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View Paul Crête Profile
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his speech, which clearly showed the importance of the service provided by the members of the RCMP. Of course, people in Quebec have had a somewhat more negative opinion in the past, not because of the officers, but rather because of some behaviour and specific actions at the executive level of the RCMP. However, we must not confuse executive level decisions and the behaviour of RCMP officers.
I would like to know how my colleague interprets the fact that the Conservative government recently decided to amend the wage agreement with the RCMP, an agreement that had been signed the previous year in order to give RCMP members pay parity with other major Canadian police organizations for the next three years. The Conservative government ignored that agreement and acted unilaterally. Is that really the way to show these police officers that they truly have our respect? More importantly, in a legal sector like this one, is it not true that, by reneging on an agreement that was signed, the government is sending a very negative message not only to the RCMP members themselves, but also to all Canadians?
View Paul Crête Profile
Madam Speaker, when I was asked to speak about this bill, my first reaction was to recall that the RCMP closed the Rivière-du-Loup detachment a few years ago. The people in my region were not very pleased with that, because it left a large territory open to organized crime. Today we are feeling the effects of this.
As I thought about this, however, I realized that there was a difference between the RCMP and the RCMP officers themselves. When the detachment in Rivière-du-Loup was closed, I talked to the police officers, and they made it very clear to me that this was not their decision and they thought that the detachment should remain open because they knew what was going on on the ground.
It was with this in mind that I agreed to take the floor today on Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, to validate certain calculations and to amend other Acts.
This bill would amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act to add the provisions necessary for the implementation of amendments made to that Act by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act that relate to elective service and pension transfer agreements. The creation of the Pension Investment Board has in fact introduced different procedures. The Board administers many different pension funds, and corrections had to be made to the RCMP officers’ fund.
In addition, the bill would bring into force certain provisions enacted by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act. Finally, it would validate certain calculations.
Let us look at this bill in greater detail. It was introduced on March 9, 2009 by the Minister of Public Safety, and was studied in the course of various proceedings: here at second reading, then in committee. The Bloc Québécois gave its support at second reading. Then it proposed some amendments which, for the most part, have unfortunately not been adopted. That does not mean that we have to vote against this bill, even if we do intend to point out that these improvements would have been desirable.
The principal amendments confer the authorities necessary to expand the prior service provisions and to establish pension transfer agreements.
Prior service means buying back years of service for entitlement to a full pension. Bill C-18 sets the cost of buying back prior service according to actuarial rules. If an officer has worked for other police forces and has pensionable periods where he has not contributed to the pension fund, can that service in fact be bought back, and how? This is what the bill attempts to define.
According to information provided by the Library of Parliament, the member assumes responsibility for buying back past service, and can do so through his former pension plan, a lump sum, or monthly deductions. When someone is a member of the RCMP, and at some point in their career, after 20, 25 or 30 years, reviews the situation and decides they are worn out and want to take well deserved retirement, but they have not contributed to a pension plan for a large part of that career, retirement is not possible unless they buy back service. That is what this bill is intended to make possible.
These new provisions do not concern members of the public service, the Canadian Forces, or the Senate who are already included in the RCMP Pension Act. The bill extends this past service buy back right to other Canadian pension plans, which are listed in the bill.
The expanded election provisions will allow eligible pension plan members to elect for prior service under other Canadian pension plans. As I said, this will also enable them to have access to a pension sooner.
The introduction of pension transfer agreements will allow the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to enter into formal arrangements with other Canadian pension plans to permit the transfer of pension credits into and out of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pension Plan.
In other words, the RCMP which at present cannot sign transfer agreements with other pension funds will be able to do so under this bill. Thus a number of officers wishing to buy back service will be able to do so.
This bill amends a number of acts: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, the Pension Benefits Division Act, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act, and the Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This is about trying to strike a balance between different pension plans and, for RCMP officers, updating their plan to make sure that they have a better chance of benefiting from these situations.
Since we began the debate on this bill, the Bloc Québécois has focused on how Royal Canadian Mounted Police members are treated upon reaching retirement age. There is one tangible way to recognize an individual's service to society as a member of a police force: its retirement plan. That is what the Bloc Québécois is concerned about.
A lot of people have had to make major sacrifices to defend the cause of freedom and justice in their work. We want that to be recognized. However, we are also aware of the RCMP's recruitment problems, and we think that recognizing years of service in a provincial or municipal police force should be part of the solution. We know that in today's world, we need a mobile workforce more than ever before. That applies to police forces as much as it does to other groups of workers. In this case, we want that to work for RCMP officers, and we hope that the same will apply to provincial and municipal police forces.
We support this bill because we want to ensure that all members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police receive fair and equal treatment. We studied it in committee and proposed amendments that were not accepted. I will get back to that. Overall, however, the bill has some good points and deserves our support.
The study in committee gave us a chance to call various witnesses from all sectors to discuss the bill. Committee members tried to take their testimony into account as much as possible. We are going through an economic crisis, and given the instability of public finances, the Bloc Québécois is concerned about sound management of public funds. That is why we took such a close look at the viability of the pension fund and the potential financial impact of Bill C-18 on the government.
A certain number of concerns were raised throughout consideration of the bill. For example, RCMP division representatives in Quebec acknowledge that this bill is a step in the right direction. However they have some concerns, particularly with regard to recognizing the prior service of their members, as cadets, as pensionable service. Until the legislative change in 1992, cadets, then called recruits, were given credit for training under the pension plan. According to RCMP division representatives in Quebec, those who were consulted and who appeared as witnesses, the definitions included in Bill C-18 still do not permit recognition of cadets' years of training in the RCMP. This is an anomaly because time spent in training by recruits is recognized as pensionable service by provincial and municipal police forces but not by the RCMP.
The Bloc Québécois examined the facts in committee. We wanted some amendments but they were not adopted. According to the RCMP, civilian members should be members of the same pension fund as other members because they must observe the same code of conduct. Therefore, we examined the working conditions of civilian members and compared them to other members of the RCMP and public service employees to determine whether at the Department of National Defence, for example, it is possible to find a pension fund for their situation.
The long-term viability of the pension fund and the allocation of the cost of pension fund contributions are also important issues. Bill C-18 allows the recognition and transfer of years of service and pension amounts accumulated in another federal or provincial police force. That is a good thing. This recognition and transfer do not seem to pose any problems for the majority of positions. In that sense, the bill is doing what it is supposed to.
Some divisional representatives had concerns about senior RCMP officers, though, because these officers, who number 160, can be appointed by the commissioner or the Governor in Council. This category is eligible for bonuses whose amounts add to pensionable earnings year after year. This puts pressure on the pension plan. The divisional representatives are afraid that the amount transferred from the former pension plan will not be enough to cover the benefits under the new plan. It is important that this be handled properly. Obviously, beyond the pension provisions, there is another reason why the government went ahead with this bill, and we have to recognize it.
The RCMP has recruitment problems. According to some members, the RCMP has a very hard time recruiting new members. For example, it has difficulty recruiting new cadets, because it faces real competition from municipal police forces and other security organizations. They are all part of the same market. The RCMP has difficulty attracting people, so it must find a way to retain its experienced members.
More and more, the pillars of the organization—members with many years' experience and wisdom—are retiring or taking on new challenges elsewhere, just when the RCMP most needs their talents and their perspective. In response to these very real problems, the Government of Canada promised to reform and strengthen the RCMP. In March 2008, it created the RCMP Reform Implementation Council, which is to provide advice to the minister on modernizing that institution. The current bill reflects the desire to reform the RCMP so that it can retain current personnel and attract new people from outside.
In permitting the recognition and transfer of years of experience, Bill C-18 brings a major change to the operation of the RCMP. The RCMP pension fund is recognized as being one of the best. This bill makes this fund accessible to police officers from outside the organization. So this measure is attractive as a remedy for the recruitment difficulties now being experienced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We hope that these efforts yield results and that the recruitment problem is not as serious in the years ahead.
However we have fewer compliments for the government on the way it has acted unilaterally on several occasions with RCMP employees. For example, the Conservative government decided to change the RCMP wage agreement signed last year, which was designed to give the members of the RCMP wage parity with the leading Canadian police forces for the next three years. The Bloc has vigorously denounced this attack by the Conservative government. It is bizarre that the government should go back on its word when police forces are working to enforce the law. It would have been much more sensible to honour the agreement.
The government also continues to deny RCMP officers the right to unionize. The government is regressive and has an archaic view of things. For better labour relations within the RCMP, it should have accepted this right to unionize long ago. That would lead to much healthier labour relations and get rid of the paternalism sometimes typical of some employers who do not allow their employees to unionize. The most obvious example of paternalistic behaviour is when the government goes back on its own signature.
Therefore the Bloc would like the Conservative government to revisit its decision and grant the entirety of the wage increase promised to the RCMP members, as agreed in the wage agreement. We are a little worried by the underhanded manoeuvring of the Conservative government, and will be keeping a close eye on this issue.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is happy to support this bill. It allows for greater officer mobility and recognition of work done. When people want to leave at the end of their career, they will have the best possible chances, as they will have contributed for recognized time and will be able to use it to begin their retirement. This is one of the best ways to recognize the quality of work done in the service of society.
View Paul Crête Profile
Madam Speaker, my colleague has a very valid and serious point. However, we must also acknowledge that some decisions made by RCMP management in Quebec had a negative impact, such as the closing of the Rivière-du-Loup detachment.
As you know, Rivière-du-Loup is a transportation hub for all types of goods between Quebec and New Brunswick and into eastern Quebec. Unfortunately, that also includes the transport of illicit goods. When there was an RCMP detachment in Rivière-du-Loup, there was more control over the situation. The region of Témiscouata is also on the border. This entire area was abandoned and we are still paying the price on a regular basis.
The bill seeks to improve the working conditions of RCMP members, police officers, and others with a career in the RCMP and to provide the tools to attract people to a career in the RCMP. Therefore, we should support the bill.
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, Omar Khadr is a child soldier. A child soldier is a child under 18 who is part of an armed group or national army and who may unfortunately have participated in killings. Omar Khadr fits this definition contained in the convention on child soldiers signed by Canada perfectly.
Could the government explain why it is appealing the Federal Court's recent decision ordering the repatriation of Omar Khadr?
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs a question concerning Omar Khadr on February 23, 2009. The question has been asked repeatedly to try to make the government understand that everyone in Quebec and Canada unanimously agrees that Mr. Khadr should be repatriated, everyone that is, except the government.
Not only has Mr. Khadr received the support of all opposition parties, the Canadian Bar Association and the entire legal community, but now a Federal Court ruling has ordered the government to repatriate Mr. Khadr. That ruling carries a lot of weight, and we were surprised to see the federal government appeal the decision. One must wonder if it decided to appeal simply to stall for time. Fundamentally, there is no doubt that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which relates to child soldiers, applies to Mr. Khadr. Under that convention, in the case of a child soldier, his or her country is responsible for reintegrating him or her into society. Furthermore, Mr. Khadr's lawyer and his family have made some proposals in that regard. In short, we are astonished by the position currently being taken by the federal government.
It made that decision when Mr. Bush was still President of the United States. We know about Mr. Bush's attitude toward torture and security. Security was more important to him than human rights. It is frightening to see the Conservative government follow in his footsteps.
Today, I asked a question in the House in the hope of better understanding the government's reasons for appealing the Federal Court's ruling, which is substantial and well-founded. The federal government has no reason to do this.
The government could have saved face had it accepted the Federal Court's ruling and repatriated Mr. Khadr. The government could have decided to submit him to the legal process if necessary. It could have reintegrated him into our society because he was once a child soldier. He was a minor when the crimes he is charged with were committed, crimes of which he has never been convicted. He should have been treated according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government of Canada signed that convention.
Today, Canadians and Quebeckers alike wonder why the federal government has decided to do this. It did the same thing in the case of a Canadian citizen who was convicted in the United States, a citizen whom it refused to defend. It did not try to save him from the death penalty. It still has the same attitude toward Mr. Abdelrazik.
We want the government to show that it understands the Federal Court's message and bring Mr. Khadr back to Canada. That is what this particular Canadian citizen deserves. I hope that the government will act accordingly, change its mind, grant Mr. Khadr his rights and bring him home to Canada.
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, my colleague makes it seem as though it was not the Federal Court of Canada that declared that Mr. Khadr had to be repatriated. This is no longer the position of the opposition party or a lawyer, but that of the Federal Court, which ruled that the federal government must repatriate Mr. Khadr.
The federal government has decided to appeal this decision. How can it appeal a decision when we know that Mr. Khadr was a child soldier? As such, he has rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was signed by Canada.
Are the Conservatives simply trying to buy time to defend an ideological position that only the government supports?
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on this bill which addresses the administration of customs.
In recent years, as the aftermath of 9/11, there has been a very marked tightening of customs security. There is at the same time an awareness that a balance must be struck between security and the need for proper service and for avoiding problems because of the way things are being done. If all the priority is given to security alone, the end result may be hindrance of the border-crossing mechanisms.
The border between Canada and the U.S. is a very long one. Obviously it can be crossed by road, or even just on foot, but it can also be crossed in a plane. This bill before us is an attempt to remedy the situation. The Bloc Québécois will be voting in favour of this bill because we feel that the measures it contains are appropriate. Time will tell whether they actually succeed in improving the situation on any ongoing basis, but the bill is evidence of good will and we hope it will be passed.
Primarily, though, this bill is designed to provide Canada Border Services Agency officers with the information, tools and flexibility they need to identify threats and prevent criminal activity, while ensuring that legitimate goods and travellers can cross the border efficiently. Under the amendments that have been announced, all businesses that are part of the import chain are required to provide the Canada Border Services Agency with electronic data on their shipments before the goods reach Canada.
In the last few years, particularly with the cooperation of the U.S., a system was put in place to ensure security within the companies themselves. Care is taken to ensure that the products are protected and isolated, and also that shipping does not reopen to question their seal or their security when handled, when additions are made to them, or when they are processed. This is what these amendments reflect.
With this advance electronic information on transportation, the Canada Border Services Agency will be able to make better decisions about admitting goods and analyzing the risks they pose to Canadians and Quebeckers. We see this as a positive measure. Of course, we have to ensure that implementing this electronic system will not interfere with existing laws and regulations, such as those governing privacy. However, in the transportation sector, this kind of situation occurs infrequently, and we have not seen any such complications in the existing act.
Other changes will allow the Canada Border Services Agency to fully establish customs controlled areas. These areas will be specific territories, legal entities. When an individual arrives at an airport, customs officers will have the authority to exercise the rights set out in the act. This will clarify notions that are set out in the existing act but that do not enable customs officers to take appropriate action. That is what this bill seeks to fix. Officers will enjoy greater freedom to examine goods and question and search people, regardless of where they are in these areas, not just at exit points, as the current law states. The current law does not allow officers to search individuals until they have left the customs controlled area. People exhibit all kinds of behaviours within the areas themselves, and in the past, situations have arisen that may have required officers to intervene, but they could not. This bill would resolve that problem.
At first sight, the bill seems adequate, but an in-depth review and close questioning of Canada Border Services Agency inspectors and government officials will be necessary. As I said at the start, we must not nitpick to the point where we would be creating a situation more complicated than the one we already have. What we need is a fluid border for land and marine crossings but also for the movement of people and goods by air.
That will be the primary concern of the Bloc Quebecois when the bill goes through detailed analysis in committee. That is why we will want to hear witnesses from the government agency and from companies that do transborder trade and want decent services. We can also expect that organizations advocating privacy protection and individual rights will want to make sure that the legislation does not complicate the situation on the Canadian side and does not undermine citizens' rights.
The bill was introduced on January 29, 2009 by the Conservative leader in the Senate and later sent to this House. We do not think that the introduction of bills first in the Senate which then sends them to this place is the best way to do things. It is always better to introduce bills first in the elected House of Parliament instead of the other chamber, where members are not elected. This way of proceeding should be changed to ensure the government does not use it to get around the urgency of certain issues or to introduce through the back door measures it does not want to introduce directly.
This bill is identical to the one introduced on December 2, 2008 and to Bill C-43, which was introduced on February 15, 2008 during the second session of the 39th Parliament. Both these bills died on the order paper. We can therefore understand how anxious the Canada Border Services Agency is to have the act finally amended. The Bloc will cooperate on passing the bill and will support it at second reading by not prolonging the debate. However, it will also make sure that the committee hears witnesses and considers the bill in a timely manner.
Bill S-2 amends the Customs Act to clarify certain provisions of the French version of the act and to make technical amendments to others. We felt it was important to correct these provisions. Often, bills are initially drafted in English, and there are regularly problems with the translation, which can lead to misinterpretation of the act once it comes into effect. These things must be corrected. The current bill makes much-needed improvements and should be passed as soon as possible.
The bill also imposes additional requirements in customs controlled areas, grants the minister the power to authorize entry, amends provisions concerning the determination of value for duty and modifies advance commercial reporting requirements. The search powers of customs officers are expanded to include individuals and their goods that are in or are leaving a customs controlled area. The current Customs Act does not allow officers to go and get someone who refuses to be searched and stays in the buffer zone. This legal vacuum causes unacceptable situations and needs to be addressed.
The bill also provides that regulations may be enacted that describe the time frame and manner in which information about passengers may be provided by prescribed persons. This is the whole issue of personal information that I was talking about earlier. With regard to searches, we must ensure that customs officers do not have undue authority and that the rights of Canadian citizens and foreign travellers are properly protected.
The current Customs Act was passed in 1986 and is the result of the total revamping of the 1867 act. This shows that the customs sector has been around for a very long time. When Canada was created, a customs service was established and has evolved over the years. The pace of change seems to be accelerating, driven by the arrival of new electronic technologies that can be used both to improve the system, but also by people who want to bring illegal goods into Canada. In that regard, it is very important to ensure that our technologies are up to date in order to detect potential inadvertent errors or malicious acts.
As we have heard, since 1986, the act has been amended continuously in response to free trade and related international agreements, and to fine-tune international trade measures.
Again recently, we have seen how certain countries can also use customs legislation to practice a form of protectionism. We hope that is not the case at this time and that Canada does not anticipate that kind of situation. In the past, the fluidity of the border between Canada and the U.S. has benefited Canada and particularly Quebec. We also know, however, that since the establishment of free trade agreements that are casting the net wider in light of globalization, we are seeing increased competition. We must ensure that Canadian products are imported and exported properly. The same is true when it comes to people crossing our borders, and that is how we must look at this bill.
I will elaborate on this.
Clause 2 of the bill removes the authorization-by-regulation requirement by which the minister currently approves access to a customs controlled area by a person.
There will be no need for a regulation to allow that. It will be possible to do so directly under the act. The minister will be able to grant that access directly.
Clause 3 of the Bill removes an exemption that applied to persons boarding a flight to a destination outside of Canada who were leaving a customs controlled area. By the removal of this exemption, such persons are obligated to present and identify themselves to an officer and to report any goods obtained in the area and answer questions asked by an officer.
We will examine closely what this means in order to avoid administrative duplication, for example. It will be important to verify such concerns.
Clause 4 amends the regulation-making powers of the Governor in Council to include regulations prescribing the persons or classes of persons who may be granted access to customs controlled areas and the manner in which a person must present himself or herself upon leaving, or while in, a customs controlled area.
Therefore, these are fairly technical points that are being amended in order to give customs officers more latitude as well as the ability to act more quickly and efficiently within customs controlled areas.
Clause 7 amends the methods available to adjust the transaction value of the goods being imported when the vendor receives a benefit from a subsequent sale... This may lead to higher valuations and therefore higher duties being paid by importers.
They must try to state the real value of the goods to ensure that we do not open ourselves to the black market or to a market that does not reflect the true value of the good.
Clause 11 [amends the bill] so that a customs officer is authorized to conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the custody or possession of a person in or leaving a customs controlled area, in accordance with the regulations.
After seeing how people often behave in customs, it is important that, on occasion, action be taken to allow the non-intrusive examination of goods that is not detrimental to the individual and that does not create an undesirable situation for the person concerned.
We could say that this bill makes the connection between the customs provisions that impose duty and tariffs on importers and the security measures in various other laws.
The proposed amendments to the method of calculating the value of imported goods could reduce the number of disputed duty calculations. We hope that the number of disputes will decrease and that border traffic will flow more freely but with adequate control.
It is also thought that revenue from duties could increase if the value of goods imported is more likely to be adjusted upward as a result of the proposed changes to the methods for determining customs value. There is no point in pretending that the changes will probably result in additional revenue for the government because they will be taxed on the real value of the goods much more than is done at present.
The purpose of the provisions of the bill that require information to be provided in advance is to improve the risk assessment of goods at the border. In the past, particularly with the implementation of what is called C-TPAT, an American law to ensure oversight of what is happens in factories, we have seen that there is no rechecking done at each stage during transport. We hope that there could be this new type of facility for the new powers granted. Combined with the creation of the broader search power for officers in customs controlled areas, this measure could reduce the number of dangerous counterfeit products entering Canada through customs controlled areas.
We have seen in the past that goods entering Canada were in fact illegal copies that infringed rights and patents that had been paid for, for example, but most importantly they were goods that could have negative impacts on health and that could even affect children’s health. As well, there are people who travel and may bring back samples of products. We also want to ensure that there is less and less counterfeiting occurring, to eliminate the problem at the source rather than having this unacceptable situation.
We are also told that border services officers may now search persons only when they leave controlled areas. In future, it will be possible to do that inside the controlled area itself, and this will be easier because we know that, at present, the officer questions people as they leave and can even conduct a search if the officer thinks it necessary.
In the new scenario, officers will be able to ask the same kinds of questions inside the controlled area, and if there are reasonable grounds, they will be able to conduct a search. They will be given adequate training and people who enter a controlled area will be informed of the possibility of a search. They would have notice. So we see the bill as a whole and the perspective the minister wishes to take.
I hope that this bill will reflect a different philosophy from the one we see at present in the government’s approach, for example in connection with Mr. Abdelrazik's return to Canada. He is a Canadian citizen who is currently at the embassy in Khartoum and wants to return here. There is an international convention that allows him to return to his country, even if he is on a UN no-fly list.
The Canadian government is currently refusing to apply the agreement that it signed. The government behaves this way in regard to a symbolic matter, but we certainly hope it does not when it comes to the implementation of an actual piece of legislation, such as the one we will be voting on with Bill S-2. If this kind of behaviour turns up in other similar cases, if it occurs in the enforcement of a law, if the bill we are voting on allows this sort of thing, I think these kinds of excesses would be totally unacceptable. That is why the committee must ensure that the bill respects with all individual rights.
I invite all groups that want to make presentations to do so in committee. When the bill comes back to us at report stage and at third reading, all the necessary changes will have been made to ensure that customs officers can do their jobs more effectively and satisfactorily and speed up border crossings for airlines, while at the same time showing respect for the citizens who are being processed, both Canadians and people from abroad who are visiting us.
Over the last few years, there has been a major drop in tourism to Canada. Every time we make a decision about customs, we should ensure that we are not adding another obstacle, as we did to some extent by increasing the cost of passports.
The Americans now require passports of people even when they are using a land crossing and we have seen the additional costs involved. This will probably cause some American families interested in vacationing in Canada to go instead to another American state. For a family of four or five, that is an additional cost that could equal the cost of two, three or even four vacation days. As a result, some will prefer to stay in the United States and spend their money there, even though we were trying to create a free trade area in which everyone would benefit from more exchanges.
When we pass bills like S-2, we will have to adopt a perspective and take an approach that avoids this kind of complications. We will also have to look into whether the situation will be different at small airports and large airports. We should ensure as well that the customs controlled areas that are created—I am thinking of small airports like those in Gatineau or Rivière-du-Loup where there are no customs services as such—do not require additional security services to be established that are not necessary and currently not required.
We will have to pay particular attention to this if we want to have a bill that facilitates the flow of people rather than impeding it.
I will conclude on that note and encourage the House to pass this bill as soon as possible.
View Paul Crête Profile
Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech, especially in light of the fact that I was industry, science and technology critic when this legislation was first introduced a few years ago. The drafting of a completely revised bill was delayed by elections. I believe it was urgent that it be done. Indeed, members of the committee did a good job and at this stage, the bill should be adopted as soon as possible.
However, as my colleague mentioned, bills can always be improved. This bill does not contain a classification system for existing types of organizations. This means that a charitable organization whose purpose is to provide services to non-members will be in the same situation as a mutualist organization that provides services to its own members. Under this bill, all not-for-profit organizations covered by the act will belong to the same general category. The Canadian Bar Association sees that as a weakness in the bill.
Could my colleague tell me if he thinks this situation should have been rectified? Was this noted in committee and did the committee decide to leave the bill as is? It seems to me that the current updating of the act, which had not been done in a very long time, may require further adjustments in three, four or five years to take the size of not-for-profit organizations into account.
I would like to know my colleague's point of view on this to ensure that the maximum has been done already so that the act is perfectly adapted to the new realities of the 21st century.
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his speech. He informed us of the extensive consultations that were conducted. There was a great deal of collaboration amongst the various parties in order to adopt this bill.
It is appropriate at this time to acknowledge the extent to which non-profits in our society contribute to the quality of the social and economic life of Quebec and Canada.
However, I would like to make one comment. My colleagues who sat on the committee made suggestions that were not retained concerning a situation that may require the review of part of the law in a few years. I am referring to the classification system for non-profit organizations. I will give two examples. There are charitable organizations, that is organizations that provide services or benefits to individuals who are not members. For example, people collect money for a cause of some kind. There are also mutualist organizations, which provide benefits to their members.
The fact that there is no classification in the law to distinguish between these categories represents a problem that could grow in the future. In any event, that is the opinion of the Canadian Bar Association. Organizations with quite different purposes will all be in the same category. That is unsatisfactory.
What does my colleague think about that and why did the committee not retain this suggestion?
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Chairman, I am very happy to rise to speak on Bill C-4, An Act respecting not-for-profit corporations and certain other corporations.
We are indeed at the last stage, in the House of Commons, of a long process that began several years ago. The act governing these matters is completely obsolete. It must consequently be modernized and that is the purpose of Bill C-4. The new act will take financial means into account, as well as the size of the corporation and the implementation of management mechanisms. It offers a flexible framework for the submission of financial statements as well as the establishment of regulations and the structures of the organizations it will govern. There is a considerable increase in the efficiency and transparency of the incorporation process for not-for-profit corporations.
I sat as a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. We had already begun working on this matter in 2004. This is a very hefty act which demanded an array of detailed analyses. I think that the members from all parties who sat on the committee did their work very well. And consequently, today we have an interesting bill.
The letters patent system of incorporation has been replaced by an as of right system. The incorporation of not-for-profit corporations is greatly facilitated by this procedure. The abolition of the minister's discretionary power in this regard was more than necessary to eliminate the discretion that could be exercised by the minister, which went back to a whole other era. This needed to be corrected.
This will increase the confidence of the public and the credibility of not-for-profit corporations. And we know that the public already has a very favourable view of the nature of not-for-profit organizations. In our work especially, members know that many organizations work to help our citizens and provide different types of support and help their own members. If these organizations did not exist, the state would have to step in instead, in one way or another. From that perspective, it was urgent that the federal act which governs federally incorporated not-for-profit corporations be modernized.
In fact, the Canada Corporations Act, which is the existing act, and will still be in effect until we have passed this bill, provides the frame of reference for the incorporation of not-for-profit federal corporations.
In fact, the types of corporations governed under part II of the Canada Corporations Act include religious, charitable, political, mutual-benefit, and general not-for-profit organizations.
In recent years, some concerns have been raised that the act is outdated, as I was saying earlier. Since 1999, there have been public calls for the act to be reformed. It has been ten years now. A voluntary sector task force created by the federal government called for improvements to the regulatory structure that governs the sector. Industry Canada's proposal to modernize the act was part of the task force's plan.
In July 2000, Industry Canada issued a consultation paper entitled “Reform of the Canada Corporations Act: The Federal Nonprofit Framework Law”. The department then held a series of round-table discussions in cities across the country to consider the ideas presented in the document. That process eventually led to the Liberal government introducing Bill C-21 on November 15, 2004. The bill never made it to second reading.
At that point, we entered a cycle of minority governments, which we are still going through and which I do not think we will get out of for a while yet, in both Quebec and Canada, because the population does not have enough confidence in a single party today to give it a majority mandate. That is especially true in Quebec, where people feel that they have been regularly shortchanged by federalist parties, which have a Canada-wide vision. As a result, they have often put Quebec's interests on the back burner while putting Canada's interests first, and these two sets of interests are not necessarily the same.
So, we are caught in this cycle of minority governments, and we do not know how much longer the cycle will last. In my view, as long as any party aspiring to become the government does not introduce a project that reflects Quebeckers' wants, among other things, the party will not win people's support. Based on experiences in recent years, such as the Conservative party's recognition of the Quebec nation, which was an empty shell and not followed by any other commitments, I think the population has received a very clear message and, as a result, it has not been willing to give such a mandate.
We are now seeing the same thing with the Liberal Party, which is boasting about the fact that it will reform the employment insurance system, when we know very well that that same party is the one responsible for the Axworthy reform in 1994. Even though the Liberals had promised Canadians that they would stop the Conservative reform, instead what we saw was an even speedier reform that hurt the unemployed and had them contributing the most to reduce the deficit. And no one ever returned the favour. I do not think this period is over.
However, in terms of Bill C-4, which is currently before us, this new Canadian legislation on not-for-profit corporations is making its way through the various stages. In this Parliament, we have the opportunity to vote at third reading and send it to the other place. We hope the new legislation will come into force quickly.
I agree with the minister who said this bill will cut administrative costs faced by not-for-profit corporations. That is a good thing, and it will strengthen and clarify the governance rules that apply to these corporations. The only reservation that the Bloc Québécois has expressed in committee and that it strongly defended, although unsuccessfully, is that the bill contains no classification measures. All not-for-profit corporations will be lumped into the same category. I think that constitutes a weakness and that we will be back in this House in three, four or five years to amend the act accordingly. Only then will people see that the Bloc Québécois was right about that.
Overall, the Bloc Québécois believes that this is a good bill that will simplify the incorporation of not-for-profit organizations. Previously, corporations had to obtain letters patent with clear objectives. Now, all they need is articles of incorporation that are recognized. I believe that this will be simpler. The bill will clarify the directors' duties and liabilities. We have seen in the past in this sort of organization that when things are going well, there are no problems. When things are not going well, it is important that each person's liabilities be well defined and that the directors know what they are getting themselves into when they join the board of a not-for-profit organization. There was a need for clarification.
The bill will also establish defences for officers in the event of liability, so that a director's personal property is not at risk. These issues will be clarified in the act, which may motivate more people to get involved in not-for-profit organizations. Our society will benefit, because not-for-profit organizations often fill needs that the government cannot fill and the private sector is not filling either. Consequently, it is appropriate to keep going in the same direction.
The bill will also give members greater rights by enabling them to play a role in the governance of the organization. The liability of members versus directors was not always clear in the old act. These things are clarified in the bill, and anyone who joins a not-for-profit organization will have a clearer understanding of his or her rights, responsibilities and authority and will be able to act accordingly.
The bill will also establish a better oversight and accounting mechanism for corporations. We believe that this will be a great improvement. This bill has many parts that are very complicated, but I would just like to mention a few.
Part 1 outlines the bill’s purpose, which is to allow the incorporation of organizations without share capital for the purposes of carrying on legal activities, and defines the concept of a soliciting corporation. This expression designates any corporation that solicits funds from the public or a government or any corporation that receives private donations or government grants. We can see that this clarification is designed to distinguish soliciting corporations from non-soliciting corporations. I believe that this will be an appropriate clarification.
As I said, the present letters patent system is being replaced with an as-of-right system. Once again, this represents some worthwhile progress. It also sets out the capacity of a corporation as a natural person. This is a simplification as far as the legal interpretation of these matters goes, and will be to the benefit of both members and the corporation itself. A number of more technical aspects are also clarified, for instance the technical aspects relating to issuing debt obligations and trust indentures. These are more technical and more complex matters that would do well to be clarified.
It is stipulated that the by-laws must set out the conditions for membership, and the articles of incorporation the categories of voting rights for each.
There is a section specifically on members' rights, as well as another complete section on complainants and their recourse in the event of such things as abuse, and the possibility of court orders. It establishes a defence based on religious doctrines against the actions and recourses referred to. A religious organization can make use of this defence when it can reasonably prove that the act leading to the court action was based on a tenet of faith held by the members of the corporation. In such a case, the court may not make an order under this legislation against the organization in question.
There is a clear delineation of individual and collective rights, while taking into consideration the charter implications but without this meaning that people will have to take their recourse as far as a charter challenge on each occasion. These clarifications will be welcomed. There is also indication as to how organizations are to communicate with their members electronically, something that was not there before. The act is obsolete and was drafted at a time when there was nothing like the Internet and various other means of electronic communication. It is important that this be included, especially since it will result in significant savings.
There are a number of general administrative provisions as well to ensure that the framework functions very smoothly, but there are still a few questions left untouched. For instance, there is still no classification system, as I have said before. I think that great attention needs to be paid to the application of the law, and perhaps the Senate will re-examine this matter.
There is transparency and accountability. The current law requires non-profit organizations to keep detailed accounts of their activities; however, there is no requirement—as there is under this bill—to disclose this information. With Bill C-4, non-profits must make their financial statements available to their members, directors and officers as well the director. This makes it possible for directors and officers to have better oversight of the corporation's management, for members to monitor the organization's financial position between annual meetings and to ensure that the monies are truly used for the stated purposes and objectives.
We were speaking earlier of the interest in democratization so that members truly know what organization they belong to, what powers they have and how to obtain information. This clarification is welcomed by most stakeholders and organizations. This bill is the result of consultations undertaken in various parts of Quebec and Canada. This is the umpteenth version and one which, I believe, will result in an important consensus in this House.
The current legislation allows anyone to obtain a copy of the list of members of a non-profit organization, and the law contains a list of permissible uses. The new bill would restrict this right to members, creditors and directors. This provision will make it easier for members to communicate, to require directors to keep an up-to-date list of members, to protect the sales of certain types of non-profit organizations, prevent the misuse of such a list and ensure that it is not forwarded to just anyone. We have all received documents inviting us to apply for a certain credit card or program. We wonder where they get their information? On occasion, these lists were provided under this law, which was not specific and did not prohibit this type of transfer of information. That will now be prohibited. That is a useful benefit.
In terms of effectiveness, the former law had a system of letters patent that were very difficult to obtain. Under the law, establishing a corporation was not a right. Now, it will be one and it will be much easier to be approved. In an “as of right” system the establishment of a company is automatically granted. With this major change, the procedure for discretionary approval will disappear.
This is an improvement to the whole of the system and advances its democratization. The incorporation process will be simplified and corporations will benefit from increased flexibility, and a more efficient and less costly system. In that regard, improvements are considerable and well-thought-out.
As regards fairness, we can see that with the new legislation the clear definition of the duties and responsibilities of directors will facilitate the recruitment and retention of qualified people on boards of directors. This was not always the case under the previous act.
The due diligence standards that are being proposed are well defined by the courts. Thus, they offer an established instrument to not-for-profit corporations. This standardizes diligence standards for directors, and the bill takes harmonization with other federal acts into account.
It was urgent that this be done, as the acts that are affected were obsolete and referred to several acts that were no longer in effect or had been modernized.
This too is important: directors and officers are currently exposed to much liability. The new legislation introduces several measures to limit liability, for instance, the incorporation of the organization, which creates a legal entity that can be held responsible; a clear definition of diligence standards; the possibility for the director of defending him or herself by invoking a due diligence defence; new provisions which would compensate the director for costs incurred and costs entailed by legal action pursuant to an unfounded suit or incidents which would, in the opinion of the corporation, justify compensation.
After several years of consultation, this act now appears to us to be one which deserves our support. There will be some specific follow-up to be done on certain aspects of the bill but overall this is a positive piece of legislation. The Bloc Québécois contributed to making this a bill of the highest possible quality. We have arrived at the final stage and I think that the House of Commons will see fit to pass this bill. We will thus have carried out the modernization of the not-for-profit corporations legislation, which will be to the advantage of this entire sector.
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question, though I find the question a little far removed from Bill C-4. Certainly, the more not-for-profit organizations that have clear objectives and members who know what they have to do, the more possibilities there will be for those raising funds for good causes such as preventive health programs, and the better off we will all be.
Certainly, in Quebec, very important and interesting measures have already been taken. Everything to do with health is under provincial jurisdiction, of course. Just last week, I had meetings with people responsible for health in my region. They stressed how important it is to discuss prevention.
There is the whole area of curative medicine that must come into play when people are sick. But we also have a responsibility for comprehensive preventive medicine. This is not just the practice of medicine; it is also making each person responsible for his or her own health and making the government responsible—in Quebec's case—for health education. There is the role of physical education, the way in which each individual must be responsible for his or her own heath. We must also make sure that we have all kinds of tools for our young people so that they are able to determine the quality of their own health and so that they can avoid having to resort to curative medicine unless there is no other choice.
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Bloc Québécois colleagues for expressing that point of view in committee. It should have been part of the legislation but, sadly, it was not. It is not enough to make us vote against the bill, but I do think that it is an important point. The Canadian Bar Association agrees that failure to include a generalized classification system is one of the bill's major shortcomings.
For example, charitable organizations work for the good of the general public by trying to help people who are neither directors nor members of the association. In other words, these organizations have money that they want to make available to a specific clientele. Such organizations are much different from mutualist organizations, which seek to help their own members. If the legislation included this kind of classification, both organizations and the government—in providing services to organizations—would have been able to adopt a much more precise approach.
Without a classification system, all organizations will end up in a melting pot. I believe that, in the end, additional regulations will be needed, but the government and most committee members did not want to incorporate regulations into the legislation. Perhaps regulations will be introduced, but if not, we will be back here in a few years to consider amending the law as a result. I am sure that a classification system would have been a very good move, and I think that the government should have heeded the Bloc Québécois' recommendation.
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, my colleague makes a very good case. In fact, we will be establishing a regulatory framework that it is much more clear and precise and one that applies to organizations under federal charter. Non-profit organizations have a provincial and Quebec charter. In this case, the framework will be much better defined. It will result in more volunteers for organizations. When the scope of activity is clearer and more specific, it is much easier to be engaged in an organization.
Modernizing the act will increase the participation of citizens in society through various non-profit organizations. This will be the case for what is truly democratic, such as the electoral process, and also for other types of movements that more closely resemble the type of organization they wish to have.
Our work basically acknowledges the importance of the quality of volunteer work.
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech. It is urgent that we adopt an Arctic policy that reflects the importance of climate change and the new reality in this part of the world. Therefore, the Bloc Québécois will support this government bill.
However, I would like the minister to indicate if he intends to use a particular angle, that of history, to ensure Canada's sovereignty in this part of the world. This year, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the completion of Captain Bernier's expedition. This is an important historical event and I would like to draw the minister's attention to this chapter of history. There was also John Franklin's expedition.
Does the government plan on promoting this history through the production of movies or books or by some other means? One of our local organizations made a presentation on this subject in order to obtain funds from a program to commemorate such events. Is the minister prepared to invest energy and resources into promoting history in order to support Canada's position in this regard?
View Paul Crête Profile
Mr. Speaker, being the representative of a Quebec riding makes one very happy in this place on some days. Indeed, the Bloc Québécois has been elected to promote sovereignty and to defend Quebec's interests. I will read today's motion because I think it is in line with what Quebeckers want collectively:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should negotiate in good faith with the Government of Quebec to resolve the dispute dating back over ten years regarding the harmonization of the QST with the GST in the early 1990s and agree to provide $2.6 billion in compensation to Quebec for this harmonization, and that Quebec continue to administer these harmonized taxes.
That motion illustrates clearly what it means to defend Quebec's interests because it supports a motion adopted unanimously by all parties in the National Assembly. Since Quebec regained the right to have a provincial income tax system 50 or 60 years ago, it has always tried to get as much financial autonomy as possible. In the end, total financial and legal autonomy will be necessary.
I want to read the unanimous motion of Quebec's National Assembly because I believe it sums up the position of Quebec very well:
WHEREAS Québec was the first province to harmonize with the Federal goods and services tax (GST) in the early 1990s:
This is nothing new. In the early 1990s, Quebec was the first province to do so.
WHEREAS since then, three Atlantic provinces have harmonized with the GST in 1997 and have received compensation for this from the Federal Government totalling close to 1 billion dollars;
Quebec, on the other hand, received no compensation.
WHEREAS the Government of Ontario announced that it would harmonize its sales tax with the GST beginning on 1 July 2010;
WHEREAS the Federal Government will grant a 4.3 billion dollar compensation to Ontario for this harmonization, an amount that is justified in the Canada-Ontario memorandum of understanding particularly owing to the desire to stimulate economic growth and job creation, and the Federal Government will administer this new provincial tax free of charge on behalf of Ontario;
It is the Quebec government that administers this tax in Quebec, although the federal government will do so free of charge for Ontario.
WHEREAS the Ontario sales tax will be very similar to the Québec sales tax (QST) since certain goods, such as books, will not be subject to the provincial tax and that input tax refunds in Ontario may be identical to those agreed to by Québec for an 8-year period;
So the two cases are comparable.
WHEREAS Ontario is the fourth province to receive compensation from the Federal Government as part of the harmonization of the provincial and federal sales taxes, while Québec has not received any compensation to this day even though it was the first province to harmonize its sales tax;
All parties in the Quebec National Assembly unanimously agree on this.
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the National Assembly ask the Federal Government to treat Québec justly and equitably, by granting compensation that is comparable to that offered to Ontario for the harmonization of its sales tax with the GST, which would represent an amount of 2.6 billion dollars for Québec.
So as we can see, today's Bloc Québécois motion is actually the Quebec National Assembly motion. The Government of Quebec is unanimously saying that they are the ones who have been moving forward on this, acting in good faith, reaching agreements and administering this tax for many years, without ever receiving any compensation, as we watch other provinces receive compensation year after year for various reasons.
Ottawa invents arguments to compensate the other provinces, but it does not compensate Quebec. The federal government's latest invention is very hard to swallow: it is saying that it should collect the money, even though nearly 20 years ago, the federal government said Quebec could collect it. The current government, which has said it is open to Quebec, is more regressive than previous governments in this respect. Quebec truly cannot understand or accept such an attitude.
Quebeckers have always been open-minded. For example, we took positions on free trade that we felt were important for proper trade. But the federal government has always been very jealous of the rights of the National Assembly of Quebec. I believe that there has not been one Government of Quebec in more than 75 years that has not tried to make Quebec more autonomous, and especially more financially independent. As I mentioned earlier, Maurice Duplessis was the first premier to make sure that income tax in Quebec was collected separately from federal income tax.
Later, the government of Mr. Bourassa entered into an agreement whereby Quebec would collect and administer the tax and then send the federal government its share.
So even though there was an internal debate in Quebec and even though the Parti Québécois was ahead of the Liberals on this issue, Quebec realized that this could be an important, worthwhile tax tool. When the federal government lowers its tax and Quebec takes its place, it becomes more financially independent.
It took the Liberals a year or two longer, but they included this measure in the latest budget. They are finally going to recoup the 1%. The Parti Québécois had been calling for this for many years and had suggested it in the past. It is a good measure.
Every time Quebec becomes more financially independent, Quebeckers win, because they are able to assume their responsibilities and invest all the money they need to in their own areas of jurisdiction.
We see all the cuts the federal government is making. For example, it is constantly changing the rules for equalization, forcing Quebec's finance minister to do financial gymnastics, which is unacceptable.
The more financially independent Quebec is, the less dependent it will be on such decisions, and the less it will be in a paternalistic relationship with the federal government. That is the message the Government of Quebec has sent, and it is the message the Bloc Québécois hopes to get across.
Financial independence has always been an important criterion for developing nations. Let us remember that in the United States, it was the issue of a tax on tea that, in a symbolic way, became the reason why the United States of America decided to become independent from the British Empire.
In Quebec, opinions are divided concerning independence. We have not yet achieved a solid majority but there certainly is a consensus on the fact that Quebec must have the most financial independence possible. It is that consensus that the Bloc Québécois brings before this House today, and we hope that the House will listen to it.
It is important, because the response to this motion will have a large impact on the way the people of Quebec view this Parliament. During the next year or so, there will probably be a federal election campaign. When Quebeckers are asked to decide which party will best represent them, they will certainly take a look at who has defended their interests here in this House, in particular the interests formally expressed by the Quebec National Assembly. It is the Bloc Québécois that has done so today.
Quebec has acted in good faith in this matter. In the past, federal government documents even recognized that taxes were harmonized in Quebec. Now, they have come up with this approach to collecting taxes in an effort to avoid having to compensate Quebec.
We are not here begging for money. We just want what we are entitled to. As Mr. Duplessis would have said, we want what is ours. This is money that is due to us under this system. It is not true that the rest of Canada has the right to be compensated but not Quebec.
Rest assured that on this point we represent all Quebeckers. Everyone knows that what we are talking about here is only about half the financial envelope of Canada, and that when decisions are made by the federal government in its areas of jurisdiction, such as national defence, where a great deal of money is being spent on Afghanistan, those decisions mean that money is not available for other types of spending.
Quebeckers are well aware that the more financially independent they are, the more likely it is that they will be able to develop the social model they desire. They have done that with the parental leave system, with day care centres, and they want to continue to do so. In fact, Quebec has a social model, a society, a nation that is different. Our nation has even been recognized as different by this House. Now, it is time for the Conservative federal government and the federalist parties here to make a gesture toward Quebec. a gesture of fairness, by supporting this motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois. Otherwise, Quebeckers will know what conclusions they should draw.
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