House of Commons Hansard #138 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was firefighters.

Topics

Pacific Gateway Act
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger for the Minister of Transport

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-68, An Act to support development of Canada's Pacific Gateway.

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

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

October 20th, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 19 consideration of Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Telecommunications Act, as reported (with amendments) from the committee; and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate you on your great efficiency. Over the last while, routine proceedings have been dealt with very expeditiously.

I am extremely pleased to rise today to speak on Bill C-37, to amend the Telecommunications Act. This bill will ensure that the irritants associated with the system, because telephone solicitation calls have unfortunately become too frequent, are finally eliminated to a large extent. Such calls are intruding into the privacy of the home.

The bill before us today provides some protection for consumers and the general public. As we know, thanks to new technologies, we are bombarded night and day by solicitations. For example, a few weeks ago, someone called me at 8 a.m. I was told about an amazing new vacuum that I just had to try. Obviously, at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, there are better things to do than see how our vacuum cleaner compares to the one we are being asked to buy. It has become a kind of pollution. I believe that it is important for us, as legislators, to ensure privacy protection, because things have gone a bit too far.

Naturally, the Bloc will support Bill C-37. This bill contains provisions we like. We have looked at how this kind of system has worked elsewhere. The United States has the national do not call registry. This registry has allowed 62 million people, in a country with a population of 250 million, to say that they do not want to receive such calls. Companies must comply or pay significant fines.

People will say that this has resulted in another, related, problem. A number of these American companies relocated to Canada because things are more relaxed here. Now, we are going to set some restrictions and also be respectful to the general public.

However, there are some exemptions. Be it the vacuum cleaner I mentioned earlier, encyclopedias or cookware, people will have to comply and work within the legislation. However, there are some important exemptions, such as charitable organizations.

It is wise to state in the bill that such organizations are exempted. They will be allowed to phone people. The employees of charitable organizations have a certain amount of professionalism. I do not believe that they would call at 8 or 9 a.m. or very late at night. In fact, it would not be profitable for them to do so. If they did, they might offend whoever answers the phone at 9 a.m. In all likelihood, they would not raise much money for their charity that way. These people are professionals and therefore giving them this exemption is the right thing.

The same goes for business relationships. A pharmacist, for instance, cannot be prevented from calling a client to notify him or her that a prescription is ready to be picked up. This type of situation can justify a phone call at 8 or 9 in the morning. We agree that these are exceptions and the bill will not apply to them.

The same also goes for political calls, which are important, after all. Politics are the heart and soul of a society. The legislators are the ones who make final decisions on numerous subjects, including this one. It is very important for another exception to be made so that political parties can make phone calls. There would be reasonable rules on this. No one will solicit votes at 8 am or midnight. I therefore think this exception is a proper one.

As for opinion polls, it is a matter of the right to information. People are entitled to know what the standing of the political parties is, in the country as a whole or in specific provinces. This exception is important for us.

There is one regrettable point, however. There was consensus in the committee for another sector to be added to the exceptions: newspapers.

This can include the national papers as well as the local papers. It is very important for them to be able to conduct some form of solicitation. Unfortunately, even though the committee was in favour, this seems to have slipped through the cracks and disappeared.

Mr. Speaker, I regret to point out that you made a slight error. We asked for this to be included as an exception. Unfortunately, you turned down this request. Yesterday, we sought unanimous consent of the House. I was there. I do not understand why the Liberals refused, when they were in favour of this in committee. Why do they want to prevent our local papers, or the national papers, from soliciting subscriptions?

Earlier it was even said that political parties were an exception to the legislation, so why would newspapers not be as well? What they do is just as important as what legislators do. We thought it a shame that the Liberal Party did not give its consent yesterday to include newspapers in the exceptions.

Furthermore, in the bill, we like the fact that a three-year period will apply. This is part of a new section of the legislation. We will have to see what impact this will have on consumers and on marketing companies. By the way, marketing companies are in favour of this bill. These companies have already said that people who want to be excluded, who say they do not want to be solicited, refused to answer them anyway. Accordingly, the Canadian Marketing Association, or CMA, said it would give the bill its blessing.

The three-year period will apply. When the bill receives royal assent, a period of three years will apply, after which Parliament could re-evaluate the entire scope of this section of the legislation. We think this is a reasonable timeframe that will ensure everyone is protected and the bill can truly meet its objectives.

There are some gaping holes in this bill. We have been told, unfortunately, that telemarketing fraud could not be included. The typical psychological profile of the people who fall victim to this is as follows. They are often people who live alone and are around 70 years of age and their money is literally extorted from them. We were told that to deal with this, amendments would have to be made to the Criminal Code.

Still it is a shame to see this going on. People report for work in some little hidden away spot, known as a boiler room, and start making calls. These people are often paid according to how successful they are. For example, they get 40% of what they take in.

Unfortunately, people can make a fortune extorting money from this kind of client. In their view, it is paradise here. The legislation in the United States imposes heavy penalties on these people. They are sentenced to prison and given heavy fines. The result is that people who want to engage in this kind of extortion, from these boiler rooms, come to Canada and make their calls to the United States from here. At the same time, of course, they swindle Canadians and Quebeckers as well.

It is too bad that this is not covered by the bill. I know that my hon. colleague, who sits on the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology, wants to meet with my hon. colleague from justice to try to correct this defect.

Nevertheless, taking the bill as a whole, the Bloc members are pleased with it. It is time that the private lives of Canadians were protected. People never have enough time nowadays, and they have less and less for their families, for example. This time should be protected. We should make sure that people can enjoy breakfast with their families on Saturday morning without being disturbed by three, four or five phone calls trying to sell them all sorts of things or soliciting them about everything under the sun.

I take great pleasure therefore in saying that I support Bill C-37. I think that my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois will be in favour of the Bloc's position, which is to amend the telecommunications bill in order to do something about the inappropriate solicitation problem.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I want to add my comments to the debate on the do not call list or registry. I can say there is no question that most Canadians are favourably disposed to some type of limitation to unsolicited calls.

I received a call from a constituent complaining about receiving a call that was unsolicited, how she was treated on the phone and some of the issues that she had with that particular call. She felt that, at a very minimum, these callers should identify themselves and indicate on whose behalf they are calling. That is part of the amendment that my party and the NDP were able to achieve through committee.

If Canadians were asked whether they like to be interrupted during their supper with a call, to go through what sometimes takes a considerable period of time, many would find it to be somewhat of a nuisance and an inconvenience and would choose not to participate in that type of phone call. However, at the same time, there are some legitimate reasons for people wanting to call, such as charities and others, that not only provide a service to the community but provide a useful service to particular organizations. The main way they raise funds is through that means. Therefore there is a balanced approach that needs to be taken.

I would like to go through some of the background in relation to the composition of this bill that is of major concern to me. When we look at the bill as it has been put together, it was very much a skeletal bill in the first instance. We are dealing with a registry and as soon as the word “registry” is mentioned, it conjures up all types of red flags simply because we have the gun registry that has cost millions of dollars, some would say billions of dollars, through administration. Perhaps part of that is due to a lack of direction or understanding of what the scope and involvement of the registry should be, what it needs to do, what its objectives are, what it hopes to attain and those kinds of things. Perhaps it was not well thought out.

I found that when this particular bill was first introduced by the government, it did not have any rules and regulations nor did it say what the objects of policy were. It had two scant paragraphs and basically abdicated that responsibility to the CRTC. To me, that is irresponsible, bordering on perhaps wilful neglect and even recklessness, not to have the House debate and set in place how this do not call registry ought to work and what the parameters of it might be. It is something that the House should take upon itself to understand. It should be the House that conducts inquiries and hearings to obtain input from the public, the players and the stakeholders and then decide how policy is to be made.

Instead, the initial bill, before its many amendments, simply provided that the commission would administer the databases or information, the administrative or operational systems, and it would determine any matter and make any order with respect to the databases or the administrative or operational systems. In fact, what it has basically said is that it will give this whole chore over to the CRTC and let it decide how it is going to be operated and what it may do.

Remarkably, the CRTC itself, through its own people, have said that it would just as soon not have that responsibility. The vice-president has indicated that the CRTC would like to receive direction on or some guidance from Parliament by way of legislation, an act or regulations. They feel that this was being imposed upon them. Even the press release that accompanied the bill said that the commission would hold hearings throughout the country to see what the public might want and how this system might operate compared to other systems to see how it should work administratively.

It is remarkable that the government would totally abdicate its responsibility to a commission that is not elected, that is appointed, that is not answerable to the public, has no scope of reference and has no particular known mandate. Anything could happen with that particular direction taken by that committee or group and Parliament would have to pay for it. It is like writing a blank cheque and telling people to do what they want to do and, when they decide what to do and how they want to do it, then Parliament would pay the bill. Why would the government take that kind of irresponsible approach to such a fundamental issue?

The reason the government has taken that approach is because it knows it is a publically sensitive issue that the majority of the public wants. The polling that has been done shows that 90% or better of the people want to have some sort of a do not call registry. Environics and others have shown that the majority of people would publically register and they want the government to pay attention to it. With an election looming and the government wanting to stay in power, which is primarily governed by polls, it took a knee-jerk, half-baked reaction and said that it would set up a registry, even though it did not know how it would work. It said that it wanted people to know for public relations purposes that there will be a registry, that people will be able to call and somehow it will work. It is not sure how it will work but someone else will decide and it will write the cheque.

That is irresponsible in light of the scandals we have seen, the sponsorship abuse of funds and funds being spent for little or no value. In light of the gun registry and the overspending that has taken place there, how could a responsible government simply abdicate in this particular way? It has no idea what it is going to cost to administer it.

It says that the CRTC will be able to set the rates on what telemarketers or those who make the calls will have to pay for the direct administration. We do not know what that will be or what it will cost but even if that portion of it is passed on to the telemarketers, one way or another it will end up in the hands of the paying consumer because the costs will have to be paid.

What about the indirect costs? When I look at how the system is set up it is obvious that administrative personnel will be needed. It talks about the ability of the CRTC to delegate through its commission the authority it has to another person, so it is even beyond just the commission. It would need to designate persons who would look after violations of whatever the regulations might be, and we do not know today what they are. These persons, called the notice of violation people, would administer the act.

We know that if there is a person called the notice of violation person, he or she would need to have an administrative staff and an office that is equipped. It says that the person may enter into a place where he or she believes on reasonable grounds anything is going on that is relevant to the enforcement of the act but they need to get consent. If they do not get consent they would have to apply ex parte by application to a justice.

Now we would need to have a judge, a lawyer and, not just a notice of violation person, but other people to administer this. They say that if these people need to enter into a place that may require some force, we would then have to involve peace officers. The person who is the object of this would have an opportunity to make representation to a commission about the whole process. Now we would need a commission to administer that and it would decide whether an offence was committed on a balance of probabilities.

If the person who applies before the commission does not like what he or she hears, they would have the right to a review and then a right to an appeal. Now we would need a review panel and an appeal panel and, of course, these panels, these commissions, are filled by people who are appointed by orders in council, all at a salary of somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 or more, and it continues.

We all know there is administrative law that comes into play so that if there is some issue with respect to the commission, the review panel or the appeal panel, they can go to the Federal Court as well.

It is a costly process but this costly process is tied into legislation that initially did not have a frame of reference, a scope or an objective and did not say how the objective would be achieved. It had no policy consideration at all. To me, that is an abdication of responsibility. We find it more and more that the government is reacting by abdicating to the courts, tribunals and commissions when it should be deciding things here in this place.

We find that the rationale of why this is happening is because the end result, which is staying in power and clinging to power, is what matters more than substantive legislation that is good for the country.

If the poll says that it is a good venture, the government will take a step and go in that direction, without knowing where it is actually going, to meet the immediate short term needs and benefits for long term pain without thinking it through. Away the government goes and introduces an act without telling anyone how it will work or where it is going just so it can say that it has addressed the issue. That is how the government has been governing. It is a lack of direction and a lack of steering. It is saying that someone else will decide our destiny and we will pay the bill. That is what is wrong with the way the government has approached this particular aspect of it.

Fortunately, the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party were able to make a number of amendments in committee in such a fashion that at least some semblance of order was put back into the legislation. At least we have an amendment that says that this matter must be brought back to the House within three years for review to see how well it is working or not working. We have also exempted certain groups, such as charities, political parties, candidates, riding associations, surveys and newspapers. Those exemptions were not in the initial bill. The government simply said that it would see what the board does.

I think that is wrong and it is the wrong direction. Fortunately, we were able to beef up the bill sufficiently so that we can at least support it at this stage.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Louise Thibault Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to ask the member who just spoke a question about the do not call list . It is not enough to create a do not call list. How will the public be made aware of its existence?

Could he tell us if the bill includes a special measure on awareness and information campaigns, so that the general public can be made aware of their right to register?

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, there is no question that the bill in its initial form is ill-conceived and very poorly drafted and has left the issue of public relations, so to speak, or the involvement of the public, up to subsequent events.

I would only hope that when we find out exactly how it is going to work—and we do not know that because there is nothing in the legislation to tell us that—once we have set the perimeters of how it might work and what the technical requirements might be, perhaps there would be a sufficient public awareness or media input to involve the public in what would be required.

There are some logistical things involved. What happens when people move or sell their homes or change their phone numbers? How often will these phone numbers be checked? Do they have to phone and will there be a particular number? There is a host of technical issues that are not addressed and not even discussed at this stage.

Essentially we are saying that there will be a better system than we have now, which is that we have from no ability to some ability to check those unsolicited calls, but we will have to figure out a way to do it. I am assuming that we will be able to do this.

My concern has been that we have advocated this to a commission or a tribunal rather than dealing with it ourselves in advance, but it at least is headed in a new direction in allowing what I guess we would say are the most likely calls that people would not want to receive to be checked. Yet we would allow those who have a legitimate reason for calling to be able to fit within the system. For example, I can think of soccer moms and other people who want to raise funds or do something. But this is very much a work in progress and that is where I have my main concerns.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the member well knows that more often than not legislation does not include the fine details. These are included in the regulations, which have to be developed and reviewed. Even in the case of the reproductive technologies bill, for instance, I think there were 24 clauses for which regulations had to be developed to come up with the fine tuning.

The member started off by coming up with the line that somehow the bill is ill-conceived. I suspect that if he were to consult with his constituents he would find that receiving unsolicited phone calls has been not just a nuisance but has been very annoying and disruptive in their lives. Certainly I have heard about it from a lot of my constituents.

I guess the real issue is that there somehow seems to be a reluctance on the member's part to support a bill only from the standpoint that every little detail of an operation is not in the bill, which normally is not the case.

Has the member received communications from his constituents? What would be his assessment as to the views of Canadians he has consulted with regard to the necessity of this bill?

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, there is no question there is a necessity for this bill. The public is concerned and wants us to do something about it. However, what I am saying is wrong is that this government has been totally negligent, irresponsible and reckless in the way it has approached this. We cannot have a piece of legislation with no rules, no regulations and where we do not know where we are going, passed on to an unelected body and say that it is somehow is acceptable.

I have asked this member to look at the two paragraphs of this particular bill that do not give any direction whatsoever to the CRTC as to how it is to operate. The CRTC itself asked us in committee to give it some direction and some idea of where we are going with this.

It is the kind of problem that we find this government knee-jerks itself out of. When it was in trouble as a minority government and its confidence was being tested, it came up with Bill C-48, a bill that the NDP forced upon it, with no—

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

Telecommunications Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, today I rise to speak on Bill C-37, which is intended to create a national do not call registry.

Before I go further, I want to assure all members of the House that I have my home telephone publicly listed and I receive the same telephone calls that all my constituents do.

Canadians by the tens of thousands are interrupted every day by unsolicited telephone calls. I, too, share their feelings of intrusion, interruption and harassment. I have taken steps to inform my constituents of a national registry that already exists, but I am also quick to point out its shortcomings.

The Canadian Marketing Association will register a person for free on its DNC list. It can be done either through its website or by fax. Unfortunately, not all telemarketing companies are members of the Canadian Marketing Association, so we will not eliminate all calls if we register with the association.

The CRTC also requires that each company maintain its own DNC list, but we have to get at least one call first and the listing is only good for three years.

In my community brochures, I have provided a number of tips on how to handle unsolicited calls. I also provided information on how citizens can report fraud, scams and suspicions to the RCMP. At the end of that information, I asked four questions and obtained some interesting results.

We contacted and sent out brochures to 2,900 constituents. When I asked if they supported the concept of a national do not call list, 95% said yes and 5% said they were undecided. When I asked if the do not call lists should be maintained at taxpayers' expense by the government, 18% said yes, 65% said no and the other 18% were undecided. When I asked if they planned to add their names to the Canadian Marketing Association's DNC list, 68% said yes, 11% said no and 21% were undecided. Perhaps most interesting was when I asked if they were aware of the do not call list before receiving this brochure. A full 37% said yes, 58% said no, and 5% said they did not know.

The conclusion is that my constituents support such a list, but not with the government running it. This does not surprise me. The Liberal government's track record on national registries is abysmal. It has failed with the gun registry and also with the boat operators licensing registry.

I cannot blame my constituents for not wanting the Liberals to be in charge of another list. However, today we have Bill C-37 before us, which proposes to do just that. The bill is very sketchy on details and asks Parliament to grant the CRTC a great deal of power with minimal direction. This is a recipe for another failed registry.

The bill does not give any details on how the list will be maintained. While those who want their number on the list will be happy to have it there, it is likely they will remove that number if they change their phone number. Believe it or not, there are others who would be upset to find out that their new phone number was restricted when that was not their wish. Already the complexity of the list becomes apparent.

The bill raises a number of privacy concerns, as it fails to specify what information is required of consumers. I know that my constituents are very concerned about privacy issues and I am hesitant to support legislation that does not adequately address these issues. However, a number of amendments have been made and I will be supporting the legislation, as I believe it heads us in the right direction. Changes can be made.

I have some questions, though. How will telemarketers check this list? How much information would they have access to? How often would they be required to check the national list against their own? There are so many questions and, unfortunately, so few answers.

As we have seen in the national gun registry, reporting and accountability issues are rampant. On a DNC registry, who would provide the reporting? How timely would it be? How accurate would it be? Again, there are a lot of questions and no answers.

Perhaps one of the most interesting and debatable issues is that of exemptions. Clearly not all unsolicited calls can be classified as intrusive, hassles or frauds.

In addition, a number of organizations, from charitable, polling and survey firms to political organizations and candidates, make a valid case for exemption. Also, would such a list preclude companies from randomly contacting their customers without prior permission?

Who will decide on the exemptions? Under this bill, it will not be Parliament. I have a problem with that. Any restrictions to free speech require serious legal and political considerations.

According to the CRTC, the do not call list would be self-funding. Many question the CRTC's authority in handling the do not call list. Program funding would come from the fines imposed on those who fail to comply with the law.

In theory, if everyone follows the rules there will be no revenue from fines. I cannot believe the government wants to establish a funding mechanism based on the failure of Canadians to follow the law.

If the government has done studies to determine if we are delinquent enough to maintain funding for such a list, it should put them on the table. Or is the government really trying to tell us that such a list will be so ineffective that opportunities for fines will always exist?

Also, the CRTC is expecting to have very broad and far-reaching powers to create, maintain and enforce this list. Many say that the CRTC has demonstrated its inability to keep up with technology and the general wishes of Canadians.

Such a list was established in the United States with a great deal of fanfare. In fact, on its opening day, a whopping 1,000 website hits a second were received. I take it, then, that such a list is needed and wanted, but I truly question whether the government is capable of undertaking such a project.

As I stated earlier, 95% of my constituents who answered the questionnaire want such a list, but 65% of them do not want the government to run it. Carl S. of Saskatoon even suggested that telephone companies be responsible for maintaining such a list. Then, if a telemarketer failed to comply with the list, the phone company could charge the offending firm.

I will be supporting the bill only because I agree with the intent, not the method. If the Liberal government wants my full support, it would have to bring forward a detailed bill, not just the framework of one. In addition, it would need to justify why the government is the only one that can and should operate such a registry. This is a problem, created when one telephone customer irritates another.

Ironically, the phone companies have been largely silent in this regard. Perhaps it is because telemarketers are very profitable clients compared to individual subscribers. Perhaps it is because this causes many people to pay additional fees for phone features like caller ID, from which the phone company benefits financially.

I would like to see the government, before asking taxpayers to fund such a list, approach the phone companies for a solution first. I know that the phone companies already have the technology to block calls from one number to another. Why is this not the focus of our efforts?

Once again, I encourage the government not to abandon the issue but to instead come back to Parliament with a truly sustainable, detailed piece of legislation for us to debate and vote on.

Finally, I would like to thank all my constituents who participated in the survey. For the record, it was conducted by mail.

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10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, very simply, I wonder if the member could explain to the House where in the bill it says that the government is going to operate the call registry.

Telecommunications Act
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10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Carol Skelton Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, I would like to answer the member by saying that the government would be contracting this with the CRTC. That raises questions.