House of Commons Hansard #171 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Privilege

10 a.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I gave notice yesterday of my intention to proceed with a certain question of privilege. However, in view of the international circumstances that have arisen overnight, I think it would be more appropriate to deal with that matter on another day in the very near future, and I would first ask for your permission to do so.

Second, I understand that there would be consent in the House to proceed at this time directly with statements by ministers and then to return to the normal daily routine of business when those proceedings have been completed.

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Speaker

Yes, the Chair regards the request of the government House leader with respect to the question of privilege as quite reasonable and the matter can be deferred without prejudice to any arguments with respect to timeliness.

Is there unanimous consent to proceed with statements by ministers at this time?

Privilege

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

National Defence
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Saint-Maurice
Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the House marked the celebration of 20 years of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Last night our nation was reminded of the precious cost that comes with standing up for the rights and freedoms that we hold so dear.

Last night, we learned that Canadian troops had been involved in a horrible accident during a live fire training exercise near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Four of our soldiers, all members of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, were killed and eight more wounded.

We do not yet have all the facts, but it seems clear that our soldiers were hit by fire from a fighter jet belong to our U.S. allies.

President Bush called me when he learned of this to express his great sorrow and to extend his sincerest condolences to the families of our soldiers.

At times like these we grasp for words of comfort and consolation, but they are just words. They can never do justice to the pain and loss that is being felt this morning in Edmonton by mothers and fathers, wives and children who have received the worst news we could imagine. All we have in our power today is to tell them, as a nation, that they are in our thoughts and prayers.

The campaign against terrorism is the first great global struggle for justice of the 21st century. As in all such conflicts of the past, Canada has been on the front lines. The Canadian armed forces has set itself apart with their valour, daring and skill. If words cannot console this loss, they also cannot fully express the pride that all Canadians have felt about the exemplary way in which they have carried out their duties.

We have so many questions this morning. Extensive training for combat is meant to save lives. How is it that in this awful case it took so many lives? I want to assure the families and the people of Canada that these questions will be answered. Indeed, President Bush has pledged the full co-operation of the Americans with us in the investigation that is already underway.

For this moment, we must give over our hearts and prayers to the loved and the lost and to the families to whom our nation holds a debt of gratitude that is beyond mortal calculation.

National Defence
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast
B.C.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, Her Majesty's loyal opposition joins the Prime Minister in expressing sorrow over the loss of these brave souls who made the supreme sacrifice in defence of all we hold near and dear as a nation. We join their families and their comrades in mourning.

This great national tragedy serves to remind us, as generations before were reminded, that our soldiers, our brave soldiers, are among those noble few who volunteer to put themselves in peril in defence of our nation, our freedoms and our democracy. It should always be a great source of national pride that we have among us young people who volunteer, who join our armed forces willingly, knowing that any day, any hour, any minute they may be thrust into perilous situations. We should guard carefully the use of the word noble so that in times like this it can be used generously and accurately to describe and define our fine young people in uniform.

We know and take assurance in knowing that these tragic losses will not deter our military men and women, will not make them falter, will not make them hesitate now or in the future as they continue their fine and noble tradition of defending their nation and its admiring and proud citizens.

Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry has a long, proud and honourable history. The brave men and women in Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry know their history. Today's comrades in arms will be joined in their sorrow by former comrades in arms. They will, as members of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry have done in the past, draw strength from each other and give strength to the families and the loved ones left behind.

I want to address the families and the loved ones. Mere words will never suffice at a time like this, but please know that we are very proud of those loved ones who they have lost.

A poem was written nearly 100 years ago. I would like to read the second and third versus. It states:

We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

Take up your quarrel with the foe: To you the failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

We pray for the wounded and their families and for their quick recovery. We will not forget them.

National Defence
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, a tragic and unfortunate incident has occurred in Afghanistan. Four Canadian soldiers have lost their lives while another eight have been wounded.

On behalf of the members of the Bloc Quebecois, I join with the Prime Minister and all members of the House to express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who died, and our wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured.

As for the families of all of the troops in Afghanistan, who woke up this morning to this terrible news, I would like them to know our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.

The Bloc Quebecois wishes to thank Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as well as their families.

What happened is all the more tragic because it occurred during an exercise. Any military operation brings with it a risk of loss of life. This is, of course, the tragedy of war, even in these days of so-called smart weapons, which are supposed to keep such mistakes from happening.

I must make it clear that the United States were quick to offer their co-operation in casting light on this tragic incident. An investigation of these events is imperative.

We can only hope that such a thing will never happen again.

National Defence
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I join with all members of the House in expressing the deep sadness felt by all Canadians at the events that have happened in Afghanistan in the last 24 hours.

We are shocked and saddened to learn of the loss of four of our soldiers and the injury of eight others. The events affect most directly the loving families and dear friends of those who have been killed and injured, and we express our deepest sympathies and prayers to them at this time.

As a community we know the tragedy of this loss is felt by all Canadians. This morning across the country in schools, workplaces, community facilities, places of worship and the quiet of their homes, Canadians are coming to terms with an experience those of us who grew up in the latter half of the last century had believed and hoped would never be visited again upon the lives of our citizens.

In the community of Halifax that I am privileged to represent, military families join their loved ones on a regular basis to bid them farewell as they go off to serve their country in operations and exercises that can be very dangerous. When Canadian men and women were sent to Afghanistan and the region all Canadians struggled with the cruel reality that some might not return. It is a truth that is unsettling to those of us who have only known peace and rarely been touched by war.

Courage can come from knowing our military men and women accept the risks inherent in their work and are steadied by their training and the knowledge that their public service is essential to building the kind of global peace we value and would like to see for future generations.

We must give all the care, comfort and resources that military families require. We know their families are proud of them and always concerned for their safe return. Our thoughts and the thoughts of all Canadians are with the families of the injured soldiers as well.

Once more on behalf of my colleagues I express my deepest sympathies to the families who have lost their loved ones and extend our prayers to the eight injured soldiers for their full recovery and healing.

National Defence
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the whole House joins today in expressing our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the four Canadian soldiers whose lives were lost in Kandahar and the families of those who were injured.

No words can truly express the profound sorrow we as Canadians feel today. We can nonetheless express our admiration, pride and gratitude to the four Canadian soldiers who gave their lives to protect the values of freedom, democracy and respect that are so challenged by the threat of terrorism.

Terrorism is a universal scourge. Canada is not immune to it. That is why Canada's role in the war against terrorism is so important.

All Canadians recognize the matchless contribution of these four Canadian soldiers in this great struggle against terrorism. We admire their extraordinary courage. We salute their ultimate sacrifice. Their memory will be forever with us.

Even in these tragic circumstances hard questions must be asked and answered. War is always unpredictable but Canadians want to know the exact circumstances that led to Canadian soldiers being killed by friendly fire. Did the arrangement whereby American commanders direct Canadian troops have any impact on the casualties? Was there any incompatibility between the communications systems of our troops on the ground and the aircraft involved in the incident? Were the Canadian troops adequately equipped? Are the families of the dead and injured fully covered by the special duty pension order?

War involves loss. This war is worth waging. The safety of Canadians in combat requires the expression of the deepest sympathy and gratitude, and it requires of us the greatest determination to ensure our troops enter combat in the safest possible circumstances.

Our sympathy and thoughts are with the families of the dead and the injured. In that the whole House and whole country join.

National Defence
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

I would ask the House to rise for a moment of silence in memory of the soldiers who so tragically died.

Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member from Mercier on March 19, 2002 relating to actions of the Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade during the committee’s examination of Mr. Alfonso Gagliano as order-in-council appointee to the position of ambassador to Denmark.

I thank the hon. member for Mercier for raising this question as well as the hon. members for Burnaby--Douglas, Portage--Lisgar, Cumberland--Colchester, Winnipeg--Transcona, the former member for Gander--Grand Falls, the hon. government House leader, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, and the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough who all spoke to the matter.

The hon. member for Mercier, in raising the matter, argued that her parliamentary privileges were violated when the Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade disallowed certain of her questions, thus, in the member’s view, hindering her right to question fully the witness’s qualifications and competence as ambassador-designate.

The hon. member explained that she and other members of the committee had attempted to question the appointee as provided in Standing Order 111(2) that is, they wanted to “examine the qualifications and competence of the …nominee to perform the duties of the post to which he …has been appointed”.

In support of the legitimacy of her line of questioning the hon. member also cited House of Commons Procedure and Practice , page 876 which states:

Any question may be permitted if it can be shown that it relates directly to the appointee's or nominee's ability to do the job.

The hon. member argued that the committee Chair had exceeded her authority. By excluding questions about the ambassador-designate’s previous work experience, the Chair prevented members from asking appropriate questions regarding the candidate’s ability to fulfill his duties.

Furthermore, all hon. members who spoke to the matter raised the issue of freedom of speech as being fundamental to the work of parliamentarians.

In reviewing the facts of the matter, I found that the arguments presented by hon. members set out the difficulty clearly and concisely. However, as members know from many previous rulings rendered in this place, it has been the consistent position of past Speakers—and I have shared that position—that committees are masters of their own destinies. It is with the committee itself that lies the responsibility for resolving its own procedural disputes. These are matters in which Speakers have, almost invariably, chosen—wisely in my opinion—not to interfere.

I wish to draw to the attention of hon. members a previous ruling made in the House some years ago by Speaker Fraser, with regard to actions taken by the then Chair of the Standing Committee on Finance. In his ruling of March 26, 1990, Speaker Fraser made the following comments:

A committee chairman is elected by the committee. Like the Speaker, he is the servant of the body that elected him or her. The chairman is accountable to the committee, and that committee should be the usual venue where his or her conduct is pronounced upon, unless and until the committee chooses to report to the House, which the Committee has not yet opted to do.

Unlike those of the Speaker, the decisions of committee chairs are subject to appeal. This represents an important indication of the independence of committees.

It is my understanding that, in the situation before us, the ruling of the committee Chair with regard to the disallowance of certain lines of questioning was appealed but that the Chair’s decision was upheld. While I understand the frustrations of the hon. members, I cannot substitute my judgment for a decision taken either by a committee Chair or by a committee itself; the Chair cannot become an additional recourse for appealing decisions in committee. Committees must remain masters of their own procedure.

I am confident that committee Chairs continue to be mindful of their responsibilities to make fair and balanced rulings based on the democratic traditions of this place. Members of committees must also strive to resolve procedural issues in a manner which ensures that the rules are followed and that committee deliberations are balanced and productive for those committees.

Again, I thank all hon. members for their interventions in this matter.

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement government orders will be extended by 14 minutes.

Air Travel Complaints Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report of the Air Travel Complaints Commissioner from July 2000 to December 2001.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Yolande Thibeault Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages.

This report is a summary of the consultations that we had with officials from organizations representing minority official language communities. It is our hope that this document will help the President of the Treasury Board and minister responsible for co-ordinating issues relating to official languages in the drafting of his comprehensive action plan.

The committee wishes to underline the outstanding collaboration and support of the people who appeared before the committee and the people who served the committee.

We wish to thank researcher Françoise Coulombe, from the Parliamentary Research Branch of the Library of Parliament, as well as co-clerks Tonu Onu and Jean-François Pagé and their support staff for their invaluable contributions, which have enabled us to table this eighth report.

Employment Insurance Act
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-442, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this bill. I hope that it will be selected to become a votable item. This bill proposes some 15 changes to employment insurance.

As we know, some changes have been made to employment insurance since 1996. Even though there is now a $42 billion surplus in the fund, some people do not even qualify for employment insurance benefits.

In short, the major changes proposed in this bill are to reduce the number of hours from 910 to 350; to increase the number of weeks for people who may qualify; to include self-employed entrepreneurs under the EI program; to increase the level of benefits to 66%, where it should really be.

This is a very important bill. We must also ensure that an independent commission monitors the employment insurance program.

As I have said, it is a pleasure for me to present this bill in the House of Commons. I hope it will be made votable shortly, especially since we have a $42 billion surplus in employment insurance.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Organ Donation Act
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-443, an act to establish a national organ donor registry and to co-ordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada.

Mr. Speaker, as we approach National Organ Donor Week it gives me great pleasure to introduce an act to establish a national organ donor registry and to co-ordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada.

The bill is intended to save lives by ensuring that Canadians in need of live saving organs can benefit from the most efficient and co-ordinated system of identifying and matching donors to meet the need.

We are painfully aware of the urgent need to improve our organ donation system. That has been driven home today by the news that the rate of organ donation in the country has fallen.

It is my belief and the belief of many others that we can benefit from this kind of legislation and we can make a difference in the lives of Canadians who are desperately in need of organs today.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)