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.
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.