House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

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

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Homelessness
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

December 11th, 2006 / 5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair has received two requests for an emergency debate. The first is from the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie and I will hear him now.

Homelessness
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have a homeless crisis on our hands in Canada that requires the House's immediate attention. I have been across the country over the past month and the situation is alarming.

In Toronto, 30,000 people are visiting shelters. In Calgary, which has only 1,800 shelters, 3,400 people are looking for shelter. In Vancouver, 2,200 people are looking for a home. In Ottawa, 1,000 are looking for a home. In Victoria, over 700 people are looking for shelter and only 25% of the people living in shelters are working.

There is not enough affordable housing stock and the existing stock is crumbling. We now have the alarming emergence of diseases, such as TB and pneumonia, and an infestation of bed bugs in Vancouver and Toronto.

We have been faced with emergencies, such as floods, ice storms and fires, many times in this country where lives have been put at risk. Will the Speaker, at the very minimum, have an emergency debate in this House about this alarming and tragic circumstance that is happening in our country?

Speaker's Ruling
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I appreciate the comments the hon. member has made and I am sure the House appreciates the seriousness of the situation. I am not convinced, however, that the situation meets the exigencies of the Standing Order in respect of an emergency debate at this time. Accordingly, I will decline to allow the debate that the hon. member has requested.

The second request is from the hon. member for Malpeque.

Canadian Wheat Board
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am seeking, again, under provisions of Standing Order 52, leave for an emergency debate concerning the impact recent actions and decisions taken by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food have had on the functioning of the Canadian Wheat Board and its reputation abroad.

Mr. Speaker, I believe your previous ruling was, in part, due to the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food coming before you but that report really only deals with the specifics of a question for a plebiscite.

The need for the emergency debate is all the more important today because last night the results of the Canadian Wheat Board director elections were announced and 80%, four out five, of the pro-Wheat Board directors were in fact elected. Later this week, under directive from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is intending to fire the CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board, a man with some 33 years experience in the grain industry. As was said during question period today, the man was really the chief salesperson for Canadian grain sales abroad. It throws into jeopardy our reputation in the international community and our credibility in grain markets. It is a very serious matter.

Let me conclude my request with a glaring statement made the other day by the CEO himself:

...I have been asked to pledge support for the government's policy of eliminating the single desk, barring which I will be removed from my job. It would seem to me that opposition to the single desk should be far better grounds for my dismissal than unwavering support for the laws of Canada.

Let me put it simply. The CEO has been asked by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, even though pro-Wheat Board directors were elected this weekend and eight out ten of those directors have full confidence in the CEO, to either break the law and keep his job or maintain the law and lose his job. That is no choice. I think this House needs to consider this issue and give direction to the government so that our reputation does not continue to be injured abroad.

The CEO markets some $6 billion worth of grain to some 70 countries around the world. It is a major known institution around the world and one that maintains great credibility for Canada and Canadians abroad.

On that basis, I am making the request for an emergency debate.

Canadian Wheat Board
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for Malpeque for raising this matter. It is not the first time he has raised it. He raised it at least once last week and, I know, attempted to raise it on a second occasion.

I certainly regard the matter to be of considerable importance and I recognize that the House might feel that an emergency debate on this subject is important. However, I would like some time to reflect on this.

It is one hour before the scheduled hour of adjournment so I will not order it for today under any circumstances. However, I would be prepared to take it under advisement if the House would give its consent to allow me to consider the matter overnight and then I will render a decision tomorrow morning after routine proceedings.

The rules require that I give the ruling later this day but if the House would give its consent, I will defer until tomorrow after routine proceedings.

Is that agreed?

Canadian Wheat Board
Request for Emergency Debate
Routine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from December 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-12, An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Emergency Management Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate today in the debate on Bill C-12, An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts.

The bill specifically asks for:

“...the appropriation of public revenue under the circumstances, in the manner and for the purposes set out in a measure entitled “An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts”.

This enactment provides for a national emergency management system that strengthens Canada’s capacity to protect Canadians.

Canadians want assurances that the impact of emergencies will be minimized, that assistance will be available and disruptive effects will be limited and short-lived. To address these issues, the bill is pursuing the commitments under the national security policy, notably the review of the statutory framework for emergency management activities.

The purpose of this new act is to strengthen the readiness of the Government of Canada to prepare for, mitigate the impact of and respond to all hazards in Canada. It recognizes that emergency management is an evolving risk environment that requires a collective and a concerted approach between all jurisdictions, including the private sector and non-governmental authorities.

In summary, the bill would strengthen our readiness to mitigate the impact of and prevent or prepare for and respond to all hazards. It should be noted that the bill actually replaces the Emergency Preparedness Act of 1988 and is virtually identical to the bill introduced in 2005 by the previous Liberal government, namely Bill C-78. Accordingly, I would like to say at the outset that the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill, but there are some areas of question which we believe would be important for committee to address.

The Liberal Party certainly welcomes the reintroduction of the emergency management bill. The bill builds on our record on security since 9/11: first, an investment of over $9.5 billion to strengthen national security, to improve emergency preparedness and to contribute to international security; second, the creation of the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness; and third, the establishment of a national 24/7 government operation centre to coordinate federal emergency response.

I would like to give some background here. The bill would strengthen the capability of the government to prepare for, manage, mitigate and respond to all types of emergencies. This will become an interesting question because emergencies mean different things to different people. It would establish clear lines of authority and responsibility in collaboration with the provinces and municipalities. The bill would also facilitate information sharing between government and the private sector and with regard to the protection of critical infrastructure.

The bill replaces, as I stated, the Emergency Preparedness Act of 1988, while preserving its basic provisions in the civil emergency planning and preparedness as a key government responsibility; that delineates responsibilities between the public safety minister and cabinet colleagues; that makes provision for federal-provincial cooperation; and finally, that makes provision for post-disaster financial assistance to provinces. The issue with regard to the provinces is also an important one because of the jurisdictional responsibilities and the need for coordination of course.

The revised act grants new powers to the Minister of Public Safety to exercise national level leadership in emergency management by: first, coordinating federal response to emergencies in Canada and the United States. It is an important element that also includes matters that relate to and may have occurred within the United States but may have an impact on Canada.

Second, it establishes standardized elements for the Government of Canada emergency plans. Third, it monitors and evaluates emergency management plans for federal institutions. Fourth, it enhances cooperation with other jurisdictions through common standards and information sharing. In our experience, harmonizing those common standards will certainly be a tough situation, as it always is.

With regard to the bill more specifically, clause 2 defines emergency management as “the prevention and mitigation of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from emergencies”.

Clause 3 establishes a national leadership role for the Minister of Public Safety in relation to emergency management.

Subclause 4(1) outlines the minister's responsibilities in fulfilling that national leadership role and it includes a broad variety of responsibilities. Paragraphs 4(1)(a), (b) and (c) include coordinating functions in development, testing, implementation and evaluation of government emergency management plans. Paragraphs 4(1)(d) and (e) include monitoring potential and actual emergencies and coordinating of the government response. Paragraphs 4(1)(f), (g), (h) and (i) include coordinating emergency arrangements and responses with the provinces. Paragraph 4(1)(j) includes providing financial assistance to a province if requested. Paragraph 4(1)(l) includes providing the continuity of constitutional government in the event of an emergency.

Clause 6 outlines the general responsibility of each minister, and there are other ministries that are involved outside the Minister of Public Safety, to ensure his or her department prepares emergency management plans and sets out common standards of those plans.

Clause 7 grants the governor in council powers to make orders or regulations with respect to emergency management plans, to use federal resources in response to civil emergencies, to provide financial assistance to provinces and to declare a provincial emergency of concern to the federal government. Certainly that is an area of sensitivity that has to be properly addressed.

Clauses 8 to 10 amend the Access to Information Act to permit the government to refuse to disclose private sector information supplied in confidence to the government with respect to emergency management plans. A public interest override is included.

The bill covers a pretty broad range of responsibilities that I might look at a little later in my comments, but I wanted to touch on some of the areas that have come up already with regard to concern within the bill that we would want to look most carefully at.

The bill would allow the federal government to refocus or better coordinate the organization of its response to emergencies. This is not in contention, but we should note that there is a difference between what is called an emergency and what we might regard as a security related incident.

An emergency may be as a result of a natural disaster, whereas a security related incident might be something along the lines of a terrorist attack, for instance. They are not always the same. Most of what the bill would deal with are emergencies involving natural disasters with some component of man-made contribution in it. Being able to assess whether or not we have adequately covered those situations certainly was a matter of interest and concern.

I am a little concerned personally why it took so long for the government to get the bill to us. As I indicated, it was a bill that was substantively before the House in the last Parliament and here we are some time later, but moving on, in reality, emergencies and natural disasters have evolved and become more complex. We simply need a government minister, aside from the Minister of National Defence who historically would have been the lead minister to take charge in these matters, who would coordinate these things. That would be the federal Minister of Public Safety. That is one thing this bill does that is different from the previous bill.

The second thing we are promoting is the imposition of protection for private information of third parties in the hands of government. As I indicated, the bill provides for a related amendment to subsection 20(1) of the Access to Information Act by adding an additional paragraph to give effect to these provisions.

There also are five or six subsections of the act which would be affected. Those ostensibly relate to the circumstance where information is provided to the minister by persons who would otherwise be covered under the Access to Information Act and that their information which is given is going to be exempt. In other words, if it is given with regard to a situation where there is an emergency as defined, that information would be kept private.

The other area of the bill in which there is an amendment has to do with Bill C-2 which has just been passed by the House after receiving some important changes. It was the first full bill that was introduced by the government and I can recall that there was a lot of concern about the haste in which Bill C-2 had been drafted. It contains amendments to a wide range of legislative areas. As well, it puts a significant onus on the public service to establish a broad range of management procedures, all in the realm of ensuring that accountability is kept in place.

The other thing it does which is interesting and has come up a few times, is in Bill C-2, there are some amendments to Bill C-11, the whistleblower bill, which received royal assent in the last Parliament. It received the unanimous support of all parties. We now find ourselves with another important bill which ostensibly arose out of the case of George Radwanski, the former privacy commissioner, who for a variety of reasons was put in a situation where he resigned his position and indeed suffered some consequences as a result of his actions which I will not go into.

Bill C-12 contains a coordinating amendment to Bill C-2 that should Bill C-2 have received royal assent, this amendment included in Bill C-12 will be made to that bill.

The bill repeals the Emergency Preparedness Act, chapter 6 of the fourth supplement to the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985.

The last clause in the bill is the coming into force clause. It is something on which I have commented before as the co-chair of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. We have embarked on a review. In fact at the last meeting we actually were looking at the Fisheries Act and some regulations that were necessary. This item has been outstanding for 23 years. All of the people at the table certainly were not here when it started and I suspect if we do not do something about it, there are going to be new people at the table when it ultimately gets resolved, if ever.

We also had a private member's bill dealing with the repeal of acts which had received royal assent, either entire acts or acts which included amendments to other acts which had received royal assent but had not been proclaimed within 10 years. It has some provisions whereby it could be saved during the last year. That report would be tabled in the House identifying the bills that are coming up to their 10th anniversary and would allow the government of the day to make some decisions as to whether or not it is going to act on triggering those changes.

This bill also includes coming into force. Clause 14 says, “This Act other than section 12 comes into force on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council”. What that means is that cabinet is going to decide when the provisions of this particular bill come into play. This is the kind of provision which gives rise to the problem of things lingering for an extensive period of time. I am not entirely sure why there is not a specified date or some sort of horizon period. This is a very important bill. It is a bill that I would have liked to see introduced much earlier. This bill which deals with public protection and safety is very important to Canadians.

There is a proviso in the bill which caught my attention. Under “Minister's responsibilities”, subclause 4(2) states:

The Minister has any other responsibilities in relation to emergency management that the Governor in Council may specify.

This may cause some difficulty, although I am not sure and we will have to wait until we can get an opinion on it. The bill is purported to include all of the provisions and responsibilities, but that subclause includes anything else we think we should do. Those things would presumably happen through regulation or governor in council and not be available to the House to consider.

This would appear to give the government of the day a free hand in terms of adding to the bill things which probably should be included in the statutes themselves with regard to better defining this. When there is a blanket responsibility, anything else that the governor in council may specify is basically carte blanche.

We have talked often in the scrutiny of regulations committee about whether a particular regulation or change to a bill in fact has an enabling provision in the act. This has a blanket enabling provision, which means that theoretically almost anything could happen through a governor in council order. That is a matter which may very well come up if not here, then certainly in the other place.

There is another item I want to mention with regard to issues which have come up. Subclause 7(c) allows the government to make regulation to declare a provincial emergency to be of concern to the federal government. It appears that the intention of the bill is to put the federal responsibility on what would be a provincial emergency. When people look at this they are going to want to explore it a little further because of the coordinating requirements.

There is another clause in the bill which deals with making regulations, as I indicated, on the issue of whether we have any statutory jurisdiction in the United States of America. Of course, we do not have any statutory jurisdiction. That would involve an extraterritorial application of our laws. However, it does not prevent us from developing an emergency management plan. The point is that it may involve the spending of money and resources in the United States. That is a matter which gets us very much involved.

Clause 7 of the bill creates the authority to make regulation. It seems to indicate that it anticipates spending money in the United States of America. For example, subclause 7(b) talks about regulations respecting the use of federal civil resources in response to civil emergencies. The question becomes whether that includes assistance in response to United States emergencies. If we respond to an emergency management plan that we have developed with the U.S., are we talking just about the border or are we talking about Laredo or some other area, maybe even Hawaii? There are some interesting questions to which I still do not know whether we have the answers.

I am suggesting there are some technical issues and if it is intended that the minister or governor in council make regulations about joint emergency management plans, that should also be set out in the statute. I am not sure whether that is the case.

All in all, the fundamental elements of the bill appear to be consistent with the bill in the previous Parliament of the Liberal government. The Liberal caucus will be supporting the bill.

Emergency Management Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have seen consecutive governments struggle to come to terms not only with emergencies that have occurred in Canada, but emergencies that have occurred overseas, especially those affecting Canadians.

Although a protocol was set in place, from time to time we have knee-jerk reactions by governments throughout the years as to how we handle these emergencies. There was the tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan and, more recent, the crisis in Lebanon.

Could my colleague can share with the House some of his thoughts and ideas, especially on the disaster in Lebanon, on the reaction of the government of the day and how it was botched? What can he see should be enhanced in the bill should a disaster like this happen again, not only for Canadians but loved ones of Canadians, especially people thinking of immigrating to Canada, wives and children of Canadians? Could he share with the House some of his thoughts and ideas on the mismanagement of the Lebanon crisis and what protocols should be in place to ensure we do not go down that road again?

Emergency Management Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are at third reading of the bill at this point. Unless the House decides to return the bill to committee, we will have to rely on the other place to perhaps considered those questions.

I cannot, with certitude, answer the member's question. It does sound like he is talking about the protection of Canadian citizens abroad. I do not believe that was the intent of the bill. I do not know whether there is a way in which, pragmatically, one could build provisos in a bill which would provide that protection or security the member seeks for Canadians citizens abroad, keeping in mind there are Canadian citizens all around the world. I think it would be beyond the scope of the bill as it presently exists. The member may want to raise it with the other place.

Emergency Management Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us is Bill C-12, An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts. Obviously, we have no problem with the basic principle that the federal government can take action to respond to emergencies.

That said, it is extremely important that the federal government understand that the provinces, particularly Quebec, have already prepared emergency response plans. The government should not try to use this bill, which is now at third reading, to encroach on areas of jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. The summary of the bill reads as follows:

This enactment provides for a national emergency management system that strengthens Canada’s capacity to protect Canadians.

In future, we should perhaps take into account the motion adopted in this House to the effect that Quebeckers form a nation. When the bill refers to a national system, it is actually referring to a Canada-wide emergency management system.

A number of aspects of the bill could lead to encroachments on Quebec's jurisdictions. As I mentioned, Quebec already has a number of emergency response plans. These plans and the legislation that provides for them were developed in the wake of catastrophes such as the flooding in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and the ice storm.

In 2001, Quebec adopted a new Civil Protection Act, which replaced the Act respecting the protection of persons and property in the event of disaster, dating from 1979. I want to point out that this reorganization took place under the direction of the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who was then the Minister of Public Safety in the National Assembly of Quebec.

Under the law that was adopted in 2001, a national plan was drawn up, a civil protection plan for Quebec. It divides responsibility among government departments and agencies according to their respective jurisdictions and organizes government resources so that the government can respond to various types of disasters.

Obviously, we all understand that to be effective, this plan relies on some relatively simple principles: citizen and corporate accountability; better preparation of regional authorities, such as municipalities and, in Quebec's case, regional county municipalities; better coordination among partners in the sector; and optimal use of the Government of Quebec's resources. Obviously, there would be no problem with the federal government introducing a plan that complements the provinces' plans, as I said. When the ice storm hit, the Government of Quebec called in the Canadian army to help, especially to clean up the road system, which was in terrible shape because of weather conditions.

In that context, the Bloc Québécois recognizes the federal government's right, nay, its obligation, to ensure that its institutions and departments are prepared to deal with emergency situations. The Bloc Québécois also believes, as I said, that the federal government should not interfere with how Quebec and the provinces organize their public emergency services.

I must reiterate the fact that it is, first and foremost, every citizen's responsibility to prepare for potential disasters, even if that means just having a first aid kit at home. Companies are also responsible for having their own plans for dealing with emergency situations. According to Quebec's plan, the front line responders are the municipalities, regional county municipalities—which support their municipalities—and the Government of Quebec—which supports the regional county municipalities and the municipalities.

Once again, I repeat that not only does this make perfect sense, it is also desirable for the federal government to develop an emergency response plan and corresponding legislation. Let us hope that this does not mean more opportunities to encroach on Quebec's jurisdiction.

We will support this bill on those terms.