Bill C-37 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Telecommunications Act
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
David Emerson Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Telecommunications Act to permit the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to administer databases for the purpose of its power under section 41, namely the power to prohibit or regulate the use by any person of the telecommunications facilities of a Canadian carrier for the provision of unsolicited telecommunications to the extent that the Commission considers it necessary to prevent undue inconvenience or nuisance, giving due regard to freedom of expression.
The enactment also establishes an administrative monetary penalty for the contravention of prohibitions or requirements of the Commission under that section.
November 25th, 2005 / 10:20 a.m.
Paul Crête Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-37 before the House at this time has gone through all the stages here in the House. Its primary intent is to allow people to request not to receive unsolicited telephone calls. A number of surveys, as well as the general perception of our constituents, have in fact indicated that there has been a growth in unsolicited calls. I myself have received calls trying to sell me something at all hours, weekdays and weekends. If I do not want to be called by these telemarketers, it is quite logical for there to be a way to avoid it. That is the objective of this bill.
The bill has gone through all the stages in the House of Commons. We tried to strike as satisfactory a balance as possible by allowing a number of exclusions. Moreover, the Bloc Québécois focussed particularly on exclusions for not-for-profit organizations which need to carry out campaigns by phone. We wanted to be sure that a bill so filled with good intentions did not have the terrible consequence of stopping not-for-profit organizations from soliciting donations, when they depend on this type of campaign.
We proposed amendments to deal with that. In committee we also considered other types of amendments and exemptions needed with respect to business relations, for health professionals, for instance. Under the government's initial plan, health professionals would have been unable to contact their patients again. After a number of discussions, we all agreed that the best solution was to add them to the list of exemptions in the bill.
The bill has now come back to us after being examined by the Senate, as per procedure. We know how much the Senate, a chamber of unelected representatives, in a way fills a role that has become obsolete. When it was created a long time ago, some felt there were educational inadequacies among the elected members in the House of Commons. That is why they wanted a chamber of sober second thought. These days this is no longer the case, but the Senate remains an integral part of the system nonetheless.
Two amendments proposed by the Senate have been submitted for approval by the House. After they are considered, if we accept them, we will allow the bill to come into effect.
The purpose of the first amendment proposed by the Senate is to ensure that a report is submitted to both Houses of Parliament, according to the legislation review process. In reality, this bill concerns a new domain, a sector in which there is little expertise in the world. Similar legislation came into effect in the United States just a few years ago.
Accordingly, the Canadian law will be re-evaluated after three years. To do so, an annual report will be tabled in both the House of Commons and in the Senate, at its request. When a bill is re-evaluated, both the House and the Senate will have all the information at their disposal.
We can understand the logic behind this argument in terms of the system we use and the way it works. This method will also help in examining this bill and in revising it in a more logical and rational manner. We will not have to repeat in the Senate all the explanations about the annual report when the recommendations are received. The Senate committees addressing the issue will already have the information. Furthermore, we could thus avoid undue delays during the legislative review.
In my opinion, the second amendment weakens the bill somewhat, even though this will not make us vote against it. We had established the need to prohibit unsolicited calls and to impose a penalty on those who did not comply with these provisions. We had set the amount of the fine at $1,500 for individuals and $15,000 for corporations. I think that a $1,500 fine is a significant amount. Therefore, imposing a stiff enough penalty would dissuade people from breaking the law.
The Senate thought that these penalties may have been too stiff. Now it proposes maximum amounts of $1,500 for individuals and $15,000 for corporations, which could lead to some debate.
Whenever a fine is imposed, if the basis for imposing that fine is challenged, the amount of the fine could be challenged as well, which could create some problems.
At the same time, the size of the corporations or the financial situation of the individuals involved will be taken into account.
In this sense, I think it is worth giving this a try, especially since a review of the act will take place after three years. We will then be able to determine if these and other provisions are appropriate.
These are the two reasons why the bill is before us today. The Senate has proposed these two amendments. We must examine them and decide whether or not we should adopt them. We can do that by looking at the bill as a whole and see if these two amendments are indeed acceptable and if they are in keeping with the general thrust of the bill.
Let us remember that this legislation seeks, obviously, to avoid unwanted telephone calls. It also seeks to allow the CRTC to administer databases for the purposes of its power. A section of the act sets out this power to prohibit or regulate the use by any person of the telecommunications facilities of a Canadian carrier for the provision of unsolicited telecommunications to the extent that the CRTC considers it necessary to prevent undue inconvenience or nuisance.
We are talking, here, about telephone calls. In all likelihood, we will need to examine what will happen with regard to the growing use of the Internet. As a result, we have had to consider when the do not call list should not apply.
We have the right to not receive unwanted telephone calls and to put our names on the do not call list. However, we also want to ensure that this legislation does not apply to some people—meaning some organizations and individuals. It is important to strike the right balance here.
Under subsection 248(1) of the Income Tax Act, registered charities are, for example, excluded. So, we are talking about people who truly need to hold fundraising campaigns, meaning they need to solicit funds to ensure the survival of their organization.
We are talking about charitable organizations. We know that there is great pressure and many such phone calls. At the same time, these people fulfill an essential role in our society. If charities did not do this work, the government would be responsible for picking up the tab. I think that this exemption is something that all of the committee members consider reasonable and fair.
This is also true for business relationships. I said it earlier, this is particularly true for health care professionals.
Then there are political telecommunications. In order to be able to ensure a democratic quality of life in our society, it is essential, in our opinion, that such communications be allowed. Without such an exemption, political telecommunications during election campaigns, including the one we expect shortly, would not be allowed. Many voters would have found this quite interesting. However, overall, this would have led to other actions or illegal actions. I think however that legislation must reflect our reality.
As regards the quality of the democratic debate, those who run for office must make themselves known, present their views and have an idea of how they are perceived by voters. It seemed perfectly normal to us that this should be the case. The same goes for opinion polls.
An amendment was also made to exclude the media, so that they can still contribute to the quality of our democratic life.
According to the data provided by the Canadian Marketing Association, the telemarketing industry employs 270,000 people and has a sales figure of some $16 billion. The interesting thing about this legislation is that those who work in the telemarketing industry find it relevant. It would be useful to them because, right now, when they approach all the consumers, some of them are already on that list and do not want to receive calls.
These consumers already object to receiving calls. In fact, the calls made to these people are neither interesting nor profitable for telemarketing companies. There is a will to ensure that the list works properly so that, ultimately, companies end up dealing with people who do want to get such calls. We understand that this will was expressed by the companies themselves. We would then kill two birds with one stone, because we would exclude those who do not want to receive calls, while ensuring that telemarketing companies contact only those people who could be potential clients and who are open to listening to them.
The bill was put forward after the public expressed a will to have this industry legislated. This measure will allow us to deal with a situation that has developed over the last few decades and has now become somewhat anarchic. This industry is not yet regulated, but the situation will soon improve with this bill.
In fact, a recent Environics Research survey shows that 79% of those surveyed would support a national do not call list, and 66% likely would sign up for the service. This goes to show that there is popular support for this kind of legislation.
This bill came to be, not necessarily on the initiative of the department, but much more because the public wanted it. In that respect, in 2002, a member from the Canadian Alliance put forward Bill C-301, which died on the order paper, but paved the way for this bill. The member described the purpose of his bill as providing, and I quote:
A means for anyone who does not wish to receive telemarketing calls or faxes to place their telephone number on a list maintained by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
So, the will already existed, and the government jumped on the bandwagon. I think that the work done in committee reflects the will of all members of Parliament to legislate in that area. Furthermore, this bill was adopted in this House at various stages. The Senate amendments, however, clarify aspects which are not fundamental elements that affect the bill. As I said earlier, these amendments will be subject to review after three years, like the rest of the bill. They will not necessarily create problems.
Allow me to digress briefly to say that parliamentarians can agree on some things. But on some others, it is not possible. My colleague suggested earlier that this might be a sign that the House of Commons should keep on working. There is a consensus about the matter before us. What is at issue with respect to the motion of non-confidence is something completely different.
It is a normal thing in our society for things to be done this way. Everyone can express his or her point of view, and then today all opposition parties can judge that the government no longer has the confidence of the House. This is a reality that a minority government has to face, and this is the outcome we expect to see early next week. We cannot assume that this desire to debate subjects on which opinions differ does not at the same time allow discussion when there is consensus. That is what has happened in the case of this bill.
The mechanics of how this will be done are rather complex. Basically, however, it can be summarized as follows. There will indeed be a do not call registry, a list people can get themselves put on so that they will have the satisfaction of no longer receiving unsolicited calls.
The system will be set up so that there will, of course, be no cost to the consumer. There are economic advantages for telemarketers and also for our fellow citizens. The goal is to make people's lives easier and improve quality of life.
There is, however, one important component of telemarketing that was not addressed in the bill: telemarketing scams. This will need to be addressed at some point. There have been charges laid on this. This can be a broad-scale operation, often all over North America. Unfortunately, some of these boiler rooms are located in Canada. This is an aspect that is not addressed by the bill, possibly because it comes more under the Criminal Code. The legislators do need to do something about this, however.
What is a telemarketing scam? It is a fraudulent solicitation of certain groups of society using telecommunications or misleading advertising. The term “fraudulent” is used in this case because the victims have been persuaded to send in money in exchange for something worth more. Often this kind of scam targets more vulnerable clienteles, people who are perhaps less well informed and more easily persuaded.
We are told that all telemarketing schemes require that the victims send money in the form of a certified cheque or money order to receive a prize. Anyone receiving a phone call asking for that kind of payment should be very cautious. Indeed once the money is sent, it is very difficult to get it back. These operations can be moved very quickly and are not easy to trace after they have changed location.
We are also told that criminal organizations involved in this type of fraud are usually structured according to very specific roles. They have a chief financial officer, a manager, front-end staff, back-end staff and a mail clerk. These operations using front-end and back-end workers are also known as boiler rooms. They operate as long as the fraud continues to work. When things get too hot, they fold. This aspect has not been dealt with in the bill and should be dealt with eventually.
We have come to realize that Canada is somewhat of a paradise for fraudulent telemarketing. Right now, the amounts of the fines are too low and the prison terms are too short. In most cases, it is very difficult to convict a repeat offender. To fight against this type of crime, we try to extradite some offenders to other countries that have tougher laws, but that does not really work as we would like it to.
There is a whole aspect of fraudulent telemarketing that will have to be dealt with in legislation by the government in the months and years to come. In the meantime, the purpose of the bill before us is essentially to ensure the best control possible over unsolicited calls.
Some people are greatly affected, including the Canadian Marketing Association, which is the largest association of marketing businesses in Canada. Its members provide 480,000 jobs and generate over $151 million in annual sales. It is a powerful lobby within the marketing sector. It spoke in favour of Bill C-37 because of what I said earlier. In fact, telemarketers like the idea of having legislation that would deal with this situation.
The committee also gathered information on what was going on in other countries, particularly the United States. I think there was even a conference call with people in that country to find out what approach they developed. The approach being taken does not follow the same model, because it is more in line with our situation. Considering the large American market, there may be calls from the United States and other countries.
We have to ensure that our legislation is logical in terms of what is put forward. The bill is going in the right direction. That is probably one of the elements that will have to be studied in more detail when the bill in question is reviewed.
Consequently, we will soon be at the stage of passing this bill so that it can come into force. That includes the Senate amendments. At the same time, there has to be monitoring—the most appropriate monitoring possible—so that we know when the law is reviewed whether the entire model that is developed is adequate.
I recall the comment by my colleague in the Conservative Party who said that there should not be a repeat of what happened with the Canadian firearms registry.
We have to be vigilant. There should not be another firearms registry. We have already spent enough money on that initiative. The idea behind it was a good one. I honestly think there is a real need for a firearms control system. However, what the government did with it, the way it was set up and the costs it generated are completely unacceptable. I hope that the Auditor General will report to us quickly so that we get the most complete picture we can.
In the case at hand, we have to ensure that the new registry works in a way that avoids that type of excess so that we do not suddenly find ourselves looking at high costs a year or two down the road when the act is reviewed. When mechanisms are being put in place, the government has a responsibility to ensure that the job is done right.
It is very obvious that Canadians want a law that prevents unwanted telephone calls. However, it is also certain that they do not want a law that will generate wild expenditures far beyond what they would like us to spend on this type of system.
I therefore urge the House to vote in favour of the amendments so that the bill can be put into effect as quickly as possible.
November 25th, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.
David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise this morning to begin the House consideration of Senate amendments to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Telecommunications Act.
Bill C-37 would help protect Canadians from unwanted telemarketing phone calls by establishing the legislative framework for the creation of a national do not call list. To achieve this end, the bill would provide the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, CRTC, with the powers necessary to establish a more effective regime to protect consumers against unsolicited telemarketing, while at the same time protecting their privacy.
Bill C-37 would enable the CRTC to do three fundamental things. First, it would allow the CRTC to impose administrative monetary penalties similar to fines for non-compliance; second, it would allow the CRTC to establish a third party administrator if it so desires to operate a database; and third, it would give the CRTC the ability to set fees to recover the costs associated with maintaining the do not call registry list.
The costs of maintaining such a list would include database maintenance, complaint processing, and investigation and enforcement costs. The CRTC has recommended that a third party administrator should be selected to maintain the national do not call list.
Bill C-37 would amend the Telecommunications Act to allow for a third party administrator and to allow also for cost recovery. It is expected that costs will be recovered from the telemarketing industry itself. Although the precise cost of running such a list will be dependent on the implementation details that will be determined by the CRTC, proven examples from the United States and the United Kingdom demonstrate this to be a straightforward, easily implementable and cost-effective system.
Bill C-37 seeks to balance the wishes of Canadian consumers for privacy and protection from unwanted calls while, at the same time, recognizing the need for legitimate telemarketing companies to conduct their business in a regulatory framework that enables them to do so.
As such, Bill C-37 contains a number of legislative exemptions, including organizations that would be exempted from the national list for calls. These exemptions include: registered charities, companies with existing business relationships with Canadian consumers, and calls from newspapers and from political parties. These exempt organizations would be required to maintain individual do not call lists.
In addition, survey and polling firms will also be exempt from a do not call list and would continue to be allowed to collect the views of every Canadian.
The other place has recommended two fundamental amendments to Bill C-37. The first is that the annual report which the CRTC would file on the operation of the do not call list be tabled by the minister before each House of Parliament. This amendment simply extends the requirement to table an annual report on the operation of the national do not call list to both Houses of Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate.
The second amendment would allow flexibility in the dollar amounts imposed for infractions for fines of a do not call list. The amendment recommends that the administrative monetary penalty provision be changed from fixed or set amounts of $1,500 per offence for an individual and $15,000 per offence for a corporation to making these amounts the maximum amounts of the fine per offence.
By passing this bill we would enable the CRTC to do its job and to move forward on this issue. The CRTC would undertake further consultations to address issues such as fees and the selection of an administrative organization for the list. The CRTC expects that it would have a national do not call list up and running 19 months after Bill C-37 becomes law.
Bill C-37 requires that after three years a committee of the House of Commons or the Senate or both would be designated to review the administration and the operation of the national do not call list. This means that there would be parliamentary review of the do not call framework once the list has been operational for a little more than just one year. Parliament would at that time be able to consider the effectiveness of the list.
We have heard from Canadians from coast to coast to coast on this issue. The reality is that the inability to control telemarketing continues to be a pervasive source of frustration.
In 2003, Environics conducted a survey on consumer attitudes toward telemarketing. It concluded that 97% of respondents reported a negative reaction to unsolicited calls. Let me repeat that: 97% of respondents reported a negative reaction. Of those, 38% said they merely tolerate the calls, 35% reported being annoyed by them, and 24% said they simply hated receiving them.
Bill C-37 responds to the concerns of Canadians. They are fed up with unwanted, unsolicited telemarketing calls and they want an effective solution.
I will end my remarks with the following. Canadian consumers are overwhelmingly in favour of a national do not call list for controlling unwanted telephone solicitation. Survey results indicate that 79% of respondents support the creation of a national do not call list. Some two-thirds have indicated that they would likely sign up for the do not call list.
The time has come for an effective approach to regulating unsolicited telemarketing, an approach that would benefit both consumers and the telemarketing sector, and striking, I believe, the appropriate balance. I urge all hon. members of this House to pass this bill, as amended by the Senate, to give individual Canadians an easy way to curtail intrusive telemarketing and to protect their privacy.
November 25th, 2005 / 10 a.m.
Business of the House
November 24th, 2005 / 3 p.m.
Hamilton East—Stoney Creek
Tony Valeri Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I see the hon. member across the way is displaying his charm once more.
I also think the hon. member understands clearly that the call for the election and, ultimately, if there is an election caused, it will be the opposition members who will have to take responsibility since they will be voting to dissolve Parliament and we will be voting to sustain Parliament in order to continue the work that I will now lay out.
This afternoon we will continue with the opposition motion.
On Friday we will call consideration of the Senate amendments to Bill C-37, the do not call bill; report stage and third reading of Bill S-36 respecting rough diamonds; report stage and third reading of Bill C-63, respecting the Canada Elections Act; and second reading of Bill C-44, the transport legislation.
We will return to this work on Monday, adding to the list the reference before second reading of Bill C-76, the citizenship and adoption bill; and second reading of Bill C-75, the public health agency legislation.
Tuesday and Thursday of next week shall be allotted days. There are some three dozen bills before the House or in committee on which the House I am sure will want to make progress in the next period of time. They will include the bill introduced yesterday to implement the 2005 tax cuts announced on November 14; Bill C-68, the Pacific gateway bill; Bill C-67, the surplus legislation; Bill C-61, the marine bill; Bill C-72, the DNA legislation; Bill C-46, the correctional services bill; Bill C-77, the citizenship prohibitions bill; Bill C-60, the copyright legislation; Bill C-73, the Telecom bill; Bill C-60 respecting drug impaired driving; Bill C-19, the competition legislation; Bill C-50 respecting cruelty to animals; Bill C-51, the judges legislation; Bill C-52, the fisheries bill; Bill C-59 respecting Investment Canada; Bills C-64 and C-65 amending the Criminal Code.
In addition, there are the supplementary estimates introduced in October that provide spending authority for a wide variety of services to the Canadian public and we the government would certainly like to see this passed.
November 17th, 2005 / 1:05 p.m.
Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the opposition motion presented by the leader of the New Democratic Party which proposes that the Prime Minister should ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament during the week of January 2, 2006, and set the date for the election for February 13, 2006.
I must admit that it is a bit disappointing that the NDP has not put forward a substantive motion for debate today. Last time around, the NDP took a constructive approach to its opposition days by putting forward issues that matter to Canadians. For example, Canadians had the benefit of a full discussion on such matters as environmental aspects of automobile emission standards, access to employment insurance, which is obviously a big concern in my riding and in other rural communities across the country, and the health risks of trans fatty acids.
Today, the NDP wants to talk about scheduling, about how to ignore constitutional convention and speed up the next general election by a mere eight weeks.
Clearly, the priorities of opposition members have changed. Today, they are more interested in procedural tactics rather than substantive issues that Canadians want this Parliament to address. Opposition parties are not interested in the process of governing. The opposition day motion today is really about manipulating the parliamentary and electoral calendar to serve what are clearly partisan interests.
The motion calls for an election to be held on February 13, 2006, despite the fact that the Prime Minister has already promised to call an election in early 2006.
The Prime Minister made that promise to Canadians last spring. We all know by now that an election will be called within 30 days of the final report and recommendations of the Gomery inquiry, which are scheduled to be tabled on February 1, 2006.
According to the Prime Minister's promise, the next election will be held in March, or early April at the latest. By then Canadians will be familiar with Justice Gomery's recommendations and will be able to benefit from a much improved legislative environment.
Nonetheless, that is not enough for the opposition. They want to hold an election in mid-February, which is 8 weeks, at the very most, before the date the Prime Minister proposed to all Canadians on national television.
An election any sooner would be held before Justice Gomery has completed his work, and therefore, before Canadians have all the answers regarding the problems with the sponsorship program and—equally important—regarding the measures that will need to be taken to prevent such a situation from happening again.
It will be incumbent upon the opposition parties to explain to Canadians why they are disrupting the work, not only of the government, but also of Parliament, in order to force a premature election in the middle of winter, thereby going against what most Canadians want. In fact, Canadians are still waiting for a good reason for all this.
The opposition parties are saying they do not have confidence in this government. Yet, they want to use opposition days to confirm their confidence for a just few more months. This flagrant contradiction highlights the purely political motivation behind today's motion.
As the government House leader indicated, some opposition members seem to believe that the notion that a government must have the confidence of the House was somehow divisible, that we could have confidence today, but tomorrow? Maybe in a few weeks they would see if they had lost confidence. The government would continue to govern, until they decided to put that loss of confidence into effect.
I said a couple of days ago that the opposition members seemed to think that confidence in government, in parliamentary terms, was like Christmas lights. We turn them on in the evening, we turn them off in the morning and then we put them away in January. Canadians will not be fooled by that simplistic analysis.
When the first minority government in 25 years was elected in 2004, the government committed to doing things differently in Parliament. Canadians expected us, as members of Parliament, to work constructively together. The record shows in many cases we have been very successful. In just 19 months we have delivered on a broad range of initiatives that will advance the interests of Canadians and continue to ensure Canada's place in the world.
For example, we passed legislation to implement the 10 year plan to strengthen health care. A federal adviser on wait times was appointed. Steps continue to be taken so we can work with the provinces to protect Canada's public health system.
We passed legislation to implement fundamental reforms to the equalization program. This balanced approach ensured that all Canadians could benefit from social services and enjoy the same quality of life, regardless of the province in which they live. These improvements mean additional resources, additional moneys being transferred to my province, the province of New Brunswick. We already have seen an improvement not only in social services, education and health care, but improvements in infrastructure as well. The government and people of New Brunswick benefit by this cooperative approach.
We passed legislation respecting civil marriage to respect the fundamental values of equality and religious freedoms as well.
We passed legislation to implement a new deal for cities and communities. This unprecedented initiative brings together the federal government, provincial governments and municipalities to ensure that the infrastructure of our communities is responsive to local needs, culturally vibrant and environmentally sustainable. Again, small rural communities in my constituency benefit from this type of initiative.
We transferred, for example, the full refund of GST paid by municipalities as simply a down payment on the new deal for cities and communities. If the government of New Brunswick would organize itself to negotiate a deal with the federal government, municipalities in my constituency and throughout New Brunswick, as well as small rural communities, would benefit from this important initiative.
We passed legislation to implement our climate change plan and meet our Kyoto commitments. In two weeks, Canada will begin hosting the conference of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Montreal to make further progress on our important climate change commitments.
To ensure Canadians have the best opportunities to flourish, we passed legislation to implement early childhood learning and child care agreements, which we have reached with many provinces.
To keep Canadians safe, we passed legislation to protect them from pornography and Internet luring.
I am proud of the record of this Parliament so far. We were able to pass a budget bill that further accelerated our priorities in public transit, in housing, in post-secondary education, in national defence and in foreign aid.
We made major changes to improve the employment insurance system, something that is very important to seasonal industries in my constituency. We removed many of the disincentives to work, which created a bizarre situation where a worker in a seasonal industry would go to work for what might be a shortened work period for reasons beyond the control of the worker. If the lobster season was not as productive that week, if the weather did not allow a certain harvest to take place, the workers were disadvantaged by a system which calculated employment insurance based on recent weeks as opposed to best weeks. We changed that in this Parliament and the government has served the needs of seasonal industries and seasonal workers very well, certainly in my constituency.
Contrary to the opposition parties, I believe there is still much work to be done. A premature election could jeopardize over 40 bills currently in the House, bills that would provide important benefits to the well-being of Canadians and to the competitiveness of Canada.
For example, Bill C-67, the unanticipated surpluses act, reflects the government's balanced approach to fiscal management by providing a proportional allocation of unanticipated surpluses to permanent tax reductions, targeted investments and debt relief. Our ability to allocate surpluses is a direct result of the sound financial stewardship of the Minister of Finance and of his predecessors.
Bill C-68, Canada's Pacific gateway act, provides the foundations for expanding our trade with the growing economies of countries like China and India and other Asian countries. This has been a priority for our government. The government of British Columbia has urged us to take action on the Pacific gateway. This is what the government is doing to ensure that the Canadian economy as a whole can prosper by the great opportunities that these markets present.
Bill C-11, the whistleblower's bill, is currently before the Senate and provides vital protection for employees who courageously come forward to blow the whistle on wrongdoing in their workplace. The bill reflects the hard work of many members of Parliament, members from Vegreville—Wainwright, Winnipeg Centre and Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. I do not think those members want Bill C-11 to die prematurely.
Bill C-37, the do not call list, is also before the Senate. It reached the Senate through the support of all parties. Jeopardizing this work for the sake of electioneering at Christmas time does not benefit Canadians.
Earlier this month the government supplementary estimates requesting from Parliament the funds needed to implement the programs that allow federal initiatives to operate. These supplementary estimates include additional investments for defence, immigration, climate change, infrastructure, public security, the health of first nations and federal-provincial partnerships.
For example, the estimates include $15 million to implement the veterans' charter; $36.4 million to alleviate and prevent homelessness; over $230 million for investments in first nations communities and first nations peoples; $102.9 million to mitigate the impact of BSE; $34 million to aid the softwood lumber industry; $74 million for the agricultural policy framework; and, $1.1 billion to enhance Canada's national defence.
This is only a sampling of the productive agenda the government has for the next few months and the government continues to move forward this fall to deliver on our commitments.
Next week we will have, for example, a first ministers meeting with aboriginal leaders in British Columbia to address the challenges faced by our first nations. First nations leaders have stressed how important this meeting is for their communities. It would be the responsibility of opposition parties to justify jeopardizing the results of that meeting with a premature election.
Later this month the Minister of Justice will unveil a package targeted at gun crime, which we all know is an important challenge for our cities and for the safety of our communities. This Monday the Minister of Finance presented his fall economic and fiscal update, which proposes significant tax reductions for Canadians and a prosperity plan for Canada's future.
Over the next five years more than $30 billion in tax relief is proposed and over 95% of that would be delivered through personal tax reductions. In addition, significant investments are proposed to create access to post-secondary education and encourage lifelong learning so Canadians can continue to be competitive workers in the global marketplace. Combined with investments and research, innovation and social capital, the economic update sets the stage for accelerated growth and prosperity for the nation.
It is important to highlight that student associations across the country were particularly pleased with the investments in access to post-secondary education. In my constituency I am fortunate enough to have Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. The student groups there had spoken to me many times about the heavy financial burden of a post-secondary education. The measures announced by the Minister of Finance will help the students at Mount Allison University.
These measures will help students in my riding who are registered at the University of Moncton, for example. In fact, students across the country will benefit from these very important measures.
This is where the government's focus has been on governing. Canadians are tired of politicians playing partisan games. It is little wonder that cynicism about politicians is on the rise when people spend more time worrying about the timing of the next election than advancing the interest of their constituents in this Parliament.
Government members are here to represent their constituents and to work on making this Parliament successful. I have outlined the number of important initiatives that we have before us. We know there is an impending election that will follow the finance report of Justice Gomery. In the meantime Canadians expect us to roll up our sleeves and to get to work on delivering the commitments that we have all made to our electors.
The election will be at some point in early 2006. That was the Prime Minister's commitment. However, Canadians also want answers from the Gomery commission's final report before going back to the polls. That also was the Prime Minister's commitment. In the meantime, all parliamentarians should spend time working on the legislation that is before the House, that is in committee and that is in the Senate. They should be looking at many interesting private members' initiatives that are coming before Parliament.
In closing, I believe that Canadians want us to work together on what concerns them and on improving their lives and the lives of their families and fellow citizens. They hope the work we do here in Parliament will improve their quality of life. They do not want the debates to end in the partisan bickering that does little to honour this Parliament.
November 17th, 2005 / 11 a.m.
Hamilton East—Stoney Creek
Tony Valeri Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Madam Speaker, I suggest there are a number of fundamental problems with today's opposition motion. I will point to a few of them.
First, it is fundamentally inconsistent with the basic principles of a parliamentary democracy which in fact have guided us throughout the history of this institution. It is a serious matter to change long-standing principles and practices with no consideration to the future members of the House of Commons.
The opposition parties essentially are willing to play some political and partisan games with our constitutional conventions. We can hear them laughing across the way. It is exactly what Canadians expect from the opposition parties when talking about our Constitution, nothing more than heckling and laughing. Those parties have proven they do not have any respect for the Constitution.
I want to make a few points and then during the question and answer period we can allow the members opposite to stand and rant and rave, as we expect they will. Nonetheless, I would like the opportunity to make a few points.
We have seen a time when members have worked quite well and quite cooperatively in the House, even in the face of challenges with what the opposition parties were looking to do. Canadians ultimately want to see a House that works on behalf of their initiatives. The House of Commons needs to work on behalf of the citizens.
Canadians want their members of Parliament to work on public business, not the private ambitions of any one party leader. Canadians want parliamentarians to debate the issues that are important Canadians, to address their daily concerns and what they are worried about. In fact, Canadians have not been getting legislation or policy that might make their lives better, more prosperous perhaps, and secure. What they are getting from the opposition parties is endless partisan posturing, political games and positioning for electoral advantage, quite frankly.
Members opposite always quote Canadians to suit their particular position. I have talked to Canadians and they have said that things in Parliament are not going well and members are yelling and screaming at each other all the time. I continue to make the point that we put forward and passed what I believe are important initiatives. But we have a situation now where the opposition parties, in particular the leader of the NDP, has put forward a motion that in fact does not fit with the constitutional requirements of this country.
I have to say that it is not only I who might say that. I am not alone in asserting that today's motion is a violation of long-standing democratic principles and practices of Parliament. The official opposition has said, and I believe the opposition House leader just said that the government needs to have the confidence of the House. That is absolutely correct. That is the way our system works. It is based on long-standing democratic principles.
The opposition parties collectively, since they are all supporting this particular motion, through the leader of the NDP are saying they want to vote non-confidence in the government today, but they want to have the consequences essentially some time in January because it suits their political purpose. They are saying they do not want an election during Christmas, but they want to vote non-confidence today and have the election later on. In the meantime, while the House remains in session, the House presumably would be passing important initiatives for Canadians that we put forward as a government and they would be voting confidence in the government, all the while indicating that they have no confidence in the government. The opposition wants to defeat the government, but not for another month and a half or so.
Parliament does not work that way and Canadians understand that. We cannot divide confidence. Confidence is not divisible. It cannot be cut up into little pieces and apportioned over different periods of time saying, “It is okay to pass this piece of legislation which is a confidence bill and we understand that. We will pass that bill, but we do not have confidence in the government. The government should not be allowed to put forward programs that expend Canadian taxpayer money because we do not have confidence, but we will hang around while the government does that and then we will come back and say we do not have confidence in the government again in January”.
The government very clearly either needs to have the confidence of the House or not. It is very simple. It is the way the system has worked for a long time. It is very clear to Canadians that the government must have an ability to make decisions that have an impact on Canadians going forward and it must be able to do that knowing that it has the confidence of the House, or at least the confidence of the majority in the House. Even if there are people who do not have confidence in the government, if the government does not have the confidence of the majority of the House, then it is unable to function as a government.
The opposition parties, in what they are saying and what they are reporting in the media, are essentially saying that they do not have confidence in the government, but what they are afraid to do is to take responsibility for what that may cause.
When a motion of non-confidence is put on the floor of the House of Commons, when the opposition parties vote for that and the motion passes, there is an election. The opposition parties have to take responsibility for that. They should be able to say, “We are causing an election. It will be during Christmas. We are dragging Canadians back to the polls even though two-thirds of Canadians agree with what the Prime Minister is saying and his call for an election in the spring, within 30 days of Justice Gomery's report”.
The hon. member opposite said that we should wait another five months for that. He is perfectly free to say that, and I am not going to argue that position because that is the position the opposition parties have taken, but what they must do in that instance is put forward a motion of non-confidence, not a motion that suggests they do not have confidence now but the effect will take place some time in the future because they do not want to have an election at Christmas. They are trying to position themselves as not having to take responsibility for a Christmas election, but Canadians will know that is where the responsibility will lie.
The opposition parties have had an opportunity to put forward a motion of non-confidence. While they go out and speak to the media and say they do not have confidence, in the House, in this chamber, they had an opportunity to do that today and they did not. They had an opportunity to do it this past Tuesday and the opposition parties did not. They will have an opportunity to put forward that motion either next Tuesday or next Thursday. They have an opportunity to express no confidence in the government by voting down confidence bills or important bills to the government. They have an opportunity to express non-confidence and vote down the government's spending estimates which provide moneys for ongoing programs.
The fact that the opposition parties have sought not to do so clearly shows to Canadians that it is not just an issue of confidence that is truly at stake here, there are some partisan political considerations.
The leader of the New Democratic Party has cited a couple of constitutional experts, but the majority of constitutional experts have sided with the government's approach on this motion. The opposition parties continue to say that even in this minority government, the Prime Minister does not have the right to set the election date.
I will quote Ned Franks, a professor at Queen's University who said:
It is the Prime Minister's right and prerogative to go to the Governor General and ask for a dissolution of the House. It is not Parliament's. That's very clear.
David Docherty has said:
[The opposition's] saying, “We like the things you've done but unless you let the opposition decide when there's an election, we will pull the plug and not only not get things done that we think are important, but quite frankly, not get things done our supporters think are important”. In short, they simply can't do it. Parliamentary non-confidence is very specific. It's non-confidence when there is a vote of non-confidence. If it's a money bill, a speech from the throne, a matter the government says is confidence or there is a motion of non-confidence, those are the times that it's clear.
That is what we are saying. Canadians should not be fooled. There is a lot of political rhetoric that is swirling around this place, but the government either has the confidence or does not have the confidence of the House and it is up to the opposition parties to express that.
When Canadians elected their first minority government in 25 years they expected their representatives to work together. They still expect that. They also indicated they wanted us to continue working on their priorities, Canadian priorities, not the political priorities of opposition parties.
The Prime Minister made a commitment to Canadians. He went on national television and said that he would call an election within 30 days of the second Gomery report. He made that commitment and he wants to adhere to it.
I would say that Canadians want their government and their Parliament to deliver results and that is exactly what I have been trying to do and what the government has been doing. We have almost 90 bills before this Parliament.
The opposition parties have indicated that the House of Commons has no confidence in the government but the government has successfully met more than 40 confidence challenges and has been able to continue.
We have a strong record with respect to legislation passed on health care, equalization, a new deal for cities and communities, the offshore accords, climate change and early learning and child care. It is a strong record that we will take to the Canadian people and the Canadian people will decide.
We know Canadians want government and Parliament to focus on their priorities. They do not want a premature election. They do not want their representatives to be focused on political gamesmanship. They want the government and Parliament to deliver results, which is exactly what we are doing.
We are continuing to move forward with these priorities. The Minister of Finance has presented his fall economic and fiscal update that proposes further tax reductions for Canadians, a prosperity plan for Canada's future and it delivers more than $30 billion in tax relief in the current year and the next five years. Over 95% of that tax relief will be delivered through personal income tax.
Sadly, on the one opposition day available to the NDP in this supply cycle, it has chosen to focus on tearing this House down rather than building up this country. I have to say that the opposition day motion is an attempt by the opposition parties to demonstrate no confidence by not putting a motion before the House of Commons and saying that they have no confidence, but having that effect happen some time in January, is pretty convoluted. There has not been an expert out there who has been able to understand it.
We go back to the point of Gomery and when Gomery reports a second time. I know the opposition parties are arguing that can happen anyway and that this is all about some strategy.
The Prime Minister, when making that commitment to Canadians on national television, said that Canadians had the right to all of the facts of the Gomery Commission and all of his recommendations. However they also have a right to hear the response of the government and the response of the opposition parties before they cast their ballots. The opposition should be able to tell Canadians why they are afraid to wait for the final Gomery report before an election is called. If the opposition parties are not afraid, then they should be able to say that.
The commitment made by the Prime Minister was very clear. He said that within 30 days of the final report he would make that call. Obviously, it is not good enough for the opposition. They want an election to take place some time in February, which is four to eight weeks earlier than the Prime Minister's commitment to Canadians, but that is the choice they can make. What they should not do is try to hide behind some muddy motion that is not clear to Canadians.
We are talking about four to eight weeks and, if they want an election earlier than four to eight weeks, then they should stand in their place, put down their motion and have this place work the way it is supposed to work. If there is no confidence in the government, then drag Canadians back to the polls during the holiday season and have Canadians ultimately decide. That is the way it works.
The opposition parties are insisting that if we do not accept today's motion, then they will vote non-confidence in the government. They either have the confidence or not. We are focused on moving forward important government initiatives, not spending this day debating a motion that really has no effect.
As I have said, it is the opposition's right to defeat the government if they do not have confidence in the government, but let us consider for a moment the cost of defeating the government before we get through this legislative agenda.
We have Bill C-67, the unanticipated surplus bill; Bill C-68, the Canada Pacific gateway bill; the whistleblower bill in the Senate, which is essentially a bill that has come out of committee with a number of amendments that all parliamentarians provided; and Bill C-37, the do not call list, which is also before the Senate.
By defeating the government from passing its supplementary estimates, it would prevents $1.1 billion for the Department of National Defence, nearly $200 million for investments in public infrastructure and nearly $120 million to promote peace and stability in fragile states.
The opposition parties also jeopardize the possibility of real concrete action stemming from the first ministers' meeting with aboriginal leaders in Kelowna next week. Phil Fontaine, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations who is opposed to Mr. Layton's motion, said that Mr. Layton's pledge to defeat the government could erase “all of the good work that we've done”.
Unanticipated Surpluses Act
October 27th, 2005 / 12:55 p.m.
Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK
Mr. Speaker, there is no question that there has been some confusion as to whether or not unexpected expenses and so on can come out of the budget. I gather from the parliamentary secretary's answer that any type of contingency can be covered off in the current budget.
I would ask the hon. member for Victoria not to worry himself too much about this aspect of the bill because the bill is nothing more than a pre-election ploy. It is done for a purpose, as the government has done in many other bills, such as Bill C-37, the do not call registry. We had no rules or regulations but the public was concerned about unsolicited calls so the Liberals put together a shoestring bill and left it to the CRTC to manage the workings of it, without regard to cost, so that they could direct their attention to the segment of the population that was interested in that type of legislation. An election is looming, which is why they would do that and why they have a surplus.
The surplus in the last number of years has been embarrassingly large and they know the public is upset, especially those members of the public who are running the treadmill attempting to stay alive, trying to make their mortgage, car and loan payments and are barely able to stay ahead, when the government is accumulating surpluses that have never been surpassed in the past, year after year. It has the audacity to call the bill itself an unanticipated surpluses act, when the surpluses have been anticipated year by year and are even larger than anticipated.
The legislation reads:
Recognizing that it is in the public interest to predetermine how annual unanticipated surpluses, if any, are to be applied among competing priorities...
It is not the public interest so much that the government has in mind. It is its own interest and in preserving its own political hide, and attempting to sow seeds toward what will be an imminent election that causes this bill to come forward.
The bill talks about applying, in a balanced way, the surpluses to spending priorities, to the deficit and to tax relief. Remarkably, it says “surpluses, if any”, so the government has reserved to itself the right to ensure that there is no surplus by tabling legislation that will eat the surplus, which really is not unanticipated, which it anticipates and knows well in advance of closing its books.
Insofar as tax relief is concerned, it is also remarkable that the government indicates that will happen as long as the increases are considered to be fiscally sustainable. Who decides that? The Minister of Finance decides that, the same Minister of Finance who tabled the budget in this House and said that he would entertain only technical changes to his budget. When it became apparent that the government might fall, the same minister and his officers prepared to enter into the one page NDP $2.5 billion budget bill to spend what was already in the surplus in order to preserve its own hide and stay alive because at that time it was not prepared to face the electorate.
What the government has done in this legislation, as it has done in other legislation, is it has built in contingencies and conditions that would make it appear as if it is doing something when in fact it is not, or has reserved for itself the option not to do it. In fact, it is an addiction to spending that must be cured, and the only way that addiction can be cured is by voting that particular party out of office and cleaning house. So addicted is it to spending that it has said in this legislation that the surplus would only be determined after some specific spending priorities were put into their budget.
In fact, in the spending area, the note I have says that as well, the extent to which one-third of the unanticipated surplus is allocated to spending every year would depend upon the spending priorities identified by the government. Therefore if it chose to spend in advance, it could. As the parliamentary secretary said, if there were a disaster or if there were some other aspect that required spending, the government could spend the money on that.
What would that do? That would simply eliminate the surplus. The government reserves unto itself the right to spend and says that if it has not misspent and there is some money left, it still wants to reserve unto itself the right to spend one-third.
At present it is required that the surpluses be applied to pay down the debt. Something which the hon. member from Victoria indicated and which makes good sense is that any family with a debt would try to focus all of its efforts on paying down its debt. That is the way it is now. What has the government done with this new legislation and the humongous surplus instead of giving it back to the public? It has decided to put only a portion of it toward the debt, a portion of it toward tax reduction and only if the minister decides that it is sustainable, and more spending.
When talking about spending, we have to wonder if the spending priority of the government is what it should be when we look at the NDP budget bill. As I read the legislation, subclauses 2(1) and 2(2) indicate that the whole bill is subject to clause 4 which means that the bill is subject to the spending of $2.5 billion that was agreed to in the NDP budget bill. Even into the future, not only has the government reserved the right to ensure there is no surplus, but the bill would only apply in 2005-06 and 2006-07 after the NDP budget and spending was put in place.
I found it remarkable that the leader of the New Democratic Party would say he was surprised that they did not receive that money immediately following the passage of the bill. I would instruct the leader of the New Democratic Party that any legislation tabled by the government needs to be read very carefully. There was no requirement in that bill to spend the money immediately after its passage; it was in time and it was conditional. The government has learned how to make things conditional, reserving unto itself the right to spend or not spend. Optically the Liberals want to create an illusion to satisfy public opinion, to try to bolster their opportunities in an election.
Perhaps this would be a good time for me to read an article by Roy MacGregor. It was written in anticipation of the visit some days ago of Condoleezza Rice, the United States secretary of state. He said in his note to her:
You are arriving at a time when there is much talk of tax breaks in the air. That is because there may be an election soon. Or there may not be. Or there may be, too. No one knows.
No one knows for sure but there is something in the air. I am a farm boy from the prairies. I can tell when rain is coming because I can smell rain in the air and I can smell an election coming. That is why we are debating this legislation that is dressed up and painted to make it look like it is something when in fact it is nothing. Lawyers have spent time drafting this legislation to make it appear that we are getting something substantial when in fact we are getting very little, depending on the whims of the government of the day which has reserved unto itself the right to spend and has reserved unto itself the right to have discretion. In real terms it could amount to nothing.
Roy MacGregor went on to say that Ottawa, the capital, collects far more taxes than necessary. That is the truth. Ask those Canadians who work 10 hours or 12 hours a day, five or six days a week, just to feed their families. They are paying taxes, lots of taxes, in the thousands. Where are those taxes going? To the government, and where are we getting the surpluses?
Regarding the goods and services tax, the government made a promise in the red book. I heard it with my own ears from the then prime minister who said that the GST would be cancelled but he did not do it. The Liberals are happy to have it now and they allow it to accumulate. Where else are the resources coming for the surpluses? There are the high energy and gasoline prices. Consumers are paying more and more money and the government is watching. The government is becoming embarrassed by the surplus that is accumulating without it doing anything. The Liberals have done a good job trying to spend it, and misspend it on the sponsorship scandal, on the Dingwall affair, on $500,000 severance packages, on André Ouellet spending $1 million without receipts, and on having departments that are not operating frugally or efficiently.
The Liberals are embarrassed. They have done all of that and they still have a big pile of money left, so they say we have to have some legislation.
Roy MacGregor went on to say in his column:
Ottawa...collects far more taxes than necessary and then, every three months or so, announces an enormous surplus, which millions of Canadians take to mean the government has turned a profit and is cause for celebration.
It is no cause for celebration that despite mismanagement, despite misspending, despite program goodies being given up for an election, still has a big pile of money left as a surplus. What is that telling us? The government is not running a good operation and is not turning a good bottom line. It is charging people too much money and thinking it is its own, or it is taking it from the provinces or municipalities.
Roy MacGregor went on to say that the government “then takes some of this 'profit' and gives it back to the people as a minor tax break”, maybe at the discretion of the minister. It is like taking a lot of money out of my wallet, giving 20% of it to the government and telling me I should feel good about it. That type of attitude needs to change.
It would be one thing if the government used some of that money for appropriate spending, but look at what is happening in government and the situation that farmers in my province are facing. One must ask how the government has had humongous surpluses for a number of years and a crisis has developed in the Prairies and the Liberals are not doing anything about it. Farmers have been trying to get the ear and attention of the government about what is happening on the Prairies and they have been ignored. The NDP that engineered the $2.5 billion budget did not even mention the word agriculture.
I asked a question in the House of the Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board as to why the government would set such low initial prices when our farmers cannot afford to pay their input costs. They cannot afford to pay them and need additional funds at this critical time, extra cash flow. What has the government done? It has ensured that initial prices are about 60% to 64% of what they actually expect them to be. The government is playing big daddy to the farmers, holding back money in the thousands of dollars when the farmers need it, but the government does not care.
The minister had the audacity to say in the House that he has known about this for a number of weeks, that he is looking at it and thinking about it. That is what is happening in the CAIS program. He is looking at it and studying it. That one simple example shows a government that is out of touch with a segment of its people when it has huge surpluses and it is mismanaging and misspending.
In fact, the price for feed barley has been set so low in my constituency that after deducting the costs of taking the feed barley from the elevator to port, it nets the farmers 18¢ or 19¢ a bushel and it costs them almost that much to deliver it. It is an embarrassment that the government would even allow that kind of circumstance to come to be without addressing it immediately. It has not done it. I challenge the government to do it now, to raise that price so at least the farmers can put some extra dollars in their pockets as opposed to losing it totally in transportation by paying it in handling costs.
There was also an issue in my constituency about farmers having own use permits to allow them to save a few thousand dollars to eke out an existence. The government did not take any steps to extend the deadline beyond September 30 to allow them to acquire own use permits at considerable savings. Where are the government's priorities? Where is it going?
Let me indicate to the House how dire the situation is. I do not know what our farmers have to do to get the ear of the government. How drastic must the situation get? Must it get as bad as what we witnessed the other day with the first nations before the House turns its ear to it? The problem is severe.
I received a letter from a constituent recently with respect to the state of agriculture. She said, “Dealing with the government in areas of income tax, GST and CAIS has become extremely frustrating. I have had to deal with the death of a close family member, watched sibling family members struggle through farm bankruptcy and near farm bankruptcy and had to deal with some health crisis. I informed CAIS personnel that I may as well just go home and shoot myself. Then I proceeded to leave work and go home to do just that. Were it not for my husband and daughter, I would not be writing this letter”.
In fact, there were at least two suicides in my consistency. Most people have loans for machinery, for cattle, for land, for operating. The letter went on to say, “For two years we lost our crop to hail and frost and now when we finally have grown one, we have to pile it on the ground while the fuel bill reaches $15,000 and we can't sell it”.
And the government is embarrassed about sitting on surpluses when these kinds of conditions are happening. The Liberals had the opportunity to address the energy crisis and fuel bills on the farm. Fuel bills and fertilizer bills are getting very near to or exceeding the cost of the low commodity prices and the Liberals have done nothing. In the energy bill, they have tried to address a very narrow segment of the population, and again have forgotten my constituents. My constituent asked, “What are we supposed to do?” They cannot sell the grain. She said, “I love my family but this farming is killing me. I do all the things my mother did to raise a family, plus hold down a full time job, and when I look at my bank account today, I have $91 to buy groceries until the end of the month”.
The government is sitting on billions of dollars, doing nothing and then, because it was embarrassed, is pretending to divide it up for more spending, tax cuts potentially, just to save itself some embarrassment. It is not being done to help people because this problem has existed for a long time.
My constituent went on to say, “We are doing our best to keep the farm going. It sometimes becomes overwhelming trying to keep straight all the deadlines and rules for all the government programs which include income tax, payroll, GST, NISA wind-down, CAIS, Saskatchewan crop insurance, hail insurance, feeder calf set aside, TISP, Canadian farm income plan, business risk management, Saskatchewan farm fuel program and Canadian Wheat Board permits to name a few” not to mention the own use permits. The government has administered and regulated and made bookwork such a difficult thing for farmers that most of them are almost prepared to give up in desperation. She went on to say, “while trying to expand your operation, hold down a full time job, watching our bottom lines shrink away and our costs go up”.
This is what is happening in the midst of plenty. I fail to understand how the government could put a few billion dollars into the CAIS program, half of which is eaten up in administration, half of which never reaches the farm gate, causing farmers to operate with very little. How can the Liberals justify that?
A farmer from my area gave me some figures. He said wheat at 25 bushels an acre at $2 cost him $50 an acre. His chemicals cost $22 and fertilizer costs $26 for a total of $48 on two items and he has $2 left to cover fuel and operating expenses, not to mention the opportunity to feed his family. He and his wife are both working off farm. His brother is working off farm. They are doing whatever they can and are struggling to get by. They think it is galling to see the misspending and the waste that happens and the government cannot help an entire industry that is about to go down in Saskatchewan.
The government is doing nothing about it. The Liberals are not looking forward. They are not looking at any kind of a program that will preserve farmers in their hour of need. Instead, the Liberals are quibbling about whether they can frame the bill to show them as being magnanimous in dealing with the surplus by dividing it in thirds. If they were really doing that, at least that would be of some satisfaction. But they built in the opportunity for them to do their own thing, like they always have, to continue gouging and taxing on the backs of ordinary people who are attempting to make a living. The Liberals want to continue to get their surpluses and spend the money in government departments with waste and mismanagement, as common people on the ground have a hard time making a living. How can that be in this country?
Why has the government not addressed this situation and the economic impact in my home constituency? Instead, the government introduces a trifling bill such as this just to save its face and have an election gimmick. This is hard for my constituents and my constituency to take.
October 24th, 2005 / 4:20 p.m.
Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Jean, on his accurate and enlightened remarks on Bill C-37.
Naturally, like him, I am concerned about protecting my fellow citizens against telemarketing abuse. I agree with him on some of the exemptions that should be included in this bill on telemarketing, namely charities such as United Way and the Red Cross. It is important that they not be on the list that will be established.
I also share the concern of the hon. member for Saint-Jean about the abuse that has taken place in the management of the gun registry. We now know that this abuse has resulted in unconscionable costs in excess of $2 billion.
How does the hon. member for Saint-Jean suggest that the Liberal government avoid allocating excessive funding to the establishment of such a registry?
October 24th, 2005 / 3:50 p.m.
Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on Bill C-37. I had spoken last week on this bill, beginning that presentation with my story of being solicited at home for a vacuum cleaner, one fine Saturday morning at 9 a.m. I find that these examples are far too frequent in recent years.
We know that the field of technology is evolving. The marketing companies are pushing sales more and more, and their salespersons as well. So we have reached the point where, today, this bill will become a kind of consumer protection act, to protect consumer privacy.
I consider the type of call I was mentioning earlier to be out of place, coming on a Saturday morning or often at dinner time. For salespersons know that, as people are very busy these days, it is often early in the morning, at dinner time or after dinner that they can be most easily reached. This is an infringement of the privacy of consumers.
Ours is a world in which everything is moving faster and faster, where the entire working class is confronted with more and more demands. When anyone who works comes back home in the evening, he or she deserves a little relaxation, a little time to spend with the family. This is important, and we speak often about it. There are all kinds of projects for balancing work and family. In Quebec, this is in fact a very important issue.
Imagine, in the evening, when you are at home, receiving two or three telephone calls like this. Often the people who call are persistent. It is difficult to simply hang up on them. They have a good psychological approach: they are open-minded and very kind. People spend time with them, and finally realize that they are being solicited. The more time goes by, the greater the pressure. Often people hesitate to hang up. They can lose 5, 10 or 15 minutes of their time, of their privacy, at the end of which they may say no. All the same, they will have wasted time to the detriment of their family.
The bill we have before us today protects consumers and privacy generally.
Neither can the do not call principle be applied to everyone. We have understood this. At present, the bill provides that charities will be exempt from its application. That means that a charity cannot be prohibited from calling a certain list of persons. The reason for this is fundamental. As I often say to the community groups and charitable organizations in my own riding, if we did not have these groups, it would be very difficult for society to function.
Everyone knows that public finances are limited, both in the provinces and in Canada. Obviously there is growing pressure on public finances, particularly in the provinces, whereas in Ottawa there is a big surplus. In the provinces there are many restrictions. Consequently the government sometimes withdraws from certain sectors of activity, especially social activity. As a result, it is the community groups that come to the rescue of those who are somewhat more disadvantaged.
I find it totally unjustified to tell the Red Cross for example that it will be on an exemption list and will no longer be allowed to phone a number of people whose names are on a do not call list because they do not want to be called. The Red Cross may be a case in point these days, in light of the earthquake in Pakistan and all that is happening in that part of the world.
I believe that they need funding. We can depend on the governments, but we must also depend on organizations of this type. These are often non governmental organizations, people who go to the rescue of victims who are in a very bad situation. The government is not the only one asked to act; organizations of this type also get involved.
They are also active, on a smaller scale, in our respective ridings. Who does not know of the organizations looking after children or battered women?
Solicitation is very important to them. Cutting their funding by telling them that, in the future, they will no longer be allowed to phone 40% or 50% of the citizens of St-Jean is not helping them. And it is not helping the society at large either.
It is therefore perfectly understandable that the bill provide for exemptions. Charities—registered ones naturally—will be in a separate category and protected, because there are sometimes charlatans in that field as well. Traps are to be avoided. People must necessarily be registered to have their names on the do not call list.
The bill also deals with the issue of business relationships. This week, I visited a very dynamic business in my region. It is a computer company and it markets absolutely fantastic software. I was introduced to the woman in charge of marketing. That is all she does all day long. It is quite usual for companies to solicit bilateral service exchanges or to sell each other services, whether they are in the same field or different ones.
Business relationships are very important. We do not want to suppress them with a bill of this kind. However, I do not think the bill is aimed at that issue but rather at excessive marketing to individuals. Business relationships must continue to be protected. I obviously do not need to spell it all out. It is important for companies to be identified and protected so that all business relationships continue.
There are also political calls. Here we are kind of making our own sales pitch. It is important to preserve this right, which I think is a right to information. I often say to young people or people who do not have a lot of confidence in politics: “You know, everything you do is political. Everything you put on your table, the children you send to school or daycare, when you use hospitals, those are all political issues.
It is important, therefore, for political calls to continue. Otherwise, we would be risking anarchy. Many people do not believe in politics. Nevertheless, we must continue, with the means at our disposal, to make as many people as possible aware of how important politics still are. It is a basic right to information.
The same is true of opinion polls. I am not speaking just of political opinion polls but of opinion polls in general about what people like or do not like about society or how they feel social problems should be addressed. We feel that these polls are a very important right to information that must absolutely be maintained.
I was very happy to arrive this morning and discover before delivering my speech that our Liberal friends had finally agreed to unanimous consent on newspapers. That might seem strange because the opposition members, both in the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois, had tried furiously last week to get unanimous consent but could not. Our colleagues must have received some food for thought over the weekend. Maybe they got some telephone calls from representatives of major newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and the National Post saying, “Listen, our Liberal friends, we would like to be exempted from that, too”. However it came about, the result is the same.
So, this morning we found out that newspapers were excluded, just like registered charities and political telecommunications. It is important that newspapers be excluded because, again, we are talking about the right to information. I can say unequivocally that we have some very good newspapers in my riding. Le Canada français is one of them. There are people there whose job is specifically to do telemarketing all day long. If we want our local newspapers to survive, it is important that they be able to go and get subscribers, which are often individuals. It is important to read a newspaper once a week or once a day. I am not talking about advertisement, but about the importance for a citizen to keep informed, both at the local and national levels. So, it is important that the instruments that ensure the survival of these newspapers be protected.
In the end, there was unanimous consent on this issue. I will be pleased to support the bill, which now also includes newspapers.
What is also interesting about the bill is that it provides for a review after three years, to see how things are working out. Some irritants will likely surface, but we will be able to review the legislation three years from now. Such a review is often not included in bills, although it may be less indicated in some cases. However, I think that, in this case, it is perfectly suited to the bill now before us. In three years, we will see if other organizations should be excluded from the scope of the act.
There may be other ways of looking at how the list should be controlled. I will talk about this later on. So, if there is a major problem, we will be able to change some provisions of the act three years from now. This will prevent the government from deciding alone the political agenda, setting the procedure and selecting the issues that come before the House, and from deciding to not present this bill again to the House, even if there are irritants. Such a provision will benefit everyone. It is a safeguard, a protection. If we find out that we erred or that we did not have all the information, we will be able to correct the situation.
I was also surprised to see that the Canadian Marketing Association did not object to the bill. In fact, the CMA president himself said that it was about time we did something. With the deregulation that currently prevails, whereby there are practically no rules in effect in Canada, we are witnessing, as I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, a proliferation of this kind of approach. Frankly, consumers, myself included, are tired of constantly being disturbed. We are also noticing a change, although not for the better, in that there is an increasing number of these calls and companies are becoming more and more insistent. The situation has reached the point where, when I get home, there are always messages on my answering machine. These companies called and they left messages. Out of all the messages that will be waiting when I get home on Thursday, probably one quarter of them will have been left by organizations or individuals doing solicitation and urging me to call them back. Of course, I will not do so. Not only do I not have the time because of my duties as a member of Parliament, but I am also somewhat reluctant to do so because I find these companies to be quite insistent.
So, the CMA too confirmed the existence of a problem that needs to be corrected. It did not object to Bill C-37. I will talk about it in a little while. It wants to be involved to some degree, particularly as regards the registry issue. However, the Bloc Québécois' position on this is quite clear.
Not only is the CMA saying that such legislation was needed, it is also realizing that, in any case, the people whose names will be on that do not call list were not buying from these companies. In its opinion, the impact of such a list will not be that great on its members. So, in the end, it agrees with this measure.
We did not start from square one on that issue. The Americans had a bit of a head start on us. In 2003, they noted the same kind of problem and legislated to establish what is called a do not call registry. It seems to be working. I do not know whether that particular piece of legislation includes a provision like ours for review in three years. One thing that is for sure is that it is already working. Sixty two million Americans have registered. This type of solicitation was bothering them, and they wanted the companies to stop phoning them. The legislation provides for penalties. That is another thing. If we pass legislation, the legislation must not be too soft. It must not be merely an incentive; it should make a real impact. It is important that marketing experts understand that certain conditions have to be met, failing which there will be stiff penalties to pay. This is already in place in the United States. The majority of the 62 million people I referred to earlier are already reporting a sharp decrease in the number of calls received; in fact, 87% reported receiving hardly any calls.
So they are very happy with this legislation. It is time now in Canada to act accordingly.
I want to speak now about the registry and how the CMA wants to become involved. When anyone says registry, of course, the nightmare that people usually think of is the gun registry. I took part in the debate last week. There were a lot of questions about this registry. Let us be very clear. The legislation must be as specific as possible and there must be as much information as possible about this registry.
It would be good if they could tell us every three or four months how much the operation cost for the previous months. We do not want to have the kind of surprise we had with the firearms control registry. It was supposed to cost $2 million a year and now it costs $2 billion. It is the taxpayers who pay for that. This is another scandal. People often talk about the sponsorship scandal, but there is also the gun registry scandal. That is probably the biggest scandal in dollar terms. There is quite a difference between $2 million and $2 billion. A thousand times more. Everyone agrees that this did not make sense.
Our fears are understandable, therefore, when they talk about registries. We want to ensure that there are as many guarantees as possible. But we do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We believe that this is important legislation and one way to exercise control is to have a registry. We are in a tough spot, though, because we saw what happened with the gun registry. It cost $2 million instead of $2 billion. On the other hand, we cannot just cast all these kinds of bills aside whenever the word “registry” appears. That is not the way to see things. By the way, there are a lot of discussions every year when the time arrives for requests for budget surpluses to be given to the Canadian firearms program. People do say that they can hardly believe it.
The basic principle was to control firearms. I get telephone calls myself from mothers who lost their daughters in the massacre of students at the Polytechnique. I cannot resist these mothers who tell me that we have to keep the firearms registry. It is useless for me to tell them that it costs $80 million extra; for them, it is not a question of money. For a society to control firearms, for them, it is non-negotiable.
It is always a bit awkward to be asked to vote more funding for a program that has already cost $2 billion, when it was meant to cost only $2 million annually.
The same thing applies here. We have some concerns, but we do believe that the bill is a valuable one. We just need to pin down the matter of the registry to ensure that it does not get out of hand like the last time. I should make that clear, out of the Liberal Party's hands.
Once again, the opposition members are the ones who raised the issue. The Liberal Party was asked at one point whether it did not find $2 billion instead of $2 million to be sufficient. We are not the ones who dropped the ball. All we did was block it so that it did not roll further out of bounds. If we had not, the tab might well have gone over the $2 billion mark by now.
We keep on insisting that the expenditures be reduced to acceptable levels. We will also insist that the registry that is an integral part of this bill be monitored as closely as possible to avoid a repetition of this pillaging of public funds.
We also do not want the registry to be kept by the Canadian Marketing Association. They will certainly not be given responsibility for it. That would be a bit like asking Colonel Sanders to keep an eye on the chicken coop. That is not what we want.
In closing, I will point out that we will need to address fraudulent telemarketing at a later time. The laws on this are very severe in the U.S., thereby driving the phony telemarketers back to Canada. They operate what are called boiler rooms, from which they systematically swindle people.
Unfortunately, the bill before us does not take this into account. I get the feeling that we would have to amend the Criminal Code instead.
Nevertheless, the Bloc Québécois will be supporting Bill C-37. We are, moreover, very pleased that newspapers have been added to the list of exemptions.
October 24th, 2005 / 3:35 p.m.
Gurmant Grewal Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Kelowna--Lake Country for sharing his time.
I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Newton--North Delta to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-37. This bill addresses telemarketing calls by enabling the CRTC to establish and enforce a do not call registry similar to ones already found in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Specifically, Bill C-37 would amend the section of the Telecommunications Act that deals with telemarketers by adding the power to establish databases and to make any order with respect to these databases.
It would also also give the CRTC the power to levy substantial penalties against telemarketers and to contract with a private sector third party to operate the service. Penalties of $1,500 per offending call for individuals and $15,000 per offending call for corporations would be imposed for telemarketers who do not respect the list.
Previous to this bill, Canadians have had access to privately operated do not call registries. The Canadian Marketing Association, CMA, would register consumers for their do not call list. However, not all telemarketers are members of the CMA, so this registration did not eliminate all unsolicited telemarketing calls.
In addition, the CRTC required that each telemarketing company maintain their own do not call list. Consumers could ask to be placed on the list, but only after receiving a call. The list was maintained by the telemarketing company for three years.
We have all received unwanted calls from people attempting to sell goods or services. It could be a telemarketing pitch from the local newspaper, a credit card company, a cleaning service, a charity, or even a politician wanting one's vote.
Sometimes we may welcome these calls because they would provide useful information or a product that we are interested in, but other times, they are nothing but an annoyance.
The Conservative Party supports the establishment of a Canadian do not call registry within parameters clearly defined by this Parliament and with reasonable exemptions provided for charities, political parties, polling firms and companies that wish to contact their current customers. In the original version of Bill C-37, these exemptions were not laid out by the government.
Furthermore, the power to determine these details was delegated by the Liberals to the CRTC and its regulatory powers rather than to the elected representatives of the House. In fact, before going to committee, the bill was almost an empty shell, with most of the details left to the regulations.
The bill is extremely light on details. There are no exceptions to the list. There are no details about how the list would be maintained, what information would be required from consumers, how telemarketers would check the list, how often they must check the list, and who would have access to the list or any reporting on how the list would be run.
As a result, we did not know if there would be any exclusions to the list, how much it would cost or who would operate the list and so on. Maybe it would be like the gun registry fiasco, costing $2 billion rather than $2 million. Those things are not clear.
The government habitually introduces shell bills that lack substance, are written in, often, incomplete, general terms and are very vague in intent. So, no substance, no nitty-gritty, no details, but only a shell.
Much of the law that affects Canadians is not found in the Statutes of Canada but in the thousands and thousands of regulations made pursuant to powers granted by acts of Parliament. This leaves the door wide open to put through regulations that define our laws, without the proper checks and balances.
To curtail that, to plug that big black hole in the regulatory process, I introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-205, which in fact was the only private member's bill to receive royal assent. That bill was introduced by the Canadian Alliance. It restored some accountability to the regulation making process because it brought under the umbrella of the government all the quasi-government organizations like the CRTC and many others. They used to make the regulations but they were not under the purview of parliamentary scrutiny.
I plugged that black hole in the regulatory reforms, but still the government habitually introduces legislation without any detail. It leaves all the details to the regulatory process. In doing so, the Liberal government has effectively gutted the parliamentary process of accountability and transparency in the formulation of laws. Parliament is no longer at the centre of the law making process.
The Prime Minister can talk all the talk about regulatory or democratic reforms, but his track record is the weakest in the history of Canada for democratic reforms existing in this House the way that democracy exists in Canada. In fact, in this minority government, I do not see any real democracy in existence, as the House leader of the Conservative Party said earlier.
During second reading debate I outlined all of these concerns. I concluded my speech by saying that:
—the registry, if established, must be “within parameters clearly defined by Parliament and with reasonable exemptions provided for charities, political parties and companies that wish to contact their current customers” and that we must craft a more detailed piece of legislation so both consumers and telemarketers are clear as to how the do not call registry will work.
After second reading, at committee, the Conservative Party members worked to amend the bill and to add several new clauses to the Telecommunications Act. The following are among the amendments passed at committee.
Three years after the do not call list comes into force, it will be reviewed by Parliament.
Next, any person making a telecommunications call must, at the beginning of the call, identify the purpose of the call and the person or the organization on whose behalf the call is being made. This was a Conservative amendment.
Exemptions are being granted to the following: charities, political parties, candidates, the riding associations, et cetera, and surveys, or calls made for the sole purpose of collecting information for a survey of members of the public.
As for individual lists, all the parties that have been made exempt must still keep individual no not call lists. If a person is called by a charity and asks to be placed on the do not call list held by that charity, the charity is forced to comply and is not allowed to call that individual for three years, which is the current time limit. Of course, the length of time could be changed by the CRTC through the regulations once the bill is passed.
All of these were Conservative amendments.
As I have only one minute left, I will summarize. Seniors are not protected under the bill. Telemarketing companies scam seniors, selling gambling, lotteries, et cetera to them. The bill also does not address unsolicited ads on the Internet, the pop-ups. As well, young children, when learning on the Internet and doing their homework, are bombarded with vulgar and pornographic ads. Nothing has been done about this.
To conclude, I would like to say that a centrally administered national do not call list provides the means for consumers to avoid unsolicited telemarketing calls. A well-run do not call list will provide consumers with choice and protection.
The Conservative Party supports the establishment of a do not call registry within the parameters I have clearly defined. I personally still have many concerns. I have tried to allude to them, but my time is up, so let me close by saying that I will be watching closely and will protect the best interests of my constituents of Newton—North Delta and all Canadians.
October 24th, 2005 / 1:35 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Madam Speaker, I have found the debate so far to be very constructive. I am pleased that all parties appear to be in support of Bill C-37, the do not call list legislation, for the obvious reasons. Canadians are absolutely fed up with the intrusions on their personal lives.
I will comment briefly about the bill and then address the issue about registries and the relationship some members have drawn between the firearms registry and the do not call registry. As well, I will comment on the point raised by the member in his speech with regard to the impact of Bill C-37 on charities, which is not exactly a fair reflection of what we are talking about. These organizations are not for profit and are not registered charities. They do not issue receipts but fundraise for charitable purposes. That is the difference.
Based on polls cited by Industry Canada, 97% of Canadians have a negative reaction to these kinds of calls. Anyone with a valid telephone number will get a call and it will come at the worst possible time. All hon. members have received those kinds of calls.
Under the existing regulatory framework, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is responsible for this area. The CRTC definition of telemarketing is the use of telecommunication facilities to make unsolicited calls for the purpose of solicitation where solicitation is defined as selling or promoting a product or service or soliciting money or moneys worth whether directly or indirectly and whether on behalf of another party. This includes solicitation for donations by or on behalf of charitable organizations. That is the way the law exists today.
As many members have noted, the industry committee has made a number of changes. These substantial changes have been highlighted on the reprint that came back from committee.
Current CRTC regulations state that telemarketers must remove a customer's name and telephone number from their calling lists upon request. Most members are well aware that it is pretty difficult for someone to get a word in edgewise with a telemarketer. If an individual has not given some indication that there is some interest in listening to the rest of the message, that call is terminated fairly quickly. Clearly something had to be done.
Under the current regulations, telemarketers who fail to comply with that regulation or other regulations can have their service suspended or disconnected by the telecommunications service provider. Penalties range anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000.
Telemarketing is a very lucrative business. About 18% of telemarketing calls result in some business being done. That is the reason why many telemarketing businesses are opposed to the legislation. It will impact their business.
The commission observed specifically that there would be better enforcement if the commission itself imposed appropriate fines on telemarketers that breached the rules. This is included in the bill. There also is the ability for the commission to delegate various administrative duties. It means that another independent organization could be established to administer the operations and administration of the do not call list. This is yet to be determined. I know a number of questions have been raised about the operations, the administration and certainly the cost.
As indicated at committee stage, a number of changes were made. When one thinks about it, the bill would establish a do not call list and would provide the legislative framework for the creation of the list and the administration of a national do not call list. This is important because now we would provide a one-instrument vehicle in which Canadians could say that they wanted to be on the list because they did not want to receive unsolicited calls from people trying to sell them goods or services for profit.
The major changes that have been made to the bill by the committee have to do with exemptions. The member who spoke previously talked about the exemptions, most significantly the exemption for a registered charity within the meaning of section 248 of the Income Tax Act.
We all understand the importance of charitable giving. I also have received a number of interventions from charitable groups and organizations that have registered charities, have a licence number and are able to issue receipts to Canadians who patronize their organizations, whether it be the local hospital, the Red Cross, the Terry Fox campaign or whatever it might be. These kinds of things the committee believe, and I think Canadians would acknowledge, are very significant instruments which have been used by the charitable sector to seek support for their charities.
The member who just spoke stated that there would be some impairment on the charitable sector. That is not exactly the case for a registered charity. We are talking about not for profit organizations that may very well do what would be characterized as charitable work or community service work. He mentioned, for example, the local Lions Club or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, et cetera. These organizations are not registered charities. They would not be exempt and would have to apply.
They are eligible, however, to apply to register as a charity and to have the full exemption that other charities enjoy. To the extent that traditional telemarketing techniques are a principal source of their revenue, it may very well be in their interest to register as a charity pursuant to section 248(1) of the Income Tax Act.
Three other exemptions that have not been talked about very much are also important. Political parties would be exempt. This probably will not excite a lot of the public because that means political parties will be able to continue to utilize their broadcast calling techniques for support purposes. A nomination contestant, a leadership contestant or a candidate of a political party also would be exempt, as well as an association of members of a political party. Therefore, the local riding associations would be exempt.
Under the Canada Elections Act, we have laws which try to enhance and promote our democratic electoral system. It is extremely important. I know members have come across the situation from time to time where they meet resistance. It might be a superintendent of a particular apartment building who says that he does not want anyone disturbing the residents. Under the elections law, candidates have the legal right to access the electors. It is here to complement existing law and it received the support of all parties.
Although it may seem like an exception that maybe Canadians were not thinking about, I very much expect that they would understand that it is important that those who seek to represent them at any political level of government have the ability to communicate with people using the telephone and why it would not be prohibited under this act.
The bill contains substantial definitions consequential to the exemptions that I mentioned. There are some administrative, monetary penalties that I am not going to go through. Members have already handled this very well.
The issue of funding has come up as well. The registry is expected to be funded on a cost recovery basis from the telemarketers themselves. As I have indicated, about 18% of the calls they make do generate revenue for them. It is a very substantial business and obviously there has been a reaction to this, but there appears to be considerable support for the do not call list. In a survey that Environics did on behalf of the Government of Canada, 79% of the respondents queried on telemarketing supported a national do not call list and 66% of the respondents said that they would likely sign up for this service.
There are a number of important priorities to balance. Obviously, it is important for telemarketers to be able to do their business, but there does come a point in time in which there is an intrusion which is beyond reasonable. Anybody who is in political life knows that prime time is during the dinner hour. This is when most people will get their calls. I am not sure what others' experiences are, but I consider phone calls to my home to be important. I ensure that I answer the phone within a reasonable period of time and it is quite a disappointment to be called away from dinner or from my family to answer a call from somebody who cannot pronounce my name.
I would mention that there is a proviso under the bill which says:
Any person making a telecommunication referred to in subsection (1)--
That means people who are entitled to do this.
--must, at the beginning of the telecommunication, identify the purpose of the telecommunication and the person or organization on whose behalf the telecommunication is made.
Therefore, even with regard to those who have an exemption under this, people are going to get, for the first time, information about who they are being called on behalf of and what this is all about. I think that is extremely important because often it starts off with “Hi, how are you” and a few other things to find out whether or not this is possibly a reasonable time to get our attention.
It is part of the marketing technique, but it is very clear that if people know right off the bat who they are being contacted on behalf of and the organization is identified, even from those who are authorized to make these calls, it will give Canadians an opportunity to indicate whether or not they are interested at all and to get off the phone and back to their families or their meal.
I suggested that some telemarketers did not support this legislation. There were some comments made by them. One suggested that the current rules for telemarketing are sufficient to regulate marketers, through voluntary means or company specific do not call lists that had been an industry standard for years among legitimate firms. That is an interesting statement for someone to have made, but the fact remains that 97% of Canadians have said they are annoyed by receiving these calls, so the current regulations are not working. This is not a valid position to be taken by the telemarketing industry.
It was further argued that being on a do not call list removes a customer's chance to learn about new products and services that could improve their lives in some way. It removes a business opportunity to reach a consumer direction.
I am sure that it does remove an opportunity, but all of a sudden now there is this balance between a consumer's right not to be effectively harassed. It seems that most people who have a need for a product or a service have ample opportunity, through the flyers in the various newspapers or that are deposited in their mailboxes or through the yellow pages or through the advertising that happens on television or radio or whatever, to apprise themselves of who is in the business and where they can get it. I really do not believe that is a compelling reason for this do not call list to proceed.
Some of the commentators have pointed out that there is an alternative to adding more regulation or more bureaucracy. When called by a telemarketer, an individual may request to be put on the company's do not call list and then hang up. In fact, that is the current regulation. Someone can make a specific request and under the current CRTC regulations telemarketers must do that, so I am a little concerned that even the telemarketing industry for some odd reason does not understand that these arrangements are already in place.
There are a number of organizations, particularly the Canadian Marketing Association, which support this legislation. It also represents the telemarketing group as well. Looking at what is necessary here, there is probably ample evidence that even the industry itself realizes that there is a balance to be maintained and that it should be self-funded by the telemarketing industry, and that there should be penalties for those who do not follow the legislation.
Let me conclude with regard to the costs. A number of members have suggested that while we know how bad registries can be, look at this terrible national gun registry and how much it costs. It was only supposed to cost $2 million and it actually cost $2 billion. However, when someone hears that, it seems to be incredible. How could that possibly happen? What they do not say, and watch the temperature of the water go up in here, is that there was a very significant backlash to establishing a national firearms registry. Handguns had been registered since 1966, I believe.
The additional registry was to register long arms. Let me suggest that long arms were in fact the addition to it. I was here at the time when Alan Rock was the justice minister. It really surprised me that criminal activity using long arms was actually greater than for handguns. I know that today criminal activity due to the use of long arms actually is half of what it was prior to the gun registry coming into effect.
I know that over 90% of the applications to register firearms under the new registry were deliberately submitted with errors on them to the extent that we could not have them processed electronically. This meant that human resources had to be hired in extensive numbers to process them manually and to contact all of the registrants.
I would suggest that when the lobby against having a national gun registry counsels gun owners to falsify information or to make mistakes on their registry applications so that it messes up the system, it is going to cost more money. It is like the demonstrators in the Los Angeles riots. The local people were trashing their own neighbourhood and said, “there, take that”. Well, yes, it did take more money to do it.
What are the consequences? We do know that long arm crime has gone down. We do know that front line policing officers consult and go to the national firearms registry on an average of 5,000 times each and every day. That is over 1.8 million consultations with the national gun registry. Furthermore, one would ask, why is it that front line police officers would want to go and look at the national firearms register?
I can think of some examples. For instance, if I am a police officer and I am called to a particular address for an incident of some sort, I want to consult the registry to find out whether or not there is a firearm in that home and whether or not I should take specific precautions. I also want to know that if I find guns, whether or not I can find out whether a firearm has been properly registered and, if not, whether additional charges are to be laid.
When we objectively look at this, we can say that Canadians support it. I know that in my riding, when we did a survey, we had over 75% of the constituents, and in fact in Ontario, supporting a national firearms registry for safe communities, for safe streets and to protect Canadians.
The national firearms registry has nothing to do with some grandiose plans to somehow run away with everyone's guns. All I know is that we have a national firearms registry that is consulted at least 5,000 times each and every day by front line policing officers.
I know that gun owners can continue to collect firearms today. I know that target shooters and sports shooters can continue their hobby. I also know that collectors can continue to collect and to hunt. Nothing has changed. The cost of registration for individuals was not an enormous amount of mone; it was a reasonable amount.
Probably the most important feature of this national registry is in terms of its operating costs. Costs are now being limited to a maximum of $20 million a year. It has been demonstrated to Canadians that there are rules to the game and responsibilities of owning a firearm. People have now properly registered their guns and been properly trained. Gun owners properly store their guns and their ammunition, and use it appropriately in terms of transportation and use.
Having said that, it is very clear that Canadians now are familiar that gun owners who are registered owners are really the responsible ones and Canadians as a whole feel more comfortable knowing that firearms are being used more responsibly. That is the benefit of the national firearms registry system. That is why this government supported it back then and that is why we support it still today.
October 24th, 2005 / 1:05 p.m.
Brian Masse Windsor West, ON
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on Bill C-37, an act to amend the Telecommunications Act, now at third reading stage in Parliament. It has had several amendments made to it, including one today that provides an exemption for the newspaper industry, which I am glad to support.
As well, the bill has been part of a committee process that I think has been quite fruitful in making sure that this bill was changed significantly from its original form to its current form, and I believe that it will be passed by a unanimous vote in the House of Commons. All major political parties are supporting the bill. I think there is also support for this bill from the industry itself. I hope that it will get the support of Canadians.
It is the first time that this country will be creating a do not call registry with specific elements which will add penalties and an administration system that is accountable to and also will also report back to Parliament on a regular basis. Not only will the CRTC, once it has this system up and operating, have the responsibility of reporting back to Parliament, but the legislation itself will be reviewed entirely in three years, thanks to an amendment that the NDP proposed and which was supported by everyone else.
This is important because the bill proposes a significant change for not only the rights of individuals in their homes but also potentially for two other sectors, the first one being the call centres that employ Canadians across this country. The second would be the charitable organizations and businesses that rely upon this type of venue in terms of telephone solicitation, as an opportunity to either support their causes and/or secure and procure business or expand upon it for their companies, resulting in profits and jobs for the communities.
These are important discussions that have to take place on a regular basis, because significant shifts could take place in the Canadian economy and alter Canadian lives and objectives. Individuals may have rights in their homes protected further, but charitable organizations could have repercussions to services, and lastly, businesses could too.
With that, I do want to highlight the general public support out there for a do not call registry. In many respects, Canadians have been bombarded by the growth of this industry and the intrusions that it can create in their lives. I think we have all experienced sitting down for dinner to spend some quality time with our families, only to be interrupted by telephone solicitation. Sometimes we are okay with that and other times we are not.
That is why I think the introduction of this legislation as a solid first step is important. At home, in our basic place of residence, which we work every single day to provide for ourselves and our families, we should have the right of protection. That is going to be the first step. We as individuals pay for our homes and for the services of the telephone company operation we subscribe to. We pay for the hardware in our homes, but it is then used as a vehicle to tap into our personal and private lives. That is an issue of civil liberties. There is an element of intrusion into our most important place, our personal residence, and that needs to be looked at.
Also, in our committee we have heard testimony over the duration of the months during which we have dealt with this. Some businesses are predicating upon other businesses and the fact is that it creates problems in the workforce, not only in terms of time management, with time taken up by unsolicited phone calls that are trying to procure additional business, but also in terms of the relationships and the dynamics at a company. In that case, individuals who are in different positions in the company are making decisions about who should or should not contact them about different types of businesses. As well, we have heard indirectly through testimony about faxing, email and spam also contributing to frustration, not only in homes but also in businesses.
A 2003 Environics study showed that 81% of respondents reported receiving unsolicited calls, on average receiving 3.43 calls per week. That was in 2003 before there was an explosion of the industry in terms of more companies using access to telephone numbers to move their products and services. As well, charitable organizations did it too, as they were finding it more difficult to raise funds like they had done traditionally through other venues. In my constituency in Windsor, Ontario, the bingo industry suffered significant losses and challenges due to public policy. As well, there were tourism and border issues that affected not only the tourism industry itself but also the charitable organizations that depend upon it to provide services in the community.
It is important to note what services these charitable organizations are actually providing. Their lost revenue is a loss to the community in terms of what individuals have decided to do in joining together to raise funds to attack a social problem or an issue that is localized or very specific in terms of the remediation that they want to perform in their communities. The loss of these revenue streams has caused significant changes. In the bingo industry it has presented significant challenges in Windsor, Ontario, as well as lost revenues for charitable organizations.
We do know that there has been an increase in calls, with the largest segment of calls from charitable organizations, at 44%. We know that they are particularly vulnerable under the bill. I would take the opportunity at this point to note that charitable organizations contribute significantly to the Canadian economy. It is important to note not just the fact that they do affect individual lives through the programs and services they provide, but also the fact that the entire Canadian economy is significantly impacted.
For example, I will quote Imagine Canada's submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology on May 4, 2005. It said:
Cumulatively, nonprofit and voluntary sector groups contribute $75.9 billion annually to the national economy--$34.7 billion if such institutional charities as hospitals, universities and colleges are excluded. This constitutes 8.5% of GDP; 4.0% excluding institutional charities.
This is not an issue just for softball teams or community organizations and groups. Let us say, for example, that it is the Lions Clubs or the different types of Rotary Clubs or groups and organizations that might use some type of system employing telephone solicitation. But hospitals and universities and other types of institutions also require the additional funds derived through either a campaign of giving or of contacting alumni and making cold calls to people outside of their universe to expand their internal revenue sources in order to meet the demands and public policy applied to them, as well as the general goals of society. For example, the colleges and universities training our young people for the future, to meet the demands of a changing economy, have to reduce themselves to being active in these types of venues at times to make sure they can provide those services.
I would also note a specific example of a vulnerable charity, that of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, with over 90% of its funds raised through personal donations. That was the testimony of Dawn Regan, director of finance and fundraising for MADD Canada. She said:
Last year we made 775,000 cold calls in our outreach program and MADD Canada received complaints by less than one-half of one per cent of those we called.
That is a massive campaign, very much related to the type of work MADD does, and if it is in jeopardy because of this bill we will see MADD going to the CRTC with an application to make sure that they are going to be exempted so they will not be frozen out. It will have to make major adjustments to its actual operations.
It is important to note that when we looked at the first changes to the bill back at first reading, it was the intent at the time for the government to create two types of lists that would be on the do not call registry, one with a complete element that would have all of the different charities pooled into one and separated. There was criticism of that. I give the government credit for listening to the opposition parties, as well as those individuals who provided testimony at the committee, and making the change to Bill C-37 so that this would not happen. Hence, we have an improved bill.
The CRTC will be responsible for creating the independent body. I am somewhat concerned about that. The really important measure is that it will be able to impose fines on individuals and companies. There will be automatic mandatory penalties. This will put some focus on those that are doing the abusive telephone solicitation, which is what has created some of the ill will regarding telephone solicitation.
A committee member noted previously that regarding these intrusions that usually the person on the other end of the line is someone who is often trying to provide for his or her family. It is someone who wants to be productive and is involved in a very successful and growing industry. However, at times we find the calls frustrating.
What is important about this change is that it imposes administrative monetary penalties, AMPs. This is different from the situation right now with the Canadian Marketing Association which has only a voluntary list and does not have those penalties.
It is important because those people, companies or charities who are abusive will have to deal with the complaints and the penalties within a short period of time. There is a two year timeframe for resolution to make some type of decision on a claim.
I know it takes a long time to get through the system and it probably seems very long for the individual who has made the complaint. Multiple complaints about a person or a company can stack up. Hopefully, with the original complaint process and the fact that the investigation will take place we would see the behaviour adapt. Otherwise it will take a maximum of two years to get from the complaint to the final adjudication of whether or not it has happened and whether it is valid. That could be frustrating. It will cause the industry to be more accountable and many Canadians are talking about accountability these days.
One of the Environics polls indicated that 38% of people said they tolerated telemarketers, 35% of people were annoyed by telemarketers and 24% of people said they hated telemarketers. We know we have a significant issue here from Canadians who are expressing some dissatisfaction. This is another reason that all parties support this bill. It is one that I would like to reflect upon in terms of what has happened in the United States.
I think the U.S. has had a successful introduction. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission allowed for a national do not call registry in late 2002 and it began in October 2003. Over 62 million Americans registered their phone numbers in the first year. A survey reported that 92% reported fewer telemarketing calls. U.S. telemarketers are required to scrub telephone numbers from their calling lists every three months and are charged fees for access to the do not call registry.
It is also important to note that the registry itself will be paid for by the users of the registry. We have had discussions about the costs of other registries and their implications to Canadian taxpayers. This registry will be paid for by the industry.
We have to make sure that when the CRTC is setting up the registry that it is efficient. The problems that will be associated with the charities and the business organizations will be compounded if the registry is not efficient. They will potentially be going through a transition, depending upon their industry, related to this legislation. At the same time they will also have to pay which could lead to a compounding system.
The United States has a registry. In Canada I believe the CRTC is to have the registry up and running within 19 months. Nineteen months was the target date expressed at committee to have it set up so that Canadians could start to register and have that screening process evolve. Following that there will be the three year review which will take place in the House of Commons. A report must also be tabled in the House of Commons within six months after the end of each fiscal year.
There will be some ongoing information once we pass the bill that will keep it very much primed. It will not move away from this House for five years or more with very little to do in terms of parliamentary business.
That has been one thing I have expressed some difficulty with on the issue of regulations. When we pass regulations in different bills, often parliamentarians do not get to see the effects of whether the regulations are having the influence or are following the right process in the legislation that we passed. That is currently being done atrociously in our drug industry. One of the issues at the industry committee was the continued evergreening and the draconian laws that affect our generic drug industry versus the pharmaceutical companies. This bill makes sure that we would review the legislation on a regular basis.
I do want to point out that call centres created 40,000 new jobs between 2002 and 2003 and forecasts are for a 7.9% growth in the industry over the next three years. The Canadian customer contact centre study noted that 90% of the call centres have an inbound focus, being hotel reservations, help desks, et cetera, and that only 10% deal with making outbound calls. Of that 10% of the centres that make outbound calls, 50% of those are to the U.S. We have an industry that is very important to the Canadian economy and it has been growing. Once again, I think it is important to be taking a first step in this bill that is a little more timid in the sense that there will be some exemptions. Some changes to the bill might happen later on.
I will conclude my speech by noting a couple of different points related to the industry. There were changes noted to the business relationships and I congratulate the government and all committee members for doing so. There were reservations expressed by the Canadian Association of Direct Response Insurers, H&R Block Canada and a series of other small businesses which have different types of relationships with customers that were not necessarily what we would normally think them to be. Some of them have contact with their clients in a matter of months, and for others it is years. It differs depending on the industry.
There were some amendments made that really improve this bill. This is something that we can point toward. On many days it is like a soap opera in the House of Commons and there is a lot of discussion about high profile things. At the same time when parliamentarians work together, we can accomplish things that are often in the best interests of all parties. The Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology did a good job on this bill. I thank the chair of the committee for making sure that we completed this legislation.
This is something that was in the New Democratic Party's election platform. We are certainly happy that we have been able to be part of this for Canadians. We look forward to making sure that the bill really works for us. We will be calling for supports if there are harmful effects from this intervention on the industry, charitable organizations and businesses. We believe that our role has not finished in this regard. Our role has just begun. We are happy that this is something that can be rolled out to Canadians very soon.
October 24th, 2005 / 12:50 p.m.
Marc Boulianne Mégantic—L'Érable, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Telecommunications Act , and thus to participate in the debate on third reading.
I will start, if I may, by congratulating all parties for their unanimity on the amendment:
That Bill C-37, in Clause 1, be amended by replacing lines 23 to 26 on page 3 with the following:
“paragraph (c) for an electoral district;
f) made for the sole purpose of collecting information for a survey of members of the public; or
(g) made for the sole purpose of soliciting a subscription for a newspaper of general circulation.”
This amendment has already been referred to by my colleague and vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, Science and Technology, the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup , who was very keen on it. His argument then—and now—is that first of all it is an improvement to the bill and second it reflects the wishes of the public.
There has been much consultation on this subject. Nearly 80% of the Quebec or Canadian population were in favour of this bill. With this amendment, this bill is thus completed. Furthermore, this amendment responds to the desires of the committee. You will recall that there was unanimity on this subject and that the amendment had been abandoned for purely technical reasons. Therefore, once again, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I want to congratulate all of the parties for having agreed to this amendment.
Second, my colleague indicated earlier that the bill would permit the CRTC to administer databases. This is important, particularly with respect to two very specific objectives, namely to prohibit or regulate the use of telecommunications facilities. First, such use must be regulated up to an honest and objective point. Second, any Canadian carrier or any person must be prohibited from engaging in unsolicited telecommunications. That is what we are talking about. This is an extremely important step for the future.
There is a second aspect to this bill: it will provide for penalties. The severity of those penalties should dissuade persons who engage deliberately or fraudulently in unsolicited telecommunications.
My colleague indicated earlier that one of our roles as members of Parliament is to legislate so as to protect the interests of consumers. In that regard, we all know how constantly our fellow citizens are being solicited, mainly by telephone, or by fax. I have received such calls, as I am sure you all have. Families and children under age 18 are also highly solicited—be it for credit cards or pressure buying. The problem exists.
Not only is Parliament responsible for passing legislation in this matter and regulating telecommunications, but it may also prohibit fraudulent telecommunications. This is very difficult. It comes more under the Criminal Code. All the same, we have to send a very clear message that Parliament, Canada, will no longer tolerate these fraudulent telecommunications.
One need only check a few statistics to realize that, at present, Canada is a haven for fraudulent telemarketing. For example, Montreal is the North American hub for unsolicited or fraudulent telemarketing. According to an RCMP investigation, nearly 90% of the premises and facilities for these con artists are to be found in Montreal.
This bill will sound the alarm. After evaluation, however, we will have to be able to take very productive action on this subject. These fraudsters have illicit revenue estimated at $60 million, with individuals easily earning $5,000 a week.
At the moment, the section in the Code allows these criminals to get off with just a very light fine or a short term of imprisonment. So it is difficult in Canada to convict this type of criminal. Furthermore they are very often repeat offenders.
When a bill provides ways of getting around the law, repeat offenders continue to come out on top. They get rich at the expense of those who, unfortunately, are the most vulnerable in our society. Some very honest people are easily fleeced by these professional con artists.
The bill provides for administrative monetary penalties. This is also linked to the authority to investigate, inspect and enforce. We are convinced this will be effective. This is in the bill. Again, this will be instrumental in putting a stop to these crimes.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-37, as is the Canadian Marketing Association. As we have already mentioned, we support this for a number of reasons.
One of our primary concerns is consumer protection, which we feel is essential. There are other reasons. As I was saying earlier, statistics show that the telemarketing industry employed some 270,000 people in Canada in the year 2000, which is quite significant. This industry plays a role in the economy and has done $16 billion worth of business. It therefore has a considerable impact on communities in Canada and Quebec. If a bill is passed that sets out principles of use and possible penalties for such a large industry, then we will have been effective.
The Bloc Québécois and the Canadian Marketing Association are in favour of this bill. We know that the big players are involved in this association, which is currently the largest marketing industry association in Canada. Its member companies contribute to the Canadian economy by essentially providing 480,000 jobs and by making more than $51 billion in annual sales. These companies have also said they are in favour of this bill.
This association is also a powerful lobby for the marketing sector. Like the Bloc Québécois, it has said that it supports Bill C-37, while at the same time having certain concerns regarding the powers given to the CRTC in the area of regulations. This will have to be monitored closely to ensure that the bill remains as realistic in its final form as in its purpose.
As far as committee proceedings are concerned, the Bloc Québécois helped get the bill amended, to include the necessary exemptions for charities and the media for example. For a bill to be significant, it has to cover all that has to be covered, respect freedom of expression and involve everyone concerned.
Like the Canadian Marketing Association, however, the Bloc Québécois also has some reservations. This is fundamental. Obviously, the bill deals with the registration process. The Bloc Québécois would like the mechanism for putting the registry in place and the associated costs to be clearly stated.
When we talk about the registry, of course, this includes the operation, implementation, monitoring and other costs associated with this registry. Hon. members will recall the gun registry. That was not a very pleasant experience. We have seen the money wasted on that. Originally, it was supposed to cost between $2 million and $3 million. Now, estimates are in the billions of dollars.
When administering a registry, one has to beware of costs. Right from the start, the costs have to be planned and established as realistically as possible. The same is true for the registry's operation. It is imperative that the registry be under the responsibility of an independent organization. We are wary in this regard.
Administration of the registry and everything related to the do not call list must be free of any electoral or partisan intent. This is what the Bloc Québécois is concerned about. Even though the Canadian Marketing Association wants to be entrusted with managing the system that will be established to administer this list, that is not necessarily our preference. The institution that will be in charge must demonstrate greater independence. We must avoid falling into the same situation we have in the oil industry. In this case, a private organization has provided the information in good faith. Eventually, one always gets back to certain protected interests or interests that are in these institutions. In the view of Canadians, the institution that will supervise the registry must be above all suspicion in order to be credible. We must not commit the same mistake that was made with the gun registry. We must arrange things so that the organization responsible for establishing this registry is seen as having the necessary independence, its mandate its clear, and it is managed according to ethical principles.
The Bloc Québécois also wants the law to cover as many people as possible and to be administered in a very fair way. It is interesting to see that all the political parties supported this bill and the amendment. We recognized, first, that there was a problem, that Canadian and Quebec consumers had a serious problem in this regard or as consumers. While taking freedom of expression into account, I think that it is just as important to combat harassment and fraud.
We were speaking earlier about consent for this national list, which is at the heart of this bill. The Canadian Marketing Association has shown beyond any doubt, once again on the basis of a survey, that this bill is important to Canadians and Quebeckers. In the Industry Canada background documents on this bill, an Environics poll done in 2004 showed that 79% of the respondents said they were in favour of the national do not call list and 66% said they were likely to subscribe to such a service. That is very revealing. Ninety-seven per cent of Canadians said that they were annoyed by unsolicited telemarketing calls.
When there is a bill as important as this, which covers virtually all areas of consumer protection regarding unsolicited telecommunications, it is important to support it. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill. We are very happy that there was unanimous support for the proposed amendment. I would also like to ask our colleagues to vote in favour of this bill, which will benefit all Canadians and all Quebeckers.
October 24th, 2005 / 12:25 p.m.
Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak on a piece of legislation that has been a long time coming. As my colleagues who spoke earlier said, when we sat on committee, we all laboured with best intentions to get a piece of legislation that would be good for the Canadian public.
We know that no piece of legislation is perfect. This is one of those situations where this piece of legislation will be an improvement over the current situation.
This is the first speech in which I have the ability to speak a full 20 minutes in my short time in the House. I will take a few minutes to explain the overall general process that I take to approach all legislation. It is important for citizens to understand the overall philosophy and principle of their legislature and I will use as an example, of what is in many ways viewed as a non-ideological and non-philosophical piece of legislation, Bill C-37.
I will go through not only the technical aspects of the legislation, what specifically are the amendments and the overall intent of the bill, but the principles and thought processes I used to arrive at certain decisions to help me decide how to vote on the amendments to the bill.
I find it important to do this with any piece of legislation, no matter how mundane, for two reasons. I believe the principles of all legislation need to be dealt with.
First, one must deal with the principles in legislation because principles provide the logic of legislation for consistency in all law. If we do not deal from an objective principle basis when dealing with law, we end up with chaos. We end up with a purely utilitarian approach to the law and the law does not become a law of justice but becomes the law of the jungle. I think it is important to understand that if we are to have actual good legislation, we must always do it on a principle basis.
The second reason is accountability. As a voter, even as a committee member or as a member of this House, it is impossible to completely keep up on all pieces of legislation. The government and the bureaucracy is so vast that even committee work can sometimes seem like the details are weighing us down.
If one can reference certain key principles, certain key statements, certain key benchmarks to begin with, it helps to be accountable to the electorate because ultimately democracy is the voice of the people. Therefore, if the people can understand the principles, they can understand the fruits of those principles which is the applicable legislation.
I want to explain my thought process. Sometimes principles can come into collision with each other. There can be a little bit of weighing of principles and values and so forth. It is important to understand the thought process and the application because it enhances the accountability of the situation. I believe that accountability is what all members of this House stand for.
It also helps to understand the weighing of the options. That is how I approach the overall body of the bill when dealing with each of these specific amendments. There is an intermixing of the practical in this in order to understand the logic as people in the future read this speech in Hansard or watch it on TV.
I endorse the underlying basic principle of this bill because ultimately, it is a protection of individual personal rights as to the rights of property. I come from the school of thought which has a belief in inalienable rights, balanced, as I have said before in this House, with inalienable responsibilities. One of the inalienable rights that are granted to all citizens is the right of personal property, protection, preservation and promotion of that personal property. This to some degree involves privacy.
Under the British common law concept, in this modern world, our home is our castle. This can sometimes be violated by our technology. We have derived and created various technologies, the Internet, the computer and the telephone for the specific purpose of enhancing our communications. However, there are times when they can all be intrusive and violate our home, our defence, our property, and the key right of an individual.
That is one reason why I specifically support the underlying general principle of this legislation. With the do not call legislation, we are allowing people to say, “My home is my castle. Thank you very kindly, but I do not wish to be bothered. This is my privacy. You are decreasing the enjoyment of my property”.
There are other principles involved here: the principle of personal property, the free exchange of goods, and the property of other people. We have to have some interaction and some balance on that level.
The other thing is that it is not really about commercial transactions. There is the freedom of speech element, and this balances with what I would call the unalienable right of the citizen to liberty and the unalienable responsibility to liberty. This political discourse will come in as I talk about some of the exceptions because all these communication tools enhance liberty by letting us receive and transmit ideas for a free exchange of thought. The telephone has become one of those methods, with of course the Internet, the post office system, door-knocking, face to face communications and other elements. That is another principle that we deal with here, particularly when it comes to political thought.
When we get into the charitable exemptions element of this bill, I will deal with why I think responsibility to community gets involved in that, but there is a principle I believe involved on that level.
That is the overall basis and approach that I take to this. Every element must have some basis in principle. There must be some logic. There must be some application to this. What is my thought process and how did I apply it to each and every one of the specific exemptions put into the legislation: the who, the what, the why, et cetera?
One of the first amendments we made when we got to committee was to put in a three year review, not for some delegated powers to the CRTC or the bureaucracy but to bring the three year review under the authority of Parliament. I supported that. We could argue about the timelines but that was more of a practical application of what would be the best purpose for it. I supported the underlying concept because it does provide for accountability right here in this House. The buck stops here, not just proverbially but in reality.
We are the elected representatives of the people of Canada. We cannot be delegating any more powers than we have to to the bureaucracy, to people who are not directly in that line. For practical purposes, yes, we can. We cannot have 308 persons running the entirety of the government, but we are the people who are responsible. We are the voice. We are one of the defenders, along with the law, the legal system, et cetera, of the basic unalienable rights and responsibilities of the people of Canada.
That is why I supported the concept of a review that comes to the House of Commons, delegated of course to the committee. It is very important for accountability because this piece of legislation, along with all legislation, is fallible. We are not all-knowing; we are not all-wise. We are very fallible as in previous legislation, so it is very important that the element of accountability be put in.
A second amendment that was put forward at committee was to exempt political parties, candidates, ridings, et cetera, from the do not call registry. Again there are exceptions. If people say “Please do not call me”, that will be honoured. I will admit that part of my first thought was that this helps the challengers more than it helps the incumbents because we have better name recognition. So from a purely selfish perspective, the incumbents of this House should in many ways have a self-interest to oppose putting this in, but there is the balance of the unalienable political right of liberty and the unalienable responsibility of liberty that is applied here.
I will admit that for some people political calls can be some of the most annoying calls but the freedom of speech element must be protected everywhere, not just on the liberty side but on the responsibility side. It is the responsibility and duty of every citizen, if they want to have inalienable rights, to follow through on inalienable responsibilities, and that includes being fully aware and fully informed of the debate that is going on in the political process, the guarantor of the rights that underline and protect the property rights that underline the legislation. The candidates, the ridings and so forth all tend to blend in on that one level.
Again, there are good arguments as to why this should be a little more restricted but the underlying principles hold and the safeguard of allowing people to personally state that they do not wish to be called should be helpful on everything.
I will note the other exemption built in here, which is the one for polling and surveying. I would hope that when this comes up for a three year review that it will be looked at in a more detailed and thoughtful fashion. The reasoning I have on this is the following. Yes, it is important to have particular information to help in the processing of the dialogue and to help in the dialogue of what people are thinking so that everyone may know back and forth, and polling and surveying does, to a certain degree, help that.
However a fairly interesting thing to note, on a very practical level, is the last two British elections where polling was done both by telephone and survey methods that we are accustomed to in Canada and by an Internet based pollster, YouGuv in particular. It was interesting to note that in the last couple of elections the Internet based pollster was the most accurate.
What I am saying is that perhaps in the future there could be less intrusive ways of still preserving the responsibility of liberty, the responsibility to gather information that there be a free and open dialogue of principle, and perhaps the Internet might be one of the ways because, spam mail notwithstanding, it is a somewhat less intrusive method than a phone call in the middle of suppertime and intruding on one's life at that point.
Another exemption in the act is for charities. This is, again, a question. One of the things that was noted by a witnesses at committee was that when we actually ask people specifically what calls bother them, it tends to be much more the commercial transaction ones than the particular charities.
We all saw the generosity of Canadians when it came to some of the disasters overseas, such as the horrible and horrific tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia. One of the methods the charities use to gather funds is through the phones, which makes up a significant portion of their revenues. In fact, some of the charities were particularly concerned because this could have the devastating effect of wiping them out. I believe the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, if memory serves me correct, was one of the most articulate, but Mothers Against Drunk Driving, et cetera, were also put there.
What principle did I use when I was weighing my vote back and forth? I believe the inalienable right of property also has an inalienable responsibility of property, which is the responsibility to use it for the good, not just of oneself but for the whole community. Taxation does it by force but it is a more compassionate society when people do it willingly and based on an argument not of force but of grace. One of the reasons I supported it is that it does imply a responsibility of the electorate of the populace. Merely to put up a sign saying, “Please don't bother me”, lowers the threshold of our level of responsibility, which is why I supported the underlying concept of exempting charities on that.
I will note again that when it comes to the charity exemption, individual call lists are kept by the charities, et cetera. Undoubtedly they will share these because there is no point calling persons who are considerably hostile and not particularly generous toward certain callers. Very practically, charities call those who have been the most generous.
The next exemption in the bill concerns the identification and purpose of organizations at the beginning of the call. I support this because of an honesty and integrity factor. Unfortunately, Canada has a reputation of being one of the major centres for call scams around the world. I believe this would increase the level of trust and the level of efficiency. It respects people's privacy and their right to utilize their property in a free and non-harassed way.
The final practical amendment to the legislation is the existing business relationship. We heard considerable concern in the committee that even mom and pop operations would not be allowed to call their 50 or 60 customers or their close friends and so on. I do not think that was the intention of the bill. A mechanic would not be able to call up a neighbour to tell him that it has been so many years since he had his car fixed and that it should be taken care of, and so on.
There were also some very practical applications that people might not understand or completely remember. We can think of car dealerships when they have to call a customer because of a defect in an automobile that needs to be recalled. We would not want anything that might in the least way impinge on those business relationships.
Once someone has made a commercial transaction they have indicated a certain willingness already to deal with it. Again, the exceptions and so on can be dealt with on this.
I would note that all these amendments were made at committee, which disturbs me considerably. We often seem to get incomplete legislation being rushed through to committee. There does not seem to be a lot of thought. The government sees a headline, gets itself into an emergency and then tries to put something together without any thought.
We will see this later this week with Bill C-66, the home rebate bill where, after years of not thinking anything about energy policy or the cost to the population for home heating, et cetera, the government quickly pulled something out when it saw gasoline prices spiking.
Perhaps the government should take more time to think things out, to actually have a vision and not just react to every headline. A vision actually gets good legislation done years in advance.
Another comment I wish to make is about the administration of the system. We have seen the government's most famous long gun firearms registry balloon to I believe a cost of $2 billion. I hope this registry is much better handled than that one.
The government has a reputation, which it has earned, of incompetence when it comes to administration, be it in its delegation to the crown corporations by choosing inadequate appointees or just the particular administration of contracts, be it advertising in Quebec or the firearms registry. I would caution the government to actually use some oversight and principles of administration that it has neglected in its previous endeavours.
Those are the principal and practical reasons that I support the legislation and will be voting for it.
However I would caution all members of the House to be careful how we proceed with this one. On a personal note, one summer when I was in university I had finished my tree planting and was waiting for my cheque and I needed to turn a little extra cash. I worked in a call centre for about six weeks while taking an intercession class at the University of Saskatchewan. The one thing we should remember is that many people earn their living from these places. We should be very sensitive to anyone who may be unemployed due general overall economic conditions. Many of these people who receive a minimum wage or slightly more are not well represented in the House of Commons.
I do not think many members in the House came from minimum wage backgrounds and perhaps we should remember the economic effects as we pass legislation and be somewhat cognizant about the people this may affect in the long term. I think with the exemptions and the way it is handled it will provide a reasonable way to handle it.
October 24th, 2005 / 12:05 p.m.
Jerry Pickard Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to begin the third reading debate of Bill C-37, an act to amend the Telecommunications Act.
This bill would augment the powers of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, to establish a more effective regime and protect consumers against unsolicited telemarketing in Canada.
The bill provides the legislative framework for the creation of a national do not call list. I am sure that every member of the House and probably everyone watching the proceedings today can recall being interrupted by telemarketers during dinner or when spending some quality time with their family and friends. There are times when we are willing to listen to people who want to sell us something. There are also times when we do not want to listen. There are times when pitches made in our homes by certain corporations are just not acceptable. This bill responds to those concerns that Canadians have strongly voiced. They are fed up with unwanted unsolicited telemarketing calls and want an effective solution.
In 2003 Environics conducted a survey of consumers' attitudes toward telemarketing. Eighty-one per cent of the respondents reported receiving unsolicited calls. On average, respondents received over three unsolicited calls each week.
Public opinion polls tell us that unsolicited telecommunications have indeed become an inconvenience and a nuisance to many Canadians. In fact, during the survey conducted in 2003, 97% of the respondents reported a negative reaction to unsolicited calls. Of those, 38% said they would tolerate the calls, 35% said they were highly annoyed and 24% hated receiving those telephone calls. It is clear that Canadians think that unsolicited calls are a problem.
Unsolicited telemarketing has become a serious irritant for many Canadians as existing rules provide little protection for consumers against intrusive unwanted calls. Under the 1994 rules, telemarketers are required to maintain individual do not call lists. These rules have been in place for the past 10 years. Since they were implemented by the CRTC they have been found to be ineffective for the following reasons.
First, the rules have resulted in some confusion among consumers. For one thing, few consumers know that they have the right to register a specific company on a do not call list, but even for those consumers who wish to take advantage of these lists, the task is daunting. Consumers who do not want to receive calls need to put their registration in place on the do not call list of hundreds of different companies. These registrations are placed for three years, after which the consumer must register again.
The current regime is ineffective because it is difficult to enforce. When consumers receive further calls from firms for which they registered on the individual do not call list, it is hard for them to prove that they were registered with that specific company.
Some 14% of the people Environics polled reported that they had tried to make a complaint regarding an unsolicited call. Among this subgroup, a majority of 59% said their complaint was never resolved.
We have heard from Canadians. The reality is that the inability to control telemarketing continues to be a pervasive source of frustration. The time has come for a more effective approach to regulating unsolicited telemarketing, an approach that will benefit both consumers and the telemarketing industry and one that will be easier to enforce.
At the heart of the issue is the need to have an effective tool for enforcement and compliance, and that is the focus of the bill before us. If we create an effective enforcement and compliance regime through rules that are fair and transparent, we have the foundation for smart regulation of telemarketing. For that reason the CRTC requires legislated authority to impose administrative monetary penalties, that is to fine businesses that continue to make unsolicited calls to persons who have registered on a do not call list.
With the ability to fine a marketing company, CRTC will be able to apply penalties that will provide a deterrent and stop companies from making many of those unwanted calls. The use of a national do not call list will improve the effectiveness of the system. For these reasons, we are seeking through the bill to amend the Telecommunications Act to provide administrative monetary penalties for violations of the national do not call list.
The costs of maintaining such a list would include database maintenance, complaint processing and the investigative and enforcement costs. The CRTC has recommended that a third party administrator who specializes in databases should be selected to maintain the national do not call list. With this bill we amend the Telecommunications Act to allow for a third party administrator and cost recovery.
Legislative amendments have been recommended and would exempt calls from the national do not call list for registered charities as defined under section 248 of the Income Tax Act, for companies with existing business relationships, and for calls from political parties. Exempt organizations would be required to maintain individual do not call lists. In addition, survey and polling firms would also be exempt from the do not call list and would continue to be exempt to collect the views of Canadians.
There are certain implementation details that arise from the establishment of a do not call list. For example, how would telemarketers access the do not call data and how often? It is not our intention to delve into these details, but rather to ask the CRTC to undertake consultations with concerned Canadians to determine the do not call system that best suits the needs of all Canadians.
We want to ensure that Canadian consumers have their privacy needs met and give them the ability to choose to be protected from inconvenience and nuisance. The current rules have been ineffective in giving consumers this choice. With this bill we create a system where consumers can take effective steps to stop unwanted telemarketing calls. In this way we will address an issue that Canadians consider to be a major irritant in their daily lives.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Ms. Jennifer Stoddart, congratulated the industry minister on proposed legislation to create a national do not call list for telemarketers. She said:
I think this is a great step forward for privacy. Our Office has been concerned about this issue for some time and we have certainly heard from many members of the public who are frustrated by intrusive phone calls. We welcome this initiative.
Recently, in front of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology the federal Privacy Commissioner delivered a statement backed by nine of the provincial and territorial information and privacy commissioners that once again supported the creation of a national do not call list that would enhance privacy by making it easier for individual Canadians to control intrusive telephone calls.
Consumer groups, including the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, are in favour of the creation of a national do not call list. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has indicated that the creation of a do not call registry would be the most effective, elegant and enforceable solution to the present telemarketing situation. It also indicated that a single list is simple to administer and it is easy to determine when a telemarketer is in non-compliance.
The Canadian Marketing Association, the largest marketing association in the country that represents hundreds of telemarketing companies, supports the bill. Since 2001 the Canadian Marketing Association has recommended that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, CRTC, establish a national do not call list to cover all telemarketers in Canada.
Mr. John Gustavson, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Marketing Association, stated:
We are pleased to see the federal government has responded to our request to establish a national do-not-call service to address the increasing number of consumer complaints regarding some telemarketing practices in Canada... We believe a compulsory do-not-call service for all companies that use the telephone to market their goods and services to potential customers is the most effective means to curtail consumer annoyance with telemarketers.
Telemarketing has become more and more pervasive. There is no sign that it is going away. The inability to control telemarketers' access to telephones in our homes and businesses has become a source of frustration for a large percentage of Canadians.
The bill creates the right regulatory environment for sensible, smart telecommunicating. It will safeguard the privacy of Canadians and their right to choose with whom they wish to communicate. For thousands of Canadians who may opt to register on the national do not call list, it will mean quiet evenings with their families free of commercial interruption.
Canadian consumers are overwhelmingly in favour of this method of controlling unwanted telephone solicitation. The majority of respondents, nearly four out of five, supported the creation of a national do not call list. Some two-thirds indicated they would likely sign up for a do not call service.
The government is taking steps to give individual Canadians an effective, easy way to curtail intrusive telemarketing and to protect their privacy. I urge hon. members to support the bill.
I also feel it is my responsibility to comment on the work the committee did in making sure that all of the concerns of Canadians across the country were brought to committee. They were raised and dealt with in a very reasonable way. I am very pleased that all parties seem to be very much on side with this bill. I hope for its speedy passage in the House.