House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was country.

Topics

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move, seconded by the member for Provencher:

That notwithstanding any standing order and the usual practices of the House, Bill S-25, an act to amend the Act of incorporation of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, be now called for second reading; and

That the House do proceed to dispose of the bill at all stages including committee of the whole.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is there unanimous consent?

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

moved, seconded by the hon. member for Provencher, that Bill S-25, an act to amend the act of incorporation of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, be read the second time and, by unanimous consent, referred to committee of the whole.

Mr. Speaker, this is very straightforward business for the House. The act is being brought forward at the request of the Mennonite Conference of Canada. The church has undertaken some work over the last few years on its articles of incorporation which were originally passed by this House in 1947. It wishes to change the name from the Mennonite Conference of Canada to the Mennonite Church of Canada. As well, there are some other organizational and operational changes contained within the bill.

The bill was introduced in the Senate at the request of the church, and I am now introducing it on the floor.

I appreciate the support and assistance that has been offered by all parties. As everyone here knows, the Mennonites have contributed enormously to the quality of life in Canada. They do tremendous work not just in Canada but around the world. It is a great honour for me to be part of the process of assisting them in this renewal.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the bill coming forward and I appreciate the opportunity to speak very briefly to it.

The Mennonite community in Manitoba, of which I am a part, has a long history and a proud and distinguished place in the religious, educational, cultural and business life of my province. Their contribution to the industrial development of Manitoba has been outstanding and continues to grow. Their commitment to fundamental values is a positive force at home, across Canada and around the world.

The Mennonite community is an outstanding example of how immigrants bring their distinct qualities, character and beliefs to the building of our nation.

Although this bill is routine in character, I think it is always timely to note the contributions of the Mennonites who first immigrated to Canada in a number of immigration waves. My own people, both on my father and my mother's side, came to Canada in the 1920s, escaping famine and Lenin's brutal communism in the Soviet Union.

The Canadian Mennonite Church and its agencies, specifically the Mennonite central committee, were instrumental in bringing my family to Canada. I thank the government member for his sponsorship of the bill and for his kind words. It is my pleasure to support the bill.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to take this opportunity to put a few comments on record pursuant to Bill S-25.

I thank the member for Winnipeg South for sponsoring the legislation which, as he indicated, is routine by nature and reflects the will and interests of the Mennonite community to change its incorporation from the Conference of Mennonites in Canada to the Mennonite Church of Canada.

It is an opportunity and a time for us to reflect on the contribution of Mennonites to this country and the work of that community internationally.

I think we often overlook the kinds of inroads that have been made by newcomers to this country and the very important contribution they have made to building this country.

As the member for Winnipeg South indicated, the Mennonite community of Canada has played a very important role in developing this country and in ensuring Canada's responsibility is met with respect to international concerns and disastrous situations facing people around the world.

I want to personally reflect for a moment since my roots with the Mennonite community run deep. I was raised in a Mennonite community in the Waterloo county area of Ontario. I went to school with old order Mennonites where we had many opportunities for interaction. I am also married to a Mennonite. The Leis portion of my name is Amish Mennonite and I carry it very proudly along with the traditions of the community.

Let me put on record the very important contribution of the Mennonite Church and, in particular, the Mennonite central committee in our deliberations on Bill C-11 pertaining to immigration and refugees. The Mennonite community has been leading the charge in terms of ensuring Canada carries on a humanitarian, compassionate approach to refugees, displaced persons and people in need of protection around the world. They have made some very important recommendations throughout our debate. I want to acknowledge the work they have done and I want to add my support and the support of our caucus for the bill.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I too rise in support of Bill S-25. Those were the shortest speeches I have ever heard made by the member for Winnipeg North Centre and the member for Provencher. I am shocked. It is also nice to see that all members can come together on legislation in a non-partisan manner and put forward a breath of fresh air in the House.

I speak in favour of the legislation. I too have numerous constituents of the Mennonite faith in my riding. I would like to add to the words of the previous speakers that it is the Mennonite faith that brings together church, family, community and generosity. I am shocked that the member for Provencher did not recognize that the Mennonite community is the most generous. Manitoba in particular has been recognized as having the largest charitable givings anywhere in the country. This is part of the philosophy and mindset of the Mennonite Church and the Mennonite people themselves.

Bill S-25 is housekeeping legislation that can and should go through the House very quickly. It is a name change and it brings the new corporation into the 21st century and allows it to expand and prosper. The Progressive Conservative Party supports the legislation.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say something about the administrative aspect of the legislation. It is time that we seriously considered freeing up parliament from the necessity of passing legislation to change a name. I know the act was originally passed by parliament so only parliament can change it, but surely we could figure out some way that name changes and other changes in the incorporation of various institutions that come to the House from time to time could be done in a more efficient manner.

I also have roots in the Mennonite community. The name Epp has the characteristics of a typical Mennonite name, as the do Dycks, the Friesens, the Klassens and on and on. I hesitate to say that I am proud to come from a Mennonite background because of the fact that pride is one of those things that we do not pride ourselves on. Pride is one of the seven sins that we try to avoid. The object is to walk humbly, to serve other people and to serve God. It is a very strong religious commitment made in the Mennonite community.

I have never said this before in the Chamber, and maybe it is slightly inappropriate, but I grew up in that kind of environment with my parents and grandparents all very solidly teaching us to follow the ways of the Scriptures, the Bible as we call it in the Christian tradition, and to live by it, not just say we believe it but to actually act on it.

It says we are to love our enemies and pray for those who use us spitefully. That is a very important teaching of the Mennonites. I honestly believe that if more people of all kinds of different cultural and religious backgrounds would practice that, it would certainly help to reduce the total amount of conflict, not only domestically and socially within our own country, but around the world.

One of the reasons my family, as with the member for Provencher, was basically forced out of then Russia was that the Mennonites being pacifists were not ready to take up arms and shoot their fellow man. Because they were not friends of the revolution, they were considered enemies. Therefore, the Bolsheviks and the other revolutionaries entered Mennonite communities and shot the men and boys who were old enough to fight. The Mennonites offered little or no resistance, at least for the most part. Many escaped serious injury because of their philosophy. A lot of people were actually let go because they were not a threat to the other side.

Also, there were many sad stories of the atrocities committed. Those are also in our history book. They really tear me apart when I think of them.

I remember reading a little book, the Diary of Anna Baerg , which I got from the Liberal House leader, who some may know has studied the Mennonite way of life. Recognizing that I was of that background, he lent me the book, for which I was very grateful. It made good reading. I have to admit that at times there were tears in my eyes because of some of the atrocities that occurred.

In one case she talked about attack and invasion by government officials of the day, and listed a number of people who were killed. She then talked about one young girl who was not killed. Her next sentence said there were some things that were worse than death. When I think of that, I have nothing but respect for the people who lived through that kind of persecution, yet came to Canada and positively made a contribution to the country.

I would also like to emphasize that in my family, in our church and in the part of the country in which I grew up, frequent statements of thanksgiving for being in, Canada were made. I do not think I ever went to my grandparents place without realizing my grandmother was particularly overwhelmed by the freedom and opportunity. That was back in the thirties and forties. I obviously do not remember too much from the thirties, but in the forties I remember my grandmother said over and over how blessed we were to be in this wonderful country.

Not only have the Mennonites as a group contributed to Canada, as has already been stated, but they were very grateful recipients of what Canada offered. I would simply like to say that I share that gratitude. I am very happy that my grandparents made the decision, even though it was under some coercion, to bring their family to this country.

This is sort of a free for all, a time to talk a little about the Mennonites. The actual purpose of the bill is to change the name, and some of the articles of the constitution of the Mennonites, from the conference to the church. They are a church and a solid faith community. They have much to offer.

Another aspect they have become involved in under the auspices of MCC, the Mennonite Central Committee, is with respect to justice in our country, and it has been a very important intervention. They have emphasized being involved in restorative justice by bringing victims together with the perpetrators of crimes and having them work that out. They have found that, when young perpetrators break into homes or things like that and go through that process, the recidivism rate is way lower than when we simply put these young offenders in prisons and teach them better ways of doing crime.

I thank the House for this opportunity to speak about what I think are very important social issues as they affect the very deep meaning of the people who live in our country.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Scarborough Centre
Ontario

Liberal

John Cannis Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I too am very pleased to participate in this debate today on Bill S-25, sponsored by the member for Winnipeg South. Let me also add my comments, after hearing the member for Elk Island give us an historical perspective. It gives everybody the opportunity to maybe appreciate why we are doing this. It is such a unique experience, as we begin a Monday in this House, to see such tremendous co-operation among members. It is amazing what can be accomplished when everybody comes together and rises above political stripes.

I will also point out, as the parliamentary secretary, that the bill is very straightforward. None of the changes proposed in the bill are unusual or revolutionary in any way, as the House heard from other members. Rather the changes are designed to ensure clarity of operation for the Mennonite church.

The bill was requested by the Conference of Mennonites of Canada and was sponsored in the other place by Senator Kroft to start with. Senator Carstairs then sponsored the private bill in the last parliament, but unfortunately it died on the order paper. So here we are today.

I would like to point out that even though the bill is routine and non-controversial, it speaks to the larger issue that builds on the foundations of Canada's economy. That issue is important for the framework of legislation affecting corporations as well.

Whether these corporations are aimed at making a profit in the global economy, or whether they are co-operatives aimed at advancing the interest of their members, or whether they are not for profit corporations, or in this case churches as was mentioned earlier, any corporation must have its rules and regulations built upon a solid base of framework law.

Over the past years the government has worked to modernize its corporate framework legislation as we all know. A sound corporate governance structure is a fundamental requirement for healthy investment, innovation, trade and economic growth. In recent weeks we have debated Bill S-11 which amends the Canada Business Corporations Act and the Canada Cooperatives Act.

These are the framework laws that establish basic rules for corporate governance in these kinds of bodies. For example, they set out the rights and obligations of directors, officers, shareholders and co-operative members. Part of the objectives of Bill S-11 are to eliminate duplication and reduce costs of compliance. Let me emphasize, we want to allow business corporations and co-operatives the flexibility to organize their affairs within a sound legislative structure.

We place a high priority on this kind of co-operative framework legislation because it helps Canada compete in the global economy. We amend these pieces of legislation to position Canadian businesses, investors, shareholders and co-operative members to respond quickly and creatively to rapid developments in the marketplace.

This brings me to the bill before us today, Bill S-25. At first it may seem that there is very little in common between the corporate framework law affecting companies and co-operatives and that which affects the Mennonite church.

After all, the House will see in subclause 3(4) that the first objective of the corporation in question is:

—to promote the spiritual welfare and the unity of spirit of the members of the Corporation and, by mutual assistance, to foster, diffuse, encourage, advance and strengthen the work of the kingdom of God;

We rarely find these objectives as part of the corporate goals of the business covered under Bill S-11.

The next object listed for the corporation is:

—to build Christian communities in the Mennonite tradition;

That tradition has existed in Canada since the 18th century when the first Mennonites came to Canada from the United States following the American revolution. It was clearly pointed out by the member for Elk Island. I appreciate him providing the history, because it gave everyone the opportunity in the House and across our country to understand fully what the bill all about.

Let me point out that another wave of immigrants came from Russia, as I mentioned earlier, in the 19th century following the Russian revolution. More recently Mennonites from many different backgrounds have made Canada their home, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Taiwanese, French and Spanish, as well as German.

Over the centuries the tradition has produced a unique socio-religious culture based on self-sufficiency within tight communities. It is a culture that emphasizes peace and relief projects.

Since its incorporation in 1947, the needs of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada have changed. Corporate governance laws in Canada have also changed. This is why, even though the aims and objectives of the Mennonite conference are different from the kinds of corporations covered in Bill S-11, there is a unity of purpose in the need to provide framework law that meets today's needs.

Bill S-25 would give the Mennonite church in Canada greater flexibility to carry on its affairs and makes its incorporation status consistent with modern corporate legislation. The bill would remove the factors that limit the corporation from operating internationally. In this way we can see a commonality of spirit between the bill affecting a church and our corporate framework legislation designed to make industrial corporations competitive internationally.

This is a routine piece of legislation. I am sure and know, as we have heard, that my colleagues unanimously support this effort. At the same time, the bill reminds us all of our importance to work together in the House co-operatively.

In closing, I personally want to thank everyone here for this co-operation. I know that as we move forward we will do the right thing.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, as a member of parliament from Winnipeg, Manitoba, I too would like to take this opportunity to add my support for Bill S-25. I am very pleased to hear of the level of co-operation and good will from all parties in the speeches we heard to date.

I will briefly point out that my riding of Winnipeg Centre is home to quite a large Mennonite population. It has been my very good fortune to get to know many of the activists in the Mennonite faith in my neighbourhood and in the area.

I will add some comments on how impressed I have been with the level of commitment Mennonite people in my riding have shown to issues such as building a sense of community, social justice, goodwill on a number of levels and certainly a sense of personal sacrifice. The Mennonite people feel very strongly that their faith in their day to day lives must be integrated to the point where I believe the social gospel really is the overwhelming motivating influence.

If Bill S-25, as has been said, would enable Mennonites to restructure their administrative side so they could be more effective in the work that they do, then it is incumbent upon us to support it without any hesitation.

One of the things that I have been most impressed about is meeting anti-war activists, pacifists in the truest sense of the Mennonite faith. As recently as this month, I received a number of letters at my offices from people of the Mennonite faith pointing out that they did not choose to pay income tax that would be put toward military development. They did the mathematics which showed that if 6% or 7% of the total budget goes to the military, they would withhold that amount of money from their income tax. They would not give it to the government to spend on those things.

It is a longstanding gesture in the pacifist anti-war movement and I have nothing but admiration for those who make that comment with their spending power, with their taxation dollars. I believe it becomes an administrative nuisance, certainly for Revenue Canada, but it is the type of peaceful demonstration that very clearly puts their point of view front and centre.

To speak briefly on the work that they do in my immediate area, I have said many times that the riding of Winnipeg Centre is an area of great need, it being the core area of Winnipeg. The Mennonite activists, to their credit, have actually targeted this part of my city to move into deliberately in order to try to elevate the standard of the neighbourhoods in that area.

There are middle class people, be they teachers, nurses or whatever, who could afford to live out in the suburbs where it might be safer and more pleasant and where there would be more access to services, but they consciously choose as a group, en masse, to move into an area of the greatest need and therefore bring the stability of their two parent families and well educated children with them to elevate the overall standard of the neighbourhood. That in itself is a level of civic duty that we do not really see. When people go beyond making a donation to a charitable organization, when they actually alter their own personal lives to do what is right for their home community, I think there is nothing more admirable.

Others have pointed out that they have personal contact with the Mennonite faith. My family as well has integrated with the Mennonite community in that I have cousins, uncles and aunts in the Schroeder family from the Portage area. Even though I was raised as a Catholic, not as a Mennonite, I did gain a great deal of personal knowledge about the Mennonite faith by virtue of our shared family issues.

The other thing I would like to point out is the development work that they have done in the Mennonite communities of Winkler, Altona and Morden in Manitoba. This part of Manitoba is actually the most stable and prosperous part of the province now, due in no small part to the entrepreneurial skills and industrialization of the area brought about by the Mennonite people. It was otherwise just an agricultural community. They started small businesses and small manufacturing such as the wood manufacturing industry in Manitoba. The largest single private sector company in Manitoba is Palliser Furniture, which is the largest wood products manufacturer in all of Canada.

I just wanted to take this opportunity as a member of parliament from Manitoba and from Winnipeg to add my enthusiastic support for the bill. If it helps the Mennonite community in the structuring of the good work it does, we should certainly be foursquare in their corner on this.

One of the other services the Mennonite community has brought to us in the province of Manitoba is the mediation and conciliation service they offer through their church. Whenever there is an issue like two neighbours arguing over a fence, they have the option of taking it to the mediation service offered by the Mennonite church rather than going to litigation. It has been and continues to be of very great value.

I am very proud to be part of this. Bill S-25 is one of those things that we should be able to do as a cleanup at the end of parliament, with multiparty support and easy passage.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I just want to comment on the procedure behind the bill and to object formally to having the bill originate in the Senate. The Senate is not elected, is not democratic and is not accountable. It seems to me that any bill should originate in the House of Commons, not in the other place, which is not accountable to anyone.

I want to file that objection as a matter of principle. I think we have to do something about the Senate. I believe it should be abolished. Some members, like my friend from Calgary, would like to see an elected Senate, but the polling I have seen shows that only 5% of the country supports the existing Senate.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is the House ready for the question?

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

The Act Of Incorporation Of The Conference Of Mennonites In Canada
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)