House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

The House resumed from November 15 consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (verification of residence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections Act
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10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is the House ready for the question?

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10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10 a.m.

An hon. member

On division.

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10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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10 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, as a modern thriving country, Canada stands as an inspiration to people from around the world who have come here, or look at us from abroad, aspiring to share in the kind of freedom of open opportunity that Canadians always have, but the Senate of Canada darkens somewhat the reputation that we have as a beacon of democracy.

In the 21st century, it is unacceptable that one-half of our Parliament, the Senate, is unelected and unaccountable. That is why today, I am pleased to open debate in this House, first on our Senate term limits bill, Bill C-19, which limits the terms of senators to eight years, and consequently on the future of the Senate itself. At its core, a debate about the Senate is a debate about accountability.

Accountability is one of the main principles underlying our democratic institutions. Canadians expect and, in fact, demand that the government be accountable for the decisions it makes.

And the electoral process is a basic necessity to keep the government accountable. By voting, Canadians choose the people who will represent them in Ottawa. Every member of this House had to put his or her name on a ballot and tell the voters why they should vote for him or her instead of the other candidates whose names were also on the ballot.

Once in power, members must constantly justify their actions and their decisions if they want to be re-elected. Election after election, the members of this House have obtained the democratic legitimacy they need to exercise political power by taking part in the electoral process.

Members of this House, such as the member for Elmwood—Transcona or the member for Cardigan, have given the voters in their ridings the opportunity to pass judgment on their actions time and time again. This is what is meant by accountability. It is the essence of democracy. Let me be clear, there is today no accountability in the Senate.

If the Senate had to be accountable to Canadians, it would be difficult to imagine that senators could justify, for example, their work week to the average Canadian. Statistics show that Canadians are working longer and longer hours, yet senators work only three days per week, since, conveniently, they do not work on Mondays or Fridays.

Most Canadians work 50 weeks a year, but senators are content to collect their annual salaries of $120,000 while only working usually 29 weeks per year. This works out to about 87 working days annually, or roughly one-third of what the average Canadian works.

When Canada is facing increasing pressure in its manufacturing and forestry sectors, and Canadians are struggling to get by each day, it is utterly ridiculous that senators are guaranteed their $120,000 per year salaries until the age of 75.

Yes, that is right. Once appointed to the Senate, senators sit until the age of 75, which results in terms of up to 45 years. I hope all members will agree that 45 year terms are unacceptable in a modern democracy.

The Senate has remained virtually unchanged since Confederation. That is over 140 years. It is arguably the most powerful upper chamber in the world and it has powers nearly equal to those of this House.

For example, the Senate can block legislation passed by this House, the democratically elected and accountable House of Commons, and we have seen that happen just in this past year. It can compel government officials and Canadian citizens to appear before Senate committees. The Senate can propose and pass legislation, and send it here for approval.

In its current form, where its members are not elected by Canadians and therefore not accountable to the Canadian people, it is unacceptable. The fact remains, the Senate is an artifact of a long ago time when aristocrats and nobles wielded influence and power without being accountable to anyone.

I should clarify what I said earlier that it will delay, obstruct, not make decisions or block legislation. When it did it earlier this past year, it was not a bill that came from the House of Commons and it was not a bill that came from the government. It was this very bill, the Senate terms limits bill, on which it simply refused to make a decision.

Our view is that the Senate must change. Our government will lead that change. This week we introduced two bills in the House to create a modern, accountable Senate that is consistent with 21st century democratic values, principles and traditions. One of the bills we introduced this week would create a process for giving Canadians a say in who represents them in the Senate.

The bill, entitled the Senate appointment consultations act, is the same bill that was introduced in this House in the last session of parliament. It would create a process for holding popular consultations with Canadians to fill vacant Senate seats.

The process it would create is simple. The consultations would be held in conjunction with either federal or provincial elections. The results would provide the Prime Minister with a list of names chosen by Canadians in their particular province from which to choose to fill vacancies in the Senate.

The practice of prime ministers consulting only with party hacks before appointing friends and colleagues will end. Now, for the first time ever, Canadians across Canada will have a direct say in who should represent them in the Senate.

The other bill we introduced is the bill we are debating today. Our Senate term limits bill, officially entitled the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure), will put an end to 45 year terms for senators by limiting their terms to eight years.

The bill is quite simple and straightforward. It would amend the Constitution of Canada to limit the terms of new senators to eight years and limits senators to serving a single term.

This simple, straightforward piece of legislation would end the terms of up to 45 years for senators that Canadians simply cannot accept. It would also allow the Senate to be consistently replenished with new people, with different perspectives and modern views.

Hon. members will recall that the bill on Senate tenure was first introduced in the Senate in May 2006. However, the unelected Liberal senators blocked and delayed its adoption for over a year before shirking their constitutional duty and refusing to examine this bill. Although the government was disappointed at these tactics, it had expected them somewhat.

Clearly, the increasingly aristocratic Liberal senators are not democratic and do not believe in basic democratic principles such as accountability, and as the legislative successors of the nobility, who ruled by means of arbitrary decisions, they do not believe they have to bow to public opinion.

That is why we decided to introduce our bill on Senate tenure in this House.

With the Liberal leader and many members of his caucus expressing support on numerous occasions for term limits, we expect the bill to easily pass this House. In fact, in a book published just this year, the leader of the Liberal Party indicated his support for the concept of limiting senators terms to an even shorter period than we are proposing. He proposed six years. We hope, as I said, that it will pass this House.

The problem will be in the Senate, where the noble aristocrats in the Liberal Senate caucus are trying ever more desperately to protect their privileged existence and their perks.

In spite of everything, the government expects the Liberals in the Senate to respect the will of a legitimate, elected, accountable House of Commons and quickly adopt the bill on Senate tenure, even though it is not in their personal interests.

Our Senate term limits bill, along with our Senate appointment consultations act, would allow for the accountability that Canadians demand of their parliamentary institutions by allowing them to pass judgment on the conduct of senators. Senators will now have to be accountable for the decisions they make, the work they do, and the paycheques they receive. Accountability, the basis of democracy, will finally come to the Senate.

Moreover, these bills have been consistently supported by an overwhelming number of Canadians. Last December, a poll was released by Decima Research which showed that 72% of Canadians supported term limits for senators and 64% supported Senate elections.

In September, our government released our public consultations report on democratic reform. As part of that report, a scientific poll was conducted. The results were clear: 79% of Canadians supported elections for senators and 65% supported term limits for senators.

Finally, Angus Reid recently released a poll which reiterated the findings from the earlier polls and showed that 71% of Canadians supported elections for senators and an equal amount supported term limits. The results are overwhelming. Canadians want the Senate to change and so does their government.

We have indicated on numerous occasions that we are open to different approaches to the details of Senate reform, but we will not compromise on one fundamental aspect: the status quo is not acceptable. The Senate must change.

While the government prefers to try to reform the Senate, if that change cannot happen through reform then we believe that the Senate should be abolished. This is not our preferred route. We would prefer to try to reform the Senate before resorting to abolish it. But if the vested interests continue to use their unaccountable and illegitimate democratic power to resist democratization, it is a route that Canadians will want to see us travel.

As a result, the Liberals in the Senate and the House have a decision to make. Do they want to join the government in creating a modern, accountable Senate that reflects Canada's democratic values, principles and traditions, or do they want the Senate to vanish, leaving its original purposes unfulfilled in the parliamentary process?

We hope they will choose the first option. As an artifact of a long ago time, the Senate is out of place in its current form in a 21st century democracy. An institution with the extraordinary powers of the Senate must be accountable for its decisions. It must change. Our government is providing leadership to achieve that change.

Today we are debating legislation to limit the terms of senators. This bill along with our Senate appointment consultations bill are together important steps in creating a modern accountable Senate that reflects 21st century democratic principles.

However, if we find that that effort to change the Senate continues to be blocked by a Liberal Party that prefers to protect the entitlements of a privileged few, then I am sure Canadians will want us to abolish it. We are willing to travel that road if necessary.

I might add that is a road that has been travelled. As many of the provinces entered Confederation, they still had an upper chamber in their legislatures. In every one of those provinces since Confederation, those upper chambers have been eliminated.

While we think the Senate can perform an essential role, we see from the example of those provinces that the loss of that second chamber has not made it impossible for those provinces to function well. I hear few people calling for a return of upper chambers in the provincial legislatures.

For that reason as well we see that there is a need for change and that the change that we prefer is one that is practical and achievable. If that cannot be done, the other route is not the worst route. It is a route that is far preferable to the status quo in the Senate.

I look forward to debate on this bill. I hope that members of the House will have regard for the clearly expressed views of Canadians, a strong sentiment and desire for change, the desire for accountability, and the desire to see our country, seen around the world as a beacon for democracy, reform its institutions to actually reflect that reputation.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister both for his comments and for showing us the road map of where the government is going regardless of what debate takes place here.

I know that the minister is learned in the law. I know that he has in the past lectured in the law, that he has been on the faculty of law schools on a quasi-basis and that he comes to this House with a breadth of experience in the law.

My question for the minister is about the law, specifically the law about constitutionality. Does he think the bills he is presenting before this House regarding Senate reform will require a constitutional amendment under the amendment formula as dictated by Canadian law? Is that his view? Will he tell the House?

Will he tell the people of Canada that this is mostly a charade, that these bills are a charade, that if they pass they will still require a constitutional amendment and thus a reopening of constitutional discussions? Will he tell the Canadian public the truth about the constitutional amendment requirement and the opening up of all of the complaints and wishes of Canadians when it comes to constitutional reform?

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his kind introduction by discussing my qualifications. Unfortunately, like the name he bears and the law that bears that name, he did get it wrong. The faculty I was associated with was not the law school. It was in fact the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. It is true that I have been a guest lecturer and have participated in teaching at law schools as well as other faculties at several universities, but I did not want that to go on the record improperly.

In terms of the constitutionality in regard to this, it is quite clear that the proposed bill on Senate term limits is constitutional. We have heard from individuals far more expert and eminent on the Constitution than myself or the hon. member from Moncton. People such as Patrick Monahan and Peter Hogg, as anyone who has been to law school will recognize, are the leading experts on the Constitution alive today in this country. On a couple of occasions, they have both testified at Senate committees that these bills are entirely constitutional.

We know the bill is constitutional because we have seen it happen in the past. There actually has been a Senate term limits bill before. It was passed without consultation with the provinces and without any approval from the provinces. That was done in Parliament. That bill was the one that changed senators' terms from terms for life to age 75 for retirement. This shows us that the practice was constitutional in the past.

We have the advice of the best constitutional experts today. We have the past practice. It is quite clear that this is a constitutional measure we are taking and that the approach we are taking is properly within the ambit of the government.

Had we gone further, for example, to suggest that we change the allocation of Senate seats between provinces, I think the hon. member would be quite right. Then we would be straying into the area that the Constitution says does require the consent of the provinces.

This bill, however, does not do that. As such, it is wholly within the powers of this Parliament.

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10:20 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a comment before a very direct question for the House leader. Our party believes in term limits for the Senate and we like the number to be zero. I hope that the minister might engage with us on that number. We also believe that we should consult Canadians. After all, this has been the problem with the government on democratic reform: it consults friends and everyone in the backroom, but not Canadians.

My question for my friend is this: if the government is looking at genuine change in the Senate, why do we not get this over with and have a referendum? We should ask Canadians whether they want the Senate at all. This would save us all a lot of time. It would put this bill to sleep. It is about time that Canadians really were consulted on the Senate. We should not be just tinkering. We should be asking whether they want the Senate or not. Why does the government not do that and get on with it?

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10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very heartened by two things that the member for Ottawa Centre has said.

First, the belief of the NDP is that we should consult Canadians. I am heartened, because that of course means that he is indicating he will be supporting our next bill that we will be debating, which is the bill on consultations with Canadians about those whom they would like to represent them in the Senate. It heartens me that he has given his commitment to support that because he believes in consulting Canadians.

Second, on the question at hand, his other statement was that he supports term limits, so we are making progress there.

In terms of the question of going straight to the matter of abolition and asking Canadians about that, there is of course a private member's bill by a Conservative senator in the other place, Senator Segal, which proposes exactly that. We do not necessarily say that it is a bad idea; however, we believe there is a better option than abolition or the status quo and that better option is to correct the Senate. That is what we are seeking to do here.

However, in fairness to the member for Ottawa Centre, I do believe he is right when he says that the Senate in its current form should be put out of its misery. It needs to be made accountable and democratic. If that cannot be done, I believe the member for Ottawa Centre is right and we should ask Canadians if they wish to see that institution in its current form terminated, because it simply cannot justify, in a 21st century democracy, continuing to hold the powers that it holds without any accountability or any democratic element.

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10:20 a.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments that we have heard from the government House leader. I have also heard from my constituents that they are not happy with the Senate in its present form. They are asking for changes. They support what the government is proposing. They do want to see an accountable Senate. They would like to see senators elected, so the government's plan is taking us in that direction. They also want to see term limits.

My question for the member, though, relates to the Liberal Party's resistance to change. I would ask him why he thinks there is that resistance. Also, Alberta indicated through an election those whom Albertans would like to see appointed to the Senate. Again, the previous Liberal government ignored that.

We now have a Prime Minister who is seeking direction from Canadians on whom they would like to see in the Senate. The previous government did not do that. Could the member remind us of that example and give us his thoughts on why there is such a huge resistance from the Liberal Party? Why does it resist listening to Canadians? Canadians are unanimous in wanting to see a change in the Senate. Why are the Liberals resisting it?

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10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member for Langley shares his constituents' interest in this important issue.

In terms of the matter of appointing senators who have been elected, there actually now have been two occasions in Canadian history when senators who have been recommended by the voters in their province have then been appointed to the Senate.

The most recent one, of course, is Bert Brown, who was appointed by our current Prime Minister. He was recommended in a vote that took place many years ago. He was a senator in waiting for a long time while others who had not been elected continued to be appointed by the previous Liberal government. He was passed over.

We did not do that. The Prime Minister was happy to implement the spirit of our proposed legislation on Senate consultations and appoint him in this Parliament.

The previous occasion was actually under the former Progressive Conservative government, which was in place from 1984 to 1993. Again, there had been an election in the province of Alberta and a senator had been recommended. In the spirit of the desire of this party historically to see reform in the Senate, that appointment was also made.

So we have a number of examples, and I do not think anybody would say the Senate was worse off for either of those appointments. I think they were all good examples of how things could operate in the future. If we had a Senate filled with people who had a legitimate mandate from their voters, from their provinces and the people of their provinces, it would certainly strengthen that institution.

In terms of those who are in the Senate now, it is a Liberal-dominated institution. It usually is. The history of this country has been one of Liberal governments, primarily, and the history of this country in the modern era has been one of Liberal governments appointing almost exclusively Liberal Party hacks to that institution.

That is the very reason why it is discredited in this day and age, but the Liberals of course view those appointments as the legitimate spoils of the electoral game. They view that as the riches that they are able to access for their friends to reward them for their good work for the party over the years.

That is not what an institution in a Parliament should be for. It should not be for rewarding one's buddies, one's friends, one's campaign chairs from previous elections or one's best fundraisers. It should be an institution that represents and speaks for the voice of ordinary Canadians. That is how democracy works.

If the Liberals want to reward their buddies and friends, the Liberal Party can pay for them out of its own money. That is not what this institution is for. However, I can see how, in dominating that institution with those kinds of folks, they want to resist any change that puts at risk exactly those perks and privileges. Their strategy is clear. It is to delay, obstruct and prevent any change, because as soon as there is one hint of legitimate reform, the floodgates will open and the good ride they have had, enjoying the perks and privileges for years at the expense of our democracy, will come to an end.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand in the House and outline some of the concerns that Canadians should have about the thin gruel of the agenda on democratic reform that is coming from the Conservative Party and, frankly, the attacking of parliamentary privilege, the disrespect and the shallow nature in which the minister responsible for democratic reform is attacking these issues.

Because I think we all need to be drawn together in a real debate about where we are going with respect to Liberal-led democratic reform, I would like to start with a quote from the Bible:

And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

That is the Gospel according to St. Mark, chapter 3, verse 25.

What we kind of forget is that there is a history and it is called the history of Canada. Canada was founded on bases that were different from our two feeding democratic countries by way of origin. We have certain influences from the United Kingdom, which we see when we look around this House, the other place, Parliament in general and the system of government, that reflects our British heritage and the influence of Great Britain on our founding.

What we cannot ignore as well is that there was an influence from the south, that there was a young republic that was going through the throes of a civil war, one of the most bloody wars in the history of humankind, and that country is the United States of America that was very prescient on the minds of the Fathers of Confederation at the time that debates took place regarding how we came to have this House, the other house and the system of responsible government.

We specifically did not copy the British model. It is not often that I would quote with favour a Conservative politician but I will do it this once because I think, with the distance of time and separation, that our first prime minister, John Alexander Macdonald, was right when he said:

An hereditary Upper House is impracticable in this young country.... An hereditary body is altogether unsuited to our state of our society, and would soon dwindle into nothing.

This was said in 1865 when the Confederation debates took place. There was a very early understanding that we were different than the United Kingdom.

Looking at events extraneous to Kingston and to Charlottetown where great debates took place at the time and the carnage that resulted from the American experiment, that Conservative prime minister, the first prime minister of Canada, also said that we needed to distinguish ourselves from the United States of America. He said:

...the defects which time and events have shown to exist in the American Constitution. They commenced, in fact, at the wrong end. They declared by their Constitution that each state was a sovereignty in itself, and that all the powers incident to a sovereignty belonged to each state, except those powers which, by the Constitution, were conferred upon the General Government and Congress. Here we have adopted a different system. We have strengthened the General Government. We have given the General Legislature all the great subjects of legislation. We have conferred on them, not only specifically and in detail, all the powers which are incident to sovereignty, but we have expressly declared that all subjects of general interest not distinctly and exclusively conferred upon the local governments and local legislatures, shall be conferred upon the General Government and Legislature. We have thus avoided that great source of weakness which has been the cause of the disruption of the United States. We have avoided all conflict of jurisdiction and authority, and if this Constitution is carried out, as it will be in full detail in the Imperial Act...we will have...all the advantages of a legislative union under one administration, with, at the same time, the guarantees for local institutions and for local laws, which are insisted upon by so many in the provinces now....

We must remember that the provinces came together to form a union. We must remember that those provinces were the seed for the plant that is now Canada. We must remember that the provinces insisted on specific legislative powers but they also insisted on protection for their interests. Thus, the legislative council, now known as the Senate, arrived.

This must be the starting point for all discussion about the Senate: the provinces. As John A. Macdonald said, “The central government was well-defined, the federal powers were entrenched and this House, the House of Commons, having almost all of the powers of the new federal government, was well-ensconced”.

What of the Senate? The legislative council was there to protect provincial rights. I submit that since 1867 there has only been one change in the Senate makeup that has had any effect on those powers as deemed important by the provinces since 1867, and that was the one change with respect to the length of time that senators may serve.

I am shocked that the Minister for Democratic Reform, a person who has had at least some legal training, suggests that the change made in 1965 was constitutional. It was done and it was passed unilaterally. Any constitutional scholar who we have taken the advantage of listening to will say that unilateral change to the Constitution may or may not be constitutional. If it is done and not challenged, then it lies there in possum waiting for someone to challenge it perhaps.

However, the change was not that objectional to all parties concerned. It limited the life appointment of senators to the age of 75. I do not hear anybody objecting to that from the Senate or from any other quarter in this country. It was done unilaterally in 1965 before there was an amendment formula for the Constitution Act of Canada. Therefore, to say that it was done constitutionally is misleading.

Legally speaking, it was done unilaterally before there was a constitutional amendment formula. We live in an era where there is a formula now and we have to fast forward discussions to today's reality, today's legal environment, and understand that the constitutional amendment package that is part of the laws of this country is in play.

It shocks me. If we were here as a result of extensive federal-provincial consultations, negotiations, conferences or even a video conference that the minister might have had with his provincial counterparts, I might be a little less shocked about how the government can bring these bills forward and say that every Canadian wants them. I know they are government-driven by opinion polls and that for the government it is 37% of Canada. In reality, however, we are talking about provincial rights and interests and anything that touches upon Senate reform touches upon provincial rights.

We have a Senate. Right now, there are vacancies in the province of British Columbia, two vacancies in Ontario, two in Quebec and five in Atlantic Canada. There are disproportionate vacancies in Atlantic Canada. Would the premiers of those provinces feel that perhaps the government does not feel that those regions, which are completely under-represented in the Senate from its structure, might want to have a say in its redevelopment?

I look at the number of seats for western Canada. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba each have six seats. We all know, by the layout of the Senate as envisioned when Canada was a much smaller place, that it gives more seats to eastern Canada and yet those seats have not been filled by the government and remain vacant.

There is a disequilibrium with respect to the number of seats. This is not me just saying that. There are very weighty tones on the issues of what affects our country. Most of the scholars suggest that we will have two major problems for the next 100 years in the existence of this Confederation. One of the major problems, which I do not need to go into too deeply, is the unacceptability to Quebec of the Constitution as revised without its agreement in 1982. That has been floating out there for a long time.

One would think that the Minister for Democratic Reform and the Prime Minister might have a concern about that and might want to occasionally talk to premiers about this issue.

I will quote from the book entitled, A House Divided by Gordon Robertson. It states:

The other major problem that had to be remedied was the imbalance in political power and influence that led Western Canada to feel that its interests were normally subordinated to those of the populous centre of Canada—Ontario and Quebec. Here the only thing that seemed likely to help was Senate reform.

Western Canada has, for some time, through its scholars, through its elected leaders and through some of its elected politicians, been active and perhaps more active than any part of the country with respect to Senate reform.

Let me start the debate as well by saying that I thought we were here discussing Senate reform. The Prime Minister, in his speech before a Senate committee in September of last year, made it very clear that he was there to talk about reform. We had no indication from the Prime Minister or the Minister for Democratic Reform or spokespeople for the Conservative government that a referendum or otherwise on abolition was the ultimate end game of these bills. No discussions have actually taken place yet with the provinces.

I suppose, if that is the case and the Conservative government is actually putting time limits on debates with respect to all of these bills, then maybe the government should be honest and say that it will just skip steps one and two and go to step three and put the abolition element to a constitutional amendment process, which is clearly required. I think we had that admission from the minister today that, in his view, anything more than tinkering with tenure and selection or nomination processes, anything beyond that as he said, composition of the Senate or abolition would require the constitutional amendment formula to take place.

Perhaps the government should be honest with Canadians and say that it favours the abolition of the Senate, it supports Progressive Conservative Senator Hugh Segal's amendment and go straight to that point. Otherwise, I believe that it is pulling a fast one on the people of Canada by suggesting that these bills, other than getting the headlines that the Conservatives so crave, will actually affect Senate change. I do not think that is the case. It is pretty clear that there is a constitutional issue here and the amendment formula will come into play.

As I started to say, we should be talking about western Canada. We talk about western alienation. It seems perhaps funny for a member of Parliament from the shores of the Bay of Fundy to talk about western alienation, but I suppose, if we look at half the population of northern Alberta, it is probably from the Atlantic provinces, so I feel some kinship to the concerns and respect very much the concerns of successive western premiers who have not had a chance to have constitutional conferences or meetings with the Prime Minister. He has not had a first ministers meeting since he was elected. His first meeting is coming up and he will be talking about the economy, which, obviously, is an important subject.

However, if the reform of Canada's Senate continues to be important and, as the scholars said, to bring in the west, to effect a change to their under-representation, then we should know that the west of Canada has spoken before. The Canada West findings in 1981 suggested, for instance in terms of distribution, equality for all provinces, six to ten senators each, territories one or two each. This would be a cutting back of the number of seats, which is 24 each in Quebec and Ontario. I am not sure that would fly with the respective premiers of Quebec and Ontario.

The joint committee hearings, which took place in 1982 through 1984, recommended a distribution of seats which would be in the formula of 2, 6, 12 and 24. What that means is that the territories would each get 2 senators, P.E.I., because of its historical incident, would get 6. Almost all the other provinces would get 12 except for Ontario and Quebec. It is a formula that was discussed. The Alberta committee in 1985 essentially came to a similar conclusion that there should be equality for provinces at 6 each.

We must remember that although we differ from the United States in terms of having provincial rights protected in a federal institution as opposed to ceding rights directly to states, it is the upper house in the United States that gives credence to small populations having equality with large populations. I do not think the people of California and New York are so much more magnanimous than the big provinces in Canada that they had not thought that Rhode Island and Maine having two senators along with their two senators in New York and California would not be a bit of a problem.

However, in over 200 years it has not been problem. There have not been calls for more senators for the larger states and the U.S. senate, when it is dominated by the right party, I suppose one could argue, works fairly well with respect to administering the Government of the United States. It is a check and a balance on the House of Representatives and on the government in question, and that may be the bigger issue.

I think the kernel of the real motive would be in the speech of the Minister for Democratic Reform when he said, repeatedly, the Liberal-dominated Senate. He is taking a snapshot in time. I wonder, and maybe the Canadian public wonders, if this were a Conservative-dominated Senate of the day and it voted with the government all the time, because of the nature of collegiality and the conformity to one's party, whether we would be here.

This is shortsighted for two reasons. Governments need checks and balances. It is why, Mr. Speaker, you have to sit through the gruelling, incisive and informative question period every day. Question period is an opportunity for opposition members to keep the government on its toes.

If not, what are we left with? We might be left with the press, members of the fifth estate, to be the official opposition. I lived as a citizen through something like that. Of course members will think I am talking about some despotic state in an undeveloped part of the world. I am talking about New Brunswick after former Premier McKenna wiped out the opposition parties with a 58 to zero majority.

As a former premier, he has spoken of this. He says that it was the worst nightmare for a premier. It was not that he had 58 colleagues. He may have said that privately and I do not want to quote him. The point was there was no institutional opposition to his government. It is a dangerous thing. He very much took steps to make opposition party leaders, although not having seats, comfortable in the democratic questioning process. He elevated the press to a higher position of knowledge and accountability than it likely was prepared for.

It is not a system that works very well, and these are unicameral situations in our provinces. They do not happen that often. There are usually oppositions in the democratically elected houses of our country. However, it would be a dangerous thing if the Senate were completely abolished. We are here to talk about making it more effective.

If the Senate were completely abolished and there was an overwhelming majority of any party, and we cannot see that in this minority Parliament because it is pretty well balanced, there would not be the institutional opposition or that chance for review and verification of legislation that exists now.

Is the Senate perfect? We can have that debate another day. Is the Senate open to change? Certainly. However, what are we discussing if, at the end of the day, a constitutional amendment is required? Why are we here at all if the government is too timid to meet its provincial homologues, both in terms of intergovernmental affairs and premiers?

Is the Prime Minister in fact afraid to meet other first ministers? Is there a problem that he cannot sit down with his confreres and discuss issues like this because he is afraid of the results?

We saw the Prime Minister attack the Premier of Ontario yesterday. I need to go very far east to say that he has not had collegial relationships with the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. On these issues reflecting Senate reform, at least four provinces have written us as to their opposition to Senate reform without consultation.

The two key issues here are that we need to have consultations with the provinces, in whatever form, to verify what their wants and desires are. This second House was founded for them, for the protection of their rights. We do not have any official word on what the provinces feel. We have letters written after spats that the Prime Minister created and we have the Minister of Democratic Reform going around and getting telephone opinions as to what people in certain provinces want, but it cannot be said that we have the stakeholders' interests in mind.

Finally, there is a huge question of constitutionality. If this matter proceeds to committee, which it likely will, it is very clear to me that we will have to hear from constitutional experts, who may well suggest that it may be necessary for this bill and other bills coming to be referred to a court of competent jurisdiction, whether that is a provincial Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of Canada itself.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his lecture this morning on aspects of constitutionality in respect to Canada and Parliament.

By way of background, I had occasion to get some literature out in play for my constituents on the question of reasonable term limits. I was aghast to learn that 98% of constituents in my riding prefer this kind of reform.

The member across went on ad nauseam about the need for constitutional amendments, provincial rights and so on. I note there is nothing in the legislation that would change the allocation of seats in the Senate.

He continued on a fairly lengthy debate on what sort of protocols would come to play about constitutional change. He must not have been listening to the government House leader when he indicated in his opening remarks on this bill that leading constitutional scholars have indicated the bill is completely constitutional and does not need an amendment.

What are the real reasons the member continues to block, delay and find excuses that have no rationale? Why does he put those issues in front of us as a way of blocking this kind of legislation that Canadians want and are looking forward to seeing in Canada's Parliament?

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I apologize to the hon. member on the comment about ad nauseam. I will try to get right to the point and make it very clear for him.

It is not clear that the bill is constitutional. Because the Minister for Democratic Reform says that this specific bill has been vetted by constitutional scholars, and he mentioned Dean Monahan and Peter Hogg, would suggest to me that the bill has already been put through a process through the Department of Justice, which certainly no parliamentarian here is aware of, if that is what my colleague said.

If I listened to him carefully and have it right, and subject to correction, he said that those scholars have given testimony before committee hearings on issues of Senate reform and have found this aspect constitutional. The proof is in the pudding. We will take this to committee and we will hear that evidence.

This bill has not been before committee, so those opinions will be forthcoming. We will decide whether a constitutional amendment is required. I am sorry to go on ad nauseam, but something is either constitutional or it is not.

The only way to find that out is to have nine justices of the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously say that this is constitutional, the Parliament of Canada is within its rights to ignore provincial concerns with respect to anything to do with the Senate. I would suggest that those justices, even if by obiter dictum, would suggest that a change to the Senate, which is provincial rights over a coordinated body, without any consultation from the stakeholders would not be appropriate. I am willing to bet my Confederation Debates book to the hon. member that would be the case.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I very much regret the tone of debate as it began with the words of the government House leader. In laying the basis for the proposed reform, he found it necessary to slag members of the other place, suggesting that they were hacks, that they did not work for their money and that they were inept. If there is a need for reform, let us deal with it straight up without slagging the other House and without shooting the messenger.

I am one of those who believes there is a need for reform, so the objective of the bill might be laudable. The question is how we are going about it.

I want to put a question to the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, who just spoke so well.

The government House leader said that the legal basis of their purported claim to change the constitution without using the amending formula was that a change happened in Senate terms some 30 or 40 years ago. Is it not a fact that when that change happened, there was no amending formula, the Senate itself partnered in the change and there were no objections from the provinces? That context does not exist now, as I understand it, and the government is moving headlong into this. I think it is just charging toward a brick wall. The government must know it. I regret it if it does not. Therefore, I regard the bill as just posturing.

Could the member respond to my suggestion?

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member is correct. It happened in 1965, when the Pearson government introduced an amendment to section 29 of the Constitution Act to create mandatory retirement age at 75 years. It was done, and the language is quite clear, unilaterally, without objection. It does not, as I said, make it constitutional because there was no challenge. It exists, and it was not challenged. That book of history was closed as of the date when we had a constitutional amendment formula passed in our country in 1982.

We are in a different playing field. If the Minister for Democratic Reform is suggesting, and the hon. member is correct, that the basis upon which the legality rests is that it was done before an amendment formula was in place, that is a bit shallow, specious and not thorough.

That is the way all legislation comes from the government. It is knee-jerk, it is without consultation and it is to get the biggest and best headline that it can get to garner its 32%. Again, 32% or 33% is what the Conservatives think all of Canada is. That is good enough for them and their math.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech of the hon. member across the way. I listened to him once again, as the Liberal Party of Canada is so fond of doing, wrap himself up in constitutional talk and rambling.

I would like to give the member a chance to not speak ad nauseam on this and to be quite clear and simple. His leader has been quite clear that he is in favour of term limits for senators. Is the member in favour of term limits for senators, yes or no?

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot answer the question yes or no. Again, if the member is going to be ill, I think there are provisions in the lobby to take care of him.

The point is that the Senate itself proposed 15 years when this bill went through the Senate as Bill S-4. Then it was killed by the government when it pulled the plug on Parliament. If we are to go through all this again, there will be recommendations with respect to the number of years.

Obviously, it is a matter of debate as to whether we go to eight, twelve, fifteen, or whether we can go to anything without a constitutional amendment process. That is really the issue.

We should hear from the provinces, see what they want and talk intelligently about debate. However, if there is a gun to our heads, then all of this is for naught. It will never take effect because a constitutional amendment formula has to kick in.

Second, the government's math is always a little crazy. It says that a committee sat for 199 days and avoided a bill, or something. If the 199th day comes up and the committee sides with Conservative Senator Segal and abolishes the Senate, why does the government not just skip to that stage now, because that is what it really wants?

I suggest the Conservatives should be direct with the Canadian people and say that they do not like the Senate because it is Liberal dominated. They would plug the Senate full of Conservative senators if they wanted to pass the ever popular HST of the day, but otherwise, they have no use for it. That is my answer.

Ron Tracey
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, politics will not be same in the Ottawa Valley with the announcement that Ron Tracey, co-owner and publisher of the Eganville Leader, after 51 years is calling it quits.

Ron was joined in the business by his younger brother, Gerald, who will continue the family tradition in the newspaper. The Leader is one of the few remaining family owned, independent weekly newspapers still publishing in Canada.

My supporters in Eganville tell me that this is a great cause for celebration, as Ron is known as a local Grit as opposed to his more sensible younger brother, Gerald, who has been known to uphold the Conservative cause in the Ottawa Valley.

The moving on of Ron in some ways mirrors the change in the Ottawa Valley when, after almost 70 years, I retired the previous member and his party. In Ron's case, his decision is his own.

All kidding aside, on behalf of the people of the Ottawa Valley, we wish Ron and Elaine the best in retirement.

Community Events
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to attend a number of events last week in my riding of Davenport and around the city of Toronto.

I would like to thank the Labourer's International Union of North America, Local 183, and in particular its business manager, Durval Terceira, and international vice-president, Joseph Mancinelli, for their work on the union's annual scholarship dinner which was a great success.

I congratulate the Casa dos Acores of Ontario on the opening of their new cultural centre in my riding and its president, Carlos Botelho, and his team for their excellent service to our community. I would also like to recognize His Excellency Carlos Manuel Martins do Vale César, president of the Autonomous Regional Government of the Acores, who participated in the opening of the centre and for their support of Casa dos Acores.

I also visited organizations like STOP community centre, the Working Women Community Centre and St. Christopher House which provide invaluable service to our community.

Our community is also grateful to Andrea Dawber and Gabriel Langlois of Trees Davenport for their ongoing hard work throughout the community in helping to preserve and plant new trees around the neighbourhood.

These individuals deserve our recognition and I thank them for their dedication.

Quebec International Solidarity Days
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, our planet is being exploited from all sides for its resources, without much consideration of impacts on its population and environment.

In that context, we hope to see all governments implement and enforce rules that are respectful of human rights and the environment globally. This is why, from November 8 to 18, the Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale and its members are backing the 11th Quebec International Solidarity Days, with the theme of controlling mining and logging.

I therefore encourage all members to enjoy the hundreds of conferences, film presentations, photo exhibitions and performances. On November 12, the screening of the documentary When Silence is Golden brought together more than 100 people in La Pocatière.

My hope is that all Quebeckers will become aware of international and environmental issues so that they can find tangible ways to take action and to put their efforts into building a fairer and more equitable world.

Green Communities
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the community of Old Ottawa East in my riding has declared itself a green community dedicated to sustainability. This community is taking leadership where the government has failed.

The Glebe Community Association has resolved the Glebe to be a pesticide free neighbourhood. Old Ottawa South has committed to renovating the Old Firehall with the highest green standards. Every community association in my riding is fighting for better public transportation, preservation of green space, green development and sustainability.

As the member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre, I support our communities' actions on the environment.

This grassroots movement is taking the lead on sustainability, but they cannot do it alone. They need sustained funding and good green policies from government. I call on the federal government to support the leadership shown by these community associations so that we may achieve a green and sustainable Canada.

Federal-Provincial-Municipal Relations
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment to pay tribute to our provincial and municipal colleagues. I am lucky to have an excellent working relationship with my Queen's Park counterpart, Laurie Scott. At the municipal level I have the pleasure of working with local officials from Haliburton County, Kawartha Lakes, Brock Township and parts of Peterborough County.

While federal and provincial members spend a lot of time out of the riding in the capital, it is municipal officials who are in the coffee shops and on the main streets of our communities every single day. As such, they have an excellent sense of what is going on and what their communities need and want.

Tonight I will be attending the Haliburton County Warden's Dinner. This is an annual event that recognizes the contribution of our local officials, past and present.

While we may squabble a bit from time to time, I believe that most Canadians are well served by federal, provincial and local officials working together for the good of their communities.

Here is to our provincial and municipal colleagues across Canada. Thanks for all the great work being done.

Canadian Association of Research Libraries
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, also known as CARL, is the leadership organization for the Canadian research library community.

The association's members are the 27 major academic research libraries across Canada, plus Library and Archives Canada, the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, known as CISTI, and of course the Library of Parliament. CARL members are the backbone of Canada's intellectual holdings in all disciplines.

I congratulate Ms. Leslie Weir, university librarian at the University of Ottawa, my alma mater, on becoming the new president of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries.

She is widely admired in her profession as an innovator in providing electronic information to the teaching and research community that the University of Ottawa serves and now her experience will serve other libraries.

Once again, congratulations Ms. Weir and long live the Canadian Association of Research Libraries.

Infrastructure
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, on October 26 the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans visited the municipality of Port Hope and announced the divestiture of the Port Hope harbour and 75 hectares of surrounding land. Port Hope will now own the property surrounding its harbour and the citizens will be able to enjoy walks along the waterfront and a planned municipal park and marina.

Mayor Linda Thompson and her colleagues on Port Hope council, as well as municipal staff, are to be commended for their great partnership in this endeavour. This is not the only example of this government's positive influence in my riding of Northumberland—Quinte West.

Many millions of dollars will be spent at CFB Trenton to improve its aging infrastructure, and the economic spinoffs to local businesses will be tremendous.

As well, our government's announcement of a panel to review the Trent-Severn Waterway has been good news to the municipalities that border this wonderful year-round natural attraction.

In short, our government is getting things done for the people of Canada and Northumberland—Quinte West.

International Day of the Imprisoned Writer
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, November 15 was the International Day of the Imprisoned Writer, and I would like to honour the gesture of solidarity made by 10 Quebec writers who have been twinned with writers from around the world who are in prison. Yesterday, during the Montreal book fair, these 10 Quebec writers each read the dedication from one of their books, which will be sent to the prisoners or their families. Those attending the book fair can sign petitions in support of writers.

“Livres comme l'Air” was created to condemn repression and censorship. Now in its eighth consecutive year, the event is organized by the Quebec union of writers, Amnesty International and the Quebec branch of PEN, an international association of writers. Since the project was launched in 2000, 33 writers imprisoned for their beliefs have been set free.

Writers help enrich, refine, and sometimes even transform our vision of the world. Today, we should take a moment to think of those who have been silenced by force.

Diabetes
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, last week I met with the Styba family from my riding whose 14-year-old daughter has type 1 diabetes. This disease reduces her quality of life and increases her chances of heart disease, stroke, blindness and amputation.

Canada has one of the highest rates of juvenile diabetes and the number of people with type 2 diabetes continues to grow dramatically.

I have seen the effects of diabetes first hand because my brother, Nick, is one of the more than two million Canadians who suffer from this disease.

It is for these Canadians that the Styba family has asked me to present a key to the Minister of Health and to the Minister of Finance as a symbol of the need to address this growing problem.

November 14 was the first UN recognized World Diabetes Day. I ask the ministers and this House to consider the personal costs of diabetes. We are coming increasingly closer to finding a cure, but we must act now.

Infrastructure
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring to the attention of this House the crisis facing Canadian cities.

Last week, residents of Mississauga were hit with a 9% tax increase to help fund the city's crumbling infrastructure. Then mayor Susan Fennell of Brampton said that she too might have to raise property taxes by up to 10%.

Nationally the infrastructure deficit facing Canadian cities is over $100 billion. The cold hard fact is that the Conservative government is ignoring urban and suburban Canadians.

Last month's so-called mini budget offered no help to Canadian cities. Instead, it left mayors across Canada scrambling for funds to help their decaying roads, bridges and sewers.

What does the government have against cities? Is it because they do not vote Conservative? The government should put its ideology and politics aside and show real leadership on the cities file.

Sir James Douglas
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, this Monday, November 19, will mark the 149th anniversary of the union of what is now the province of British Columbia.

In 1858 at Fort Langley in my riding, a booming colony on the Pacific was united more than a decade before B.C. joined Confederation.

For his role in bringing British Columbia together, Sir James Douglas is commemorated on November 19 each year with Douglas Day. Next year Sir James Douglas will be honoured on a Canada Post stamp.

A century and a half later, British Columbians can still relate to the immigrant success story of Sir James Douglas, a British Columbian who was born in British Guiana, worked in Alberta and found success in British Columbia.

I hope the House will join me in wishing British Columbia a happy Douglas Day and a successful 150th anniversary next year as it continues under our government to be a booming province on the Pacific.

Freedom of Expression
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, last Monday in downtown Hamilton's Mahal Restaurant, I had the honour to meet Afghan journalist Farida Nekzad, 2007 winner of the International Press Freedom Award and the founder of a coalition of over 200 women journalists in Afghanistan.

Every day Farida is threatened with violence and death simply because she is a woman and a journalist who challenges the status quo. One of Farida's best friends, another woman journalist in Afghanistan, was gunned down in her own bed last June. Farida was told that she is next. Farida has said she will not give up her fight, “Even if I escape tomorrow, they will just target another woman”.

Thanks to the organization Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Farida's courage, determination and incredible work have been recognized.

At the same event, I spoke with Hamilton Spectator managing editor Jim Poling, who founded the internationally trained journalists project, which helps foreign trained journalists who now live in Canada get work experience here. This year 34 people will graduate from this influential program.

Thanks to people like Farida Nekzad and Jim Poling, the right of freedom of expression everywhere is being promoted here in Canada.

Poverty
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, thanks to the former Liberal government, Canada now enjoys federal surpluses and the freedom to plan a better future not only for ourselves but for future generations.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives are squandering this precious opportunity on poorly planned cuts to the GST, boutique tax gimmicks, with absolutely nothing to alleviate child poverty in this country. Even the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a group once headed by the current Prime Minister, has condemned the Conservatives' tax announcements.

Last week the leader of the Liberal Party put forth a solid action plan to cut child poverty in half within five years. This plan would also reduce the number of Canadians living below the poverty line, especially seniors, and would deliver necessary tax relief to low income Canadians.

Manufacturing and Forestry Sector
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is unacceptable. On November 14, the 11 Conservative members from Quebec abandoned the workers in the manufacturing and forestry sector. Even worse, the two Conservative members from my region voted against the Bloc Québécois motion to help the forestry industry, which is extremely important to the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region.

The votes of the member for Jonquière—Alma and the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean prove yet again that they place more importance on defending the interests of the Conservative Party than the interests of their constituents.

If the Conservative members from Quebec had listened to the cry for help from their constituents, they would all have supported the Bloc Québécois motion.

How can they claim to defend the interests of Quebec if they do not listen to the needs of the people? With these votes, the two Conservative members turned their backs on my region and sent a clear message to hundreds of workers, young people and families: they will not help them.

International Day for Tolerance
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, today is the International Day for Tolerance. This day is an opportunity to promote tolerance, education, and an occasion for wider reflection and debate on local, national and international problems of intolerance. However, to tolerate our neighbours is but a first step. We need to respect our global diversities and in Canada to celebrate our nation's multicultural achievements.

Let us teach our children. As individuals, as parents, as members of Parliament, as Canadians, we are all capable of performing local acts of kindness and respect and to be international envoys of this message.

Let us embrace and celebrate our global diversities, our colours, our languages, our religions. International Day for Tolerance is a clarion call to all to take a moment to truly look inside ourselves and at each other through eyes of tolerance, respect and embrace, a time to take stock of where we are as humanity and the type of global village we can build in the 21st century.

Bloc Québécois
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday, the hon. member for Trois-Rivières proposed a motion to reopen the debate on the current situation in the manufacturing and forestry sectors. The Bloc Québécois may try to take advantage of its opposition day to justify its presence here in Ottawa, but I think it is important to remind those members of their hypocrisy.

They should be ashamed of themselves for calling on the Economic Development Agency of Canada to intervene in this sector, given that the Bloc Québécois voted against the creation of that agency. Bloc members also voted against the Speech from the Throne and the economic update, which identified those sectors as a priority for this government.

Unlike the empty rhetoric of the Bloc Québécois, we are taking consistent action to promote the regional economic development of Quebec.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Schreiber will be the key witness in the public inquiry. It is therefore crucial that Mr. Schreiber be available to testify at any time.

Will the Minister of Justice, who has the authority to postpone Mr. Schreiber's extradition, ensure that the key witness will be available, in order to get to the bottom of this matter?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, there is an established procedure. We know that some of the individuals involved wish to make submissions, following that procedure.

When an individual is in such a situation, it is not an appropriate time for the government to make specific comments on that individual.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, that simply was an answer to a question that was not asked.

Not only does the Minister of Justice have discretionary power to postpone an extradition, but there is a specific supplementary Canada-Germany agreement that specifically allows for the postponement of the extradition.

Will the Minister of Justice assure this House that Mr. Schreiber will be present in Canada for this inquiry, so that the truth can be served and the ends of justice can be served?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, the former minister of justice would well know there are dual competing interests here with regard to the public interest.

There is a very clear public interest related to a full public inquiry in this matter. There is also a public interest in terms of maintaining our extradition agreements, in that individuals who have been charged with fraud, bribery, and tax evasion, would also be available to face those charges and face due process in their country.

So there is a competing interest there, but it is a dual interest and it is a complementary interest at the same. In any case, what happens is that a person would still have to be available to testify.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, both those interests can be served. If the witness is not available for the inquiry, then that interest will not be served. It is in the power of the minister to ensure that the main witness will be here for the inquiry and postpone the extradition and, when appropriate, have him extradited to Germany. Both those interests can be served.

The question is whether the minister is prepared to serve the interests of justice or is he serving another interest which is in not in the interests of justice?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, as we have heard many times in this House from the former minister of justice, quite appropriately, he would not comment on specific cases and many times he stated that, and we understand that.

I will say that whatever happens, and we do not want to get into hypotheticals here, the full public inquiry comes complete with the power of subpoena and requiring the key individuals to testify wherever they might be.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, either this government is interested in getting to the truth or it is not. If it is interested in the truth through a full public inquiry, it is essential that it hears testimony, under oath, from Karlheinz Schreiber.

Experts, including Patrick Monahan, the Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, have said that Mr. Schreiber's presence at the inquiry must be assured, otherwise the inquiry will be pointless. The power to delay this extradition rests with the justice minister. It is his duty to act.

Will he exercise his duty and keep Mr. Schreiber in Canada until the public inquiry has had an opportunity to get to the truth?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I realize the member opposite did not have time to change his script after I just answered in detail that question, so I will respond to it again.

There are public interests at stake here. We want to see a full public inquiry. That is what the Prime Minister has asked to take place. That comes complete with subpoena powers and with the ability to require people to be witnesses, especially those who are the principals. That will be the situation whatever takes place with regard to any extradition matter.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, we will keep asking the question. Will he actually answer the question? The government promised a full public inquiry; an inquiry that is only meaningful if its main witness, Mr. Schreiber, stays in Canada until he gives testimony under oath.

The choice is clear. Either the justice minister exercises his power to ensure Mr. Schreiber testifies or he proves this process is a sham, a PR exercise and a continuation of the cover-up that got blasted open by public outrage.

What is the Conservatives' choice? What do they choose? Mr. Mulroney or justice?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, it is a good thing to see that this member is following the same approach that his leader takes who, for instance, opposed our budget before he even saw it, opposed the throne speech before he even saw it, and now we have a situation where this member is actually undermining the work of Professor Johnston. Professor Johnston has not even started yet.

This is going to be a full public inquiry complete with powers of subpoena and the power to require individuals to testify, and already we have members opposite saying they do not like it. We like it because it is going to be a full public inquiry.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, Karlheinz Schreiber stated yesterday that if he is extradited to Germany he will refuse to testify before the public inquiry in Canada. No one is opposed to this individual facing German justice; however, the absence of a key witness in Canada could derail everything.

Notwithstanding the recent decision to extradite Karlheinz Schreiber, the Minister of Justice has the authority to postpone this extradition. Will he do so?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am interested in the words and plans of Professor Johnston, but not in the comments of an individual who may be implicated in the process. That is why we will have an open and transparent inquiry that will include everyone who has something to say. That is exactly what we will have and what Canadians want to see happen.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the government is serious about wanting to get to the bottom of it all, it cannot just stand back and let Schreiber slip away without taking action, especially since a spokesperson for the German justice department has stated that they cannot ensure that Schreiber, if he is extradited, would appear before a public inquiry. Once again, we want Schreiber to face German justice, but not before he has faced justice here.

Will the Minister of Justice invoke his authority and does he intend to postpone the extradition?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, it seems that my colleague is putting the cart before the horse. We have initiated a process for a very open inquiry. That is exactly what we will have and what Canadians want. We will hear what Professor Johnston has to say.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, the commission mandated to shed light on the Mulroney-Schreiber financial dealings has to have a free hand. Too many individuals with personal ties to Brian Mulroney have been appointed to key positions by the current Prime Minister. The current RCMP commissioner was the special assistant to Brian Mulroney's Deputy Prime Minister. The current Minister of Justice was a member of Parliament and a parliamentary secretary under Brian Mulroney.

Does the Prime Minister realize that the public's confidence can only be restored through a public inquiry with a mandate broad enough to cover the activities of the sitting government?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, based on my friend's approach, perhaps she would have a problem with one of her own colleagues from the Bloc Québécois having at one time been a member of Mr. Mulroney's caucus. Does she have a problem with that?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Labour is another example showing the need for the mandate given to the commission to be broad enough to cover the members of this government. In fact, the minister was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence in the fall of 1993. The timing of this appointment coincides with a period of time during which Brian Mulroney was apparently mandated by Mr. Schreiber to lobby for an armoured vehicle plant.

Does the Prime Minister understand that the mandate has to be broad enough to allow the commission to question the current Minister of Labour?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, Professor Johnston has set the mandate. I can assure my hon. colleague that there will be an open and transparent process for answering questions.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, if Karlheinz Schreiber is deported on December 1, we might as well cancel the whole public inquiry. It will be a complete waste of time and money. Maybe that is what the government wants.

Except then, the stink of corruption will continue to foul the hallways of Parliament and Canadians will always think that Ottawa is infested with corporate lobbyists buying off Canadian prime ministers with brown paper bags full of money and kickback schemes.

For the sake of the integrity of the public's confidence in their democratic institutions, will the Minister of Justice stay the deportation and keep Schreiber in Canada?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Justice does not comment on specific cases related to extradition, but I can say and give the member the assurance that this is going to be a full public inquiry.

The principals who are involved, including the individual, or one of the individuals, who asked that this full public inquiry unfold, being Mr. Schreiber, all key individuals, all relevant individuals, will be subject to the rules that will be laid out by Professor Johnston.

Those rules include the power to subpoena and the power to compel people to be witnesses.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, Schreiber might be the poster boy for everything that is wrong with corporate lobbyists, but in today's Ottawa one cannot swing a cat without hitting a well-connected Conservative corporate lobbyist. They say that the difference between lobbying and influence peddling is about five years in prison.

We do not need a public inquiry to know that corporate lobbyists are bastardizing democracy in Ottawa today, the same way they did with brown envelopes with Karlheinz Schreiber.

Will the government agree today to implement the federal lobbyist registration changes in the Federal Accountability Act, so we can put an end to this infestation of--

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, that member knows very well that we brought in the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history with the Federal Accountability Act. Among other things, that accountability act forbids public office holders, ministers, parliamentary secretaries and their staff from engaging in lobbying for five years.

That is now in place because we have kept our promise to crack down on the revolving door of lobbyists and ministers' offices that was so prolific under the previous Liberal governments.

We have kept our promise. We have kept the faith. We are getting the job done.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, on November 2 the government House leader said, “It was a previous Liberal government that launched a political vendetta against one of their enemies--”.

Here is the problem. In the agreement reached in 1997 with the Government of Canada, Mulroney explicitly stated, “--the RCMP, on its own, initiated the Airbus investigation...the Minister of Justice was not involved in the decision--”. In other words, no vendetta, no political motivation.

Why did the minister flagrantly disregard what Mr. Mulroney himself put in writing and signed?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, we well understand the politics of what is happening here. The opposition members asked for, and they were among a number of people who asked for a full public inquiry.

When the Prime Minister who was the one who initiated this immediately upon receiving the affidavit about the allegations, the opposition members were desperate because they had lost one of the few causes that they had.

Now they are trying individually to conduct the full public inquiry. I do not know if they are lobbying for a job on that particular issue or what it is.

However, that full public inquiry is going to go ahead. It is going to be transparent. It is going to be open. I am sorry it is disappointing the opposition, but that is the way the public wants it to be.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, the former prime minister is now saying that he is happy there will be an inquiry, because it will prove that he was the victim of a vendetta. In making these accusations, Mr. Mulroney himself seems to violate the conditions of his friendly $2 million settlement.

Could the leader of the House tell us whether he apologized to his old friend Brian for having tricked him and for putting him in even greater risk of losing his millions?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is quite familiar with risks. We understand that he received a letter about his comments on this subject. We will have an open and transparent process to address the concerns and questions.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, in February 1998, Brian Mulroney went to a Zurich hotel to try to cover up his transactions with Karlheinz Schreiber. He asked Mr. Schreiber to sign a statement exonerating him, but Mr. Schreiber flatly refused to do so.

The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities' current chief of staff, Paul Terrien, was with Messrs. Mulroney and Schreiber at that hotel.

Who was he working for, Schreiber or Mulroney? Mulroney or Schreiber?

Will the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities distance himself from this affair and demand that his current chief of staff step down until the truth is known?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, it is important for people who have information not to reveal it until the appropriate time as part of the open and transparent inquiry. I understand that apparently they have a lot of information. They must reveal that information.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, that goes for the government too. The Prime Minister himself directed his government to cut all ties to Brian Mulroney.

Would it not also make sense for that directive to apply to current senior government officials who were involved in this skulduggery?

Does the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities realize that by keeping Paul Terrien on as his chief of staff, he is making himself an accomplice to an attempt to sweep the whole affair under the carpet?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, there are Liberals in this House today who were also involved with Mr. Mulroney.

The member for Kings—Hants was a Mulroney youth leader. Is that unacceptable? I do not think so. I think that he is an honourable member who can deal with this situation.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. There is too much noise. The member cannot speak. You do not all need to talk at the same time.

The member for Hochelaga.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, we learned this morning that the government was already aware of the situation concerning the torture of prisoners in Afghanistan before the first articles were even published last spring.

How can the government continue to transfer prisoners to Afghan prisons, after its own admission that there have been at least seven allegations of torture? That is irresponsible.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, as a matter of fact, the government took action immediately when substantiated or apparently substantiated allegations were brought forward. We are working with our partners in Afghanistan. The Afghan authorities have initiated an investigation. We are helping them with that as required.

This whole development project in Afghanistan is a work in progress. We do take it very seriously. We are working on that very hard and we will work with the Afghan authorities to find the appropriate answers.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government has been denying the cases of torture since the beginning and the Minister of Foreign Affairs tried to reassure us yesterday by saying that he had entrusted his Afghan counterpart with the task of investigating and reporting on this matter.

Does the government understand that investigations are not what is needed, but rather, an immediate stop to all prisoner transfers?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, in case my colleague is hard of listening, we are working with the Afghan authorities. There does have to be an investigation. The Afghan authorities are undertaking that. We will give them whatever assistance they require.

Again, it is a work in progress. We do not tolerate any kind of abuse of prisoners, but we must remember that these people are accused of having the blood of Canadian soldiers on their hands and in fact the blood of Afghan women and children. We will get to the bottom of the situation. My colleague can be assured of that.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Lussier Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, France is warning countries that do not respect the Kyoto protocol that their exports will be taxed. Since Canada has abandoned Kyoto, a plan of action is essential for protecting our industries from such a blow, but the government is not doing anything about it. The French president is quite serious about this. Soon he will hold the next European Union presidency and he will campaign in favour of this tax.

Does the government realize that by not respecting the Kyoto protocol and not presenting a plan, Quebec's exports could be taxed by the European Union?

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, we are in the process of working very hard with the European Union and with our fine colleagues in France. The Prime Minister had a very good meeting with the President of the French Republic. We have also met with France's new Prime Minister, François Fillon. Mr. Fillon was very clear that the purpose of this plan was not to target Canada.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Lussier Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the irony is that Quebec is respecting Kyoto while the federal government is rejecting this protocol and the European Union could penalize Quebec for Canada's inaction.

If the industry suffers because of this new injustice, will the government assume the cost related to this tax, or will it abandon the industry, the same way it is doing right now?

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, Quebec gave us Jean Chrétien and the leader of the Liberal party to work on resolving this problem. Unfortunately, we did not see any action. The previous government did absolutely nothing for 10 long years. This government is taking action. This government is in the process of establishing rules for large companies, which did not happen in the 13 long years the previous government was in power. We are getting things done and working very hard to get real results.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, legal experts agree with the official opposition that Dr. Johnston's mandate is constrained because it is limited to a review of Mr. Schreiber's allegations about his financial dealings with Brian Mulroney.

In other words, it does not include any examination of how this deeply conflicted government has managed this whole mess, nor will it answer the key question about what the government knew and exactly when it knew it. Why is it so?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, members opposite apparently wanted to see a full public inquiry and it really is curious to see that as soon as one is announced they are shocked. Their leader could not get over it, but he finally understood that it is going ahead. Then they came out supporting Professor Johnston's appointment, but now they are critical of work that is really just beginning.

I think they should just settle down a little and send recommendations to Professor Johnston, by all means, but not prejudge the man before he gets to work. This is going to be a full public inquiry. We want answers to these questions.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister is just grasping at straws. Words in the House of Commons do not change the legal mandate.

Canadians want to know what the Prime Minister knew about the allegations against his political idol and chief Quebec adviser. Dr. Johnston's written marching orders handcuff him from looking at what steps the government took over 22 months to shield Mr. Mulroney.

Will the government make it clear, in writing, that the government itself is included in Dr. Johnston's review?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, if the member opposite knows anything about the sterling reputation of Professor Johnston, she would know that he is not the type of person who would take kindly to the thought of being, as she said, handcuffed. That is not going to be happening. We want a full public inquiry.

Professor Johnston has served governments at a variety of levels. The Leader of the Opposition has come out in support of his appointment. His reputation is very well known. We expect that he will deliver that mandate for a full public inquiry.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, last Friday the Prime Minister belatedly warned his ministers against having any dealings with Brian Mulroney, but does that prohibition extend to Mulroney's close associates such as lobbyist Fred Doucet?

Fred Doucet arranged the meeting at Harrington Lake and worked for one of Mr. Schreiber's companies. He is now actively lobbying the government on 11 files, mostly in the defence department. Can the minister, who is also in conflict, tell the House whether he and his staff have ceased contact with Mulroney operative Fred Doucet?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, if the member opposite has information that is somehow going to be pertinent to this full public inquiry, then she should absolutely bring that forward to Professor Johnston.

The other thing I find very interesting is that members opposite seem to have great details, which I appreciate because all Canadians want to get to the bottom of these questions. They have great details, but when it comes to details of where the $40 million in stolen money went, which have come out through the Gomery inquiry, with Liberal friends they seem to have no information at all. I wish they would be as aggressive in helping us pursue that $40 million as we are in wanting to pursue this $300,000.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Doucet was also registered to lobby Foreign Affairs for five clients while the minister was in his former post. The minister has failed to step aside from any of this despite the fact that his close friendship with Mr. Doucet was the reason an RCMP relocation contract was suddenly cancelled last year.

Speaking of details, will the minister table all records relating to Mr. Doucet's lobbying activities in both of the departments he has overseen?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, detailed information appears to be in the hands of members opposite. We know there is a lot of information out there generally. That is why we want to get to the bottom of this. That is why the Prime Minister has called for this full public inquiry. As soon as he had that affidavit with the allegations from Mr. Schreiber, he moved on this very quickly.

We are looking forward to all this information coming forward. I encourage members, if they have information that will help us and Professor Johnston get to the bottom of these questions, to by all means bring that information forward.

Human Resources and Social Development
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, the opposition is working together with special interest groups in their mission to take away choice in child care from Canadian parents and instead waste taxpayers' dollars on building bureaucracies and imposing a one size fits all model that does not work for Canada's diverse families.

I know that our government's plan is providing resources directly to parents so they can choose the option that works best for them. Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development tell the House and Canadian parents what the government is doing for child care and early learning?

Human Resources and Social Development
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, after years of inaction and broken promises by the Liberals, the government acted quickly to provide parents with choice in child care. We are investing more than any government in Canadian history on early learning and child care and three times more than the previous Liberal government.

This includes additional money to the provinces to create child care spaces and the universal child care benefit that goes to each and every child under the age of six. The Liberal leader said he would take it all away.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has been forced by a judge to release documents the NDP has been demanding for months. In the heavily censored documents, we have confirmed three key facts.

One: the government was aware of conditions in Afghan prisons at the same time ministers claimed they knew nothing. Two: Canada is incapable of tracking all of its prisoners in over 600 Afghan prisons. Three: the detainee agreement is not being respected.

Why, when it promised it would do better, is the government just as bad on the detainee issue as the previous Liberal government was ?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, it should come as no surprise that my hon. colleague has his facts completely wrong. In fact, the latest allegation to come up that may prove to be substantiated came up because of the arrangement we put in place in May of last year, an arrangement that was superior to the one in place prior to that.

That brought forward the information we needed and it brought forward our ability to work with the Afghan authorities to get to the bottom of it. We are conducting that investigation. My hon. colleague should stand by. It has been less than a week since that started. We are working very hard with the Afghan authorities. We will get the job done where it was not done before.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is more. On April 23 diplomats told Ottawa that the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission was “unable to monitor the condition of detainees as per their agreement with Canadians...”. The very next day, the former defence minister told the House that the “Commission has assured us that it will report any abuse of prisoners”. He said, “It is able to monitor all the prisoners”.

Is the government finally willing to admit it has been caught? Is it willing to admit that it is in violation of the Geneva Convention or do the Conservatives believe the Geneva Conventions are simply a suggestion list?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, that question is ridiculous. Canada abides by the Geneva Convention. The primary responsibility rests with the democratically elected government of Afghanistan. It is obliged to abide by the Geneva Convention. We brought forward an arrangement in May of last year that is superior to the one that was in place previous to that. We are abiding by all measures. We are abiding by all requirements.

For the member to suggest that somehow Canada is negligent or criminal in this is absolutely absurd and he ought to be ashamed of himself.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada violated the Geneva Convention in Afghanistan. Even worse, by setting out to hide the truth that it has known since the start, this Conservative government has deliberately violated the convention. It must immediately stop the transfers and repatriate the prisoners who have already been transferred.

In the meantime, I would like to ask the pathetic Minister of Foreign Affairs whether he agrees with the Afghan Governor of Kandahar, Mr. Khalid, who said that it was acceptable to beat prisoners if it helped fight against insurgents.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, and that is more of the same. The challenges highlighted in the recent reports just indicate that Canada is required to be there to continue helping the Afghan authorities to build their judicial system, to build their prison system, to build their governance systems, to rebuild their country and give them back the country that was stolen from them, and to give Afghan women, children and men back their lives.

We are not abusing anybody's rights. We are working together with the Afghan authorities to ensure that those rights are sustained under the Geneva Convention and every other agreement we have entered into.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada is in standing violation of the Geneva Convention. Even worse, Canada is in knowing violation of the Geneva Convention. For months the government tried to hide specific reports on torture. Those reports of torture are now confirmed.

Canada must stop the transfer of detainees or it will continue to violate the Geneva Convention. When will these transfers stop?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the only thing that is confirmed here is the standing violation of common sense in this House from the member. Again, to suggest that Canada is in violation of the Geneva Convention is absolutely absurd.

It is really easy to be sanctimonious in the warm, cozy comfort of this place or fantasy island off on my right, but there are thousands of Canadian women and men in Afghanistan now helping to rebuild that country, part of which is the judicial system, part of which is the prison system, all the governance systems. We are giving the Afghan people their country back.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the disturbing footage released in the case of the man tragically killed by taser last month in Vancouver does not show a man that is out of control as stated by the RCMP. At the time of the incident, the RCMP claimed that it was necessary due to his erratic behaviour but the video footage does not show this.

Why did the RCMP try to cover up this information? Does the minister responsible for the RCMP think that this kind of withholding of the tape for a month is acceptable?

Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, most Canadians and most people in this House watched that video. It was a tragic, disturbing and grievous event that took place. A number of investigations are ongoing to determine what exactly happened and what series of circumstances could have led to such a disastrous conclusion to that particular matter.

We want to get all those answers and surely the member opposite is not suggesting that we judge the matter based on watching the video alone. There are a number of inquests that are ongoing. We want to find out what took place there.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, websites around the world were inundated yesterday and revolted by the footage of Mr. Dziekanski's death. One said, “I'm ashamed to be a Canadian”. Another said, “Mere words cannot convey my disgust I feel towards the RCMP”. Others called it a “sickening display and an ugly stain on the RCMP”. The reputation of the RCMP and our nation has been damaged.

Will the minister responsible for the RCMP finally take seriously our call for a national review of taser use?

Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, a number of investigations, quite rightly, are going on. The RCMP has a process itself and it has involved other police agencies in that.

Further to that, the complaints commissioner has also taken up this concern, which we all share, and he has launched an investigation into this. There is also a coroner's inquest.

Just a few days after this tragic incident took place almost a month ago, I asked for a review in terms of tasers themselves. Other reviews are ongoing. We want to get this information to ensure something like this never happens again.

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, to address the problem of cigarette smuggling, we proposed seizing the vehicles of smugglers who buy cigarettes illegally, so as to deal with supply as well as demand.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety stated in this House that such seizures would be illegal. Yet the Excise Act, 2001, provides for such seizures.

Instead of spreading misinformation, will the parliamentary secretary wake up and see to it that the RCMP finally takes action?

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I never said it was illegal to seize vehicles whose owners break the law. This does not go against the bill. That is not true. There is a bill designed to allow the police to seize the owners' effects.

In addition, last year, there was an increase in interventions by the RCMP and other police forces to deal with the illegal tobacco situation. This is a huge problem, and there are—

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber.

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister may not have said it, but his parliamentary secretary did. They should get their act together.

Earlier this week, when he was invited to form an interdepartmental committee to deal with tobacco smuggling, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety said that the Canada Border Services Agency had received additional resources and funds and that an integrated team was enforcing the law at the border—in short, that everything was fine. However, clearly everything is not fine, because this approach is not working. Smuggling continues unabated. Experience has shown that an interdepartmental committee can make a difference.

Why is the parliamentary secretary stubbornly rejecting this solution?

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to say that it is not acceptable for a member to say that the minister said something and, in his second question, to say that the minister did not say it. It is important to state the facts, the truth.

The truth is that we have given the police more funding and more resources to deal with illegal tobacco. In 2005, the value of illegal tobacco was $250,000, and we have seen—

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Davenport.

Justice
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government's reversal on the death penalty came less than a week after the American Bar Association called for a moratorium on executions in the United States. Amnesty International calls the government's reversal on the death penalty “deeply troubling” and “misguided”.

Years ago, Progressive Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker, understood that the death penalty was a thing of the brutal past. Sadly, the Conservative government has withdrawn Canadian sponsorship of a UN resolution to end the death penalty.

When will the government take a stand for human rights at home and abroad? When will it take action to end the death penalty around the world?

Justice
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, the death penalty is no longer part of Canadian law and this government has absolutely no intention of changing that. I think our conduct on the international scene has also been consistent with that.

Homelessness
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, as winter approaches, the issue of homelessness takes on a whole new urgency, especially in the Arctic. I know our government takes this matter very seriously, unlike the last government that talked a big game but never followed through during 13 years in power.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development tell the House what our government is going to do to help the homeless, especially in the north?

Homelessness
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, our government takes this issue very seriously. We promised in the throne speech that we would actively work with first nations and the Inuit to increase the supply of affordable housing in the north.

This is why we have increased the amount of money in affordable housing more than any government in Canadian history: $1.4 billion for affordable housing, northern housing and housing for aboriginal people living off reserve. Even the Liberal member for Yukon has praised this government for our commitment to affordable housing in the north.

Unlike the previous government, this government is doing more than talking.

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, Ontario mayors are meeting in Oshawa today to continue their fight for fair infrastructure funding, but this is a made in Ottawa crisis.

The government is trying to fool Canadians into believing it has lowered taxes but it really has just shifted them to the property tax bill. Mississauga mayor, Hazel McCallion, has already warned that she will have no choice but to levy an infrastructure tax because the Conservative government will not help.

Canadians are not fooled. Why will the government not stop playing political games and put that money where it will do the most good for the most people?

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I think it is time to explain to our friends from the NDP that we are doing a lot.

We have committed $33 billion, unprecedented, of which $17 billion will be going to local communities and to municipalities across the country. Indeed, we are sending money to the municipalities through the gas tax transfer and through 100% rebate on the GST. That is--

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister should pick up the phone, call Mayor McCallion and give her that speech.

Here are the real facts. Only half of that infrastructure money actually goes to municipalities. The rest of it goes to provincial and federal projects. While cities are facing a $60 billion infrastructure deficit, they get less than $2.5 billion a year on average.

While the Conservatives are playing shell games, municipalities are having to be the grown-ups and find a way to pay for the Conservatives' neglect of cities.

Why can the government not set the right priorities that would actually benefit ordinary Canadians? Infrastructure must be funded. Why can it not just get it done?

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, as a matter of fact, the last time I spoke with the mayor of Mississauga I was pleased to be with her and my colleague, the Minister of Finance, when we announced the FLOW project in the greater Toronto area, with $83 million for the BRT, the bus rapid transit system in Mississauga. That is what we are doing.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 2005, the Liberal government reached an agreement with the Italian community—

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

—and the Ukrainian community.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

—and signed an agreement in principle worth $12.5 million. This funding was to be used to make amends for the injustices suffered by Italian community members who were imprisoned and declared enemy aliens during the second world war. To the surprise and horror of the community, the Conservative government has decided not to honour its commitments.

What makes this government think it can betray communities, the Italian community in particular, that have given so much to Canada, and tarnish the memory of the victims who suffered injustices in the past?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

Noon

New Brunswick Southwest
New Brunswick

Conservative

Greg Thompson Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I can only guess that he is referring to the allied veterans. This is a group that the previous government deserted in 1995 when it took funding away. However, we are committed to our veterans community and members need only to look at our record.

The Liberals left a number of things uncompleted on their watch. They failed to implement the Veterans Charter. They failed to deal with agent orange. This week we had to fix up a problem that goes back to 1968.

We are getting the job done for veterans.

Vehicle Safety
Oral Questions

Noon

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, ESC, or electronic stability control, saves lives and prevents injuries. It is a fact that if all vehicles in Canada were equipped with ESC, each year over 1,400 serious accidents and serious injuries would be prevented, and over 200 lives would be saved.

Would the Minister of Transport tell this House how this Conservative government is taking the lead to ensure greatly enhanced vehicle safety for Canadians?

Vehicle Safety
Oral Questions

Noon

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his work on this file over the last two years.

Transport Canada has been evaluating the performance of electronic stability control since 2004 by testing various vehicles on different surface conditions. The department is continuing research and promoting electronic stability control, but more importantly, it is developing regulations for prepublication in 2008.

Canada Marine Act
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Marine Act, the Canada Transportation Act, the Pilotage Act and other Acts in consequence.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (non-registration of firearms that are neither prohibited nor restricted).

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Income Tax Act
Routine Proceedings

Noon

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-476, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for gifts).

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to introduce this bill. I would like to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre who has been helping me with the bill.

The bill would amend the Income Tax Act and provide for greater donations and return for those individuals who give to the not for profit sector, charities, organization and groups.

In particular, the proposed bill mirrors the political system, where for the first $1,275 that a person gives, charities will be able to issue a greater tax back, so middle and lower income earners will get a better return. It treats the system fairly.

This is a significant change that would help the industry. The charitable industry sector is around 8% of the Canadian economy and employs 2 million people in great causes, everything from seniors and children to universities and colleges.

I would request unanimous consent for the following motion: That, notwithstanding the Standing Orders or usual practices of the House, that this bill, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, be deemed carried at second reading, referred to the committee of the whole, be deemed to have been adopted at committee of the whole and reported without amendment, be deemed to have been concurred in at report stage, without amendment, and be deemed carried at third reading and passed.

Income Tax Act
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Maybe we should complete the first reading of the bill and then I will see if there is consent to advance it through all stages, as suggested.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Income Tax Act
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is there unanimous consent for the motion proposed by the hon. member for Windsor West?

Income Tax Act
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Pedro da Silva Recognition Act
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-477, An Act to recognize Pedro da Silva as Canada’s first officially commissioned letter carrier.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table a bill entitled “an act to recognize Pedro da Silva as Canada's first officially commissioned letter carrier”.

The bill calls on the government to recognize the 55th anniversary of officially sponsored immigration to Canada and the many contributions made by the Portuguese-Canadian community. The bill also requests that the government take appropriate measures to designate a national park or monument in recognition of Pedro da Silva for his dedicated service as Canada's first official letter carrier.

Pedro da Silva, a Portuguese trapper and carter living in the colony of New France, was commissioned to transport letters from Quebec to Montreal in the early 1700s, a service he provided for the rest of his life. Historians also know that Portuguese descendants have had a strong presence in North America, dating back over 500 years. In fact, many names in Newfoundland have a Portuguese origin and this heritage is continuously growing from coast to coast to coast in Canada.

Canadians of Portuguese heritage have a lot of which to be proud. From world renowned artists such as Albert de Castro, Nelly Furtado, Shawn Desmond and Canadian Idol Brian Melo, to hockey players like Mike Ribeiro and to business, labour and legal professionals, the community continues to contribute to the socio-cultural fabric of our nation.

The bill bestows appropriate recognition for the contributions of the Portuguese Canadian community to Canada's development, heritage and progress.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Income Trusts
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table a petition. The petition contains another regrettable list of people who have been financially damaged by the income tax breach of trust.

The petitioners ask the government to acknowledge that its final justification for imposing the tax was flawed, to apologize to Canadians who were unfairly harmed by its reckless broken promise and to repeal the 31.5% tax on income trusts.

Literacy
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present two petitions. The first petition calls upon the government to reinstate the cuts to the literacy program.

Literacy affects many adults. It is increasingly difficult for them to access resources when they need help and the programs are not there. Literacy lies at the root of many social issues. By investing in adult literacy programs, these programs aid Canadian adults to gain valuable skills essential to employment, which improves their economic well-being as well as that of the whole Canada.

Justice
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also have another petition. I stand today, united with my constituents in Davenport, as I table this petition.

The petitioners ask the government to put an end to politicking and seriously address the issues of handgun crimes. It is not enough to simply punish offenders after a life is taken. We must also prevent future tragedies from occurring.

They call upon the government to intervene with at risk youth by funding social programs. They call upon government to enforce better gun laws proven to make our citizens safer, not populist propaganda that has failed in the U.S. Finally, they call upon the government to ban handguns and create stricter gun control policies.

Let us be proactive and prevent these tragedies.

Visitor Visas
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present the following petition signed by the constituents of Bramalea—Gore—Malton.

The petitioners call upon the government to institute a system of visa bonds for temporary resident visa applicants wishing to come to Canada as members of the visitors class, to give immigration counsellors discretion over the creation of visa bonds, to establish minimum and maximum visa bond amounts as a guideline for immigration officials and to allow the visa bond to apply to either the sponsor or the visitor.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 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, the following question will be answered today: No. 42.

Question No. 42
Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

With reference to the work of Bernard Grenier, the Commissioner of Inquiry appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec to investigate the activities of Option Canada during the referendum held in Quebec in October 1995: (a) how many lawyers with the Attorney General of Canada worked on this matter; (b) what was the cost of the federal government's involvement in the work of this inquiry; (c) how many witnesses were assisted by the lawyer or lawyers with the Attorney General of Canada; and (d) did the Attorney General of Canada retain the services of private-sector lawyers to work on this matter and, if so, what are their names and how much were they paid?

Question No. 42
Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the answer is as follows:

a) Two litigators from the Attorney General of Canada participated in the work of this inquiry.

b) The costs and disbursements associated with the federal government's involvement in the work of this inquiry total approximately $21,450.00 (representing costs for photocopies, transcriptions and travelling as well as the costs authorized, in accordance with the terms of the policy on the indemnification of and legal assistance for crown servants, for the provision of legal assistance by private sector lawyers to witnesses who testified before Commissaire Grenier).

c) The lawyers from the Attorney General of Canada represented the interest of the Attorney General of Canada and in this capacity, assisted two witnesses and were present at the testimony of two other witnesses.

d) The Attorney General of Canada did not retain the services of private sector lawyers to work on this matter.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 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, if Questions Nos. 20, 21, 62 and 67 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 20
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

For the fiscal years 2004–2005, 2005–2006, 2006–2007, 2007–2008 and 2008–2009 for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec: (a) what is or was the total budget for grants and contributions; (b) what is or was the total amount of approved grants and contributions; and (c) for previous fiscal years, what was the total amount of grants and contributions awarded?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 21
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

With regard to the government's intention to harmonize regulations on pesticide residue limits for fruits and vegetables with those of the United States: (a) what evidence does the government have that shows that there will not be an increase in pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables; (b) what safeguards are in place to ensure that Canadians are not exposed to higher levels of pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables; (c) will independent and peer-review tests continue to be used to determine pesticide limits and the cumulative effect of the resulting residue on health and the environment; and (d) what are the implications to Canada's sovereign right to determine regulatory standards, affecting Canadian food security and food safety, in adopting foreign standards for regulations of pesticide residue limits?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 62
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC

With regard to the land areas and persons who reside within the area covered by the Tsawwassen Territory as set in the Tsawwassen Final Agreement: (a) what is the number of persons who currently reside in the Territory; (b) how many persons reside in the Territory and how many of these persons are under the Indian Act members of the Tsawwassen Band in (i) each of the Gulf Islands, (ii) the City of Richmond, (iii) the City of Vancouver, (iv) the Municipality of Delta, (v) the City of White Rock, (vi) the City of Surrey, (vii) the City of Burnaby, (viii) the City of New Westminster, (ix) the City of Coquitlam, (x) the City of Port Coquitlam, (xi) Langley City, (xii) the Municipality of Pitt Meadows, (xiii) the Municipality of Maple Ridge, (xiv) the Township of Langley, (xv) the Greater Vancouver Regional District Electoral Area “A”; (c) what was the population of the Tsawwassen Indian Band on an annual basis from its establishment to December 31, 2006; (d) what were the land holdings, in hectares, of the Tsawwassen Indian Band on an annual basis from its establishment as a band to December 31, 2006; (e) if the Tsawwassen Indian Band landholdings were decreased in any year, for what reason did the decrease occur and what, if any, compensation or payment was provided to the Band; and (f) what other bands, tribes or aboriginal organizations have territorial claims that overlap Tsawwassen Territory?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 67
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

With respect to women working as prostitutes: (a) does the government have statistics on women working as prostitutes who have gone missing or have been murdered and, if so, how many have gone missing in Canada since 1999, and how many have been murdered in Canada since 2003; (b) what studies and reports have been carried out by the Department of Justice in relation to Canada's prostitution laws since 1999, and what are their findings and recommendations; (c) what recommendations from the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws, as enumerated in the Sixth Report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, of the First Session of the 39th Parliament, does the government agree with; and (d) how much federal funding is allocated to programs and organizations that deliver exit strategies for women working in the sex trade and (i) what are those organizations, (ii) how much money do they receive per year?

(Return tabled)

Starred Questions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 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, if Starred Question No. 72 could be made an order for return, the return would be tabled immediately.

Starred Questions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Starred Questions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

*Question No. 72
Starred Questions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

With regard to support and maintenance activities for the Cormorant Helicopters: (a) which companies are currently carrying out work on behalf of the government; (b) what is the value of the contracts signed with these companies; (c) what is the duration for each of these contracts; (d) have any contracts encountered any cost overruns and, if so, what has that overrun been; (e) has the government conducted a program review of any of these contracts and, if so, what was the outcome of this review; (f) is the government considering re-tendering or revising any service contracts for the Cormorant Helicopter; and (g) what are the cut off dates for any decision for re-tendering or revising service contracts?

(Return tabled)

*Question No. 72
Starred Questions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

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

*Question No. 72
Starred Questions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

*Question No. 72
Starred Questions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-19, which would reform the Senate. To start, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois is against this bill in principle. I will give five reasons, which I will explain later on.

First, Canadian institutions cannot be reformed. By using bills to reform the Senate instead of a constitutional amendment, the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party are confirming what has become clear to us, the sovereignists: it is impossible to significantly amend the Constitution.

Second, Parliament cannot unilaterally change the Senate without amending the Constitution.

Third, even if it were reformed, the Senate is a useless institution. A second elected House is useless and all the provinces have already scrapped their upper chamber.

Fourth, limiting a senator's term and indirectly electing senators does not make the Senate democratic, as I will explain later on.

Fifth, by further legitimizing the federal Senate, the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party want to undermine the authority of provincial premiers.

The very first point I made at the beginning of my speech was that Canadian institutions cannot be reformed. It is becoming increasing clear to Quebeckers that Canada just cannot be reformed. The failure of Meech and Charlottetown speaks volumes. Twice Canada has rejected Quebec's aspirations.

Our party, the Bloc Québécois, was born out of the realization that Canada could not be reformed. It was established in 1990 in response to the federal government's failure to find a formula meeting Quebec's minimum demands so that Quebec could rejoin the constitutional fold, which it chose not to do in 1982.

Even the Conservative government recognizes that Canada cannot be reformed. By reforming the Senate through bills instead of a constitutional amendment, the Prime Minister and the Conservatives are confirming what has become obvious: it is impossible to amend the Constitution in any significant way.

The many attempts at reforming the Senate illustrate the Canadian impasse, or dead end, perfectly. Senate reform proposals were brought forward as early as 1874. A mere seven years after Confederation, the Senate of Canada was the subject of criticism and calls for reform. On April 12, 1874, as reported in the April 13, 1874 Debates of the House of Commons, the House of Commons considered a resolution by David Mills, subsequently Minister of Justice and member of the Supreme Court. The motion recommended that the Constitution be reformed “so as to confer upon each Province the power of selecting its own Senators”. That is an except from the April 13, 1874 Debates of the House of Commons.

One hundred and thirty-three years later, we are still debating the issue. According to Senator Serge Joyal, who wrote a piece on Senate reform, in the past thirty years alone, there have been at least 26 proposals for Senate reform. Take for example the ones put forward by the Canada West Foundation in 1981, the Alberta select special committee in 1985, the Molgat-Cosgrove committee in 1984, the Macdonald commission in 1985, the Meech Lake Accord in 1991, the Beaudoin-Dobbie committee in 1992 and the Charlottetown proposal in 1992.

Our party, the Bloc Québécois, believes that the proposed Senate reform is a slap in the face for Quebec federalists. In fact, the minimum position of successive governments in Quebec on Senate reform has always been clear: there will be no Senate reform without first settling the question of Quebec's status. In 1989, Robert Bourassa, who cannot be accused of being a sovereignist premier, said that he did not wish to discuss Senate reform before the Meech Lake accord was ratified. In 1992, Gil Rémillard said that Quebec's signing of an agreement on senate reform would depend on the outcome of negotiations on the concept of a distinct society, the division of powers and the federal spending power.

With the Conservative government's Bills S-4 and C-47, the Prime Minister is proceeding with piecemeal reform of the Senate without satisfying the minimum conditions stipulated by Quebec. I reiterate that any Senate reform without the agreement of Quebec is a slap in the face for Quebec federalists.

The second point raised is the fact that the Senate cannot be changed unilaterally and without a constitutional amendment. The Canadian Constitution is a federal constitution. Consequently, there are reasons why changes to the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made by Parliament alone and should be part of the constitutional process involving Quebec and the other provinces.

In the late 70s, the Supreme Court of Canada examined Parliament's ability to amend on its own the constitutional provisions concerning the Senate. According to its decision, known as Re: Authority of Parliament in relation to the Upper House, [1980] 1 S.C.R. 54, decisions pertaining to major changes to the essential characteristics of the Senate cannot be made unilaterally.

Under the Constitution, all reforms of Senate powers, the means of selecting senators, the number of senators to which each province is entitled and residency requirements for senators, can only be made in consultation with Quebec and the provinces. Once again, the Conservative modus operandi of this Prime Minister and of this government is to not respect the Constitution.

Benoît Pelletier, the Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, recently reiterated Quebec's traditional position. And Benoît Pelletier is not a sovereignist minister; he is a member of the Liberal Party of Quebec. He said in a press release:

The Government of Quebec does not believe that this falls exclusively under federal jurisdiction. “Given that the Senate is a crucial part of the Canadian federal compromise, it is clear to us that under the Constitution Act, 1982, and the regional veto act, the Senate can be neither reformed nor abolished without Quebec's consent.”

That is an excerpt from Minister Pelletier's press release on November 7, 2007.

That same day, Quebec's National Assembly unanimously passed the following motion. I am taking the time to read it because it is the view traditionally espoused by all Quebeckers, including federalist Quebeckers.

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the Federal Government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

The Bloc Québécois is against this bill for a third reason, which is that even a reformed Senate would be a useless institution. A second elected house is not necessary.

Initially, the Senate was supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought that also protected regional interests. Regional equality in the Senate was supposed to counterbalance representation in the House. However, it seems that partisanship has gained the upper hand over regional representation, thus rendering null and void the purpose of the other place, which has a tendency to follow the lead of the House of Commons.

Indirect election of senators would not improve this situation; quite the opposite. The electoral process tends to emphasize the role of political parties to such a degree that indirectly elected senators would likely be more concerned about their party's interests than about their region's.

How can this government justify having a Senate whose responsibilities would be much like those of the House of Commons at a cost of $81 million per year, according to the 2006-07 public accounts?

Moreover, given the uselessness of the Senate, I should point out that all provinces have done away with their upper chambers. No province has had an upper chamber since Quebec abolished its legislative council in 1968.

It is interesting to note that several provincial upper chambers at least had the virtue of being elected, unlike today's Senate of Canada. Prince Edward Island's legislative council was elected as of 1862, and the Province of Canada's as of 1857. Nevertheless, as I said, all of those upper houses have been abolished.

Fourth, limiting the tenure of senators would not make the Senate democratic. In many respects, despite the proposed reform, that is, an eight-year term and the indirect election of senators, the Senate would remain a democratic aberration.

On one hand, despite Bill C-19, it would be nearly impossible to remove senators. Once appointed, senators would never have to face the public again. Thus, they would be less sensitive to public opinion, since there would be no risk of losing the next election.

Furthermore, public consultation is not binding. The Prime Minister maintains the authority to appoint or not appoint the senators chosen by the public. The Prime Minister could therefore decide not to appoint a candidate selected by the public. Besides, how can we trust this Prime Minister, who did not hesitate to appoint Michael Fortier to the Senate, even though he himself criticized the Liberals' partisan appointments to the Senate?

In any case, it is becoming increasingly clear as time goes by in this Parliament that the Conservatives and the Liberals are one and the same.

Voters are not represented equally in the Senate. The distribution of seats on a regional basis, rather than on a demographic basis, leads to democratic aberrations. For instance, how can anyone justify the fact that a senator from Quebec represents 244,000 voters, while a senator from Prince Edward Island represents 27,000?

Does the vote of a Quebecker mean less than that of a voter from Charlottetown? These are the questions that need to be addressed.

Not everyone is eligible to become a senator. The Constitution still requires that, in order to become a senator, a person must be at least 30 years old and own at least $4,000 of equity in land in the province represented. These conditions make it impossible for underprivileged people and young people to access such a position. Lastly, an indirectly elected senate would undermine the parliamentary system, a British parliamentary system. The executive branch relies on the trust of the House of Commons, members of which are elected.

The election of the Senate alone would undermine the preeminence of the House of Commons and would create confusion. The election of two Houses would complicate the issue of preponderance and consequently would weaken the parliamentary system. This is why all the provinces did away with their upper house. Once again, we do not understand why the Conservatives are not reacting and why they do not understand this reality, a reality that the provinces have understood for several generations, which is why they eliminated their upper house.

The government's real motivation, and that is the issue, is to marginalize the nation of Quebec. Under the pretext of an orthodox reform of federalism, the Conservative government is proposing shattering the balance of the federation.

In Australia and the United States, having an elected senate has enhanced the legitimacy of the federal government and has “nationalized” public life rather than serve the representation of the federated states within federal institutions.

To be heard in Congress, the American states have been reduced to being lobbyists. Senators elected to represent an entire province would overshadow the authority of the provincial premiers and run the risk of supplanting them as regional representatives.

That is what the proponents of a “triple E” Senate want: a federal Parliament that would be more legitimate because its elected members were more sensitive to regional interests.

Quebeckers would never stand idly by as their own province blithely accepted Senate reform. The Bloc Québécois is still the only defender of the interests of Quebeckers and of the National Assembly of Quebec. That is why I am pleased to reiterate the position of the National Assembly, which was presented by Mr. Pelletier, a federalist minister. You can see why Quebeckers have been voting for us in election after election since 1993: because sometimes we are able to put aside our orientation to deliver a message from Quebeckers. In this case, we are also delivering a message from federalist Quebeckers who feel wronged by the Conservative Party, as they were by the Liberal Party.

I will read the motion of the National Assembly that was passed unanimously, in other words, by all parties in Quebec:

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the Federal Government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

I find it very difficult to understand, politically, how members from Quebec can rise in this House to go against a unanimous resolution of the Quebec National Assembly. It is probably very difficult to understand because Quebec is the province that, for a number of reasons—because it has been ostracized by the federal Canadian system—is the most aware of everything going on here, in Ottawa.

When the federalist and sovereignist parties in Quebec City decide together to deliver a clear message, that the Senate cannot be changed because the Constitution requires the provinces' consent, and when Quebec says that the Senate should not be changed—as stated in the motion—I find it difficult to understand how elected members from Quebec here, in Ottawa, can rise in this House and defend bills like Bill C-19, which goes against the wishes of the Quebec National Assembly. This means that they have decided to oppose the position traditionally held by all Quebeckers.

It is even more difficult to understand because the current Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities was a minister in a Quebec government. I do not understand how he can defend a bill today, when, even under the government in which this minister was elected—the Bourassa government—Quebec had always refused, as long as it had not rejoined the constitutional fold, to agree to any amendments related to the Senate.

Politics has its reasons, which reason knows nothing of. The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities proves that every day when he gets up to defend the Conservative government's position and goes against the interests of Quebeckers. This is not the first time.

The Conservatives went against Quebeckers' interests this week on the issue of assistance for the manufacturing and forestry sectors. They dared to vote against a Bloc Québécois motion calling on the government to reinstate assistance programs in regions hit by the crisis in the manufacturing and forestry industries, which are in an economic recession. Tables provided by the Conservative government prove as much.

But the Conservatives stood and voted against the motion and the Liberals from Quebec remained seated, unable to defend the interests of working people who are going to have a tough time this Christmas. The Christmas season is around the corner. People will be celebrating everywhere, but some families will find Christmas more difficult this year, either because workers have lost their jobs or because they are about to. These people will have to think twice about giving gifts this year. I am disappointed that the Quebec members did not stand up this week to defend the interests of the people in their ridings who are losing their manufacturing and forestry jobs.

These sectors are being doubly hit by the increase in gas prices, the higher Canadian dollar and the softwood lumber crisis in the forestry sector. Because of the collective lack of conscience of the Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec, many people are becoming disinterested in politics. It is very difficult, because we have to live with that every day.

Bill C-19, which the Conservatives have introduced, runs counter to the interests of Quebeckers, as expressed in a unanimous motion by the National Assembly. They are going to vote for Bill C-19, which is intended to bring about Senate reform that is not wanted by Quebec, by the Government of Quebec or by the National Assembly, which passed a unanimous motion.

Day after day, we watch as members who were elected in Quebec fail to defend the interests of Quebeckers. There is a good reason why Quebeckers have chosen mainly Bloc Québécois members to represent them year after year since 1993 and will continue to do so, no matter what happens in the next election.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:25 p.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I cannot remain silent on such a debate and on the words of my colleague and good friend.

I share with my friend and hon. member a number of values as a Quebecker, but I do not share his vision for the future of Quebeckers and neither do a good number of our colleagues in this House.

I always marvel at Bloc Québécois members who say they have been defending the interests of Quebec in this chamber since 1993. They make countless references in their speeches to the best interests of Quebec, or the interests of Quebec.

But it is action that counts. I have a question for my hon. colleague. I can anticipate his response and it will not be the one I am hoping for. I know full well that in his heart, he is not in favour of reforming Canadian federalism. If he were in favour of reforming Canadian federalism, he would not be here in the House.

Rather than find ways to honestly and truly represent what Quebeckers have done, said and asked for—I am talking about a population that has twice in its history chosen to stay within a united Canada, to remain a nation within a united Canada—the Bloc focuses on its own agenda.

In my opinion, this is a relatively clear signal. For everyone here, this means we have to work on reforming Canadian federalism. I would like the hon. member to tell me how an unelected upper chamber, in its current form, can necessarily advance the democratic governance of our country. I would ask him to explain just that. I do not want him to look back at 1992, or 1993 or Meech or all that. I would like him to say a few words specifically on this.

When someone says they are here to represent interests, I could play cat and mouse with him and ask him why his political party voted against the economic statement, thereby refusing to allow Quebeckers to have $12 billion in tax cuts, both in income tax and the GST. But I would not do that.

I would like him to stick closely to the wording of my question.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be pleased to reply to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I will quote Benoît Pelletier, Quebec minister of intergovernmental affairs. By the way, if the Minister of Transport ever wants to speak with him, Mr. Pelletier is a member from the Outaouais whom he must surely see at various events because part of his riding is probably adjacent to that of Mr. Pelletier. Therefore, I will share with him what Mr. Pelletier said recently.

Given that the Senate is at the heart of the Canadian federal compromise, it is evident to us that any Senate reform or its abolition cannot proceed without the consent of Quebec, in accordance with the Constitution Act, 1982 and the Act respecting constitutional amendments (regional veto).

Once again, we do such a good job of defending Quebec's interests that, in this House, we quote a federalist Liberal minister who rightfully puts on notice the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and all his Quebec colleagues. Why are they heading down this road? The Senate is an example of Canadian federalism; they should not be fiddling with it! They do not have the right to make changes without the consent of the provinces.

For the benefit of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, here is the motion recently adopted by Quebec's National Assembly.

That the National Assembly of Quebec reaffirm to the federal government and to the Parliament of Canada that any reform of the Senate of Canada cannot be made without the consent of the Government of Quebec and of the National Assembly.

My colleague is a member of the Conservative Party and I am a member of the Bloc Québécois; in this House, it is my party that represents the interests and the values of Quebec. Once again, even Quebec federalists are disappointed by the Conservative's treatment of the constitutional file.

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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would have a few little comments to make concerning the remarks of my friend from the Bloc Québécois.

He has given an impression which suggests to me that he is mistaken about the importance of the second chamber, the upper chamber, among all the legislative assemblies. He said that here, in Canada, all the provinces had abolished their second chambers. Granted, that was the practice in Canada, but it is a very different story in the rest of the world.

In the other big federations besides Canada, such as the United States, Australia and other geographically smaller but nonetheless very important federations like Switzerland, Germany and Austria, there is a second chamber which plays a very significant role with respect to legislation. The same is true of the states, provinces or townships of federations worldwide.

In the United States, only one of the 50 states, Nebraska, has abolished its second chamber. In Australia, Queensland is the only one to have done so.

What is the practice in Canada is therefore not a universal practice. As regards chambers at the national level, there are only seven countries seriously considering abolishing their second chambers. In my opinion, that is a mistake.

In addition, the member suggested that, in Australia and the United States, introducing a second democratic chamber had weakened the strength, power and legitimacy of the states. I do not think that is the real reason behind the states' loss of power in these two federations. We are therefore not at risk here.

In the other two federations, it was the federal spending power in state jurisdiction that weakened the states' power. In Canada, our government has put in place measures dealing specifically with that problem. I just want to point out that this danger does not exist in our country.

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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I am rather surprised by these comments from my Conservative colleague, since he just said it was a mistake for the provinces to abolish their upper houses. On the contrary, I think the provinces did so in a moment of great lucidity. My colleague did in fact say that they made a mistake. He said that, in Australia, only one province has eliminated its upper house and that, in the United States, only one state has done so, as though eliminating their upper houses was a mistake on the part of Canada's provinces.

I would not want to be in the position of the Americans or the Australians, given their way of doing things. I am happy the provinces abolished their upper houses. I am even more surprised by the fact that he compared power and the loss of state autonomy to Congress in the United States, saying that this would not be the case in Canada. On the contrary, this worries me, since that is exactly what the Conservative Party wants to do.

It is not true that the Conservative government wants to limit the federal spending power. We know this. In the Speech from the Throne, the Conservatives talked about shared-cost jurisdictions. Yet, they no longer exist. This means that they reserve the right to spend in all other jurisdictions. That worries me even more. I was against this bill before, and now I am opposed twice as much, after my Conservative colleague's speech.

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12:35 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciate the opportunity to speak to this issue because it is one I feel very strongly about. The basis for that is the fact that every one of us here had to knock on thousands of doors, be accountable for what we have done, and what we are going to do. We know that we have to go back to those same doors and be accountable for what we did here, what we said, and how we acted. In that other place, one only has to knock on one door, once, for life.

As someone who has travelled as a member of Parliament to other countries to assist in observing their elections, I want to say that it is downright embarrassing when those countries look at us as the evolution of the democratic process and hold it out as an ideal that they would love to be like Canada. Then we have this embarrassing albatross around our neck where the upper house is appointed for life.

I know I am not going to get through all my issues now, so I will be looking for other opportunities to speak because there is a lot to be said about this issue.

I have had the opportunity to work with individual senators and I would like to say that it was a horrible experience, that they are not very good people, and that they do not work very hard and this and that. However, none of its true. My experience with individual senators is that they are outstanding individuals. They truly are. Whether they have been the head of a mission that I have been a part of internationally or working on committee, they are hard-working, they care, they are certainly more than competent, and it is a joy to work with them as fellow Canadians. Where I have trouble is that they are fellow lawmakers.

I care enough about some of them that if one takes a look at my current calendar for December, it is me and a Conservative senator no less, arm in arm no less, waving Merry Christmas from Kiev, Ukraine where we were on one of those international election monitoring missions. By the way we were both cold sober.

It is a reflection of the fact that to me it is not about the individuals. In fact, the more I meet the more impressed I am. However, that alone is nowhere near reason enough to sustain the Senate. If we need good people to do good deeds, we have lots of opportunities to do that and if we do not think there are enough we can create more.

Telling me that senators produce good reports and individually they do good things does not cut it. If that is all they were about, a place of good deeds, that would be a whole other matter; a little expensive, a little bit of unnecessary pomp and ceremony one might argue, but if that is all they did, we would not be having this debate.

No, the issue is not whether or not the work that they do is good. The question is whether or not the powers they have are legitimate in a modern democracy. I argue and my colleagues argue, no.

I would like to go through some of the issues that I believe others have or will use in support of keeping the Senate, amended or otherwise.

First, this is a place of sober second thought. No, I am not going to touch the word “sober” because it is not about personalities and I am not going to go there and play those games.

We know historically that they were appointed to keep the House of Commons, which was the ordinary commoners, from running amok. We get into this mob atmosphere and we start doing crazy things, but we have these grown-ups in the other place who are there to be above that, who do not get bothered by partisan politics and some of the pettiness that goes on in the House of Commons. They are above that. They will look at the issues and say, “What is good for Canada? Unlike those House of Commoners who only care about elections, we will look at the issue”.

If that was the truth and that was the beginning and the end of it, I might have some room to give it a little bit of weight. The reality is that most senators go to their caucus meetings, but not all. There are independents. Not all go to their caucuses and not all vote according to their caucus line, but that is the same here, so there is nothing special about that. However, most of them go to caucus meetings. They do not go to caucus meetings to have sober second thoughts. They go to caucus meetings to be a part of their party's position on the issue of the day and then they just carry out their part of it in that place.

If we have any doubt about that, we should keep in mind that in the Senate there is a government leader in the Senate who is in the cabinet. How much sober second thought do we think is going on among cabinet ministers? Do we think that senator says, “Wait a minute. I need everybody to get above this partisan discussion and talk about what's in the best interest of Canada”? Come along. The sober second thought thing sounds good, but has nothing to do with reality.

The fact of the matter is that most of the time when the Senate has used its powers--and it has great power; it just does not use it often, but it does use it a little bit--we know when senators block legislation, it is for partisan reasons. It is no different from what happens in this place. That is what is so upsetting about arguing that this is all about sober second thought, that a check and balance is needed on those of us who are elected here by the people, that somehow we may run amok, or not put the interests of our nation first when, at the end of the day, we decide what to do.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Louder.

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will speak louder if the member has trouble hearing me. I don't usually have that problem, but I will speak louder for him.

Let us face it. Many senators, not all, but many of them are full time party organizers. They are chairs of national campaigns. They are chairs of fundraising. It is all about politics because they do not have the nuisance of having to go back to a riding and talk to Canadians, let alone be accountable to those same Canadians.

What is another issue? That senators represent their provinces. I suppose at some point maybe they do, and I will offer up that maybe in some of the smaller provinces there is a closer relationship between the MPs, the senators, the government of the day and ensuring that the provinces' rights are put forward, but I always thought that was the responsibility of each of us.

I am a member of this national place. I am an Ontario MP. I happen to be chair of the Ontario NDP caucus. My role, and your role, Mr. Speaker, and that of every member here is to represent our constituents and by doing that we are representing our community and our province. I would also--

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George is rising on a point of order.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I hope it is a point of order, but I need some clarification. I have been here for a number of years and I have never seen the complete official opposition benches empty. I am wondering whether this is--

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George is experienced in this House and he knows that it is not permissible to refer to either the presence or the absence of hon. members.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services has the floor.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Moore Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order as my colleague from Prince George, then perhaps the Speaker could clarify. Is there quorum in the House of Commons if no Liberals are present?

And the count having been taken:

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am pleased to report to the hon. parliamentary secretary that there is quorum in the House.

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12:45 p.m.

An hon. member

But there is only one Liberal though.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I have already ruled on the issue of pointing out the absence or the presence of members in the House.

Another point of order from the hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the members on the opposite side would like to play games, I am a Liberal member and I am in the House, so I would like to know how many members there are from the Conservative Party.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

This is getting to be a point of argument rather than a point of order. We are returning to the debate at hand with the hon. member for Hamilton Centre, and he might like to know that his microphone works.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As a former deputy speaker in Ontario, I will gladly take advice from you on being an MP, and maybe you will take some from me on being a Speaker.

This was a perfect example of the kind of things that do happen in here. We get into partisan pettiness. We go back and forth and we are always looking to get the electoral up. Like, big shock; that is the way this place works, but if one believes that we are going to elect senators and somehow they will not have any of this, that we are going to find--

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington is rising on a point of order.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to encourage decorum and urge all hon. members not to make, either directly or indirectly, insulting remarks toward others. That would include all members.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. member, but I would much rather listen to the hon. member for Hamilton Centre, who has been recognized and who has the floor for the next 11 minutes.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Senate tenure)
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12:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I forget exactly where I was when I left off, which was probably the point of doing that.

I was pointing out that a lot of this partisan pettiness, and that is what it is, exists no matter where one goes, whether one is in the provincial legislature or here. If members are elected to the Senate, we are going to get the same thing. If that is what Canadians want, fair enough, but let us understand that by electing and giving legitimacy to the incredible constitutional powers the Senate has, we create a whole new political dynamic in Canada. This place will function nothing like it does now.

We could look to the Americans as an example of the kind of gridlock there can be between two strong elected houses. They have conference committees where they are forever trying to find compromises so they can actually get something done. We could go there, as complicated as it is, but for less than 35 million people, is it really that practical?

Ontario, Quebec and every other province that had a Senate got rid of it. I believe that our provinces have incredible responsibility under the Constitution. Health care, environment, police services and administration of the courts are just a beginning list of things they are responsible for. They are important matters. The people of all the provinces did not believe they had to elect another tier, find another class of politicians to go into a second place to provide that sober second thought.

The people were quite competent to decide who among them they would send to their provincial capital and make the decisions, and it works. I am quite prepared to be corrected, but I am not aware of a single province where there is a huge clamouring to reinstate the Senate in that province because it cannot trust the people who have been elected directly to the legislature. They may not like them, but then we have a means of taking care of that, do we not? It is called an election, which we do not have in the other place.

This notion that the country needs it as part of its structure I do not think holds. I know there is a concern, particularly among members from smaller provinces, that in the absence of the Senate there would be some kind of a ganging up of the larger provinces. I say this right up front as a member from the province with the largest population in our Confederation. I understand the concern, but as I have said earlier, I am not aware of just how much province protecting is going on in that other place. I am sure I will get examples of senators who have done things for their provinces, but I am talking about the grand scheme of things. Unless we actually walk over there, we do not know what is going on as the Senate does not have TV cameras. My point is that alone is not reason enough to keep the Senate.

What about the notion that because we have such big provinces compared to many smaller ones, without the Senate, no matter what role it is playing directly, somehow that is going to be a real problem for the smaller provinces. Having served municipally, provincially and now federally, I can say that as long as there is representation by population, we are always going to have this.

My good friend, the hon. member for York South—Weston, a former regional chair, would understand better than most what it is like with densely populated areas such as a downtown area and then the more suburban areas that feel they are not being treated fairly because all the attention and money is going downtown where the people are. It is a constant struggle.

I was an alderman, but if a councillor has an area in the ward where there are only a few houses or maybe an area by an industrial sector and most of the money seems to be going toward the development of a new area, a new school, a new recreation centre, people constantly say, “You are only doing it because that is where all the votes are for you. You are ignoring us”. I am not saying it is not a problem; I am saying that it is inherent in representation by population.

At the city level and more appropriately as a comparison at the provincial level, we get past that. We elect premiers in cabinet who are partisans, clearly, but we also expect that for the most part we do not do too badly overall, and I am talking historically, in managing to ensure that everyone has a piece of the pie and gets a share of the interest of the senior level of government. There is no reason we cannot do that. We do that here. We do it in our caucuses.

We have to elect the right kind of parliamentarians. I do not want Hamilton to win at the expense of my neighbour, Burlington. I want Hamilton to win, you bet. It is in large part why I am here, but I care about my neighbours in Burlington. I also recognize there is a self-interest. We cannot be isolated. We are part of a regional economy in southern Ontario, as well as a national economy. So that does not hold, in my opinion.

In the few minutes I have left, I want to focus on the power that senators have, why Canadians ought to care about this, and why it matters. I am going to use a very pedestrian issue compared to the huge issues of the day that we deal with here at the national level.

Not long ago, there was an attempt by this place with a bill passing all the stages at committee and here in the House, to reduce the ability of railways to ignore the noise they make, especially when the trains are idling in neighbourhoods. This was a good thing. It was Parliament responding to issues that affect people where they live. It is not just about the big issues of the day; we have to care about where people live, how they live and the quality of that life.

The House of Commons and the minority Parliament was doing the right thing. The bill went over to the Senate. The Senate changed it. It gave the power back to the railways, not to make as much noise as they want, but to go beyond the language and the restrictions that the House of Commons, the elected people, said that the railways should abide by.

I want to know what senator is from Hamilton and is going to be accountable to the people on Stinson Street, Aberdeen Avenue, Lawrence Road and Allison Crescent, where we have trains that park and idle, people who would have benefited from this House passing that law. What senator is going to answer to my constituents? I do not even know who it is.

I spent 13 years in the Ontario legislature and I never once had a senator call and ask me what I thought about something or what Ontario thought about something. I was in the Ontario cabinet. I never had a senator call and ask me, “What does Ontario think about this?” or “I want to talk to you about this and how it affects Ontario”. No, but that place has the power to make the lives of my constituents who are living beside those railway yards worse.

That is not right. It is not right, when we have taken the time and the effort to improve the quality of life of Canadians and an unelected body, not answerable to anyone, not consulting with anyone, can override that decision. If they are holding public meetings, I would like to know about it. I have never heard of one.

That is not the end of the process. We then start going back and forth with it, which takes me right back to the idea of whether we want that process. If the senators were elected and had that power, they would certainly be democratic, but we have to have this whole big battle over what the final law will look like, rather than just letting the democratic process that serves us so well in this place be the final decision.

If we get a law passed through here and it is signed by the Governor General, it becomes the law of the land. Then we go back to our constituents, and in this minority Parliament we do that a lot, and we knock on those doors and we say, “Yes, sir and yes, ma'am”, and we account for our time here.

In the absence of that, Canada cannot offer up all that we believe Canada is, because when we get out on the international stage, people look at us and say, “But do you not have an appointed upper house?” There is no answer to that. The only real answer is that we are trying to fix it. The way to fix it is to abolish it, or at the very least, have a referendum. If none of that works, we can try reform, but the reality is that it is probably going to fail.

What has the best chance is to have an agreement that we will take what that place is supposed to do in terms of representing provincial interests and have it reflected in this place, and thus not rely on an unelected house.

I look forward to questions and comments.

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1 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this debate today. I appreciate the passion from my colleague from Hamilton and from the NDP on this subject.

I really do disagree with the NDP's position on this issue. I want to talk a bit about some of the merits of Senate elections and the demerits of the NDP position.

I am the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works. As members know, the Minister of Public Works is a senator. One of the benefits of the current system is seen when we have a federal election. In the last federal election, the Conservative Party did not get a member of Parliament elected from downtown Montreal. We have the view that the second largest city in Canada should have somebody sitting at the cabinet table to defend the issues relating to the city of Montreal. We appointed Mr. Fortier as a cabinet minister and Minister of Public Works.

We also decided that there should be a measure of democratic accountability, so he was appointed as well to the Senate, because the Senate has a question period and has an access so that opposition parties can ask him questions directly about his activities as Minister of Public Works.

I suspect the NDP may well condemn what we did in this regard, but my colleague should know that when the NDP was in government in British Columbia, it did the exact same thing. When the NDP was in power, it appointed as minister of aboriginal affairs an individual who had not been elected. The NDP did so because at the time we were just coming out of a debate over the Nisga'a agreement in British Columbia and that party wanted to have an aboriginal cabinet minister at the cabinet table.

We believe that at this time in Canada's history all regions of Canada should be represented at the cabinet table. We also want to make sure that all the diverse regions of Quebec are represented, including Canada's second largest city. This is an important thing. This is a practice that has been done before.

We want to make sure that regions of this country are represented. There are 50 separatists here in the House of Commons who want to rip Quebec from the future of this country and we want to make sure that the province is well respected and well represented at the cabinet table. We have done that. Minister Fortier will be putting himself forward to be a member of the House for the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges in the next election campaign.

I have a question for my colleague. It has not been uncommon for provincial premiers historically to be in favour of abolishing the Senate, because they all have unicameral legislatures so it makes sense for them to say that this should be transitioned federally. The problem, of course, is that historically it is a two party system in most provincial election campaigns so there are majority governments and of course it makes sense to get rid of an upper chamber so there is unfettered support.

However, in our system it does not serve our best interests. I believe that my colleague's constituents in Hamilton would not support the NDP position of abolishing the Senate, given that if it is abolished, the cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver alone, those three cities, would have an absolute majority of seats in the House. The regions, the suburban areas, the rural areas and the northern areas in this country would not have the same effective voice that they do now with a balanced system where we have provincial representation and a fair voice in the House of Commons.

There are reasons for the status quo. There are ways to improve it, but I think the NDP approach is thoroughly backward.

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1 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member caring enough to listen and to ask a good question. The answer is that, first of all, there is nothing perfect about democracy. It is the people who decide who comes to this place, not parties, not governments, not any of us. The people decide and it is then up to us to make sure that we give the people, as best we can, a Parliament that works.

Also, if that is the member's only justification for keeping an entire Senate, then I would say there is an easier way to accommodate these kinds of needs. I understand the point the member is making. It is a valid one. What I do not accept is that to me it is the same as the senators saying to look at all the good work they do. That is not the point. The member's point is not the issue. Here is what matters. Would my colleague have an entire Senate with half of our constitutional power residing in that other place just to solve that one issue that does come up from time to time?

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1 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on a very eloquent speech and an insightful one with respect to the issue at hand.

I would be interested, in that same vein, to hear the member's response to what I see as an inconsistency between the New Democratic position with respect to the Senate, based on accountability, and its support for proportional representation.

Proportional representation would have a group of members in a legislative assembly who would not have a direct responsibility to any constituency. That is the same argument, to some extent, that the member has been putting forward. I accept that and I am sure the House does, but it seems inconsistent with the position that his party has put forward on proportional representation. I wonder if the member could address that.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an excellent question and I thank the member for it. My answer to that would be that to the best of my knowledge each of the parties in this place, if we ever did go that way, has confirmed that it would elect anyone on any list within each one's own party.

There would have to be some level of democracy. I doubt that any of us would stand for our party leader unilaterally saying “him, her and him”, who suddenly get seats. There is that accountability back to the party. In large part, that accountability will be reflected by how well the party did in the last election. If it did not do very well, it knows where the weak spots are. The hon. member has been around politics a long, long time. He knows how that would be.

The difference, of course, is that with the Senate, if a person is appointed at 40 years old, he or she has a 35 year term and at no point, none, ever, does he or she account to anyone for that time.

I take the point. It is a valid one, but I do think that the element of democracy still being in there does stand the test of time in terms of a comparison between the “win a lottery for life” sort of thing over there versus still having to go back to somebody in the democratic process, where at the end of the day, the people still decide. If we do not get any votes for our party, nobody will get in there.

That is not case in the other place. It is still a matter of one person in this entire nation, one person in the Prime Minister's Office, who decides who goes into the Senate. Once they are there, they never, ever have to account to anyone about anything.

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1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

There are three minutes left and there are three people rising to ask a question. If I can trust each of you to have half a minute questions, we can have half a minute answers. The hon. member for Ottawa Centre.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to make sure we hold to the same standard for all members here. The government member previous to me gave a little speech a minute ago, but I will be succinct.

When we look at the bill, what we see is that the government is tinkering. At the end of the day, we are asking if this is enough. That is my question for my colleague. Is this enough to actually make the Senate a democratic institution? Is this tinkering enough or should we be doing more?

If this bill and the other bill for Senate reform are all we have, is it enough? Does the hon. member think his constituents will be happy with that or do they need more?

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is an excellent one. I will answer by saying no, and that is the difficulty, it does not go all the way.

There are two pieces to this. First, is this enough democracy to say in regard to the existence of the Senate that it is okay, we can live with it and at least it is democratic? The answer is no, not by a long shot. One election in eight years is not democratic accountability. I do not know anybody else who has an eight year term that is somehow called accountable and democratic.

The bigger issue, though, is still whether or not the Senate, even if it were fully democratized, and this is far from that, is the structure we want. Do we really want to duplicate the whole process? Do we want to run the risk of gridlock? Do we need two full houses for 35 million people? Is this in the best interests of Canadian governance?

We in the NDP believe it is not.

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1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Western Arctic should know that there are 45 seconds left for both the question and the answer.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am not very verbose, but I do tend to use more than 45 seconds.

I want to go back to the point that the hon. Conservative member was making on using senators to fill positions of importance in the cabinet. To my mind, that goes against the principles of this institution. The people who elected members from Montreal were in a--

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1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The member for Hamilton Centre should know that the clock has run out, but I will allow a short moment to respond.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will not abuse it except to say that the biggest problem with the issue was the government saying one thing before the election and doing something else afterwards. I answered it one way, but there is also that aspect.

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are few issues that conjure up more debate within Canadian political circles than Senate reform.

In fact, in 1874 and in 1909, only a few years after the proclamation of the British North America Act, there were calls for Senate reform. This country was only seven years old when the issue of Senate reform first materialized. Despite calls for Senate reforms in 1874 to the present day, the institution remains essentially unchanged since its inception in 1867.

In fact, the only material change of note that has taken was in 1965 and that was a change under the British North America Act respecting retirement age. It was Parliament alone at that time which introduced the retirement age of 75 years for Senators who had previously served for life. Parliament was able to do this exclusively without the need for approval from the provinces under section 91(1) of the British North America Act.

The reality is of course that the introduction of the new retirement age in 1965 was essentially reasonable and would have found no substantial opposition from the provinces, as it did not dramatically affect the reform or function of the Senate.

The fact that there has been only one relatively small change to the Senate since Confederation clearly suggests to any reasonable person that reform is necessary. The real challenge, of course, in the context of Canada's unique political realities, is how to bring about this change.

Let me clearly state without equivocation that I do support Senate reform and I do believe in an elected Senate.

The Senate was, as most of us know, created as an institution of sober second thought. It is a place where laws and policy can be debated in an atmosphere that is less politically charged through the very nature of how its membership is determined.

This place of sober second thought is an aspect of the Senate that we should endeavour to retain. Indeed, even the current Prime Minister agrees with this concept, or at least I hope he still does. He stated before a Senate committee in 2006, “Canada needs an upper house that provides sober — and effective — second thought”.

It is for this reason that I am particularly concerned when the Prime Minister and his government make statements that the Senate needs to be reformed as they dictate or they will support the goals of our colleagues in the other opposition parties who want outright abolition.

This position hardly demonstrates a government with solid commitments to principle. I believe we need to reform the Senate, along with other institutions of our democracy, in consultation with Canadians and their provincial governments.

Within the context of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms we should also look at rules governing the succession of our head of state, as enunciated by the British Act of Settlement, 1701. It may be recalled that I tabled a motion in this House about the Act of Succession that discriminates against Roman Catholics and violates our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Indeed, I share the belief of many observers and scholars that the amending formula as outlined in the Constitution Act of 1982 requires the consent of at least 50% of Canada's population and at least seven of our provinces before the kind of significant change being proposed is allowed to proceed.

In section 42 of the Constitution there are four specific exceptions to Parliament's right to exclusively amend the Constitution as it relates to the Senate. These are: first, the method of selection of senators; second, the powers of the Senate; third, the distribution of Senate seats; and, fourth, the residence qualifications of senators.

I believe that at the very least Bill C-19 violates if not the letter then certainly the spirit of the exceptions as outlined in the Constitution Act.

We know that the Prime Minister is proposing that there be a term limits for senators of eight years. We know that the Prime Minister wants to institute a somewhat complicated and indirect electoral process for senators that in the end would have him or her, or whoever is the prime minister of the day, choose from the list of those put forward by virtue of this electoral process.

One obvious concern about this electoral process immediately comes to mind. Should prime ministers be fortunate enough to form more than two majority governments, they would by virtue of the eight-year term limit have effectively chosen every single senator by the time they would leave office at the end of their third mandate. I believe this is a very serious and potential affront to the concept of a Senate of a sober second thought.

Yes, there will be electoral choices put forward by voters, but in essence the Prime Minister would have chosen from these lists and effectively determined the composition of the entire Senate should he or she last in office for more than two majority terms.

If a prime minister were to remain in office for a period of over two terms, would all members of the Senate be in the position to obey his or her orders? My point is simply that this is inconsistent with the role the Senate should be occupying in our parliamentary process.

We must also understand that Canada is a unique country born of unique realities that are reflected in our national institutions. The Senate is one of these with its unique characteristics.

How can the Prime Minister simply ignore provinces like Ontario and Quebec that have expressed concerns about his path forward? The founders of this country chose to have representation in the Senate which reflects the character and size of our regions. We did not choose for example the United States or Australian model or representation that ignores population size.

In the latter case of Australia, the region of Tasmania, with a population of 650,000 people, has the same senate representation as New South Wales with over 6 million people. This is not the experience that has or would serve Canada well.

We should also remember we have not for the most part witnessed the kind of interparliamentary confrontation between our upper and lower chambers that has for example been the British experience. Historians will tell us than in 1911 and subsequently in 1949 the parliament acts were passed in Britain to assert the power of the House of Commons over the House of Lords. This was as a result of the 1909 budgetary obstruction by the Conservative House of Lords against the Liberal House of Commons. At one point King Edward VII and his successor King George V were prepared to appoint hundreds of Liberal lords to resolve the issue. The Conservative House of Lords conceded and accepted the new reality.

My point is simply that we in Canada have for the most part had a productive relationship between the Senate and the House of Commons that has served Canadians well.

What we need is reform and not the Prime Minister's sword of Damocles which he tries to dangle over the Senate calling upon it to “accept my terms or be abolished”. As members may know from Greek mythology, the sword of Damocles hung by a single hair over its potential victim ready to drop at the first sign of refusal to comply. This is not the way to reform fundamental institutions like the Senate. It is not compatible with the consensus nature of our country's political heritage.

We do not have to repeat the troubled experience of past constitutional reform undertakings like the Victoria agreement, the Meech Lake accord or the Charlottetown accord. There is I believe a desire among Canadians for Senate reform. Indeed, poll after poll suggests this. Likewise, polls also indicate that Canadians do not want Senate abolition but rather Senate reform.

This leads me back to my original comments on this issue. Let us undertake real Senate reform. Let us consult Canadians and their provincial leaders. It is neither good constitutional policy nor is it consistent with our political traditions to push one version of Senate reform or else threaten abolition.

Let us have elected senators, let us have Senate reform, but let us make the changes in a manner that reflects Canada's history of consensus and that honours the traditions of our country's foundation and our nation's progress throughout history.

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1:20 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics

Mr. Speaker, what our government has endeavoured to do is put forward non-constitutional but effective reforms regarding the Senate, for example, consultation with the provinces and term limits. We want to limit the Senate term from a maximum of 45 years to 8 years, as this bill proposes to do.

My colleague has said, and I respect my colleague as a good friend, and a number of Liberals have persistently said over the years, they are in favour Senate reform. The Prime Minister joked in the last election campaign that the previous leader of the Liberal Party was not in favour of piecemeal Senate reform and was not prepared to engage in comprehensive Senate reform, but other than that he was all in favour of Senate reform. It has to be one or the other.

The Liberal Party, as my colleague must know, historically supported Meech Lake and Charlottetown, both of which had an elected Senate as part of their mandate.

It has opposed all of our efforts for electing senators. In the province of Alberta, where the new elected senator Bert Brown was just appointed, the Liberals in the province of Alberta and the federal Liberals opposed that Senate election. They did not want to get involved in that process.

Frankly, I am at a loss to understand exactly what the Liberals have in mind in terms of Senate reform. I think if we ask Canadians, they would vote 95 to 5 in favour of the idea of limiting Senate terms from 45 years to 8 years. It seems like a layup. However, I am still at a loss to find out exactly what the position is of the Liberal Party with regard to Senate reform.

In February of next year, my province of British Columbia, the third largest province of Canada, the fastest-growing province, is going to have three Senate vacancies. Half of our Senate delegation will be vacant. I am personally encouraging Premier Campbell to support the idea of electing senators in the province of British Columbia.

What is the Liberal position? Do the Liberals continue to oppose the idea that Alberta should have elected Bert Brown, having an elected senator appointed to the Senate?

When British Columbia has half of our Senate delegation vacated in February of next year, is it the Liberal position that the province of British Columbia should not have Senate elections in order to fill those seats?

Specifically, what is the Liberal position on Senate reform?

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing is very clear, and I think it is important that the member is also aware of it. We are not in favour of abolishing the Senate. As well, we have never threatened the Senate with abolition.

The approach that has been taken by both the Prime Minister and the government concerns me greatly. On one hand they are saying they want reform, but they are also saying they might also abolish it at the end. I think that is a wrong way of approaching the issue. I think we need an approach that builds on consensus, that in fact engages our provinces, engages our population, and then we can move forward.

The government is coming out from the very beginning saying that it is not happy with the Senate, as though somehow it is the Senate's fault that the composition is the way it is. It is in fact a constitutional issue. The senators have a role to play, but so do we have a role to play. I do not think we should be getting all the blame for the way the nature of the composition of the Senate is at the very moment.

The approach has to be one of collaboration, cooperation, and engagement, specifically with our provincial partners. By approaching it in that constructive way, I think we can get a lot further.

This is a very important institution in Canada. If we are going to mess around with it, if we are going to in fact alter and change it, then we need to do in a respectful way, not in a threatening way, saying basically, “Do it or we are going to abolish you”. I am totally opposed to that approach, and I think most members of my caucus are also opposed to that approach.

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1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I also find it odd to hear the Liberals talking about Senate reform and problems with the Senate. But before speaking about Senate reform, which, by the way, should be discussed as part of a constitutional negotiation including all the provinces—which is the point the Bloc Québécois is bringing up today—there is one thing that all the members in this House could do: stand up to non-elected Senators when they go against the opinion of this House.

I will give an example of something that affected me in particular: the transport bill passed last session. I worked very hard and encouraged the members of the Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities to make amendments that strengthened the bill, in order to better protect our citizens against noise, vibrations and disruptions cause by trains travelling through our communities.

We held hearings during which people spoke about their particular situation and the difficulties they face. All the members of the committee unanimously reached a compromise to strengthen the bill, to be able to have real control over the railway companies. That was already a compromise. The Bloc Québécois members and I would have liked to have gone further, but we agreed unanimously.

The other place also held committee hearings, but exclusively with railway companies, without inviting those affected by this kind of problem, the people living near the railways. The Senate committee rejected every amendment unanimously adopted by the committee of this House. It rejected these amendments unanimously and returned them to this House.

As members of Parliament, we could have said that we are the elected representatives of the people and, as such, did not accept that these amendments could be rejected; and then, we could have sent them back to the Senate. No constitutional reform was required for that. No government bill was required for that. All we needed to do was to stand on our hind legs.

The Liberals failed to do so, and the Conservatives did the same. Both these parties grovelled to unelected senators. Here they are today talking to us about Senate reform and democracy.

Basically, the real solution is first and foremost to have real, honest to God members of Parliament who really represent their constituents, stand up to the senators and never yield on principles. Our democracy would be better served already if we took that approach.

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

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

The reality here in Canada is that we have always had two houses. We have to respect the fact that these two houses make up our country's Parliament. The Senate is an institution that plays an important role in our democracy and in our democratic system.

My colleague's question was about Senate reform. I am in favour of it. After all, we can change our system, but we cannot abolish the Senate. I am against abolishing the Senate because it plays a very important role in our country. Canada has always had two houses, both of them important, in its parliamentary system. I still support that system.

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1:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's comments on the Senate and I am not clear where the party stands on the bill. What would he say to the position of the Ontario government, in particular the Liberal premier of Ontario? They are on the record that their position presently, unless it has changed recently, is the abolition of the Senate.

Has the member had conversations with the premier of Ontario, or for that matter his brother who sits close to him, about this issue? At the end of the day, if this does not work, if the real reform that is necessary is not limits of eight years but limits of zero years, does he agree with the Ontario government and the Liberal premier of Ontario that abolition of the Senate is the way to go?

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been quite clear in my remarks that I do not believe in the abolition of the Senate. It is a very important institution that has served Canada well, but it needs reform.

I do not want to speak for the hon. member or for the premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty. My understanding is the premier stated that abolition should be only the last stage if the solution is election. I think he probably prefers to maintain the system as it is.

However, I am stating quite clearly that the Senate is important. I do not support the NDP position of abolition of the Senate. If a poll were done, I believe most Canadians would oppose the abolition of the Senate. I think they would understand that there is a need for an upper House, for the Senate to be part of the parliamentary system of our country.

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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

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.

The House resumed from October 29 consideration of Bill C-284, An Act to amend the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act (Canada access grants), as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Canada Student Financial Assistance Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful today for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-284. The bill would alter the administration of the government access grants program. I thank the hon. member for Halifax West for proposing the bill. It gives me the opportunity to discuss what the government has done for students. Ours is a record that is worth discussing.

Let me first say that this government recognizes that access to higher education is critical to Canada's economic success and the continued social development of all Canadians. That is why the government has acted to increase funding to the provinces for post-secondary education after a decade of Liberal cuts and inaction.

In fact, it was this government that followed through on its commitment to post-secondary education with a 40% increase in the Canada social transfer, which includes more than $800 million for post-secondary education. Our commitments are followed by action and this is our record.

On the other hand, we have the actions of the previous government, a government that talked a big game about supporting students, about expanding access to post-secondary education, yet it was the previous government that cut $25 billion from the Canada social transfer. That is the sad Liberal record.

The Liberals lacked a comprehensive vision for post-secondary education. They came in with a hodgepodge of proposals on which they never followed through. Under their watch, tuitions skyrocketed, infrastructure crumbled and attendance rates stagnated. Universities were underfunded. Year after year the capacity for universities to take in new students was stretched to the breaking point. That is the Liberal record.

How do they now expect Canadians, and especially students, to believe that they are looking after their best interests. Canadians and students certainly know better.

Canadians do know that it was the present government that has already begun acting to ensure that Canada has the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world. We have done this by implementing a knowledge Canada, which is part of our “Advantage Canada” plan.

Direct support to students, parents and post-secondary institutions is just one of the ways the government will bring about a knowledge advantage. That is why the government has invested over $8.4 billion this fiscal year alone to support post-secondary education through transfers, direct spending and tax measures.

It is why we are providing $1 billion to provincial and territorial governments through the infrastructure trust fund to rebuild and to renovate campuses across the country. It is why we have committed substantial tax relief to help students and parents with the cost of text books. It is why we have exempted scholarships and bursaries from income tax. It is why we committed $35 million over two years as well to expand the Canada graduate scholarship program.

We also recognize that not all parents are able to contribute to the cost of their children's education so the government has cut the amount that parents are expected to contribute to their children's higher education because ability to pay cannot be barrier to access.

This is our record and it is one that stands and head and shoulders above the record of Liberal cuts and inaction.

Many in the House might also be aware that there is currently an extensive review of the Canada student loan program being held and that online consultations for the review have just concluded. I for one look forward to the results of the review being announced in the coming months. For the government, consultations actually mean something.

Unlike my colleagues across the way, with all respect, the government likes to seek the input of the people and groups feeling the effects of the proposed changes. For example, if the sponsor of the bill had consulted with the provinces, which are responsible for administering the program, he would have found that not a single province in the country has supported his bill. In fact, they all oppose it. They have said that they are in no position to administer such an expanded program for the foreseeable future. Therefore, why does my hon. colleague want to pass a bill that the provinces do not want and cannot implement? Is this his idea of how a new program should run?

If my hon. colleague had listened to the provinces that administer programs of their own, most notably Quebec and the territories, he would have found out that the proposals in his bill would strip millions of dollars away from them.

Unlike the previous government, this government cannot support a bill that strips millions of dollars away from post-secondary education.

I understand the problems with this bill were discussed extensively in committee. My colleagues on the human resources committee exposed the fact that instead of providing money for education, this bill would strip it away. It exposed the fact as well that not a single province has come forward in support of this bill. It discussed the fact that the provinces have said that they cannot implement the proposals in this bill, which is why this bill was brought back gutted.

I want to thank the Bloc in this particular case for its help in killing a bad bill. I say again that I find it surprising to see the member for Halifax West trying to resurrect it now, knowing full well all the problems that it would create.

This government aspires to do better for its students. We want to ensure that every person who wants to obtain higher education has the ability to do so and that the cost will never be a barrier. The record of this government is working toward those goals.

I want to thank the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, the Minister of Finance and our Prime Minister for their continued hard work on these important issues.

Unfortunately, this bill just does not inspire me for better. Like so many other bills being proposed by the official opposition, this bill is fatally flawed and there are many reasons why we cannot and will not support it.

From the outset, this bill was poorly conceived and poorly drafted. The provinces were not consulted and they have said that they cannot implement the proposals contained in it.

I would like to thank the Bloc members again for finally listening to the government, which has been warning about how this bill would hurt Quebec. I thank them for listening to how millions would be ripped from the education purse of that province if this bill were to pass. I thank them for voting against this flawed bill because they would have a rough time explaining it to constituents.

I do not know how the sponsor of this bill has explained this program to his few remaining Quebec colleagues but I am sure they will have a rough time explaining this program, a program that would do nothing to improve access, rip millions from their province and hand it to their constituents.

Canada Student Financial Assistance Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, before discussing the content of the bill, I want to say how pleased I was when my Conservative Party colleague thanked us for doing our work in committee.

Members of the Bloc Québécois always take our work very seriously and do a thorough job. However, I would point out somewhat ironically that his colleagues from Quebec have not been saying the same thing when they express themselves in French. Our colleague just said that the Bloc was very helpful in amending the bill and ridding it of all substance. Yet his colleagues, when speaking in French, say that the Bloc Québécois is useless. The members of the Conservative Party should come to some agreement on that.

The truth is that the Bloc is constantly working to defend Quebec's interests. When the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats are right, we support them. However, when something is not in Quebec's best interest, we have no problem going it alone if we have to. Therefore I take that as a real compliment concerning the Bloc Québécois' usefulness.

The genesis of this bill is precisely an intrusion, once again, into the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. For the Bloc Québécois, the original grants program ensured the right to opt out with full financial compensation, for Quebec and any provinces that wanted to do so. We were prepared to examine the terms of this bill in committee, provided, of course, that we maintained this right to opt out will full compensation.

Now, the Liberals' schemes in committee and the amendments made to parliamentary procedure meant that, in the end, we were overburdened by the legislative provisions that would allow this opting out with full financial compensation for Quebec. Clearly, we could no longer support this bill as soon as it became a program imposed by the federal government, when the provinces could no longer withdraw that money and use it according to their own needs.

In Quebec, we have a grants and bursaries program that is quite different from programs found elsewhere. It is unique in Canada. Among other things, it is based on need and on a range of criteria. The program is very generous and produces good results. We therefore do not need another similar grants program, but rather more financial resources to improve the existing system.

In light of this, we could not support this bill and we, along with the Conservatives, tried to throw out the entire bill. The motion in amendment before us today is meant precisely to bring it all back to the House. It was not acceptable to the Bloc Québécois in committee and it is still unacceptable to us here in the House.

It is surprising to see yet again the Liberal obsession with interfering in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. Honestly, I have asked myself why, again today, are we debating this issue in the House of Commons, a federal chamber that does not have any constitutional jurisdiction over education? Why do the Liberals still think that “Ottawa knows best” and why do they want to establish a wall to wall Canada-wide program in education? This is unacceptable.

If the hon. member who tabled this bill thought there were improvements to be made to the student loan program in his province, I respectfully submit that he should have run in a provincial election, gotten elected and worked on passing such legislation in his province. Nonetheless, it is certainly not the role of the federal government to do so.

Moreover, even though our discussions in this House revolve more and more frequently around interference in provincial jurisdictions, yet the federal government is not even capable of handling all of its own constitutional duties and responsibilities. If everything were going well in the federal government's jurisdictions and it had nothing better to do, then perhaps it could take care of provincial matters, but that is not the case.

I would like to raise a few points that still have not been resolved and are the responsibility of this House. Earlier today I was talking about the issue of regulating train noise. CN is a federally-chartered company that historically has been a responsibility of the federal government. Furthermore, legislation on transportation is a federal jurisdiction.

Amendments were made in this House and in committee to give the Canada Transportation Act more teeth and to protect our communities from the excessive noise caused by transportation companies, including CN. I am talking about CN because it relates to my riding. This issue was sent to the Senate, which studied it and only called as witnesses people from railway companies who told us we did not need these changes. In the end, the Liberal and Conservative members pathetically caved in to the senators and passed the Senate amendments that consisted essentially in going back to the original version, destroying in a single stroke all our amendments and all the work we had done.

We now find ourselves in an odd situation. The Conservatives argued that they did not have the time to return the bill to the Senate, even though the latter was saying that, if we persisted, they would give in. It said in its own discussions that it did not have the time to look after that. Why do we always have the time, in this chamber, at least in the case of the federalist parties, to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction? But when the time comes to look at a real issue that truly has to do with federal jurisdiction, it is not important enough and there are other things going on? There is something wrong here and it is a real problem with Canadian federalism.

This could also apply to the situation of aboriginals in Canada. We frequently see in the news and media reports, or if we have the opportunity to visit Indian reserves, the difficult conditions in which these individuals live. We see that the federal government is moving at a snail's pace, that no progress is made, that it hesitates, doubles back and looks after a lot of other things whereas that is clearly a responsibility within its jurisdiction. If it would at least look after that issue first.

This is also the case for international trade. Companies are waiting for the federal government to intervene, to defend them, to stand up for them and to ensure that international agreements and the decisions of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal are upheld. It does not have the time for that, it is not glamorous enough for federalist members. However, they always find the time to meddle in education when that is not at all their job.

I would like to conclude by giving another example of the fiscal imbalance, which still has not been corrected. Why has it not been corrected? What is the best proof that it still exists? The government is still able to spend money in provincial jurisdictions. Is the fact that the federal government has to spend money in the provinces' jurisdictions not the best illustration that it has too much money for its own jurisdictions and responsibilities?

If the government really wanted to correct the fiscal imbalance, it would transfer a portion of the tax base, such as the GST, from Ottawa to Quebec and the provinces. This would give Ottawa and the provinces the resources they need to look after their jurisdictions. We would have all the time we need to address the issues that come under our jurisdiction. Perhaps we would have a federation that worked better and there would be people in the provinces to look after health and education. We could look after aboriginal peoples, noise caused by trains, international trade and foreign affairs, as provided for in the Constitution.

It is slightly ironic that only the Bloc Québécois is calling for compliance with the Constitution.

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Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin with a comment directed to my Bloc colleague. He should know that, despite his comments that this bill interferes in an area under provincial jurisdiction, his colleague on the committee was prepared to support the bill, until departmental staff made it clear that it would have negative effects. I will discuss that later on.

I would add that financial aid for students does fall under federal jurisdiction even though we agree that education is a provincial responsibility. We have to respect that.

Since this bill comes back empty, today's debate allows me to speak to the NDP's approach to students' financial assistance, which differs significantly from other national parties.

We believe that post-secondary education is a public good and that is the key to Canada's social and economic future. It is through education that we will ensure a cohesive, peaceful and high functioning civil society and it is through education that Canadians will be able to compete in a globalized knowledge economy.

However, to meet those two objectives, we need an effective system of financial assistance for students that ensures equitable access for Canadians from every province and territory.

In our society, it is vitally important for every person capable of post-secondary education to be there and to finish. Ireland is a good example of a country that has recognized the principle of equitable access for everyone. Ten years ago, it decided to abolish undergraduate fees resulting in dramatic increases in post-secondary enrolment and retention rates and a booming economy.

This idea is the precise opposite of the Liberal-Conservative approach which was best defined perhaps in the Bob Rae report that advocated keeping tuitions high and helping only the most needy with a token handout. Half a year's tuition for only the first year and for only the lowest income students would be laughable if it were not so appallingly inadequate.

For years, the NDP has argued for a national system of needs based grants to replace our inefficient and inadequate patchwork of student assistance. Such a grants system would tackle Canada's crisis of student debt for all students from low and middle income families in every year of study. This is what is missing now. It would be complemented with an adequate core funding to the provinces so that soaring student debt could be brought back to earth and everyday families could once again afford higher education for their children without the fear of overwhelming debt. It would ease the tremendous burden on Canada's broken down student loans system and enable fixes to make loans more flexible and responsive to students' needs and circumstances.

I believe that Bill C-284 could have been a tiny step in that direction. Unfortunately, it was fatally flawed, as I suggested earlier. It became clear to committee members that for technical reasons, Bill C-284 would exclude students from Quebec, thereby depriving them of $5.4 million in subsidies. That is unfortunate, because after 15 years, the Liberal Party had finally decided to give students up-front money for each year of study, not just the first year.

The bill was a lot better than the Liberal promise to pay half of students' tuition fees for the first and last years of study. That would have meant $600 million for children of millionaires as well as children from low and middle income families. Fortunately, the Liberals changed course with this bill, in which they proposed giving up-front funds to students in need.

That said, Bill C-284 has the same flaws as does the current Canada access grants program. First, the bill excludes middle-income families by making those whose gross income exceeds $36,000 ineligible. Second, it is based on income, rather than on a needs assessment. Third, it excludes adult students who go back to school after more than four years out of school. Finally, it does not target the specific needs of aboriginal students or of students living in rural areas.

Yet, by providing unconditional grants for all years of study, this bill would have helped keep students in school, while also dealing with the growing student debt crisis.

Unfortunately, the delay in Liberal action after a decade of funding cuts has left us to deal with a Conservative government that sees tax cuts as the solution to all problems.

The Conservative government is like some kind of free market cyborg that reduces everything into economic terms. When those members look at a university campus, they see student widgets that need to be moulded to fit into the cogs of the economy.

The Conservatives have delayed replacing the expiring millennium foundation with a real public system of upfront federal student grants. Their most recent reports on the millennium fund reveal the flaws in the old Liberal piecemeal approach to student aid. The seemingly preordained Conservative conclusions reflect an ideological bias toward more loans to students instead of non-repayable grants.

The fundamental problem with this bias toward student loans is that it creates two classes of students in Canada: one class that can afford to pay upfront the soaring student fees and other education costs; and, a second class who are forced to borrow and therefore end up paying substantially more for their education through loan interest. To make matters worse, interest rates charged on student loans are crushingly high.

Not only do we charge low and middle income students more for their education than we do wealthy families, but the federal government actually makes $300 million a year on those student borrowers. That is a shame.

In a petition I have been collecting from across Canada to fix student aid, students and their families are calling on the minister to go beyond mere administrative fixes of the Canada student loan program. They are calling for a comprehensive change to the student aid system.

In addition to a single grant system, they want a reduction in the federal student loan interest rate, a student loan ombudsperson to ensure that students are treated with fairness and respect, and better relief programs during repayment of student loans for those in financial hardship.

A few months ago, the Liberals offered a partial fix to this problem through Bill C-284. This would have helped to catch up to the needs and realities of today's students. It was regrettable to discover from a departmental legal expert that the bill was flawed beyond repair from the outset. In its current form, the bill would strip $5.4 million in grants from Quebec students. That is unacceptable by any measure.

I will end by appealing to Canada's students who are listening today, or their families, to stand up and join our campaign for a comprehensive student aid system that includes upfront student grants. Students need and deserve a public system of upfront student grants that ensures equitable access for everyone.

I urge Canada's student leaders to be bold and to demand nothing less from the government, from the NDP and any other national party.

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Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the benefits of Bill C-284.

My mother was a janitoress and I was the first one in our family ever to go to university. I could not have done it without a student loan. Perhaps that is why I have spent so much time listening to student leaders about their concerns.

When I see so many earnest young Canadians working to convince the government that their concerns are valid, I am frustrated by the government's refusal to respond to such a legitimate and well-documented case.

In Thunder Bay, Confederation College student union president, Jon Hendel, has forwarded the document “Sleepwalking Towards the Precipice”, which was researched in partnership with many provincial and national student alliances.

One of their main concerns is the looming $350 million cut to financial aid. The mandate of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which distributes $350 million in student aid annually, is set to expire in 2009. The foundation was established in 1998 by the Liberal Government of Canada with the mandate of improving access to post-secondary education.

Eliminating $350 million from the Canadian financial aid system will have a disastrous impact on the accessibility and affordability of a post-secondary education. Currently, the foundation provides assistance to over 100,000 students annually, making it responsible for about 30% of all non-repayable grants awarded in Canada.

To avert disaster requires immediate action. The federal government must continue to provide a commitment equal to or greater than the foundation's original endowment in non-repayable student financial assistance. This would require the government to provide, at a minimum, a $2.5 billion base endowment to the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. The endowment must also be indexed annually, starting from 1999, to account for inflation and enrolment growth.

Andrew Kane, the manager of financial aid at Confederation College, tells me that over $5 million has been directed to the college since the program began. This is quite a significant amount. He is deeply saddened that this program will be cancelled since it is a direct investment in the students who need it most.

I have received a diploma myself from Confederation College, as well as a master's from York and a B.A. from Lakehead University, and I am proud to have those as my alma maters.

Thunder Bay's Lakehead University student union president, Richard Longtin, confirmed in a recent meeting some amazing statistics. Since 1999, 5,832 Lakehead University students have received $17,528,482 in scholarships and bursaries. In this past academic year alone, 926 students received $2.745 million. Those obviously are a significant set of numbers.

Lakehead University's financial aid administrator wrote to me and said:

It is easy to see that the impact of this program on students at Lakehead University is immense. I have no doubt that these programs have provided the opportunity for many students to attend Lakehead University who otherwise might not have been able to afford a post-secondary education.

The College Student Alliance adds strength to the debate for inclusion. It recommends investment in more non-repayable grants targeted at unrepresented students from low income families, aboriginal communities, first generation and persons with disabilities.

The Canadian Federation of Students met with me regarding the need for a national system of needs based grants. Just yesterday, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, CASA, articulated its issues in its education policy brief entitled, Strengthening Canada's Future: Real Solutions From Canada's Students.

It is very inspiring to meet with such intelligent and motivated young leaders, especially those who so thoughtfully propose reasonable and workable solutions. Of note, they advise that the government must ensure that post-secondary funding is truly dedicated funding. The government must work with the provinces to develop objectives for post-secondary education funding as well as mechanisms to ensure funding is directed toward meeting those goals.

Additional federal transfer funding for post-secondary education must not displace existing funding. Federal transfer funding for post-secondary education should be increased to a minimum level of $4 billion in annual cash transfers and increased annually according to inflation and demographic growth.

The Vancouver based Coalition for Student Loan Fairness has prepared a comprehensive report, entitled “An Eight-Point Plan for Reform”. This reform addresses all levels of concern that constituents have discussed with me.

Point one recommends that the federal government significantly reduce or eliminate the interest rate on student loans. With interest rates of 8.75% to 11.25%, borrowers end up paying interest of over 35% over the lifetime of the loan.

Point two calls for improved access to grants, interest relief and debt reduction. This would include promotion to ensure that all borrowers who need this are aware of it.

Point three calls for the creation of a student loan ombudsman's office which would have the power to prescribe resolutions to service providers, including banks and credit reporting offices.

Points four, five and six speak to creating efficiencies with the recording and payment of student loans. Graduates would be able to expect one integrated loan and one payment with real-time access to statements.

Often, bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own. Points seven and eight address some of those remedies, including the provision of hardship relief.

How serious is student debt? Currently, Canadian students owe the federal government about $800 million in defaulted student loans. The coalition says that nearly $98 million of that amount is interest.

Under an access to information request, the group has also determined that Ottawa is spending more money collecting defaulted loans than in ensuring its interest relief and debt reduction programs are accessible to students. Clearly, changes are needed.

The goal of Bill C-284 is to break down barriers to higher education.

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation study on Canada's tuition and education tax credits is clear proof that providing an $80 tax break on books is bad policy. The incompetence that took us billions of dollars into debt in the early 1990s and late 1980s, and that the Liberal Party dug us out of, continues. As an example, the move last year to kill thousands of jobs created under the summer career placement program has ended up being nothing short of a disaster for students.

I strongly support CASA's support of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. We know that 95% of the money goes to targeted needs. All provinces and territories belong. It operates with a very efficient 4% overhead compared to 28% for the Canada student loans program.

Let us stand up for our students and tell the government that it should be listening to our student leaders and implementing these proposals immediately.

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Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. I would like to thank all of my hon. colleagues who have participated in the debate today.

My colleague from Prince Edward—Hastings spent a fair amount of time during his discussion talking about the government's record of achievement in the post-secondary field. It is certainly a record to be proud of, especially when compared to the records of cuts and inaction by the previous Liberal government.

I will get into how this government is getting results for students, getting things done for students and Canadian parents in a little more detail, but first I want to discuss why this bill simply will not work, and the reasons that I and my colleagues will be voting against it.

It has become clear in the hours of debate and committee study of the bill that have already taken place that it is the responsibility of the provinces and territories that want to take part in the Canadian access grants program to do the groundwork, to implement the program and to deliver it to the students. Yet in the drafting of the bill, the hon. member for Halifax West consulted with exactly zero provinces. In effect, he was flying on one wing, and that does not get one very far. Not only were the provinces not consulted on the drafting of the bill, they do not even support it after the fact.

During the committee process, not a single province came forward in support of the proposals outlined in this bill, not one province. The provinces that have provided statements on this bill have said they would not be in a position for several years to participate in this bill. The provinces have been asked if they support the bill and they have answered with a resounding no.

This government was elected on a pledge to do business in Ottawa differently. That is just what we are doing. The age of Liberal federalism, that big brother will look after the whole country including the provinces, of forcing the provinces to bend to the will of the federal government, is over. Mr. Speaker, you know that and I know that.

The Prime Minister and this Conservative government have pledged to work with the provinces, not against them, and not overriding them on a continuous basis like the previous Liberal government did.

We were elected to be government based on that pledge, because the people in the provinces and the provincial leaders like that pledge. That is why we are here.

This government can only support proposals that are brought before the House if they have the support of the provinces, that is for sure, especially when it would be the provinces that would do all the work. The provinces have to be consulted, and in this case, they simply were not.

No longer will the federal government impose its will on provinces and territories. That was our pledge during the January 2006 election. The Canadian people liked that. The provinces liked that and they still like it, especially in areas of provincial jurisdiction. We are not the previous Liberal government. We are the new Conservative government that respects the provincial jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. That is the truth.

This bill seeks to impose the federal government will on the provinces, and we simply will not support it. As I mentioned before, provinces that want to take part in this program are responsible for the implementation and delivery of this program. However, some provinces, most provinces, and most notably Quebec, have a similar program already under way in their province. It is of their own and they are receiving alternative payments in order to run those programs.

The proposals outlined in this bill, of course, would remove the right of provinces to receive these alternative payments. It would be like telling the province of Quebec that it cannot have its own program and that it cannot keep receiving the funding from the federal government to run its own program because the federal government will impose its program on the province.

Once again, this is no longer the former Liberal government. This is the new Conservative government and we are committed to working with the provinces.

I have been told that this bill would strip millions of dollars from some provinces and territories, money that low income and disabled students use now to pay for university and college. I am searching for a reason why the sponsor of this bill would continue to support it knowing that it would strip all these millions of dollars from existing students under other programs.

I have a hard time imagining what his remaining Quebec colleagues, for example, would have to tell their constituents if this bill were to pass, that no longer are the students in Quebec going to be eligible for the assistance they are getting through the provincial program, moneys provided by the federal government.

I have to guess that taking money out of education, taking money out of the pockets of students and the parents of students is old hat for the former Liberal government, but this government will not support that. It never will. This is the new Conservative government. We do things a new way and we do it with respect for the provinces and territories in this country. We will only support initiatives that provide for education, not take away the funding.

Ignoring the provinces and taking millions away from Quebec are not the only problems with this bill. These are the biggest problems, but not the only ones. Adopting the proposals of this bill would severely limit the flexibility of the government to make timely changes to the program when those changes need to be made. It is important that the specifics of this program remain within the regulatory framework rather than be enshrined in some tight legislation that would impede its flexibility dramatically.

The future of Canadian students is too important to be hindered and delayed by the politics of this place, especially given the delay and stall tactics used by the opposition to slow down meaningful changes to a wide variety of programs in this minority Parliament.

I know that some Liberal members across the way are amazed that they are being reminded of how they participate in this Parliament, but unfortunately, that is the truth. It comes as no surprise to Canadian students that it is this government that has reversed the Liberal cutbacks made to post-secondary education, the cuts that were made during more than a decade that the Liberals were in power.

They know it was the Prime Minister and the finance minister that brought in our plan called Advantage Canada, a great plan, a plan that will ensure that we will turn this ship around now and into the future. That is why this government in just 22 short months has moved to support Canadian students in so many ways.

We have committed substantial tax relief to help students and parents with the high cost of textbooks. It is why we have exempted scholarships and bursaries from income tax, because the government should reward academic achievement and not profit from it. That is why we have committed over $35 million to expand the Canada graduate scholarship program to help an additional 1,100 students every year move on to graduate level studies. This is our record and it is worth talking about.

I thank the members from the Bloc who have finally listened to members on this side of the House, this Conservative government, and realized that the proposals in this bill are bad for the province of Quebec, bad for the other provinces and territories, and bad for Canadian students. I thank the Bloc members for voting against this bill because they realize it is just not worth their support.

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Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Student Financial Assistance Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada Student Financial Assistance Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The question is on Motion No. 1. The vote on the motion will also apply to Motions Nos. 2 and 3. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Student Financial Assistance Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada Student Financial Assistance Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Student Financial Assistance Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada Student Financial Assistance Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 21, 2007, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 2:19 p.m., the House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:19 p.m.)