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 wheat.

Topics

Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member very much for his question. At least part of it was on issue, that is, the issue of the supremacy of the courts versus parliament.

The authority of a court should be to rule whether a law is valid or invalid, whether it is constitutional or not. The courts do not and should not have the authority to rewrite laws which they have done in this case.

Mr. Speaker, I hear absolutely rude and obscene heckling. I would like you to intervene.

Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We have another minute for questions and comments. If you would like to finish your comment.

Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

That is absolutely pathetic.

The last thing I would like to say is that this is not singling out groups for discrimination. It is simply saying that for the entire history of our country, a spouse has been defined as a union of a man and a woman.

Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

You are saying your way or the highway.

Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

I am saying that I am proud to stand here and defend the definition of a spouse that we have had since the beginning of the history of our country as the union of a man and a woman. Frankly, the minister's heckling is obscene and disgusting.

Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Toronto Centre—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member who last spoke did concede that this is an issue which we should be discussing and that we are on solid ground.

Let us talk for a moment in this House about the Rosenberg decision and what we are trying to achieve in the House. Rosenberg was a decision by one of the highest and most respected courts in this country. It was about the interpretation of the charter, the fundamental document which governs us in our democratic society. It guarantees that this legislature and all legislatures across the country will conduct themselves in accordance with the principles which govern us as Canadian citizens and as legislatures.

I believe that that charter decision was right. I believe that it was right in what it was stating about us and our society. It was right about what it was trying to do in ensuring that people were not discriminated against because from a practical point of view it does not make sense in today's world, and I will come back to that point. It is right in principle and it is right about what it is doing in society. It is right about what it is doing in my riding of Toronto Centre—Rosedale and in all members' ridings in terms of people who are living in similar circumstances who are paying taxes, leading decent lives and who have a right to be treated the same as everybody else.

To go back to the issue of which is supreme, the courts or parliament, I made this point when I asked the member my question. In my view the charter is supreme. Parliament spoke. The people of this country approved of the charter. We as legislators and the legislatures of the various provinces approved of the charter precisely because the people were aware that one day people could stand up and make the allegations of the type that are being made in this House. The people were aware that they wanted a bulwark of courts and law to stand between them and the type of rhetoric we have been listening to this afternoon.

When it is said the charter is being misinterpreted by the court in the Rosenberg decision, where were those members when we adopted the changes to the human rights act? I was in the House that night. Seventy-five per cent of the members in the House voted in favour of changing the human rights act to provide against discrimination. They represented the will of the Canadian people. When the Rosenberg judges read what we were doing in this House and they made that decision, they were saying Canadians do not believe in discrimination and that they as the courts are not in the business of enforcing it. If you read that decision—

Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

An hon. member

We are not talking about discrimination.

Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Toronto Centre—Rosedale, ON

Oh, yes, you are. You have not read the Rosenberg and the Supreme Court of Canada decisions which clearly say that these measures are discriminatory and cannot be saved under section 1 of the charter. They can only be saved under section 7 if they are to be justified in a reasonable and democratic society which our courts have said they cannot.

Let me finish with my point and then we can engage in this debate further about the nature of the charter, the nature of the courts and ourselves.

Let us talk for a moment about ordinary people trying to work and live in our society and trying to create a life for themselves. These are decent everyday people who are saying “I do not understand something. I am working and paying into a pension plan. I do not get the same tax treatment as somebody else”. This is not a case about family values in the sense that the member is trying to cast it. This is not a threat to the traditional family. I do not believe that the traditional families in my riding of Toronto Centre—Rosedale believe that their existence is so fragile that it has to be built by discriminating against somebody else. That is not the nature of traditional family values.

The traditional family values in our country are ones of tolerance, of working with one another, of trying to work out our differences, of working out how we can survive together. The best employers in the city of Toronto follow these principles. I speak of the University of Toronto and other employers, but I also speak of the Toronto Sun which does not happen to be known as being a paragon of crazy Liberal values.

The Toronto Sun does its best to ensure that its employees are not discriminated against in their pension benefits. Why? Because it wants to hire the very best people. The city of Toronto almost unanimously—only two councillors voted against it on Friday—voted on the issue we are talking about today. They said they did not want as a city to be paying taxes and into benefit systems which could not guarantee that their employees of whatever nature would be treated on the same basis.

That is what we are talking about. That is what the Government of Nova Scotia was talking about when it adopted a similar measure recently. Nobody was talking about destroying family values.

I can understand why Reformers want to cloak this issue in family values. In that way they can rally around people who are frightened and who are seriously worried about what is happening in society. I am as concerned as they are about divorce rates, family break-ups and other issues of that nature. To suggest they are talking about how people will be treated economically is a mistake. I say that sincerely because I believe they are seeking to use the example of family values on the backs of other people to discriminate against them.

The member who spoke before me spoke about family values and the definition of spouse. I can remember when I was a young law student that the definition of spouse at that time would not have included common law spouses. It would not have included men and women living together for more than three, four or five years and contributing together in circumstances that were not part of the traditional family. The Income Tax Act and other acts in those days discriminated against such people.

We have learned since then that we must recognize the right of Canadians to be able to choose their own lives. I am surprised by the Reform Party which is always talking about getting the state out of the face of people and getting the government away from dictating how they should live.

I suggest the true social engineer is the Reform Party. It is not us who say do not let individuals choose their lives when they are not harming anyone and are making a contribution to society. It is Reform members when they stand in the House to say they want to social engineer us into living in a certain type of relationship or being discriminated against in terms of pensions in other benefits. That is the true social engineering of the Reform Party.

It is a mistake on behalf of Reformers to bring forward the motion at this time. They have misread the nature of the Rosenberg decision and the nature of the mood of our country and of the House. Let us live with tolerance and encourage citizens who are willing to work and live together to create constructive social units in our cities and in our rural areas and make real contributions to the country. Let them be a part of the Canadian family. Let them all work together. Let us all work together to create that type of society, not a discriminatory one.

I am reminded that I am to split my time with the member for Windsor—St. Clair.

Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's debate. I would like to ask him a question about how this decision might impact further on other individuals in our society.

I think of my own mother who is a widow and her sister who is just recently widowed and the fact they might be living together very shortly. Would they fit under the same definition for recognizing benefits? They would be of the same sex but not in a conjugal relationship. What about other individuals in similar situations, two friends living together or whomever else it might be?

What does my hon. colleague think about the courts setting direction and reading meanings into law? Does he agree with that or that decisions should be made in the House?

Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Toronto Centre—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his very reasonable question. It is something we have to discuss in the House.

My first principle is that we passed the charter. We cannot interpret the charter ourselves. We gave the courts the responsibility of interpreting the charter. The time will come when a case similar to that of his mother and aunt living together in similar circumstances might arise. They could go to a Canadian court to say they should not be discriminated against when other groups in society are not being discriminated against. They may well find the law at that point, as the court in the Rosenberg case decided, fits them within it. If that is what the courts say I will support it wholeheartedly. I will support it in the House. I will support it as a matter of public policy.

I do not think it will cost the exchequer of the country enormous amounts of money. It will provide an opportunity for people who are living together in similar circumstances and have made similar contributions to society to be recognized in our laws.

I cannot prejudge what a court would say. I can say that it is the type of issue I would be more than happy to discuss with the member. It is perfectly reasonable. If we could keep our discussion on that sort of level we would all be much further ahead in the House.

Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the member a question with respect to the nub of the debate today, the supremacy of the legislative function.

I do not think anyone argues with the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has the final say on judicial matters. It has long been accepted that the legislative arm of government is vested in parliament, in the House of Commons with the rubber stamp of the Senate, which is appointed, not elected and therefore of some questionable legitimacy.

If the court makes a decision contrary to the will of the people as expressed in the House of Commons, would the member take objection to it? I am speaking specifically of the issues we are talking about. In parliament we have specifically debated and in free votes have clearly rejected this premise. In the votes managed by the front benches over there things have gone the opposite way, which is also a violation of democracy.

I would like him to respond. Does parliament have supremacy in the legislative function of our land or does it not?

Supply
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Toronto Centre—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I answered that question when I first started. Parliament has supremacy in the legislative functions we exercise subject to the constraints we chose freely to impose upon ourselves through the charter, the supreme law of the land. The same is true of all provincial legislatures. The same is true of ours. Unless we choose to adopt the notwithstanding clause we have accepted to fetter our jurisdiction in that way, and I have no trouble with that.

I think the hon. member is operating from a false premise. He says we have spoken on the issue and the courts have gone against how we spoke. We have not spoken on the issue since parliament adopted the Human Rights Act amendments in a free vote, not imposed by the front bench.

The House will remember very well that it was a free vote. There was a lot of controversy here as to whether or not it should be a free vote. Many people felt it should not have been. The fact that it was a free vote, and that 75% of members of the House at that time said they were not in favour of discriminatory measures of the type we are hearing about today, sent a clear message to us as legislators and to the courts that the Rosenberg decision as it stands is consistent with the mood of the House. It is consistent with the mood of the country and it is consistent with the basic principles which govern us as a democratic society.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

June 8th, 1998 / 4:20 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among the parties and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order of usual practice, when proceedings on the business of supply expire at 6.30 p.m. this day, the House shall continue to sit to consider the report stage of Bill C-30, the report stage and third reading of Bill S-9, the third reading stage of Bill S-3, and the consideration of Senate amendments stage of Bill C-4;

That, any division requested on the said business shall be deferred until the conclusion of the consideration of Government Orders on Tuesday, June 9, 1998;

That, during the consideration of the aforementioned business, no quorum calls, requests for unanimous consent or dilatory motions shall be received; and

That, when no Member rises to speak during consideration of Bill C-4, the debate shall be adjourned and the House shall adjourn to the next sitting day.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader have unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?