House of Commons Hansard #60 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Standing Orders
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan for the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 43 with the following:

  1. (1)(a) Unless otherwise provided in these Standing Orders, when the Speaker is in the Chair, no Member, except the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, or a Minister moving a government order and the Member speaking in reply immediately after such Minister, shall speak for more than twenty minutes at a time in any debate.

(b) Following any speech by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, a Minister moving a government order, or the Member speaking in reply immediately after such Minister, and following any twenty-minute speech, a period not exceeding ten minutes shall be made available, if required, to allow Members to ask questions and comment briefly on matters relevant to the speech and to allow responses thereto.

(c) Except as provided in Standing Orders 95 and 126(1)(a), following any ten-minute speech, a period not exceeding five minutes shall be made available, if required, to allow Members to ask questions and comment briefly on matters relevant to the speech and to allow responses thereto.

(2)(a) The Whip of a party may indicate to the Speaker at any time during a debate governed by this Standing Order that one or more of the periods of debate limited pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order to twenty minutes and allotted to Members of his or her party are to be divided in two.

(b) Any Member rising to speak during a debate limited by section (1) of this Standing Order to twenty minute speeches, may indicate to the Speaker that he or she will be dividing his or her time with another Member

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 50(2) with the following:

(2) No Member, except the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, shall speak for more than twenty minutes at a time in the said debate.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 66 with the following:

  1. (1) When a debate on any motion, except a motion for the concurrence in a report of a standing or special committee, made after the start of the sitting (after 2:00 p.m. on Mondays and after 11:00 a.m. on Fridays) and prior to the reading of an Order of the Day is adjourned or interrupted, the order for resumption of the debate shall be transferred to and considered under Government Orders.

(2) A motion for the concurrence in a report from a standing or special committee shall receive not more than three hours of consideration, after which time, unless previously disposed of, the Speaker shall interrupt and put all questions necessary to dispose of the motion without further debate or amendment, provided that, if debate is adjourned or interrupted:

(a) the motion shall again be considered on a day designated by the Government after consultation with the House Leaders of the other parties, but in any case not later than the tenth sitting day after the interruption;

(b) debate on the motion shall be resumed at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on the day designated pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section and shall not be further interrupted or adjourned; and

(c) when no Member rises to speak or after three hours of debate, whichever is earlier, the Speaker shall put all questions necessary to dispose of the motion, provided that, if a recorded division is requested on the motion considered on a day designated pursuant to paragraph (a) of this Standing Order, it shall stand deferred to an appointed time on the next Wednesday, no later than the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on that day.

(3) Not more than one motion for the concurrence in a report from a standing or special committee may be moved on any sitting day.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 73(1)(d) with the following:

  1. (1)(d) after not more than five hours of debate, the Speaker shall interrupt the debate and the question shall be put and decided without further debate.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 74(2) with the following:

  1. (2)(a) The Whip of a party may indicate to the Speaker at any time during a debate governed by this Standing Order that one or more of the periods of debate limited pursuant to paragraphs (1)(b) and (c) of this Standing Order, and allotted to Members of his or her party, are to be divided in two.

(b) Any Member rising to speak during a debate governed by paragraphs (1)(b) and (c) of this Standing Order, may indicate to the Speaker that he or she will be dividing his or her time with another Member.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 76(7) with the following:

  1. (7) When debate is permitted, the first Member from each of the recognized parties speaking during proceedings on the first amendment proposed at report stage may speak for not more than twenty minutes, and no other Member shall speak more than once or longer than ten minutes during proceedings on any amendment at that stage.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 81(10)(a) with the following:

  1. (10)(a) In any calendar year, seven sitting days shall be allotted to the Business of Supply for the period ending not later than December 10; seven additional days shall be allotted to the Business of Supply in the period ending not later than March 26; and eight additional days shall be allotted to the Business of Supply in the period ending not later than June 23; provided that the number of sitting days so allotted may be altered pursuant to paragraph (b) or (c) of this section. These twenty two days are to be designated as allotted days. In any calendar year, no more than one fifth of all the allotted days shall fall on a Wednesday and no more than one fifth thereof shall fall on a Friday.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Orders 81(14) with the following:

  1. (14)(a) Forty-eight hours' written notice shall be given of opposition motions on allotted days, motions to concur in interim supply, main estimates, supplementary or final estimates, to restore or reinstate any item in the estimates. Twenty-four hours' written notice shall be given of a notice to oppose any item in the estimates, provided that for the supply period ending not later than June 23, forty-eight hours' written notice shall be given of a notice to oppose any item in the estimates.

(b) When notice has been given of two or more motions by Members in opposition to the government for consideration on an allotted day, the Speaker shall have power to select which of the proposed motions shall have precedence in that sitting.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 81(16) with the following:

  1. (16)(a) Every opposition motion is votable unless the sponsor of such a motion designates it as non-votable.

(b) The duration of proceedings on any opposition motion moved on an allotted day shall be stated in the notice relating to the appointing of an allotted day or days for those proceedings.

(c) Except as provided for in section (18) of this Standing Order, on the last day appointed for proceedings on a motion that shall come to a vote, at fifteen minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders, the Speaker shall interrupt the proceedings and forthwith put, without further debate or amendment, every question necessary to dispose of the said proceedings.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 81(22) with the following:

  1. (22) During proceedings on any item of business under the provisions of this Standing Order, no Member may speak more than once or longer than twenty minutes.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 84(7) with the following:

  1. (7) No Member, except the Minister of Finance, the Member speaking first on behalf of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, shall speak for more than twenty minutes at a time in the Budget Debate.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 106(4) with the following:

  1. (4) Within five days of the receipt, by the clerk of a standing committee, of a request signed by any four members of the said committee, the Chair of the said committee shall convene such a meeting provided that forty-eight hours' notice is given of the meeting. For the purposes of this section, the reasons for convening such a meeting shall be stated in the request.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 107(1) with the following:

  1. (1)(a) The Chair of each standing committee, together with the Member of the House from each standing joint committee who is the Chair of the said joint committee, shall form a Liaison Committee, which is charged with making apportionments of funds from the block of funds authorized by the Board of Internal Economy to meet the expenses of committee activities, subject to ratification by the Board.

(b) The Whip, or his or her designate, of any recognized party not having a member on the Liaison Committee, may take part in the proceedings of the Committee, but may not vote or move any motion, nor be part of any quorum.

That the Standing Orders be amended by replacing Standing Order 109 with the following:

  1. Within 120 days of the presentation of a report from a standing or special committee, the government shall, upon the request of the committee, table a comprehensive response thereto, and when such a response has been requested, no motion for the concurrence in the report may be proposed until the comprehensive response has been tabled or the expiration of the said period of 120 days.

That the Clerk of the House be authorized to make necessary editorial and consequential alterations to the Standing Orders.

That these Standing Orders come into effect at 11:00 o’clock a.m. Monday, March 7, 2005 and remain in effect for the duration of the current parliament and during the first sixty sitting days of the succeeding parliament.

Standing Orders
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between the parties and I believe you would find consent to deem Government Business No. 9 carried without debate.

Standing Orders
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed that the motion be carried?

Standing Orders
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-39, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act and to enact an act respecting the provision of funding for diagnostic and medical equipment, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan for the Minister of Finance

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan for the Minister of Finance

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to introduce at third reading Bill C-39, which provides for $41 billion in new funding for provinces and territories under the ten year plan to strengthen health care.

Canadians are justly proud of their social programs and are determined to see them maintained and improved. In particular, Canada's publicly funded, universal health care system stands as a clear testament to its commitment to ensuring equality of opportunity for all Canadians.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of providing growing and predictable funding for Canada's health care system to ensure its vitality. It also recognizes the importance of improving transparency and accountability of health care spending.

After all, Canadians want to know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely.

In short, the government is committed to strengthening Canada's publicly funded health care system. It is committed to working with the provinces and territories to make sure that happens. As the Prime Minister has said, Canadians want solutions to health care problems, problems in their communities, problems that affect their families. Canadians also want to know that the health care system will be able to provide the services they need in a timely fashion. They also want to know that the health care system is secure for future generations.

Governments recognize the need to strengthen our health care system. We understand the challenge. It is a challenge that falls to us and we must act.

Last fall, federal, provincial and territorial governments all signed the 10 year plan to strengthen health care. Bill C-39 would implement the federal commitment supporting this plan by providing $41 billion in new federal funding for provinces and territories for health.

Indeed, the 10 year plan will strengthen ongoing federal health support provided through the Canada health transfer, or CHT, as well as to address wait times to ensure that Canadians have timely access to essential health services and to provide additional funding for diagnostic and medical equipment.

Before I outline the details of this ambitious new plan, I would like to first provide some history of recent federal health care funding in Canada.

In September 2000, hon. members will recall an agreement by first ministers for an action plan to renew our health care system. In support of that agreement, the federal government invested $23.4 billion through the Canada health and social transfer and targeted spending, including funding for medical equipment, to accelerate and broaden health renewal and reform.

Drawing on that agreement, first ministers met again in February 2003, committing to the first ministers accord on health care renewal. In response to the important reform and reporting objectives it contained, the 2003 budget increased federal support for health care by $34.8 billion over five years. It also contained an additional payment of $2 billion contingent on funds being available in 2003-04.

In January 2004, the Prime Minister announced that an additional $2 billion would be provided to the provinces and territories. This brought the total increase in federal support over the five year period of the 2003 health accord to $36.8 billion. The majority of this funding was provided to the provinces and territories through increased transfer payments, including $16 billion over five years through the new health reform transfer; $14 billion, including the $2 billion in additional funding, for increases to health and social transfers; and $1.5 billion for diagnostic and medical equipment.

The remaining $5.3 billion was allocated to meet other commitments made under the 2003 health accord, notably increased funding for health programs for first nations and Inuit; the creation of a compassionate care benefit under employment insurance; support for research hospitals; and improved health care technology and pharmaceuticals management.

The Government of Canada's investments over the period covered by the health accord, and its other investments in health and social programs, were implemented as part of a long term legislated framework of predictable and growing support for provinces and territories that includes both cash and tax transfers.

I would like to move on to the 10 year plan to strengthen health care. Last September the Prime Minister and premiers signed a 10 year plan to strengthen health care. As I have already mentioned, the plan will provide $41 billion in new health care funding over the next decade. It also illustrates what we are capable of achieving when the federal, provincial and territorial governments work together toward a common goal.

At the heart of the 10 year plan is the commitment for stable and increased funding starting with immediate funding in 2004-05, to provide an additional $1 billion in this year through the CHT as well as an additional $2 billion in 2005-06.

These investments lead me to the second step, which is the establishment of a new $19 billion base for the Canada health transfer, beginning in 2005-06. The new and higher base level of $19 billion for the Canada health transfer includes $500 million in targeted funding for home care and catastrophic drug coverage, clear priorities for many Canadians.

The plan also proposes a 6% escalator to the Canada health transfer, effective in 2006-07, which will ensure predictable and stable growth in federal transfer support, an unprecedented move to ensure predictable and stable growth in support from the federal government. This commitment fully satisfies the recommendations of the Romanow report on the future of health care in Canada. In fact, this commitment exceeds the recommendations of that report.

Just what action does the 10 year plan take to improve our health care system? It makes investments in these areas: reducing waiting times and improving access, which I know are big desires in my constituency; providing funding for medical and diagnostic equipment; and improving access to home care and catastrophic drug coverage.

I want to talk in more detail about reducing waiting times. What united all the first ministers was a commitment to a meaningful reduction in wait times for health care services. The plan provides funding of $5.5 billion over 10 years for wait times reduction so that Canadians can see tangible progress, particularly in key areas such as cancer, heart treatment, diagnostic imaging, joint replacements and sight restoration.

It is important to mention that the government recognizes that not all provinces and territories are in the same situation regarding the implementation of their wait times reduction strategies. Funding of $4.25 billion from the total of $5.5 billion will be provided through a third-party trust. Therefore, as part of the 10 year plan, provinces and territories will have the flexibility to draw on the funding according to their individual priorities in meeting their wait times reduction commitments.

The funding can be used according to the respective priorities of each province and territory, such as clearing backlogs, training and hiring more health care professionals, building capacity for regional centres of excellence, expanding appropriate ambulatory and community care programs, and tools to manage wait times.

Beginning in 2009-10, $250 million will be provided through an annual transfer to provinces and territories in support of health care related human resources and tools to manage wait times.

Now I will talk about medical and diagnostic equipment, which is also very important in my riding. No health care system would be effective without medical and diagnostic equipment to support it.

That is why, as an integral part of a 10 year plan, the government will provide to provinces and territories a further $500 million for diagnostic and medical equipment in 2004-05. This funding builds on previous investments in diagnostic and medical equipment under the 2000 and 2003 health accords. It will help the provinces and territories continue to improve access to the diagnostic services their citizens need.

Now I want to talk briefly about home care and catastrophic drug coverage. Access to home care and catastrophic drug coverage is a concern for Canadians. As I mentioned earlier, the new $19 billion base level for the Canada health transfer includes an amount of $500 million, which is specifically aimed at addressing these concerns.

It is important to mention that the first ministers were committed to improving access to home and community care services and catastrophic drug coverage. Hon. members will appreciate the importance of improving the quality of life for many Canadians and ensuring that no Canadian suffers undue financial hardship in accessing needed drug therapies.

Now I will talk briefly about reporting to Canadians on these expenditures. As I mentioned earlier, Canadians want to know that their tax dollars are in fact supporting tangible improvements in the health care system. That is why Bill C-39 contains a provision for a parliamentary review of progress made in implementing the 10 year plan.

What I have described is not all the funding that is available to the provinces and the territories. In the debate about federal health funding to the provinces and territories, it is important to remember that this is not their only source of funds from the federal government. For example, equalization payments, which have been in existence since 1957, address horizontal fiscal disparities among provinces by ensuring that less prosperous provinces can provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.

Hon. members will recall that last fall federal officials met with their provincial and territorial partners as part of the government's commitment to increase equalization and territorial formula funding by more than $33 billion over the next 10 years. Bill C-24, which is currently before Parliament, sets out this new framework.

This represents a fundamental reform of these programs and establishes the foundation for our commitment to bring greater predictability to the federal government's payments to the less prosperous provinces in support of key public services.

The $33 billion committed to equalization and territorial formula financing payments, when combined with the $41 billion ten year plan to strengthen health care, will result in federal transfers to the provinces and territories of $74 billion. This significant increase in federal transfers illustrates the government's commitment to provide stable and growing funding to provinces and territories.

Although the 10 year plan to strengthen health care makes it clear that money alone cannot sustain health care, the government fully understands the importance of stable and predictable funding to the provinces and territories in support of health and social priorities. In short, the $41 billion 10 year plan represents the best of what the Canadian federation can accomplish and underscores how cooperative federalism has built a country with a standard of living that is the envy of the world.

Before closing, I would emphasize the importance of the bill receiving passage by the end of this fiscal year so that the provinces and the territories can have access to 2004-05 funding and begin to plan for the future. I therefore ask that hon. members continue to provide the bill with timely consideration.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak on this very important piece of legislation, Bill C-39, an agreement worked out between the provinces and the federal government. It is the third accord we have had since 2000. We have had the 2000 and 2003 accords and now this 2004 accord, all giving money back to the provinces, money that was ripped out of the provinces' hands unilaterally by the government. In fact, the Prime Minister of this country is the only individual politician, provincial or federal, who has ever taken money out of health care over the last decade.

It is amazing to see the numbers put before us and to hear the rhetoric that I just heard coming from the government side here a few minutes ago, with the government side talking about this being all about accountability and transparency. I would like to explain why it is about neither of these.

What it is about is an amount of money going back into the health care system, which we agree with. In fact, the numbers that are put forward, the $41 billion put forward in this health accord, are closer to our numbers. They are very much identical to our numbers for the first six years, but are only half of what the Liberals promised in last year's June election. During that election, the Liberals were not being honest with the Canadian public with regard to the number of dollars available for health care, nor were they honest about the number of dollars they were going to give to health care.

As for the numbers that are here, thank goodness they are twice what was promised. These numbers are what the provinces asked for and what we suggested during that election. It is interesting to note that during the election we were criticized because we said that we would have to increase taxes before we could fulfill the promise we made to the Canadian people during that campaign.

All that aside, it is time to put our swords on the table and deal with health care in a non-partisan way, but before we can even get into a debate on health care we have to understand the situation of health care in this country.

This was not a fix for a generation, as was trumpeted by the Prime Minister. He went across the country and said that this is what we had to do, that we needed a fix for a generation to put health care on a sustainable course. Before we can do that, we have to understand that health care cannot be fixed in the next 10 years. The pressure will not even start to hit our system with the intensity that it is going to until we get to 2020, 2030 and up to about 2040, where it will begin to peak.

The pressure will intensify from now until that period of time because of the demographics and the baby boomer population that is going to hit the system. The baby boomers will be consuming large amounts of dollars during that period of time as they become elderly. It does not matter which area we want to look at in our health care system. Whether it is pharmaceuticals, cancer, Alzheimer's or heart disease, we can talk to any of the organizations across this country and they all will tell us that the high costs of these treatments, plus the numbers of patients afflicted with these kinds of diseases, including HIV-AIDS, are going to intensify over the next significantly short period of time and will continue to intensify over the next 40 years.

Therefore, how we sustain our health care system during that 40 year period becomes the true debate. Until we understand what is coming at us, we cannot possibly even start to open up an honest debate on health care.

If we are going to paint the picture honestly, and that is what I think we should do here, it is not only demographics that will inflict a significant blow on and a challenge to our health care system, but it is the obesity situation we have within our country. We have surveys showing us that almost 20% of our students are overweight, almost 8% of them at obesity levels. These individuals will be hitting serious problems, whether it is diabetes or heart and stroke problems, in their thirties, not in their fifties, sixties and seventies. When we couple this with the demographics we are headed into in our health care system, when we understand what is about to hit us, we see very clearly that the challenge will intensify because of more than just an aging population.

There has been talk of a fix for a generation. That is what the member and the Prime Minister have suggested, but we have been given nothing to change the dynamics and the paradigm of health care. We must do this. We must look not just at the health care system, which is crisis management, but upstream much further, and we must start talking about preventative health care.

Back in the early seventies, we had television advertisements stating that a 30 year old Canadian was not as fit as a 70 year old Swede. That is very much the case today. We see an epidemic of obesity in our population, which suggests that we have to do much more than crisis manage our health care if we are to sustain it over the next 40 year period.

We have talked about what is coming. However, what does the health care system look like today? Emergency rooms are absolutely crowded. Patients cannot see doctors or they wait for unbelievable amounts of time to see them. Some of them are reported as having passing away in emergency rooms while waiting for a doctor. A significant number in our population cannot obtain a family practitioner. I think 3.6 million individuals are without a family practitioner at the present time, and 2.4 million of those have given up trying to find a one. We have some very serious problems.

Let us compare Canada to some of the OECD nations, which it is important to do when it comes to diagnostics. Let us talk about MRIs. That seems to be what people like to talk about when discussing diagnostics. We do not rate very well. We rate 13th out of 20 for MRIs and 16th out of 21 for CT scanners. When we look at our health are system, we can see we have a significant problem with trying to access services.

In the papers yesterday and on headline news last night, it was reported that six doctors walked away from their practices in small town Quebec. With the amount of stress on the family practitioners and the nursing population, we can understand full well why we have these kinds of problems. We have a shortage of human resources. People have to understand that our health care system is 75% to 80% human resources.

We are told that 100,000 nurses will be leaving or retiring over the next five year period. There are only a little over 300,000 nurses in Canada today. A third of them are over the age of 50, and the average nurse retires at the age of 55. We have a crisis when it comes to the number of nurses.

To talk about nurses for a second, we have to understand that the most unhealthy workplace in all of Canada is in the hospitals. Nurses are the ones who take the most number of sick days off of any occupation in Canada. That is because of the stress they are placed under by the amount of work we ask them to do.

I was at a meeting last week with the nurses on the Hill. They explained to us that if they were asked to work beyond 55 to 60 or 65, we would have to create an environment for them so they could function well within that job. To do that, we will have to provide some relief and help for them. It is not only about paying them more dollars.

When it comes to doctors, we have a significant problem. A decade ago, when the government took the money out of health care, the ideology was that the doctors drove the costs. Therefore, if we removed the doctors from the system, we would remove the costs. The Canadian Medical Association said at that time that if we did that, in a decade we would run into trouble. We are now a decade from that time and we are in serious trouble with a shortage physicians in the system. That goes back to the kinds of headlines yesterday. More are on their way.

We need 2,500 doctors per year to sustain our physician profession. At the present time, we only educate 2,200 of them per year. We have to understand that the problem is not just educating more of them. They have to stay and work in Canada where they are needed. We have a three-prong problem. When we look at the legislation, do we address any of them? I would like to look at the legislation and ask those questions.

The government has said that it has $5.5 billion to deal with the wait list problem. The money is in a separate trust fund, and over a 10 year period the provinces can draw down on that money whenever they like. It is quite ridiculous when we look at the legislation and see how that is done. Of those dollars, $4.25 billion of those dollars can be pulled down by the provinces immediately. Why set up a separate trust? We might as well just write them a cheque because that is exactly what they will do, draw down that money.

The money is to go into waiting lists. What does that really mean? What criteria is on that money? They are to apply it to wait lists. There are two chronic problems in the health care system, and that is the shortage of human resources, the nurses and doctors, as well as the long wait lists. How do we address it? There are no criteria for how we will address it. It is a provincial jurisdiction, and I think that is appropriate.

One of the good things about the legislation is it would not tie hands, as was tried with some of the other past accords, with regard to some of that money.

However, why not be honest? Why not just be clear to the population of Canada and the health care system. Why does the government not say that it will give the provinces the money and that they should use it where they see fit in order to help the system. However, it should not say that it has a great fix for the wait list problem, which is to put $5.5 billion into a separate trust fund that the provinces can draw down.

If we are going to be transparent, let us be transparent. If we are going to be honest, let us be honest with the numbers. No longer is there any room for playing politics in health care. What I see with this accord is it is not a fix for a generation. It is a way to buy another election. That is really what it will come out to be.

If members will remember, the 2000 accord came in just months before an election. The 2003 accord was an attempt, after the Romanow report, to do something. With regard to this one, the spin is to fix it for a generation. It has nothing to do with fixing a generation, it is to do with buying another election. We are doing it with taxpayer dollars and we are doing it in a very dishonest way.

The dollars need to be there. That is why we support the legislation. However, we have to do it in a way that is clear, honest and is not confrontational.

The other thing that is so dishonest with the legislation is the idea of a catastrophic drug coverage. This was supposed to be done long before now. In fact, with catastrophic drug coverage and home care, in the 2003 accord with the provinces there were performance indicators and a timeline as to when these were supposed to be triggered.

In this legislation, when it comes to catastrophic drug coverage, it is pushes it back, and not to 2006 when the other was supposed to be implemented. The only thing that will come forward In July 2006 is a report suggesting that we might be able to proceed with some sort of a catastrophic drug coverage plan.

When it comes to home care, it is the same thing. It is pushed back again in this accord.

My hon. colleague talked about $500 million to medical equipment. The last time that a fund was set up for medical equipment was in the past two accords. When we traced that money to find out whether it went to medical equipment, we found that much of it went to, what we would say, pretty marginal medical equipment like lawnmowers and ice cube machines. We thought that if it hit the headlines, the government would put in more accountability measures if it were to trigger and target a specific amount of money to go to medical equipment.

However, in the finance committee meeting this last week I challenged the Liberals on this. No further accountability measures have been established. The way the fund is set up in this legislation is exactly the same as the other one. If we do the same thing the same way, we can expect the same kind of results. It is unfortunate that we have to play these kinds of games with health care.

I could go on and on about the significant lack of accountability within the accord. I want to just say that there is some accountability, perhaps, and that will come from the Health Council, which was struck in the 2003 accord. The Health Council of Canada is probably our best hope for full disclosure from the provinces and the federal government, with regard to what happens with taxpayer money. Whether it is provincial money or federal money, it is all taxpayer money.

My suggestion, as we move forward into health care, is to stop this nonsense of playing politics with health care. We could not afford it before and we cannot afford it now. Yet we still see the kind of spins coming from the government side.

If the Liberals are going to be honest, the first thing they should do is stand up and apologize to Canadians for the way they have treated health care over the last decade. They should give that the money back. Then they should consider how they will work together with the provinces in a collaborative way to make it happen. They should look at how we will deal with the next 40 years in health care. They should look beyond the political cycle. Politicians like to work in four year cycles because that gets us elected.

We can no longer do that with health care. We cannot do it provincially nor can we do it federally. We need a paradigm shift. We have to get away from crisis management on health care. We need to start looking at how we deal with the needs of the individual patient ahead of the system.

We think we have a great system in Canada. The World Health Organization suggests that we are 30th in the world. Every time we get into a health care debate, somebody wants to promote an American health care system. Why would we do that? The Americans rate 37th in the world. However, 30 other countries are better than us. Why do we not take some of the examples from those countries and use them pattern a health care system that will be in the best needs of the Canadian population?

We have a good health care system, but we will be unable to sustain it on the course we are on. We have to do more than just come up with one-off accords that do not address accountability or the health of the nation. They deal with crisis management. We agree with the dollars in this accord, and we will support the legislation in that respect. We are frustrated about how we got here and we are frustrated that we have a government that is not more long-sighted than this legislation.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a very great pleasure for me to take part in the debate on Bill C-39, to implement the agreement entered into last September between the federal government, Quebec, the nine provinces and the three territories.

It is even more of a pleasure for me to speak today on a bill which, you will recall, the Bloc Québécois opposed at second reading. We did so because of the provisions of the bill at that point. In fact, we pointed out one fundamental flaw at that time, and this was corrected in committee. Consequently, we will be able to support it most enthusiastically today.

I believe it would be a good idea to start with the health agreement entered into between the federal government, Quebec and the provinces and territories. We need to take a few moments in order to have a proper understanding of the nature of Bill C-39.

Obviously, additional funds have been put into the health care system by the federal government, but it must be acknowledged that they are insufficient. I will return to that point later. We must also acknowledge that the federal government has concluded a separate, specific agreement with the Government of Quebec, which stipulated the following, in particular:

—resting on asymmetrical federalism, that is, flexible federalism that notably allows for the existence of specific agreements and arrangements adapted to Quebec's specificity—.

Quebec will apply its own wait time reduction plan, in accordance with the objectives, standards and criteria established by the relevant Quebec authorities—

The Government of Quebec will report to Quebeckers—

To be certain that there could be no confusion, the communiqué went on to say:

Nothing in this communiqué shall be construed as derogating from Quebec's jurisdiction. This communiqué shall be interpreted as fully respecting its jurisdiction.

So we have to acknowledge that a specific agreement with Quebec was entered into. This was to be described—as it is in the communiqué—as asymmetrical federalism. A few days ago, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs referred to my having praised the health agreement, to having nothing but good to say about it. Let us not get carried away, here. Yes, I did have some good things to say about it, to which I have referred here, but it must also be said—and the minister took care not to—that the agreement suffers from certain shortcomings. We have expressed a number of reservations about it.

For example, reference was made to the so-called asymmetrical federalism. Let us be clear that for the provinces and territories, except Quebec—but a way including Quebec—there is an understanding that the federal government can encroach on a jurisdiction that is exclusive to Quebec and the provinces. We cannot exactly call that asymmetrical federalism. In fact, we should be calling it asymmetrical interference.

The nine provinces and three territories have had no problem recognizing from the outset that the federal government has a role to play and can interfere in their exclusive jurisdictions. In a way, Quebec has recognized that the federal government has a role to play, but that its role needs to be well defined. We could only talk about asymmetrical federalism if the federal government allowed the provinces and territories to encroach on federal jurisdictions. Only then will it be possible to talk about asymmetrical federalism.

Furthermore, this side deal has been presented as quite an extraordinary innovation. Need I remind this House that this side agreement with the Government of Quebec is not a first.

The Government of Quebec has already negotiated side deals and special administrative agreements with the federal government on immigration with the Cullen-Couture agreement, on the pension plan, or on the creation of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, to name a few. This type of negotiation is nothing new in the history of Quebec and Canada.

We also notice that this asymmetrical agreement, described as asymmetrical federalism, has yielded relatively modest results. The Prime Minister had announced with great fanfare that he wanted to resolve the problems in the health care system for a generation. We can conclude at least that the government is apply a band-aid to the problem in health care for the next few years, or maybe even months, but it certainly has not solved anything for a generation.

I want to look at the numbers simply to understand the limits of this agreement reached among the federal government and the provinces, Quebec and the territories. For the Quebec government, this represents $502 million, or 2.5% of a health budget of over $20 billion. In concrete terms, this amount will run the health care system for nine days. Thanks to this injection of federal funds, the so-called health system will be able to operate for nine days. If, to the Prime Minister, these mere nine days constitute resolving health care problems for one generation, this agreement is obviously quite limited.

It is all the more surprising since the federal government has been literally swimming in the surplus for the current fiscal year. In fact, this surplus is said to be close to $12 billion. So, it is hard to understand the government being so tight-fisted when it comes to ensuring that our constituents have access to the reasonably acceptable health care services they deserve.

I want to come back to the concept of so-called “asymmetrical” federalism. It must be concluded that this concept was strongly contested, in short order, within the Liberal Party ranks. The Prime Minister was even criticized in the newspapers by certain Liberal Party luminaries, such as John Manley and Senator Joyal. So he was criticized for apparently having been too generous to Quebec. Too generous. What an idea. The Prime Minister was too generous to Quebec.

However, what happened—as later events attest—is that a few weeks later, there was another federal-provincial conference, which was supposed to focus on the much larger issue of the fiscal imbalance, which some people, on the opposite side of the House, call the “financial pressure” on the provinces, Quebec and the territories.

The federal government, however, had first set the terms, given its habit of being very authoritarian, to ensure that this conference focused only on equalization. The federal government gave only crumbs to the provinces, Quebec and the territories. As a result, the so-called “asymmetrical federalism” proved its flaws, weaknesses, and shortcomings just a few hours or days after being celebrated amid great fanfare and praise.

The release regarding the agreement between Quebec and the federal government said that the funding made available by the Government of Quebec would be used by the Government of Quebec to implement its own plan for renewing Quebec's health system.It also said that the Government of Quebec would report to Quebeckers on progress in achieving its objectives.

Moreover, it said that Quebec's health commissioner was responsible for reporting to the Government of Quebec on Quebec's health system and that he would cooperate with the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The agreement was very clear. But when we saw Bill C-39, to our astonishment and irritation and disappointment as well, I must say, we noticed that the bill made no reference to the side deal with Quebec. To be fair, a very slight reference was made to it on page 4 of the bill, in section 25.9, dealing with parliamentary review, the only reference to this side deal with the Government of Quebec.

Naturally, the Bloc Québécois checked with the government, suggesting that there had probably been an oversight, a little something left out. The government took the matter under advisement and came back with a rather terse response, saying that it would look into it. To make sure that the government would indeed look into it, on February 10, I rose in this House to put a question to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. The answer came from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health.

With the arrogant, condescending and authoritarian attitude this government is known for, the parliamentary secretary rose in this House—of course, whenever remarks are made or an opinion expressed by an opposition member, the people opposite suggest we are not quite with it because, by definition, an opposition member cannot be right. So, the parliamentary secretary rose in the House and said that my concerns were unjustified. According to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, my concerns about the provisions of the side deal with the Government of Quebec not being reflected at all in the bill were totally unjustified.

This is strange. There is a side deal with the Quebec government. The bill makes not mention of it. We are saying there is something wrong, but we are told that there is no reason to be concerned, that there is no problem, and they wonder why I am complaining again! Of course, we pointed out to the government that the parliamentary secretary was probably out to lunch himself, because the bill is indeed totally silent on this side deal with the Quebec government.

So, the necessary adjustments were made in committee, at the request of the Bloc Québécois, which had identified this problem, this flaw. The government agreed to amend the bill and made the necessary adjustments, so that Bill C-39 reflects, in its essence, the agreement reached with the Quebec government, even though we realize that this agreement is not perfect.

Let us be clear here, Nirvana, it is not. We will always agree with the federal government investing more of its huge budget in health, so that our fellow citizens can have access to proper care. We will always agree with that and with the federal government respecting its own Constitution and, consequently, the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories, even though, in this particular case, this respect may be tarnished by ill intentions.

Of course, we agree with this agreement. However, we realize that it is flawed. It is incomplete.

As I said earlier, the money invested by the federal government will only last nine days in the health care system. This is not enough. The need is much greater. The Quebec government was expecting something on the order of $3.3 billion in federal transfers, for 2004-05 alone. However, as we know, the transfers are far below this figure, both under the equalization program and the health care agreement.

The result is that the Quebec government is still confronted with a shortfall of some $2.4 billion. Therefore, the agreement is not adequate. The federal government must further increase its transfers to the provinces, to Quebec and to the territories. Having said that, we are of course pleased, as I mentioned a few moments ago, that there is more money and that the federal government reached a specific agreement with the Quebec government.

However, it is very clear that the fundamental problem has not been fixed. This fundamental problem is the fiscal imbalance that some members across the way continue to call “financial pressures”. The fiscal imbalance problem has not been fixed. We are hoping that the federal government, in the budget that it will bring down next week, will correct a few things and start to redress once and for all this fiscal imbalance where the federal government collects more tax money than it needs to meet its constitutional responsibilities, while the tax base of the provinces is far too small to meet their responsibilities, such as health and education.

We have to correct this fiscal imbalance. The problem will only get worse, the result being, according to the Conference Board, that, by 2015, the federal government will have accumulated a surplus of some $166.2 billion while the provinces will be running deficits as high as $68.7 billion.

That is what the fiscal imbalance is all about. While the federal government shamelessly amasses surpluses, the provinces must scrape the bottom of the barrel or even borrow to discharge the responsibilities that are within their jurisdiction and that address directly the needs of the public in terms of health, education and welfare, for example. This is totally unfair and inequitable. Whatever happens to Bill C-39, which we will support this time, we must fix the problem of fiscal imbalance once and for all.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to use my few remaining moments to congratulate my colleague on his speech.

Perhaps he could remind the House—he mentioned it at the beginning of his speech but I would like him to say more about it—how essential the work of the Bloc Québécois has been in the case of Bill C-39, and how, if there had been no sovereignists in this House, we would have seen Quebec being weakened.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Joliette who, in my opinion, has shed light on a situation that should be obvious. The role of the Bloc Québécois in this matter has been instrumental, crucial and fundamental. Had it not been for the presence of the sovereignist members in this House, no one would have raised that fundamental problem in Bill C-39.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

An hon. member

Certainly not those Liberal bumps on logs.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

The doormats in the Quebec Liberal Party have not said even one word about this problem. Yes-men that they are, they have not said even one word about Bill C-39's silence on the side agreement reached with the Quebec government.

Contrary to what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health said, namely that my worries were unjustified, it took the Bloc Québécois standing in this House before the government would apply appropriate corrective measures.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member has eight and a half minutes remaining for questions and comments, after oral question period, if consideration of this bill is resumed at that time.

Lithuania
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, February 16 is, and always will be, a significant and meaningful date for Lithuanians. On Wednesday, the people of Lithuania and Lithuanian Canadians gathered to celebrate the independence of the land of their heritage.

This year marked the 87th anniversary of the independence of Lithuania. It is on this day in 1918 that Lithuania declared its independence from Russia and once again redeclared its sovereignty in 1990.

After World War I this small nation achieved freedom and proclaimed itself the Lithuanian Republic. On February 16, 1918 the founders of this great nation asserted their country's independence and commitment to a government based on justice, democracy and the rights of the individual. For decades, Lithuanians have been commemorating this event, during Lithuania's independence, oppression and subsequent independence.

I would like to offer my congratulations to the people of Lithuania on this momentous occasion.

Persons with Disabilities
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, disabled Canadians and their families who care for them need and deserve our support.

The Minister of National Revenue is harassing senior citizens who receive grants from the Ontario special services at home program to care for disabled adults at home. This is a throwback to the days when all developmentally disabled children were institutionalized.

The federal government insists on collecting payroll deductions, and now penalties, from the parents of disabled children for grants that are paid by the province for the support workers. These grants allow disabled children to live at home rather than be institutionalized.

I call on the federal government to stop harassing these disabled adults and their families. Drop the government court actions that are causing undue anxiety in what are already very stressful situations.

Acts of Bravery
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Godbout Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, just recently we heard the story of 10 year-old Kevin Frahani who fell into a frozen pond in his neighbourhood of Avalon.

Kevin was out playing with his cousin when the ice gave way and he fell in. His cousin ran to look for help. At the same time, Mr. Stiles was out with his wife and heard the youngster crying for help. He acted right away.

With the help of another man, Mr. Stiles tied pieces of clothing together so he could safely crawl along the crackling ice. This way the boy was able, after a few attempts, to pull himself closer to Mr. Stiles, who grabbed his hands, while the other man pulled them to shore. The boy was treated for mild hypothermia.

I would like to recognize and congratulate Mr. Todd Stiles, a resident of Orléans, for his presence of mind and unselfish act of bravery. He is now one of our local heroes and we are all very proud of him.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, we learned recently that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has conducted operations against satellite television signal piracy in Montreal and Drummondville.

And so we are still wondering why nine RCMP detachments in Quebec have been closed, including one in my riding and a number near the border, and why the RCMP is bothering with satellite television signals rather than illicit comings and goings at the border.

I do agree that the theft of signals is an offence that deprives the economy—and the companies, particularly—of millions of dollars each year. Nevertheless, our borders have not had any police surveillance since the RCMP withdrew, and that means reduced security for the local population.

As part of its mandate, the RCMP must enforce the law, prevent crime and maintain order and security. The last point is the one I wonder about. The RCMP appears to prefer protecting the incomes of businesses rather than ensuring the safety of Quebeckers.

Paul de Monchaux
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, I wish to congratulate a Quebec sculptor, Paul de Monchaux. He was recently chosen to create a sculpture in honour of Sir Winston Churchill, who, in a contest organized by the BBC, was identified as the most famous Briton of all time.

Mr. de Monchaux's sculpture, called Song , was unveiled in Parliament's historic Westminster Hall on Wednesday, February 9, 2005. It is the first contemporary sculpture ever to be displayed there.

Paul de Monchaux is a former lad from Lachine. It is wonderful that he has been chosen to create the sculpture celebrating the greatest Briton of all time. He is, in my view, a fine example of Lachine's great artistic heritage.

Congratulations to Paul de Monchaux for his remarkable work.

Zimbabwe
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, since Zimbabwe's last election, opposition MPs have been subjected to human rights abuses ranging from destruction of property to detention and police torture.

In response, Amnesty International and Oxfam Canada initiated a twinning program between Canadian and Zimbabwean MPs. Along with 15 other MPs of all parties, I am a member of this initiative, which seeks to protect parliamentarians by drawing enough attention to their situation to cause the authorities to back off.

Sometimes this works and sometimes it does not. Last year my twin, opposition MP David Mpala, died of injuries sustained under police torture.

Given the rise in state sponsored violence which seems likely to occur in the run-up to the March 31 Zimbabwean elections, Foreign Affairs must abandon its hands-off approach to human rights and appoint a special representative to Zimbabwe.

Only a strong response from Canada will prevent my new twin, MDC National Youth Chairman Nelson Chamisa, and other brave opposition MPs from being subjected to the same kind of human rights abuses.

Black History Month
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, February is Black History Month in Canada. It is a time to reflect upon those who have made significant contributions to building the fabric of our society and to the strengthening of our country.

For the past eight years the Community Unity Alliance has recognized the tremendous contributions of distinguished African Canadians. This year the alliance recognized the hon. Alvin Curling, Brandeis Denham Jolly, Bromley L. Armstrong and Delores Lawrence.

As a woman, Delores Lawrence has long been recognized for her business acumen, her commitment to the community, and her philanthropic efforts. She currently sits as a governor of Seneca College and as the chair of the academic and patient care committee of Sunnybrook hospital. Delores has always been an inspiration to all women from all walks of life.

To all four of these distinguished individuals, please accept the heartfelt thanks of the people of Canada.

Sylvain Lefebvre
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate Sylvain Lefebvre, who was recently given the René-Thibault award of excellence, at the official opening of the 42nd edition of the Mousquiri national Atom tournament, in Richmond.

Sylvain Lefebvre is the 11th recipient of this award for, among other reasons, his brilliant 14 season career in the National Hockey League with the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Quebec Nordiques, the Colorado Avalanche and the New York Rangers.

Sylvain Lefebvre, who was born in Richmond, was himself involved in the Mousquiri tournament, both as a player and a volunteer. Through his perseverance, he is an inspiration to young hockey players from his community and region. To this day, he is involved as a general manager and assistant coach of a hockey team.

This award is given by the tournament's organizing committee, in cooperation with the City of Richmond. It was created in honour of René Thibault, one of the tournament's founders and a great volunteer in the community of Richmond, who passed away in 1994.

Netherlands Liberation
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, in May Canadians will join the people of the Netherlands in celebrating their country's liberation.

I am sure we will all be moved just as we were 10 years ago by televised images of our Canadian veterans on parade cheered on as the heroes they are by the Dutch people. My own father was a member of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in 1944-45 during that liberation.

The Netherlands events overseas and the VE-Day celebrations here in Canada will be major highlights during 2005, the Year of the Veteran.

Veterans Affairs Canada is acknowledging Canadian veterans of the liberation of the Netherlands who travel at their own expense to the Netherlands to attend commemorative events between May 3 and May 8 marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation. Already more than 700 veterans have applied to Veterans Affairs Canada for the travel subsidy reimbursement of up to $1,000 toward the costs associated with their travel.

I encourage my hon. colleagues to learn more about the heroic efforts of Canadians in the liberation of the Netherlands and join in the celebrations for our great heroes.

Railcar Reflectors
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, this week someone in this country died in a car-train collision. The saddest part of that is it could have been prevented.

Every working day in Canada there is a car-train collision. Many of these occur at night because railcars are not properly equipped with reflectors.

My urban colleagues need to understand that over 20,000 crossings in this country, mostly located in rural areas, are uncontrolled. There are no overhead lights, no bells, no flashing signals, no protective arms, no advance warning. There is just the person in his or her vehicle on a quiet snow covered gravel road on a peaceful night and without warning, suddenly out of the darkness a train appears and it is too late.

The Liberal government is fazing in reflectors over seven years. The Conservative Party asks why phase in something that could save lives today? The government should do it now. The cost to equip a train car is less than $200. The tragic cost of failing to do so is eternally higher.

Economic Development
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, from February 25 to March 4, 2005, a Franco-Manitoban delegation will participate in an economic mission to Alsace, France. The Premier of Manitoba, the provincial finance minister and I will accompany 75 delegates from the economic, cultural, research, health and environmental sectors.

Led by the Economic Development Council for Manitoba Bilingual Communities, this mission aims to develop business ties with companies in Alsace and encourage commercial immigration to Manitoba. In addition, it aims to position Manitoba as the gateway to western North American and to promote Manitoba's francophone culture.

This is the first time a delegation this size will go to France. This mission is the result of a historic agreement on non-invasive surgery reached between the St. Boniface general hospital and the IRCAD research institute in Strasbourg.

I am proud of the contribution by this group of dynamic francophones living in a minority situation. It is tangible proof of the importance of the francophonie's added value to this country's economic development.

Post-Secondary Education
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights came into force and was signed by Canada in 1976. One of its provisions is that higher education shall be made equally accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education. The Simon Fraser Student Society in my riding is calling on the United Nations to investigate Canada's non-compliance with this agreement.

The federal Liberals cut over $3 billion to the provinces for post-secondary education. The B.C. Liberals have failed to maintain the NDP's freeze on tuition fees, forcing tuition up by over 70% at universities, and over 150% at colleges.

The time for action is long past. Access to post-secondary education in Canada is threatened. Student debt is way too high. Families are frustrated in the hope to ensure the best education for their children. Post-secondary institutions must be fully funded. The government must act now.

Transportation
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, the traffic conditions on B.C.'s lower mainland have gone from bad to worse. It not only affects the orderly flow of local traffic, but the gridlock impacts on the transport of goods to and from our major ports, railway terminals and the U.S. border.

The delay and inconvenience affects our competitiveness. Residents and businesses, including the Surrey Chamber of Commerce, have been pressing for a south Fraser perimeter road linking the Fraser docks, railway terminals and highways 1, 99 and 15.

Provincial and municipal governments and the GVRD are already on board, but the federal government has not yet committed to its funding. We also need money for initiatives like the twinning of the Port Mann bridge, widening of Highway 1 to Langley, and improved interchanges and overpasses.

I ask the transport minister and the federal government to make that commitment without any further delay and to pay their share now.

Mont Garceau's
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, 40 years ago, a pioneer and true visionary from the village of Saint-Donat cleared several acres on a mountainside so that the young and not so young could have fun sliding on wooden boards on the snow. That pioneer's name was Lauda Garceau and, thanks to him, we have Mont Garceau, which is celebrating is 40th anniversary this year.

The entire team at Mont Garceau, including the owners Marcel and Claudette Gauthier, are extremely proud to celebrate this 40th anniversary with their customers, with the addition of a new quad chair lift, increasing lift capacity to 6,000 skiers per hour.

Since opening in the winter of 1964-65, this small family business has slowly grown into an important and modern intermediate ski resort serving 120,000 skiers each year. It has greatly contributed to the development of tourism in Saint-Donat and the Matawinie region.

Happy birthday Mont Garceau and bravo to its owners and the entire team.

The Prime Minister
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, The Economist magazine has noted that our Prime Minister has earned the nickname Mr. Dithers. Sadly it is true and now he is taking his dithering global. Yesterday he told us that Syria was in Lebanon to keep the peace. Then he said that Syria should get out of Lebanon. Then he said the Syrians should get out of Syria. It is just so hard to decide.

And what of Kyoto? If you ask him, the Prime Minister will say that he is very, very concerned about greenhouse gas emissions. He is probably even mad as hell about greenhouse gases. I expect he wants to get to the bottom of greenhouse gases and will leave no stone unturned. I know he thinks that greenhouse gases will lead to hell or high water, but still he cannot actually decide what to do about greenhouse gases.

I know it is hard being the Prime Minister, what with having to make all those decisions, but if making a decision is too difficult for him, I have a solution. Instead of urging the Syrians to leave Syria, how about the PM leaves the PMO?

William Hall
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we mark Black History Month I am proud to draw my hon. colleagues' attention to the heroics of William Hall, the first Nova Scotian and the first black person to earn the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth's highest award for bravery.

Mr. Hall was born in Horton Bluff, Nova Scotia and enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1852. Mr. Hall served aboard the HMS Shannon when it was dispatched to Lucknow, India and came under siege. When all others on board were either killed or wounded, Mr. Hall and a young officer kept loading and firing their 24 pound howitzer until the relief of Lucknow had been secured. Mr. Hall received the Victoria Cross in 1859. A permanent memorial in his honour was erected in Hansport, Nova Scotia in 1947.

In this special Year of the Veteran, we cherish the memory of this outstanding Canadian.

Aboriginal Affairs
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I suggest that the terrible legacy of the Indian residential schools is Canada's greatest shame. There has never been an injustice on this scale or of this duration in the country. In spite of a national consensus to apologize with compensation and reconciliation, of the $125 million spent, only $1 million has actually gone to compensation of the victims. The rest has been burnt up by administration costs and legal fees fighting these claims.

I wish all members could have heard the testimony of 88-year-old elder Flora Merrick at the House of Commons Indian affairs committee yesterday. Her award of a paltry $1,500 is being appealed by the federal government. It cost the government $30,000 to fight her claim. She was awarded $1,500 and the government is appealing.

I implore the government to stop victimizing the victims of the residential school tragedy; stop spending millions of dollars trying to paint the abuse victims as liars. Eligibility for compensation should be based on attendance at the school. We believe the victims.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, once upon a time the Prime Minister promised he would provide Canadians with a step by step plan to achieve the international commitments of Kyoto, and yet the Minister of the Environment has said, quite clearly, that there is no firm plan to meet the targets.

It has been eight years since Kyoto was signed and two years since it was ratified. While Mr. Dithers and Dithers junior dawdle on decisions to decrease emissions, greenhouse gases continue to rise.

Will the Prime Minister stop his pathological dithering and lay out a specific made in Canada plan to give Canadians clean air, clean water and clean land?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the opposition needs to clean out its ears. For once, it would be nice if they understood that there is a plan. It has been in place since 2002, and has resulted in progress. We rank third world-wide in terms of improvements in energy efficiency.

The plan exists. We will improve it. Why is it so difficult to understand?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, in English we say that the minister is full of it.

The Liberal government has spent $4 billion on Kyoto measures and emissions have actually gone up 30%. Next week the government will announce that it will recycle $6 billion, dump the term Kyoto and recycle the term sustainable development.

What does it all mean? There is still no plan and the details are sketchy on Kyoto. Media reports say that the real program is aimed at attracting voters in British Columbia and Quebec.

Why is the government once again trying to buy Canadians with their own money, and when will it come up with a specific plan?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, he understood and he knows but since he does not have any critique to formulate he is repeating the same thing.

There is a plan. It will be improved. What is a shame is that I have asked the finance critic of that party many times what he would suggest to the Minister of Finance for the environment. The truth is that he has suggested nothing, not a penny, nothing for the environment, nothing for climate change and nothing for the parks. It is a shame that party does not care about the environment.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, The Economist magazine has joined the parade of people who refer to our Prime Minister as Mr. Dithers. It says that the federal government has been slow and hesitant.

By continuing to be timid and indecisive, the Prime Minister is hurting Canada's international reputation. From federal appointments to international commitments, the Prime Minister just cannot make up his mind. We have had the mad as hell tour, the what the hell tour and now Mr. Dithers goes global.

While the Prime Minister and his gaseous emissions minister continue to dither, emissions are rising. When will the dithering stop and some decisiveness begin? What's the plan, Stéphane?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:15 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Central Nova knows that referring to hon. members by other than their title is not proper and we have had a bit of a string of it during the question period. Although it is not for the Speaker to decide who some of these characters mentioned by the hon. member may be, the name Stéphane does refer to a person who has been answering the hon. member's questions and, of course, it is the Minister of the Environment, as the member for Central Nova knows, and he will want to comply in every respect with the rules of the House and address the minister correctly.

The hon. Deputy Prime Minister will answer this question.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, let us look at what the Prime Minister and the government have been doing.

First, an historic health agreement, an agreement to which 13 provinces and territories placed their signatures. Let us look at the new relationship with our cities and communities. Let us look at the redefinition of Canada's role in the world. Let us look at redefining our relationship with aboriginal peoples so that they have an economic and social sustainability for their communities across the country. Let us look at what we are doing in relation to child care, to help families all over the country.

I think this government--

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Carleton--Mississippi Mills.

Canadian Forces
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government has $6 billion to blow on a phantom Kyoto scheme but only spare change for our military, leaving them barefoot in the barracks.

The rumoured budget increase is approximately $750 million. This is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the current military and the one described by the new Chief of the Defence Staff. It is less than one-quarter of what the military needs to overcome the decay of the air force, army and navy.

Does the minister plan to muddle on and watch the military decline, or does he plan to eliminate significant military capabilities?

Canadian Forces
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca
B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows very well, the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence and this government have a firm commitment to support all three elements of our Canadian Forces. I am sure the member will look very favourably next week when the budget comes out and we will have a new investment into our military to strengthen their capabilities, not only here at home but abroad.

Canadian Forces
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Lanark, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is classic muddling.

They talk about their commitment to the military but they never follow through. It is always talk, talk, talk, but Liberal talk is cheap. They make promises without commitment. Canadians expect our military to defend our interests but the government never provides adequate resources. They hope to muddle through from crisis to crisis.

Will the minister acknowledge that $750 million is inadequate and that the military needs a much larger baseline funding increase?

Canadian Forces
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca
B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I thought the member heard what the Prime Minister has already said. We are making a strong commitment. For example, we have made $7 billion of financial commitments into critical areas, such as new search and rescue planes, new mobile gun systems and new helicopters.

Furthermore, as the member would appreciate, being a general himself, the Prime Minister made a commitment to add 5,000 new members to our regular forces, plus another 3,000 members to our reserves.

Parental Leave
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, today is the deadline for reaching a final agreement in the matter of parental leave. If there is no agreement today, the implementation of the program will be compromised for 2006, and Quebec families will once again be paying the price for the federal government's stubbornness.

Does the minister realize that by refusing to reach an agreement with Quebec beginning this year, he is delaying by one more year the date when Quebec families will be covered by an improved system? Do we have to wait until 2007 for some action in the parental leave file?

Parental Leave
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, the government has been very supportive of the negotiations with the Government of Quebec with respect to parental leave. Our current offer is financially much more advantageous than the offer of 1997. We have high hopes of a successful conclusion to these negotiations.

Parental Leave
Oral Question Period

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, an agreement with Quebec is still $275 million away. Since 1996, no less than four federal ministers and four Quebec provincial ministers have attempted to negotiate a parental leave agreement, but without success. The ministers may change, but what does not change is the federal government's refusal to negotiate an agreement that satisfies Quebec. The deadline is today.

Can the minister tell us—yes or no—if an agreement has finally been reached with Quebec?

Parental Leave
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we have been very supportive of the negotiations and we know the negotiations are reaching a critical stage. We believe our offer will allow the Government of Quebec to develop its own program. We are looking forward to a successful conclusion to the negotiations.

Parental Leave
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, as we see, they have many excuses for delaying the signature of the agreement on parental leave. When it is not the legal aspects, it is the financial questions that pose a problem. Fewer excuses were found when they had to reach an agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia on natural resources.

How can they be so quick to transfer billions of dollars to Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and still refuse to return $275 million to Quebec for parental leave?

Parental Leave
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, our objective in these negotiations is to reach a fair and equitable solution, a solution that will help the parents of the province of Quebec, and we have every hope we will reach such a solution.

Parental Leave
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a rather questionable answer. What is at stake here is the establishment of the parental leave system on January 1, 2006. On the eve of the last election campaign, there was supposedly an agreement. And yet things are still dragging on.

Can the minister tell the House how many Quebec ministers it will take before the government's representatives keep their promises?

Parental Leave
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we are very conscious of the fact that these negotiations have reached a very important stage. They have been conducted in good faith. Our offer has been an excellent one. We believe there is a solution that will be good for the Government of Canada and, in particular, good for the parents of the province of Quebec.

Health
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health.

As he will know, his predecessor encouraged experiments with credit card medicine, such as Ralph Klein's credit card hospitals in Alberta and now the $2,000-a-knee operation in Montreal. During the election, the Prime Minister asked people to vote Liberal to stop credit card medicine.

What does the health minister intend to do to stop credit card medicine in Montreal?

Health
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Vancouver South
B.C.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, first, we will be providing $41 billion over the next 10 years in additional money to all of the provinces to ensure there is public health care and public delivery.

Second, we shall be enforcing the Canada Health Act evenly right across the country, without exception.

Health
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

That is another non-answer, Mr. Speaker.

When he was a New Democrat, he could make up his mind about privatization. Now he has caught the dithers. I asked a very simple question and want a simple answer.

For two elections the Liberals have pretended to oppose credit card medicine. We have credit card medicine all over the place. Will the minister either finally admit that the Liberals will do nothing to stop credit card medicine or announce what action they will take in Montreal to protect patients' pocketbooks?

Health
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Vancouver South
B.C.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the hon. member needs a better hearing aid. I did answer the question.

I said that we support public health. We will be supporting it with $41 billion over the next 10 years in additional money. We shall enforce the Canada Health Act right across the country, without exception.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister embarrassed Canada by saying that the illegal Syrian occupation of Lebanon is necessary “to keep the peace”. This strange statement is actually consistent with the government's track record.

Five years ago, Prime Minister Chrétien said that Syrian troops were welcome in Lebanon. He met Hezbollah leader, Sheik Nasrallah, defended a Syrian backed terrorist organization and the government shovelled $26 million in aid to Syria.

Is it not true that the Prime Minister's statement yesterday actually reflects longstanding Liberal policy to tolerate Syrian occupation in Lebanon?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, it was made absolutely clear yesterday by both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs that Canada supports the United Nations resolution 1559. We have supported that resolution since its passage by the UN. That resolution indicates that Syria should withdraw from Lebanon. That is the Canadian government's position. It always has been and it continues to be.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister embarrassed Canada by saying that Syria's illegal occupation of Lebanon was necessary for keeping the peace. Such bizarre comments are par for the course in the Liberal camp. Five years ago, Jean Chrétien said that the Syrian troops were welcome in Lebanon. He had met with Sheikh Nasrallah from Hezbollah, a terrorist organization.

In his statement yesterday, why did the Prime Minister uphold the Liberal tradition of tolerance toward the Syrian occupation of Lebanon?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East
Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the House has heard the comments by the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, but it has also heard the comments and the response by the Prime Minister, as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the questions asked.

It seems that the hon. member does not understand the response, and yet it is simple. We, as a Parliament, as a government, support Resolution 1559. We call for the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon. Period.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the environment ministry has had eight years to come up with a plan for Kyoto and yet it has done nothing. There is no plan, just empty rhetoric.

Canadian air pollution levels have dramatically increased while the Liberal government does nothing. Four months ago I met with the minister about air pollution levels in the Fraser Valley. He had a chance to stand up against a proposed U.S. polluter 500 metres from the Canadian border but again did nothing.

When will he secure a cross-border agreement on air pollution and when will we see the Kyoto plan?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member may easily have the Kyoto plan: it is public. It was done in 2002. But we will improve it. We will have an improved plan so compelling that I will be very pleased to hear the reaction of the opposition. I will be very pleased to discuss the Kyoto plan with them. Then we will see how much they do not care about the environment.

The opposition has not been able to come forward with one request in this budget for the environment. The opposition does not give a damn about it, and the last ones who would like to see negotiations with the United States would be the members of that party.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, in English we say dithering is a contagious Liberal minister disease. Yesterday, Mr. John Bennett, a director of the Sierra Club, testified that Canada cannot possibly meet its international legal obligations without giving billions of tax dollars to developing countries to purchase clean air credits under Kyoto.

How can Canadians have any trust in the Liberal government as it takes our taxes and burns them up in the smokestacks in overseas factories that we paid for as Canadian taxpayers? If the biggest proponents of Kyoto do not buy the Liberal snake oil any longer, why should other Canadians?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it would be a terrible mistake if Canada was not doing its best to become the leader of this growing market that exists about trading emissions. All the other countries would be there and we would not be there. Most of our friends will be, and Canada, when we do something abroad, it will be to help the planet. It will be to have a strong showcase for Canadian technology and Canadian services for the environment.

We will do it despite the opposition, which does not understand the link between the environment and the economy. The opposition does not understand that in global warming there is the word “global”.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of the Environment is trying to sound reassuring, saying that Quebec will not have to assume more than its share in achieving the Kyoto objectives, since a large part of the effort will focus on hydrocarbons and there are not many of those in Quebec.

How can the minister state so categorically that everyone will do their part, when there is no plan on which the targets to be met by major polluters can be based? The minister has no plan or objectives, but swears that everyone will do their part. When will the minister stop indulging in wishful thinking?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:30 a.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the toughened plan to be announced will clearly state that everyone is expected to do their part. I will be able to discuss it with the hon. member at that time. I am sure that he will come, very politely and positively, to the conclusion that this is a plan that Quebeckers and Canadians in general can work with to help the planet face a serious problem where petty politics has no place.

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of the Environment may improvise all he wants and make one reassuring statement after the other, he still cannot deny that his plan for implementing the Kyoto protocol is a virtual plan with no substance.

Will the minister face the facts and admit that, without a plan, his promises are nothing more than hot air?

The Environment
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, speaking of air, I can promise that we will do a lot in the area of wind energy. That is for sure. We will be more than ever champions in that area.

I can also tell the hon. member that the rest of the world does not view Canada as hot air. Pressure has been put on us to agree to host in Montreal one of the biggest conferences on climate ever held. We shall see, then, how much other countries rely on Canada, a united Canada. Because, when they are united, Canadians accomplish great things.

Child Care
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Wednesday, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development exhibited, not inconsistency, but definite confusion, in stating that a foundation was required in order to transfer the funding for child care to Quebec with no strings attached.

How can the government sanction such a statement from the minister, when we are well aware that there have been transfers of funds in the past, for manpower for instance, without any need of a foundation?

Child Care
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud that in the budget to follow next week as promised we will deal with the issues related to child care. We will do so in a way that helps parents and children across this country. I think the hon. gentleman should wait for next week to see the exact mechanism we choose to deliver.

Child Care
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Social Development, the one who wanted to answer the previous question. The one who claims to have children's interests at heart.

Is the one who claims to want to avoid bureaucratic wrangling prepared to sign an agreement quickly, like the one signed for health, which would allow the funding to be transferred to Quebec for child care, with no strings attached?

Child Care
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Ken Dryden Minister of Social Development

Mr. Speaker, the comments that the hon. member made are comments that I did not make. That is all I can say to the hon. member.

Health
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is another dire warning, this time from the Health Council of Canada, that unless this government actually does something to fix the doctor shortage and wait times, we will have a crisis.

It is too late. Recently a 21 year old student died after waiting. Too ill to sit and wait for nine hours to see a doctor, she went home and died.

Last year the health minister said he was making progress. He is confusing process with progress. When can Canadians expect results on accreditation and on the reduction of wait times in this country?

Health
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Vancouver South
B.C.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the member forgets that we just provided, six months ago, an additional $41 billion over the next 10 years to the provincial jurisdictions and to the territories so that they can deal with all of the issues. Included in that money is money for training doctors and nurses and other health care providers. The opposition is always asking for tax cuts. That is where money needs to go: it needs to go to health care. We have done that.

Natural Resources
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance. The government has been talking about unloading its 8.5% share in Hibernia for some time. Speculation is that it might be done soon. The Minister of Natural Resources, however, says that shares are “not on the table” and that “there are no plans to sell the shares and the topic hasn't even been discussed”. Is the minister's statement correct or is he still as confused as he was at the Atlantic accord?

Natural Resources
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, as always, the Minister of Natural Resources is absolutely correct.

Child Care
Oral Question Period

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Grey—Bruce—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Social Development insulted families by saying that “as parents we are all ambivalent about child care because we feel guilty about not spending more time with our kids”. This is demeaning to all parents who choose home care over day care. The minister is telling stay at home parents that if they want any government support for child care, go get a job.

Twenty-eight years ago, my wife and I made the decision to stay at home and raise our three sons. Today one of my sons and his wife are expecting my first grandchild. Will the minister commit to giving my son and his wife that choice but with the same financial benefit as working mothers?

Child Care
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Ken Dryden Minister of Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member on his grandchild.

As I said, as the member said, all of us as parents do feel ambivalent about the amount of time that we do not spend with our children, but what I also said was that what we do not feel ambivalent about, what we feel very positive and very determined about, is doing something for the development of our children, to do as best as we can for our children. That is what we are not ambivalent about.

Justice
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier this week the government reversed half a century of Liberal policy by declaring that the Minister of Justice favours retaining the power of disallowance, under which his cabinet can unilaterally strike down provincial laws.

It was explained that his position is that the federal Liberals are prepared to use this power under what were described to the House as extraordinary circumstances. I invite the minister to explain to the House which provincial laws, actual or hypothetical, he would categorize as being sufficiently extraordinary to be disallowed by his cabinet.

Justice
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Mount Royal
Québec

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am not speculating on when such a power would be used or if, even, such a power would be used. The power is there. I do not speculate on hypotheticals.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canada has always played a constructive role to foster peace in the international community. There have been many recent examples of Canada's success on the international scene. One such was the signing of the Naivasha agreement by south Sudan, thanks to the efforts of Canada.

With opportunities opening up in Palestine, could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs inform the House of what Canada is doing to assist the Middle East peace process?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East
Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the very thorough question and would advise her that the foreign affairs minister's visit last week to the Middle East was indeed an opportunity to assess how we can best support efforts toward peace.

Our focus is on helping the development of Palestinian capacity building in preparation for Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Mr. Abbas has of course provided us a list of items that he wishes us to look at. On March 1 we will be in London supporting the Palestinian authority in preparation for that withdrawal and we hope that we will see progress in that area.

Wal-Mart
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, 10 years ago, the Levi Strauss clothing company had over a dozen manufacturing plants in Canada, including in my hometown of Hamilton, but then along came Wal-Mart, which forced Levi to close all their North American factories and move their operations to poverty-wage Asia, killing off thousands of Canadian jobs.

Recently fined for child labour violations, this anti-labour predator could not care less about the damage it does to our economy. When will the government wake up and take action to ensure that Canadian manufacturing jobs are protected from corporate bullies like Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

London North Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Joe Fontana Minister of Labour and Housing

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated, Canada is a signatory to international labour laws and agreements and we believe it is the right of employees in this country to organize. We believe it is the right for both employers and employees to have collective bargaining, to work in concert, to make sure that the well-being of employers and the well-being of employees are at the forefront of our policy.

Canada does lead the international community in protecting workers' rights and we would urge all parties to do so.

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Question Period

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, over 2,000 Vietnamese boat people remain in the Philippines. These refugees from the war in Vietnam were never resettled and never repatriated and are without status in the Philippines. They receive no support from the UN.

Australia, the U.K., Norway and the U.S. are working to close the book on this chapter of world history by resettling some of these stateless refugees. The Canadian Vietnamese community is ready now to do its part to help.

My question is for the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Why has Canada refused to assist with this admirable humanitarian project?

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence
Ontario

Liberal

Joe Volpe Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member will know that Canada played its role and did its part and did it very willingly. Over 50,000 such refugees were welcomed into Canada and integrated into our economy and society. We are proud to have been able to integrate them fully. The situation to which the member refers is one that is resident in the Philippines and that the Philippine authorities are in the process of remedying. The fact that they are stateless creates a little bit of difficulty for all of the nations that have an interest, but the UNHCR is currently involved and engaged.

Fisheries and Oceans
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced a $500 million plan to conserve wild salmon on the west coast.

Meanwhile, on the east coast, the Atlantic Salmon Federation privately contributes $250,000 to smolt tracking research, $100,000 to the Greenland conservation agreement, and $10 million annually to habitat stewardship and salmon restoration.

Will the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans commit to matching these private funds and help save Atlantic salmon from extinction?

Fisheries and Oceans
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Vancouver Quadra
B.C.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Minister of Western Economic Diversification and Minister of State (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, of course the circumstances on the west coast fishery and the east coast fishery are very different. They require different supports at different times for different species under stress.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans targets specialized care and support that is appropriate for each side. I am sure that the minister will want to consider the hon. member's question seriously when he returns, but I can assure members that the circumstances on the west coast and on the east coast are not comparable in many areas.

Equalization Program
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, today in Regina, Saskatchewan's Conservative MPs are meeting with Premier Calvert, Saskatchewan Party leader Brad Wall, and even the provincial Liberal leader. They have all agreed to work together to get Saskatchewan an honest equalization deal.

My question is for the Minister of Finance. Will he ever stand up for Saskatchewan? Will he ever stop cheating Saskatchewan of its own natural resources? Will he ever give Saskatchewan the same equalization deal as Newfoundland and Labrador?

Equalization Program
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be the finance minister who corrected a long anomaly, who delivered $120 million to Saskatchewan last year.

I am very proud to be the finance minister who put the floor under the equalization system that brought Saskatchewan $590 million last year.

I am proud to be the finance minister who set up the panel approved by Premier Calvert and voted for by all those members just three or four days ago to establish the independent panel that will allow the issue of the treatment of natural resources to be resolved once and for all in a way that is fair and equitable for all of Canada, especially Saskatchewan.

Government Appointments
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister said it was no longer going to be a matter of asking who one knows in the PMO and that he would put an end to cronyism.

He soon appointed John Harvard as Lieutenant Governor to make way for his star candidate Glen Murray who failed to win. However, Murray has been given a plum patronage position. It is time to get the scores of defeated Liberals and their friends' heads out of the trough and off the gravy train.

If the Prime Minister is as serious as he said last year about condemning to history the practice and politics of cronyism, will he allow Parliament to select the best people for the job?

Government Appointments
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, this is the challenge. What is wrong with Mr. Murray's curriculum vitae?

He has been a great mayor of the city of Winnipeg. He has a great background regarding environmental policy. He will do a great job helping us at this time when Canada faces tremendous challenges in order for us to do our share for the planet.

I am very pleased to work with Mr. Murray. I am sure every colleague of good faith will be pleased as well.

Post-Secondary Education
Oral Question Period

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bob Rae's recent report on post-secondary education brought to light the government's lack of support for higher learning.

We now know that program funding to colleges and universities has been cut in half by the Liberal government. Students are paying the price with higher tuition fees and student debts, and this amazingly, when every credible authority is telling us that higher education is fundamental to economic growth and personal prosperity. The government pretends it cares about education, but its actions show exactly the opposite.

Will the minister commit to establishing a dedicated transfer committed solely to higher education?

Post-Secondary Education
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, the government has delivered more in the area of post-secondary education than any federal government in history. Indirectly, through transfers to the provinces, it is in the order of $8 billion or $9 billion.

Directly through scholarship programs and research programs, which help students and universities to cover the indirect cost of research, last year for the first time, it was possible to say in Canada that the federal and provincial governments equally supported the colleges and universities of this country.

Youth Programming and Animation
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Maka Kotto Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, a major study by SARTEC and UDA was released this week. It indicates that federal government actions have contributed to the decline of French language youth and animation series. According to the report, out of the $1.4 billion that went to animation, only 11% was for French language series. I should point out that these were often Canada-France co-productions and that many programs are dubbed abroad.

I would therefore ask, most calmly and politely, what the Minister of Canadian Heritage intends to do to remedy this situation.

Youth Programming and Animation
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Jeanne-Le Ber
Québec

Liberal

Liza Frulla Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I am indeed concerned about the findings of the report by SARTEC and the Union des artistes. I have asked my officials to work with the Canadian Television Fund board of directors to come up with some solutions by June 1.

Youth Programming and Animation
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Maka Kotto Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, had the usual ratio been respected, the youth and animation sector would have received $207 million in 2004, rather than the meagre $17 million that it did receive.

Does the Minister of Canadian Heritage intend to take the necessary steps to put an end to the shameless pillaging of funds earmarked for French language youth and animation series?

Youth Programming and Animation
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Jeanne-Le Ber
Québec

Liberal

Liza Frulla Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women

As I said, Mr. Speaker, the answer is yes.

Justice
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, in 1982 David Dobson murdered 15 year-old Darlene Prioriello. He sexually assaulted her, committed unspeakable atrocities on her person, and finally ended her suffering by dropping a cinder block on her head. He then sexually assaulted her again.

Dobson taunted the police. He tried to contact the victim's family. Dobson was convicted of first degree murder and is currently eligible for day parole. If he is successful in gaining his freedom, his DNA will not be in the databank.

Can the minister once again please explain why his government does not believe David Dobson should be in the DNA databank?

Justice
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Mount Royal
Québec

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the whole issue with respect to legislation regarding DNA and the expansion of databanks and the like is before the justice and human rights committee. The hon. member is a member of that committee. That is an appropriate forum where this matter can be dealt with as a matter of principle and policy.

Justice
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is something that should have been dealt with long ago.

In 1981 repeat offender Ralph Power beat Sheryl Gardner to death with a hammer. When he was arrested after a failed attack on another woman, Power had a list of 10 women he was intending to attack. Power was convicted of first degree murder and is eligible to apply for day parole as we speak. Power has only one murder conviction and therefore he is not in the DNA databank.

Will the Prime Minister please explain, for the sake of protecting Canadians, why his government does not believe Ralph Power should be in the DNA databank?

Justice
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Mount Royal
Québec

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I respect the hon. member's concern with cases which involve tragic victimization. We are reviewing the legislation now. If there is a category that should be enhanced, it can be enhanced through the legislative process.

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the spouses and common-law partners of permanent residents are currently facing uncertainty during the review of their immigration applications. In the past, they had to leave Canada.

At the end of this magnificent St. Valentine's week, and with all the love in the House, can the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration tell us if he will stand by love to ensure the rapid reunification of these families?

Citizenship and Immigration
Oral Question Period

11:50 a.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence
Ontario

Liberal

Joe Volpe Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to give the hon. member really good news and the House as well. I hope they will rejoice in it.

Consistent with our streamlining process in reducing backlog and reuniting families, effective today, all spouses and common law partners in Canada, regardless of their immigration status, are now able to apply for permanent residence from within Canada under the spouse or common law partner in Canada class.

At the same time, all spousal applications from abroad will be prioritized and accelerated in their process. I hope the member will also celebrate this news.

International Trade
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, the government just concluded a trade mission to China and close to 300 companies participated. These companies obviously know that it is a market with huge opportunities, yet CIDA has poured over $1 billion in aid money into China since the government took power. Yemen is a poor country in the Middle East that is a beacon of democracy and needs our help.

Clearly the government's foreign and trade policies are in an awful mess. Why these misplaced priorities? Why?

International Trade
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Mount Royal
Québec

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, CIDA is involved in China with respect to measures to improve the legislative system, to improve matters relating to judicial reform, in other words, to engage in the kinds of projects and the kinds of initiatives which will help improve the administration of justice and democratization in China.

Border Security
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, at the founding meeting of the border caucus last week, MPs from border ridings across the country expressed concern about the safety of border service employees and about our national security. We have all heard stories in recent weeks of people running the border in cars. I have heard directly from border workers in my own riding of people simply walking across the line.

The border service appears to be lacking the resources to deal effectively with this problem. Could the Deputy Prime Minister please share with the House the plans she has to deal with this critical issue?

Border Security
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, there are actually two components to the question, first of course deals with the situation of the safety of our CBSA officers on the front lines. In fact, we have completed risk assessments in relation to all customs locations. We are ensuring that our front line officers have both the training and the tools they need, whether that includes batons, vests, pepper spray, and so on. I want to reassure the hon. member that we are very committed to the safety of our front line officers.

In terms of resources, quite--

Mr. Speaker, are you going to cut me off?

Border Security
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

The Speaker

Yes. I am sure all hon. members were enjoying the answer, but we do have time limits.

The hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

National Defence
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, last week we learned that the decision to merge tactical squadrons at the Bagotville military base has not yet been made. The authorities keep repeating that this merger will not change a thing. The people of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean are not fooled; they want only one thing: no merger at the Bagotville base.

Does the Minister of National Defence not believe that the best assurance he can give residents in the riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord is an immediate commitment that he will not authorize the merger of these two squadrons?

National Defence
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca
B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the member and he can take back to his constituents that no decision has been made at this point in time.

I also want to assure him, and this is important, that there will be no change in the numbers of planes, no change in the numbers of workers and no change in the effectiveness of the capabilities that are now there in Bagotville.

We support the air force and we will continue to do that, but no decision has been made on this particular issue at this point in time.

National Defence
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canada's CF-18 fighter aircraft have been a key component of the Canadian Forces for the past 20 years. They have helped to protect Canadians here at home and they have made an important contribution to international peace and security.

Can the Minister of National Defence tell the House, what is the government doing to ensure that the CF-18 will remain a modern, effective aircraft in the future so that our pilots have the tools to proudly continue doing their important, international and domestic security work?

National Defence
Oral Question Period

11:55 a.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca
B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows and the House knows, we are strong supporters of our air force and the men and women who work on our CF-18s.

I am very pleased to announce today that Boeing has been awarded a contract in Montreal for $117 million to engage in phase 2 of the modernization of our CF-18s. This is good news for Canadian industry, good news for jobs, good news for Montreal, and good news for the Canadian Forces.

Canada Food Inspection Agency
Oral Question Period

Noon

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, today, we have learned that the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case of Le forum des maires de la Péninsule acadienne regarding the four Canada Food Inspection Agency positions transferred from Shippagan to Shediac. The Commissioner of Official Languages found that the transfer violated the legislation. The Federal Court found in favour of the agency, and the federal government took it to the Court of Appeal. Now, minorities are being forced to go before the Supreme Court.

My question is for the Minister of Justice. Will the government stop fighting minorities and finally support them, rather than forcing them to take this to the Supreme Court? They are forced to defend themselves each time—

Canada Food Inspection Agency
Oral Question Period

Noon

The Speaker

The hon. Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Canada Food Inspection Agency
Oral Question Period

Noon

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is fully aware that, since this issue is now before the courts, we should refrain from commenting on it.

Having said that, the hon. member also knows about the firm and continuous commitment made by this government, both historically and on an ad hoc basis, to Canada's minority official language communities.

Canadian Heritage
Oral Question Period

Noon

Conservative

Bill Casey North Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, a chart obtained from Canadian Heritage outlines a very unfair distribution formula for the federal museums assistance plan. For instance, last year, one province, Quebec, got 37% of all federal museum funding. Nova Scotia, in comparison, got 1.3%. Quebec got 59 individual grants. Nova Scotia got 4.

Will the minister explain this unfairness and inequity, and adopt a formula so all provinces will be treated fairly?

Canadian Heritage
Oral Question Period

Noon

Jeanne-Le Ber
Québec

Liberal

Liza Frulla Minister of Canadian Heritage and Minister responsible for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, hon. members must realize that it is important to us that each province get its fair share of the budget of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

However, I must say that, in some provinces, such as Ontario, with the national capital, or Quebec, where several national museums are located, there are institutions that require greater support. If we look at the whole budget, things may look out of proportion. However, the figures vary, depending on the national institution and the support that we provide.

Quebec City Bridge
Oral Question Period

Noon

Bloc

Roger Clavet Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the coalition to preserve the Quebec City bridge has been making representations for a number of years to the federal government and CN, asking them to complete the restoration of that bridge. As the minister responsible for Quebec, the Minister of Transport should realize the importance of this issue, particularly in the context of the celebrations that will mark the city's 400th anniversary, in 2008.

Will the minister pledge today to do whatever is necessary, so that the work can be completed on time for the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Quebec City?

Quebec City Bridge
Oral Question Period

Noon

Scarborough—Agincourt
Ontario

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, Transport Canada is very much engaged in the bridge. It is a matter before us. It is a bridge on which CN is working. We have committed a lot of money over the next 10 years. I assure the member across the way that we will be there working with all our stakeholders to ensure that all our bridges as well as all our ports are safe.

Quebec City Bridge
Oral Question Period

Noon

The Speaker

Perhaps the Chair might be permitted to point out to all hon. members the virtue of relative silence in the House. We have completed the list of questions today, an unusual thing.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

Noon

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, throughout question period today the Minister of the Environment repeatedly referred to the government's plan on Kyoto in responding to questions from the opposition. I would ask respectfully that he table that plan for the House of Commons.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

Noon

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it was tabled publicly three years ago. I have no problem in sending it to the member. It seems that he is a bit slow to read, three years after.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

Noon

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring to your attention what I believe is an inappropriate editing, by a member, of the blues to the official Hansard transcript.

I refer to the record from the blues of yesterday wherein the Right Hon. Prime Minister in responding to a question during oral questions regarding the status of Lebanon said, “Mr. Speaker, I said in French and I said in English that the Syrians should withdraw from Syria. I have now said it three times. How many more times need I say it?”

The tapes will confirm that the blues were correct in the manner in which they recorded this statement, as have media reports. However, today's Hansard reveals that apparently somebody, presumably from the Prime Minister's Office, submitted a substantive change to the transcript so that it now reads, “I have said in French and I have said in English that the Syrians should withdraw from Libya”.

As Your Honour will know, Marleau and Montpetit makes it clear that only editorial changes ought to be made, and that “substantial errors must be brought to the attention of the House by means of a point of order as soon as possible after the sitting if the member wishes to have the verbatim record changed”.

I would submit, Mr. Speaker, that the change which was made in the official transcript was out of order and inappropriate, and I want to bring this matter to your attention so you could ensure that such substantive changes are not made in the future.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

12:05 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, in that answer the Prime Minister gave yesterday, he said on a number of occasions that indeed Canada's position was to invite Syria to leave Lebanon. If you would check in that very answer to which the member is referring, the Prime Minister repeated Lebanon I am sure once and perhaps more than that.

Therefore, we are quite comfortable, Mr. Speaker, that once you have reviewed perhaps the tape, the blues and Hansard that you will see that the Prime Minister has been very consistent.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, in the spirit of my own point of order, I need to correct the record. The Hansard transcript says that the Prime Minister said, “Syrians should be withdrawn from Lebanon”. I misspoke, Sir, when I said Libya. It is Lebanon. That is what the transcript says.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

12:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I want to thank the hon. deputy government House leader and of course the hon. member for Calgary Southeast for raising this matter. I will look into the matter and come back to the House.

I appreciate the diligence of the member for Calgary Southeast in reading the blues and reading Hansard with such care and concern. I certainly will look into the matter. Whether this is such a dramatic change and will warrant intervention on the part of the Chair, I will have to decide after I have had a chance to look at the matter, and I will do so and get back to the House in due course.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to submit a petition signed by citizens from the riding of Montmorency-Charlevoix-Haute-Côte-Nord, but also from the region of Quebec City. They believe that Canada's participation in all or part of the missile defence program would be contrary to their interests and values. They also ask Parliament to take action to oppose any participation by Canada in the U.S. missile defence program.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, this petition adds to probably some tens of thousands of other petitioners at this point, and to hundreds of letters I have received in my office on the subject.

These Canadians are calling upon Parliament to support the traditional, historic definition of marriage. The petitioners urge Parliament to be careful in its deliberations on the bill before us at the present time. I table that for the consideration of the House.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, the petitioners recognize that traditional marriage is the best foundation for society, families and the raising of children and that it is the exclusive domain of Parliament to uphold the definition of marriage.

The petitioners, therefore, ask that Parliament define marriage in federal law as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I also rise with two petitions. The first one is from residents of my constituency of Langley.

The petitioners also ask that the House enact legislation to support the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, my second petition is from petitioners across our country asking for Parliament to deem autism a medical essential treatment. The petitioners also ask for academic chairs to be set up at universities in every province to teach treatment for autism.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Charlie Penson Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have one petition today containing 25 signatures. The petitioners call upon Parliament to recognize the institution of marriage as being the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Questions passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 26 could be made an order for a return, the return would be tabled immediately.

Questions passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 26
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

With regard to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, what is the detailed breakdown of the projects it has funded for the Atlantic Innovation Fund Program, the Business Development Program, the Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Program, the Strategic Community Investment Fund Program, and the Entrepreneurship and Business Skills Development Partnership Program, from October 1, 2000, to October 25, 2004, including: ( a ) the name, address and type of the recipient business, post-secondary institution, research institute or community; ( b ) a complete description of each project; ( c ) the date(s) and amounts of the financial contribution(s); ( d ) whether each entity funded started to repay its financial contribution(s); ( e ) the name and constituency of the Member of Parliament or Minister who signed off on each project; and ( f ) whether the entity funded is still in business?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 26
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Saint Boniface, MB

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

Question No. 26
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 26
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-39, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act and to enact an act respecting the provision of funding for diagnostic and medical equipment, be read the third time and passed.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-39 because it shows the true nature of this Parliament. It is unfortunate, but despite the fact we have a minority Liberal government, the Liberals, as you know, have not lost any of the arrogance that has been their trademark for 9 or 10 years, under Mr. Chrétien and the new Prime Minister.

We saw this arrogance when we found out that Bill C-39 was not consistent with the special agreement signed with Quebec at the conference on health. As a matter of fact, Bill C-39 contained only one mention of a specific agreement with Quebec, in clause 25.9. Also, Quebec was not specifically excluded from other requirements in the bill, like the Canadian Institute for Health Information or the dedicated funds. Bill C-39 showed once more this arrogance of downplaying the importance of a specific agreement with Quebec. The agreement was quite clear. I will have the opportunity to deal with this later on.

I mentioned at the start that Bill C-39 shows the true nature of this Parliament because the Liberals, even though they are a minority government, seem unable to suppress this arrogance towards Quebec and this Parliament. Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois and its members in this House immediately sounded the alarm and sent a clear message to the government and the whole Parliament that the bill was not consistent with the intent and the letter of the special agreement with Quebec. Thanks to this intervention, especially by the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, the Bloc Québécois critic for intergovernmental affairs, and despite the reluctance of the government, we were able to pass an amendment, and Bill C-39 is now consistent with the intent and the letter of the agreement. We think the bill is now quite acceptable and we will support it.

Just imagine what would have happened had the Bloc Québécois not been here. Bill C-39 would probably have been passed unchanged, and Quebec would have been penalized. This goes to show how important it is to have members who stand for Quebec's interests first and promote an exciting collective project--the sovereignty of Quebec.

I mentioned that it cannot be by chance that the government brought forward the original draft of Bill C-39 without taking into account the specific agreement with Quebec, because that agreement was very clear. For the benefit of people watching us, I would like to cite it. In the specific agreement with Quebec, there was a very clear written statement:

--resting on asymmetrical federalism, that is, flexible federalism that notably allows for the existence of specific agreements and arrangements adapted to Quebec's specificity--

Quebec will apply its own wait time reduction plan, in accordance with the objectives, standards and criteria established by the relevant Quebec authorities--

The Government of Quebec will report to Quebeckers--

It could therefore not be any clearer than what I have just read. However, the Government of Quebec, even though it is led by federalists, knowing the reflexes of the federal government, particularly when Liberals are in power, even had the following disclaimer added at the end of the communiqué, to ensure that there would be no confusion possible, and I quote:

Nothing in this communiqué shall be construed as derogating from Quebec's jurisdiction. This communiqué shall be interpreted as fully respecting its jurisdiction.

Members will understand that we were quite surprised to see that, in the original draft of Bill C-39, there were not more references to the clause 25.9 in terms of that specific agreement. Let us recall that, when that specific agreement was signed, for a few days, people believed there really was a new approach on the part of the federal government, which the Bloc Québécois leader, like MNA Louise Harel, had called asymmetrical encroachment.

The federal government was therefore agreeing, in this specific agreement, to respect Quebec's jurisdiction over health issues, as set out in the Canadian Constitution. It was however an innovative approach. In the recent years especially, with the fiscal imbalance and the Liberal government's tendency to impose a federal presence in all areas of Quebec's and the other provinces' jurisdiction, particularly if there was some sort of visibility or political points involved, this asymmetry in terms of intrusion seemed to be a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, this respect of Quebec's jurisdictions lasted only a few days. Nothing new there. As I was saying, the defence of the 1867 Constitution caused an outcry in Canada. The member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes was talking about that. The former finance minister, Mr. Manley, condemned that. All the dyed in the wool Trudeau supporters told English Canada that the direction we were taking posed a threat to Canada's unity. Since then, we have seen no new asymmetrical intrusion initiatives since the one made at the health conference.

Moreover, a few weeks later, during the funding conference, the federal government unilaterally decided to restrict the conference to the issue of equalization. It announced the amounts available, right at the start, saying that the formula that had been unilaterally imposed before the latest elections would continue to be used. It dealt with none of the provincial concerns, particularly those of Quebec.

When we saw the first draft of Bill C-39, which did not take into account the distinct nature of the agreement entered into at the health conference, the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes asked a question on February 10, 2005, of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health in order to alert the Minister of Health to the fact that there was no explicit reference to the specific agreement with Quebec, except, once again, section 25.9, which was clearly inadequate.

The parliamentary secretary answered that the member's concerns were not justified. We were heading toward a dead end. You will recall that, at second reading, we had opposed Bill C-39. Given the inadequate reference to the specific agreement with Quebec, we could not have supported it.

The Bloc Québécois proposed amendments to Bill C-39, in line with the accord signed in September. First, we reincorporated in the bill the fact that the funding made available by the Government of Canada will be used by the Government of Quebec to implement its own plan for the renewal of Quebec's health care system.

Those who have been following the politics of Quebec for the past few years, know that there have been many studies to reform the health care system, just as in a number of Canadian provinces. First, there was the Rochon Commission, then the Clair Commission. The reforms are now well underway. The so-called expertise of the federal government in this domain is not needed at all. It manages only a few veterans hospitals, which are constantly being criticized.

Second, in our approach regarding the amendments to Bill C-39, we made sure that the Government of Quebec would be accountable to the population of Quebec. We excluded any hierarchical relationship where the federal government thinks that it is supposed to decide on the validity of the actions of the Government of Quebec. The Government of Quebec is accountable to the nation of Quebec, to the people of Quebec only. When elections take place, Quebeckers express their view of government management of health care and many other things.

So our second concern was about the Government of Quebec informing its own population of the progress achieved in the pursuit of its goals.

The third aspect is the Health Commissioner of Quebec being responsible for reporting to the Government of Quebec on Quebec's health system. The Canadian Institute for Health Information should not, therefore, be informing the public on advances by the Government of Quebec, the health department and the other players in the health care system, with respect to the concerns of the public and issues such as the modernization of our health system. These issues must take a number of challenges into account, in particular the challenge of demography, which, as you know, is linked to the aging of our population.

There obviously will be cooperation with Canadian Institute for Health Information. Though it was never a problem, it should have been made clear that Quebec's Health Commissioner was responsible for reporting to the Government of Quebec and, through it, to the public on the state of health care.

This amendment we moved was adopted by the committee. As I mentioned, the original version was unacceptable, but we will support the amended version of Bill C-39.

I mentioned that the concept of asymmetrical federalism, which is in fact asymmetrical interference, was very short lived. To prove it, I point out that on October 26 of last year, at the conference on the provinces' financial situation, which covered more than just health, which had been the only subject of conference in September, Ottawa decided unilaterally that equalization would be the only item on the agenda. The federal government said right at the start what amounts would be available and announced that not one cent more would be added to equalization and that the formula used in its calculation would remain unchanged. I remind you that the formula had been imposed unilaterally by the federal government a few months before the last elections. Moreover, the Prime Minister refused once again to admit that there was a fiscal imbalance and spoke only of fiscal pressure on the provinces knowing full well that the situation is a lot worse.

I repeat that that asymmetrical interference or asymmetrical federalism, as they called it, did not last long. We saw it during today's question period. There is still no agreement on parental leave despite an agreement in principle signed before the elections. There is still a gap of about $200 million between the positions of the federal and Quebec governments. Here again, we can see the federal government's hard line attitude common in its relations with Quebec.

So the problems go well beyond the area of health. Let me give you another, more regional, example. As you know, there is a crisis in the tobacco industry. It is a totally understandable crisis considering anti-tobacco campaigns. Being a non-smoker, I support those campaigns. But the fact is that there was a sharp decline in demand for tobacco. Moreover, the three major tobacco companies decided to stop buying tobacco in Quebec to concentrate their purchases in Ontario.

The region that I represent, namely Joliette and Lanaudière, was home to virtually all tobacco farmers. Out of the 57 who were in business three years ago, fewer than a dozen continue to produce a small amount of tobacco, trying, naturally, to diversify their operations, production and crops, and only three intend to continue growing tobacco to meet the demand of independent manufacturers like Lépine cigarettes and other manufacturers operating in first nations reserves.

This is therefore an emergency. Tobacco farmers need assistance to switch from one type of crop to another, such as Chinese cabbage or kiwi; anything that can grow in sandy soil ought to be considered. Anyway, these growers need assistance.

Like parental leave, this assistance was announced a few days before the election. Electoral democracy is good after all. A few days before the election, approximately $70 million in assistance was announced. That was many months ago, yet we are still waiting for the terms and conditions of this aid package for tobacco farmers in Quebec and Ontario to be defined.

It would appear, and this is more serious, that assistance for the 57 tobacco farmers in Quebec, 95% of whom are in the Lanaudière region, is being blocked by a dispute between Ontario farmers and the provincial government of Ontario.

I find it completely absurd that producers in Quebec are being taken hostage in a situation that is totally out of their control. Naturally, for the federal government—and that is what we were told by the parliamentary secretary in response to a question I put to him last week—the same solution has to apply to producers both in Ontario and in Quebec. Consequently, until an agreement has been reached with Ontario farmers, no money will be made available to the farmers in Quebec.

Their situation is totally different, though. These farmers in Quebec have already stopped growing tobacco or started efforts to quickly switch crop production. To conclude this brief aside, I want to emphasize that the funding problems facing these tobacco farmers is largely due to the fact that tobacco companies have forced them to replace their dryers just two years before they decided to stop buying any tobacco in Quebec.

They need help for converting their land because switching from tobacco to asparagus does not just happen in one season. Often it takes five years before production becomes efficient. They are also burdened by debt, which they are unable to amortize with financial institutions in the region.

As I was saying, this asymmetrical approach was nothing more than a virtual approach, which did not even last long enough for the ink to dry on the separate health agreement. The government no longer mentions this approach. Again, refusing to acknowledge the fiscal imbalance makes it impossible to find a definitive comprehensive solution to the funding problem. This is so for Quebec, but also, unfortunately, for many other provinces. However, the federal government has been much quicker and much more generous with provinces such as Newfoundland and Labrador and others over the past few weeks, while Quebec has to continue to struggle.

As I was saying, the agreement on health does not solve the fiscal imbalance problem. It is like taking an aspirin to try to get rid of cancer. I will give some figures, although the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes already gave some earlier. Nonetheless, if I have time, I would like to go into more detail.

The specific agreement on health provides Quebec with approximately $502 million more this year, out of a budget of $20 billion. Consequently, this fresh federal input represents only 2.5% of the Quebec budget, or about 9 days of operation. That is just for health, so what they have done is the equivalent of helping Quebec meet its health care responsibilities for the equivalent of nine days.

The federal government boasts that it is getting close to the 25% target the Romanow report recommended for health and social funding. When we look at all social spending, that is education, social assistance, the areas covered by the Canada social transfer, which is now, as we know, divided into a transfer for health and one for social programs, it is obviously far from that 25% figure. Especially because, as far as equalization payments are concerned, the results have not been what might had been expected, that is, a new formula that is fairer, more stable and more generous to the provinces needing these federal transfers.

In fact, after the October conference on the provinces' financial difficulties, which eventually shrank to nothing more than a conference on equalization, Quebec will end up with a mere $300 million more in equalization payments.

Overall, in its “generosity”, this government will have transferred $800 million more to Quebec this year, whereas the shortfall—according to the Government of Quebec, or its finance department—is in the order of $3.3 billion. As a result, the shortfall for Quebec, as far as fiscal imbalance is concerned, is still $2.4 billion.

We must therefore hope that the federal government, with its fabulous surplus of $9 billion last year—this year, some $11 billion or $12 billion—will, in the budget to be tabled and debated starting next Wednesday, get its act together and find some definitive solutions by transferring the $2.4 billion Quebec still lacks to resolve the extremely serious problem of fiscal imbalance.

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12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Madam Speaker, I greatly enjoyed what my colleague from Joliette had to say, particularly his little aside on the problem faced by farmers producing flue-cured tobacco in his riding and the greater Joliette area. As a member from Quebec, he certainly educated me on the problem of switching from one type of crop to another.

I especially appreciated his saying that a farmer cannot stop growing tobacco one year and immediately start growing asparagus the next year. Apparently cultivating asparagus takes four or five years to develop. I have friends who are asparagus farmers on L'île d'Orléans, in my riding, so I have some idea what the hon. member is talking about.

Let me come back to the focus of his presentation, the government's lack of recognition of the fiscal imbalance.

We know that the Bloc Québécois fought for amendments during the negotiations among the three opposition parties following the Speech from the Throne. We managed to get the government to pay us lip service and recognize the fiscal imbalance.

By the way, just as a reminder on this Friday, the person who contributed the most to developing the concept of the fiscal imbalance, who put a figure to it and recognized it, is Yves Séguin, Quebec's former finance minister. We sovereignists recognized it a long time ago. We must acknowledge the work done by Mr. Séguin, the author of the Séguin report, which recognized the fiscal imbalance.

Now, I would like my colleague from Joliette with his economics background to explain a little further about the shortfall in Quebec caused as a direct result of the fiscal imbalance. He said it was over $2 billion, if I recall correctly.

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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord for his questions and comments on tobacco farmers. The issue is not well enough known, unfortunately. Every time we have a chance to talk about it, we can put a little more pressure on the government to settle the matter finally.

He is right. In my opinion, Mr. Séguin did a great deal, first to get the concept of the fiscal imbalance recognized and then to explain the size of this imbalance and the solutions that could be applied.

In a way, we have made considerable progress in this debate. We all remember what the Quebec federalists said when we first talked about the fiscal imbalance. And yet, the concept was not invented by the sovereignists. The first person to mention it was Jean Charest, now Premier of Quebec, when he was opposition leader. Some people, including some editorial writers close to the Liberal Party of Canada, have said that it is a concept invented by sovereignists to promote sovereignty.

No one now denies the existence of the fiscal imbalance, except perhaps the federal Liberal MPs from Quebec. Last week, I read an article by Claude Piché, an economic reporter with whom I rarely agree. This time, however, on the eve of the budget, he was also calculating his expectations in terms of corrections to the fiscal imbalance.

Perhaps I will mention a few figures. Just now I pointed out that the negotiations in recent months concerning fresh transfers of money to the provinces, to Quebec in particular, only came to an additional $800 million, while the shortfall is estimated—according to Mr. Séguin of the Quebec government, of those federalists who often but not always have the interests of Quebec at heart—at $3.3 billion. Thus, if the gap is $3.3 billion, and $800 million of fresh money comes in, $2.4 billion is still needed in order to correct the fiscal imbalance.

I have a few figures for the current year, 2004-05. The amount transferred before the agreement, or the various agreements, was $14.150 billion. Now, with the new funding that has been announced—here I am not speaking only of Quebec, but of all the provinces—funding of $2.125 billion, the new total for funding is $16.275 billion.

Provincial spending on health is $83.133 billion. That means that the federal government's share in health care funding is only 19.6%. We are a long way from the 25% Romanow recommended. That is a shortfall, just in health, of $4.5 billion, which the provinces would be getting if the federal government were assuming 25% of health care costs, but are not.

Since the agreement is spread over 10 years, it could be said that things will be better in 10 years. Nonetheless, the calculations that were done—I did not do them, it was the Conference Board which published its report in August 2004—show that after all the agreements, this 23.8% share of health care funding will remain unchanged, if health care expenses increase at a limited pace.

We see that, if nothing is done to resolve the fiscal imbalance, despite the agreements on health and equalization—and the health accord is a relatively positive measure, as I said, but does not go far enough—the fiscal imbalance will continue to grow. The financial problems experienced by the provinces and Quebec will get worse.

While the federal government is paying down its debt—and I remind the House that in recent years, an additional $60 billion was misappropriated, from both the employment insurance fund and excessive taxation by the federal government, to pay down the debt—the provinces are having trouble balancing their budgets. A number of them are running a deficit. So, this ensures that the provinces and Quebec will continue to see their debt spiral.

I repeat again that there is no logic either financially or in terms of services, because the provinces and Quebec pay a much higher interest rate than the federal government. This means that money is being taken from those paying significant interest on their debt, and the federal debt, which has a lower interest rate, is being paid off. Financially and in terms of services, there is no logic to this.

We must remember that a fiscal imbalance means fewer health care and educational services. This will not fix itself over time.

For example, when a child is living in poverty because the federal government has cut employment insurance and does not want to transfer the money to which the provinces and Quebec are entitled, via the social programs, that child is the one to pay the price. If the federal government does not remedy this in five years, that child will have lived in poverty for five years, and the impact will be life long. This is something the bureaucrats in Ottawa just do not get. When a jobless person does not get benefits, the situation will never be remedied, because the economic and social insecurity of today will have an impact for the rest of his life. Child poverty has the same effect.

Every time the federal government puts off solving fiscal imbalance, social and democratic and service levels are affected. The harm done will never be remedied, even if we do manage to force the government to remedy the situation.

I will point out, before closing my remarks, that it is also a problem of democracy, if legislative assemblies, the Quebec National Assembly for instance, do not have the necessary resources to translate their decisions into concrete action. Parental leave is an excellent example of this. Since 1997, the Government of Quebec, whether Parti Québecois or Liberal, has had this more generous and more accessible parental leave on its books, but the National Assembly is incapable of implementing a democratic decision that reflects the will of the people of Quebec. We are dealing here with a real democratic deficit caused by fiscal imbalance and by the federal Liberals' lack of desire to correct it.

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-39. The NDP has already indicated its support; however, I am compelled to speak about the fact that there is a lack of accountability in the bill.

In order for Canadians to have continued confidence in our health care system, they need to know how and where their money is being spent and what the results are. This is not a lone voice in the wilderness that is calling for accountability. It is supported by any number of sources. I will quote from a number of different documents.

The first is the “Health Care Renewal in Canada: Accelerating Change” document put out by the Health Council of Canada. The council is quite unequivocal in its statements around the need for accountability. It starts out by talking about the fact that governments are making significant investments in health care and how Canadians will know whether the money is being spent on health care renewal. The council goes on to talk about the fact that money is important. I will quote directly from the document:

Inform Canadians as to whether the increased investments in health care are supporting the change governments have agreed to implement--

The council stated:

We believe the public has a right to know how the money has been spent across the country.

It will report about this in its annual reports, but it is very clear to the council that there is a fundamental issue attached to the question of money, how it is being spent, what the results are, and what is being achieved.

The next document is quite an interesting one. It is called, “Principles for Governance, Management, Accountability and Shared Responsibility” and was put out by the Canadian Health Care Association and the CCAF. Their opening statement is actually a quote from an address by the Prime Minister at the first ministers meeting on September 13, 2004:

When it comes to health reform, Canadians expect real and meaningful accountability. They deserve to know what they should expect--and what they are getting.

The document lays out some key principles around what we expect out of accountability.

As the minister pointed out earlier today, we are spending significant amounts of money in health care over the next 10 years. Surely Canadians deserve to know how that money is being spent.

One of the things the CCAF and CHA outline is that health system partners need to demonstrate commitment to public transparency and accountability. They do this by explaining to and involving the public in what they plan to do, how well the system is performing, and the implications of both. Surely these are the elements of good practice in any kind of respect. They then go on to outline areas of responsibility. Under public accountability and involvement, the CHA and CCAF outline a principle which states:

Health system partners need to demonstrate commitment to public transparency and accountability. They do this by explaining to, and involving the public in, what they plan to do, how well the system is performing, and the implications of both.

Again, this is a fundamental principle on how Canadians need to have access to how Canadian tax dollars are being spent.

They go on to talk about how these things might be reported. Again, these are principles. These are non-profit bodies that are talking about principles in terms of accountability and transparency. They talk about reporting principles and standards being key to the integrity and utility of reported information and a prerequisite for fair comparison and benchmarking. They state:

Principles and standards may be issued as a pronouncement by the requiring party, or developed cooperatively. Regardless of how they are developed, these reporting principles and standards should be commonly understood and consistently applied.

To me that means there is an agreement on what we should be reporting, and it should be clearly understood by all parties, including the Canadian public.

On the first ministers health care agreement the Canadian Health Coalition actually issued a report card in September 2004. Under the accountability and reporting aspect of the report card the government was given a D . The coalition said that the agreement is based more on trust and an assumption that the public will hold governments to account. We are talking assumptions here.

Since the weak accountability facilitates privatization by stealth, Canadians will have to be diligent to ensure real accountability. Medicare is still on life support, not from lack of money, but because of weak controls on where and how the money will be spent.

The Canadian Health Coalition is talking about the fact that what we really need to do is follow the money. The CHC did a detailed analysis on the 10 year plan to strengthen health care. I will quote from the document on accountability and reporting to Canadians. I talked about the fact that the agreement is based on trust. The document states:

It is no coincidence that the governments with the most resistance to meaningful accountability (Alberta, Quebec and B.C.) are the ones determined to transfer the delivery of insured health services over to commercial, for-profit health care corporations. Proponents of private, for-profit health services do not want public funds accounted for or traced but this is what true accountability requires. Canadians don't realize that current accountability requirements in federal legislation are being ignored by the federal government. Under the Canada Health Act, the Minister of Health has a statutory duty to monitor, report and enforce compliance with the five criteria of the Act. The Minister's annual report to Parliament on the Canada Health Act consistently fails to identify, report and stop privatization initiatives underway in several provinces. This poses a serious threat to the integrity and viability of Medicare.

The CHC goes on to state:

We expect the Canadian Institute for Health Information and the Health Council of Canada to include in their data collection and analysis a breakdown, by mode of delivery of health care services specifically, for-profit and not-for-profit. A full public accounting would expose unfavourable comparisons between private for-profit and public not-for-profit....Citizens need an accountability mechanism which is independent and in the public domain. The Health Council of Canada could grow into that role with public pressure and direction. The first task for the Health Council must include tracking every single dollar of public funds in health care in order to monitor how much is going to investor-owned private for-profit health care, home care, and long-term care and the health outcomes and financial performance achieved. Canadians must also insist that the federal Minister of Health correct the deficiencies in monitoring, reporting and enforcing the Canada Health Act.

It is clear that there is a reluctance by the government to report on the dollars that are being spent, because it is en masse for profit delivery that is creeping throughout Canada.

One of the things that is fundamental in the Canada Health Act and one of the program criterion is public administration. It is a fundamental criterion for receiving funds under the Canada Health Act. The act itself states:

In order to satisfy the criterion respecting public administration,

(a) the health care insurance plan of a province must be administered and operated on a non-profit basis by a public authority appointed or designated by the government of the province--

In the prebudget consultation to the report on the Standing Committee on Finance, which is talking about health care and how money is spent, I quote:

Several witnesses spoke about specific aspects of the Canada Health Act. While witnesses generally support the principles contained in the Act, there was concern that some of the principles are not being respected and that information provided to Parliament is not accurately indicating the degree to which privatization initiatives are underway in several provinces. In particular, it was recommended that the ministers of Finance, and Health fully enforce the accountability mechanisms in the Canada Health Act and that provinces/territories be required to provide information on the mode of delivery of health care services, in particular for-profit and investor owned versus public and not-for-profit.

This is from the prebudget consultation which was clearly calling for more accountability. Yet when we look at Bill C-39, any mechanisms for accountability are absent from that bill. It is very cold comfort to hear that there will be a review done in 2008. That is like slamming the barn door shut after the horse has escaped.

We are talking about some of the pillars around public administration and the issue that we are not able to look at the impact health care dollars are having and where they are being spent. In my own province we have a current P3 under way and the government cannot tell me that this is a for profit situation.

We have an organization called Access Health Abbotsford, which is a consortium that includes the Dutch bank ABN AMRO, U.S. health giant Johnson & Johnson and Sodexho, a French cleaning and food services company, that will be responsible for the design, construction, financing and maintenance of the hospital that is being built in Abbotsford. Surely that is a for profit organization, which seems to be very dismissive of one of the key pillars of the Canada Health Act.

How will Bill C-39 protect Canadian taxpayers from that kind of creeping privatization. There are certainly any number of questions about the quality of for profit health care. Again, independent studies have been conducted and established on these kinds of private health care delivery.

Canadians deserve to know how the money invested in health care is being spent. Canadians are very passionate about their health care system, and they want to continue to see a publicly funded and publicly delivered health care system.

We are asking the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister to honour their commitments. In the minister's own words, he stated after being sworn in:

I can tell you that what we need to do is stem the tide of privatization in Canada and expand public delivery of health care so we have a stronger health-care system for all Canadians.

Those are very strong words. It would be shameful if the government did not live up to its commitment around that.

I will go on and repeat the Prime Minister's words because they bear repeating. He made a commitment around real and meaningful accountability. He said was:

When it comes to health reform, Canadians expect real and meaningful accountability. They deserve to know what they should expect--and what they are getting.

Surely stating that Canadians deserve to know what they should expect and what they get talks about accountability. It should be one of the fundamental principles in the bill. It is glaringly absent.

I would urge that we quickly put in mechanisms to deal with the accountability, so Canadians have some confidence in where their health dollars are being spent, and that we can proudly stand up and talk about the fact that we have a publicly funded and publicly delivered health care system.

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12:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, the member raises a crucial point around the question of accountability in our health care spending. I agree with her that this is a glaring omission from the legislation, particularly when we look at the kind of feedback that she quoted from the Canadian Health Coalition, which generally gives the government a “D” when it comes to accountability in health care spending in its past efforts. It does not give us much confidence for the future.

I also agree with her when she raises the serious concerns about for profit health care, especially in our home province of British Columbia. It always boggles my mind when we talk about for profit health care. Just the very nature of for profit health care introduces a major new expense into the system that we do not currently have.

Profit is a huge expense to the health care system, to any system. Taking profit out of the system, constitutes a major and significant new expenditure. I have real problems with that.

Today, we heard the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan ask the minister questions in question period around credit card medicine. I was not too impressed with his response. The minister stood up and said that he would defend the Canada Health Act. However, he was not very specific. We have not seen much action on that front.

I am not one to heckle much in the House. My colleague from Winnipeg heard that I came to that point today when the minister was responding. I asked rhetorically for the minister to show us his teeth behind his promise to enforce the Canada Health Act.

What does she think about the minister's response to her questions today about credit card medicine in Canada?

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12:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, in question period, the minister's response was that perhaps I needed to turn up my hearing aid. I guess my response to that would have been, for what? To hear more empty promises around credit card medicine?”

However, on credit card medicine, again the Canadian Health Coalition's analysis around the first ministers health care agreement, and of course Bill C-39 is a result of it, was a D grade for stemming the tide of privatization, as well. Again quoting from the analysis, which is very appropriate. It states:

The First Ministers’ Health Care Agreement is silent on the question of for-profit delivery of healthservices. Indeed, the very day the agreement was signed the bold headline in the National Post read:“Privatized Care Keeps Expanding”.

The proliferation of investor-owned private, for-profit clinics and facilities acts like a viral infection inthe body of Canada’s public health care system. The for-profit health care virus cannot exist withoutfeeding off and damaging public bodies. Canada’s largest and richest provinces are laying thefoundations for a private parallel for-profit regime. This trend threatens the integrity and the viabilityof the public health care system. This is happening without any public discussion by First Ministers.Indeed, it is a plan whose objectives no politician dare utter in public.

It goes on to say:

The corporate virus infection in Canada’s health care delivery system may have been driven underground. However, it remains a serious threat as it can spread through stealth, deception, and lack of accountability.

I interject here to underline “lack of accountability”.

It goes on to say:

It flourishes in the dark but runs from the light of public scrutiny. You don’t stopthe spread of a life threatening virus by not talking about it. Instead, you first isolate and then treatand eradicate the virus light of public scrutiny. You don’t stop the spread of a life threatening virus by not talking about it. Instead, you first isolate and then treat and eradicate the virus. The proliferation of initiatives to privatize health care delivery undermines the letter (objectives) andthe spirit (purpose) of the Canada Health Act. It represents a significant threat to the publicly fundedhealth care system, in particular including the requirements that universal access to publicly fundedhealth care be provided on uniform terms and conditions to all insured persons.

I am quoting from Dr. Arnold Relman's testimony at the Kirby Senate committee. He states:

The facts are that no one has ever shown, in fair, accurate comparisons, that for-profit makes for greater efficiency or better quality, and certainly have never shown that it serves the public interest any better. Never.

Why do so many First Ministers and their officials show no interest in the facts, or the values uponwhich Medicare is built? The noticeable exceptions are Premier Calvert of Saskatchewan andManitoba Premier Doer, who both explicitly referred to not-for profit delivery of care. If Canadiansare gullible and listen to the true believers in the miraculous powers of the market to solvehealth care problems, we will pay dearly for the mistake.

That is a very clear indictment of the kind of creeping privatization happening in our health care system. Accountability measures need to be open and transparent so Canadians can see where their health care dollars are spent.

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member from the NDP. I have to ask this. Where was she between 1991 and 2000, when the NDP was in power in British Columbia? It was doing to health care exactly what that member is saying this government is doing. We saw the health care in British Columbia sink to its lowest point of delivering service and its highest point of waiting lists that that province or any province has ever seen.

How on earth does she expect Canada to operate on what she is saying when there are examples like British Columbia, an NDP government in those years, that totally were a dismal failure in the business of health care?

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1 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am so pleased to get up and respond to that question. Let us talk about the fact that federal transfers to health care were continuously being reduced, crushing provincial governments with a debt load that was unbelievable.

If we want to talk about where the responsibility for those kinds of things lie, let us talk about where it really belongs. It started with Conservatives and then ended up with Liberals.

What we want to talk about is the fact that slashing and cutting does not ensure we have a health care system that remains on a stable footing.

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1 p.m.

An hon. member

It is amazing it survived at all with you guys.

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1 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Absolutely. What we now have is a legacy. It has a legacy that talks to the fact that we need to reinvest in innovative health care, but it has to be publicly funded and publicly delivered.

We need to take a look at some of the really excellent practices happening throughout Canada. They talk about the fact that we can make health care a quality, affordable, long term strategy for all Canadians. That is where we need to spend our energy.

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1 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine
Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Canada—U.S.)

Madam Speaker, the hon. member on the other side might have a bit more credibility if she would admit that the NDP government in B.C. made its independent choices as to where it would put its money. It was responsible for any of the problems that now exist in terms of various social health programs.

Why is the hon. member not prepared to admit that the provincial NDP government was responsible for the problems in the health care system? That government was a disaster. Why will she not admit that?

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, as soon as we talk about accountability, it is interesting to note that members of the House begin to point fingers at provincial governments. I thank the Bloc for talking about fiscal imbalance and the crisis being by many of our provinces.

Let me just talk about child care for example. British Columbia is struggling with a lack of child care spaces, again, because funding is not coming in on a consistent basis.

We need to talk about responsible partnerships between federal and provincial governments and talk about responsible fiscal arrangements that would allow provinces to fulfill their mandates in the direct delivery of service.

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1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. For clarification, the government member opposite is blaming the provincial NDP for the problems in health care in British Columbia. I am just--

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1:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Order, please. The member is well aware that is not a point of order.

Is the House ready for the question?

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1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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1:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

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

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1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from February 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today to make some comments with respect to Bill C-38. I want to divide my remarks into four basic sections: first, I will briefly make some political observations; second, I will deal with how I see the history of this matter; third, I will discuss what I consider to be a duty to act; and fourth, I will examine Bill C-38 and what I consider to be its weaknesses.

Just a few words on politics. I am privileged to be in my 17th year as a member of Parliament. During that period of time I have served with three leaders of the Liberal Party and one interim leader of the Liberal Party. Throughout that time my opposition to same sex marriage has been well known. Yet it is obvious by the fact that I am the first Liberal backbencher to speak, in fact the first Liberal to speak immediately after the Prime Minister, that there is no underhandedness in determining who will speak to this bill on this side.

In 17 years under three leaders and one interim leader, never have I been asked to submit a speech to anyone to have it reviewed or to have it vetted. Not that it would work, but it has simply never happened. I lament that there are situations where people seem to think that is necessary in a House of free and open debate.

I would like to turn now to the history of this matter as I see it. Back in Chilliwack, British Columbia, in 1994, I issued my first speech on this matter. I predicted that if matters were not observed quickly and a halt was not put to the movement, same sex marriage would become a fact in this country.

In a paper dated November 16, 1994, which I distributed to all members of Parliament, so anyone who was a member of Parliament in 1994 received it, I outlined exactly how this would happen and the steps that would be used to achieve this objective.

Sadly for me, because I hoped I would be wrong, matters have proceeded exactly as I predicted almost 11 years ago. Unfortunately, people refused to listen and they refused to believe.

I wrote a letter to former justice minister, Mr. Rock, pointing out that there was a court decision in Ontario from the then divisional court where two judges to one had decided in favour of traditional marriage. My point was that the dissenting judge had found that traditional marriage was unconstitutional. I warned the justice minister of the day that two to one in favour of traditional marriage today could be two to one against traditional marriage tomorrow, and what was he going to do about it?

He had written a letter to a concerned Canadian and this is dated February 24, 1997. I want to quote two paragraphs from it. It reads:

I take your concerns and those of Mr. Wappel seriously, but I do not agree that it is necessary to legislate to define marriage in heterosexual terms and I would like to take this opportunity to clarify why. The definition of marriage in law in Canada is already the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Thus, the definition of marriage is already clear in law in Canada as the union of two persons of the opposite sex. Counsel from my department have successfully defended, and will continue to defend, this concept of marriage in court. Let me assure you that this government remains committed to supporting Canadian families and that there are no plans to change the concept of marriage in Canada.

I was not reassured by the reassurance and therefore I proposed a bill to amend the Marriage Act of Canada to enshrine the traditional definition of marriage into law.

I explained to the then justice minister why this was necessary given the divisions that were beginning to appear in the courts in our country. I brought that bill forward and it was vociferously opposed by the Department of Justice of the day. A new justice minister took up the cause and wrote to a supporter of my private member's bill on April 24, 1998. Justice Minister McLellan stated:

I take your concerns and those of Mr. Wappel seriously, but do not agree that it is necessary to legislate to define marriage in heterosexual terms, and I would like to take this opportunity to clarify why.

Clearly, everyone can see it is the same wording as a year ago from a previous justice minister. It continues:

The definition of marriage in law in Canada is already the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. It is not necessary to pass such legislation as in legal terms it would not add to or clarify the present state of the law in Canada.

Thus, the definition of marriage is already clear in law in Canada as the union of two persons of the opposite sex. Counsel from my department have successfully defended, and will continue to defend, this concept of marriage in court. Indeed, the same concept of marriage is present throughout the world. Even in the few European countries...which allow limited recognition of same sex relationships, sometimes in the same manner as common law spouses, a clear distinction is maintained in the law between marriage and same sex partnerships.

The House considered a motion on June 8, 1999, which stated:

That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.

That motion passed 216 to 55. Among the members of Parliament who voted in favour of that motion were, according to Hansard , Mr. Cauchon, Mr. Chrétien (Saint-Maurice), Madam McLellan (Edmonton West), Mr. Martin (LaSalle—Émard), and Mr. Rock.

In the year 2000 the House passed legislation known legally as the Statutes of Canada 2000, Chapter 12. In section 1.1 of that act, the House of Commons, in a government bill, supported by the Government of Canada, enacted the following legislation. This is not a preamble; this is legislation.

For greater certainty, the amendments made by this Act do not affect the meaning of the word “marriage”, that is, the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

In the face of that, in June of 2003 along comes the Court of Appeal decision in Halpern. In the meantime, the Prime Minister of the day had mandated the justice committee of Parliament to go across Canada to study this issue, make recommendations, and deliver a report to Parliament so that Parliament could debate this issue.

This brings me to the next part of my speech concerning duty bound to act. I maintain that it was the duty of the prime minister of the day and the justice minister of the day to uphold the laws and integrity of Parliament. As we have already heard, two justice ministers had already stated that the law was clear. A motion had been passed by Parliament supported overwhelmingly, including the government members and the cabinet, that the definition was included in a statute of the Parliament of Canada and the justice committee was mandated to study this issue.

After Parliament was adjourned and we were no longer sitting in caucuses, the Court of Appeal decision came out. Contrary to this duty to act to support the laws of Canada and the Parliament of Canada and the integrity of the Parliament of Canada, the prime minister of the day, without consultation with caucus, without consultation with Parliament, and without letting the justice committee finish its job, decided not to appeal the Court of Appeal decision of the province of Ontario, effectively undercutting and undermining his own legislation and the expressed will of Parliament.

I would now like to explain my views on why I consider Bill C-38 to be discriminatory, a sham, and a hoax on parliamentarians and Canadians. I am going to refer specifically to each of those categories.

In my view this bill is discriminatory. It has been argued that same sex marriage is somehow a right. This is not legally accurate. The Supreme Court, in the reference decision, did not declare that permitting same sex couples to marry was a right. Absolutely no country in the entire world has declared it to be a human right, including the two countries which presently allow same sex marriages. No one has done that.

How can something be a right when it is not recognized in law by anyone in any country in the world, including the Supreme Court of Canada, as a declared right? Therefore, to say a right is a right in the context of same sex marriage is legally wrong.

Then we have to turn to section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which talks about laws being enacted without discrimination; in this case, without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We have to look at the institution of marriage then.

Is the institution of marriage discriminatory? Of course it is, by its very nature. We cannot get married unless we are of a certain age. That is discrimination on the basis of age. We cannot get married if we do not have proper mental capacity. That is discrimination on the basis of disability. We cannot get married unless we are of the proper bloodline. That is discrimination on the basis of who our parents are or who our siblings are, including, as we will see later, adoptive children.

It discriminates against religion because it says we can only have in this country, not in the world but in this country, one spouse: one wife or husband. This is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation because it says we must marry someone of the opposite sex.

To my mind the bill seeks to “fix” discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by allowing people of the same sex to marry, but at the very same time the bill continues to permit discrimination on the basis of age. People still have to be of a certain age even though according to our laws, they can legally have sexual intercourse at the age of 14, but they cannot marry at the age of 14. It discriminates continuously on the basis of mental capacity and who decides on the mental capacity. It discriminates on the basis of bloodline and indeed, this particular bill perpetuates that discrimination in clause 13. It states:

Subsection 2(2) of the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act is replaced by the following:

(2) No person shall marry another person if they are related lineally, or as brother or sister or half-brother or half-sister, including by adoption.

It discriminates and continues to discriminate on the basis of religion because it says in clause 2:

Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.

That discriminates against those religions that believe that it is perfectly acceptable to have more than one spouse. That is discrimination on the basis of religion.

Therefore, why is it acceptable to remove discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but continue to permit and perpetuate in legislation and common law other forms of discrimination? Either we eliminate all forms of discrimination or we leave the current definition alone. It has worked for millennia. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

That brings me to the subject of polygamy. Some say that raising polygamy is a red herring and has nothing whatsoever to do with this bill. That is utter legal nonsense. Polygamy is currently against the law, section 293 of the Criminal Code.

At the stroke of a judicial pen, that section can be declared unconstitutional on the basis of section 15 charter guarantees of freedom of religion. People say that is not going to happen, but I am going to give two real life examples.

The first one is the very definition of marriage. The law of this country was the common law for millennia. The law was that people had to be of the opposite sex. With the stroke of a pen, that which was illegal was made legal by the courts, not by the Parliament of Canada.

Section 159 of the Criminal Code reads: “Every person who engages in an act of anal intercourse is guilty of an indictable offence...”. It goes on. There are exceptions: “...any two persons, each of whom is eighteen years of age or more,both of whom consent to the act.” That is fine. There is no problem there.

That section was challenged on the basis that it was discriminatory because of age. Justice Abella of the Ontario Court of Appeal struck that section down because it was contrary to the age discrimination in section 15, in her view.What did that mean? That meant that for the Criminal Code of Canada, written into the laws of this country, which denied anal intercourse to people under the age of 18, with the stroke of a judicial pen that which was illegal became legal.

Why would members think, when those two examples have already occurred, it is beyond the pale that a judge at the stroke of a pen will declare polygamy legal because the law against it discriminates on the basis of religion?

Those who argue in favour of polygamy will say, “How can we end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in marriage but continue to permit discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs in marriage?” Where is the logic in opposing this argument?

Why is this bill a sham? First, the preamble is sleight of hand. It is meaningless legally. A court can refer to and follow preambles and has, and a court can ignore and has ignored preambles. The courts have already ignored the express will of Parliament, as I read from section 1.1 of the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, so why does anyone think they will not ignore a preamble?

Why is the bill a hoax? Clause 3 of the bill states:

It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The Supreme Court in the reference decision has stated clearly and unequivocally that this subject matter is out of bounds to the federal Parliament; it is ultra vires federal Parliament. That is not the member for Scarborough Southwest speaking. That is the Supreme Court of Canada speaking:

Legislative competence over the performance or solemnization of marriage is exclusively allocated to the provinces under s. 92(12) of the Constitution Act, 1867....Section 2 of the Proposed Act is therefore ultra vires Parliament.

Section 2 of the proposed act was virtually the same wording that is in Bill C-38. The court goes on to say:

While it is true that Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction to enact declaratory legislation relating to the interpretation of its own statutes, such declaratory provisions can have no bearing on the constitutional division of legislative authority. That is a matter to be determined, should the need arise, by the courts. It follows that a federal provision seeking to ensure that the Act within which it is situated is not interpreted so as to trench on provincial powers can have no effect and is superfluous.

That section has no effect and is superfluous, according to the Supreme Court of Canada. How can a justice minister put a section into an act which the Supreme Court of Canada has already said is ultra vires Parliament of Canada? He cannot do it.

In conclusion, I just want the people of my riding to remember that I was very clear in my position. In June 2003 in my householder, I said:

--Parliament, by statute, reaffirmed the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

For me, there can be no other definition of this term.

This has been my consistent public position since I entered public life in 1988, four elections ago. My position is firm and unalterable. I will do all I can as an individual to try to preserve and promote the only definition of marriage I know.

I ask the Parliament of Canada to defeat this legislation and ensure that marriage remains between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Madam Speaker, many countries and states have extended or are considering extending the same rights in law to same sex couples. Some countries in fact have established provisions to recognize partnerships as civil unions with some or all of the same rights in law that married couples have. These include such countries as Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Hungary, France and Germany.

The government of the member opposite has said that the position of the Conservative Party is not moderate or not reasonable. Given that many of the European countries, as well as many moderate governments around the world, have adopted positions similar to ours, I wonder if the member opposite could comment on this.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Madam Speaker, the member is asking two questions, one about civil unions and the other about politics.

Obviously the nature of this place is such that one side is going to say that the other side is wrong. We saw what happened in the last election. We saw what happened in the reports of the debates of the leaders' speeches. This is a very emotional topic. People take their positions very carefully and strongly. To my mind, this matter should be debated in, if I may put it this way, a very legalistic manner, to take a look and see what the ramifications are.

From the point of view of civil unions, my answer would be this. If we take the analogy of a hockey game, particularly a Stanley Cup hockey game, one never worries about the next game until one wins the period one is in. There is no point in even discussing civil unions if the bill passes, because if the bill passes we will have same sex marriage in this country. To my mind, the object is to defeat this bill. Once Parliament has spoken and the same sex marriage bill is defeated, then Parliament will have to come to grips with what the alternatives are.

Clearly one of the alternatives is civil unions. That was discussed when we were speaking to the pension benefits act. It was spoken to in a whole series of discussion groups, both within the Liberal Party and across the country. It is one of the alternatives that has been suggested. The member is absolutely right: many countries have adopted it.

Civil Marriage Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

The member will have seven minutes and thirty seconds at the next round of debate.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Fundy, NB

moved that Bill C-268, an act to confirm the definition of marriage and to preserve ceremonial rights, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker,I rise today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-268, an act to confirm the definition of marriage.

I was first elected to this House in June 2004. As a new member of Parliament, I was pleased when I was drawn fourth overall in the lottery on private members' business. Under the rules for private members' business this meant that I would be able to introduce a bill and have it considered, debated and voted on by members of Parliament.

I must say, however, that my work on this bill has been a reality check and illustrates to me that the democratic deficit our current Prime Minister had promised to slay is indeed alive and well.

My bill is unique in that it is relevant to the debate we are having in this House today on the Liberals' plan to change the definition of marriage. It is also unique because it is the only private member's bill in this session that has been deemed non-votable.

This private member's bill, like the government's Bill C-38, provides a legislated definition of marriage. However, unlike Bill C-38, my bill defines marriage as it always has been known: as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

However, my bill will not be voted on, as the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs ruled that my bill would be non-votable. The Liberals prevented my bill from bill being voted on so that this issue would only come forward to this House in their timing.

This constitutes, in my opinion, a gross interference by the Liberal government in private members' business. Private members' business is limited to only a few hours per week and there is already too little opportunity for members of Parliament to represent their constituents in this House.

To say the least, I also found the rationale for the committee's rejection of votable status for my bill to be without merit. I find that the process that led them to the decision was certainly flawed.

First, the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business met in private and in camera, without any representation from me, and acted as judge, jury and executioner of my bill by declaring it non-votable.

I of course appealed this decision to the full membership of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, where the membership also prevented my bill from being made votable. Their flawed argument was that my bill was clearly unconstitutional.

To suggest that my private members' bill is clearly in violation of the Constitution is to take on the role of justices of the court, not parliamentarians. It is the constitutionality of the traditional definition of marriage that was the very issue in the reference the Attorney General of Canada put forward to the Supreme Court on January 28 of last year. The reference question states:

Is the opposite-sex requirement for marriage for civil purposes, as established by the common law and set out for Quebec in section 5 of the Federal Law-Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If not, in what particular or particulars and to what extent?

The committee prejudged the outcome of this important reference to the highest court of the land and therefore acted contemptuous to both the Supreme Court of Canada and to the Attorney General of Canada.

I argued at committee that if the constitutionality of even the common law definition of marriage, let alone a legislated definition of marriage, were clear, then there would be no need to ask the Supreme Court of Canada the question.

The Attorney General had put a bona fide question to the court. Why would the Attorney General waste taxpayers' money and the high court's time to answer a question that clearly had already been answered?

Under our judicial system, a decision of a provincial court only has application within the province in which that decision was rendered. The only court decision that applies to every province is that of the Supreme Court of Canada. In fact, this is the definition most recently upheld by Parliament as part of the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act.

In this respect, the ruling of the committee was in breach of the law passed by Parliament four years ago.

The definition of marriage contained in the bill is the same one that is the law in four provinces and two territories in this country. Further, British Columbia and Ontario courts of appeals went to great lengths to emphasize that they were changing the common law definition of marriage and that there was no legislated definition of marriage for them to deal with.

Bill C-268 contains a legislated definition of marriage with which the courts have not yet dealt.

Oftentimes a provincial court of appeal decision is overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada in favour of the reasoning of the original court. In both B.C. and Ontario there are lower court decisions that found the traditional definition of marriage was in fact constitutional. Further, the Supreme Court of Canada has never indicated in any ruling that the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional. To the contrary, when the Supreme Court ruled in the Egan case, Justice La Forest stated:

Marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal tradition, one that is itself a reflection of long-standing, philosophical and religious traditions.

He went on to say, “In this sense marriage is by nature heterosexual”.

In spite of all this, the committee found that my bill was clearly unconstitutional.

The Standing Orders do not say that a bill is non-votable because it may, could, likely, or possibly violates the Constitution. The threshold is much higher. A bill must clearly violate the Constitution to be deemed non-votable. I submit that in light of the facts that I have already set out, my bill fell far short of that threshold.

In the meantime, since the committee ruled my bill non-votable, the Supreme Court has finally rendered its decision in the reference case. In the case it did not in fact find that the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional. As a matter of fact, it did not answer the very question that was put to it by the attorney general and therefore it put the issue back into the hands of Parliament. This is exactly what my bill would have done.

The great irony of my bill and the government's bill is that the Supreme Court ruling did not in any way whatsoever indicate that the traditional definition of marriage contained in my bill was unconstitutional. However, the court did rule that the government's bill, specifically the clause that purports to protect religious freedoms, was in fact ultra vires and unconstitutional.

I think it is important for members to remember, and for Canadians to understand, that allowing my bill to proceed through our democratic process in no way indicates support for the substance of the bill, but failure to do so clearly indicates suppression of democracy. By denying parliamentarians the opportunity to vote on my bill, we are subverting the limited democratic gains that we have made in the House.

We must remember that it is the role of Parliament to legislate, not to determine the validity of legislation. That role in our system is filled by the courts. It is the responsibility of Parliament to deal with matters of important social policy.

At every turn the Liberal government has sought to avoid meaningful public consultation and debate on the very important and foundational issue of marriage. When the House of Commons considered the issue of same sex marriage in 1999, not that long ago, the then justice minister and current Deputy Prime Minister clearly stated to Canadians, “The government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages”.

At that time the government supported a motion which promised to use all necessary means to defend the traditional definition of marriage. In a true free vote the motion passed the House of Commons by a margin of 215 to 55, with the current Prime Minister and most of the then cabinet voting in favour of the traditional definition of marriage.

We fast forward a few years and today the position of the government stands exactly opposite to the position it promised to uphold in 1999. Instead of using all necessary means to uphold the traditional definition of marriage, the government is relying on a whipped vote to force cabinet ministers and some parliamentary secretaries to support legislation that would change the definition of marriage. Simultaneously we know that intense pressure is being applied on the government's own backbenches to ensure a favourable outcome for the government's controversial legislation.

What occurred between 1999 and 2005? How can something that is not considered a fundamental right in 1999 suddenly be so promoted in 2005?

The simple answer is that over the past five years the government has slowly, methodically and deliberately circumvented the democratic process. It has used litigation at lower court levels to try to create a fait accompli on the issue of same sex marriage.

Over the past several years, individual judges in lower courts of several provinces have struck down the traditional definition of marriage. However, the federal government refused to appeal lower court rulings, suddenly adopting the position that same sex marriage constitutes a fundamental right.

The federal government went so far as to stack the justice committee for an important vote on whether to appeal the Halpern Ontario Court of Appeal decision in this matter. It has further argued that Parliament itself has no right to respond to these rulings with legislation to protect the traditional definition of marriage.

In essence, the government attempted to shut down all meaningful debate on a vital question that has far-reaching policy implications. It was especially urgent for the Liberals that this issue not be front and centre in the last election, so they did all in their power to stifle debate and public input.

Last year this hidden Liberal agenda hit its first major snag. The government had referred the issue of same sex marriage to the Supreme Court asking four questions, one of which was whether the traditional definition of marriage was constitutional. Although federal lawyers tried to argue before the court that the traditional definition of marriage was not constitutional, the Supreme Court refused to be drawn into the political debate and declined to answer the question.

As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court, when we read its decision, contemplated answering the question either way. This has returned the matter to Parliament, which is exactly where it should be, for the consequences of what the government is attempting to do are serious.

Same sex marriage could have a profound implication on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in Canada. For example, we have seen already where marriage commissioners in several provinces have already lost their jobs for refusing to agree to same sex marriage because it goes against their conscience. In an interview on CPAC on December 12, 2004, the deputy House leader for the Liberals stated that public servants, such as marriage commissioners, who refused to accept same sex marriage should be sanctioned or fired. That is shameful.

There is now a great concern in Canada that if same sex marriage is legalized, it will have a profound and long-lasting implication for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, and it will become increasingly difficult for people who do not agree with same sex marriage to participate in public life.

While the government has claimed that it will protect religious freedoms, the evidence does not support this assertion. After all, past promises to use all necessary means to protect the traditional definition of marriage were violated in less than five years.

Moreover, a clear signal has already been sent by virtue of the fact that even cabinet ministers will not be permitted a free vote on this question. If even the rights of cabinet ministers to express their views on an issue of personal conscience cannot be protected, one can hardly place much confidence in promises to protect the freedom of other Canadians.

Further, the justice committee heard evidence that warned of the social impact on changing the definition of marriage. Experts testified that we were embarking on a policy experiment that would have a profound impact on the way we view relationships and value marriage in our society.

It was for these reasons that I introduced my bill, so that Canadians could be engaged in a debate that the Liberals tried to prevent from taking place. I am pleased that we were able to spark an interest in this issue. I am grateful to the thousands of Canadians who expressed support for our effort to preserve our most basic social institution.

In light of the fact that the committee members did not have the benefit of seeing the Supreme Court's decision before they made their own decision, and in light of the fact that the court has not ruled that the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional, I would now ask for unanimous consent that my bill be made votable.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House?

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Fundy, NB

Madam Speaker, I wish that this debate would have had meaning and that my bill, like all of the others in Parliament, would have been votable.

I also look forward to the day when we truly address the democratic deficit so that all bills, not just those that serve the government's agenda, can be moved forward, debated and voted on by duly elected members of Parliament.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Devillers Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, the opposition has chosen to use some of the important time set aside in the House for a private member's bill to discuss yet another bill respecting the definition of marriage.

Does the proposal contained in Bill C-268 provide the House with any additional insight that could move the debate forward to constructive options? I regret to say that it does not. The bill has been ruled non-votable as unconstitutional in its approach. It is just another iteration of earlier bills which sought to reinstate the opposite sex requirements for civil marriage.

In his comments the hon. member referred to the opposition day vote in 1999. I was one of the 55 members who voted against that opposition day motion which would have had the effect of restricting marriage to people of the opposite sex. I did so for the very reason that one could foresee that the courts would apply section 15 of the charter and would hold that requirement discriminatory. Much has been made about it but it was foreseeable from a reading of the charter and a clear understanding of it.

Under our Constitution, the courts are mandated to review legislation to determine whether it meets charter requirements. The courts in seven provinces, namely British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and one territory, Yukon, have now determined that the requirement that a spouse be of the opposite sex no longer satisfies the equality guarantees under section 15 of the charter. It is discriminatory towards Canadian gays and lesbians who want to get involved to the same extent as any other Canadian. It is discriminatory to deny them access to the civil institution of marriage.

The courts also clarified that their decision applies exclusively to civil marriage. They clarified that the charter also guarantees freedom of religion and that any religious group is free to continue to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

As members of the House are well aware, the government does not believe that this important matter should be decided by the courts in a patchwork of decisions across the country. The government believes that the courts are correct in their legal conclusions, but at the same time the government also fervently believes that only Parliament has the ability to look at the complete picture in designing a Canada-wide approach.

Courts and Parliament each have their distinct and complementary roles under our Constitution. That is why the government set in place last year an approach to this important question that involved a full and formal debate in Parliament.

Members will recall that in June 2003 following the Court of Appeal decisions in Ontario and British Columbia, the government announced that it would be drafting a bill and referring the matter to the Supreme Court.

The government did draft a bill that contained two important provisions. The first defined marriage as “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others”. The second stated, “Nothing in this act affects the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs”.

The bill currently before the House, Bill C-38, is based on the bill that was referred to the Supreme Court of Canada. The bill ensures full respect for both of the important fundamental principles identified by the courts: equality based on personal characteristics like race, language, sexual orientation; and freedom of religion.

To further ensure that the government was correct in law that the bill would not infringe on freedom of religion, one of the specific questions asked of the Supreme Court was: Does the freedom of religion guarantee in paragraph 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect religious officials from being compelled to perform a marriage between two persons of the same sex that is contrary to their religious beliefs? The court answered in the affirmative.

Last year, during the third week of October, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the arguments concerning the reference. The governments and 27 out of the 28 intervening parties, including the provincial governments of Quebec and Alberta, presented their positions over the course of two days. These parties presented a wide variety of opinions on many topics.

The government's purpose in referring the draft bill to the Supreme Court was to clarify the options available to the members of this House under the legislative framework of the charter. This ensures a constructive and informative debate during the parliamentary process. The purpose of the reference was not to bypass the parliamentary process.

The members of this House now have before them an analysis of legal topics by the Supreme Court. They also have an understanding of the constitutional impacts and the legislative framework in connection with the government's preferred approach with this bill now before them. In addition, the hon. members have the affirmation by the court that religious groups will be free to apply their own meaning to marriage, in accordance with their beliefs. This affirms the government's legal position.

The bill before us today does not do that. For starters, we already know that its first provision, which seeks to once more restrict the definition of marriage to a man and a woman, is unconstitutional under the law. Indeed, the bill was drafted in such a way as to completely ignore the events and debates of the last few years on this point.

It is as if the hon. member for Fundy Royal actually believes that legislation can be legitimately used to turn back the clock, ignoring the same definition included in clause 2 has been declared unconstitutional, not once but separately in binding court decisions in eight jurisdictions of the 13 jurisdiction in Canada. This is an effective means for this Parliament to find a workable solution to a real complex and important question.

The only way that the capacity to marry can now be restricted once more to opposite sex couples is for Parliament to deliberately decide to invoke for the very first time in history the notwithstanding clause in section 33 of the charter. That clause enables governments to expressly declare that a statute shall operate notwithstanding that it violates one of more of the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the Charter.

In other words, in order to do so Parliament would first have to publicly acknowledge that it is aware of the discriminatory nature of the law but are insisting that in any event the law be proclaimed despite the fact that it deliberately discriminates against minority rights.

I do not believe in discriminating against any minority, let alone using the notwithstanding clause for the first time by the Parliament of Canada, not to protect our national security, not to ensure our collective safety but to deny to gay and lesbian couples who wish to express the same degree of commitment in a way that is available to any other couple; the ability to enter into and formalize one of the most meaningful relationships in life. Deliberately discriminating against one minority cannot be done without potentially placing minorities at risk and is inconsistent with the Canadian Constitution.

I am a Franco-Ontarian and, as such, a member of a language minority. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects such minorities, and I am grateful that it does. If gays and lesbians were to be removed from the protection of the charter, under the pretext that this is not a legal issue but a moral one, this would mean that, in the future, a similar application could be made to remove language minorities from the protection of the charter, under the pretext that it is too expensive. Consequently, it becomes an economic issue.

Therefore, we have a choice before us. Either go forward with Bill C-38, the actual bill which is before the House, make the law uniform for all of Canada or go back to the past using the notwithstanding clause.

The proposed solution in the bill before us today does not exist, and that is why it was declared non-votable by the House procedural committee.

Debate on Bill C-38 is the right way to proceed. Whatever one's position may be on this issue, it is better than moving ahead today with a debate on an approach that is a hollow sham and is no longer possible in the Canadian constitutional and legal framework.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, let me say from the outset that I am against this motion, even it is not votable.

The Bloc Québécois finds that two equally important essential values need to be protected and they are equality and freedom of religion. Both these values are protected under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Bloc Québécois wants to allow same sex partners to get married if they so wish, in accordance with their right to equality, while protecting the rights of religious organizations such as churches, synagogues, temples or mosques to adhere to their beliefs and refuse to perform religious marriages between same sex partners. In our opinion, this is part of religious freedom.

When we look at the current law, we look at the Supreme Court ruling. In this matter, four questions had been submitted by the government to the highest court in Canada, as follows. First: does the federal government have the exclusive jurisdiction to define marriage? Second: does the charter allow religious groups not to perform marriages they feel go against their religious beliefs? Third: is the definition of same sex marriage constitutional? Fourth: is the traditional definition of marriage, in other words the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, constitutional?

In its ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction over the definition of marriage and clearly established that the provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over the solemnization of marriage.

Adopting Quebec's position, the court mentioned that Parliament was encroaching on provincial jurisdictions with its draft provision to uphold the right of churches to refuse to perform marriages contrary to their religious beliefs. This falls under the solemnization of marriage, which is a jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.

A central element of the court's decision was its recognition that same sex marriage is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also said that compelling religious officials to perform a marriage between two persons of the same sex that is contrary to their religious beliefs would be an unjustified violation of their religious freedom.

As for the fourth question, the court declined to answer it, citing respect for the acquired rights of same sex couples who have relied upon the finality of the decisions obtained in lower courts. On this subject, the court wrote:

There is no precedent for answering a reference question—this is paragraph 68—which mirrors issues already disposed of in lower courts—

The court is speaking here of decisions where an appeal was available but not pursued.

The court also mentioned that the Attorney General of Canada conceded, publicly and frequently, that the common law definition of marriage was inconsistent with s. 15(1) of the Charter and was not justifiable under s. 1. Thus, the court decided that answering question no. 4 would jeopardize the government's explicit goal of harmonizing civil marriage rights in all of Canada. Thus we see that moral questions are not within the scope of the decision Parliament must make.

Moreover, to demonstrate the way this issue can be understood, one of my constituents has written to me, saying that he is a practising Catholic, very involved in his community and his church. He wanted me to know that a number of Catholics think the Church is not moving in the right direction by not recognizing the rights of same sex couple to marry in a religious ceremony. I replied that, while I was sympathetic to his idea, it was not my place as a member of Parliament, or the place of Parliament, to pass judgment on debates within the Catholic Church or the Protestant churches or Muslim or Jewish congregations. That is the domain of moral doctrine.

What we are being asked to do as parliamentarians is to decide whether the state will give same sex couples the same right to marry as opposite sex couples have. So, this is a legal issue and we should not get involved in an internal religious debate, whether it is with the Catholic Church or any other church.

I should also point out that, in terms of the rulings made by the courts of various provinces, eight courts, in seven provinces and in the Yukon, ruled that preventing same sex couples from getting married violated their right to equality, as provided under the charter, and that such a violation of a protected right could not be justified in a free and democratic society.

The federal government decided not to appeal these decisions from the courts of appeal. These courts of appeal form a majority, since they represent seven provinces, including Quebec, and the Yukon. However, the federal government referred the issue to the Supreme Court to get its opinion. Earlier, I presented the court's opinion on the four questions asked by the government.

So, the definition of marriage, as reviewed by these courts, is the union of two persons for life, to the exclusion of all others, without any reference to the sexual orientation of these persons. Consequently, even if the bill introduced by the Minister of Justice were defeated in the House—something I do not wish at all—the right of same sex couples to marry would be maintained in those jurisdictions where the courts have already ruled on this issue, including Quebec.

I think we need to be very clear. I disagree with the motion because of the issue that we are debating here. I agree that this motion should not be a votable item, since it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What we have to decide here, without exceeding our jurisdiction, is whether the right to equality necessarily involves the possibility for same sex couples that so wish to have access to a civil institution, namely marriage.

In this context, the member will understand that even if his motion is not votable, the Bloc Québécois in no way supports it. We will have the opportunity to examine in greater detail the provisions of Bill C-38, introduced by the Minister of Justice. The leader of the Bloc Québécois outlined his position on this bill during the speech he made this week.

Still, I remind the House that the Bloc Québécois is allowing a free vote on Bill C-38, even if I and most of my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois intend to vote in favour of this bill. So, we in no way support this motion before us.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the private member's bill of the member for Fundy Royal. I do not think it will come as any surprise to anyone in the House that I am not supportive of the bill.

I appreciate the concerns of the member though and his disappointment that his bill will not come to a vote. While I do not necessarily support his argument around that, I understand the frustration of a member of the House who introduces private member's legislation that he or she feels strongly about and hopes for the day when it will receive a debate in the House.

I did that myself. I have a bill on the order paper on the question of marriage. It is probably exactly opposite to the intent of the private member's bill of the member for Fundy Royal. However, my bill will not come to a debate now. Events have overtaken it. Court decisions have overtaken it. I appreciate that my bill is now somewhat redundant given the fact we are debating Bill C-38 in the House. However, it was important for me to introduce the bill. When I did it, it was done so it would put pressure on the government to stop its delaying and get on with the important business of getting the issue before Parliament and before the country.

That is one of the reasons why we introduce a private member's bills. I hope I helped move that along with my bill. I regret it will not have its day here in the House, but I am happy that Bill C-38 and the issue is firmly on the parliamentary agenda now.

I have real trouble with the bill on a personal level. It seeks to limit my participation in Canadian society and the participation of other gay and lesbian people in Canadian society. It says that there is a key institution of our society, a key institution which we in Parliament have responsibility for which is out of our reach and something in which we are limited in our participation. I cannot accept that.

Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples have now been legally married in Canada. That is thousands of Canadians. Thousands more Canadians have supported them in taking that step. Lots of clergy people as well have supported them in doing that. Many of those couples were married in churches and perhaps synagogues as well. It is something that has changed in our society, but the bill would seek to limit that positive change for many Canadians.

I do not think the fact that gay and lesbian couples can now be married in seven provinces and one territory has really changed our society all that much. I do not believe it has changed our understanding of marriage. I do not believe it has limited the ability, or commitments, or obligations, or understanding of marriage or traditions of marriage that heterosexual couples celebrate regularly in our society. Life is going on. I do not think society has collapsed because we now have hundreds of married gay and lesbian couples in Canada.

The bill claims to be about the definition of marriage, and we often talk lately about the definition of marriage. I do not think that is really what we are talking about. We are talking about something much more limited than that. We are talking about eligibility for marriage. If we were talking about the definition of marriage, we would be talking about things like love, commitment, faithfulness, responsibility, security and the care for children. All those kinds of things I think define marriage, not necessarily the gender of the couple who presents itself to be married.

We miss the point in a very particular and important way if we limit ourselves to considering the gender of the couple and not considering these other very important qualities about marriage. Love is something that is in short supply in our world. Commitment is something that is often challenged in our world. Faithfulness is sometimes very undervalued in our world. People need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their lives and for their relationships in our world.

All of us crave security and the creative space that builds for us and our children. In gay and lesbian and heterosexual relationships, we all know that having children in a secure setting does many wonderful things for them. Those are the kinds of things, if we were truly talking about defining marriage, we would be debating. What we are talking about is something much more limited.

I want to read a quote from the Right Reverend Peter Short, the Moderator of the United Church of Canada, who wrote an article called “Let No One Be Turned Away”. In that article Reverend Short describes marriage. He states:

Marriage lays a foundation, constructs a framework, and builds a house for love. Since constant perfect love is impossible (that's another story) marriage provides a structure, a habit of being together, a promise of faithfulness to carry us through those times when we know we must act with love but do not feel like loving. Eventually the house becomes a home, the wedding becomes a marriage, and the relationship becomes a habit of the heart.

Marriage functions the way any good habit or discipline functions. It helps us hang on through short-term ambiguity on the way to long-term freedom. The ambiguity is in the conflict between feeling and commitment. The freedom is in knowing there's a place to stand beneath the ambiguity--common ground. Common ground is not the same as having things in common, but you find that out in time.

It is important to remember that we are talking about this kind of commitment in this discussion. I do not think there is anything in the statement by Reverend Short that is not accessible to gay and lesbian couples. This is exactly what we hope for in our relationships and in our marriages. We need to remember that there is nothing in being gay or lesbian which limits our participation in that kind of love, relationship and marriage.

I am concerned when I hear discussion, some of which we have had this afternoon, that seems legalistic and very removed from the real lives of Canadians. It is hard for me as a gay man to listen to something which so affects on such an intimate level our lives and loves being debated in an abstract and legalistic kind of way. I remind people that when we are talking about this issue, we are talking about real people and real commitments.

I do not believe marriage between gay and lesbian people will change the lives of heterosexual couples in any way. I do not think it changes the commitments they make. It does not change the traditions they celebrate when they are being married.

I remember there was a demonstration outside our office about marriage several years ago. My predecessor, Svend Robinson, went out to speak to the people who were opposed the change in the definition of marriage. He asked rhetorically if any of them believed that his marrying his partner would change the other people's relationships with their husbands or wives. He further asked people to put up their hands if they thought his marriage to his partner, if he chose to do that, would change the other people's marriages. Not one of the people, who were there to oppose changing the definition of marriage to include gay and lesbian people, put up their hand. That is a significant indication.

I do not believe this change challenges religious freedom in Canada. If I thought that for one second, I would be opposed to doing it. I am an active member of the United Church of Canada. I will not support anything that I believe tilts us in the direction of limiting religious freedom in Canada. I do not believe raising this issue does that. I do not believe it is a slippery slope to take us toward that. I just do not think it is in the cards.

There is another thing I want to challenge. We hear that this debate, discussion and changes are being forced on us by decisions of the court and that somehow this is undemocratic. I do not think that is the case at all. This change is before us now because couples want to be married and want to uphold the traditions of marriage. They strongly support the institution and champion it. They went before the courts to say that they wanted to be married, that they wanted to uphold that tradition. That is why this issue is before us, not because of some legal process or some sort of judicial activism. It is because gay and lesbian couples decided to challenge the law and seek our full equality in society.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise this afternoon to add some words to the debate on Bill C-268. Specifically, I wish to address the process that led my colleague from Fundy Royal to find that he was the only member of Parliament in this Parliament thus far to have his private member's legislation deemed non-votable. I want to deal with that at the outset.

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas from the NDP ended his 10 minutes by talking about what was or was not democratic. I would suggest, Madam Speaker, through you to the hon. member and to the others who spoke from the Liberals and the Bloc, that a great travesty was done back in December, I believe it was, to the member for Fundy Royal. His democratic rights as a backbench member of Parliament, an individual member of Parliament representing his constituents, were trampled on by the committee and by the other other three parties which profess to believe in democracy.

My colleague is the only member of Parliament thus far in this Parliament who has been discriminated against by having his bill ruled ineligible for a vote. I say shame on all those parties, and shame on the Prime Minister who has professed to be somewhat concerned about the so-called democratic deficit.

We see the truth come out in how his party, the Liberal party, the government, and the other two parties have dealt with my colleague and his intended legislation. My colleague from Fundy Royal so clearly laid this out, not only today in the chamber, but when he appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee, of which I am a member, on Thursday, November 25, to defend his bill. He should never have had to do that, but he did an admirable job defending it. He put to rest the bogus arguments that we heard from the government members and other members who said that somehow this was unconstitutional. He said that the very court that determined the constitutionality of law in the country, the Supreme Court of Canada. had not ruled on this.

In fact at the time when he appeared before that committee to make his case to make Bill C-268 votable, we had not even received the long awaited reference back from the Supreme Court on this very issue. It was nothing short of censorship. We are talking about the censorship of an individual member of Parliament and the legislation that he brought forward on behalf of his constituents.

Ten minutes is such a short period of time, but I want to briefly refer, as I did that day, to the process.

I have been a member of Parliament for 11 years. Some days I do not take a lot of pride in saying that. On November 25, when the other members of the other three parties voted down the appeal of my colleague to make his bill votable, was one of those days.

What we had in previous Parliaments, of which I was a part, was a flawed system for dealing with private members' legislation. Everybody who drafted private members' legislation, be it a bill or a motion, put it forward, introduced it to the House and their names went in a draw barrel. It was a lottery. It was a crap shoot. If members were lucky to clear the first hurdle and had their names drawn, they had to go almost on bended knee before a subcommittee, in camera, behind closed doors, and make their case for why their bill or motions should be votable.

Very few were made votable, because partisan politics began to play once we got behind those closed doors. There were trade-offs. This was not really on the merits of the bill.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

An hon. member

Not at all.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Not at all, as my colleague says. He was part of that flawed process as well.

So we moved in the dying days of the last Parliament to correct that and ensure that all private members' legislation was votable. We moved the onus from the private member, from the individual member of Parliament, to the House. The committee, in representing the House, would have to prove that it should not be votable rather than the member having to prove that it should be.

Yet that process broke down in this one individual case. Why is that?

Why is that on a subject that is this important? We see that now with Bill C-38, the legislation now before the House. On a subject that is so very important to the foundations of this country, why is it that this particular bill was deemed non-votable?

I would contend that it is simply this. We know it is controversial. It is highly divisive for the country, for the nation, and this government feared that it might pass, because my colleague's legislation reaffirming the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others preceded this government's bumbling efforts on this front.

At the time the Liberals were hoping that the reference to the Supreme Court would come back and do their job for them, because that is the way this government operates. The Liberals want the courts to do their work for them if it is an issue that is at all controversial rather than taking on the leadership mantle that should come with government.

I say shame on them. I hope the viewing public clearly understands what happened here: that these three parties that profess to believe in democracy worked together to ensure that my colleague's legislation did not come to a vote. They continued it today when he asked for unanimous consent to make this votable. This is the only bill that has been made non-votable.

I have only a few minutes left and I want to deal with the subject that is before us, rather than the process I have spoken of. On Fridays in my riding I have a weekly newspaper column. This week I wrote for the very first time on this subject. I want to read for the House the column that is running today in the newspapers in my riding of Prince George—Peace River. It is about choices. It states:

How do I best convey to you, the constituents of Prince George--Peace River, the position I have taken on one of the most controversial issues ever to be addressed by Canada's Parliament?

Before I continue, please allow me to unequivocally state that I intend to vote NO to Bill C-38, the federal Liberal government's legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage.

Why? I considered listing some of the legal arguments, articles and research I've read on the subject. I could discuss constitutional history and legal precedence...and at some point in this debate, which is expected to last several weeks, I may.

For now, however, I want to discuss choices. As I've told my children ever since they were knee-high to a grasshopper...“life is all about choices”. It is the choices we make in life that determine our destiny.

So it is for governments as well. The Liberals chose not to appeal a court ruling that declared the current definition of marriage unconstitutional. The Liberals chose not to support a Canadian Alliance motion in 2004 calling upon Parliament to re-affirm a commitment it made to a 1999 Reform Party of Canada motion vowing to defend the traditional definition of marriage.

Now, disastrously, for the preservation of freedom of religious expression in our country, the Prime Minister has chosen to relegate the historical, ages-old, traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others, to the scrap heap of history.

Every Prime Minister strives to leave a legacy...being forever known as the executioner of traditional marriage and freedom of religious expression may well be this Prime Minister's.

[He] contends the Supreme Court dictated the need to legalize same-sex marriage. Yet the Court not only refused to answer the federal government's reference on the constitutionality of traditional marriage, but made it clear that it was up to Parliament to decide--to make a choice--on this important social policy matter.

The Liberals promise they can protect religious freedoms. Yet, the Supreme Court ruled the provision in the government's draft legislation regarding the right of religious officials to refuse to perform gay marriages, is outside the jurisdiction of the federal Parliament.

[The Prime Minister] has made a conscious choice to legalize same-sex marriage--

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Order. The member's time has expired. The member for Fundy Royal has five minutes for right of reply.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Fundy, NB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank all my colleagues in the House today for their contributions to this debate. I regret that it was only one hour of debate and there will not be a second hour, as all the other private members' bills will have, and a vote.

It raises an interesting point. This week the Prime Minister introduced his version of a marriage bill. He argued it was a fundamental human right and not once in his speech did he say “I support changing the definition of marriage”. He does not want to say that because probably somewhere deep down he does not believe it, but he is going to do it anyway. I thought that was telling. He said he supported all kinds of things but he would not say that he supports changing the definition of marriage. He called it a fundamental human right.

We do not pull fundamental human rights out of a hat. They are fundamental. There is no other jurisdiction on earth that has treated this issue as a fundamental human right. It is a social policy decision that the government is embarking on.

I want to comment on something my colleague from Burnaby--Douglas mentioned. He also introduced a bill on the definition of marriage similar to the government's bill. I commend him because it showed some leadership. It showed some courage. That is something the Prime Minister completely lacks.

If the Prime Minister and the cabinet thought for one minute that this was a fundamental right, then why were they not leading the charge all along? Why did they not vote against that very definition in 1999 if they truly believed it was a fundamental right?

The member for Burnaby--Douglas introduced his legislation. The Prime Minister has been dragged kicking and screaming. He has delayed the democratic process. The Liberals have had every opportunity to allow Canadians to engage in this debate, to allow Canadians input into the democratic process, and at every turn Canadians were denied that input.

The definition of marriage is of importance to all Canadians. We have heard that today in the House. There are those who are not in favour of changing what that word marriage means. We feel that in doing so we are embarking on a course and we do not know where that will lead us.

I feel very strongly that the onus is on those who would wish to change the status quo. I commend the leadership that has been shown within my own party. What we have done is we have come up with where Canadians are at.

The Prime Minister is increasingly realizing Canadians are a tolerant people. We believe in equality for all of our citizens, equality before the law. We do not believe that involves changing what the word marriage means, a word that predates Confederation, a word that the federal government does not own. Governments do not own what the word marriage means.

I am encouraged that we are now into a debate. We are hearing all sides. If we wanted to hear what Canadians had to say, we are hearing it now because we are receiving e-mails, letters and faxes by the thousands. Canadians are finally engaged, much to the dismay of the Prime Minister, much to the dismay of some who in 1999 voted to uphold the traditional definition of marriage, knowing full well that they were embarking on a course to change what that institution means.

I find it ironic, and I mentioned this before, that the committee found my bill to be unconstitutional, when we know from what the Supreme Court has said that my bill is not unconstitutional.

However, and this is so important, the protection of other basic fundamental rights in Canada are threatened by changing the definition of marriage. The clause put into the government's bill is a hollow shell. It contains no force and effect. The Supreme Court of Canada has already said that this matter is not within the jurisdiction of the federal government, it is unconstitutional.

I conclude by saying that I am pleased to have had this hour of debate and I am thankful for the input from all sides. I look forward to a day when we can really slay that democratic deficit, not just in words but in actions.

Definition of Marriage Act
Private Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)