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 nuclear.

Topics

Divorce Act
Government Orders

February 14th, 1997 / 1:05 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief because I see that one of my colleagues would also like to direct a comment or a question to the hon. member from the Bloc who just spoke.

I am a bit puzzled by comments he made during his presentation. Near the end he spoke about the three amendments which the Senate put forward with respect to this legislation. He indicated the Bloc will be opposing what he listed as the first amendment which is the promise to strike a joint committee to look at the whole issue of custody, access and visitation rights.

All of us know that the debate on Bill C-41 has been somewhat lengthy. A lot of people have spoken about its flaws and its ineffectiveness in addressing certain issues of parenting which are so vitally important to the majority of Canadians.

I wonder why the Bloc, other than perhaps animosity toward the other place, would oppose a joint committee to look at such a critical area pertaining to parenting.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Bernier Mégantic—Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thought I had answered that question, but I thank the hon. member for asking me to clarify my point. It is very simple: we are opposed to the Senate getting involved in this matter. We do not object to the fact that a committee should follow up on these issues.

On the contrary, I pointed out that, while we do not think the proposed formula, that is the establishment of a joint committee of the House and the Senate, is the appropriate solution, we certainly intend to take part in the work of that committee and to state our point of view, in the best interests of our fellow citizens.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Reform

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the member has now said the Bloc is willing to talk about the joint committee.

I want to question the member about the abolition of the upper House. He seemed very bitter about the upper House, when in fact it is one of the few occasions when it is actually doing its job, which is to look at legislation that has passed here with a sober second thought to find out if it is really fair.

Thank goodness there is a very close balance between Tories and Liberals in that House right now because it has enabled some common sense to come out of it. They sent the legislation back here so that we could have a better look at it.

Instead of scrapping the Senate and the whole country being held hostage to this place, does he not think it would be better to have an elected Senate which would have equal representation from each province? In that way we could have a truly representative House of sober second thought.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Bernier Mégantic—Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, again, it seems to me I answered that question. First, I want to express my surprise at hearing the Reform Party member rave about the Conservative and Liberal representation in the Senate. It seems to me he should hope instead that some Reform senators would be present, as was the case previously.

We, Bloc Quebecois members, say that the Senate is a completely useless institution in our parliamentary process. Moreover, in my speech I made reference to our party's political option, which is known throughout Quebec, since we were elected by discussing it openly. Once Quebec achieves sovereignty, the issue of whether the Senate is useful or not will become moot. The Senate will simply disappear.

Once this happens, our Canadian friends can certainly choose whatever institutions they wish to have, through whatever process they select. If they want an elected Senate because it would better meet their concerns and expectations, we will certainly not object. We will take note of that, and we will watch the implementation of such a measure. We, Bloc Quebecois members, have absolutely no use for the Senate, now or in the future.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to the Senate amendments to Bill C-41, which amends the Divorce Act.

This bill has received a certain amount of notoriety and attention in the media over the last week or two because of the work of one senator in particular. As my colleague from North Vancouver just said, the Senate became a House of sober, second thought. The impression seems to have been left that this House did not adequately debate and take a good look at the bill. That is simply not true.

Although that seems to be the perception of the public, and perpetuated by the media, in reality this bill was before the House on a number of occasions. I spoke to it twice, at second reading and at report stage, when both opposition parties brought forward a number of amendments which would have improved the bill.

It is a bit ironic that Senator Anne Cools picked up on this when the bill came before the Senate. She also brought forward amendments, which people in the other place are entitled to do. We applaud their efforts to try to better the legislation that comes before them. After all, that is why the Senate is there.

As my hon. colleague from North Vancouver just stated, this is one example that clearly demonstrates that the Senate can actually accomplish a lot, especially in the present situation with such a close balance of power existing in the upper chamber between the Conservatives and the Liberals. This is an example where the Senate can actually accomplish a lot, where it has a lot of power to force change to a piece of legislation.

It is also ironic that while this could be used as an example of the power of the upper chamber, conversely it also indicates the powerlessness of this Chamber. The amendments that eventually came from the Senate that we are debating today are essentially the same amendments that were brought in by the Reform Party of Canada and the Bloc Quebecois when the House dealt with this legislation.

As I indicated, I had the privilege to speak to this bill twice, once on October 3, 1996 and again quite extensively on November 4, 1996 when the bill was in this Chamber for report stage.

We brought forward four amendments. The first would have established an order of priority so that the court would look first at the needs of the child and the non-custodial parent's ability to pay and then at the applicable guidelines for child support. As the bill is written and still exists, the court only looks to the guidelines. We see that as a real flaw in the bill and one that has not been addressed by the Senate amendments.

The second amendment we brought forward is that the guidelines established under the bill should take into consideration the needs of the child and the ability of the parent to pay.

The third amendment would extend the period from 30 to 50 days for a non-custodial spouse to react to the receipt of notice that his or her passport may be suspended or federal licence withdrawn for non-payment of support. This is a real concern in that a situation could develop because of this legislation whereby a non-custodial parent due to an error, and in these days of technology computer errors happen all the time, could arrive at a port or airport planning to leave the country perhaps for employment overseas only to find their passport had been revoked.

In cases where there has been a legitimate error, by the time the individual could go through the appeal process they could perhaps have lost their job. How would this be beneficial to the child that the legislation is supposedly being put in place to help support? This is a very real concern.

We put forward another amendment dealing with the same issue that would extend the period from 10 to 20 days for deeming that a person has received notice that the passport may be suspended or a license revoked for the same purpose. A little more advance notice might prevent a tragic situation when a person could conceivably lose their employment and their ability to support their children because of some error.

We have no problem where an individual has gone through the process and it is obvious the non-custodial parent is intent on not abiding by their responsibilities for the support of the children, that the law treats it as a very serious offence. With the garnishment of wages provision the bill provides that the children are properly cared for and supported.

However, to go to the extent of revoking passports, the bill goes a bit too far as there certainly could be some errors in the future. When they come to light they could prove to be quite tragic in the sense of loss of income for support of the very children the bill was designed to assist.

Another area I want to get into is custody and access which the bill does not deal with. We have said on many occasions when the bill was before the House and when speaking on this issue outside the House that the bill deals with the monetary aspect of child support but completely misses the boat by not dealing with custody and access and co-parenting. It does not promote an enhanced environment for co-parenting.

As mentioned in the debate earlier today, the problem many of us see in the whole area of divorce and what happens to the family is that the divorce process seems to build a sense of adversity between the two parents. The very system promotes adversity rather than trying to arrive at a more amicable conclusion to the divorce. We have said that while the overall purpose of Bill C-41 is quite admirable, it is very lacking in this area.

While I am speaking on this issue, it reminds me that I introduced private members' Bill C-242 in the House of Commons on March 20 last year. The bill would give joint custody in all cases of divorce except where it could be shown to the court that it was in the best interests of the child or children to have sole custody awarded to one parent. Obviously there are cases where there is abuse, neglect or a very real reluctance on the part of one parent to assume the responsibilities, however I would suggest that those cases are a very small exception in the vast majority of cases.

I have talked to a lot of divorced parents in my riding of Prince George-Peace River and across the country about these types of issues. In the vast majority of cases, both parents are trying to operate in the best interests of the children. They want to continue to be loving and caring parents after the divorce just as they were when the marriage was intact.

I noted in an earlier speech that according to a 1995 study by the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, non-custodial parents with visitation and joint custody were much more likely to pay support. Seventy-nine per cent of those with access paid support, while only 59 per cent of those without access paid.

We cannot separate the issue of financial support from the issue of custody, visitation and access to the children. The two go hand in hand. We cannot separate the two because statistics clearly show that when there is greater access, there is also a greater willingness on the part of the non-custodial parent, on the part of the other parent, in most cases the father, to comply with support requirements. This is an area where the government could enact legislation that would support families rather than furthering the adversity that we have presently.

A May 19, 1992 study by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family found that almost 75 per cent of non-custodial parents reported problems in visiting their children. This shows that access and visitation rights in Canada are not working and it results in many problems, including as I said, non-compliance in child support.

That is why when I was looking at this situation I opted to go with moving toward joint custody, which many of the states in the United States have adopted. It is not the total answer and I recognize that. I talked with many groups, such as the umbrella group FACT, Fathers are Capable Too, that was here about a week and a half ago. They had a number of speakers and held a press conference downstairs in this very building. They brought forward a lot of points on this legislation and on this issue which the government would certainly do well to listen to and pay heed to.

As one of my colleagues said earlier, we have to look at this issue as a family issue and a support issue. Why is it that both parents are assumed by society, by the communities and by the justice system to be loving, caring parents when the marriage is intact? We assume that unless it is proven otherwise. Yet it seems that once the marriage breaks down and the parents are separated, the system supports the sense of adversity between the parents. It gives certain rights and powers to one that do not go to the other. In 1992 Canadian courts awarded joint custody only 16 per cent of the time. Sole custody is awarded to mothers approximately 72 per cent of the time and to fathers only 12 per cent of the time.

In some instances where sole custody is awarded to one parent or the other, the parents themselves can arrive at a reasonable solution, a solution which is in the best interests of the children as far as visitation, holidays and access to those children go. It is in the best interests of those children and I certainly applaud those parents who are able to do that.

However those statistics would indicate to me that there is a problem out there. The problem is that in many cases, the children are used as pawns. They are the innocent victims. That is my great concern.

I do not want to come down on the side of the custodial parent versus the non-custodial parent or vice versa. I do not want to come down on the side of fathers versus mothers. I want to come down on the side of the children.

As a loving, caring parent of three children, I cannot understand, I cannot fathom nor can I see anything worse than the loss of a child. In cases where the marriage breaks down and one parent wants to continue to be that loving, caring parent and wants to build a lifetime relationship with his or her child and is denied that access, it is an indescribable horror for both the parent and the child. Because of that separation, the bond between the parent and child as the young person grows and reaches maturity will never exist. This will affect everything that will happen to the child and will certainly be an ongoing anguish for the parent.

Therefore, even with the amendments from the Senate, it is my judgment that this bill does very little. It fails to meet the very real need of so many families. We are failing the Canadian people on this very important issue.

I only look to the future in the hope that following the next election we will have a Reform government in this country that will properly address this issue and so many other issues. We will bring forward legislation that truly does support the whole family.

When we deal with the Divorce Act, the focus has to be what is best for the children.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Prince George-Peace River for his remarks which I found very thoughtful. I realize he considered

them very carefully. I would like to raise a point with my colleague that was raised several times in the House.

I think we have all agreed that this bill has come back from the Senate with improvements through the amendments that have been added. My Reform Party colleagues on several occasions mentioned that this was the Senate doing good work. They credited the fact that it was a Liberal senator who, because of the equal number of seats in the Senate, was able to answer the concerns about the bill and to pressure for changes which resulted in improvements. All in the House feel there have been improvements here.

I note that the member for North Vancouver used the occasion of this debate to suggest that while the Senate is doing its job in this instance, it would be better if the Senate were an elected Senate. I submit to my Reform Party colleagues that if the Senate were an elected Senate the even balance that has permitted this event to occur, a Liberal senator ensuring that amendments are made, would not exist. An elected Senate would be an unbalanced Senate. If it reflected the balance in the House of Commons the Liberals would be in great majority and there would be no opportunity for the kind of result we have here.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Does the member for Prince George-Peace River not agree that the current method of producing senators-

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. I ask members to address their comments through the Chair.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not clear. Was the hon. member finished with his comments and question?

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

An hon. member

He was interrupted by the Speaker.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the particular question because it gives me a chance to talk, very briefly admittedly, about the whole need for democratic reform in Parliament.

The problem with the hon. member's comments is the presumption that were the upper Chamber an elected body people would vote for their senators in the same fashion as they would vote for their members of Parliament. From what we see in other parliaments and republics around the world it is not always the case the same party that holds the majority in the lower Chamber holds the majority in the upper Chamber.

The presumption is that there are no free votes in this place. The basis of the member's comment is that there are no free votes; they will simply vote along party lines. Yet in this case Liberal Senator Anne Cools stood up to the pressure from this justice minister, stood up to the pressure from the government, and did not allow this piece of legislation to be fast tracked through the upper Chamber. That is what took place. She stood up to the pressure and forced through the amendments we were unable to force through in this Chamber.

This Chamber does not allow free expression and free votes in the House. There are no free votes in the House. The very basis of the comments made by the hon. member across the way allude to that fact.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

Mr. Speaker, I recently had a letter from a constituent in my riding of Kootenay West-Revelstoke who was concerned about the issue the hon. member for Prince George-Peace River brought forth, that is denial of access of the non-custodial parent.

This individual was very concerned having over the years paid thousands upon thousands of dollars which he was required to pay. He paid each time on time with honour and yet was denied access. There is nothing in the system to address that. It is a very important point.

My hon. colleague addressed it very well as he always does when he speaks. Would he make a few comments on why such a common sense provision has met with such resistance by the government?

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the reason common sense provisions do not prevail with the government across the way is that there is no common sense over there.

If common sense was the guiding motive for legislation in the House we would have a lot less legislation. A lot of the bills that have been brought before the House over the past three years have done very little in the eyes of the citizens out there in the real world who might be watching the debate today.

At one point I commented that a party running for election to the House of Commons could very well win a substantive majority if it ran on a platform of repealing useless laws and legislation rather than bringing in inconsequential, ineffective legislation like the government has done over the last three years.

Divorce Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?