House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was dna.

Topics

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Cardigan, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill brought forward by the member for Québec. Bill C-285, An Act to amend the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act. The bill asks the government to enact legislation that would see the corporation distribute a share of its profits to the provinces for social and affordable housing purposes.

The area that I represent on Prince Edward Island has, for some time, benefited greatly from programs sponsored by CMHC. I can think of the RRAP, for example, which has helped a large number of low income constituents in my riding. In particular, I can think of a number of people who, with the assistance of the RRAP, were able to improve their homes and their ability to heat them easier in the winter and greatly extend the life of their homes because of the upgrades the program provided.

As well, there are a number of home repair programs, such as home adaptation for seniors independence, to assist seniors over 65 years of age to stay in their homes longer. As well, the emergency repair program assists low income individuals deal with unexpected problems, such as leaking roofs, furnace problems and other such emergencies. It has provided that extra help when such unforeseen emergencies appear.

Those are the kinds of everyday problems that occur in the home and are looked after by CMHC staff who provide assistance to the homeowner to see that they receive fairness. This is why I feel very strongly that CMHC funding should continue to be delivered by CMHC to ensure nothing is funnelled away and used in other provincial programs.

CMHC has provided excellent service to Canadians in the provinces where CMHC is the delivering agency, such as in the case on Prince Edward Island. I know I have always said these programs could stand to have more funding, but I would like to point out that the annual funding not only assists homeowners, but it also injects dollars into the economy.

As a rural politician in Atlantic Canada, I feel it is crucial that the delivery of these programs stay with the federal government so decisions made in regions of the country are consistent and we do not end up with a patchwork of programs and the most vulnerable in our society suffer. In this regard, I can say without a doubt that the federal government is of critical importance.

With that, I would like to move to the first view to be taken of this bill, which relates to the fact that it calls for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to transfer money to the provinces. The objection here is clear and simple: It is not the mandate of a crown corporation to allocate funds to provincial governments. That responsibility lies with the federal government. Crown corporations are state controlled enterprises that are not in the business of making transfer payments. That is clear enough.

Now suppose for a minute that we could dispense with this idea and allow CMHC to begin allocating money to the provinces. Should the Mint then begin to siphon off it profits for redistribution and allocation across the country? What about Canada Post? Where would this leave us? Could there ever be an end to this? This would displace existing federal-provincial relationships of transference in contravention of our system of federalism and, as such, it is not a feasible proposition.

This leads us to another objection of perhaps a more constructive nature that must also claim our attention. This bill is an attempt to amend the Canada Mortgage and Housing Act when it should in fact be attempting to amend the National Housing Act.

The National Housing Act is an act to promote the construction of new houses, the repair and modernization of existing houses, and the improvement of housing and living conditions. Part X of this act already deals with public housing. In order for CMHC to do what this bill proposes to do, the National Housing Act would have to be amended as well.

Another important and problematic aspect of this bill relates to the profits credited to fund the purposes of this legislation. Where the bill states that the Canada Mortgage and Housing surplus would be distributed to the provinces, the calculation of this surplus is unclear. There is no clarity as to exactly which surplus the bill is referring. The lack of precision here gives rise to confusion and a number of unanswered questions. Are we talking about the capital surplus or about the revenue surplus? Is the bill referring to gross or net moneys?

Further, the current CMHC surplus is estimated at $4.4 billion, but of that, $3.4 billion has already been set aside by CMHC as a capitalization figure in the event of future losses. Is the bill asking for the remaining $1 billion or for the entire $4.4 billion? Or is there some other definition of profit sharing being used?

These are only a few of the unanswered questions among others that arise due to the vagueness of this part of the bill. The lack of clarity in this regard is a serious flaw since it makes it impossible to determine exactly what the bill is asking for.

To the difficulties already mentioned, I would also like to add that the type of distribution proposed in this piece of legislation would be problematic in terms of accountability and equity of distribution.

The bill in its current form would effectively eliminate parliamentary review by allowing this calculated fund to go directly to the provinces on a per capita basis. Further, once in the provinces' hands, the Auditor General would be unable to audit the use of the money. The chain of audit responsibility would be broken and Parliament would be eliminated from reviewing these expenditures. Surely we do not want to support bills that weaken the accountability and lessen the Auditor General's ability to provide oversight of taxpayer dollars.

With respect to the idea of calculation on a per capita basis, it should also be recognized that certain provinces are more urgently in need of affordable housing projects and programs than others.

Whereas affordable housing is readily available in Newfoundland and Labrador, it is much less so in regions of Alberta, for example, where the booming oil industry is attracting a great number of workers across the country, or in British Columbia where a strong economy and immigration are driving housing costs upward at an accelerating pace. Distribution based on a per capita basis would fail to give proper consideration to provinces experiencing such different circumstances and could deepen regional tensions felt over per capita allocation methods.

Again, an examination of the bill's implications regarding accountability and equity of distribution shows it to be unreasonable and imbalanced.

Without a doubt, as I mentioned earlier in my remarks, CMHC and the RRAP program have done an awful lot in my area, but it could not be emphasized more that it is so important that these programs remain under the direction of the federal government and under the control of the House of Commons. We want to make sure that they are distributed properly across the country.

If we look at CMHC's record, and I know for sure if we look at it in my area in Prince Edward Island, I will always say we could use a lot more funds, but the fact of the matter is what CMHC does is done so well. It is so important that these programs not only remain where they are but also probably it would be very important for the federal government to put more dollars in them because, as has been mentioned here in the House previously, it allows people to remain in their own homes. If we can keep people in their own homes, they can stay there more comfortably. That is where they want to live. It is cheaper for government and of course better for the older persons.

Finally, in summing up the consideration stated in this speech, allow me to say that on a whole, this bill is not viable. With that, I would like to say that although I absolutely recognize and support the goal of providing affordable housing for Canadians, after a proper examination, I have come to the conclusion that this bill is fundamentally flawed and cannot be remedied in committee.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my riding of London—Fanshawe there is a desperate need for affordable housing.

Families are struggling to find housing for their children so that these children have a safe place to live and from which to go to school. Young mothers are struggling to find the housing they need to escape abusive relationships. Seniors whose pensions have not kept up with inflation now need to find affordable housing. None of this needs to happen. This bill would help to alleviate the housing burden placed on people in my riding and across Canada.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation plans to fund only 8,217 new affordable housing units this year. This is down from over 20,000 last year. Alarmingly, CMHC is projected to build only 1,642 affordable housing units in 2007. This significant decrease will put more Canadians at risk of homelessness.

This bill, sponsored by my hon. colleague, would have CMHC profits that exceed 0.5% distributed to the provinces for social and affordable housing, encourage the supply of quality housing at affordable prices, increase housing choices for people, and create and develop housing cooperatives. I would like to stress the importance of each of these.

First, on cooperative housing, the last federally funded co-op, Talisman Woods, was built in my riding in 1993. This project was extremely important to the community. It allowed the people at Talisman Woods to purchase their units from a landlord who had neglected necessary repairs. This community changed a mouldy, leaky, rundown three storey walk-up into homes in which they could take great pride.

More federally funded projects would definitely benefit those in need in other communities. Cooperative housing not only provides affordable housing but it also provides a community for people to come together.

Social and affordable housing is a critical need in many cities across this nation. There are approximately 150,000 homeless people in Canada. This represents close to 0.47% of the Canadian population and does not include people living in substandard, overcrowded or temporary housing. Based on statistics of shelter use across Canada, nearly one person in every 200 is homeless in Canada.

We also need the supply of quality housing at affordable prices. The economy in provinces like Alberta is booming right now--we have all heard about that--and the cost of housing has skyrocketed. The housing market cannot keep up with demand, especially the demand for affordable housing. People are left with few options and no place to live, and winter is coming, winter in Alberta.

Choice in housing is also crucial. Often, affordable or social housing options are relegated to certain neighbourhoods or apartment buildings. This can hinder the homelessness problem rather than solve it. For example, most affordable housing is in apartments which are not always ideal for families. Often more space is needed. By relegating social housing to certain communities, it very often forces families to move out of their own home communities. People are removed not only from their homes and their communities, but also from their friends and the support and safety networks that they need. Children may be forced to change schools.

As members can see, the case for increased housing choice is critical.

There are two more points I would like to make here. First, I want to emphasize the importance of this bill, especially in light of the Conservative government's current assault on affordable housing. The budget for CMHC has been cut by $45 million. This could have a very real impact on CMHC's ability to administer affordable housing in this country.

According to documents obtained by my office, the cuts, we are told, are merely lower than forecasted interest rates and lower than expected inflation. Either the Conservative government is actually making cuts to the program or it is just shuffling numbers. I really cannot believe that the government is touting that it is saving $45 million because interest rates are lower than expected. That is not something that the Conservative government did, nor can it take credit for it. That money belongs to the Canadian people and should be invested in affordable housing and it should be invested now. No one in Canada should have to face a cold winter without a roof over his or her head.

In my riding of London—Fanshawe, the minister responsible for CMHC promised last August that all SCPI funding had been allocated. When that was found to be untrue, after intense community and media pressure, the money was quickly re-promised. We now find today that this money has still not been received by nine of the ten organizations that were guaranteed their funding was in place. These organizations include the London Homeless Coalition, the AIDS Committee of London, Street Connection, the London Housing Registry, Youth Action Centre, and two first nations organizations. The clock is ticking and one by one these organizations will be forced to scale down, lay off workers or even shut down all together.

It is very clear to me that the government is not making housing, shelters or advocacy for the poor a priority.

The agenda appears to be to give organizations their money as late as possible in the fiscal year. By doing this the government makes it impossible for these groups to spend the money before the end of the fiscal year, March 31. This allows the Conservatives to stand up and declare that funding can be cut because these groups did not use all the money they asked for. This is dirty politics and it is simply not acceptable.

It is very clear that this bill needs to pass so that some money will have to be allocated to affordable housing in this country.

Last, it is my grave concern that this same money may in the end not amount to very much. The recent changes to mortgage insurance which opens up mortgage insurance to competition will negatively affect the profits of CMHC. The current system allows for people who cannot afford a full down payment on a home to still have an opportunity to purchase that home.

It allows low and middle income families across the country access to mortgage insurance. This helps provide working families with safe quality housing. The system also allows for community based groups to have access to insurance rates so that they can build and maintain supportive and other special needs housing.

The current system of a lower flat rate available to everyone is necessary for the housing market and critical for affordable housing developers. If the rate of mortgage insurance premiums are too high, it makes it very difficult, if not outright impossible, to build affordable housing.

Mortgage insurance is a good business for the government. It generates money. In 2005 the net income from mortgage insurance for CMHC was $951 million. While the market has already been partially opened to allow a private company to also provide insurance, the government is now opening up the competition to others leaving no protection for low or middle income families and no option for funding affordable housing.

By opening up the market and letting more corporations compete to provide mortgage insurance without any safeguards, fair access for higher risk and rural Canadians may be in jeopardy. Think of those rural Canadians, Mr. Speaker. We need to provide some way to ensure equality of access by region and by income strata.

As a crown corporation, CMHC must be concerned about profits certainly, but since its only shareholder is the Government of Canada, it has the ability to address the welfare of Canadians instead of just the bottom line.

I have seen no evidence that opening up the system to a number of competitors will actually help people who are looking for mortgage insurance. Nor have I seen any studies that have shown the status quo is problematic. A significant portion of CMHC's business is in markets that are not served by the only existing private mortgage insurer. Opening up the market to more insurers will not bode well for CMHC and will compromise its ability to reinvest money into affordable housing.

This bill has the potential to reach out and help more Canadians who need safe, affordable housing. I encourage all members to support it because, what more important use of public resources is there than securing safe and affordable housing for the community that is the public.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my colleague, the member for Québec, for introducing this bill, and for defending it with such feeling. The Bloc Québécois is proposing that CMHC limit its capitalization capacity by paying out some of the huge surpluses it has accumulated over the past few years to Quebec and the provinces.

Bill C-285 will enable Quebec and the provinces to invest in housing—specifically, to build social, community and affordable housing. In Quebec, nearly 450,000 households urgently need housing, and in all of Canada, approximately 1.7 million need it.

To learn more about people living in substandard housing and the homeless, I criss-crossed Quebec and Canada last summer. I went to Trois-Rivières, Montreal, Rimouski, Quebec City, Victoriaville, Sherbrooke, Granby, and in my riding, Magog. I also travelled around Canada, visiting Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Red Deer, Regina, Calgary and Vancouver. In all of these cities, the people and the volunteers who look after those living in substandard housing are desperate for help.

What really struck me was the lack of permanent housing for vagrants and the homeless. How can we lend a helping hand if there is no housing to give them a fresh start?

The situation is becoming increasingly difficult given the growing income gap. In Canada I have seen so many women, elderly people, entire families living on the streets and aboriginal people without a decent place to live. Even a French travel guide, the Routard guide to Western Canada, talks about it as though it were a Canadian phenomenon. Imagine, it says that Canada has an inordinate number of homeless people in comparison to what Europeans are used to. This is scandalous in a country as rich as ours.

In CMHC's latest annual report, the crown corporation acknowledged that 15% of all housing in Canada is substandard. Consequently, the 15% living in inadequate housing can be added to those without housing.

Edmonton is in the midst of a boom and rents are rising so rapidly—in one case, from $85 to $1,100 per month—that a growing number of individuals and families are living in temporary shacks, despite and even because of full and highly-paid employment. The situation is the same in Regina and in Calgary. People who work in this sector have urged us to publicize this and the fact that there is a need for shelters, cooperatives and housing that is affordable for everyone. Seniors—especially elderly women, single-parent families and unskilled workers, the working poor are being left by the wayside amidst the prosperity in Alberta, Quebec and all Canadian cities.

Since 1998, CMHC has accumulated a surplus of $5.3 billion. It has never been required to have a reserve fund like a bank. Its mandate is to help households obtain quality housing that is affordable for all, including the most disadvantaged.

CMHC is not a private corporation; it is a crown corporation that serves the citizens of Quebec and of Canada. Thus, it makes no sense, and is even immoral, for it to turn away from its mandate and accumulate such a large surplus when most metropolitan areas in Quebec and Canada are currently experiencing a shortage of affordable housing.

This bill will limit CMHC's reserves to 0.5% of its loan portfolio, or just over $1 billion, enabling it to establish an annual reserve of approximately $100 million. According to experts, this amount is more than sufficient to deal with any reasonable eventuality.

In addition, the consolidated revenue fund has always been the ultimate guarantee. In fact, the legislative mandate and the objectives of CMHC are to promote housing construction, repair and modernization; access to regular, affordable housing for everyone, including the most vulnerable in our society; housing for families with three or four children—this no longer exists, you have to buy a home if you want enough space for three or four children; the availability of low-cost financing, in order to include the working poor one day; and stability for the homeless.

This mandate must be reflected in the plan of the crown corporation known as CMHC.

It is our responsibility as the government to ensure that CMHC carries out this mandate and does not get sidetracked into market forces that do not apply to it. This makes poverty a barrier to a just and equitable society.

The government is swimming in recurring surpluses while the poor in our society are drowning because they are unable to pay market rent. I often think about elderly women.

There are two schools of thought now. Europe is abandoning government housing for market housing. However, it is paying for the poor to live there. Until 1993, England, Australia, the United States and Canada helped house the poor in a more traditional manner. Now, the government seems to want to do neither. Has it lost its mind? How can the government of a developed country give up housing its citizens?

Last week, the minister told us that the government was investing $2 billion a year in affordable housing. Let us be clear: this $2 billion is only for mortgage payments on homes built before 1994.

There has been nothing new since then, except for a paltry $800 million from Bill C-48 in the winter 2005 budget. That is far too little money for the government to live up to its responsibilities in Quebec and the rest of Canada. The federal government has completely given up on developing new social housing units. Once again, it has offloaded this responsibility. It is easy to understand why people are disillusioned with this government.

This disengagement on the part of the government, which has the money, has had a devastating effect on low-income households, both in Quebec and in Canada. CMHC is not an insurance company or a bank. Why is it departing from its role? Is it government neoliberalism that is making its way into government institutions such as CMHC?

By creating a reserve fund, CMHC pretends to be engaging in fair play with the big Canadian banks, but it is not playing fairly with the 5 million Quebeckers and Canadians who live below the poverty line, and the 1.7 million households that do not have proper housing, or any housing, for that matter. Its true reserve fund is constituted by subsections 29(1), 29(2) and 29(3) of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act to provide assistance for housing, not to provide assistance to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

I must emphasize that the losses from CMHC activities are guaranteed by the government's consolidated revenue fund. With this bill, the Bloc Québécois and the other responsible parties of this House would like to return CMHC to its mandate, which consists in investing its retained earnings in social housing, affordable housing, cooperative housing, and upgrading the 15% of homes that are not up to code.

We are convinced that the provinces are in a much better position to decide how to use this money most effectively. There is therefore no reason not to give this money to the provinces, which will manage it perfectly.

There is therefore no problem with the fact that it is handing this money over to the provinces, which will manage it perfectly.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, September 28, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 10. I do now leave the Chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

[For continuation of proceedings see Part B]

[Continuation of proceedings from Part A]

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 10, Mr. Blaikie in the chair)

Situation in Sudan
Government Orders

October 3rd, 2006 / 6:50 p.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this Committee take note of the situation in Sudan.

Situation in Sudan
Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Bill Blaikie

The House is now in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 10.

I would like to open this session in committee of the whole by making a short statement on take note debates.

This is probably the first time some members are taking part in this type of debate. I will explain how we will proceed.

Tonight's debate is a general one on the situation in Sudan. As is the case in any proceeding in committee of the whole, members need not be in their own seats to be recognized.

Each member will be allocated 10 minutes at a time for debate. These speeches are subject to a 10-minute question and comment period. Furthermore, according to the motion adopted yesterday, any member rising to speak during the debate may indicate to the Chair that he or she will be dividing his or her time with another member.

Although members may speak more than once, the Chair will generally try to ensure that all members wishing to speak are heard before inviting members to speak again while respecting the proportional party rotations for speakers.

During the 10-minute period for questions and comments, there are no set time limits on each intervention, but I will work to allow as many members as possible to participate in this part of the proceedings and ask for the cooperation of all members in keeping their interventions as succinct as possible.

As the Chair, I will follow the rules governing committee of the whole. Nonetheless, in order to allow a good exchange, I will use discretion and flexibility in the application of these rules.

May I also remind members that even in committee of the whole, ministers and members should be referred to by their title or by their riding name, and of course all remarks should be addressed through the Chair.

The first round of speakers will be the usual all party round, namely the government, the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. After that we will follow the usual proportional rotation.

At the end of this evening's debate, the committee of the whole will rise and the House will adjourn until tomorrow.

We can now begin this evening's session.

The hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Situation in Sudan
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I wish to express my appreciation for your presiding over this important debate this evening on the conflict in Sudan.

I wish to begin by stating emphatically the new government's deep concern for the deteriorating humanitarian rights and security situation inside Darfur. We have and continue to urge the government of Sudan and the various warring factions in Darfur to bring about an immediate end to the hostilities and stop the fighting.

The civilian population of Darfur has suffered long enough. We need a rapid and full deployment of a UN mission to restore stability. I will elaborate more on this in a moment but first, I want to provide a bit of context for Canadians watching this debate at home.

The Sudan is in a region that has always been the poorest in the world and the most racked by conflict. To bring peace to this region, we must first find new solutions to the various conflicts that are tearing the Sudan apart. The consequences of these internal conflicts are felt well beyond its borders.

Canada has a “whole of Sudan” policy, meaning that Canada recognizes that all of Sudan's regions, and therefore the various conflicts in those regions, are interrelated. As the Sudanese national government role in security and stability issues is key, it is important to recognize that actions and activities on one issue will inevitably have impacts on others, just as various regions impact on the Sudan.

Canada makes a strong effort to address root causes rather than symptoms. At the heart of most of Sudan's conflict is the marginalization that takes place, since much of Sudan's national wealth has a tendency to flow to Khartoum without being redistributed to the country's underdeveloped rural regions.

Prior to the current crisis in Darfur, southern Sudan suffered a devastating civil war. This conflict left an appalling aftermath, with an estimated two million lives lost and four million people displaced, the largest number of displaced people anywhere in the world. It is a vast region that is lacking infrastructure like schools, hospitals and basic roads, yet many are returning. Still many more need to be resettled.

The negotiations sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which culminated in the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, were a critical effort toward resolving the feelings of marginalization. As a result, the CPA makes explicit efforts to address power and wealth sharing in a united Sudan.

The devastation in the north-south conflict, however, continues to be felt. A massive Sudanese and international effort to build the necessary infrastructure and build the strengthening institutions to support the long term development of the region is necessary, while reinforcing peace building efforts to ensure that it does not lapse into conflict again.

We believe supporting the consolidation of peace in Sudan and in particular ensuring a full and rapid implementation of all of the provisions of the comprehensive peace agreement is key to resolving the crisis in Darfur and building lasting peace in Sudan.

As the Prime Minister said last week at the summit of la Francophonie, our government wants to promote—in southern Sudan and in Darfur in particular—judicial reform, re-establish a framework of security, reduce the arms trade and strengthen governance institutions and community life in Darfur and throughout the Sudan.

We are committed to a coordinated approach, with others, that addresses the underlying causes as well as the symptoms of conflict. It is for this reason that Canada is providing additional peace building support for southern Sudan through the global peace and security fund. For this fiscal year, we are committed to $14.2 million, focused principally on reform and building of the judicial system, reduction in the traffic of arms, and enhancement of governance.

This includes money for existing and newly identified projects as well as initiatives that specifically address the regional nature of the conflict and support peace building work in countries neighbouring Sudan. Projects range from a major initiative to support the judiciary and improve the prison system in southern Sudan to a comprehensive assessment of small arms across the country.

The pursuit of peace in Sudan and its regions represents huge challenges for all. As members know, Canada played an important role at the peace talks in Abuja that led to the signing of the Darfur peace agreement. In fact, Canada played a central diplomatic role, working closely with the African Union, the European Union, Britain and the United States to broker the agreement during the final days of that negotiation.

I was in regular contact with officials during that time. I commend the efforts of UN Ambassador Allan Rock and High Commissioner to Nigeria David Angell, in Abuja, who did that important work.

At that time we personally sent a letter to rebel leaders and the government of Sudan, urging them all to reach the agreement that parties could uphold. We believe greater progress will be needed in the Darfur peace agreement, including the implementation by the parties and bringing the non-signatories on board. The parties to the agreement and the non-signatories should engage in a coordinated process to achieve this. Canada will support all efforts to bring these non-signatories to the peace agreement back to the table.

I met with Jan Egeland, emergency relief coordinator at the United Nations, who described in graphic detail the urgency for the UN intervention. We spoke as well about the need to protect humanitarian aid workers in Sudan and those who have increasingly had their own lives endangered due to their generous work on the ground.

Canada was a leader in championing the issue and the inclusion of women in the peace talks and provided support to the African Union to integrate gender concerns into the peace agreement itself.

It is critical during this time of transition to a United Nations mission that Canada maintain support for renewed African Union-led diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict. Canada has been active and important in this international effort.

At the United Nations there were significant efficiencies to be gained by transforming the force in Darfur into a UN presence throughout Sudan. Drawing upon a broader pool of material and human resources, the United Nations brings stable funding and decades of experience. With the UN already on the ground in south Sudan and coordinating humanitarian efforts in Darfur, transition in Darfur will provide benefits of economies of scale and a unified command and control structure. The core force will inevitably be African Union and African in character.

I have just come back from the United Nations where we discussed at length the tragic and urgent situation in Darfur. My colleagues in the other countries understand perfectly well that we must join our efforts to put an end to this conflict immediately. We also talked about this at the G-8 foreign ministers meeting this summer.

While at the UN, I also sought out the Sudanese foreign minister, Lam Akol, to urge that the government of Sudan allow a UN force into Darfur. I asked the Sudanese foreign minister to encourage his government to engage with the international community and be a full partner in the dialogue that Sudan has requested. I told him there should be no fear of colonization.

I previously had discussions with him earlier in August. I talked about Canada's concern for the ongoing violence and reiterated Canada's commitment to helping achieve a lasting peace in the region. I expressed Canada's interest in working more closely with Sudan and all the international partners to bring about a greater level of trust and acceptance for the UN mission.

I spoke with other foreign ministers, including those from African nations. The Senegalese in particular seemed prepared to advocate fully for the transition to the UN peacekeeping mission. I attended a special meeting that was hosted by the U.S. Secretary of State and Danish foreign minister Moller for interested countries to discuss the means to pursue the matter. Efforts to include the Sudanese government at any and all times should be foremost on any agenda. The international community continues to urge the government of Sudan to accept this transition.

Canadian and international efforts also focus on contacting key African and Arab leaders who may have influence on the government of Sudan to urge for the transition. While at the UN, I met with foreign ministers from Algeria, Egypt and Senegal, as well as the Secretary-General of the Arab League, who all seemed prepared to use their influence to press the government of Sudan.

We were strongly encouraged by the recent decision taken by the African Union peace and security council to strengthen the African Union's mission and extend its mandate to the end of the year. Pending a UN mission, AMIS will provide some welcome protection for civilians in Darfur and prevent a further devastating security vacuum on the ground. It will also provide more time to convince the government of Sudan to accept the mission.

We maintain unwavering support for the African Union's mission in Sudan. Canada has taken a leading international role, providing important support to this mission. We have provided armoured cars, a Canadian Forces training centre, $1.4 million in personal equipment such as helmets and vests, 25 leased helicopters, two fixed-wing aircraft and fuel, and military and civilian advisers. My colleague, the parliamentary secretary, will provide greater detail on this contribution.

In all, we have sent a comprehensive support package to the African Union valued at more than $190 million. We have had opportunities to speak with Red Cross International and other Canadian NGOs providing important support on the ground. It is important to recall that the African Union itself, while accepting more and more responsibility, has called for the transition to take place.

In conclusion, we will continue to work with our international partners to end the suffering of the people of Darfur. We welcome the support that has been requested by the UN Secretary-General and the chairman of the African Union. I know other members will discuss in detail more specific proposals that can be made.

I commend the efforts of many who are here in the chamber, including Senator Dallaire, who has taken a personal interest in this. We hope to work in a cooperative, productive and non-partisan way to bring about an end to the suffering and incredible pain that is being felt by the people of Sudan.

Situation in Sudan
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Chair, it is commendable that we are gathered here tonight to discuss what is happening in Sudan, but we should also take into context what is happening in greater Africa and especially the Horn of Africa, be it Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea or Sudan. That part of the world could be a powder keg, which could lead to ramifications down the line five or six years when we will look back and ask ourselves why we did not talk about this. In Somalia right now there is the insurgency of an Islamic movement. Just recently, there was an attack on the president of Somalia that probably could have cost him his life.

One of the things we are failing to discuss is that we are not approaching our communities in Canada, be it the Sudanese Canadian community, the Ethiopian Canadian community, the Eritrean Canadian community or the Somali Canadian community. Through them, we could provide for them a vehicle through CIDA so that they could go back and provide a means of making peace. We are not providing our communities sustainable development to allow them to have capacity building in order to go back and help make peace.

These communities we have in Canada know the language. They are on the ground and ready to get involved. We have asked the government time and time again to do this. I am wondering if the minister will, through his department, look at the means by which we can provide sustainable development for nation building, through our communities, in that part of the world.

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7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, I believe there is always more we can do. Certainly the size and scale of this challenge would invite the participation of all, particularly those with language skills and specific knowledge of the region. I would also take to heart the member's comment with respect to the whole of Africa approach. This is undeniable. Yet I would suggest that we have to concentrate our efforts where the need is most acute right now and clearly that is Darfur.

Having training available for doctors who may find their own roots in the region would be one approach specifically in keeping with the member's comment. I would suggest as well that CIDA's efforts are certainly open to the participation suggestion and those who care to lend a hand. Also, engaging private citizens in this effort to raise funds, to contribute specifically to the building of hospitals and schools and making those type of tangible of contributions, again is a welcome effort.

Canadians are generous by their very nature. I think the plight of the people of Sudan is registering very strongly with Canadians. There has been very much a raised awareness, so to speak. There have been rallies of support on university campuses and at community colleges across the country. We can see posters and student participation raising this awareness.

I believe that Canada can and will contribute greatly to this cause. It may be the challenge of our generation to finally put an end to some of the suffering that we have seen now for generations in Africa. But in Sudan and in Darfur particularly, this is the focus. That is very much the nature of tonight's debate.

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7:10 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, the minister highlighted the international community's efforts to persuade the government to accept the UN's presence in Darfur.

However, there are two countries, Russia and China, that are apparently very good friends with the authorities in Darfur. I would like to know what Canada has done, whether it has done anything, and whether it plans to do anything to persuade these two countries to exert pressure on the President of Darfur to allow United Nations intervention.

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7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the Bloc Québécois member's question. She makes a good point.

I spoke with the Chinese and Russian ministers of foreign affairs, and I encouraged them to participate in efforts to increase support in the region and to provide monetary and political support for this cause.

I think it is going to take a global effort. The G-8 countries in particular have to be leading nations in this effort. On several occasions I have had opportunities to interact directly with Minister Lavrov of Russia. He is acutely aware of this, having just come through the chairmanship of the G-8 foreign ministers.

I will keep in mind the member's comments on the necessity of Canada continuing to see that this is placed on the agenda at all international gatherings and to see that other countries are similarly engaged in the effort to alleviate the suffering.

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7:10 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Chair, with the displacement of over two million people and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese, the need for a capable force to intervene is essential to halt the conflict in Darfur.

Yes, the African Union's troops have already extended their mandate into December, and this force of 7,000 unfortunately has been criticized, largely for being ineffective at halting the intensifying conflict. This force is underfunded and lacks training in dealing with conflict situations.

The United Nations has passed legislation for a force of up to 20,000 troops needed and ready to be deployed in an appropriate mission. Through access to information, my colleague, the NDP critic and also the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, has discovered in the briefing notes that there are in fact 1,600 troops available that could be deployed. Some of these over 1,000 troops may be made available to be deployed to an appropriate UN mission.

Here is my question for the minister. Are you willing to commit troops so that if and when the UN says the mission is now appropriate, and we need to deploy troops there, you are able and ready to commit troops to this mission?

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7:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Bill Blaikie

Order, please. Before we hear from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I remind the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina and everyone else, that the rules that apply generally in debate, also apply in committee of the whole. We should not refer to each other in the second person, using the word “you”. We should be using the words “he” or “she”. I would ask the member and all other members to comply with that rule in the future.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Chair, the question of the member for Trinity—Spadina is a very relevant one.

Canada has supported the UN resolution 1706, which urges the transition from African Union Forces to those of the United Nations. There has been no specific request. We also very much believe that the government of Sudan must provide its consent at this point for the transition to occur. To date that has not happened. We have to continue to pursue all diplomatic means to allow for that consent. We have been given a window of opportunity, now until December 31, with the extension of the mission, and the effort itself will continue in earnest.

I recognize, as I think all members do, the passage of time can lead to further atrocities going on there. We know of the rapes and the systemic targeting of villages. We know there is a massive displacement of people, as has been referenced, and death by starvation, genital mutilation and targeting of women. The atrocities there are those which challenge the sensibilities of all present.

I had an opportunity to attend a conference, specifically looking into the subject of child soldiers. It was also attended by Senator Dallaire. These are the types of things that leave us shaken to the core. They really are soul destroying when we consider the impact this is having on the lives of the people of Sudan.

Yet I would reiterate that for Canada or any country to send troops there, this would immediately engage a further conflict with the government of Sudan. Until such time as we are able to make the transition to the UN Forces, which would be made up primarily of the existing African Union Forces there, buttressed and supported by the equipment, the training and further equipment support that would be made available by the United Nations, we have to continue to focus on that transition first and foremost. I believe that, in and of itself, will lead to the most immediate end to the suffering and the most immediate intervention that would have the greatest impact in the region.