House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was board.

Topics

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6 p.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed the member's comments. They are always straight to the point, refreshing and very clear.

I know a bit about the member's riding, about how much he is appreciated in his riding and how much the people in his riding respond to him personally, to his approach and to how well he is respected by the people there and his personal commitment to represent those people in this House.

I think the House should be interested to hear the voice of the people of Wild Rose. What would those people say? What are their concerns? What would they say about this motion and judicial activism or whatever we want to call it in general? Let us hear the voice of the people of Wild Rose on this issue if we could.

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6 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, all I can say is that initially when I made the member's statement I mentioned a while back following this case a number of people phoned, wrote, faxed and E-mailed to thank me for bringing the issue before the House because it was something they were wondering what was going on and they were concerned about it.

There were not a large number of them because a lot of people do not really pay that much attention to what does go on. Unfortunately for this country there are too many people out there who do not pay enough attention. However, those who did were quite pleased that it at least was brought forward. They did not even comment on whether they objected to the decision or not. I think the major thing they were concerned about, and I believe it is a logical one, is who is running the country. Are the courts making the decisions and running the country or is parliament? That is a fair question.

I know the people over here hear the same questions and comments lots of times, if they would just admit it, live up to it and be willing to do their duty.

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6:05 p.m.

Reform

Jake Hoeppner Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from Wild Rose how he feels about governments using the court system.

The Soviet Union had a dictatorship for a long time and what my mother always told me is at the start before the revolution the government used the courts to put people into prison. Once they had control of the government, they had the revolution. Then the dictatorship did away with the courts altogether. We have seen that happening the same way in some third nation countries. I am wondering if he has any fear of that happening here. I would like to hear his thoughts on that.

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6:05 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, the history of the tragedies that took place in that land over those years is indeed tragic. Rather than direct my answer to that situation and how it compares to today, I simply say that we live in the greatest country in the world. There is no doubt about that. I know the Liberals agree with me. But we have to stop all the silliness like you had better calm down or you will have a heart attack, blah, blah, blah, and genuinely look at what is going on and take a look at history, because history is valuable.

Look at some of the things that have happened in the past. What can we do in this place that will prevent any tragedies from occurring in the future? What can I do here that is going to make my four grandkids live in a better country than we have today? What can we do for their future?

All we have to do is stop all the nonsense and realize we are the top court of the land and the people are expecting us to maintain this place in a fashion that will make this country the greatest we could ever imagine. That is what I want to do. I object to all the nonsense that goes on in that regard.

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6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Parrish Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on first reading today's motion my reaction was of pleasant surprise. It appears to raise an issue of Canadian governance that is both philosophically important and publicly current. That was on quick first reading. But a moment's reflection reveals that the motion has serious problems and does not deserve our support. In fact, there is more than a bit of the old Trojan horse in the hon. member's proposal, not to mention some contradictory logic.

First, by focusing on the Rosenberg decision involving pension benefits for same sex couples, the opposition raises disturbing questions about what its real agenda is here. Is it the defence of parliamentary prerogative that is actually at issue for it? Is Reform saying appeal because it does not like the judicial process involved? Is it the application of the charter of rights and freedoms by a court that it objects to or is it really its dislike of the fact that a court has decided that same sex couples qualify as spouses under the Income Tax Act and that the government may decide to accept the consequences for existing income tax legislation?

There is a second reason why the House should reject this motion. As I said a minute ago, there is a distinct whiff of self-contradiction here. The motion clearly suggests that judicial rulings are pre-empting the government's ability and authority to govern. But surely that same ability and authority must rest on government's having the opportunity and obligation to deal with issues in a considered, comprehensive manner.

Courts should not carelessly rush to judgment and neither should governments. It makes for bad law and much worse national leadership. That is not an attribute that this opposition seems to appreciate or apply, be it on social values or national unity.

Let me remind the House that the government does have until June 22 to decide whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Our government is considering the implications of the Rosenberg case. We will take as much of the time available as we need because only that way do we have the best chance to ensure and give Canadians the confidence that our decision is in the best interests of the country and all its citizens. That is how a country should be governed. We will not be pushed to judgment and risk enshrining intolerance or a partisan whim.

I have no trouble speaking against this motion. It has nothing to do with the important issue of the balance between legislative authority and the obligation of Canada's courts to apply the charter of rights when required. Clearly this balance is not always an easy one. I will listen with great interest to members of all parties who can bring real legal and philosophical expertise to the debate when and if the opposition lets that take place.

Maybe I can help today's debate become more than a typical opposition grandstand by doing what I can to encourage a different balance here today, a balanced understanding of background to the Rosenberg issue.

At question is a recent ruling by the court of appeal. It found that the charter of rights requires that employer sponsored pension plans offering benefits to same sex partners be accepted for registration for income tax purposes. The courts remedy reads same sex partners into the definition of spouse in the Income Tax Act for this purpose.

In other words, it means that the judgment effectively amends or overrides the tax act definition of spouse which limits entitlement to a spouse of the opposite sex. Let us be clear about something. As it stands, the court's decision applies only to determined eligibility for pension survivor benefits. It does not affect the definition of spouse for other purposes in the Income Tax Act.

It should also be noted that this judgment does not require employers to include survivor benefits for same sex partners in the package of pension benefits they provide to their employees. Nor do current rules prevent them from doing so. What the judgment does require is that when an employer does offer such benefits, the pension plan must now qualify under the Income Tax Act to be registered and to receive the same tax treatment as any other registered plan.

There is nothing arcane or ominous about this tax treatment of registered plans. Any pension plan registered for tax purposes simply receives beneficial tax treatment similar to the treatment enjoyed, for example, by anyone who holds an RRSP. Contributions to such a pension plan by employers and employees are tax deductible. The contributions made by employers are not treated as taxable benefits to the employee and there is no tax on the investment income earned by the plan. Instead this tax is paid when funds are withdrawn from the plan normally as pension amounts paid to the employee after retirement.

I said earlier that the Rosenberg decision relates only to the registration of pension plans. There is no question that the decision, as it now stands, could have significant implications for other provisions of the Income Tax Act and could extend to other legislation. To begin with, provisions such as the tax free transfer of RRSP balances to a surviving spouse are parallel in function and logic to the survivor benefits provided under pension plans. Amendments to these rules would need to be considered. Beyond this is the question whether the logic of the Rosenberg judgment should be considered to apply to other tax provisions that provide benefits to married and common law heterosexual spouse.

There are literally hundreds of provisions related to spouses in the Income Tax Act. Such benefits include the spousal credit, the transfer of unused credits, including the age credit, pension income credit, disability credit, education and tuition fee credits, and the ability to contribute to spousal RRSPs. These are benefits provided to Canadians under the Income Tax Act. We should also recognize that the act contains many provisions that impose obligations on spouses as well.

These include the requirement to combine incomes for purposes of income tested refundable tax credits such as the GST credit and the child tax benefit, limiting couples to one principal residence only, the income attribution rules and the extension to related persons of restrictions applicable to significant shareholders.

Clearly it would be difficult to justify extending only the benefit conferring provisions of the ITA to same sex partners and not the provisions that impose obligations. The result would be a tax system that systematically advantaged same sex couples over married and common law couples. In contrast, the existing rules do not systematically favour one group over another since those who qualify as spouses are exposed to a balanced mixture of benefits and obligations.

This leads to another interesting point. If all the provisions of the ITA that relate to spouses were extended to apply to same sex partners, it is not at all clear that the same sex couples as a group would be net beneficiaries of the change. Although data do not allow precise estimates I understand that work done by the Department of Finance suggests that if we modify the current rules to treat same sex couples in the same way as married and common law couples for all purposes of the ITA it would actually result in a small annual aggregate net financial loss for same sex couples.

The result is that the gain to the government in lower benefits under provisions like the GST credit would exceed the additional revenue cost of benefit conferring provisions like the spousal credit. We fully appreciate that the question of recognizing same sex partners in government legislation must not be limited to questions of financial advantage or disadvantage for the individuals concerned or for the government.

It is proper and useful to debate such a topic. The balance of rights and obligations for spouses under the ITA is not a win-win situation. The issue of how some same sex partners are treated by the tax system is not simply one of denial of benefits available to other Canadians.

We all know that opposition members, especially those of the official opposition, likes to reduce things to issues of black and white. It allows them to thunder and thrash with great emotion. Anyone who has real passion for good governance and its fundamental basis in human rights, social justice and tolerance knows that effective decision making demands the application of both head and heart, which means considering all aspects of an issue. That is what our government is doing because that is the real way of doing things. That is the fair way and that is the logical way. That is why the principled response to the motion is to reject it. When they are willing to engage in open and honest debate the House should listen, but for the motion the only response possible is to send it to defeat.

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6:15 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question based on the very last sentence of the hon. member.

She said when this party, referring to Reform, is ready for honest and open debate they were ready to listen. That is the whole point. It did not get to the House. The whole point is that the courts made the decision on behalf of Canadians without consulting Canadians and without consulting their elected representatives in this place.

I would say yes, let us do it. Let us debate the issue. Let us talk about whether we are ready in society to allow an appointed court to start making rules and regulations which govern our lives without reference to what Canadian people are ready to support. That is the crux of the issue. The member's comment would be much appreciated.

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6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Parrish Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member opposite was listening right to the very end. I always find it interesting that the Reform Party wants to consult. I think consult is the buzzword. They should become the party of consultation rather than the party of reform.

One thing that would be most difficult would be for any of us to consult intimately with every constituent. Often our job as the governing party and as members of parliament is to consider issues in great depth and to make decisions based on what is best in consultation with people. It is not a ritualistic thing.

It is also very difficult to take the knowledge of a very learned body like the supreme court and try to impart it to every citizen in the country and then consult to see what they would like to do. If we consulted every Canadian in Canada we would often find they want us to do something based on incomplete knowledge, incomplete facts or a lack of expertise. It would be very interesting to let Reformers run the country for about a day to see what they came up with. They would not have the time to do all the consulting they would like to do.

I believe we have very learned people appointed to the positions of judges. They have a body of knowledge that they take to those positions. They make learned decisions based on information that the Canadian public and members of the House would not be able to do.

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6:20 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, does the hon. member think that judges should have the authority to write or rewrite legislation to change the law? Does she think their role should be not only to rule on the constitutionality and the applications of law but to change the meaning of laws and to write laws? A simple yes or no answer would suffice.

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6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Parrish Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I ever got a simple yes or no question I would probably be able to do that.

The judges are basing their decisions on upholding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are not being told to rewrite it. They are being told to read it, understand it, become expert at it and make decisions based on it. I do not think they are being told to change the laws. They are being told to interpret based on protecting the most fundamental document in Canada.

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6:20 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the debate throughout the day and it has become clear now through what this member has just stated that there is a certain belief on the government's part about this idea of intellectual elitism.

We recognize that our supreme court justices or justices across the land are learned people who are working hard to do their job. They have opinions and perspectives. However what the hon. member just stated in her comments was that decisions by judges should override the majority of people in the country.

I am wondering if she is exerting the fact that individuals should be quiet, not raise any issues at all, but simply leave things in the hands of the judiciary, a group of unelected officials however learned. Is she telling the people of Canada that they should sit down and we will take care of everything?

Is she saying that we know better, that the learned people in society know better, and that we should reject the common sense of individuals and not allow them the opportunity to debate important issues?

I am wondering if that is what she is purporting because it is a thinly veiled argument. It is becoming very clear in her comments and those of other members of the government that that is at the hub of their belief of the Canadian electorate. As the minister for multiculturalism stated, it is the tyranny of the majority, in fact the majority that elected the Liberal government. Is that what they are indicating on that side?

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6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Parrish Mississauga Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been in several levels of government and I always find it fascinating that there is no prequalifying test to run for election. Walking and chewing gum at the same time is the basic level to get elected.

I find it appalling the member opposite would feel something as important as the laws of the land could be the subject of common debate, that anyone is an expert on it. If he had a very severe pain in his internal organs would he call in for consultation a group of people from the streets of Ottawa to say “Let us try to find out what is wrong with you?” He would call in a medical practitioner who has been trained to analyse the situation.

Judges and lawyers go through a very stringent process. People become judges when they have qualified by understanding the laws and being able to show good judgment, which is something we do not always see from members opposite.

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6:25 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I did not get a simple yes or no answer to my question. I guess the hon. member felt that my question was wordy, so allow me to try to shorten it.

Should judges have the authority to add new meaning to laws in their rulings?

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6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Parrish Mississauga Centre, ON

No, Mr. Speaker.

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6:25 p.m.

Reform

Dave Chatters Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not have a lot of time left to engage in the debate, but there are a couple of comments I would like to add to the debate that has been going on in the House.

From my point of view it is unfortunate that the subject of judicial activism and how the supreme court is writing things into Canada's laws has to be tied to the subject of redefinition of spouse. Probably that was inevitable, simply because that area of judicial activism is the most blatant example of the courts—

Business Of The House
Government Orders

June 8th, 1998 / 6:25 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe you would find consent for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding the provisions of the Standing Orders, for the remainder of this session, motions pursuant to Standing Orders 57 and 78(3) shall not be receivable by the Chair.