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39th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 098

CONTENTS

Monday, May 26, 2008





CANADA

House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 142 
l
NUMBER 098 
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2nd SESSION 
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39th PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Speaker: The Honourable Peter Milliken

    The House met at 2 p.m.

Prayers



STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

  (1405)  

[English]

Marine Industry

    Mr. Speaker, today we are celebrating Canada Marine Day here in Ottawa and across the country.
    The marine industry has played a vital role in the development and growth of Canada. Whether moving goods or people across the sea or through the Great Lakes, we have grown and prospered along our waterways, and the marine industry was and continues to be the lifeblood of many communities.
    Canada Marine Day celebrates our glorious marine history, but more important, it recognizes the industry's future in our great country. Whether it is getting our agricultural products from the west to their markets in Asia, shipping raw materials across the Atlantic, or moving manufactured goods through the Great Lakes, the marine industry continues to be a leading industry in Canada.
    The marine industry will continue to be an efficient, effective and environmentally safe mode of transportation for many generations to come.
    Let us celebrate Canada Marine Day. It is our past. It is our present. It is our future.

Community Living

    Mr. Speaker, May is Community Living Month in Ontario, an opportunity to celebrate those with an intellectual disability and to acknowledge their accomplishments at work, in school and in the community.
     Events throughout the month have been planned to recognize the accomplishments of people with intellectual disabilities in Etobicoke, Toronto and indeed across Canada, and to commemorate those volunteers who make it possible for the successes in this important area.
     The more than 465 community living associations across Canada are essential to support the choices of persons with intellectual disabilities regarding where they live, work, learn and play.
     Community Living Toronto should be congratulated for its 60 years of work in offering these opportunities to the over 6,000 individuals of all ages with intellectual disabilities and their families. This organization has the important responsibility to provide the resources for these men and women to realize their full potential and achieve their dreams.

[Translation]

Laurent Martineau

    Mr. Speaker, today I pay tribute to Laurent Martineau, who was named February personality of the month by the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie Thérèse-De Blainville.
    Twice he has won the title of executive of the year in his native region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and he is currently the head of community relations and special projects for Hydro-Québec in the Laurentians. He is also active in the Lower Laurentians, particularly in Blainville, as a member of its Scout council.
    Over the past 20 years he has worked as a manager responsible for networking and negotiating partnerships, distribution networks, client services, crisis management, computer financing and management control for Hydro-Québec. He also sits on the board of directors for the Centre d'expérimentation des véhicules électriques du Québec.
    The Bloc Québécois members and I would like to offer hearty congratulations to Laurent Martineau, February personality of the month.

[English]

Poverty

    Mr. Speaker, a recent Statistics Canada report shows that the spectre of poverty continues to haunt Hamilton families.
    From 2001 to 2006, while the Liberal Party held government, we saw almost no change in the number of children living in poverty. In 2001, 24% of our kids lived below the poverty line; in 2006, that had only dropped to 23.6%. At that rate, it will take about 295 years to end child poverty in Hamilton.
    Almost 90,000 Hamiltonians live in poverty. Children, seniors, aboriginals, the disabled and new Canadians are most likely to be impacted. Even worse, those at the bottom of the income list are getting poorer.
    The NDP has offered solutions: fix the EI system; create a real child care plan; bring in real income security for seniors and persons with disabilities; offer training for immigrants; and restart our cherished national housing program.
    The Liberals had three consecutive majority governments to fight poverty and it only got worse. And the Conservatives? They are not even trying.
    We have to take action. We have to fight poverty and we have to do it now.

Food Labelling Initiative

    Mr. Speaker, this past Wednesday, my riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook was honoured to welcome the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture as they made an important announcement that will benefit all Canadians.
    In the past, the labels “Made in Canada” and “Product of Canada” have had such lenient criteria that they could be applied to products that were produced elsewhere and only packaged here. This meant that despite the label on a bottle of apple juice, the apples could have been grown in China, or despite the label on a box of salmon, the contents could be from Russia. This will no longer be the case. These new rules will ensure that Canadian consumers who wish to buy Canadian products will now be able to trust the label when it says “Product of Canada”.
    This announcement has been embraced by Canadians from coast to coast and by agricultural groups, including the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Chicken Farmers of Canada, the wine council, the agriculture alliance and the horticulture council. They all agree that this initiative is long overdue and that this government is standing up for farmers and indeed is standing up for all Canadians.

[Translation]

Flooding in New Brunswick

    Mr. Speaker, today I would like to acknowledge the outstanding work of emergency workers during the recent flooding in the Madawaska region.
    Hundreds of volunteers, including volunteer firefighters, Red Cross workers, and search and rescue teams worked together to help the disaster victims.
    Natural disasters are unfortunately not predictable or controllable. However, the assistance provided by emergency personnel enables disaster victims to get the care and services they need.
    Emergency volunteers also have to make sacrifices when it comes to their own families. Many workers were prepared to dedicate themselves to helping the disaster victims in addition to taking care of their own family's needs.
    I would like to recognize the work these volunteers continue to do for the public. I would also like to thank the volunteers for their help and courage during the flooding in the Madawaska region this spring.
    Their dedication is much appreciated.

[English]

National Day of Healing and Reconciliation

    Mr. Speaker, today across Canada many aboriginal people will celebrate the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation.
    Created by Native Counselling Services of Alberta, this annual event is a grassroots movement which focuses on healing by addressing issues resulting from past injustices based on culture, religion, or race.
    The goal of the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation is to move forward by educating Canadians and engaging collectively within families and communities for the purposes of healing and reconciliation.
    Throughout the day, cultural ceremonies, church services, community walks, feasts and sharing circles are taking place in communities right across our country. These events celebrate a positive and collective healing and reconciliation movement. Last year it is estimated that over 100,000 people participated in events nationwide.
    On behalf of our government, I wish to thank the organizers of the National Day of Healing and Reconciliation for their efforts in planning this wonderful event, and reaffirm that the government shares their commitment to healing and reconciliation and a renewed relationship with aboriginal people across Canada.

  (1410)  

[Translation]

Quebec Homelessness Network

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell the House about the tremendous work done by Quebec's Réseau Solidarité Itinérance, which held a national forum entitled “Droit de cité” in Montreal on May 15 and 16, in which I participated.
    The forum brought together nearly 200 people who use services for the homeless, outreach workers and other stakeholders. Topics included health, homelessness policy, stabilization successes, and pressing needs in the fight against poverty.
    Homelessness affects between 30,000 and 40,000 people every year in Quebec alone, and more and more of them are children, women and families. They are victims of poverty, housing shortages, isolation and psychological distress.
    How can the government keep ignoring these vulnerable people? The Bloc Québécois is defending the interests of the victims of poverty, victims the Conservatives do not see.

[English]

Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, it was a great honour to listen to the President of Ukraine as he addressed the Canadian Parliament this morning.
    As the chair for the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group, I would like to express our deep gratitude for his visit to Canada. His presence and heartfelt words remind us of the strong ties and special friendship that our countries share.
    While in Ukraine during the historic Orange Revolution, I personally witnessed the powerful expressions of Ukrainian people seeking freedom, democracy and human rights.
    The Remembrance Flame arriving today on Parliament Hill symbolizes another powerful expression of grief and commemoration marking the 75th anniversary of the holodomor genocide.
     We will also remember events in Canada's own past, such as the unjust internment of Ukrainians during World War I.
    Let us never forget that by acknowledging the violations of human rights like the holodomor genocide and the Ukrainian internment, we restore the dignity of victims and help avoid similar tragedies in the future.

Anna Maria De Souza Centre

    Mr. Speaker, this past weekend the Brazilian Carnival Ball took place in Toronto, as it has for the past 42 years.
    As chair of the Canada-Brazil Parliamentary Association, I am proud to have been part of the 2008 Brazilian Carnival Ball. This event began in 1966 in the basement of a church by the remarkable Anna Maria De Souza. This event has raised over $46 million for charity since its inception. This year's proceeds of $7 million will benefit the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation.
    Two weeks ago, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced funding of $15 million for the creation of the Anna Maria De Souza Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital in recognition of her extensive charitable work.
    I am gratified that my motion recognizing September as Ovarian Cancer Month was recently passed unanimously by Parliament, for it was in September 2007 that we lost Anna Maria De Souza to this terrible disease.
    Anna Maria De Souza's motto was “live, love and laugh”. She certainly did all three in her lifetime and helped others to do so as well. Her beloved husband Ivan De Souza continues her work, ensuring that her message of hope and charity lives on.

[Translation]

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, global uncertainty is no longer an intellectual conceit or clever academic theory. It is a reality. Rising oil prices, competition from emerging economies and the limited size of certain international markets are all affecting our economies.
    Our government has long taken this reality into account in its policy planning, which means we are able to manage our economy effectively at this time, despite the problems facing some of our regions.
    I therefore urge my Bloc Québécois colleagues to be more realistic in how they plan their virtual budget. Canadians want more than just political strategies like the Bloc's demands for $15.3 billion from the last budget; rather, they want their affairs to be managed in a serious manner.
    Our government is recognized for its sound management of this country. It will continue to ensure balanced budgets and will never be swayed by vote-seeking schemes that lead only to deficits.

[English]

Afghanistan

    Mr. Speaker, serious concerns continue to be raised about Canada's prisoner transfers in Afghanistan. The Canadian military transfers child soldiers taken prisoner to Afghan authorities in Kandahar and, in particular, to the Afghan National Directorate of Security, or secret police. The secret police is known for its involvement in torture.
    Canada must cease this practice immediately. Child soldiers must be handled in strict compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols.
    Instead of turning them over to known torturers, Canada should be ensuring they become part of demobilization and reintegration programs operated by the United Nations through UNICEF. Such a program exists in Kandahar. Canada has supported similar programs in other countries. Yet when its own military is confronted with child soldiers as prisoners, it abandons its commitments.
    Canada must also release information about these children taken prisoner, where they are currently being held, and assume responsibility for their well-being. Canada must not abandon its moral responsibilities in a time of war.

  (1415)  

Health Care

    Mr. Speaker, in countless communities across Canada, access to quality mental health care is diminishing. Growing need is being met with underfunding and neglect.
    In my own riding of Ajax—Pickering, this is manifest in the loss of all in-patient mental health beds, a bad decision that risks the health and well-being of those who call west Durham home.
     The booming communities of Ajax—Pickering and Whitby, more than 300,000 strong, deserve a full service hospital and those afflicted with mental health issues desperately need treatment and care in the supportive environment of their home community.
    We require true leadership on mental health, leadership from the government that develops a national strategy to deal with mental health and works with our provinces to provide targeted funding so mental health services grow and succeed in our communities, not disappear.
    After waiting a year and a half, the simple establishment of a Mental Health Commission is woefully inadequate. We need national action now to protect mental health services in our communities.

[Translation]

Science in Society Journalism Awards

    Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Science Writers' Association presented its Science in Society Journalism Awards on May 24, 2007.
    Quebec journalist Dominique Forget received the award for best Canadian general audience book for her essay Perdre le Nord? This essay deals with the environmental, economic, legal, political and human impact of the disappearing polar ice cap in the Arctic and the opening up of the Northwest Passage.
    The Radio-Canada program Les années-lumière won in the category “best documentary over 30 minutes” for Spoutnik 1; 50 ans d'exploration spatiale, hosted by Yanick Villedieu and produced by Dominique Lapointe. This broadcast focused on humankind's space adventure, with guest astronomer Robert Lamontagne from the Université de Montreal.
    My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I are very proud to congratulate these talented Quebeckers for winning these prestigious awards.

[English]

Memorial Cup

    Mr. Speaker, I ask the House to join me in extending congratulations to the Kitchener Memorial Cup organizers and volunteers. The 10 day Canadian Hockey League championships wrapped up in Kitchener at the auditorium yesterday.
    Congratulations to the cup winners, the Spokane Chiefs, who will be taking the Memorial Cup south of the border for the first time in 10 years. The Chiefs defeated the Kitchener Rangers, hometown favourites and Ontario Hockey League champions, to go on to win the tournament. While it was a disappointing loss, the Kitchener Rangers had a fantastic season, and I know everyone in Kitchener is extremely proud of their 2008 successes.
     My colleague from Hull—Aylmer was extremely pleased to be on hand to cheer on his Gatineau Olympiques, who showed outstanding sportsmanship.
    Hosting the Memorial Cup is an enormous undertaking and Kitchener met and exceeded expectations. Through the hard work and dedication of 600 volunteers, Kitchener was able to showcase junior hockey in Canada. Thanks to all those involved for making it such a wonderful success.

Elections Canada

    Mr. Speaker, June 3 is a day Canadians will want to watch. According to the Canada Elections Act, loans taken out during a leadership race must be paid back within 18 months or they become illegal donations.
    June 3 is the deadline for the Liberals, however, there is some speculation that Elections Canada might extend this deadline for them. When financing their leadership campaigns, the Liberal leader and other Liberal candidates received millions of dollars in loans from wealthy and powerful friends.
    Elections Canada would be setting an unusual precedent if it lets any of the Liberal leadership candidates extend their loans past June 3. All Canadians are watching.
    Will the Liberal leadership contestants disregard contribution limits and break the law by not paying back the loans, or will Elections Canada give special treatment to the Liberal Party by extending the deadline?

  (1420)  

Government Programs

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives, with their Canada summer jobs program, have left many Canadians, businesses and not for profits without funding.
    In my riding of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, where only some $393,000 out of a small Canada-wide budget of only $97.5 million was distributed, many organizations that had received support before were left without hope for their events, mandate and purpose.
    Organizations such as the Salvation Army Camp Sunrise, the Whistler Public Library, the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, the Gibsons Landing Harbour Authority, the Kay Meek Centre, the Squamish Chamber of Commerce and the Powell River Academy of Music have all been declined their funding by the government.
    Youth employment opportunities are vital for economy and without greater funding we risk the loss of community festivals, summer camps for our children and other valuable work experiences.
    With an overwhelming amount of applicants this year, and with the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games only 627 days away, the minister must reconsider the needs of such a large and important riding such as West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[English]

Foreign Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, over the last three weeks, the government has had to clean up behind the Minister of Foreign Affairs about three times. It had to clean up at an international meeting after he promised a Canadian airplane that was not available. It had to clean up in Afghanistan after he misspoke about the governor of Kandahar. It had to clean up in the House after private associations left him distracted.
    Why should the government have to keep on cleaning up after the minister? Would it not be simpler to just get rid of him?
    Mr. Speaker, our Minister of Foreign Affairs and our Prime Minister have been showing considerable leadership on the world stage.
    Once again, Canadians are proud to see Canada taking a leadership role, whether it be in Afghanistan where we have been taking a leading role in the south during the difficult fighting and working together with our partners there, or whether it be in Haiti where we are significantly involved in a UN mission and also the largest recipient of our aid in this hemisphere, or whether it be, for example, as the president of Ukraine mentioned today, the leadership Canada took in taking a principled stand for freedom and supporting the request of the Ukraine for membership in NATO.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, when did the government learn that there was a possible connection between organized crime and an airport security firm managed by a former associate of the Minister of Foreign Affairs? Will he explain why this does not pose a national security problem, as the Prime Minister stressed today?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, while the Liberal Party has been doing its best to turn question period into the Jerry Springer show, dealing with the personal lives of people and cabinet ministers' ex-girlfriends, we do not intend to do that.
     Let me tell the member what the government has been doing while the Liberals have been worrying about those kinds of personal matters in people's lives.
    We have been focusing on providing help in the places where it is needed. We have been providing assistance to the people of Burma and pressuring the Burmese government to allow that aid to proceed, which is now happening. Our intervention at the United Nations was an important part in getting that ball rolling. We have offered assistance to the people of China and elsewhere.
     We are doing what Canada has always done on the world stage, providing leadership.
    Mr. Speaker, I simply cannot understand that answer.
    There is a public security question when there is a possible link between airport security and organized crime. If there is no link, all the government has to do is stand up and say so and we will leave the matter aside. Until we get an answer, we will ask the question.
    Mr. Speaker, the specific occasion the member is speaking about took place under a Liberal government. If there was a security breach at that time, it was under a Liberal government.

  (1425)  

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, today the Prime Minister is travelling to Europe on an international environmental damage control mission.
    When he arrives, he will learn that the Europeans already know what Canadians know, and that is 11 independent groups, including the C.D. Howe Institute, the National Energy Board and Deutsche Bank, have ripped his climate change plan apart. They know the Prime Minister is fighting for invisible aspirational targets. He has told developing countries that they should go it alone and go first. He has repeatedly embarrassed Canada on the international scene.
    Why is the Prime Minister trying to sell Europe a bill of goods that Canadians and experts simply are not buying?
    Mr. Speaker, that from the member who, on the last Friday of Parliament, attacked the scientists. He attacked first nations on climate change. Now he is attacking the government on climate change.
    The government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a mess that the former Liberal government left. Those members should be ashamed to be even standing in the House and asking any questions about the environment.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, this is a damage control mission. Will the Prime Minister tell the world that, for the past 10 years, he has denied the existence of climate change and raised money to abolish the Kyoto protocol, which he described as a “socialist scheme”? Will he admit to European leaders that he rejects their target dates, their exchange quota system and their fixed greenhouse gas reduction targets?
    How can anyone believe what he is saying about climate change when the 11 groups that studied the plan dismissed it outright?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it was 33% above target, the mess that the Liberal Party left in Canada. Now the Liberals are talking about a carbon tax, the mother of all carbon taxes. They are going to be forcing seniors to try to decide: “Do I buy my prescription, do I fill my fridge, or do I fill my gas tank?”
    I have a great quote. This person said, “In eleven years in politics, I have never broken my word...there will be no carbon tax”. Who said that? It was the leader of the Liberal Party.

[Translation]

Multiculturalism

    Mr. Speaker, the report of the Bouchard-Taylor commission clearly rejects multiculturalism as a model for integrating newcomers to Quebec. The report says, “The Canadian multiculturalism model does not appear to be well suited to conditions in Québec”.
    Will the Prime Minister admit that Quebec has to be exempt from the Canadian Multiculturalism Act because, as commissioners Bouchard and Taylor point out, it is not well suited to conditions in Quebec?
    Mr. Speaker, I have not yet read the report of the Bouchard-Taylor commission. The commission was set up by the Government of Quebec and not by the Government of Canada.
    Since coming to office, our government has been focusing on promoting integration, tackling radical tendencies and on cooperation between communities. Our vision is contributing to achieving national cohesion based on our common values.
    Mr. Speaker, the Bouchard-Taylor commission recommends that French be the language of work for all sectors in Quebec. And yet, the government voted against our bill on applying Bill 101 to companies governed by the Canada Labour Code. The government is also refusing to support our request to exempt Quebec from the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.
    Was recognizing the nation of Quebec nothing more than smoke and mirrors to the Conservative government, since it is refusing to put its words into action?
    Mr. Speaker, as I already said, the Bouchard-Taylor commission was set up by the Government of Quebec, not by the Government of Canada. The federal government has not dictated anything to Quebec regarding the right balance between national identity and cultural pluralism.

Services in French

    Mr. Speaker, here is another example of the fact that Quebeckers are considered second-class citizens by the federal government. According to La Presse, more than a quarter of the air carriers that operate out of Montreal offer no telephone services in French. These companies are not subject to the Charter of the French Language because they fall under the federal government's jurisdiction.
    Will the Prime Minister finally understand that the only way to ensure that French, the language of the Quebec nation, is respected is to make all companies on Quebec territory subject to Bill 101, with no exceptions?

  (1430)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, let us be clear. This government has actually taken the first steps in the world in order to ensure that pilots communicating with ground do speak in either French or English. This government is clear in its promotion and protection of both official languages in this country and we are going to continue to do so.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, we are not talking about airline pilots; we are talking about services for consumers in Montreal. This shows that the Conservatives do not take such unspeakable situations very seriously. Such situations are an insult to Quebeckers.
    Since the Quebec nation has been recognized, it only makes sense that the common language—French—should be respected. Only Bill 101 can make this happen.
    Will the Prime Minister finally realize this and accept this principle?
    Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is once again trying to stir up arguments. I want to make it clear. Our approach here is a multicultural one. Every Quebec citizen can be served in his or her language, and francophones will never be denied service in their language.
    What we need to understand is that the Bloc is trying to create problems to hide its own powerlessness. It has been around for 18 years. We recognized the Quebec nation, we practice open federalism, and all Quebeckers benefit from that. Quebec is growing stronger.

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister will try to convince Europeans that someone else can do what he should be doing. However, he knows that the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is by fixing a price for carbon by establishing a cap and trade system. The big polluters must pay their share, and we must use the revenues to invest in environmental solutions. That is exactly what the Europeans are doing.
    When will the government establish a real carbon cap and trade system?
    Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of the Environment has already said, we intend to put into place a system such as the one the NDP leader spoke about.

[English]

    We are introducing just that and, in fact, we are introducing mandatory caps on carbon emissions for the first time as well as mandatory rules that will ensure that carbon reductions will go down. This will mean that by the year 2020 we will see a 20% reduction, a stark contrast with the failures of previous governments.
    Mr. Speaker, it is a complete myth what the hon. member has just said. The emissions will not be capped in any significant or real way, and yet we know that cap and trade can work when it is done right.
    Twenty-five years ago we had acid rain throughout northeastern North America. The lakes were dying. Sudbury looked like a moonscape. The government brought in cap and trade, forced the polluters to pay. The money went into the solutions.
    I just got back from Sudbury this weekend and the city is coming back to life. The lakes are coming back to life. This is a system that we know works.
    Why will the government not bring in a real system and do it now?
    Mr. Speaker, I know that the leader of the NDP has been travelling a fair bit.
    I invite him, on his next trip on the plane, to read the turning the corner plan which lays out in impressive detail the exact approach that this government is using to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are putting in place mandatory caps on the major, large emitters, not taxes that line the government's pockets, while allowing polluters an unlimited licence to pollute, not that Liberal approach but mandatory rules that they cannot exceed unless they use something like a cap and trade system that will mean real reductions resulting in a 20% reduction by 2020.
    The Speaker: The hon. member for Sudbury.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

International Aid

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP for the accolade. I know Sudbury has turned around and done a great job.
    Now we are on to the question. In response to the tsunami that hit south Asia on December 26, 2004, the Liberal government announced matching funds four days later and made them retroactive to December 26.
    The government's announcement for matching funds for Burma only covers three weeks of donations, starting on May 15, two weeks after the disaster.
    We know the majority of funds are given in the first 72 hours of a disaster. The cyclone hit Burma May 2. Why are the contributions not retroactive to that date?

  (1435)  

    Mr. Speaker, our government has been supporting organizations that have been able to deliver relief directly to victims, and now we are optimistic that the Burmese government will allow open access to all humanitarian workers.
    In fact, our government program to match individual contributions of Canadians to organizations working in Burma or China will cover a period of six weeks from the date of the occurrence of the cyclone or the earthquake. This government will continue to do its part and support the generosity of Canadians.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that is the first time we have heard this fact. Could we know when the decision was made to have these contributions be retroactive to the date of the disaster?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, what is important to Canadians is that the needed help gets to the victims of the cyclone and the earthquake. It is not the amount of money. It is not how it gets there. It is the requirements, the needs, the food, the water, the sanitation, and the medication. It has to get to the victims. This government is making sure it gets to the victims. We are doing that responsibly with respected organizations.

Search and Rescue

    Mr. Speaker, while the government is blindly focused on extending the life of our current search and rescue planes until 2015, it is becoming clear, at least to the experts at the Department of National Defence, that this plan is potentially dangerous. The current planes are so old that there are no guarantees that spare parts will continue to be available to keep them in the air. That is why the previous government launched an accelerated procurement plan for new planes which the Conservative government cancelled.
    Will it take a disaster? Will it take human lives? Will it take Canadian lives until the government recognizes that Canada needs modern search and rescue planes now?
    Mr. Speaker, I spoke with the head of procurement at National Defence this morning on this very subject. There have been steps taken already to improve the life of the Buffalo aircraft with respect to search and rescue. We of course augment that with other aircraft including the Hercules and Cormorant helicopters.
    But I am surprised that a member from the Liberal Party would even talk about military procurement given his party's disastrous record, the cancellation of the Maritime helicopter program at a cost of $500 million. Those types of decisions were disastrous for the Canadian Forces. We are taking decisions to rebuild the forces.
    Mr. Speaker, why was the minister talking about Buffalo aircraft this morning when he knew a year ago that the recommendation was that they could not last as long as he wants them to last.
    In 2004, the previous Liberal government announced $1.3 billion to buy new search and rescue planes, but that plan was scrapped by the Conservative government. Canadians across Canada, especially in British Columbia and my riding of Yukon, depend on those planes for their safety. The government is failing them.
    Will the minister reverse this dangerous course and commit to immediately ordering new search and rescue planes now?
    Mr. Speaker, the member opposite and his government made a lot of plans, made a lot of promises, but they did not deliver. They did not get the job done. We have made the most significant investment in military in this country's history. Let me remind the hon. member what the Winnipeg Free Press had to say just a few days ago:
--some Canadians have forgotten that just a few years ago the Forces were on the verge of collapse because they lacked the means to do much more than hold a parade.
    That was the history of the Liberal Party when it came to national defence.

[Translation]

Public Safety

    Mr. Speaker, since the Minister of Foreign Affairs' former girlfriend's shady past was brought to light, the government has been downplaying the threat the relationship posed to public safety. Today we learned that Ms. Couillard was involved in a security company that had access to strategic airport security documents belonging to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.
    Can the Minister of Public Safety tell us whether security screenings are conducted before giving strategic documents to possible bidders on airport security contracts?

  (1440)  

    Mr. Speaker, as I have already said, we have no intention of talking about members' private lives in the House.
    Since the member is still asking these questions, we would like to make the following comments. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has done a lot of good work with the Minister of International Cooperation. For example, I would like to quote Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program.

[English]

    She said:
    Time is of the essence to reach those in need in Myanmar. We are most grateful to [the] Minister for his rapid life-saving action on behalf of the Canadian people.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that does not answer my question, so I will try to ask another.
    We know that the Minister of Foreign Affairs' former girlfriend's business venture was not selected for a sensitive transportation security contract.
    Can the government tell us if that business' bid was rejected following security screenings, and can it explain why the government failed to conduct a detailed security screening of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his then-girlfriend?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as I already said, that is a matter that took place under the Liberal government, but the real point we are getting at here has nothing to do with the issue and substance. This is just again a transparent effort to ask prurient questions about people's personal and private lives which members of the opposition find quite interesting.
    However, while they have been doing that they have been ignoring the good news that has been happening in Canada's economy. We had thousands of new jobs last month and the latest is:
    “Sales by Canadian wholesalers edged up more than expected in March, lifted by building supplies, and machinery and electronic equipment”, Stats Canada said Tuesday...“0.6 per cent to $42.7 billion”.
    While members opposite are worrying about people's personal lives, we are making sure the economy is strong.

[Translation]

Air Transportation

    Mr. Speaker, following a meeting last Thursday with the Minister of Public Safety, the president of the Mont Tremblant International Airport Authority, Serge Larivière, was told that a short-term solution would not be put in place to deal with the unfair customs fees the airport has been charged. This situation is becoming urgent. The airport is key to the economic development of the Laurentian region.
    Will the minister take this a little more seriously and tell us what he intends to do?
    Mr. Speaker, my assistants had a positive meeting with representatives of the Mont Tremblant airport. Furthermore, they are trying to identify different options. We understand that about 200 airports like this one, all across Canada, have signed agreements and continue to honour their contracts.
    Mr. Speaker, this is a concern for 60,000 people in the region, who are sick and tired of the Conservative government's inaction. Today, an entire delegation is here demanding action from this government. The minister will not be able to shirk his responsibility forever.
    Will they be given an answer right now? Will the government finally pay the cost of customs services and give this airport the same status as all other airports of the same type?
    Mr. Speaker, we are fully aware of the importance of small airports throughout the country.
    As I said, my officials acted immediately when they learned that representatives of the Mont Tremblant airport were not paying their fees. They are continuing to look for a solution.
    The status of this particular airport is the same as others throughout Canada. These airports must honour their contracts. However, we will try to find different options.

[English]

Justice

    Mr. Speaker, repeated reports indicate that the President of the Treasury Board is being vetted for a federal judicial appointment.
    When a name is put forward, the perspective nominee is contacted by the commissioner to determine interest. The nominee is asked to complete a personal history form which is then filed with the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs.
    Will the President of the Treasury Board confirm that he has completed a personal history form and that his name now stands on the list of applicants?

  (1445)  

    Mr. Speaker, the appointments we discuss in public are the ones that have been made. We have appointed 165 individuals based on merit and legal excellence and we are proud of every appointment. I can assure the House that the next 165 appointments will be on that basis as well.
    Mr. Speaker, Manitobans deserve a better answer than that. The President of the Treasury Board and former justice minister appointed the members of the advisory committee that would be asked to recommend his own appointment.
    How can the minister in good faith let his name stand for consideration when the conflict of interest is so blatantly obvious?
     Mr. Speaker, we will be guided by the principles that have guided this government and its appointments up to this point in time.
    The hon. member says that she is from Manitoba. Why has she not figured out that there is a problem with auto theft in that province and why does she not give us some support on that for a change?

Code of Conduct

    Mr. Speaker, Emanuel Montenegrino has worked for the Conservatives on a host of legal matters, including legal representation for the Prime Minister. He is also registered to lobby for 10 clients, which includes lobbying the Prime Minister's Office and MPs directly.
    Now we have learned that he was asked to secretly vet some prospective judicial appointees outside the normal established process.
    In an unrelated matter, that individual was recently suspended for two months and fined by the Law Society of Upper Canada for professional misconduct.
    Is he still working for the PMO and lobbying its offices at the same time?
    Mr. Speaker, the appointments we have made to the bench have been applauded right across the country, including by members of the hon. member's own party who have publicly supported us in the appointments we have made.
    These are outstanding individuals who are prepared to serve their sovereign and their country and they should be applauded by all members of the House.
    Mr. Speaker, this is about the government's judgment and willingness to turn a blind eye to conflicts of interest whenever it involves its friends.
    Mr. Montenegrino was hired by the PMO to hold the hands of Conservative MPs during months of committee hearings on the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. He was hired by MPs and cabinet ministers to do legal work, while, at the same time, was registered to lobby the same people on behalf of different clients.
    What went on in those closed door meetings between the Prime Minister's confidant and the judicial appointees he was asked to vet?
    Mr. Speaker, this government brought in the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history in the Federal Accountability Act, with great resistance from the Liberal side.
    We have an empowered registrar of lobbyists who is in charge of overseeing and regulating the lobbyist sector. If that member or any other member has evidence of wrongdoing by a lobbyist then they should report it to the lobbyist registrar so that it can be investigated and examined.
    This government, however, has followed all the rules and we are proud to advance the agenda of accountability.

Minister of the Environment

    Mr. Speaker, the member for Ajax—Pickering has made a number of unsubstantiated allegations against the Minister of the Environment in the House over the last number of weeks and months.
    It is now reported that the body to which the member made his complaints has completely dismissed the matter. It was apparently off the mark.
    Since the member for Ajax—Pickering has made these false accusations against the Minister of the Environment in the House, could the government House leader please clarify the situation?
    Mr. Speaker, the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services has rejected the complaints from the Liberal member for Ajax—Pickering.
    In fact, this morning, on CFRA radio, the OPP commissioner, Julian Fantino, said that the only political interference in this case was coming from the member for Ajax—Pickering. He called the member's claims preposterous, ludicrous, “frivolous, vexatious and...an attempt to interfere with due process”.
    The only thing left for him to do is to stand in his place, apologize for his smear campaign against the Minister of the Environment and apologize to the good men and women of the OPP who he smeared as well.

  (1450)  

Search and Rescue

    Mr. Speaker, defence department documents show that the situation for the aging fleet of Buffalo search and rescue planes is worse than we thought. It is very precarious, they say, and yet the government decided that it would wait until 2015 before replacing these 40-year-old aircraft.
    Will the Conservatives commit to having new search and rescue planes before 2015 or will they admit that, even with a $70 billion military capital plan, domestic search and rescue is just not a priority for the Conservatives?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said before, I spoke with our officials with respect to the extension of the Buffalo aircraft and they have advised me that they are structurally sound. We augment the search and rescue on the west coast, as the member would know, with other aircraft.
    We will continue to work as quickly as possible to see that we are able to procure new aircraft. This particular aircraft is very specialized in its use. It has the ability to go into mountainous areas in terms of search and rescue.
    We will not put pilots in unsafe aircraft. We will continue to work with industry and with our department to see that we do it properly, transparently and that we get it done on time, unlike the previous government.
    Mr. Speaker, words from the minister will not give B.C. search and rescue aircraft enough propellers to fly or engines that will not quit.
    People want to know if the planes will fly, not Conservative spin.
    Why is it that the government has no trouble finding a half million dollars to buy advocacy from the Conference of Defence Associations but cannot find enough money to replace planes that save lives on our Pacific coast?
    Mr. Speaker, I just said that we will be replacing those aircraft and that we are working diligently to ensure that search and rescue continues safely.
    However, it is interesting to note, coming from the member, when it comes to resources for National Defence, back on December 6, 2007, the NDP voted against funding for occupational stress injuries and clinics. The NDP members voted against budget 2008 with respect to veterans' hospitals. They voted against the extension to the VIP project and against educational benefits for the children of deceased soldiers.
    When it comes to members of the NDP, from the schoolyard to the graveyard, they vote against our military, their families and the continuation of military procurement.

[Translation]

Air Transportation

    Mr. Speaker, the tourism industry is already suffering considerably from the strong Canadian dollar. We do not need to add to its suffering. Yet that is exactly what the government is doing by refusing to come to its senses and see that tourism in Mont Tremblant is taking a beating without its airport.
    My question is for the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Has he told the public safety minister just how much could be lost in economic spinoffs if the Mont Tremblant airport continues to be treated so unfairly?
    Mr. Speaker, our government fully understands the importance of small airports across Canada. My staff continues to explore possible solutions for this issue. It is also important to understand that contracts exist with approximately 200 airports across the country and those contracts must be respected.
    Mr. Speaker, the minister is completely out to lunch on this. It is not the same thing. The calculation is quite simple. I will explain it so he will understand.
    We add up all the revenue generated by visitors who pass through the Mont Tremblant airport. We calculate the number of jobs created, the income tax generated and all the sales tax revenues, and then we compare this amount with the bill from the Canada Border Services Agency. This is very straightforward. In tallying this up, even the minister must see that the airport is a good business proposition.
    Will they reverse their decision?
    Mr. Speaker, I repeat, my officials are continuing to work with representatives from the airport referred to by my colleague. A solution must be found and the contract must be respected. Representatives from the Mont Tremblant airport signed a contract and they approved of it when they signed it. We will continue to seek a solution.

  (1455)  

[English]

Canada Border Services Agency

    Mr. Speaker, small cities across the country are experiencing major customs staffing shortages at local airports and face unfair treatment by the CBSA. As a result, there has been a loss of income from air cargo contracts, business travel and tourism. Economic development is also suffering. However, the public safety minister has been AWOL on this critical issue.
    Why will the minister not respond to calls for fairer treatment by the CBSA?
    Mr. Speaker, in fact, across the country, not just airports but other regional systems are experiencing economic growth because the fundamentals of the economy of Canada are so strong that requests for more flights, for instance, are coming into airports.
    My officials have been working very carefully and closely with airport representatives, like the ones the member mentioned, not just in Moncton but in Charlottetown and Fredericton, to look at how we handle the pressures of a robust economy because of the good policies and principles that have been put in place by this government. We want to assist these growing economies.
    Mr. Speaker, many of these smaller airports are losing carriers that need to operate beyond the strict nine to five service offered by CBSA because the government has cherry-picked some airports to be open 24 hours a day and has punished other smaller airports, like Regina or Moncton.
    When will the public safety minister come forward with staffing solutions that will allow air carriers to land outside the nine to five times and when will the public safety minister stop separating A cities from B cities?
    Mr. Speaker, Canada has a robust and strong economy because of the principles that have been put in place by this government, which means from region to region there are increased pressures for all kinds of systems to be operating, including transport systems.
    If we were to follow the Liberal approach, which would be an approach that would plunge the country back into deficit, then that problem would go away because the pressures would not be on those airports.
    These are the challenges of growth and we are working with those challenges.

[Translation]

Minister of Foreign Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Foreign Affairshas demonstrated his incompetence again within the last week. In Rome, he announced that C-17s would be deployed to transport four UN helicopters to Burma. It became clear that he had spoken off the cuff when he realized that the planes were unavailable. Imagine that. He was forced to charter a Russian commercial aircraft at taxpayers' expense.
    How can the Prime Minister defend his Minister of Foreign Affairs and especially his incompetence?
    Mr. Speaker, our priority is to deliver aid to the people of Burma. I remember that the opposition never wanted us to purchase C-17s, which we are using to bring badly needed aid to the suffering Burmese people.
    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly shown that he lacks judgment. His long list of blunders include the one concerning the governor of Kandahar, the fact that he believed that Aristide was still the president of Haiti, the famous incident when he handed out Jos Louis in Kandahar and his irresponsible behaviour in the Couillard affair.
    Given this sad list of screw-ups by the minister and his lack of judgment, what is the Prime Minister waiting for to relieve him of his duties?
    Mr. Speaker, today we had an example of the fine job the Minister of Foreign Affairs is doing, in the address by the President of Ukraine, who said that the people of Ukraine very much appreciated the position taken by the Government of Canada in support of his country's membership in NATO. That is an example of the leadership provided by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

[English]

Canadian Wheat Board

    Mr. Speaker, on May 15 the Minister of Agriculture announced that regardless of the law he will undermine the single desk selling authority of the Canadian Wheat Board beginning August 1.
    Obviously he cannot do it through regulations. That effort was found illegal by the courts. Just what is the minister's intended course of action in his vendetta against the board?
     Is it the minister's intention to force the directors themselves to violate the very laws that both they and the minister have sworn to uphold? Or does the minister have some other illegal scheme in mind?

  (1500)  

    Mr. Speaker, it has been great to watch the minister try to open up the lines of communication with the Canadian Wheat Board and to work with it. We hope the board will return that spirit of cooperation, because western Canadian farmers are waiting to benefit from the markets, which have gone up.
    We would ask the opposition to join with us in bringing freedom to western Canadian farmers so they can finally benefit from the markets that we see in western Canada today.

Aerospace Industry

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday history was made when the NASA Phoenix Mars Lander touched down on Mars carrying Canada's meteorological station. This mission marks the first time Canadian technology has landed on the surface of another planet.
    Canada has made critical contributions to the International Space Station, including Canadarm2, the Mobile Base System and, most recently, Dextre. Can the Minister of Industry tell us what this recent historic event means for the future of Canada's participation in space exploration?
    Mr. Speaker, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander did indeed land last night, carrying Canada's meteorological station successfully onto the red planet. This is great news for Canadians. Canada is making great strides. We will be on the horizon in space for many years, first with scientific and robotic instruments.
    I sense from the Liberals some excitement about the mission, knowing that they could perhaps find someone, anyone, on the red planet who would support their Liberal gas tax.

[Translation]

Foreign Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, for five years now, the Conservatives and the Liberals have been saying that Omar Khadr is being treated humanely. Last Friday, the Supreme Court rejected those claims and ruled that Mr. Khadr's treatment at Guantanamo was unjust and violated his basic rights.
    When will the minister finally do something to bring Omar Khadr back to Canada?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as we know, Mr. Omar Khadr is facing very serious charges. Mr. Omar Khadr has been receiving consular services. We will continue monitoring this case.
    No, Mr. Speaker, they cannot get away with that any more. The Supreme Court of Canada made it very clear that the position first taken by the Liberals and now by the Conservatives that he is being treated humanely and according to justice at the international level has all been proven false.
    When is the government finally going to protect this minor, get off its backside and do something to get him back into Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, we are weighing the decision made by the Supreme Court, but I can tell members that we are keeping Mr. Khadr's interests in mind. He has had court counsellor services. We are providing all the services, as is required by the law, and we will continue doing that.

Agriculture and Agri-Food

    Mr. Speaker, the minister continues to sow confusion for the Wheat Board and in barley markets. His government continues to put Canadian producers and Canadian industry at a disadvantage to our United States counterparts.
    The United States farm bill helps U.S. agri-retailers pay for security measures on fertilizer and chemical supplies. While the Canadian government imposed similar security costs, it tells the industry that it is on its own. Why is the government putting the Canadian agrifood sector at a disadvantage to that of the United States?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am surprised to hear that kind of question from my opposition colleague because after 13 long years in agriculture, farmers were left to fend for themselves. We have already invested $4.5 billion more than the regular budget. Supply management, the livestock sector and biofuels are all sectors that drive the agricultural economy.
    Those on the other side of the House are trying to cover up their government's inaction, but one thing I can say for sure is that agricultural producers know they can count on the Conservative government.

  (1505)  

[English]

FedNor

    Mr. Speaker, FedNor is the federal program tasked with supporting economic development in northern Ontario. Over the course of the past two years, the so-called official opposition has not asked a single question about FedNor and the work our government is doing in northern Ontario. One has to ask oneself if it is because the Liberals are completely out of touch with northern Ontario or, worse yet, if northern Ontario is just not a priority for the Liberal Party of Canada.
    FedNor is a priority for this government. To that end, would the minister responsible for FedNor update the House on how this Conservative government is delivering for northern Ontario?
    Mr. Speaker, it is important to have these questions relating to FedNor, because in two years the Liberal opposition has not asked a single question in relation to this file.
     We think it is important for northern Ontarians that FedNor has a five year stable budget for the first time in the history of any government. It is a five year budget and we delivering tens of millions of dollars to the people of northern Ontario, from Parry Sound to Muskoka, Kenora and Timmins.
    We are there for northern Ontarians and this government will continue to be there for northern Ontarians.

[Translation]

Beef Producers

    Mr. Speaker, Canadian slaughterhouses are already starting to close. Our beef producers have to absorb the high cost of complying with regulations on specified risk material designed to meet high food safety standards, requiring that they get rid of tissue from all cattle slaughtered.
    In the meantime, American producers are selling us their beef, which meets only 90% of our safety criteria, at one quarter the cost.
    What is the government waiting for to ensure the survival of Canadian and Quebec beef producers without lowering the safety standards the public demands?
    Mr. Speaker, I can tell hon. members that the government is not waiting for anything. The government has been working on this very serious matter. The markets needed to be reopened and we reopened them. I am not just talking about the United States, but also about Korea and Russia. These are new markets where our producers can sell their products and make money.
    In the meantime, the Minister of Agriculture on this side of the House is providing clear direction, whereby safety standards for specified risk material in the United States have been harmonized. Progress has already been made when it comes to water used for cleaning the buildings and other things. This is concrete action.

[English]

Presence in Gallery

    I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of the Honourable Ken Krawetz, Deputy Premier of Saskatchewan.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

Points of Order

Ethics 

[Points of Order]
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
    In April I was misinformed that the finance minister and his wife were joint owners of a Canadian private school. Students attending this school are eligible for scholarships from third party organizations. In my mind, this could have created a potential conflict of interest when a measure in budget 2007 made those scholarships tax free.
    On April 30 I wrote to the ethics commissioner to share my concerns and to ask that she investigate. On May 5, I raised the subject in question period.
    I later discovered that evidence of financial involvement by the minister was limited to a $250,000 loan in the form of a mortgage.
    I have written to the ethics commissioner to correct this error. I apologize to the finance minister for any embarrassment that this error may have caused him or his family.
    Mr. Speaker, the member has apologized. The hon. member has done the honourable thing. I accept his apology.

Oral Questions  

    Mr. Speaker, the minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency said in this House a few moments ago that the government's matching of private donations for Burma would be retroactive to the date of the disaster, May 2, but in fact CIDA's website says right at this moment that the start date is May 15, not May 2.
    Obviously the government got caught making up policy as the minister goes along. I wonder if there would be unanimous consent to table a copy of the CIDA website which indicates that the information the minister gave is in fact not correct.

  (1510)  

    Is there unanimous consent to table this document?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.

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 response to 27 petitions.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992

Hon. Stockwell Day (for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities)  
     moved for leave to introduce Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992.

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

Committees of the House

Scrutiny of Regulations  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations in relation to its review of statutory instruments.
    When the House adopted the Endangered Species Act and when it amended it, it imposed a very tight unobstructed timeline for a process to identify species at risk. An interpretation of the words of the statute by the Justice Department allows the interposition of what the committee felt was an unattended gap in the period of time within which a minister must act, an indefinite period of time.
    The committee wishes to bring to the attention of both Houses of Parliament this interpretation. The committee also wishes to bring it to the attention of the Standing Committee on Environment in this House.
    I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report from the same committee. This is in relation to its review of statutory instruments.
    In 1987 the committee recommended, and the government of the day accepted, that Indian band councils would be exempt from the application of the Statutory Instruments Act with respect to laws and rules adopted by Indian band councils. The recommendation was conditioned on the government also providing mechanisms to make those rules and laws adopted by Indian band councils available and known to those who would be governed by them. As things have evolved over the last 20 years, there has been no such mechanism put in place.
    The committee wishes to bring to the attention of the House its recommendation that those mechanisms be put in place so those people governed pursuant to the Indian Act will be well aware of the laws which govern them.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 109 the committee asks that the government provide a comprehensive reply to this report.

National Marine Day Act

     He said: Mr. Speaker, observance of a Canada marine day would honour Canada's marine industry past, present, and future. The marine industry holds immense prosperity for Canadians, especially in terms of transportation, jobs and recreational opportunities.
    Canada is a marine superpower. The day would be incredibly important to the health of our economy. In many respects, the marine industry is the gateway to trade and the future of Canadian prosperity. Marine waterways form the primary line of trade with corridors that are linked to massive networks of rail, road and other transportation networks.
    The bill would honour the role of the marine industry in the past, today and, more important, in the future.

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

  (1515)  

Main Estimates

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a) I would like at this time to designate Wednesday, May 28 for consideration in committee of the whole of all votes under Finance in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009 and Thursday, May 29 for consideration in committee of the whole of all votes under Foreign Affairs and International Trade in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009.

Petitions

Asbestos  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by thousands of Canadians who bring to the attention of the House of Commons the fact that asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known, yet Canada remains one of the world's largest producers and exporters of asbestos. The petitioners further point out that Canada spends millions of dollars subsidizing the asbestos industry and even blocking international efforts to curb its use.
    The petitioners call upon Parliament to ban asbestos in all its forms and to institute a just transition program for asbestos workers and the communities in which they live. They call upon Parliament to end all government subsidies of asbestos both in Canada and abroad. They also call upon Parliament to have the government stop blocking international health and safety conventions designed to protect workers from asbestos, such as the Rotterdam Convention.

Human Rights  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present two petitions today.
    The first petition is on behalf of a number of Canadians from the Sandy River and Black River First Nations who have recognized that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by an overwhelming majority and the government voted against it. Shamefully, this is the first time in history a Canadian government has voted against a major international human rights agreement at the UN.
    The petitioners call upon the government to reverse its position and fully ratify the declaration and implement all the standards therein.

Jordan's Principle  

    Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to present the following petition on behalf of a number of Canadians from the Sandy River and Black River First Nations who recognize that the right of health care for Canadian children should be universal.
    The petitioners recognize that first nations children residing on reserves do not have the same access to health care services as all other Canadian children. They acknowledge that as a result of interdepartmental and interjurisdictional conflicts, critical health services continue to be delayed and denied to first nations children.
    The petitioners therefore call upon the Government of Canada to address this ongoing travesty of justice and adopt Jordan's principle, which would ensure that health services would be provided to children within a timely manner.

Arts and Culture  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition concerning Bill C-10, which recognizes that the Criminal Code of Canada already contains provisions regarding pornography, child pornography, hate propaganda and violent crime, but recognizes also that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of expression and that the exercise of freedom of expression is essential to democracy in the creative process and to Canadian arts and culture and that the role of the Minister of Canadian Heritage should be to promote and defend Canadian culture and artistic freedom.
    The guidelines for government funding for the cultural sector include film and video production and they should be objective, transparent and respond to freedom of expression. There should be no ability for the government, the Minister of Canadian Heritage or any office of the government to make subjective judgments concerning artistic content that limit freedom of expression. This type of censorship and denial of tax credits or production support may significantly hinder the making of Canadian productions.
    Therefore, the petitioners call upon Parliament to defend Canadian artistic and cultural freedom, to rescind the provisions of Bill C-10 which would allow the government to censor film and video production in Canada and to ensure the government has in place objective and transparent guidelines that respect freedom of expression when delivering any program intended to support film and video production in Canada.

  (1520)  

Unborn Victims of Crime  

    Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions for the House today.
     The first petition expresses profound concern regarding Bill C-484, the proposed unborn victims of crime act that conflicts with the Criminal Code because it grants a type of legal personhood to fetuses that would necessarily compromise women's established rights.
    Violence against pregnant women is part of a larger societal problem of violence against women everywhere. Fetal homicide laws elsewhere have done nothing to reduce this violence because they do not address the root causes of inequality that perpetuate this violence.
    The best way to protect fetuses is to provide pregnant women with the support and resources they need for a good pregnancy outcome, including protection from domestic violence.
    The petitioners ask the Government of Canada to reject Bill C-484.

Consumer Price Index  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition is on behalf of Canadian seniors who well know that Statistics Canada made a major error in its calculation of the consumer price index, showing that rates for hotel and motel rooms had dropped 16.5%, while they had actually risen by 32.2%. This resulted in Canada's inflation numbers being underrated by half a percentage point since 2001.
    This mistake is being paid for by anyone who benefits from the Canada pension plan, the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. They have been underpaid by a compounded half a percentage point per year, losing benefits of over $1 billion.
    The petitioners call upon the Parliament of Canada to take full responsibility for this error and take the required steps to repay every Canadian who has been shortchanged by a government program because of the miscalculation of the CPI.

Arts and Culture  

    Finally, Mr. Speaker, I too have a petition from cultural groups and artists from across the country. They are very concerned about the provisions of Bill C-10.
    The petitioners call upon the Parliament of Canada to defend Canadian artists and cultural expression, to rescind any provisions in Bill C-10 which would allow the government to censor film and video production in Canada and to ensure the government has objective and transparent guidelines that respect freedom of expression when delivering any program intended to support film and video production in Canada.
    This is in support of all the artists in our communities who have so richly provided our communities with the cultural benefits of video and film.
    Mr. Speaker, I present more petitions in opposition to Bill C-10.
     As has been mentioned, these petitioners also call upon Parliament to staunchly defend Canadian artistic and cultural expression, to rescind any provisions of Bill C-10, which allow the government to censor film and video production in Canada, and to ensure that the government has in place objective and transparent guidelines that respect freedom of expression when delivering any program intended to support film and video production in Canada.
     I am glad to also support these petitioners in this request.
    I am sure members are glad to hear the hon. member's views, but he knows it is out of order for him to say whether he supports petitions or not. I urge all hon. members to comply fully with the rules. Presenting petitions is not intended as an opportunity for saying one's support or not. It is just to present, and the hon. member I know knows that.
    Mr. Speaker, once again, I am reverting to that other place where it was allowed. I did not know that was not allowed here. I apologize and I will not do it again.

  (1525)  

    I thank the hon. member very much for his penitence.

Questions on the Order Paper

[English]

Question No. 240--
Mr. Michael Savage:
    With regard to the recent decision to discontinue the Millennium Scholarship Foundation when it expires: (a) what is the reasoning behind this decision; (b) who was consulted internally within the Deparment of Human Resources and Social Development, within other federal departments and agencies, in addition to any stakeholders, regarding this decision; (c) how does the government intend to reconcile the issue of compatibility between the Quebec student assistance program, that is based on need, and the new federal grant program, that is based on income; (d) how will this impact on the government of Quebec's practice of opting out with full compensation; (e) was this issue of compatibility contemplated prior to the announcement of the 2008 federal budget and, if so, how; and (f) on what exact date did the government decide not to renew the Millennium Scholarship Foundation?
Hon. Monte Solberg (Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, CPC):
    Mr. Speaker, in response to a) the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, CMSF, was mandated to improve access to post-secondary education for all Canadians, but reviews of the CMSF found little evidence that it had achieved this. A decision needed to be made on the future of the CMSF as the ten year mandate to spend its original $2.5 billion endowment was coming to end. The government has decided that federal funds would be more effectively used via an upfront grant that targets assistance to students from low and middle-income families.
    The Canada student loans program, CSLP, carried out five research studies of the CMSF to assess the Foundation’s performance, effectiveness and success in achieving its mandate. Concurrent with the CSLP research studies, the Office of the Auditor General, OAG, completed an audit of the foundation and the Treasury Board Secretariat, TBS, completed an evaluation of foundations as instruments for public policy.
    In response to b) HRSDC consulted internally through a task team, that included representatives from legal services, communications and strategic policy and research, and executive committees. The director general of the Canada student loans program, CSLP, briefed the Department of Finance, the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Privy Council Office in the summer of 2007.
    From the outset, the government recognized the importance of stakeholder input to the success of the CSLP review. As a result, stakeholders were involved from the beginning. An online public consultation was held to provide Canadians with a forum to contribute their views. Departmental officials worked with the national advisory group on student financial assistance to gather the views of all major interest groups, including student groups. As well, regular consultations were held with provinces and territories through the FPT policy working group on student financial assistance and the intergovernmental consultative committee on student financial assistance. Many concerns on the future of the CMSF were raised during these consultations with stakeholder groups. This input provided a wide range of issues to consider and helped shape the initiatives announced in budget 2008.
    In response to c) The government will work with provinces and territories over the next year to implement these new measures and to ensure effective coordination with existing programs.
    In response to d) Provinces that choose not to participate in the CSLP are entitled, under the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act, to receive compensation in the form of alternative payments if they operate programs which are substantially similar to the federal program. Currently, the province of Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are entitled to alternative payments.
    In response to e) Interactions with provincial programs, including Quebec, are always considered through consultations and analysis when contemplating policy changes to the Canada student loans program. The Government of Canada will work with provincial jurisdictions over the next year on the implementation of budget 2008 measures so as to ensure effective coordination.
    In response to f) As mentioned initially, a decision needed to be made on the future of the CMSF as the ten year mandate was coming to an end. The results of the afore-mentioned reviews, undertaken to assess the CMSF’s performance, effectiveness and success in achieving its mandate, were examined and informed this government’s decision which was announced in budget 2008 on February 26, 2008.

[English]

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns

    Mr. Speaker, if Questions Nos. 231, 233, 236, 237, 238 and 239 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.
    The Speaker: Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

[English]

Question No. 231--
Mr. Charlie Angus:
     With respect to on-reserve educational facilities for First Nations in Canada: (a) what requests for capital building expenditure funding for the purposes of acquiring, building, expanding, improving or replacing educational facilities have been made from April 2000 to present; (b) which of these requests have been granted by the government and why; (c) which of these requests were denied and why; (d) what funds have been committed by the government for capital building expenditure for the purposes of acquiring, building, expanding, improving or replacing educational facilities on-reserve in each fiscal year from 2000-2001 to 2008-2009; (e) what projects are currently under way; (f) in each year since 2000, what projects have been delayed or postponed, and, if any, what were the justifications for and lengths of these delays; (g) what projects are slated to begin work in the 2008-2009 fiscal year; (h) what portion of the total cost of these projects is being funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) through capital building infrastructure; (i) how many projects included additional money from a First Nation to complete the construction or for the equipping of an educational facility; (j) what projects are slated to begin work beyond the 2008-2009 fiscal year; (k) how many communities with projects identified by INAC as priority capital projects have had letters of approval issued to them; (l) since 2000, what amounts from the “Community Infrastructure” line item have been reallocated either within INAC or to other government departments; (m) why was $109 million removed from the line item “Community Infrastructure” in the INAC Performance Report for the period ending March 31, 2007; (n) how has this reallocation of funds affected on-reserve educational facilities; and (o) how was this $109 million otherwise spent by the government?
     (Return tabled)
Question No. 233--
Ms. Alexa McDonough:
     With respect to Canada's role and contributions to the United Nations (UN) and other international peace initiatives: (a) what is Canada's assessed contribution to the UN; (b) has Canada fully paid on its assessed UN contribution for the most recent financial year; (c) how much does Canada contribute in voluntary contributions to UN funds, programmes and agencies; (d) how do these voluntary contributions compare with other contributing nations; (e) is Canada a sponsor of international treaty negotiations and, if so, which ones; (f) what are Canada's current treaty priorities, in terms of support for new and ongoing treaty negotiations; (g) does the government have a formal system for monitoring its treaty compliance; (h) what contributions has Canada made to support UN humanitarian operations and peace initiatives in Somalia; (i) what new contributions did the government make to UN humanitarian operations and peace initiatives in Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Haiti in 2007; (j) what new contributions does the government intend to make to UN humanitarian operations and peace initiatives in Sudan, Somalia, DRC and Haiti in 2008; (k) what contributions did the government make to the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 2007; (l) what contributions does the government intend to make to the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 2008; (m) what formal monitoring and evaluation systems are in place in the government to assess how Canadian financial contributions through UN humanitarian and development programmes and agencies are spent; and (n) what is the government doing to ensure Canada's compliance with UN Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security?
     (Return tabled)
Question No. 236--
Hon. Gurbax Malhi:
     With respect to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration: (a) what has been the total departmental spending on citizenship courts, divided by line item, for each of the last ten fiscal years (i) nationally, (ii) in each province and territory, (iii) in each of the following cities: Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto, Ontario, Montréal, Quebec, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta and Vancouver, British Columbia; (b) how many citizenship ceremonies were performed in each of the last ten fiscal years (i) nationally, (ii) in each province and territory, (iii) in each of the following cities: Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto, Ontario, Montréal, Quebec, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta and Vancouver, British Columbia; and (c) how many people became Canadian citizens in each of the last ten fiscal years, (i) nationally, (ii) in each province and territory, (iii) in each of the following cities: Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto, Ontario, Montréal, Quebec, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta and Vancouver, British-Columbia?
     (Return tabled)
Question No. 237--
Mr. Charlie Angus:
     With respect to budgets at the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) from 2003-2004 to 2007-2008: (a) what amount was budgeted to be spent by each provincial and territorial department in each fiscal year; (b) what amount of the total budgeted funds were returned to Treasury Board as unspent; (c) what incentives do provincial sections within INAC have to lower their spending below budgeted amounts; (d) how many INAC personnel received financial bonuses for their work in each fiscal year; (e) what were the amounts of each of these bonuses; and (f) what was the total amount spent by INAC on bonuses in each province and territory for each fiscal year?
     (Return tabled)
Question No. 238--
Mr. Charlie Angus:
    With respect to the impact that the government’s legislative crime initiatives will have on Canada’s correctional facilities: (a) what studies has the government done to assess the future need for increased inmate capacity; (b) according to studies and assessments done by, or on behalf of, the government, will there be a need for increased inmate capacity in Canada’s correctional system; (c) what plans are in place to have new prisons built in Canada; (d) where are new facilities to be located; (e) are there plans for future correctional facilities that do not have a location finalized at this point; (f) how does the government go about determining where correctional facilities will be located; (g) to what extent is there private sector involvement in the operations of Canada’s correctional facilities; (h) are there Canadian correctional facilities that are fully operated by the private sector and, if so, where and by whom are these facilities operated; and (i) has the government considered, done studies on, had studies commissioned on or consulted with other jurisdictions on expanding the role of the private sector in the operation of Canada’s correctional facilities?
     (Return tabled)
Question No. 239--
Mr. Michael Savage :
     With regard to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, for each year the Program has been in operation, broken down by province, what is: (a) the total number of workers admitted under the Program; (b) the average processing time for successful applications; (c) the total number of workers admitted under the Program for jobs in the oil and gas sector; and (d) the average processing time for workers admitted under the Program for jobs in the oil and gas sector?
     (Return tabled)

[English]

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

Privilege

Members' Right to Freedom of Speech in Parliamentary Proceedings  

[Privilege]
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege, notice of which I had provided to you a few days ago while you were deliberating on another related matter. I thank you for allowing me to rise today, now that the other matter has concluded. It involves the right of free speech and the right to participate fully without obstruction or impairment as a member of the House. These particular privileges are fundamental to us here in the House. I will refrain from providing explicit citations and relieve you and colleagues of that part of it, but a reasonable discussion of those rights is contained in pages 70 to 75 of Marleau and Montpetit.
     Former Speaker Bosley once described the right of free speech in this place as “absolute”. Going back through history, those attributes of our free speech rights here, our privileges, are contained in parliamentary law going right back to 1689, as one benchmark, the Bill of Rights.
    The right to vote also is fundamental to our role here and is similarly protected by our privileges. They are so fundamental, Mr. Speaker, that you seek these privileges explicitly at the beginning of each Parliament.
    I want to submit that in the result, these undoubted rights have been impaired by a ruling of the Ethics Commissioner on May 7, 2008 in relation to the member for West Nova. For reasons I am not exactly clear, the report of the Ethics Commissioner describes the member by name and not by riding, but I will refer to the member by riding in my remarks. One of three findings of the Ethics Commissioner is contained on page 21 of her report. Her words are, “I conclude that section 13”--she is referring to the code of ethics--“requires that [the member for West Nova] not participate in the debates or votes on the Mulroney Airbus settlement and that consequently he has contravened section 13” of the code.
    Curiously, the commissioner's quotes and the evidence relied on by the commissioner appear, in reading it, to deal with a sequence of events that have become known as the Bear Head project and the Thyssen proposals and not the actual Mulroney Airbus issue, but I will leave that. That is already written in the report and I cannot do much about that. I would suggest that in practice and in theory the member for West Nova might actually still be free to vote and speak on the Bear Head project issue or the Thyssen proposal issues as distinct from the Airbus issue.
     However, in this report, the Ethics Commissioner actually purports to remove the rights of free speech and the vote of the member in relation to the Mulroney Airbus matter. That was based on her reading and interpretation of our code. She did not do this on her own; she was simply interpreting our code the best way she felt she could.
    Therefore, I have to note with some surprise that the member for West Nova, if this report of the Ethics Commissioner is to govern, is now completely free to speak on the Mulroney Airbus matter everywhere in Canada, on TV, on radio, in a scrum, in the press, as a citizen of Canada, but he is not free to speak in this House.
    How could it be that a member has more freedom of speech everywhere except in this House, where we are supposed to have virtually absolute constitutionally protected rights and privileges of free speech? How could that member have less freedom of speech in this House than out on the street? How did we, in creating the code and in having it interpreted here, turn a freedom into a straitjacket?

  (1530)  

    Someone here today, Mr. Speaker, may say to you that this House adopted the rules so we should live with them, that this interpretation comes from that and the result comes from that and we should live with those things. However, I submit that the result is an unintended one, brought about by an unanticipated interpretation of the code, and in the parliamentary context, it is intolerable that we now have this abridgement of free speech and voting rights. It was not intended and it is intolerable.
    Mr. Speaker, there are four points I want to make that you may find helpful in reviewing the report of the Ethics Commissioner, not in the sense of an appeal, but in relation to the privilege motion here.
    First, in her report, the Ethics Commissioner concluded that being a defendant in a libel suit constituted a private interest. However, such a claim in a libel suit is not a liquidated amount. It is not a debt. There is no ownership or control of it and there is no real dollar value attached to it.
    By concluding that this allegation gave rise to a private interest, the Ethics Commissioner potentially gives life and credibility, and validation, to a libel claim of any person or corporation who decides to sue any one of us here in the House before there is any conclusion to the suit at all.
    I note that if one reads the popular press, there are at the present time two other lawsuits at play involving members of the House of Commons involving speech issues not in the House, but outside the House, as I understand it.
    Our free speech privilege is here. It is living. It is protected from the police. It is protected from the king. It is protected from the powerful. It is protected from the press. How could it be lost by the simple filing of a lawsuit at the hands of a single plaintiff who makes such an allegation?
    Second, the term “liability” as set out in section 3(2)(b) of the code is contained in a phrase that refers to “the extinguishment, or reduction in the amount, of the person’s liabilities”.
    The Ethics Commissioner has decided that the term “liability” also includes a contingent liability. However, I submit that a liability claim raises the possibility of a liability, just the possibility. Just like the possibility of getting the common cold, just like the possibility of death, it applies to all of us, but that is not the same thing as a quantifiable liability that crystallizes on the happening of a specifically defined happening of an event described on formation of the legal relationship or obligation, two different types of contingencies here.
    The mere claim in this particular case has no asset value and no dollar value, so the liability has no value. Therefore, if there is no dollar value, how could this give rise to any reduction in the amount that is described in section 3(2)(b)? Section 3(2)(b) clearly describes a reduction in amount of a person's liabilities, and there is no amount here. There is no amount in question.
    The Ethics Commissioner may wish to reconsider this, and the House may also wish to consider this issue.
    Third, the Ethics Commissioner's ruling on free speech on the member, in my view and I hope the view of the House, neglects to accord appropriate recognition and standing to parliamentary rights of free speech. Both the courts and Parliament have inquiries for the purpose of seeking the truth. Neither the courts nor Parliament will allow its members to be impaired in that function.
    The objectives of transparency and non-furtherance of private interests are, to be sure, worthy goals, but as against the fundamental right of free speech, especially in Parliament, they must be seen and interpreted as subsidiary or secondary amenities in the public interest.

  (1535)  

    Fourth, in fairness to the Ethics Commissioner, she did recognize these principles. She says on page 20, “Members should not be precluded from participating in parliamentary votes and debates unless there is a serious justification for doing so”. It is good that she recognized that. In my view, that is a complete understatement of the principles involved. We should not just be unencumbered because it sounds good; we are legally, by constitutional privileges, accorded that right.
     She also says, “the requirement to recuse oneself under section 13 does amount to a serious interference with the exercise of a member's public duties”. I say bingo, because she has recognized that the obligation to recuse oneself is a serious interference. I say it breaches the constitutional free speech rights of every member in this House, but at least she recognizes that it is a serious interference, to use her words.
    She refers to our having public duties. Public servants have public duties. We do too, but we here must be vigilant in protecting our constitutionally protected parliamentary privileges of free speech and non-interference.
    Lives in the past have been given to obtain and maintain these rights. History shows that a king was beheaded to assure these rights, and we must count on our Ethics Commissioner to recognize and uphold those rights. They are so fundamental that they do not even have to be pleaded outside this place in our courts. Section 5 of the Parliament of Canada Act says so.
    The Ethics Commissioner is not and should actually never be asked, in my view, to become the gatekeeper of our parliamentary rights and privileges. This is our job in this House and if our code has somehow allowed the Ethics Commissioner to stray from the straight and narrow, we should at least take some of that responsibility. We must assist the Ethics Commissioner in achieving these broader objectives.
    According to the Ethics Commissioner, a similar conjunction of circumstances is unlikely to occur frequently. She says that this kind of thing is not likely to happen very often, but let me put a hypothesis out here, now that the mechanism has been identified.
    What if some scoundrel out there decided to sue for libel every member of the New Democratic Party or the Bloc Québécois and named every member in the libel suit? Under this ruling, it seems to me that that might functionally disconnect the entire political caucus from participating in a particular debate or a vote. It was never the intention of our rules that this happen, yet if we look at the ruling, this in theory could occur again now that the mechanism and the unintended result has been spotted. I am pretty sure there are not too many members in the House who would wish that to be an eventuality. The rights and privileges of the member for West Nova are identical to the rights and privileges of every member in this House.
    We are not just, here in this place, the complaints department for some government ministry. We are, in the words of Sir Edward Coke from the 17th century, the grand inquest of the nation, so we need to fix either the ruling or the rules, as the Ethics Commissioner has invited us to do, and I would be prepared to move a motion in that regard. In that light, I just wanted to bring four things to the House's attention, because it is contextual.

  (1540)  

     First, I want to ask the Speaker of the House to take notice of the following things. A motion should reaffirm our privileges of free speech and our right to vote.
    Second, this particular report of the Ethics Commissioner will be deemed concurred in after 30 sitting days under subsection 28(10) of the code unless it is otherwise dealt with by the House. Therefore, I believe that the proposed speech and the voting restrictions on the member for West Nova should be suspended by the wording of a motion, if there is to be a motion and if it is to be adopted.
    Third, the motion should amend the code to clarify its terms as the Ethics Commissioner has invited us to, for example, in restating what is comprised by the terms “private interest” or secondly, possibly modifying section 13 of the code which now states: “A Member shall not participate in debate on or vote on a question in which he or she has a private interest”. That could be modified to read “a member should not” as opposed to “shall not”. I am only placing it out there for consideration.
    Fourth, we should invite the Ethics Commissioner, under subsection 28(13), to reconsider this matter making reference to any changes in the code adopted by the motion, the free speech benchmarks described in parliamentary law and affirming the confidence of the House in her work as a Commissioner of Ethics.
    Finally, it is not clear to me now that the procedure and House affairs committee would be in a position to deal with this on an expeditious basis. This is simply part of the current context.
    Mr. Speaker, according to Bourinot, “One of the first and greatest of its privileges is free speech and one of the advantages of legislative bodies is the right of exposing and denouncing abuses by means of free speech”. Page 42 of Joseph Maingot's Second Edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada states:
    The protection afforded the Member speaking in the House is, in law, spoken on an occasion of absolute legal privilege, that is to say, spoken with impugnity to the outside world, but he publishes outside the House at his peril. Parliament protects him when he speaks in Parliament, but when he speaks outside, or publishes outside what he says inside Parliament, Parliament offers no protection; only the common law does, if it is offered at all.
    The member for West Nova invited a libel suit against him when he made statements outside of the House. He made a choice to give up his parliamentary privilege when he did that. You, Mr. Speaker, and the House have no role to play in the member's grievance. It is not our problem; it is his problem.
    The House of Commons and the Parliament of Canada are not like the parliaments of some countries, in which people seek election merely so that they can take advantage of the privileges and immunities of parliamentarians to avoid consequences for their actions outside of that role and outside of that body. Our Parliament does not operate as it does in some of the lesser developed countries and, therefore, we can take pride in that. Those are important principles.
    So too is the principle of having an Ethics Commissioner and a Code of Ethics. Parliament established the Ethics Commissioner and the Code of Conduct. Parliament gave the Ethics Commissioner the authority to interpret the code. The Code of Conduct is also governed by the rules of the House, rules which the House has established.
    The right of free speech and the right to vote are not, contrary to what the hon. member just said, absolute. They are constrained by the code quite clearly so that members of Parliament are not to act in such a fashion as to advance their private interests, whether it be by speech or by voting. That is, of course, the principle on which the decision of the Ethics Commissioner turned.
    As has been acknowledged by many members of the House speaking publicly, even those who have concerns with the decision of the Ethics Commissioner, Ms. Dawson made the right ruling given the rules of the House and the mandate granted her by Parliament.
    If the rules were followed, then there can be no breach of privilege. It is our duty to follow the rules we established for ourselves. Even if this does touch on privilege, which it does not, but for the sake of this point let us assume that it does, the member would still be bound by the limitations of the rules.
    On page 26 of Joseph Maingot's Second Edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, it states that the importance of the right of freedom of speech is such that a member of the Senate or House of Commons may with impugnity make statements in Parliament “subject only to the rules, customs, and practices of the House of Commons”.
    The member was indeed aware of that and, in fact, my understanding is that the reason this arose is because he was advised by other members of the House of Commons of the risk of running afoul of those rules. He chose to ignore that in the parliamentary context, thereby again inviting the decision to which he has been subjected.
    The member is complaining that the rules of the House are putting limitations on his right to participate in debates. There will always be limitations. In fact, there must be limitations. Otherwise, we would have chaos. The member for West Nova said in the media:
    I'll accept that her ruling--
    Referring to Ms. Dawson:
--is in good faith, but I think we have to take our responsibilities as a legislature and see that if the code can be interpreted in such a way as she did then we have a dangerous code. We have to review the code.
    I am not surprised to find someone who runs afoul of the rules saying the rules must be changed.
    If the opposition's objective is to review the code, then it should know that it cannot be done through a question of privilege. This is simply not the mechanism to do so.
    We cannot ask the Speaker to arbitrarily change the rules of the House or allow the member to move a motion without notice to change the rules of the House. That would be against the rules of the House. The proper place for review of the Standing Orders is through the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
    The fact that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is not meeting does not constitute in any way a prima facie question of privilege either. It is a problem that needs to be resolved by the members of that committee. We certainly are in a position where the potential for that to occur could occur if people were willing to put their minds to that task if parties were serious about making this Parliament work.

  (1545)  

    In the March 14 ruling, Mr. Speaker, you said that if committees continue on the path of overturning perfectly good rulings from the chairs of committees, then that could very well lead to anarchy. If the near future anarchy results, then we would be in a crisis. I am not sure we are in that crisis now, but it is certainly the suggestion being made by the hon. member opposite.
    That requires a resolution of the political parties determining to respect the legitimate authority of the proper rulings and deciding to get on with the proper work of committees. They will not be resolved through a question of privilege. If Parliament is not functioning in that fashion, then the solution is to dissolve Parliament. That way Canadians can elect members who want Parliament to get back to work bringing to Canadians economic security, safer streets, human rights and a clean environment.
    In the book The Question of Confidence in Responsible Government, written by Eugene Forsey and G.C. Eglington, it states at page 95:
    It is a question to be determined in all the circumstances whether the loss of control [of the House] indicates want of confidence, which might be, and if there is any real question, should be tested by a vote for the purpose deliberately brought on by the Government.
    In Australia, for example, no motion of censure or lack of confidence in the government has ever been agreed to in the house of representatives, however, governments have resigned or advised a solution on eight occasions following their defeat on other votes in the house ranging from votes on amendments to legislation, to votes on procedural motions such as “let this House do now adjourn”.
    The deciding factor seems to have been the government's perception that it had lost control of the business of the house. Sometimes a government facing such a situation has moved a motion of confidence in itself or declared that a vote on a procedural motion is to be regarded as a challenge of confidence.
    When this House met last, for example, we had a concurrence motion that disrupted the government's legislative agenda. The government attempted to adjourn that debate. It was unsuccessful. If in the future these disruptions make it impossible for the government to move its legislation through the House, then it too, as in the Australian experience, could be considered that such procedural motions are matters of confidence.
    We are not there yet, but it could conceivably come to that. If members of the opposition continue on their current path, then the government could very well be in a moral and constitutional position to dissolve Parliament. In the Speaker's ruling of March 14, the Speaker noted that:
    Since that time, appeals of decisions by chairs appear to have proliferated, with the result that having decided to ignore our usual procedure and practices, committees have found themselves in situations that verge on anarchy.
    Since this ruling, the opposition members on the ethics committee overturned a perfectly sound ruling of the chair. They knowingly thwarted the authority of the House of Commons. We also have opposition members on the justice committee insisting on doing a similar thing which would allow them to conduct a witch hunt. As a result, the progress of the government's justice agenda is compromised. There are important pieces of government legislation before the justice committee, including private member's business.
    We are talking about the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Here again the opposition majority is attempting to conduct a partisan one-sided study of a so-called in and out financing issue. The government, in response, offered a fair and sensible compromise. It proposed that the committee study the activities of all parties, not just the Conservative Party. It is a reasonable request. If that is all that is required to get the committee up and running, then what level-headed person would say no? We do not need a question of privilege. We do not need an election. We need common sense and a fair-minded settlement.
    The opposition members should be using the instruments of Parliament that exist for the purpose of resolving a question like this and the pursuit of accountable government and the development of public policy. They should not be abusing their rights for self-serving partisan interests. Further, these misguided pursuits by the majority opposition are not within the rules of fair play. More importantly, they are not within the rules of this House. The government's tolerance for these anarchistic, irresponsible and illegal usages of the tools of Parliament is wearing thin.
    I would like to conclude with a quote from an NDP member from a different generation. I say that because when members hear it, they will note the difference in attitude and approach from what we are facing in the current Parliament and it creates a stalemate which makes it difficult for the issue to be addressed in the fashion that it should be as it was raised by the hon. member. The statement refers to the opposition in a minority situation. The same would apply to a government in a minority situation. Just substitute the word “opposition” with “minority”. The hon. Stanley Knowles said:
    The opposition has only the rules for its protection, hence the authorities on parliamentary procedure emphasize the greater importance to the opposition of the only protection it has, the protection of the rules. Only by according such rights to the opposition is it possible to achieve anything even approaching equality of strength between the two sides--

  (1550)  

    Mr. Knowles was right. Rules are important and following the rules is equally important. We cannot let the House slip and fall into chaos and anarchy. We need to follow the rules and I urge the majority opposition to follow the rules and get back to work.
    What we are hearing from the hon. member is essentially a submission that asks you, Mr. Speaker, to take the place of the committee on procedure and House affairs, to stand in its place and do its work. That is not a proper question of privilege. It should not be put in that fashion because that is a question that is for all of Parliament to decide and for Parliament to decide through the vehicle that exists for that purpose, which is the committee on procedure and House affairs.
    Of course, as I said, if the political parties, including the party of the hon. member who raised the issue, and those who are concerned about the code, would cooperate in such a fashion that the committee could function as it was intended, it would have the ability to address the very questions he is attempting to raise and seek a resolution to here in a different context where it does not belong. He should be raising them in that context. If he wishes to see them resolved in a fashion that addresses his concerns, he should implore his colleagues within his party who sit on that committee to allow that committee to function so that the questions can be addressed.
    However, Mr. Speaker, with the greatest of respect, it is not for you to do in your role as Speaker on a question of privilege.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to intervene just briefly to add a few words to the question of privilege my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River put forward. I thank him for raising this issue.
     Even though he rose on a point of personal privilege, it is a matter involving the privileges of all members of the House that may be infringed upon, not deliberately in any way by the Ethics Commissioner, but inadvertently by her ruling. In her ruling she points out that it may in fact be an unintended consequence of her ruling that some members may feel that their privileges were infringed upon by this, and I certainly do agree.
     I would like to clarify the government House leader's point when he said that was not for you, Mr. Speaker, to usurp or undermine the jurisdiction of the procedure and House affairs committee. He said that was something that you should not do. The point is that given that the procedure and House affairs committee is unable to deal with the issue because it is logjammed, then it should be up to the House of Commons, not the Speaker, to get together and deal with the collective privileges of all MPs.
    I predict and I caution that we might be facing an increased flurry of similar lawsuits that have the effect of silencing a member of Parliament and making that person unable to do his or her job. I do not belive we can allow that to go on. We could see such a flurry of lawsuits flying around here that we would think we were in a snow storm with slapp suits going every which way and silencing good members and making them unable to do their job.
    The problem lies with the code of conduct for members of Parliament as it is interpreted by the Ethics Commissioner. We need to change the code of conduct to make it abundantly clear that a member of Parliament is not in a conflict of interest just because he or she is being sued.
     We are not saying, as the government House leader would have us believe, that we are advocating that members of Parliament should never be sued if they say something libellous outside the House. No one is arguing that. It may well be that somebody could trip up and say something libellous that they should be sued for, but that does not mean they should be silenced for the entire duration of that lawsuit and barred from raising any of that subject matter in the House or in committee during the 18 months or 2 years that it takes for that lawsuit to trickle through the courts.
    Mr. Speaker, as you are aware, I tried to move that motion at the ethics committee. I felt that it was such an urgent matter that we could not wait for the logjam in the procedure and House affairs committee to be cleared so we tried, knowing full well that we were outside our jurisdiction. The chair of the committee, the member for Mississauga South, actually ruled it out of order but we challenged the chair and we overrode his ruling. The majority of us on committee felt so strongly that our colleague from West Nova was being silenced by the interpretation of the Ethics Commissioner that it had to be dealt with at some committee.
    However, that was not possible because you, Mr. Speaker, ruled that the committee could not deal with it. We have nowhere else to go but to appeal to you now to let the House deal with it. If the procedure and House affairs committee cannot, then the House of Commons should make it abundantly clear that no member of Parliament is in a conflict of interest just because they are being sued. Otherwise, we cannot do our jobs properly.

  (1555)  

    I think I have heard enough on this point for the time being as I have another matter I want to deal with.
    The hon. member for Mississauga South, very briefly.
    Mr. Speaker, I think you will find in your research that the issue of a contingent liability constituting a private interest did not come up.
    Furthermore, there is a consideration that should another case come up, we could have a situation where anything directly or indirectly relating to another issue would in fact be the subject of a recusal, which could be very broad indeed. That causes me some concern.
    Finally, obviously the member has risen on a matter of privilege which is of significant importance. He is asking for a finding of a prima facie matter of privilege, at which time, if that should be found by you, he would be seeking to table a motion. I think the House wants an opportunity to deal with this matter and I hope you will rule favourably on it.
    I thank the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for having raised this matter and the government House leader, the member for Winnipeg Centre and the member for Mississauga South for their interventions on the matter. I will take it under advisement and return to the House in due course.

[Translation]

Request for Emergency Debate

Gasoline Prices  

[S. O. 52]
     The Chair has notice of a request for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Trois-Rivières, who now has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 52 of the House of Commons, I request that an emergency debate be held on the sharp increase in the price of petroleum products.
     Gasoline prices have increased by over 30% since the beginning of the year. In the Montreal region, the average price has gone from $1.08 in January 2008 to over $1.28 in April 2008. In the Trois-Rivières region, the price has even hit $1.39
     The price of crude oil is also skyrocketing. Last January it was $95 U.S. per barrel: at 4 p.m. on May 14, 2008 it had gone over $120 U.S. There is therefore a concern that this trend will continue. In the July 2008 futures market, it is possible that the price per barrel might exceed $130 U.S.
    This is the time of year when people are making summer vacation plans. The endless rise in gas prices is really disruptive to the tourist season and we have serious concerns for more remote regions like Gaspé and Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.
    Since this situation has repercussions on all sectors of our economy, it has a heavy impact on consumers and families. I therefore deem it essential for this House to debate this important matter without further delay, in an emergency debate.
     I would also like to add that there is currently no other procedure I can use to request a debate on this important issue.

  (1600)  

Speaker's Ruling 

[Speaker's Ruling]
    This is the second time that the hon. member for Trois-Rivières has raised this matter. In my opinion, she has raised some good points in this connection. We shall therefore, at the ordinary time of adjournment this evening, hold an emergency debate on the matter she has presented.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999

     The House resumed from May 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.
    Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to speak to Bill C-33 and the amendment, and I offer my support for the bill but not for the amendment.
    I might say that it is important in this debate, regarding the amendment, because everything relates to the bill, so I will be fairly broad in my remarks.
    It is interesting to see the reactions of some of the party leaders in this House since this bill was first debated at first reading and at committee.
    At one point in time, all parties seemed to be in favour of increasing biofuel production for several reasons: one, to develop greater economic opportunities for rural Canada; two, to offer alternative crop opportunities and better returns for farmers in rural Canada; and three, to provide for a move away from fossil fuels, which would mean reduced greenhouse gas impacts on Canadian society. This is at a time when the environment is a huge issue.
    However, now, because of changing circumstances in the global food supply and a few other issues, in an almost knee-jerk reaction, we are getting some saying that ethanol is almost solely responsible for the global food shortage and therefore some party positions are switching.
    I will put it to members this way. Whether we pass or reject Bill C-33, it will, in neither case, impact the global food shortage or surplus to any great extent. Let us be realistic here. Regarding ethanol in Canada, in terms of this bill, will we be in the modern world or will we stay behind the times? It is time we get up to speed.
    However, I can say that if we reject this bill we will send a very negative message to those investors who took all parties' words and who based their investment decisions on plants that are already being built and on farmers who will put crops in the ground on the basis of those initial discussions at committee which had basically all parties supporting Bill C-33.
    If this bill is defeated, somebody had better take responsibility for that lost investment opportunity and that lost investment out there for those people who actually took the word of the various representatives of the parties that this bill would actually go through Parliament. They took our word that we would implement regulations and increase the content of ethanol and biodiesels in fuel by regulations.
    Simply put, investments have been made both on the farm in terms of the production of alternative crops and in plant capacity to build plants for the current feedstocks and, in their minds as well, for future feedstocks for ethanol production from more cellulosic feedstock, et cetera.
    If we reject this bill, we will have killed an economic opportunity for great numbers of Canadian and international investors and we will have certainly killed an economic opportunity for a great number of Canadian farmers.
     For those who say that we will be using good quality wheat and other crops for fuels, that is not necessarily so. Yes, sometimes they will be but not always.

  (1605)  

    Sometimes there is frost. There is always a frost in some area. Sometimes there is too much rain and the quality of the grain goes down. Sometimes there is drought, which affects the quality. Sometimes there are surpluses.
    It is those products, which are not always top quality bread wheat or top quality cereal grade corn, that are going into the production of these particular fuels. There are these other lower quality crops that are often used as well.
    I say, especially to the leader of the NDP, who seems to have a knee-jerk reaction against ethanol now although he had it in his policy platform for the last election, for heaven's sake, that he must not kill that gleam and that spark in the eyes of those farmers out there. I ask him to allow economic opportunities to develop in rural Canada. I ask him not to hamper this investment in economic opportunities by the farm community.
    This 5% really will not take a whole lot of crop, but it will make a huge difference in terms of price returns for primary producers. The interesting thing about farm production is that if we have a 2% or 3% surplus, especially in the potato industry, it is not just that 2% or 3% surplus for which we get paid low returns: it kills the price of the whole 102% and 103%. This will assist in terms of that economic development and economic opportunity for the farm community as well.
     The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has some information on this, and I will quote the association a little later, but I can say that by being a player, by having the production base taking place right now with the current feedstock, it will encourage research and development in the newer feedstocks that are not so much food for our consumers as others. That is where we have to get to.
    We cannot jump over this step. We are not ready to go there yet in terms of the cellulosic and the research and development required in that area. This step cannot be jumped over. We have to go to this step with that production and fuel stock base right now.
    Oh yes, there is a number out there, and this debate is rather interesting, but there is quite a debate by some who would blame the world's food shortage on the production of ethanol. Nothing could be further from the truth. Is there some impact? Yes, there is a marginal impact, but ethanol is not the cause. The real cause, in my view, is the speculation in the commodities market, which has no relationship to costs or real crises on the ground.
     As well, certainly, global trade has an impact on the food shortage. The food for which there is greatest shortage at the moment is rice. Rice is not used in the production of ethanol. However, some countries that have become dependent on rice imports have seen the exports from some other countries frozen. We are seeing speculation, hoarding and all these kinds of things.
    That is the real reason there is a problem in terms of global food supply. It is due more to market exploitation, market manipulation and market speculation than it is to the production of ethanol itself.

  (1610)  

    I have what I think is a very good paper that certainly opens up a good debate. It is a policy brief by the Oakland Institute and I believe it was written in April although it does not have the date on it. It has this to say at one point:
    In fact, it is the traders and middlemen who stand to gain most. Speculation in world commodities is driving prices upward, from global futures commodity trading to traders and hoarders in West Africa, Thailand and the Philippines.
    The institute goes on to say:
    The payments made by the Canadian Wheat Board show--
    And we know that the Canadian Wheat Board maximizes returns to primary producers.
--that the farmers were paid between $260-$284 a ton for various qualities of non-durum wheat, while the global price for wheat peaked to over $520 a ton. In India, farmers were paid Rs.850 [their currency] a quintal while wheat was imported at Rs.1,650 [their currency] a quintal.
    What this is showing is that prices on the ground are one thing, but it is the market speculation and the middlemen that are really causing those prices to go through the roof. The farmers are not feeling the benefit of those prices on the ground to anywhere near the extent of what prices are in the marketplace.
    The Oakland Institute paper goes on. I do not necessarily agree with everything that is said, but I think they are interesting points. It states:
    Various causes for the current food price crisis are being cited by policy makers and the media--most common among them being the increased demand from China, India, and other emerging economies, whose increasing per capita growth has whetted appetites, as well as the oft-cited rising fuel and fertilizer costs, climate change, and impact of biofuels production. What is missing in the discourse is analysis of the failure of the free market, which made countries vulnerable in the first place; ironically, it is being promoted as a solution to the current crisis.
    The Oakland Institute is saying that there are a lot of causes of the food crisis, and it is certainly not just the production of ethanol and biodiesel causing it, as some would portray.
    I want to turn to a comment that I think is right on the mark. Larry Hill, now chair of the Canadian Wheat Board, stated in an article:
    Commodity prices have risen dramatically in the last two years. There are many factors that have contributed to these increases. Supply-side issues have been the most dramatic, with...production problems plaguing all five of the world's top wheat-producing exporting regions over the past two years.
    This ranged from drought in Australia to the heavy rains at harvest in Europe, poor winter wheat conditions in Kansas, frost in Argentina, and heat damage in western Canada.
    He continued:
    On the demand side, the world population continues to grow. In some of the world's most populous nations, improvements to living standards have created more demand for a wheat-based diet and for livestock fed with grain.
    He went on to say:
    Until this year, grain prices in real dollars were so low that they were on par with what farmers received in the Dirty Thirties. Not surprisingly, these values caused many farmers to rethink their future in agriculture. Some walked away, others tried to diversify into other types of enterprises, while still others were forced to subsidize their farms with one if not two off-farm jobs.

  (1615)  

    The fact of the matter is that if we bring it into real terms the price of the wheat in a loaf of bread now is about 16¢ for a 16-ounce loaf of bread. That is not a great deal when the price of a loaf of bread is $2 or thereabouts.
    My point is that the farmer's share is still not really any more than what it should be. When we hear Mr. Hill's comments, we have to recognize, as I am certain this House does, the kinds of difficulties that producers have faced over the last eight years in Canada, when farm incomes were at record lows in this country.
    This ethanol and biodiesel industry is creating a spark in the eye for many. It is creating economic opportunity.
    Yes, we know there is price pressure on the livestock and hog industries, but we have to find a way of making one agricultural commodity complementary to the other. We cannot have one industry such as the hog and beef industry built on cheap feed grains, because those producers have to survive too. We must have policy done in a complementary fashion such that farmers can make a living off the land in this country regardless of the commodity produced.
    If I may turn to the bill for a moment, I want to come to the fact that the protection is already in the bill in terms of what I think is being asked by the amendment. The bill allows the government to regulate renewable content in fuels. It allows the federal government to implement regulations requiring 5% average renewable content in gasoline by 2010.
    Subsequent regulations will also require 2% average renewable content in diesel and heating oil by 2012 on successful demonstration of renewable diesel fuel use under the range of Canadian environmental conditions, meaning fuels made from renewable sources such as agriculture crops and other organic matter.
    This gives the government the authority to make regulations. I believe that the government will be sensible in that. Perhaps the government will be sensible on this particular issue and make reasonable regulations. We cannot say the same for the government on all issues.
    New subclause 2(8) amends the bill to add a provision for periodic and comprehensive reviews by a parliamentary committee of the environmental and economic aspects of biofuel production in Canada. That is important. The committee put that in there. Parliament is not going to be hamstrung, but this is sensible.
    The amendment that we are talking about now is not sensible. It basically stops the ethanol and biodiesel proposal in its tracks.
    This review allows us to monitor the situation, to determine the environmental and economic impacts of biofuel production in Canada, and to do it in a sensible way. It is extremely important.
    I think the amendment that the members are calling for is already covered by the work of the committee itself.
     I would encourage Parliament to pass this bill. Investments are already being made. Primary producers are looking to the future with the current crop regime, yes, but they are also looking for and hoping that the government will put in place the research and development.
     I know that research and development is taking place south of the border into other alternative crops such as wheat and barley, straw, stalks and cobs from corn in Ontario and Quebec, and vegetable and fruit residues from across Canada. In Prince Edward Island, there is a very small cold press biodiesel operation in place using canola.
    There is the possibility of using forest and wood waste and also municipal solid waste. There are other alternatives down the road, but we have to get there. In order to get there, I ask Parliament to support this bill and let this economic opportunity succeed.

  (1620)  

    Mr. Speaker, knowing my hon. colleague over many years, I know his heart and soul are with Canadian farmers, and I agree with him totally.
    The whole perception of biofuels being bad and causing a world of food shortage has been blown out of proportion. I really think it is essential for Canadian farmers to have the bill passed, that it be carried by all members in the House of Commons.
    We have to look at the shortage of food in the world for many different reasons. There have been drought and frost. Western Canada has gone through years of drought. There have been storms, and we only need to look at China and Burma lately. There are many factors.
     I would like to give the hon. member a few more minutes to state his case because he has done it very well so far.
    Mr. Speaker, it is nice to be in agreement with the member opposite. We not always are, but I think our objective is to have policies to benefit the farm community and society in general. We may not agree on the road to get there, but we do want to get to the same place.
    In answer to the member's question, I would turn to what the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture had to say recently because it hits the mark with respect to food prices and ethanol. I will quote what the president of the CFA said in a recent press release. He said:
    Biofuels have been unfairly implicated as a primary cause of dwindling food stocks and high grain prices. Other market forces have a strong influence on grain prices, such as market speculation, changing dietary trends in emerging economies, and recent global weather patterns. Furthermore, it should be noted that only a small amount of Canadian grain is produced for biofuels, about 5 percent.
    Growing for the biofuel industry has been an excellent option for farmers looking to diversify, and they shouldn’t be disparaged for making a smart move. These farmers have been lauded by the public and politicians alike for being leaders in the development of alternatives to fossil fuels.
    Many farmers invested heavily to meet surging demand. What is often left out of discussion is the risk that a large-scale disaster (such as drought or a major hail storm) could leave them on-the-hook for escalating expenses.
    Looking at the international scope of this issue, we've long known that inadequate food distribution and accessibility is hurting the world’s poor. This problem is not new. As an active member of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, CFA is joining the call for governments to develop policies that address food insecurity.

  (1625)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, my colleague has a lot of experience in this House in terms of agriculture. But, I am taken aback to hear him say that Canadian farmers have already invested heavily to meet the demand. I do not believe that the plants are ready yet.
    However, I will ask him a question, a question that very capable people in the field have also asked. Why would we not sell the surplus corn to the United States, given that they have ethanol projects that require much more corn than they are able to produce? That is my first question.
    Next, many people who are very knowledgeable about these matters have come to Ottawa and said that it may be true that ethanol is no longer the main cause of rising prices. Rather, it is more our past reserves that drove up prices.
    Darrin Qualman, from the National Farmer's Union in Saskatoon, told us that five years ago there were 115 million tonnes of various grain reserves around the world, but now there are 54 million tonnes, and that it was industry that lowered this quantity in order to be able to force prices to go up.
    My second question is this: why could we not sell the corn produced here in Canada to rebuild the food stocks around the world?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the reason why I do not think we would want to grow corn here and ship it to the United States is we need that plant capacity in Canada. We need those jobs created in Canada. The part that people do not often relate to is the need for R and D in this area. The byproduct that comes out after the corn goes through ethanol production, is feed for livestock there. As of yet it is not a good feed for hogs, but it is, under the right characteristics, a decent feed for beef. Therefore, more R and D needs to be done into that feedstock development. However, the bottom line is we need that plant capacity and that investment in this country, not south of the border. We want to create jobs and opportunities for Canadians, not for Americans.
    Regarding the second part of the question, it is true that ethanol has not had a huge impact on prices, but it has had some. It is true with the feedstock we use, there is not a tremendous positive benefit in terms of reduction in greenhouse gases. It is nothing near where it is in Brazil, where one unit of input and maybe seven units of production out. We are about 1 unit to 1.2 units. There is greater greenhouse gas reductions with sugar cane in Brazil.
     However, as we move to new feedstocks, we may be able to get those better productions and we have to go through this step. The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has said that the passage of Bill C-33 is critical to the development of the next generation biofuels in Canada. Its members would know because they are at the pinnacle of the industry.

  (1630)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I heard my colleague say that he agreed with the member opposite. That means he will not agree with me; I will tell him that right off the bat.
    The cost of basic foods has gone up 48% since the end of 2006. I am not the one saying this. According to the director of the World Food Programme, a “silent tsunami” is threatening to plunge 100 million people into hunger. The IMF estimates that the use of biofuels and the rather considerable subsidies granted to producers account for 70% of the increase in corn prices.
    What does the bill we are debating today do? It requires gasoline to contain 5% ethanol. Where is the logic in setting this requirement, when we consider the international assistance that needs to be provided, the fact that people should feed themselves, the fact that we should respect our environment, and the fact that this bill would require a 5% biofuel content?
    In fact, I do not agree with this term. It could perhaps be called “agro” but it is far from being “bio”.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, if the member goes back to my remarks, she will note that for one to believe ethanol is responsible for the food shortage is absolutely wrong. It may have a marginal impact, no question about that, but the land base is there to feed a hungry world.
    The problem in terms of the hungry world, as I said earlier in my remarks, is more so markets commodity speculation where there is huge profit taking in some of the trade relationships and the power of some of the multinational corporations around the world. Some countries that were exporting rice, for instance, have frozen those exports in order to hoard supplies in their own countries. Is it market speculation or food security for their own people? I do not know, but it is other factors more than ethanol in the food difficulties around the world.

[Translation]

    Let us make it clear right at the start that the purpose of this government bill, which in itself contains no standards whatsoever, is to authorize the government to enact regulations governing the Canadian production of biofuels. In other words, the bill would allow the federal government to regulate renewable content in fuels in order to require, for example, a certain percentage of biofuel in gasoline.
    In order to have a better understanding of legislative developments in the biofuels file, let us begin by reminding hon. members that the proposed measures, except for a few key details, were included in Bill C-30 from the previous session. I would remind the House that this bill, known as the clean air act, was amended by the opposition parties in committee and that the measures concerning biofuels still appeared in the amended version of the bill.
     It would be a good thing to remind hon. members at this point that the government had already announced that an amended Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 would allow the government to implement regulations to require an average of 5% renewable content in gasoline by 2010. Subsequent regulations would also require an average of 2% renewable content in diesel and heating oil by 2012 upon successful demonstration of renewable diesel fuel use under the range of Canadian environmental conditions.
    I would point out that the Bloc Québécois has been concerned since the beginning about the environmental and social consequences of the use of corn ethanol. It therefore submitted amendments in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food specifically intended to better monitor biofuel regulation. These amendments would, for instance, have enabled committee members to keep abreast of technological advances in the field of renewable biofuels and also to evaluate the appropriateness of the measures proposed by the government.
    Renewable fuels are one way for us to reduce greenhouse gases, but not the only way. Such fuels can also help us reduce our dependence on oil. However, not all renewable fuels are equal. That is very important to realize. A study by the committee of the federal government's regulations could have looked further into biofuels, their sources and their potential consequences. Unfortunately, the amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois were all rejected by the Liberals and the Conservatives.
    In light of this, the Bloc Québécois then moved, in the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, a motion that asked:
    That the Committee recommend that the government ensure that the implementation of regulations resulting from the eventual adoption of Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, not result in an increase in the proportion of Canadian corn production currently used to produce ethanol and that it be reported to the House at the earliest opportunity.
    The adoption of this motion would have kept the current proportion of land seeded with corn for use in ethanol production. For example, if 15% of Canadian corn production is currently being used to produce ethanol, the motion would have ensured that 15% of that production continued to be used to produce ethanol.
    Unfortunately, by rejecting the motion, the Conservatives have sent a clear message: they have no intention of developing the biofuel industry in a balanced manner. The regulation that will result from Bill C-33 may be conducive to excess. I cannot stress that enough.

  (1635)  

    We are in favour of renewable fuels but, in our opinion, this bill, which allows the federal government to regulate the level of biofuel in gasoline, diesel and fuel oil, must be passed in order to ensure sustainable development.
    The federal government cannot try to find a measure that reduces both greenhouse gas emissions and our dependency on oil while at the same time it risks bringing about social and environmental consequences by increasing the proportion of corn production currently dedicated to ethanol production. If it adopts this contradictory approach, it risks completely eliminating any of the benefits it is trying to create through this bill. The Bloc Québécois cannot endorse such action.
    This is one of the reasons that we are in favour of the amendment we are debating today, which asks that Bill C-33 be sent back to committee to be further studied in the context of the most recent scientific, environmental, agricultural and international developments.
    For us, in terms of a biofuel substitute for oil, the most interesting prospect at present is ethanol made from cellulose. This technique, still in its experimental stage, uses an inexpensive raw material and, more importantly, would recycle vegetable matter that is currently unusable. It would also provide new markets for the forestry and agriculture industries.
    Given the environmental and economic problems posed by the production of ethanol from certain crops, support for raw materials that could be produced more readily is gaining ground.
    Research is being increasingly focused on the production of ethanol from non-food crops and materials rich in cellulose, that is, fibres. The development of an efficient process for converting cellulose to ethanol could promote the use of raw materials such as agricultural residues and straw as well as forestry residues, primarily wood chips, and even trees and fast-growing grasses.
    Iogen Corporation has built a pilot plant and has been producing ethanol from cellulosic materials for a few years.
    A pilot plant in Sweden, for example, is producing ethanol from wood chips. The process produces three co-products that can be burned directly or dried and sold as fuel, carbon dioxide gas and ethanol.
     The Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec has already asked the federal government for assistance to conduct a market study to determine whether constructing a biodiesel plant would be feasible. A very profitable market could be developed in which animal oils and animal product residues could eventually be turned into biofuel.
    We think that ethanol made from cellulosic materials such as agricultural and wood waste, and other types of fuels still in the experimental stage look like a very interesting possibility.
    In addition, the Government of Quebec has announced that it will not promote corn ethanol further because of the environmental impact of intensive corn production. It seems that the Varennes corn-based ethanol plant will be the only such plant in Quebec. In fact, during my tour of the Varennes facilities over six months ago, the CEO, a particularly visionary leader, told me that future development of his plant would be based on second generation ethanol production using household waste.
    Before the regulations are implemented, the Bloc Québécois wants to see some thoughtful deliberation concerning the environmental record of the alternative fuels the federal government will propose. We must not lose sight of the fact that the original intention of this bill was to try to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our oil dependency.

  (1640)  

    If the Conservative government really wanted to make a difference in this area, it would choose the path proposed by the Bloc Québécois, including a plan to reduce dependency on oil, among other things, rather than trying to go against the current and scuttling Quebec's efforts with its inaction in the fight against greenhouse gases.
    It could also, as proposed by the Bloc Québécois, require automakers to substantially reduce the fuel consumption of all road vehicles sold in Quebec and Canada, like the reduction proposed by California, which has been adopted by 19 other American states and the Government of Quebec.
    However, we know the Conservative government's position on this matter: rather than adopting a standard supported by those who have shown leadership in the fight against greenhouse gases, it chose to go with that of the Bush administration, which is less stringent and seems to be designed specifically to spare American auto manufacturers.
    However, although there is no consensus on the environmental record of an alternate fuel, it is definitely responsible to have some reservations about it. Thus, in a letter last May about Bill C-33, the Fédération des producteurs de bovins du Québec wrote:
    The federation agrees with the objective of the bill. However, this objective cannot be attained unless certain conditions are fulfilled. On the one hand, the industry cannot develop fully without adequate government support in terms of human and financial resources. On the other hand, we have to ensure that the life cycle of the renewable fuels chosen offers true environmental and energy benefits compared to oil products.
    Furthermore, if it potentially worsens troubling social and environmental problems, elected members must make the responsible and appropriate decision, must refuse to continue in that direction and must attempt to propose alternative solutions.
    That is exactly what the Bloc Québécois is doing. Although we initially supported the principle of the bill, we proposed significant amendments, which sought, among other things, to shed light on the environmental record and to ensure oversight of the potential negative effects of choosing one type of replacement fuel over another. I would remind members that these amendments and motions were defeated in two separate committees by the Conservative government with the support of the Liberal Party. This point is central to our position.
     When the government commits more than $2 billion of Quebec and Canadian taxpayers' money to a bill of this scope, it is important to ensure that all the objectives of this bill will be reached and that the medium- and long-term negative effects are balanced and reasonable.
    In closing, I would like to say that this is a complex bill. As an MP, I have had a number of calls and letters from producers urging my colleagues and I to vote in favour of this bill, while a number of citizens have called on us to vote against it. This bill concerns me ethically, personally and emotionally, since I represent an agricultural riding. I am very familiar with the situation facing many farmers who are trying to make ends meet, who are fighting to develop new markets, who are trying to build a better life and who want to keep doing their share to protect the environment.
    After our discussions, a vast majority of the people I spoke with understand our position and admit that it is balanced, reasonable and responsible, and that it is important to make the right choices and reach one's objectives as well as possible. I will conclude by saying that it is important to pursue ethanol development from a variety of sources. In this sense, the Bloc Québécois motion, which was rejected by the Conservatives, and from which the Liberals abstained, was a step in the right direction. It is important to make informed decisions that take different parameters into account and that meet the environmental, social and economic objectives.

  (1645)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her comments, but I have to say that I am a little confused. I know that the Bloc has been powerless for 18 years here in the House, but I thought that the Bloc supported farmers.
    My confusion stems from the fact that Bloc members all seem to have different ideas. The member and her colleague suggested sending our corn to be processed in the United States. I do not understand why we would want to give our jobs to the United States. I would like the member to comment on that suggestion.
    I am confused about something else as well. Her two colleagues, who are members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, the members for Richmond—Arthabaska and Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, supported this bill while the committee was studying it. Now they have changed their minds.
    I would like to ask the member why the Bloc has reversed its position and no longer supports Quebec producers.
    Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to hear that the member opposite is confused. I think my presentation was quite clear. I think the purpose was just as clear.
    Decisions have been made in Quebec. Perhaps the member is not aware of the Government of Quebec's decision to build only one ethanol producing facility as part of its energy strategy. The Varennes plant uses surplus product from Quebec producers. It works very well and we are very proud of it.
    However, taking into account all of the information available—from UN experts and even American states—questioning the United States' energy policy and the intensive production of corn to make ethanol, there is no reason to think that the Bloc Québécois is against ethanol production, as the member opposite suggested in his comments. On the contrary, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of ethanol from diversified sources. I believe that it would be more responsible to develop some of the other sources currently being used for ethanol production.
    In closing, I want to point out that the Bloc tabled a motion indicating that we did not want the current proportion to increase, and that we did not want intensive corn production. I would like to remind my colleague that the Conservatives voted against the motion and that the Liberals abstained.

  (1650)  

    Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that the previous speaker, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, is naturally rather confused. I believe there would be a pretty strong consensus on that, although I will not ask for a show of hands.
    My colleague gave a very clear presentation. I am going to ask her questions that will give her an opportunity to make some of the essential distinctions in this debate. The debate cannot be between those for and against the use of ethanol; that is not the debate. I would ask my colleague, who is also the Bloc Québécois natural resources critic—and I want to congratulate her on the great job she is doing—to explain why the Bloc Québécois takes a less rigid position and why we believe that ethanol should come from a variety of sources. Perhaps she could even make the connection with other issues.
    This morning I saw that a number of our constituents had taken the time to write us. Some people may have written to my colleague to ask that we vote against Bill C-33. In fact, under the circumstances, there is no guarantee that this bill will not add to the food crisis and reduce corn supplies.
    I would therefore ask her to explain the nuances of the Bloc's position.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Hochelaga. I have a great deal of admiration for his parliamentary experience.
    It is important to remind everyone that the Bloc Québécois has never said it is against ethanol. Again, this is important to note because some people seem to be taking great delight in repeating this.
    In Quebec, it is quite clear that our position is not to take the corn ethanol route, but to encourage other sources instead. We have heard a lot about using biomass and wood chips or biodiesel obtained from animal fat and agricultural waste. This could also be a very good prospect for other producers. For example, in the riding I represent, we are currently working very hard to reopen the only steer slaughterhouse in Quebec. If this slaughterhouse is reopened it could also stimulate the launch of a biodiesel plant that would use the carcasses and animal fat to make biofuel.
    The Bloc Québécois is a rigorous party that examines the issue carefully at every stage of studying a bill. I can say that in this case, although this was not an easy situation, we believe our decision is respectful both to the environment and to our agricultural producers.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to put on the record that biofuels are not the only reason why world food prices are rising. I think it is important for people to understand that it is only one of a number of factors.
    The World Food Programme, which is run by the United Nations, has recently said that food prices are rising, first, because of rising energy costs; second, because of growing demand from developing economies; and, third, because of increased climate and weather-related events. The fourth reason it gives is biofuels, yet, it is only one of four reasons.
    It is important, if we are going to have this debate, to acknowledge that there are significant other reasons why food prices are rising around the world and to lay the blame exclusively at the feet of biofuels is not the entire picture.

  (1655)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to reassure the member opposite. Obviously the production of ethanol from corn is not the only cause behind rising grain prices. I do not believe that I said that in my speech. There are many factors and speculation is one. However, we cannot forget, as he said so well, that it is one of the factors that also contributed to the rise in grain prices.
    Perhaps I could add some information. In fact, let us take a look at what would happen if we met our goal of 5% fuel consumption in 2010. According to research by the Library of Parliament, producing 2.74 billion litres of ethanol and 36 billion litres of biodiesel would require 4.6 million tonnes of corn, 2.3 million tonnes of wheat and 0.56 tonnes of canola. If all of the raw materials were produced in Canada, these figures would represent, in current terms, 48% to 52% of corn acreage, approximately 12% of wheat acreage and approximately 8% of canola acreage in the country.
    We can see that finding other raw materials will remain very important in order to meet our objectives. I believe that the current situation still needs to be studied. That explains why we have asked that the bill be sent back to committee to be re-examined in light of interesting new information.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-33.
    There has been some criticism that this bill is being held up for no reason, and let us get on with it and push it through. This is not the case.
    We are debating a motion put forward by my hon. colleague from Western Arctic to refer it back to the agriculture committee to make sure that both economic and environmental effects of introducing these regulations do not cause a negative impact on the environment or unduly influence commodity markets. In other words, what we are saying is, if we are going to do this let us do it right.
    We know worldwide that we have seen so far that there is a cycle that starts, for example, in the United States where more land is taken out of production. Soybeans are taken away, more corn is produced and then soybean production is expanded in Brazil, for example, which then forces ranchers off their land, which then forces them to cut down the rainforest to bring in more grazing pasture, and the net effect of all of this is very negative on the environment.
    According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the rising demand for ethanol derived from corn is the main reason for the decline in world grain stocks during the first half of 2006. In Canada we know that to meet the 5% target by 2010 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimates that 4.6 million tonnes of corn, 2.3 million tonnes of wheat and .56 million tonnes of canola will be required.
    All of this is grown domestically which will equal roughly 48% to 52% of total corn seeded area, 11% to 12% wheat seeded area, and approximately 8% of the total canola seeded area in Canada, which in itself is not alarming. However, a danger exists that if the need for fuel stocks increases due to a demand for biofuels, there is concern about then allocating more farmland to energy production rather than food production.
    We have already seen that food stocks are diminishing in the world and we have seen the rise in food prices. Therefore, I would submit that it would not be in our best interests.
    This is not about making life more difficult for farmers. What we are asking for is that a biofuel strategy be well thought out that takes into account the potential impact on the environment.
    When the bill goes back to the agriculture committee, and I sincerely hope that it does, what is to stop us from taking another look at the amendments that I initially proposed and were rejected? I would like to review them very briefly.
    The first amendment was to prohibit the use of genetically modified grains, oilseeds or trees for biofuel production except for those genetically modified grains, oilseeds or trees that were used prior to 2008.
    The second amendment that was rejected was prohibiting the use of lands protected by federal legislation and other sensitive biodiverse lands for biofuel production.
    The third amendment was preserving the biodiversity of lands used in biofuel production.
    The fourth amendment was establishing criteria in relation to the environmental sustainability of biofuel production to ensure compliance with internationally recognized best practices that promote the biodiversity and sustainability of land, air and water, and to establish restrictions on the use of arable land in Canada for biofuel production to ensure that biofuel production does not have a detrimental impact on the food supply in Canada and foreign countries.
    I do not see why we cannot, as a Parliament, adopt a policy that takes this into account. These are very basic ideas that the world is talking about, that we should be looking at if we put forward a new policy, that has proven in other countries to have a devastating effect.

  (1700)  

[Translation]

    This government must not be given carte blanche as far as biofuels are concerned. Our goal should be to amend this bill so that it will have a sustainable and effective impact on the battle against climate change, while ensuring that this is done safely and kept out of the hands of big business, which benefits from increasing sales of genetically modified crops and pesticides.
    A good biofuel strategy must be a responsible strategy.
    Finally, biofuels can be part of the solution, but they can also be part of the problem, if not properly handled. Bill C-33 opens the door to a number of environmentally harmful consequences, particularly an increased dependency on big agribusiness that produces genetically modified crops by using enormous quantities of water and pesticides.
    According to Darrin Qualman, director of research for the National Farmers Union, the headlong rush toward industrially produced biofuels must be stopped, because the world is faced with serious problems relating to the sustainable development of food systems: erosion of arable land, overuse of water for irrigation, excessive dependency on fossil fuels, deforestation, and lack of preparation for climate change. He feels that these problems must be solved before we try to use our food to fuel our vehicles.

[English]

    As we debate Bill C-33, we often neglect to mention the effect of biofuels on greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report presented by Resource Efficient Agricultural Production Canada, REAP, entitled “Analysing Ontario Biofuel Options: Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Efficiency and Costs”, it is estimated that U.S. corn ethanol will double greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years by increasing the carbon debt from land conversion.
    REAP, in another report, analyzed Ontario biofuel options. The report concluded that solid biofuels offer the least expensive biofuel strategy for government incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario. The report's major discovery is that government incentives applied to large scale solid biofuels would surpass even the most effective existing subsidies, those for wind power, at reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The findings suggest that a solid biofuels policy would be an effective and sustainable means to develop the Ontario and Canadian economies. Such a program would support market opportunities for the forest industry and for farmers with marginal farmland.
    In volume 319 of the journal Science, dated February 29, there is a study entitled “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change”. The article stated:
    By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.
    Another study in the same journal found that converting rainforests, peat lands, savannahs or grasslands to produce food crops-based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia and the U.S. created a biofuel carbon debt by releasing from 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels. The study goes on to say that biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and can offer immediate and sustained greenhouse gas advantages.
    The point I would like to make today is that we need to re-examine Bill C-33 at committee in light of the most recent research taking place throughout the world. Let us not cave into demands by big agribusiness to push this bill through.

  (1705)  

[Translation]

    I would like to say a few words as well about genetically modified trees. Unlike conventional reproduction and hybridization, the process of genetic engineering makes direct gene transfer possible between organisms in completely different species or kingdoms which do not cross in nature.
    With respect to biofuels and genetic engineering, it is a matter of reducing lignin so that the trees can be converted to ethanol and paper more economically; increasing cellulose so that the trees can yield more ethanol and paper.
    Given the explosion of the biofuel market and the desire to move on to a second generation of biofuels, the companies are calling for the use of genetically engineered trees as a potential source of cellulose from which to manufacture ethanol.
    What, then, are the risks?
    First of all, irreversible contamination. Contamination of forests by the pollen or seeds of genetically engineered trees could devastate ecosystems and biodiversity. Genetically engineered trees will contaminate the forests, which will themselves then become contaminants, in an endless cycle of living pollution.
    Then there are other risks: toxic waste, invasive species, increased herbicide use, weakened trees, the contribution to climate change.

[English]

    Bonn, Germany is the site of the major meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. On May 20 of this year, representatives of Canadian civil society released an open letter signed by 47 Canadian groups to the Canadian Minister of the Environment demanding that Canada support the global moratorium on GE trees to be decided in negotiations during May 19 to 30.
    As I mentioned, contamination from GE trees would be irreversible. Research scientists at Duke University have found in their models that pollen from trees in the southeast U.S. can travel for more than 1,200 kilometres into eastern Canada. Last Thursday at this convention, Canada intervened to directly eliminate an African request for a UN moratorium on GE trees.
    It appears that Canada is not supporting a ban on GE trees and is in fact speaking out against this important concern. I might add as an aside that this is similar to what I have experienced in doing research on terminator seed technology, where Canada is saying it wants to proceed on a case by case basis not realizing the ramifications of this technology on agriculture and biodiversity.
    As we move forward in this very necessary debate, I wish to emphasize that in spite of the fact that biofuels are one of the reasons for the rise in food prices, it is not farmers who are to blame. They are doing their very best to survive and are finally getting some good prices for their commodities.
    I would like to close with a couple of other points in regard to the environment. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone, the destruction of the rainforest and other forest ecologies, increased pesticide and herbicide use from growing monocropped agrifuels, the depletion of water tables, genetically engineered monocrops and the host of negative impacts, the loss of biological diversity wherever monocropping has taken hold, invasive species of GM crops resistant to Roundup are some of the dangers. However, by going forward with a planned, measured approach, we can certainly ensure that these dangers do not face us here in Canada if we look at this bill once again in committee.
    There are a couple of other points I would like to make. For example, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said:
    While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs and it is getting more and more difficult every day. In just two months, rice prices have skyrocketed to near historical levels, rising by around 75% globally....
    It is the same story for other grains. That is why the UN has called for a five year moratorium on biofuel production. I repeat that it is only one part of the reason for the increase in food prices and it is not our farmers who are struggling to make a living who are responsible for this.
    In closing, we have a chance today, in the history of our country, to look at a policy that will give us direction in the future in regard to alternate energy. We have a chance to do this right, not to move along quickly under pressure from big agribusiness and those who would like us to institute this policy tomorrow, but to ensure that we have a sustainable policy, that the environment is protected, that we guarantee there will be no further genetically modified organisms in the environment, and that if we use crops grown in Canada, they should be crops grown in Canada.
    It is not right to have a biofuel industry supported by, for example, Husky in Lloydminster or Minnedosa that will rely on American corn as feedstock. There is something not right there. All we are doing, then, with our government aid is supporting the industry at the expense of farmers and other programs that we could be doing.

  (1710)  

[Translation]

    I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak on this subject. I am anxious to get to the questions.

[English]

    Questions and comments. The hon. member for Western Arctic will not be sorry to hear that I am recognizing the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to make two points. The first point is that I agree with the member from the New Democratic Party when he said in his speech that biofuels are not the only reason for the rise in world food prices. I think it is important to acknowledge that. There have been significant droughts around the world in the last number of years that have seriously curtailed some of major wheat exporting countries' ability to produce wheat.
    The ever changing diets and ever growing populations in the developing world are causing a much increased demand for wheat, soybeans and corn. For example, every pound of meat requires seven pounds of input, such as corn, wheat or soybeans. As the diets in the third world and the developing world change and an ever increasing demand for meat takes place, the demand for these crops increases as well.
    The third reason that needs to be taken into account is that energy prices have been increasing in general. Energy costs are a significant portion of the agricultural inputs.
    It is commendable that the member mentioned these three other major factors which have contributed to the rising price of food.
    The second point I want to make is to address the concern of many who say that biofuels require more energy than they produce. That may very well be the case, but so do solar power and wind energy. One can make the case that solar power and wind energy in past years required more energy than they produced.
    The reason that incentives and subsidies have been put in place is to do two things: first of all, to ramp up the economies of scale, so that the cost per unit of production goes down; and second, to provide for greater research and development so that we can get cheaper products, cheaper energy out of these various sources of energy.
    While today certain biofuels may in fact require more energy than they produce, the whole idea here is to provide the incentives and the subsidies so that at some future date research and development along with economies of scale will drive down the price and also the carbon footprints so that these in fact will become carbon positive.

  (1715)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the exact question is, but I will comment on the two points that my colleague raised.
    The first point is self-explanatory and I certainly agree with his statements.
    One of the criticisms many people make about biofuels is that they have more input than the actual energy output. We have to look at liquid biofuels and the devastation that they have caused, not here so much, but in poorer countries in the world. My hon. colleague from Western Arctic and I were at a meeting a few weeks ago here in Ottawa where people from Paraguay and Asia talked about the devastation by this industry on their land and the amount of energy that was required to produce the biofuels, while at the same time displacing farmers.
    We have to look at input costs, the energy for inputs, for transportation, and the emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation. I would submit that the comparison with wind energy and solar energy is not the same.
    I would like to end my reply with some questions. Would the hon. member, if given a chance to answer, think that the amendments that I have proposed in my initial submission to the committee cover all of these concerns? Does he believe that we could still move forward, but not give the government a green light to do whatever it wants in the area of biofuels?
    Mr. Speaker, I have listened with interest to the speech by the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. I have come to know the hon. member because we sit on the agriculture and agri-food committee.
    The comments by the member opposite are typically thoughtful and he is typically prepared, but like all of us, he is occasionally wrong. Let me say that this is one of those occasions.
    It is commendable that the member recognizes that corn producers are now able to earn a living. After many years of record low prices, thankfully prices have rebounded and corn farmers are now able to earn a living. The member opposite has recognized that.
    I have two questions for the member. First, he surely recognizes that farming practices in Canada are not commensurate to farming practices in some other countries. There is no suggestion, for instance, as I know it, that land in Canada is being ravaged as it is being described as being ravaged in some other countries. Second, would he also concede that it is only a small amount, a fraction of arable land in Canada, which in his phrasing is being used for purposes other than the consumption of food? Would the member comment on both of those questions?

  (1720)  

    The hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior might take note that there are two other MPs who would like to ask him questions, including one from his own party, and there are four minutes left.
    Mr. Speaker, I will not limit my answer to a no or a yes.
    I would like to thank my hon. colleague across the way for his comments and his sympathy for me being wrong today. I would like to think I am on the right track, as, I guess, most of us do.
    Once again I will refer back to the amendments that we had in committee which were debated and defeated. I believe those amendments would have covered us in a policy that would have taken into account the biodiversity and the environment and would have ensured that we did not devote large tracts of land to biofuel production.
    Even though we have a very small portion of land devoted to this area now, there is a danger, because of increased pressure, of more good land being taken out of farming for food. That would be my concern.
    However, I submit that by bringing this back to committee, discussing it and putting some of those assurances in, it could be a win-win situation for all of us.

[Translation]

    The member for Brome—Missisquoi for a brief question.
    Mr. Speaker, I would just like my colleague to tell us—since he has an agriculture background and growers have apparently already been promised that they will have corn to grow—what the chances are that corn production for animal feed or ethanol will change to corn production for human consumption?
    I said earlier that world dry food reserves have decreased by more than half in five years. I added that surpluses could be exported. The members opposite immediately said that we wanted to export Canadian jobs. I never said that.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    The price is already high. The issue is not that growers will suffer if there are no more biofuel policies. There is a possibility. Corn can be transferred, planted and grown for human consumption. There is an international shortage. In my opinion, it would make more sense to feed people, give a little money to our growers and, at the same time, help farming in our country.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague mentioned the solid fuel aspect of biofuel. Quite clearly, in my territory, the Northwest Territories, right now, because of the enormous cost of fuel oil, we are moving toward using solid fuel, biological fuel, in many applications.
    If this policy were broad enough and had the correct kinds of conditions attached, there would be some incentives for this type of proposal as well.

  (1725)  

    Mr. Speaker, I think the time is right to explore other areas of biofuels, and solid biofuels is one of them. Research has shown that it is efficient and that it can be the state of the art for the future.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate today. I am not a member of the agricultural committee but some day I may have that opportunity. Coming from an urban region, I am sure it would be quite a learning experience.
    When I first came here eight years ago there was a lot of talk about ethanol and about our farmers. Farmers were demonstrating because they could not get a proper dollar for a day's work. That was my first introduction to the struggles of our farmers and the difficulties they were facing. They needed an alternative for what they were growing that would provide them with a reasonable day's wages and ethanol was exactly what they needed.
    We have now found out that there are a whole lot of other issues that need to be addressed if we are going to really help our farmers and ensure they get adequate reimbursement for a hard day's work. Until those of us in urban regions spend a whole day on a farm, we cannot appreciate just how hard and difficult a farmer's job really is. We need to appreciate the fact that people still want to farm in Canada so we need to find ways of ensuring they get a decent day's pay for their work. These are the people who provide the food on our tables but we do not pay enough attention to that fact.
    I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-33 today which seeks to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act with respect to the provisions for the regulation of fuels. It would establish minimum levels of biofuel content in gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil and would be implemented within the next three to five years.
    I support the bill in principle, as does my party. I look forward to discussing the parameters of any new regulations that will come from committee. We look forward to ensuring the regulations reflect the desires of most Canadians.
    Although I support the bill, it does raise significant questions about the government's policy on renewable fuels and climate change, questions that we have been hearing from our colleagues across the way. Those are areas on which we must all come together in a much stronger way so we can be ready for the future years that will be very challenging.
    The government claims that the bill is part of its overall strategy to increase the use of ethanol and yet it refuses to set the minimum standard for ethanol use in fuel above 5%. Clearly there is a difference. The committee will look at all of these things and ensure the bill respects and achieves its intended goals. Meanwhile, all cars sold in Canada already use up to 10% ethanol. The Ontario government is setting that as the minimum standard in the province.
    Despite the fact that cellulose ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 64%, the government has not been aggressively doing everything it can to mandate the expansion of that ethanol specifically so that it would clean up our environment and make our air better to breathe.
    The government's perversion to this issue is also manifested on the taxation front where it removed the excise tax exemption on biodiesel and ethanol fuels and thereby heavily taxing the cleanest versions of ethanol. One really needs to question that policy if that is the government's direction. It just does not make sense. I would hope that when these regulations are scrutinized, we get a better understanding of the reason that it should be increased to 10%, if that is what we are doing, especially in the province of Ontario.
    Bill C-33 is really just a technical amendment to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. It would provide the government with useful additional authority so that it can look at various regulations and start making changes to those regulations in a faster and clearer way.

  (1730)  

    The Liberal opposition is in favour of ethanol as part of our energy mix now and in the future. Many people are looking at ethanol as being one of the tools needed in the toolbox to help us when we are dealing with climate change, particularly second generation ethanol which uses agricultural waste and non-food crops. We have clearly gone a long way from the growing of corn to looking at where we go in the future by using agricultural waste and non-food crops so that it would not hinder the production of food and the providing of food for the world that we all need. It would have the twofold effect of being a winner on both sides of that issue.
    The Liberal opposition supported an amendment at committee that would compel the government to perform a detailed analysis of the economic, social, environmental and additional implications of Canada's ethanol industry exactly one year after it comes into force. That is a very important motion passed at committee that would ensure an analysis would be done of all the impacts of Bill C-33.
    The government has committed $2 billion to ethanol but it has been deliberately vague on the details. That is not the first time and not the first issue. Vagueness is one of the tributes that the government seems to have when it comes to announcing all kinds of things but not giving a whole lot of information on the details. However, our job is to ensure those details are clear and those regulations will be what Canadians want.
    The government must tell Canadians what form of ethanol will be primarily promoted and it must explain how ethanol fits into its environmental, agricultural, international development and fiscal policies. We cannot have a policy on ethanol that does not take into account all the different impacts that these little things, as somebody might want to call them, these different tools will have on climate change and on the environment.
    The way I understood it, the government's former highly criticized ethanol plan was supposed to support investments by farmers in ethanol production facilities. I was out west some years back and had a tour of what was to be the next great ethanol facility. Everybody was excited because it would provide an opportunity for farmers as well as focus on climate change. It was to be the future. Now people are having second thoughts and are second guessing some of those decisions.
    However, funding would be directly tied to investments by farmers, which means that before any government funding flows toward developing Canadian ethanol production, Canadian farmers would need to first shell out their own money. Any of the Canadian farmers who I have spoken with are not rich people. They are all looking for assistance in order to look after their families and produce the various products in which they have an interest. Coming upfront with that money, I think, would be an extremely big challenge for a farming industry that is under threat pretty much all of the time. If no upfront government money is provided, it would be very difficult for many of those farmers who are looking to the government for leadership.
    I would remind members how many rallies have been held in front of the House of Commons by farmers who have driven on tractors thousands of miles to come here to protest and to ask us to be fair. It did not matter whether it was the Liberals in government or the Conservatives in government, the issue was that farming is an important industry for Canada and our farmers need assistance.
    By comparison, the Liberal governments made direct investments of over $117 million of upfront support for the construction of production facilities across Canada. As a result of those investments by the Liberal government, the production of ethanol was expanding at a higher rate than anyone had expected.
    By not making direct investments, I am very concerned that ethanol expansion will not grow nearly quickly enough. Therefore, for it to be a tool in the toolbox, in addition to the many other things that are needed to deal with climate change, we are actually shooting ourselves in the foot rather than moving forward and clearly helping the farmers and helping Canadians overall.

  (1735)  

    The Liberals will continue to drive the need to promote biofuels that have been proven to yield high environmental net benefits such as cellulosic ethanol.
    For the benefit of those who are watching at home and who may not know quite what that is, it is a particular type of biofuel produced from a structural material that comprises much of the mass of plants. We can see there is a lot for all of us to learn as we move forward to try to find alternatives to the fuel issues and the challenges that our farmers face. Corn stover, switchgrass and wood chips are some of the more popular materials being used for ethanol production.
    Cellulosic ethanol is chemically identical to ethanol from other sources such as cornstarch or sugar, but has the advantage that the raw materials are highly abundant and diverse. We hear that from different spots around the world. There are many alternatives. This type of ethanol has lower greenhouse gas emissions than other forms and may help us to use crop lands more efficiently than is currently being done.
     However, the NDP are deliberately misleading Canadians about the complexity of the worldwide food shortage, something that all of us in the House are concerned about and it is something that we all will have to work to overcome the problems and to contribute to providing food throughout the world. However, the NDP ignores a dozen or more identified factors at play.
    For example, the desertification in Africa has severely diminished the agricultural output on that continent. What are those people going to do for food? We know of the struggles. We know all the other issues that thousands of people living in Africa are facing. These are going to add to those problems.
    Rising energy costs has to be on the minds of everybody in the House, as it is with Canadians. Every time we turn around, the bills keep going up higher and higher. Rising energy costs have made farming much more expensive.
    Trade rules and subsidies in the developed world have created market distortions. Many parts of the world suffer from the collapse of food distribution networks, widespread corruption and the refusal of governments to impose the rule of law.
    Going back to the details of the bill currently before us, the new measures are administrative in nature and appear to give the government more control on regulations. For example, the government would enhance its ability to regulate fuel produced in Canada to be exported. Regulations may be made regarding the blending of fuels. The bill would also expand the bases upon which the government might distinguish among different kinds of fuels.
    We will support Bill C-33 as we are in favour of the increased use of biofuels, such as ethanol, biodiesel, and other renewable fuel sources. We will move forward on a variety of bills that will help to deal with climate change and other opportunities for us to ensure that all of us do our jobs as we move forward.
    This is fundamentally a housekeeping bill. There is nothing in the bill that will immediately affect any commercial interests or immediately require any fuel producer or vendor to do anything. It is a preliminary step that will allow the government to regulate all kinds of fuel within the same regulatory regime. From that perspective, the bill is an improvement over the current wording of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
    It has been a great opportunity to speak to the issue. As a member who comes from the city of Toronto, I do not have a lot of opportunity to visit the farming industry, but I clearly recognize how we have to work together to ensure we protect the environment. We also need to move forward to ensure we do not add to the problems of the world shortage, which we clearly are addressing worldwide.

  (1740)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member of the Liberal caucus from Toronto is to be commended for her support for this legislation.
    I want to provide a couple of comments.
    First, I want to correct a misconception out there in the public that somehow Canadian farmers are making record profits. Today Statistics Canada reported that last year Canadian agriculture made a net income of $1.7 billion.
    Before we all think this is a tremendous amount of money, I would point out that this is about the profit of one company in one quarter among the big five banks. In other words, last year Canadian chartered banks in each of the last quarters made about that much money in one quarter.
     I do not say that to begrudge the banks for being successful. The financial services industry is incredibly important to Toronto, Montreal and a number of large Canadian centres. I used to work in that industry and it is incredibly important we have a vibrant financial services industry, but I quote those numbers to put this in perspective.
    There are 220,000 Canadian farms. If we divide a net profit of $1.7 billion among those 220,000 farmers, we end up with a net profit, per farm, of about $7,700 per year. I do not know very many Canadians who would invest hundreds of thousands of their own dollars, hundreds of hours of labour and stress to produce $7,700 a year in income.
    We need to ensure there is no misconception out there that somehow Canadian agriculture is making a windfall profit from the new structure of pricing in the agricultural sector.
    The second point I would make is if we are to point the finger at the reason why the third world is struggling to feed itself, one of the areas we need to look at is the European Union's common agricultural policy, which dumps 40 billion to 50 billion euros a year into subsidizing European farmers.
    Subsidizing European farmers itself is not the problem. The problem is when they overproduce certain commodities, which they then dump on to the third world market, undercutting local producers in the developing world and putting them out of business. In my view that is the heart of the problem with respect to the developing world feeding itself.
    Mr. Speaker, clearly we all acknowledge that Canadian farmers are having to live on an average of $7,700 a year or whatever.
    Eight years ago, when I first came to Parliament, farmers were marching to Ottawa, looking for help and assistance. Clearly, they were struggling, but they were not getting paid enough for the crops they were producing. We say that we all love them, but that will not put food on the table.
    I certainly agree with my colleague on the whole issue of how we can help the farming industry stay viable in Canada. Ethanol is one of those options. We cannot ask people to live in a country as rich as Canada and to stay in the business when they only earn $10,000 or $20,000 a year. They cannot cope with that. They cannot even pay their taxes.
    The cost of fuel is going up every day and that has a big impact on urban regions like Toronto and Montreal, but it has a bigger impact on the farming industry. Farmers need to fuel their tractors and the rest of their equipment and they travel a farther distance to get from point A to point B.
    We need to be supportive of all the opportunities for different ways of doing things. At the same time, as I said earlier, the second generation will have more opportunities, by the sound of it, when we get into the ethanol. However, we have to continually find that balance to help all those in the farming industry. We are grateful they are still committed to growing a variety of things, whether they do it for the ethanol or to at least continue to provide the food and the produce that all Canadians need.

  (1745)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell the member for York West that l also support farmers. Our agriculture industry must become more profitable than it has been. We all agree on this.
    My question is the following. In order to support agriculture, is it absolutely necessary to grow animal-grade corn for the production of ethanol? Could other types of crops not be used to support agriculture, such as the fruits and vegetables we need to eat? That is my question for the member for York West. Is the current government not just promoting ethanol to avoid developing agriculture legislation to help farmers? Is this not a way to avoid helping farmers have a better life, without getting directly involved?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it has always been a struggle. From all the reports I have read, farmers have been struggling for a long time. If they happen to be in a particular crop that is highly desirable, they will get a bigger dollar for it. Other than that they get far more competition today from other countries when it comes to what they get for the dollar. It is not just other materials. It is also in the produce.
    I have an annual chestnut roast in my riding. We are used to paying a fair amount for those sacks of chestnuts. When went to order them for the next event, they were half the money. I said to them that there must be something wrong with them and asked them where they would come from. They were not coming from where we usually got them. They were coming from China. They would be brought into Canada and delivered to me at half the price.
    No way can things move forward if we look at those kinds of differences between what some countries are able to produce and expect our farmers to be able to compete in any way, shape or form.
    Ethanol is another way of helping them, but we need to look at other ways we can help them by producing other opportunities.
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member in her speech referred to the NDP as opposing the biofuel bill, but we are speaking to an amendment that would send the bill back to the agriculture committee for more work on these very complex issues surrounding the production of ethanol, the type of feedstock and the type of direction.
    Does my hon. colleague have no sense of the need for debate about the direction we take with this policy, when right across the world the United Nations and some of the European Union leaders are saying they need to change policy? Why do you think this policy—
    Unfortunately, I must tell the hon. member for Western Arctic that I never have any opinion on anything. I am sure he was not addressing his question to me, but if he was addressing the question to the hon. member for York West, he should have done it in the third person. The member has a short period of time to respond.
    Mr. Speaker, I think all of us are concerned with these issues and looking for answers that will help us deal with the food shortage. However, I do not believe Bill C-33 would in any way, shape or form hamper that opportunity for us to move forward.
    Mr. Speaker, what is before us today is a proposed amendment. It states that:
    Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for the purpose of reconsidering Clause 2 with a view to making sure that both economic and environmental effects of introducing these regulations do not cause a negative impact on the environment or unduly influence commodity markets.
    This bill has had relatively limited debate in committee. It probably has had more debate in the House around the various amendments that have been moved and now this amendment to send it back to committee.
    What I believe this debate in the House reflects is a real concern by us in the New Democratic Party, by members of the Bloc to some significant degree, I believe, and even by some members of the Liberal Party, that this bill is being rushed through at a speed that does not take into account some very new realities that have taken place globally around the issue of the use of biofuels. It does not take into account “both economic and environmental effects” of the bill and its consequences if implemented.
    I want to be very clear on behalf of my party that we have supported and will continue to support the use of biofuels. That is not really what this debate is or should be about. If properly managed, a biofuels program in Canada can have a positive effect on climate change while also helping farmers.
    Members were in their ridings last week. I had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to spend time with producers in the rural part of my riding. The debate is raging there.
    The National Farmers Union has come out as very strongly opposed to this legislation. We see that the Federation of Agriculture is generally supporting it, but I can say that within both of those groups, and there are members of both of those associations in my riding, the debate is very real.
    The farming community producers very much see the opportunity to increase their production and increase their incomes. Oftentimes it is the same producers who tell me the problem they have is that they are seeing this drive up other costs, such as the cost of feed for a number of fairly substantial poultry operations in the riding. The dairy and pork producers are saying the same thing. They are seeing their costs being driven up just for feed.
     Of course, all of them are very concerned about the impact this will have on the cost of fuel, whether it is gasoline produced from biofuels or other parts of the market, particularly carbon based fuels.
    That debate is going on. What I think has happened is that the reality, not only in Canada but across the globe, has not been taken into account anywhere near fully enough in the debate that took place in committee. We are very concerned as a party that the government is running roughshod over members and using some bullying tactics to try to force this legislation through, both in committee and now in the House. The full debate that should have taken place has not.
    We hear from Conservative members of the House who say that we in the NDP do not really care about the producers or the farming community, and that is absolutely false. Again, when I talk to the members of my farming community in my riding, they are expressing similar reservations. How far do we take the biofuels issue? How much production do we put into it? Do we have absolute quotas that are being suggested and will be phased in under this legislation relatively quickly? Do we have the numbers right? Do we have the amount that we should be putting into other gasolines and other diesel fuels? Do we have the percentages right?

  (1750)  

     They are not convinced that we have the right answers. They are not necessarily saying that the numbers that are in this bill or that we believe will flow from this government are wrong, but they are certainly not convinced that we know for sure. That is the reason for the motion to send it back to committee and hear more from the producers, hear from the industry generally, and also look at what is happening in experiments going on elsewhere in the world.
    In that regard, we have heard from various parts of the globe. There are sincere concerns about biofuels being part of the mechanism that is driving up the price of food dramatically. We are seeing that now. The price of rice in parts of Asia has gone up 73% in less than a few months, in some cases even doubling in a very short period of time. We have seen markets in Asia, again for rice specifically, being closed off.
    Countries that had been net exporters are no longer able to do it and are shutting the borders, thus tightening up the markets internationally in countries that do not produce sufficient rice to feed their own populations and that now are not finding access to the markets for rice that is affordable for those communities and countries. We are seeing that.
     We have seen the United Nations pass a resolution expressing very real caution about the use of biofuels and how extensively we use them.
    If I could digress for a moment, the other part of this legislation that is really troublesome is that other alternatives in terms of creating energy for use generally in the market and also on farms right across this country, perhaps even internationally, have been pushed to the side and backed up. We can point to solar or wind, where the government has done little or nothing to allow those markets to develop and perhaps provide an alternative to the greater use of biofuels.
     I know that some of this discussion took place, but I do not believe that it was anywhere near adequate in committee. We can go to the very basics. How much food, if any, do we convert to fuel? That question is still hanging out there.
    Again going back to those farmers I spoke to in my community, this very much weighs on their minds. They got into farming to produce food. Their parents and grandparents were in farming to produce food, not to produce fuel. This is a very real new development for them. They are approaching it with an open mind, but they are also approaching it realistically. I cannot say that the government has done the same.
    Farmers are very concerned about how much food, if any, we move into the fuel side of the equation. They do not believe that this legislation has had sufficient debate, sufficient analysis and sufficient research to answer those questions at this time. They are not prepared to say that holus-bolus we should just plunge ahead.
     We hear from the government that it is time to move ahead, to move forward. That is a simplistic analysis. It is a simplistic approach to what is a very, very complex problem.
    I want to be very clear that we understand the other issues that are going on, the other causes that are driving up the cost of fuel. Let me mention those quickly. We know there is some significant speculation going on. It is immoral what is going on in that regard. That is one part of it.
    We know that the whole issue of global warming and climate change is contributing to the shortage of foods in certain parts of the world. That is driving up the price.

  (1755)  

    We know that in areas where before we could continue to expect growth in productivity, we are not seeing any, because we have maxed out the effect of using fertilizers and pesticides, although they are still being used. We are not seeing any further growth. There are those problems.
    However, we know as well that the use of biofuels in certain countries in particular has had a negative impact. That impact has resulted in a diversion of crops. We see it in the United States. I am going to use the states as an example because I know, from the area that I come from and how close we are to states like Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, that the amount of production moved from producing food to producing the same crop but producing fuel has been quite phenomenal.
    There are areas in those states where as much as 35% of the corn crop now is being used for biofuels. In fact, I can speak very specifically about that, because a good deal of that production is coming into my area. There is an ethanol plant just the next county over. A good deal of the corn that is the source for that biofuel comes out of the United States. We are producing some in our area, both in Essex County and in Kent County, but a good deal of it is coming from the United States. It is part of that huge increase in production.
    Up to this point in the United States, the Americans have been able to justify that, but again it begs the question. How much more they can allow it to go to or should they in fact be ramping it back down somewhat and producing more food and less fuel?
    We are on the edge of making this decision, but we are not there yet. It does require further debate. It requires us to take a close look at what we are doing.
    As well, I want to draw to the House's attention some of the other individuals and organizations that have expressed concern about this legislation and generally about the use of biofuels.
    A little less than a year ago, David Suzuki made these comments:
    Biofuels have many advantages, but we have to look at all our options and make sure we make the best choices to ensure a more sustainable future.
--attempting to save the planet by wholesale switching to biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel may unintentionally have the opposite effect.
    This is the kind of risk that we are faced with. In that regard, I want to draw the House's attention to what we have seen happen in the last two years in Brazil.
    After the second world war, Brazil made a very conscious decision to convert a significant proportion of its sugar cane crop to biofuels. Brazil started to do this way back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In some cases, as much as 50% of the fuel for its vehicles, mostly automobiles and trucks, comes from biofuel sources.
    That has worked reasonably well for the Brazilians because of the vast quantity of sugar cane they were able to produce but, starting two years ago in that country, the amount they wanted to produce or allocate to sugar production, if I can put it that way, had to be reduced because of the demand. Their economy had grown so large, so many of their people were driving vehicles and the demand for fuel had gone up so dramatically that they decided they would begin to shift a greater proportion for it.
     That has had a very negative impact on their food costs related to the production of sugar. It is a big part of their market and a big part of their food staples. In the last two years, this has had a significant impact on the cost of sugar in their country and therefore on the cost of a number of foods that contain sugar as a staple.
    Again, it was an experience that worked quite well. I have looked to the Brazilians in the past and have said that Brazil is a country that thought it through and planned it out. For the better part of four or five decades, it worked very well for the Brazilians. Now it does not.

  (1800)  

    They are very concerned about what they are going to do. They are looking for alternatives to much of their sugar cane production going into biofuels so that they can shift that balance back more in favour of producing food products rather than fuel. That is just one example.
    We can look elsewhere in the world where attempts have been made, and this is one of the other problems that we have with the legislation, in that when we look at what we are trying to do, can we say that we have gotten ahead of ourselves from a technological standpoint? In that regard we know that there are alternatives in food growth to actually using the food product. I am going to use corn again as an example. We know that we are close but we are not quite there in being able to use the cornstalk and perhaps the corncob as opposed to the corn kernel in biofuel production. We know there are other products where we can use chaff, straw and those kinds of items, but we are just not quite there.
    I saw a program on one of the national TV networks last week when I was home in my riding. A company, which I believe is based in Quebec, is just beginning to put into production two or three plants and in fact is not using any food product at all. It is using chaff, leftover wood products, a number of products. We could be using those without having to be concerned about using any food products at all, but again, we are not there.
    What this bill does is it leaves it wide open for the government to follow what was done in the United States and move huge percentages of production. There are no limits here. Under government regulations, it can simply authorize and in some respects when we look at Bill C-33 closely, can compel the use of biofuels. At the very least it is obvious that by way of financial incentives, it can encourage producers to use food products, when in fact there may be this much better alternative if we do not have to use any food product at all. We would use the corncob and the cornstalk right down to the roots.
    We must be careful. I know, having grown up on a farm, that farmers put back the chaff, the roots, the leftover once the crop has been harvested as a way of rejuvenating the soil. Can we safely take 50% of the stalk, grind the rest up and let it go back into the soil and biodegrade and rejuvenate the soil, or can we only put 25% into fuel production and put 75% back into the soil? We do not know the answers to those questions.
    This is the reason we brought the motion before the House to send this bill back to the committee to allow us to further pursue these questions. There are all sorts of experiments going on around the globe. This House needs more time and this country needs more time to properly assess it so that we do not make a major mistake.

  (1805)  

Business of the House

    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There has been some consultation between all parties with regard to the emergency debate tonight. I think you will find unanimous consent 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 and private members' business, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair.

[Translation]

    Does the minister have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): 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)

[English]

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999

     The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech. He made a lot of valid points. To be quite frank, his speech was not confusing, but his party's position is terribly confusing. I have two questions for the member.
    I want to make the point that the NDP government in Saskatchewan was the first government in Canada to initiate a biofuel mandate. Its mandate of 7.5% required 131 million litres of ethanol to be used in the year 2006. This is in sharp contrast to its federal cousin which has turned its back now on rural Canada and apparently no longer supports biofuels. I would like to ask the hon. member who he thinks got it wrong, was it the NDP government in Saskatchewan, or was it his current New Democratic Party?
    My other question for him is with regard to the NDP government in Manitoba. It now requires that 8.5% of all gasoline sold in the province must contain ethanol. This is in sharp contrast to its federal cousin which has turned its back on rural Canada and apparently no longer supports biofuels.
    I would like to ask the hon. member a very similar question. Who does he think got it wrong? Was it the NDP government in Manitoba, or was it his New Democratic Party that is wrong?

  (1810)  

    I think it is the same question, Mr. Speaker, just two different provinces.
    The NDP provincial critic has suggested that the figure in Saskatchewan may be too high for producers in that province to take on. The official opposition is also calling for a review as to whether the province should have gone as far as it did, which is exactly our position.
    The same is true with Manitoba. Manitoba Premier Doer has made it very clear that he and his government are concerned about how far we go with biofuels. The government in Manitoba is monitoring it very closely at this point. The reality is that it may back down somewhat from it. On the other hand, as new technologies come on stream, the province may back down in terms of the use of food and move to stalk, chaff and other goods that at this point are part of the product of growth.
    There really is no inconsistency between ourselves and both of those provinces. We at the federal level are learning from the experience they have had and, as I pointed out, other countries have had. We cannot go holus-bolus into this without thinking it through. Should we be giving much greater incentives to producers who are using the byproducts, if I can put it that way, of their farm fields as opposed to using food? Should we be building that into the legislation at this time? Those are the kinds of programs and policies that we need to be looking at. The federal NDP position is not at all inconsistent with that of our provincial counterparts.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would ask my hon. colleague first what he thinks of the vocabulary used. Personally, I am somewhat flabbergasted that, from the beginning, we have been using the term “biofuel”—and its French equivalent—since it would seem to suggest that there is something good about using food, that we have the capacity to feed the population, to produce fuel, although we also know that biofuel itself is often highly polluting.
    Of course, our colleague talked about the whole issue of research and production using residues left to us by nature. And that would appear much more responsible. However, at present, when we talk about making ethanol using corn ethanol, for example, we also know how much water is needed for that process. This really makes me think about oil sands production and processing, which I find truly irresponsible.
    I would like to hear my colleague's comments. Rather than encouraging innovation and energy efficiency, it seems that this government has decided to focus on an irresponsible course of action, to encourage those forms of energy production that pollute the most and are most harmful, for example—as I mentioned—“thanks to” the oil sands and the production of grains that will ultimately be used as fuel, which I think is absurd.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question.

  (1815)  

[English]

    The member is absolutely right about the fear we all have, including most of the farmers I speak with, about using food to produce fuel. In that regard, she used the example of an experiment where too much water would be used or a substantial amount of water would be used in one of these processes. That is a concern.
    In terms of a byproduct on the side, the use of manure, there is an engineer just down the road from my office in the city of Windsor who has developed and has patented this process, but he could not deploy it in Canada. We look at that and ask why there were not government resources there. It is phenomenal what this process can do.
    We have a large number of greenhouses in Essex County, perhaps the largest coverage on a per capita basis of any place in the world. Most of them are no longer glass houses. They are plastic covered. He developed this process, which he has patented. As the plastic wore out and was no longer functional, the plastic would be thrown into the mix along with the leftover greenery from the greenhouse growth. That would be combined with some enzymes. It would produce heat which would actually heat the greenhouse and produce compost as the end result. Absolutely nothing would be wasted from that greenhouse, including the plastic that was covering it. It would produce that energy and as well, produce compost which could be used to rejuvenate the soil in the greenhouse.
    He could not get any coverage for that process in Canada in terms of incentives and ended up having to go to the state of Massachusetts. A very similar process is being used for a huge dairy farm operation there. Several million dollars have been put into the same process, using manure to generate the heat, and again chaff and other leftover product from the fields. It is generating both energy and substantial compost that can be put back into the farm. He is creating that closed circuit. I always say that the key part of any environmental test, sustainability, is that there is a closed circuit. Nothing escapes, everything is used, and it is sustainable on an ongoing permanent basis.
    The member is very correct in being concerned about using food at all. This bill does not take into account well enough, we believe, at this point in time, what the realities are in the marketplace. The bill should be sent back to committee.
    The hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, a short question.
    Mr. Speaker, the member made the comment a little earlier about the concern about the soil when we take the whole plant. Those in agriculture know what the organic matter content of the soil is. They test it; they know. I would hope that we would never get to the stage in this House where we would start to tell farmers what they can and cannot take off their farms.
    I think the direction in which the member is going is to say to the agriculture industry and community that we want to limit, and in fact we are going to limit, the potential of agriculture to diversify the market. If he is saying that we cannot use food for fuel, that is not just ethanol, it is biofuels, and there is an incredible amount of research done. Does he support the fact that we would start to limit agriculture in its diversification for markets because of the food for fuel?
    The hon. member has run out the clock, but I will give equal time for the answer.
    Mr. Speaker, I will try to be quick.
    The answer to his question is basically no. What we are much more concerned about, and we have seen this on other occasions, is that we will give incentives to encourage the producers to use food when in fact that is not really what they want to do. That is the concern we have about this legislation.
    Resuming debate, the hon. member for Yukon. The hon. member for Yukon has 20 minutes, but only 10 minutes today.

  (1820)  

    Mr. Speaker, I will not be able to get in all the points I wanted to make on Bill C-33, but I will make a couple of salient points that I hope will be helpful today and get them on the record about one urgent crisis in the world that is related to this food shortage.
    First, the main concerns about the bill throughout the debate have been related to using agricultural land for fuel and taking away land that could be used for food products, especially at a time when we have a food crisis in the world and prices are dramatically rising.
    I would like to explain to people a little about what the bill is and what it is not. This bill in itself is not going to change anything. It is not going to mean that our gas tanks are going to be full of ethanol or that it will be taking farms away and so on. This bill is more of a housekeeping bill which allows the government to regulate what is in fuels, the percentage for export and these types of rules.
    Until the government does that the people who have concerns about this do not really have to have those concerns. The concerns come from what type of regulations the government makes once this bill is in place and a number of members have spoken about wanting to be involved in that debate.
    The mix of these types of fuels and the mix of what is in gasoline comes after in regulations that this bill will allow governments under which to operate. In general, it makes government more efficient in a sense that it does not have to come to Parliament for every little change in the regulations. It can alter the construct of the fuels. Members have mentioned the elements of that construct which will come when those regulations are made.
    People do not totally understand that the bill is simply giving the government the power to make regulations, and the regulations themselves are not being made when the bill is passed.
    As has been said by all the other members who have spoken, I share their concerns about taking good farm land and using it for fuel when there are rising prices, although there are many causes for that. Those concerns have been sent to me by a number of people, although I do not have enough time to read all of them, which I will perhaps in my last 10 minutes in a future debate.
    Other than items that can be used for food, there are other ways of making ethanol and biodiesels presently available or under development. We will be able to make them from straw, chaff, animal waste, and things like corn husks. Cellulose ethanol can be made from tree waste, bark, sawdust, and switch grass. In fact, even some of the food products, after they are used for ethanol, can be used for feed stocks by putting them back into the agriculture industry.
    Therefore, there are ways of reducing greenhouse gases by simply using waste products and not using good food products in the future. I think that is the direction most people are supporting, particularly those who are talking about ethanol in this debate.
    As I said earlier, the cost of food is skyrocketing in the world and I will talk about the many causes of that, ethanol only being one. There is also speculation, droughts, a huge increase in world demand, increases in oil prices and so on. I will go through those later if there is time left.
    Another member mentioned earlier the problem with rice. There is a huge increase in the price of rice which has risen three times. It has caused a crisis in the refugee camps in Burma and for the Burmese people in Thailand.

  (1825)  

    Due to the cost of rice having gone up three times, the Thai-Burma Border Consortium executive director Jack Dunford, who deals with this and provides the money from 14 countries, of which Canada is one, is $7.5 million short.
    In about two weeks there will be a crisis. The people who normally get 2,100 calories a day from various foods, which is the internationally accepted standard for survival, will only get 944 calories if something is not done, and they will not get five or six types of food. All they will be receiving is rice. We can imagine getting rice every day for every meal and only getting half enough. This will be a disastrous crisis for 150,000 people. It has unfortunately been overlooked. We have asked a number of times that the Canadian government increase its aid by $1 million a year.
    That will not cover the $7.5 million, but with Canada's credibility those other 14 countries may increase their amounts and save 150,000 people who are trapped in refugee camps in Thailand.
    When Dr. Sein Win, the prime minister in exile, was here a couple of weeks ago he mentioned this to Mr. Harper and Inter Pares, the Canadian NGO that delivers this money--
    The hon. member for Yukon is experienced in this House and knows not to refer to other members by their names.
    Mr. Speaker, Dr. Sein Win, the prime minister of Burma in exile, has talked to the Prime Minister of Canada and also Inter Pares, the NGO that delivers this aid to TBBC, and he has talked to CIDA about this.
    I am imploring the government to make this money available so that children, women who are pregnant and lactating, and elderly people are not cut down to half a day's rice ration when all their other foods are cut off.
    Canada has been supporting this since 1997. This could mean starvation for these people, especially when we hear that some of Burma's rice basket has been destroyed by the storms. However, instead of feeding the people on the verge of starvation, there are rumours that Burma could be exporting rice. No other country in the world now, except Thailand, is exporting rice.
    The scarcity of food means that food prices go up. Ethanol from food production, not the other types I talked about, is therefore only one of the problems.
    Certain parts of the world are having problems. Biofuel critics from as far away as Ethiopia, Mali, the Philippines and Paraguay warn Canadian lawmakers that western thirst for green fuels is costing human lives and that indigenous people in northern Argentina are dying of malnutrition as they lose their land to agriculture expansion.
    In the United States oil prices have also contributed to the high cost of food. International speculation and drought in various parts of the world, including India and China, with their huge demand for both meat and grain products, all cause these huge price increases that are causing the world crisis.
    In the United States there is a record amount of ethanol produced from corn, but there is also a record amount of corn being produced, so the production of both the food and the ethanol is going up.
    All the bill would do is give the government the authority to make regulations. We have to be very careful to take into consideration the concerns of constituents who have written to all of us, not at this particular stage but at the stage where regulations are made.
    The regulations have to go through the Canada Gazette twice. Our party will certainly be vigilant to ensure that when regulations are put in, they make sense, and cutting down greenhouse gases and providing sufficient agricultural production for the world are kept in a safe and fair balance.
    When we return to the study of Bill C-33, there will be 10 minutes left for the hon. member for Yukon.

  (1830)  

[Translation]

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act

    The House resumed from May 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-34, An Act to give effect to the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to committee.
    It being 6:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-34.
    Call in the members.

  (1855)  

[English]

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

(Division No. 112)

YEAS

Members

Abbott
Ablonczy
Albrecht
Alghabra
Allen
Allison
Ambrose
Anderson
André
Angus
Atamanenko
Bachand
Bagnell
Bains
Barnes
Batters
Bélanger
Bell (Vancouver Island North)
Bellavance
Bennett
Bevilacqua
Bevington
Bezan
Bigras
Black
Blackburn
Blaney
Boshcoff
Boucher
Bourgeois
Breitkreuz
Brown (Oakville)
Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Barrie)
Bruinooge
Brunelle
Cannan (Kelowna—Lake Country)
Cardin
Carrier
Charlton
Chong
Chow
Christopherson
Clarke
Clement
Comartin
Comuzzi
Crête
Crowder
Cullen (Etobicoke North)
Cuzner
Davidson
Day
DeBellefeuille
Del Mastro
Deschamps
Devolin
Dhaliwal
Dosanjh
Doyle
Dryden
Duceppe
Dykstra
Easter
Emerson
Epp
Eyking
Fast
Finley
Fitzpatrick
Flaherty
Galipeau
Gaudet
Godfrey
Godin
Goldring
Goodale
Goodyear
Gourde
Grewal
Guarnieri
Guergis
Guimond
Hall Findlay
Harper
Harris
Harvey
Hearn
Hiebert
Hill
Hinton
Holland
Hubbard
Jaffer
Jean
Jennings
Julian
Kadis
Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's)
Keeper
Kenney (Calgary Southeast)
Khan
Komarnicki
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
Laforest
Laframboise
Lake
Lalonde
Lauzon
Layton
Lebel
LeBlanc
Lee
Lemay
Lessard
Lukiwski
Lunn
Lussier
MacKay (Central Nova)
MacKenzie
Maloney
Marleau
Marston
Martin (Winnipeg Centre)
Martin (LaSalle—Émard)
Martin (Sault Ste. Marie)
Masse
Mathyssen
Mayes
McCallum
McGuinty
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
Ménard (Hochelaga)
Ménard (Marc-Aurèle-Fortin)
Menzies
Merrifield
Miller
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Mulcair
Murphy (Charlottetown)
Murray
Nash
Neville
Nicholson
Norlock
O'Connor
Obhrai
Oda
Ouellet
Paquette
Paradis
Patry
Pearson
Petit
Plamondon
Poilievre
Prentice
Priddy
Proulx
Redman
Regan
Reid
Richardson
Ritz
Rodriguez
Roy
Russell
Savage
Savoie
Scarpaleggia
Scott
Sgro
Shipley
Siksay
Silva
Skelton
Smith
Solberg
Sorenson
St. Amand
St. Denis
Steckle
Storseth
Strahl
Sweet
Szabo
Telegdi
Temelkovski
Thi Lac
Thibault (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques)
Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest)
Tilson
Toews
Tonks
Trost
Tweed
Van Loan
Vellacott
Verner
Wallace
Warawa
Warkentin
Wasylycia-Leis
Watson
Williams
Wilson
Wrzesnewskyj
Yelich
Zed

Total: -- 210

NAYS

Members

Cummins
Hanger

Total: -- 2

PAIRED

Members

Asselin
Baird
Barbot
Benoit
Bernier
Blais
Bonsant
Bouchard
Calkins
Cannon (Pontiac)
Carrie
Casson
Demers
Faille
Fletcher
Freeman
Gagnon
Gallant
Gravel
Hawn
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Lemieux
Lévesque
Lunney
Malo
Manning
Mills
Mourani
Nadeau
Pallister
Perron
Picard
Preston
Rajotte
St-Cyr
St-Hilaire
Stanton
Vincent

Total: -- 38

    I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

    (Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): It being 6:59 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS

[Private Members' Business]

[English]

Income Tax Act

    The House resumed from May 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-445, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    Order, please. The hon. member for Kitchener--Conestoga has eight minutes left in his remarks. I will ask for a little order so members can hear the hon. member. If members need to carry on conversations, please go outside of the House.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to resume my comments on Bill C-445. As I indicated earlier, we do not support this proposal as it is fundamentally flawed.
    First and foremost, the largest issue with Bill C-445 is the exorbitant cost which would be fiscally irresponsible and threaten Canada's fiscal health.
    A key pillar of Canada's pension system is tax deferred retirement savings, including registered pension plans and RRSPs. These plans provide Canadians with incentives to save for retirement and help bridge the gap between public pension benefits and retirement income goals.
    I believe we all acknowledge that the best way to ensure that promised pension benefits are secure is healthy plans with good supervision. At the federal level, pension plans are regulated under the Pension Benefits Standards Act, or PBSA, and are supervised by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. The superintendent's mandate is to protect the rights and interests of plan beneficiaries. Moreover, the PBSA sets requirements related to the funding and administration of pension plans.
    For example, it requires that plan assets be kept separate from those of the plan sponsor. In the case of defined benefit plans, actuarial valuations of the plan's liabilities must be regularly conducted. If there is a funding deficiency, the sponsor is required to remit to the pension fund, over a certain period of time, amounts by which the estimated liabilities exceed plan assets.
    It also provides that contributions owing but not yet remitted to the pension plan are subject to a deemed trust. This means that these amounts are considered separate from the employer's estate in bankruptcy proceedings. Recent changes to federal bankruptcy legislation granted a super priority to employer and employee contributions not yet remitted.
    In addition, after widespread consultations on benefit security and the viability of defined benefit pension plans under federal regulation, our Conservative government has brought forward measures to ensure Canada's regulatory framework continues to be responsive to the needs and circumstances of pension plan sponsors.
    In budget 2006, we provided funding relief for federally regulated defined benefit pension plans by introducing several temporary measures. These included: allowing solvency payment schedules to be consolidated in order to smooth solvency payment obligations; extending the period of making solvency funding payments to 10 years from 5 years, subject to a condition of buy-in by plan members and retirees; and, extending the solvency funding payment period to 10 years through the use of letters of credit.
    Such changes will help re-establish funding for federally regulated defined benefit pension plans in an orderly fashion, while providing safeguards for promised pension benefits. What is more, we will continue to work to ensure the retirement income system is responsive to the needs of workers, pensioners and seniors in a way that is consistent with sound pension and tax policy principles.
    Regrettably, the proposal currently being debated would not support the basic objectives of the pension and retirement saving system nor the tax system.
    Bill C-445 recommends a government backed guarantee for pension benefits through the introduction of a refundable tax credit for pension income shortfalls, a proposal that would not be good pension or economic policy and would not be fair to the taxpayers of this country.
    To begin, such a guarantee could provide a disincentive for employers to properly manage their pension plans to control financing risks. The fact that plan sponsors would not be required to contribute anything whatsoever to cover the cost of the refundable credit would exacerbate this affect.
    Providing any kind of guarantee or compensation for pension benefits, whether through the tax system or otherwise, is potentially costly for taxpayers. In addition, it raises issues of fairness given the costs would be borne by all taxpayers while benefiting only a minority of those participating in pension plans.
    As well, Bill C-445 would place on the federal government the responsibility for providing compensation in respect of all, and I underline all, pension plans that reduce pension benefits. Placing such an onus on the federal government for such compensation, which is estimated to be in the vicinity of $10 billion dollars, would not be justified.
    Before concluding my remarks, I would like to briefly touch on some of the measures our Conservative government has taken to support seniors, specifically through the tax system. I am speaking of measures like passing legislation that will allow, for the very first time in Canadian history, pension income splitting for seniors and pensioners, a significant major change that will benefit seniors.

  (1900)  

    As Jamie Golombek, a well known taxation and estate planning specialist recently declared, “Pension splitting is probably one of the biggest tax changes in decades, in terms of the amount of tax savings this can mean for pensioners”.
    We have done much more, though. We are fully exempting the first $3,500, up from the current maximum exemption of $500 of earned income from the guaranteed income supplement calculation, to extend further benefits to seniors. We are giving older workers the choice to stay in the labour market by permitting phased retirement. We are increasing the age limit to 71 for converting an RRSP to strengthen incentives for older Canadians to work and save.
    We are doubling the amount of pension income eligible for the pension income credit. This measure alone will benefit nearly 2.7 million pensioners. We are enhancing the flexibility to withdraw funds from life income funds, also known as locked in pensions, to ensure that holders of such funds have the necessary flexibility to manage their retirement savings according to their own circumstances.
    Measures like these I have mentioned are just part of the reasons that seniors and seniors' organizations right across Canada have applauded our Conservative government's initiatives like our recent federal budget, a budget which the former Canadian Association of Retired Persons commended, “for listening to many of its recommendations over the years and taking steps in the right direction”.
    The Federal Superannuates National Association, a major organization representing 155,000 federal pension members, also welcomed budget 2008 because it addressed “a number of concerns of seniors. FSNA is particularly supportive of the 2008 budget measures aimed at low-income seniors”.
    To recap, I urge members not to support Bill C-445. It would not be the best way to promote the security of pension benefits. Rather it would create undesirable economic incentives for pension plan sponsors and be an improper use of the tax system, not to mention costly and unfair in its application.

  (1905)  

    First, the bill is certainly worthy of study. It would provide a refundable tax credit to retirees whose pension funds had shrunk to the point that they would be unable to pay out what was promised to the retirees. The credit would be worth 22% of the amount lost from the pension fund payouts. For example, if their pension plans were reduced from $35,000 a year to $28,000, they would get a tax credit worth 22% of the $7,000 reduction. In other words, just over $1,500 would be their tax exempt amount.
    There are few things that could be more nerve racking for people than being of retirement age and finding out that their pension plan would be unable to pay what they had expected that it would. What can they do at this point? If they are 70 years old, do they go back to work? For many Canadians this is not a realistic option. Instead, what they do is they lower their standard of living. They do not buy their grand kids the birthday presents they really wanted to give them. They move to a smaller home. They do not take vacations. They eat less food. In short, they take all the dreams they have had for their retirement years and make them all a little smaller.
    Many seniors experience just this nightmare scenario when, in October 2006, the Prime Minister broke his solemn election promise not to tax income trusts. Many seniors relied on their regular, often monthly distributions from income trusts to help supplement their retirement income and lifestyle. Knowing this, the Prime Minister looked right into their eyes during the last election and promised that a Conservative government would never endanger that retirement income by taxing income trusts. Once he had their votes, however, the Prime Minister's interest in protecting the savings and investments of seniors disappeared.
    On Halloween of 2006, he hiked taxes on income trusts by an astounding 31.5%. The resulting market losses over the next two days left the investment portfolios of Canadians $25 billion smaller. Since then, some seniors have had to adjust. They have been unable to enjoy the lifestyle for which they had worked and saved a lifetime.
    As one analyst put it in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix:
    It's a huge impact for seniors....If you worked 40 years to create that nest egg and in a short time you lose one-quarter of that wealth, it's like going back to work for 10 more years.
    That is the government's record on seniors and retirement savings. I hope any member of the House who told a single voter that they would never tax income trusts knows just how much pain and how many sleepless nights they have caused in many households across the country.
    As I mentioned earlier, there is a principle contained in Bill C-445 that I think we should all appreciate, helping to ensure that seniors have the support and income they need to retire with dignity. That is why I feel this bill merits further study.
    That being said, I also have some concerns as to whether the bill's scope will be limited to the intent that the member for Richmond—Arthabaska has in mind. I have heard some concerns raised, due to the wording of the bill, that the tax credit might be available to almost every retired person who enjoys a defined benefit pension plan. They would do so regardless of whether their own pension plan had recently reduced the benefits that were promised to them under the terms of the plan. There is also a large matter of fairness that must be considered as we consider the bill.
    Many millions of Canadians do not have the benefit of being part of a defined contribution pension plan. It is these people with no pension of their own whose tax money will act as a guarantee for the pension incomes of people who do in fact belong to such plans.
    A third concern, as the bill now stands, is if it could create a disincentive for people or a company to contribute to their defined benefit pension plan. Why pay the full amount if the government will back up a portion of the plan? I imagine that this certainly is not the intent of the member for Richmond—Arthabaska. He is of course trying to help those who have honestly contributed to their own plan. Nevertheless, I could see some less scrupulous individuals or companies take advantage of these new measures. This will need to be examined in committee

  (1910)  

    As I mentioned earlier in my speech, there are few things more nerve-racking than having a pension reduced, especially in the years when it is impossible to return to the workforce to supplement that lost income. For that reason, I believe the bill merits further study. We should send it to the finance committee where members can determine if this is the best way to go about helping retired individuals whose pension benefits are reduced.
    As I have also indicated, however, the bill raises many questions in my mind. I am not convinced that its scope will be limited to what is intended by its sponsor. I hope these concerns can be alleviated during further study of the bill and if amendments are required to improve the bill, I hope the sponsoring member would be amenable to accepting them.
    Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to participate in tonight's debate on Bill C-445 as the NDP critic for seniors and pensions.
    Let me begin by thanking the member for Richmond—Arthabaska for bringing this bill forward. For those who may have just tuned into the debate, let me just take a moment to remind television viewers of what we are debating.
    Bill C-445 would grant a refundable tax credit equal to 22% of the reduction in pension benefits experienced by beneficiaries of registered pension plans, other than trusts, who suffer a loss of pension benefits, normally when their pension plans are wound up in whole or in part. It applies both to defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans.
    Without the legalese, what that essentially means is that if a retiree's pension income drops from $30,000 to $20,000, let us say, he or she would receive 22% of the $8,000 lost, which would be a non-taxable amount of $1,760.
    This bill is very timely. It allows us to discuss pension protection and retirement security on the cusp of a demographic trend that will see almost one-quarter of Canada's population over the age of 65 by 2041.
    For some, as the comments made by the Conservative MPs in this debate have made clear, our aging society presents a policy challenge that focuses solely on the need for cost containment, but for more progressive voices it represents an opportunity to re-examine the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us and to make decisions that protect the public interest instead of the interests of the wealthy few.
    At a time when more wealth is being created in this country than at any other time in our history, people in Canada are working longer and harder not to get ahead but simply to keep up. In fact, average Canadians today are squeezing 200 more hours of work out of each year than they did just nine years ago.
    While a few people at the top are enjoying the benefits of the current economy, everyone else is not. Sure, we have seen the windfall salaries and extraordinary bonuses of CEOs, but wages for everyone else are essentially stagnant or falling. The middle class and its retirees are falling farther and farther behind.
    One of the reasons, of course, is tied to what is happening in the economy. In the manufacturing sector alone, our economy has lost over 350,000 jobs since 2002. The forestry sector is similarly being devastated, yet despite repeated calls by NDP members in this House, the government is refusing even to acknowledge the need for creating a national jobs strategy.
    It is absolutely essential that the government sit down with leaders from both the labour movement and business to develop a plan to maintain and build both the manufacturing and resource sectors of our economy. Not only are these jobs crucial for sustaining families, but we know empirically that the highest levels of pension coverage are associated with union membership in those jobs.
    About 80% of union members belong to workplace pension plans compared to just under 30% of non-union members. With the overall percentage of people who belong to workplace pensions on a continual decline, it is imperative that we continue to fight for unionized jobs and maintain the struggle at the bargaining table for defined benefit plans. It is the only way to ensure predictable retirement incomes for workers.
    What is happening now is not sustainable. I am from Hamilton, so I have witnessed at first hand the economic insecurity faced by industrial workers. Every time a plant closes its doors, the pensions and benefits of its workers are threatened. Anyone in this House who has followed the CCAA proceedings at Stelco will know what I am talking about. Sadly, that is but one of many local examples where restructuring or plant closure has created pension uncertainty for workers.
    It is time for the government to acknowledge that pensions are deferred wages. They are not bonuses paid to workers at the end of their working lives. They are part of an agreed upon compensation package for hours worked. That is why I was proud to introduce Bill C-270, the workers first bill, in the House of Commons as my very first legislative initiative upon being elected.
     As members here will know, Bill C-270 will ensure that workers' wages, pensions and benefits receive super-priority in cases of commercial bankruptcy. If we really want to ensure that workers can retire with dignity and respect, then we must ensure they have an adequate retirement income. Bill C-270 and a federal, employer-funded system of pension insurance are essential to achieving that goal.
    At the root of that bill, of course, is the vision that workers must receive the pensions they have earned. That is what is at stake in Bill C-445 as well. For that reason alone, it deserves the support of all members in this House at second reading.

  (1915)  

    Yes, there are some areas that merit further examination, but the BQ members who have participated in the debate thus far have acknowledged that and have expressed their willingness to explore those issues further at the committee stage. For example, public data detailing the number of pension plan beneficiaries who would be eligible to claim the tax credit proposed in Bill C-445 are not available.
    We do know that in 2003 there were approximately three million members of private sector registered pension plans, of which 73% were members of defined benefit plans. However, at present, no one collects data that would assist us in determining the number of pension plan beneficiaries who may be eligible for this type of tax credit.
    Therefore, for the government members to suggest that the cost of Bill C-445 is $10 billion is pure conjecture. I would welcome the opportunity in committee to have them share their detailed financial analysis. I suspect that at the moment they would have no such document they could table.
    Conversely, the BQ members concede that the bill may impact more than Jeffrey Mine and Atlas Steel in Quebec and the St. Anne Nackawic Pulp Co. in New Brunswick. So be it. Let us send this bill to committee and do the research, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
    This bill simply wants to provide some fairness: fairness for pensioners who find that their retirement benefits are reduced through no fault of their own. That is a laudable goal and ought to be supported by all members of the House.
    Yes, this bill represents but one option for providing fairness for retirees. Maybe there are others that would achieve the same goal differently. If there are, let us talk about them at committee.
     I believe the members of the BQ are sincere in their objective, which would suggest that they may be flexible on the means for achieving their goal. I, for one, welcome the opportunity to explore any option, including Bill C-445, that would give workers the ability to retire with the dignity and respect they deserve.
    What is paramount is that we as policy makers recognize the five keys to solid pensions. First, workers must get the pension that they earned. Second, it should be a given that all workers deserve decent pension coverage. Third, there must be respect for both today's and tomorrow's retirees. Fourth, pension money must work for, not against, workers. Finally, as I said at the outset, we must develop a national good jobs strategy so that a dignified retirement is possible.
    If we can all agree on these five principles, then I think the work that we do in committee on Bill C-445 would indeed move the yardsticks in the right direction. Despite the fact that the comments made by the Conservative members thus far in this debate and the equivocation that has been articulated by the Liberal members may call into question their commitment to the rights of workers and retirees in this country, I would like to remind them of a vote that they all cast in this very chamber not that long ago.
    I had the privilege of introducing the seniors charter in the House of Commons on behalf of the NDP caucus. That charter, as members will recall, created a road map for ensuring that seniors can retire with the dignity and respect they deserve. One of the enumerated rights in that charter was the right of income security for seniors.
     It was passed in the House by a vote of 231 to 52. Obviously we in the NDP voted for it unanimously, but so did all of the Conservative and Liberal MPs. Ironically, it was only the BQ that was opposed.
    I call on my Conservative and Liberal colleagues to now walk the talk. If their support of the charter really meant a commitment to its principles, then their vote on Bill C-445 will be the proof in the pudding.
     The charter clearly stated that seniors have the right to “income security, through protected pensions and indexed public income support that provides a reasonable state of economic welfare”. Those members voted for the charter, so they must now vote for Bill C-445 and send it to committee. The principles in each are the same.
    I cannot wait for the vote because workers and retirees will then finally see who takes the principled position.

  (1920)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, let us get things straight. First, I would like to remind hon. members that the bill my NDP colleague was referring to interferes in the jurisdictions of the provinces and Quebec. That is why we opposed the bill she was referring to.
    Nonetheless, we are pleased that the NDP and the Liberals are voting in favour of studying the bill at second reading stage. The problem is when we get to third reading. I will come back to that later.
    First I think we should congratulate and thank the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, for taking this initiative, as well as the hon. member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour. They both have done remarkable work. They worked with me on the research that led to this bill.
    This was all initiated by the workers themselves, the representatives of former workers who have been and still are affected by this situation and with whom we sympathize, of course. I am talking about those from Atlas Steel in Sorel and the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos. These people have had the misfortune of seeing their pensions cut significantly. The cuts range from 28%, at Atlas Steel, up to 58%. Imagine, Mr. Speaker, being told on the day you retire that your pension is being cut by 58%. That is what has happened to those workers.
    The bill before us amends the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income). We have got this far thanks to the leaders of the groups affected. I am referring to Pierre St-Michel from Atlas Steel, Gaston Fréchette from Jeffrey Mine, and their colleagues from their pension fund executive committee. These people have not only thought about their own situation but also about measures that could be introduced that do not compromise the other workers, that do not compromise the state as such and do not compromise the treasury. We will see this later.
    The purpose of this bill is to compensate retirees who suffer pension losses because of their former employer's bankruptcy. The compensation would take the form of a tax credit equivalent to 22% of the loss. Why 22%? Because that is the federal marginal tax rate that applies to middle class people with income between $36,000 and $72,000 per year. That is the taxable base.
    This compensation for retirees will also be available to surviving spouses. I am pointing this out for the benefit of those just joining us so that we all know what is at issue in this debate.
    Contrary to the utterly false claims of the Conservatives, this bill does not apply to very many people. We found two very specific cases involving those who initiated this measure and possibly one case in New Brunswick mentioned by my NDP colleague earlier.
    The people I am referring to—I mentioned them earlier—live in Asbestos and Sorel. What happened to them? There are two types of pension plans: defined benefit pension plans, where the retirement fund goes into deficit when the employer ceases operations, and defined contribution plans, where a business in trouble may give itself a contribution holiday, resulting in the same outcome.

  (1925)  

    Today, this would no longer be possible, at least in Quebec, because pension funds are now governed by a law requiring that contributions and cash flow always be sufficient to meet the obligations of the fund.
    Let us look at an example of how the bill would apply. If a retiree were entitled to a pension of $20,000—which is not very much, but a typical pension for most retirees—but received only $12,000, he would lose $8,000 because the pension fund could not longer pay benefits. If he took advantage of the 22% tax credit on the $8,000 loss, he would receive $1,700 a year. That is not much. A surviving spouse would receive a tax credit of $880 for the year.
    This tax credit is refundable so that it applies to all those who suffer because the fund did not have enough money to pay benefits, including people who do not pay tax because their income is too low.
    This is a very generous formula that benefits everyone who contributed to the plan. Most of the people who contributed would have benefited from a 22% non-refundable tax credit, but it would have done nothing for people who do not pay tax. This is therefore a generous approach that reflects well on the people who proposed it.
    Earlier, I said that this was an inexpensive measure. In fact, it would cost $3 million to $5 million a year, including $1.7 million for Quebec. In the worst-case scenario, if there were measures that applied in certain places, it would cost $5 million. That is the actual cost.
    The Conservatives put forward two arguments that I wish to refute right away. First, they argued that Canada may not have a role to play in pension funds. In fact, Canada formulated a request in 1951, which it reiterated in 1964, and that request resulted in a constitutional change giving the Canadian government the right to legislate all forms of seniors' pensions, as long as it did not encroach on provincial laws that took precedence. That obligation was created.
    The Canadian government is also responsible for determining the interest rate that applies with respect to financial policy under Ottawa's jurisdiction. As such, a low interest rate puts pressure on funds.
    Their second argument had to do with the cost of this measure. The $10 billion figure is utter nonsense. This morning, a Liberal member apologized for mistakenly misleading the House. Now, the Conservatives are deliberately misleading the House. That is very serious. It is wrong to suggest that this measure would cost $10 billion. These people are not credible. If they did their jobs, like they are supposed to, they would see that it will cost between $3 million and $6 million.
    We invite our Conservative colleagues from Quebec to vote with us, though they have systematically voted against the program for older worker adjustment, against the guaranteed income supplement, against help for the forestry and manufacturing sectors, and against the application of the Charter of the French Language for federal workers.

  (1930)  

    In all of those cases, they voted against workers. Now that they have an opportunity to help the—
     It is with great regret that I must interrupt the hon. member, but I did signal him, twice, in fact.
    The hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak in opposition to this bill sponsored by the member for Richmond—Arthabaska. While the bill touches on a matter of importance to all Canadians' retirement income, it does so in a manner that is inconsistent with sound pension and tax policy. We have been hearing many concerns from seniors lately, especially those on fixed income, about talk among the official opposition to make them pay new taxes, taxes that could make it more expensive for them to buy food, heat their homes, visit their grandkids, and so much more.
    Bill C-445 attempts to address another concern of seniors, shortfalls in pension income. However, as I mentioned earlier, this bill does so in such a way that it raises serious issues with respect to pension and tax policy while disregarding the fact that our retirement income system remains sound and effective.
    Canada's retirement income system is based on three pillars. The old age security, OAS, and the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, programs provide a basic minimum income guarantee for seniors. The Canada and Quebec pension plans, CPP and QPP, ensure a basic level of earnings replacement in retirement for all working Canadians.
    The system of tax deferred savings in registered pension plans and RRSPs encourages and assists Canadians to save for retirement to supplement their public pensions. It has been recognized that Canada's retirement income system has helped reduce the incidence of low income among seniors and it ensures that Canadians achieve an adequate retirement income to maintain their living standards.
    While most acknowledge our retirement income system is effective, sustainable and sound, our Conservative government has worked to improve it even further. Budget 2006 doubled the amount of eligible income that can be claimed under the pension income tax credit to $2,000. This is the first time the credit amount has been increased since it was introduced in 1975.
    Budget 2006 also provided funding relief for federally regulated defined benefit pension plans by introducing several changes that will help re-establish funding for federally regulated defined benefit pension plans in an orderly fashion, while providing safeguards for promised pension benefits. To improve work and savings incentives, budget 2007 increased the maximum age from 69 to 71, by which Canadians must convert their RRSPs to registered retirement income funds, RRIFs, and begin receiving pension payments.
    As well, budget 2007 announced tax changes to permit employers to offer more flexible phased retirement programs in order to retain older experienced workers and ease succession planning pressures. Budget 2007 also confirmed the tax fairness plan announced in the fall of 2006 which increased the age credit amount by $1,000 and permitted pension income splitting.
    We continued to make improvements for seniors in budget 2008. In particular, this year's budget proposes to invest $60 million per year to ensure that low income seniors who work can realize greater benefits from their employment earnings through an increase in the guaranteed income supplement, GIS, exemption to $3,500 of employment earnings. This means that those who earn up to $3,500 per year from employment, the average amount earned by GIS recipients, will have their earnings fully exempted without any reduction in GIS benefits. This encourages labour market participation and provides support for low income seniors.
    This is something we heard as we were looking at the employability study. As we went across the country, we heard from seniors that they would like the opportunity to still participate in the labour market, but they do not want that income to be clawed back. Once again, this shows that this Conservative government has been listening to what seniors are looking for. This will enable them to work longer and not have all their income clawed back.
    In addition, budget 2008 proposed a number of provisions to significantly enhance the flexibility for holders of federally regulated life income funds, LIFs, to withdraw funds from those plans. These provisions will ensure that LIF holders will have the flexibility they need to manage their retirement savings according to their circumstances, better reflecting the wide range of choices available to seniors today.

  (1935)  

    Budget 2008 also announced the introduction of the tax-free savings account, the TFSA, a benefit to all Canadians, especially our seniors. The TFSA will provide an additional general purpose savings vehicle to complement existing registered savings plans. It will be a flexible savings account to allow Canadians to earn tax-free investment income to more easily meet their lifetime savings needs.
    For seniors, one of the key features of the TFSA is that neither investment income earned in a TFSA nor withdrawals will affect the person's eligibility for federal income tested benefits and credits, such as OAS and GIS benefits. The TFSA will also provide seniors with a savings vehicle to meet any ongoing savings needs. Little wonder when commenting on budget 2008 the Canadian Association of Retired Persons thanked our government for “listening to many of its recommendations over the years and taking steps in the right direction”.
    Canadians can see that the government has worked to ensure that the retirement income system is responsive to the needs of savers, pensioners and seniors.
    This brings me to the matter at hand, Bill C-445. This bill would be extremely costly. In fact, according to the Department of Finance, it would cost about $10 billion, as the bill would effectively provide a refundable credit on the full amount of registered pension plan benefits received by most retirees. Clearly, it would not be feasible to support such a costly measure.
    Moreover, not only would the measure represent an unjustifiable transfer of resources from all taxpayers to those receiving pension benefits, it would undo the hard-earned results of responsible fiscal management and put at risk the sustainability of the tax relief and investments that this government has introduced. For this reason alone, the bill should not be supported.
    More than that, to adopt the measures proposed in this bill would not be good pension or economic policy and certainly would not be fair to the taxpayers of this country.
    This bill would place on the Government of Canada's shoulders the responsibility for providing compensation in respect of all pension plans that reduced pension benefits. However, the Government of Canada is responsible for pension benefit standards for plans sponsored by federally regulated employers only. Since provinces are responsible for the protection of pension benefits for plans sponsored by provincially regulated employers, the onus placed on the Government of Canada for such compensation would be unjustified.
    The best way of ensuring that promised pension benefits are secure is to have healthy plans with good supervision. At the federal level, pension plans are regulated under the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 and are supervised by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. The superintendent's mandate is to protect the rights and interests of plan beneficiaries. The PBSA sets forth a number of requirements in respect of the funding and administration of pension plans.
    Providing any kind of guarantee or compensation for pension benefits, whether through the tax system or otherwise, is potentially costly for taxpayers. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, it raises issues of fairness, given that the costs would be borne by all taxpayers, while the benefits would accrue only to a minority of those participating in pension plans.
    In short, a refundable tax credit in respect of shortfalls of pension income would not be the best way to promote the security of pension benefits. It would create undesirable economic incentives for pension plan sponsors and would be an improper use of our tax system. It would also be potentially costly and unfair in its application. Therefore, I urge members not to support this bill.

  (1940)  

    Mr. Speaker, having listened to the debate, I want to add a few comments.
    It is an interesting bill that would provide a tax credit to a taxpayer in respect of whom an employer or employee has failed to make the contributions required to be made under a registered pension plan. The issue is that there have been cases, and I know members of the Bloc have raised some, where this occurs. The intent of the bill, as I see it, is to mitigate the loss of benefit to a retiree.
    In terms of the benefit issue, this is one approach. However, when we have private members' items, the issue is to look at the intent and principle of the bill and then determine whether the mechanics can be changed. I find this bill to be an appropriate instrument to consider whether the existing laws of Canada provide reasonable protection for employees whose retirement income situation has been dealt a blow through no fault of their own and maybe through the negligence of others.
    It is not clear to me at this time whether the issue has to do with negligence on behalf of any other party, whether funding and payments need to be made, whether there is an unfunded liability, what happens if there is a surplus or what happens in subsequent years when the investments may change.
    I have heard members suggest that this is a very expensive proposition. We know from experience that we can craft any kind of an argument that would take the worst possible scenario and say that this is the amount of dollars that would occur in this particular case and therefore the cost is several billions of dollars, which is not affordable and so we should not do it. That kind of argument does not help the situation because we need to know where the problem is and what we can do under a legislative framework to ensure the benefits would not be totally lost to a prospective employee.
    I want to give an example of how we can play with the numbers. One member talked about some things the government has done for seniors and said that we could forget this one because we now have pension income splitting. Now that we have come through the first tax year, under which pension income splitting is applicable, one of the things that has happened is that Canadians who thought they were eligible for this found out that they do not get a benefit.
    As a matter of fact, only about 14% of retired seniors have registered pension plan benefits. If we take away all of those who do not have a spouse with whom they could split, that reduces the number of eligible pensioners. If we take out all those who receive a pension but at the lowest tax rate, splitting it, obviously, would not have any benefit.
    The economic analysis shows that, after all is said and done, only between 2% and 4% of seniors will actually benefit from this, particularly the highest income seniors. The intent of trying to help low and modest income Canadian seniors by allowing them to split their income is, in fact, not the case. Only a very narrow band of people benefit, which are those who have a significant level of income.
    As we can see, there is much to be discussed in this bill. I do not think it should be summarily dismissed as a costly exercise that would have no potential merit or benefit to Canadians in this particular situation.

  (1945)  

    This bill warrants being passed at second reading and going to committee where we can hear from expert witnesses, hear about the real examples and hear about the real numbers, whether it is $1.3 billion as opposed to $10 million. We have heard such a range here that someone may have put some facts on the table or proposed that certain facts were the case when they are not.
    Taking a bill to committee says that in principle this is a matter we should look at. Amendments can be made at the committee stage and further amendments can be made at report stage. If we still do not get it right, at the third reading stage a motion can be moved to revert back to the committee to fix it yet again.
    I think we have a lot of opportunities. I do not think this is a situation where we should summarily dismiss a bill because the numbers just do not seem to satisfy some members, for whatever reason. It could very well be that this is just a darn good idea and maybe the government members simply do not like to have anybody else have any ideas that are worth looking into.
    I think we will find that the majority of members in this place will be supporting this bill to go to committee so we can find out the facts, develop the arguments, have an opportunity to hear from the expert witnesses, have our questions answered and, if appropriate, amendments can be considered. That is an appropriate way to deal with this bill and I will be supporting it.

[Translation]

    Since no other members wish to speak, I recognize the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, who has a five minute right of reply.
    Mr. Speaker, five minutes is a very short time, so I will get right to the point. I would, however, like to thank a few people. First, I thank all the members who participated in the debate. In a democracy it is important to make progress on such issues. I would especially like to thank the hon. members for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour and Chambly—Borduas. Not only did they take part in the debate, but they also helped draft Bill C-445.
    I would also like to thank the Liberal and NDP members who showed common sense, as clearly mentioned by the member who just spoke. They want to see some progress on this issue and refer the bill to committee.
    I informed the people of my riding any time amendments were made to the bill. I do not understand the Conservatives' arguments to the effect that it could cost $10 billion. However, if someone provides some evidence of that and if we need to amend or change the bill somewhat in order for it to maintain its substance without costing a fortune, clearly, we would be open to that. I made a commitment to the people of my riding and my colleague from Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour will do the same in his riding. We promised to talk to them and discuss things with them to see if people agree with any proposed amendments. For our part, we are remaining open, as are the Liberals and the NDP, but the Conservative government remains completely uncompromising. It is appalling.
    I will continue with my thanks, to keep things on a positive note. Indeed, I am delighted by my colleagues' decision to pass this bill to the next step. That is what matters. We will not give up and we will continue to try to make the Conservatives come to their senses.
    I would like to thank those who often go unmentioned and who work in the shadows, our researchers. All of the parties have research services, and in our case Marc-André Roche did an extraordinary job helping us create this bill and making it what it is today—an excellent bill that will help retirees who were shortchanged. Obviously, the House of Commons' law clerks and the people at the Library of Parliament helped as well. We do not often thank them. We do not often talk about them, but we should. As for Marc-André, he is sometimes a night owl. He works at night, and I am convinced that there were times when he was working at three or four in the morning for the workers of Asbestos and Sorel. That deserves a round of applause.
    We mentioned their work earlier. The member for Chambly—Borduas spoke about it, but I must do the same. I am talking about the members of the Jeffrey Mine retirees subcommittee in Asbestos and Gaston Fréchette, their president. This man has done an extraordinary job calling all of the members of parliament, signing letters and ensuring that they had the most support possible. Just recently, I was in Asbestos to talk to the Jeffrey mine retirees about everything that has happened to date and where we are in terms of the bill. Once again, there were 120 people in the room to hear what I had to say. Mr. Fréchette had done his job of inviting them; he keeps them incredibly well informed. The Atlas Stainless Steels retirees in Sorel also worked to help develop this bill.
    I want to remind members what Bill C-445 is all about. It has to do with a tax credit for loss of retirement income. It would provide a refundable tax credit to a taxpayer in respect of whom an employer and the employees failed to make the contributions required to be made to a registered pension plan. That is what happened with the retirees in Sorel and Asbestos. For example, a retiree whose income drops from $30,000 to $22,000 would receive 22% of the $8,000 lost, which would be a non-taxable amount of $1,760 per year. That is not a fortune.
    I often use this example because it can be an average of what people lost. It is worth repeating so that we understand that it does not solve everything, but it would at least partially rectify an injustice.
    I see that I have only one minute left. This is the first time I have ever made such a short speech in the House.
    I can say and repeat to my constituents, to the people of Sorel, that we will not give up on them. I am calling on the Conservative members from Quebec in particular. Mr. Fréchette personally called the Conservative members from Quebec to ask them to support this bill. When you speak out against the Bloc Québécois, you often say that you have an influence in the government and that you can make things happen. Prove it. Make things happen for the retirees of Asbestos and Sorel. We must ensure that the government, that the Conservatives, listen to these people for once. Then, we will be able to say that you have an influence and that you have done something for the retirees.

  (1950)  

    Until then, unfortunately, the opposite will be true. You still have time. The vote has not happened yet. We are counting on you to have an influence and live up to your claims.

[English]

    I would just remind the hon. member to address his comments through the Chair and not directly at his colleagues.
    Is the House ready for the question?
    Some hon. members: Question.

[Translation]

    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. Andrew Scheer): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): In my opinion the nays have it.
    And five or more members having risen:

[English]

    Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 28, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Emergency Debate

[S. O. 52]

  (1955)  

[Translation]

Price of Petroleum Products

    The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely the price of petroleum products.
    That this House do now adjourn.
    She said: Mr. Speaker, the price of gasoline has reached record highs. A litre of gasoline has never been this expensive: in 2002, it cost 61.3¢; in April 2005, it cost $1, a psychological barrier we never thought we would reach; and yet, in May 2008, it has reached $1.40 in Trois-Rivières.
    This situation threatens the financial stability of households. Citizens are calling on us to take action. That is why the Bloc Québécois has asked for this emergency debate. It is time to act as quickly as possible and before the situation deteriorates and leads to a serious economic crisis. The economic outlook is increasingly grim and every analyst is talking about a slowdown or even a recession, but Quebeckers must not also bear the brunt of the oil industry's greed. Every dollar a Quebecker spends on fuel impoverishes all of Quebec.
    Let us remember that the government does not get richer as the price of gasoline climbs. Quebec imports all the oil it consumes. Every time the price of fuel increases, more money leaves Quebec and that impoverishes our nation.
    The Bloc Québécois is proposing concrete actions. We are proposing a three-part response to this problem.
    First, we need to keep the industry in check with Bill C-454, which was introduced by my colleague from Montcalm, and which strengthens the Competition Act with respect to oil companies.
    Second, we need to make the oil industry contribute. We have to put a stop to the flow of wealth from Quebeckers and Canadians to big oil companies. Ottawa must include oil revenues in equalization formulas. The federal government must put an end to tax breaks for oil companies. The government must also cap greenhouse gas emissions and support the creation of a true carbon exchange.
    Third, we must reduce our dependency on oil. Oil is making Quebec poorer, and we have to put an end to the blood-letting. The Bloc Québécois wants Quebec to become a leader in clean and renewable energy. Now I would like to elaborate on each of these points.
    I began by saying that we need to keep the sector in check. Our first response to the problem is based on simple logic: a competitive industry is more efficient economically. The Conservatives, staunch defenders of the free market and the virtues of competition, should agree. The oil industry, both in Canada and around the world, is anything but competitive.
    The Competition Bureau has to be able to use the Competition Act to protect citizens from being taken advantage of by an industry that is reaping the benefits of a non-competitive situation. Every time the price of gas skyrockets, the government says it cannot do anything because, according to the Competition Bureau, oil companies are not involved in price-fixing.
    The problem is that the Competition Bureau has never conducted a full investigation of the oil industry. The bureau cannot conduct an investigation of its own accord. The minister must call an inquiry, or citizens must complain. And it is very difficult to find evidence.
    Our competition bill sought to force disclosure of documents and to protect citizens during a review of this matter. The bureau has these powers when conducting an investigation. However, investigations must be ordered by the minister—which is highly unlikely when the minister is on the payroll of an oil company friendly party—or following complaints.
    That is why the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-454, An Act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. This bill was adopted in the House, at second reading stage, on April 28. It gives the Competition Bureau the authority to conduct its own inquiries into the industry. As I was saying earlier, it can summon and protect witnesses during these inquiries. It can increase fines significantly, henceforth making them a deterrent. If there are agreements among oil companies, they will have to prove to the commissioner that they are not detrimental to consumers.

  (2000)  

    However, despite the Bloc's and my own efforts to speed up adoption of the competition bill at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, no other party in this House wanted, in committee, to support our motion that the bill be passed as is by the committee and be submitted again to the House for adoption before it broke for the summer.
    We know that, oddly enough, the price of gasoline always increases at the pump with the onset of summer vacation. I would remind my colleagues that the price of crude oil has increased by more than 30% since January and that it has doubled since last year. The Bloc Québécois does not understand why the other parties are refusing to add teeth to the Competition Act before the summer, thus giving our citizens some breathing room. When we return to our ridings, all we hear from our constituents are complaints.
    Bill C-454 is a first step in the right direction and we must take this step as quickly as possible given that, traditionally, oil companies have no qualms about increasing prices when summertime rolls around.
    The second part of our solution consists of having the industry make a contribution. We know that the oil industries are making record profits and that the higher gas prices only benefit the industry. Since the beginning of this year our economy has been suffering while the oil companies are profiting. This is a direct transfer of the public's wealth to an industry that is shamelessly taking advantage of the situation.
    How do we believe we should limit this transfer of wealth? By adopting a tax system that stops being so generous to the oil companies. We have to put an end to the tax giveaways. The industry has to pay its fair share of taxes. That is what a responsible government must do, but the federal government is doing precisely the opposite.
    Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are responsible for the current situation. From 1970 to 1999, Ottawa paid the equivalent of $79 billion in direct subsidies to the fossil fuels industry; and even though those direct subsidies have been decreasing since the late 1990s, the oil industry is benefiting from a more generous tax system. This situation makes the industry exempt from paying hundreds of millions of dollars in tax—hundreds of millions of dollars. I wonder how consumers and our economy can keep carrying this burden.
    Whether we are talking about the Liberal government of 2003 with Bill C-48, which favoured the oil companies, or the current Conservative government with its accelerated capital cost allowance for the tar sands, this industry has always had a formidable ally in the federal government. And even though the accelerated capital cost allowance will gradually come to an end by 2015, the oil companies will have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in tax by then.
    How do we justify this to our fellow citizens? How can I justify this to the people of Trois-Rivières to whom working far from downtown without public transit is an incredible burden? This takes a bite out of their paycheque and their family budget.
    When the price of oil per barrel is closing in on $140 U.S. and the price per litre is around $1.40 in Trois-Rivières, how can we justify having a tax system that is so generous to the major oil companies? What message is the government sending to the people of Quebec?
    The federal government is doing very little about the crisis in the forestry and manufacturing industries, but it is using our taxes to subsidize an industry that has been padding its pockets for years. Need I remind hon. members that every litre of gasoline consumed in Quebec is imported; that every increase in the price of fuel is a collective impoverishment for Quebec; that the federal tax system benefits the oil regions and the oil industry and does nothing for Quebec? This is a ludicrous situation.
    While Quebec gets poorer because of gas prices, the Conservative government is giving tax breaks to oil companies out west. From 2008 to 2013, oil companies will line their pockets with approximately $8 billion in government giveaways.

  (2005)  

    The Conservatives even have the audacity to finance the cleanup of these major polluters of the planet—$250 million for a carbon storage pilot project. It is beyond belief. Quebeckers and Canadians endure the oil companies' greed, endure the pollution of these major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and on top of that they have to finance the oil industry's cleanup.
    The Bloc Québécois is saying that it is time to put a stop to this travesty. We are proposing that there be no more giveaways to oil companies; that there be no subsidies to help with pollution they create themselves; that the Liberal bill which unduly benefited oil companies be repealed and that the accelerated cost allowance benefit in the oil sands, which is supposed to last until 2015, be cancelled.
    In addition, we are proposing a reform of equalization payments. Rising gas costs do not affect everyone equally. Quebeckers are getting poorer while oil-rich regions are getting richer. It is a true transfer of wealth—devastation in Quebec is benefiting other regions. Equalization can correct this situation.
    Currently, Quebec is being penalized in four different ways by the government's policies. First, rising prices for petroleum products are costing Quebeckers a great deal of money and making them poorer while at the same time benefiting oil-rich regions. Second, the rise in value of the petrodollar is making Quebec companies less competitive, which is making Quebec poorer. Third, the tax breaks the government is giving the oil companies are being paid for by taxes on all Canadians, which is making Quebeckers poorer. Fourth, oil revenues are half-excluded from the equalization formula, but hydroelectricity is not, which is making Quebeckers poorer.
    We also propose to create a carbon exchange. It is another way to offset the impoverishment of Quebec, which has opted for clean energy and chosen to comply with the Kyoto protocol. Quebec companies have made a valiant effort to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and Quebec has also opted for hydroelectricity, which is clean energy. A carbon exchange would enable Quebec to reap the benefits of its energy choices.
    We are holding an emergency debate because the current situation demands that we take action. I would like to quote some figures. The price of a barrel of crude oil was $26 in 2002; in 2006, it was $65; in 2007, $71. Between January and April 2008, it rose to $111, and on May 14, 2008, it was $120. This is a major problem.
    As for oil companies' refining profit margins, we know that refining costs from 3¢ to 5¢ a litre. We were told that when it cost 4¢ to 7¢, the companies were doing good business. In May 2007, the refining profit margin rose to 28¢ a litre. Today it is 9¢. We must therefore pay attention and monitor companies to make sure profit margins remain reasonable.
    The combined net profits of six major integrated oil companies in Canada—Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Husky Energy, Petro-Canada, Suncor, etc.—were $12 billion in 2006, up $5 billion or 70% from 2004. This is a huge increase.
    What are the answers? There are many answers, some of which were mentioned earlier. We also need to think about energy conservation. Certainly, we need to increase public transit use. We need to increase home energy efficiency. We need to reduce the number of homes and industries that heat with oil. We need to reduce the size of transport vehicles.
    We definitely have a problem , but as parliamentarians, we can find solutions, make a start, show that we are concerned and that it is important to really do something about the price at the pump. Our constituents demand it.
    In conclusion, I want to say that our economy is starting to falter. Some people are even fearing a recession. It is not acceptable for some companies to get richer at the expense of Quebeckers and Canadians.

  (2010)  

    We all lose when gas prices are high. If this government believes it is more important to protect the interests of the big oil companies than to take care of the concerns of the people, my colleagues and I will pass the message along to our constituents. We will tell them that we have had enough with oil companies making huge profits. We think we need to discipline this industry and take the necessary action to rectify the situation.
    The Bloc Québécois is proposing a number of solutions. I can answer questions and speak more about what we have in mind. The Bloc Québécois wants all of our colleagues from all the parties to remember that we are here to represent the people in our ridings and that we should in no way be enabling a small group of oil companies to get rich off our constituents. People have had enough, and they are right. It is up to us to act; it is up to us to react.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, first, I congratulate the member for raising the issue and asking for an emergency debate on it.
    Canadians are outraged. The member has listed some numbers, but the situation is worse than gas hovering somewhere around $1.30 a litre. All of the goods and services we get as citizens have to be provided by companies, which have to transport it, and there is a cost for that. They have to operate the factories. All these incremental costs will also be passed on to us, through the increased costs of goods and services, so we have an amplified effect. I think Canadians understand that what they see at the pumps will come at them in a second wave of hurt for them in terms of their ability to continue on with the responsibilities of day to day life.
     I do not believe the member suggests that we should somehow regulate, or control or in fact take charge of the petroleum industry. In fact, in the United States, executives of a number of the large oil companies were called. They basically admitted that the price of gas was much higher than need be.
    This seems to be not a matter of regulation, but rather a matter of dealing with the energy industry, whether it be a monitoring agency through either the Competition Bureau or through some sort of prices review board, just as we do with the drug industry. Where there is usurious pricing, we need to have a mechanism to deal with it. Is the member moving in that direction in terms of possible solutions?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.
    Indeed, as far as the Competition Act is concerned, we introduced Bill C-454. The purpose of the bill is to be able to investigate to ensure that competition is healthy and that businesses do not make unfair profits. We therefore hope that this bill is quickly returned to the House and that, when it is, it has everything needed to help us resolve this complicated issue of the price of gas, to help us parliamentarians take appropriate action and ensure that oil companies do not rake in unfair profits.
    Furthermore, it is a fact that the price of gas has an impact on all goods. Today's news reported that even boarding schools, cafeterias and other schools are being forced to increase their menu prices because of the rising cost of food. Of course, all the transportation costs involved drive up the cost of all consumer goods.
    The people of Trois-Rivières are wondering what they will do when they are forced to choose between filling up their car and feeding their children. We must consider the fact that as costs rise so quickly and dramatically, with family budgets so tight already, it is becoming even more difficult for families to make ends meet. Of course, as parliamentarians, we must send a clear message to show that we do not want to let this situation continue.
    Last year, we had the same debate just before the summer holidays were about to begin and still nothing has been resolved. We must really tackle this issue in various ways to try to find some solutions. We must really look at where the problems lie and discipline the industry, but also force the population to consume less energy.

  (2015)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague on her excellent presentation. She has brought us back to a debate that is extremely important right now, the rising cost of fuel at the pump, which is having a horrible effect on the entire Quebec economy.
    In answering a question just now, my colleague said that citizens in Trois-Rivières are wondering whether they should fill up their car or feed their family. They no longer know which takes priority.
    Many citizens have spoken to me about the problem. We know that in the riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain, there are long distances between the cities and towns. To feed their families, people must go to work, and to do that they must fill up their car, which is extremely expensive right now. It is at the point where they are beginning to dip into their grocery budget. Every day we are seeing incredible suffering, and the situation is only getting worse.
    Earlier, the member for Trois-Rivières said that at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the Bloc Québécois moved an amendment to strengthen the Competition Act so that the Competition Bureau could be truly effective and conduct real investigations. But, after this amendment was put forward, the Bloc Québécois did not receive support from any of the other three parties—not the NDP, the Liberals nor the Conservatives. None of them were in favour of strengthening the legislation.
    I would like the member to explain to us a bit more of what happened at that point.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. All regions of Quebec are definitely experiencing similar situations: people do not live close to their work and so they have to consume gasoline. Furthermore, in some areas, companies have been forced to lay off large numbers of workers. Energy costs do not help a company's profitability and that is a very difficult problem.
    The competition bill was a starting point, an impetus. I would like to remind members that the bill was adopted by this House at second reading stage. In committee, the Bloc Québécois would have liked to have sped up work on the competition bill in order to have the House adopt it before the summer, before vacation time, before gasoline prices increase again. We know that, year after year, gasoline prices increase with the approach of summer vacations. This will be a major problem this year. Some people are cancelling their vacation plans, causing difficulties for the tourism and recreation industry. Problems are being compounded.
    We belive that it is vital to at least adopt the bill quickly so that the power of inquiry is conferred upon the commissioner of competition. Thus, she could summon witnesses, ensure the confidentiality of the testimony and, naturally, fine uncooperative companies. In fact, the bill increased fines. In short, the commissioner could take action and begin to resolve the situation.

  (2020)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House. I would ask to split my time with the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.
    I understand the burden that high gas prices place on Canadian families and seniors and on the cost of living for everyone. I understand the impact of high energy costs on Canadian businesses and all sectors of the economy. Higher gas prices and a higher cost of living affect us all, especially those who are just getting by.
    Unfortunately, the opposition does not get it. Not only has the Liberal leader called for a carbon tax that would hurt seniors, farmers, families and everyone else who uses gas, but he has actually called for an increase in the GST. In fact, he has promised to raise the GST some seven different times. He has said he wants to raise it to 7%, but even then that would not cover all of his promises. How can Liberal members stand in this House and tell seniors in their ridings that not only will they increase gas prices by 60%, but on top of it they actually want to raise the GST by at least 2%?
    An hon. member: No, we don't.
    Hon. Gary Lunn: They are hollering that no, they do not, but let me say this in a bit of fun. As I walked into the House tonight, the member for Mississauga—Erindale said, “Minister, are you going to raise gas prices or are you going to leave that to us?” In fairness, he is the natural resources critic and he was being kind of funny, but my father once said to me that in everything we say there is a little bit of truth. I would argue that it is not the member for Mississauga—Erindale who wants to raise the price of gasoline, but it definitely is his leader.
     Bill C-288, the Liberals' own plan on the environment, wants to put a 60% tax on the price of gasoline. That would raise the price of gasoline today up to $2.25. Those are the facts.
    Hon. John McCallum: Rubbish.
    Hon. Gary Lunn: They are calling out “rubbish”. The leader of the Liberal Party today is calling for a massive carbon tax.
    Mr. Omar Alghabra: Keep exaggerating. It's good for us.
    Hon. Gary Lunn: They are saying to keep exaggerating. I hope I am wrong--
    Hon. John McCallum: You are wrong.
    Hon. Gary Lunn: I hope I am wrong and that is not their policy, but that is not what the Liberal leader has been saying for the last two weeks in the media. That is not what he is saying as he is running across Canada trying to sell his carbon tax plan. He cannot sell his carbon tax plan in his own caucus. His own caucus members came out of their Wednesday meeting fuming, let alone selling it to all Canadians. Those are the facts.
     Again, we all know that it would have a significant impact on the economy, including manufacturing jobs and forestry jobs. This carbon tax would only compound the problem.
    Everyone in this House knows the reality is that the price of gasoline is set by market forces. Members across know that, but there are creative solutions that we can look at. I will get to a few of them.
    In fact, the Bloc member who spoke talked about this: conserving energy, using public transit and becoming more energy efficient. I agree with all of those. As well, there can be more renewable energy put on the grid. Those are things that our government is doing. I will get into some of the specifics.
    However, as far as the price of oil per barrel, it has doubled since I have been the minister in the last two years. Members are right when they say it has doubled, but that is not because of anything I have done. We all know there are a number of factors beyond the control of anyone in this House.
    However, other things we are doing, I would submit, will actually have a significant impact in helping Canadians cope with these higher fuel prices.
     We have lowered taxes on families, seniors, farmers and small businesses by over $60 billion.
    We passed the toughest anti-corruption legislation in the history of Canada.

  (2025)  

    We have lowered the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%.
     We have introduced the largest tax reduction in Canadian history at $200 billion, with $140 billion of that tax relief directed at individuals.
    I went throughout my riding after Canadians had just filed their tax returns. For the first time in 10 years, I had Canadians coming up to me on the street and saying that they appreciated what our government is doing. They said they could actually see the tax reductions on their income tax forms.
    I had seniors come up to me who were able to split their pension income with their spouse. Members opposite can laugh, but in some cases that provides as much as $3,000 or $4,000 in additional income tax returns to these members. That is significant. Those are the types of tangible things we can do.
    We took 85,000 seniors right off the federal tax rolls.
    These are things we are doing. Again, there is $2 billion in gas tax money going directly to municipalities so that they can support initiatives. In my riding, Frank Leonard is the mayor of Saanich. He and I went out and saw how that gas tax money was used. Saanich is putting in dedicated transit lanes. It is putting in dedicated transit facilities to help people get into transit.
    There are things that our government is doing.
    Let me respond to a few other areas that are specific to my department. Our government recognizes that we cannot sustain ourselves with regard to our current consumption of oil. On the planet, we consume 86 million barrels of oil every day. We should think about that. That is a thousand barrels of oil every second. It is not sustainable.
    That is why our government is investing in such things as renewable energy. We have announced $1.5 billion for 4,000 megawatts of clean energy. As for wind, we have the first tidal turbines now being installed on both coasts, which are producing clean energy. We have a significant biofuels strategy in which our government invested over $2 billion, half a billion of which will be going into next generation biofuels. These are tangible things that can make a difference.
    We are investing heavily in energy efficiency. I have said many times that the largest untapped source of energy in this country is the energy we waste. Through Sustainable Development Technology Canada, we are investing hundreds of millions of dollars on energy saving technologies to help them move from the research side to the development side. These are tangible things. Our government is investing in clean technologies to clean up conventional technology. These are all very important. They can make a difference, and they are.
    As for the Liberal plan, the Liberals do not get it. They are laughing and chuckling across the way, but it is their leader who wants to impose a massive carbon tax. That is unprecedented. We have seen this in the press for the last two weeks. We know that is where the Liberals' minds are. We should look at Bill C-288, a Liberal private member's bill that wants to put a 60% tax on gasoline.
    At 60% we can do the math pretty quickly at today's prices. That will get us up to $2.25 a litre. The Liberals go on. We know that is their approach.
    We understand that high gas prices are a concern for Canadians. That is why we are investing in energy efficiency. That is why we are lowering taxes for everyday Canadians by an amount they can actually realize and feel. We know we can deliver on that.
    However, the Liberals are not being honest. They want to impose a massive carbon tax. And now they are saying they do not?

  (2030)  

    I ask members to just look at the statements the Liberal leader is making. I admit they change from one day to the next, but let us make no mistake about this. Under its current leader, the Liberal Party will impose taxes on Canadians that would dramatically raise the price of energy and put us into a deficit situation.
    Mr. Speaker, maybe it is because I am an economist that I am particularly sensitive to false numbers. With all the hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts, one reason why the Conservatives cannot possibly be right is that they began by increasing the income tax rate from 15% to 15.5% and labelled that a tax cut. Then they brought it back down to where it was: a double tax cut. By that example alone, they are at least $15 billion too high in their claimed tax cuts over five years.
    I have a question for the minister. Speaking in my capacity as the member's predecessor as minister of natural resources, I note he would remember that as part of our own bill in 2005, Bill C-66, we Liberals committed $13 million to give Canada's Competition Bureau more powers and to strengthen the Competition Act in response to high energy prices. What did the Conservative government do when it came to power and that member became Minister of Natural Resources? They scrapped that strengthening of the Competition Bureau.
    Another thing Liberals did in that bill was commit $15 million to establish an office of energy price information, whose job it would be to monitor energy price fluctuations. What did the Conservative government do? It scrapped that office of energy price information.
    Therefore, if the minister claims to be so much on the side of consumers and cares so much about gas prices, why was the first act of his government and of his time as minister to scrap the office that would have monitored prices and the provision that would have given additional powers to the Competition Bureau to deal with non-competitive behaviour by oil companies?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member will know that the Competition Bureau has investigated six different times. During most of those, the previous government was in power. Each and every time it found there was no collusion.
    There is a very specific formula on how the price of gasoline is set, but one thing we know for sure, one thing that is a given, is that the Liberal Party of Canada will raise the price of gasoline to historic highs, to $2.25 a litre. The Liberal leader has already announced it. He has floated the idea of a carbon tax. The Liberals are now denying it even though their own members have been walking in the hallways of Parliament grumbling about it for weeks. They need to get a reality check.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions for the minister. He spoke about lowering taxes for businesses. But since the oil companies are saving hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, should they not be excluded from this tax break?
    He then told us that they lowered the GST. Yes, it was lowered, but how come the price of gas keeps going up? Who is benefiting from that profit margin? There are a number of questions here.
    He told us that the Competition Bureau investigated six times, but does that not mean that the Competition Act should be amended, as we are suggesting, to enable the Bureau to call witnesses and ensure confidentiality? The Competition Act is clearly not rigorous, since the Bureau is not able to conduct investigations and prove things. Someone, somewhere is getting rich.
    I will add one thing very quickly. What does the minister suggest that we do? What will his government do to fix the problem of ever-increasing gas prices? We cannot continue like this. Our economy is in danger. The people want us to do something. What are the solutions?

  (2035)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, first, the member pointed out the tax issues with respect to oil companies. Our government is in the process of eliminating the subsidies that were given to companies operating the oil sands that were brought in by the Liberals, where the oil companies were allowed to take hundreds of millions of dollars in capital cost allowances and accelerate those deductions. It is our government that is facing those issues. We are eliminating those tax subsidies for large oil companies only after they were brought in by the Liberals.
    The member asked about the Competition Bureau. The Competition Bureau has the resources to do the job. It does the investigations in a very transparent manner. It is an arm's-length agency of government and it does these investigations. It has found every single time that there is no collusion. Nobody in this House can say we want new rules because obviously they are getting the wrong answer. The reality is that is where it is at.
    In some provinces, including Quebec and some of the maritime provinces, they actually have price controls for gas because of the very issues the member raises. However, what that has shown is that the price of gasoline has gone up in fact--
    Order, please. We have to move on.
    Resuming debate. The hon. member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex.
    Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity tonight to participate in the debate on gas prices. This provides me with an opportunity to point out some of the clear differences in the House between the Conservative government and the parties opposite.
    High gas prices are a huge concern to everyone. This is not the time to be making points for partisan gain. This is a time to be concerned about the residents in each of our ridings, whether they are homemakers, business people, or farmers, and I will talk a bit about that also.
    The price of gas is on the minds of Canadians across this country. Constituents have phoned me and emailed me about their concerns, and they have asked me what I am going to do and what can happen.
    The Liberal leader recently stated that he wants Canadians to use less of what is bad. I guess the gas is bad and we are to use less of it. He announced that his party would impose a massive gas tax on all Canadian families. This gas tax would take billions of dollars out of the pockets of working families, seniors, those who are not working and already struggling to put food on the table.
    As my colleague the Minister of Natural Resources said, if the price of fuel is $1.30 a litre and we added on a 60% hike, the price would rise to around $2.25. This is not going to be good for Canadian families.
    My daughter works part time and she drives to work. Her husband has a construction business which runs excavators. He has people on the road all the time. To increase the cost of fuel by another 60% in these days would be unconscionable. Not only would it make it hard for families to afford gas but there is not a doubt in my mind that it would also take away jobs. It would take away businesses because of the high energy cost involved. People also have to heat their homes and the like.
    This is not just about raising the gas tax, which the opposition wants to do, but more so about what we as a government have done by reducing taxes over the past two years. We were ridiculed by many at the time for reducing the GST. The GST in my riding for every per cent is $18 million. Some $36 million dollars goes back into the economy of my riding, not unlike the ridings of most members sitting here today. If those members ever get back into power, they will raise the GST back up to 7% plus add a gas tax to it. Canadians would not be able to endure that.
    Those members continually talk about raising the gas tax, but we cannot control the price of the product. It is a global commodity. It is on the stock market. It is not just us saying that.

  (2040)  

    We should listen to some of the other ones, other voices of credit. Greenhouse Emissions Management Consortium warned that carbon tax shifts the burden from the richest to the poorest families because most of the energy purchases of low and middle-income families are not discretionary whereas almost half the energy purchased by the wealthy families tends to be discretionary.
    Perhaps he should listen to a few of the Liberals who have spoken out against the potential imposition of a new regressive carbon tax on Canadians. Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella recently stated that a carbon tax was unfair to people on fixed incomes such as the elderly, the poor or those who have to heat their homes and buy food too, and it was therefore profoundly not Liberal.
    The member for Kings—Hants stated that he was strongly against energy taxes. He said that he would never propose higher taxes in Canada in any area and yet as we talk about how we are going to keep Canadians and our economy strong we have a party that is in the official opposition, the Liberal Party, that continually wants to boost the taxes of the country against the working people.
    I was talking to a friend of mine the other day when he was putting his crops in. When he pulled up to the fuel tank to fill up his tractor it cost him $1,200. That runs him a little less than between 10 and 11 hours of work.
    If it is this much now to fill it up, and that is when we have dropped the taxes, and we allow a government to come in and raise the taxes back up higher than they are now by another 60%, not only is it going to affect the cost of production but it will put the businesses like farming and construction, which are struggling now to make ends meet, at a greater disadvantage.
    We talked earlier today about food and fuel, and whether it is food for fuel or growing crops for food. As we start to talk about this whole issue, as we continue to make food more expensive because we would have to add the tax to the production of the food, then again it becomes counterproductive when we start to think about how we are going to keep a strong economy and how we are going to feed nations with food that is costing more to produce.
    I think we always have to be careful about whatever we do. That is why the principle of this government has been to work for working families to lower personal taxes, lower the GST, and raise the personal exemption on tax. Quite honestly, when we talked to seniors this year about income splitting, it was incredible, particularly the uptake that was received and the moneys that have been saved by our seniors, just in those tax savings.
    That is the difference when we talk about what our government wants to do for families. We want to lower taxes and make things affordable. We do not want to increase them and make them unaffordable.
    As we get into the debate on this and as it goes on for a while, I just want to wrap up by saying that we are concerned about high gas taxes but we should always remember that those are global issues. What we can do is keep taxes low, keep the economy strong, and keep our families and businesses in business.

  (2045)  

    Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the member for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex and also to the minister who spoke before him who is from my home province of British Columbia.
    When I left my riding of New Westminster—Coquitlam this morning, gas prices were over $1.37 a litre. B.C. has one of the highest prices for gasoline in the country. It is 12¢ a litre higher than it is here in Ottawa, but gas prices all over Canada are skyrocketing. The cost of gasoline is becoming an increasing burden on working families.
    At the same time as families are being squeezed, the big oil companies are reaping record profits. Actually, Exxon Mobil earned $40.6 billion in profits last year. That works out to over $77,000 every second of every day last year. It is incredible.
    I want to ask the member, why does his government not work for ordinary folks, for ordinary Canadians by protecting prices at the pump, by stopping this massive gouging? It is still giving massive subsidies to the big oil companies and $1.5 billion to the tar sands. Why not appoint an oil and gas ombudsman to investigate consumers' complaints about the major oil and gas companies? Why not just do something to help ordinary Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member that there is a concern with high gas prices. We know that. I have never understood, quite honestly, why it is $1.37 in B.C. and maybe the same in Alberta where it is actually produced, and less in other parts of the country. Those are globally driven prices.
    The question is what are we doing for Canadians? I guess I will just have to re-emphasize that we have lowered the taxes. The taxes are the lowest they have been in about 40 years.
    We can talk about our budget. We have reduced the subsidies to the oil sands. We have reduced the taxes. The member talked about gouging. I will go back to the minister's speech. When we reduced those two things, the NDP actually opposed them because that party did not support the budget. I guess I would have to say that the NDP members actually think subsidies to the large oil companies are great. They think that raising taxes is the thing to be doing.
    The member talked about gouging, but the bureau has found six times that there is not any. Whether we agree with that or not, that is what the bureau said.