House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Bonavista—Trinity—Conception
Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Fred Mifflin for Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-41, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Canada Shipping Act.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Prince Albert—Churchill River
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Gordon Kirkby Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I am before the House to discuss Bill C-41. The bill is before us again to approve the amendments made by the Senate. The bill received third reading in the House of Commons on November 18, 1996 with your support, and I ask all of you in this House to voice your support again today so we may begin working on implementing this legislation-

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I remind the hon. parliamentary secretary that when he uses the word you it is to refer to the Chair rather than to all of his colleagues.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Liberal

Gordon Kirkby Prince Albert—Churchill River, SK

I ask the House through the Speaker to voice its support again today so that we can begin working on implementing this legislation which will modernize our child support system and protect the needs of children after divorce.

This legislation confirms our promise to put children first, a promise we made when we announced the child support strategy. This strategy was announced in last year's budget by the finance minister. It includes child support guidelines, a change in the tax treatment of child support and the redirecting of all revenues that are generated from such change to poor children. It also improves the enforcement measures. All of these changes are expected to come into force on May 1, 1997.

The child support reforms are a product of six years of collaboration with the provinces and territories through the federal, provincial and territorial family law committee. For six years the provinces and the federal government worked closely together to pool research efforts and moneys to develop a child support formula suited to the Canadian context and based on solid economic research of family expenditures on children.

Bill C-41 is also the product of extensive consultation with all stakeholder groups. At least three separate series of consultations were conducted and hundreds of submissions were received and reviewed. Over 8,000 copies of the federal, provincial and territorial family law committee's original report have been distributed across the country.

All governments and groups have had a significant impact in some way on the guidelines. The result is that no one group is completely satisfied. Each group would have done a number of things differently had it had sole control of the project. However, most of them have put aside their own preferences in favour of the goal of national consistency and co-ordination.

There is a clear recognition that these guidelines are a great improvement over the current system, and it is recognized by the courts and family law practitioners who are already-

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

An hon. member

A quorum count, Mr. Speaker.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member is correct. There are not 20 members in the House. Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair sees 20 members now.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Jesse Flis Parkdale—High Park, ON

A point of order, Mr. Speaker. It does not fall within the standing orders or the House rules for a member of the Reform Party to stick his head in, call quorum and sneak out when there is not one Reform member sitting in the House.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member will know, as well as the Chair, that we are not supposed to comment on the absence of members of any party from the House for longstanding reasons.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Gordon Kirkby Prince Albert—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will not talk about the absence of members from the House but I will address my comments to the members of the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberal Party present.

Most of the stakeholders have put aside their own preferences in favour of the goal of national consistency and co-ordination. There is a clear recognition that the guidelines that have been put in place are a great improvement over the current system. That is recognized by the courts and family law practitioners who are already using the draft guidelines on an advisory basis.

Most provinces are now expected to implement these guidelines, learn from the experience and work together to improve them. The province of Quebec is the only province that has already passed legislation to introduce its own guidelines through regulatory process in order to coincide with the May 1 date.

Bill C-41 will allow these guidelines to also apply to orders made under the Divorce Act. Without Bill C-41 there would be in Quebec two different systems for determining child support orders, one for separation and common law relationships and one for divorce.

This bill is about children. It is about ensuring that their needs are met now and in the future. This bill will help parents come to an agreement more quickly on the issue of child support and thereby reduce conflict.

Finally, Bill C-41 also recognizes that some governments need to continue to focus on enforcement of support orders. New measures are introduced to assist the provinces and territories in this regard.

We have also heard that there are issues other than child support on the minds of many Canadians. Custody and access were raised repeatedly throughout the study of the bill by both Houses. We are not ignoring this issue. We are simply completing the task started six years ago by the federal, provincial and territorial governments. The long awaited child support reforms, custody and access, was the subject of public consultation prepared by the department in 1993. The officials of the justice department have already started to work on this issue through the federal, provincial and territorial law committee.

To reaffirm our commitment to addressing this issue, the Minister of Justice has agreed to move that the government establish a joint House and Senate parliamentary review of custody and access. It is my hope that interested Canadians and stakeholders will take the opportunity to voice their concerns to the parliamentary committee.

We will be making an important first step in finding solutions if we all work together. As you know, Mr. Speaker, two amendments were made to Bill C-41 by the standing Senate committee on social affairs, science and technology. That is why we have the bill before the House again today. I would like to comment on the impact of these amendments to the Divorce Act.

First, some committee members had expressed concerns about the definition of child of the marriage in Bill C-41 which was introduced for the first time in explicit reference to the pursuits of reasonable education-

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Vancouver North.

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10:10 a.m.

Reform

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I ask for a quorum count, please.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Yes, that is one of the joys of the Speaker's job.

And the count having been taken:

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There now appears to be a quorum. The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Gordon Kirkby Prince Albert—Churchill River, SK

Our intention in adding these words was to codify the existing case law which currently allows for child support to be ordered where children are over the age of majority, pursuing post-secondary education and where the parents have the ability to support them.

However there were some concerns expressed by the senators that the addition of these new words could have been interpreted more broadly than the current case law. This was not acceptable to some people. As a compromise, the Minister of Justice agreed to remove the words "pursuit of reasonable education" so that the current case law will continue to apply. Through the words "or other cause" the courts will continue to have the discretion to award support for post-secondary education where the children have reached the age of majority and where parents have the financial ability.

Second, Bill C-41 through the introduction of child support guidelines reaffirms the objective that both parents have a joint financial obligation to support their children. However the minister understood the concerns raised by some members of the committee that this objective was no longer apparent since it was removed from the act along with the other provisions which were part of the concept of broad discretion which is currently used in the determination of child support. This broad discretion concept defeated the objectives of the guidelines and as such we needed to remove it from the act.

The minister has always supported the objective that both parents are financially responsible for the needs of their children. This obligation is included in the guidelines but to give it more importance the minister agreed that it be reintegrated in the act to ensure that any guidelines will respect that principle.

The child support guidelines are not in this bill but will be introduced through the regulatory process. The provision on shared custody drew some attention of some senate committee members. They were concerned that it only applied to situations where both parents equally shared the custody of their children. Committee members suggested that the courts should be able to depart from

the table of awards where both parents shared custody of children for 40 per cent of the time.

It should be noted that this was the family law committee's original recommendation which had been changed at the request of many legal organizations across the country who were concerned that this would increase litigation on the more difficult issue of custody and access. We agreed to introduce the provision in the guidelines but we will monitor it closely as with any other provision in the guidelines.

This legislation calls for a review by the Department of Justice to be placed before each House of Parliament within five years. Until then the Department of Justice will closely monitor the implementation of every provision with the provinces and territories through the implementation task force. It will also be seconded by an advisory committee which will provide specialized advice on issues as they arise. If changes to the guidelines are required, we will be able to bring them through relatively quickly given that the guidelines will be introduced through the regulatory process.

We are still aiming to have this bill in effect by May 1, 1997 to coincide with the tax change. I urge all members of this House to again support this bill which will bring such improvement to the area of family law. For over 50 years the current system has been in place and it is time for a change. Six years of study and extensive review by the provinces and by all stakeholders working within the family law system have brought about the proposals that are being brought forward by the minister today.

I wish to thank all of those who have been involved in improving this legislation and making it what it is. That being said, as was indicated, there will be a chance as the changes are implemented to review the bill on a continuous basis so that changes where appropriate can be made. But this is one step forward and another bit of progress by the Minister of Justice. We thank him for his efforts and we thank all those who have participated in this process.