House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was work.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Kings—Hants had been asked to look at the Chair and I would have avoided interrupting him.

The hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber may continue.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about this notice of ways and means on the budget. Although the Bloc Québécois has always had serious reservations about this budget, we have decided to support it, as we believe it contains a number of gains that the Bloc Québécois has long been calling for. Moreover, today, during question period, I was glad to hear the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities remind this House that he needed the support of the Bloc Québécois. I think that clearly shows how useful and relevant the Bloc Québécois is.

Here are some of the gains and long-standing requests that we have successfully obtained from the government. The first is tax exemption on bursaries. We believe that if one level of government gives money to students for their studies, no part of that money should be taken away from them in the form of taxes. We also obtained tax improvements for micro-breweries. This is of particular concern to me, because the McAuslan brewery is in my riding. If time allows, I may discuss this further a little later. In any case, we had been calling for this for quite some time. A tax credit for public transit users, something that the Bloc Québécois requested on several occasions, was part of our platform. We are pleased to have obtained this. We had also long been asking for removal of the excise tax on jewellery, a tax credit for tools—the government even extended this to apprentices—and a 50% reduction in the right of landing fee.

As the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities stated this morning, the government needs the support of the Bloc Québécois in order to advance its issues. We are also working on another large file. We are hoping, as the parliamentary secretary said this morning, to be very pleasantly surprised and see the government finally fulfill its promise to correct the fiscal imbalance in the next budget.

However, I must confess that we are skeptical about this, to say the least, because, since tabling the last budget, all signs from the government seem to minimize the seriousness of the problem. We were even seriously told in this House and in committee that the GST reduction was helping to resolve the problem. This illustrates the government's failure to understand the problem of the fiscal imbalance. We are told that the problem is being resolved, although meanwhile, Ottawa cancelled a child care agreement with the Quebec government, thus adding to the fiscal imbalance.

Some say that the Bloc Québécois' requests are far-fetched, although the minister, Mr. Séguin, made the same requests in the National Assembly on behalf of Quebeckers. The number is the same. No matter how you try to calculate it, the answer is always $3.9 billion.

So, for us this is essential and it will be critical in the next budget. If the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities was serious this morning when he said that he needs the support of the Bloc Québécois, he will take note that this is our main demand. This is why Quebeckers put their trust in the Bloc Québécois. They know that we always follow up on our commitments, including resolving the fiscal imbalance issue. Quebec must receive $3.9 billion annually, through transfers or through the equalization program. In the short or the middle term, the government will also have to consider a true tax room transfer. Indeed, the middle or long term solution that is needed to solve the fiscal imbalance issue can only be achieved through a tax transfer.

No one in Quebec wants to be subjected to the risks that result from having various governments in Ottawa, various parties that change the programs, that abolish them, or that suddenly reduce federal transfers, like the Liberals did in 1995. We want to be able to manage our own financial resources, since it is our taxes that we are sending to Ottawa. This is a top priority for the Bloc Québécois.

In his economic statement, the Minister of Finance also talked about the government's intention to limit the federal government's spending power.

We are not opposed to that. On the contrary, this is interesting but, once again, we are very skeptical.

I asked the minister, when he appeared before the committee, to elaborate a little more on this, but he said very little. Now that this House has recognized that Quebeckers form a nation, it would be nice to include, in the next budget, real and concrete measures to limit the federal government's spending power.

What does this mean? When we talk about restricting the federal government's spending power, it is clear, at least in Quebec, that we are talking about the right to opt out with full financial compensation from any program put in place by the federal government in a Quebec or provincial jurisdiction. This measure will also have to be retroactive, so that the governments of Quebec and the provinces can say, “There is currently a program in my jurisdiction. We are asking for the right to opt out with full compensation, to be able to set up our own programs”.

This could be the case, for example, with the child care program. The approach used by the government in this area is totally different from the one selected by Quebec, which is to establish a public child care program shared by all.

If the government is really serious about limiting the use of its spending power, it has to expect that the Government of Quebec might say, for instance, “We are withdrawing from this program, taking the money currently provided by the federal government for child care and investing it in our own program”.

In its next budget, the government will have to correct errors and problems with taxation which penalize Quebeckers. I touched on that earlier this morning. The biggest problem was the impact of the child care program and cuts to Quebec in terms of the tax credit for child care, among other things.

In the rest of Canada, parents claiming tax credits for child care may claim $25, $30 or $40 a day, while in Quebec, parents who have access to public day care can claim only $7 a day. They still have to pay the difference through their taxes in Quebec, but they cannot claim more than $7 a day on their federal income tax. This makes for substantial savings for the federal treasury, while Quebeckers lose control over that money.

I questioned the parliamentary secretary this morning. As part of the Conservative government's alleged commitment to flexible federalism, will her government announce that it will respect the choice made by Quebeckers? Will it give back to the Quebec government the money saved each year on tax credits unclaimed by Quebec parents, so that this money can be invested in Quebec's own child care services? The parliamentary secretary would not commit to do so. It is very sad to see that this commitment to flexible federalism has remained little more than lip service. Flexible federalism really has to be taken to mean, “We are prepared to make an effort whenever it is no trouble and it serves us. Otherwise, it's your problem. We will not go out of our way for you”.

Quebeckers have to come to the realization that the only real choice left is to become our own country, to be able to make our own decisions and our own choices without having to ask permission of other levels of government. In the meantime, the Bloc Québécois will be here to try to limit the damage.

Moreover, there is absolutely nothing about Kyoto in this budget, which is very sad. Not only is there nothing on Kyoto, but the Minister of the Environment told us earlier this year that she would not give the $320 million that Quebec needs to implement its Kyoto plan.

In this regard, there is a similarity between the Conservatives and the Liberals. Neither of these parties acted on the Kyoto protocol. Yes, the Liberals ratified the protocol. The leader of the official opposition held a nice conference in Montreal and said a lot of nice things, but that does not change the fact that, under the previous government, Canada's record with regard to greenhouse gas emissions was nothing less than catastrophic.

For years the Liberals told us that it was important to meet our targets, but they did nothing. As for the Conservatives, they told us that it was impossible to meet our targets, so they did nothing. The Conservatives know they are incompetent and unable to deal with this problem, whereas the Liberals pretended they did not know. I think it is the only difference between those two parties. We hope that the next budget will include funds for the environment and for the Kyoto protocol and that the Government of Quebec will at least receive the money it has requested to fund its plan.

There is something else missing in this budget. It is a shame because what is missing would not cost much. I am talking about funding to set up an appeal tribunal for refugees, in accordance with the legislation. The regulatory and legislative framework already exists. The government just needs to fund this tribunal so that refugee status claimants can fully affirm their rights. They are currently dealing with commissioners who are often appointed for partisan purposes.

We recently saw in the media that the Conservatives are blocking some appointments for partisan reasons. By having an appeal division with truly independent judges, a refugee claimant who is the victim of a commissioner's error could appeal the decision and truly obtain justice. In my riding, there is a very real, very concrete example in the case of Abdelkader Belaouni, who is a refugee in sanctuary in a church basement in Pointe-Saint-Charles. This person was clearly wronged by a commissioner. This example is clear and striking because Laurier Thibault, the commissioner who denied Mr. Belaouni's claim, has not approved a single claim in the past two years. This is a commissioner who denies almost 100% of all claims. That cannot be right.

If a true appeal tribunal were set up, we would notice this situation even more. Maybe that is what the government is afraid of. Impartial judges might not have a 100% rejection rate and would see that many claims are justified and legitimate. Furthermore, Abdelkader Belaouni is quite involved in Pointe-Saint-Charles and has the community's support. This man wants to contribute to society and he wants to work. He has been here for 10 years. It is truly sad to see that such situations exist in Canada because the Minister of Finance did not include in his budget a few million dollars to set up this appeal tribunal.

In the meantime, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration should personally intervene, as far as the law allows him, in order to compensate Abdelkader Belaouni and regularize his situation. Since there was no appeal tribunal in place to prevent this situation, the minister must act to repair the damage done, at least. This would be a good way to make amends.

The ways and means motion before us would implement part of the budget, Bill C-28. As I have said, the Bloc Québécois asked for a number of measures, including a tax credit for public transit, a tax credit for textbooks and tax deductions for microbreweries. We support these measures, as well as measures to assist and reduce the burden on small and medium businesses in Quebec.

It is therefore not surprising that we will support Bill C-28 even though we have serious concerns about this budget overall.

There is one particularly interesting measure that I mentioned before: a different excise tax for micro-breweries. Since the budget was tabled, the measure has been modified somewhat to cover nearly all Canadian breweries. Even so, it will help a lot and we are pleased to have made progress in this area. As I said, I think that this will help local economies like those in my riding where the McAuslan microbrewery is located. It produces a good product, does excellent work, employs people and helps our communities survive. This is an excellent example of how the Bloc Québécois can contribute by encouraging the government to make good decisions for people.

With respect to individual taxation, the tax credit for toolkits purchased by tradespeople is also something we have been asking for for a long time. In many cases, people whose jobs require tools end up spending a lot of money every year. This is how they make their living, so they do not have a choice. They must buy these tools. Therefore, we are very pleased with this measure, which we have been asking for for so long.

As for the transit tax credit, that was in our 2004 election platform and we are pleased to see that the government finally listened to reason and included this measure in its budget. Obviously, this will not solve the problem with greenhouse gas emissions or the problem with public transit in general. The issue of underfunding must be addressed through the elimination of the fiscal imbalance. If the government is really serious about wanting to deal with transit issues, it will have to deal with the fiscal imbalance.

There are also a few measures for the most disadvantaged, including increasing to $1000 the amount deductible from the taxable income for pensioners. This is a good measure. However, it would be hard not to say that this does not even compensate for the billions of dollars still owed to seniors who were cheated out of the guaranteed income supplement. This program was too difficult to understand and too difficult to use for many of them. There are people who, for years, would have been entitled to apply for the GIS but never did. When they became aware of it, it was too late. The government agreed to pay the money back only for the last 11 months. That was under the Liberals. We would have thought that the Conservatives would act differently, but no, they are still refusing to give full retroactivity to those seniors who were cheated out of the guaranteed income supplement.

Yet, I challenge anyone not to pay taxes for four or five years and then tell the government, when it asks for its money, that it will only get the last 11 months worth of taxes, and that it is too bad if it did not notice anything sooner. Of course, that would not work. The person would have to pay the taxes owed for the whole period of time. The Bloc Québécois thinks that the government should refund seniors for the whole period during which they did not get the support that they needed.

Finally, as regards corporate taxation, we are also in favour of increasing the sales figure that allows small and medium size businesses to benefit from a reduced tax rate. We think this is a measure that will help develop the Quebec economy. In fact, we talked about this in our 2000 election platform, when the Bloc proposed a reform of corporate taxation to give more leeway to small and medium size businesses by reducing their tax burden, because this would allow them to better compete on international markets. So, we like this measure.

In conclusion, the next budget will have to include a true support program for older workers, as pledged by the government in its throne speech. That has not been done, but it will have to be done in the next budget.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned some issues surrounding the fiscal imbalance and the tax points that he would like to see as part of this fiscal imbalance and how we can move money from the federal government to the provinces.

In this budget and in the budgets of the Liberal Party prior to this one, for many years we have seen reductions in corporate tax rates and that has not allowed provinces to pick up tax points.

Corporations in this country are free to file their tax returns in whatever province they want. In my territory, the Northwest Territories, we have had extreme difficulty with our fiscal situation when we adjust the corporate tax rate. Either we scare off all the corporations and they run to another province to file or we lower the rate and they run to us.

I would like my hon. colleague to speak to how we can deal with the corporate tax rate in Canada that is applied in provinces. Do we not need some kind of agreement across the country to fix the corporate tax rate that will apply and will prevent these corporations from treating us as pawns in their game to reduce their after tax rate?

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree entirely that tax reductions, whether for corporate taxes, personal income tax, the GST and so on, are not the answer to correcting the fiscal imbalance. These are measures aimed at giving money back to Canadians, measures often suggesting that the government is trying to please the population by distributing a little money here and there, but this is in no way a genuine solution to the fiscal imbalance issue.

As for general tax reductions for corporations, I would point out that, in recent years, although tax rates have been considerably reduced for Canadian businesses, there has been no real increase in investments made by businesses. One might wonder where that money went? Where did those freed up assets go, if not into investments? We might assume that they went directly into the hands of shareholders and that, in the end, it was not as beneficial for our economy as we thought.

The Bloc Québécois always tries to take an approach that offers real, targeted measures. Consider, for instance, the refundable tax credits for businesses that are willing to invest in research. In this budget, for example, targeted measures for small and medium size businesses can be effective, such as special tax rates for small businesses that are expanding. However, simply lowering the general tax rates for all big businesses does not have any useful effect on our economy. This would no doubt please a certain lobby, but it would not be very effective and would in no way contribute to correcting the fiscal imbalance.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Calgary—Nose Hill
Alberta

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, one of the measures in the budget, the tax credit for the cost of riding public transit, would make the cost of a monthly transit pass tax deductible. The Greater Vancouver Transit Authority has released figures showing that ridership for this year increased 10% in June, a further 10% in July and 13% in August. Those are the latest figures we have.

Would my colleague give us his view of whether this sort of measure to encourage the use of public transit should be encouraged and would he have any other studies or figures that might show whether such measures are effective?

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are already on the record as supporting this measure. In fact, we put it forward in our 2004 election platform.

I think it is a matter of letting public transit users know that the government supports what they are doing.

I am not sure, however, to what extent this measure will have a significant effect on ridership. We would have preferred a refundable tax credit, because public transit users are in large part student who, more often than not, do not pay taxes. It is less of an incentive for them. I brought this up when the minister came to committee.

While people do talk to me about the cost of public transit—lower costs would certainly be welcome—running times, frequency, routes and infrastructure are also of concern to them. Those who do not use public transit often argue that it takes too long, that it is too difficult to use, that there are not sufficient routes and that the schedules are not flexible enough.

Transit authorities should be allowed to provide expanded service in terms of frequency, scheduling, flexibility and routes. This has to happen at the level of transit authorities, which come under the purview of the provinces.

If the government is really serious about resolving these issues, it has to stop choking the provinces and provide them with all they need to deliver these services to their inhabitants.

Fiscal imbalance really has to be dealt with. We will work on it with the government, which we will support if it gives back to Quebec the $3.9 billion requested to correct the fiscal imbalance.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber on his excellent speech.

I take this opportunity to add to the remarks made by the parliamentary secretary, who forgot to mention that the Bloc Québécois had already introduced in the House on two occasions, through its members, bills concerning the opportunity of such a tax credit. We wanted a refundable tax credit.

We obviously managed to half convince the Conservatives, who were more open than they are now when they were in opposition. Again, as representatives of the Quebec nation, we are happy the carry the real message.

The tax credit is a step in the right direction but next time, it should really be a refundable tax credit. This could be included in the next federal budget to ensure that it is not only taxpayers who are encouraged to use public transit and that those who do not pay taxes receive a fair refund. That would encourage them to use public transit more.

Does my colleague think this is realistic?

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

It is true that we need to go further, and the Bloc Québécois will continue to work toward that goal. As I said earlier, I will continue to talk about this in committee and make recommendations. When the minister came, I told him my thoughts on this.

I will certainly continue to work with the parliamentary secretary and all members of the committee to move this file forward.

I believe that the Bloc Québécois' progress, though not yet complete, once again demonstrates the importance of the Bloc Québécois' work. This coincides with what the Minister of Transport said earlier this morning when he was explaining to the House that he needed the Bloc Québécois' support.

We will continue to do our work rigorously and effectively. The parliamentary secretary also sought our opinion on and support for the public transit tax credit, and we gave it.

It would certainly be nice if the Minister of Transport and the parliamentary secretary explained to some of their Conservative colleagues, who like to talk themselves hoarse criticizing the Bloc Québécois, that the party is useful and that they need it to advance the interests of Canadians and—

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Western Arctic

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak in this budget debate. I noted with interest some of the comments the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance made at the beginning of her speech. She set the tone that the government wanted to follow. With this bill, she felt it was opening up new opportunities for Canadians to be better served in the tax system and she spoke to a number of specific instances of that.

She also spoke of the importance of working Canadians as part of the whole tax structure, and in a way we all are. Working Canadians are the wealth creators. I come from a region of the country which is doing very well in creating wealth for Canadians, with the diamonds, oil and gas in the Northwest Territories. We are starting to push a lot of wealth into the rest of the country.

We can look the oil and gas industry in northern B.C. and say the same thing. People working in that part of the country are creating a lot of wealth for the country. We could say the same thing about northern Alberta. We can go to northern Saskatchewan where the uranium mines are now pumping out enormous profits, another indicator of wealth creation.

The development of hydroelectric power in Manitoba will create more wealth. The northern Ontario diamond mines, the potential great hydroelectric developments in Quebec, the Labrador nickel, and the list goes on, create more wealth. Throughout northern Canada, working people create wealth for the rest of the country. Wealth is a good thing; it makes our world work.

Within the concept of that, we need workers in the north. We need people to live, work raise their families and have a normal life there, just like every other Canadian. That is very important. It creates wealth and helps the whole country out.

In the mid-eighties we had some pretty far-sighted Conservatives in the Mulroney government who realized it was important that northerners be well protected in terms of their ability to live and work. To their great credit, they created what was called the northern residents' tax deduction. That spoke to fairness.

However, when we look at 2006, and in preparation for next year's budget, we need to talk about what the north needs. We need measures to deal with the high cost of living. The tax deduction created in 1986 and remains the same amount in 2006 does not accomplish that purpose. It does not deliver that for northerners any more.

According to information provided by the NWT Bureau of Statistics, a food item which costs $1 in Yellowknife, on average costs $1.35 in Fort Liard, $1.70 in Wekweti, $1.91 in Fort Good Hope and $2.22 in Pawitik. These increased costs do not reflect the fact that the costs of items in Yellowknife are already significantly higher than southern Canadian cities like Edmonton.

On average, households of northerners spend $15,000 more per year on living essentials than other Canadians. Some will argue that higher northern wages make up for these increased costs. If we were talking about a time many years ago, we might say that was the case. However, when we look at Statistics Canada and we look at the wages across the country, we see it is not the case.

The other day I had the opportunity to travel on a plane with a young fellow from Newfoundland who had worked in northern Canada and in Alberta. When I asked him if he was better paid in the north, he said that his paycheque was larger for less work in Alberta than it was when he worked at the diamond mines in the Northwest Territories. This young fellow was a skilled tradesman whose skills could be used anywhere in the country. It is not working for northerners any more.

High wages are not really the answer. It is not about that. High wages only benefit those who have a job which pays well. For the unemployed and the working poor, the high cost in the north only adds to their burdens. The majority of people in northern communities across the country are working for very low wages in very substandard conditions.

Some would say that the much promoted cut to the GST has helped northerners to deal with the high cost of living. In reality, the 1% cut lowered the price of a cup of coffee in Yellowknife by a whopping 1%. A 1¢ drop in the price of a cup of coffee really helps when the price of a litre of milk is $4 or $5 and when someone needs a loan to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and groceries. The GST is very perverse in what it does to northern communities where the cost of living is high. Northerners pay more GST for every item they buy than southerners. In some respects, we in the north pay more taxes than those who live in the southern part of Canada. The GST, the tax on consumption, exacerbates that issue.

If the government really wants to help northerners, and I am talking about northerners in every province and territory, then it should increase the northern residents tax deduction. This is a pretty simple thing to do.

As many members know, since being elected to the House, I have called for the northern residents tax deduction to be increased by 50%, with future increases indexed to a northern inflationary measure. It has been estimated that for each increase of $1,000 to the deduction, $3 million would be put back into the pockets of northerners.

If the Minister of Finance cannot take my advice, then perhaps he will take the advice of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. At its annual general meeting in Saskatoon, chamber members, those very progressive and enlightened people we all know as the backbone of the country with their large and small businesses, voted to support the federal government in: reviewing the provisions allowing for income tax deductions for northern residents and increasing the housing deduction to reflect the actual inflation index costs of housing in northern areas; reducing record burdens by eliminating the current employer specified vacation travel deduction and replacing it with a standardized inflation indexed northern vacation deduction based on the number of people in the taxpayer's household and the area of residence; and dispensing with the limit on medical travel being the lowest return air fare and allowing northern taxpayers the deduction for their actual costs incurred in medical travel.

These tremendously progressive statements came from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. I thank the members for those statements. I thank them for their support because they truly recognize that northern workers are making a difference to our economy. They will continue to add wealth into the country and will continue to support the efforts of southern Canadians to live in a good fashion.

Maybe the Minister of Finance will take the advice of the legislative assembly in the Northwest Territories that unanimously supported a motion to increase the deduction.

Also calling for this change is the NWT Chamber of Commerce and the Hay River Chamber of Commerce. The head of the Hay River Chamber of Commerce said:

Hay River is experiencing a period of rapid economic growth, but to sustain this prosperity we must retain and attract residents.

He went on to point out that in order to address this need for residents, there must be an increase in the northern residents tax deduction. What a good idea.

I do not know if the federal government realizes this, but if we pay the cost of flying people in and out of the north, that adds to the company's costs and reduces its taxes, which go back to the federal government.

By encouraging northerners to live in the north, we are going to improve the financial viability of companies and we are going to see a return to the federal government. That is not a bad idea; it is a good idea. This is what we want to create in our country.

Increasing the northern residents' tax deduction will help ordinary northerners, but more is needed, and I will not stop there. I speak to that first because it is an issue for people and people first is the way our party deals with things. We also need to speak to the increased need of funding to our territorial governments.

During the election, the Prime Minister wrote to the Premier of the Northwest Territories, saying:

We recognize the unique circumstances faced in the North regarding the delivery of programs and services to residents [in small, remote communities] and we are prepared to discuss the challenges regarding the costs and circumstances for the delivery of those services.

I appreciate the Prime Minister's comments. We all appreciate them. We want them backed up in the budgets of the government so they reflect what the Prime Minister said. That seems to be pretty straightforward. The government has had plenty of time to talk. It has had an expert panel report, advising how to change the funding formulas for the territories.

The Northwest Territories has identified four key issues that stand in the way of the north achieving its full potential. First among them is a need for a new fiscal relationship with Ottawa, one that reflects the needs of the Northwest Territories. The current fiscal arrangement simply cannot continue. They are deep-seated. Our territorial government, representing the full number of the people in the Northwest Territories, can only borrow up to $300 million. Most of that is tied up already in debt on public utility systems, which of course it has to provide.

Budget Implementation Act, 2006, No. 2
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I interrupt the hon. member. When we return to the study of Bill C-28, there will be seven and a half minutes left to the hon. member for Western Arctic.

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

Human Trafficking
Private Members' Business

December 8th, 2006 / 1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

moved, seconded by the hon. member for Ahuntsic:

That, in the opinion of the House, the trafficking of women and children across international borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation should be condemned, and that the House call on the government to immediately adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat the trafficking of persons worldwide.

Mr. Speaker, today I stand in the House to introduce a motion to address a growing crime in our nation: the trafficking of human beings into our country for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Criminals get rich on the backs of innocent victims, primarily women and children. It often involves organized crime and the drug trade, but ultimately it is all about making money for the criminals involved. It is accomplished through the innocent victims who fall prey to these predators.

I will read for members the motion as put forward:

That, in the opinion of the House, the trafficking of women and children across international borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation should be condemned, and that the House call on the government to immediately adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat the trafficking of persons worldwide.

Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation, typically in the sex trade.

For years the international community has been aware that vulnerable people have been tricked into believing they could find a better life in North America, only to become the victims of a cruel and horrendous deception and land up as prisoners in the sex trade against their will.

These victims have come from the orphanages in Ukraine and from Asia, eastern European countries, Ethiopia and others, but they also come from our Canada and are our Canadian citizens. Young girls aspiring to be models have been known to fall prey to these predators and are transported to outside the country to places such as Milan, where they are forced to pay the perpetrators vast amounts of money to get their documents back so they can return to their homes in Canada.

This money is earned by participating in the sex trade abroad. They are intimidated and victimized to ensure that they follow through on the pimps' demands. Today there are millions of dollars being made off the suffering of these innocent victims.

Young people, women and children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Traffickers use various methods to maintain control over their victims, including forced sexual assault and threats of violence. These victims are treated as nothing more than a commodity.

Human trafficking is dominated by organized recruitment methods initiated through putting ads in the paper proposing jobs as hairdressers, caregivers, domestic workers, models or dancers. As soon as the victims reach the country of destination, their documentation is confiscated by the traffickers and they are immediately placed on the sex market. In Canada, that means nude dancing, prostitution and so on. Those who resist end up in training camps in Europe, in Italy and France. They are raped by procurers and forced to turn 50, 60 or more tricks a day until they are psychologically broken.

According to a variety of international police forces such as Interpol and Europol, human trafficking has become a highly lucrative business.

Canada is a country both of destination and of transit as well as being an originating country. As early as the late 1990s, the Chinese and Vietnamese mafia expanded their operations in brothels in Toronto and recruited young girls from Southeast Asia. The young women who fell prey to this trafficking were purchased for $8,000 or less and sold to their procurers for $15,000. A raid by police of these brothels revealed that this particular procurement ring was providing between 30 and 40 young girls to about 15 brothels in Toronto on a quarterly basis.

I must tell members that, last night and today, officers from Surrey, Coquitlam, Burnaby and Richmond detachments executed 17 search warrants. These raids targeted massage parlours suspected of operating as a front for the sex trade. An RCMP news release says that the operations may be linked to organized crime and human trafficking may be involved.

The UN estimates that over a million people are trafficked throughout the world every year. However, the extent of trafficking into, through and within Canada is not known due to the clandestine nature of the crime and a lack of resources to support police forces, border patrols and non-governmental organizations in distinguishing between trafficked victims and illegal migrants.

In 2004 the RCMP released a strategic intelligence assessment and examined the current and historic trends in human trafficking in Canada. The assessment found that Canada was an attractive destination for human trafficking due to the economy, social assistance programs and other factors.

Following this initial analysis, the first human trafficking charge was laid in 2005 under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This case is still in the courts.

In May 2006 the first national coordination centre was staffed with RCMP officers and a civilian analyst. The RCMP is also aggressively developing initiatives to address victim protection.

In addition, a highly informative video incorporating investigators, academics and NGO leaders who worked with human trafficking was developed to train the RCMP and others to recognize victims and their predators. This is a beginning. However, much more has to be done, and we have to move quickly.

Since elected to Parliament, I have appealed to the Status of Women committee to take on the study of human trafficking. Finally this year the committee consented to study this issue. We have had many credible witnesses come forward to the committee to give us information and advice. Their presentations only confirmed what I already knew and how important it was to put in the support and resources to combat this horrendous crime.

I want to thank my colleague, the member for Ahuntsic, for supporting my motion and for contributing in such a major way at committee as our witnesses made their presentations. Her knowledge and expertise were a great asset to the committee as members listened to the presentations.

I have introduced this motion today because I believe this fast-growing global crime has penetrated our Canadian borders and is growing without the knowledge and awareness of the Canadian public. It is a cancer on our Canadian society and needs to be eliminated.

During my time as a member of the Manitoba legislature, I became acutely aware of the danger of predators luring children over the Internet. At that time, less than a decade ago, the Canadian public was oblivious to the fact that numbers of innocent children were being lured over the Internet and sexually exploited. It was shocking because many of the predators were local citizens in our neighbourhoods, and communities were unaware of what was happening. It was a new type of crime at that time.

I give credit to police forces such as the child exploitation unit in Manitoba, more commonly known as the ICE unit, and organizations such as Child Find, working in collaboration, for putting this crime on the public radar screen. My son was one of the police officers who served in this unit in Manitoba.

Today, parents, teachers and community members across our nation are working with police and other organizations to put awareness programs into their communities so our children can be safe from Internet predators.

We are at the same point in our Canadian history right now regarding the crime of human trafficking. The public at large is relatively unaware of what is happening to hundreds of young women and children from other countries as well as children within our own borders.

In 1999 the Government of British Columbia disclosed the existence of a ring involved in the trafficking of children for purposes of prostitution from its base in that province to cities in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the western United States.

In 1999 the U.S. state department stated that young girls from South America and Honduras were engaged in prostitution in Canada and the United States.

In 2001 the report of the U.S. state department stated that some minors of Canadian origin had become victims of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation. That destination was in the United States. The same source also reported that Malaysian women were also engaged in prostitution in Canada. In its report in 2003, it was stated that young girls from Honduras and Slovenia were also trafficked for purposes of prostitution right here in Canada.

The Canadian police have arrested more than 40 people with links to an international prostitution and trafficking ring that sold literally hundreds of Asian women in North America.

The exact number of victims is unknown in Canada at this time. Currently the RCMP estimates that around 800 women and children are being trafficked for the purposes of prostitution per year, but NGOs across the nation estimate the number to be 15,000. This is quite a gap between the RCMP numbers and the numbers from the non-governmental organizations. Very close to our nation's capital, a trafficking ring was taken down in Windsor, Ontario in April of this year.

Clearly my motion today is an appeal to the Parliament of Canada to supply the police forces across our nation with the tools they need to combat this horrific crime, through new laws and law enforcement, but also to support safe houses for the victims of this crime.

Before this can be accomplished, parliamentarians and the public must become more educated and aware that in communities all across our nation innocent victims are being threatened and held against their will. They continue to be violated and remain unnoticed as unknowing Canadians live their daily lives.

I would like to draw attention to the fact that the 2010 Winter Olympics are coming to Canada. Tens of thousands of visitors will visit Vancouver for this occasion. With the Olympics come the traffickers, who import vulnerable girls from all across the globe and from within Canada for the purposes of prostitution. This is what happens across the globe wherever major sporting events take place. It is hidden behind closed doors and no one sees the suffering of these young victims. Traffickers see this as a business opportunity and stand to make a lot of money off the sex trade using the innocent lives of vulnerable boys and girls.

Benjamin Perrin of The Future Group, a non-profit organization created to combat human trafficking, told the Standing Committee on the Status of Women that “the traffickers will see this as a windfall”. We as Canadians need to prepare ourselves for this modern day slavery and make it clear to traffickers that they are not welcome on Canadian soil.

I commend our current government for recognizing the need for action. Our Minister of Citizenship and Immigration brought forth new measures earlier this spring to help victims of human trafficking, first by issuing temporary resident permits for up to 120 days for victims and, second, by providing the necessary support to assist in the healing process.

Our great nation of Canada is about having the opportunity to live in freedom. It is about living in a country where individuals can build productive lives and reach their hopes and dreams. It is about human rights and dignity, which are a necessity for every living human being to have, not only in Canada but in the global community as a whole.

My motion is here today to call on all Canadians to be aware of what is happening and to demand that it be stopped.

My motion is here today to call on all parliamentarians in this House to stand with one voice and do what we need to do to make the laws and provide the resources to police and non-governmental organizations to help battle this horrendous crime.

My motion is here today because as a Canadian citizen and an elected parliamentarian I am aware that it is my duty to speak out and it is my obligation to act.

Human Trafficking
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for bringing forth this motion. It is an absolutely critical motion dealing with a tragedy that is out of sight, out of mind and, as she mentioned, largely unknown to most Canadians.

It is a global tragedy of huge proportions. In fact, as the member knows, the United Nations has written some very damning reports on the international community, especially the west, and how it is dealing with the trafficking not only of women but children and men as well. The vast majority, more than 60%, of the people who are being trafficked are young women, who, as the member said, become part of prostitution as their identity papers are removed. A lot of this is happening in eastern Europe right now. Tragically, some of it is happening in our own country too.

I would like to ask the member to tell us what solutions we could give to our RCMP that would enable them to work in a more collaborative way, which they are trying to do, with international police forces around the world. What solutions would enable us not only to have better communication assessment identification, but also to have penalties which would ensure that these people, who are parasites on these vulnerable individuals, will be put in jail? As well, what solutions would deal with the root causes of this, which often have to do with poverty in a number of these countries?

Human Trafficking
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I must say that human trafficking must go up on the public radar screen and that is what we are doing today in the House of Commons.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have produced a very informative video that is being used by RCMP officers and other people to understand how human traffickers work so they can be aware and be trained. However, more needs to be done.

In working with individuals who were trafficked, I found out that when raids happen in brothels and places like that it is hard for individuals, who have been raped, intimidated and threatened, to immediately come forward and name their perpetrators because they are afraid.

The 120 days that the government established to help victims take the time to heal is a start but more needs to be done. The victims need time to get over their ordeals and they need to feel safe. We have victims in the country right now who are being sheltered by NGOs. They do not feel safe and they are afraid to come out.

We need to create an environment and a structure that will allow these very vulnerable people to heal before they can actually testify against the criminals who captured them.

Human Trafficking
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her motion, which I find extremely important.

I would like to ask her a very simple question. In addition to all of the factors involved in human trafficking, in the trafficking of individuals for the purposes of sexual exploitation, does she think that States that legalize prostitution contribute to the growth of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation?