House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was democratic.

Topics

Firearms Registry
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure today that I stand in the House to present a petition from 438 people in my riding.

The petitioners are displaying their displeasure with the long gun registry and the fact that the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by unregistered or illegal firearms, that the long gun registry has cost Canadian taxpayers more than $1 billion and that the long gun registry usually targets law-abiding citizens, farmers, sport shooters and hunters. The petitioners would like to see this banned.

I have another petition signed by 93 people in my riding, and it is exactly the same petition.

The third petition has 1,418 names on it, for a total of 1,949 names. All these petitioners want to see part of the long gun registry revamped.

This is just a small example of the feeling in my riding.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Alleged Impediment in the Discharge of a Member's Duties
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

October 22nd, 2007 / 3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for having to make this intervention, but I want to provide the Chair with some new information with regard to the matter of the privilege issue raised on Thursday about some shadow persons in a riding taking on responsibilities for a member of Parliament. The allegation is that members' privileges were being breached.

On Friday the government House leader tabled a document from the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration about the various ways in which MPs would be serviced.

I want to correct something that I stated in the intervention I made. I had indicated that in a case I had the week before we came back that we had written to the minister's office for assistance on an urgent matter relating to a terminally ill family member and that no response was forthcoming. We then contacted directly the minister's representative with whom we normally would deal. We were told verbally that they would no longer responding to inquiries of opposition members of Parliament for ministerial assistance or permits.

In my intervention I indicated that I would be prepared to provide the names of the people involved, including the gentleman in the minister's office, and I have to withdraw that statement. The employee within the minister's office has withdrawn his permission to reveal his name because he is afraid to lose his job. Therefore, I will be unable to do that. I did not want the House to rely on that.

Other than that information, I would be prepared to provide all other details related to that case should the matter be referred to procedure and House affairs.

Alleged Impediment in the Discharge of a Member's Duties
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for his intervention.

The House resumed consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session, and of the amendment.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:20 p.m.

Louis-Saint-Laurent
Québec

Conservative

Josée Verner Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today to outline the steps the Government of Canada intends to take to strengthen the federation and our democratic institutions.

One hundred and forty years ago, the people of Canada created a country by joining together into a federation. Our ancestors joined forces and united their destinies to build a nation which now enjoys a privileged place on the world scene. Today, Canada is home to more than 31 million citizens.

Our government wants to play its part and provide the leadership needed to strengthen this bond. It wants to work together with the provinces and territories to strengthen our democratic institutions and promote our collective heritage, of which our two official languages are a part.

I would like to take this opportunity to refresh our memory of our history and our heritage. Then, I will address a number of our government's achievements with respect to linguistic duality and the Francophonie. Finally, I will share with the hon. members our vision for the future.

I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Canada is a country that values pluralism and where English and French share official language status.

Language rights are set out in our constitutional documents and in the Official Languages Act. These rights were enhanced in 1988 and in 2005.

I would also like to remind the members that part VII of the Act was introduced by a Conservative government. This part of the Act sets out the responsibilities of Quebec institutions with respect to official language minority communities. We also supported the 2005 amendments, unlike the members of the Bloc Québécois, who claim to be protecting the interests of francophones in Canada, but who are conspicuously absent when it is time to act for francophones outside of Quebec.

Both French and English are intrinsic to our identity not because of our legislation but because of the hard work and perseverance of those who came before us.

At the Banquet de la francophonie last March, the Prime Minister said, quite rightly, that “The first people to call themselves “Canadians” were French settlers who built their first community initially on the banks of the St. Lawrence on our Atlantic coast, and then across the country”. He added that well before official language laws were passed, communities built institutions—churches, schools, universities, hospitals, businesses and media—to ensure their own vitality.

People mobilized to ensure that their official language communities would not only survive, but thrive in minority settings.

Our government recognizes the importance of promoting both official languages and Canada's linguistic duality. Our achievements and our commitment to this ideal, as expressed in the Speech from the Throne, are proof of that.

I would like to mention some of our government's achievements over the past year.

Since our government came to power, open federalism has been our watchword, and our achievements reflect that approach.

That is why I am happy to have quickly signed bilateral education agreements with each province and territory, totalling $1 billion over four years. I also reached major agreements on minority-language services, totalling nearly $64 million over four years.

Thanks to these agreements, minority communities are able to put in place programs tailored to their own particular reality.

In addition, the Department of Canadian Heritage devotes $80 million a year to second language education programs. Thanks to this funding, more than 2.5 million young Canadians can learn their second official language. Everyone agrees that bilingualism is an advantage for individual Canadians and an asset for our country. However, it is also true that to bring francophones and anglophones closer together, both language communities must get to know and appreciate each other.

Our young people are the key to bringing the language communities together. Thanks in part to assistance from the Department of Canadian Heritage, more than half of the students across the country today are learning French or English as a second language. This support from the Government of Canada has helped make today's youth the most bilingual in Canadian history.

In budget 2007, we also announced an additional $30 million over two years to promote greater use of the minority language in the everyday lives of Canadians, especially young people, who live in minority communities. Yet the Liberals and the NDP opposed that budget. They voted against a budget that increased funding for official languages.

We also want to create opportunities for young Canadians to enjoy linguistic and cultural experiences in their second language, outside the classroom. It is our hope that all young Canadians will have the opportunity to appreciate the French language and culture and understand how they enrich our country.

Our government is taking concerted action. Early this month, in fact, my colleague, the Minister of Health, announced $4.5 million in funding to promote access to health care services in minority francophone and anglophone communities.

In addition, we have begun implementing a strategic plan on francophone immigration to provinces other than Quebec, in partnership with Canada's francophone and Acadian communities.

These are just a few of the positive measures we have taken.

As I said earlier, and as the Speech from the Throne shows, our approach takes into account the role of other levels of government. One of our government's main objectives is to strengthen our federation and work more and better with each level of government respecting the jurisdiction of each.

I can assure you that when all the provinces are around the table, things start happening. In addition to agreements on education and services in the minority language, we made several significant investments together with the provinces and territories to establish, expand or renovate the infrastructure in francophone communities in various regions of Canada.

We announced the launch of pilot projects for enriched services in French for preschool children. We all know how important it is for children, from a very young age, to be immersed in their language and their culture. This research will help us better understand the main factors that influence young people's behaviour and language retention.

In Halifax, a month ago I also met with all Canadian ministers responsible for francophone affairs This federal-provincial-territorial conference is an excellent forum for ensuring that the very diverse objectives of and challenges faced by francophones throughout the country are taken into consideration when developing our programs and policies.

We are proud and pleased to be working with the Quebec government to ensure that 2008, which marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, is a great year for all Quebeckers and Canadians.

There are many facets to Canada's linguistic duality and francophonie. The official language minority communities make up one facet. Quebec as a whole is another.

Quebec is the cradle of French civilization in North America, the stage where the first chapters of Canada's history played out and a leader in promoting French today. Quebec is a key partner of the Government of Canada. We are working together to promote French across the country and in Quebec.

The grand celebrations of Quebec City's 400th anniversary is a job we will share with our colleagues from Quebec. And it will be our great pleasure. Our government is giving more than $110 million and providing its full support toward infrastructure and artistic and cultural programming in preparation of this celebration. This is a file that is particularly dear to me.

The Government of Canada is proud to be a partner in these celebrations that mark a significant chapter of our history. I hope we can make Quebec City's 400th anniversary a celebration for all Canadians to remember.

What is more, the next Summit of la Francophonie will be held in Quebec City in 2008. It is no coincidence that heads of state and francophone governments are turning to Canada to hold their discussions. Canada is a beacon of support for the distribution and promotion of the French language. That is why we will invest some $2.5 million to ensure that francophones from every region in Canada will be represented in the activities surrounding the summit. These achievements provide a solid foundation on which we will continue to build.

Allow me to come back to the Speech from the Throne to close my presentation. As we said in that speech, our government supports Canada's linguistic duality. It will renew its commitment to official languages in Canada by developing a strategy for the next phase of the action plan for official languages.

The evaluation is well underway. We are in the process of reviewing all projects in the federal strategy on official languages. This will enable us to give fresh momentum to the government's official language initiatives.

What is needed in some cases is to consolidate but also, undoubtedly, to adjust, modernize, build on key partnerships and awaken the interests of Canadians.

The government's new approach will take into account reports from parliamentary committees, reports from the Official Languages Commissioner and results from community assemblies, such as the summit of francophone and Acadian communities.

I also want to continue the dialogue I have been having since I became minister—

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I am sorry but the hon. minister's time has expired. I will go to questions and comments.

The hon. member for Acadie--Bathurst.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the minister says she cares about and respects the official languages. Yet it is this same government—calling itself Canada's new Government—that eliminated the court challenges program.

The minister says she is willing to listen to what Canadians have to say, out of respect for the Standing Committee on Official Languages. That committee visited every province in Canada to conduct a study. I personally chaired that committee. There was not a single meeting in Canada in which someone did not ask the government to bring back the court challenges program.

Indeed, that program helped communities, for instance, in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, specifically regarding schools. Other examples are the Collège Boréal case in Sudbury and the Montfort Hospital case right here in Ottawa. The program really helped minority francophone communities in certain regions, as well as minority anglophone communities in Quebec.

If the government has so much respect for official languages, why did the throne speech not include a promise to restore the court challenges program? Although there is no mention of it in the throne speech, is the minister willing to bring back that program?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Josée Verner Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows very well that there is a case before the courts at this time. I will therefore refrain from commenting.

That being said, our government has every intention of promoting linguistic duality. The government made this announcement in the Speech from the Throne. Unfortunately, before even reading it, the NDP had already decided not to support the throne speech.

If the hon. member would like to contribute to the development and vitality of our official language minority communities, he should reconsider his position and support the Speech from the Throne, since it specifically targets this government's strategic plan for linguistic duality.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the minister on her excellent speech and on the number of initiatives she is undertaking to promote linguistic duality in Quebec.

As she said, in the Speech from the Throne, the government clearly stated that it would support communities. Linguistic duality is obviously a part of Canada's cultural identity. In the Speech from the Throne, the government made a commitment to continuing with the Action Plan for Official Languages. I would like to congratulate the minister on this initiative.

Francophone communities across the country have had a very favourable reaction to the Speech from the Throne.

I have a question for the minister. In the 2007 budget, an additional $30 million was set aside for promoting linguistic duality. Could the minister tell us how this amount will be spent and explain how it is helping our francophone and anglophone communities across the country?

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Josée Verner Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent question.

As we know, support for bilingualism is reaching record levels. Our young people are the most bilingual, as the studies show.

Using the $30 million announced, our government wants to help these groups, particularly young people, for example, by creating spaces where they can live their culture and speak their language. We also want to make exchanges possible across the country, for both anglophone and francophone youth. This is one thing our government plans on pursuing to continue promoting linguistic duality in our country.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:35 p.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, my intention today is not to repeat verbatim all the initiatives and goals mentioned in the Speech from the Throne. Rather, I want to focus on the proposed limits on the federal spending power, which take on a special meaning in Quebec.

The spending power, which is not mentioned anywhere in the Canadian Constitution, has been haunting federal-provincial relations for generations. As for us, ever since we were elected, we have made it clear that we want to restrict the use of the spending power, based on the criteria in the social union framework agreement, and in the 2006 and 2007 budgets.

The Speech from the Throne said:

Our Government believes that the constitutional jurisdiction of each order of government should be respected. To this end, guided by our federalism of openness, our government will introduce legislation to place formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. This legislation will allow provinces and territories to opt out with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs [with the national objectives].

Therefore, our will to restrict the spending power is the direct result of a concern that has been strongly expressed by all Quebec governments from Duplessis to Charest.

I should also point out that respecting the constitutional jurisdictions of each order of government has been a fundamental principle of the Conservative Party since its creation.

However, as we have seen, the root cause of the problem, of this abuse of the federal spending power, will always be the fiscal imbalance. In other words, if the federal government did not have disproportionate revenues compared to those of the provinces, it would probably be less inclined and, more importantly, less able to get involved in areas other than exclusive federal jurisdictions.

This is precisely why we wanted to restore fiscal balance within the federation, as early as in the 2006 budget.

First, we restored fiscal balance with Canadian taxpayers, thanks to tax cuts totalling $26 billion. Then, we reiterated our support to long term and predictable funding for health care. We also made new, major investments in infrastructure. Moreover, we provided funding, to the tune of $3.3 billion, to the provinces and territories to alleviate short term pressures in the post-secondary education, affordable housing and public transit sectors. We also put in place measures to increase the federal government's fiscal accountability and budgetary transparency and we clarified the governments' roles and responsibilities by targeting spending in areas that clearly come under federal jurisdiction, such as defence and security.

Budget 2007 also included a renewed and strengthened equalization program, a renewed and strengthened territorial formula financing program, a new approach to long-term funding support for post-secondary education, a new approach to long-term funding support for training, a new long-term plan for infrastructure, and a new approach to allocating unplanned federal surpluses.

I think it is appropriate to point out that before a major problem can be resolved, it has to be acknowledged. The previous government thought otherwise, and the Bloc has shown, as it has done countless times before, that it can raise major issues but cannot do a whole lot about them.

We are very pleased that provincial governments, especially the Government of Quebec, have welcomed the measures we have taken to ensure fiscal balance. However, I should point out that this initiative was not a unilateral concession to the Government of Quebec. It was not a political favour.

We wanted to ensure fiscal balance and limit federal spending power because we believe that this will improve the federal system.

We all know why Quebec's governments—of all political stripes—have always been more concerned about fiscal imbalance and federal spending power than other provincial governments. It is because, since Confederation, Quebec's governments have been responsible for protecting and developing a society with unique historical, cultural and social characteristics within this country.

Recognizing the distinct nature of Quebec society has repeatedly created difficulties during recent and not-so-recent federal-provincial negotiations.

At the Prime Minister's urging, Canada's Parliament recently made a historic decision to recognize that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada. To my mind, that is the crowning glory of our policy of open federalism toward Quebec.

That being said, clear recognition of Quebec's uniqueness must not result in abdication of our responsibilities to the entire Canadian federation. We want to strengthen the country's economic unity by clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each government. Over the coming months, we will follow up on this commitment set out in the Speech from the Throne, just as we are doing with the federal spending power.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the minister has often said that this government would be open and that it would support the economic development of airports in Canada, particularly those in rural areas. He is well aware of the situation in northwestern New Brunswick. It is almost identical to the situation in Saint-Hubert, Quebec. There were problems there also—