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

Topics

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the faint-hearted former minister is obviously flirting with the truth on this matter.

ACOA has been set up to help deserving recipients throughout Atlantic Canada. Does the member opposite want the department to stop spending money in Atlantic Canada? He should explain to his constituents why he does not want ACOA to continue to give money to Atlantic Canada, to deserving, well-placed recipients.

Health
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, like all Canadians, hospitals too have struggled with a large tax burden left by the Liberals.

The Canada Revenue Agency has been reviewing the application of GST to hospitals. The Ontario Hospital Association says that a retroactive GST payment would cost them $90 million, money they do not have. Hospitals are rightfully concerned that they could be on the hook for GST, going back 10 years.

Could the government show its commitment to sustainable health care and end the uncertainty left by the previous dithering Liberals?

Health
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Carol Skelton Minister of National Revenue and Minister of Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Minister of Health for his representation. The GST is a tax burden, which we are reducing on July 1 from 7% to 6%. I am pleased to announce that we are ending the GST uncertainty for Canadian hospitals.

We will not require hospitals to pay the retroactive GST tax. The government supports sustainable health care. Moving much needed dollars into health budgets is just one important way we are doing that.

Official Languages
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, for over 30 years, National Defence has been operating unlawfully by not respecting the Official Languages Act. It is extremely insulting to Canada's linguistic minorities recognized by that act.

Knowing that the government must set an example, will the Minister of National Defence insist that his department comply with the Official Languages Act? If not, will he ensure that it is respected and hand out serious reprimands, yes or no?

Official Languages
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills
Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, within the next few months the strategic language plan will be issued in defence which will provide clear objectives of the department. I believe that this will address the needs that the member has identified.

Public Safety
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, on June 1, the Minister of Public Safety stated in this House that he would help the victims of flooding in La Tuque, but only if the requests for help met the disaster assistance program criteria.

Since that program is not applicable, will the minister tell the House today whether he intends to provide assistance to the people of La Tuque through some other disaster mitigation or critical infrastructure program which would be applicable?

Public Safety
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's question. I will point out, incidentally, that it was a Conservative member who first brought this matter to the attention of the House. I am pleased to see that another member is concerned about this situation.

As I said, there is a federal plan in place to help communities when this kind of situation arises. I will be expecting a letter from the mayors or representatives concerned. I will then consider their request and reply.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of the Hon. John Ottenheimer, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Speaker's Ruling
Request for Emergency Debate
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. Before proceeding to the orders of the day, I am prepared to make a ruling on the request for emergency debate made by the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup concerning the impact of the value of the Canadian dollar on the manufacturing sector.

I regret to inform the hon. member and the House that this request does not meet the requirements of the Standing Order at this time. The request is therefore denied.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adoption), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Citizenship Act
Government Orders

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order. Before oral question period, the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas had the floor.

He has 10 minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I am pleased to call upon the hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas to resume his speech.

Citizenship Act
Government Orders

3 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to continue my remarks on Bill C-14, the amendment to the Citizenship Act to facilitate citizenship for children adopted by Canadians overseas.

When I was last speaking, I mentioned that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration had been working hard on the question of a revised Citizenship Act, on the necessary revisions that are required to the Citizenship Act, which has not been looked at since 1977.

Some of the things we had been talking about pertained to the whole question of revocation of citizenship. I had mentioned that the process for revoking citizenship should be a full judicial process. That is something the standing committee in the last Parliament felt very strongly about. The standing committee felt that there should be no provision in law for an administrative power to annul citizenship and that to revoke citizenship, false representation, fraud, or knowingly concealing material circumstances should be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court. That was a very important standard that the standing committee wanted to hold up. It is something that is dramatically lacking in the current act.

That higher evidentiary standard is higher than the one that currently exists in the legislation. Right now it is not beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the lower standard of the balance of probabilities, the civil standard. The committee felt very strongly that this needed to be raised to the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

The committee also talked of the need for a review of the residency requirements for citizenship and that refugees should be able to count their residency from the time they make their claim, not from the date of a positive finding of that claim. Those are very significant issues for many people in Canada.

We need to have a standardization of the residency requirement. We need to honour the time that refugees have spent in Canada from the time of making their claim. That is very important. We want to facilitate the gaining of citizenship by refugee claimants. This would be one way of doing it, something that is not currently done in the act and one of the reasons that the standing committee believed there should be a review of the Citizenship Act.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration also said that we needed to ensure that criminal proceedings against an applicant outside Canada could be taken into account in the same way that such proceedings in Canada are taken into account. Given the concerns that many people have about security clearances, security issues and criminal issues, this was seen as an important addition that should be made to the act.

There was a concern about citizenship court judges. The standing committee felt very strongly that they should be maintained. There have been attempts in recent years to get rid of citizenship court judges. I am pleased to see that the government has appointed some new citizenship court judges in jurisdictions where their services were urgently required, but we need to maintain that important position. I think the standing committee last year was very moved by the dedication of citizenship court judges to their important work and felt that they made a very important contribution that should be maintained in any future Citizenship Act.

There was also the matter of the citizenship oath. There is some sentiment in Canada that the oath does not appropriately reflect the reality of Canada today, that the stress on allegiance to the Queen may be something that needs to be looked at. There should be a question of looking at loyalty to Canada and stressing that in the oath as well, perhaps recognizing the importance of the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the oath and establishing the kinds of relationships that new citizens have with their new country.

There were all kinds of issues that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration thought needed to be looked at in a review of the Citizenship Act.

The previous government kept telling us that it was on the verge of tabling legislation. It kept saying that it was almost ready to go and if we only gave it a little feedback, it would be ready to run with that legislation. Unfortunately we never saw it.

I suspect there is draft legislation hanging around in the department, perhaps even in a corner of the minister's office. I would encourage the new Conservative minister to look for it, to blow that pile of dust off of it, to see if it is something he can run with and introduce in the House. There are a number of citizenship issues that are very important and need attention, not just the important matter of adoption and the gaining of citizenship for adopted children.

Another issue that I feel very strongly about in the citizenship file is the whole question of the processing fee for citizenship applications. Unfortunately, the standing committee, in hearing testimony last year, heard of cases where people had to delay their application for citizenship because they could not afford the fee. That is a very serious situation. No one in Canada should be delayed or prevented from attaining citizenship merely because they cannot afford to pay the application fee.

Last year the standing committee said very strongly that the application fee for initial applications for Canadian citizenship should be eliminated. I hope the current government will take that under advisement. No one in Canada should be prevented from taking that step of becoming a citizen because they do not have the financial means to pay for the application. I hope the government will pay some attention to that recommendation.

Many issues in the Citizenship Act should be addressed and many would require a new Citizenship Act. I hope the Conservatives will expand their citizenship agenda beyond the relatively compact issue of adoption and citizenship and move on to a broader agenda around citizenship to update that important legislation.

I want to return to Bill C-14 and say that there was one area that the standing committee thought should be addressed with regard to a citizenship application for an adopted child and that was the case where it was refused. The standing committee, in its reports to the government and to the House last year, recommended that a full appeal on the facts and law should be permitted in federal court on any refusal of an application for citizenship for an adopted child. I know this is not part of the legislation. There is the opportunity to apply for leave to appeal at the federal court, but the standing committee believes that should be clearer and more direct in terms of a direct appeal to the federal court. That is one area where the legislation might be improved.

This is legislation that was long overdue. It would provide a measure of equity and fairness to adopted children and to their families and remove that spectre that many adoptive parents and their children have felt that they were somehow second-class citizens in Canada. The bill will finally address that at long last. I hope every party in the House wants this to receive the attention that it so richly deserves.

Citizenship Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, in his speech, the minister mentioned just how important family reunification is to him. He also said that he was motivated by humanitarian concerns.

I have a hard time understanding the minister's position, which would delay reunification for parents who are granted refugee status and protection. Children are always at risk, yet he is delaying parent-child reunions. Waiting periods have become unacceptably long.

I am sure you will understand my sympathy for people who are not given the right to appeal, especially for refugees for whom an appeal provision was included in the legislation, in the form of a refugee appeal division that has never been allowed to come into force.

The bill provides that it will come into force on a date to be fixed by order in council. The committee knows that the government is using this provision to avoid implementing the refugee appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada even though the legislation was passed by both houses and received royal assent.

Does my colleague think that the bill should come into force immediately? Does he also think that the current wording of this bill offers no guarantee that it will one day come into force? Given the history of immigration and citizenship issues, we are concerned about this.

Citizenship Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges has raised an important point. I think all of us who have been working on questions of refugee rights in this Parliament have been very disappointed by the failure of the previous Liberal government and now the failure of the current government to implement the refugee appeal division. It is a legislated part of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It is a small measure but one that every refugee and immigrant serving agency in Canada has been calling for because it will guarantee fairness.

It was a compromise when we debated that legislation in the House back in 2001. The government of the day wanted to move to see two-member immigration and refugee board panels reduced to one member. However, many concerns were raised about what would happen if a mistake were made in that circumstance, when there was no appeal on the merits of the actual case.

The compromise was to establish the refugee appeal division, which is a paper appeal. It would give a refugee claimant the opportunity to introduce new evidence, to introduce the facts of the case and to have the opportunity to see that case heard again and a real appeal heard. It is something that is absolutely necessary. We are concerned that those circumstance could arise again with this legislation.

The minister did mention this morning the situation of refugees in his more general remarks about immigration policy. I want to take this opportunity to mention that this morning I stood with a group of refugees and activists from the Parkdale neighbourhood in Toronto who were calling on the government to remove the fee for permanent resident applications that is charged to refugees whose case has been determined within Canada.

This fee of $550 is extremely onerous for people who have very meagre means for the most part in Canada. We know that many of the refugees who come to Canada and make a refugee claim live in poverty in our communities. We know they often do not have the best jobs in our communities and they are just scraping by. For many of them to gather the amount of money that is required to make a permanent residence application and to do it within the period required is extremely difficult.

When we have people who have been found to be refugees and who have shown that their lives are in danger in their country of origin, there should be no excuse for delaying their permanent resident status in Canada.

I think it is important that the government give urgent and serious consideration to removing the requirement of that fee for these people. This is s very important and it demands the government's immediate attention.