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41st PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 256

CONTENTS

Monday, May 27, 2013




House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 146 
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NUMBER 256 
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1st SESSION 
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41st PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer

    The House met at 11 a.m.

Prayers



PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS

[Private Members' Business]

  (1100)  

[English]

Last Post Fund

    The House resumed from April 18 consideration of the motion.
     Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to stand today to lend my voice to those of my colleagues, I hope all of us in this House, for Motion No. 422, as put forward by my Liberal colleague from Random—Burin—St. George's.
    I should also congratulate the member for Random—Burin—St. George's. Since her election in 2008, she has been a tireless and constant advocate for veterans and their families. Motion No. 422, of course, is no exception. It would simply continue going in the direction that I know very much she cares about and is very committed to. She is very aware of the challengers that are facing so many of these families.
    For too long, this matter has been relegated to the back burner; that is, until my colleague stepped up and put Motion No. 422 right on the table where it clearly belongs. Motion No. 422 is designed to support the Last Post Fund in ways that would ensure that it is properly funded and adequately positioned to help the families of veterans who have given us all so much.
    Any effective National Defence strategy must include appropriate supports for soldiers after they return from combat. I am sad to say that this is an area that the government has clearly failed in. We continually hear, on a week-to-week basis, about the number of our soldiers and their families who are struggling with PTSD and other pressures as a result of going abroad and serving for all of us.
    Unfortunately, the Last Post Fund is woefully underfunded and the result is poverty, stress and worry for the spouses and the families of our fallen veterans. This is clearly not acceptable in a country as rich as Canada. We can, and must, ensure that each and every veteran has a proper and fitting burial while also ensuring that the burial would not financially break their spouses and their families. Canada has a responsibility to veterans that cannot end with the battle. Properly funding the Last Post Fund is part of that responsibility.
    Before I continue, I need to underscore that this is not just my belief. Successive veterans ombudsmen have called upon the government to revamp this program for years. Similarly, the Department of Veterans Affairs has even acknowledged the need for many of these changes.
    The Royal Canadian Legion formalized its call for change in 2008, 2010 and again in 2012, yet the government has remained idle, ignoring the need for changes to the Last Post Fund, other than the right words and the right spin. However, the action always counts when we know it is in the budget. That is when we know that someone is really listening.
    Most important, veterans and their families have told us for years that the change is needed. The government has been able to ignore this for years but, today, as a result of the work of my Liberal colleague, the member for Random—Burin—St. George's, these calls are finally being heard in this House. I ask all of the members in the House to please listen to the calls for putting some proper funding in the Last Post Fund and act accordingly.
    Private members' bills are supposed to be something that we can all act freely upon in the House and vote as we wish. I would hope that all members in the House would support Motion No. 422. Let us stand together to recognize the needs of many of the families of our lost soldiers.
    So often the solutions we search for are complex. However, this one, Motion No. 422, is simple. It is comprehensive in its approach. It accepts the recommendations of numerous veterans ombudsmen and expands funding for the Last Post Fund. It similarly accepts the calls made by the Royal Canadian Legion in 2008, 2010 and 2012 and by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It reviews the provisions of the program to ensure uniformity and it proposes to review the means testing provisions of the plan.
    According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Last Post Fund is an important program, with a goal to ensure that no eligible veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial, as well as a military gravestone, due to insufficient funds at time of death. Unfortunately, the Last Post Fund is far from ensuring that all veterans in need receive a dignified funeral and burial because the program is forced to apply outdated eligibility criteria. Motion No. 422 calls upon the government to take the steps necessary to ensure that no veteran, including those who have served post-Korean War, is denied a proper funeral and burial.

  (1105)  

    The government had a chance to put this in budget 2013, but missed its opportunity to bring equality and fairness to all veterans. Motion No. 422 means that it is not too late to do the right thing. Motion No. 422 has been endorsed by the Royal Canadian Legion. Together all of us in the House on a non-partisan issue can support Motion No. 422 and see that it goes forward to rectify some of the faults of the past.
    Doing the right thing by our veterans is not a partisan issue. Some have argued that it is a matter of duty of all of us as Canadians and as parliamentarians. There is no clearer message that we can send to our veterans than to stand behind our them, many of whom spent their military careers standing up for us. On the other hand, there is no clearer message to veterans that we do not support them than by voting no on this important support measure.
    The Last Post Fund is a non-profit organization that administers the funeral and burial program on behalf of Veterans Affairs Canada. The primary objective of the Last Post Fund is to ensure that no veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial due to lack of sufficient funds. This has been its mission for more than a century, but time has taken a toll on what it can do. Supporting Motion No. 422 would ensure that the Last Post Fund has the tools and the resources it needs to show Canadian veterans that their sacrifices will never be forgotten.
    I call on all members of the House, when Motion No. 422 comes up for a vote, to do the right thing. We cannot ask people to go abroad, ask their families to be supportive, then lose those members and have them returned without even the right to a decent funeral and proper burial. Therefore, I ask that my colleagues in the House support Motion No. 422 and recognize the great work that my colleague from Random—Burin—St. George's has done in bringing forward this very important issue.

  (1110)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to reaffirm our government's full support for a program that is so important to Canadian veterans and their families.

[Translation]

    I am proud to rise today to reiterate our government's support for this program, which is so important to veterans and their families.

[English]

    I am also rising in the House today with some serious concerns about the use of the Last Post burial fund and, ultimately, the motion brought to the House by the member for Random—Burin—St. George's.
     On one level, as a veteran, I am very happy whenever parliamentarians express pride and support for our veterans and current-serving Canadian Forces. Part of me believes that the hon. member has that intent with this motion. She has served on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and I believe that she has respect for our veterans. However, I also have some serious concerns about the circumstances giving rise to the raising of this issue by the member. This has led me to believe that her intentions have not been quite as noble as she likes to represent.
    To explain my concern, some important context is needed. I had the honour of joining the House after a by-election six months ago yesterday. By-elections for three vacant seats were called on October 21, 2012, which resulted in the fact that the campaigns would be taking place during remembrance week. I see my friend, the member for Parliament for Victoria, in the House and I congratulate him on his six-month milestone.
    On November 6, the member called for an independent task force on the Last Post Fund and sent out a press release on this issue that she claimed she was promoting along with her Liberal colleagues. I have consulted Hansard and the member for Random—Burin—St. George's had not raised this issue previously in the House, nor had she raised it during her time in committee, from what I could find in my research.
    The very next day, on November 7, the Liberal Party candidate in Durham, my by-election riding, raised the same issue as the member for Random—Burin—St. George's and launched a website under the banner Durham4Vets.org. This website had the appearance of being a grassroots third-party website in Durham at first glance, but closer examination showed that it was actually a misleading website used by the Liberal Party to raise funds for its political campaign in Durham.
    The same day, just one day after the member issued her release on this subject, the Liberal Party rolled out election signs in Durham that featured an image of a soldier and further promoted the Durham4Vets website that was actually a front for raising money for that campaign. The Liberal Veterans Affairs critic, the member for Charlottetown, travelled to Durham to support this Liberal campaign strategy.
    Worse still, a few days later, on Remembrance Day, the Liberal campaign laid political wreaths at cenotaphs in the small towns across my riding of Durham. These wreaths featured a slogan from the Liberal Party's website and its political campaign. In between the Brownies, Cub Scouts, schools and community groups from Durham showing their respect for veterans by laying a wreath at the local cenotaph, there was the Liberal Party of Canada and its shameful campaign.
    Needless to say, veterans in Durham and, indeed, across southern Ontario were outraged by this conduct and the shameful use of remembrance week as a political tool by the Liberals. Not only were veterans disgusted by this campaign, but the Durham Liberal riding president himself actually removed the Liberal sign from his lawn. People in my riding saw this campaign for what it was: the politicization of a solemn week in our country.
    Accordingly, I can never be sure whether the issue the member for Random—Burin—St. George's first raised on November 6, which ultimately led to this motion before the House, was brought out of genuine concern or part of a disconcerting political campaign orchestrated by the Liberal Party.
    It is also important to note that the shameful campaign in Durham was run by Quito Maggi, a paid Liberal organizer, who is now advising the new Liberal leader. That leader, the member for Papineau, came to Durham as part of this deceitful campaign. While there, he did not disavow the tactics being used by his party, even in the face of heavy criticism from my community.

  (1115)  

    With my concerns about the underlying motive for the motion on the table, in my remaining minutes I would like to address the key issues related to the Last Post Fund, particularly because the entire funeral and burial issue being discussed is just one aspect of the fund and because it is either not well understood by many in the Liberal Party or is purposely glossed over when people are discussing this fund.
    To begin with, Canadians need to be reassured that all veterans who pass away as a result of a service injury will have their funeral and burial costs covered by their country, full stop. That is an obligation Canada owes to the men and women we place in harm's way. It is an obligation that transcends politics and one that has been met by our government and, indeed, by previous governments.
    The motion on the Last Post Fund then boils down to two things: first, the cost of the funeral and burial services covered by the program; and second, the means test applied to determine which veterans are in need of assistance from the fund.
    Economic action plan 2013 increased the coverage of funerals from $3,600 to $7,376. This is being done at the same time that we are covering the actual cost of the burial. This level had not been adjusted in many years. The minister listened to veterans groups on this issue, it was examined by the department and the amount was doubled in the budget.
    Therefore, the central thrust of the member's motion has been addressed. The issue of the means test is one the Liberals try to gloss over, as it was their government that established the present means test. In fairness to the member for Random—Burin—St. George's, she was not part of that Liberal government, nor was their current veterans affairs critic. It is critical to note, however, that many members of their caucus were part of the team that put this in place. This must be remembered amid the feigned outrage from their caucus.
     The Last Post Fund was established decades ago to help the families of indigent veterans with the costs associated with the funeral and burial. That is exactly what the program does. Veterans of all conflicts are proud Canadians, and in so many ways our World War II and Korean veterans built the tremendous Canada we have today. They want their impoverished comrades and their brothers in arms who died from their injuries to be taken care of, but they do not expect this special fund to apply to all veterans. This was not the objective of the Last Post Fund funeral and burial program.
    It is also important to remind Canadians that the Last Post Fund also directs other important initiatives to honour our fallen and our veterans. I would like to thank them in the House for all the work the Last Post Fund does for Canada. It manages the National Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, Québec, a national historic site. This cemetery opened in 1930 and is a sombre reminder of the cost of war and Canada's commitment to the world.
     The Last Post Fund also runs the unmarked grave program to mark the place where some of our fallen have been laid to rest. This is important work, particularly as we approach the centennial of World War I.
    As someone who served in uniform, I am proud to be part of a government that supports the men and women of the Canadian Forces and our veterans. Amid very challenging economic times, our government has identified veterans as a key priority.
    In the coming year alone, as outlined in our latest main estimates, the Government of Canada is planning to spend almost $785 million more in veterans affairs compared to when we took office, which was the last year before the new veterans charter was implemented.
    In closing, I would like to thank the Legion branches in my riding that have steadfastly worked to support our veterans and that raise constructive input on funerals and burials, much like they do on a range of issues.
     I also hope that my concerns about the origin of the motion are incorrect and that the member for Random—Burin—St. George's was not part of a shameful Liberal Party campaign strategy from last fall. Maybe she did not know about the campaign signs. Maybe she did not know about the misleading website. Maybe she did not know about the political wreaths at cenotaphs in Durham and the timing of raising this issue in that campaign. There is a lot of maybes there.
    If that was the case, I would ask her to work with her colleague, the member for Charlottetown, to urge their new leader to abandon such tactics in the future. All of us in the House need to support our veterans. We do not need to use remembrance week as a tool to further political interests on either side of the House.

  (1120)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Motion No. 422, regarding improvements to the Last Post Fund.
    This motion addresses a matter that is of critical importance to veterans and their families. Every veteran deserves a dignified funeral and burial. If we want to properly recognize the significant contribution they have made to our country, then we need to ensure that happens. We will be supporting Motion No. 422, which raises an issue that is very important to veterans and their families.
    The Last Post Fund was mandated by Veterans Affairs Canada to provide financial assistance to veterans and their families for funerals, burial, cremation and grave markings.
    I would like to provide some more background information. The Last Post Fund is a non-profit organization that, since 1909, has been providing financial assistance for funeral and burial expenses to veterans in financial difficulty at the time of their death. It has been administering the Veterans Affairs Canada funeral and burial program since 1998.
    The Last Post Fund is also a charitable organization that collects private donations in order to provide financially disadvantaged veterans with dignified funerals.
    Clearly, this program is crucial to our veterans. However, a number of problems have been undermining the program's mandate for several years. Some such problems include program eligibility, which is a serious issue, and the chronic underfunding of the Last Post Fund. The funeral and burial program for veterans has been cut back repeatedly over the past few years. In 1995, the Liberals decreased the estate exemption from $24,000 to $12,015.
    For years now, the NDP has been denouncing the fact that the Last Post Fund is clearly underfunded and that many families in need do not qualify for this assistance because the eligibility criteria are too rigid. We are not the only ones calling on this government to increase funding for these programs and broaden the eligibility criteria. Many other stakeholders have also done so, including the Royal Canadian Legion, the Veterans Ombudsman, the Funeral Service Association of Canada, the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, Canadian Veterans Advocacy, and the National Council of Veteran Associations.
    In his 2009 report, the Veterans Ombudsman called for improvements to the funeral and burial program. The Funeral Service Association of Canada echoed those calls. In 2012, that association even took the time to write to every government member, asking them to ensure that all Canadian veterans could be given a dignified funeral. Members of the association were afraid that the amounts reimbursed through the program did not reflect the real cost of planning a funeral.
    Despite the many appeals to the government, it has done nothing to resolve this crucial problem once and for all for veterans and their families. Last fall, the Canadian media reported that some 20,147 applications had been rejected, which equals about two-thirds of all applications received since 2006. Only about 10,000 families have benefited from the program since 2006.
    So why is it that so many veterans' families are being denied access to compensation for their funeral and burial?
    Our veterans deserve a dignified burial. It is not enough simply to thank them for their service and the contribution they have made to our country, which this government does so well. The best way to thank them is by ensuring that all veterans and their families have access to the program so that veterans can receive the funeral and burial they deserve.
     Low-income World War II and Korean War veterans are eligible if the financial needs of their estate can be established. The exemption applicable to the estate of a veteran with a spouse or dependent children, or both, amounts to $12,015. The couple's combined assets are considered, except for the family home, one vehicle and any income received during the month of death.

  (1125)  

    All liabilities, including funeral and burial costs, are then deducted. For the estate to be eligible, the value of the combined net assets must not exceed $12,015. This amount is well below the poverty line. Veterans living alone are deemed eligible for assistance if the net value of the estate is not sufficient to pay all outstanding debts, including funeral and burial costs.
    As for modern-day veterans, they are eligible for assistance only if they died as a result of a service-related disability or if they received a disability benefit. This sadly means that many of today's veterans who are in financial need are not eligible for the dignified funeral and burial offered by the Last Post Fund. This is totally unacceptable.
    This is why we want the government to expand the program's eligibility criteria to today's veterans and raise the estate exemption so that more families of veterans are eligible for assistance. Prior to tabling its 2013 budget, the government made no changes to the program, which provided only $3,600 to cover funeral and burial costs.
    Given current funeral and burial costs, it goes without saying that the $3,600 reimbursement was completely insufficient, especially since it has not changed since 2001 and we know perfectly well that, these days, a burial in Canada costs between $7,000 and $10,000.
    We know that budget 2013 proposes simplifying the program and doubling the reimbursement rate from $3,600 to $7,376, an expenditure of $65 million over two years. However, although the government has increased the reimbursement level, it has not changed the estate exemption criteria or improved access for modern-day veterans.
    Veterans' advocacy groups have been arguing for changes for over 20 years now. As a result, no changes will be made to the eligibility criteria so that more veterans' families will be eligible for assistance with respect to estate exemption, for example.
    What is more, the government will not modify the eligibility criteria for the modern Canadian Forces, which are more restrictive than for veterans of World War II or the Korean War. We feel that it is not enough. The government's approach does not go far enough. We are not the only ones who feel that way.
    The Canadian Veterans Advocacy is pleased that this year's budget addresses the financial issue but remains greatly concerned about the restrictive criteria for the Last Post Fund, particularly the exclusion of deceased veterans who did not serve in World War II or the Korean War but whose families need financial assistance for a dignified burial.
    The group is also greatly concerned about the income verification criteria and the current formula under which two-thirds of applications are rejected. The group maintains that it will continue to address the problem until it has been resolved through dialogue and engagement because it wants equality for all veterans.
    Even though the government says it is our veterans' advocate, the reality is quite the opposite. Just look at its record and the $246 million in cuts to the Veterans Affairs Canada budget. It will eliminate 2,100 jobs and close nine district offices across Canada in 2014. I would like to remind the government that all veterans and their families deserve a dignified funeral and burial. It is time to put an end to this injustice once and for all. The NDP and I will continue to put pressure on the government to improve Veterans Affairs' funeral and burial program.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to reaffirm our government's full support for a program that is so important to Canadian veterans and their families.
    I am also pleased to say that the federal burial fund program is working, that every year it is helping the families of veterans through a profoundly difficult and emotional time in their lives. In the past year, the funeral and burial program assisted more than 1,300 families. We were there for them, and they laid their loved ones to rest with the dignity and respect Canadian veterans deserve. Such numbers reflect a program that is achieving what it was designed to do, a program that is honouring veterans, who have done so much for our country, and assisting their families.
    This debate on Motion No. 422 will also provide our government with an opportunity to demonstrate the many different and significant ways we are supporting Canada's veterans and their families, including the funeral and burial program.
    A lot has been said about the funeral and burial program, but these are the facts. The funeral and burial program helps to provide a dignified funeral and burial for all veterans who die as a result of an injury suffered in service to our country. It is also there for the families of those veterans who were in financial need when they passed away. Motion No. 422 can propose all the changes it wants, but it cannot change the facts.
    Before I take a closer look at the motion, I would like to place this debate within a much wider context. I would like to begin my remarks by reminding all members of something we have learned very early in life: actions speak louder and words. Canadians remind us of this every day. They do not want the rhetoric and empty promises. What they want and expect is that we will deliver results on things that matter most to them.
    I am proud to say that the Government of Canada is delivering. If actions truly matter more than words, then the actions of our government are loud and clear. We are here for the Canadian veterans and their families. We are here for them in ways that, arguably, match or much surpass anything Canada has done during any other time in our country's 146-year history. This is not boasting, but by almost any measure, we have set new standards in veterans' care.
    Members do not have to take my word for it. All they have to do is look at the federal budgets, because they lay it all out in black and white, year after year. In the coming year alone, as outlined in our latest main estimates, the Government of Canada is planning to spend almost $785 million more than in 2005-2006, which was the last year before the new veterans charter was implemented.
    I could list the many things that this extra funding has supported: the creation of an Office of the Veterans Ombudsman, the establishment of a veterans bill of rights, the expansion of our veterans independence program and the restoration of benefits for Canada's Allied veterans.
    Still, those tell only part of our story. Our record spending on veterans benefits, programs and services is only one side of our dual approach, because we are also spending smarter. That is what the minister's cutting red tape for veterans initiative is all about. By streamlining the way we do things, simplifying our policies and introducing new technology, we are reducing the cost, actually serving veterans better and faster in more modern and convenient ways.
    We are constantly reviewing every program, every service and every benefit to make sure we are meeting the needs of Canada's veterans and their families.
    The funeral and burial program is a perfect example. We took the time to conduct a thorough review of the program. We took the time to listen to veterans and their families, and with budget 2013, we have taken action.
    Our government is proud to be making the funeral and burial program even better. We are proud to be more than doubling the maximum reimbursement for funerals from $3,600 to $7,376. At the same time, we are covering the actual cost of burials. We are proud to be simplifying the program for veterans' estates.
    We are doing all of this at a time when the funeral and burial program is already one of the most comprehensive programs of its kind in the world, because it casts a wider net to help more families in many more ways.

  (1130)  

    I believe all Canadians can and should be proud of what we are doing as a country to support and honour our veterans, proud that we are demonstrating our nation's gratitude and respect in very meaningful ways. Canada's veterans have earned that. They deserve it, and our government is proud to be delivering it for them, our nation's heroes. I want to thank all of the Veterans Affairs staff and the Canadian Legion across the great riding of Medicine Hat, for they have supported our veterans. They are working for veterans and helping us to deliver what those veterans need.

  (1135)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Motion No. 422, which would improve the Last Post Fund.
    My colleague from Random—Burin—St. George's moved this motion on behalf of our veterans. This proves that we are true to our slogan for the last election: we can work together with other parties.
    We will support this motion, which has three major components that are important to the lives of our veterans: increase funding for the program so that benefits are in line with the current cost of funerals and burials, broaden program eligibility criteria, and help families in need who lose a loved one.
    First, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the three branches of the Royal Canadian Legion in my riding: Dorval Air Services, Lachine and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. They do incredible work. I have met with the people from these Legions often, and I have had a number of discussions with them. I thank them for a job well done.
    ,As I was saying, there are three major aspects to this motion. The first focuses on increasing program funding. I must concede that the last budget did take care of that. The Conservatives decided to increase the funeral service reimbursement under the funeral and burial program from $3,600 to $7,376, but only after a massive campaign mounted by the Royal Canadian Legion on this subject. In January, I received letters from veterans in my riding who were urging me to support this motion because it is something that they have been waiting for for a very long time.
    I want to thank my colleague for moving this motion. However, let us not forget that, when the Liberals were in power, they reduced funding for Veterans Affairs Canada for five years in a row. In 1995, they made cuts to the funeral and burial program. The Chrétien Liberals reduced the estate exemption from $24,000 to $12,015. In other words, if a veteran's estate is estimated to be worth more than $12,015, the surviving spouse is not entitled to any assistance under the Last Post Fund for funeral and burial costs, which is odd, considering that that is exactly what my colleague seems to be asking for in her motion. I think that it is strange, but of course, people can change.
    The letters received pertained to this aspect in particular and prompted the Legion to launch this national campaign. I received roughly 50 letters at my office. It is nice to see that, when people band together, they can push the government to get things moving. I therefore encourage anyone who wants to mount a campaign to use this same method—to send letters to ministers or to their MPs—because that is how to get things done.
    The Royal Canadian Legion asked for three major changes, which are included in my colleague's motion: an increase in the actual amount the fund pays out to cover funeral expenses; an audit of the eligibility of low-income CF veterans; and an increase in the estate exemption to ensure that more surviving spouses are eligible for assistance.
    Last fall, I had a visit at my office from a woman whose spouse, a veteran, had unfortunately passed away. She said that she did not know what to do because she was not entitled to assistance. Her assets were around $14,000, which is below the poverty line. This woman was not rich. She lived in an apartment in Lachine. She had a car and a little money set aside. She told me it was unfortunate that the Last Post Fund could not help her. Her late husband had left her around $12,000 or $13,000.
    It is curious that, before the Liberals and before 1995, the exemption to be eligible for the Last Post Fund was $24,000, compared to the $12,000 it is now. That is half, which is what my colleague told me.

  (1140)  

    This woman was desperate, since she had just lost her husband. Her situation was very difficult. She came to see me to ask for help. Of course, I cannot give money to everyone who comes to see me. Nevertheless, I found it very difficult to deal with this. These Canadians are being told that it is too bad for them and that that is just the way it is. I find that very unfortunate. I feel very strongly about this. The grieving process is never easy.
    Veterans have represented Canada, our nation, in peacekeeping missions abroad. They have given their time to help others in war-torn countries and places where there have been natural disasters. Some have even given their lives.
    When they were young, they decided that they wanted to proudly represent their country in national or international missions, in order to help others.
    I also want to say that they do not receive enough money to have an adequate funeral. I am pleased that the Conservatives' budget doubles the funding for the Veterans Affairs Canada funeral and burial program. However, I think that we need to do more.
    I feel it is very important to broaden the program's eligibility criteria. As it now stands, today's veterans can access the program only if their death is the result of a service injury. As I was saying earlier, if veterans are financially disadvantaged but there is no proof that they died of an injury, too bad for them.
    I would like to give an example. Last fall, 20,147 applications were rejected. The member for Medicine Hat boasted about the fund, saying that it has helped approximately 13,000 people. However, last year, 14,000 applications—approximately two-thirds—were rejected. Let me reiterate that these people are in genuine need.
    It makes sense that if a person is rich, the Canadian government should not be obliged to help pay for that person's funeral or burial. However, when a low-income individual is dealing with the death of his or her spouse, partner or father, for example, it is upsetting that Veterans Affairs Canada cannot help out because the person did not die as a result of an injury.
    I am quickly running out of time, so I would like to conclude by saying that, during their campaign, Canadian army, navy and air force veterans told us what they want. For 15 years now, Canadian army, navy and air force veterans have been putting pressure on the Government of Canada, both the Conservatives and the Liberals, to resolve these shortcomings.
    At every national biennial convention since 1998, they have passed resolutions urging the government to address inadequacies in the Veterans Burial Regulations. Veterans advocacy groups have collectively applied pressure year after year, yet the gap between the necessary costs and the costs covered continues to grow. Frustrated by and disappointed in the lack of action on this issue by successive governments, members of the Royal Canadian Legion launched a letter writing campaign. That is the campaign I was talking about earlier.
    I am quickly running out of time, so I would like to conclude by saying that we will support the motion. I feel it is very worthwhile. However, I must repeat that we feel that the program has been underfunded for many years. Changes were made in March, but they were too long in coming. I am not sure that the government's approach will actually resolve the problem.

  (1145)  

    The problems with regard to program eligibility need to be fixed; the program needs to include modern-day veterans. The estate exemption needs to be increased so that more families of veterans are eligible for help.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Motion No. 422, which calls on the House to recognize that the Last Post Fund is underfunded and calls on the government to accept the recommendations of successive veterans ombudsmen who have spoken on the issue. The goal is to expand the Last Post Fund and review the assistance cap for funerals to bring it in line with the assistance given to active Canadian Forces members.
    For anyone unfamiliar with the Last Post Fund, the fund ensures that no veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial because of insufficient funds at the time of their death. Therefore, the fund provides financial assistance for the funeral and burial of eligible veterans, as well as for a gravestone. The Last Post Fund is financially supported by Veterans Affairs Canada and private donations.
    This motion is legitimate because the number of modern-day veterans needing assistance when they die is only increasing. However, many of these veterans do not have access to proper funerals or burials because of a lack of means and because the Last Post Fund eligibility criteria are too restrictive and do not reflect the true cost of a funeral.
    The eligibility criteria for modern-day Canadian Forces veterans are more restrictive than for veterans of World War II and the Korean War. Does the government think there are two classes of soldiers and two classes of veterans? All veterans deserve a dignified burial.
    As a veteran myself, I believe it is important to recognize people's service, regardless of when they served. Holding dignified funerals is essential to acknowledging the service these people rendered to our country. Generally speaking, the population is aging, and more and more seniors are finding themselves in a precarious financial situation. When they die, it is important to recognize all the work they did for our country.
    The office of the ombudsman made a number of recommendations in that regard. The most recent report is from 2009. It outlines many of the problems and concerns with the administration and funding of the funeral and burial assistance program.
    The report indicates that the level of funding for veterans' funerals has not kept pace with the rising costs of funerals and should be increased to reflect industry standards. The report suggests that the administration of funeral and burial expenses is unduly bureaucratic and that the process should be changed.
     It says that the program should be extended to all veterans. The estate exemption for the means test is not in line with present-day income and cost levels and should be increased to reflect reality. According to the report, many veterans' families are unaware of the program and it should be afforded greater exposure and visibility. Finally, the report finds that the timeframe for making application to the program is too restrictive and should be extended to allow consideration for special circumstances affecting grieving families.
    Veterans must meet certain service-related criteria to qualify for the program. Not every veteran qualifies. Veterans of the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War qualify. Other veterans qualify if the cause of death is directly attributable to service-related injuries or if they are in receipt of earning loss benefits under the new veterans charter. Their eligibility is much more restrictive, and according to veterans' rights groups, does not reflect reality.
    The Last Post Fund, the Royal Canadian Legion, the former Veterans Affairs Canada-Canadian Forces Advisory Council, and the Funeral Service Association of Canada have all called on Veterans Affairs Canada repeatedly to have the rules changed in order to offer the funeral and burial assistance program to modern-day veterans instead of providing it only to veterans who are eligible under certain programs.

  (1150)  

    The eligibility criteria exclude some modern-day veterans. That is not fair. We have heard stories of funeral directors who pay the balance of funeral costs when the family cannot afford to pay.
    Although the Conservatives have announced an increase in the amount for funerals, they have made no other changes. The Conservatives have not changed the estate exemption criteria, nor have they improved access to the program for modern-day veterans. All veterans' rights groups have been calling for these changes for almost 20 years.
    Canadian Veterans Advocacy said:

[English]

    The Canadian Veterans Advocacy, however, continues to bear serious concerns about the Last Post Fund’s restrictive criteria, particularly in the sense of exclusion of deceased veterans who did not serve in WW2 and Korea yet who’s [sic] families require financial assistance for a dignified internment. We are gravely concerned about the current Means Test and the formula responsible for the denial of two thirds of applicants...

[Translation]

    Two-thirds of applicants. That is really sad because we are talking about veterans. This means that two-thirds of veterans are denied a decent funeral.
     As a country and as parliamentarians, we have to ask ourselves if this is the kind of service we want to provide to our veterans. Do we want only one-third of veterans to have decent funerals? I think we really need to look at this issue and also at eligibility for the program.
    Jeff Rose-Martland, president of the organization Our Duty, also said that the measures implemented to date have not fixed the bulk of the problem. He said, “The major problem with the funeral and burial program is the rejection rate. They reject over two-thirds of applicants. There is nothing in the budget about fixing that. The Last Post Fund doesn’t cover so-called “modern” veterans—those from Afghanistan and peacekeeping and the Cold War. Budget 2013 doesn’t remedy that either.”
    He also said, “Changes in the 2013 budget are just smoke and mirrors. The government put more money into a fund that cannot be accessed anyway. It is a distraction so they do not have to make the changes needed. That way the Conservatives appear to be doing something when, in reality, they are ignoring the litany of complaints about the program.”
    This motion calls on the government to commit to addressing this situation, which all veterans have decried for years. I think it is really important to do this.
    I hope that most of my hon. colleagues have had the opportunity to participate in ceremonies attended by veterans side by side with personnel on active duty.
     A close look at our retired veterans tells us they were awarded a large number of medals. Knowing the meaning of these medals makes us realize they served in many places. However, the Korean War and World War II are not necessarily represented in the medals. Is this what should happen to modern-day veterans as well? There have been several military tours for missions in the current Bosnia-Herzegovina or the former Yugoslavia. In addition, some veterans also served in Egypt, while others participated in several overseas missions.
    In my view it is important that these veterans be entitled to a decent funeral if they pass away within 20 or 30 years of service. Indeed, we hope it is as late as possible.
    I feel it is crucial to keep modern-day veterans in mind, like those who served in Afghanistan for example, so that they know that regardless of when death comes, in either a few or many years, they are entitled to a proper funeral.
    This is the least a country like Canada can do for its veterans.

  (1155)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to conclude the debate on my private member's Motion No. 422, which is meant to improve on the Last Post Fund.
    I will start by acknowledging those colleagues who have spoken in support of this motion and have recognized the importance of it not just for our veterans but for their families and all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
    I will also mention the very partisan remarks made earlier today by the member for Durham. I have no idea where that came from. In fact, I was astounded by some of the remarks.
    Let me say that this is far from a partisan issue. This is an issue that impacts on those who have given so much on behalf of all of us. They are the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice, who have fought in wars since time immemorial. When it comes to our veterans, this is not the place to debate partisan politics and political issues.
    I support the Royal Canadian Legion, and I want to acknowledge all the work its members have done to enhance the Last Post Fund. They had a letter-writing campaign, which happened to coincide with the introduction of my private member's motion. They worked very hard and wrote to everyone they could possibly think of and encouraged others to get involved in their letter-writing campaign. The Legions from coast to coast to coast have been writing to all members of Parliament. My motion supports their efforts.
     Motion No. 422 is meant to support the efforts of members of the Royal Canadian Legion. It is meant to support our veterans. Any suggestion that there is a partisan issue here or that this is being done for political reasons is totally unfair. I really take exception to that. However, I do not want to waste any more time on that, because it is not what this motion is about.
    This motion is about doing what is right. It is about recognizing what our veterans have done. It is about ensuring that when they die, they have a dignified burial and funeral. That is the sole purpose of this motion.
    I want to thank the government for what it did in terms of increasing the amount of money available for a veteran's burial from $3,600 to just over $7,000. I applaud the government for doing that. Unfortunately, the government did not consult the Last Post Fund, because if it had, it would have realized that, of course, it is still too little.
    Someone serving today who is unfortunately killed in the line of duty would be entitled to about $14,000 for a funeral. Clearly, the $7,000, while accepted and welcome, because it is double the amount that existed, is certainly not enough to cover the total cost of a funeral. What happens is that families who can ill afford to do so end up picking up the additional cost. In some cases, funeral directors have picked up the cost knowing that the families could not incur the additional hardship. Most of these funeral directors have small businesses, and we are asking them to cover the added expenses out of their own pockets.
    To those who suggest that the Last Post Fund is working, it is not. I point to the fact that over 66% of applicants were denied. Over 20,000 veterans were denied access to the Last Post Fund.
    I will conclude by putting a personal face on this issue. Motion No. 422 is about veterans such as Mr. Hedley Lake, from Fortune, in my riding of Random—Burin—St. George's. He was born in 1918, and after growing up on the family farm, joined the Royal Canadian Navy and served during World War II. When the ship he was on was hit by torpedo in the middle of the night and sank, he found himself in the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean clinging to a lifeboat, which was already filled to capacity, for hours. He soldiered on, and after being rescued, went back overseas to the shores of Normandy. Following Normandy, he volunteered to go to the Pacific, but he was denied, because it was deemed that he had spent enough time on the front lines. Mr. Lake spent the remainder of the war in Raleigh. Following the war, he married and continued to work on the farm. He worked at a fish plant at night. Finally, he was able to build a home for his family.

  (1200)  

    This motion is about these the types of individuals. These are our veterans. I ask all members of the House of Commons to put aside any political partisanship and vote in support of Motion No. 422 for our veterans and their families.

[Translation]

     The time provided for debate has expired.

[English]

    The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members:: No.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): In my opinion the nays have it.
    And five or more members having risen:
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Pursuant to an order made Wednesday, May 22, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 29 at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act

    The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-2, an act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
    There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

  (1205)  

Hon. Julian Fantino (for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development)  
     moved that the bill be concurred in.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): In my opinion the yeas have it.
    And five or more members having risen:
    Mr. Speaker, I would ask that the vote be deferred to Tuesday, May 28 at 9:30 p.m.
    The acting opposition whip has asked for a deferral. However, according to the Standing Orders of the House, a recorded division on a motion to concur in a bill at report stage, while being a non-debatable motion, can only be deferred on a Friday. As such, it is not possible for it to be deferred at this point.
    Mr. Speaker, I wonder if I could seek unanimous consent to see the calendar as Friday.
    Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Call in the members.

  (1245)  

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

(Division No. 695)

YEAS

Members

Ablonczy
Adler
Aglukkaq
Albas
Albrecht
Alexander
Allen (Tobique—Mactaquac)
Allison
Ambler
Ambrose
Anders
Armstrong
Ashfield
Aspin
Baird
Blaney
Block
Boughen
Breitkreuz
Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Newmarket—Aurora)
Butt
Calandra
Cannan
Carmichael
Carrie
Chisu
Chong
Clarke
Clement
Crockatt
Daniel
Davidson
Dechert
Del Mastro
Devolin
Dreeshen
Duncan (Vancouver Island North)
Dykstra
Fantino
Fast
Findlay (Delta—Richmond East)
Galipeau
Gallant
Glover
Goguen
Goodyear
Gourde
Grewal
Harris (Cariboo—Prince George)
Hawn
Hayes
Hiebert
Hoback
Holder
James
Jean
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's)
Kenney (Calgary Southeast)
Kerr
Komarnicki
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
Lauzon
Lebel
Leitch
Lemieux
Leung
Lizon
Lobb
Lukiwski
Lunney
MacKay (Central Nova)
MacKenzie
Mayes
McColeman
McLeod
Menegakis
Menzies
Merrifield
Miller
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Norlock
O'Connor
Oliver
O'Neill Gordon
Opitz
O'Toole
Paradis
Payne
Poilievre
Preston
Rajotte
Reid
Rempel
Richards
Rickford
Ritz
Saxton
Seeback
Shea
Shipley
Shory
Smith
Sopuck
Stanton
Strahl
Sweet
Tilson
Toews
Trost
Trottier
Truppe
Tweed
Uppal
Van Kesteren
Van Loan
Wallace
Warawa
Watson
Weston (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country)
Weston (Saint John)
Wilks
Wong
Woodworth
Yelich
Young (Oakville)
Zimmer

Total: -- 128

NAYS

Members

Allen (Welland)
Andrews
Angus
Atamanenko
Bélanger
Bennett
Blanchette
Blanchette-Lamothe
Boivin
Boulerice
Boutin-Sweet
Brison
Brosseau
Caron
Casey
Cash
Charlton
Chicoine
Chisholm
Choquette
Cleary
Côté
Cotler
Crowder
Cullen
Cuzner
Davies (Vancouver Kingsway)
Day
Dewar
Dionne Labelle
Donnelly
Doré Lefebvre
Dubé
Duncan (Etobicoke North)
Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona)
Dusseault
Easter
Eyking
Foote
Fortin
Freeman
Garneau
Garrison
Genest
Genest-Jourdain
Giguère
Goodale
Gravelle
Groguhé
Harris (St. John's East)
Hsu
Hughes
Hyer
Julian
Kellway
Lamoureux
Lapointe
Larose
Latendresse
Laverdière
Leslie
MacAulay
Mai
Marston
Martin
Mathyssen
May
McCallum
Michaud
Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue)
Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine)
Morin (Laurentides—Labelle)
Mourani
Mulcair
Murray
Nash
Nicholls
Nunez-Melo
Papillon
Péclet
Perreault
Quach
Rae
Rankin
Ravignat
Regan
Sandhu
Scott
Sellah
Sgro
Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor)
Sims (Newton—North Delta)
Stewart
Stoffer
Toone
Tremblay
Trudeau
Turmel
Valeriote

Total: -- 99

PAIRED

Nil

    I declare the motion carried.
    When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave, now?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
Hon. Peter Van Loan (for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development)  
     moved that bill be read the third time and passed.
    Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to split my time with the member for Miramichi.
    Does the hon. Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women have the unanimous consent of the House to split her time?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill S-2, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act. Bill S-2 would remove a factor that contributes in no small way to violence against women living in many first nation communities. The proposed legislation would give these women similar legal protection to that enjoyed by other Canadian women and the same legal tools and mechanisms that other Canadian women use to prevent and combat abuse and violence, particularly from spouses or common-law partners.
    For many years, debates in Parliament about this issue have focused on the legislative gap: the fact that no effective law has existed for more than 25 years since a Supreme Court decision ruled that provincial matrimonial real property law cannot be applied in first nations communities, yet the truth of the matter is that this is much more than a legal issue for countless women. It is about pain and suffering, victimization and injustice. For many women, it is also about survival, courage and resolve.
    When I consider the issues surrounding Bill S-2, I look through the prism of these ideas, the individual experiences of Canadians who have fallen victim to a legislative gap. Theirs is typically a harsh reality of impossible choices. An abusive husband threatens to evict his wife and children from their family home in a first nation community. She cannot leave with the children because they have no place else to go. If she stays, they will all suffer physical and emotional trauma. There is no law that would allow her to stay in the family home with her children. It is a miserable and awful truth lived by some Canadians each and every day.
    During its review of the legislation now before us, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women heard from a number of witnesses, including Ron Swain. Mr. Swain is the vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. He is also an ex-police officer who recently retired after more than two decades on the job. During his testimony, he recalled a particular incident that was typical of what was experienced dozens of times during domestic disputes on reserves:
     Usually, a big fight takes place, the police are called, the police show up, and whoever is the perpetrator or the offender gets arrested and taken away.
     I can give you an example...going back a few years [where that] individual happened to be from that community, and he was with a Métis girl who wasn't from that community and didn't have band membership or wasn't part of the band. Once the person was released from custody, he went to the chief and council. Within a very short time, a band council resolution was passed, and then he had control and custody of that building, the house, the matrimonial home.
     They were in a common-law relationship at that time. She had some children but not from that relationship. She was basically forced to leave that community. There was no separation of property. She basically had no rights...she was escorted off that community with just the clothes on her back and with her children.
    Ron Swain's testimony cuts to the heart of the issue. Until effective legislation is in place, the vast majority of Canadians who live on reserve will be vulnerable to this type of abuse, and there is not a court in the land that can help them.
     The standing committee also heard from Jennifer Courchene, a first nation woman who survived a similar situation: her husband evicted her and their children from their family home. In part of her testimony, she said:
    When I went to court, the judge did want to help us. He said he would...if he could, but he couldn't. He said his hands were tied.
    She also stated:
     There are probably many, many other women who have gone through what I've gone through, and the story is pretty much the same: the woman loses the home...[and] if there had been something to help us, we would have taken it, rather than be homeless, that's for sure.
    Bill S-2 would close the legislative gap that continues to cause harm. The proposed legislation would give Jennifer Courchene and the thousands of women like her the legal protection they so rightly deserve, protection similar to what the law affords women who live off reserves, women like me.
     As my hon. colleagues should recognize, the proposed legislation would feature a two-part solution. The first part would authorize Canada to recognize laws developed and endorsed by first nations communities. The second part is the provisional federal rules that would apply in those communities that have yet to develop laws related to matrimonial real property rights and interests. The federal rules would not take effect until 12 months after Bill S-2 became law. The end result would be laws to protect the matrimonial rights and interests of all Canadians, regardless of where they live. The provisional federal rules would give victims of abuse or violence access to two tried and true legal tools to defend themselves: emergency protection orders and exclusive occupation orders.

  (1250)  

    Currently the law does not provide people who live in the majority of first nation communities with access to these orders, yet these orders are widely credited with saving the lives of thousands of people, typically women facing violent, abusive spouses or common-law partners.
    These orders, the provisional federal rules and the rest of Bill S-2 are designed to ensure that Canadians who live on reserve have similar matrimonial real property rights and protections to those of Canadians who live off reserve.
    The proposed legislation would promote the safety of children and caregivers who experience family violence. It would enable children to remain in their home and benefit from the stability that this provides: the connection with the community and extended family and access to services, schools and special programs. In the event of separation or divorce, Bill S-2 would also ensure that matrimonial assets are divided in an equitable manner.
    The importance of these points cannot be overemphasized. Children who witness violence between their parents are more likely to end up in violent relationships when they grow up. The proposed legislation would help break this cycle.
    Most first nations women do not have access to the legal protections and tools available to other Canadian women. Women who live off the reserve can secure legal remedies, such as court orders. For women in abusive relationships, these orders are vital tools they can use to protect themselves and their children. The orders also serve as powerful deterrents to would-be abusers.
    Bill S-2 would help prevent violence against women. I urge my hon. colleagues to consider the matter from the perspective of a woman who lives on a reserve with a physically abusive spouse. If they do, I fully expect they will be joining me in voting in favour of the proposed legislation.
    Mr. Speaker, as a member of the aboriginal affairs committee, I certainly know how important this legislation would be for women living on reserve.
    I want to ask a specific question about where the protection is for children involved in these situations. Having access to the extended matrimonial home is so important.
    I know that Bill S-2, in addition to providing access to emergency protection orders, would also allow the court to consider these factors to provide extended exclusive occupation and access to the family or matrimonial home, which is something that ordinarily happens for women who live off reserve.
    Could the member please comment on that and how important this is?

  (1255)  

    Mr. Speaker, emergency protection orders are often the initial procedure in a relationship breakup, which would be followed by application for exclusive occupation and valuation.
    During the time period of the emergency protection order, the spouse or common-law partner could apply for exclusive occupation of the family home.
    The federal provisional rules in Bill S-2 would enable the court to provide short- to long-term occupancy of the family home to the exclusion of one of the spouses or common-law partners. The duration of this order could range from a determined number of days to a longer period, such as until dependent children reach the age of majority. This provision would help ensure that spouses or common-law partners who are primarily caregivers would have access to housing for their children and or dependent adults.
    The period of time that may be identified in an exclusive occupation order granted to a non-first nation individual by a judge under Bill S-2 would be defined, not open-ended. Judges may be asked to determine, as they do in similar proceedings off reserve, the appropriate duration of an exclusive occupation order.
    Bill S-2 would require that the judge, in considering an application for an exclusive occupation order, take into account certain factors.
    Mr. Speaker, I know the member opposite is aware that we heard testimony around other issues, in particular the fact that there is a crisis in housing, a severe housing shortage on reserves, that there is no access to legal aid, that there is no funding to develop alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and that there does not appear—and this is part of what I would like the member to address—to be money attached to provide the kinds of supports that would be required to the provincial court systems because they do not have the intimate knowledge about the complex land codes that are on reserves.
    I wonder if the member opposite could tell us exactly how much money would be made available to first nations communities to, first of all, implement this piece of legislation and, second, to develop their own matrimonial real property codes.
    Mr. Speaker, some of the funding would be put in place through the centre of excellence. It is approximately $4.8 million, which we discussed at committee when the member opposite was there.
    This is about helping women and children. Matrimonial real property, or the family home, is the most valuable piece of property a couple on a reserve owns. Upon the breakdown of a marriage, the division of the property affects all involved: both spouses, their children, their families and, by extension, the broader community.
    Bill S-2 proposes to eliminate a longstanding legislative gap that creates inequality and leaves aboriginal women vulnerable. Women, children and families living on reserve have been waiting more than 25 years for this legislation. There has been extensive consultation and a clear demand for it. If passed by Parliament, Bill S-2 would do much to protect some of the most vulnerable people in Canadian society, specifically women and children living in first nation communities.
    Our government believes that family violence, wherever it occurs, should not be tolerated and that the rights of individuals and families to an equal division of the property value of the home must be protected. We know that aboriginal women and children cannot wait any longer for access to the same rights and protections that we have on this side of the House and they have on their side of the House.
    Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to show my support for Bill S-2, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act. I stand in favour of the bill and urge all members in the House to stand with me.
    First, however, I want to say that I am appalled by the fact that the need for this legislation still exists in 2013. Everywhere else in Canada there is legal protection when a marriage or common-law relationship breaks down or a spouse or common-law partner dies except on reserves. Provincial legislation ensures that matrimonial real property assets are distributed equitably, for instance, and that children and spouses are protected. But there are no similar family laws to speak of in first nations communities.
    Provincial and territorial real property law cannot be applied on reserves. This ruling was made by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1986 in two landmark cases, Paul v. Paul and Derrickson v. Derrickson.
    At the same time, the Indian Act is silent on this issue. It does not address on-reserve matrimonial interests or rights at all. This unacceptable and long-standing legislative gap means that people who live on reserves have no recourse of any kind when disputes over property or other issues arise following the breakdown of a relationship. This means that a spouse who holds the interest in an on-reserve family home can sell the home without the consent of the other spouse and keep all the money. A spouse who holds the interests in a family home can bar the other spouse from an on-reserve family home.
    In cases of domestic violence and physical abuse, a court cannot order the spouse who holds the interests in the on-reserve family home to leave the home, even on a temporary basis. This situation has led to insecurity, financial hardship and homelessness for many aboriginal women and children in Canada.
    I would like to bring the attention of my hon. colleagues back to Bill S-2 because at the heart of the proposed legislation is access to basic human rights and protections. Bill S-2 is about ensuring that married or common-law couples living on a reserve have access to the same rights and protections afforded to all other Canadians in case of death of a spouse or a breakup of a relationship.
    The proposed legislation has been informed by many years of study, analyses, reports and significant collaborations. The groups that have contributed include the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, provinces and territories, and multiple parliamentary standing committees among others. Thanks to these contributions, the legislation now before us proposes a balanced and effective solution. Bill S-2 consists of two parts. Part 1 is an opportunity for first nations to establish their own communities' specific laws on matrimonial rights and interests, which may be based on their culture and traditions and which respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act as applicable.
    Twelve months after Bill S-2 comes into force, part 2 would come into effect. This part provides provisional federal rules on matrimonial rights and interests. These rules would apply only to communities that have not enacted their own laws in this area under Bill S-2 or other legislation. The key word here is “provisional”. The federal rules would cease to apply once a first nation enacts its own laws as provided for in Bill S-2, the first nations land management act, or pursuant to a self-government agreement enacted through legislation. Bill S-2 provides matrimonial real property rights and protections after relationship breakdown including opportunities to access protection for children and their caregivers in situations of family violence. It would provide for continued access to the family home for women and their children in cases where a spouse is being violent.

  (1300)  

    The bill would also make it possible for those living on reserve to access important legal instruments, such as emergency protection orders and exclusive occupation orders.
    To support implementation of this legislation, the government has pledged a public awareness campaign, training and education for front-line policing and justice personnel, and the establishment of a centre of excellence to assist first nations in developing their own laws that meet the needs of their communities.
    I expect that everyone in the House can see that the goal of Bill S-2 is to provide men, women, children and families who live on reserves with similar rights and protections that the law affords other Canadians. The legislation now before us offers a long overdue resolution to an urgent bill. Bill S-2 is informed by the work of parliamentary standing committees and the research of independent groups, all of whom recommended legislation similar to what is now before us.
    The fact remains that there are individuals and families who have no recourse when a marriage breaks down. They have no legal protection. We cannot continue to condone and accept that the rights of on-reserve residents, especially those of innocent children, are not protected, simply because of where they live. Quite simply, this bill is about ensuring that all Canadians, whether they live on or off reserve, have access to similar protections and rights when it comes to family homes, matrimonial interests, security and safety.
    Shamefully, for 13 long years, the Liberals did nothing to address this issue. I am proud to say that our government is standing up for women, children and aboriginal people across Canada. We know that aboriginal women and children cannot wait any longer to access these same rights and protections. Aboriginal women, international organizations and even the Manitoba NDP have all called for this change.
    Bill S-2, first and foremost, is about protecting women, men and children who live on reserve. Providing them with basic protections for matrimonial real property interests and rights is something that needs to be done and it needs to be done now. It is shameful that the members of the opposition would vote against rights to protect women and children in situations of family violence. Why do the members opposite think that aboriginal women should have less protection than they themselves have? It is time to do the honourable thing and support the proposed legislation that would do just that.
    I urge my hon. colleagues to stand up for the rights for on-reserve residents and endorse Bill S-2.

  (1305)  

    Mr. Speaker, I can tell the House what is shameful is the fact that the Conservative government refuses to recognize first nations jurisdiction. First nations communities actually have jurisdiction over their own communities.
    She mentions the fact that--
    That is shameful. That is not right.
    Unbelievable.
    The women have the same rights as you. Aboriginal women should have the same rights as you.
    Mr. Speaker, she can wait for her turn to make her speech.
    The colleague across the way did mention that there are first nations communities that actually have a matrimonial real property act--
    Laws are not restricted to the reserves.
    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health cannot keep her mouth shut at this point, so I would just say that they know full well that first nations communities can actually have jurisdictions within their own areas. Some have already proven it.
    Instead, why will they not address the concerns of access to justice and dispute resolutions and remedies to address that?
    Mr. Speaker, I have to assure everyone in the House that we have an obligation to listen and to represent all of these people. We have heard witnesses and all these people at our meetings and that is exactly what we are doing. We are moving forward.
    This bill would allow the first nations to enact laws regarding on-reserve matrimonial real property. This legislation is not about inherent rights and it does not define any right to self-government. Including a statement of recognition that the first nations have inherent jurisdiction over matrimonial real property would raise questions about the nature of this right, its scope and content and who holds the right. This in turn could lead to uncertainty over jurisdiction and litigation of these issues.
    The government is of the view that the implementation of a right to self-government is best achieved through negotiation.
    Mr. Speaker, we need to be clear that there is an obligation for the federal government to work with our first nations in developing legislation.
    My question is a fairly straightforward, simple question for the member. Can the member provide to the House any indication of what first nations communities were consulted prior to the legislation being brought to the Senate? Did the government actually consult and work with our first nations leadership in coming up with the legislation we have before us?

  (1310)  

    Mr. Speaker, I assure the member opposite that we are taking a leadership role in this issue. I ask the member opposite to get on board and support this important issue.
    He asked with whom we were speaking. In 2006, our government initiated an extensive consultative process that included over 100 meetings in 76 sites across Canada at a cost of over $8 million to taxpayers. This helped lead us to the legislation we have here today. It is time to move forward. There is no time to sit back and not allow this to happen. As a result of these measures and on further consultation with first nations, a 12-month transition period was added before the federal provisional rules come into force.
    The government recognizes that some first nations are well advanced in developing their own laws and transition periods. The transition periods would provide time to enact their laws under this legislation before the provisional federal rules take effect.
    Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I rise to speak to this piece of legislation today.
    We have heard the members of the Conservative Party characterize this as an urgent situation. I need to point out—
    Hon. Leona Aglukkaq: It is.
    Ms. Jean Crowder:The Minister of Health is continuing to heckle in the background about how it is.
    Mr. Speaker, one of the things that I want to point out is that Bill S-2 was passed in the Senate back in December 2011. Here we are in the spring of 2013, finally debating it here in the House. If it was so urgent, first, why did the Conservatives not introduce that piece of legislation here in the House where we could have the kind of debate that is required, and second, why have they waited so long to bring it forward?
    Once they decided that the House should actually debate the bill, they then invoked time allocation so that we could not have a full debate in the House. Then they moved a motion at the status of women committee limiting the time that we could call witnesses.
    Contrary to what the members opposite have portrayed, what we actually heard from a number of witnesses is some very grave concerns with this piece of legislation.
    First, let us recap this situation.
    It was not urgent enough to bring it forward for a timely debate. It was not worth the kind of deliberation and consideration that the House should be taking because the Conservatives invoked time allocation, both in the House and at committee. They disrespectfully shut down witnesses and did not allow the opposition an opportunity to question key witnesses, such as the Native Women's Association of Canada. They are expecting us to just roll over for a piece of legislation that will not achieve what they are claiming it would achieve.
    One of the things the Conservatives like to assert is that this bill is about protecting aboriginal women against violence, but I have to point out to the Minister of Health is that the bill does not talk about violence against aboriginal women. It talks about family violence, which is mentioned eight times only, and only in the context of emergency protection orders. Just because one says it is so does not make it happen.
    If the government were truly serious about tackling the issues about violence against aboriginal women, it would endorse Motion No. 444, put forward by the member for Churchill, which calls upon the government to:
...develop, in collaboration, with the provinces, territories, civil society and First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and their representatives, a coordinated National Action Plan to Address Violence Against Women, which would include: (a) initiatives to address socio-economic factors...; (b) policies to prevent violence against women...; (c) benchmarks for measuring progress...
    and so on.
    There is a whole series of very concrete steps that the government could take if it were serious about dealing with violence against aboriginal women and children, but instead, it continues to put forward the empty words that would not keep women and children safe.
    I also need to point out that many people recognize that matrimonial real property is a family and a community issue and that it is absolutely something we should be tackling. The problem is that the solution that the government puts forward is, as always, going to fall far short.
    In a letter we sent to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, we outlined the concerns we have with the bill. I will read this letter into the record:
    I wanted to express the profound concerns of the New Democratic Party regarding the current government's approach in dealing with the legislative gap related to matrimonial real property rights and interests on reserve.
    During committee hearings on matrimonial real property (MRP) legislation currently before the House, we heard legal experts, First Nations' representatives and women's organizations speak against the current approach because they do not believe it will protect women from violence while also infringing on the collective inherent rights that women hold as members of individual First Nations.
    In order to successfully address the issue of MRP, a collaborative process is necessary so that an appropriate and effective solution can be found that is supported by all stakeholders.
    I would like to propose to you that we work on a new approach to MRP following all of the recommendations proposed by the Ministerial representative that would respect First Nations' jurisdiction and the principles of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (to which Canada is a signatory).
    To ensure full participation a key aspect of this approach is meaningful consultation on any proposed legislative solution, not just consultation on the principle or issue the legislation is intended to address.

  (1315)  

    Any MRP legislation should also be accompanied by non-legislative remedies to serious problems, including:
     Timely access to remedy;
    Ending violence against Aboriginal women through a national action plan;
    Addressing the housing crisis on reserves including funding for women's' shelters;
    Better access to justice including increased funding to legal aid especially to remote communities;
    Increased financial resources to support First Nation governments to actually implement new process; and
    Access to alternative dispute resolution.
    In order to promote the process of reconciliation mandated by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, we hope that you will follow up with us on this new way forward.
    There is another way that matrimonial real property could be addressed. However, sadly, what we have here is a Conservative government track record of ramming through legislation without seriously looking at the consequences.
    While I have the floor, I also need to correct the record around the Manitoba NDP. We hear members talk about this consistently.
    In the Manitoba Hansard of December 6, 2012, the Attorney General of Manitoba made this clear:
...we can't deny the fact there are serious concerns that have been raised by people across this country about the process by which this bill was created, the content of the bill and then the subsequent impact of this bill on First Nations....
    The Conservatives fail to tell people that it was a private member's motion that was introduced by a Conservative. Of course people support the principle of matrimonial real property, but as is clearly outlined by the Attorney General in Manitoba, they have grave concerns about this particular approach to it.
    One of the witnesses who came before the committee was the Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The Acting Chief Commissioner posed three very important questions that I would argue the Conservative bill fails to address.
    First, the acting Commissioner asked, “Will the proposed legislation provide women with fair access to justice?” The second question was “Will the proposed legislation ensure women will be able to access their rights in a safe way?” and the third was “Do first nations communities have the capacity they need to develop and implement their own matrimony real property systems, and if not, what can be done to correct this problem?”
    I would say that to all three of those questions, the answer would be no.
    With regard to fair access to justice, the members opposite like to say that because we will make legislation, somehow or other fair access to justice will be in place. Well, we know that first nations in reserve communities have virtually no access to legal aid, and second, when it comes to getting to courts or having access to the court system, it is very difficult.
    One woman from Quebec told us that when she was going to court, she had to travel in the same vehicle as the spouse she was separating from. There was no transportation to where the court system was and there was no money to provide for both parties in the dispute to go to court, so they had to travel in the same vehicle.
    In terms of fair access to justice, there have to be legal remedies available, the court system has to be accessible for people, particularly in rural and remote communities, and some education and training should go into the court systems.
    We have heard members opposite also talk about the centre for excellence. Let us think about it for one moment in terms of fair access to justice.
    The Conservatives are saying that this centre of excellent would provide tools and resources for first nation communities who want to develop their own matrimonial real properly codes. This sounds pretty good. We would support that. However, in one year, first nation communities are not going to have access to the resources and tools they are going to need to have that code in place by the end of the year, because what has to happen is a very respectful process in order to develop that code.
    The Acting Chief Commissioner's second question was “Will the proposed legislation ensure women will be able to access their rights in a safe way?”
    We heard from a number of witnesses, and it was in the ministerial representative's report, that there are no non-legislative remedies attached to this piece of legislation. In terms of being able to access rights in a safe way, I want to talk about non-legislative remedies.

  (1320)  

    We understand there is a housing crisis in many communities. We also understand that in many communities, generations of families are living in one house. If a court order says one person or another will have the house, what happens to the rest of the family members who are living in that house? Where will they go if, for example, they happen to be related to the spouse who is not able to live in that house anymore? Where will people go on reserves where there are already very serious problems with housing?
    The Acting Chief Commissioner's third question was “Do first nations communities have the capacity they need to develop and implement their own matrimonial real property systems...?”
    It comes as no surprise that there is no money in this legislation and that the likelihood of first nations communities being able to develop their matrimonial real property codes in a timely way is nonexistent. The NDP proposed an amendment to this legislation that the coming into force be changed from one year to three years to allow an adequate period of time for first nations to develop their own matrimonial real property codes. If the government were serious, it would support first nations having the time and resources to develop these codes.
    When the Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission appeared before committee, he referenced a tool kit for developing community-based dispute resolution processes in first nations communities. Although this tool kit is about alternative dispute resolution, it would be useful in terms of providing support and some guidelines for first nations who want to develop their own codes. As well, it was developed in conjunction with a number of first nations communities, so it has cultural relevancy and an understanding of the process in communities. The tool kit references article 34 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It says:
    Indigenous peoples have the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures and their distinctive customs, spirituality, traditions, procedures, practices and, in the cases where they exist, juridical systems or customs, in accordance with international human rights standards.
    That would seem to be a very good starting point in terms of developing matrimonial real property codes.
    The tool kit goes on to say that there are four stages to developing an alternative dispute resolution. They could also be used in developing matrimonial real property codes. They include “leadership, values and principles; capacity-building for development and engaging your community; developing your community's dispute resolution model; and implementation, monitoring and continuous improvement”.
    The tool kit talks about the fact that developing these kinds of processes can also be an educational process within the community.
    It goes on to talk about developing a regional dispute resolution process that could provide reduced costs for human and financial resources for all of the communities involved, the opportunity to begin developing a broader aboriginal human rights system and the chance to demonstrate how equality principles are being implemented in the community. With the appropriate time and resources, it is quite possible that the matrimonial real property codes that could be developed within first nations would more reflect their own customs, practices and traditions.
    There are a number of problems with this legislation. I know I am not going to have time to go through every one of them, but I want to touch on a couple.
    One is the whole issue around property. I sometimes wonder if the members opposite actually understand the complexities of the land codes that are facing first nations communities.
    The briefing document that was provided to committee, Issue Paper No. 7, talks about how housing on reserve:
...varies among First Nations in terms of policies, rules and customs. Housing may be divided into two broad categories, including “band-owned” housing, consisting of an estimated two-thirds to three-quarters of all housing on reserve, and “individually-owned” housing. Band-owned or individually-owned housing allocations may be applied in nearly any combination to the broad range of landholdings on reserves, whether individually-held (e.g. individual with a Certificate of Possession) or communal (First Nation social housing on general band lands).
    It also goes on to say:
    Many First Nation families rent homes on reserves from their First Nation or from another First Nation member. The interests or rights of individuals renting on reserves are not as clear as those off reserves, nor are the regulatory powers of band councils that rent housing, because provincial tenancy statutes likely do not apply.
    So here we have this very complex system of housing on reserve. To say that Bill S-2 would somehow or other allocate housing based on an off-reserve housing model simply is not going to wash.
    Members opposite continuously point out that this legislation would make first nations women's lives better. As is pointed out by Issue Paper No. 10 on gender-based analysis, that may actually not be the case, and women may in fact be disadvantaged by this legislation. It says:
    Because women are more likely to be caregivers of dependent children and/or adults, men may be less likely to retain occupation of the family home on breakdown of a conjugal relationship. As a result, more women than men may be required to financially compensate their spouse or common-law partner for their share of the family home.

  (1325)  

    That could be a problem for many women. They may be women who work in the home and do not have access to any additional income. They may be women who are underemployed, or they may simply not have been able to put away money that would allow them to buy their family homes from their spouses.
    One of the measures called for in the ministerial representative's report is access to a compensation fund that would allow men or women to buy out their spouses. None of that is included in this particular piece of legislation.
    One issue pointed out in the ministerial representative's report was that first nations could be placed in a Catch-22 situation in which they would be held to the same standard as provincial governments but would not have the resources and capacity to achieve it. There is nothing in this legislation that addresses that.
    There are a number of other issues I would like to cover in terms of non-legislative measures. However, I will not be able to do that in the limited time available.
    Therefore, I move:
    That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House decline to give third reading to Bill S-2, An Act respecting family homes situated on First nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, because it:
(a) is primarily a Bill about the division of property on reserve but the Standing Committee on the Status of Women did not focus on this primary purpose during its deliberations;
(b) fails to implement the ministerial representative recommendation for a collaborative approach to development and implementing legislation;
(c) does not recognize First Nations jurisdiction or provide the resources necessary to implement this law;
(d) fails to provide alternative dispute resolution mechanisms at the community level;
(e) does not provide access to justice, especially in remote communities;
(f) does not deal with the need for non-legislative measures to reduce violence against Aboriginal women;
(g) makes provincial court judges responsible for adjudicating land codes for which they have had no training or experience in dealing with; and
(h) does not address underlying issues, such as access to housing and economic security that underlie the problems on-reserve in dividing matrimonial property.
    The amendment is in order. Questions and comments, the hon. Minister of Health.

  (1330)  

    Mr. Speaker, as an aboriginal person, what I know for sure is that the NDP and the Liberals do not support equal rights for non-aboriginal and aboriginal women.
    The legislation is very simple. It is about equality of non-aboriginal and aboriginal people when it comes to matrimonial rights. The members can come up with a laundry list of all the excuses around tool kits, infrastructure and what have you. I am sure that they have gone through the process of coming up with excuses not to support something as simple as equality.
    Aboriginal women have been waiting for this legislation for a very long time. They deserve the same rights as non-aboriginal women in Canada.
    When it came to the matrimonial rights of non-aboriginal women, did the Liberals and the NDP come up with a laundry list to not support the rights they take for granted as non-aboriginal people when it comes to matrimonial rights?
    Mr. Speaker, it is quite sad that the Minister of Health stands and asks a question like that when, instead, what the Minister of Health should be talking about are the kinds of investments the NDP for years has been calling for to actually protect aboriginal women and children on reserves.
    I want to again reference the national action plan on violence against women the member for Churchill has proposed. The government has stalled any kind of inquiry on violence and on the murdered and missing aboriginal women and children in this country. The government has refused to allow the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to conduct an inquiry on violence against aboriginal women and the murdered and missing aboriginal women.
    The government has failed to look for remedies in terms of access to legal aid, access to alternative dispute resolution, access to adequate housing and access to transition shelters. If the government were truly serious about equality, it would implement some of the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review report. The government has no legs to stand on when it talks about equality.
    Mr. Speaker, I am wondering if the member would provide some comment on the Government of Canada's obligation to meet with the leadership of first nations communities in developing legislation. It is not for the government, on its own, to go to the House of Commons or the Senate and say what it wants and to then impose it. There is an obligation to work with first nations to come up with legislation that makes sense and that has wide support among first nations leaders. Would she not agree with that statement?
    Mr. Speaker, there have been numerous Supreme Court decisions that have reaffirmed the duty to consult, but the duty to consult does not stop at the duty to consult. It is the duty to consult and accommodate.
    Government members will say that they have spoken to people. That is great, except that what they then did was disregard what they heard. The ministerial representative, who was hired by the former aboriginal affairs minister, Jim Prentice, a number of years ago, did a thorough analysis of what was required in the legislation and the process for it. The government has largely disregarded what its own ministerial representative recommended.
    Then there is article 19 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which talks about free, prior and informed consent. The government, after much pressure, became a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and then promptly disregarded its obligations under it.
    The member is absolutely correct. The government has not only the duty to consult but a duty to accommodate. It also has a fiduciary responsibility such that when it puts forward legislation like this, first nations actually have the tools and resources they need to implement the legislation.

  (1335)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, we heard from the member for Miramichi, the parliamentary secretary and now the Minister of Health, both in committee and here in the House.
    In terms of the legislation itself, this bill has a huge flaw, specifically concerning common-law spouses in some provinces such as Quebec and Saskatchewan, if I am not mistaken. In fact, the law is unenforceable in cases where spouses do not have access to property rights under provincial legislation. That is a serious problem. It means that this bill can hardly be described as equal or fair.
    Another important point is the fact that first nations have spoken out against this bill. Perhaps we should listen to them. Furthermore, two votes were already held, when first nations representatives were here. I could quote Michel Audet, among others. We could look at the record. Two votes were called in the House to prevent these people from speaking out. All they said was that they did not have enough time and that we should wait to pass the bill.
    What are the member's thoughts on that?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right. First, there are some serious concerns about whether provincial court judges currently have the background to deal with some of the issues related to the complex property codes. Also, the member rightly pointed out the issues related to common law status in provinces such as Quebec and its recognition by provincial governments.
    What we would actually be doing is setting up a regime that would have different rules applying to different first nations across the country. There would not be any confidence that if one lived in one province, one would have access to the same property rights one would have in another province. That is certainly one problem, and it is a problem a number of witnesses identified in terms of both the current provincial court rules on matrimonial real property division and a judge's ability, currently, to interpret those complex land codes.
    The second matter the member raised in her question was, of course, the whole process of how the bill came forward and how we were able to hear from witnesses. Witnesses were limited in their ability to testify. Certainly we were limited in our ability to pose questions. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to do that due diligence when we have legislation before us to make sure that we understand the legislation and its implications.
    Mr. Speaker, it is actually the Liberals and the NDP who are attempting to stall the protections for aboriginal women. One of the NDP's convoluted arguments is that our government did not pass the legislation fast enough. Then it complains that the government wants to get the bill through. All the while, the NDP is opposing the legislation.
    The public needs to know that the NDP has complained that the government has not consulted with every single aboriginal community in Canada, when, in fact, we have spent $8 million and have consulted with 103 communities. Bill S-2 would save lives. It would help 100,000 people gain protections.
    I would like the NDP to address the issue of how it can vote against this bill that would help save lives.
    Mr. Speaker, in case the government has failed to notice, it has been in government since 2006, and it finally introduced this bill in the Senate, back in 2011. Then it delayed bringing it forward in the House. Somehow or other, it is the New Democrats' fault, because the government failed to bring a bill forward for debate. When it finally did bring it forward for debate, it wanted to eliminate debate.
    It does not actually want people to stand up and speak about it. It does not want to call witnesses and hear from them. It does not want to have the ability to question the witnesses.
    Part of our job as parliamentarians is to hear from witnesses, on all sides of the House, to consider the legislation before us and talk about whether the legislation is feasible and whether it can be implemented.
    The members claim that the legislation is going to save lives, yet they are not putting any resources into these communities to deal with it. What about extra policing costs? What about access to the court system? What about access to alternative dispute resolution? What about access to legal aid? What about transition shelters? Not one dime is going into those measures.
    If the government is serious, I would call on it to move forward on a national action plan to address violence against aboriginal women and children. Where is its action on that?

  (1340)  

    Mr. Speaker, as we have made clear throughout the process for Bill S-2, the Liberal Party does not question the need to address the legal gaps and other problems surrounding the family breakdown for first nations living on reserve.
    However, the political rhetoric of the government members regarding this bill has been absolutely shameful. It is reprehensible for the minister to stand in the House and say “I know opposition members do not care about aboriginal women and children, but we do.”
    This partisan approach, this simplistic approach is completely against what the members on this side are objecting to. This problem will only be solved in a holistic way and if it is in keeping with the advice of first nations leaders and organizations and first nations women themselves.
    The truth is that this bill will not effectively deal with the problem of matrimonial breakdown on reserves and fails to provide first nations with the tools to implement appropriate measures for families to resolve disputes safely in a culturally appropriate way.
    Furthermore, the assertion of the government that the bill is the answer to the disproportionate levels of domestic and other violence against aboriginal women is appalling. It is patently dishonest for the Minister for Status of Women to stand in the House and claim emergency protection orders alone will save lives.
    The fact is the government's decision to move forward with this legislation, without dealing with the issues of access to justice and gaps in enforcement capacity, could actually make matters worse.
    When Mr. David Langtry, acting chief commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission, testified before the Status of Women committee, he asked parliamentarians to consider three fundamental questions. First, would the proposed legislation provide women with fair access to justice? Second, would the proposed legislation ensure that women would be able to access their rights in a safe way? Third, would first nations communities have the capacity they needed to develop and implement their own matrimonial real property systems?
    Although I would broaden the questions to include first nations men, I believe answering these three questions provides an ideal framework to analyze Bill S-2 in both its scope and effectiveness. As one reviews the limited evidence the House of Commons committee was willing to hear, experts who testified before the Senate and the many stakeholders who had provided comments outside the committee process, the answer to all three of these questions was a resounding “no”.
    The government's own ministerial representative on matrimonial real property on reserve, Wendy Grant-John, noted in her report:
    The viability and effectiveness of any legislative framework will also depend on necessary financial resources being made available for implementation of non-legislative measures such as programs to address land registry issues, mediation and other court related programs, local dispute resolution mechanisms, prevention of family violence programs, a spousal loan compensation fund and increased funding to support First Nation communities to manage their own lands.
    She went on to say:
    Without these kinds of supports from the federal government, matrimonial real property protections will simply not be accessible to the vast majority of First Nation people.
    The Liberal Party is very concerned that the government disregarded her advice and that of first nations from across the country and brought forward legislation without these non-legislative supports.

  (1345)  

[Translation]

    The potential solutions under the interim rules imposed by this legislation rely heavily on access to provincial courts.

[English]

    As we have heard from many witnesses, many first nations communities are in areas with limited access to courts or lawyers and provincial courts may not be financially or even physically accessible for many first nations individuals.
    Michéle Audette, president, Native Women's Association of Canada, put this issue into context when she told the committee:
    Canadian women find it difficult to access justice because of the high costs involved, or, in the case of those who live in remote areas, because of the long distances to be travelled.
    Therefore, imagine what it is like for women in our aboriginal communities. It is even worse.
    She went on to say:
—it would be difficult for a woman who lives in a remote community such as Attawapiskat or in other communities in other provinces, such as in Quebec, to find a lawyer who knows family law and the Indian Act.
    The persistent underfunding of legal aid systems across Canada have left them ill-equipped to deal with current demand. It is clear that they will be unable to deal with the additional burden of the unique legal and cultural realities of property division on reserve.

[Translation]

    Another fundamental challenge facing the provincial court systems relates to a lack of experience with and understanding of these matters.

[English]

    To mitigate these issues of access and cultural sensitivity, we heard time and again about the importance of the availability to alternate dispute resolution mechanisms in first nations communities to deal with matrimonial breakdown if there was no commitment to provide funding for alternatives to the court system, which would be more cost effective and culturally appropriate.

[Translation]

    The government does not have a comprehensive plan to deal with these realities, which will deprive first nations individuals of practical access to the legal rights the law claims to provide.

[English]

    The government has tried to frame this legislation in terms of responding to violence against aboriginal women. As noted earlier, it has emphasized that this legislation provides for emergency protection orders for women living on reserve and claims this will save lives.
    Unfortunately, the government's decision to move forward with legislation, without non-legislative support, maybe the opposite for many first nations women.
    Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould addressed this in her testimony when she said:
—preliminary research we have uncovered shows a correlation between increased harassment and threats of violence against women who file for protection orders in instances where there are issues with their enforcement. We question the capacity and ability of such orders to be effectively enforced, particularly in remote communities with limited access to police services.

[Translation]

    This very telling quotation must be viewed in light of the lack of funding available to first nations police forces and the fact that some first nations communities have far greater police presence than others.

[English]

    While we are happy that the government is finally listening to first nations and Inuit police forces and the communities they serve by providing a longer-term funding agreement, it is clear that the government is still not providing these essential services with the resources they need to do their job.
    In other communities serviced by the RCMP or other police services, there is often an inadequate police presence and the enforcement of existing laws is an ongoing challenge for these overstretched offices.
    Beyond issues around adequate enforcement, the bill also fails to address the root causes of family breakdown and domestic violence, mainly the lack of housing, inadequate funding for child welfare and inadequate access to legal aid and other services for aboriginal women. For example, only 41 shelters serve more than 630 first nations communities in Canada.

[Translation]

    Even Betty Ann Lavallée, the national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, told the Senate that this bill should address the issue of emergency housing for victims of domestic violence, a recommendation that the government clearly chose to ignore.

[English]

    We are concerned that many first nations do not currently have the capacity to develop their own rules around matrimonial property and will be left with the provisional rules for an extended period of time. That means communities will have provisional rules that do not reflect their traditional laws, culture or reality imposed upon them without the time or the capacity to move beyond them.
    The government cuts to the National Centre for First Nations Governance, tribal councils and other institutions focused on building first nations governance capacity is further undermining the ability of first nations to develop and implement such a review.
    The government talks about a promised centre of excellence which would help first nations develop rules of their own, but this will not be up and running until after the passage of the bill and likely after the time frame allocated to most first nations to develop their own rules.

  (1350)  

[Translation]

    There will only be a 12-month window for the first nations to develop and adopt their own regulations regarding matrimonial real property on reserves, before the provisional rules are imposed.

[English]

    All the testimony we heard on the issue suggested this was a completely unrealistic time frame. The legislation that brought first nations communities under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Act provided a three-year transition period.
    We heard from the Canadian Human Rights Commission officials that in their experience that period may not even be enough, but would be more realistic.
     Officials from the first nations Lands Advisory Board had more than 10 years of experience facilitating first nations law-making for matrimonial real property rights on reserve and they made it clear that they were:
—concerned about the potential impact of the proposed legislation on the 68 first nations that are presently waiting to become signatories to the framework agreement, and the other communities across Canada.
    They went on to say:
    Successful enactment of these laws by framework agreement signatories has invariably been the culmination of a multi-year, community-driven, consensus-building process...
    The AFN has also suggested 36 months would be a more appropriate transition period and that is the time provided in this very bill to first nations in the First Nations Land Management Act process. Given current capacity issues and the fact that the centre of excellence would take time to develop, it was clear that all first nations should have the benefit of a consistent 36-month transition period to develop their own culturally sensitive matrimonial property regime, but the government refused even that common-sense amendment.
    Although general public discussions were held on first nations matrimonial real property in 2006-07, it is important to note that both AFN and NWAC, the two first nations organizations the government engaged to facilitate those meetings, oppose this bill. Consultation requires both a substantive dialogue and the government members to listen and, when appropriate, incorporate what they hear into the approach. The Native Women's Association of Canada and the AFN have been clear that they are not confident the legislation will resolve the problems associated with matrimonial real property on reserve and have pointed out that the current bill will fail to address many of the recommendations repeatedly raised each time this legislation has been brought forward.
    Further, given the recommendations of the government's own representatives and first nations about the need to deal with capacity and resourcing issues before, or at least in concert with, legislation, it is curious why the Conservatives decided to introduce the bill in the Senate where it was subject to increased restrictions on incorporating resources.

[Translation]

    Since this bill was initiated in the Senate, it cannot generate any spending.

[English]

    Then, despite the fact that the legislation was introduced in the House of Commons on behalf of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the bill was sent to the status of women committee to be pushed through with only two weeks of witnesses.

[Translation]

    This legislation deals with legal and cultural issues in the first nations, for both men and women.

[English]

    It was completely inappropriate to, for reasons of expediency, have the study of these complex matters done by a committee with no prior experience with aboriginal issues. The fact that the committee did not allocate reasonable time to hear from organizations with the expertise and experience to highlight some of the challenges was particularly disappointing. The AFN and the first nations Lands Advisory Board had less than 20 minutes of committee time and NWAC was allocated 8 minutes. The Conservative majority then pushed this flawed bill through the committee without accepting a single amendment. This is not the way to produce effective and well thought out legislation.
    The Liberal Party will not be supporting this legislation because the government has decided to move forward in a way that not only ignores many of the fundamental issues at stake, but actually may make things worse.

  (1355)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a bit of a history lesson for the member because this is a consistent position for the Liberal Party.
     When Conservative Party Prime Minister Borden extended the right for women to vote in Canada in time for the 1918 election, that was a Conservative prime minister extending rights. When Prime Minister Diefenbaker extended the right to aboriginals in Canada to vote for the first time in 1960, that was a Conservative prime minister extending rights to Canadians. When this party and this government stood up to extend the Canadian Human Rights Act on reserve and that party stood against it, that was our Conservative Prime Minister extending rights. Our Prime Minister is extending rights and protections again to aboriginal women in our country.
     What is shameful is that member and that party are once again standing up against fundamental rights in our country for people who woefully and rightfully deserve them. When will she join with this party and our Conservative Prime Minister and do the right thing for women in our country?
    Mr. Speaker, it is shameful that the member does not understand the basic duty to consult and the need for free, prior and informed consent on any legislation, any policies or programs that affect first nations, Inuit and Metis people in Canada. The bill continues the paternalism of the government thinking “father knows best” and refuses to listen to what native women in Canada are saying. They do not want this bill until it can actually do the job it is intended to do.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments even though the Liberal government put a 2% funding cap that has been problematic for first nations communities with respect to their resources, but while there are obvious gender discrimination problems with MRP on reserves, Bill S-2 will not be possible to implement because of lack of financial resources to support first nations governments to actually implement the law, lack of funding for lawyers, lack of funding to account for limited geographic access to provincial courts, lack of on-reserve housing and land mass that would be necessary to give both spouses separate homes on reserve, no ability to enforce this legislation, particularly in very remote areas, no equipping provincial courts to deal with complexities of land codes on reserves and no dollars to assist women who have to buy out a partner if they are awarded homes.
    On that note, I want to reiterate that the first nations are basically seeing this as another assimilation bill. Could my colleague comment on some of the issues that I brought forward, and whether we would see the success of the bill if it were to go forward?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to remind my colleague that had the Kelowna accord been implemented seven years ago, the $5.1 billion would have dealt with a number of these issues, particularly around housing, education and the kinds of things that we know are a root cause of violence.
    The kinds of resources that native women in Canada are asking for are really important, as the member asked about. They include shelter space, housing and mediation. Women do not have the resources to be able to buy out the partner and the bands have told us time and time again they do not have the capacity to help the woman buy out the partner. This is a piece of paper that cannot and will not work unless the resources and the root causes are dealt with.
    Order, the time for government orders has expired. The hon. member for St. Paul's will have six minutes remaining in questions and comments when this matter returns before the House.
    Statements by members, the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Cystic Fibrosis

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about a terrible childhood illness, cystic fibrosis. May is cystic fibrosis awareness month and in honour of the many Canadian children who have cystic fibrosis, members of all parties got together today to wear the symbol of cystic fibrosis: the rose.
    The story of how the rose came to be the symbol of cystic fibrosis gives some idea of the poignancy of this terrible illness. As the story goes, a young child was being told that his sister had the illness, but he could not pronounce the name. Instead, he said 65 roses. That is how the rose came to be the symbol.
    Today, outside the House, there is a little boy, Kaiden, at one entrance and there is a little girl, who I know and love very much, Kaelie, at the other entrance. They are handing out roses to MPs as they enter the House in honour of this disease and the search for the cure. This is the largest killer of children, but the death rate drops substantially every year. The lifespan is expanding. We can and will find a cure. I thank all members for supporting us in our cause.

  (1400)  

[Translation]

Cystic Fibrosis

    Mr. Speaker, May is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month in Canada. Cystic fibrosis is the most common fatal genetic disease affecting Canadian children and young adults. Nearly 4,000 Canadians across the country are affected, and two new children are diagnosed every week.
    There is hope, however. In the 1960s, a child born with cystic fibrosis did not live long enough to go to school. Now, thanks to investments in research, 60% of Canadians with this disease live to be adults.
    I therefore urge all of my colleagues in the House and all Canadians to stand together with everyone who lives with this disease and to give generously to organizations such as Cystic Fibrosis Canada, whose mandate is to help people cope with this disease and to find a cure.

[English]

Events in Mississauga

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak about two spectacular events that Mississauga hosted last weekend.
    Last Friday, the 28th Carassauga Festival of Cultures, the second-largest cultural festival in Canada, opened its doors for a three-day celebration of international tradition, art and cuisine. Carassauga celebrates diversity and demonstrates Canada's resolute devotion to multiculturalism. Carassauga is a profound example to the world of cultural unity and peace.
    The spotlight was also on Mississauga this Sunday because of the MS Walk for a cure, a community event bringing hundreds of people together to connect with those touched by multiple sclerosis. Together, we raised around $150,000 toward MS.
    I want to thank the many volunteers who made these events possible. Without them, Carrassauga and the MS Walk would not have been such a great success. I ask everyone to join me in thanking volunteers across our country for their great work and dedication, making our communities and Canada a better place for all.

Cystic Fibrosis

    Mr. Speaker, each time I pass a cystic fibrosis donation box, I think of my childhood friend, the darling of our gymnastics club, Jenny.
    She sparkled, she performed for CF telethons and she took a handful of large green pills with each mouthful she ate to battle CF, a multi-system disease that affects mainly the lungs and the digestive system. We all believed that Jenny would get to grow up because a cure would come by the time she was a teenager or young adult. My childhood friend died after a battle with pneumonia at the age of 10.
    Today, there is still no cure and time remains precious for those living with CF. Of the Canadians with CF who died in 2011, half were under 34 years old. Let all Canadians join in the fight against CF, for better treatment and care, and for equitable and affordable access to medicines.

Firearms Registry

    Mr. Speaker, the one-year anniversary of the Canadian long gun registry's demise passed quietly eight weeks ago.
    There is a reason hardly anybody noticed. Gun control advocates predicted that the scrapping of the long gun registry would increase firearms abuse, but there is no correlation. In fact, a CBC news story in April noted that shootings in the city of Ottawa plunged from 11 while the registry was still in place to just 2 for the same period this past year.
    Responsible gun owners are not the least bit surprised at this result. We know that the registry was simply feel-good legislation that was never designed to increase public safety. It was nothing more than a political ruse to lull Canadians into a false sense of security. That is why I made it one of my priorities as a member of Parliament to get rid of the long gun registry.
    While it took nearly two decades to get the job done, I believe it brings Canada one step closer to fairer firearms legislation for all.

  (1405)  

[Translation]

Canada Summer Jobs

    Mr. Speaker, this year, 46 organizations in my riding, La Pointe-de-l'Île, submitted proposals for a total of 221 positions as part of the Canada summer jobs program.
    Filling all of those positions would have cost over $870,640, but only $307,415 was allocated to my riding. There is clearly a major gap between what our communities need and what the government is giving them.
    Minimum wage is on the rise, but program funding is not increasing in step, so the number of young students able to benefit from the program is falling from year to year.
    Canada summer jobs is an excellent way for young people to get a foothold in the job market. This initiative helps youth. I am therefore asking the government to ensure that all young people can access this great opportunity.

[English]

Stampede Days

    Mr. Speaker, every May long weekend is Stampede Days in the little town of Falkland in my riding of Okanagan—Shuswap. Cowboys and cowgirls from the rodeo circuit and all the ranches in the area come to Falkland to enjoy the bull and bronco riding, the calf roping, and all the other entertainment that goes along with a rodeo.
    This year was very special because Merv Churchill, known to all as Mr. Falkland, was inducted into the Canadian rodeo hall of fame for his many years of organizing the rodeo event. In Merv's younger years, he rode with the best, and when he retired from the circuit, he became Falkland's Mr. Rodeo.
    Last weekend when I attended the Falkland Stampede parade, I was met, as always, by the smiling cowboy, Merv Churchill, who was busy with his son Jason, his wife Dot, and the girls and their grandchildren organizing the 95th Annual Falkland Stampede.
    It was great to see Merv and his family recognized for all they do for the community and the Falkland stampede. As a cowboy poet would say, it pretty near brought a tear to my eye to see him receive the award. I congratulate Merv.

[Translation]

Convex Affirmative Enterprises

    Mr. Speaker, today I am honoured to congratulate Groupe Convex, an organization in my riding that provides services to persons with disabilities.
    Caroline Arcand and her Groupe Convex team have spared no effort to generate meaningful jobs for people who face employment challenges. Groupe Convex has established nine successful businesses that offer valuable opportunities to enrich employees, as well as our community. Our government supports these key initiatives.
    I have toured these businesses and spoke with their employees. They should be proud of the excellent work they do: managing a recycling centre, working in a woodshop, running a small restaurant-café and catering service, and so on. They all show they have outstanding skills and talent.

[English]

    I am impressed with Groupe Convex and what it does to create jobs, but I am particularly proud of its employees and the excellent work they do. Well done to each of them.

Kempton Howard

    Mr. Speaker, Kempton Howard was an inspiring young leader dedicated to helping other youth in the community of Toronto—Danforth. He was a role model to countless teens through his volunteer work at the Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre and the Eastview Boys and Girls Club, where he was a moderator of a junior leadership program, an after-school children's program leader, a summer day camp counsellor, a youth basketball coach and a recipient of the youth Ontario services award.
    This year marks the 10th anniversary of his murder by gunfire in 2003. We must understand that the victims of crime, especially crimes of violence and crimes involving guns, include the loved ones of the direct victims, the family and friends who suffer from their loss. That is why I believe we must implement a country-wide system of adequate support for victims of crime and their families; ensure reliable, long-term funding for programs that help divert youth away from gangs and crimes; and introduce a long overdue comprehensive anti-smuggling strategy for guns.
    I encourage everyone to sign Kempton's legacy petition in support of victims of crime.

[Translation]

Members of the New Democratic Party

    Mr. Speaker, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
    Last week, we learned that the member for Jeanne-Le Ber and the NDP's former national revenue critic, the member for Brossard—La Prairie, owe Revenu Québec tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes. Canadian taxpayers are supposed to play by the rules and pay their fair share.
    If the NDP members are so concerned about making sure people follow the rules and pay their fair share, they should practise what they preach.
    It is ironic to hear the NDP talk about raising taxes for Canadians when they cannot even manage to pay their own taxes. They are setting a bad example.

  (1410)  

[English]

Halifax Mooseheads

    Sit a spell, for there is a story I have got to tell;
    About a hockey team from the great east coast that gave us all a chance to boast;
    To Saskatoon to do what is right against the Winter Hawks, the Blades and Knights;
    The tourney is called the Memorial, where we give thanks to the lads who gave it their all;
    All the players did their best to remember those who were laid to rest;
    It took four games to pass the test, and in the end Halifax was best;
    With MacKinnon, Fucale, Frk and Drouin, the best damn hockey you have ever seen;
    So now the season is all done, we proudly say we are number one;
    So, Mr. Speaker, spread the word: the Mooseheads are the greatest, ya heard.

Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, while our Conservative government and Canadians alike are focused on delivering meaningful reform to the Senate, including elections, term limits and tough spending oversight, with his divisive comments this week, the Liberal leader again underscores his lack of judgment and experience.
    The Liberal leader has come out as the champion of the status quo, demanding that the Senate remain unelected and unaccountable, because in his words, it is an advantage to Quebec. He said there are 24 senators in Quebec and only 6 for Alberta and British Columbia, which is to Quebec's benefit.
    The Liberal leader refuses to offer any substantive commentary on reform or commit his party to work with us to deliver accountability for taxpayers. Instead, the Liberal leader maintained his divisive track record of pitting one region of Canada against another.
    It is time for the Liberal leader to get behind our Conservative government and deliver real reform to the Senate.

Halifax Mooseheads

    Mr. Speaker, last night the Halifax Mooseheads overpowered the Portland Winterhawks to win the 2013 Memorial Cup.
    Led by CHL coach of the year Dominique Ducharme, the herd received great performances from Nathan MacKinnon, Martin Frk, Konrad Abeltshauser, Zach Fucale, co-captains Trey Lewis and Stefan Fournier, and CHL player of the year Jonathan Drouin.
    Nova Scotians were elated with the success of the Moose this season and will proudly welcome their team home today.
    This is the first franchise Memorial Cup win for the Mooseheads, which makes it very special for their fans, and the tournament erased any doubt about who deserves to be the number one overall pick in this year's NHL draft.
    I invite all colleagues to join me in congratulating team owner Bobby Smith, GM Cam Russell and the hard-working Halifax Mooseheads on winning the Memorial Cup, emblematic of junior hockey supremacy in Canada.

Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Liberal Party is clearly in over his head. Instead of working with our government to bring greater accountability and transparency to the Senate, the Liberal leader is promoting the Senate status quo. This time, as he says, it is because it is to Quebec's advantage.
    The Liberal leader said there are 24 senators in Quebec and only 6 for Alberta and British Columbia, which is to Quebec's benefit.
    These divisive comments are not surprising. They are consistent with the Liberal leader's poor judgment and lack of respect of Canadians outside of his home province.
    The Liberal leader famously once said, “Quebecers are better than the rest of Canada because, you know, we are Quebecers, or whatever”, and that he would think of wanting to make Quebec a country.
    The Liberal leader's decision to pit one region of Canada against another is just more proof that he does not have the judgment to be Prime Minister.

Conservative Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, Conservatives are hearing from constituents who are angry about the Senate scandal and the PMO cover-up.
    People are angry about how a senator can get paid off by the Prime Minister's chief of staff, and government backbenchers are angry about being given evasive talking points by the PMO that range from the implausible to the unbelievable.
    I, for one, agree with the member from Kootenay—Columbia who said:
    Any person who holds a public office position...should not only withstand public scrutiny, but stand before the public to explain any short comings.
    Remember what the then-leader of the opposition said in 2005:
    When you're under the kind of cloud the Prime Minister admits his government is under, I think you would use every opportunity to be as forthright as possible.
    Yet the Prime Minister now acts just like past Liberal prime ministers, evading questions and refusing to come clean.
    Canadians deserve better.

  (1415)  

Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, over the weekend the Liberal leader attacked Saskatchewan and all of western Canada by saying there are 24 senators in Quebec and only 6 for Alberta and British Columbia, which is to Quebec's benefit. The Liberal leader is demanding that senators remain unaccountable and unelected because it is an advantage for Quebec.
    The Liberal leader's comments were strongly rebuked by Premier Wall today, who said he was disappointed in him. The Liberal leader's attack on Saskatchewan is more proof that he has neither the experience nor the judgment to be a prime minister.
    The Liberal leader continues to pit region against region. Maybe the Liberal leader simply does not know or understand what Canada's national interests are, or maybe he is in way over his head.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[Translation]

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, last week, the Prime Minister ran away to Peru to avoid answering questions about the Senate scandal. It has been two weeks since we found out that the Prime Minister's former chief of staff gave Mike Duffy $90,000 in hush money. Will the Prime Minister finally answer some questions today?
    The PMO would have us believe that everything is business as usual. Sunshine and lollipops, in fact. Does the Prime Minister really believe that a secret $90,000 payout from his chief of staff to a senator is business as usual?
    Mr. Speaker, speaking of last week, the Prime Minister sent Canadians a clear message that we have to move forward with Senate reform. That is why we now have legislation before the House for Senate elections and term limits. We have also been in contact with the Supreme Court about a proposal for even more significant reforms.
    If the Leader of the Opposition genuinely supports meaningful Senate reform, he should say so and support this bill today.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have been in power for nearly eight years and they have done nothing.
    I will read a quote, which states:
    The Prime Minister should have known that. He cannot get away with saying, “Don’t blame me. I was only the piano player. I had no idea what was going on upstairs”.
    Who said that? It was the Prime Minister to Paul Martin during the sponsorship scandal.
    The current Prime Minister's own chief of staff gave a $90,000 payoff to silence a sitting Conservative senator and the Prime Minister claims that he did not even know about it.
    When will the Prime Minister take responsibility, show accountability and finally start answering questions?
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is taking responsibility and showing accountability by moving forward with what we said we would do, which is reform the Senate. Moving forward with Senate reform is what Canadians want. It is what our government is doing.
    If the Leader of the Opposition really believes in accountability, he would support those reforms of term limits and Senate elections. If he really believes in accountability, maybe he will tell this House how many more NDP MPs are not paying their taxes.
    Mr. Speaker, there we go with the Conservative playbook. Plan A is to hide out in South America. Plan B is to blame the opposition. Why do they not try Plan C, which is to start telling Canadians the truth?
    For the Conservatives it is business as usual. Does the Prime Minister think it is business as usual for a senator to defraud taxpayers? Is it business as usual to give a $90,000 payout?
    Dodging questions about political payouts was shameful when Paul Martin did it. Why does the Prime Minister think it is just business as usual today?

  (1420)  

    Mr. Speaker, what is NDP business as usual is to yell from the mountaintops about the need for reform but to not actually support reform when it is before the House of Commons.
    We have legislation for Senate elections and legislation for term limits. Even the idea of abolishing the Senate requires a mandate from the Supreme Court to understand the mandate capacity of the House of Commons, which is what we have done. However, the NDP is even against that.
    Again, if the NDP members believe in accountability, they will support these reforms. If they believe in standing up for taxpayers, the leader of the NDP will come clean on how many MPs are avoiding paying their taxes.

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, we see that the Conservatives are preparing for their role in opposition, which is a good thing because that is where we are sending them in 2015. Until then, they are the government, unfortunately, and they have to answer the questions, so here is another one.
    This weekend we learned that for months CSIS, Canada's top intelligence agency, watched convicted spy Jeffrey Delisle pass classified information to another power without ever informing the RCMP. The Mounties only learned about it from the FBI. That was a devastating leak, yet one key department did not even know what the other was doing.
    Why did CSIS fail to inform the RCMP about Jeffrey Delisle?
    Mr. Speaker, we cannot comment on operational matters of national security. However, what I can say is that the conclusions drawn in that story are totally incorrect. Information is shared between law enforcement agencies in accordance with Canadian law.
    Speaking of Canadian law, I am wondering how many NDP MPs have not paid their taxes.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, we will try to get—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order. The hon. Leader of the Opposition.
    Mr. Speaker, for the past two weeks, the members opposite have treated us to a song and dance as they try to sidestep the issues. I will make my question clear, so clear that even the Minister of Public Safety might understand it.
    My question was not about the conclusions, which he just talked about. My question was about whether it was the FBI, not CSIS, that informed the RCMP. Was it or was it not?
    Will he try to tell the truth for once?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this is the same individual who indicates that politicians should not get involved in investigative matters. My office does not get involved in investigative matters, but the conclusions that were drawn in that story are totally incorrect.

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and his office are accountable to the House. Therefore, the Liberals are moving a motion today in the ethics committee to study the scandal facing the PMO and to offer the Prime Minister and Nigel Wright an opportunity to bring transparency to this issue.
    Will the government encourage Conservative members on this committee to stand up for accountability and support the motion?
    Mr. Speaker, of course, the ethics committee is looking into this, as is the Ethics Commissioner, as is the Senate office of ethics, and that is where these matters will be addressed.
    For the Liberal leader, it is kind of interesting to see him stand in the House and pretend as though he actually cares about Senate reform because he does not. He made so very clearly this weekend that he does not believe in Senate reform because “We have 24 senators in Quebec and there are only six for Alberta and British Columbia. That benefits us. It is an advantage for Quebec”.
    All Canadians should be served by national institutions and the Liberal leader should stop dividing Canadians again and again over these matters.

41st General Election

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians, especially western Canadians, believe in accountability. The government does not—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. I will ask once again for members to hold off. The member for Papineau is putting the question. I would like to be able to hear it.
    The hon. member for Papineau.

  (1425)  

    Mr. Speaker, western Canadians believe in accountability. The government does not. That is what is bothering Canadians, and western Canadians specifically.
    In fact, last week, Justice Mosley ruled that the Conservative Party database was used to commit widespread election fraud and that, in typical pattern for the government, the Conservative Party did everything it could, to quote the judge, “to block these proceedings by any means”.
    Why did the government engage in trench warfare to prevent the truth from coming out?
    Mr. Speaker, western Canadians do believe in accountability and that is why they threw out the Liberals in the last three elections.
     It is a sad fact, but out of 36 seats in British Columbia, there are two Liberals. Out of all the seats in Alberta, there are zero. In Saskatchewan there is one. In Manitoba there is one.
    Western Canadians understand what it is when they hear Liberal leaders say things like this, “Canada isn't doing well right now because it's Albertans who control our...agenda”. That is what the Liberal leader said.
    Do not worry, western Canadians know accountability and they will hold him accountable for what he has been saying.

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, western Canadians thought they were electing a government to stand up for them. What they got instead was a government that would stand up only for itself and its friends. That is what is bothering western Canadians.

[Translation]

    Last week, it was clear that the Prime Minister does not believe it is his responsibility to answer for actions taken within his own office, even by his own chief of staff.
    What happened to the accountability and transparency they crowed about?
    Mr. Speaker, that is completely untrue. It was the Prime Minister who, last week, responded to questions. He is here this week to answer questions.

[English]

    Back to the issue of the member for Papineau lecturing western Canadians about what western Canadians really want, it is really quite something. That is the same Liberal leader who said, “Canadians who only have the capacity to speak one of our two official languages are ‘lazy’”. These are these are the words of the Liberal Party.
     Time and time again he takes potshots at the west and then comes to the House and pretends he is defending its interests. Western Canadians know better. That is why they have voted time and time again to re-elect Conservatives to ensure we are the government of our country.
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister should not be shy. He knows the Liberals will defend Senate entitlements, but the New Democrats will stand up for the taxpayer. That is the difference.
    Senator Tkachuk was called by the Prime Minister's Office about the—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. This is taking up a lot of time. I urge members to hold off. The member for Timmins—James Bay has the floor and I would like to be able to hear him.
    The members are sounding suddenly very leaderless over there, Mr. Speaker.
    Senator Tkachuk was called by the Prime Minister's Office about the Duffy affair and Senator Tkachuk said because “the scandal was hurting us politically”. Nigel Wright then wrote the $90,000 secret cheque and Senator Tkachuk then tipped off Duffy about the inappropriate Florida per diem.
    Who went back and briefed the Prime Minister about how Duffy's problems were suddenly being resolved? Who else in the office was helping the Prime Minister on this file?
    Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to have a New Democrat today of all days stand before the House in full sobriety and say that the NDP believes in defending taxpayers.
    We know there are two NDP members of Parliament who have not filed and have not paid their taxes, one of them to the tune of $60,000. In fact, the revenue critic for the NDP is one of the people who did not pay taxes to Revenue Canada.
    There are so many jokes that come to mind about the NDP that I do not know where to begin, but the fact is the NDP do not stand up for taxpayers as those members are showing by their own behaviour.

  (1430)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member is doing a great audition for leader, but I would like him to tell his peekaboo Prime Minister to stop hiding from Canadians. He needs to start showing some accountability.
    It was the Prime Minister's chief of staff who was involved in writing what may have been an illegal $90,000 cheque and the senator involved in the investigation tells us he was called by the Prime Minister's Office and he changed the audit report. These are not rogue operatives. This was not a one-man job.
    Who else in the Prime Minister's Office was involved in trying to deal with the political fallout from the Senate scandal? Does the member know that? He could be leader then.
    Mr. Speaker, Nigel Wright made it clear in his statements to the public when he resigned as chief of staff that he acted alone. If the member does not believe that, the Ethics Commissioner is examining this matter.
    What is more important on the Senate is that the House move forward with Senate reform, the two pieces of legislation we have before the House. If the NDP members believe in reforming the Senate, let us do that. If they believe in accountability, they will ensure that their NDP colleagues pay their taxes like all Canadians have to do.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, we have so much respect for taxpayers that we want to save them $100 million, not by reforming the Senate, but by abolishing it.
    Here is a partial list of Conservative members who expressed disappointment regarding the Senate expense scandal: the member for Dufferin—Caledon, the member for Calgary Centre-North, the member for Prince George—Peace River, the deputy House leader, and of course, the Prime Minister. The problem is that all of these people keep parroting the same line: they did not witness the exchange between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright, and they are unaware of the details of the scandal.
    We would therefore like to know exactly what they are so disappointed about.
    Mr. Speaker, with respect to the Senate, as I just said, Canadians want us to move forward with our plan to reform the Senate. If the NDP genuinely supports that idea, it should support the two pieces of legislation we have before the House to truly reform the Senate. That is what Canadians really want. They want responsibility and reform. We have shown the way forward; all the NDP has to do is support us.
    Mr. Speaker, once again, they are not answering questions. How absolutely fascinating. Those guys are all like ex-mayor Tremblay: none of them ever know anything.
    Senators Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin were all appointed by the Prime Minister. He appointed them, so he is responsible for them. Exactly what instructions did the Prime Minister give about senators' travel and residence expenses from the time the Auditor General submitted his report in 2012 to the time he praised his former chief of staff's leadership—before firing him? We are curious; we would like to know.
    Mr. Speaker, upon resigning as the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Mr. Wright himself stated that he had acted alone.
    Once again, if my colleague is so keen to prove he is accountable to taxpayers, he should ask his leader to show some leadership and tell us how many NDP MPs are not paying their taxes while all other Canadians are.
    Mr. Speaker, I understand why the minister is trying to change the subject; it cannot be easy to face such an ethical scandal in his own party. I would not want to be in his shoes. However, in this case, many unanswered questions remain.
    What if there is no note, no directive? What good is the Prime Minister if he cannot manage anything in his own office?
    The Conservatives are telling us that there is no legal document for the agreement between Duffy and Wright. Fine. Is there a non-legal document regarding the $90,000 payment that Nigel Wright made to Mike Duffy?
    Mr. Speaker, we are not changing the subject; we are talking about accountability and responsibility when it comes to taxpayers' money. That is what is on the table. That is what we are discussing and debating here.

[English]

    On the issue of credibility, defending taxpayers and ensuring that taxpayers' interests are in the best interests of all Canadians, that is the subject before us. On this subject matter, it is very clear that, again, the NDP is throwing rocks from a glass house on the issue of responsibility and taxpayer money. Pay your taxes.
    I would remind the hon. minister to address his comments to the Chair and not directly to the members opposite.
    The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.

  (1435)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it is not up to the minister to tell me what my question is about.
    My question is about this cover-up operation by the Prime Minister's Office, which does not release the Prime Minister's Office from its duty to uphold its ethical and legal responsibilities in the Wright-Duffy affair. That is the subject of my question.
    Section 16 of the Parliament of Canada Act clearly stipulates that no member of the Senate shall receive any compensation for services rendered before the Senate or the House.
    Does the Prime Minister know about this section? Does he know that the Criminal Code prohibits monetary donations to a public office holder?
    Mr. Speaker, as my colleague should know, the Prime Minister learned of this situation when it was reported in the media. After that, the Prime Minister asked us to take proactive steps to ensure that we are being diligent with taxpayers' money. Nigel Wright resigned. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Senate committee are currently investigating the matter. I hope that my colleague will respect these institutions and their ability to find answers to her questions.
    Mr. Speaker, it is almost impossible to believe that the Senate spending scandal was the work of just one man.
    The chief of staff reports to the Prime Minister and works very closely with his principal secretary. The principal secretary at the time, who has since become the new chief of staff, is none other than Ray Novak, whom the Prime Minister has entrusted with a number of hot issues, including the Helena Guergis matter.
    Was Ray Novak aware of the discussions going on between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy regarding the $90,000 payment?
    Mr. Speaker, Nigel Wright said himself that he acted alone.

[English]

    Mr. Speakers, Conservatives just do not seem to understand it is their leader's actions being called into question. The Prime Minister's actions show his inability to manage the PMO. His judgment is on trial and Conservatives are losing their cases.
    My question is simple. Before promoting Ray Novak, did the Prime Minister ask if he was aware of or involved with any aspects of the Wright-Duffy matter?
    Mr. Speaker, as has been made clear in Nigel Wright's statement when he resigned as chief of staff to the Prime Minister, he acted alone.
    Mr. Speaker, it is a little rich to hear Marjory LeBreton, an artifact of the golden era of Gucci shoes mandarins--
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, it is a little rich to hear Marjory Lebreton, herself warming a seat in the Senate for over 20 years, to now declare that the ethical rules around the Senate are unacceptable. The solution she is proposing is tantamount to calling for a smoke detector to be put into the charred-out shell of a building that has already burnt down. It is far too little and far too late.
    Why will the Conservatives not simply admit that the Senate is beyond redemption and begin the process to pull the plug on this--
    Order. The hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage.
    Mr. Speaker, Senator LeBreton put forward reforms that we think are in the interests of taxpayers. We do, as I said, want to go further, which is why we have legislation for both term limits and elections. With regard to respecting democracy and respecting institutions, I do believe in that and I believe in the words of the member for Winnipeg Centre, however, I do not believe in his actions. If he believes in actually improving the quality of this place and improving these institutions, perhaps he should walk his talk and avoid as many lawsuits as he has seen over the past few years.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of the minister who is answering today. Both Senator Stewart Olsen and Senator Tkachuk were members of the committee that changed the wording of the report with respect to Senator Duffy. They changed it somewhere between May 7, May 8 and May 9 when the final draft was put out, which was a Conservative draft and not a draft adopted by the whole committee.
    I would like to ask the minister under what rules of natural justice are the people who actually changed the report on Senator Duffy now allowed to stand and judge their own behaviour with respect to what they did?

  (1440)  

    Mr. Speaker, as I understand, again, the opposition parties agreed with the government that there should be an independent outside auditor brought in to look at this matter. As I understand it, the report of the Senate reflected that auditor's report and the committee that did that report has Liberal members on that committee. Of course, new questions have been raised. The committee will take another look at it. If Liberal members want to ask whatever questions they want of that committee, they are free to do so. The Liberal member opposite should have some confidence in his colleagues, even if we do not.
    Mr. Speaker, the minister just gave a profoundly incorrect answer. The report was drafted, the report was accepted in principle on May 7. The report was changed by the Conservative majority on the steering committee on May 8 and those changes were then added to on May 9 when it went to the full committee. It was said clearly on the floor of the Senate that the Liberals did not accept the report as it was then put forward by the Conservative majority. Those are the facts. Why are the same people who cooked up the report now standing in judgment on themselves? It is absolutely preposterous.
    Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, we do not agree. We do not agree that the Senate report does not reflect that auditor's findings. As I said, the Senate committee will take another look at it. If the member opposite does not like that, then he can look to the Ethics Commissioner who is also examining this as well as the Senate ethics office, who are looking at this matter to answer these questions. I think that is the action that Canadians are looking for, to get to the answers of the questions that have been raised. We are showing the leadership that Canadians have come to expect.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, will the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Ms. Dawson, have the authority to investigate the conduct of Senator Tkachuk and Senator Stewart Olsen, and the orders they received from the Prime Minister's Office? Is that the case? This is ridiculous.
    We have an ethics committee that is accepting an investigation from Ms. Dawson. It makes absolutely no sense from a natural justice perspective. It makes no sense at all.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, if it against natural justice, where was the Liberal senators' dissenting report? There was not one. They did not put one forward. They did not say anything publicly. So again--
    Some Hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. minister has the floor now. Members need to listen to the answer.
    The hon. minister.
    The Ethics Commissioner has new powers that our government put in place as part of the Federal Accountability Act, powers to investigate when necessary in a way that we think will satisfy the interests of taxpayers. That is who we are here to serve, the interests of all Canadian taxpayers.

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, let us go back to the Delisle case where the Minister of Public Safety says everybody else has it wrong but him. It is clear to everyone who is paying attention that CSIS knew Jeffrey Delisle was selling military secrets to Russia for months, but failed to inform the RCMP. For months, Delisle continued to sell secrets while under CSIS surveillance, yet the RCMP was only tipped off later by the FBI.
    There is only one person responsible to make sure these kinds of breaches do not happen again. Would the minister explain why security agencies reporting to him did not share information in a timely fashion and would he tell us what he is doing to fix this security breach problem?
    Mr. Speaker, I cannot comment on operational matters of national security. However, what I can say is not only are the conclusions drawn in the newspaper article profoundly incorrect, the additional allegations made by the member just now are incorrect as well.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, at the time, the Minister of National Defence downplayed the consequences, but these breaches had been going on for four years.
    Now we find out that Mr. Delisle could have been arrested sooner had CSIS shared the information with the RCMP. The fact is that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service allowed Canadian intelligence to be stolen for months, and it was the FBI that tipped off the RCMP.
    What is the minister going to do to prevent such an abysmal lack of communication in the future?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, all I can say is that the various conclusions drawn in the stories are totally incorrect.
    Information is shared between law enforcement agencies in accordance with Canadian law. I do not involve myself in operational matters of national security.

  (1445)  

[Translation]

41st General Election

    Mr. Speaker, in his May 2011 ruling on electoral fraud, Justice Mosley was very clear: the Conservatives did everything they could to slow down his investigation.
    They slowed down his investigation and exhausted every legal avenue they could come up with. People who have nothing to hide do not go to such lengths.
    In the meantime, the Conservatives are wasting precious time when they could be introducing a bill that would give Elections Canada more power, even though they promised to do so when they voted in favour the NDP's motion to that effect last year. Delaying introduction of the bill only encourages fraud.
    When will the government finally reform the Canada Elections Act?
    Mr. Speaker, the court action was a partisan attempt by a group of people who lost the election, to overturn the democratically given results.
    The judge in question said that there is no evidence that the Conservative Party or Conservative Party candidates were directly involved in the campaign to mislead voters.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the fact is the judge said that the applicants and the Council of Canadians acted in the public interest. He said the Conservatives made transparent attempts to derail the case.
    If the government was serious about all this, it would by now have given Elections Canada tools to catch the criminals. Instead, Conservatives have refused all along to strengthen the investigative capacity of Elections Canada. When will it stop the delay and the shielding tactics and introduce a bill for Elections Canada to be able to find who used that Conservative database to commit fraud?
    Mr. Speaker, let us talk about what we actually do know. In fact, the judge dismissed this case because there was no evidence. What else do we know? We know the NDP accepted hundreds of thousands dollars in illegal union donations.
    Regarding Elections Canada, there was an independent audit, which highlighted widespread errors on the part of Elections Canada in the operations during the last election. As I have indicated before, we will bring forward amendments to the law in the not too distant future.

Canada Revenue Agency

    Mr. Speaker, the NDP claims to be against tax evasion, yet two NDP MPs owe tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes, including the NDP's own former critic for national revenue, who had this to say about people like himself who do not pay their fair share, “We are talking about revenue that Canada is losing through fraudulent means. I cannot see why we would not address these problems.”
    Since the NDP will not take action against its own tax evaders, could the minister update the House on the tough measures we are taking to crack down on tax evasion?
    Mr. Speaker, when some cheat the system, law-abiding Canadians are forced to pay more. That is why since taking office this government has taken 75 tough new measures to crack down on tax cheats. That has allowed for over 1,200 convictions of these tax cheats, allowing us to collect over $100 million in fines from them. On this side of the House, we are cracking down on tax cheats so that law-abiding, hard-working Canadians can pay less.

[Translation]

Government Appointments

    Mr. Speaker, over half of the people who have been appointed to the Social Security Tribunal are defeated Conservative candidates and party cronies.
    Today, the Conservatives refused to debate the issue of patronage appointments in committee. I thought that the backbench members cared about freedom of expression, but now I see that they care about freedom of expression for themselves, and not for others.
    The tribunal will not be fair, credible, impartial and independent if the Conservatives stack it with cronies who help boost their campaign coffers.
    Will they put an end to these appointments?
    Positions for the Social Security Tribunal were widely advertised. The members who were appointed went through a rigorous, competency-based selection process in which they had to meet the specific experience and competency criteria required for their jobs.

  (1450)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I have said it before and I will say it again: “Who you know in the PMO is not merit”.
    Despite clear rules that board chairs are not supposed to engage in political activities, it is reported that at least $37,000 was donated to the Conservative Party from members of the soon-to-be defunct EI board of referees. Instead of punishing their appointees for breaking the rules, the Conservatives rewarded some of them with yet another plum patronage appointment to the Social Security Tribunal.
    When will the government do the right thing, instruct the Conservative Party to pay back the illegal donations and stop the gravy train?
    Mr. Speaker, as I just said, our government makes appointments based on merit. Positions for the Social Security Tribunal were advertised broadly. Members appointed went through a rigorous, competency-based selection process where they had to meet specific experience and competency criteria that they require for their jobs.

Citizenship and Immigration

    Mr. Speaker, defending patronage and appointing Conservative insiders is always wrong.
    The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism went to California to unveil a billboard for more skilled workers to come to Canada. The unemployment rate for new immigrants with university degrees is more than double the rate for the general population. Why did the minister go all the way to California and waste tens of thousands of dollars on a self-promoting photo op instead of helping highly skilled workers already here to find jobs?
    Mr. Speaker, now we see the bizarreness of NDP immigration policy.
    On the one hand, the New Democrats tell us that we should massively increase immigration levels; they say from 250,000 to at least 340,000 a year. We say no, that we should maintain current immigration levels but do a better job of selecting people who have the skills to succeed in our economy, like brilliant young entrepreneurs who have attracted Canadian investment. We would rather that they come to Canada, start their businesses here and create jobs in Canada rather than in the United States or overseas because we think immigration should be about creating wealth, jobs and prosperity for Canadians.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, our party certainly does not say one thing and then do another.
    I can understand that, after he saw the heritage minister's new website, the Minister of Immigration felt the need to do a little self-promotion himself.
    However, it is not appropriate to spend $16,000 of taxpayer money on a trip to California to unveil a billboard encouraging skilled workers to come work in Canada. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate among skilled new immigrants is double that of the rest of the population.
    How can the minister justify this expense?
    Mr. Speaker, the NDP's position is very bizarre.
    They want to double the number of immigrants we allow into Canada, yet they are against our efforts to reform the system and attract the people who would be best prepared to succeed in our economy.
    Our promotional efforts in California were very successful. We received tens of thousands of dollars in free publicity from the American media, and there are very competent entrepreneurs who can come to Canada to create businesses, jobs and economic opportunities for Canadians.

[English]

41st General Election

    Mr. Speaker, the government should be outraged after last week's Federal Court ruling on the 2011 voter suppression scandal. The ruling showed three things: one, widespread election fraud occurred; two, the data that was used to make voter suppression phone calls came from the Conservative database; and three, an elaborate effort was made to conceal the identity of the people accessing the database.
    Why does the government not come clean about which Conservatives committed this fraud using their own database?
    Mr. Speaker, what it actually showed was that this ultra-partisan court action was thrown out because there was a lack of evidence to overturn the democratically given results from the last election.
    That member over there should perhaps answer what his leader failed to do so. His leader said he wants to keep the Senate just the way it is, because he reasons that the Senate gives advantage to one province over all of the others.
    I wonder if that member is prepared to stand up, defend and explain those divisive and hurtful comments his leader was highlighting today.

  (1455)  

    That was a classic non-answer, Mr. Speaker.

[Translation]

    A judge found that the Conservative database had been used to contact people who were not Conservative supporters in order to prevent them from voting. This means one of two things: either the Conservatives deliberately used that database or the database was hacked, which means that the personal information of millions of Canadians was allowed to get into the hands of criminals.
    Either way, laws were broken and the government must take action. Why does it refuse to act?
    He stated that there was no evidence that the Conservative Party or any of its candidates were directly involved in any campaign to mislead voters.

[English]

    That is a quote directly from the judgment. The case was thrown out.
    The previous member failed to answer the question. Perhaps this one will. Why is her leader becoming the number one cheerleader for the existing status quo in the Senate, and why is he trying to divide Canadians against each other to do it?

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, again, it is the Rob Ford school of crisis management over there.
    The reality is it is not business as usual in Toronto's city hall, and it is certainly not business as usual in Canada's Parliament. This scandal reaches into the heart of the Prime Minister's inner circle, yet he is still refusing to answer the most basic questions.
    This is a question about leadership. This is a question about judgment, so let us try again. Did anyone at the Prime Minister's Office speak with any senator about whitewashing the Duffy scandal report?
    Mr. Speaker, again, Nigel Wright said that he acted alone, and the Prime Minister has been very clear about the need for all parliamentarians to show leadership on the issue of Senate reform and to come together and support the serious reforms we have put on the table, including Senate term limits and Senate elections.
    That is what we want to do. That is the direction we want to go. If the NDP members want to be serious in their talk about reforming the Senate, they will get together with us and work to pass this legislation.
    Mr. Speaker, the Ethics Commissioner has launched an inquiry. The RCMP has acted and launched its own investigation into Senategate. Even the Senate Ethics Officer, who can only act with the Senate's consent, started looking into things.
    The Prime Minister should have acted when he first learned about the payments. Someone in his office may have violated the Parliament of Canada Act and/or the Criminal Code. Why did he not show real leadership and call in the police to investigate when he first heard about it?
    Again, Mr. Speaker, he has shown real leadership, both on the specifics of this matter and on the broad issue of Senate reform itself.
    I will not take lessons from New Democrats when it comes to showing leadership and defending taxpayers, when members of their own party refuse to pay taxes and are still sitting in their caucus.
    A little bit of temperateness in their rhetoric about this would be good, because again, the hypocrisy of New Democrats pretending to stand up for taxpayers while ripping them off at the same time is a bit much.

Natural Resources

    Mr. Speaker, our government's priority is creating jobs and economic growth. We know that natural resources is a key sector of the Canadian economy, helping to employ 1.6 million people and accounting for almost 20% of Canada's economy. One project is particularly important to my constituency: the construction of a west-east pipeline. This project will allow for Canadian oil to be processed at eastern Canadian refineries, creating jobs and economic growth in our communities.
    Could the Minister of Natural Resources please update the House on the progress of this project?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to say that our government strongly supports, in principle, a west-east pipeline that will create jobs, job security and growth in eastern Canada and across the entire country.
    In contrast, the Liberal leader is playing both sides for partisan purposes and is fostering unfounded public concern based on his shaky grasp of science. As he would know if he put in a little time doing his homework, the National Energy Board will do an independent environmental review, which he should await, rather than prejudging the conclusion. He should do his homework.

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, vexing questions about where Mike Duffy lives first arose before Christmas. A forensic audit has been ongoing since February. The results, though doctored, became public on May 9. A $90,000 secret deal by the Prime Minister's chief of staff was revealed on May 14. He was forced from office on May 19.
     The issues here are the ethical and legal failures the Prime Minister allowed within his inner circle. From beginning to end, he has been silent in the House. Why will he not look Canadians in the eye and answer?

  (1500)  

    Again, Mr. Speaker, he has and he will continue to, and the Ethics Commissioner is, indeed, looking into this matter, but perhaps the Ethics Commissioner should also look into the matter the Liberals seem to want to also move away from, which is the very matter of three Liberal members of Parliament ripping off taxpayers to the tune of $175,000 in falsely claimed expenses.
    This is what the Liberals did. They had spouses and family members buy condos in Ottawa and then paid them rent. It breaks the law we have in the House when it comes to expenses. Three Liberal members of Parliament did it. They have not paid back the money. When are they going to do that?

Labour

    Mr. Speaker, in January of this year, 100 workers at Veritas Communications lost their jobs when the company closed its doors and put them out of work. The company subsequently—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. We have moved on to the next question now. The hon. member for Welland has the floor. If members want to carry on a conversation, they will have to do so outside the chamber.
    The hon. member for Welland.
    Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, 100 workers at Veritas Communications found themselves out of work this January when the company simply closed its doors and declared bankruptcy, unfortunately in the United States. It should have declared bankruptcy in this country, but it did not. If it had done so, the wage earner protection program would have covered these workers to the tune of $3,640 for each and every individual worker, but now we find that these workers are in limbo.
    Will the Minister of Labour take immediate action to help these workers receive the WEPP money they so rightly deserve?
    Mr. Speaker, like the member, I am very concerned about the situation. The workers have spoken to me and the Minister of Justice. I have spoken to the leaders of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the Canadian Auto Workers Union as well. It is a matter we take very seriously. I have asked my labour officials to look at this very closely.

Taxation

    Mr. Speaker, every day, Canadian charities are working tirelessly to help those in need. Nobody knows this better than the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, one of Parliament's biggest advocates for charities. Indeed, the member initiated a landmark study by the finance committee to examine ways to provide even more support for charitable organizations.
    Could the Minister of State (Finance) please update the House on the government's latest action to help Canadian charities?
    Mr. Speaker, today the finance minister, along with the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, helped launch the first-time donor super credit. It is designed to encourage more Canadians, especially young Canadians, to give to charity. The super credit will increase the value of the federal charitable donations tax credit by 25% for donors who have not contributed to this since 2007. This new credit will have an immediate positive impact for charities all across this country.

[Translation]

Tourism Industry

    Mr. Speaker, international tourism increased again by 4% in 2012.
    Meanwhile, Canada slipped from 7th to 18th place as an international destination. The industry is worried about the future. The major international events network, MIEN, has called on the federal government to implement structural measures to stop this downward slide.
    MIEN is asking for increased funding for the Canadian Tourism Commission and the creation of a program to support major international events.
    Will the Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism finally implement solutions to provide more stable and sustainable funding for our tourism industry?
    Mr. Speaker, we have been working with the tourism industry for several months.
    A few months ago, we introduced the federal tourism strategy. This major strategy has been endorsed by all stakeholders in the tourism industry. We will soon be releasing a public report on the first year of the strategy's implementation.
    I would like to say that this report will be very positive and well received, also by my colleague opposite, I hope.

  (1505)  

    Mr. Speaker, Quebec's tourism industry is working very hard to attract tourists.
    However, it has to contend with the federal government, which is continually cutting funding for events and festivals. Ottawa does not seem to care that Canada welcomes fewer and fewer tourists every year. That is a real threat to the economy of many regions that have already been affected by the federal government's cuts and reforms.
    Instead of spending millions of dollars to try to generate interest in the monarchy and the War of 1812, why does the government not spend more money on events that benefit communities and really attract tourists?
    Mr. Speaker, to attract tourists, the Canadian Tourism Commission advertises in countries where people have expressed an interest in coming to Canada, in emerging countries, in developing countries and in traditional countries such as the United States and European countries.
    I would like to tell my colleague that hotel occupancy rates increased considerably last year compared to the previous year. Spending on tourism increases year over year in Canada. We are working with all stakeholders in the tourism industry to ensure its success in the coming months.

[English]

Telecommunications

    Mr. Speaker, months ago, I asked the minister to take action before the big three telecoms took over Canada's smaller players and the last sliver of the wireless market. Now we learn that Mobilicity is being swallowed by Telus. WIND and Public Mobile are up for sale too.
    Their wireless strategy is failing, and we get soaring wireless costs. Will the minister reserve any new spectrum auction for new entrants only and block the sale of more wireless market share to the big three until we have some real competition?
    Mr. Speaker, indeed, we put policies in place back in 2008 to increase competition to have better rates and more choices for consumers. We want to ensure that there is a fourth player in every region of this country. What I can tell my colleagues is that these policies work.
     Just recently, we learned from a Wall Communications report that prices went down an average of 11%. This is an accomplishment. We will continue to do so.

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 18 petitions.

Interparliamentary Delegations

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the reports of the Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, respecting their participation at, one, the 126th IPU Assembly and related meetings in Kampala, Uganda, from March 31 to April 5, 2012; two, the meeting of the Steering Committee of the Twelve Plus Group in Paris, France, on February 25, 2013; three, the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York City, on March 5, 2013; four, the 128th IPU Assembly and related meetings in Quito, Ecuador, from March 22 to 27, 2013.

Committees of the House

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities 

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, entitled “Main Estimates: 2013-14”.
    I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, entitled “Economic Opportunities for Young Apprentices”.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.

Public Accounts  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in relation to its study of the main estimates 2013-14: vote 20, under finance.

  (1510)  

[Translation]

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present to the House, in both official languages, the New Democratic Party of Canada's supplementary opinion concerning the study on economic opportunities for young apprentices recently conducted by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons With Disabilities.
    The NDP supports the report, but feels that its recommendations should better represent all the testimony heard by the committee. It could for example suggest that the government make improvements to the employment insurance program for apprentices or that it work more closely with the provinces and territories, first nations, unions and the underemployed, rather than turning this report into a promotional platform for the 2013 budget.

[English]

     Mr. Speaker, I move that the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, presented on Wednesday, March 28, 2012, be concurred in.
     This particular report stated that the committee begin a study of the foreign qualification and recognition process in Canada to be titled “A Framework for Success: Practical Recommendations to Further Shorten the Foreign Qualification Recognition Process”.
    In case people are wondering what foreign qualification recognition is, it is defined as follows:
    Foreign qualification recognition is the process of verifying that the knowledge, skills, work experience and education obtained in another country is [sic] comparable to the standards established for Canadian professionals and tradespersons.
    At the time, we had about eight meetings and we heard from a variety of witnesses. I want to touch briefly upon the dissenting opinion of the New Democratic Party, which we tabled along with the report.
    I am just going to read from this:
    While we support the general direction and recommendations in this report, there are key points around funding and time frames that we felt needed to be highlighted.

    Spending is about choices and choosing options that will improve and make the foreign qualification system more productive is an obvious one.

    Using fiscal restraint as an excuse not to deal with problems in health human resources planning will result in perverse consequences like continuing high spending on wrong options.

    It is clear to us that there needs to be more action from the federal government to rationalize the system, communicate with potential immigrants overseas and to provide the appropriate funding to help qualified immigrants get the necessary training or experience to be able to work in Canada.

    New Democrats suggest these recommendations should be amended as follows:
    There were numerous recommendations, but there were actually four that we felt needed further attention by the government.
    Recommendation one:
     The Committee recommends that the federal government continue to financially support bridging programs that put a particular emphasis on profession specific language training, work experience, identification of skill gaps, and support to fill those gaps. The Committee further recommends that the bridging programs and program stakeholders engage in practices that use data sharing to improve the understanding of recruitment and retention patterns and workforce outcomes.
    We also suggested changes to recommendation four:
    The Committee recommends that Citizenship and Immigration Canada approach provincial and territorial regulatory authorities to discuss the possibility of pre-qualifying internationally trained individuals for certain occupations as part of the immigration process.
    Recommendation number seven:
    The Committee recommends that the federal government act as a model employer with regard to internship opportunities for internationally trained individuals by maintaining such initiatives as Citizenship and Immigration Canada's Federal Internship for Newcomers Program and increasing the number of interns accepted into the program.
    Finally, in recommendation number 13, New Democrats propose:
    The Committee recommends that funding for the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications and its related programs be maintained at least at the 2011-12 level for the next five years.
    I am going to touch on a number of those changes to the recommendations.
    However, before I get into that, one of the reasons we thought the report was important is that it is not news in Canada that we do have a shortage of skilled workers and that there have been challenges both around the immigration process on recognition of foreign credentials and, as well, with programs like the temporary foreign worker program and within the first nations, Inuit and Metis communities around filling gaps that we have long known about in a number of occupations.
    With regard to the temporary foreign worker program, in a May 7 article, CBC released some information. The article is titled, “Temporary foreign workers hired in areas with EI claimants” and states:
    The minister responsible for the temporary foreign worker program was told last year that employers were hiring temporary foreign workers in the same jobs and same locations as Canadians who were collecting employment insurance....
    On May 29, 2012, the deputy minister for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada wrote a briefing note to the minister...which cited four examples in which there was deemed to be a “disconnect” between the temporary foreign worker and employment insurance programs.
    The article goes on to say:
    One example cited in the briefing note revealed that “in January 2012, Albertan employers received positive confirmation for 1,261...(Temporary Foreign Worker) positions for food counter attendants. At the same time, nearly 350 people made a claim for...[employment insurance] who had cited significant experience in the same occupation and province.”

  (1515)  

    The article goes on to say:
    “Evidence suggests that, in some instances, employers are hiring temporary foreign workers in the same occupation and location as Canadians who are collecting EI...regular benefits”...
    Last month, CBC reported that dozens of employees at RBC were losing their jobs to temporary foreign workers.
    Earlier this year, two labour unions took [a mining company] to court, after the mining company hired more than 200 temporary foreign workers from China for its coal mine in northeastern B.C.
    The article goes on to talk about labour market opinions:
    Through an Access to Information request, CBC News received a 1000-page .pdf file that contained tables of labour market opinions that employers requested between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2012.
     Because Human Resources and Skills Development Canada refused to provide tables in database format, CBC News converted the document to a spreadsheet to make it possible to search by company name and location.
    That is just another example of how reluctant the government is to provide information in a format that allows Canadians to track how and where money is being spent or how results are or are not being achieved, as the case may be.
    The article continues:
    Alberta, as it turns out, is the top user of the temporary foreign worker program, according to a CBC News analysis of data from Human Resources Canada obtained through access to information.
    Between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2012, the department issued nearly 60,000 labour market opinions. Employers submit these opinions to the minister when they can’t find Canadian workers for specific jobs.
    Finally:
    Critics have pointed out that in many instances, employers aren’t searching hard enough to find Canadian workers, especially in higher unemployment areas, a concern that seems to be suggested in the briefing note.
    When it comes to matters such as the foreign qualification recognition process, what we actually need is a much broader context for how we are dealing with the labour market in Canada. It would seem that one of the roles the federal government could play is working in partnership with provincial and territorial governments to not only develop a plan to deal with some of these perceived critical labour shortages but also to take a look at how matches are made between the temporary foreign worker program and who is permitted to come into Canada.
    In connection with initiatives that the federal government might want to undertake, there is another matter with respect to filling jobs in Canada. Again I want to emphasize that the immigration program is an important part of how Canada will fulfill some of its labour requirements, but there are other ways for Canada to take a look at the situation.
    A Conference Board of Canada report from July 2012, entitled “Understanding the Value, Challenges, and Opportunities of Engaging Métis, Inuit, and First Nations Workers”, is an important document in terms of how Canada can look to filling its workforce requirements.
    In the chapter summary under “The Role of Aboriginal Workers in the Canadian Economy”, it states:
    In the years ahead, Canada faces the challenge of not having enough workers with the right skills and experience to meet its labour needs. Canada’s Aboriginal population is the fastest-growing population cohort in Canada, and could play a significant role in helping the country meet its future labour market needs. However, the labour market participation of Canada's Aboriginal population lags behind that of the non-Aboriginal population.
    It goes on:
    Several factors affect the labour market participation of Aboriginal people: their geographic location; lower educational attainment; and language and cultural issues.
    In the context of the foreign qualification recognition process, this is an important piece, because it sets a context for what Canada would be facing in terms of its labour force requirements.
    The report further states:
    Canada’s economic development and ongoing prosperity depends on having a strong and skilled workforce.
    New Democrats would agree with that statement. In terms of our economy, our innovation and our ability to compete both nationally and internationally, it is absolutely critical that we have that skilled workforce.
    The Conference Board of Canada goes on to state:
     In the coming years, however, Canada is unlikely to have enough workers with the right skills to meet its labour needs. Falling fertility rates and longer lifespans are aging Canada’s workforce at an accelerating rate. The result is not enough younger workers to replace those who are retiring. Further, many businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and hire qualified workers. This is particularly true in areas with small populations but high demand for skills, such as in Western and Northern Canada where primary industries such as oil and gas, and mineral extraction are flourishing.
    Previous research from The Conference Board of Canada concludes that “the now-imminent prospect of declining workforce growth represents a real threat and limit to our future well-being unless there are significant improvements in productivity and increasing technological innovation.”

  (1520)  

    The report goes on to say that there are a number of potential solutions to address Canada's looming labour shortage: first, raise the rate of natural population increase; second, increase immigration; and third, increase the number of mature workers engaged in the workforce.
    Because it was dealing specifically with first nations, Metis and Inuit, there a couple of challenges that the report identified, as well as a couple of solutions.
    The report identified some of the top challenges of hiring aboriginal workers as similar to those faced when attracting aboriginal workers: lack of qualifications, formal documentation, or certification; skill levels of new hires too low; lack of work experience; differences in expectations between workers and employer; and worker reluctance to move to a job site away from their community.
    One part of this particular list of challenges relates to the foreign worker qualification process, in that the issues around formal documentation and certification come up over and over again, as well as the recognition of credentials. There is an important overlap in some of these recommendations.
    As well, the report looked at some recommendations and strategies for the successful engagement of aboriginal workers. It said that a couple of things need to be in place. The tools and strategies employers most commonly use to recruit aboriginal workers are:
...advertising; local employment centres; educational institutions; community organizations; band or treaty organizations; internships or job placement programs; and Aboriginal labour market development organizations.
    The report gave the example of ASETS agreement holders.
    There are some tools and techniques that employers currently use, but there is no great mechanism to share those and there is no mechanism to make sure that some of the programs and services that the government is currently funding are working with employer organizations to ensure the outcomes that we all hope for.
    Businesses use a variety of programs, tools and strategies to motivate and retain Aboriginal workers, including Aboriginal-friendly workplace programs and/or policies, learning and development opportunities, competitive compensation and benefits, providing time for Aboriginal workers to participate in seasonal or traditional activities, and mentorship programs.
    Of course, a number of those require funding, which again, is not there consistently.
    Businesses see the following positive impacts most frequently from successfully employing Aboriginal workers: Aboriginal workers acting as role models in their communities, better relationships and integration with the local community, improved employee equity and inclusion, and economic benefits to the community.
    What is really important is that there are economic benefits both to the first nations community and to Canadians as a whole because, as I mentioned earlier and as the Conference Board of Canada and other organizations have pointed out, that Canada's contribution in terms of its productivity and its innovation rely on having a trained and skilled workforce available.
    The fact that we have had these issues with temporary foreign workers continues to speak to the lack of leadership at the government level around a strategy to deal with the ongoing skills shortages that we have known about ever since we identified the baby boom cohort and knew that they were going to retire. Part of the government answer to this, of course, is to force seniors into working longer and moving the retirement age from 65 to 67. That is hardly a plan to deal with skill shortages in Canada.
    There were a couple of things in the foreign qualification recognition process report that are important to note. One is that there was a forum of labour market ministers, the FLMM, co-chaired by the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, which was given the task of developing a framework agreement. This new Canadian framework for the assessment and recognition of foreign qualifications is called the pan-Canadian framework.
     The FLMM decided to give priority to certain specific regulated occupations for implementation of the pan-Canadian framework in the initial stages of this agreement, in the first three years. The pan-Canadian framework has been in place for a number of years but needs long-term attention, because these problems are not easily fixed overnight.
    According to the pan-Canadian framework, the standard of timely assessment had to be implemented in the following eight occupations by December 31, 2010: architects, engineers, financial auditors and accountants, medical laboratory technologists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physiotherapists and registered nurses.
    The second implementation phase of the pan-Canadian framework provided for the application of the timely assessment standard in the following six occupations by the end of December 2012: dentists, engineering technicians, licensed practical nurses, medical radiation technologists, physicians and teachers from kindergarten to grade 12.

  (1525)  

    When we read the list of occupations that are noted as priorities in this pan-Canadian framework, one has to wonder how the federal government is working with provinces and territories to ensure that we are developing a plan to address some of these priority occupations for the foreign credential recognition process. One wonders what is happening with colleges and universities, with employers and with other stakeholders in making sure we are looking at training Canadians who can also take those jobs.
    I have to admit that I was a little surprised to hear that teachers from kindergarten to grade 12 were on this list. I wonder how we are working interprovincially in this area. There may be teachers who are available but are unable to take jobs in their own provinces. I wonder what kind of process is in place to address that scenario.
    In response to a couple of problems that witnesses identified, New Democrats put forward a different recommendation, recommendation 4. The NDP's dissenting opinion states:
    A number of witnesses underscored the importance of starting the FQR process in the country of origin by issuing more certificates and licences to [internationally-trained individuals] before they come to Canada so that they are a step ahead of the game when they land. Others stated that for some occupations, such as pharmacy, there are online self-assessment tools that enable individuals to take examinations outside of Canada and obtain immediate feedback. Still others suggested Canada should go further and allow regulatory authorities to narrow the selection before ITIs land. Another suggestion was to incorporate a prequalification system into the immigration process.
    Part of the problem that comes up here is that although there have been improvements in the information that is available to people who are coming to Canada hoping to have their qualifications recognized, I think we have all too often heard the horror stories about highly qualified individuals taking jobs that are not within the occupation they trained for. In my own riding I had a conversation with a young man who was an engineer. His experience before coming to Canada was that, first of all, the information he received about recognition of his qualifications in Canada was absolutely inadequate. He was led to believe something that turned out not to be true once he arrived in Canada.
    Therefore, there are a couple of things. One piece is to make sure that people have good access to information before they make the decision to come to Canada based on their occupation. The second piece is wherever possible—and it is not always possible—to allow for a process to assess those qualifications prior to making that move.
     Nothing is more disappointing to people than to come to Canada after having spent many years being trained in a particular occupation to find out that they cannot work here. Often that is a very big personal decision for the whole family. People come here expecting to take part in a lifestyle that simply is not going to be available to them because they end up being underemployed. Of course, we have heard that in some places we have highly trained people driving taxi, which is an honourable profession, but if one has been trained as an engineer or a physician or in some other occupation, one hopes to come to Canada and practise it.
    One of the things that came before committee is an example that other countries are using. Australia has a pre-arrival qualification practice, and for the most part, Australia approaches the foreign qualification recognition the same way as Canada: employers, regulatory bodies and institutions are the entities that recognize the qualification of internationally-trained individuals. It also says that that people are fully screened before they come.
    The New Democrats thought that this was an important matter to bring before the House, particularly in light of what is happening with the temporary foreign worker program, as well as in first nations, Metis and Inuit communities where we have young, capable, eager people who just need access to skills and training so that they can take part in the modern economy.
    I would encourage members to take a hard look at this report to see where Canada could do better in terms of improving access to the labour market for both Canadians and immigrants who wish to come here and take part in the labour market.

  (1530)  

    Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for her substantive remarks on the question of foreign credential recognition, although I must admit a certain degree of skepticism about her motive when she suggests it was because of the urgency of this issue as opposed to merely a dilatory effort to delay government business.
    Is the member aware that we have made an investment of over $30 million in the Foreign Credentials Referral Office to offer pre-arrival information through the Canadian immigration integration project delivered by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges in such places as Seoul, Manila, Beijing, New Delhi, London, England and elsewhere?
     Is she aware that some 80% of our selected economic immigrants have access to a free two-day seminar and personalized counselling on how to find employment and pre-apply for their credential recognition from the relevant Canadian professional bodies?
    Would she agree with our recently instituted mandatory requirement that applicants for our federal skilled worker program submit an assessment of their education done by a designated expert agency in international education?
    Would she agree with our expressed intention to adopt the Australian approach of a mandatory pre-assessment of credentials by the relevant licensing bodies at the national level to essentially replicate the pre-screening that Australia does for foreign trained professionals applying for immigration?
    Mr. Speaker, what we would support is ensuring that when people immigrate to Canada, they are able to work in their chosen profession and whatever can be done to facilitate that is a step in the right direction. As always, we need to consider the implications, when we implement mandatory systems, to ensure we do not o short-circuit something that would be of benefit to Canada.
     As well, I did not get a chance to talk about issues like the bridging programs and other supports for people once they come to Canada, but those are also very important elements of what needs to happen when we have workers come into Canada.
    Mr. Speaker, immigrant credentials and their recognition of them has been an issue for many years. When I was first elected, it was one of the first resolutions in which I had the opportunity to debate, and that goes back to the late 1980s.
    If we want to deal with immigrant credentials and get them recognized, there has to be more of a holistic approach that includes and goes far beyond just the federal government being engaged, but there is no doubt the federal government has a leadership role to play in it.
     We need to get the different stakeholders, whether it is our educational institutions, our labour force, in particular unions, different levels of government and other stakeholders to come to the table, to recognize that individuals who come from foreign countries do in fact have the abilities and the credentials. Where we can, we have to take down the barriers that do not allow those legitimate credentials to be recognized.
    I am interested in my colleague's comments on that assertion.
    Mr. Speaker, in fact, there is a very real cost for non-recognition. A study carried out in 2001 stated that the cost of non-recognition of qualifications acquired outside of Canada was between $4.1 billion and $5.9 billion a year. When we talk about foreign credential recognition, this also includes Canadians who have gone abroad to get a credential and then have come back to Canada hoping to practise their particular profession.
    The member is absolutely correct. What this file requires is federal leadership, but also working very closely with provinces and territories. In many cases, it is provincial organizations that actually implement the mechanisms to recognize credentials. Therefore, it is very important that there is this working together across levels of government, but the federal government must take leadership on this issue.

  (1535)  

    Mr. Speaker, I come from Hamilton and our community is blessed with a very rich and diverse newcomer community. However, one of the jokes that goes around Hamilton, and sadly it is not very funny, is that the best place for women to have a baby in Hamilton is in a taxi cab because we have so many doctors in our community who are driving cabs instead of doing the job for which they have been trained.
    I listened to the member's speech with great interest. She is very eloquent and right in her analysis of what needs to be done to make it possible for foreign trained professionals to succeed in Canada. The loss of their skills is a loss to our whole community. Certainly, it is to them and their families, but it is also a lost to our community and indeed to our whole country.
    Canada kind of engages in false advertising when it comes to the recognition of credentials. We give people extra points because of their academic qualifications and because of their language skills. We encourage them to come here with their families and once they get here, we point the finger at the provincial governments and say that they have not done enough and it is their fault that folks are unable to get jobs here.
    Could the member comment, once again, on how important it is that we do not engage in that kind of false advertising and that we provide real and meaningful support to newcomers so they can excel and help us build the Canadian economy?
    Mr. Speaker, the member for Hamilton Mountain is absolutely correct. It is a complete waste of human resources when we say to people who want to come to Canada that we are opening our door to them. At least we used to open our door to them, but under the current government's policy branch, it is slamming doors all over the place when it comes to immigration. We tell people to come to Canada, that it is a great place to live and to work. They may have spent 8, 10, or 12 years in their profession acquiring the skills, the knowledge and ability to the job, but when they come to Canada we do not let them use those skills, knowledge and ability.
    I cannot imagine what it must be like for families that come to Canada with the expectation they will be able to practise their profession only to find out they will have to spend years in order to requalify, for whatever reasons. One of the things that many people do not recognize is that when immigrants come to Canada, they are not automatically eligible for a Canada student loan, for example. Therefore, there often is not the financial wherewithal to get the training they need.
     Canadians want to ensure that people who are practising their profession are skilled. They need the qualifications. Everyone agrees with that piece, but this is about the expectations we create when we are not clear with people about what it will take for them to practise in our country.
    Mr. Speaker, the immigration minister has indicated it would be good for the skilled people who are able to come here to have a job waiting for them when they do come. However, would the member agree with me that there are many foreign credentialling agencies involved? There are well over 400, many with provincial association or jurisdiction. The government has taken significant steps like ensuring there is pre-arrival information. Would she agree that is good? There is pre-assessment before they come to the country.
     Then, of course, the government invested over $50 million over two years through the economic action plan 2009 and further contributes $25 million annually to improve the recognition of foreign qualifications. Some 14 priority occupations have been identified and there is continuing work to include further occupations that have assured newcomers they can have their credentials assessed within one year. Does she agree with that process, that it must be an ongoing process and that funds that have been committed need to be ongoing?
    Furthermore, I recall being in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where a pilot was announced where internationally trained professionals were helped to bridge any shortcomings to ensure they could enter the workforce quickly and that this financing was provided.
    Is she aware of all of these steps and would she agree that all of these need to happen, including having more people going through high school and skills training after high school, and that the government has approached every level and every facet of this to ensure we can bring Canadians to jobs as quickly as possible, including those who internationally are coming into our country?

  (1540)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member is the chair of HUMA. When I started my speech, I indicated that by and large the New Democrats did agree with the report that came out of the Standing Committee on Human Resources and Skills Development, but we had some suggestions on how to improve that.
    One of them was around continuing to financially support the bridging programs. These bridging programs are very important in helping people make that adjustment to the way a profession is practised in Canada. Some of those bridging programs are very successful. However, we heard from some of the witnesses that the funding was not regularized. Projects would be up and running, they would be successful and then they would end. That consistency in funding is very important with regard to bridging.
    We also said that the pre-qualifying internationally trained individuals for certain occupations needed to continue and that the federal government needed to approach provincial and territorial regulatory authorities to discuss this possibility and to expand it in certain occupations. I believe there are now 16, but there are many other occupations that should be included in that pre-qualification. We encourage the federal government to act as a model employer and include more internships.
     Finally, the funding for the pan-Canadian framework for the assessments needs to be at least maintained at its previous levels.

[Translation]

    It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings on the motion at this time.
    Pursuant to an order made Wednesday, May 22, 2013, the debate is deemed adjourned. Accordingly, the debate on the motion will be rescheduled for another sitting.

[English]

Petitions

Canada Post  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition submitted by hundreds of constituents from my riding. The petitioners are concerned about the changes at Canada Post outlets in Cape Breton.
     Following the downsizing of our customer service counter in North Sydney, the removal of our sorting centre and the relocating of overnight services to Halifax centre, the petitioners call on the government to reverse this decision and consult with the public before implementing any changes to Canada postal services.

Lyme Disease  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from citizens who are concerned about the problem of Lyme disease.
     Among other things, the petitioners are concerned that numerous field review scientific studies have warned that a warming climate will expand the geographic range of Lyme disease carrying tics further into Canada, including a 2012 paper by Leighton et al, which states that over 80% of the population in eastern and central Canada could be living in areas at risk of Lyme disease by 2020.
     The petitioners ask that the government convene a national conference with provincial and territorial health ministers, representatives of the medical community and patients groups for the purpose of developing a national strategy that works toward ensuring the recognition, timely diagnosis and effective treatment of Lyme disease in Canada.

[Translation]

Canadian International Development Agency  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present several petitions from my city, Edmonton, and from Leduc, Beaumont, St. Paul, Sherwood Park, Sturgeon County, Calgary and Saskatoon.
    The petitioners call on the Minister of International Cooperation to reconsider CIDA's new priorities. They want the federal government to heed the pleas of southern countries concerning the activities of Canadian companies on their soil and to focus Canada's international aid priorities on poverty reduction and human rights.

  (1545)  

[English]

Falun Gong  

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Fleetwood—Port Kells to present a petition signed by dozens of people from my riding. The petition urges the Government of Canada to call for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong in China and to criticize the Chinese Communist party for purportedly allowing the harvesting of organs from Falun Gong practitioners.

Abortion  

    Mr. Speaker, I have another petition to present, signed by hundreds of residents of my riding. The petitioners call upon the House of Commons to join other western nations and speedily enact legislation that restricts abortion to the greatest extent possible.

Sex Selection  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a third petition signed by nearly 1,000 people from my riding. Petitioners call upon the House of Commons to condemn discrimination against girls through sex-selective abortion and to do all it can to prevent sex-selective abortions from being carried out in Canada.

Rights of the Unborn  

    Mr. Speaker, the fourth petition I have to be presented is signed by residents from my riding. The petitioners call upon the House of Commons to confirm that every human being is recognized by Canadian law as human by amending Section 223 of the Criminal Code in such a way as to reflect 21st century medical evidence.

Vietnamese Freedom Flag   

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to stand and present a petition on behalf of many of Toronto's Vietnamese community who organize a formal flag raising ceremony at Nathan Phillips Square every year. The ceremony is intended to commemorate and remember those who have given so much in the name of national service by both highlighting the differences that make us unique, and more importantly, by paying tribute to the qualities that cause us to work co-operatively for a better tomorrow.
    Despite these laudable objectives, each year a true symbol of these ideas, also known as the flag of South Vietnam, or the freedom flag, is denied the status it rightfully deserves. Thousands of people have signed these petitions asking for some level of recognition of the freedom flag by the Government of Canada that would demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of those who have fought to uphold and protect the virtues of democracy.

Genetically Modified Alfalfa  

    Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions today.
    The first is from about 140 citizens in my riding of Nanaimo—Alberni. They are communities such as Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Coombs, Errington and Bowser. They wish to draw the attention of the House to concerns about genetically modified alfalfa. They note that it requires variety registration before it can be legally sold as seed in Canada, but it has already been approved for human consumption and environmental release and is currently planted in test plots in Canada. They are concerned about unwanted contamination by GM alfalfa and the impact that would have on organic farming.
    Therefore, the petitioners are calling on Parliament to impose a moratorium on the release of genetically modified alfalfa.

Sodium Reduction Strategy  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition concerns Bill C-460, the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act and has about 25 signatures from the Nanaimo-Ladysmith area.

Genetically Modified Alfalfa  

    Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions.
    The first one is also on a moratorium on GM alfalfa, from residents of Nelson, Slocan Valley, Kaslo, Castlegar, Rossland, Salmo, Ymir and Ainsworth, in my riding. They are saying that organic farming prohibits the use of genetic modification. They are concerned that contamination by genetically modified alfalfa will destroy the organic industry.
    They are calling on Parliament to impose a moratorium on the release of genetically modified alfalfa to allow proper review on the impact on farmers.

Animal Welfare  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition, from the Chilliwack area, has about 200 names. The petitioners are calling upon the House of Commons to work with the provinces to ensure that federal and provincial laws are constructed and enforced that would ensure that those responsible for abusing, neglecting, torturing or otherwise harming animals are held accountable.

Genetically Modified Foods  

    Mr. Speaker, my last petition is from the Toronto area. It calls on Parliament to enact Bill C-257 to require mandatory labelling of all food in which the presence of genetically modified ingredients can be detected.

Abortion  

    Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present today on behalf of constituents. In the first, constituents note that Canada is one of the very few countries in the western world that has no law on abortion. They call on Parliament to do as the Supreme Court has suggested on a couple of occasions and put in place a law on abortion that would restrict abortion in some fashion.

  (1550)  

Sex Selection  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition refers to the CBC program on sex-selective abortion. The petitioners call upon Parliament to make a strong statement against infanticide of females in this country and to end the practice of sex-selective abortion in Canada.

Search and Rescue  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to present two petitions signed by thousands of Canadians.
    The first calls to save the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. The petitioners say that the recent decision by the federal government to close Kitsilano Coast Guard station is a grave mistake that will undoubtedly cost the lives of those in peril on the shores and waters near Vancouver harbour. They call on the Government of Canada to rescind this decision and reinstate full funding to maintain the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.

Shark Finning  

    Mr. Speaker, I would also like to present a petition on banning the importation of shark fins to Canada. The petitioners say that measures must be taken to stop the global practice of shark finning and to ensure the responsible conservation and management of sharks. They call on the Government of Canada to immediately ban the importation of shark fins to Canada.

Experimental Lakes Area  

    Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that petitions continue to roll in concerning the Experimental Lakes Area. People all across Canada, but in this case from Winnipeg, really hope that the government will reverse its decision and fund the Experimental Lakes Area for the important work it does in science.

[Translation]

Canada Post  

    Mr. Speaker, once again, I am presenting a petition on behalf of hundreds of people in my riding who are opposed to the potential closure of the only public post office in the riding of Gatineau, at 139 Racine Street.
    I am not surprised to see the number of people who continue to write to me or sign this petition and oppose this closure, given how important this post office is to the riding and the impact it has.

Peace  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition I am presenting today is from people who are extremely concerned about peace around the world.
    They have signed a petition urging Parliament to create a department of peace, headed by a minister for peace who would play a prominent role in cabinet. This concern is shared by people in a number of ridings.

[English]

Lyme Disease  

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today, and I wish to thank other hon. members who presented petitions today, as well, on the subject of Lyme disease and my private member's bill, Bill C-442. This bill would call for a national Lyme disease strategy to improve the sharing of best practices, federally and provincially, for diagnosis, cure and prevention of what is an extremely debilitating disease that is often misunderstood.

Foreign Investment  

    Mr. Speaker, my second petition today is from residents of Richmond, Comox, Vancouver and Victoria. It calls on the government to refuse to ratify the Canada–China investment treaty as it will compromise Canadian sovereignty and allow Chinese state-owned enterprises to bring arbitration cases against Canada for laws passed municipally, provincially or federally, or even for court judgments.

Animal Welfare  

    Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition that hundreds of constituents have signed. It calls on the Government of Canada to recognize that the use of shock collars on animals is barbaric and unnecessary. The petitioners also want the government to ban the sale and use of electric shock collars in Canada, as has been done in other countries. I have had many articulate and well-meaning constituents come into my office to talk to me about this. I would urge the government to take this petition seriously.

Questions on the Order Paper

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

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Government Orders]

  (1555)  

[English]

Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012

Bill C-48 — Time Allocation Motion  

    That, in relation to Bill C-48, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act, the Excise Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the First Nations Goods and Services Tax Act and related legislation, not more than five further hours shall be allotted to the consideration of the third reading stage of the Bill; and
that at the expiry of the five hours provided for the consideration of the third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 67(1), there will now be a 30-minute question period.
    The hon. member for Gatineau.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of questions for the minister. This is ridiculous. Here we have another time allocation motion for the bill to amend the Income Tax Act, the Excise Tax Act, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, the First Nations Goods and Services Tax Act and related legislation.
    We are all very aware, as are Canadians, that the government is up to the same old tricks. We have stopped counting, but the number keeps climbing. The government has used this same method 34 or 35 times now. That is likely what it will be known for in years to come. It has already earned the title of the most undemocratic government Canada has ever had. It is all the more astounding and ridiculous given that these people were elected in 2006 by making Canadians believe that they would be transparent, open and not like previous governments. They promised a change in culture. They essentially signed an agreement, a contract, with the Canadian people.
    What are they doing? They insist on staying the course and what is even worse is that they are doing the same thing they criticized previous Liberal governments for doing. What is going on here boggles my mind. We have a total of five hours to discuss some extremely important issues. If that is not considered muzzling, I do not know what is.
    I have a very simple question for the minister. Is she not embarrassed to rise in the House and tell Canadians that what she is doing is democratic? She is muzzling democratically elected members of Parliament more often than is necessary, which prevents them from representing Canadians. I would be embarrassed if I were her.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I can assure the hon. member that I am very proud of what our government has done for Canadian business and taxpayers.
    It has been over a decade since Parliament last passed a comprehensive package of technical tax amendments. This particular bill has been in Parliament for nearly 200 days now. Surely 200 days is long enough. Let us show some respect for Canadian taxpayers and get moving on this bill.
    Even before this bill was introduced, it was consulted on literally for years in advance, with repeated public consultations. We know that all sides support this bill. All sides recognize that it is a technical bill. All parties supported it at second reading at finance committee, without amendment.
    We need to get on with it. We need to do this for Canadians.

  (1600)  

    Mr. Speaker, once again we are witness to the government House leader's inability to negotiate in good faith with the opposition parties. That is really what is lacking.
    Typically what one would expect is the government House leader approaching opposition parties to give them some sort of an indication of what it is the government would like to be able to get through, in terms of a legislative agenda. Opposition parties would in turn try to work with the government to recognize those bills that the opposition is quite comfortable in passing, to make sure there is proper time given and ultimately bills would be passed.
    The government should be going to time allocation as a last resort. In the past, political parties at the federal and provincial levels have resorted to time allocation. What makes this rather unique is the fact that never before in the history of the House of Commons, from what I understand, have we seen a government incorporate time allocation into the process of passing its legislation.
    Time and time again, well over 30 times now since the last federal election, the government has stood in its place and moved time allocation, which restricts the ability of members of Parliament to represent their constituents. It restricts the ability of the opposition and the government backbenchers to afford comment on important pieces of legislation.
    My question to the member is, why has the government made the decision to use time allocation as a part of a process, which is most inappropriate given the prestigious House in which we sit?
     This is a majority Conservative Reform-type of government that has taken an attitude that has put democracy last in terms of processing legislation through this House.
    My question is, why?
    Mr. Speaker, the answer is, because we are the party and government that gets things done.
    This bill has been in Parliament for seven months now. It has had nearly 200 days for debate and study. It is a bill that all parties support. It is a bill that has been a decade in the making. We need to move forward. This is something that non-partisan groups have been demanding of us, groups like the Real Property Association of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Tax Executives Institute and the Canadian Tax Foundation.
    Listen to what the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, which is a professional organization representing over 75,000 tax professionals, had to say:
    Some of the measures contained in today’s bill were initially proposed as early as 1999....With unlegislated tax measures, taxpayers and professional accountants must maintain their records and forms—sometimes for years—to be in a position to comply, even without knowing when and if these measures will be approved by Parliament and enacted. This uncertainty and unpredictability places an enormous compliance burden on taxpayers, businesses, professionals and their clients.
    Our government wants to do the right thing by these groups.
    Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear the minister talk about the fact that the bill has been in the House for 200 days.
    I wonder if the minister could be reminded that it is actually the government that determines what bills are coming forward. The government had ample time to bring it forward for fulsome debate. Instead, as usual, the government is invoking closure, invoking time allocation on a very complex piece of legislation. I want to reference Thorsteinssons, the tax lawyers who say:
    My printed version of the changes and accompanying notes runs to well in excess of 900 pages. This Bill will also be passed without much in the way of informed debate in the House.
    This seems to be a pattern in terms of the way the government is managing its business. We have seen it on the matrimonial real property bill, where there was time allocation in the House and there was time allocation in the committee. Now we have this complex piece of legislation, and the minister is quite correct, there have been changes out there since 1999 that two successive governments have failed to deal with.
    I want to ask the minister if she feels, given the concerns that have been raised about the 900 pages, that parliamentarians have had sufficient time to study the 900 pages. Is the minister confident that the changes being proposed, all of the technical amendments being proposed, are actually going to do what they are purported to do?

  (1605)  

    Mr. Speaker, as I did say, the bill has been before Parliament for 200 days. Even before the bill was introduced it was consulted on for literally years with repeated public consultations with professional groups.
    I know that at finance committee all parties have supported the bill. They voted for it at second reading and at the finance committee stage. I should note that the all-party finance committee endorsed the bill without amendment after a detailed study. Indeed, witness after witness spoke in favour of the bill. Therefore, I want to share with the House what some of those witnesses said.
    The vice-president of taxation at the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants stated:
    We support Bill C-48. [We understand] how important it is for taxpayers to have greater certainty and a clearer understanding of Canada's federal income tax system....Bill C-48 helps improve clarity and certainty, and it mitigates the negative effects of uncertainty identified by the Auditor General.
    Therefore, it is important that we ensure that this bill is passed as soon as possible.
    Mr. Speaker, people are watching this and they wonder how the government lost $3.1 billion through sheer incompetence. What we are seeing today is a good example.
    We have a major technical bill that should be debated in the House. However, the government is trying to push it through as fast as it can because it wants to go home early and not stay and do the work for the Canadian people. Therefore, it is not allowing for a proper debate on it.
    The Conservatives say that it has been in the House for 200 days. What they are not saying to the Canadian people is that it has been sitting on the minister's desk for 200 days. Therefore, when we are now supposed to debate serious technical amendments they are suddenly concerned about getting down to business. Let us see what they will slough off without having proper parliamentary scrutiny.
    These are hundreds of amendments that are technical in nature. It is a tax omnibus bill that includes the issues of anti-avoidance measures on specific leasing properties, ensuring that income trusts and partnerships are subject to the same loss utilization restrictions as between corporations, limits on the use of the foreign tax credit generated for international tax avoidance, clarifying rules on Canadian tax property for non-residents and migrants, and providing an information reporting regime for tax avoidance and transactions.
    Those are only a small number of the issues to be debated in this House and the government is passing it off as quickly as it can.
    I would ask the hon. member this. Given the incompetence of her government in losing $3.1 billion, why is she trying to allow this important tax bill to just slip through?
    Mr. Speaker, that is some slip, 200 days.
    I want to first point out in response to the hon. member that it was his party, the NDP, that moved to end debate last week because it wanted to go home from the House. We came here to work and we came here to work for Canadians. On this side of the House we know how important it is to pay our taxes and to collect our taxes. That is what we intend to do.
    I could go on about the groups that support this bill and want to have it passed very quickly.
    I will quote Larry Chapman, who is the executive director and CEO of the Canadian Tax Foundation. He stated:
    Bill C-48, the Technical Tax Amendments Act....represents 10 years of repairs and maintenance in updating the Income Tax Act and the Excise Tax Act. Its passage is important to all Canadians. You heard that in the earlier presentation. I want to emphasize it again. Its passage is very important to all Canadians.
    Further, he said:
    Delays in the passage of tax legislation leave taxpayers and their advisers in a no man's land of uncertainty. My message for the Standing Committee on Finance is that you should encourage passage of this legislation....
    That is what we intend to do.
    Order. Before we continue with questions, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, Search and Rescue; the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, The Environment.

  (1610)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I always find it interesting to hear the government talk about time allocation and about what we could have done, when this is the 34th, 35th or 36th time we have seen time allocation.
    This bill has 1,000 pages, which deal with very technical issues, and the government has decided that we should be able to determine the fate of the bill in less than five hours.
    What is preventing the government, the committee and the opposition from identifying the problem, making suggestions and changing the legislation to ensure that it meets the expectations and needs of Canadians and the government?
    I asked this question the last time that time allocation came up, but nothing has changed. What is the government so afraid of that it is forcing us to quickly study bills? What ends up happening is that the government has to ask the Senate to make corrections. They always regret having moved so quickly.
    What are you so afraid of? Why are you pushing us to pass or refuse to pass a bill because it has not been studied?
    It is almost June, and as my colleague pointed out, we have to wonder whether the Conservatives want to go home early and break for the summer. We are here to work until June 20.

[English]

    Before I go to the minister, I remind all hon. members to address their questions and comments to the Chair rather than directly to other members of the House.
    The hon. Minister of National Revenue.
    Mr. Speaker, I will remind this member that it was the NDP members who wanted to go home early last week. On this side of the House we come to work for Canadians.
    On meeting the needs of Canadians, this bill has probably been more than 14 years in the making, so it is hardly rushing anything through. There has been a lot of public consultation on the bill, and it has been before Parliament for 200 days now.
    Part of the bill would also close tax loopholes. What could the opposition possibly have against closing tax loopholes? When we collect tax owed by Canadians, we can fund the services that Canadians need to have, like schools, hospitals and other services that we provide for Canadians. Bill C-48 contains measures that would implement a more rigorous information reporting regime for certain transactions associated with schemes to avoid taxes. This, along with our budget this year, contains measures as well to crack down on tax evasion and tax avoidance. We certainly hope that the NDP will be supporting not just this bill, but our budget as well.
    Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the hon. minister, the government should have a level of confidence in the bills it puts forward, that they have been thoroughly discussed and that the government members are prepared to stand and debate them fully. Bringing in closure on something we have already indicated on this end of the House that we are supporting really makes it frustrating. Closure means to me that the Conservatives want to shut down debate because they do not believe in what they are trying to put through.
    If the Conservatives had the confidence they should have in putting forth this legislation and knowing we are prepared to support it, they would want to encourage that rather than shut down debate to try to force it through, because probably they are more anxious to get out of here than anybody else in this House.
    I ask the minister, does she have confidence in the bill that is before us, and if so, why is it necessary to bring in closure because she does not have the confidence to stand and debate it fully?
    Mr. Speaker, if both opposition parties have said that they support the bill and have supported the bill, one can assume they have read the bill and they are fine with the bill.
    Let me just quote a tax partner from KPMG, Paul Hickey. He said:
[I] ask Parliament to act decisively and to pass Bill C-48 to essentially clean the slate of this old pending legislation and to finally bring the Income Tax Act up to date. Taxpayers could then move on and focus on running their business, and the CRA could carry on administering and collecting tax in a more stable system.
    I believe this is what all Canadians want. It is obviously what the professionals are asking for. I urge the opposition members to support the bill.

  (1615)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the minister try to rationalize why the government has to move closure for the 34th time in this very short Parliament and so far I have not found anything persuasive. Frankly, I am not sure whether she has been following the debate on this bill at all. On this side of the House, we are supporting the bill. We are not trying to hold it up unreasonably. We, like she purports to, believe in cracking down on both tax avoidance and tax evasion, but it is a 1,000-page bill.
    Whatever happened to the way this place used to run? It is not that I have been here forever, but this is my third term and there were times when House leaders would come to the table, ask each other how much time they needed to debate the bill, what they thought due diligence would look like on a bill and they would negotiate. That is why we did not have these massive numbers of time allocation motions because Parliament worked like it was supposed to. There is a bit of give and take, some bills members pass very quickly, they agree to do that and other bills merit more debate.
    Frankly, government members sometimes wanted more debate because they thought the content of their bills was so good, they wanted to ensure every Canadian knew about them. They wanted to have consultations in committee and extensive committee hearings so their supporters could tell everybody that the government was doing a bang-up job. I guess not very many Canadians think the current government is doing a bang-up job because it is sure afraid of hearing from Canadians.
    There is nothing wrong with giving a bill good, detailed scrutiny. That is what our job is as parliamentarians. Could the minister explain to the House why her government is so afraid of detailed scrutiny of their bills? What it is trying to hide? What does it not want Canadians to know about?
    Mr. Speaker, as I have said, this bill is more than 10 years in the making and throughout that time, extensive consultations have been had with industry and professional associations on many aspects of this bill.
    I will quote Carole Presseault, who is the vice-president of Government Regulatory Affairs for the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada. In her remarks to the committee, she said:
—I wish to say that we support the tabling of the bill and that we encourage you to move swiftly to pass this important piece of legislation. The bill deals with a massive backlog of unlegislated tax measures. Its passage would, in our opinion, bring greater clarity to the tax system and strengthen the integrity of our laws.
    We intend to support requests such as Carole Presseault's and pass this legislation swiftly.
    Mr. Speaker, as a small business person, I have been aware for 60 some-odd years, though recently it has changed a bit, that nothing is certain but death, taxes and time allocation motions by the Conservatives. I hope we get that list back down to just two.
    I want to go on record as saying that as a small business person representing other small business people, I do not know yet how I will vote on this legislation. I really need more information and debate on it. I want to hear the opinions of others and I really hope this is one that we decide not to put time allocation on.
    Mr. Speaker, I applaud the hon. member for being a small business owner because our government has done a lot to support small businesses since we became government, probably more than any other government in history.
    One of the changes I am very proud of is that we have lowered taxes for small businesses a number of times to allow them to keep more of their own money and invest in their own businesses. Small business is the backbone of the Canadian economy.
    As I said, this is a very technical bill. The hon. member wants to hear the opinions of others before he makes his decision. I have just shared the opinions of six or seven professional associations, which they shared in the finance committee. This represents a wide variety of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, who urge us to pass this bill swiftly to give them certainty in their professions.

  (1620)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify the record. I think there is quite a difference between the official opposition requesting to adjourn at 11:45 p.m. and the government trying to stop debate at four o'clock in the afternoon. I understand it is tea time in some parts of the world, but we are elected to debate and that is what the official opposition would like to do.
    I would like to bring attention to the comments of Sheila Fraser, the former Auditor General of Canada, whom I think the whole House has a high degree of respect for. Her comment was, ”No income tax technical bill has been passed since 2001”.
    One of my colleagues has quietly pointed something out, which is a bit surprising to us. Generally speaking, the Conservative government thumbs its nose at any bill passed by a previous government, particularly a Liberal previous government. Therefore, we are a little surprised that it is now enacting tax amendments that would have been brought forward by a previous Liberal government. So be it, but finally, to the Conservatives' credit, a non-partisan bill.
    Sheila Fraser further said:
    Although the government has said that an annual technical bill of routine housekeeping amendments to the Act is desirable, this has not happened. As a result, the Department of Finance Canada has a backlog of at least 400 technical amendments that have not been enacted, including 250 “comfort letters” dating back to 1998...
    Why is that important? Because, with the comfort letters, until legislated, one must assume what the law is, which is fine if one has an accounting firm doing one's taxes. However, many small businesses, individuals and seniors do not have high-paid chartered accountants advising on what the law is, including new rules not even enacted yet.
    The final comment I would like to make, and would appreciate a response to, is the minister said that there were many experts that came to committee who were in support of it. This is one amendment that the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada called for because it was clearly fed up waiting for more than 10 years to finally get these amendments. It called upon the government to implement a sunset provision to prevent future legislative backlogs.
    Will the minister tell us today that this will not happen again? Can we anticipate that we will have annual updates to the tax code so all Canadians have equality when they fill out their tax returns to submit?
    Mr. Speaker, that is exactly why it is important that we pass this legislation and soon, because it does date back so long.
    We have applauded the Office of the Auditor General for its report on this issue and its success in highlighting the need for action both from government and from Parliament. The Auditor General made a series of recommendations to help deal with this issue going forward, and we agree with each of those recommendations.
     For instance, the Auditor General recommended that the Department of Finance use an integrated and consistent process for reporting, tracking and prioritizing all technical issues for possible legislative amendment. We agreed and moved to consolidate the Department of Finance's system to ensure technical issues would be documented and catalogued consistently and that the system would be maintained and kept up to date.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of National Revenue herself has said, this legislation has been 10 years in the making.
    The NDP has not been opposing this legislation for 10 years. This delay is where the whole problem of the backlog comes from. The government has obviously not been very serious about following up on the implementation of tax legislation and drafting and passing new legislation. We are not the only ones saying so. For 10 years now, all stakeholders have been calling for more rigorous management of tax legislation.
    Therefore I would like to ask the government representative and Minister of National Revenue how combining all this in one bill and hastily voting on it is going to protect us from the mistakes that have been plaguing this legislation for 10 years.
    Rather than breaking up this bill, taking the time to consider it more thoroughly and ensuring that we will never again have to deal with a 10-year delay, the government is going full steam ahead with a single bill.
    How can all these problems possibly be addressed by this—please excuse my language—last-minute bullshit?

  (1625)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, all these amendments are currently being used in our tax system and that is why it is important they be enshrined in legislation as soon as possible. Most of what is in this technical tax bill has been discussed at length with the professional organizations.
    I also want to add that in the Auditor General's report, he also recommended the Department of Finance regularly develop and release draft technical amendments, including those that arose from comfort letters, so taxpayers and tax practitioners would know what change would be made and could provide input. Again, we have agreed with that and we are formally committed to bringing technical amendments packages forward for consideration where appropriate, notwithstanding the fact that the prior technical amendments had not yet been adopted by Parliament.
    In fact, this past December, the Department of Finance released a package of draft legislative proposals for public comment relating to a number of technical tax changes.
     We know we have to do a better job going forward and a more consistent job so that we do not end up with very large bills like this, which has been a backlog for the last 10 years.
    It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings at this time and put forthwith the question on the motion now before the House.
     The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): In my opinion the yeas have it.
    And five or more members having risen:
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Call in the members.

  (1705)  

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

(Division No. 696)

YEAS

Members

Ablonczy
Adams
Adler
Aglukkaq
Albas
Albrecht
Alexander
Allen (Tobique—Mactaquac)
Allison
Ambler
Ambrose
Anders
Armstrong
Ashfield
Aspin
Benoit
Bernier
Bezan
Blaney
Block
Boughen
Breitkreuz
Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Newmarket—Aurora)
Brown (Barrie)
Bruinooge
Butt
Calandra
Calkins
Cannan
Carmichael
Carrie
Chisu
Chong
Clarke
Clement
Crockatt
Daniel
Davidson
Dechert
Del Mastro
Dreeshen
Duncan (Vancouver Island North)
Dykstra
Fantino
Fast
Findlay (Delta—Richmond East)
Fletcher
Galipeau
Gallant
Glover
Goguen
Goodyear
Gosal
Gourde
Grewal
Harris (Cariboo—Prince George)
Hawn
Hayes
Hiebert
Hoback
Holder
James
Jean
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Kenney (Calgary Southeast)
Kerr
Komarnicki
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
Lake
Lauzon
Lebel
Leitch
Lemieux
Leung
Lizon
Lobb
Lukiwski
Lunney
MacKay (Central Nova)
MacKenzie
Mayes
McColeman
McLeod
Menegakis
Merrifield
Miller
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Nicholson
Norlock
Obhrai
O'Connor
Oliver
O'Neill Gordon
Opitz
O'Toole
Paradis
Payne
Poilievre
Preston
Raitt
Rajotte
Rathgeber
Reid
Rempel
Richards
Rickford
Ritz
Saxton
Seeback
Shea
Shipley
Shory
Smith
Sopuck
Sorenson
Stanton
Storseth
Strahl
Sweet
Tilson
Toet
Toews
Trost
Trottier
Truppe
Tweed
Uppal
Van Kesteren
Van Loan
Wallace
Warawa
Warkentin
Watson
Weston (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country)
Weston (Saint John)
Wilks
Williamson
Wong
Woodworth
Yelich
Young (Oakville)
Zimmer

Total: -- 144

NAYS

Members

Allen (Welland)
Andrews
Angus
Atamanenko
Aubin
Ayala
Bélanger
Bennett
Blanchette
Blanchette-Lamothe
Boivin
Boulerice
Boutin-Sweet
Brison
Brosseau
Caron
Casey
Cash
Charlton
Chicoine
Chisholm
Choquette
Chow
Christopherson
Cleary
Côté
Crowder
Cullen
Cuzner
Davies (Vancouver Kingsway)
Day
Dewar
Dionne Labelle
Donnelly
Doré Lefebvre
Dubé
Duncan (Etobicoke North)
Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona)
Dusseault
Easter
Eyking
Foote
Fortin
Freeman
Fry
Garneau
Garrison
Genest
Genest-Jourdain
Giguère
Goodale
Gravelle
Groguhé
Harris (Scarborough Southwest)
Harris (St. John's East)
Hsu
Hughes
Hyer
Julian
Kellway
Lamoureux
Lapointe
Larose
Latendresse
Laverdière
LeBlanc (Beauséjour)
Leslie
Liu
MacAulay
Mai
Marston
Martin
Masse
Mathyssen
May
McCallum
Michaud
Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue)
Morin (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord)
Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine)
Morin (Laurentides—Labelle)
Mulcair
Murray
Nantel
Nash
Nicholls
Nunez-Melo
Papillon
Péclet
Perreault
Plamondon
Quach
Rae
Rankin
Raynault
Regan
Saganash
Sandhu
Scott
Sellah
Sgro
Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor)
Sims (Newton—North Delta)
Stewart
Stoffer
Toone
Tremblay
Trudeau
Turmel
Valeriote

Total: -- 110

PAIRED

Nil

    I declare the motion carried.
    [For continuation of proceedings see part B]
    [Continuation of proceedings from part A]

Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act

Bill C-54—Time Allocation Motion