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41st PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 042

CONTENTS

Wednesday, February 5, 2014




House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 147 
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NUMBER 042 
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2nd SESSION 
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41st PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer

    The House met at 2 p.m.

Prayers


[Statements by Members]

  (1400)  

[English]

     It being Wednesday, we will now have the singing of the national anthem led by the hon. member for Bourassa.
    [Members sang the national anthem]

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fundraiser

    Mr. Speaker, the Harmony Martial Arts and Fitness Centre in my riding organized a relief fundraiser on November 24 last year in support of the victims of super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
    The owners, Helen and Raymond Ata, along with Margarita and George Gonzales and other members of the club, worked diligently to plan this event. They encouraged families, friends, and members of the Philippine community to come and join them to help the victims of this natural disaster. They asked everyone to open their hearts and give generously. Throughout the day, people had time for socializing and enjoying the music, food, each other's company, and a live auction. All of the auction items were donated by generous members, friends, and their families.
    The event was a great success. A total of $9,000 was raised, which was matched by the government dollar for dollar, for a total amount of $18,000, which will be donated through Ancop International Canada.
    I take this opportunity to congratulate my constituents for their generous gesture and giving hearts.

[Translation]

Winter Olympic Games

    Mr. Speaker, the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games start on Friday. This is an opportunity to support sports and our athletes, who have worked so hard to make it to Sochi.
    Everyone can count on Jean-Luc Brassard, a great source of pride for my region, to motivate our Canadian athletes. He won gold in freestyle skiing at the Lillehammer Games and has been named Canada's assistant chef de mission.
    I would also like to point out that two other people from my riding of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield are part of Team Canada. A young woman by the name of Mélodie Daoust, who is 22 years old, was named player of the year at the university level and will play on the women's hockey team in their quest for another gold medal.
    I also invite my colleagues to keep an eye out for Corporal Dominic Larocque on the ice in Sochi. Injured in Afghanistan in 2007, he is looking to win gold with the sledge hockey team.
    Mélodie, Jean-Luc and Dominic, I wish you every success. Your perseverance and dedication are an example for all. The people of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield are behind you all the way. Good luck.

  (1405)  

[English]

Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, today Canada and the free world watch in shock and disbelief at the tragic events taking place in Ukraine. Ukrainian Canadians from all over Canada, including in my home riding of Oshawa, stand in solidarity with people facing violence and intimidation at the hands of their own government.
    Canada and Ukraine share common bonds. Ukrainians played a pivotal role in shaping our great nation, especially in my home riding of Oshawa. Canada was the first western nation to recognize Ukrainian independence in 1991.
    Ukrainians remember all too well their anti-democratic Soviet past, and they have no desire to go back down that road. Ukrainians have made it known that they want to stand with the western democratic free world.
    I call on the Ukrainian government to end the violence and intimidation and to respect the democratic rights of its citizens.

Fogo Island Inn

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud today to rise and congratulate the Fogo Island Inn, on beautiful Fogo Island, for winning the National Cultural Tourism award at the Canadian Tourism Awards on December 3.
    In Canada, tourism is an $82-billion industry that generates $17 billion in exports every year. This industry employs over 600,000 creative Canadians, like the team at Fogo Island Inn, and work hard to make Canada an exciting and welcoming country.
    The Fogo Island Inn was created by the Shorefast Foundation, a registered Canadian charity, though the beneficial owners are the people of Fogo Island and Change Islands. All operational surpluses belong to the community itself. From its very inception, the inn was conceived as a place that fortifies local culture and helps articulate the identity of place.
    Congratulations, Fogo Island Inn.

Democratic Reform

    Mr. Speaker, on December 3, last year, the reform act was introduced, a bill that offers realistic and real reforms to strengthen Parliament. The reform act proposes three simple reforms to strengthen the role of the people's elected representatives by empowering members of Parliament and giving them the tools they need to better represent their constituents in Ottawa.
    Since its introduction, there has been unprecedented public support for the bill. Here is just one example. The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, CARP, surveyed some of its 300,000 members across Canada and asked them what they thought of the reform act. Seventy-five per cent of them said they support the reform act, 72% said the proposals would significantly change Parliament, and 62% said the proposals would improve accountability.
    This poll and others like it make it clear that Canadians want to see parliamentary reform. The reform act is the vehicle for that reform.

Canada Post

    Mr. Speaker, this past weekend, I hosted two well-attended town hall meetings on Canada Post's ill-conceived plan to end door-to-door mail delivery. It is obvious that the Conservative government and Canada Post's well-paid executives do not understand the enormous negative consequences of their plan for a large number of vulnerable Canadians.
    A woman who attended one of my meetings shared a compelling personal story. Her 28-year-old daughter is severely autistic and is unable to communicate verbally. For this young woman, door-to-door mail delivery really is a lifeline. She not only interacts with her letter carrier on a daily basis, an important part of her day, but she receives, through the mail, twice-a-month therapy resources for her condition. Unfortunately, neither this woman nor her family have the ability to hire someone to collect these necessary resources from the community mailbox.
    This is just one example of what would be lost with the end of a service that Canadians like this young woman and her family rely upon.
    By allowing Canada Post to go ahead with its decision, the Conservative government is turning its back on these Canadians.

  (1410)  

Winter Olympic Games

    Mr. Speaker, in less than 48 hours, the eyes of the world will be on Sochi, as Canada's best compete in the 22nd winter Olympic games.
    On behalf of all residents of Don Valley West, I wish to recognize and congratulate eight Torontonians as they compete for gold as members of Canada's winter Olympics team.
    Michael Lambert will compete in two alpine snowboarding events, while Katie Tsuyuki will represent Canada in women's half-pipe. Lenny Valjas will compete in cross-country skiing, and Philip Brown will compete in alpine skiing events.
    In figure skating, Patrick Chan will compete in the men's singles, Dylan Moscovitch will compete in the pairs event, and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier in ice dance.
    NHL superstar P.K. Subban will represent his hometown of Toronto as he plays on the Canadian men's hockey team.
    As a former board member of the Canadian Olympic Committee, I truly could not be more proud of these young athletes as they demonstrate excellence to the world. I wish them, and indeed all of Team Canada, the greatest of success in Sochi.

Mining

    Mr. Speaker, the Cariboo-Chilcotin area of B.C. has been devastated by the mountain pine beetle plague. Jobs in the forest industry and related industries have been lost, and the economy has suffered a huge blow in Williams Lake and 100 Mile House. Sawmills have cut back on their operations, businesses have closed, and people have left their homeland because there are no jobs.
    Now we are presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore a vibrant economy to this area. We must not miss this opportunity to allow the New Prosperity gold mine to move forward to the provincial permitting stage.
    I, my colleague from Kamloops, and 85% of the people of the Cariboo-Chilcotin call on this government to allow this project to move forward. The government can do that by attaching a list of conditions that would satisfy the mitigation of environmental impacts.
    We cannot, we must not, miss this opportunity.

[Translation]

2014 World Congress of Acadians

    Mr. Speaker, I urge you and all parliamentarians to block off August 8 to 24 so you can all attend the fifth World Congress of Acadians.
    This celebration of Acadian pride will take place in Madawaska, New Brunswick, Aroostook, Maine, and Témiscouata in my riding. The cultural spokesperson for the event will be none other than Roch Voisine.
    A variety of gatherings will take place during the congress: the Grand rassemblement jeunesse for youth, the Women's Summit, and most importantly, the family reunions that 122 families have already signed up for, including the Caron family, of course.
    I would also like to salute the hard work of Témiscouata's board of directors, Guylaine Sirois, Serge Fortin, Marielle Landry, Denis Landry and Samuel Moreau, and the tireless work of the president of the congress, Émilien Nadeau, who is from Dégelis.
    I would also like to thank the members of the board of directors from New Brunswick and Maine and all of the volunteers and organizers.
    I hope that everyone will join us in celebrating Acadian heritage in the heart of Acadia of the lands and forests.

[English]

Veterans

    Mr. Speaker, our government is dedicated to ensuring that veterans and their families have the support they need, when and where they need it, from coast to coast to coast.
    I would like to share one of the many letters recently received by the Minister of Veterans Affairs:
    It states:
    Dear Minister [...]
    I am a Veteran of the...Royal Canadian Navy. I have struggled with hearing problems since serving.... By last year, my hearing loss had become so pronounced, I could no longer hear birdsong at all.
    [I visited the Veterans Affairs Office in Edmonton]...upon arrival we were...treated like Royalty! There we completed a[n]...interview and presented the Hearing Tests from an Audiologist.... We mailed the completed forms in late November.
...we received a phone call from Veterans Affairs to inform us that my application had been approved, that [benefits would be paid] for the hearing loss...plus the hearing aids would be paid by Veterans Affairs!
    Minister [...] I have to tell you that we expected nothing in all these years since my service in the early 1960's.... Kudos to Veterans Affairs! They have been amazing....
    Gratefully Yours,
    [A Canadian Veteran]

Dr. Garson Romalis

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honour the memory of Dr. Garson Romalis, who passed away on January 30. Dr. Romalis was a courageous champion of women's reproductive rights and an ardent supporter and provider of safe abortions.
    He received his medical degree from UBC in 1962, prior to the legalization of abortion in Canada. At that time, he treated many women suffering from septic shock in the aftermath of “back-alley abortions”. After Canada's abortion laws changed, Dr. Romalis built his practice on the belief that women have the right to choose when and if they become pregnant.
    Dr. Romalis survived two violent terrorist attacks in Vancouver in 1994 and 2000. Despite these attempts on his life, he remained steadfast in his work and belief in a woman's right to choose. His deep compassion and care have helped countless women and saved lives.
     New Democrats offer our deepest sympathy to his family, and we thank them for sharing this great doctor and his life's work with Canadians.

  (1415)  

Consumer Protection

    Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House, we have taken decisive action to put families first by cutting taxes an incredible 160 times. That means over $3,000 more every year for the average Canadian family because of our government.
     Sadly, the New Democrats want to play Big Brother when it comes to consumer needs. Their plan includes creating more bureaucracy, a whole department to monitor and dictate what is best for Canadians. Not only that, but the NDP has voted against all of the following consumer-protection measures since 2006.
    The New Democrats voted against protecting consumers with new credit card rules that will require consent for credit limit increases, against bringing in a code of conduct for the credit and debit card industry to help small businesses deal with unfair practices, against requiring greater disclosures of mortgage repayment charges, against making mortgage insurance more transparent and understandable, and against banning unsolicited credit card cheques.
    While the opposition parties vote against measures to help consumers, our government has acted and will deliver for Canadians.

[Translation]

Carbon Monoxide

    Mr. Speaker, an incident last December involving a building in the riding of Ottawa—Vanier could have been fatal had it not been for the rapid and judicious response of the medical staff at the Montfort Hospital, namely Dr. Charles-Antoine Breau, Geneviève Falardeau, Yan Bruneau and Marjolaine Eckert.
    Yesterday, in partnership with the hospital, the federal government announced an initiative to raise awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide. I congratulate the government and the hospital on that initiative.
    However, I cannot resist pointing out the irony of the fact that a government that includes three former ministers from the Mike Harris government, which wanted to close the Montfort Hospital, would now choose to use it to launch such initiatives. It is also interesting that the Conservatives did not have the courtesy to inform my colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa South, the riding where the announcement was made, or myself, since that hospital is located in my riding. This, of course, comes as no surprise to this side of the House, as the Conservatives have simply remained true to form.

[English]

Special Olympics

    Mr. Speaker, with the 2014 Winter Olympics just around the corner, Canadians will be watching with pride as our athletes represent Canada on the world stage.
    I would like to take a moment to speak of another source of pride for many: our Special Olympians and Special Olympics Canada. For those not familiar, Special Olympics Canada enriches the lives of Canadians with intellectual disabilities through sport, including 37,000 athletes who are supported by 17,000 volunteers and 13,000 trained coaches.
    This is why I am proud to note that our government will now provide ongoing long-term support for Special Olympics Canada, with $1 million in annual funding. This will maintain the organization's funding from Sport Canada at more than $2.8 million. This stable funding will help our Special Olympians get the support they need to excel in their sport and achieve their dreams.
    This is why I look forward to this summer's Special Olympics Canada Summer Games, which will be held July 8-12 in my city, Vancouver.

[Translation]

The Senate

    Mr. Speaker, the police have laid charges against Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau and are continuing to investigate Duffy, Wallin, Gerstein and Stewart Olsen. The Conservatives appointed fraudsters who were not even living in the provinces they were supposed to represent, but they say that it is not their fault.
    While the police are busy dealing with a number of criminal senators, the Liberal leader is trying to fool everyone by putting lipstick on a pig. We no longer have Liberal senators. We have senators who are Liberal. What a change. Those who have seen the Elvis Gratton movies from Quebec will remember the main character saying that he is not a Quebecker, he is a French-Canadian, French-speaking Quebecker. These so-called independent senators are going to end up making piles of money campaigning for their party, all at taxpayers' expense.
    The Conservatives and the Liberals defended their fraudster senators. “Harb will be welcome back in caucus when he has paid back his expense claims”, said the Liberal leader. “Brazeau is working hard in the Senate”, said the Prime Minister. Canadians deserve better than the lack of judgment coming from these two party leaders who are defending an undemocratic institution.

  (1420)  

[English]

Democratic Reform

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the democratic reform minister introduced a sweeping bill designed to protect the fairness of federal elections. The fair elections act would make it harder to break elections law. It closes loopholes to big money, imposes new penalties on political impostors who make rogue calls, and empowers law enforcement with sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand.
    I believe it is important to share the positive feedback we are hearing regarding this bill. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind said, “Voting is a democratic right for all Canadians”, and, “We are happy to have the opportunity to work hand in hand with government representatives to increase accessibility and awareness of election amongst the blind and partially sighted.” The former CEO of Elections Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, said that if he were dealing with a masters student, he would give it an A minus, and that “Overall, it looks like a good bill”.
    I am pleased to be working with the minister on this legislation and look forward to debating it here in the House.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[English]

Democratic Reform

    Mr. Speaker, does the Prime Minister agree that impersonating an election officer to induce a person not to vote is already an offence under Canadian law?
    Mr. Speaker, obviously I will leave the details of the fair elections act to the minister. However, I would say that what the law before us does, the fair elections act, is it looks at various offences, strengthens the hand of law enforcement in that regard, and provides new tools for use when people do break the law or clearly intend to break the law.
    Mr. Speaker, are we to understand that the Prime Minister cannot tell the Canadian people that voter suppression and impersonation of an electoral officer are already illegal in Canada? Could that be because yesterday's supposed changes are more about giving cover to what the Conservative Party did in 2011 than anything else?
    Mr. Speaker, as the court ruled, the Conservative Party did no such thing. On the contrary, we are aware, as many people are aware, of some clearly inappropriate and probably illegal activities in Guelph. We want to make sure that those type of activities are not allowed to happen again and that they are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, what is clear is that the Conservative Party made thousands of fraudulent calls. In at least 56 of the ridings involved, nearly 1,000 formal complaints have been filed.
    Can the Prime Minister stand and state unequivocally that the Conservatives' voter suppression tactics in 2011 were, and still are, illegal in Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, the NDP and their allies have brought those accusations before the courts, but they were dismissed.

[English]

    Of course, nothing should be clearer from the truth. What the NDP fails to accept is that the reason it lost the election is Canadians recognize that when it comes to their vital economic interests, their jobs and their economic futures only one party stands up for that. That is the Conservative Party. As long as the NDP does not get that, we will be—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. Leader of the Opposition.
    Mr. Speaker, “clearer from the truth”; now there is one for the prime ministerial archives.

[Translation]

    In 2011, about 100,000 Canadians who did not have ID, including aboriginal peoples and seniors, were able to vote if someone vouched for them. Exactly how many people who were not entitled to vote were prosecuted during the last election? We know that 100,000 were able to vote. How many of those were actually illegal votes? Two or three?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to note that this proposal, the fair elections act, arms Elections Canada with methods of providing more information about when and where the voting is taking place and about the voting process. Elections Canada needs to be able to do its work. This legislation helps it do just that.

  (1425)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, do the Conservatives really want to help people to vote? The bill is more about suppressing the vote than helping people to vote.
    Elections Canada has confirmed that there are no irregularities with the overwhelming majority of people who vote with the help of the current vouching system. If there are problems with the system, why not fix them? Why is the Prime Minister removing tools that actually help people to vote?
    Mr. Speaker, the opposite is true. The fair elections act lays out specifically the jobs of Elections Canada to make sure it informs people, where, when, and how to vote, and what ID specifically to use at a vote.
    Many of these reforms are long overdue. They will sharpen law enforcement, strengthen the reach of law enforcement personnel, and correct many of the deficiencies that were well documented in the review of the last election campaign.
    As long as the NDP sinks into conspiracy theories and rejects the verdict of Canadians in the last election, we will be happy to receive continued mandates from them.

Taxation

    Mr. Speaker, last year's budget introduced millions in new taxes on imports, ranging from saris to wigs for cancer patients. With the lower dollar, these tax increases on Canadians will cost us even more. Will the government repeal its tax increases on middle-class Canadians in next week's budget?
    Mr. Speaker, of course, nothing would be further from the truth. What the government did do is to make sure that Canadian producers were on a level playing field with some specific countries, emerging economies that are very powerful economies that had special tax preferences. Obviously, that is not appropriate. Our government remains committed to balancing the budget and rejecting all of the various tax increases proposed by the hon. member and his party.
    Mr. Speaker, a math teacher should not have to explain to an economist the impact on import tariffs when the dollar falls.

[Translation]

    Last year's budget did nothing for the middle class. Instead, it contained absurd taxes on imports such as tricycles and toothbrushes.
    The lower dollar makes these tax hikes on imports even more expensive.
    Will the government eliminate these tax increases for the middle class in next week's budget?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I certainly look forward to seeing the day where the leader of the Liberal Party does explain his positions to various economists.

[Translation]

    The Liberal Party regularly proposes tax increases that affect Canadian consumers and taxpayers. That is not something that our party supports.
    The Liberal Party defends special exemptions for Chinese industries. That is not acceptable.

[English]

The Budget

    Mr. Speaker, the IMF reports that our economy grew only 1.6% last year. It also projects that Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, and the U.S. will all grow faster than us this year. This Prime Minister has the worst economic record on growth since R.B. Bennett in the depths of the great depression. After eight years of anemic growth, will we see anything new in next week's budget to help Canada's middle class?
    Mr. Speaker, Canadians and economic experts around the world, including the OECD and the IMF, recognize that Canada has gone through the recession and come out of the recession with among the strongest growth and employment rates and records in the developed world. The prospects for continued growth going forward, according to all of these experts, are very strong and the government is, in almost every case, following the various recommendations that these organizations suggest.
    On all these things, I am sure I could suggest any number of people who could walk the leader of the Liberal Party through it.

  (1430)  

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, a year ago in the House, the Prime Minister said, “Mr. Speaker, all senators conform to the residency requirements” in the Constitution. That, of course, now, is absolutely false. The audits of Senators Wallin, Duffy, and others made it clear that some senators never met the requirements in the first place.
    Would the Prime Minister now admit what every Canadians knows, that his senators never met the residency requirements to begin with?
    Mr. Speaker, as I have said repeatedly, there are various standards that have to be met to be appointed to the Senate. It is a matter of fact, as we know, that members of Parliament in both Houses more often than not maintain two residences. The fact that a member maintains two residences is not at issue here. What is at issue is the improper, and in some cases fraudulent, claiming of expenses. The government has been very clear that is not acceptable, that there would be consequences. Those senators are now seeing those consequences.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the problem is that, according to the police, Nigel Wright informed the Prime Minister that the very scheme used by Mike Duffy was also being used by others, such as Senators Brazeau, Wallin, Stewart-Olsen, Kinsella and Ringuette.
    Why are some being charged while others are not? Why is there a double standard? What is the explanation for that?
    Mr. Speaker, it is the RCMP's responsibility to conduct the investigations.
    The RCMP has been clear about who is and who is not being investigated. Obviously, what the Leader of the Opposition has said is not factual.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, actually, it is there in the police report. The Prime Minister was warned by Nigel Wright that other senators did not meet the residency requirements, so why did the Prime Minister insist that they did? The answer to that, we suspect, is also in the police report.
    Is it because that was part of his deal with Mike Duffy? Yes, or no?
    Mr. Speaker, clearly what the Leader of the Opposition says are not the facts. The RCMP has been very clear in terms of the matter between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright that I was not informed of that. The RCMP has been crystal clear on that.

Democratic Reform

    Mr. Speaker, 100,000 people had their votes vouched for in the last campaign. This includes aboriginal citizens, low-income people, new Canadians, students, and people with disabilities.
    The question is, why is the government making it harder for these Canadians to exercise their right to vote?
    Mr. Speaker, we are not; we are making it easier, by requiring Elections Canada to advertise to these very people which types of identification are required to vote.
    The Leader of the Opposition gave false information earlier when he said that Elections Canada indicated there were no mistakes. In fact, according to Elections Canada's own commissioned report, there was a 25% error rate. The audit showed that errors are made in the majority of cases that require the use of non-regular processes. This is such a non-regular process.
    The reality is that vouching is not safe; it is not secure. After the fair elections act is passed, it will not be allowed.
    Mr. Speaker, the Supreme Court said there was no evidence that any of those irregularities occurred with people who did not have the right to vote, so this is an absolute red herring.
    On another issue, the elections commissioner is moving to the Director of Public Prosecutions and away from the Chief Electoral Officer. The Chief Electoral Officer is appointed to and is responsible to Parliament, but the DPP is appointed by the Attorney General. Why is the government removing parliamentary oversight from the elections commissioner?
    Mr. Speaker, I recommend that the hon. member read the Director of Public Prosecutions Act. If he did, he would know that he and every single member of the House has the responsibility to vote on removing a Director of Public Prosecutions. The government cannot fire him by itself. That is the responsibility of Parliament. In fact, his very appointment has to be approved by a committee that has members from each political party, two senior public servants, and a member of the law society, and then his appointment is approved by an all-party committee at Parliament.
    That is accountability and it is also independence.

  (1435)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform told the House that one of the reasons why people do not vote is because they do not have information.
    If that is the case, why does his new bill prevent Elections Canada from advertising and giving voters information?
    Mr. Speaker, the New Democrats should read the bill.
    We are doing the exact opposite. We are requiring that Elections Canada advertise so that Canadians have information on how, where and when to vote, as well as the different options and the types of identification required to vote. We are creating a requirement.
    Furthermore, we will require that Elections Canada inform disabled people about the special tools that will be available to them to help them vote.
    Mr. Speaker, this bill also states that fundraising from individuals who have donated to a political party in the past will no longer be calculated as an election expense.
    Could the minister explain why he inserted this measure that clearly puts the Conservative Party at an advantage?
    Mr. Speaker, the rule will apply to all parties.

[English]

    The reality is that campaigning is distinct from raising funds to run a campaign. We are acknowledging that parties have a responsibility to reach out over 10 million square kilometres across this vast country of ours, and that requires them to raise money. However, the act of raising money is not synonymous with the act of actually spending it on a campaign. Therefore, those costs associated with fundraising will be excluded from the spending cap under the Canada Elections Act.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the power to compel witnesses to appear is a right that even parliamentary committees have. However, the Conservatives have refused to include this right in their reform of the Elections Act. That is a strange coincidence since we know that the Conservatives have refused to co-operate with Elections Canada on the investigation into the fraudulent calls.
    Why have they refused to include the power to compel witnesses to appear in the reform of the Elections Act?
    Mr. Speaker, witnesses are already required to testify in court once formal allegations have been made. That is how our legal system works.
    Elections Canada has the same investigative powers as police services. Those powers are in place, and we will increase them by introducing a new penalty for those who obstruct an investigation or provide inaccurate information to investigators.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, Elections Canada has been working to get people without fixed addresses registered and voting. It has been doing outreach to young people and engaging first nations communities to increase voter turnout, but the Conservatives new bill slams the door on all of that very important work.
    The minister claims his bill would target special interests, but in reality it would reduce Elections Canada's powers and remove its ability to do public education. Why? Does the minister believe that Elections Canada is now a special interest?
    Mr. Speaker, half of youth in this country are unaware that they can vote by three different methods prior to election day. That numbers 73% among aboriginal youth. If a youth is busy on election day with studies or work, that individual is not even aware of the other opportunities to cast a ballot.
    The way to fix that problem is to focus Elections Canada's advertising on providing people with information on when they can vote: advance ballots, special vote, voting by mail. Even if they were busy on election day, younger people would have an opportunity to cast a ballot, if they were aware of these extra methods. The fair elections act would ensure they get that information.

  (1440)  

The Budget

    Mr. Speaker, this month, IMF economists warned that the declining competitiveness of Canada's non-energy exports is “something that concerns us”. The IMF pointed to a widening productivity gap that has “eroded Canada's external competitiveness, particularly in...manufacturing”. Middle-class Canadians know this. They are feeling the effects in their paycheques.
    Will next week's budget finally do something to address these problems and help Canada's struggling middle class?
    Mr. Speaker, thanks to Canada's economic action plan, Canada has enjoyed the strongest economic performance, both during the recession and after, in the recovery. Over one million net new jobs have been created in this country, nearly 90% are full-time and 80% in the private sector.
    Both the IMF and the OECD project that Canada will be among the strongest economies in the G7 in this upcoming year.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the International Monetary Fund has warned us that Canadians should expect to see little economic growth. Young Canadians have 264,000 fewer jobs than before the recession. The economic recovery does not apply to young people. An empty budget will not solve the problem.
    Will the government finally include a jobs plan for young Canadians in next week's budget?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, our government is focused on what matters most to Canadians: jobs and economic growth.
    Under the action plan taken by our Conservative government, Canada will continue to have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the G7. In fact, since 2006, our government has helped 2.1 million youth obtain skills, training, and jobs.
    The answer is in education. The answer is in training. The answer is in skills. This government understands it. This government will continue to support jobs and growth.
    Mr. Speaker, last year's budget launched a phony jobs grant that still does not exist. It wasted millions on pointless government advertising. It cut services to veterans and vulnerable Canadians. It increased taxes on the middle class, payrolls, consumer goods, small business owners, and credit unions. It produced the worst job creation since the recession, and economic growth was down from the year before, which was down from the year before that, which was down from the year before that.
    Is there anything the government plans to do differently this year?
    Mr. Speaker, we will continue in the same direction we have been going. We will continue to build jobs. We will continue to help—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh.
    Order, please. The hon. Minister of State has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, we will continue to push forward with skills training and making certain we are moving young people ahead into a position where they can find a job when they leave school.
    We also realize that the Liberal way of increasing taxes is not the direction we will go. We will keep taxes down, build jobs, and do what is right for this economy.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the government's response is obviously “no”. Economic growth has stalled. Nearly 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed. Last year, barely 5,000 full-time jobs were created in the entire country.
    Instead of tabling another austerity budget that will eliminate tens of thousands of jobs, will the Conservatives finally encourage job creation by proposing a tax credit for businesses that hire young people and by reinstating the eco-energy retrofit program?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this government has the best job creation in the G7. Our government will continue to be focused on what matters to Canadians, and that is jobs; that is making certain they are prepared, going forward with economic growth.
    Even though the global economy remains fragile, which we have said from the very beginning of the recession—that the recovery is fragile, especially in the United States and Europe—our economic policies have helped protect Canada.
    Over a million new jobs have been created. We will continue to bring forward progressive programs that build jobs—

  (1445)  

    The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.
    Mr. Speaker, the reality is that Conservatives' economic mismanagement is raising red flags around the globe.
    The IMF is now raising serious concerns about Canada's investment levels and our slumping exports. It is sounding the alarm on escalating household debt that could “amplify” any economic downturn.
    Will the Conservatives listen to the NDP and use their budget to get household debt under control by supporting job creation and by cracking down on things like payday lenders?
    Mr. Speaker, every year the NDP demands that we raise taxes and spend, spend, spend. Again the answer this year is no, no, no.
    With economic action plan 2014, we will continue to create jobs and growth for all Canadians while keeping taxes low. We will have a balanced budget in 2015. We are building toward a balanced budget, despite the NDP's demands to raise taxes and spend, spend, spend.

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, apparently it has taken the Conservatives eight years to realize that their so-called military procurement strategy is nothing but a boondoggle. From the F-35s to the Cyclone helicopters to the close-combat vehicles, the Conservatives have left a trail of delayed, over-budget, and underperforming equipment for our military.
    Today's announcement now spreads oversight of this mess over four ministers. Can the Minister of National Defence explain how more bureaucracy with no single line of accountability will do anything to fix the Conservatives' abysmal procurement record?
    Mr. Speaker, in fact, the opposite is true. We have had several successful military procurements, including heavy-lift aircraft, the LAVs, the main battle tanks, new heavy artillery, unmanned air surveillance capability, and many more.
    What we are doing now is making sure that, going forward with the new Canada procurement strategy, we are going to maximize benefits for Canada while creating jobs and supporting Canadian industry in its exports of Canadian defence products.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it took eight years and the Department of National Defence had to be put under supervision, but the Conservatives are finally realizing that their military procurement process is a failure. Our troops need the proper equipment to carry out their missions, and Canadians want to be sure that resources are not being wasted. The Conservatives have clearly demonstrated that they are incapable of making either of those things happen.
    Since the F-35 procurement secretariat has not yielded any results, why do the Conservatives think that a new secretariat and more red tape are a viable solution?
    Mr. Speaker, that is not at all true. We have procured helicopters, LAVs and trucks for all of our troops. However, the NDP voted against all of these procurements that support our military.
    With the new defence procurement strategy, we are making procurement more efficient while supporting Canadian industries at the best price for taxpayers.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, after a decade of darkness from the previous Liberal government, our Conservative government is making unprecedented investments in our Canadian Armed Forces to ensure that our men and women in uniform have the equipment they need to get the job done.
    Our government previously committed to leveraging that military spending to benefit Canadian companies while creating high-skilled, high-paying jobs right here at home.
    Can the Minister of Public Works and Government Services please inform the House of what our government is doing to meet this commitment?

  (1450)  

    Mr. Speaker, today the Minister of National Defence and I were very proud to launch Canada's new defence procurement strategy. This strategy is about getting the equipment that our men and women in uniform need at the best value for taxpayers while at the same time maximizing benefits to our Canadian economy and to Canadian industries here at home. It is about doing more for our armed forces, more for Canadian jobs, and more for continued prosperity. That is what we pledged to Canadians and that is what we are doing.

Intergovernmental Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, behind the grim job statistics are real people struggling to find work, yet Conservatives want to claw back $300 million that provinces use to help the most vulnerable people get jobs and get back on their feet.
    Conservatives proposed an unworkable plan and then spent $2.5 million advertising it. When will the government finally drop the pretense and concede that it cannot run roughshod over the provinces and our most vulnerable workers?
    Mr. Speaker, I had a very good discussion with the provincial counterparts yesterday, and we continue to have fruitful discussions about how to implement a job grant, which is supported by the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, the Canadian Construction Association, Information Technology Association of Canada, the Canadian Welding Bureau, Engineers Canada, the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, Polytechnics Canada, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, and on and on.
    Why is the NDP against common sense?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' approach has been counterproductive from the start.
    They decided to confront the provinces instead of consult them. That led to delays, and workers are paying the price. I hope they will learn from their mistakes. Worker training is important for economic growth and development.
    Will the minister accept the provinces' counter-offer?
    Mr. Speaker, we have had good talks with the provinces about the Canada job grant, which has the support of Polytechnics Canada, the National Association of Career Colleges, the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, the Canadian Construction Association, the Information Technology Association of Canada, the Canadian Welding Bureau, Engineers Canada, the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada and many other organizations.
    These organizations know that employers have to be involved in training the workforce.

Pensions

    Mr. Speaker, the whole issue of old age security is another example of the Conservatives' refusal to work with the provinces.
    The Bank of Montreal just said that 89% of Canadians are going to depend on the Canada pension plan and QPP and that the provinces and experts agree that those plans need to be improved.
    Instead of sitting back and doing nothing, will the Minister of Finance work with us to give all Canadians retirement security?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians simply do not want to pay higher taxes, whether that is payroll taxes or any kind of taxes.
    That is why we brought forward ways in which we can help them save. We have brought forward ideas like pension income splitting. We have brought forward pooled registered pension plans and tax-free savings accounts that are now benefiting more than nine million Canadians.
    Despite the NDP's reckless, high-tax plans, we continue to take action to put more money back into the pockets of Canadians. We are going to continue to do that.
    Mr. Speaker, let us get back to reality.
    The Bank of Montreal reports that fully one-third of Canadian seniors are planning to rely on the Canada pension plan and the QPP in their retirement. That is going to be around $600 a month.
    Let us face it; seniors cannot retire on about $600 a month. It is just not on. The provinces, the economists, and the experts agree that increasing the CPP is the most practical and the most reliable way to ensure Canadians have enough to retire.
    When will the minister pull his head out of the sand?

  (1455)  

    Mr. Speaker, again, Canadians simply do not want to pay higher CPP payroll taxes.
    We have heard this from Canadians. We have heard it from small business. We have heard it from owners of small businesses. We have heard it from provinces.
    The NDP's plan to double CPP would kill up to 70,000 jobs and cost a typical Canadian household as much as $2,600 per year. In this fragile economy, Canadians simply cannot afford the NDP's high taxes and high spin.

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, after years of insisting everything was fine, the Conservatives, today, finally admitted their record of economic incompetence on defence procurement, and they sidelined the Minister of National Defence.
    Since 2006, the Conservatives have bungled every military equipment competition they have touched. That is eight lost years, lost jobs, and lost economic opportunities. Worse still, Canadian Forces members have been betrayed.
    Given this record of failure, how can the minister pretend that rearranging the deck chairs will save this ship?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member forgets her history.
    It was her Liberal government that cancelled the EH-101 contracts to replace our aging Sea Kings. That was 20 years ago. It had 13 years in power. There was a 10-year decade of darkness when it came to supplying the military with the equipment it needs. That is what happened under the Liberals.
    We had a program. We have had several successful procurements, including heavy-lift aircraft, LAVs, new heavy artillery, heavy-lift helicopters, and many more.
    Now we are going forward with a new defence procurement strategy that will benefit our men and women in uniform while also maximizing benefits to Canadian industry.

Democratic Reform

    Mr. Speaker, the Chief Electoral Officer asked that the elections commissioner be given the power to apply to a judge to compel the provision of information relevant to an investigation, and the commissioner agreed, of course. Despite what he said earlier, why would they be asking if they had that power already. Conservative stonewalling is the single biggest issue here. The minister would know this if he had really consulted this past summer about this bill he has brought forward to the House.
    Will the minister support the Liberal amendment to give the commissioner this particular power so that he will actually have some real teeth?
    Mr. Speaker, judges can already compel testimony. It is called a subpoena. That happens all the time and is a regular course in matters of law enforcement. He would know that if he watched any number of television shows involving policing.
    The reality is that the elections commissioner currently has all the same investigative powers of police officers who are investigating the most serious violent, heinous crimes. We are giving new powers and sharper teeth to the commissioner, and that will help improve law enforcement.

[Translation]

Quebec Bridge

    Mr. Speaker, as everyone knows, the Conservatives have a habit of abandoning Quebec's regions. This is particularly true of the Quebec City region. When the Prime Minister goes to Quebec City tomorrow, he will have the opportunity to admire the magnificent architecture of the Quebec Bridge.
    His government has spent nearly $400,000 in legal fees regarding that bridge, rather than investing in its maintenance.
    Will his government stop the legal battle, which is not achieving anything, and invest money in this infrastructure that is so important to the region?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated in the House before, the Quebec Bridge that he refers to is actually owned by CN, which has the responsibility to maintain it. We have already inspected the track, as we should, and it is safe. However, CN is not living up to its end of the bargain. That is why we are in court. We are protecting taxpayers' dollars.

[Translation]

Health

    Mr. Speaker, once the Prime Minister has crossed the Quebec Bridge in our fair city, perhaps he will see the cloud of nickel dust coming from the Port of Québec. By the way, that port is the responsibility of his Minister of Transport.
    If he is an observant person, he will see the cloud settling on top of the people of Limoilou and causing health problems for my constituents.
    Does the Prime Minister intend to take the issue of public health seriously during his trip to Quebec City or is he just going there for another photo op?

  (1500)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, the Port of Québec is an arm's-length organization and is responsible for the leasing of land in and around the Port of Québec. Indeed, it is a great responsibility that it has because it increases the economic viability of this great city and does great things to increase the amount of jobs there. In this case, the Port of Québec is working with its tenant to ensure that it is respecting the will of the community and working as best it can with the Ministry of the Environment on the matter, and that is what we expect them to do.

Telecommunications

    Mr. Speaker, over the last 20 years, wireless services have grown into something Canadians rely on daily. As a result, we are seeing new cell towers being constructed in our communities. Their placement in my riding has been a very divisive issue. I believe Canadians deserve a say on how and where new cell tower locations are identified.
    Can the Minister of Industry please tell the House what our government is doing to ensure that local voices are heard?
    Mr. Speaker, there are over 18,000 cell towers all across this country. Four hundred new ones were built last year, and far too often those cell providers are not doing direct consultation with communities. The announcement that our government made today will force cell providers to engage directly with everyday Canadians and consult directly with municipalities all across the country before cell towers are built. We want cell towers to be built, but not without due consultation directly with Canadians, directly with communities.
    We want Canadians to have the best technology possible and high download rates, and all that, but of course it has to be done with the consent of everyday Canadians, and that is why we have made these changes. We have listened to everyday Canadians, we have acted responsibly, and these new rules will protect communities.

Fisheries and Oceans

    Mr. Speaker, the government is closing seven of nine fisheries libraries and, in its own words, “culling” material at the other two. In response to my recent order paper question, the minister indicated that her department does not have the ability to determine the number of items that have been digitized, and she has no idea what has happened to most of the library materials.
    Can the minister explain this mess? What information does the government want to destroy, and why?
    Mr. Speaker, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has respected the Library and Archives of Canada Act as well as the Surplus Crown Assets Act. The written consent of the librarian and archivist was granted to Fisheries and Oceans in 2011 to dispose of publications that are surplus to the department's requirements. Library and Archives Canada was offered a number of publications and selected 79 titles, which were shipped to it back in November 2013.
    Library users are asking for digital information, which is clear when our libraries average between 5 and 12 in-person visits per year.

Foreign Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, the EU and U.S. are pulling together a plan for short-term financial aid for Ukraine, contingent on reform and democratic transition. Canada should be working closely with our international partners and the people of Ukraine in resolving the unrest. Time is running out and Ukraine is sliding further and further into crisis.
    Has the minister offered Canada's support for this package and if not, why not?
    Mr. Speaker, there is no package, but we have had discussions with our American colleagues and the European Union on what we can do working together to try to change the course of the trend going on in Ukraine.
    This government, this Prime Minister, and Canada will continue to play a leadership role to ensuring that Ukraine takes the right steps toward peace, prosperity, and democracy.

Winter Olympic Games

    Mr. Speaker, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are just days away and it is a good time for all Canadians to come together to support our athletes as they represent Canada on the world stage and go for gold in Russia.
    I wonder if the Minister of Canadian Heritage could please tell the House what this government is doing to support Canadian athletes as they go to reach their dreams and make all Canadians proud.
    Mr. Speaker, our Canadian athletes are a great source of national pride. That is why I am proud that our government is the largest single contributor to amateur sport in Canada. In fact, compared to the lead-up to the 2006 games, our funding levels for winter Olympic sports have more than doubled, and direct support for those athletes has increased by over 120% in the last decade.
    While I am on my feet, no better cheerleader has gone to Sochi than our colleague, the Minister of State for Sport. I wish him the best of luck.
    Go Canada go!

  (1505)  

[Translation]

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, I have asked the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development a number of times about the intolerable situation facing the Attikamek students in Manawan. Now that a serious flood has destroyed 75% of the Masko-Siwin health centre, people have to travel two and a half hours to Joliette to get treatment.
    Can the minister commit the necessary funds quickly in order to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure in the Manawan community?
    Mr. Speaker, I believe the hon. member is referring to the Simon P. Ottawa school in Manawan.
    The students have returned to their classes, but some facilities are still off limits as a health and safety precaution. We are certainly still concerned about the health and safety of residents in the communities. We will continue to take measures to keep them safe.

[English]

Canada-U.S. Relations

    Mr. Speaker, we are less than five months away from the implementation of the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. This law will compromise Canadian privacy laws and cost all Canadians, as banks will bear significant compliance costs. Meanwhile, dual citizens, even accidental dual citizens, will have their registered disability and registered educational savings plans and their tax-free savings accounts deemed offshore trusts and subject to U.S. capital gains taxes.
    What is the government doing to protect Canadians and their assets from the cash-starved Obama administration?
    Mr. Speaker, after lengthy negotiations we have reached an agreement with the United States related to FATCA. FATCA has raised a number of concerns in Canada, both among dual Canadian citizens and Canadian financial institutions. The agreement addresses those concerns. In our negotiations we obtained a number of concessions, including exempting certain accounts like RRSPs, RDSPs, TFSAs, et cetera, from the FATCA reporting. To be clear, the agreement will not impose any new or higher taxes and CRA will not assist the IRS in the collection of U.S. tax moneys.

Electoral Return for Selkirk-Interlake

    I wish to advise the House that I have today received a letter from the Chief Electoral Officer informing me that the member for Selkirk—Interlake has provided a corrected return as required by the Canada Elections Act. I am making copies of the letter available to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is currently studying a question of privilege related to this matter.
    The hon. member for Scarborough—Agincourt is rising on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a point of order.
    After conferring with the Clerk, I was told that a question and an answer should be 35 seconds. I would ask of you, sir, if you could please time the answers that we received today from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Minister of Canadian Heritage , and the Minister of State for Finance and get back to us on the time.
    It does not sound like a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, would you undertake to get back to this House as to the times that ministers took in order to answer?
    I will not.

ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

[English]

Interparliamentary Delegations

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association respecting its participation in the fourth part of the 2013 Ordinary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly at the Council of Europe held in Strasbourg, France, from September 30 to October 4, 2013.

  (1510)  

Committees of the House

Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics 

    Mr. Speaker, it is with some reluctance that I have the obligation to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. It is entitled “Statutory Review of the Conflict of Interest Act”.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.

Canadian Heritage  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. It is entitled “Keep the Momentum Going: Canada's Preparations for the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi”.
    Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.
    This gives me an opportunity to wish all of our athletes in Sochi the best of luck in bringing home lots of medals.

Environment and Sustainable Development  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, entitled “Terrestrial Habitat Conservation in Canada”.
    The committee requests that the government table a comprehensive report to this report.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present the NDP's supplementary opinion on habitat conservation.
    First of all, I would like to thank all the witnesses who appeared before the committee for this study. According to these witnesses, climate change is the greatest threat to our ecosystems and habitat conservation. However, surprise, surprise, that is not even in the official report.
    A truly national conservation report would recognize the interdependence of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, not just terrestrial ecosystems, and would set out stronger legislative measures. The recent amendments to the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act have left gaping holes in Canada's protections for its ecosystems and habitats. We must remedy this situation immediately and strengthen these laws as quickly as possible.

[English]

International Mother Language Day Act

     He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be tabling a bill today calling upon the federal government to recognize February 21 of every year as International Mother Language Day.
    On that day in 1952, five students of the University of Dhaka who were protesting the imposition of Urdu on the Bengali population were killed by police. They became the martyrs of the Bengali language movement.
    In 1999, UNESCO recognized February 21 as International Mother Language Day.
    Every year, I host an International Mother Language Day event in my riding. I do so in part because I see in it something fundamentally Canadian, because what allowed us to be and what keeps us as one is a respect for the importance of our mother languages, because the culture of our first nations is carried forward on this land in the form of over 60 distinct languages, and because we are home to languages spoken all over this world, including Bengali, the preservation of which inspired a day that, through this bill, we can make Canadian.

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

  (1515)  

[Translation]

    The hon. member for Pontiac on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, a report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on the Conflict of Interest Act was presented.
    I rose to ask to present the official opposition's dissenting report and I was not recognized. Therefore, I am asking for your consent to do so right now.

[English]

    I will allow the hon. member to present the dissenting report.

[Translation]

Committees of the House

Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics  

    Mr. Speaker, as the official opposition, the New Democratic Party is disappointed that the committee missed an important opportunity to make recommendations that would strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act.
    Canadians are frustrated to see more and more rules being bent, broken and ignored in Ottawa. The Conservative Party was supposed to make changes in response to the Liberals' corruption and it passed the Federal Accountability Act.
    However, in the seven years that the Conservative government has been in power, we are seeing more and more corruption and evidence of a culture of entitlement, as a result of legal exemptions and loopholes. However, the committee received a number of important recommendations that were not recognized.
    The NDP would like to strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act. We see this as an opportunity to renew our commitment to create an open, transparent and accountable government.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to request the unanimous consent of the House to move the following motion: that, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, immediately after the reading of the order of the day for second reading of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, a motion that the said bill be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be deemed moved and be subject to provisions of Standing Order 73(1).
    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Speaker: There is no consent.

Petitions

Sex Selection  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present two separate petitions, both from the area of my riding, Kitchener—Conestoga, as well as from the surrounding area.
    The petitioners are calling on Parliament to condemn the discrimination against females that is occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.

Health Insurance for Retirees  

    Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to submit this petition today. It signed by several thousand Canadians who are asking the federal government to keep its promise to retired public servants, military, and RCMP members, and to immediately stop any plans that could double the cost of federal retirees' health insurance plans.

[Translation]

    Retired public servants worked hard their entire careers to serve Canadians. The Government of Canada should fulfill its promise and abandon the changes that could jeopardize the retirement income security and health care benefits of federal retirees.

[English]

    The NDP is proud to stand with our federal retirees.

Rouge National Park  

    Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition on behalf of hundreds of Canadians who are vitally concerned about Rouge national park. They want this irreplaceable 100-square-kilometre land assembly with a healthy and sustainable Rouge park. They want the park to implement the plans and the ecological vision of various plans from 1994 through to 2001, 2005, and 2008. They also want a 600-metre-wide protected woodland as an ecological corridor.
    This is an area of vital interest to many constituents in my riding and the surrounding GTA.

  (1520)  

Sex Selection  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by hundreds of people from my riding in communities like Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Coombs, Errington, and Nanaimo. They are drawing the attention of the House to what was exposed by a CBC documentary, that being that in Canada ultrasounds are being used to tell the sex of an unborn child and then expecting parents may choose to terminate the pregnancy if the unborn child is a girl.
    The petitioners call upon Parliament to condemn the discrimination against females that is occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.

[Translation]

The Environment  

    Mr. Speaker, the people of Montcalm and Mascouche would like to draw to the attention of the House the fact that the current government spends over $1.3 billion a year on subsidies to the oil and gas industry. They feel that those subsidies are incentives for energy sources that produce high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and discourage investments in green and renewable solutions. Accordingly, they think this money would be better spent on renewable energy, clean technologies and improvements to energy efficiency to address climate change.

[English]

    Order, please. I see several members rising. I will just remind members that under the practice of the House we normally provide just a brief and succinct explanation of the petition.
    The hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

Canada Post  

    Mr. Speaker, I will definitely try to be succinct. I have two petitions.
    The first petition is from residents of Alberta in Spruce Grove, Edmonton, and Fort McMurray. It is calling upon the Government of Canada to reverse the cuts to Canada Post and to not cut door-to-door delivery and close post offices.

Experimental Lakes Area  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition is from citizens of Alberta who are asking the government to return the previous funding to operate the Experimental Lakes.

International Mother Language Day  

    Mr. Speaker, in support of the bill I just tabled calling upon the federal government to recognize February 21 as international mother language day, I also have the privilege of tabling a petition signed by hundreds of citizens in and around my riding calling upon the Government of Canada to designate February 21 as international mother language day in recognition of the value of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Veterans Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of presenting petitions from over 500 constituents opposing the closure of the Windsor and Essex County veterans office. They are signed by Afghanistan, World War II, and Korean War veterans and peacekeepers. They are calling upon the government to reverse this decision.

Rouge National Park  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition on behalf of a good number of constituents in support of Rouge national park, and in particular the proposition that the park be substantially larger than the plan that the government has put forward.

[Translation]

VIA Rail  

    Mr. Speaker, the people in my region, from Bathurst all the way to Campbellton, have signed a petition entitled “Save our Trains!”.
     Rail service is one of the most affordable and environmentally friendly modes of transportation. These people are urging the Government of Canada to take all the necessary steps to set up a daily VIA Rail return service between Montreal-Quebec City and Halifax, Nova Scotia, with stops in Campbellton, Bathurst and Miramichi, New Brunswick.

Canada Post  

    Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present. They come from my riding and the neighbouring riding of Sherbrooke and have to do with the services being eliminated by Canada Post.
    The petitioners are urging Canada Post to reverse its decision, which is a direct attack on the safety of seniors and people with disabilities and will also eliminate jobs for letter carriers, who provide an invaluable service to the community. They are also calling on Canada Post to come up with new ways of generating revenue, such as offering financial services.

VIA Rail  

    Mr. Speaker, I also have a petition that deals with safeguarding VIA Rail service in eastern Canada. It has been signed by over 24,000 people, and I represent only a small portion of those people.
    We could lose all VIA Rail service in eastern Canada. This is only the beginning. There will be other kinds of pressure. The government should pay attention.

  (1525)  

[English]

Canada Post  

    Mr. Speaker, I stand today to present a petition on behalf of constituents in my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl. The petition contains 1,551 signatures of people calling on the Conservative government to reverse recent cuts to Canada Post services, including home delivery, and to look instead for ways to modernize operations.
    The signatures were gathered in a two-and-a-half hour blitz on January 25 and reflect my riding's overwhelming support of a treasured public service.

[Translation]

Marc Ménard  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be in the House today to present a petition with nearly 7,000 signatures gathered in just a few days. The petitioners are calling on the Canadian government to turn to Interpol in the case of the disappearance of one of my constituents. Marc Ménard went missing in Mexico in March 2013, and the Ménard family has had no news from the Mexican police authorities since May 2013.
    I want to thank all the petitioners and assure them and their families of my full support.

[English]

Public Transit  

    Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to submit petitions from thousands and thousands of Canadians from coast to coast. Petitioners want the government to provide long-term, predictable, and non-partisan funding for public transit. They note that Canadians deserve fast, reliable, and affordable public transit, that road congestion is costing the GTA economy $6 billion a year in lost productivity, and that the average daily commute time is over 80 minutes. Investing in public transit is good for the Canadian economy, good for families, and good for the environment.

Income Tax Act  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition in support of a bill introduced by the member for Hamilton Mountain. Bill C-201 would allow tradespeople and apprentices to deduct travel and accommodation expenses from their taxable incomes when they secure and maintain employment at a construction site more than 80 kilometres from their homes.

Veterans Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present two petitions. The first one is from hundreds of Canadians from Windsor Essex County who urge the government to cancel its planned closure of the Windsor District Veterans Affairs office.

Shark Finning  

    Mr. Speaker, the second petition is from thousands of Canadians who are urging the government to take measures to stop the global practice of shark finning and to ensure the responsible conservation management of sharks. They call on the Government of Canada to immediately legislate a ban on the importation of shark fins to Canada.

Ukraine  

    Mr. Speaker, I present a petition signed by Canadians who are very much concerned about what is happening in Ukraine. They believe a truly democratic society should promote freedom and responsible speech and expression and that people should never have to fear violence and imprisonment simply because they feel passionate enough to peacefully rally their opposition.
    The people of Ukraine have become outraged with the ongoing protests that have proven to be violent and deadly. Petitioners are calling on the House to be supportive of the general feeling of the people of Ukrainian heritage and others here in Canada about what is happening in Ukraine today.

[Translation]

Navigation Restrictions  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition from constituents in my riding, Laurentides—Labelle, and several other regions in Quebec. The petitioners are calling on the House to support my motion, Motion No. 441, which we will vote on this evening.
    They feel that it is important to simplify the regulations and that bureaucracy and red tape prevents their municipalities from taking action. The champions on the other side should wake up and realize that this motion would be a good thing for Canadians.

[English]

Questions on the Order Paper

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

Motions for Papers

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.
    The Speaker: Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Request for Emergency Debate

Grain Transport  

[S. O. 52]
    I am in receipt of a notice for a request for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria and I will hear him now.
    Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you, as an MP from the Prairies, are well aware of the grain bottleneck out west. We have heard from many Prairie farmers who are frustrated about the delay in shipping.
    I visited Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in November, and I witnessed first-hand the mountains of wheat and other crops that are building up outside jammed grain elevators. Much of that crop is stored out in sheds or under tarps, and it is deteriorating. As a result, grain prices have dropped 40%. The problem we are hearing about from farmers is that no cost-benefit analysis and no business plan has been done to manage transportation.
     The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food even defended the railroad last fall, stating that the performance was adequate, which it is clearly not. Promises were also made by the minister to bring forward new legislation to rectify the imbalance in the market power between farmers and railroads to enable shippers to get a decent level of transportation service.
    Federal legislation introduced last June did not deal with the situation and does not help farmers. Many Prairie farmers agree that the legislation needs to be amended to make it easier to hit railroad companies with fines for the transportation bottleneck.
    Over 95% of Canada's export grain is shipped by rail. Canada is the world's top producer of canola and the second largest exporter of wheat. Almost 100 million tonnes of grain have been produced this year.
    The nation's two major carriers, CN and CP, each provide 5,500 cars a week, but that is not enough for even half. Twenty vessels in Vancouver and five ships in Prince Rupert were waiting for grain on October 31. Today between 30 and 40 vessels are waiting to be loaded in Vancouver. Ships have been idling for as long as six weeks in Vancouver waiting for grain, at a cost of $12,000 to $20,000 per day in demurrage and penalties, and farmers are going to be paying for that. Canadian-based grain companies have been charged more than $20 million in fees.
    I could go on about the many issues facing grain farmers.
     I ask you, Mr. Speaker, for the sake of all grain farmers out west who are facing the loss of their valuable crop, to let the House have an emergency debate tonight to talk about this transportation crisis.

  (1530)  

Speaker's Ruling  

[Speaker's Ruling]
    I thank the hon. member for raising the issue. I am inclined to grant this request, so I will order it to be held at the normal hour of adjournment today.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Government Orders]

[English]

Fair Elections Act

     He said: Mr. Speaker, yesterday I introduced the fair elections act. It keeps everyday citizens in charge of democracy by pushing special interests out of the game and fraudsters out of business.
    The bill would make it harder to break the law and easier to vote. It would close loopholes to big money and would impose new penalties on political impostors who make rogue calls. It would empower law enforcement with sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand.
    The fair elections act would make our laws tough, predictable, and easy to follow. Life would be harder for election lawbreakers and easier for honest citizens taking part in democracy.
    Law enforcement begins with the Commissioner of Canada Elections. The fair elections act would give him sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand. Sharper teeth means allowing the commissioner to seek tougher penalties for existing offences. Longer reach means empowering him with more than a dozen new offences to combat big money, rogue calls, and fraudulent voting. It would let him get to the truth by making it an offence for anyone to deceive or disrupt his investigation. Finally, a freer hand means the commissioner would have full independence, with control of his own staff and his own investigations, and a fixed term of seven years, which means he could not be fired without cause.
    Consistent with separating the administration from enforcement, the fair elections act would house the commissioner with the Director of Public Prosecutions. He would maintain his powers and functions but gain status as a deputy head, allowing him to make his own staffing decisions and to direct his own investigations. Although the two would be housed in the same office, the director would have no role in the commissioner's investigations.
    To ensure impartiality of the position, those individuals who have previously been a candidate or an employee of a political party, a minister, Elections Canada, or an MP's office would not be eligible to serve as commissioner. The referee should not be wearing a team jersey.
    The fair elections act proposes that the current commissioner, Yves Côté, and his staff would remain in their roles, and all existing investigations would continue uninterrupted.
    One of the responsibilities of the newly empowered watchdog would be to prevent impostors from making rogue calls. The fair elections act would do this by providing a mandatory public registry for mass calling. It would impose prison time for impersonating elections officials, and it would increase penalties for deceiving people out of their votes.
    However, it is just as bad to vote illegally as it is to deny someone else's vote. Each fraudulent vote cancels out an honest one. To avoid this, we currently have identification requirements under the Canada Elections Act. Voters can choose from one of 39 acceptable forms of ID. When they fail to bring any of those, someone can vouch for their identity.
    Elections Canada commissioned a study last year that found irregularities in one in four cases where vouching was used. Having irregularities 25% of the time constitutes an unacceptable risk.
    I want to spend some special time on this particular issue, because these are the findings of the Neufeld report, which was commissioned by Elections Canada. According to that report, as I said earlier, there was a 25% error rate in the use of vouching. That means that every four times Elections Canada used vouching, there was an irregularity once. I will quote directly from the report:
...the audit showed that errors are made in the majority of cases that require the use of non-regular processes.
    Vouching is a non-regular practice. It went on to say:
...inadequate or ineffective training carries significant negative implications for procedural compliance.
    That is on page 21. Furthermore, and I quote directly from the report at page 26:
    Public trust is at risk if the rate of error is not significantly reduced by the next...election.
    Finally:
Without amendments to the Canada Elections Act, procedural compliance cannot be significantly improved in the 42nd general election.
    If I can quote one more time:
    Identity vouching procedures are unquestionably the most complex “exception” process administered at polling stations. The level of irregularities for vouching averaged 25 per cent.

  (1535)  

    It goes on. In a review entitled “A Review of Compliance with Election Day Registration and Voting Process Rules”, this audit showed that errors are made in the majority of cases that require non-regular processes. Then it takes a global view of Canada and the practices that happen in the 308 ridings. It says the following, “Averaged across 308 ridings, election officers made over 500 serious administrative errors per electoral district on Election Day”. That is 500 serious administrative errors per riding, and multiply that by the 308 ridings across the country.
     To quote from the report again, “Obviously, this is unacceptable. Aside from legal concerns, public trust in proper administration of the electoral process is at serious risk if these error rates are not addressed”. And address them, we will. The fair elections act would put an end to the use of vouching on election day.
    Similarly, Elections Canada recently experimented with the use of the voter identification cards as a form of ID. Before these pilot projects, Canadians voted for years without using cards to identify themselves, and for good reason. A report by Elections Canada recently showed that roughly one in six eligible voters does not have a correct address on the national registrar of electors, which is used to produce the voter information card. In other words, one out of six electors may get a card with the wrong address. That allows some to vote in a different riding than they live in, or to potentially vote more than once.
    In fact, the Quebec comedy show Infoman did an interesting exposé on this. Two Montrealers received two voter information cards each, so they both went and voted twice each. They called it the “two-for-one special by Elections Canada”. This level of error, one in six, is also too high. As a result, the fair elections act would end the use of the voter information card as an acceptable form of identification.
    To protect against fraud and to uphold the integrity of our electoral system, the fair elections act would not only instill these new rules, but it would also require in law that Elections Canada inform Canadians, through the advertising function, of the required forms of identification. In other words, embedded in the law would be a provision by which Elections Canada would be obliged to inform electors of the following:
    (b) how an elector may have their name added to a list of electors and may have corrections made to information respecting the elector on the list;

    (c) how an elector may vote under section 127 and the times, dates and locations for voting;

    (d) how an elector may establish their identity and residence in order to vote, including the pieces of identification that they may use to that end;
    That is the basic information that Elections Canada should advertise, so that when people get to the voting booth they already know what identification they will be required to present. The good news is that there would continue to be roughly 39 different pieces of identification that would be acceptable. That number presents Canadians with plenty of options, as long as Elections Canada educates them of those options.
    It is just as important, though, for political parties to follow the rules, as it is for voters. With a 370-page Canada Elections Act, much of the challenge is determining what those rules are. All parties fail at that from time to time, often while trying their best to comply. Since the last election, the commissioner has had to sign 15 different compliance agreements with those who have breached elections law. Some are due to honest mistakes.
    Members of all parties have complained that the rules are unclear and complicated. Complicated rules bring unintentional breaches and intimidate honest, law-abiding people from participating in democracy. The fair elections act would make the rules clear, predictable, and easy to follow. Parties would have the right to an advance ruling and interpretations from Elections Canada within 45 days of a request, a service that the Canada Revenue Agency already provides. Elections Canada will also keep a registry of interpretations, and consult and notify parties before changing them.

  (1540)  

    However, even with clearer rules, members of Parliament and the Chief Electoral Officer will sometimes disagree on an MP's election expense return. When that happens, the Canada Elections Act provides that an MP can no longer sit in the House of Commons until the expense return has been changed to the CEO's satisfaction.
    Now, remember, the removal of a member of Parliament from the House of Commons overturns the democratic decision of tens of thousands of electors: Canadian citizens. No one person should have the power to do that without providing due process. To that end, the fair elections bill will allow an MP to present the disputed case in the courts and to have judges rule on it quickly, before the CEO seeks the MP's suspension. Expedited hearings and strict timelines will ensure that these cases do not drag on.
    Free speech is the lifeblood of democracy. The government is therefore following through on its commitment to repeal the ban on the premature transmission of election results. According to the Supreme Court, this ban is an infringement on freedom of expression. It is also completely impractical to suggest that merely banning broadcasting of results from eastern Canadian constituencies to the west will prevent that information from travelling westward. We live in a modern era where everyday Canadians have the ability to transmit information via social media and other means, so this provision is unenforceable, even if it were not a violation of our basic principle of free speech.
    Voting is to democracy what free speech is to liberty. Unfortunately, Canadians are doing less voting these days. Since Elections Canada began promotional voter participation campaigns, turnout has plummeted, from 75% in 1988, to 61% in 2001. A Library of Parliament analysis shows that between 1984 and 2000, right in the middle of which Elections Canada began mounting its promotional campaigns, voter turnout among youth plummeted by 20 percentage points. Somehow this is not working.
    Why is it happening? The truth is that there are many reasons, but some of them are actually very practical. Elections Canada's own report on the last election said that in 2011, 60% of non-voters cited everyday issues as the reason for not voting. These included being too busy and lacking basic information.
    The same report showed, “The most important access barrier [to youth voting] was lack of knowledge about the electoral process, including not knowing about different ways to vote..”.
    The national youth survey revealed that nearly half of all Canadians aged 18 to 34 were unaware of the three options for voting other than on election day. That means that roughly half of our youth in this country do not know that they can vote at advance polls, by mail, or through special ballot. Students who happen to be busy on election day, studying or working, do not have the knowledge right now that they can vote in other ways. That level of awareness is incredibly low, and it is much lower amongst aboriginal youth, whose turnout we need to see increased. Therefore, we are proposing an increase in the information that voters receive about the options available for them to cast their ballot.
    There is more evidence, though, to support the view that that is the kind of information they need. The survey that I just cited indicated that roughly a quarter of young non-voters expressed that not knowing where, when, or how to vote played a role in their decision not to cast the ballot. That is why Elections Canada correctly listed its top priority on youth turnout to be, “increasing awareness about when, where and how to vote, by providing information in formats suitable for youth”.
    The job of informing voters is even more important for the disabled. Consultation and data show that Elections Canada does a good job of providing the tools that special needs voters require, such as wheelchair ramps, sign language, and braille services. Where the agency falls short is in making these tools known to those who need them.
    To address all of these problems, the fair elections bill will bring better customer service to voters, with an extra advance voting day and more elections officials to relieve congestion at voting stations.

  (1545)  

    The bill goes further than that. The bill would amend section 18 of the Canada Elections Act to focus all of Elections Canada's promotional campaigns on two purposes: informing people of the basics of voting, where, when, and what ID to bring; and informing disabled people of the extra tools available to help them vote. It would be left to aspiring candidates and parties to give people something for which to vote and to reach Canadians where they are in their communities.
    I look to the example set by our former immigration minister, now Minister of Employment and Social Development, who went out to new Canadians who perhaps were not entirely familiar with our democratic process because they came from countries that did not share those processes. He exposed them to democracy, and interested and inspired them in the process. We have seen similar activities that have been done by President Obama, who inspired a whole generation who did not traditionally vote to come out and cast a ballot. All of this shows that political candidates who are aspiring for office are far better at inspiring voters to get out and cast their ballot than our government bureaucracies, which is exactly how we will change the law.
    However, that costs money. We live in the second biggest country in the world, with 10 million square kilometres. We are a nation that is twice the size of the entire European Union, and 95% of the countries in the world have a greater population density than we do. That means we have to travel long distances to reach our fellow Canadians. To do that, Canadian political parties and candidates spent $120 million in the last election in total. It sounds like a lot, until one considers that we spend $2.5 billion on cosmetics and fragrances in one year. Our nation spends 20 times more on products like cologne and makeup every year than we spend contesting democratic elections once every four years.
    It is fair to say that special interest groups can use big money to drown out the voices of everyday Canadians, but that is why our nation's laws try to block that money. During campaigns, parties should rely on the money of small donors, not powerful special interest groups. Donations, like power, should be dispersed among the many rather than concentrated with the few.
     As a result, the fair elections act would ban politicians from using unpaid loans to evade donation limits and maintain the absolute interdiction on corporate and union money. It would also allow a modest increase in the spending and donation limits while imposing tougher audits and penalties for those who exceed those limits. At the same time, the goal of the elections act is to allow small donors to contribute more to democracy through the front door and to block illegal big money from sneaking in the back door.
    I would like to take this moment to thank the now Minister for Multiculturalism, who played a seminal role in crafting the proposals that I have brought before this House today. He and his staff have done tremendous work and have served their country well. I am very proud; in fact, I am very privileged, to have inherited that work.
    We have before us a fair elections act that would further protect the basic principles that guide our democracy: that power should be dispersed in the hands of the many rather than concentrated in the hands of the few; that Canadians should be in charge of their democracy; that special interest groups should be on the sidelines; and rule-breakers should be out of the game altogether.
    This is yet another occasion for us to celebrate the democracy that has brought us to where we are as a country today, to make it better, to further instill it in the foundation of our country, and to move forward into the future of Canadian democracy.

  (1550)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for an extremely well-prepared speech. It is obvious that in recent days he has also taken this file to heart and that he understands the bill inside and out. However, I would like to challenge him on the question of invoking Mr. Neufeld's report as a reason for getting rid of vouching and also voter IDs. That report said the following:
    It should be noted that this decision [the first decision in the Etobicoke Centre case] was made on the basis that important procedural requirements had not been met, and not due to evidence indicating that ineligible voters had been permitted to vote.
    This was also emphasized by the Supreme Court when it talked about the problems of disenfranchisement by using irregularities as a reason to annul the election of our colleague from that area.
    I want to then ask, why has the minister gone that route rather than taking the Chief Electoral Officer up on his request that the Chief Electoral Officer could now recruit election workers on his own, well in advance of the dropping of the writ, and thereby be able to train workers better, so that what happens on election day does not have irregularities to the same extent that the studies have shown?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and for the very good meeting we had well before the introduction of this legislation. He is very passionate about these subjects, and I am sure Canadians will benefit from his input at committee when the bill arrives there.
    The Neufeld report not only specified that there are immense rates of irregularities in the use of vouching, but it also said that even when there was increased supervision over the practice of vouching, those irregularities were not prevented. In fact, they only dropped by four percentage points. Normally, vouching has a rate of irregularity of 25%, extraordinarily high. When extra supervision is provided, the rate of irregularities is 21%. That is still one in five instances. It is far too high; it is an extremely complicated way to validate someone's identity; and because of that complication, it leads to incredible levels of inaccuracy that risk the integrity of our system.

  (1555)  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on that for just a moment. I want to echo the comments that were made by my colleague, by the way, and congratulate the minister on his hard work on this, as he has met with me in the past as well. I appreciate that very much.
    I was going to ask about something else, but I want to stick with the issue of vouching for just a moment because this is very important. In my riding and in many rural ridings across this country, disenfranchisement is actually happening and has happened in the past little while, and the reason for that is that a lot of seniors in rural areas do not have the identification that is being asked for. For example, there are anomalies in certain provinces. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the health card does not have a photo attached to it. I understand there are 39 ways this could be done, but without that basic registration, a lot of this would not count.
    I ask this in all sincerity. Would the minister be willing to look at an option provided through Elections Canada to make sure people who are vulnerable, ideally seniors, a lot of them rural, would be able to take advantage of a vouching system that would be acceptable to Elections Canada and cut down on the number of cases of fraud?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question and for the valuable input he provided when we met earlier. He is a worthy critic and will also serve Canadians well in the committee that reviews this bill.
    Right now, photo identification is actually not required under the act. It is a possibility. One can use photo ID, but one does not have to. I have here the list of 39 different forms of ID that are available for people to cast a ballot.
    I want to raise that point, though, because the leader of the Green Party posted a public letter in which she said that photo ID was required. She is an extremely well-informed parliamentarian and she was under the incorrect impression that photo ID was required. That suggests to me that we need to do a better job of informing Canadians which ID is actually required and which is not. That is why we want to amend section 18 of the Canada Elections Act to require the agency to advertise aggressively about the real photo identification requirements, because clearly there is a knowledge gap, even among our most informed citizens. If Canadians are aware of what ID is required and all the 39 options that are available to them, they will be more likely to show up with that ID, so we do not have this problem at the polling stations.
    Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the minister might touch on some of the provisions in the bill that would help avoid the unfortunate circumstances where political parties and candidates in the past have suggested that the rules of the game have changed during an election or after an election, which has brought into question some of the issues surrounding Elections Canada and some of the disputes that all political parties and candidates have had over the last number of years.
    I wonder if the minister would touch on that a bit.
    Mr. Speaker, all parties have had compliance problems with Elections Canada, and many of them have said that is the result of unclear rules. Some of these rules do change, and they change suddenly without notice. Sometimes they are just not written down at all.
    The fair elections act would create an easy-to-follow system. It would allow parties to ask Elections Canada for either an advance ruling on a hypothetical fact situation or an interpretation of the law. Elections Canada would then provide that within 45 days, it would be in a public registry, and it would apply equally to absolutely everyone. It would also be binding on both Elections Canada and the commissioner, so that if the parties carried out the practice that Elections Canada authorized, the agency and law enforcement could not then prosecute them for following the rules they were told to follow.
    As well, when Elections Canada wanted to change the rules, we would create a mandatory consultation and notice period that would allow the advisory committee of political parties to put their input to the agency so that the rules are practical, are fair, and come with reasonable lead time.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to put a question to the hon. member about the decision to move the investigative enforcement wing of Elections Canada under the public prosecutor's office. It seems very strange, given that in a common law system, generally speaking, the mandate of the prosecution office is simply to hear the evidence presented by the investigators and then make the decision whether or not to proceed with the prosecution. That is normal for judges and prosecutors in a civil law jurisdiction.
    Why is the government making an exception for Elections Canada that does not apply to any other agency at the federal level?

  (1600)  

    Mr. Speaker, we carefully considered whether it was appropriate to house investigations and prosecutions in the same office, and we concluded that it was, firstly because it has already been done. Not only were those two functions housed in the same office before 2006, but they were housed in the hands of the same person. The Commissioner of Canada Elections used to be responsible for both investigations and prosecutions under the Canada Elections Act.
    The Federal Accountability Act moved the prosecutorial function to the director of public prosecutions, who is an independent prosecutor who can only be removed by Parliament. Now, with the fair elections act, we would make the commissioner independent of Elections Canada as well.
    The reason we believe that the commissioner must be independent is that any watchdog who enforces law must be independent. That independence means the ability to choose one's own staff, direct one's own investigations, and serve a fixed term without the possibility of being fired without cause. Right now, the Commissioner of Canada Elections has none of that independence. None of those attributes of independent governance exist within the office of today's commissioner.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I imagine that electoral reform legislation takes years to develop. Why is there nothing about electronic voting?
    The parties already use electronic voting for their leadership races. Did the government look at that possibility? Even if it does not happen this year, it will probably be very important at some point and would fix a number of problems.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question.
    The fair elections act will ensure that Canadians are always in charge of our democracy. It includes several elements.
    First, we are making the commissioner responsible for investigating allegations under the Canada Elections Act more independent. The commissioner will be able to investigate without being influenced by other authorities. Second, we are addressing the issue of fraudulent voting. Lastly, we are addressing the issue of fraudulent calls.
    These three steps will help strengthen the integrity of our democracy and ensure that Canadians remain in charge of our system.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to follow the minister with a reply. I would note that, in some serious respect, the odyssey of the bill began in March 2012 with a motion in this House that was unanimously adopted by all the parties. It was sponsored by the former critic for democratic reform, the member from Hamilton. It was supposed to have produced a bill on the subject matter of the motion, which was heavily focused on better enforcement measures for Elections Canada and measures to combat the kinds of fraud that had become known, through the media, as having occurred in 2011.
    That bill was supposed to have been tabled in September 2012. We are now about 16 or 17 months from there. There have been serious delays, and in the course of that time I will acknowledge there have been expansions in the scope of the bill, which unfortunately have let the bill stray well away from what needed to be its core focus and, I also fear, have allowed the injection of an agenda that is very problematic, which I will address.
    The minister does like to say that he has talked to this person and that person, but I am not sure how any of the conversations he has had amount to the kind of consultation that is needed on such a fundamental change to such a fundamental law in our country.
    The tradition used to be that all parties would be heavily involved at the drafting stage, so that when it hit the House, there would not be any kind of serious problem on key provisions, and at the very least, the Chief Electoral Officer would be intimately involved. We all know that has not been the approach.
    That is one reason why I moved and asked for unanimous consent to take this bill, after first reading, to committee, which in our system, would allow a bit more freedom—a lot more freedom, in fact—for Parliament to look at all the elements and not be stuck with the principle of the bill as it has come forward, without consultation.
    However, as we all know, the vote went against the motion.
    Unfortunately, the way the bill has been rolled out, and I say this with some regret because I do respect the acumen of the minister and the time he has put in since he became minister, it smacks of a “my way or the highway” approach to what is in the bill.
    There are good things in it, but I will not be spending my time on the good things. We will hear more about them from different members.
    There is absolutely no doubt that there are things in here that nobody is going to have any problem with, that would tighten systems, and that would respond to some of what I call basic reform requests that have come since 2010 from the Chief Electoral Officer around the functioning of the system.
    However, “some good points” pale in comparison to what I would actually call “some very awful points”. For that reason, after spending a good part of the last 24 hours reviewing and consulting on the bill, as it was only tabled yesterday, I have come to the conclusion that it is so flawed on these key half dozen points that I will be voting against the bill at second reading, now that the opportunity for an earlier committee process has been rejected.
    Allow me to, first, state generally why the bill is, in my view, so deeply problematic before then elaborating a bit further on four or five of the problems.
    I would emphasize that if those problems disappeared at third reading, the vote would look different. The problem is that they are there and they are so serious that I cannot recommend to my colleagues that we vote for it.
    Mr. Erin O'Toole: It got an A minus.
    Mr. Craig Scott: Mr. Speaker, that is a very good point. I think the former chief electoral officer is, unfortunately, an extraordinarily easy grader.

  (1605)  

    All of Canada knows that the imperative behind this bill eventually appearing and the central challenge was to rein in the kinds of election fraud discovered in 2011. There were the fraudulent election calls and other kinds of fraud that we know occurred in 2006 with what we called the in-and-out affair.
    Instead, the Conservatives, through the minister, launched a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland detour by turning this exercise into some kind of indirect and sometimes rather pointed flogging of the institution that has been trying to rein in electoral fraud, against considerable Conservative Party resistance and manipulation. That includes Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer, with his associate, the Commissioner for Elections Canada.
    This whole exercise started with the unanimous vote in March 2012, and now that trajectory has either been submerged, or to some extent hijacked, in order for the Conservative Party, through the government, to start to portray itself as a victim of a non-partisan agency. The metaphor of “not wearing a team jersey” was carefully chosen and has been repeated by the minister. We all know what is intended by that. We all know the tarnishing of the institution that was intended by that, for Elections Canada and in particular the Chief Electoral Officer. Marc Mayrand and Elections Canada are being portrayed as non-neutral players on some team versus being the neutral referees that we all know they are. This inversion then drives the so-called logic behind so much of what is in Bill C-23.
    On top of that, there is a second, rather topsy-turvy move in Bill C-23. After years of examples of fraud and constant brushes between the law and the Conservative Party—-when I say the law, I mean Elections Canada as the embodiment of seeking to enforce the law—what we get from the minister and the government in the bill is a focus on ordinary Canadians as somehow the main concern when it comes to fraud. The government has removed two means of voter identification.
    The first is the voter's ID card, which can be presented along with another piece of identity, which has been developed on a kind of rolling pilot project basis by Elections Canada to enfranchise more Canadian voters. The second one is the practice of vouching, for which there were 100,000 Canadians in the last election. Effectively, the government wants to lure, or to some extent sucker, the press and Canadians into thinking this is somehow about fairness and preventing fraud.
    This has to be called what it is: voter suppression. These tactics have been building over the past decade, since around 2006, when changes to the law made it harder and harder to prove one has the right to vote in our country. Colleagues of mine will provide overviews of this trajectory and also examples of real-world impacts and who would be disproportionately excluded by these changes. Voter suppression is the result, but I personally will need to be assured that this is not also, frankly, the intention, an intention informed by the deliberate strategies patented south of the border by the Republican Party.
    A third feature of this upside-down world is how the government engages in the kind of night equals day, war equals peace, doublespeak by claiming that it gets big money out of elections with Bill C-23, when there are cumulatively a number of measures that keep big money in play in ways that are likely to benefit one party most. I will leave it to everyone's imagination to know which party I am referring to.
    Fourth, Orwell would be smiling now—maybe smiling with a grimace, but smiling—if he were listening to the minister talking about adding “enforcement teeth” to the Canada Elections Act, when the single most important measure requested by both the commissioner and the Chief Electoral Officer, the power to compel testimony in the face of delay and recalcitrant witnesses, was omitted.

  (1610)  

    Mr. Speaker, let me now turn to more detail on these very general points, all the while noting, and this is important, that my colleagues, in the days and weeks to come, will deeply elaborate on every one of these points. The caucus is extraordinarily engaged with the problems relating to this bill, and a lot of expertise will be brought to bear that I hope the minister will listen to and that will inform the committee stage.
    I will first comment on my concern and claim that the result is voter suppression. We have to know of, and put into context, an active effort by Elections Canada, which in the last election used voter identification cards in a number of different contexts to try to increase enfranchisement of people in our society who, as the minister rightly pointed out, tend not to vote in greater numbers than others: aboriginal voters on reserves, youth on campuses, and seniors in residences. The method that is now being abolished, the voter identification cards along with another piece of ID, was used successfully in this experiment with an extraordinary amount of positive feedback.
    I will move on to the vouching issue. I think that the minister wants to tap into some intuitive problem Canadians might have with one person vouching for another. However, we live in a society that would not function without certain bonds of trust and a degree of procedural stricture.
    What happens with vouching is this. There were 100,000 people vouched for in the last election. A person who is already confirmed as a legitimate voter at the poll in question may vouch for one person. If that vouching is believed by the election-day worker, then that person may vote.
    Here is an example. Two parents show up with two teenagers, who in a previous election were aged 16 and 17, but when the last election came, they were missed by the enumeration. That is a process that almost does not exist any more. They show up at the poll and do not have the right kind of ID, or may well have it but have not brought it with them. Each parent can vouch for one of the teenagers, who are at least age 18 at this point in the story, and both teenagers can vote. It happens a lot with seniors, persons with disabilities, and other groups.
    The minister wants us to understand that somehow or other vouching, and some of that evidence came out of the Etobicoke Centre case, suggests that irregularities are kissing cousins to some kind of massive fraud, or that there is a serious danger of it. However, there is no evidence of that. Even the 25% figure of irregularities does not come close to proving that the people who were not sworn in properly or for whom the vouching was not done properly did not have the right to vote. The Supreme Court of Canada emphasized exactly that. It will be important for us to hear from expert witnesses on that at committee stage. Indeed, I would love to see any reports, or other information I do not know about, tabled by this minister as real evidence that there is a problem.
    Here is an example of why I think there likely is not a problem. In 2006, before we went to the newest system, which requires more ID than ever before, there was a controversy. One party claimed that because 11,000 people had registered to vote on election day in the riding of Trinity—Spadina, it somehow meant that something was amiss, that there had to have been all kinds of problems, and that surely a bunch of those people could not have been valid voters. Elections Canada took that concern seriously. It hired a whole team in order to track every one of the people who had registered on election day through a couple of different methods at the time. By knocking on doors, it found all but two. It found no evidence that anyone had voted who was not entitled to vote.
    If that was the case before we got into this system, I am not exactly sure why we should have any serious concern that the methods being taken away now, the voter identification card with another piece of ID and vouching, are somehow tied to the risk of fraud, let alone fraud itself.

  (1615)  

    This is why I want the minister to understand that the result is voter suppression, and it needs to be looked at in that light in terms of who will be affected. My colleagues will go into more detail on this aspect.
     With regard to big money, I am not sure that big money is going to be taken out of this. The biggest problem we have in the bill, and there are three or four other points on the big-money point, is that there is a new head-scratching provision. It basically says, as the minister said in the House, that any money spent through communications, including most email, mail, electronic communications, and phone calls, to raise money from existing donors who have given as little as $20 in the last five years is not an expense during the election period.
    Any party that has an extensive database system, has the capacity to phone ad infinitum, and has a huge donor base would benefit from that measure. They would also be able to invest the money up front to pay for that excludable expense. It would also add, de facto, to the overall spending limit, which already is going up 5%, and thereby would also benefit any party that is raising a lot of money.
    Here I have a grave concern. This could turn into an end run around the expenses involved in the whole pulling-the-vote exercise. All that might have to happen, in the current wording of this provision, is that a phone call is made, saying “We hope you are still interested in voting for us; we understand that you have indicated that. Do you have any questions? By the way, we know you are a donor; could you possibly also donate $50 more during this thing?” That whole exercise then gets shoved into another expense universe and does not get counted as an election expense. The potential for abuse of this provision is huge.
    Also, $5,000 donations by candidates are now permitted. How is that getting big money out? The $1,200 limit on donations has now been increased to $1,500. That may seem small to many people in the House. To average Canadians, $1,200 is already a lot. Adding $300 is a huge amount. Who can afford to do that when there is no consequential amendment increasing the tax credit? The tax credit stays at the level it was before, so that extra $300 is only for people who can afford it without worrying about any portion of it as a tax credit.
    I will not get into the problems in bringing forward the old political financing act bill that creates an impediment on getting loans to start up a campaign for somebody who does not have even $5,000 of their own. They would have to go out and get $1,200 or $1,500 guarantees from other people to back any loan that they now can only get from a bank.
    I know a conscientious effort was made by the former minister, and I am assuming by the current minister, to try to make the political loans systems as fair as possible, but this also will potentially have a serious detrimental effect on any candidates who do need to borrow versus those candidates who do not need to because of fundraising or because the party transfers money to them.
    No new powers to compel testimony is a huge issue. The Competition Act provides a clear example, and that is all that is being asked for by the Commissioner of Elections Canada and by the Chief Electoral Officer: the ability to compel testimony in this regulatory context with safeguards that also include that one cannot be charged for whatever one's testimony is.
    This has been ignored and I fail to understand why, when we have a working example with the Competition Act. What is good for clean competition should be good for clean elections. It is really befuddling to me that the single most important change that would allow better investigation of what happened with the fraudulent election calls scandal in 2011, the single most important change that would allow that to be investigated better against all kinds of obstruction that has occurred on behalf of the Conservative Party and indeed even its lawyers, would be this amendment, this reform.
    If it were included, it would apply retroactively, because it would be a procedural provision that had nothing to do with any new crimes. There are already enough crimes listed in the Elections Act and in the Criminal Code to cover this. We do not need a new crime of impersonation or obstruction to cover, as my leader said in the House today, under the existing act. Enhancing procedural powers could reach back in time and reinvigorate the Elections Canada investigations that are looking to be stalled.

  (1620)  

    Finally, one way or the other, whether it is a certain philosophy or antipathy toward the office, this is an attack on the Chief Electoral Officer. The gutting of the public education and promotion of democracy function, especially for disadvantaged sectors of the population, found in section 18 of the current act, and replacing it with a very workmanlike technical role of signalling how to vote, et cetera, is a serious undercutting of the function of the Chief Electoral Officer.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his very good speech. I look forward to working with him in committee on studying the measures contained in the fair elections act.
    The national youth survey indicates that close to half of Canadians aged 18 to 34 knew of no other way to vote than to go to the polling station on election day. That means that half of all young people are unaware of the voting methods that are available before election day, when many of them are working or at school.
    Why does the hon. member not support the measure we are proposing, which would require Elections Canada to provide more information on voting methods to all Canadians?

  (1625)  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the question.
    This is not about rejecting amendment 18. We can consider it, as it is worded in the reform, while preserving the rest of the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate in the area of public education. We do not have to choose one or the other. Nor am I saying that the measure presented by the minister to inform young people is not good. I take issue with the exclusion of the rest of the mandate.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this legislation would take away spending limits on fundraising activities. We know this type of activity often includes negative messaging, political messaging, particularly from the Conservative Party. We also know that this kind of messaging actually turns off voters.
    I would like to quote from a Conference Board of Canada report on voter turnout, which concluded by saying that “...without fundamental changes in the way in which politics is conducted in Canada, these are goals that could well remain out of reach for some time”.
    Would my hon. colleague conclude like me that this legislation would only serve to suppress the youth vote rather than result in a larger youth voter turnout?
    Mr. Speaker, although it is difficult to predict these kinds of things with any certainty, I agree that the result will be that youth will be detrimentally affected, to the extent that they are among the sectors of our population who most benefit from the voter ID experiment pilot project and from vouching.
    I will give one thing to the minister, although it is not at all clear whether this is intentional in the legislation, because it is so indirectly worded, that if it turns out to be true that the bill would allow for e-registration of voters, and going online to then change an address and everything else, something the Chief Electoral Officer has asked for, then that might help. There is a provision in the bill that seems to suggest that whatever the Chief Electoral Officer deems as an adequate signature for purposes of registration is sufficient. If that is meant to include electronic registration, then that would be a countervailing factor that I would give to the minister as something that might actually help if it sends a message to our youth as a means to get them to register.
    Mr. Speaker, the member talked about the minister's comments about not wearing a team jersey.
    When talking about the election commissioner, the bill states that appointees who hold the position will hold it for a non-renewable seven-year term and, to maintain the integrity of the position, those individuals who have previously been a candidate, an employee of a registered party, exempt staff of a minister or a staff member of a member of Parliament, or employee of Elections Canada, will not be eligible for the appointment to commissioner.
    My first question is this. Would the hon. member agree that those individuals who have been identified previously as partisan should not hold a position where they would in essence be passing judgment on candidates and, in particular, members of Parliament who do hold partisan positions?
    The second question is further comment on the vouching issue. The member talked about a couple of situations where vouching was a good thing. However, there are many situations, especially for those of us in urban areas, where we have seen problems with vouching, where our official agents or the scrutineers we have at the polls are not able to challenge people who are being vouched for and whom we know are not eligible to vote. I can provide a specific example from 2006 for the member. As a scrutineer at a poll, I was shocked to learn that my mother had voted. She had actually passed away in 2005, and when I asked the person why her name was checked off the list, she assured me that my mother had been in earlier in the day to vote. When I explained to her that was not possible, I was ushered out of the polling station. For every good there is always a bad, and the integrity of elections is always paramount in any decision that we make going forward.
    Could the member comment on those two things?

  (1630)  

    Mr. Speaker, it is important to return to some of the wisdom in the Supreme Court of Canada's judgment in the case involving Etobicoke Centre, in which it said that we had to be extremely careful about disenfranchising voters, especially in the name of procedural irregularities. In fact, that rationale and reasoning obviously benefited in a fair way one of our colleagues in the House, because he kept his seat for the reasons the court gave.
    I would simply say in response to individual anecdotes like the member gave that if there were evidence of a scientific sort or an even more generalized anecdotal set of evidence that this is a serious problem, then it has to be presented at committee so that we can understand it. At the moment, we are looking at a rampant anecdotes that do not seem to correspond with the sense of people in the system. I would also say that my colleague, the democratic reform critic for the Liberal Party, did ask a straightforward and important question about whether reworking and trying to figure out better ways to vouch would not be better than, to use a worn-out cliché, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and ask my colleague some questions on this file.
    The minister suggested that 25% of those being vouched for had something wrong about them, when in fact the Neufeld report does not say that anywhere. In fact, the Neufeld report suggests widening the use of the voter information card as a valid piece of address information, yet the government has ignored that part of the report and is now suggesting the elimination of the use of the voter registration card.
    The whole notion of vouching allows 120,000 people to vote who otherwise might not be able to vote, and the government would like to remove that. However, this report did not ever recommend it. Could the member comment on that, please?
    Mr. Speaker, it is an important piece of information that goes back to what I said would be important at committee. We have to get down to the level of evidence. The minister, I will concede, is very good at presenting the case as he understands it, but we have to ensure that it is grounded in evidence of the kind that would justify infringing on a constitutional right, the right to vote, which drove the Supreme Court's reasoning in the Etobicoke Centre case.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the minister and the critics today for the quality of the debate.
     I have a question about a potential gap in the legislation. I understand that there will be penalties now for impersonating elections officials. However, in my case in the last election someone impersonated my campaign manager and sent a voter across town to an incorrect polling place. I wonder if that penalty for impersonating elections officers could be extended to cover that case, where someone actually impersonates a campaign manager.
    Mr. Speaker, that is a very interesting example, another important anecdote. Society is built upon anecdotes like that.
    However, I think the important answer is that we do not need to amend the act to catch that. There are already at least two provisions in the Canada Elections Act that deal with the criminal illegality of trying to divert people from voting.
    Adding the impersonation offence is a matter of adding specificity to something that is already there in generality. This is also what my colleague, the Leader of the Opposition, was getting at with his questions in question period today, making sure that the government side understands that nothing in the bill, in terms of newly framed crimes, means that the existing act does not already cover the kind of behaviour cited by my colleague.

  (1635)  

Grain Transport

    Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations and if you seek it you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:
    That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, during the debate tonight pursuant to Standing Order 52 later today, no quorum call, dilatory motion or request for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair.
    Does the hon. member for Peace River have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?
     Some hon. members: Agreed.
     The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

     (Motion agreed to)

Fair Elections Act

    The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to thank the House and all the members within it for elevating debate over the past hours. As my colleague for Kingston and the Islands has pointed out, there have been some very interesting facts put out there, and it has been a very good debate. We have talked a fair amount about how we would fix the problems we have seen in the news headlines over the past three or four years and how we would address these issues. I want to thank all members, including the Minister of State for Democratic Reform.
    I want to start with a summary of what the bill proposes, as it is quite extensive in many respects.
    Bill C-23 would protect voters from rogue calls and impersonation. There would be mandatory public registry for mass calling, prison time for impersonating election officials, and increased penalties for deceiving people out of their votes.
    The bill would give law enforcement sharper teeth and allow the commissioner to seek tougher penalties for existing offences. The commissioner would have full independence, with control of his or her staff and of investigation, and a fixed term of seven years so that he or she could not be fired without cause.
    The bill would also crack down on voter fraud by prohibiting the use of vouching and voter information cards as replacements for acceptable ID. Studies commissioned by Elections Canada demonstrate mass irregularities in the use of vouching and high rates of inaccuracy on voter information cards.
    According to legislation, there are 39 forms of identification. However, a question earlier talked about how some identification does not have the required information on it, such as addresses. We have experienced this problem in some rural areas, and many seniors especially do not have the right amount of information. I am hoping that the government would accept an amendment that would allow the practice of some sort of vouching in an official manner to take place. I guess we will have to study that in committee, if indeed the bill manages to get to that stage.
    The bill would also make rules easy to follow for all, which was pointed out earlier as being in section 18. The commissioner has had to sign 15 different compliance agreements with those who have breached election laws, some due to honest mistakes. Members of all parties have noticed that the rules can be unclear.
    Complicated rules bring unintentional breaches and intimidate everyday people from taking part in democracy. As my hon. colleague pointed out, this relates to youth engagement, those with disabilities, and others.
    Of course, in this particular case, there are people who find themselves disenfranchised from the entire system of voting and feel that their vote is not necessary or does not mean much in the long run, but I would say to the government that we need to come up with a plan to bring out the best in our democracy, which is to say that we need to bring up the turnout rate.
    It used to be high many years ago. I have to admit that in my own riding, the voter turnout was at a dismal 44%, which was the second-lowest in the country. We managed to finish just ahead of the Fort McMurray area. That is often the case where we have transient workers.
    In many respects, I agree with what the minister is saying, because we need to reach out to transient workers who may not be aware that they are able to vote in other ridings. The facilities are there for them to do that. The only problem is that some of these people work in oil fields and that sort of thing. However, they can, even in their own ridings, vote at any time whatsoever. They can go to the returning officer and do that at any point. That, to us, proved to be the most effective way to communicate to people who travel a lot, and not just to the oil fields in western Canada, but those who work in oil and natural gas fields around the world.
    The bill would also increase the level of donations from $1,200 to $1,500. I am not really sure if that would go a long way, other than allow some people who can afford it a little more room. I do not see anything wrong with the measures that were currently in place, the $1,200 and the incremental formula that was already there. In the meantime, I must say that with the personal contributions, there are some positive steps in the right direction when it comes to the election and the leadership.

  (1640)  

    The Commissioner of Canada Elections is the one that has been causing some headaches within our party as to how we are deal with the independence that is being bandied about by the government. I would like to talk about how this works in the sense of the commissioner himself.
    Several of the requests that the commissioner made to Elections Canada were basically that he wanted to have the power to go to a judge to get people to comply with the seeking out of information. At the time, we thought that it was a reasonable thing to ask, given what has happened over the past little while, certainly when it comes to some of the byelections that we have witnessed and the general election before that.
    However, I am not certain whether the Commissioner of Canada Elections' investigative tools have been increased within this, so I do not know if the effectiveness has increased for that particular person. That concerns us. If we make this person independent, that is one thing, but if we do not give the increased ability to seek out the information he is looking for in order to conduct his investigation, all we are really doing is shuffling the offices. I will get to that part in just a moment.
    The commissioner did endorse the recommendation made by the CEO that the Commissioner of Canada Elections be given the power to apply to a judge for an order to compel any person to provide information that is relevant to an investigation, which is what I just spoke of. There was some debate today as to whether he does have those tools or not. Throughout the course of this debate, I hope that more light will be shone on that subject and that it will perhaps come up again in this debate at second reading.
    Regarding the lack of flexibility when dealing with the conventions of the Canada Elections Act, the commissioner suggested that more tools are needed to deal with the breaches of the Canada Elections Act that are too severe to be handled through compliance agreements but not serious enough to be dealt with through prosecutions. The commissioner pointed to recommendations contained in the CEO's report on the 40th general election: candidates and political parties that exceed their authorized expense limits should see a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their elections expense reimbursement, and when a candidate or political party fails to file a report by the applicable statutory date, they should forfeit up to 50% of their nomination deposit.
    All of this is to say that some of this stuff has been addressed, and we applaud the minister for putting these measures into the bill.
    However, let me just go back to one of the key tenets of this, which is the ability of the commissioner to do his or her job. In this case, it is his job. If we look at the chain of command and look at the commissioner himself, by this route, through Elections Canada, he is ultimately answerable to Parliament.
    A flag went up for me when I looked at all of the testimony and news stories that dealt with election irregularities and possible and actual violations over the past three or four years. A lot of this work was discovered by auditors. A lot of the violations were discovered by people on the ground within Elections Canada. What they were able to do was advise the commissioner on a continual basis because they were within that sphere. They simply went down the way and told the commissioner what was going on. The commissioner, if given the right tools, would have been able to investigate that further, we believe, in a more effective way. Separating those people and putting them in a different office altogether, in public prosecutions, makes the gap just a little too wide for the information-sharing process that was taking place. That is what I fear.
    I know the government will argue that these people had the ability to go to whomever they wished, but being together in that one area certainly would have allowed a freer flow of information that would have allowed the commissioner to do a better job, given that he had the tool that was suggested about compliance.

  (1645)  

    When it comes to public prosecutions, they are ultimately answerable to cabinet, so certainly we have reservations about that as well. I am sure the minister will address that also. I am hoping he will convince us it is not necessarily the case.
    What is causing a great unease among us is the ability of the commissioner to do that investigation. If sharper teeth are required to do an effective job, I am not sure the teeth the Conservatives are seeking would be obtained within this legislation.
    A code of conduct for political entities was also suggested some time ago, after the 41st general election. Then there is the idea of extension of the application of privacy protection principles to political parties and new requirements governing telecommunications with electors. If I could go to that point for just a moment, the robocalls, as we affectionately call them around here, have been a topic of discussion for quite some time. They have certainly been a topic of derision for some time as well.
    Judge Mosley said in his judgment, seemingly, that it was obvious to him that the origins of some of these robocalls that are called into the question of nefarious activities point to the database that is used exclusively by the Conservative Party, known as the CIMS database. There is no relation.
    I want go back to the robocalls situation. We feel some of the measures will be quite effective, and we applaud the minister for them. As an example, the bill says:
    The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission shall, on the request of the Commissioner, disclose to the Commissioner any document or information that it received under this Division that the Commissioner considers necessary for the purpose of ensuring compliance with and enforcement of this Act, other than this Division.
    We agree. We are into an electronic age. Robocalls, as we call them, have proliferated in every aspect of society, not just politics but in commerce and marketing as well. Therefore, the legislation needs to keep up to standard. A lot of this goes a certain way, so we commend the Conservatives for that.
    Every person or group that enters into an agreement with a calling service provider under which voter contact calling services are provided shall keep, for one year after the end of the election period,
(a) a copy of each unique script used in live voice calls [...]

(b) a recording of each unique message conveyed by an automatic dialing-announcing device [...]
    This is great for the investigative tools necessary in order to cut down on this practice. We commend that as well. It is certainly overdue as far as updated legislation is concerned.
    I also want to talk about contributions. I touched on this point briefly earlier, the $1,200 to $1,500, but also, subject to proposed subsection 405(4.2), contributions that do not exceed $5,000 in total would permitted to be made by a candidate for a particular election out of their own funds for their own candidacy, and for leadership it would be up to $25,000. Some of this is necessary to be updated.
     The bill also says that contributions made under proposed subsection 405(4.2) do not have the effect of limiting the amounts that the candidate or leadership contestant, as the case may be, may contribute under proposed subsection 405(1) to the other candidates.
    I would say that updating this legislation is necessary. I do not know why the contribution limit went up to $1,500. I think the current regulations and rules in place certainly do suffice.
    I talked about the commissioner and about some of the other instances that took place over the past little while that raise alarm over how we need to fix our system. The in-and-out scandal took place. The Conservative Party admitted to election overspending and submitting inflated election returns and had to pay the maximum fine under the Elections Act. There were fraudulent election robocalls, which I just touched upon.
    We know of individuals such as Peter Penashue, formerly of this House, who also over-contributed. Whether he was actually asked to leave or quit before all that happened, there was a huge fuss about it altogether. He did not seem to know the rules of the game.

  (1650)  

    How do we get out there and tell society that we want to explain to people the rules of how to function in elections when we have trouble bringing that information to our own candidates? It is somewhat ironic, but nonetheless that is water under the bridge, as some people say.
    As for increased fines for Elections Act violations, Liberals are supportive of raising the fines for violations of the Elections Act. My hon. colleague from Beauséjour put forward legislation in the House that did just that and was voted on, Bill C-424, so we agree with that as well.
    One of the other things we are in agreement with is the additional advance polling day. I live in a rural riding, as I mentioned, and a lot of people commute back and forth. I commute within my own riding to vote, which is two or three hours away, and the extra day is certainly advantageous. Of course, there is the premature transmission of election results, which is also necessary given the fact that everybody has the Internet, if I could use a colloquial expression.
    In summary, there is a lot of unease about this bill, despite some of the elements of it that Liberals fully support. For us, the unease is created from things such as what is happening at Elections Canada, with the commissioner in particular; and other measures within this bill certainly cause unease to the point where accepting this bill in principle would be difficult for us to do.
    I hope that over the course of the next little while the debate will be elevated to the point where, if this bill passes, is accepted in principle, and goes on to committee, the government would be accepting of some of the amendments we have discussed here today. Until we reach that point, I am thankful for this time.
    Mr. Speaker, I would first like to answer a question of the member's Liberal colleague from Kingston and the Islands, who asked whether the bill would address the impersonation of a candidate or a candidate's representative. I am happy to report that, in fact, the fair elections act would create a new offence for impersonating a candidate or a candidate's representative. Likewise, it would be an offence to impersonate a registered party or association. Of course, as the member for Kingston and the Islands acknowledged, it would be an offence under the fair elections act to impersonate Elections Canada. That answers the question the member for Kingston and the Islands posed earlier to the NDP critic.
    As for the speech that the Liberal critic just presented, he expressed a concern that there might be a barrier of information flow between Elections Canada and the newly independent commissioner, who would be the law enforcement watchdog. I want to assure him that we thought very carefully about that problem and that is why there is nothing in the fair elections act that would prevent Elections Canada from sharing information with the independent commissioner or to prevent the commissioner from sharing information with Elections Canada. There would be no barriers to communication between them, merely a separation of power between them.
    My question to the Liberal critic is this. What additional legal assurances would he need inserted in the bill to give him comfort on this point?
    Mr. Speaker, the obvious answer to that is, if that particular commissioner would not have the power to go to a judge to get more information and be in compliance, then I would say to him that I do not know why, in the beginning, they would make the person in that position as independent as they say he or she is going to be.
    I think what the government would have done is send that person to a different office without giving him or her a different set of tools by which he or she could exercise the job. I always thought that being closer to the agency that gets all the reports, the vast majority of them anyway, whether they are auditors or deputy returning officers, allowed a lot of the allegations and violations that were detected over the past three or four years to come through that process.
    I understand what he is saying about the fact that there would be a free flow of information. I am rather suspicious as to whether, in practice, that would happen.

  (1655)  

    Mr. Speaker, my colleague has been in the House as long as I and went through this in 2006 through the debate on the photo ID bill. I do not remember the particular title that the Conservatives gave the legislation back then, so I will characterize it as that.
    Through that process a problem was identified with respect to voting, and that problem was not well articulated by the Conservatives. It does not bear up under the examination of ridings, such as we heard from my colleague about Trinity—Spadina.
    What is the problem we are dealing with here by taking away another form of identification for people? Does my colleague still hold to the position that his party took at that time, that the requirements of fraud were so onerous that we needed to put restrictions and conditions on people going into a voting booth? Does he still hold to the position that we have actually improved Canadians' ability to vote over these last eight years of Conservative management, or have we created more problems for people who want to vote?
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague has brought up a good point.
    I mentioned earlier to the Minister of State for Democratic Reform that a lot of seniors in rural areas were disenfranchised over the past little while because they did not have the proper identification, such as a post office box instead of a street address, that sort of thing. I remember having a fairly good conversation with the current House leader about it. We discussed how, in many ways, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution for people who want to be identified at the polling booth and exercise their democratic right.
     I am assuming the member is talking about the voter's card being taken away. That could be problematic. I know many people who still believe that all they have to do is show up with that one card and they can vote. We all know what happened in the last couple of elections when people needed more than an address. Some of the 39 cards identified do not have an address written on them in order for someone to do that.
    That being said, I do understand where they are coming from in the sense that a lot of fraud did take place in the last election and it has to be addressed. If this legislation passes second reading, I hope we will get a chance to address that within the committee structure.
    Mr. Speaker, we seem to be talking a lot about identification. The Minister of State for Democratic Reform, in answer to an earlier question, talked about the types of identification that could be used, such as a library card, a utility bill, a bank card statement, a hospital bracelet worn by a resident of a long-term care facility, and so on. The list is quite extensive.
    In addition, the bill states on page 25:
    If the address contained in the piece or pieces of identification provided under subsection (2) does not prove the elector's residence but is consistent with information related to the elector that appears on the list of electors, the elector's residence is deemed to have been proven.
    In addition, clause 2.1 of the bill, just above that, would provide the Chief Electoral Officer with some additional authorities to put additional items on the list for identification purposes.
    Earlier on, the bill says a committee of registered political parties would be able to make recommendations to the Chief Electoral Officer.
    Would my colleague not agree that all of these mechanisms would allow us to ensure that the people who are actually voting are allowed to vote, that the proper identification has been presented to Election Canada officials, and that Canadians can have confidence that the vote that has been undertaken in each polling station across the country is a valid vote.

  (1700)  

    Mr. Speaker, I understand where he is coming from, in the sense that there are all sorts of alternatives that could be utilized to identify the person.
    However, I want to illustrate the point, through experience. As I said, if people, mostly seniors in rural areas, do not have the basic identification that is pointed out at the very beginning, chances are they would not have a lot of the rest. The reason visual identification of someone is beneficial is that the person felt, whether or not it was necessary to show up at the poll with any type of ID whatsoever, they plainly knew who they were, so the concept of visual identification could still be applied, I believe, without making it too lenient so that it would be abused greatly.
    I understand where he is coming from, but it is not just a straightforward answer when it comes to some of the smaller regions that I talk about. We discovered that some time ago when we talked about different types of addresses, as my colleague from the Northwest Territories pointed out, and we had to address it at that time, and one of the things concerned visual identification.
    First, I want to say that an egregious error happened to him, and I appreciate the story he brought to the House about his mother, several years ago. That is the type of thing that I hope would be addressed by legislation such as this.
    Mr. Speaker, on election day in 2011, a fraud was perpetrated in more than 200 ridings across Canada. The Supreme Court has dealt with some of those circumstances and found that fraud was perpetrated by someone who had access to the Conservative information management system, called CIMS.
    One of the difficulties that has arisen in the prosecution of that fraud and the reason the only charge that has been laid has been laid against only one person is that the Elections Canada did not have the teeth or the tools it needed to do proper investigation, like seizing documents and compelling witnesses to give testimony, so that it could dig into the case.
    I am hearing from a lot of people in Guelph who are concerned about this legislation because it would really give Elections Canada no teeth to investigate.
    Would the hon. member speak to me about the need for teeth and the absence of teeth in the legislation?
    Mr. Speaker, at some point, when I look at this legislation to try to seek out sharper teeth, I find myself staring at a loose set of dentures, for the most part, if I could carry that analogy further.
    As he points out, if we ensconce commissioners in a different building, answerable to cabinet, not to Parliament, then the problem becomes that they lose the knowledge that is contained within that area. I know he says they can go back and forth, but I do not think it is as easy as that.
    The other part about it is that the very information, the very ability, and the tools necessary, asked for by the Chief Electoral Officer, endorsed by the commissioner, would not be provided here. They consulted, but the one thing they asked for, which they thought was important to address the concerns that my colleague from Guelph brings up, is not contained within this.

Bill C-23--Notice of time allocation motion  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise the House that an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or Standing Order 78(2), with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-23, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to certain acts.
    As a result, under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours, for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.
    Some hon. members: Shame.

  (1705)  

Second Reading 

    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act, which has been introduced by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform.
    In the most recent Speech from the Throne, our government committed to bringing forward changes to Canada's election laws that would clearly uphold the integrity of our voting system.
    The fair elections act would make our laws tough, clear, and easy to follow. It would make life harder for election lawbreakers and put the focus back on honest people taking part in democracy.
    The bill implements 38 of the Chief Electoral Officer's past recommendations, and it also brings to light concerns raised by Canadians, by various groups and think tanks, Elections Canada, and parliamentarians.
    The fair elections act would ensure that everyday citizens are in charge of democracy by putting special interests on the sidelines and rule breakers out of business. The bill also makes it harder to break elections law. It closes loopholes to big money and imposes new penalties on political impostors who make rogue calls. It empowers law enforcement with sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand.
    The fair elections act would give more independence to the Commissioner of Canada Elections, allowing him or her control over their staff and their investigations, empowering him or her to seek tough new penalties for existing electoral offences, and providing more than a dozen new offences to combat big money, rogue calls, and fraudulent voting.
    Let me expand a bit on some of those tough penalties and new offences. What the fair elections act proposes is tougher criminal penalties for elections offences, such as setting a maximum fine of $20,000 on summary conviction, or imprisonment for up to one year; and $50,000 on indictment, or imprisonment for up to five years, for the following offences: obstructing an election officer, voting more than once, offering a bribe, making false statements to have a person deleted from the register of electors, or applying for a ballot under a false name.
    It is also very important to note that candidates or official agents who are convicted of these offences would be prohibited from being a member of the House of Commons or holding any office in the nomination of the crown or of the Governor in Council for seven years.
    It increases the maximum fines for the more serious election offences, such as taking a false oath, or making a false or erroneous declaration to election officials. It increases the maximum fine for all strict liability offences, such as failure to appoint an agent or an auditor. It increases the maximum fine for third parties that are groups or corporations that fail to register as a third party.
    It also increases the maximum fines for offences applying primarily to broadcast corporations, such as advertising during a blackout. It increases penalties for political financing offences that do not require intent, and also severely increases those offences, such as failure to provide a quarterly return or a financial transactions return.
    It also provides for a number of new offences, which I will highlight. One of them relates to registration on the list of electors. These are things like compelling, inducing, or attempting to compel or induce, any other person to make a false or misleading statement relating to their qualification as an elector. It relates to political financing rules, such as knowingly making indirect loans, or registration on polling day, such as registering when not qualified to vote.
    It relates to non-compliance with the proposed voter contact registry, such as failing to keep the scripts and recordings used in the provision of voter contact calling services. I will focus on some of those provisions in a little more detail further on in my speech.
    It also proposes new offences relating to voter deception. There are actually no provisions in the current act that would make it an offence to impersonate political agents or elections officials. The bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to add the offence of impersonating or causing another person to impersonate a candidate, a candidate's representative, a representative of a registered party or registered association, the Chief Electoral Officer, a member of the Chief Electoral Officer's staff, an election officer, or a person authorized to act on behalf of the Chief Electoral Officer.

  (1710)  

    There are some very serious new provisions in the bill in relation to getting tough on those who would look to cheat and defraud our election system.
    It also cracks down on voter fraud by prohibiting vouching or voter information cards from being used as acceptable forms of ID. The Neufeld report, which was commissioned by Elections Canada relating to administrative deficiencies at the polls in the most recent 2011 election, indicated that there were irregularities in 25% of the cases where vouching was used.
    What the fair elections act would do, as I indicated already, is that it would end vouching and require that Elections Canada communicate what forms of ID would be accepted at polling locations, so that voters would know before they head to the polls what they need to bring.
    As I have already said, it would prohibit the use of voter information cards as a form of acceptable identification. However, it would very clearly outline what forms of ID are acceptable. This would allow Canadians to continue to have 39 authorized forms of ID to use when voting. There is a very comprehensive list of ID options that could be brought to the polls. That would be very clearly communicated to voters so they are well aware of what those forms are for identifying themselves in order to exercise their voting rights.
    It would also make the rules for elections clearer, more predictable, and easier to follow. Complicated rules can often bring unintentional breaches. Unfortunately, that could intimidate people from taking part in democracy. That is why the fair elections bill would make the rules for elections more clear, more predictable, and easier to follow.
    In order to follow the rules, parties must know what they are. That means the fair elections act would seek to ensure that the Chief Electoral Officer provides a 30-day comment period to members of the advisory committee of political parties that would be established under the act before publishing a proposed guideline or interpretation note.
    Following a comment period, an additional 30 days would then be provided, in terms of notice for regulated entities, of the new interpretation. After both the comment and the notice period, which is a total of 60 days, the CEO would then formally issue the guideline or the interpretation note. It would also publish a proposed advance ruling or written interpretation of any question related to the Canada Elections Act within 45 days of a request from a registered party, and then provide a 30-day notice period before it is formally issued as well.
    The advance ruling would be issued by the CEO and would be binding on him and on the commissioner. This is very important. It would also maintain an online registry, which would be available to the public, of the complete text of final guidelines and interpretation notes that have been issued, as well as of any written opinions containing advance rulings that have been issued. That would allow access by parties and individuals of interpretations and guidelines so they could be applied equally and fairly to all involved.
    The fair elections act would also ban the use of loans that have been used in the past to evade donation rules. It would repeal the ban on premature transmission of election results, which would uphold free speech. It would provide better customer service to voters and establish an extra day of polling.
    In the case of disagreements over election expenses, it would allow an MP to present the disputed cases in the courts and to have judges quickly rule on it before the CEO seeks the MP's suspension.
    It would also protect voters from rogue calls, with a mandatory public registry for mass calling, prison time for impersonating elections officials, and increased penalties.

  (1715)  

    What I will do now, Mr. Speaker, is devote the remainder of my time to describing these particular measures, beginning with the creation of a registry for voter contact services.
    In respect to telemarketing and automated dialing that would take place during an election period, the fair elections act would take the very important step of creating a new registry for voter contact services. The bill would require registration with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC. Telephone service providers that are engaging in voter contact, or any other person or group engaging in the use of telephone service for voter contact purposes, would be required to register in the voter contact services registry contained at the CRTC. Moreover, any person or group using internal services to make automated calls for voter contact purposes, would also have to register with the CRTC under this legislation.
    The bill would require any person or group using a telephone service provider for voter contact purposes, or making automated calls for these purposes, to have their identity verified by providing identification to both the CRTC and to the telephone service provider. Third parties who are groups or corporations would have to register with the CRTC for any calls that they make as well.
    In addition, the bill provides that registrations would be made publicly available 30 days after polling day, and that registrations must be available to the CRTC officials within 48 hours of a call being made for voter contact purposes. The bill would also require recordings of messages that are sent by using automated calls and scripts of live messages used by telephone service providers to be kept for one year from the date of the election. The dates of these calls would also have to be maintained in that registry.
    In addition to the strict requirements of the new registry, the disclosure requirements for political parties, candidates, and electoral district associations with respect to expenses incurred for voter contact services by telephone would also be strengthened. In particular, the bill provides a new obligation for political entities to specifically identify expenses for voter contact services by telephone, and to include the name of the company and the amount of the costs incurred on their election returns. The proposed amendments would enhance transparency and consistency in reporting such expenses, and would have the further advantage of assisting with enforcement of the Canada Elections Act.
    To encourage compliance with the rules, the fair elections act would strengthen the penalties regime by first increasing, by 10 times, the penalties for preventing or attempting to prevent a voter from voting. Penalties for doing so would increase from $2,000 currently, to $20,000 on summary conviction; and from $5,000 currently, to $50,000 on indictment. It would also increase the maximum fines for the more serious election offences, such as taking a false oath or making an erroneous declaration to election officials, again, from $2,000 to $20,000 on summary conviction, and from $5,000 to $50,000 on indictment.
    The fair elections act also proposes tough new offences, including a new offence for impersonating election officials or political entities. It would be an offence for a person to falsely represent that they are a candidate, a representative of a candidate, a representative of a party or a riding association, a chief electoral officer, Elections Canada, or any other election officer. The maximum penalty for this offence, if prosecuted on indictment would be $50,000, five years in prison, or both. This is in line with other increased penalties provided for in the bill. It would be considered a corrupt practice if the offence was committed by a candidate or an official agent. A person who is found guilty of a corrupt practice would be prohibited for seven years from being elected or sitting in the House of Commons, or holding any office in the nomination of the crown or the Governor in Council.
    In addition, the fair elections act proposes other new offences, including for providing false information to an investigator, or obstructing an investigation, and for non-compliance with the proposed voter contact registry, including for providing false information or failing to provide identification when registering.

  (1720)  

    I would also note that the fair elections act proposes a further measure to assist elections officials with their important work relating to the potential misuse of automated telephone calls. It will clarify in law that neither Elections Canada nor elections officers make unsolicited calls to voters.
    At this point, it would be appropriate for members to recall that on March 29, 2012, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs heard the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, on allegations of misuse and abuse of auto-dialed calls during the 41st general election. During that meeting, the Chief Electoral Officer expressed the view that the enforcement mechanisms provided for by the Canada Elections Act could be improved. That is precisely what the fair elections act would achieve.
    I would also like to quickly highlight the fact that the fair elections act would provide for better customer service for voters. Many people in the House and elsewhere have often expressed their concern about our voter turnout levels. One of the things that most non-voters told Elections Canada in its survey was that there were practical reasons preventing them from voting in the last election. For example, 17% said it was due to the fact they were travelling; 13% said it was their work or school schedule; 10% said they were simply too busy; and 7% cited lack of information. That is just to name a few of the reasons. I believe that better customer service would help to remove some of those practical obstacles expressed by voters.
    For example, one of the things the fair elections act would do is to provide more voting days by increasing the advance polling days. It would help to reduce congestion at the polls by providing for more elections officers to be appointed, and by appointing liaison officers to facilitate communication between his office and returning officers in the riding. The act would also allow registered parties and electoral district associations, rather than simply candidates, to recommend names for elections officer positions at the polls, and those nominations would be required to be earlier to allow more time for training, which hopefully would allow better customer service and more efficient voting at the polls.
    Obviously our government is fully committed to addressing the current shortcomings in the Canada Elections Act that stand in the way of cracking down on the misuse of mass calls. The proposed changes I have mentioned are significant measures that would help clean up such alleged abuses and prevent potential future abuses. The proposed new rules would be enhanced by the additional requirement to outline expenses incurred for voter contact services by telephone, and by strengthened enforcement of the Canada Elections Act through strong penalties for violations of the act, and by tough new offences. Additionally, our government's proposed voter contact registry would be an essential tool to investigate any telephone calls that attempt to obstruct the electoral process, and would comply with the March 2012 House of Commons motion calling for action on this very subject. These important measures represent a clear move forward in strengthening Canada's election system by helping to ensure that elections officials have the necessary tools to both investigate effectively and to punish appropriately any abuses of automated telephone calls in our electoral processes.
    The initiatives in this bill would also encourage greater compliance with the rules of the electoral regime, thereby helping to restore any loss of confidence in the integrity of our elections system.
     For the reasons I have described today, I believe that the reforms proposed in this legislation would have positive effects for our electoral system, and I call on all members to support the swift passage of the fair elections act.

  (1725)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to my colleague's speech.
    While he was talking, I was reading the introduction of the bill. The fascinating thing is that the government has decided to introduce a massive bill that deals with a whole host of issues. That takes me back to when I was a member of the Standing Committee on Finance in 2013 and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
    I find it quite absurd that the government keeps hammering away at repression. It claims it wants to deter illegal acts. However, it proposes repressive clauses, while stripping Elections Canada of the tools it needs to take action and correct certain shortcomings. Clearly, the government is trying to divert attention from its own inadequacies and shortcomings.
    How can the member justify this hodgepodge of measures that might not be enforceable or enforced?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I notice that the member is celebrating the Quebec Winter Carnival and is wearing the appropriate attire today for the occasion. I compliment him on that. It seems as though we often have exchanges in the House of Commons, which I always enjoy.
    I find it unfortunate that the member and the New Democratic Party do not seem to see the value in some of the things we are talking about doing here, such as protecting voters from rogue calls with a mandatory public registry; giving more independence to the Commissioner of Canada Elections; cracking down on voter fraud; and simply making the rules for elections clearer, more predictable. and easier to follow. These measures would make the electoral process more efficient, make it harder for people who seek to break the elections rules, and make the electoral process more attractive and feasible for the honest people looking to take part in democracy, whether candidates or voters.
    I find it unfortunate that the NDP will not support measures that would make our election laws fairer, simpler, clearer, and more transparent, and that would give better customer service to voters. These all seem to be very laudable goals. The fair elections act would go a long way to achieving all of them, and so it is unfortunate that the NDP is not supporting them.
    Mr. Speaker, I again have to say that the quality of the debate has been quite high today. I am happy about that, but I am now disappointed that the government wants to cut off debate.
    On behalf of my constituents in Kingston and the Islands, I ask if the government would budget money to explain to voters that there would be no voter card and that there would be an extra day of advance polls? From my experience, it is very important to have the resources to supply that information; otherwise, it is the political campaigns themselves that have to supply that information, and then whichever campaign has the most money can get to the most voters.
    I wonder if the government would budget for explaining to voters the changes in this legislation.
    Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to make it clear to the member that there would still be voter contact and the voter information cards that voters receive. I would like to make that clear to him so that misinformation is not out there. However, these voter card could not be used as an acceptable form of identification at the polls.
    I would also point out that there would still be 39 different forms of ID that will be accepted at the polls. They would be very clearly outlined in the act. Elections Canada would communicate with voters about what those acceptable forms of ID are, how and where they are to vote, and all of the other things that have been identified as important for voters to be aware of so that we can enable them to participate in voting and encourage greater voter participation more generally through better knowledge of the acceptable forms of ID, along with where, when, and how they can vote.
    I hope I have cleared up the member's misconceptions.

  (1730)  

     I am sure hon. members will be delighted to know that the hon. member for Wild Rose will have five minutes remaining for questions and comments when the House next returns to this particular motion.

Private Members' Business

[ Private Members' Business]

[Translation]

Election of Committee Chairs

    The House resumed from January 29 consideration of the motion.
    It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 431 under private members' business.
    Call in the members.

  (1810)  

[English]

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

(Division No. 50)

YEAS

Members

Ablonczy
Adams
Adler
Aglukkaq
Albas
Albrecht
Alexander
Allen (Welland)
Allen (Tobique—Mactaquac)
Allison
Ambler
Ambrose
Anders
Anderson
Andrews
Angus
Armstrong
Ashfield
Ashton
Aspin
Atamanenko
Ayala
Baird
Bateman
Bélanger
Bellavance
Bennett
Benoit
Benskin
Bergen
Bernier
Bevington
Bezan
Blanchette
Blanchette-Lamothe
Blaney
Block
Boivin
Boughen
Boulerice
Brahmi
Braid
Breitkreuz
Brosseau
Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Newmarket—Aurora)
Brown (Barrie)
Bruinooge
Butt
Byrne
Calandra
Calkins
Carmichael
Carrie
Casey
Cash
Charlton
Chicoine
Chisholm
Chisu
Chong
Choquette
Chow
Christopherson
Clarke
Clement
Comartin
Côté
Cotler
Crockatt
Cuzner
Davidson
Davies (Vancouver East)
Day
Dechert
Devolin
Dewar
Dion
Dionne Labelle
Donnelly
Doré Lefebvre
Dreeshen
Dubé
Dubourg
Duncan (Vancouver Island North)
Duncan (Etobicoke North)
Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona)
Dusseault
Dykstra
Easter
Eyking
Falk
Fantino
Fast
Findlay (Delta—Richmond East)
Finley (Haldimand—Norfolk)
Flaherty
Fortin
Freeland
Freeman
Fry
Galipeau
Gallant
Garneau
Garrison
Genest
Genest-Jourdain
Giguère
Gill
Glover
Godin
Goguen
Goldring
Goodale
Goodyear
Gourde
Gravelle
Grewal
Groguhé
Harper
Harris (Scarborough Southwest)
Harris (St. John's East)
Harris (Cariboo—Prince George)
Hawn
Hayes
Hillyer
Hoback
Hsu
Hughes
Hyer
Jacob
James
Jones
Julian
Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission)
Karygiannis
Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's)
Kellway
Kenney (Calgary Southeast)
Kent
Kerr
Komarnicki
Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)
Lake
Lamoureux
Lapointe
Larose
Latendresse
Lauzon
Laverdière
Lebel
LeBlanc (Beauséjour)
LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard)
Leef
Leitch
Lemieux
Leslie
Leung
Lizon
Lobb
Lukiwski
Lunney
MacAulay
MacKay (Central Nova)
MacKenzie
Maguire
Mai
Marston
Martin
Masse
Mathyssen
Mayes
McCallum
McColeman
McGuinty
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
McLeod
Menegakis
Michaud
Miller
Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue)
Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam)
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Morin (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord)
Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine)
Morin (Laurentides—Labelle)
Morin (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot)
Mourani
Mulcair
Murray
Nantel
Nash
Nicholls
Nicholson
Norlock
Nunez-Melo
Obhrai
O'Connor
O'Neill Gordon
Opitz
O'Toole
Papillon
Patry
Payne
Péclet
Perreault
Pilon
Plamondon
Poilievre
Preston
Quach
Rafferty
Raitt
Rajotte
Rankin
Rathgeber
Ravignat
Raynault
Regan
Reid
Rempel
Richards
Rickford
Rousseau
Saganash
Saxton
Scarpaleggia
Schellenberger
Scott
Seeback
Sellah
Sgro
Shea
Shipley
Shory
Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor)
Sims (Newton—North Delta)
Smith
Sopuck
Sorenson
Stanton
St-Denis
Stewart
Stoffer
Storseth
Strahl
Sullivan
Sweet
Thibeault
Tilson
Toet
Toone
Trost
Trottier
Truppe
Turmel
Uppal
Valcourt
Valeriote
Van Kesteren
Van Loan
Vellacott
Wallace
Warkentin
Watson
Weston (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country)
Weston (Saint John)
Wilks
Williamson
Wong
Woodworth
Yelich
Young (Oakville)
Young (Vancouver South)
Zimmer

Total: -- 275

NAYS

Nil

PAIRED

Nil

    I declare the motion carried.

[Translation]

Income Tax Act

    The House resumed from January 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-201, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel and accommodation deduction for tradespersons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-201 under private members' business.

  (1820)  

[English]

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

(Division No. 51)

YEAS

Members

Allen (Welland)
Andrews
Angus
Ashton
Atamanenko
Ayala
Bélanger
Bellavance
Bennett
Benskin
Bevington
Blanchette
Blanchette-Lamothe
Boivin
Boulerice
Brahmi
Brosseau
Byrne
Casey
Cash
Charlton
Chicoine
Chisholm
Choquette
Chow
Christopherson
Comartin
Côté
Cotler
Cuzner
Davies (Vancouver East)
Day
Dewar
Dion
Dionne Labelle
Donnelly
Doré Lefebvre
Dubé
Dubourg
Duncan (Etobicoke North)
Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona)
Dusseault
Easter
Eyking
Fortin
Freeland
Freeman
Fry
Garneau
Garrison
Genest
Genest-Jourdain
Giguère
Godin
Goodale
Gravelle
Groguhé
Harris (Scarborough Southwest)
Harris (St. John's East)
Hsu
Hughes
Hyer
Jacob
Jones
Julian
Karygiannis
Kellway
Lamoureux
Lapointe
Larose
Latendresse
Laverdière
LeBlanc (Beauséjour)
LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard)
Leslie
MacAulay
Mai
Marston
Martin
Masse
Mathyssen
McCallum
McGuinty
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
Michaud
Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue)
Morin (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord)
Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine)
Morin (Laurentides—Labelle)
Morin (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot)
Mourani
Mulcair
Murray
Nantel
Nash
Nicholls
Nunez-Melo
Papillon
Patry
Péclet
Perreault
Pilon
Plamondon
Quach
Rafferty
Rankin
Rathgeber
Ravignat
Raynault
Regan
Rousseau
Saganash
Scarpaleggia
Scott
Sellah
Sgro
Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor)
Sims (Newton—North Delta)
St-Denis
Stewart
Stoffer
Sullivan
Thibeault
Toone
Turmel
Valeriote

Total: -- 126

NAYS

Members

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

Total: -- 149

PAIRED

Nil

    I declare the motion defeated.

Financial Administration Act

    The House resumed from February 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-473, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (balanced representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-473. The question is on the motion.

  (1825)  

[Translation]

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

(Division No. 52)

YEAS

Members

Allen (Welland)
Andrews
Angus
Ashton
Atamanenko
Ayala
Bélanger
Bellavance
Bennett
Benskin
Bevington
Blanchette
Blanchette-Lamothe
Boivin
Boulerice
Brahmi
Brosseau
Byrne
Casey
Cash
Charlton
Chicoine
Chisholm
Choquette
Chow
Christopherson
Comartin
Côté
Cotler
Cuzner
Davies (Vancouver East)
Day
Dewar
Dion
Dionne Labelle
Donnelly
Doré Lefebvre
Dubé
Dubourg
Duncan (Etobicoke North)
Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona)
Dusseault
Easter
Eyking
Fortin
Freeland
Freeman
Fry
Garneau
Garrison
Genest
Genest-Jourdain
Giguère
Godin
Goodale
Gravelle
Groguhé
Harris (Scarborough Southwest)
Harris (St. John's East)
Hsu
Hughes
Hyer
Jacob
Jones
Julian
Karygiannis
Kellway
Lamoureux
Lapointe
Larose
Latendresse
Laverdière
LeBlanc (Beauséjour)
LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard)
Leslie
MacAulay
Mai
Marston
Martin
Masse
Mathyssen
McCallum
McGuinty
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
Michaud
Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue)
Morin (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord)
Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine)
Morin (Laurentides—Labelle)
Morin (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot)
Mourani
Mulcair
Murray
Nantel
Nash
Nicholls
Nunez-Melo
Papillon
Patry
Péclet
Perreault
Pilon
Plamondon
Quach
Rafferty
Rankin
Ravignat
Raynault
Regan
Rousseau
Saganash
Scarpaleggia
Scott
Sellah
Sgro
Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor)
Sims (Newton—North Delta)
St-Denis
Stewart
Stoffer
Sullivan
Thibeault
Toone
Turmel
Valeriote

Total: -- 125

NAYS

Members

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

Total: -- 151

PAIRED

Nil

    I declare the motion defeated.

  (1830)  

Navigation Restrictions

    The House resumed from February 4 consideration of the motion.
    The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 441 under private members' business.

  (1835)  

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

(Division No. 53)

YEAS

Members

Allen (Welland)
Andrews
Angus
Ashton
Atamanenko
Ayala
Bélanger
Bellavance
Bennett
Benskin
Bevington
Blanchette
Blanchette-Lamothe
Boivin
Boulerice
Brahmi
Brosseau
Byrne
Casey
Cash
Charlton
Chicoine
Chisholm
Choquette
Chow
Christopherson
Comartin
Côté
Cotler
Cuzner
Davies (Vancouver East)
Day
Dewar
Dion
Dionne Labelle
Donnelly
Doré Lefebvre
Dubé
Dubourg
Duncan (Etobicoke North)
Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona)
Dusseault
Easter
Eyking
Fortin
Freeland
Freeman
Fry
Garneau
Garrison
Genest
Genest-Jourdain
Giguère
Godin
Goodale
Gravelle
Groguhé
Harris (Scarborough Southwest)
Harris (St. John's East)
Hsu
Hughes
Hyer
Jacob
Jones
Julian
Karygiannis
Kellway
Lamoureux
Lapointe
Larose
Latendresse
Laverdière
LeBlanc (Beauséjour)
LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard)
Leslie
MacAulay
Mai
Marston
Martin
Masse
Mathyssen
McCallum
McGuinty
McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood)
Michaud
Moore (Abitibi—Témiscamingue)
Morin (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord)
Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine)
Morin (Laurentides—Labelle)
Morin (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot)
Mourani
Mulcair
Murray
Nantel
Nash
Nicholls
Nunez-Melo
Papillon
Patry
Péclet
Perreault
Pilon
Plamondon
Quach
Rafferty
Rankin
Rathgeber
Ravignat
Raynault
Regan
Rousseau
Saganash
Scarpaleggia
Scott
Sellah
Sgro
Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor)
Sims (Newton—North Delta)
St-Denis
Stewart
Stoffer
Sullivan
Thibeault
Toone
Turmel
Valeriote

Total: -- 126

NAYS

Members

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

Total: -- 150

PAIRED

Nil

    I declare the motion defeated.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want the record to show that we wish Don Cherry a happy 80th birthday.
    That is not a point of order.
    It being 6:35 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Persons with Disabilities

    The House resumed from November 28, 2013, consideration of the motion.
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for York South—Weston has three minutes left to conclude his remarks.
    I will ask hon. members to take their conversations outside the chamber so that we can finish up with private members' business.
    The hon. member for York South—Weston.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to finish my remarks.
    As members will recall, the member for Brant's motion asks the government to endorse the recommendations of a panel that recommended changes in the way the government deals with private sector employers and recommended that these private sector employers be encouraged to change the way they hire persons with disabilities.
    In his motion, he suggested that we look at government initiatives. That is one of the areas where, in fact, the government has failed persons with disabilities.
    Persons with disabilities have depended on the fact that the government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March 2010. That ratification required the government to actually do things to make persons with disabilities have easier lives, better lives, and more employable lives. At the end of two years, the government was to have given the UN a report card on just what it had done in providing these additional supports to persons with disabilities.
     March 2012 came and went. March 2013 came and went. We are now approaching March 2014, and there has been no report card. That speaks volumes about the government's real commitment to persons with disabilities.
    In addition, in the last budget, the Conservative government made it much more difficult for agencies that deal with persons with disabilities by granting them access to employment and by employing them directly. Some of those agencies are now going to fold. They are now going to close, losing the employment of hundreds of persons with disabilities at the same time. These agencies actually directly employ these people, and now they are being forced to close.
    The government claims that the money is still there, but these agencies now have to compete with universities, with hospitals, and with agencies that have huge and deep pockets and the ability to prepare the applications for funding in a much more systematic way than the smaller agencies can. As a result, those agencies are losing their funding, and persons with disabilities are actually losing their jobs.
     That is something the government needs to pay attention to. The current government has not paid attention to persons with disabilities in the way it should have. That is but one of the examples.
    There are also other examples. The government has heard testimony from persons with disabilities who have said that the income support structures and the disability support structures that exist in this country are not conducive to their working. The EI system cannot deal with disabilities that are not continuous. The health benefits system, in all of the provinces, fails persons with disabilities, and the federal government has not stepped up to the plate to fix that system.
    While we applaud and encourage this particular panel's report, and we encourage the government to endorse it, there is so much more the government should and can be doing to support persons with disabilities being employed.

  (1840)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have spoken to the motion before, and I am supportive of the motion, because people who have disabilities need to be accommodated. That is extremely important.
    I will not speak for my full time. I will just say that from my perspective, because I do not have the motion in front of me, I am supporting the member in his quest to pass the motion.
    Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise in the House. I know there may not be too many occasions when my colleague from Malpeque and I will agree. However, on such an auspicious motion as was brought forward by the member for Brant, I certainly appreciate his support.
    It is with pleasure that I rise tonight to speak to Motion No. 430 on strengthening employment for Canadians with disabilities. This motion hits very close to home for me in the fact that my son, Tim, has a disability in regard to mobility as well. He and my colleague, the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, have become very good friends, having met at my swearing-in just a week ago. Therefore it is with some personal experience that I speak in the House in regard to the situation that has arisen in our own home.
    My son is now employed, part-time at least, with a company in Alberta, and he had an opportunity to teach flight aviation in the simulator program at Mount Royal University after his initial accident, which took place over nine years ago.
    This motion could not come at a better time, given the skills mismatch looming in many sectors of our economy today. Too many employers are having a hard time finding enough employees, given the candidates for the high-paying, high-quality jobs that are out there today. Something is seriously out of whack when we have people without jobs at the same time as we have jobs without people. Employers in my riding are telling me that the skills mismatch is their number one challenge in many areas. Employment in southwest Manitoba now is at a very minimal level. It is certainly an issue we have dealt with in our community colleges and universities by trying to upgrade in the trades. People should be able to fill the jobs that are there.
     This is not just an abstract statistical problem. Not being able to find enough skilled people is holding many businesses back from growth. All too often, applicants for available jobs cannot meet the necessary skill requirements, which means that jobs go unfilled, projects do not get off the ground, and Canada's economy suffers.
    This problem is exacerbated by the aging of our population. Older workers are retiring in greater numbers, and that will leave a void in our labour force.
    The supply of skills in the workforce is not enough to meet the demand, and this situation is only going to continue to grow. The inability of companies to find the qualified workers they need obviously has a huge impact on their ability to innovate and compete globally. If we do not find a solution, we will miss out on many rich opportunities, and our standard of living will inevitably suffer.
    This brings me to the motion before us today. People with disabilities are one of the largest untapped sources of talent in the country. Not too many people know this, but more than 4.4 million people in Canada are defined as having disabilities. That is one out of every seven Canadians, fully 14% of the population. With an aging population, this number will continue to grow.
    There are approximately 800,000 working Canadians with disabilities who are employable but are still jobless. Almost half of them have a post-secondary education. In an economy in which some sectors are experiencing skills shortages, and we have people without jobs and jobs without people, this just does not make sense. What does make sense is encouraging businesses to hire more people with disabilities and ensuring that the training programs lead to guaranteed jobs for persons with disabilities.
     We know that people with disabilities are significantly under-represented in the workforce. I can affirm that. Just under 60% of people with disabilities are in the workforce compared to 80% of other working-age Canadians. These are statistics members from all parties must work hard to change. First and foremost, people's mindsets, including those in the private sector, have to change.

  (1845)  

    I am proud to be part of a Conservative government that has delivered results in encouraging the hiring of persons with disabilities. We have seen that it many of the communities I represent, where work programs have taken place and where they have been encouraged to find more work for persons with disabilities in local communities.
    We will negotiate an improved version of our flagship training program, the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, worth $222 million a year, in conjunction with the provinces and territories. That is just one of the ways the government is starting to improve. Current agreements will be replaced by reformed agreements that will be demand-driven to better meet the skills and labour needs of Canadian businesses. They will improve the job opportunities for persons with disabilities.
    The opportunities fund for persons with disabilities is being extended, with a budget of $40 million per year, starting in 2015-16. More importantly, it is being improved to provide more demand-driven solutions for persons with disabilities and to provide even better outcomes for persons with disabilities so that they have the skills needed for the jobs that are available.
    It is our Conservative government's goal to ensure that all Canadians have the opportunity to have good-quality, well-paying jobs so that they can achieve long-term prosperity. I am proud of our government's record of supporting programs and supports that help persons with disabilities receive training and support to improve their outcomes in the labour market. That is why it is so easy for me to stand in support of such a well-thought-out and important motion regarding improving opportunities for persons with disabilities, as brought forward by my colleague, the member for Brant, and seconded by the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
    I have only been in the House a short time, but I am proud of the leadership the member for Brant has taken on this important issue. I am very much looking forward to working with him and the Minister of Employment and Social Development on continuing our government's strong record of improving the lives of persons with disabilities.

  (1850)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 430 regarding employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. This motion refers to measures that are needed in order to give persons with disabilities improved access to stable employment. This means considering constraints related to their disability and recognizing their skills.
    It is particularly important that we take the time to discuss this motion because it is related to what is happening in certain areas of my riding where it is increasingly difficult to fill available jobs. For example, there was a mining boom in my region recently, although there has been somewhat of a downturn as of late. Sometimes there are too many jobs available for the number of people who live in these areas. It is sometimes very difficult to fill certain jobs, so companies look to immigration.
    It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to look to non-traditional pools of workers, including persons with disabilities, if we want to address this economic challenge in my riding. If we are successful at integrating persons with disabilities into the labour market, perhaps we will overcome the economic challenges in my region.
    Integrating persons with a disability into the labour market requires a pan-Canadian strategy and therefore the collaboration of the provinces, territories and first nations. Unfortunately, the government did not include the collaborative approach in its proposals, depriving us of expertise that would help us integrate persons with disabilities into the labour market.
    Many community organizations help persons with disabilities. For example, in the city next to mine, the Club de l'amitié des handicapés works to integrate persons with disabilities by organizing activities. It has built up expertise. However, since these community organizations fall under provincial jurisdiction, we are missing out on their expertise.
     Still, these organizations can help us by sharing what works for them in their region. By getting involved in information sharing between the provinces and territories, we could have come up with a much better approach to integrating persons with disabilities into the labour market. The refusal to work with the provinces is hindering our overall objective. It is too bad.
    Furthermore, the panel's report does not take a close enough look at the employability constraints that prevent disabled people from finding work, for example, inflexible schedules or the quality of the job. These criteria, which can deter people from working, are not mentioned in this report. It does not consider specific constraints related to a person's disability.
    For example, if a disabled person's accessible transportation is not available before 9 a.m., they will obviously not be able to work a 9 to 5 job, since they would be late for work every day. There are constraints to that job. When there is a very strict schedule, that person loses a job opportunity.
    We need to look at these specific constraints, which sometimes have simple solutions. There are people who would like to work, who feel able to work and who have the intellectual ability and the energy to work, but who cannot do so because of technicalities such as lack of transportation. If these simple issues had been addressed through consultations with disabled people, this could have been much more effective.

  (1855)  

    The analyses published by Statistics Canada clearly show the correlation between disability and low income.
    Persons with disabilities are sometimes unable to find work because of constraints that are essentially easy to handle. As a result, they have low incomes. When you have a low income, it is often more difficult to acquire additional skills to find another job later. When you have a hard time making ends meet because you do not have a job, you obviously cannot afford to get additional training at university to improve your job prospects.
    When we talk about persons with disabilities, we must look at the big picture and take a collaborative approach.
    Unfortunately, although this motion contains some improvements and tackles the issue, some parts are not quite complete and could be improved. That does not mean that we have to oppose the motion. However, I think that if we really want to improve the job prospects of persons with disabilities, we must do better. The motion leaves something to be desired.
    The participation rate of people with a temporary disability is lower than during times when they have no disability. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 55% of men and 39% of women without a disability worked the equivalent of a full-time schedule all year, compared with 21% and 14% of those with six years of disability.
    These figures clearly show just how much a disability, even a temporary one, can affect a person's ability to remain active in the labour market. Accordingly, people with a disability are at a greater risk of having a low income, especially when their labour force participation is interrupted.
    Canadians with a disability are affected in two ways. The disability hinders them physically or mentally, but it also makes them more likely to live in precarious circumstances. It often becomes more and more difficult to break such an impasse.
    If I may digress for just a moment, I would point out that workplace mental health problems cost the Canadian economy $20.7 billion. It is an important issue. Mental illness is usually a temporary disability, but unfortunately, it can sometimes be permanent.
    According to another statistic, every week almost 500,000 wage earners miss work because of mental illness. It seems to me we have a lot to think about. We have to do a better job of protecting the health and safety of our workers.
    Gender inequality that is, unfortunately, already widespread within the labour market is even more marked when we compare the hours worked by women and men with disabilities. I think that is another point to consider.
    Maybe we should pay special attention to what is happening to women with disabilities, who, sadly, struggle with tremendous instability. Women already have a hard time earning as much as men, and when a disability is thrown into the mix, they often end up in very unstable situations.
    I would like to close by suggesting that the member who moved the motion should really think about women with disabilities, who are facing instability on both of these fronts.

  (1900)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and address Motion No. 430. I know that we got off to a rocky start, but I was hoping to speak to this motion because it is an important issue and in our best interests to see stronger leadership on this file. The more successful we are in acting on the issue of disabilities in general, the more we will improve the quality of life of those with disabilities.
    Disabilities come in all different forms. We heard some of the numbers from previous speakers. A lot of people are surprised at how many Canadians are impacted by disabilities, whether mental or physical. We would do a great service by having more dialogue in the House of Commons on this important issue.
    We are not alone. There are many organizations throughout our country that deal specifically with advocacy, supply, and support for people with disabilities. In my home province, the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities and the Learning Disabilities Association of Manitoba are two examples of great organizations. The Learning Disabilities Association has enabled people to better understand disabilities over the years. The Society of Manitobans with Disabilities has become an advocate for those with disabilities and is there for them.
    If we were to canvass what needs to be done, there are a number of specifics involved. However, I want to pick up on a point the previous speaker referred to, the idea of working with the provincial government. I would go further and suggest that we need to take a much more holistic approach to dealing with the issue of disabilities.
    What role does Ottawa play? One is leadership. Ottawa and the Government of Canada is in the best position to ensure there is some sort of a strategic approach across Canada dealing with this important issue. That means we need to start looking at who the stakeholders are while ensuring that a dialogue is taking place.
    The previous speaker referred to the provinces. Yes, provinces do play a very important role. In Manitoba we have seen legislation passed and the department of family services getting directly involved. As many members might be aware, I was a member of the Manitoba legislature for just under 20 years. There is no doubt that the province has a critical role to play. I would suggest that the local municipalities also have a critical role to play. One could even go beyond that and talk about how important education is in being able to deal with the issue of disabilities and some of the stereotypes there are. We can also talk about school divisions.
    In my opening remarks I referred two great organizations in Manitoba. We can talk about some of the people with disabilities who are directly impacted. There is no shortage whatsoever of strong advocates within that community who know and understand the issue because they live with it every day.

  (1905)  

    If we want to deal with this issue, we need to take more of that holistic approach. What role can Ottawa play? We can pass legislation. We can look at what our national civil service does today. We can look at accessibility, whether it is to the House of Commons or to the smaller federal offices scattered throughout our country, from the one-office locations in municipalities to our larger federal buildings across Canada. Accessibility is a critical aspect in dealing with individuals with disabilities.
    We do not get that appreciation unless we are affected first-hand or directly. Maybe we have a disabled sibling, a son, a daughter, a parent, or whoever it might be, someone who is close to us who has been profoundly impacted by disability. I would argue that not only those individuals but the broader community, all of us, have a vested interest.
    What do I mean by a vested interest? What expectation do we have to provide a certain quality of life for all Canadians, whether they are disabled or not. We need to strive wherever we can to improve the quality of life.
    There are significant challenges for those with disabilities: everything from the workplace, on which we are focusing a great deal of our time this evening, to living accommodation, which does tie in directly to the workplace. Accommodation is very important.
    So is transportation. The best volunteer I have had at my constituency office for a long time is a wonderful individual who is disabled. He has done an outstanding job. Transportation is critically important. Where individuals are employed, for example, in the Province of Manitoba, they are given a higher priority in terms of access to transportation. I can understand and appreciate why they need access to transportation. Transportation is absolutely critical.
    What about individuals who want to continue volunteering? Through volunteering, individuals often establish the networking that enables them to land the type of employment they hope to achieve.
    We need to ensure that there are adequate resources that provide the opportunity for those individuals to gain employment. Whether someone is in a wheelchair or has a form of disability with another requirement, whether it is a piece of machinery or computer technology, there is a wide variety of things that could be provided.
    I would ultimately argue that, if we made this a higher priority, not only would we improve the quality of life of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast but we would also improve the economics of our country, as has been pointed out. There are many jobs out there that individuals with disabilities could be filling if they were provided the legitimate opportunity to engage in a particular occupation or job.

  (1910)  

    We have to really start thinking of it right from our elementary students all the way up to those individuals in their 50s and 60s who have disabilities and who still want to be engaged in a working environment, let alone everyone who wants to be engaged, generally speaking.
    I appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight. I will obviously be supporting the motion.
    Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I am pleased to support my colleague, the member of Parliament for Brant, regarding his motion to endorse rethinking disability in the private sector and encourage greater private-public partnerships to increase job opportunities for persons with disabilities.
    The member of Parliament for Brant has a sincere interest in assisting people with disabilities. I am pleased to acknowledge his efforts as chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons With Disabilities.
    I was also delighted with the support he gave me with respect to my private member's bill, Bill C-462, An Act restricting the fees charged by promoters of the disability tax credit and making consequential amendments to the Tax Court of Canada Act. Bill C-462 was passed unanimously by all members of the House of Commons and for that, on behalf of persons with disabilities, I thank everyone.
    The motion before us is very timely as it fits in with our Conservative government's focus on jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity.
    We have all heard of the skills mismatch in this country. Businesses all across the country are calling it the greatest obstacle to their continued growth. Our Prime Minister has called it the most serious economic issue of our time.
    We have hundreds of thousands of jobs going unfilled, and yet we have about 800,000 working-age Canadians with disabilities who are unemployed even though they are capable and want to work. About half of this group have college or university education.
    Just under 60% of people with disabilities are in the workforce, compared to 80% of other working-age Canadians. There is a clear mismatch here. Businesses are telling us they cannot find workers with the right skills. At the same time, people with these particular skills, who just happen to be disabled, cannot find work. Here is the crux of the matter: we are ignoring an important source of talent.
    People with disabilities can be part of the answer to our skill shortage. When the panel on labour market opportunities for persons with disabilities interviewed employers across the country, it found that there was considerable openness to the idea of hiring people with disabilities. It received positive reactions from businesses of all sizes and from a broad range of industry sectors.
    Those employers who already had employees with disabilities were more open to hiring more people with disabilities. In fact, they were enthusiastic. They had seen how much people with disabilities contribute to their businesses. People with disabilities are just like all workers. They are highly motivated to do well and they work hard. They make excellent employees.
    The cost of accommodating a person with a disability is often quite low or even nonexistent. As I said before, the panel's report makes it clear that accommodation costs are usually so manageable that they should not be a barrier to hiring a person with a disability.
    For a small investment, employers get very good value. For one thing, businesses with employees with disabilities have less turnover. People with disabilities can give businesses a competitive advantage. Why then are employers not hiring more people with disabilities? It must be that these workers currently do not have the skills for the jobs that are available. That is why our government is responding to this motion directly by investing in programs that will equip people with disabilities with the skills they need for the jobs that are available.
    In economic action plan 2013, we announced that the Government of Canada would work with the provinces and the territories on a new generation of labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, to more effectively connect Canadians with disabilities with employers and with jobs. These new agreements will be negotiated this year and will deliver better results by being driven by demand and have more employer involvement.

  (1915)  

    We provide $222 million a year for these agreements, which support approximately 300,000 interventions every year for people with disabilities through more than 100 programs designed and delivered by the provinces. We have rewritten these agreements to better meet the labour needs—the particular skills employers need—and Canadian businesses will improve the employment prospects of people with disabilities through these programs.
    Economic action plan 2013 also maintained funding of $40 million per year for the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities starting in 2015-16. The opportunities fund is a subsidized job program that will help Canadians with disabilities gain the hands-on experience they need to fully participate in the labour market. Since 2006-07, the opportunities fund has helped more than 34,000 clients develop skills and gain work experience.
    Economic action plan 2013 proposed that employers and community organizations be more involved in local project design and delivery to ensure a stronger link to the labour market needs. This will improve the outcomes for people with disabilities.
    Some of the other measures that were announced in the action plan include additional funding for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, some of which will support research related to the labour market participation of people with disabilities; support for the creation of the Canadian employers disability forum, now officially incorporated under the name Canadian Business SensAbility, as recommended by the panel; and the extension on an ongoing basis of the $15-million-per-year enabling accessibility fund, which defrays the costs of construction and renovations related to improving physical accessibility, including the addition of a workplace accessibility stream.
    We want to see the private sector do more. According to a Conference Board survey, in the last 20 years employer investment in workplace training has declined by nearly 40%. This has hit persons with disabilities harder than most, for they often require more training.
    Canadian businesses spend about 35% less on workplace training than their U.S. counterparts do. This is why, if we are going to tackle the problem of skill shortages, we are all going to have to pull together. Governments at all levels, employers, institutions, and yes, even individual job seekers are going to have to co-operate for the common good.
    In conclusion, I would like to commend the hon. member for Brant for introducing the motion, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today in support of his efforts.

  (1920)  

    Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank my two colleagues on the government side who spoke tonight, the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke and the member for Brandon—Souris, for their words, as well as opposition members who have spoken in support of the motion this evening.
    I have said this before, and I will say it again, I am under no illusions about this motion, in the sense that there is much more to do. That is a point that has been brought up by all sides of this House.
    Here is what we know. We have this untapped resource of approximately 800,000 individuals in this country who have one form of disability or another. Those disabilities range from episodic-type disabilities to physical and intellectual disabilities. The broad range of disabilities of those individuals has been spoken about over and over again.
    About 340,000 of them have post-secondary university or college degrees. These are talented people. These are people we need to match to the jobs that are available in our country, both public and private sector.
    What this motion is really about is mobilizing those people who own and operate businesses in communities, at the grassroots level. I was fortunate before coming to the House of Commons to have owned my own construction company that I ran for 25 years. In those 25 years, I was rewarded greatly by my employees.
    I would like the opportunity for my colleagues in the construction industry to consider hiring someone with a disability, and not because of sympathy or feeling sorry for someone because they do have a disability, but because it makes good business sense. The business case that was laid out by the panel that the government put together on hiring persons with disabilities shows that the broad range of benefits from hiring someone with a disability go far beyond what anyone's expectations could be.
    First, they are some of the hardest-working individuals in this country when they get a job. There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, it is because they are thankful to have a job. They are a group of people who inspire those around them. Another great benefit is that attrition rates and rates of turnover of employees are greatly reduced. People want to be around and to be inspired by these wonderful individuals, many of whom have had to overcome many obstacles on a daily basis, the kind most of us do not have to face.
    I have seen it in my community. I have seen it in groups of individuals who support those with disabilities. I have seen it in individual lives. I have seen individuals who have started their own businesses. When going out to do business for our own personal reasons, as many of us have, I have seen these individuals in our communities. Would it not be wonderful if we took the next steps, as a society, to make sure that the focus is on that pocket of individuals in our community? When we see opportunities, we want to encourage those who have businesses to consider them on their merits when there is a job opening.
    That is what this motion strives to do. It sets out prescriptive things that the government can do, many of which are non-monetary. It is my belief that it is private sector's responsibility to step up to the plate. They need to step up and realize that there is this pool of untapped talent out there.
    The motion has very prescriptive actions and includes the necessary government support behind it. We talked about accommodation. Things have been brought up, such as transportation. All of these things are pieces of the puzzle that can help. It is those opportunities, those doors, that need to be opened.

  (1925)  

    I appreciate the support of all members of the House on this motion. It is a motion that can move the yardstick ahead one step. It is better to take it one step at a time than to not take any action at all.
    It is a great privilege and honour to have put forward this motion.
     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 Deputy Speaker: All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Deputy Speaker: All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Deputy Speaker: In my opinion the yeas have it.
    And five or more members having risen:

[Translation]

    Pursuant to Standing Order 93, a recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 12, 2014, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Emergency Debate

[S. O. 52 ]

[English]

Grain Transport

    The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely grain transportation.
    That the House do now adjourn.
     He said: I would first like to thank the Speaker for allowing me to bring this grain crisis to floor of the House of Commons tonight.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg North this evening.
    Over the next four and a half hours, farmers and their families will be watching MPs debate the crisis they are facing, and the money they are losing. I am hoping that many other Canadians will also be watching, so that they can have an understanding of the crisis at hand on the prairies. We hope that following this debate tonight that we can see more action from the government.
    We have been hearing from many farmers and farm groups from across the country of the frustration they are facing with delays in shipping and the money they are losing.
     This last fall, in November, I visited Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. I witnessed firsthand the mountains of wheat, canola, and other crops that were building up outside of the grain elevators. I have seen the grain stored, not only in the elevators, but in machinery sheds and under tarpaulins.
    At that time, many were very optimistic. The crop was good. The prices were good. They had customers. What more could one ask for?
    I recall visiting Curtis McRae's farm in St. Andrews, Manitoba. He had over 30,000 bushels of wheat and 30,000 bushels of canola on his 5,000-acre farm; and it was a very impressive farm at that. He said that the local elevator was not taking any grain, as it was waiting for 600 cars to move the crop already at hand. That is just one example of the many thousands that we are seeing right across the prairies.
    As a result, the prices started dropping. The prices have now dropped 40%. The problem is that there is no cost-benefit analysis and no business plan to manage the implementation of transportation. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food even defended the railroad last fall, stating that the grain companies' performance was adequate. It clearly was not.
    Promises were also made by the minister to bring forward new legislation to rectify the imbalance in the market power between the farmers and the railroads, to enable shippers to get a decent level of transportation service. Federal legislation introduced last June, the Fair Rail Freight Service Act, was supposed to deal with this situation. Well, it has not worked.
    Many prairie farmers agree that the legislation needs to be amended to make it easier to hit the railroad companies with fines over these transportation bottlenecks. The current act is not effective.
    We have to realize that over 95% of Canada's export grain is shipped by rail. Canada is the top canola producer in the world and the second largest exporter of wheat. We had over 100 million tonnes of crop out west this year. What a bonanza and opportunity we could have had, and there were customers for the crop.
    When we look at the nation's two major carriers, CNR and Canadian Pacific, they say they are each providing 5,000 cars a week, and one is at 5,500 cars, to move the grain. However, that is not even half as much as we need.
    Not only do we see this on the prairies with the railroads, there were 20 big ships waiting for grain in Vancouver and 5 ships waiting at Prince Rupert, the two grain terminals on the west coast, and that was on October 31. Today, there are between 30 and 40 vessels waiting to be loaded in Vancouver alone.
    We can see that there is a big problem. We have the crop. We have the customers. We have the ships. However, it is just not getting there.
    Ships have been idling for as long as six weeks in Vancouver, waiting for grain. It costs $12,000 to $20,000 every day in demurrage penalties. Who is going to pay for that?
    I was talking to a farmer yesterday from Saskatchewan, and it is going to come right out of the farmer's pocket. That is who will end up paying for these delays.
    Canadian-based grain companies have been charged more than $20 million in fees for delays at the port of Vancouver since August, according to the Western Grain Elevator Association. Some grain companies have sales for China, but they are not able to transport all their grain.

  (1930)  

    What has happened? What are all of the rail services being utilized for? They are being utilized for crude oil, potash, and other products. They are getting priority. The grain farmers are not, though, because there is no watchdog over the whole system. This is leaving as much as 3 million tonnes of grain stuck in the Prairies.
    Canadian railroads shipped 34% more cars of fuel, oil, and crude petroleum in October. They are shipping more products than in the year before.
    CP Rail reported a 19,900-car shortfall, according to a January service report. Outstanding grain car orders for CN totalled over 17,000, according to the January 17 report.
    Let us look at some of the prices. Less than a year ago, wheat was selling for $9 a bushel; now, farmers are getting less than $4 for the same quality of wheat. That is less than half the price. The fuel costs are all the same, the seed prices are all the same, and the fertilizer prices are all the same, but let us look at the prices the farmers are getting—and those prices are only if they can sell it and get it to their customers.
    The problem is not a lack of a competitive transportation system, but that the grain is in competition, as I said, not only with oil but also with potash and coal. These are other commodities that are taking up the rail space. They accounted for 54,000 cars in November. That is a big increase from the year before.
    We have a loaded rail cars waiting at the elevators for up to 11 days. Then we have the demurrage fees, which I have already talked about, adding up to $20 million.
    We look at all of these losses. What do they add up to? We are figuring out now that they add up to $1 million a day, all of which will come out of the farmers' pockets. Overall, they are losing $1 million a day. What does the minister do? He throws $1 million at the whole project for a study. It does not take much of a study when we call these growers from all across the country.
    Let us have a look at some of the farm leaders across the country and some of the newspapers that we get in the Prairies. I will name a few of the farm leaders. I will quote what they say in some of the articles.
    The first one comes right out of the Canadian Press. This gentleman is from Keystone Agricultural Producers. My colleague knows very well that it is the biggest agricultural organization in Manitoba. The article says:
    Doug Chorney of Keystone Agricultural Producers said the backlog is so bad that mountains of wheat and other crops are building up outside jammed grain elevators.
    As prices fall, farmers are wondering what good a record bumper crop is to them if they can't get it to market.
“There is grain in piles across Western Canada”, Chorney said from Brandon, Man. “This creates big cash-flow problems for farmers. We all have bills to pay”.
    The minister came out and said that the government will give the farmers a small advance payment. The farmers have all these piles of grain, and the government is going to give them an advance payment. That has to be paid back. It is only going to be paid back if they sell their grain. I do not know where the rationale is, and I do not think that farmers feel any more confident.
    That is in Manitoba. Let us move over to Saskatchewan.
    Norm Hall is the President of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan. I will quote from the newspaper what he said about the legislation that the Conservatives brought forward in June:
    Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said the Fair Rail Freight Service Act is just not effective.
    He said the legislation needs to be amended to make it easier to hit railway companies with fines over transportation bottlenecks.
“There are no teeth...to make sure that it happens”, Hall said.
    The legislation does include a provision for possible penalties of up to $100,000, but only if a government arbitrator decides a signed service agreement between a shipping company and a railway has been violated.
    What is that going to do to make the rail service accountable?
    That was out of Saskatchewan.

  (1935)  

    The Conservative members from Saskatchewan or the Prairies must have had an earful when they went home and were at the curling rink or hockey rinks over the last few weeks. It must be a hard go for them. However, there are answers and there are solutions out there.
    Let me move over to Alberta.
    Lynn Jacobson, president of—
    The member has used up all of his time.
    Have I no time to wrap up, Mr. Speaker?
    Perhaps during questions and comments, the member will be able to.
    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Vegreville—Wainwright.
    Mr. Speaker, I hate to agree with the hon. member from Atlantic Canada, not only because he is Liberal but because some of his positions on issues are just plain wrong, but quite frankly, what he is saying on this issue is correct. There is a huge problem. The railways are part of the problem. The grain companies are part of the problem. I do not know whether the ports are part of the problem.
    The hon. member for Malpeque is heckling me, saying that it would be better if we had the Wheat Board, but frankly, it would be worse. We would never be able to figure out what the problem was with the system if we had the Wheat Board, and farmers are not going there, by the way. They know that is not part of the answer; that has been part of the problem, and the problem would be worse.
    However, the problem is there. Some of the information from farmers that he referred to is in fact, I believe, completely accurate. Those problems are there. I have farmland that I rent to people across Alberta and Saskatchewan, and these young people have been phoning me and complaining about the same situation. However, I have not heard a single idea that would provide a solution. I would ask the member if he has any concrete ideas for how we could deal with this problem.
    The railways have to perform better, and the grain companies should not be allowed to take advantage of this situation, which only exists because of the monopoly situation with the railroad. There is the choice of either CN or CP, depending on which line is closer.
    I would like to ask the member—
    The hon. member for Sydney—Victoria.

  (1940)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the hon. member for his question, and I have to commend him. He was one of the few on the other side who even questioned the minister on the lack of action.
    First the government got rid of the Wheat Board. The result is not making any more money for the farmers. Let us not open that debate, because it is gone. When the government got rid of the Wheat Board, it should have had something to take its place, and the railways act did not do it. It had no teeth, and the rail companies knew there was no teeth in it last fall. That is why they kept shipping more potash and oil. It was because there were no teeth in the legislation. These guys had the chance to have a good act that would be a watchdog over the railroads, and they did not do it. They got rid of the Wheat Board and put nothing in its place, and that is why we now have this situation.
    Now they are trying to play catch-up, but it is costing the farmers money. It is costing farmers big money to have this catch-up, and it is not working. What is going to happen with all these grain piles come springtime, when moisture starts to get into it and it starts to deteriorate? Where are the customers going to be found?
    Mr. Speaker, I have been getting emails like all the rest. I am sure that on the other side they are as well, as members from the prairie region are also seeing the same thing.
    I wonder if my colleague could comment. Yes, the Wheat Board is gone, and we are not re-entering that debate, but part of the piece that disappeared as well was the logistics of moving grain off the Prairies. It was then handed over to private companies. That is what the government side wanted. Clearly what we are seeing is that as soon as they get a bumper crop, those particular companies are failing farmers.
    Would my friend agree that what really needed to happen was that some sort of logistical support system needed to be left in place, not totally eliminated and left up to private enterprise? What happened with private enterprise through Hunter Harrison and CP is that last year they got rid of 11,000 cars and 440 locomotives. He took capacity out of the system right before a bumper crop. CP made more money, but it left farmers stranded.
    I wonder if my colleague would like to comment.
    Mr. Speaker, the member hit the nail on the head about how the Conservatives dropped the ball on this. We see it even at the Vancouver port.
    The Wheat Board used to have a way of controlling where all the cars were going. The grain industry is vitally important not only for farmers out west but also for people who buy the grain, for the livestock farmers in eastern Canada, and for people all over the world. We cannot leave it totally up to the free enterprise system of cars shipping potash or oil. There has to be a watchdog. Someone has to be accountable. There should have been quarterly reporting on this situation to see if people were being taken care of, and they have not been. It is on the Conservatives' watch, and they are going to have to suffer for it.
    Mr. Speaker, it is really important that we recognize the simple fact that Canada has the best wheat in the world, yet throughout the Prairies there is wheat sitting in bins. There is wheat covered by light plastic sitting in fields. Let us imagine the frustration of the farmer in the Prairies today, who has poured his heart and soul into producing the best wheat in the world, but the Government of Canada has not done enough to ensure that the wheat moves out of the Prairies to the west coast, where we have dozens of empty ships ocean waiting to receive that Prairie wheat.
    How do we describe the feelings of the farmers in rural Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or Alberta, given their efforts not only to produce wheat but to contribute immensely to the Prairie economy through the thousands of jobs, both direct and indirect? If we try to get an understanding of how the farmer has been impacted, we would get a better appreciation of the negligence of the government in not doing what it should have been doing.
    What we are debating today should not be any surprise. We had wonderful crops last fall. It is no surprise that we needed to be able to get that wheat to the ports. What has the government been doing to address that issue?
    My colleague said it offered just over $1 million. One could talk about falling short on that front, but the biggest failure is the government not recognizing early enough the need to deal with the transportation and handling issue. That has to be the biggest disappointment for the farmer today.
    I have had the privilege of being born and living in the Prairies. I go to the Prairies every weekend. It is my home. I have been on many different farms as a guest. I have been a passenger in some of the gigantic tractors. I remember driving down Highway 2 a couple of years ago late in the evening and seeing a sequence of 14 or 16 lights. It was combines working together to pull the wheat off the ground.
    It is impressive to know that our product feeds many parts of this world. At one point or another, virtually any country that imports wheat has looked to Canada to provide it.
    I can appreciate that the handling and transportation of wheat and other products are of critical importance and I do not claim to know all of the details of how that is managed. I look to individuals within my caucus, in particular my colleague from Wascana, who has time and time again raised this issue on behalf of the Liberal Party as the deputy leader. He is an individual who has served the Prairies, representing not only Saskatchewan but the Prairies as a whole to ensure we see the farmers' issues being brought to the House as often as possible.

  (1945)  

    Our former critics and the current critic are working with the leader of the Liberal Party. They have been saying that we need to bring this crisis to the floor in the form of an emergency debate. It does not happen very happen, where the Speaker acknowledges that what we have brought forward requires an emergency debate. We are pleased that via the Liberal Party critic we were able to bring this forward for debate tonight. At the very least, it is highlights how critically important it is that this issue be dealt with. It is a crisis. People do not have be in economic ivory towers to comprehend the situation and the degree in which intervention is needed.
    We are looking to the government to come up with ideas. A Conservative member stood up and asked us for our ideas. I am looking forward to the government members coming forward and sharing their ideas. More importantly, I would like to hear what the government has done to date that should have prevented this from taking place. How is the government going to make amends to the farmers and others it has virtually destroyed?
    It has been pointed out that there is a 30%, 40%, 50% loss of revenue. Those are incredible losses. Let us imagine having our own business that hit with a 30% to 60% loss of revenue, and the impact that is going to have. We already ask our farmers to work 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, especially at certain times of the year.
    We are looking for the government to come up with ideas. The deputy leader of the Liberal Party has talked about the Fair Rail Freight Service Act. The Liberal Party has been talking about transportation for months, both inside and outside of Ottawa. We recognize the need has been there. My colleague made reference to the fact that he was out in the Prairies just last fall, talking about the piles of wheat that were accumulating back then. This should be no surprise.
    We have to ask, why? Where has the government been? The government needs to start demonstrating that it really understand what is taking place and tell the farmers and others who are watching tonight exactly what it is prepared to do to resolve this issue.
    A boat sits out in the Pacific Ocean, and every day it costs $15,000 for it to just sit there empty, waiting for the wheat. There is nothing like having a boat go into port, getting a partial deposit of wheat, and then having to go back out and wait for the same company to have another deposit delivered for transfer to the boat.
    There is a coordinating element that has been lost. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the actions of the government have caused the problem. That is something I believe many farmers out west understand and will remember. They are watching what the government is doing.
    The farmers on the Prairies are starting to lose confidence in the Conservative government in a significant way. We hope to continue to raise the issue, whether it is here inside the House or outside the House where the farmers are, in the prairie regions, and to talk and communicate.

  (1950)  

    The leader of the Liberal Party constantly tells us that he wants us to connect with Canadians. We are connecting with farmers and are going to continue to hammer home the message that the government needs to stand up and start taking responsibility and being more accountable to the farmers, especially on our Prairies. This is a time of need and we want the—

  (1955)  

    Order, please. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Prince Albert.
    Mr. Speaker, it is great to have this debate and about time. I have been talking about this issue with my constituents since October or November when the crops started coming off.
     One thing I will remind the member of, though, is that it was actually the member for Wascana, when he was the agriculture minister, who came out with the new type of rail system that we are faced with today. He was the guy who actually went to the farmers and said to get rid of their small-town elevators and branch lines, to buy a Super B, to go to inland terminals and make a more efficient railway service. Well it was more efficient, but it did not go back to the farmers. Where did it go? It went to ship more coal, more potash, and more oil. That is the Liberal policy on this.
    When it comes to the revenue cap, where is the Liberal policy on that?
    Mr. Speaker, I have two points.
     First, let us acknowledge what the member said, that it is about time for this debate. I agree. The time for this debate probably was a lot earlier. However, the only reason we are having this debate tonight is because the Liberal Party said we needed it, that it is a priority, that there is an emergency, that there is a crisis happening on the Prairies.
    Second, in regard to the latter issue, I would welcome the opportunity to see a good, healthy debate between the Prime Minister and the member for Wascana on the prairie farm and the decisions the Liberal Party of Canada made back when we were in government, compared to the damage caused by the current government. Never before have we seen piles of wheat to the degree we see today. That is because of Conservative mismanagement. You have to take responsibility for some of the actions you have and have not taken.
    The member for Winnipeg North is well versed in the rules of the House. His comments have to be directed to the Chair, and not to other members of Parliament.
    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges.
    Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned that when we were in government in 1995, the Liberal government privatized CN via the CN Commercialization Act. Section 16 of that act stipulates that “The railway and other transportation works in Canada of CN, of every subsidiary...are hereby declared to be works for the general advantage of Canada”.
    Seeing that health of our grain farmers on the Prairies is also to the advantage of Canada, would this member support or agree to compelling CN to act through the CN Commercialization Act the Liberals enacted in 1995, through section 16?
    Mr. Speaker, what we would ultimately like to see this evening are ideas and thoughts brought to the table, and where there are opportunities for us to be able to assist the farmers, that is what we should be doing.
    I am hoping, in particular, to hear some initiatives from the government side. I think as we see time pass, there will be some ideas be discussed and, hopefully, acted upon where possible.
    Mr. Speaker, there are some things that all of us will agree on tonight. If we could just agree on those things and then get on with the rest of the debate, that would be helpful.
    First, farmers have done a marvellous job in growing this crop, an incredible job. It is a record crop by far. We have never grown a crop like this before.
    Second, the railways simply have not performed in the last few months. CN has become an excellent railway and has increased the movement of all commodities, including grain, each year for the past four years, until December and January.
    The third thing we can agree on is that a lot of harm is being done to farmers because the railways are not moving grain as they should. Moreover, grain companies are taking advantage of this situation, the fact that there is not competition, and are offering farmers a lower price than they would if we had real competition in moving the grain to the ports.
    So I think we can agree on all those things. I would like to ask the member once again to provide some serious part of the solution to this problem.

  (2000)  

    Mr. Speaker, first we need to recognize the need to amend the Fair Rail Freight Service Act. If the member needs some advice on that, the member for Wascana, or the critic for agriculture, would be more than happy to provide that information or amendments as necessary. This is something that we must absolutely do.
    To what degree has the Government of Canada actually sat down with our railways and talked about the number of locomotives and rolling stock and the staffing issue, to ensure that we can in fact mobilize and get the wheat out to the Pacific Ocean? The government should have been working on this with the railways. We hope it will expand on that particular point in the debate this evening.
    Mr. Speaker, we are here tonight because we are dealing with a record crop in western Canada. All players in the supply chain are looking at solutions for getting grain more quickly to port. Let me share what Mr. Gary Stanford, president of the Grain Growers of Canada, said:
    We had a record crop last year with a significant increase in yields. A buoyant farm economy, better genetics, increased usage of new and better fungicides, overall better agronomics, and better utilization of micro-nutrients in fertilizer application were all contributing factors
    As many in the industry have said, higher crop volumes are expected to be the new normal, and our government is taking action to help the industry prepare for that.
    Our government also understands the challenges that Canadian farmers are facing. Canadian farmers face some of the longest inland distances to market of any exporting nation. On the Prairies, grain travels an average of 1,500 kilometres to reach a port terminal. In addition, in 2012 farmers paid over a billion dollars to move grain by rail. Grain growers deserve an efficient, reliable, and predictable rail service to get their crops to market.
    World demand is growing and while the bumper crop is posing frustrations for our grain farmers, it also represents an opportunity for the industry to find new efficiencies. That is why we are working with stakeholders on a number of fronts to make the supply chain more competitive. Over the past months, the minister has met on several occasions with key players throughout the grain sector to find long-term solutions. With the new reality of larger crops, this holistic approach is the best way forward, and is certainly much more constructive than pointing fingers. That said, as we are working with stakeholders to identify improvements going forward, we expect all players in the supply chain to step up their game.
    I would like to talk about an important action our government is taking to protect the economy and Canadian grain producers.

[Translation]

    Our government is concerned about the potential repercussions of the CN strike on hard-working Canadian farmers, the manufacturing sector and exporters. We were disappointed to learn that the union representing CN workers, Teamsters Canada, gave its strike notice. A strike would have damaging effects on our economy, farmers in the Prairies, auto workers in Ontario and proud forestry workers in Quebec.