Debates of May 5th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.
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Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON
Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague who has just spoken and who has had a considerable amount of experience at the provincial level. Obviously from his remarks he has indicated that he understands very well the requirement in a strategic way, with respect to the changes that have been made in the environment and events that have occurred recently, that there have to be strong partnerships that are going to be looking at those changes, and our reactions have to be immediate.
However, the question still remains in the minds of many people. It seems as if every day there is an invasion of privacy and issues come up that challenge people's personal rights and individual rights. The public generally is always trying to balance out those kinds of changes against the higher public good.
I have a question for the member. In view of that sort of propensity that exists out there, at this particular time why is the government determined that there must be an update of the Quarantine Act within the context and along the lines being suggested? I think people would like to know that in a very clear and succinct way.
As evidenced when we had the anti-terrorism legislation and all of the concerns that were related to individual rights and human rights, people wanted to know what the compelling reason was for changes being made that affected those rights. I would ask the same question of our colleague. What is that very compelling reason that exists as to why we are moving on these amendments to the Quarantine Act in this manner?
Gary Carr Halton, ON
Mr. Speaker, as I have said privately to the hon. member, I have followed the member's career and I have always admired him because he has come to this place and he always asks the tough questions, even of his own government. I think that is what he was sent here to do. Part of his background is the municipal sector, where those tough questions are asked. I am happy to respond to his question because I know he has done that in a number of fields, certainly, including the environment. I want to say how much I respect the hon. member.
During my speech I did not have a chance to talk about other diseases. We focused a little on SARS because it was the most recent, and on the avian influenza, but there is also the West Nile virus. I did not have an opportunity to talk about the West Nile virus as well. This is another disease that was of major concern during that period of time, particularly in Ontario.
The answer to the question is, what happened during that period of time? On February 2 in the Speech from the Throne, the government committed to modernizing the health protection legislation as an ongoing objective. What happened as a result of some of these concerns is that the government in the throne speech in 2004 said it was going to take a look at that.
Then, Dr. David Naylor, chair of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, also recommended legislative changes to government to better address the risks posed by new or re-emerging infectious diseases. I apologize that I did not get into that part of my remarks, because I wanted to. Unfortunately we do not always have enough time, but I think this is very critical.
I think it is critical because Dr. David Naylor, as chairman of the national advisory committee, is the person who is in the best position to tell us as legislative people what we should be doing. That is the reason the government acted; it was not only in the throne speech based on what happened with the provinces and the concerns expressed to the federal government by the Ontario government, particularly over SARS, but also because of Dr. David Naylor's concerns. I think everyone in this House has a tremendous amount of respect for him and is very pleased to have him in that role. He is one of the people who recommended the legislative changes.
I say to those members who may be reluctant to take a look at this that when we have someone with the expertise of Dr. Naylor recommending these legislative changes in this act, I think we should listen very carefully.
I will say to the hon. member that this is one of the big reasons. It is because of what Dr. David Naylor said. An update to the Quarantine Act will address these urgent issues regarding the spread of communicable diseases.
In one last point, I have listed a few of the diseases and I may have missed a couple, but the concern is that there are new diseases springing up all the time. These are diseases that we may not know about.
I thank the hon. member for his tough questions and hitting right to the point as he usually does. I hope I have answered the member's question.
Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON
Mr. Speaker, I also would like to say that while my colleague just behind me was newly elected last June to the House of Commons, he has a long experience in the provincial legislature and a distinguished career indeed. I appreciated and enjoyed his remarks on this important legislation.
I would like to ask him a philosophical question. It is hard for us to imagine being quarantined. It is hard for us to imagine that terrifying impact on the quarantined individual or family, whether they are quarantined at an airport, a hospital, a home or wherever the case may be.
Let us try to imagine ourselves in their shoes. It must be a time of great uncertainty and a time of great trepidation. Not only are they in those moments facing the uncertainty of their own health, but they are also facing the uncertainty of what the health system and the rules and regulations will do to them.
However, let us put ourselves in the shoes of the community at large. It is important that the health of the community at large also be protected. While we can look with great sympathy upon those who are quarantined by necessity, and we should, that quarantine has the effect of protecting the larger community.
As we so often see in society, we have to balance the needs and the rights of the individual against the needs and the rights of the community at large. That is why it often requires great wisdom to draw the dividing line between what circumstances or actions of an individual have consequences for the larger community and when the larger community must take action.
I know it is a bit of a philosophical question and I know that this legislation attempts, and I think attempts well, to find the balance between those two extremes: the needs and the quandary facing the quarantined person and on the other hand the need of the community to protect itself, as we saw with the SARS outbreak, as the member spoke about in his last response, and the avian flu. We can also think back to long ago and smallpox epidemics and polio and so.
These do not come without consequences to the community and to individuals. I wonder if he could talk about that balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of the community when it comes to matters such as these.
Gary Carr Halton, ON
Mr. Speaker, I know people who were quarantined during the SARS crisis. They were in their homes with telephones and the media reporters could not get close because obviously they did not want to get the disease. The media was photographing people as they were on the phone talking to reporters. They were being asked what it was like and what was happening? It was very powerful to see those people quarantined not knowing what was happening to them being on the phone speaking and relating what it was like. I remember those images of people in their homes.
The member asked what it would be like. We cannot imagine what it would be like to not know if they had the disease because they did not feel bad, but they had the potential. To a person, what struck me, is that the people were not concerned about themselves when asked what was their biggest concern. Most of the people were concerned about whether they had infected a family member, whether it be a child, a spouse, a mom or dad, an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent. They were not concerned about themselves, but for the people they were in close proximity to.
I was struck at that time how Canadians, when they were down to the crunch facing the disease themselves, were more concerned with what it was going to do to their children. The people being interviewed were not concerned for themselves or what may happen to them but were concerned for family members. That is what Canadians are all about. In a time of need, they are still more worried about other people than themselves.
However, later, the people in quarantine began to ask about compensation. We need to take a look at that because they were concerned, if they had to take days or three weeks off in a quarantine, what that would do to their families and income. That needs to be addressed. Hopefully, that will answer the member's question.
Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development (Social Economy)
Mr. Speaker, it is truly a pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-12 today.
I have to say right off I find it deplorable that we have a fairly important piece of legislation in public health terms and, because of the official opposition, are obliged to play very political and partisan games. It is unfortunate because the public has long been awaiting a review of such a bill, which is very relevant, as all my colleagues in this House have already said.
I remember that when the former opposition party was known as the Reform Party and it came to the House, it came to do things differently. Well, we have seen how it does things differently in terms of blocking government legislation and also playing very partisan political games in order to stall.
Bill C-12 is an act to prevent the introduction and spread of a communicable disease. It comes to us from the other chamber and it speaks about migration health and its relationship to the rapid spread of disease in today's globalized world. As other speakers before me have said, we do live in a global community where the spread of disease can happen very rapidly.
With advances in technology and rapid air travel, which is now a common practice in the daily lives of individuals replacing the days of long voyages on ships, this new age of jet travel is paving the way for increased population mobility and subsequently accelerated rates in the spread of disease on both the domestic and international fronts.
From a pan-Canadian perspective, migration health and its related consequences pose a threat to the health and safety of all Canadians. A serious communicable disease can now spread to any part of the globe in less than 24 hours, which is less time than the average incubation period for most diseases. We know this firsthand from our recent experience, and as other speakers have said on this side of the House, through SARS.
This means a person incubating an infectious disease can board a plane, travel 12,000 miles, pass unnoticed through customs with no visible signs of illness, take several domestic carriers to their final destination in Canada and still not develop symptoms for several days, thus infecting many other people in their journey before the conditions becomes detected. This was the case in terms of SARS.
The concept of superspreading events further illustrates the magnitude of concern of public health experts. This concept has been used to describe situations in which a single person has directly infected a large number of other people. For example, 103 of the first 210 probable cases to be reported in the Singapore SARS epidemic were infected by just five sources.
This new migration health reality is becoming a cross-border issue of growing importance with numerous ramifications for public health, including implications to the social and economic fibre of our society. Further, the international community remains at risk if the appropriate measures are not administered to stem the spread of disease.
With the looming threat of an influenza pandemic, the impact to the global world may be catastrophic. The nature of this outbreak has the potential to be exponentially worse than SARS in its capacity to cause human suffering. In Canada alone, it is estimated that 5 to 10 million people could become clinically ill.
Once inside Canada, this public health emergency will place enormous strain on our front line workers and the local delivery of health care services. Economic and social upheaval will ensue as provinces and territories are stretched beyond their jurisdictional capacity.
While the principle of uncertainty prevails in global health care, officials do know that economic and psychosocial upheaval is contingent on how virulent the virus is, how rapidly it spreads from one person to another, the capacity for early detection, and how effective and available preventive and control measures prove to be.
The challenge is containment. How do we keep this confined to a small group, which was not the case as we know with the SARS epidemic? Mitigating the threat at hand will depend on vigilant border control activities, often the first line of defence in public health.
It will also rely on the collaborative efforts from cross-jurisdictional partners to stop the spread of disease, including the hospital isolation of infected people, voluntary home quarantine of close contacts, and the quarantine of anyone potentially exposed.
To manage emerging and re-emerging public health threats, legislative measures need to be considered across all levels of government. There is an urgent need for updated legislation to mitigate the heightened risk of global disease transmission and support modern public health practices in times of crisis. Legal preparedness remains a critical component when managing migration health related consequences.
In his report on Canada's recent experiences with SARS, Dr. Naylor highlighted the limitations of Canada's current quarantine legislation and health surveillance. The report recommended that Canada's governments seek to harmonize federal, provincial and territorial public health legislation with specific attention to health emergencies.
To date, existing federal powers under the Quarantine Act are limited in scope and do not reflect the changing face of emergency preparedness and response in the 21st century.
The Quarantine Act prevents the importation and spread of a communicable disease at points of entry. However, it does not address the domestic spread of an infectious disease once inside Canada.
The modernization of public health protection legislation so that it reflects today's realities is an ongoing Government of Canada objective, most recently demonstrated by the creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the appointment of the first Chief Public Health Officer last fall, and the commitment to support the work of the agency as found in this year's budget.
Another important step is Bill C-12, the modernization of the Quarantine Act. The Quarantine Act was created in 1872. As we know, much has changed in the last 133 years, including the mode of disease transmission. Problems in the current act include many outdated and redundant provisions, and the lack of harmonization with proposed revisions to the international health regulations.
Further, an order in council is required to amend the schedule of listed diseases, which hinders the ability of the minister to act--
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. parliamentary secretary, but I do have a ruling to give which I think may be of interest to her and other hon. members. This will not detract from the time that she has, but it does interrupt what I am sure was an erudite explanation of whatever technicalities there were in the bill before us and the amendments. I will proceed with this ruling if that is satisfactory with hon. members.
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised earlier today by the hon. Deputy Leader of the Government in the House concerning the admissibility of the amendment to the motion to concur in the Senate amendments to Bill C-12, an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases.
I would like to thank the hon. minister for raising this matter, the hon. House leader of the official opposition, the hon. member for St. John's South--Mount Pearl, the hon. member for Kelowna--Lake Country and others for their comments.
As hon. members know, it is well-established in our practice that an amendment must be relevant to the motion it seeks to amend. This is notably the case when the House considers amendments made in the other place. I refer the House to page 674 of Marleau and Montpetit. It states:
When the House receives amendments to a bill from the Senate, the amendments are then submitted to the House for consideration...it is for the House itself to decide whether it accepts or rejects the amendments...The motion must relate exclusively to the Senate amendments, and not to other provisions of the bill that are not contemplated by the amendments.
It seems to the Chair that the proposed amendment strays quite far from the original Senate amendments before the House and introduces elements entirely extraneous to the debate at hand.
I might also mention that there is a technical difficulty with the amendment in that it does not express a decision with regard to Senate amendment No. 1.
As Marleau and Montpetit explains at page 674, “The motion may at the same time reject certain amendments made by the Senate, and concur in or amend others”.
One concludes from that citation that the House may hold differing views on different amendments and may so inform the Senate in its message. However, it cannot remain silent on one portion and respond only to another.
Accordingly, the Chair concludes that the amendment to the motion for concurrence in the Senate amendments to Bill C-12 is not in order because it is not relevant to the main motion it seeks to amend and because it is technically flawed.
Debate, therefore, may resume on the main motion. I call on the hon. parliamentary secretary to resume her remarks and apologize again for interrupting, but I thought the House would want a decision on this matter.
Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to know that you have been very vigilant and quick in your decision so we can continue with this excellent piece of legislation. I move:
That this question be now put.
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, the member should have waited a little longer and used up the rest of her debating time before she moved her motion. I hate to see her debate cut short when I am sure she had more riveting and relevant remarks to make.
I was not going to ask any questions but, Mr. Speaker, when you said “questions or comments,” I thought I should at least rise and make a comment. Obviously I accept the ruling that you have made with regard to my amendment to this piece of legislation.
I want to make the comment that just because my amendment was ruled out of order does not mean that I or other members of the official opposition ever intend to let up on our daily quest to hold this arrogant corrupt Liberal government accountable. We are going to continue to do exactly what we are doing and ensure that at some point in time we can exercise our democratic right and express non-confidence in the government.
Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member will be paying close attention because we do talk about relevance in this place. As I said earlier, we are going to do things so much differently than the way they were done in the past. We will not even bother to comment on the relevancy of what just happened. I will continue with my riveting remarks.
It was in 1872 when the Quarantine Act was created. What we are trying to do with Bill C-12 is to make sure that it is a modernized Quarantine Act and it is designed to work in lockstep with provincial public health legislation to make sure that the legislation is an effective tool for the challenges we face today.
Bill C-12 offers enhanced protection at Canadian points of entry but outfits the minister with additional authorities to ensure rapid and decisive action to prevent the spread of disease, and as was said earlier, to take into the account the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It will give the minister authority to issue emergency orders which is consistent with the Public Safety Act.
It will enable the minister to administer exit control measures, divert air carriers to alternate landing sites, restrict travel into Canada, or even close Canadian border points in the event of a public health emergency. It will also allow the minister to establish quarantine facilities at any location in Canada if it becomes necessary to isolate travellers infected and/or exposed to a serious communicable disease.
The proposed act lists many more communicable diseases for which Canadian officials can detain departing passengers. It ensures that the administration of quarantine powers is carried out by qualified professionals and that control measures are tailored to the present circumstances.
Bill C-12 will also clarify respective enforcement roles under quarantine powers and, as I and other speakers on this side of the House said earlier, guarantee that human rights are adequately protected. While the updated act authorizes the collection and sharing of personal health information, the authorization to do so is limited to what is required to protect the health and safety of Canadians in the name of public health.
Bill C-12 protects privacy rights and maintains an appropriate balance between individual liberties and the public good. The Public Health Agency of Canada has engaged many stakeholders in the development of a modern Quarantine Act. Bill C-12 also reflects the efforts and commitment of dedicated members of this House and the Senate.
During the examination process the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology adopted an amendment to strengthen Bill C-12. The new amendment will enable members of the Senate to play a role in the making of quarantine regulations by requiring the tabling of regulations before both Houses. This seems to be a very reasonable amendment. Even the official opposition members agreed, after a little haggling on the procedural rules, with this piece of legislation.
Overall, this legislative renewal initiative reflects the government's commitment to strengthening Canada's public health system in addition to meeting our international obligations. In the spirit of collaboration, federal, provincial and local public health authorities have a significant role to play in protecting public health. Enhanced uniformity in public health legislation equipped with an array of modern tools and emergency measures will enable Canada to effectively prepare for and respond to the contemporary challenges in today's globalized world.
By introducing Bill C-12, the Government of Canada is responding to the call by public health experts and Canadians alike. Once enacted, the new Quarantine Act will ensure an effective response capacity in the event of our next public health crisis. This federal legislative tool is a critical piece in the establishment of a comprehensive public health system.
I will close by saying that it is our collective responsibility to pass this bill. it is our collective responsibility in terms of making sure that our citizens are protected from the spread of disease. As other members said earlier, I also would like to express my strong support for Bill C-12. I hope that all members of the House see the merit in this new health protection legislation and support this very important piece of legislation in terms of preventing the spread of communicable diseases in Canada.
May 5th, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
Don Bell North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, I welcome your ruling as it enables us to carry on with the debate on this important piece of legislation. To try to use a procedural opportunity for what I would call partisan politics to delay debate on this important bill is unconscionable.
Dealing specifically with Bill C-12, the public health system in Canada is central to maintaining the health and safety of our population. Public health is the science and the art of protecting and promoting health, preventing disease and injury, and prolonging life. It is the public health system that will identify and monitor health threats and invoke appropriate interventions to mitigate the risk at hand. Ultimately a strong public health system will improve the health status of Canadians. In the context of emergency preparedness and response, our public health system is often the first line of defence against emerging and ongoing threats.
As we know, diseases do not respect borders. In today's global village they arrive by plane and they present themselves at our doorstep within hours. This is why Canada's public health system must be equipped with an array of modern tools to maintain a state of readiness to effectively manage the next wave of disaster, and we have no idea what or when that is going to be.
There is an intricate web of protection in place that is invisible to many, but it reflects the tireless efforts of those on the front line and those who support local response capacity in public health. When the public health system is working well, few take notice, but in the event of a new emerging disease like SARS, the role of public health is captured in the public's eye.
The country's response to SARS highlighted the urgent need for national leadership and coordination of public health activity across the country, especially during a health crisis. Rapid decision making, decisive action, and effective response measures are critical to managing future threats to public health.
Many of us remember the important work undertaken by Dr. David Naylor, chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health. Examining the events surrounding SARS, the Naylor committee made recommendations for change, including the need for legislative reform in the area of public health management.
In support of these recommendations and the vision that inspired the Naylor report, the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology was also authorized to examine and report on the infrastructure and governance of Canada's public health system.
In addition, the Kirby committee examined Canada's ability to respond to public health emergencies arising from infectious disease outbreaks. In the Kirby report, initial steps were identified to facilitate the renewal and reform of health protection and promotion in Canada, including the creation of a new health protection agency to be headed by a nation's doctor, a chief medical officer of health.
Public health is a shared responsibility in this country. While provinces and territories bear primary responsibility for protecting public health within Canada, the federal government provides quarantine services at Canadian points of entry, the oldest health measure to date.
Once a traveller passes through customs, each province and territory has its own public health legislation to contain and to control the spread of a communicable disease within its own jurisdiction. Recent experiences in the global public health arena, including SARS, mad cow disease, West Nile virus, and the arrival of avian influenza, have underscored the urgency for updating public health legislation across Canada. To date, many health protection laws are woefully outdated, including the federal Quarantine Act which has been largely unchanged since 1872.
The need for a legislative overhaul in public health is required to manage contemporary public health threats with local, provincial, national and international ramifications. Action now in terms of legislative renewal will help ensure that Canadians feel confident once again that their governments are indeed protecting them from future health threats.
The Government of Canada has moved swiftly to strengthen public health by establishing the newly created Public Health Agency of Canada and the appointment of the first chief public health officer. The modernization of the Quarantine Act will complement the government's strategy in strengthening Canada's public health system and serve in the management of any new disease outbreak that might threaten the health and safety of Canadians.
The revised Quarantine Act, Bill C-12, was designed to complement existing provincial and territorial public health legislation. It offers protection at Canada's international borders and ports of entry by controlling the import and export of a communicable disease. Simply put, this bill will add another layer of protection in public health. In the pan-Canadian toolbox for public health, this legal instrument provides the federal government with the authority to detect public health risks at the first point of contact when travellers, conveyances, goods and cargo are entering the country.
The Quarantine Act is one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation and, as I have stated already, it has not been significantly modernized since 1872. Once enacted, a modernized Quarantine Act will ensure that the federal government has the enabling authority to mitigate the risk and threat of global disease transmission.
It is not only our obligation to Canadians that we need to consider. Public health protection must be a global effort. Currently, the World Health Organization is initiating revisions to the international health regulations to ensure that countries around the world are doing their part to support rapid, decisive action to stem the spread of disease.
There are a number of important features of Bill C-12 that make it truly useful in the disease management program. It is very powerful legislation for the Public Health Agency that requires due diligence when administered.
With quarantine officers stationed at major international airports, Bill C-12 provides these federal agents and the Minister of Health with the authority they need to marshal a comprehensive and immediate response capacity at points of entry. Bill C-12 does not affect the interprovincial movement of travellers and conveyances but complements existing provincial public health legislation.
Recognizing the need for ongoing collaboration with our partners in public health, the newly proposed Quarantine Act will streamline the process embedded in public health by eliminating the distinction between listed and other diseases. It will modernize enforcement powers, including ministerial authority to divert air carriers to alternate landing sites or indeed to prohibit entry into Canada. Further, it gives authority for the procurement of quarantine space anywhere in Canada, including the ability to compensate the owner of a facility in a manner consistent with responsible and prudent government spending.
What about human rights under this new quarantine legislation? Bill C-12 will also ensure that human rights are adequately protected for providing the right to legal counsel, an interpreter and a second medical opinion. It will clarify authority to collect and share personal health information for the purpose of protecting public health.
The new bill appropriately balances individual liberty rights in the need to protect the public. It also respects the jurisdictions of our provincial and territorial partners, clarifying roles and responsibilities in the shared public health domain.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has engaged many shareholders in the development of Bill C-12, including the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The final product enables the federal government to carry out what is essentially a responsibility to the citizens of Canada and further to the international community.
We also cannot ignore that in addition to the serious and significant health issues obviously related to the passage of this bill, I would like to remind all members of the House that there are also severe economic impacts of infectious disease issues. I would remind members of the disastrous economic impacts of the SARS outbreak which occurred in Toronto. The public concern translated very quickly and definitively into an economic slowdown, both in terms of retail sales and, more important, also on tourism.
I should note here that as a result of that impact on Toronto and the impact on tourism and to the economy of Toronto and Ontario, our government decided to show confidence in Toronto. Our Prime Minister called what I understand was the first federal cabinet meeting ever held outside of Ottawa. This was a show of confidence not only in Toronto and Ontario but in Canada, and showing us to the world.
The economic impact of SARS affected tourism travel around the world, not just Canada. I do not need to remind my colleagues in the House about how important tourism is to the economy of Canada, and not just to a city like Toronto because it could be any major Canadian city that has an air travel hub to other parts of Canada. The negative economic impact on tourism is not just related to the city with an international airport, but to all areas of Canada to which tourists are attracted. Tourists travel through those hubs to the various parts of Canada, from sea to sea to sea.
This is important to all of Canada, and I can speak for my province of British Columbia and in particular the greater Vancouver area. As members know, Vancouver has both an airport and a busy seaport and is recognized as the gateway to Asia Pacific. We know and have discussed in our various committees in Ottawa and in the government about the importance of the emerging Asia Pacific market and Canada's role in that.
Of recent note, I could talk on the issue of tourism. We are now in the process of finally securing approved destination status for travellers from China. This has long been an issue that has been recommended to us by tourism groups across Canada. These tourists will come through either Vancouver or in some cases directly through Toronto. This has the opportunity to significantly increase the number of tourists, particularly from China.
The kinds of fears that occurred during the SARS outbreak were such that they had a very serious potential impact on travellers who wanted to come from Asia Pacific. I can tell members of personal knowledge relating to Japan where parents were afraid either to come or to have their children come to Canada because of the SARS impact. In China, which has a one child policy, they are very nervous about sending their children here to learn English or to experience Canadian culture because they only have one child.
Regarding the impact on my region of greater Vancouver and British Columbia, we have over 20,000 foreign students currently engaged in some kind of English second language training in the greater Vancouver area, and the effect of SARS was dramatic. My riding of North Vancouver has an international college that relied heavily on Japanese students. It had a dramatic reduction in the number of students to the point that it caused it to have to refocus and change the way it operated. The college has now varied its program to include other adult students as well. In the end there was a positive impact and net effect, but we still have not regained total confidence in terms of some of these Asia Pacific countries with the fear of having their young people come to Canada.
The benefit of having them come here to be educated is they learn about our Canadian way of life, our Canadian democracy and our values. When they go back to their countries, they are some of the best ambassadors we could have as they grow up and take a role in their countries.
I would mention also the port of Vancouver. It is the second busiest port in North America after Louisiana, which is mainly an oil base port. It is not only the busiest port in Canada, but the second busiest port in North America. The movement of goods and services, which can be affected by an infectious outbreak or the discovery of some substance, such as a powder, can have a huge impact which can shut down that port.
Recently, as a government, we decided that we would lend support in recognizing the growth of the port trade to Canada and to British Columbia, which is the new container port in Prince Rupert. Forty million dollars of federal money will be flowing to help the economy in that area. This provides us now with a second major rail connection for goods into Canada.
The port of Vancouver, for a variety of reasons like rail capacity, is struggling to handle the container capacity. Some of those goods are going past British Columbia, either flowing through American ports and in fact going all the way around Panama to come up on the east coast, which adds costs and time delay and makes us less attractive as a country.
COSCO, the Chinese overseas shipping company, in the last few years named Vancouver as its first port of entry in North America, which was a huge economic advantage to us.
We have the ability now, with the port of Prince Rupert, to have a second major rail connection that will benefit Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and all of Canada. Importers now can bring goods both into Canada and flow them through to the United States.
All those issues can be affected by a serious health outbreak, an infectious disease outbreak, which can come in the form of product into Canada as well. As we know, there is the risk of the West Nile virus, which is not coming from west to east, but coming from east to west across North America.
Last weekend, when I was in my home riding of North Vancouver, I read newspaper articles and heard radio accounts of the preparations that were being taken for West Nile, which had not yet arrived visibly in British Columbia and the greater Vancouver area, but it was felt it was just a matter of time.
The potential impact and the effect this will have on municipalities with the spraying program, with the proximity of the spraying to school children and to recreational areas, which are very important, is of huge impact.
Business of the House
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
I have received notice from the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George that he is unable to move his motion during private members' hour on Friday, May 6. It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence.
Accordingly, I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence. Private members' hour will thus be cancelled tomorrow and the House will continue with the business before it prior to private members' hour.
It being 5:49 p.m, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
The House resumed from December 3, 2004, consideration of the motion that Bill C-281, an act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance Regulations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)
Before beginning today's private members' business, I have a short statement to make concerning the provisions of Bill C-281, an act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Employment Insurance Act and the Employment Insurance Regulations.
As with all private members' bills, the Chair has examined this bill to determine whether its provisions would require a royal recommendation and thus prevent the Chair from putting the question to a vote at third reading. It has been the practice to raise such concerns about private members' bills before the House takes a decision at second reading.
Among other things, Bill C-281 proposes to give workers first priority to amounts owed them after the bankruptcy of their employer; to ensure that payments from a bankruptcy do not form part of employment insurance benefits; and to provide a procedure whereby employees of bankrupt companies can proceed with claims against the directors.
In this particular case, Bill C-281 contains one provision which appears to require a royal recommendation, that is, a provision which proposes spending that solely the Crown can recommend under our system of parliamentary government.
Clause 6 proposes to modify section 19 of the Employment Insurance Act dealing with deductions to benefits. The clause adds the following provision:
Payments made to a claimant out of proceeds realized from the property of a bankrupt or by the government of Canada or of a province in the event of a bankruptcy shall not be deducted under this section.
In other words, where currently amounts owed to workers form part of the calculations used to determine benefits, this bill would propose that they not be used for future calculations of those benefits. This would result in greater benefits being paid to claimants. Therefore, this provision authorizes additional spending, and such spending would require a royal recommendation.
In its present form, I will decline to put the question on third reading of this bill unless a royal recommendation is received.
Today, however, the debate continues on the motion for second reading as scheduled and the motion shall be put to a vote at the close of this second reading debate.
Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business
Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am speaking on Bill C-281, an act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Business Corporations Act, the Employment Insurance Act and EI regulations, as presented by the member for Winnipeg Centre.
I am pleased to make my thoughts known as the member of Parliament for Kootenay—Columbia. I have always taken my commitment to people in my community very seriously, wanting to ensure that their interests are protected and that there is a proper balance between employers and employees.
Shortly after I was elected in 1993, there was a major bankruptcy in my constituency that affected many hundreds of people. As a matter of fact, more than 1,100 people ended up applying for EI benefits as a result of that bankruptcy. The communities throughout the Elk Valley and the East Kootenays had to deal with harsh realities far beyond their control.
The bankruptcy caused tremendous hardship for families and individuals who were impacted by the failure. My office worked diligently on behalf of former employees of the corporation to help them secure portions of their pensions. Unfortunately, those portions turned out to be a small portion of the pension funds owing to them.
Through these events, I became acutely aware of the importance of good legislation in the relationships between corporations, their creditors and their employees. I became convinced that in the event of a bankruptcy there is a distinction between wages owed and the status of employee pension funds. Combining pensions and wages in one piece of legislation is not only impractical but unworkable.
As written, this bill is poor legislation. If Bill C-281 were to receive approval from the House of Commons to move to committee, the first thing I would recommend to the committee is the entire removal of the pension provisions.
There may be value in reviewing pension provisions and protection of pensions in bankruptcies, but consideration of pension provisions should be drafted in a totally different bill.
A pension review must include two tracks. Pensions involve employer-employee relations, collective bargaining, previous negotiations, existing pension funds and regulations. In most cases, there is provincial jurisdiction combined with current financial market forces in the national and international investment community. This names simply a few of the issues.
The second track must recognize that pension funds and employee interests can be reduced to dollars and cents, but that money is totally different from funds that can be realized from tangible assets secured by lenders. We must remember that lenders have choices. They are not compelled to lend money. Anything that increases risks increases the costs of borrowing. A lender may reach a point of choosing to withhold funds as risks increase.
Let us take a look at the wage replacement portion of Bill C-281 as distinct from the issue of pensions. There must be a balance between the interests of wage earners, employers and potential lenders. This balance makes the difference between having a healthy business economy with good, productive, meaningful jobs and the potential for impoverishment.
Whatever legislation we become involved in, it is the responsibility of the House to ensure it does not inhibit relationships between businesses, potential lenders or investors. Put another way, it is the responsibility of legislators to create and maintain a healthy economic environment for all Canadians.
As written, Bill C-281 would place wages owing upon bankruptcy ahead of the rights of secured creditors. Its purpose is to provide superpriority status ahead of all other creditors, including secured creditors, for amounts owed to workers in the event of bankruptcy. This would include wages and salaries, payments in the form of severance or termination pay arising from collective agreements and legislation.
The problem is that secured creditors lend money on the basis of real assets, such as property, equipment or accounts receivable, and calculate the potential of realizing cash from those real securities. In other words, while the liability to the company for wages will be a specific amount of money, that liability for wages has no direct relationship to the security pledged to the lender.
Let me explain it this way. By way of example, a company may have $150,000 security in the form of current accounts receivable. The lender may choose to advance a fixed loan or line of credit up to a limit of $100,000 against a $150,000 asset. If the workers have a combined potential of $5,000 payable for two weeks' work the lender would reduce the $100,000 loan or line of credit by at least $5,000, if not $10,000.
This represents a withholding of dollars to protect the lender against possible claims by workers in a bankruptcy. This seriously diminishes the value of the company's securable assets.
It is irrelevant whether we like or dislike this harsh marketplace reality. The fact is, lenders make choices based on their judgment of what makes good business sense to them. Lenders have choices. They are not compelled to lend money.
If Canadian laws put lenders at a disadvantage in Canada, they could make choices to lend in other international jurisdictions. This would create negative pressure for Canadian businesses by increasing costs of loans and decreasing the amount of money available in the Canadian marketplace.
As of December 2003, there were 2.3 million small, medium and large businesses operating in Canada. Almost every business from time to time requires loans or operating lines of credit. That money is almost invariably secured by some form of asset. If all workers in Canada are given superior status over secured creditors, we will see a significant decrease in the amount of credit available to businesses. This would inhibit Canadian businesses' opportunity to access funds necessary for continuation of operations or expansion.
The fact is that while there are 2.3 million businesses, there were only 8,128 business failures in 2003. This represents only four-tenths of one per cent of all businesses operating in that year. To underline or restate, 99.6% of Canadian businesses would have access to business loans reduced as a result of four-tenths of one per cent of business failures. This is simply bad economic policy that reduces jobs and opportunities in Canada. I believe there is a better way.
Beginning with the premise that workers' interests must be protected in bankruptcy, I support the creation of a wage earners' protection fund. Its purpose would be to protect workers while eliminating potential liability for lenders. This is not a new idea. Many European countries have a form of wage protection plan.
It would be built on the original principles of employment insurance, where insurance premiums are paid by employers and employees into a fund that would be based on actuarial data. It would ensure that there were funds available to protect the employees' interests in the four-tenths of one per cent of Canadian businesses that end up in bankruptcy. It would be funded separately from employment insurance and would stand alone.
We have reviewed the European experience and can state that the premiums would be calculated in pennies, not dollars. The existence of the employee protection plan would eliminate the necessity of the consideration of employees' wages from any potential borrowing or lending activity. The fund would pay benefits to workers affected by bankruptcy within a matter of weeks. This would eliminate the long wait for money that employees endure as settlements wind through months and sometimes years of bickering and negotiations.
The Conservative Party has had a subcommittee dealing with this issue, with the encouragement of our leader. We have worked with actuarial tables and based estimates on foreign experiences in European countries.
We believe businesses drive our economy, creating good jobs, wages and benefits, creating wealth for our nation. We fund health care, social programs and other desirable public expenditures from that wealth. The Conservative Party is conscious of the protection of the Canadian wage earner within a balanced, productive business climate.
It is a matter of responsibility for us to create an environment in which personal dignity and a healthy society can thrive.
In summary, Bill C-281 is poorly drafted and unworkable, but because it is an effort to recognize and give greater protection to workers in bankruptcy, I will be voting in favour of it at second reading.
However, if the bill is not rewritten in committee to reflect the necessary changes I have outlined, I will not be able to support it at third reading.
Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act
Private Members' Business
Robert Vincent Shefford, QC
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate the member for Winnipeg Centre for having intoduced the bill to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to provide better protection for workers. Several of my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois, myself included, would have introduced it if that had not been done already.
There is no need to tell you, therefore, that I am in favour of this important bill that would put workers first on the list of creditors when companies go bankrupt. The reason is simple and obvious: when a company goes bankrupt, it is indebted first and foremost, in my view, to its employees. They should be paid for the hours they worked. In addition, some employers do not hesitate to dip into the workers' pension fund in order to pay off creditors. This means that employers are paying off creditors with employees' money—money that does not belong to them. This is the reason it is somewhat understandable that the Liberals would hesitate to support this bill because they themselves have been misappropriating workers' money by looting the employment insurance fund.
Workers have much more to lose in case of bankruptcy than financial institutions. In light of the billions of dollars in profits that these private institutions make every year, it is only natural that the first creditors paid off by employers in case of bankruptcy should be their workers, whose only source of income is their employment.
Companies that are in danger of having to close their doors put employees in a difficult position. It is not only very hard for employees to evaluate the financial health of the companies for which they want to work but also more difficult for them to absorb a loss of income than it is for large private investors, such as banks.
Changing the law would give workers more security and companies would also benefit. Employers experiencing financial difficulties are at greater risk of losing their most valuable workers if their personnel does not have any protection. If employees knew that they would be first in line to be paid in case of bankruptcy, would they not obviously be less likely to leave their jobs if they sense that their company is in financial danger? Both employees and employers would benefit.
Unless the government wants to support creditors such as banks, I do not see any reason for members not to support this bill. One cannot be against virtue itself!
Hon. members will surely remember that, during the last election campaign, the Bloc Québécois made a commitment to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, so that workers' salaries and pensions would be the first debts to be repaid. Personally, I find it even harder to understand how, in a case of bankruptcy, the employer can have access to the workers' pension fund. A pension fund is money set aside for retirement. The employer also contributes to the pension fund, as provided under the collective agreement. That money does not, in any way, belong to the employer, and it should not be used to repay creditors in case of bankruptcy. The problem is that the current legislation allows that. This means that a company can use other people's money to repay its own debts. This is incredible. It does not make any sense.
What would hon. members say if the law allowed the government to dip into their pension fund when there is a budget deficit? There is no doubt in my mind that Bill C-281 would get the unanimous support of this House.
Yet, these members accept the fact that companies can freely use the workers' money to repay debts that have nothing to do with them. I am anxious to see how the Liberals from Quebec will vote on this issue.
In the meantime, they say the bill goes too far, that we have to think about the investors. The workers need to figure out how to cope with a smaller retirement fund, find another job, since they unwittingly did volunteer work for their employer. It is the wealthiest in our society who oppose this bill to protect the weakest from abuse in the private sector. The individual suffers for the benefit of the major investors, yet again.
With investment comes risk, but it is a calculated risk. A job should not be calculated as a risk factor, a job should provide security and stability. A worker should not have to assess the risk of a company declaring bankruptcy. Did the employees at Nortel—which experienced explosive growth a few years ago—calculate the risk of downsizing? Was it their responsibility to do so? Thousands of employees were laid off even though Nortel did not declare bankruptcy. Nonetheless, if it had, would it have been the responsibility of these workers to have calculated the risk?
Would it have been their responsibility to use their salary and their pension fund to pay back the company's creditors? No, they are not investors, they are workers.
Furthermore, an investor only invests if he has the means to do so. He does so in full knowledge of the facts. If an employee could predict the risk of bankruptcy, then maybe he would choose to work elsewhere. The working person does not have the means not to work. Otherwise, he would spend his time, in my opinion, pursuing personal interests, not professional ones. The investor has a choice.
We are talking about labour peace and justice. To me, justice is allowing those less able to bear the burden to be reimbursed first. The worker is not an investor, but a taxpayer, an employee. His salary and pension fund should not be used to reimburse any creditor. It is ridiculous, disrespectful and irresponsible. Drawing from salaries and pension funds in such a way is theft. It is unethical and makes no sense. Workers must be protected, I will not back down from that.
Everyone knows there is a fiscal imbalance between the provinces and the federal government. Everyone agrees except the Liberal Party. Today, we are talking about a social imbalance between workers and creditors.
In addition, the current Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act threatens industrial harmony. I have two examples drawn from events that took place in my riding in the 1990s.
I am thinking of the bankruptcy of the Peters plant in Granby. Management took all the money to pay back creditors, and none of the employees got paid for their work before the bankruptcy. There was no money left. The employees had to initiate legal proceedings against the three principal shareholders in order to reach an agreement and be paid what was due them. Is that the way it should be? I do not think so.
The example of the Simond firm is all the more flagrant. Simond has subsidiaries in a number of countries. The one in Granby went bankrupt at the end of the 1980s or early in the 1990s. It represented only 3% of the company. Following the bankruptcy, in order to pay back its creditors, this major international company drew $6 million from the employees' retirement fund. After a court battle, which went on for seven years, the unionized employees won the case. It took seven years for them to recover the money that had been stolen. In the meantime, 15% of the retirees died.
Furthermore, at the end of this considerable struggle, the law was tightened up so that workers could no longer turn to the courts to defend themselves. The fact that it is legal to take money from the employees' fund was already absurd, but then, the government tightened the regulations. I feel faint when I hear this story or tell it or even think about it. Let me continue, however.
Allow me to point out an interesting fact. Who was the main supporter of the workers throughout these long lean years of the Simond dispute in which the workers' money was stolen? It was none other than the member for Shefford at the time, the current Minister of Transport. I would like to congratulate the member for Outremont on the work he did at that time. So I can reasonably expect him to support this bill. I also expect the Quebec Liberal lieutenant to show leadership among his colleagues so that Bill C-281 will also have the support of Liberal members.