House of Commons Hansard #83 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-23.

Topics

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Reform

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we be here today to debate this issue. I am here to speak for hundreds of my constituents who have phoned, faxed and e-mailed me. Hundreds more have filled out petitions which I have tabled in the House. They contained thousands of signatures asking the government to repeal the bill.

I want to approach the issue in two separate ways. The proposed bill has not received wide public debate. I think a bill of this importance should be subjected to that. A number of questions have been raised and I would like to get to some of the ones people have asked. Then I will get into the record of the Liberal government on family issues and its lack of support for families. I will also deal with some of the things it has put in place, and some it has not, which affect families and undermine their importance.

The first issue is the fiscal impact of the bill. The Liberals have not put out any dollar figures as to what it might cost the Canadian taxpayer. The finance minister when referring to the bill and some of the amendments said that the fiscal impact of these amendments would be minimal if anything at all and that it was not a cost issue.

It is a cost issue. We should know how many people will be affected. We should know the cost it will have on the treasury, on the taxpayers of the country. We do not know that. Bill C-23 purports to give benefits to people who have never received them, which will be an additional cost.

The whole idea of conjugality has been the subject of much debate and many questions. Bill C-23 defines in statute that a common law partner is any individual person who is cohabiting with another individual in a conjugal relationship for a minimum of one year. Who defines a conjugal relationship? The dictionary says that it is of or relating to the married state or to married persons in the relationships.

Does this mean that we are equating a conjugal relationship with a married relationship? Is that what we are saying? Is that what the bill means? Does it mean that these relationships will be forced to incur the same responsibilities as married couples? Is there that aspect of responsibility? Or, does it mean that these relationships have a societal contribution equal to a marriage relationship? How will the government prove the conjugality of a relationship? I suppose the real question has been how we will prove conjugality. As a previous Liberal prime minister said, I agree that the government does not have any place in the bedrooms of the nation. Why has the government refused to clearly define it in the legislation? Where is the definition? Will there be any methods to stop people from abusing the bill by saying they are in a relationship when they are not? How are we ever going to pull that out?

The bill should clearly define a conjugal relationship but it does not. It should outline the rights and responsibilities associated with that definition. Are there additional responsibilities if one falls under the bill? What change will that have for society as a whole? I want to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Dewdney—Alouette.

Let us look at the relationships that are not included, the other dependent relationships that exist in society. We all know of such relationships. It could be a daughter taking care of an elderly mom, or a couple of elderly brothers who live together to help each other out. Whatever the situation, these situations are not addressed because they are not based on conjugality.

There is a lack of public input. Time and time again people have said the issue is of such importance that they need a debate on the national stage. It has to go across the country to give everybody an opportunity to debate both sides of the issue in a very broad manner. We have not seen that happen. As a matter of fact closure has been brought in on a number of occasions in parliament and certainly on this bill.

We talk about marriage. Is the bill about marriage? Is it about the definition of marriage? People have said that the definition of marriage needs to be reaffirmed. We did that last June in the House. A motion was put forward and passed that the definition of marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that parliament would take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada. It is simple. The motion passed. The people have spoken.

However, the bill was brought forward without a definition of marriage. The justice minister made an attempt to include a definition but only in a way that legal advice has told us could be struck down. The definition of marriage needs to be implanted in all of the 68 statutes affected by the bill; it should be embedded right in the text.

One key issue people have brought to my attention is that the definition is important to them. They would like to see it embedded in the bill, as witnessed by the thousands and thousands of signatures tabled in the House asking for the definition of marriage to be included in the bill and, if not, for the bill to be pulled in its entirety. Yesterday we put forward some amendments to do so but they were voted down. We have tried to include that definition through amendments to the bill, but the House chose to vote them down.

I want to speak a bit about the family as a whole in society and some of the things we have seen which are detrimental to strong families. One is the tax system which is unfair to families where one parent chooses to stay at home. We think tax breaks and lower taxes are essential in helping to create stronger families.

Another is the child pornography issue. The notwithstanding clause was not implemented to protect our children from people who use, sell and collect child pornography. In the B.C. case we asked members of the government to use the notwithstanding clause to keep that law in effect while the challenge went through the courts. It chose not to do so. It has been going on for a year and a half to two years now and it is still in abeyance.

The whole child pornography issue has affected my work as well. I brought forward private member's Bill C-321 to amend the criminal code to allow equipment used in the production of child pornography to be seized by the courts and taken away from the people who use it. In many cases in the criminal code this is allowed to happen and in the case of the production of child pornography it is not. Hopefully one day that bill will be drawn and debated. In the meantime I am pursuing the justice minister to have that change made in the laws.

Another issue we deal with on a daily basis when we watch the erosion of families is that of sex offenders. We wanted to have a registry of sex offenders. If we add up all the issues, it comes back to what we think. We need a definition of marriage in the act. We need a definition of conjugality. We need support for families. We need to strengthen families.

We do not need attack after attack on the family unit to try to take away its authority. Members of all parties have gone to world conferences where there has been an attack on families. We as a country should recognize the importance of families and do things to strengthen them, not to undermine them.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Vancouver Centre
B.C.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Secretary of State (Multiculturalism)(Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to make a comment and to ask a question.

I find it very interesting that a question was asked of the hon. Secretary of State for Financial Institutions when the question could easily have been asked of me. It was a question about something I was reputed to have said, but the hon. member for Calgary Centre did not see fit to ask me when I was here. I would like to comment on it a bit.

The concept of conjugality, which the hon. member for Calgary Centre either cannot understand or refuses to understand, was also elaborated by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. It is a series of criteria that has been in existence for over 40 years.

We have never had a problem applying the definition of conjugality to married couples or heterosexual common law couples. Why do we seem to have this problem of applying it to same sex common law couples? Do we need to find out if people have sex?

This is not the only part of a conjugal relationship. In fact there are many marriages, heterosexual common law relationships and others, that enjoy great relationships in which they may not have frequent sex or may have stopped having sex for a long time.

We hear about the erosion of the family. The gay and lesbian youth who have a high incidence of suicide, do they belong to families? I would like to know if their families do not count. The families of committed same sex couples who have children, do their families count? Or, are we to think that their families do not count, their children should not be seen to be children?

The issue of the family keeps being brought up. The family is important, but what these members do not do or refuse to understand is that same sex couples have children, same sex couples are parents, same sex couples are grandparents and same sex couples are children of and brothers and sisters of families. Are we only going to cherry-pick what we mean as a family? I would like to ask the hon. member that question.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond. The member just said that families were important, but. Families are very important. The problem is that there have just been too many buts, too many howevers and too many what ifs.

In order to clarify conjugality the member for Calgary Centre asked the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism at a round table at CPAC if she was saying that two people who did not have a physical relationship would qualify under Bill C-23; yes or no. The minister responded by saying that if they fulfilled the other requirements of the conjugal relationship, yes.

What does that mean? What are the other requirements? Where is the definition of conjugality?

The minister says it is not about that. We are getting so many mixed messages from the government that people are confused as to what it means, why the definition is put in there. The government should clarify it, take all the indecision away, put the minds of people who are questioning it at ease and put the definition of conjugality and the definition of marriage in the bill, wherever it needs to be.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Julian Reed Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Lethbridge early in his speech raised the cost issue. He said that one of the issues involved in this bill was cost.

I wonder how he squares that with the fact that everyone in Canada is a taxpayer, whether or not they live in a same sex relationship, an opposite sex relationship, whether they live alone or whatever.

How does he square that with the fact that people who are being addressed in this bill are taxpayers? Why would he continue to want to discriminate against them?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, while it is reassuring that the member opposite admits that everyone in this country is a taxpayer, or will be a taxpayer, and this is important, he is missing the point.

The point is that Canadian taxpayers are concerned. Certainly when a bill comes before the House they have the right to know what component it is, how much their taxes are going to rise to support that initiative, whether it is this initiative or whatever ministry it comes from. They have a right to know what the cost is going to be to them through the tax system.

I think he missed the point. Canadians have a right to know what this is going to cost.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak once again on Bill C-23. This is the third opportunity I have had to speak on this very important piece of legislation.

I would like to begin by summarizing some of the points I made earlier. They are points that I have not heard refuted or rebutted at all in the House by government members. I would invite the minister or the secretary of state for multiculturalism to listen for herself and hear the facts.

Here are the facts. The outline of my argument at the beginning of debate was that this was an “A equals B equals C” logical arrangement being put in place by the government. What it is really doing is equating common law partnerships to same sex unions and equating those to married relationships, in fact, in the eyes of the law, making all three the same.

I have not heard that refuted by the government. The only thing I have heard is from the Minister of Justice who said that people who are married are able to divorce and that the Divorce Act applies in their case, but the Divorce Act does not apply in the case of common law partnerships as the new terminology would have it in this bill. That is the only difference highlighted by the minister, so in fact she is agreeing that what the bill does is put marriage on the same footing as common law partnerships, both heterosexual and same sex. That is what she is saying.

The minister of multiculturalism questions her own comprehension as I hear her muttering under her breath. It is quite clear that she does not understand the argument she and the government are putting forward.

What they are saying in effect with this bill is that they believe in sexual egalitarianism, that anyone can choose whatever arrangements they like and the state will treat such arrangements in exactly the same way through public policy. That is the net effect of Bill C-23.

The hon. member is a minister of the crown. Certainly she must be able to follow the logic of her own argument and the logic of the government bringing in this bill. She seems to be unaware of this fact. That is baffling and it should highlight for Canadians that the ground the government is standing on is very weak.

Its defence has been a few arguments, one of which I will call the name game that I referred to earlier, that is that anybody who would stand and oppose this bill on the logical grounds that the bill simply does not make sense is called names. We know the whole host of names that has been spouted out by members of the government. In fact, that is an argument and a tactic used to shut down debate. That is what we call intellectual bullyism. That is exactly what the minister and members of her government participate in. When there is no strong argument based on logic, then hurl names at other people and those people will not stand in their places to poke holes in your weak and flimsy arguments. That is a tactic employed by this government. It is a tactic that I saw many times used in my previous life as a teacher on the schoolyard. It is the same tactic that is being used here.

The minister has to understand that there are people, not only in this House, members of the Canadian Alliance, but across the country who will stand up for what they believe to be true even in the face of being called names by those who assume that they are in the right.

Another part of my argument which I explained earlier is the notion of absolutism versus relativism. When a government rejects the notion of truth and that there is any such thing as right and wrong, it is on very weak ground. In fact, when it makes the argument that what it proposes is right, that argument implodes upon itself. How can one possibly say that what you choose to do is okay with you and what I choose to do is okay with me, but what I am choosing is actually what is right and what you are choosing is wrong? That whole argument of relativism upon which the government bases Bill C-23 is very weak and flimsy and does not hold water. It is like saying “What I believe to be true is right and everybody else should believe what I believe”.

When one enters into that line of thinking as the government has done here, what one really is doing is imposing one's perspective on people. It is imposing one's moral perspective on people. The members say that this is nonsense but if they followed the logical conclusions of their own arguments, they would see that they are basing Bill C-23 on a fallacy that does not hold water, that does not stand up to the rigours of intellectual debate. They are weak and flimsy arguments veiled with name calling. That is all they are.

The effect of this bill is to equate all relationships as being the same. The minister talked about discriminatory practices. She is a minister of the crown that discriminates against certain arrangements. Right now if a man chooses to marry two women, he is discriminated against. What if he is in an arrangement of three people? Let us call it a triad. The government discriminates against that. I do not see the minister standing up to argue that there should be an extension of benefits to this arrangement, yet she said that there should be an extension of benefits to another arrangement. This is the logical outgrowth of this kind of reasoning that says that we are basing the law on the concept of sexual egalitarianism.

In our society we have always said that marriage is a very important institution. In fact, our society is built on it. Because marriage is so important, we assign benefits and require obligations from those who enter into that arrangement because it is the arrangement that provides for the building of a society. Now what the minister and the government are doing is saying that they think marriage is a social invention, that it is not an institution that has any immutable characteristics of good in and of itself, but it is just some social arrangement that people decided was a good way to go and now we will go a different way. We will open the door to any set of groups of individuals who would choose to come before us and argue their case and receive like benefits as those who are married. That is a dangerous road to go down as a society. I do not think the minister understands the implications of what she is proposing in this bill.

It is very telling what the government has done in this place in voting down amendments that would put in the definition of marriage as the union of a single man and a single woman to the exclusion of all others. It voted against those amendments time and time again, about 100 times last night in this place. It is signalling with its actions that it is not willing to protect that definition of marriage. We have seen in this place what has happened in the past.

My colleague from Calgary Centre and I were in this place in 1997 and brought forward a debate on the Rosenberg decision in Ontario. We pleaded with the government when that court redefined spouse to include same sex. It went way beyond the boundaries of what was intended by parliament. We asked the government to appeal that case because it would set a precedent that would later on be used in other court cases to redefine marriage.

We know that there are those who are pushing this bill who want to see that, the redefinition of marriage to include same sex individuals. What was the government's action? It did not even put up a defence in 1997 when spouse was redefined.

How can Canadians trust this group when the challenge comes because there are those who are committed to challenging the definition of marriage? How can Canadians trust this group here who did not even defend the definition of spouse to defend marriage? A group must be judged on its actions. Empty words and rhetoric do not hold water.

In closing, I would implore Canadians to examine the actions of the government and what it is doing in proceeding on this path with Bill C-23 and building it on the notion of sexual egalitarianism. It is signalling to Canadians that it no longer holds the institution of marriage as a sacred institution in the building block of society. The Canadian Alliance thinks that is wrong and we will stand up against this kind of move from the government.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Vancouver Centre
B.C.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Secretary of State (Multiculturalism)(Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member. It is a very simple one. It is that the hon. member speaks about marriage and the fact that marriage is really the only viable institution that we should discuss. Is the hon. member then suggesting that common law relationships on a heterosexual basis that have existed now in the law for over 40 years, that have given benefits and obligations to heterosexual common law couples, are therefore to be cancelled?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly did not indicate that in my speech. That relationship which the law has interpreted as being equivalent to marriage, heterosexual common law relationships, provide much the same function as those within a marriage; that is that they are able to live together for an extended period of time and to procreate and to have children, which is the building block of society. I think that is the intention of what happened when the government extended the envelope to include common law couples because they serve in very much the same way as a building block to our society.

What the minister is saying is that she wants to extend that envelope to include individuals who by the very nature of their relationship do not have that function and ability of procreation. That is the envelope that this minister is pushing and it opens the door to other possibilities and arrangements.

That is what happens when the minister throws the notion of what marriage is about and the inherent good within that relationship of marriage and leads Canadians down this path. The minister continues not to realize that. That is quite surprising.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to the member opposite. It struck me that he is talking about outrageous triads. He should think about the Reform Party, the CCRAP party and the Alliance party in that order. There is a triad from which we certainly want to keep our distance.

Having said that, I want to say that the minister knows full well what she is doing, and so do we on the government side of this great parliament in terms of Bill C-23.

What I find objectionable are the myths and falsehoods that the member opposite and people of his ilk try to perpetuate and, in doing so, try to pit region against region in this great country, and people against people. Ours is not as they would have it, the politics of destruction, grievance, hatred and pitting people against people. Ours, rather, is the politics of hope—

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Reform

Lee Morrison Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. That is a little over the top. Is this a debate or a barroom brawl?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We hope it is not a barroom brawl. I know the hon. member for Waterloo—Wellington will put his question directly.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, ours is the politics of hope and reconciliation.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Listen to them laugh. I remind those members opposite: Stockwell Day, go away; anti-choice, anti-gay: Stockwell Day, make my day; right wing bigot, go away.

That is who those people are. That is exactly who they are. That is what Ontarians think about those people.

Why is it that the very party which talks about free votes all the time last night voted in a block? They are the very people who talk about grassroots support and what it means to have a free vote. Why did they vote in a block?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member talks about being the party of hope. The only hope for all Canadians is that the Liberals will be defeated as soon as possible and the Canadian Alliance will bring forward some positive ideas about how to govern the country.

We have seen the member use the tactic—and he mentioned that he was here for my speech, but obviously he was not—of name-calling when he simply has nothing good to say—