House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

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The House resumed from April 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.

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10 a.m.

Bloc

Gaston Leroux Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House this morning in support of the amendment by my colleague, the hon. member for Mercier, calling for nothing short of the withdrawal of Bill C-11.

Need I remind members that the Liberal Party of Canada, faithful to the objectives established by its guru of the last decades, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, took office in the House of Commons in October 1993 with the clear intention of giving government in Canada a more centralized structure. Right from the beginning, there was a major offensive action against the autonomy Quebec was aiming at.

During the more than two years of the present administration, we have seen countless examples of this thrust towards centralization, bill after bill. Bill C-11, creating the Department of Human Resources Development, and arising from the reform of that department in June 1993, is yet another manifestation of the centralist intent of the federal Liberal government.

Bill C-11 is but another step in the invasion, by the Liberal central government, of Quebec's jurisdictions in the area of social and economic development.

Clauses 6 and 20 of that bill are extremely revealing about the federal government's will to limit the freedom of action of the Quebec National Assembly. Clause 6 defines the powers, duties and functions of the minister which now extend, and I quote:

-to include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to the development of human resources of Canada-with the objective of enhancing employment.

The minister is given considerable powers and will be free to act without the approval of the provinces, I repeat, without the approval of the provinces.

In fact, this bill contains no provision on provincial jurisdiction, let alone on honouring this jurisdiction; on the contrary, it denies Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction over manpower training and development.

Consensus has just been established once again, with a unanimous statement at the latest summit held in Quebec, a consensus of all parties: employers, unions, as well as the social and political communities. But they refuse to recognize it and thus fail to respect Quebec's dominion in an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, that is, manpower training and development.

Clause 20 lists the organizations with which the department may enter into agreements. It reads as follows:

  1. For the purpose of facilitating the formulation, co-ordination and implementation of any program or policy-the minister may enter into agreements with a province-, agencies of provinces, financial institutions and such other persons or bodies as the minister considers appropriate.

So the minister may put anyone he wants in charge of managing his department's policies and programs without having to justify himself in the House or worrying about the Quebec government's directives. And what are those directives? Nothing very complicated: the Government of Quebec has its own legislation, an act relating to the executive council of the Government of Quebec. And what does that mean? Allow me to review it for the Liberal government.

Mr. Speaker, I believe I am waking up two or three hon. members. They are awake now, fine.

The legislation on the executive council provides that only the government, through its intergovernmental affairs, can enter into agreements, make arrangements or establish programs on behalf of all agencies, municipalities, school boards and parapublic agencies.

What is the Liberal government doing systematically in its legislation? It ignores the executive council act and the exclusive

responsibility of the Government of Quebec for agreements outside of Quebec. Now, not only does the Liberal government systematically treat Quebec lightly, but it does so explicitly in all its bills in a pernicious and vicious way and with total disregard for provincial jurisdictions.

The minister will have the power to enter into agreements with all local agencies and municipalities. And we all know there is a clear consensus among Quebec municipalities regarding a regional development strategy with the federal government and its secretary of state and bypassing the Quebec government. According to Quebec employment minister, Mrs. Louise Harel, this bill is the antithesis of the Quebec consensus on manpower policy, the antithesis of the single window concept.

This bill prevents Quebec from implementing its own integrated social policy. On the other hand, the federal government is giving itself the legal basis to encroach on provincial jurisdictions whenever it feels like it, for example in the areas of childcare and manpower.

As the official opposition critic for heritage and cultural industries, I cannot help but relate this bill to Bill C-53 establishing the Heritage and Cultural Industry Department. Both are extremely centralizing.

In the area of communications, for instance, the action of federal government is unequivocal. The successive rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada on broadcasting in 1931, on cable television in 1977 and on telecommunications in 1994 have given exclusive jurisdiction to Ottawa in those areas and thus have deprived Quebec of any prerogative in the area of communications.

Here are a few examples of the federal government's tendency to centralize everything in this area. On February 27, 1992, with Bill C-62, the legislation on telecommunications, Ottawa announced its intention to pass new legislation in order to put in place a consistent policy for the entire country overseen by a single regulatory body. In this, however, it totally ignored Quebec's identity and legitimate aspirations of wide reaching autonomy because of its distinct nature.

Another example of centralizing policy. On October 31, 1994, the Minister of Canadian Heritage said that the information highway should be controlled by the federal government, meet national objectives and promote Canadian culture. Quebec should be able to control the socio-economic and cultural issues relating to the information highway since the federal government did not share its strategy for the French content of the information highway.

In setting up her cabinet on June 25, 1993, and I am talking about the Conservatives here, Prime Minister Kim Campbell created the Department of Canadian Heritage in order to promote a Canadian cultural identity based on Canada's foremost characteristics: its bilingualism and its multiculturalism.

The federal government decided to combine under the authority of the Department of Canadian Heritage all areas, according to Bill C-53, which established the department, relating to Canada's identity, values, cultural development and heritage, thereby denying Quebec's true cultural identity. This department's mandate made no provision for the difference in Quebec's culture and so, as usual, Ottawa denied Quebec's cultural reality by melding it with Canada's cultural identity based on bilingualism and multiculturalism.

In fact, all legislation concerning the major policies of the Liberal Party of Canada is extremely centralizing and continues to be expressed bill after bill. The Canadian federal system is a centralized political structure, and the Liberal Party is its master builder.

Bill C-11, which establishes the Department of Human Resources Development, is nothing more than the logical conclusion of a long series of legislative measures aimed at denying the existence of Quebec and its ability to establish a legislative and institutional framework to suit its needs, its uniqueness and its aspirations.

Bill C-76, legislation implementing certain provisions of the budget of February 1995, is another example of the Liberal government's efforts to negate the state of Quebec. I would remind you that, under this legislation, the Minister of Human Resources Development is using savings realized from the reform of unemployment insurance to set up a human resource investment fund. This fund will be used for manpower training, among other things, and will therefore give the central government massive discretionary and centralizing powers over an area that is under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction-education-thereby completely disregarding Quebec's policies in the area.

Let us look at other examples. Interprovincial trade is another area in which the federal government likes to impose its centralizing vision. Bill C-88 shows the federal government's determination to act as judge and jury in interprovincial trade and to give itself, through this bill, a power of enforcement through orders it issues. Thus, it can extend the application of any federal legislation to the provinces, as stated in clause 9(1)( c ), in other words, to exert control over its partners by declaring itself in all disputes the sole judge and jury able to decide.

This unitary state attitude of a centralizing federal system is in contradiction with provincial identities and, as such, impedes the development of Quebec. This attitude is also reflected in Bill C-46 establishing the Department of Industry. Its clause 8 states specifically that the Minister of Industry is responsible for regional economic development in Ontario and Quebec.

This bill only goes to show that there is overlap with respect to regional economic development by confirming the federal industry

department's right to interfere in an area of jurisdiction over which Quebec has been demanding control for a long time.

Bill C-91 to continue the Federal Business Development Bank under the name Business Development Bank of Canada is another example of centralizing federal legislation. Clauses 20 and 21 of this bill are totally unacceptable to Quebec. Clause 20 provides that the Business Development Bank "may enter into agreements with, and act as agent for, any department or agency of the government of Canada or a province, for the provision of services or programs on their behalf".

This is another example of how, bill after bill, the government is invading provincial areas of jurisdiction, and going as far as stipulating in a piece of legislation how to do it, completely ignoring the legislation on Quebec's executive council where it is said that the Quebec government alone may enter into agreements and arrangements with governments outside Quebec on behalf of its own agencies, institutions, and municipalities.

However, the federal government keeps turning a deaf ear, refusing to abide by the laws of Quebec. Bill after bill, it keeps on centralizing without any constitutional consultation. It claims it is decentralizing, it claims it is willing to talk to everybody, but quietly and slyly, one bill at a time, it is giving itself all the tools to centralize.

Moreover, government members congratulate themselves for being open, flexible, ready to talk to anyone. But talks will not go very far, since with every new bill they become judge and jury, and can impose their own policies and legislation.

Under this clause the Liberal federal government pursues its strategy of centralization, a political strategy the objective of which is, I remind you, to substantially restrict the Quebec government's ability to act in the area of economic development, ultimately preventing it from achieving political autonomy.

The demagogic approach developed by the present Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, who claims that Canada is the most decentralized country in the world, is an insult to intelligence and reflects a bad faith which is a major impediment to finding a solution regarding Quebec's place in North America.

In spite of the incessant pleas of the Quebec government to develop its own economic and social policies, the Liberal Party of Canada always said no and used every available legislative means to restrict the decision making power of Quebec National Assembly.

The new Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs may very well claim that the Canadian federation is one of the most decentralized, but we are of the opinion that it is one of the most centralized in the world. This is why 2,308,266 Quebecers voted for sovereignty on October 30.

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10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That the vote previously scheduled to take place on Monday, April 22 be further deferred until Tuesday, April 23 at 5.30 p.m.

(Motion agreed to.)

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10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Philippe Paré Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am altogether sad and happy to speak to this bill. I am happy, because I hope my speech will help to sink it into oblivion, and sad because it shows once again that the federal government has no clue how to interpret the results of the October 30 referendum.

Bill C-96, which became Bill C-11, gives the Department of Human Resources Development new powers that it did not have previously. It was already inappropriate before the referendum and it is all the more so now. However it is almost the exact opposite of what was said in the last throne speech.

Indeed, in the speech from the throne, the government was telling us very humbly: We intend to withdraw from the provinces' jurisdictions. Five or six areas were mentioned, forestry, recreation and manpower, to name but a few. We know what was behind the government's withdrawal in matters of manpower. It was probably a trick to save time.

Despite this announcement in the speech from the throne, we were also told, among other things, that the federal government had no intention of interfering in areas of provincial jurisdiction without the consent of a majority of the provinces. Of course, Quebecers are perfectly aware, in this context, that it will be relatively easy for the federal government to get the consent of a majority of the provinces and that, most of the time, Quebec will lose out as a result of this throne speech promise.

My colleague, the member for Richmond-Wolfe, has explained very capably how the federal government has intruded upon provincial jurisdictions over the last few months. He described how this bill is another example of federal intrusion in Quebec's jurisdiction.

I think it is impossible to improve this bill. That is why the member for Mercier asked that it be brought back to its starting point or at least that it be sent to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development so that the committee can determine if anything can be done with it.

I agree that we should not increase the powers of the Department of Human Resources Development because, in the past, it has abused its powers. A case in point is unemployment insurance reform.

In the throne speech, we were also told that the government would ensure the viability of social programs. So we have two commitments related to the subject at hand: first, the government will withdraw from the provincial areas of jurisdiction and they will not intrude on any others; second, it has committed to ensuring the viability of social programs.

Then, what did the government announce in the throne speech? Among other things, a $7 billion cut in transfers to provinces. What will the impact of such a measure be? It will be remembered that the Canada health and social transfer covers health care, income security and post-secondary education. It is clear that by passing the deficit on to the provinces, the federal government will force them to make drastic and difficult decisions that will not necessarily be in the best interests of the population.

I would like, however, to highlight the impact of those measures on post-secondary education, mainly at the university level. If provinces receive less for universities, the tuition fees will almost certainly go up.

What will happen then? We have to try to find some kind of common thread in all this. If tuition fees increase, young people, in order to make ends meet, will try to get as many hours of paid work as possible.

We seem to be forgetting about the society in which young people live. We live in a consumer society. We cannot ask young teenagers and young adults to live as if they were cloistered, as recluses, excluded from all economic activity. A recent study showed that, in Quebec alone, teenagers spend $1 billion on consumer goods.

Some paternalistic people might say that if they are short of money they should refrain from spending. However, this would be hypocritical because, really, we have chosen a consumer society as our economic model. It means that the money that young people are spending fuels the economy. Therefore we cannot-and it would be stupid to do so-tell young people: "If you do not have any money, just do not consume".

The increase in tuition fees means that young people will increasingly be looking for work. And if they do work more, we can forecast the consequences. I am a former school principal and I know what it means for young people to work more than 15 hours a week on top of their regular school work, which is their first priority. Already, in the last year of high school, where there are virtually no fees, almost half the students work, have paid employment to be able to fit into our consumer society and to purchase what they see advertised on TV and everywhere in the media.

So, young people will work more, will have a little less time to spend on their studies, and we are entitled to think that their grades will suffer and that some of them will not pass. Because they have been unable to spend as much time as they should on their studies, college and university students will have to repeat some courses. In some cases, it will no doubt be more dramatic. They will probably have to also repeat a whole year, whether in high school, college or university.

If we keep in mind that it costs about $10,000 to live while attending university, we realize how an increase in tuition fees is a short-sighted decision. For the federal government to reduce transfers to the provinces when this will result in an increase in tuition fees shows a lack of foresight. Eventually, we will have to pay a price for such measures, in terms of social costs.

Not only will students be sometimes put in situations where they will fail some courses or have to repeat them, but we can also imagine that the need to work more hours will lead to some of them dropping out. Young people who can no longer invest enough time and energy in their studies will lose interest at some point. They will realize they are in over their head will drop out of school.

Once again, we have an example of the hypocrisy of the society we live in. There are campaigns against dropping out, but at the same time, young people are put in a situation where they are obliged to reduce the time they spend on their studies. So, some have to drop out of the school system. To a large extent, it is bad political decisions that are leading systematically to dropping out and, more often than not, even though education comes under provincial jurisdiction, the problem is created at the federal level and transferred to the provincial level, and people are left with the impression that it is the provinces that are making bad decisions.

The budget speech was pernicious, through the $7 billion in cuts to transfers to the provinces, but as if that were not enough, the federal government went further by saying, in a very hypocritical way: "We will reform unemployment insurance". It is not reforming unemployment insurance, it is destroying a system that workers and businesses have paid for from their own pockets, since the federal government no longer contributes in any way to the unemployment insurance fund. It has infiltrated a system put in place by employers and employees and is now busy wreaking havoc with it.

I want to address three aspects of this government's destructive behaviour. If this reform ever sees the light of day despite all the demonstrations and protests in the maritimes, Quebec and else-

where, the government may be persuaded to soften the blow by these demonstrations, which cannot be anything but emotional because people feel affected in their daily lives, knowing the impact this reform will have on their living conditions, their children and so on. It is therefore only normal for them to demonstrate vigorously against this bill.

I wish to draw your attention to two measures in particular provided for in this bill. These two measures revolve around the same figure, $900 million. As members may recall, the government told us in the throne speech about its intention to ensure the viability of social programs. As far as I know, a country that creates social programs does not necessarily do so for the wealthy. Who needs social programs? The most vulnerable in our society, those in a precarious situation. But it is precisely these vulnerable people the government is targeting.

The government tells us it will take $900 million away from seasonal employees, part time workers and, of course, the students I referred to earlier. It is trying to sell them the illusion that perhaps one day, if the context is just right, they may qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. No one really believes this given how hard it is to receive benefits and how high the eligibility thresholds have been raised. Not many people believe those workers in a precarious situation will ever qualify for benefits.

Seasonal workers are being penalized. My colleagues on the human resources development committee have condemned this reform on numerous occasions, almost singlehandedly if I may say so, because of a lack of support from members who should have been more concerned about the rights of their constituents, be they from the NDP or the Reform Party-although it would be somewhat more surprising coming from that side. At any rate, I am convinced that, in the ridings represented by members of the Reform Party, there are workers whose jobs are not secure and who will be hurt by this bill.

Unfortunately, only Bloc Quebecois members were courageous, strong and proud enough to stand up for the disadvantaged and for those whose work situation is precarious.

I would like to say a few more words about students, as they are always on my mind because I was a school principal in a previous life. Students will be particularly hard hit by this reform. Naturally, the government assures us that, in the particular case of students, contributions made by those who did not earn $2,000 will be refunded. But we know that only in 25 per cent or so of the cases will contributions actually be refunded, because nearly 75 per cent of students will earn more than $2,000. Just try to live on less than $2,000 a year while attending university. It is obvious that the $2,000 limit is grossly underestimated and does not reflect the financial needs of students.

As a result, businesses will see their payroll taxes increase. Last week, I treated myself to a meeting of the human resources development committee, where witnesses from Manitoba were saying exactly the same thing as what employers from my riding had told me, namely that raising payroll taxes on small business-the people giving evidence were from the restaurant industry, which, as we know, is particularly vulnerable to competition-will have immediate and dramatic consequences.

Employers required to pay higher unemployment insurance payroll taxes will necessarily be driven to consider reducing the work time they used to distribute among their part time employees.

Consequently, employees will undoubtedly be subjected to more pressure, they will have to give a higher performance to do the same work in fewer paid hours. So, when the government claims that the unemployment insurance reform will create part time jobs, it is indulging in wishful thinking, because it will rather do the opposite.

If the Minister of Human Resources Development really listened to what employers have to say on the matter, he would realize that his dreams do not correspond to reality. The reform will decrease the number of jobs, part time jobs in particular, and workers will be overburdened.

I will conclude now, because I realize that my time is running out. In my opinion, not only did the government wickedly impose a $900 million cut on the most insecure and poorest workers, but it is also taking $900 million from the poor to distribute to the rich.

This is really what the government is doing when it says: "People will stop contributing for the part of their salary exceeding $39,000". Previously, the maximum insurable earnings was $42,500, so lowering it to $39,000 will result in savings of $900 million. This amount equals the one we mentioned before. In other words, the government takes from the poor to give to the rich. This bill is totally unfair, and we should not give more powers to a government which implements such a measure.

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10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, my speech today-

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The Deputy Speaker

Speeches cannot exceed a maximum of ten minutes and there are no questions or comments.

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10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

My speech today deals with third reading of Bill C-11, an act to establish the Department of Human Resources Development and to amend and repeal certain related acts, and with the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Mercier to withdraw this legislation.

For the benefit of our listeners, let me point out that this bill was debated at second reading during the first session of this 35th Parliament. We resume the debate where we left it before the Prime Minister decided to prorogue Parliament, last January.

First, a general comment must be made regarding this legislation. The government wants to change its administration and reduce its size and costs. This in itself is a laudable goal. Consequently, it merges, eliminates or creates new departments, which means that legislation is required to legalize the situation of several ministers and departments. Indeed, several ministers were sworn in under the former names of their department, not the new ones.

I did an intellectual exercise which was meant to be objective, even though objectivity is always subjective. I examined certain documents dealing with this bill, I reread several speeches made in this House at second reading, when the bill was known as Bill C-96, and I took a look at a few letters and memos released by colleagues, organizations and ministers.

What I noticed was a great deal of consistency. With his bill, the minister has managed, as have many ministers in this government, to unite everyone against him. Let us take a closer look at what some have said or written about this legislation.

First and foremost, Quebec's employment minister who, on October 4, 1995, issued a communique indicating that the Government of Quebec was associating itself "with its labour market partners to oppose the designs of Ottawa on the issue of manpower". The minister was echoing the position taken by the board of directors of the Société québécoise de développement de la main-d'oeuvre, which includes major employer associations and unions, as well as representatives of the co-operative, community and academic world. That same morning, the corporation had issued a statement indicating its unanimous rejection of this piece of legislation. At that time, Mrs. Harel, the minister, wrote: "This bill is the very opposite of the consensus on manpower in Quebec, the opposite of the single window principle. This proves that Ottawa is committed to continuing and even increasing its costly duplication and overlap in the area of manpower in Quebec".

The next day, October 5, 1995, the Canadian Institute of Adult Education also issued a press release, entitled: "Bill C-96: Minister Axworthy's Blueprint for Society or How to Manage Without the Provinces". Today, six months later, the institute could issue the same release except for two things: the bill has changed numbers and is now called Bill C-11, and the minister responsible now is the one who was then the transport minister, before the Prime Minister did a major cabinet shuffle last January.

Here are a few excerpts from this press release which is still relevant today: "This bill seriously undermines the equity principle governing the social security system in Canada and denies the exclusive jurisdiction of provinces over manpower training and development. With this bill, the federal government has demonstrated a blatant lack of respect for the aspirations of the provinces.-Clauses 6, 20 and 21 leave no doubt as to the centralizing designs of the federal government".

Two days later, on October 7, 1995, Henri Massé, then secretary general of the FTQ, a labour confederation representing nearly half a million workers in Quebec, signed a press release describing the dangers of federalism and urging the government to refrain from intruding into the field of manpower training in Quebec. The FTQ cautioned the federal government about any attempt to intervene in areas of provincial jurisdiction and to set up parallel structures.

He went on to say: "There is a strong consensus favouring Quebec's becoming solely responsible for policies on manpower adjustment and occupational training within its borders.-The Conseil du patronat itself agrees with the unions on this.-Even Robert Bourassa's Liberal government opposed a similar move by Ottawa in 1991".

Mr. Massé then pointed out that the bill will confer extensive powers to the minister who could always bypass the provinces. Finally, Mr. Massé concluded that: "This bill leaves the door wide open for privatization and contracting-out of certain programs, including the unemployment insurance plan".

On November 28, the very same day that Bill C-96 was to be voted on in this House, the Minister of State for Joint Action, Minister of Employment and Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities in the Parizeau government sent out yet another press release saying, and I quote: "Bill C-96-now Bill C-11-is a fraud and it confirms the federal government's intentions to systematically bypass Quebec's jurisdiction and institutions to maintain, and even increase, duplication regarding manpower related measures in our province, under the guise of decentralization".

It goes on to say: "Bill C-96 amounts to a flat rejection of the unanimous Quebec consensus to the effect that the federal government must completely withdraw from the manpower sector and give related budgets back to the province.- Ottawa's tactic was formally condemned by all labour market partners. Ottawa has confirmed it intends to pursue its centralist manpower policy and ignore the specific needs of the Quebec labour market, thus dismissing the consensus in Quebec on manpower issues which stresses the need to fight unemployment effectively by allowing for the differences in the various labour markets across Quebec and

promoting the involvement of the socio-economic players in every region and community".

So, based on these brief reactions and comments and since I do not have much time, I have come to the conclusion that, with this bill, the federal government is far from withdrawing from the manpower sector. On the contrary, it is getting more involved. And what worries me is that the minister in inconspicuously using this bill to give himself even greater powers at the expense of the provinces.

The basic points of the bill are reflected in certain clauses. The powers, duties and functions of the minister are defined in clause 6, which stipulates:

  1. The powers, duties and functions of the Minister extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to the development of the human resources of Canada not by law assigned to another Minister, department, board or agency of the Government of Canada, and are to be exercised with the objective of enhancing employment, encouraging equality and promoting social security.

Under legislation now in force, the powers of the minister deal with the creation, implementation and organization of human resources in Canada, placement services, unemployment insurance and immigration.

Since these parameters have been left out of the bill now before us, the phrase "all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction" is most disquieting.

Certain clauses give the minister the authority to entrust whomever he wants with the management of his department's policies and programs without having to discuss this with anybody, including Parliament.

To conclude, this bill is a sinister manoeuver but the official opposition has not been taken in. With this bill, Ottawa wants to gain full control over the labour market policy and human resources development in Quebec. We say no to this bill, which is one more reason for Quebec to separate.

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10:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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Some hon. members

Question.

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The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Some hon. members

No.

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The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour will please say yea.

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Some hon. members

Yea.

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The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.