal privacy legislation. The federal framework, a minimum national carbon price, would apply unless provinces have substantially similar rules, in which case provincial rules would govern.
B.C. has a model for the rest of the country, as it is truly revenue neutral. All funds taken in through the carbon tax are repaid to citizens, lowering the taxes of the majority of the population. A federal framework should start at B.C.'s current level of $30 per tonne, as proposed by the citizens climate coalition.
Federal action is also required when one looks at the industry exemption that provinces have introduced into their own carbon pricing regimes. Provinces are rightly concerned that a carbon price will lead to increased costs on inputs for Canadian companies and could put certain industries at a competitive disadvantage with international goods. The federal government can resolve this dilemma. Border carbon tax adjustments can be applied on goods from countries without equivalent carbon pricing policies to protect Canadian industries, or at least to ensure a level playing field.
Carbon pricing is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Our focus should also be on innovation. On the World Economic Forum's ranking of performance of countries' innovation, Canada ranks only 22nd. Our clean-tech industry specifically has lost 40% of its global market share over the last decade. Many necessary innovations are coming, such as affordable electric cars, but they are not coming fast enough based purely on market forces.
Government has a role to play, and our innovation agenda will help. We will invest $1 billion to support clean tech in industries over the next four years, over $60 million to support deployment of alternative fuels for transportation, $130 million per year for clean-tech research, and additional millions to support new research chairs in clean and sustainable technology.
We must also focus on improving energy efficiency. Billions will be invested in improving municipal waste water systems, $570 million will go toward efficiency retrofits to existing social housing. While new builds can and should be subject to the passive house or net-zero standards, guidelines for retrofits and renovations need to be improved and better standardized.
The budget is not perfect. There is a glaring hole in the health agenda, which I hope will be rectified as a new health accord is negotiated with the provinces. I am a believer in the national seniors strategy, as proposed by the Canadian Medical Association, for example. However, in sum, it is a budget that is worthy of our support. It will improve the lives of millions of Canadians, and that is fundamentally what we are here to do.
There is a letter that was written by 350 economists that was released today. Given that it is important to our financial system, I would like to read an excerpt from it: “The existence of tax havens does not add to overall global wealth or well-being; they serve no useful economic purpose.” They serve to increase income inequality. Their “secrecy...fuels corruption and undermines countries' ability to collect their fair share of taxes.” They distort the “working of the global economy.... They also threaten the rule of law.... There is no economic justification for allowing the continuation of tax havens...”.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
moved that Bill C-246, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Fisheries Act, the Textile Labelling Act, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act and the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (animal protection), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I put forward Bill C-246, the modernizing animal protections act, to improve our country's animal welfare laws.
I have often been asked why I chose to introduce the bill.
First, animal welfare matters to me personally. Yesterday was Mother's Day, and I thank my own mother for instilling in me the value of respect, including respect for animals. Second, animal welfare matters to many of my constituents. I can joke about the percentage of dog ownership in my riding, but during the time we put out a call for ideas for a bill, we received more correspondence on the issue of animal welfare than any other. Third, I am interested in ideas that cross traditional party lines, and I believe animal welfare is an issue of concern for all Canadians, from farmers to hunters to anglers to pet owners, including supporters of every political party.
I have a great deal of respect for the members for Ajax and Vancouver Centre and previous Liberal justice ministers McLellan, Cauchon, and Cotler. Each of them introduced nearly identical provisions to modernize and strengthen our Criminal Code.
These changes are targeted at animal abuse, from animal fighting to deplorable puppy mill conditions, not animal use.
The bill seeks to accomplish three goals: first, a ban on the importation of shark fins; second, a ban on the importation and sale of cat and dog fur, and a requirement to label the source of fur; and third, the modernization and strengthening of existing animal cruelty offences in our Criminal Code.
With respect to shark finning, it is estimated that more than 70 million sharks are killed every year for their fins. The practice is cruel. Their fins are cut off and the shark's bodies are thrown back into the ocean while they are still alive. They are left to sink to the bottom of the ocean and drown. It is as cruel as it is wasteful.
Canada has banned shark finning within our borders since 1994, but we remain complicit in this cruel practice. The Globe and Mail recently reported that Canadians imported over 300,000 pounds of shark fins last year alone. We represent 1.5% to 2% of the global market. The bill would ban a person from importing or attempting to import shark fins into Canada.
These amendments were drafted based upon advice from the Library of Parliament and legislative counsel. If there is a better way of addressing these concerns, I ask that such matters be resolved at committee.
I want to specifically thank the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam for bringing this matter to the attention of the House in 2013. His legislation was narrowly defeated at second reading. I believe it is time to correct that mistake.
Canadians across the country agree. We want to protect the world's oceans. When polled in 2013, 81% of Canadians surveyed supported an importation ban against shark fins. Similar bans have been led by those in the Chinese community, including Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who helped to ban shark fins in Toronto in 2011. Chinese American senators have introduced shark fin bans in Hawaii and California. Both businesses and the government in China are moving away from serving the product.
If necessary, I am open to a change that would limit the ban to countries that do not have the same regulations as we have here in Canada; that is, requiring that a shark be landed before its fin is removed.
With respect to cat and dog fur, the bill seeks to ban its importation and sale. It also seeks to require that all fur products be labelled as to the source of fur. Large companies, such as Canada Goose, already follow this best practice. Again, if there are any concerns with particularities in the drafting of the provision, they should be dealt with at committee.
There is an e-petition before the House with more than 13,000 signatures, calling on the government to ban the importation and sale of cat and dog fur. Such measures have already been adopted by the EU and U.S., and it is time for Canada to catch up.
Finally, with respect to the Criminal Code amendments, I have received questions about the meaning of proposed new subparagraph 182.1 (1 )(a). That is the provision that states that it is a crime to wilfully or recklessly cause unnecessary pain or suffering to animals. This provision would not affect any animal use practices. I know that, because the same provision has been in the code for decades, and it has never stopped animal use. Some have incorrectly suggested that the word “recklessly” is being added. This is blatantly false. The current section 429 of the code already applies the word “recklessly” to existing animal cruelty offences.
Here is how my bill would change the code. First, it would close loopholes related to animal fighting. It is not currently a crime to profit from animal fighting, nor to train or breed animals for the purpose of fighting. The bill would make these activities criminal.
Second, it would close a loophole in the definition of bestiality.
In Australia, it is a crime to engage in any sexual activity with an animal, yet due to a recent decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal, bestiality in our Criminal Code requires penetration. The court stated that it is up to Parliament to expressly amend the code if it deems a change necessary. That is exactly what this bill aims to do, make all sexual conduct with an animal a crime.
Third, it would create a new offence of brutal and vicious killing to close a loophole where an owner had killed his dog with a baseball bat but the judge acquitted on the basis that the dog died immediately and there was no evidence of pain and suffering. This language was drafted by the justice department in 1999, and previous justice minister Cauchon stated categorically that such a change would not affect animal use practices. When I consulted with the current justice department, it had no concerns whatsoever with this part of the legislation.
Reasonably, any concerns of unintended consequences should be addressed at committee. We can hear from criminal law experts, and if the amendments could plausibly affect accepted animal use practices, their language should be changed or an exemption list be added to ensure that they do not have that effect. I accept that.
I am open to reasonable amendments and have repeatedly said so. My in-laws would disown me if my changes stopped farming, fishing, or hunting, as they have owned a farm outside of Sarnia since 1834. As a lawyer, I do not believe that the Criminal Code should be used to regulate accepted practices. It is in place to punish egregious and immoral conduct in our society. Had I intended to affect farming, I would have done so through the Meat Inspection Act or the Health of Animals Act, not the Criminal Code.
Fourth, it would allow judges to ban animal ownership if one is convicted of animal cruelty for a second time, getting tougher on animal abusers.
Fifth, the bill would change the current animal cruelty offence of willful neglect to one of gross negligence, a standard applied to every other criminal negligence offence under the Criminal Code, modernizing our legislation. The current willful neglect standard can make prosecution difficult. Under a gross negligence standard, there is no mental element to the offence, and the crown need only prove that animal cruelty was caused by conduct that is a marked departure from the norm. That remains a very high standard. Clumsiness, incompetence, and ordinary mistakes will not be criminalized.
An example of a recent case of criminal negligence is the conviction of the Albertan parents who failed to take their sick baby to a doctor for over two and a half weeks and resorted only to natural remedies until the baby died. Criminal negligence requires a significant departure from what is generally accepted in our society in order for the moral censure of a criminal punishment to be appropriate.
Finally, my bill would move animals from the property section to a new part entitled “Offences against animals”. This is a symbolic change. Animals will remain property at law, but it recognizes that animals are different from tables and other kinds of property. It recognizes that an offence against animals is wrong because it is wrong to harm animals, not because it is wrong to damage another person's property, which just happens to be an animal.
Previously, the Criminal Lawyers' Association testified at committee that the removal of the animal cruelty provisions from the property section would not cause the loss of any available defences under the code. This part is important. When it was studied at committee in the Senate, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and the Poultry Welfare Association both hired counsel to testify. Each noted that its only legal concern with the removal from the property section would be the potential loss of the colour of right defence. They proposed one specific amendment to fix that. To address those concerns, I added that proposed amendment at proposed section 182.4 of my bill. If any concerns remain, again I am open to amendment. The purpose of this bill is not to affect accepted animal use in our society.
A broad range of groups support my bill.
First, I am proud to say that the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness supports the bill. The CCAA is a national charitable organization with a mandate to reduce the incidents and impact of child abuse through education and public awareness. As John Muise, director of public safety at the CCAA, retired veteran police detective, and former board member at the Parole Board of Canada, notes that research confirms the link between abuse of animals and other forms of violence including child abuse.
The CCAA appreciates the targeted approach taken in this bill in a number of specific areas. Of note, this legislation, when passed, would close a “sex with animals” loophole successfully used by a child sexual abuser in court. The CCAA believes this evidence-based PMB is deserving all-party support, and looks forward to testifying in support of the bill at committee.
Second, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association supports the bill. The CVMA is the national and international voice of Canada's veterinarians. The CVMA writes, “Veterinarians are often the first professionals to examine an abused animal. The CVMA continues to support efforts to strengthen the Criminal Code's existing animal cruelty provisions...strongly supports passage of C-246 at second reading and looks forward to providing more detailed and in-depth input at the committee hearings.”
Third, humane societies and SPCAs across the country support the bill. The Montreal SPCA states, “Cases of severe neglect...are unfortunately not uncommon, and changes need to be made to facilitate the prosecution of these offences.”
The BCSPCA states that, “The bill closes loopholes related to animal fighting and creates a gross negligence offence for animal cruelty to make it easier to prosecute cases such as deplorable puppy mill conditions.”
The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies has written to every member of Parliament in support of the bill. Each year, SPCAs and humane societies investigate more than 45,000 complaints of animal cruelty and neglect. As organizations entrusted by governments and by Canadians to enforce the law, the member societies of the CFHS regularly witness the impact of inadequate and antiquated animal cruelty sections of the Criminal Code of Canada.
This is not new legislation. The Criminal Code amendments were originally drafted by the Department of Justice in consultation with animal use organizations. There was near identical legislation that passed this House at third reading on three different occasions, and passed third reading at the Senate on one occasion, subject to minor proposed changes.
Many current members of Parliament have voted in favour of that legislation, including the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and the members for Cape Breton-Canso, Malpeque, Yukon, Kenora, Vancouver Centre, Scarborough—Guildwood, Brome—Missisquoi, and Steveston—Richmond East.
That legislation included the brutal and vicious language, “lawful excuse” language, and the addition of the gross negligence standard.
It was not only supported then by current colleagues, it was also supported by animal use groups. For example, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture supported that legislation in 2004, and a broad coalition of animal sector groups wrote a letter, dated November 22, 2004, to the then minister of justice, Irwin Cotler, to support the legislation. The letter was signed by, among others, the BC Cattlemen's Association, The Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Canadian Association for Laboratory Animal Science, the Canadian Sheep Federation, the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association, and the Ontario Farm Animal Council. The letter stated:
Canada's animal-based sectors, as represented by the undersigned, wish to express our support for the swift passage of certain amendments to the Criminal Code: Cruelty to Animals provisions. This national coalition, on behalf of over one million Canadians we represent, join with others who are expressing support for improved animal cruelty legislation. Specifically, we are calling for the reintroduction and adoption of the measures contained within Bill C-22[...]
It is our hope that the consensus that has already been achieved in Bill C-22 will result in the re-introduction and passage of this important legislation as rapidly as possible.
Bill C-246, my legislation, reintroduces that important legislation. The previous member for Peterborough, a riding with a cross-section of rural and urban communities, the hon. Peter Adams, said this in 2004:
This is legislation that is important to all those who care about animals. It is equally important to those who own pets as it is to farmers who care for their livestock. [...]
It simply brings old provisions designed to protect animals into the 21st century. Enough is enough.
That was 12 years ago, yet the words still ring true today.
The purpose of a vote at second reading is to vote on the objects of the bill. I have laid out these objects and reiterated that the intention of this bill is not to affect animal use practices. I ask for members' support at second reading, such that any concerns, questions, and potential drafting errors, can be addressed properly at committee.
I ask for members' support to improve our animal welfare laws.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, it is important to clarify some of the language. I tried as much as possible to state that quite clearly this is not intended to affect and will not affect animal use practices.
With respect to the two provisions in particular, the poison section is already in the Criminal Code. That provision has long been in the Criminal Code and has never stopped animal use practices. We ought not be worried about that particular provision.
In fairness, the brutal and vicious provision is not legislation that I drafted. It was originally drafted by the Department of Justice, in 1999. The minister is stating categorically that it will not affect animal use practices, but I completely appreciate that some might want to see that in black and white. That is exactly why I am asking to get this bill to committee. Let us have criminal lawyers testify as to its plausible effects, and if there is any possibility that would affect any animal use practices, let us either remove that provision or put a definition section in the bill.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, we have heard the parliamentary budget officer referred to many times in this House today. I would like to note that, with respect to the TFSA, the PBO reviewed the previous government's doubling of contribution limits to this savings vehicle and noted that it primarily benefited well-off Canadians and made the tax break “much more regressive”:
By 2060, gains for high wealth households project to be twice the median and ten times that of low-wealth households.
I would like to ask my friend how this measure would play a role in bringing fairness to our tax system and how this measure could in fact help the middle class.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, congratulations.
I want to begin by thanking my wife, Amy Symington, my parents, and my family and friends for their love and support through this year's marathon campaign. I thank also the hundreds of volunteers who worked tirelessly to give me this opportunity and all the residents of Beaches—East York who put their trust and confidence in me.
I am especially proud of my community's recent efforts to come together in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis. Many neighbours have pledged both their time and money to welcome refugees into our community. I commend the work of local churches, community organizations, and hard-working, caring individuals.
It is an important reminder that long-term peace is forged by a compassionate and inclusive society. I see those values as my fellow neighbours work to welcome newcomers into our community and do their part in our world. Equally, our response to the Syrian refugee crisis is a reminder that we can and should work to put politics aside. In doing so, we have the ability to accomplish great things.
I am one of 197 new MPs, and my home riding sent me here to take a new approach, one focused on honest debate, respectful disagreement, and building consensus.
Pollsters tell us that less than a quarter of Canadians have faith in our democracy. I am asking everyone in this House to help change that. I believe that politics is a noble profession and I am naive enough to want every Canadian to feel pride in the work that we will do here when they watch us in action. Canadians agree on more than we often realize. Rather than scoring points and tearing each other down, we should work as hard as we can to prioritize agreement.
In the throne speech, we were promised a government that is smart and caring. Those two themes are important: fiscal responsibility and social progress -- matching a social justice perspective and an investment outlook.
There are any number of issues where we may disagree on why we support a given policy or initiative, but we do in fact agree on the end conclusion. It is our job to point these out, and many of these issues were rightfully highlighted in the throne speech. I will mention five.
First is a recommitment to science, evidence and data-driven government. In the U.S., former officials in the Obama and Bush administrations estimate that less than one out of every hundred dollars of government spending is backed by even the most basic evidence that the money is being spent wisely. We experienced similar problems here in Canada, yet good data is central to good decision-making. We need to collect better data about the policies and programs that work, to fund or increase funding for what works, and to direct funds away from those programs that fail to achieve measurable outcomes.
I am proud that 2016 will be a census year, but that must be only the beginning. Fairness requires that our social programs are effective. Reason requires that they are also efficient. Good data is essential for both.
Second, we should work across the aisle to end poverty in this country. Our Canada child benefit is one significant piece to that puzzle. It is effectively a guaranteed annual income for kids and families in need. As an aside, a basic annual income has been advocated by those in both the traditional left and the traditional right, including the hon. Hugh Segal.
Bringing kids out of poverty is obviously a matter of social justice. It is on its face the right thing to do, but we also know that kids lifted out of poverty are more likely to finish high school, go to university or college, and contribute to our economy in a serious way, not to mention the savings in future social assistance, criminal justice, and health care.
In 1989, this House unanimously committed to ending child poverty by the year 2000. It is now 2015 and over one million children still live below the poverty line, but the importance of that objective should not be forgotten.
Our benefit aims to bring over 300,000 of those kids above the poverty line. More work obviously remains to be done, but it is an important initial commitment. We will not dictate how the money should be spent. We will simply ensure that the money is targeted to those families in real need.
Third is public infrastructure investment. We talk a lot about deficits in the House, but we should be clear which deficit most concerns us. My primary concern is the infrastructure deficit. It exceeds $120 billion across the country, according to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It costs our economy billions of dollars in productivity every year.
The Board of Trade of Toronto has estimated that congestion costs the GTA economy at least $6 billion every year. The C.D. Howe Institute estimates that this figure exceeds $11 billion in the GTHA. If we do not make investments in core infrastructure and public transit now, it will cost us more in the long run. With interest rates at historic lows, we have a unique opportunity to invest.
In the spirit of not scoring points, let me remind Canadians that investment in infrastructure rose from 2.5% of GDP a year in 2000 to 2006 to 3.3% in 2007 to 2012. In other words, our former Conservative government understood the need for public infrastructure investment, made historic investments, and we are continuing and expanding upon that work.
Fourth is our environment. The provinces have moved forward in the absence of federal leadership over the last 10 years. We need to work with them. Without question, there is a significant future cost to climate change. Reports tell us that inaction will ultimately cost us more than action.
For starters, we need to ensure effective carbon pricing across our country. In 2008, B.C. implemented an effective carbon price that is revenue neutral. I am encouraged by similar efforts to date in Alberta.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke of intrusive government yesterday, but there is a consensus among economists about the usefulness of a carbon price. It is supported by those who believe in free markets. It emphasizes the principle that polluters should pay. It is a classic economic response: internalizing the externalities imposed on our environment that are not adequately captured in the current price of fossil fuels. When Preston Manning and the cross-partisan Ecofiscal Commission are calling for carbon pricing, it is quite clearly not the job-killing tax on everything that Canadians have been repeatedly told.
Fifth is health care, including preventive health care and a focus on the social determinants of health, poverty alleviation, and better support for nutrition and physical activity programs. There are many steps we can take to improve Canadians' quality of life, all the more important when one considers that an unhealthy Canadian costs our public system $10,000 more per year than a healthy Canadian.
Similarly, we must heed the call of the Canadian Medical Association and invest in home care and long-term care facilities. Hospital stays can cost over $1,000 per day, long-term care $130, and home care as little as $55 a day. As seniors already represent 50% of health care spending, it is incumbent on us both to improve the quality of care and to create savings in our health care system.
There are many other ideas and issues to add to this list, from expanding the housing first initiative to reversing unjust tough on crime policies that put more Canadians in jail at an average annual cost of $120,000, to a public health approach to drug policy, and on and on.
Finally, there are a number of initiatives that respect the rights and freedoms of Canadians and the openness of government without affecting the public purse. Our merit-based and practical plan for Senate reform to remove partisanship and patronage in the upper chamber is endorsed by constitutional experts.
I look forward to helping craft death-with-dignity legislation to protect the constitutional rights of the terminally ill; to demanding better customer service from our government agencies for Canadians in times of need, especially in Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; to fixing Bill C-51 to ensure that our charter rights are respected; to bringing animal welfare laws into the 21st century; and to adopting long-overdue electoral reform, not only making every vote count but also strengthening Elections Canada and respecting the freedom to vote our conscience, as promised by the Right Hon. Prime Minister.
I want to end on this note and stress the importance of independence in the House, the importance of thoughtfulness, and the importance of respectful disagreement. I am a proud member of the Liberal caucus, but I am prouder still of standing here in the House as the voice of all residents of Beaches-East York.
I look forward to being a strong voice for my riding in the House over the next four years and to working with each and every member in the House for all Canadians, to build consensus, to prioritize those issues where there is consensus, and to be a government that gets things done.
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