Bill C-1 (Historical)
An Act respecting the Administration of Oaths of Office
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
This bill, the first introduced in any session, is a formal tradition rather than proposed legislation. (It has nothing to do with oaths of office. The Senate equivalent is called An Act relating to Railways and—you guessed it!—in no way relates to railways.)
Stephen Harper Conservative
Not active, as of April 4, 2006
(This bill did not become law.)
All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament.
Canada Elections Act
June 18th, 2007 / 12:55 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that protecting the public interest means making sure that people who show up to vote are who they say they are.
Making just the year of birth available on the voters list—not the complete date of birth—gives political parties an additional tool to ensure that the people voting are the right ones and to minimize electoral fraud. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.
If this measure were to increase voter turnout as well, I would have no problem with that. We cannot hide out and be hypocritical, thinking that we are here by the grace of the Holy Spirit and thanks to a few prayers. Our political parties worked hard to convince people in our ridings that we were the best candidates to represent them. However, we also need tools to ensure that the people voting are the right people. I see no contradiction in what the member said.
I would like to introduce another element. The system that enables candidates to keep track of who has voted on election day, known as “bingo cards”, is not necessarily linked to the personal identifier number. The Chief Electoral Officer himself has said that it would take at least 10 months, or maybe eight, I do not remember exactly. That is why the Senate replaced the words “two months” in the original version of Bill C-31 with “10 months”. I am told that it is indeed 10 months.
We think that this is about two different things. Clearly, once we have personal identifier numbers, it will probably be easier to implement this system to provide current information on who has voted. However, it would be easy to use current voters lists to implement this system, which has already been used in Quebec for several elections, and which increases voter turnout, which is much higher in Quebec provincial elections than it is in federal elections.
Having the highest possible voter turnout is also in Canadians' best interest. Political parties have a responsibility in this respect, so they must be given the necessary tools. I see no conflict between this measure and the interest of the people—quite the contrary.
June 14th, 2007 / 5 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act. This is an opportunity for us to look at a bit of history at the same time, since the Quarantine Act is probably one of the oldest pieces of public health legislation in North America. We are very aware of this in Quebec. In 2008, we will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. Today, we have a sign: our health critic is in fact the member for Quebec City, and I want to recognize her. Her work on the Standing Committee on Health is outstanding.
This is an opportunity to see the work that we can do in this House: today we are dealing with the text of a law that was first enacted in 1872—and it is important that we remember this.
Public health, like health, has changed considerably over the years. I will offer a little history here. You know that health is a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. Over the decades, the federal government has encroached on this jurisdiction, as a matter of political choice. Remember that the universal health care system we have today was set up during the 1960s, at the initiative of a premier of Saskatchewan. This produced the health care system we have today, with all its ups and downs. In the 1960s, even though health was still within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, the costs were split. So when the universal health care system we have today was created, the federal government was supposed to foot 50% of the bill. That was the agreement in the beginning.
You understand that because this is a privilege of the provinces, or a matter under their exclusive jurisdiction, the federal government made its contribution by way of transfer payments. That has indeed changed over the years, as successive federal governments, particularly Conservative governments during the 1990s, built up deficits. The Liberals in Pierre Elliott Trudeau's time, however, had also done their bit to increase the deficit.
Consequently, in the beginning, the federal government paid 50% of the bill for our universal health care system, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. This federal-provincial agreement, with the transfer payments, had been properly negotiated. In 1993, in the middle of the big Liberal budget cuts, the federal government's share of health care, through transfer payments, was 13%.
So we have a system, one that was created during the 1960s. In Quebec, it was the time of the Quiet Revolution. It was when the Quebec that we know today emerged. We got on board with the universal health care system, based on one premise: that the federal government, under the agreements signed, would pay for 50% of it. We thought that it was always going to pay 50% of the bill, but as I explained, since this was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, the federal government used that to withdraw gradually from paying the bill, as its deficits rose. Little by little, we arrived at an agreement whereby in 2010 the federal government should be paying the percentage it was paying in the 1990s. That is the hard reality.
The latest agreement negotiated between the provinces and the federal government aims to re-establish or rebalance its percentage of the bill to what it was paying in 1990. This is one reason why Canadian federalism does not always work—at least in Quebec. Quebeckers learned very quickly that, any time we are dealing with Ottawa, Quebeckers are always the big losers. That is what happened with our health care.
Today we are debating Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act. From a health perspective, it is probably the only file that is truly a federal jurisdiction. A few years ago, we suffered a SARS outbreak, that is, severe acute respiratory syndrome. This disease from outside the country made the entire community, both the provincial and federal health networks, aware of the need to intervene.
In 2005, we therefore decided to make an important amendment to the Quarantine Act, in order to adapt it to the risk of epidemics from outside our borders or epidemics that we might export.
This still surprises me. Many decisions are made in this House and many discussions take place, but all the while, certain realities elude us and manage to slip through all the policies adopted here in Parliament or elsewhere.
At the WTO, discussions are currently underway concerning the agriculture file, which is not yet resolved. In this vast, global free trade system, the agriculture file is one of the most recent issues that the WTO is resolving.
The longer we wait, the more we will see that, theoretically, the only way a person can protect their health is by producing themselves what they eat.
I listened to my colleagues talk earlier about chemicals. The best way a person can protect their health is by one day successfully producing at home everything they put on their table. That is how it will be.
I am always shocked when I see the Liberals and the Conservatives trying to set aside the supply management system put in place by farmers in Quebec and the rest of Canada for dairy products, poultry and eggs. This system balances supply and demand within the provinces and Canada. Yet the Liberals and the Conservatives are tempted to set aside this system, which allows us to meet our own needs for products as important as milk, eggs and butter. These are things we eat every day. They are tempted to set aside this system, because some countries would like to sell us their milk and other products over which we have no control. We have no control over what other countries produce.
Today, we are talking about a bill on quarantine, epidemics and freight movement.
At the same time, we are letting our WTO negotiators set aside supply management, which would allow us to provide for our own needs and produce milk, butter, eggs and chicken, things we eat regularly. We need to be able to self-regulate in this area. Yet the system will probably be set aside one day. The Liberals were prepared to set it aside, and the Conservatives are tempted to do so in order to negotiate with other countries that want to sell us their products. One day, we will no longer be able to produce what we need, and we will have to buy consumer products from other countries, products over which we have no control. We do not know how animals are fed or what is used in producing these products.
This concerns me a great deal. Today, we are discussing a bill on quarantine, a public health bill. As I said earlier, it has been in existence since 1872.
Things were simpler back then. I realize that we must make sweeping changes today because, at the time, people and goods travelled by ship. When there was a quarantine, the ship would raise the quarantine flag. A law had to be adopted to deal with the people and goods on the quarantined ship. Thus, a bill was passed in 1872.
Today, over one hundred years later, we must revise the Quarantine Act. Section 34 establishes what kind of transportation will be covered by this Quarantine Act. It has taken us several years and that is understandable.
Today, this section applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances: a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying persons or cargo. We have broadened the scope of the legislation to more than just ships. This had to be done.
In a few centuries from now, we will not be able to accuse the Conservatives of having looked too far into the future. Usually, they look in the rear-view mirror to see what lies ahead. We are recognizing new technologies for transporting goods. That is perfect.
That is why the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-42, which has the merit of involving operators and, as I was saying, “applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances: a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying...or cargo”. This makes these carriers and operators take responsibility for their obligation to declare possible quarantines, illnesses or all manner of viruses that may be contained in their cargo, if they are carrying merchandise, or among the human beings travelling on board. This allows us to make adjustments.
However, as I was saying, it also requires us to take a look at our collective conscience. It is all well and good to pass quarantine bills. SARS showed us that despite all the good intentions of our health care systems, we are not sheltered from an epidemic or all sorts of unpredictable diseases. These are things that can happen. The severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS epidemic that happened in 2003, was a sad event that showed us the flaws in our health care system. In my opinion, it was time for Canada to adopt a public health policy together with the provinces. I believe that the Standing Committee on Health did good work in implementing a public health coordination service that is able to intervene and help provinces deal with situations like the one Ontario experienced in 2003. This is good for public health and a good investment for our collective environment.
In the meantime, we never wonder what causes these epidemics. There were others that just fizzled out. Avian flu does not affect people, just animals, and we do not know whether it will affect humans one day or not. The same is true for mad cow disease. It affects animals, but we do not know whether it will affect humans one day. We have to be careful what we import and put on our tables. The main thing we have to take from all of this is that we can now be prepared.
In truth, we are reacting after the fact. SARS struck Ontario in 2003, and that is the reason why we have adopted this bill to amend the Quarantine Act. That is the reality. One day we must try to prevent rather than always trying to cure after the fact. To achieve that, we must ensure that we produce what we put on the tables in this country. That is the hard reality. It is a fine thing to do business with all the other countries of the world, to exchange goods and services, but when it comes to food, to what we produce to put on our tables, one day, our representatives at the WTO must stand up and say that is not negotiable.
Indeed, we cannot allow other countries to send us products, if we cannot be assured of the quality of those products. Genetically modified organisms, GMOs, are already being widely discussed around the world. We must be able to regulate what comes to our tables. Until we can do that, we must ensure that every country is capable of producing what goes onto the tables of its citizens, so that if ever there is an epidemic, a virus or something that stems from the food or the animals that we consume, we will be able to control all of that through our own regulation system.
We are not there yet and I find that disappointing. I say that very politely to everyone. I am disappointed in the way the Liberals defended supply management while they were in power, and the Conservatives are doing the same thing: trying to cast aside supply management. That means if dairy products, eggs, poultry and chicken are removed, there will be no more controls and those products will be imported from abroad. Some day we will be inundated with foreign products because those countries, owing to their population, will be into mass production. At that point, we will no longer be competitive.
One day, we will poison our population. That is what will happen. We will make our own people sick. The new way of doing things will bring viruses. If we do not adopt legislation similar to the bill we are discussing today, then some day we will have to adopt other bills to try to counter those plagues.
It would be easy to ensure consistency in everything we do by adopting bills like the one before us today to modernize the Quarantine Act.
We also have to take a stand with the WTO and say that agriculture—the food we put on Canadians' tables—is not negotiable. We must maintain complete control over the quality of the products we eat. That is the way it is.
We are talking about this for all kinds of reasons, one of which is that in order to make a profit, companies are going too far and genetically modifying products. They want things to grow faster, and they put all kinds of things in there to make them stronger and healthier, but in reality, they are making them less healthful by chemically treating them. That is a fact.
The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-42 to implement section 34 as amended. I will read section 34 of the Quarantine Act, which will come into force when this bill is passed. I will then read the amendments. Section 34 reads as follows:
34(1) Before arriving in Canada, the operator of a conveyance used in a business of carrying persons or cargo, or of any prescribed conveyance, shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the nearest entry point any reasonable grounds to suspect that (a) any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spreading of a communicable disease listed in the schedule; (b) a person on board the conveyance has died; or (c) any prescribed circumstances exist.
(2) Before departing from Canada throug h a departure point, the operator shall report to the authority designated under paragraph 63(b) situated at the departure point any circumstance referred to in paragraphs (1)(a) to (c) that exists.
(3) If it is not possible for the operator to report before their arrival in or departure from Canada, the report shall be made at the entry or departure point, as the case may be.
(4) The authority shall notify a quarantine officer or an environmental health officer without delay of any report received under this section.
These are the operator's responsibilities, which are to be carried out upon entering or leaving the country.
The amendment introduced today in Bill C-42 completes section 34, which I read earlier.
34 (1) This section applies to the operator of any of the following conveyances:
(a) a watercraft or aircraft that is used in the business of carrying persons or cargo;
(2) As soon as possible before a conveyance arrives at its destination in Canada, the operator shall inform a quarantine officer or cause a quarantine officer to be informed of any reasonable grounds to suspect that
(a) any person, cargo or other thing on board the conveyance could cause the spreading of a communicable disease listed in the schedule;
(b) a person on board the conveyance has died;
(c) any prescribed circumstances exist.
The original section talked about the operator of a conveyance without specifying the type of conveyance. Now it mentions transportation by watercraft or aircraft. Furthermore, the original section talked about reporting at the entry point and now reporting is done beforehand, as soon as possible, so that quarantine officers are informed before arrival. The situation does not need to be reported upon arrival at the border, it needs to be reported beforehand, as soon as possible.
I want to acknowledge the work of my colleagues in the Standing Committee on Health, the hon. member for Québec, among others, and to say that it is good that we are updating legislation from 1872 to deal with reality.
These are diseases that can be transmitted by virus, epidemic or otherwise. However, it is also important to realize that this bill is a reaction to the SARS epidemic in Ontario in 2003.
I hope the WTO will make good decisions to ensure that our agriculture will be protected, so that the food we put on our tables will protect our constituents and that we will not have to pass another bill one day because we should have realized that what we put on our tables should be produced here, according to our standards, to ensure that food safety and public health are protected.
June 14th, 2007 / 3:50 p.m.
Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak on Bill C-42. There was consensus on this bill in our committee. We worked in the best interests of the safety, and especially the health, of people who might be endangered by the transmission of contagious diseases. We need only think of the case that happened recently. A person in the United States had contracted tuberculosis and was at a stage when the disease could have been transmissible and been very contagious.
And so Bill C-42, which amends the Quarantine Act, is a bill that was intended to modernize a piece of legislation that in fact dated from 1872, although some amendments had been made to it in 2005. So the act was amended in 2005. It was modernized in the context of SARS after it hit Toronto, in Ontario. We know that in 2003 we were somewhat concerned about the transmission of SARS.
SARS led to a study, the Naylor report. That report recommended that certain parts of the act be revised to bring it in sync with a society that had changed, particularly in terms of transportation and the movement of goods and people. The act was not suited to meeting these new needs.
We know that the SARS period in Toronto was quite a hard time. Often when there are contagious diseases or an epidemic it can affect the economy of a country or a province. SARS affected the entire community of Toronto and Ontario because of the possibility the disease would spread. People were worried, but the worry was perhaps not grounded in fact. Was the problem exaggerated?
The Naylor report does a thorough review of that situation. The lesson we can take from it, looking in from the outside, is that we were perhaps not prepared to deal with this kind of challenge, to provide good information, and, especially, to make people feel safe. As to the possibility of contagion, SARS may have been a type of virus that it is more difficult to transmit casually, simply by contact with another person. All the same, we have to move forward, and that is why it was thought wise to revise the Quarantine Act in 2005.
Today, once again, we have to do some more work on it. Some of the previous speakers talked about section 34 which sets out the circumstances in which certain actions should be taken. We might think of people who travel frequently by airplane or boat and how we might be more aware of the fact that an individual or goods could be carrying viruses or diseases that could be contracted by people.
Now Bill C-42 seems to be a small bill, judging by the number of pages. It has very few pages, but at the same time the impact of this bill, if it is applied properly, if there are good regulations, could make all the difference, so that situations like SARS or the case of a disease as terrible as tuberculosis, for example, can be handled better. I am shortly going to talk about the case of Andrew Speaker, an American who was infected with a particular strain of tuberculosis. We do not know how far this may go, but we know that he was able to travel.
Here again, we have a bill, but when it comes to the mechanisms we put in place, there are people and authorities who very certainly have responsibilities.
It is necessary to act quickly and not take it lightly. Section 34 as proposed in Bill C-42 sets out the manner in which information is to be transmitted. The operator of an aircraft or land vehicle must first be informed that a carrier of a contagious disease is aboard the aircraft or land vehicle. Section 34 indicates very clearly the obligation to inform the operator of the fact that he could be responsible for the spreading of a disease. It also states how that operator must inform specific authorities that there is a person aboard the aircraft or vehicle who is a danger to the health of others.
The bill is also very specific concerning the operators of certain types of vehicles. The current act calls for the imposition of that obligation to all means of transportation. It goes much further than boats, aircraft and trains because the bill extends to all conveyances used to carry passengers or cargo. That was one of the amendments proposed by the parliamentary secretary and supported by all the members of the committee.
In section 34 of the act, the obligation of an operator to notify the designated authority in a reasonable manner before entering or leaving Canada, is replaced in the bill by an obligation to notify “if it is not possible for the operator to report.” We know very well that if someone is aware and is obliged to report, that party must still have the necessary means of notifying a quarantine officer. Accordingly, the bill provides that an operator must notify a quarantine officer rather than the designated authority, and it obliges the operator to inform the officer as soon as he becomes aware of the situation, but in a context where that is reasonably possible.
The case of Andrew Speaker led us to consider the different obligations of the responsible authorities who must transmit information. We should be concerned about the number of days that elapsed between May 10 and May 25. How was it that Andrew Speaker, who knew very well that he was a carrier of tuberculosis, was still able to leave the United States on May 12, even though he had been told on May 10 that it would preferable for him not to go abroad? Two days later, he left the country and went first to Paris and then to Greece.
However, on May 14, Mr. Speaker informed his doctor by email that he was in Greece. His attending physician knew full well that he had left the United States. On May 18, American health agencies were made aware of the fact that Andrew Speaker was in Greece with his wife. Between May 14—when he informed his doctor—and May 18, there was a danger and nobody, not even the American health agencies, had been notified. In addition, Mr. Speaker was the subject of an international search, and tests showed that he was carrying a form of tuberculosis that was extremely resistant to antibiotics.
Mr. Speaker was contacted in Italy by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. They recommended that he present himself to Italian health authorities and told him not to take a commercial flight. However, Mr. Speaker did not report to the Italian health authorities, thereby breaking the law.
There may well be some legal proceedings. People cannot simply be left to themselves like this. We cannot say to them that they made a mistake but it is not so bad. There are consequences to this. Some people, and some Quebeckers in particular, are currently being subjected to tests by health agencies to determine whether they have contracted this form of tuberculosis. During the two weeks between when Mr. Speaker knew what he had and when he could have acted and turned himself over to the Italian health authorities, he contravened certain restrictions placed on him before leaving.
The American health agencies were told on May 18 that Mr. Speaker was in Greece with his wife. On May 24, the European health authorities and the World Health Organization were given the same information. Between May 18 and May 24, therefore, there was a vacuum between the American health agency and the European authorities and the World Health Organization. Action must be taken when it is known that someone may be dangerous because he is carrying a contagious disease, a communicable disease, like tuberculosis.
The American authorities gave a simple answer: they did not know where Andrew Speaker was. There is a system in place, but it was not rigorously followed. We need to be concerned when we know that there are systems in place but people are lax about following various directives. Did Mr. Speaker infect anybody? We do not know. However, some people have to undergo tests to determine whether they have contracted this disease.
The situation surrounding this case must be clarified. The United States bears some responsibility. If it does not provide information on time, how can the other stakeholders know what is going on? How can the European or Canadian health authorities get involved if they have not been notified? Canada also bears some responsibility. When we passed the bill, we asked the director of the Public Health Agency of Canada whether there could be some provisions in it that would protect us against this kind of situation. Could Canada take legal action against another country that failed to take certain steps? Here too, things were allowed to drift. There is an investigation.
Some American senators are trying to find out what really happened. When I asked Dr. Butler-Jones, the Chief Public Health Officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, he told me that he was waiting to find out whether there would be an inquiry or an investigation and that there were lessons to be learned from this incident. However, we have to go a bit farther than just learning lessons. We may have to put in place mechanisms to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
Does the bill need to be improved? We have said it does not. We do not need to improve it, at least, not by creating legislation that could improve this scenario. We will see what happens. I hope that in the coming months, we will learn that a better reporting mechanism has been put in place. A physician can notify his or her patient, but when a physician tells a patient that he or she does not know what sort of virus or infection the patient is suffering from and the physician does not seem worried, how is the patient supposed to react?
Should the patient not be given even just a written notice to prove that the physician really told the patient not to leave the country?
We can see that even if we have a bill with all sorts of guidelines to protect the health and safety of the travelling public and people who come into contact with someone who has a communicable disease, this responsibility must also rest with any individual who could pose a threat to other people's health and safety.
It was time to improve Bill C-42 by amending section 34 so that it applies to people travelling by air, water or land. This bill must provide conveyance operators with guidelines as to their reporting obligations, given the serious consequences of spreading a communicable disease here in Canada.
June 14th, 2007 / 10:15 a.m.
Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB
Mr. Speaker, I am seeking the unanimous consent of the House concerning Bill C-263, which has to do with eliminating the waiting period for employment insurance. I move: “That Bill C-263 be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read the third time and passed”.
Extension of Sitting Hours
June 11th, 2007 / 4:20 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, we want to be able to pass a number of bills that we feel are priorities, and Bill C-52 on the budget is definitely a priority for us. The bill to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and to create a workers' wage protection fund in bankruptcy situations is also a priority for us. Those are two of our main priorities.
Other important matters are First Nations land management, the issue regarding the Inuit, and the issue of piracy. If we have time to pass other bills before June 22, we would of course agree to do whatever it takes. Our goal is not to recess as quickly as possible, but to ensure that the bills that we feel are priorities are passed before the summer break.
Extension of Sitting Hours
June 11th, 2007 / 4:15 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, it seems that in this context my speech was clear. I have nothing against adopting a report, but it is clear that in the choice between adopting a report and having a debate on Bill C-30 as amended by committee, that Bill C-30 not only is more important, but it has much more serious consequences for Canadian society, Quebec society and future generations. We must not lose sight of the fact that what we fail to do right now will have a negative impact in the future. We are already starting to feel it.
We must not get to the point of no return where our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have to pay the price of our inaction for considerations that are sometimes rather questionable. More and more people truly realize that achieving Kyoto protocol targets and economic development go hand in hand. Not working on achieving the targets for phase I of the Kyoto protocol—and phase II when it is negotiated—will have a very significant economic cost. We see that with global warming and the effects that are already quite noticeable will only get worse over time.
In closing, it is often said that a two degree increase in the planet's temperature is not so serious. What struck me is that during the ice age, the average temperature in Quebec was three to four degrees less than the current average, and it was covered in ice. In other words, with two degrees more, the environmental, economic and especially societal effects will be disastrous for the entire planet.
June 7th, 2007 / 7:30 p.m.
Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to join the debate on the subject of the government’s latest budget. As we all remember, this budget was tabled on March 19.
There are some things in this budget that really need to be pointed out. Among friends, colleagues, political parties and taxpayers, we must describe things as they really are to improve conditions for the people of Canada and, when an error has been made, we should make every effort to correct it. As you well know, enlightenment comes when ideas collide.
I want to talk about several points in the budget that deserve our attention. The first point deals with the Conservative government’s retention of the festival support program. I have had discussions today, and for several days, with representatives of volunteer groups and organizations which are organizing festivals planned for summer 2007.
This year, the federal government set aside $30 million for summer festivals. A large number of the organizers of these festivals have been told that the government—to be more precise, the Department of Canadian Heritage— is in the process of considering how the funds will be distributed. We are now into June and people have been told that it may be the fall before we have a clear answer on how the funds will be distributed. However, we must show some respect for the organizers of summer festivals in Quebec and elsewhere, because, after all, the seasons change. To find an analogy with what the Conservatives are doing, I think back to the Social Credit party. At one point, the Social Credit party said there were only four problems in Canada: spring, summer, fall and winter. Apart from that, everything would be fine. I must emphasize that summer festivals take place in the summer. An answer in the fall is of no use.
Specifically, I would like to underline the value of a festival. What does a festival mean to the population? Today, I debated with an economist from the Institut économique de Montréal. On a radio station in my riding, CJRC, not to mention names, I heard it said that—hold tight, Mr. Speaker, or you might fall off your chair—festivals were a means of preventing movie theatres from making money. The argument was that when people went to a festival, money was going to the wrong place. They added that festivals were not something very important in economic terms, because a dollar spent at one place is like a dollar spent at another place. A festival does not result in any value added.
Well, I really had to answer that. I would like you, Mr. Speaker, and above all my colleagues opposite—the Conservatives, of course— to understand that a festival is a way for a city, a community or a region to become better known. A festival can attract people into the community, into the region. It gets people moving from one region to another to take part in activities. That makes our region better known, and, at the same time, it brings money into the region.
For example, I think of the Festival de montgolfières in Gatineau, of which you are surely aware, and which for the past 20 years has taken place during the first weekend of September. It is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2007. Last year, the festival generated revenue of $6 million. Since its creation, more than 3.3 million people have attended the festival.
The federal government invests in these programs. I must also mention that the organizers of these festivals do not count solely on the support of the federal government. They do their own fund-raising at various levels.
If the federal government does not step in as it used to, tourism will suffer. That is what the organizers told me. They will also not be able to bring in as many artists. That is another aspect. Festivals are a question of pride. People show off their culture and discover others, depending on the themes of the show, and this leads to a broadening of minds at festivals. The Conservatives are holding things up here for reasons that are really beyond me.
I just wanted to point all this out to our colleagues because I am sure that they will react quite quickly when they see that what they are saying does not make any sense, especially as the money for this was approved in the budget. It is very important, therefore, to point this out.
There is a statistic showing that, in Quebec in the year 2000, festivals got 18% of their funding from the three levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal. That same year in the United States—our neighbour to the south where capitalism is a kind of religion—the three levels of government subsidized festivals to the tune of 23% to 26%. Maybe they thought it was important for them to add value. In France, festivals are subsidized at a rate of 47%.
Our Conservative colleagues should say to themselves that even though they are not providing very much, they really should make it available before the end of the summer or else we will be in an absolutely ridiculous situation. In view of this, I would like my Conservative colleagues to understand that they have to keep the commitments they made in their budget.
In regard to a completely different issue, I would like to mention a very embarrassing situation. September 25 or 26, 2006 was a black day in human history because that was when the federal government cancelled the court challenges program. The Conservative government decided last March not to renew this program, even though a great many social stakeholders from both the English and French minority communities as well as citizens rights groups demanded that it be saved. This meant that $5 or $6 million could be cut from the federal budget.
I took some political science courses at the University of Ottawa in the 1980s, and one of my professors, Mr. Carrier, told us that $1 million in the coffers of the federal government of Canada was like a penny to an average worker in Canada or Quebec. When $5 or $6 million are cut from a rights program like the court challenges program, it is clearly not very much in view of the $220 billion budgets that Canada’s federal government generally has. So this is an ideological cut. The government wants to prevent something, rather than helping citizens challenge decisions made by the federal or a provincial government or even a school board, a town or municipality, or a department that was not complying with the law of the land, that is to say, the Constitution.
The government comes with all its lawyers and sets them on a parent or business person who wants his or her rights respected. Without the court challenges program, there is no level playing field.
People cannot spend the kind of money that the government, the federal State, can spend on its own army of lawyers. I could provide some pretty unbelievable examples of this.
That said, there is something even worse. We often hear our Conservative colleagues say that the Bloc Québécois did not support Bill S-3, which was in fact passed—on division, as they say—in the previous Parliament.
By eliminating the court challenges program, the Conservative government is failing to respect the Official Languages Act. I would refer the members to the Standing Committee on Official Languages, which just came back to life today. The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, taught a very interesting lesson to all members of the committee—and we are very pleased that the Conservatives have decided to come back—about how eliminating the court challenges program violated legislation passed in this House. That is pretty serious. Those who violate laws must pay in the end. They have violated this law, and they must pay the price.
It is important to understand a few things about this program. The committee heard witnesses who work for the program. It also heard people who fought for the Montfort Hospital, for example. That happened in the mid-1990s. We were around then; this was not something that happened back in Louis Riel's day—which is another subject about which much could be said. This was back in 1995, when the Government of Ontario wanted to do away with the services of a French-language hospital right here in Ottawa. I was born in that province, and so was my youngest daughter, my baby. She was born in the Montfort Hospital.
The people who came to talk about this situation had been told by a Prime Minister whom we know well, our current Prime Minister, that the Government of Canada had no intention of continuing to pay for Liberal lawyers in the court challenges program.
Yet Ms. Lalonde and Mr. Gratton, who attended the committee meeting, demonstrated quite clearly that the lawyers who helped the Montfort Hospital fight the indignity foisted upon it by Mike Harris' government and three of his ministers, who are now known here as the Minister of Finance, the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health, did it for free.
In response to the infamous criticism that partisan politics were involved, I would remind the House that Mr. Gratton was Brian Mulroney's press secretary. As far as I know, he did not belong to the Conservative Party, but rather to the Progressive Conservative Party. There are hints of this Reform-Alliance mindset still causing problems today. It is going to burst, sooner or later, like last time, but that is their problem. Gisèle Lalonde once ran—hold on to your hats—as a candidate for the Conservative Party of Ontario. This jambalaya—although jambalaya can sometimes be quite tasty—, all this mishmash being served up by the Conservatives, involving partisan politics when it comes to the rights of minorities, it is appalling. I see them turning red. They are ashamed, and I understand why.
That said, the elimination of the court challenges program, illustrated by the ideology reflected in the budget, seriously jeopardizes the recognition of the existence of French-language minority communities in Canada.
That is prejudicial. The day the Montfort Hospital file reached its full scope was the day that the Premier of Quebec—Lucien Bouchard of the Parti Québécois, not to mention any names—declared that, indeed, it was seriously prejudicial. Every fighting force for democracy and the respect of the rights of minorities from Quebec and Ontario, including myself, who was in Saskatchewan at the time as president of the Fédération des francophones de Saskatoon, we all signed petitions and raised money to tell the Harris government that it was unacceptable.
Of course the Liberal government—this was during the Chrétien years—looked at the issue and said it could not intervene because it was a provincial jurisdiction. Well, now would be the time for Canada to pull up its socks and get to work, because, under such circumstances, it is through the court challenges program and political action that we must ensure the rights of minorities.
The court challenges program also has an impact on the social aspect of the fight against poverty and injustice. For example, people with disabilities had to fight their own government, demanding that it install ramps so they could have access to the same services as people with full mobility. We must not forget this.
A broad range of services was provided to society. In 1997 and 2003, evaluations of the court challenges program determined that the needs of Quebec and Canadian society were well served by the program. Without it, we would not have rights of access to minority language education. The disabled would not be able to access certain areas and premises. It is very important to take note of these facts.
Today, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada is taking the government to court because it abolished the court challenges program and is not fulfilling its obligations under the Official Languages Act. My colleagues should hang on to their hats when they hear what I have to say. This government says that it wanted to abolish the program because, among other things, it no longer wished to pay lawyers who challenge federal or provincial governments, school boards or others who do not respect these rights. That is why it abolished the program. Now it is paying lawyers to ensure that it does not pay lawyers in future. Talk about unbelievable. The logic is rather complicated.
There is no question that the court challenges program must be reinstated. We must realize that society evolves. By way of illustration, consider that at one time horses ruled the road. Then along came the Model T Ford. Today, things are altogether different; we have other means of transportation. In terms of citizens' rights, we cannot predict how current situations will unfold in the near future. Therefore, it is important to have the court challenges program, precisely to protect the state from itself.
In the movie, The Name of the Rose, based on the novel by Umberto Eco, old Jorge, a professional criminal, believes only in sublime repetition. The Conservatives are the sublime copy of the Mulroney Conservatives. They are doing the same thing—abolishing the court challenges program in today's context. It is quite deplorable.
We should be emulating William of Baskerville. I recommend reading about the dialectic that belongs to society. In fact, we are evolving. I am thinking of Yann Martel who sends books to the Prime Minister from time to time. He should send more there because reading is interesting. We should read things that enable us to evolve in life.
As we evolve, things change and we must have mechanisms to protect ourselves.
I will say one last things about festivals: they have to get on with it. Summer is coming, it has already arrived.
The court challenges program is not in the budget and that is deplorable. It should be reinstated.
June 5th, 2007 / 11 a.m.
Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel on his erudition—let us not fear words—and on his willingness to dedicate himself so generously to the work of this House. He never declines an invitation to share his point of view, and I am sure that this is greatly appreciated by all of our colleagues.
Bill C-35 was the subject of much debate in the parliamentary committee. It seems to me that the underlying principle is a good one. The government is seeking to ensure that people who might be a menace to the safety of our fellow citizens cannot be released on bail before trial unless we can be certain that they do not present a danger to society. It is important to understand where Bill C-35 is coming from.
There are various stages in our criminal proceedings: arrest by a peace officer, court appearance, and preliminary hearing. At this stage, a magistrate or justice of the peace—in Quebec, at least—decides whether there is sufficient evidence to allow the Crown to take the matter to trial. So we have arrest, bail hearing, preliminary hearing and, of course, the trial. If the case involves murder or one of the offences set out in section 469 of the Criminal Code, there is a good chance that the trial will be held before a jury of the accused's peers, a group of individuals selected for that purpose.
If the case involves an offence set out in section 553 of Quebec's code, the trial takes place before the criminal and penal division of the Court of Quebec. There too, the stages are familiar: arrest, bail hearing, preliminary hearing, trial and, after that, sentencing submissions. Then, if necessary, a certain number of appeals processes are available.
The Bloc Québécois had some concerns about this bill. What does it say? We should start with the beginning. Under our legal system, bail is generally granted at the hearing stage. In some cases, though, bail cannot be granted by justices of the peace. Only superior court judges, that is to say, judges of the Superior Court of Quebec, can grant pretrial bail to an accused.
This occurs when a person is accused of a crime under section 469 of the Criminal Code. Justices of the peace cannot grant bail when the accused has violated the conditions of release. If a person is on probation, therefore, and is supposed to comply with a certain number of conditions but violates them, he cannot be given bail. For example, if a person is not supposed to be in possession of a firearm but is found with one, that person has failed to comply with one of his conditions of release and cannot be granted bail by a justice of the peace.
When someone is arrested by a police officer, taken before a justice of the peace and charged with an offence related to organized crime, of course, that person cannot be granted bail. For a very long time, all the organized crime related offences were listed in the Criminal Code. Actually it was not the Criminal Code but the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act where all the offences related to the possession of narcotics, drug trafficking, and the exportation and importation of narcotics were listed.
Around 1995, we had an extremely worrisome clash among criminal motorcycle gangs: the Hell’s Angels, the Rock Machine and the Bandidos. There were 35 Hell’s Angels chapters. It is not that there were an awful lot of them—just a few hundred people—but they were obviously very dangerous.
I can recall some conversations I had with senior public servants who thought that the criminal motorcycle gangs could be disbanded using just the existing conspiracy provisions in the Criminal Code. The former Bloc Québécois member for Berthier—Montcalm, who was elevated to the bench because of his great talents and had gone to law school at the University of Ottawa in the 1980s and 1990s, was our justice critic and was as convinced as I that new legislation was needed and some new provisions had to be added to the Criminal Code.
I remind the House that in the 1990s there was one thing that triggered our realization of the need to create new legislation in order to deal with criminal biker gangs. This was of course the car bomb attack that occurred in my area, Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, on August 9, 1995, and that took the life of young Daniel Desrochers. From then on, there was a call by citizens seeking anti-gang legislation. Obviously we could not follow Italy’s example, since Italy did not have to worry about compatibility with the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. In Canada, however, we had to be concerned about compatibility with the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, which—I would point out—was never ratified by the National Assembly when it was patriated in 1982.
I digress here to remind you that René Lévesque, one of the greatest premiers in the history of Quebec—as we all know—was opposed to the unilateral patriation of the Constitution, because he was worried about language rights. There was the possibility of removing whole chunks of Bill 101, one of the first bills that René Lévesque had passed by his government following the adoption of the Referendum Act and, of course, an act on democratic election funding.
So we had to be concerned about the compatibility of the new provisions of the Criminal Code and the Canadian charter, which has never been accepted by the National Assembly because of the incompatibilities regarding language. Of course, with regard to section 27 respecting multiculturalism, there were some very great concerns. In any case, we will recall that René Lévesque became the spokesperson for this long line of premiers who wanted, before the charter was patriated, to give the National Assembly new powers. This was Jean-Jacques Bertrand’s position; it was Robert Bourassa’s position; it was Jean Lesage’s position; it was the position of Quebec’s intellectuals. Even a man like Claude Ryan who, as we know, was not a sovereignist, wanted there to be a new distribution of powers before patriating the Constitution, which was—we agreed—a colonial relic. Of course this was not normal, but it was not a priority.
I do not want to wander too far away—you know my discipline is legendary. Still, I want you to know that it is extremely important to remember that, in the 1990s, the Bloc Québécois rallied in order to obtain anti-gang legislation. The first anti-gang legislation was passed in 1997. We had created a new offence. I mentioned the Canadian charter. But it was not possible to make it a crime to belong to a group.
We cannot say that belonging to the Hells Angels, the Rock Machine, the Bandidos, the mafia or an Asian crime group, that simply belonging to a criminal organization constitutes an offence. This would never pass the Charter test and would not be compatible with the freedom of association. This was the challenge facing the public service and parliamentarians.
I was part of the committee that examined these things to find an offence that would work with the Charter. At the time, a new offence was created: gangsterism. Five individuals having committed an offence punishable by a five-year term, for a criminal organization within the last five years, could be charged with gangsterism.
As unbelievable as it may be, with these provisions, among others, municipalities can play an extremely important role in dismantling organized crime networks. I hope my colleagues will remember this. Municipalities legislated against bunkers. They legislated against fortresses in urban areas. Under municipal bylaws it was not possible to have fortified houses with cameras and bulletproof windows. Believe it or not, this is a good example of the link between federal law, criminal law, and municipal affairs.
If I may digress, one thing that makes a municipality dynamic is festivals. I am sure that the Minister of Labour will agree with me. There is nothing more important than tourism to our communities.
Take the example of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. It is a working-class neighbourhood with a rich heritage. I could tell you about the botanical garden and the Château Dufresne, the historic middle-class residence. It is important to provide public funding for festivals. I will conclude on this point by wishing all my colleagues a most cordial welcome to Montreal this year and this summer. I hope that the funding that will make it possible for us to spend a beautiful summer with tourists and all of the events we can organize in our communities will materialize. Of course I am counting on all of my colleagues to ensure that this scenario comes to pass.
This is the situation we found ourselves in in the 1990s. Criminal motorcycle gangs were running wild and the public was worried. I and other people persuaded the then justice minister, Allan Rock, to add new provisions to the Criminal Code. Those provisions made it possible for us to end the war that had caused several hundred deaths and claimed an innocent victim, Daniel Desrochers, who died on August 9, 1995.
Thus we can see that the Bloc Québécois has never been unwilling to legislate when it was necessary. The goal of Bill C-35 is to add a number of offences, the seriousness of which we can recognize as a society. I will list them: attempted murder with a firearm, discharging a firearm with intent to wound, armed sexual assault, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, extortion, trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, and any offence involving a firearm if the accused was under a firearms prohibition order.
We have to acknowledge that these offences are in fact serious in terms of criminal law. At the show cause stage, the trial has not yet been held. In Quebec, you appear before the justice of the peace. The accused will have to call evidence, because there is a reverse onus. Reverse onus does exist in the Criminal Code now, as I mentioned, for organized crime, terrorism offences and offences relating to section 469. Reverse onus exists. That does not mean—and we must be very clear on this point—that it will not be possible for the accused to be released.
What it means is that the onus is on the accused, and not the Crown, to prove that he or she is not a threat to society. The judge will then take a number of criteria into consideration.
If the individual is released, the judge must be sure he will appear for trial and will not destroy the evidence, abscond, reoffend or engage in violent behaviour. If the judge is satisfied that all these conditions will be met, in light of the submission by counsel for the accused, the individual can be released. If the judge is not satisfied, the individual—the accused—who will be tried for one of the offences I have mentioned, must remain in custody.
I repeat that this is not the rule in our legal system. As a rule, individuals are released pending trial. Hon. members may remember a famous ruling from early this decade, the Askov ruling, concerning a case in Ontario. The legal system was backlogged at the time.
When the Constitution was repatriated, the National Assembly did not subscribe to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Among the legal guarantees in the charter is the right to be tried within a reasonable time. Waiting for a trial causes anyone anxiety. Waiting for a trial is stressful, and there is also the risk that witnesses' memories will fade. With time, people called to testify could be slightly less accurate in their testimony.
The Bloc Québécois heard the witnesses who testified before the committee, and my colleagues know how reasonable, moderate and cooperative the Bloc is. We ask only to work in the spirit of brotherhood.
I take great personal pride in the fact that I have no enemies in this House. Mr. Speaker, if you were to ask members who consider themselves my enemies to so indicate by a show of hands, I am sure you would see none. I was afraid the member for Jonquière—Alma would raise his hand. That would have made me sad.
The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-35 because, in committee, witnesses told us that in any event, the general practice at bail hearings for firearm-related offences is for the judge not to release the individual, or grant them bail. The Minister of Justice's bill confirms or recognizes something already being done by judges and the courts.
We do not see why we would be against this bill. A witness from the Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers even told us this was the current practice. There are very few witnesses who oppose the bill, two in fact. A University of Toronto professor, Anthony Doob, opposed the bill, saying there needed to be more focus on prevention. The Canadian Bar Association also voiced some reservations. For the rest, the witnesses were extremely favourable toward the bill.
The Bloc will support this bill since it recognizes a practice the courts have formalized. Of course, that does not mean we are not calling on the government to invest in prevention.
I recently learned that the Prime Minister entrusted, not to the Minister of Health, but to the Minister of Justice, the modernization of the national anti-drug strategy. I hope when the format of this new strategy is known, hopefully a few months from now, that money could be sent to the provinces for prevention, which is still our best defence as a society for living in safer communities.
Since I am running out of time, I will stop here. I want to reiterate my call for money to be allocated to this summer's festivals, more specifically those in Montreal, which is a major tourism centre. I hope my call will be heard.
June 4th, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
The Chair Merv Tweed
Order. Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, meeting 55. The orders of the day are pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, November 7, 2006, Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
Joining us today from the Department of Transport are Franz Reinhardt, Susan Stanfield, and Merlin Preuss; and from the Department of National Defence, Jacques Laplante and Alex Weatherston.
(On clause 12)
When we wrapped up the last committee meeting, we were dealing with amendment G-2, moved by the government. I think we were making headway. Is there perhaps another resolve out there, or are we going to continue to debate this?
Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2007
June 4th, 2007 / 12:55 p.m.
Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC
Mr. Speaker, we are debating report stage of Bill C-52, the budget implementation act.
Of course, it is very important for the Bloc Québécois to see this struggle through to the end. We are the ones who raised the fiscal imbalance issue in this House. We feel that this government has taken some steps, thanks to the Bloc Québécois' support—because without this support, Parliament would not have passed this budget. In order to at least improve the fiscal, financial, monetary imbalance, it was to our advantage to support the government on this.
We continue to believe this, and we know that Quebeckers support our position. The Bloc Québécois has led other parties in this House to adopt the same position. Only the Liberal Party does not support this position. Furthermore, it is voting against this budget, when all is said and done.
Today's debate at report stage allows for an amendment that results from an ill-considered decision on the part of the Conservatives, who decided to eliminate the GST-HST visitor rebate, thereby reducing Canada's appeal as a tourist destination. As evidence that this step had a negative impact, the Canadian Tourism Commission has had to shift some of its budgeted funds intended for Canadian tourism within Canada and use them to attract tourists from outside our borders, because we are losing ground to the tourism appeal of other countries.
Given the criticism and arguments received, particularly from the Bloc, in order to allow outfitters and conferences, for example, to continue to benefit from such a program, the Conservative government decided to propose an amendment in the context of budget implementation. This will help correct the situation, at least for outfitters and conferences.
This does not address the issue of duty-free shops, which remain victims of the government's decision. Initially, in the fall of 2006, the government made a series of rather drastic cuts to various sectors without really analyzing the situation, and it got rid of this program—which cost something to administer but attracted tourists—instead of modifying it and finding other solutions. In response to representations from various organizations, supported by the Bloc, the government made a partial correction.
What has still not been corrected is the situation of duty-free shops, which also play an important role in promoting tourism. Previously, when tourists visited duty-free shops, they obtained a credit that they could spend in the shop right away. As a result, the money quickly went back into the system.
In my opinion, no one, not even the Conservatives, is denying the aim of this program. The problem lay in the cost of administering the program. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the government should have let the program keep on attracting tourists and found other ways of funding it. I hope that discussions will continue and that a satisfactory result can be reached.
Today, at the report stage, adopting this amendment will correct the situation with regard to outfitters and conventions. Representations were made by groups including the association of Quebec outfitters. When a convention is being planned and organizers want people to hunt and fish with the help of our outfitters, we have to make this prospect as attractive as possible so that people will choose to come here instead of going to other countries.
One of the benefits of coming here had been removed. Now, thanks to the amendment that is before us, we can maintain that benefit. It will therefore be important to adopt this bill at the report stage. The Bloc Québécois will support the bill at this stage, as it has done at all the other stages, so that the bill reaches third reading as soon as possible and the government can finally finish putting in place the measures to correct the fiscal imbalance.
It is clear how much Quebec needs this money. An important debate was held in the National Assembly of Quebec last week and for good cause; in the end, additional money from Ottawa became available. However, that is a monetary solution. A complete, legislative, fiscal solution is needed, which would transfer tax points to Quebec in order for it to no longer be dependent on the federal government's decisions, the vitality of the Canadian economy and other such factors. As of today, this is a three-year program that will have a significant financial impact and that is why the Bloc supports this bill. However, it will not resolve the matter permanently.
In fact, the Conservative government itself, which says that the fiscal imbalance is solved, has run attack ads against the Liberal Party and its leader stating that, if the Liberal Party were to return to power, it could overturn the decision on the fiscal imbalance. The Conservative Party has contradicted itself. On the one hand, it says it has solved the fiscal imbalance and, on the other, in ads taken out to denounce the Liberals, it says that the decision could be overturned. The solution is to ensure that permanent arrangements are made and that the transfer of tax points is put in place.
The starting point remains the same: the needs are found in the provinces and Quebec, but it is the federal government that holds the money. The announcement last week that last year's surplus is about $13 billion illustrates this reality better than any explanation. The federal government still collects a great deal more money than it needs and allocates most of it to paying down Canada's debt.
It makes sense that some of the funds should be allocated to that, but in the meantime, the provinces need money. They need money to pay for their own services. They have to be able to develop multi-year programming and plans. The Bloc will continue to work toward eliminating the fiscal imbalance once and for all through tax point transfers. Then, when Quebec wants to implement social programs and programs to support business, it will be able to do so within its jurisdiction because it will have the necessary financial means.
After the report stage, the bill will come back to the House for third reading. It also includes measures that will affect the manufacturing sector. We followed a number of recommendations from the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. However, the Conservative government will have to do better than the positions it has put forward on this issue. For example, the committee recommended accelerated capital cost allowance over five years for businesses to buy equipment to improve their productivity. The government is only offering this over two years.
Nor is it giving refundable tax credits to businesses that do not make much profit, which is now the case in several sectors that are in trouble because of global competition. The government should be even more creative, and it should follow the 22 recommendations of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology instead of barely touching on them or following the ones that suit it best. That is the next step, to come with the fall economic update.
In the meantime, I think that Quebeckers have made their views known: they agree with the Bloc Québécois, which supports the Conservative budget because it delivers considerably more money to Quebec. Quebeckers want to truly correct the fiscal imbalance. Thus, the Bloc Québécois is representing the will of Quebeckers, and wants the budget implementation bill to be passed as quickly as possible. We have made a significant and positive contribution towards achieving that, and we want the money to be available this year and in years to come based on what was announced in the budget. So no matter what government is in power in Quebec, the necessary funds will be invested, the proper political debates held and the money spent on the right things.
But there is a big problem: we have no guarantee that these funds will be available. This is a weakness of the Canadian confederation and Canada's federal system, which must be permanently corrected by the transfer of tax points. Let us hope that the Conservative government will move in that direction as soon as possible so that we achieve this permanent and long fought for correction. For four years, the Bloc has been arguing for this. I remember the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot and the member for Joliette, who preceded me as finance critic. We hammered away at this repeatedly. The parties in the National Assembly did the same thing, and today we are taking another step towards putting this in place. Let us hope that it will come about as soon as possible.
Canada Elections Act
May 31st, 2007 / 4:10 p.m.
Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would also like to commend my colleague on his speech. Since he is from Montreal, his situation is different than mine. My constituency is on the north shore in the Montreal area.
I have five municipalities to cover, including a regional capital, and the realities are truly different from one municipality to another. It is much easier to cover a regional capital than the small surrounding municipalities, because sometimes there are great distances to travel from one end of the municipality to the other. We therefore need more polling stations for people to get to.
The problem we often encounter is the absence of public transit, which is not an issue in Montreal. In our regions—except for the regional capital of Saint-Jérôme—there is no public transit to allow young people to travel to vote, if they want. It is extremely difficult to get a high voter turnout depending on where the polling station is located. This entire matter should be reviewed.
Reference was made to low voter turnout among our youth. Should we not consider having polling stations in CEGEPs, and allowing voting on more than one day? Should we not consider having polling stations in universities, where students could register? Students often come from other cities. If the fixed election date is in the fall, they are in school then. They do not necessarily go back home over the weekend, because they have homework to do. Also, if they got to register right at the university, that might act as an incentive to vote. The very low voter turnout among high school, college and university students is definitely a concern.
I have nothing against two additional voting days, but I do not think that will boost voter turnout. We know that, at the federal level, from the moment that a candidate's nomination paper has been filed with and approved by the Chief Electoral Officer, one may already vote at any time at the office of the Chief Electoral Officer. The name of the candidate may even be written by hand, if the ballots are not ready. It has been done, and it has been a common occurrence where I come from.
However, there is a single office of the Chief Electoral Officer and it is normally located downtown in the regional capital. People from outside that area are not likely to be able to easily get there to vote.
We also know that one can vote by mail. There are various ways one can vote. Many mechanisms are already in place at the federal level to allow people to vote.
Someone mentioned ID card and the voter cards earlier. There have been discussions for quite some time about the idea of a voter card for everyone. Voters would only have to show that card, instead of having to produce two pieces of identification.
I will give an example. I have an 18-year-old son who voted for the first time in my last election. However, he still does not have all the cards that we have, as adults. He still does not have a driver's licence, he has only his health insurance card. I had to identify him because I was asked to. He was asked for two cards at the polling station.
So this is a problem for young people. It is also a problem for some people who live below the poverty line and who may not have all these cards and all these tools to be able to go and vote. They will not take the trouble to go, either, because they will tell themselves that they would not be able to vote in any event.
When the bill is sent to committee, we may have to consider this possibility and examine it properly to be sure that we include it in Bill C-55 and improve the bill.
This bill is of some value, but it is very slight. It talks about adding only two days. There is not a lot in Bill C-55 that would prompt us to vote for it with any great enthusiasm because it is changing a lot of things.
On the contrary, it is not changing much. We said that we would vote for this bill at second reading to be able to study it further and in greater depth in committee. I hope that some ideas will come out of that committee for improving the bill.
There is also the whole question of the lack of interest in politics, as several of my colleagues have said. When it comes to federal politics, fewer people are voting. People have lost interest. Since 1993, I have taken part in five election campaigns. I have to say that I have been disappointed several times. There was even one time when the turnout fell to 52%, and that was disturbing because the percentage of people voting should be higher than 52%. This means that there is a lack of interest in politics, in representation in Parliament and in political parties. There is also a lack of interest in ideologies. This is disturbing. We have to find a way of restoring our fellow citizens' interest in voting.
The last campaign we had lasted almost 59 days. In the middle of that campaign we had Christmas and New Year. That made no sense. In my riding, during the holiday period, people had things planned for Christmas and New Year's Day. They had family and other people coming to visit. Of course people talk politics over Christmas, whether as a family or in other groups, but I have to say, sincerely, that the volunteers and people working on the ground needed a bit of time off to be able to celebrate with their families.
In my riding, we decided to take a break for those two periods. It made no sense to force volunteers to work on Christmas Day or New Year's Day. They are volunteers, they give their time, energy and enthusiasm to our election campaigns. We have to take all that into account too.
I am very happy with Bill C-16, which will give us fixed election dates so long as the government is not defeated because it is a minority government. Fixed election dates are a necessary and much less partisan approach. People might listen a bit more to what we have to say. People might have more confidence in us if the government cannot take advantage of being ahead in the polls to call an election and hand out goodies. We know how that works. As I said, I have been through five election campaigns.
I think that there will be some basic changes in this bill. I can well understand what my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel goes through. He has a huge riding. Mine is a little smaller, but I still have to deal with five large municipalities. If we want to make services available and heighten people’s awareness, we have to provide them with more places to go and vote. I know that my colleague has to deal, just as I do, with a lack of public transit. People must have a car. But not everybody has one. Poor people do not have the means. Not all young people have access to one. For my part, I went to get my son so that he could go to an advance poll in the last election in Quebec. If I had not done that, he probably would not have gone to vote. It is very important, therefore, to raise the awareness of our youth and do so while they are still very young and in secondary school. They should be told what politics is all about. I am not saying they should be able to vote at a younger age, but they should be informed in school.
I have toured around some schools. I have been invited to speak about politics and tell young people what a day in Parliament is like and what an MP is. They do not really have any idea. It should be part of what we do and our responsibilities as MPs to go and talk to young people in secondary school—I do not mean grade 7 but students who are 14 or 15 years old—so that they can ask questions, get informed and understand. They should also be invited to come here and see what happens. A lot of schools send students. They visit Parliament and see question period. That is not always so great, however, because they see us get very excited. It is not necessarily a good example, but I believe that we can connect with our young people.
I was also invited to visit a political science class in a CEGEP to answer questions from the students and to tell them about the work of an MP, in their riding and also in Ottawa. So, it is important to discuss these matters and to find a way to connect with them.
There are also people who cannot get out and who must vote at home because they have a serious disability. My returning officer personally went to a house to allow someone to vote in her own home. That was a fine deed. People may vote as they please, but everyone has an absolute right to vote and I believe we have to maintain that.
However, I do not believe that simply adding two days, as the bill proposes, will be enough. A great many other changes are needed. There are things missing from this bill. We must also avoid scandals and observe the electoral laws. Spending limits must be enforced and there must not be any slush funds. That is extremely important. Our transparency must be crystal clear. That is, perhaps, what will lead people to take a greater interest in politics. They will then say that their politicians are much more honest than they thought. They will look at us in a new way. I believe that is how we should engage in politics. I have always practised politics in an honest manner and I believe it pays dividends.
There is a great deal of work to be done with the media in terms of awareness. Returning officers already do that work. However, on the media side—television, radio, etc.—even more information is needed, perhaps targeted at young people and specific age groups, with very precise messages to seize their attention and give them a desire to vote. In addition, there is all the work that we do. When people hear about things like the sponsorship scandal, that does not help us, and it leaves people disgusted with politics and politicians. We all felt that in the last election campaign. That kind of thing should never happen again. I hope it will not happen again and that, in future, the rules will be tightened up to avoid things like Option Canada and the endless list of scandals.
Scandal after scandal, people are disillusioned and fed up with politics. They say that politics are not necessary and, in any case, politicians are all the same. It is a bit disappointing to hear people say that. There is not much use trying to explain because that is often the answer we get. I think that politics have to be made more accessible insofar as what we do is concerned. We are making progress. We are doing it by means of the householders we send out to inform our people four times a year. What we do here has to be made known, though, in a much more general way so that people really understand. If I am talking with someone about Bill C-55, he has to be able to understand exactly what that is.
Not everyone is highly politicized, of course, but I think that we can connect with people more and get through to them.
I am looking forward to this bill going back to committee because I think it can be improved. All the parties in the House surely have important suggestions to make. We can make them in a harmonious atmosphere because they are intended to make it easier for our fellow citizens to go and vote.
What I have seen in some places did not make sense. Polling stations were chosen in inaccessible places, sometimes even churches or little chapels when it was bitterly cold outside. People could not even get inside to wait. They had to stay outside in the middle of the winter in a snowstorm or in temperatures of 30o C below zero. That is unacceptable. We need to review all that. We have to make sure places are found. I know that people cannot vote in schools in federal elections, but in Quebec they do. It is much easier that way. As a result, locations have to be found all over the place and sometimes they are very inaccessible. This is something that we really should review for Canadians. One result of all this is that people get angry. They go back home and say they will not vote because it does not make sense to be forced to wait outside for half an hour when it is 30o C below zero.
Then there is the whole issue of homeless people, to which my colleague referred earlier. It is important that these people also be allowed to vote. A voter's card would be the best means to allow them to vote in an election. We must reach out to these people, and we must also find an effective way to do so. They must have a say in the election of their government, which is going to develop policies that may save them, or help them move away from homelessness. There are associations that look after these people, but we must do more to encourage them to vote.
In conclusion, I personally think that Bill C-55 does not do much. I hope the government will be open to constructive amendments that will truly increase the chances of seeing these people vote in large numbers. We must fare better than we currently do in this regard. Indeed, it is rather disappointing to see that only 52% of the population voted. Even when we win, it is disappointing to see that people are turning away from politics.
So, as I said, I hope we can improve this bill by using everyone's input, and by using our experience both in Parliament and in the community, because we also work in the community.
I am currently working as the assistant to our new election campaign director. We talk to people and we hear what they think. They have good ideas. We must follow up on these ideas with concrete measures. Of course, we should not expect miracles. We will not achieve a 100% voter turnout. However, the more the voter turnout increases, the better we can do our work as representatives of the public, as elected people, as members of all the various parties and, in my case, as member of the Bloc Québécois.
May 30th, 2007 / 3:45 p.m.
The Chair Merv Tweed
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. This is meeting number 48, and we are meeting pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, November 7, 2006, Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
Joining us again today from the Department of Transport, we have Mr. Franz Reinhardt, Susan Stanfield, and Merlin Preusse; and from the Department of National Defence, Jacques Laplante and Alex Weatherston. Welcome.
When we adjourned at the last meeting, we were discussing clause 4. The debate was surrounding NDP-3.1 as amended.
(On clause 4)
In discussions with Mr. Julian, we had agreed as a committee to change the letter from (d) to (b), but upon further discussion and discovery we found that the (b) should be (a). We're going to pass that around.
I welcome Mr. Julian. We are discussing changing the letter from (b) to (a). It was your amendment that we were discussing at that time.
Air Canada Public Participation Act
May 29th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act.
While this bill certainly has some elements that could prove interesting, we must take into account the current situation.
I seem to recall that not all that long ago, barely a few months ago, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages to discuss Air Canada's situation and its obligation to provide services in both official languages. This includes Air Canada as well as its subsidiaries and affiliates.
However, to my great surprise and to the surprise of my Liberal Party colleagues, many factors appeared to be overlooked by the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and therefore by the Conservative government, factors that are essential to ensuring that official languages policy is respected by Air Canada and its subsidiaries.
We were surprised to hear the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities tell us that Bill C-29 would not be sent to the Standing Committee on Official Languages but to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. The only thing not mentioned in the title of Bill C-29 is official languages.
As we know, the connection between Air Canada and official languages is important. This is not a transportation issue, even though Air Canada is in the business of transportation. We must look at the overall situation. If Parliament is to ensure that Air Canada and its subsidiaries comply with the Official Languages Act, the Standing Committee on Official Languages must be able to hear witnesses, examine evidence, give recommendations and make the required changes and amendments in order for this bill to be acceptable and in order to continue to defend the official languages throughout Canada.
The Conservative government is doing the exact opposite. We need only look back a few weeks to when the former chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages decided to cancel a committee meeting with just two minutes' notice. That was already an indication of what we would be facing.
Today it seems that the Standing Committee on Official Languages will not even be able to study the bill. It is a shame that the government is not giving this committee the opportunity to debate the bill and make the necessary amendments. It is true that the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities can do some work. I am convinced that the members of this committee can do a good job. However, this is not just about transportation, it is also about official languages. Matters pertaining to official languages must be dealt with by the Standing Committee on Official Languages.
In the next few days we will see if the government backtracks and reinstates the committee. The government may be tired of losing face with regard to official languages and official language communities outside Quebec. That may be the case.
I can hear people opposite who do not agree with me, but that is still the reality of the situation. The Conservative government has lost face on the official languages issue. Since I am still hearing them, I have to conclude that what I am saying does not suit them. Nevertheless, it is the truth. Official language communities are saying that the government should be ashamed of itself for not having replaced the chair of the committee so that we can continue our work.
What I am saying is important because the government is applying the same logic in trying to prevent the Standing Committee on Official Languages from studying Bill C-29. That element should never be shunted aside.
Let me be clear: the Conservative government says a lot of nice things. It talks a good game, but when the time comes to take action, it gets a failing grade. This government is good for nothing when it comes to official languages.
Members of the government can go ahead and laugh at what I have to say, but I can tell you that official language minority communities do not think this is funny. They do not think that the way they are being treated is funny. Official language minority communities have never been treated as badly as they are being treated now. Who is responsible for treating them so badly? The Conservative government, the government that is now in power. Thank goodness it is a minority government. If it were a majority government, one would have to wonder what would be left of official language minority community rights. Probably not all that much.
When we say that Air Canada must offer services in both languages, we are not just saying that for fun. In the not-too-distant past, Air Canada belonged to the federal government. Then it was privatized and Air Canada became a private company. Even so, it was not exempted from its obligations and had to keep offering bilingual services to the Canadian public. Not just part of the Canadian public. Not just anglophones. This was to ensure that francophones would also receive adequate service.
When Air Canada merged with Canadian International, I remember that, at the Standing Committee on Official Languages, some people from the company were rather unhappy, because of me. I even received some mail from people who were very upset about some of my comments. I will repeat them here today.
When Air Canada decided to merge with Canadian International, certain conditions had to be met. For instance, the new entity had to comply with the rules of the Official Languages Act and had to provide services to all Canadians in both official languages. People made up excuses, saying that they were in the process of restructuring, that they were nearly bankrupt, that they were having problems and that we should not be forcing them to provide services in both official languages.
I told them those were the rules of the game at that time and that they had not changed. It was a deal or no deal situation, as it were. Since the company decided to merge with Canadian International, it also had to accept the deal, which meant that the new entity had to provide services in both official languages. Yet it is still hard, even today, to get service in both languages. Many people have made comments about this, not just me.
In his 2006-07 report, the Commissioner of Official Languages said that most of the complaints received regarding service to the public had to do with Air Canada and its inability to provide services to its customers in both official languages. The Commissioner of Official Languages said this, but let us be clear. This refers only to those who filed a complaint, but there are many people across the country who are very discouraged by the service they receive. Ultimately, however, they wonder what good it does to file a complaint, because the service never gets any better.
We are not just talking about person to person service, because sometimes flight attendants will provide service in French, but there are also machines on board that give instructions in French and English. And then there is the written word. The other day I was travelling with Air Canada and I saw things that should not even be possible in this day and age. Everyone would be frustrated to see some of the written language on airplanes.
When we look at the situation, we see that some people are not happy about the fact that Air Canada employees are unable to offer bilingual service. Nonetheless, it is not up to the Conservative government to decide that Air Canada will not offer bilingual services. It is up to us, Parliament, to do so. We have said that Air Canada is required to provide bilingual services.
What do we now see in Bill C-29? The government does not want to consider the present or the future. We cannot discharge Air Canada from its obligation—which also applies to its affiliates—to respect the official languages.
If we do not take action today, it will be too late in the future to try to repair the damage.
The Conservative government is trying to repair damage in several areas. For months, the only thing it has been able to do is repair the damage it has caused. It can blame others, but it should take a look at itself before criticizing members from other parties. It keeps repairing the damage that it has caused. It is not the Liberals who are to blame. It is the Liberals who are waking them up. It is the Liberals who are defending the public so that it is well served, whether in terms of official languages or in terms of student initiatives, etc. That is a fact.
It is thanks to the work of the Liberals that the Conservatives can wake up. As I was saying earlier, it is a good thing this is not a majority government. Indeed, we would be able to wake them up, but they would be able to carry on their little dictatorship. We are here to ensure that the Canadian public has the services it deserves.
It is astounding that this government refuses to acknowledge that a company could purchase existing entities and not be subject to the Official Languages Act. Can you imagine Air Canada being snatched up by a foreign company? The Conservatives would celebrate because they love it when foreign companies buy Canadian companies. They love it when foreign companies take over Canadian businesses and lay off employees. It is just astounding. We can only imagine what it would be like if the official languages policy were also to disappear from Air Canada. The Conservative government does not even want to make the decisions needed to deal with these situations, even though they are so important that they cannot be disregarded.
These are issues that the Conservatives should be examining. They should also look themselves in the mirror and tell themselves that, if they truly want to protect official languages, they should stand up in the House and say that there is nothing to worry about because Air Canada companies, present and future Air Canada subsidiaries, will be required to provide services in both official languages no matter their organizational structure.
Mr. Speaker, try to find a travel agency in your neighbourhood. You used to be able to find one almost everywhere. You could easily find one, whether you lived in a city or village, and buy an Air Canada ticket. Today, their numbers are dwindling. There will be even fewer if this continues. We also have Air Canada Vacations and Aeroplan. Why is it that if you want to make reservations or obtain certain services, Air Canada Vacations is not required to provide service in both official languages? Why does Bill C-29 not address this? Why is Bill C-29 not moving in that direction? Why does the Conservative government not want to have the bill cover this? It is not magic, it is not complicated. If the Conservatives do not wish to include official language provisions in the bill, it is probably because they do not believe in official languages.
Aeroplan is a loyalty program. It enables clients to do more business with the company. In return, the company offers gifts or points exchangeable for more trips or gifts. This also affects online reservations. If we take Aeroplan as an example and if we want to exchange our points for a vacation service, but Aeroplan is not obligated to respect official languages, how will people be respected? How will official language communities be respected? This does not make sense. We cannot say that part of the company will do it and the rest will not. The entire company must do it, all of its current parts, and all of its future ones. Why is it so hard for Conservatives to understand that we are obligated to respect official languages? Why is it so difficult for Conservatives to ensure that official languages will be respected in the future?
I do not want my children, and I hope, my grandchildren and descendants to have to fight like we have had to against the Conservatives in order to be respected with regard to official languages. This is a reality that the Conservatives want to hear nothing about. If the government allowed a free vote on the official languages bill, I would like to see the reaction of members from the other side of the House and to see how many Conservative members would vote against official languages, because many of them do not believe in them.
The Conservative Party does not believe in the entire official languages issue and is not looking to ensure official languages are respected in communities outside Quebec. This is not something new; history is repeating itself. The current Prime Minister or the members of his party have made comments in the past. They should not think that because they are now prime minister or in government that history will be forgotten.
What did they say? Whether they said it a month ago, a year ago or 10 years ago, if they said it, it is too bad, but it is because they believed it. If they believed it, they said it and it continues. They are just trying to win votes. It is really unfortunate. We can tell the Conservative members and the Conservative government that official language communities across the country no longer believe in the Conservative government and no longer believe what the Conservatives are saying.
I am happy because sometimes reality reappears. The Conservatives helped francophones outside Quebec and all official language communities realize that the Conservatives were not able to keep their word and that they were not in a position to truly defend and respect official language minority communities.
As I said earlier, we must look towards the future. The future must be certain, not uncertain. A future that is certain would mean that the government must wake up and make the amendments deemed necessary. First of all, they should refer Bill C-29 to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. If they also want to present it to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, that would not be a problem. However, they must at least show enough respect for official language minority communities to let the Standing Committee on Official Languages have the opportunity to examine the situation, and make the necessary recommendations and amendments.
I am pleased that the other members of my party are supporting me in this file, because this is the reality. We do not see any Conservative members applauding this matter, because the Conservatives do not believe in it. They absolutely do not believe in services in both official languages.
It is sometimes interesting to see how things unfold. On February 21, 2002, members of the former Canadian Alliance, who were also members of the committee at that time, presented a minority report. They felt that the official languages issue should be removed from the Air Canada Public Participation Act. We are currently experiencing the first step. The Conservatives come along and limit the implication of official languages in the Air Canada Public Participation Act. I am convinced that they are dreaming of the day when the official languages obligation regarding Air Canada public participation will just disappear.
This makes no sense when we look at a situation like this, but we must look at the reality. Some say that this makes no sense, but nothing has made any sense for the past 16 months, ever since we have been dealing with this Conservative government, which has no common sense when it comes to official languages.
The Conservatives are going to come along and try to buy people with—
Senate Appointment Consultations Act
May 7th, 2007 / 3:30 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, taking part in this debate on Bill C-43, is a little like going to the dentist. Personally, it is the last thing I want to be doing, but what can I say, sometimes we need to go to the dentist. However, we never need to go to the tooth puller.
I truly think the bill before us is of absolute no relevance. It addresses a very secondary matter to the detriment of more pressing priorities than the proposed reform, and that the Conservative government should be concerned about.
Bill C-43 provides for the consultation of electors in a province with respect to their preferences for the appointment of senators to represent the province.
Part 1 provides for the administration of a consultation, which is exercised under the general direction and supervision of the Chief Electoral Officer.
Part 2 provides for the holding of a consultation, initiated by an order of the governor in council.
Part 3 provides for a process whereby prospective nominees may confirm their nominations with the Chief Electoral Officer.
Part 4 addresses voting by electors in a consultation.
Part 5 sets out the rules for the counting of votes pursuant to a preferential system, which takes into account the first and subsequent preferences of electors as indicated on their ballots.
Parts 6 and 7 deal with communications and third party advertising in relation to consultations.
Part 8 addresses financial administration by nominees.
Part 9 provides for the enforcement of the enactment, including the establishment of offences and punishments for contraventions of certain provisions.
Part 10 contains transitional provisions, consequential amendments to the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, coordinating amendments and commencement provisions.
As I mentioned from the outset, the bill is irrelevant. First, it is quite clear to us that the government, the House of Commons, cannot unilaterally change the Senate without the Constitution being changed. Since the Constitution is a federal constitution, all the stakeholders, in other words, all the provinces, Quebec, the federal government, the parliaments of these different jurisdictions, have to take part in the reform process.
As I said at the beginning, we do not think this bill is appropriate because what we really need is something that includes a review of the Constitution. In the late 1970s, the Supreme Court of Canada studied Parliament's ability to unilaterally amend the constitutional provisions concerning the Senate and, in a 1980 decision concerning Parliament's jurisdiction over the upper chamber, decided Parliament could not unilaterally make decisions about major changes to the essential character of the Senate.
It is likely this legislation will encounter opposition from the provinces, including Quebec. Quebec is not the only province that does not support this government's approach in tabling this bill. The government is heading down a path that leads to the reform of an institution whose relevance is in doubt. Even so, the proposed reform is a minor one.
Do they seriously think that a constitutional negotiation process—which would be necessary, as I said—makes sense right now when the government and Parliament should focus their attention on far more important issues? Just consider reintegrating Quebec into the Constitution that Pierre Elliott Trudeau unilaterally patriated.
All of Quebec's governments, regardless of whether they were Liberal or Parti Québécois, have refused to sign the Constitution as it was patriated in the early 1980s. I would note that there is a three-party consensus on this in the National Assembly among the Liberal Party of Quebec, the Parti Québécois and the Action Démocratique du Québéc.
It is clear to us that neither the powers of the Senate, nor the senator selection method, nor the number of senators for each province, nor the residency requirements for senators can be changed without going through the usual amendment procedure set out in section 38 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which requires the consent of the Senate, the House of Commons, and the legislative assemblies of at least two thirds of the provinces, that is, seven provinces, making up at least 50% of Canada's population.
This is the famous 7/50 formula.
We can see that this bill is irrelevant and could even be harmful, setting in motion a round of constitutional negotiations on a relatively minor issue, as I said. On September 21, 2006, Quebec's intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoît Pelletier—who was recently reappointed—testified before the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform, where he stated:
—from the Quebec government perspective, clearly any future transformation of the Senate into an elected chamber would be an issue that should be dealt with through constitutional negotiations and not simply through unilateral federal action.
If the Senate becomes a chamber of elected representatives, its original purpose would be changed. Whether this is achieved directly or indirectly, it becomes an extremely important change which must be debated within the framework of constitutional discussions.
So as I mentioned, Quebec's intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoît Pelletier, simply reiterated Quebec's traditional position to the senate committee by saying two things: first, that the federal government cannot reform the Senate unilaterally, and second, that the federal government cannot achieve indirectly what it cannot achieve directly. Clearly, introducing this bill is a way of doing indirectly what the government does not want to do directly.
As I said earlier, Quebec is not alone in its opposition to electing senators. The premiers of Saskatchewan and Manitoba have called on the government to abolish the Senate instead of trying to reform it. Even the premier of Ontario has expressed serious doubts, saying that electing senators would exacerbate inequalities, under the Senate's current mandate.
Electing senators indirectly would change the relationship between the House of Commons and the Senate and create confusion. I will come back to this. These changes cannot be made unilaterally without the consent of Quebec and the provinces, as Quebec is now recognized as a nation by the House of Commons. Everyone will appreciate that such a reform would be most unwelcome and would not be in keeping with the spirit of either the Constitution or what has been passed in this House.
I said that the first reason this bill is irrelevant is that it will inevitably lead to a round of constitutional negotiations, which do not make a great deal of sense, whether they concern the Senate or just the election of senators. Therefore, once again, if the government goes ahead, it will come up against this constitutional problem.
The second thing that, to me, makes this bill irrelevant, is that, even reformed by Bill C-43, the Senate is still an useless institution. Originally, the Senate was supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought. It was also supposed to protect regional interests. But when we look at the current makeup of the Senate, we see that the appointments were clearly partisan, which has distorted the nature or mandate of the Senate.
Introducing the election of senators will not resolve the issue, because senators will sooner or later have to affiliate themselves with a political party in order to have the necessary resources for the elections. So the Senate will become more partisan and we will depart even further from its original purpose, which, in my opinion, is no longer relevant in the 21st century.
As I was saying, the indirect election of senators would not improve this situation. On the contrary, the electoral process will tend to increase the role of political parties and indirectly elected senators could become concerned with things that now fall under the authority of the House of Commons. This would create a duplication, or, at the very least, confusion, at a cost of $77 million a year. We think this is an extremely high cost for an institution that is not only useless, but that , in the case of the proposed reform, would create confusion and a significant duplication of legitimacy.
It is important to note that because of the evolution of the democratic process in Canada, in the provinces and in Quebec, no province has had an upper house since 1968.
It is interesting to note that members of several provincial upper houses—unlike the Senate of Canada—once had to earn their election, for example, Prince Edward Island. Such upper houses have disappeared over the years, however. Quebec abolished its legislative council in 1968. That was nearly 40 years ago.
Furthermore, I feel it is important to point out another factor. Bill C-43 is irrelevant. Despite the amendments proposed by the bill, the Senate would not be truly democratic. The indirect election by Canadians would give the Senate a superficial democratic credibility. In many respects, the Senate would remain a democratic aberration.
First of all, public consultation is not binding. The bill provides for public consultation, but does not talk about an election, per se, in order to select senators. The Prime Minister maintains the authority to appoint or not appoint the senators chosen by the public and could therefore decide not to appoint a candidate selected in the election process. In one of the background papers provided by the government concerning this bill, it states:
The Prime Minister can take into account the results of the consultation when making recommendations to the Governor General regarding future representatives of a province or territory in the Senate.
Furthermore, how can we trust this Prime Minister, who did not hesitate to appoint Michael Fortier to the Senate, even though he himself criticized the Liberals' partisan appointments? We therefore see that this new Conservative government—which is no longer new, since it has been in power for 15 or 16 months—simply copied the Liberal method of appointing senators.
Also, I recall very well that, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister promised to appoint only elected members to the cabinet. With that Senate appointment, he broke the promise he had made to voters during the campaign. During the next election, voters will be able to judge for themselves how well the Conservatives can keep their promises.
One more factor is very worrisome. Voters will not be represented equally in the Senate. For instance, in the case of Prince Edward Island, one senator will represent some 27,000 voters, while in other areas of Canada—particularly in Quebec—that proportion will be much higher.
There will be virtually no way to remove senators.
The bill provides for the consultation of the population for the appointment of senators, although it is not binding, as we have just seen. They will be appointed for one term. I realize that some say that the bill provides for a maximum term of eight years for senators, which could solve the problem. But it seems to me that presenting oneself to the electorate only once in eight years is far from a guarantee that these so-called “elected” senators will reflect the concerns of citizens of Quebec or Canada.
In addition, the Senate is an institution that was created a very long time ago, and I find it ridiculous that certain restrictions on presenting oneself as a candidate for the position of senator have been retained. At present, you must be at least 30 years old and own real property worth at least $4,000 in the province and the riding that the individual is appointed to represent. Hence, all those under 30 are excluded. I find that very discriminatory. The rule about assets penalizes a part of our population that might seek to be candidates for such elections. This additional factor demonstrates that the proposal before us does not address the root cause of the problem and that it even seeks to rehabilitate an institution that has lost credibility in the eyes of a good number of Canadians and Quebeckers.
Indirectly, the elected Senate would even undermine the parliamentary system. I will come back to that. As you know, in the British parliamentary system, the executive defends the confidence conferred on it by the House of Commons, which is also elected. Thus, the election of the Senate alone would undermine the preeminence of the House of Commons and would create confusion. The election of two Houses would complicate the issue of preponderance and consequently would weaken the parliamentary system.
The Bloc thinks that this is an ill-conceived and irrelevant bill. Moreover, there is no set spending limit for the candidates. The government says that the individual contribution limits and the transfer limits imposed on parties will be sufficient to limit spending. However, since there is an unlimited number of potential candidates and election spending is subject to partial reimbursement out of public funds, it seems unreasonable not to limit individual spending. Lastly, some seats could be vacant for four years, unless there is a reserve. If a senator left their seat for health reasons, if they died or left for some other reason, we would have to wait four years for a new senator. As I said, unless a reserve is created, the bill is ill-conceived from this perspective.
For all these reasons, we would have preferred debating another subject today. As I said earlier, I feel as though I am at the tooth puller instead of being at the dentist. I do not want to alienate my dentist or dentists in general. It is good to go to the dentist, it is even recommended. But it is not recommended to go to a tooth puller.
I think we should be addressing real problems and real issues, such as the fiscal imbalance. In the budget—we continue to support Bill C-52, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2007—there is a partial financial correction to the fiscal imbalance, but the crux of it is not corrected. The federal government has too much revenue in relation to its responsibilities. Its transfers related to matters under provincial jurisdiction continue to keep Quebec and the other provinces at the mercy of unilateral decisions made here in Ottawa, even though those jurisdictions belong to the provinces. The Bloc feels that the tax base corresponding to the transfers for health, social programs and post-secondary education should, quite simply, be transferred to the provinces as tax points, whether through the GST or income tax.
Still with the fiscal imbalance, the ability to control or even limit the federal government's spending power should be a priority. The Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister have repeatedly promised legislation to limit federal spending power. We are still waiting for this legislation. Such legislation would allow a province, such as Quebec for example, to withdraw from a program implemented, in a shared or unilateral manner, by the federal government in the jurisdictions of the provinces and Quebec. Quebec could opt out with full compensation and without condition. This is important for the people of Quebec and people who need a good health care system, a good education system and social programs that provide an adequate social safety net. For those people, the Senate is of little or no concern in their daily lives.
I would now like to talk about the environment. It seems to me that, ever since the plan was introduced by the Minister of the Environment, criticism has not stopped flooding in from all sides, including from scientists, environmentalists and industrialists alike. We just learned this morning about a poll conducted in Alberta that reveals that 92% of Albertans believe that the oil companies should make a greater effort to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Even more interesting, 70%—I am not sure about this percentage—of Albertans said that these reductions should be in absolute targets, and not intensity targets. What people want in the next few years is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to what we have seen in recent years. They do not want to see merely a slower increase, which would still mean more in the end, even if we produce less per tonne. It is not only Quebeckers and the general population of Canada that are concerned about this. These are also the concerns of Albertans, who, as we all know, are closely tied to the oil and gas industry.
I would like to talk about foreign policy. This should have been a concern. We do not have a foreign policy statement. The Liberal government, before the election that brought its defeat, had introduced a foreign policy statement dealing with defence and international trade.
No one seems to know where we are headed with this, but we are still spending. The government has just announced the purchase of more tanks, but they were purchased on the sly. International cooperation, however, has not seen much development.
Lastly, employment insurance, assistance programs for festivals and exhibitions, the Saint-Hubert airport, these all deserved greater attention, but that attention has been diverted to Bill C-43.
May 3rd, 2007 / 11:20 a.m.
Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to join the debate at the report stage of Bill C-22, a bill that raises the age of consent from 14 to 16 years of age for non-exploitative sexual activity.
Debate surrounding the age of consent for sexual activity remains a sensitive subject. We all have some idea of what the age should be for consenting to sexual relations. As a mother of a teenager, this debate concerns me directly. I understand very well the concerns that other parents may have regarding this subject. The fact is that we cannot always be near our children to protect them from potential threats when they need it.
Protection of our young people has no price. For my parliamentary colleagues and me that protection remains one of our absolute priorities, if not the most important.
In short, the bill raises age of consent for sexual activity to 16 years of age. To avoid criminalizing relations between teenagers, 14 or 15 year olds could consent to having sex with another person, provided that the activity was non-exploitative and the other person was less than five years older than them. Clearly, a 15 year old person could have non-exploitative sexual relations with another person between 16 to 20 years of age, without leading to criminal charges. I would add that raising the age of consent does not affect the provisions known as “enticement of a child”, which forbid any adult in a position of authority from having sexual relations with a young person of less than 18 years of age.
Another exception of the same type would allow 12 or 13 year olds to have non-exploitative sexual relations with partners who were two years older; in other words, with 14 or 15 year old partners.
Finally, Bill C-22 also includes a transitional provision. It provides an exemption from criminal charges in cases where, on the day the legislation comes into force, youths 14 or 15 years of age and their partners five years older, are married, are common law partners or have had or are expecting a child. Then, and only then will they be allowed to continue engaging in sexual activity.
These exceptions are very important. From reading letters I received and listening to concerns expressed by social groups in my riding, I know that opinions vary concerning the age at which young people should start having sex.
However, it is important to recognize that a good number of 14 and 15 year olds have sex, mostly with young people their own age or group. Bill C-22 recognizes this and its goal is clear: it seeks to protect young people against adult sexual predators and not to criminalize sexual activity between consenting teenagers.
Bill C-22 targets adults who exploit youth, not consenting youth. In addition to protecting our young people against sexual exploitation, the bill seeks to send a message to sexual predators that Canada and Quebec do not tolerate sexual abuse of youth. In the same way, on the international scene, Bill C-22 clearly establishes that Canada and Quebec are not destinations of choice for sexual tourism. That brings me to the Internet, a phenomenal innovation that all of us can use to communicate and gain instant access to information and resources around the world. But even though it is an educational tool for our young people, it is also a new way for pedophiles and other predators to sexually exploit children and youth.
It is one of many methods used by people looking to take advantage of legislation on age of consent to sexual activity. Sexual tourism must not be allowed here.
Fortunately, the Criminal Code already has provisions on Internet luring, sexual assault and relations with a person in a position of authority. I believe that these provisions are used as appropriate. As well, Bill C-22 will make it possible for victims to tell the court, freely and above all under protection, what they have suffered. That is what I wish and it is also what the Bloc Québécois wishes.
For all these reasons, my colleagues and I will support Bill C-22 so that it can get through third reading and move on to the Senate. However, we need to look beyond a tougher Criminal Code for ways to address our social problems. The answers do not all lie in piecemeal changes to the Criminal Code. There are many barriers to overcome in the fight against sexual assault of youth, and many of them will remain even if the bill we are debating today is adopted.
For example, the low rate of disclosure and reporting by victims of sexual assault is a major obstacle in combating sexual offences. It will always be impossible to intervene if young people lie or hide their relationship to protect their offender.
I listened to the witnesses who testified before the Standing Committee on Justice during the study of Bill C-22, who said that various surveys suggest that about 10% of sexual assaults are reported annually to the forces of law and order. This shows that victims are generally reluctant to report their situation because they fear the negative reactions of those around them and their attackers’ reactions. Victims fear the problems they will experience in their role as witnesses in court.
Furthermore, I was saying how difficult it can be for parents to ensure the welfare of their children. Parents cannot always be at their children’s sides. I also respect the deep desire of youth to seek a degree of autonomy and intimacy. But I hope with all my heart that, as each of them learns about life, nothing will happen to them. And the parents’ responsibility must also be taken into consideration.
Hence the importance of prevention for our children. Sex education is a must if we really want to protect our youth from sexual exploitation. Not only must it teach them about their responsibilities concerning sexuality, that is, about the various sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, but above all it must give them the tools to protect themselves better from unwanted or exploitative sexual relations.
Better sex education enables children and youth to avoid some difficult and trying situations. Sex education provides young people with information, causes them to think and helps them make enlightened decisions.
Parents, schools and social services must contribute to this learning, since they all share this important responsibility of ensuring children’s education. Effective sex education consists, particularly for adults, in delivering messages that are clear, unambiguous and appropriate to the age of the child or adolescent.
Bill C-22 is therefore a step in the right direction. The Bloc Québécois has always recognized the need to increase the protection of our children, and this bill does so.
In the circumstances, we will support this bill.