House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was language.

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(Bill C-37: On the Order: Government Orders:)

February 14, 2008--Consideration at report stage of Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, as reported by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration with amendments--Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

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10:05 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among all parties and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I would like to thank all parties for the negotiations that took place that would allow this. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of this House, Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, be deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. chief government whip have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

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10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Bill reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from February 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act, chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1998 and chapter 25 of the Statutes of Canada, 2004, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this bill was last before the House, the hon. member for Malpeque had the floor for questions and comments. There are six minutes remaining in the time allotted to the hon. member for questions and comments.

Since there are no questions or comments, we will resume debate.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

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10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Canada Grain Act. I would like to start by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill, which would modernize the Canada Grain Act.

We are uncertain about some parts of the bill, though. For example, what would replace payment securities for producers? The Bloc Québécois therefore reserves judgment on the bill. We hope to hear comments from producers, but unfortunately very few of them testified before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

In addition, we need to recognize that the bill does not affect Quebec producers directly. We remain vigilant. The reform of the Canadian Grain Commission is taking place in a specific context. The Conservatives are trying to dismantle the marketing mechanisms that protect the interests of producers, such as the Canadian Wheat Board and supply management.

The Conservative government has appointed a friend of the minister to head the Canadian Grain Commission. The Bloc Québécois wonders whether the new commissioner will defend producers' interests or the minister's.

As for the details of the bill, the Bloc Québécois notes that the government is implementing some recommendations of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, such as modernizing the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission and eliminating mandatory inward inspection and weighing.

However, the Bloc Québécois is skeptical about the elimination of the Grain Appeal Tribunal and the payment security program, because we do not know what will replace it.

The Bloc Québécois also condemns the fact that the government has not introduced an office of grain farmer advocacy, as the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommended.

The Canada Grain Act has been amended several times since the early 1970, but not substantially. The legislation was last amended in May 2005 to enable Canada to meet its WTO commitments. During the legislative process, stakeholders called for an amendment to require a comprehensive review of the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission.

On August 1, 2005, clause 2.1 of Bill C-40 came into force, adding section 120.1 to the Canada Grain Act, which requires a review of the Canadian Grain Commission. COMPAS Inc., a consulting firm, was hired to conduct the review, which was based on reviews carried out over the previous six years. COMPAS Inc. held extensive online consultations with industry stakeholders as well as public meetings across the country.

The COMPAS report, which was tabled in the House of Commons and the Senate in September 2006, was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for review. The committee issued its report in December 2006.

In summary, Bill C-39 amends the Canada Grain Act.

It clarifies the Canadian Grain Commission’s objects; combines terminal elevators and transfer elevators into a single class of elevators called “terminal elevators”; eliminates mandatory inward inspection and weighing as well as some requirements for weigh-overs at elevators; extends the right to require the Commission to determine the grade and dockage of grain at process elevators and grain dealers’ premises; eliminates the Grain Appeal Tribunals; eliminates the Commission’s ability to require security as a condition for obtaining or maintaining a licence; creates additional regulatory powers for the Commission; modifies enforcement provisions and creating certain new offences; and ensures that some of the requirements and procedures set out are clarified and modernized and that certain language is updated.

The bill also amends the Act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act and to repeal the Grain Futures Act as well as another act, and includes transitional provisions and coordinating amendments.

It is important for the Bloc Québécois to quickly describe grain production in Quebec.

The grain grown in Quebec is primarily for domestic consumption, especially for feeding Quebec poultry, cattle and hogs.

For these two reasons, producers in Quebec have never felt the need for a marketing system as centralized as the one in western Canada. Marketing in Quebec is governed by the Act respecting the marketing of agricultural, food and fish products. Under that act, the Régie may, on the application of any interested person, designate a person to inspect grain facilities or to grade or inspect grain. After the inspection or grading, the Régie shall issue a grain grading or grain inspection certificate to the interested person.

The Plan conjoint des producteurs de cultures commerciales, which was adopted and implemented in October 1982, gave the federation of Quebec producers of cash crops the means to negotiate the terms and conditions under which certain crops would be sold.

Until very recently, that federation had a fairly limited mandate in respect to the marketing of crops. In 2005, however, two-thirds of the affected producers agreed to the cooperative food-grade wheat marketing regulations—Règlement sur la mise en vente en commun du blé destiné à la consommation humaine—and that marked the beginning of their collective assumption of control over marketing. This was followed by a mandate from the Quebec National Assembly to establish terms and conditions for the sale of other grains, in particular, centralized payment management, the obligatory provision of information about transactions and a floor-price system.

There are more than 11,000 farmers in Quebec who grow and market such grains as oats, wheat, canola, corn, barley and soybeans on nearly a million hectares of land. Total grain production is about four million tonnes, worth a total of $750 million at the farm gate.

Our grains do have some special characteristics and uses. Quebec is especially responsive to niche export markets, such as GMO-free soybeans for human consumption. Quebec oats are also particularly prized in the United States for horse feed.

Bill C-39 obviously makes some changes to the Canadian Grain Commission. I want to turn now to the most important issues for grain producers—issues that were actually already addressed when the parliamentary committee considered the 100 recommendations from COMPAS.

Let us look at the change in the Canadian Grain Commission's mandate. Through this bill, the government would change it in such a way that, in addition to the interests of grain producers, the Commission would also consider the interests of the industry as a whole, including grain processors.

The Canadian Grain Commission’s mandate will be split into two parts. Part one will set out the CGC's core mandate to establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets. Part two will establish that the CGC shall specifically protect producer interests with respect to deliveries to elevators and grain dealers, access to binding CGC determination of the grade and dockage of grain deliveries, and the allocation of producer cars.

At present, the mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission is to, “in the interests of producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada, to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets”.

Clause 3 of the bill amends section 13 of the Canada Grain Act by removing the words “in the interests of producers” from the purpose for which “standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets” are to be established and maintained.

Like the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food, the Bloc Québécois supports modernization of the Canadian Grain Commission’s mandate. Our party recognizes that the commission must be able to consider broader interests, such as public health, preserving the enviable reputation of Canadian grain producers, and other interests.

Obviously, the Bloc Québécois is sensitive to the concerns of grain producers who believe that Bill C-39 is drafted in such a way as to reduce the protection it affords grain producers. That was one of the questions we had and we will pursue it in committee.

The National Farmers Union has told us, for example, that it is essential to preserve the language of the existing Act, which includes the expression “in the interests of producers” to describe the purpose of the Canadian Grain Commission and the standards of quality in the regulations respecting grain handling operations in Canada.

We know that the Conservative government is allergic to collective marketing mechanisms and instruments that enable producers to earn a fair market return. Deregulation and reducing constraints on the free market are key components of their ideology.

Agricultural producers in Quebec and Canada are quite right to distrust this government, which has set its sights on the Canadian Grain Commission and would like to dismantle supply management in the milk, poultry and egg industries.

On the question of the object or mission of the Canadian Grain Commission, the Bloc Québécois would support any amendment proposed in committee that could provide grain producers with satisfactory protection.

For that reason, the Bloc Québécois will be very vigilant. It is important that this bill be sent to committee so we can examine it in depth, to ensure that producers feel properly protected. That is what is important to the Bloc Québécois. If the producers have doubts about this bill, the Conservatives will find the Bloc Québécois standing up to them.

Obviously governance is going to be an issue with this bill. It is therefore necessary that the Canadian Grain Commission not be politicized. It is important to have a commission in the Canadian quality control system for grain. That is what guarantees the quality of Canadian exports.

The Commission cannot allow itself to be exposed to criticism. It cannot give the impression that its decisions are based on anything other than science and protecting the economic interests in the grain and oilseed supply chain.

It was extremely unwise of the Conservative government to appoint a former Reform Party MP, Elwin Hermanson, to head the Canadian Grain Commission in December 2007. While he has been a grain producer himself, we believe that his close political ties to the present Prime Minister, with whom he sat from 1993 to 1997, cast doubt on his credibility.

It must also be pointed out that there are very close ties between Mr. Hermanson and the present Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food. According to the minister’s website, the minister was Mr. Hermanson's campaign manager in 1993. He was even Mr. Hermanson's constituency office coordinator from 1993 to 1997. The close ties between the minister and Mr. Hermanson, the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission, could not be clearer.

Those close ties prompt us to ask the question that is on everyone’s lips: will the new Commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission stand up for the interests of producers, or the interests of the minister?

Thus, there ought to be an office to defend the rights of grain farmers. As regards the protection of the interests of agricultural producers, the Bloc Québécois deplores the fact that the government rejected the third recommendation of the parliamentary committee, proposing the establishment of an office of grain farmer advocacy that would have reported directly to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

The mandate of the office of grain farmer advocacy, whose role would have been similar to that of an ombudsman, would have been to ensure that producers understand their rights under the act, and to defend their interests in disputes with other stakeholders.

Like the parliamentary committee, we think that such an office would have ensured that the interests of producers are defended in disputes with other stakeholders involved, including the Canadian Grain Commission.

We believe that the communication, consultation, liaison and complaint investigation responsibilities assumed by such an office would have helped strengthened Canada's grain quality assurance system.

As for the elimination of grain appeal tribunals, it goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois has a problem with that part of the bill. Let me explain what the bill does. The grain appeal tribunal hears the complaints of grain producers and companies that are not satisfied with the grades given by the Canadian Grain Commission's inspectors. The chair of the tribunal is an authorized grain inspector, but acting at arm's length. The other members of the tribunal come from the grain industry.

The tribunal's position within the Canadian Grain Commission limits its legitimacy and perceived effectiveness.

Clause 14 of the bill proposes to abolish grain appeal tribunals, which are currently established under sections 35 to 38 of the Canada Grain Act.

We understand that, in case of a disagreement over a ruling made by the chief inspector, who is the first level of appeal, grain producers will no longer be able to turn to the grain appeal tribunal. They will have to turn to the regular courts, which is a costly, long and frustrating process.

That is why the Bloc Québécois maintains that the parliamentary committee did not rule on this issue, and notes that the COMPAS report stated that the Canadian Grain Commission's grain appeal tribunal “has earned some plaudits for effectiveness”.

COMPAS continued, saying, “We believe that the tribunal is respected for the role it plays in disputes over grades, even though some stakeholders may have occasionally felt that the office of the Chief Grain Inspector exerted undue influence”.

The Bloc Québécois is waiting for the government to explain this amendment. We think it is important to refer this bill to committee as quickly as possible so that our party can change it, fill in what is missing, and improve it.

With respect to eliminating inspection and mandatory inward weighing, this is what the bill would do. Weighing and inspection of grain is carried out by the Canadian Grain Commission and is mandatory on bulk shipments overseas but not for container movement or for exports to the United States, where these are optional. Inward inspections are the weighing and grading that take place when railcars or trucks arrive at transfer elevators or terminal elevators. The Canadian Grain Commission then provides third-party weighing so as to forestall errors and to provide assurance to producers.

The government is proposing that inward inspections take place only at the request of the shipper, but that outward weighing and shipping remain mandatory. Terminal and transfer elevator operators will be required to allow access to service providers who will do the weighing and inspection.

While the Canadian Grain Commission will no longer be involved in the delivery of this optional service, both shippers and elevator operators will have access to binding Canadian Grain Commission arbitration in the event of dispute over a grain grade.

Like the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, The Bloc Québécois supports optional inward inspection, as proposed by the government. We agree with this provision of the bill because inward inspection is no longer universally required. Such inspection does not seem to be required in the case of grain shipped to the United States, among other destinations, or by container. The cost of this inspection makes Canadian products less competitive. Grain companies, particularly those that ship grain to companies abroad, want to avoid costs that are not essential to their ability to manage their affairs efficiently. According to COMPAS, “half of the cars unloading grain at terminal elevators come from primary elevators belonging to the same company.”

Mandatory outward inspection and weighing of grains is maintained, and this will help protect the reputation of Canada’s grain products at the international level. We must be careful, however. Since inward inspection is optional, this could increase unit costs and prices by decreasing economies of scale. Making it optional would likely put smaller grain companies that do not have a terminal elevator at a disadvantage in terms of competitiveness. Inspection and weighing fees are collected from the farmer at the primary elevator. Optional inward inspection would benefit larger companies that have a terminal elevator by allowing them to avoid payment of the fees and offering a better price to farmers. Grain companies that have a better geographic location will be in a better position to take advantage of mixed shipments.

The Bloc Québécois believes it is important to promote competition in the grain handling system by helping the smaller companies. That is why our party believes that the Canadian Grain Commission must have sufficient funding so that the commission can maintain efficient and timely services for both producers and smaller handlers who need such services for transactional purposes.

What does the bill do in terms of guaranteeing payment for farmers? The Canadian Grain Commission has long been demanding that licensees provide farmers with guaranteed protection in case of bankruptcy. The guarantee can be in the form of security bonds, cash deposits, credit letters, guarantee insurance or payables insurance in sufficient amounts to cover the eligible liabilities, that is, the amount to be paid to the farmers, or any other acceptable financial instrument. All companies must report their eligible liabilities to the Canadian Grain Commission on a monthly basis. In the past, the amount of the guarantee has been enough to cover most of their obligations to the farmers in most cases of bankruptcy, but not all.

According to COMPAS, since 1982 there have been 19 failures of licensed, bonded companies. Of these 19, there are three instances where the payout was less than 100%, one of which was 98.4%. There are two other instances where the CGC paid producers 100% for failures of companies that were not licensed or carrying security. The CGC made payments in addition to or in the absence of security provisions in a total of five cases.

The Bloc Québécois recognizes, as did the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, that modernization of the system requires an effective and flexible mechanism for contractual security for all participants. Because they are at the beginning of the chain, grain producers need to be contractually protected against breakdowns that could occur down the line.

Our party has noted that the federal government does not require eastern Canada's grain industry—or producers of other crops—to participate in similar guarantee programs.

The Bloc Québécois has noticed that the current system has created a great deal of dissatisfaction. For example, the Western Barley Growers Association recommended a study of costs and benefits.

It is therefore important to understand that the Bloc Québécois believes that this bill should be sent to committee quickly because it is important that changes be made in the interest of grain producers.

We need to take a hard look at this position. This bill must be modernized, but in the interest of producers. The Bloc Québécois will see to it that the interests of producers are respected.

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10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, during the beginning of the member's speech, he mentioned that the bill would in no way affect producers in Quebec but then he proceeded to go on to say that he would be watching it very closely and that he would be defending the good of the farmers.

The fact is that western farmers, I think, have a sense of wanting to determine their own destiny and they are telling those of us in the west that they want to have more ability to market their product freely. They want a choice. They want to be able to use the government agency if it is to their advantage, but there are many times, right now for example, where they could get triple the amount of income if they had some marketing freedom.

How can the member justify saying, out of one side of his mouth, that this would not affect them when, by their own declaration the people in that corner have consistently said over the years that I have been here that they want to get out of Canada, which I feel badly about, but they keep saying it? However, now he seems to be so very interested in what is happening in western Canada. How does he reconcile that?

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the answer will be quite simple. I will take this opportunity to outline the situation.

Quebec has grain marketing legislation and a board called the Régie. Quebec producers have their own organization.

We are closely monitoring this bill as are Quebec farmers. With respect to all aspects of supply management and the Canadian Grain Commission, the Conservative government has demonstrated that it does not support any system put in place to protect producers. These protection systems go against the Conservatives' philosophy. We will be very vigilant in this regard because western producers are asking us to intervene. The member should know that.

As long as Quebec remains in Canada, the Bloc Québécois will defend the interests of the men and women of Quebec. In this case, agricultural producers from Quebec and from the rest of Canada are asking us to step in. For us, this is important. If farmers do not feel protected by this bill, the Conservatives will find the Bloc Québécois on their heels. In our view, it is important that supply management and the other marketing protection tools acquired over the years by the farmers remain intact. This is why we are interested in seeing this bill quickly referred to the committee, which will hear farmers and be able to improve the bill in the interest of the men and women of the farming industry.

If, one day, the Conservatives start undermining collective marketing by the Canadian Grain Commission, this could trigger a domino effect. Supply management would be affected. There would be a very negative impact on producers in Quebec.

The Union des producteurs agricoles is asking the Bloc Québécois to be vigilant and to protect the western farmers. Obviously, we are happy to do it as long as we remain members of this House. We would not want this bill to have negative consequences on the existing legislation which provides marketing protection to other producers, for other types of crops.

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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is important to have this debate. The Canadian Grain Commission is the result of an act of 1912, which established three grain commissioners to oversee the regulation of the movement of grain from the country elevator to the point where it was loaded for export or processed in Canada. It has functioned in the interest of farmers. One of the main reasons it exists is to retain quality, so the wheat we send overseas has a stamp of quality from Canada.

Today, approximately 700 dedicated employees arbitrate disagreements over grain and weight, inspect grain passing in and out of terminal elevators, license and regulate elevators and grain companies and, most important, administer the Canadian grading system. Canadian grains are trusted and respected throughout the world due to the honesty and thoroughness of the Canadian Grain Commission.

I point out that we have specialists, people who have studied and learned what they are doing, working on behalf of farmers in Canada. Unfortunately, the way the bill stands now approximately 200 people stand to lose their jobs in the name of deregulation and privatization. That is one thing of which we have to be aware.

Grades like number 1 or number 2 Canadian western red spring wheat correspond to established specifications based on measures such as a percentage in the shipment of damaged or broken kernels or other kinds of seeds and of foreign matter such as dirt, as well as moisture content and the weight of grain. The grades assigned by the Grain Commission are under the control of the western and eastern grain standards committees, which meet and make decisions about any changes or additions to the grades that may be necessary because of changing market and crop conditions. Each year they also establish standards samples for each grade.

I mention that to underline the fact that the Grain Commission has a useful function. Any time we want to change or modify the way it works, we have to tread very carefully.

Bill C-39, as it stands, has a potential threat to Canadian grain producers. We know the Grain Commission has served as an independent referee to settle disputes between Canadian grain producers and the powerful companies that buy and export. It is no secret that our system of doing things in Canada is under attack. When I posed the question to our chief negotiator at the WTO last week during committee, he admitted, for example, that there was pressure internationally for us to do away with our state trading institutions, namely the Wheat Board. That same pressure exists to modify or to eventually make the Grain Commission not as serving as it is today. We have to be careful.

The commission has also served as the body that determines the amounts farmers are paid based on the Grain Commission determination of the weight and quality of grain before it goes to market. These roles would dramatically diminish if Bill C-39 becomes law, leaving producers newly disadvantaged in their dealings with grain companies when it comes to determining grain quantity and quality.

The producer can hire a private company to grade and weigh the grain even though no such companies exist today. The bill would also expose grain producers to financial harm in the event of a grain buyer bankruptcy or refusal to pay.

The feeling among many people who are in the business is that this will also undermine Canada's international reputation as an exporter of top quality grain. For example, the proposed elimination of inward inspection will likely result in diminished quality of Canadian grain exports. Currently, inward inspection by the Canadian Grain Commission ensures grains of different quality can be segregated to protect higher grades from being diluted by lower quality grain.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this, but I understand that when the grain goes to the elevator, for example, in Vancouver, which I have visited a number of times before with my farmer uncle from Saskatchewan, that the grain is put in bins and that quality is retained. The quality is there because of outward inspection when the grain is loaded on to ships.

Therefore, the way I understand it, there is the possibility, if there is no inward and outward inspection, there could be a mixture decreasing the quality of the grain, tarnishing Canada's reputation as an exporter of quality grain.

There is something called kernel visual distinguishability, or KVD, which is performed by the Grain Commission with this inward inspection. The bill proposes to do away with this.

I refer to an article by Mr. Wade Sobkowich, who is the executive director of the Western Grain Elevators Association. In general, the feeling is that we have to be very careful before doing away with KVD. Technologies are in the process of being worked on and finalized that can replace this famous black box, which we were told about at committee. However, to date nothing really exists to replace KVD.

Right now only certain varieties are eligible for a particular class and KVD means that a trained person can differentiate between the classes through visual inspection. Any grain that contains an excess of varieties outside of the intended class is downgraded to the Canada feed grain. In other words, if I understand this correctly, by having KVD, we are able to retain, with qualified people who understand it, a quality in the grain we export.

KVD is a consideration used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency when deciding what varieties should be registered.

The biggest problem, according to Mr. Sobkowich, with removing KVD is the obvious one. It exists to protect the farmer because it allows settlement at the time of delivery.

Just as an aside, one of the problems with the bill, which goes contrary to one of the recommendations we made in committee, is it does not put the farmer first and foremost. The farmer is lumped into all the other segments of the agriculture industry.

Therefore, KVD protects the grain handler because the certificate final is based on a visual grading system. It protects the marketer by giving assurances that the customer is receiving what he or she has ordered. It protects the end use customers by providing confidence that they are receiving grain that meets the processing requirements.

The Western Grain Elevators Association is not saying that we have to keep KVD forever, that this is ingrained in stone. What it is saying is let us be very careful. Let us tread lightly. Let us ensure we do not replace something until we have something better to act in the interest of farmers.

What has been happening with the government is it appears to be willing to act very quickly and often recklessly with regard to the Wheat Board and the Grain Commission. Yet it seems to drag its feet when it comes to immediate aid that is needed for pork and cattle producers, which we saw during the debate. Somehow the government can act quickly if it wants, but if it does not want to, then we have the spin that it cannot get aid to people right away. Therefore, we have to tread very carefully.

So why is Bill C-39 flawed? Instead of having a study done by a parliamentary committee, the government used a report prepared by a polling firm whose very existence depends on contracts from government and large corporations.

COMPAS, which conducted the study that led to Bill C-39, had a favourable—I repeat, favourable—bias for deregulation and privatization right from the start.

So I ask the following question: how can a firm conduct a study if it has a favourable bias for deregulation from the get go. When a study is done, it is expected to be based on an examination of both sides of the issue.

Moreover, due to lack of funding, the Canadian Grain Commission has not been able to fulfill its mandate, and these failures are being used as an excuse to deregulate or privatize services to farmers.

What we have here is a ploy that involves cutting funding. We have seen the same thing in the health system. Then the government claims that the system is not working, but the reason for that is the lack of funding. If one looks at the commission's recommendations, one will see that one of these recommendations is to allocate sufficient funding to the commission so it can do its job properly.

Again, I want to stress the fact that this bill benefits large corporations rather than farm families. If we pass it in its current form, farmers will no longer have their say.

I will continue reading from a press release by the National Farmers Union, which states:

Many of those recommendations [in the report] would accelerate the economic leverage of large grain companies and railways at the expense of farmers, according to the NFU. “The mandate of the [Canadian Grain Commission], since the Act was first implemented in 1912, has recognized that farmers have less power in the marketplace and need certain protections,” said Boehm. He noted the Compas report specifically recommends “narrowing the mandate to protect producers' rights from a broad over-arching principle, down to some very specific limits.”

Boehm refuted the claim by the authors of the Compas report that they had heard no positive feedback about the CGC during their consultation process. “Such a claim is categorically not accurate,” said Boehm. “Particularly given our direct experiences at the public meetings in Saskatoon and Regina. Grain producers at both those meetings unequivocally expressed support for the CGC, particularly the role of the Assistant Commissioners.”

I would like to take an aside here and tie this in with what we have been experiencing with the whole debate on the Canadian Wheat Board. We have been told time and time again by the government that we have to move ahead for marketing choice, that we have to dismantle single desk, and that farmers are wanting this choice at this time. Yet in my office I have over 700 individual letters from people, some handwritten, some typed, which say that we have to be careful. These people say they do not want to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board and the single desk.

Then there is the spin we get from the government, which is that all these letters came from the same fax. Certainly. They are from members of the National Farmers Union. The National Farmers Union provides a service to its members. A member sends a letter and the NFU faxes it to me and other MPs. These are not form letters. These are individual letters. There are many gut-wrenching letters asking what the government is doing and why it is moving so quickly to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. I would say that this is the same sentiment that there is out there among many farmers in regard to the Canadian Grain Commission.

I will move on to an article from the Winnipeg Free Press, in which we see that the minister has decided not to work with the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board and is actually threatening to introduce legislation, I think he said within 10 days, if he does not get his way.

Since I became a member of the agriculture committee and have taken up this file, I have always thought how nice it would be if the current minister--or the previous minister--would sit down with those elected officials who are there on behalf of farmers. It would be nice if he would sit down with all farmers' organizations, especially an organization such as the National Farmers Union, which represents thousands and thousands of farmers.

The minister could sit down, hammer out a solution and try to work with the system as it is. As we can see, the Wheat Board is trying to introduce new programs. The majority of the board's directors want the federal government and the malt and barley industry “to give their new CashPlus barley marketing initiative a chance”. As well, states the Winnipeg Free Press article, “The program seeks to put more money into farmers' hands sooner than with the current pooling system”.

So it is not as if the Wheat Board directors are stuck in a time zone. They understand what is happening, but at the same time they want to ensure that the market power stays with the farmers and they are not at the mercy of the big multinationals.

It is disturbing when we hear a minister give ultimatums. I will quote him from the article in the Winnipeg Free Press:

“They can lead, follow or get the hell out of the way,” he said.

What is that? What kind of a statement is that from the Minister of Agriculture of our country?

Now we will move on. Yesterday I received a letter from the president of the National Farmers Union, who was extremely upset over the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture in debate the other night.

It is incredible. I will quote what he is saying:

One of your other defamatory allegations in the same emergency debate is that acting as the President of the National Farmers Union, I have “disappeared on this issue [the CWB] this year”. Again, although you know this to be opposite to the truth (I have attached my recent press releases on the CWB issue as you are pretending that you haven't seen them), you seem to think you can mislead your fellow members of the House of Commons, and this is a further disgrace to yourself and your party.

In the last paragraph, he poses a question to the parliamentary secretary:

Do you have the integrity required to stand in the House of Commons and apologize to your colleagues and then make a further apology to me for your unsubstantiated, defamatory, and incorrect remarks?

I will pose the question to the Parliamentary Secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board: does he have the integrity to do this?

I hope that when we come back to the House he in fact will stand up and apologize, because it is time to work in a spirit of cooperation. Farmers want to work in a spirit of cooperation with the government. The government is doing some good things. It is not a time for confrontation.

It is not a time for shenanigans, as we saw yesterday in committee when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture tried to stop debate on Bill C-33 and rush it through, back to the House, even though he knew witnesses were lined up to be heard on this important issue. The issue of biofuels is not something that we just move through. It has to be looked at and we must at least put on the record that there are concerns.

Thankfully we have a committee chairman with integrity who stood up and made the right decision. I would like to applaud him for that.

In the minutes I have remaining, I would like to quote from a letter dated January 18 from the organization called Save My Canadian Wheat Board:

[Bill] C-39 includes some of the amendments proposed in the review and is sure to cause further controversy. For one, it proposes to remove the phrase from the act that requires the [Canadian Grain Commission] to regulate the entire grain industry “in the interests of grain producers”. Instead of the focus of the act being the protection and promotion of the interests of grain producers, the interests of producers that would be protected by the act are spelled out specifically and narrowly.

That is just one example from friends of the group, Save My Canadian Wheat Board. Further on, the letter states:

Likely to be highly controversial, and certainly not recommended by the 2006 review, [Bill] C-39 removes the requirement that companies wishing to be licensed by the [Canadian Grain Commission] as primary elevators must post adequate security to cover potential losses farmers may incur if the company goes bankrupt. The security posted by companies in the past has not always been adequate, but it has certainly protected farmers from huge losses in some cases.

I would like to once again emphasize that we have to take the precautionary approach before we move quickly. Often the government has not done that in dealing with health and with the environment and now in dealing with the lives of farmers and our grain industry.

The precautionary approach means that we tread very carefully before we move in to throw something out and bring in something new when we are not quite certain what the future will bring. This is especially so in light of the fact that today in the world there is this thrust, this feeling, in regard to Canada that other countries and the WTO want us to do away with any protection we have for our farmers. That is a threat not only to the Canadian Wheat Board, but also to supply management. We can see it.

I would like to conclude by saying that the bill as it currently stands certainly does not receive my support or the support of my party. I hope we have a chance to look at it and turn it into a bill that reflects the interests of all farmers in Canada.

Canada Grain Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, it is great to be able to get up on this issue one more time. I want to address some of the accusations the member made against me, but first I think I need to suggest to him, and I know many of my colleagues would suggest this to him as well, that he needs to go to more than just the NDP's farm wing, the NFU, for his advice. He needs to get a broader perspective of the agricultural industry, particularly in western Canada.

With regard to his comments about what I said the other night, I found it very strange. I have always been a strong advocate of organic farming in western Canada. I think it presents some great opportunities. That is why I was extremely puzzled when Mr. Stewart Wells claimed that I had defamed him the other night when I called him an organic farmer.

It seemed to be an extremely strange response from him and the National Farmers Union, unless we know that this year the Canadian Wheat Board has given virtually a zero buyback to organic farmers. They can buy their grain back and they can market it however they want.

I am told by his neighbours that Mr. Wells is an organic farmer. He refuses to actually answer the question as to whether he is or is not. If he is, he is able to take advantage of that opportunity, while 98% of farmers in western Canada cannot access that same buyback. They cannot access the ability to market their own grain.

My questions to Mr. Wells have been as follows. Is he an organic farmer? If he is an organic farmer, has he been able to take advantage of the buyback? If so, why has he not stood up and suggested that it would be good for the rest of western Canadian farmers to have the same opportunities that he has? Those are simply the questions that I was raising the other night.

The NFU's extremely aggressive and angry response to me tells me that maybe he needs to answer those questions and that he is trying to avoid answering the questions as to whether he is an organic farmer and has been able to take advantage of that tremendous opportunity offered by the buyback, which the rest of us would love to have.

If Mr. Wells is not an organic farmer, I would be glad to apologize to him for that. I also understand that if he is not one he is probably wishing he was so that he could take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that organic farmers have, because they can market their own grain this year.

I would like the member from the NDP to explain to the House today why the NDP would be taking a position that would allow some farmers in western Canada to buy back their grain for eight cents and then market it themselves, which we think is a tremendous thing, but then tell other farmers that they cannot even get a buyback, that they can take a price from the Canadian Wheat Board that is less than half of what organic farmers are getting.

Canada Grain Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, as for this debate on the Wheat Board and the position we are getting from the government, we have heard it over and over again. The fact remains that there are many hundreds and thousands of farmers who do support the system, the Canadian Wheat Board, the way it functions today, and they have a democratically elected board of directors. Any changes made to that organization have to be made by farmers, not by the kind of heavy-handed approach that the government is taking.

Canada Grain Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the well-researched remarks by the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

I agree with him when he stated that the government moves rapidly in areas such as trying to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board, which it is attempting to do, in terms of trying to weaken the Canadian Grain Commission, and now the minister's ridiculous announcement to do away with KVD by August 1, which industry, the Canadian Wheat Board, nearly everybody in the system, except the right-wing friends of the parliamentary secretary over there, claim should not be done until 2010 or it will completely disrupt the industry. It will in fact put Canada at risk in terms of supplying the quality grain it has a reputation of supplying around the world.

When it comes to responding to the beef and hog crisis, the government is absolutely missing in action. Why can it not move rapidly in that area?

Let me turn to the specific bill we are talking about, Bill C-39, on the Canadian Grain Commission.

We see that the Conservative government is undermining the authority of farmers. The original Canadian Grain Act has in the mandate that it is in the interests of producers. The new bill takes that out. That crowd on the other side is not really interested in doing anything in the interests of producers and it shows. The Conservatives are undermining them with the Canadian Wheat Board. They are undermining them with the Canadian Grain Commission. They are missing in action on hogs and beef. The Conservatives are turning over the authority of the Canadian Grain Commission to the interests of industry rather than producers. I would like to ask the hon. member his point of view on that.

There are other problems with the bill. The Conservatives are taking away the appeals tribunal. There were 2,000 appeals last year. There is nothing about reporting to Parliament in this bill. That right is being taken away and Parliament will not know what is going on with the Canadian Grain Commission and the Canadian Grain Act. They are taking away the necessity of grain companies having to post a bond to protect producer interests.

I would like to get the member's comments on that critique of the bill and certainly the critique of a government that is missing in action when it comes to developing real solutions for farmers in this country.

The Conservatives like to say that they put farmers first, but everything they are doing is putting farmers absolutely last.

Canada Grain Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to emphasize that sometimes the member is criticized because he is from Prince Edward Island, but I would like to assure the House that the member as a past president of the National Farmers Union and also as an MP has criss-crossed the country probably hundreds of times and he understands the agriculture situation in this country.

I agree with what he is saying. This is a flawed bill. It is a flawed process that will gradually take power away from farmers. We have to look at it very carefully.

With regard to missing in action, the government could get back into action by consulting with all groups in this country, not just with its friends, not just with the ones who support its particular ideological point of view.

As parliamentarians sometimes we have to rise above our ideological differences. We all have them; that is why we belong to different political parties. We have to look at the interests of farmers. Maybe the minister and the government could have another consultation with all groups, not just the government's friends, but groups such as the National Farmers Union and others, just to see what farmers are saying.

The letters that we get are not form letters. They are from people who are concerned. Sometimes I get the feeling that the minister and the government just are not paying attention. We certainly get that feeling in regard to the pork and cattle industry where, to this very day, there are people who are not getting the assistance that they need.

Certified General Accountants Association of Canada
Statements by Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada.

I have been a member of this association since 1987. The association is known throughout Canada and the world for offering professional development to its members and students as well as for advancing the accounting profession.

CGAs are heralded for their excellent professional standards, as well as the integrity and ethics they provide all sectors of Canada's economy, including industry, commerce and government, both as employees and as practitioners.

CGA-Canada representatives play leading roles in developing solutions to important domestic and international issues, including productivity, sustainability and trade, among others.

I am very proud to hold a CGA designation. I know all my colleagues in the House will join me in congratulating CGA-Canada on achieving this very important milestone.

ByTowne Cinema
Statements by Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is in the heart of our community on Rideau Street a cultural institution called the ByTowne Cinema, which has carved for itself an enviable and well-deserved reputation.

At this time of year when film awards loom, we will often see lineups outside the ByTowne. Why? Because more often than not, the ByTowne has found those pearls the public loves and the cinema chains have neglected. This is due mostly to the cinematic flair of Bruce White, the ByTowne owner whom I wish to congratulate.

I would like to thank Mr. White for the happy mix of indies, foreign and Canadian productions. I would also like to thank him for Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulin, March of the Penguins, Volver, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and for this year's Persepolis, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Away from Her, La vie en rose and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

The next time the ByTowne features The Rocky Horror Picture Show, members should go. It is worth the price of admission and then some.

Seniors
Statements by Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I delivered nearly 10,000 postcards to the Prime Minister criticizing the government's refusal to make full retroactive payments of the guaranteed income supplement. My colleague from Alfred-Pellan and I also tabled a bill to obtain this full retroactivity and an increase in the guaranteed income supplement.

Our demands are being supported by organizations that can see that seniors are also facing a crisis. They know it and are not fooled. Their memories are not gone and they will remember this government that gave them hope and then abandoned them. They will remember this government that has the means to give back the money it took away from them, this Conservative government that stubbornly refuses to return what was stolen from them.

This is yet another battle, like the one to help our industries, that the Bloc Québécois will fight for seniors.

Canadian Breast Cancer Network
Statements by Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Breast Cancer Network is a survivor directed national network of organizations and individuals.

Sadly, over 5,000 Canadian families will lose a loved one this year due to breast cancer, while 22,000 more women will be diagnosed.

We as a country have to do everything we can and use all the tools at our disposal to make cancer history.

While I welcome the government's change of heart to reverse its decision in regard to the cuts by the current government and the previous government to the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, I and the women affected by breast cancer across this country must have a guarantee that the Canadian Breast Cancer Network will have cash in hand on April 1.

This organization has faced cutback after cutback and cannot wait at the government's pleasure for funding that was needed yesterday to help women and their families affected by breast cancer.

Ukraine
Statements by Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canada was very disappointed by the recent statements made by Russian leaders, including President Putin, stating that they would aim nuclear weapons at Ukraine if it joined NATO and allowed U.S. missile defence assets on its territory. Such statements are a source of preoccupation in Canada as well as with the Euro-Atlantic community.

Even if couched in hypothetical terms, the threat gives us cause for considerable concern. As a matter of fundamental principle, the use of such threats is unacceptable. Moreover, it is not consistent with the positive relationships we have been striving to develop in the post-cold war environment.

Our response is firm: the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine are not to be questioned. Ukraine is free and must remain free to choose the foreign policy course that suits its aspirations. In this respect, it can count on Canada's unquestionable support.

Post-Secondary Education
Statements by Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is hard to take the government seriously on post-secondary education. After it cleaned up the mess of the last Conservative government, the Liberal government invested in students through millennium scholarships, Canada access grants, learning bonds, graduate scholarships and more.

The Conservative government throws some money to the provinces and then gives an $80 tax credit to students. Wow.

How about Canada student loans? The minister says he has something in the budget. He should look at the recommendations of Julian Benedict and the Coalition for Student Loan Fairness. He should reduce the rate of interest, make the system more open and accessible, and better meet the needs both of our students and the productivity of the nation. And he should stop collecting loans from the families of the dead.

What is the minister hiding on income contingent loans? Why did he block an ATIP for 11 months and then refuse to release the information? What could he be hiding?

The government does not listen to students, does not understand students and does not seem to care much about them either. The government promises everything and delivers nothing and students are not hopeful that will change any time soon.

Automotive Industry
Statements by Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, coming from Oshawa I realize the automotive sector is very important to me and my constituents. I am very proud that our government continues to work very hard with this very important sector.

I rise in the House today with some good news for Canadians and our very important auto sector. China was not abiding by its commitment to provide non-discriminatory access for the imports of their auto parts, leading to high and unnecessary tariffs, costing our automotive sector hundreds of millions of dollars. Our government took action.

We joined forces with the United States and the European Union and together we filed a complaint against China with the WTO. Today the initial ruling was delivered and the WTO agrees with us. As our Minister of International Trade said yesterday, this is a move in the right direction.

This is another way that our government is getting things done for Canadians and for our Canadian auto sector.

Léo Koby Véro
Statements by Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is Black History Month, and I want to tell you about a cause that Léo Koby Véro, a South Shore resident, is fighting for.

Mr. Véro has always fought a number of fights to promote his community, and currently, he is trying to gain recognition for a great black artist of the 18th century whom history has forgotten, black classical composer Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges, also known as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Mr. Véro is the founding president of the Circle of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

In addition to being a phenomenal violinist, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges was a talented composer of music for string quartets, symphonies and quatuor concertants. In addition to being a composer, he was also a conductor.

Some have called him the “black Mozart”, while others prefer to call Mozart the “white Saint-Georges”. Regardless, Saint-Georges will take his rightful place in black history thanks to the tenacity of the members of the Circle of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

National Flag of Canada
Statements by Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, on this day 43 years ago, the red and white maple leaf flag was first raised on Parliament Hill, across Canada and at Canadian embassies around the world.

The bright maple leaf that adorns our flag is surely its more remarkable element.

Today, our red and white maple leaf flag is beloved by all Canadians and admired around the world because it is a symbol of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

Recognizing and celebrating Canada's significant events and symbols is integral to the foundation of our historical memory and contributes to the identity, cohesion and sense of belonging of Canadians.

I encourage Canadians to join together to celebrate this treasured symbol. National Flag of Canada Day is a perfect opportunity to embrace our shared identity and to reflect on our good fortune to live in the greatest country in the world.

National Flag of Canada
Statements by Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, today Canadians celebrate National Flag of Canada Day. Forty-three years ago the maple leaf flew for the first time over this Parliament and the nation it represents.

Today presents an opportunity for all Canadians to reflect on what our flag represents.

As we all share this iconic symbol, the national treasures and common values it signifies are shared with all of us. We all feel the respect and friendship the maple leaf attracts when we travel abroad. We all cherish the universal education and health systems that we share at home. And we all honour the current and future veterans whose sacrifice gives future generations the freedom and privilege that comes with life under the maple leaf.

On this National Flag of Canada Day, I ask all my colleagues to join me in celebrating our past achievements, as well as looking ahead toward an exciting future that we will share under our common flag.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Statements by Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, 78 days ago the tackling violent crime act was sent to the Senate for consideration. Ever since it arrived in the Liberal dominated Senate, it has been held up from passage.

As a father I am concerned about the delay tactics that may jeopardize the passage of these important measures that will better protect my family.

This week, while opposing the tackling violent crime act, Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs expressed her desire to legalize youth prostitution. I would like to remind the Liberal senator that youth prostitution is already illegal. The age of consent is 18 years where sexual activity involves exploitative activity such as prostitution.

Our bill is about protecting children from the most vile and horrific crimes that can be committed. As a father I call on the Liberal senators to stop their delay and to quickly pass this piece of legislation that will help protect the children of Canada.

Health Care
Statements by Members

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, public health care is in crisis. There is a shortage of staff and beds, and millions of Canadians are without doctors.

In Sault Ste. Marie, 12 emergency physicians have warned they will withdraw their services as of April 1, citing unsafe patient conditions and too few doctors. The hospital CEO calls it the worst situation he has seen. This is happening coast to coast to coast.

Our party has campaigned for long term care and home care programs to help alleviate this hospital crisis. We have called for innovative solutions: a health care training fund to add 16,000 practitioners as quickly as possible; a national tracking and assessment authority; multidisciplinary teams, including nurse practitioners; retaining health care professionals; accommodating foreign trained workers; and helping students with financial relief.

Let us stop giving big business the corporate tax breaks that do not help Canadians and let us spend the money on health care.

Government Policies
Statements by Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my constituents of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca have a few questions for the Conservative government.

Why have the Conservatives not implemented a national plan to address our health care workforce crisis, implement a national head start day care program for children, or roll out a plan to protect Canadian jobs and our economy from the storm clouds ahead?

Why has the government massively overspent, bringing our country to the edge of a deficit? Why has it shafted our navy, robbed pensioners of their hard-earned savings through the income trust fiasco, which is causing a massive sell-off of Canadian firms to foreign buyers?

Where is its plan to address substance abuse, or tackle organized crime, or remove interprovincial trade barriers, or in my riding provide the resources for the E&N Railway to run effectively, or for Victoria to have a light rail transit system?

Why has the new Conservative dictatorship trampled on the pillars of our democracy in Canada?

My electors in Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, indeed all Canadians, want to know.

Official Languages
Statements by Members

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are systematically obstructing the work of the official languages committee in order to prevent the committee from inviting the minister to appear.

This counterproductive strategy is an affront to the principle of ministerial responsibility. Disrespectful comments made by the Conservatives to opposition members in order to delay a motion to invite once again demonstrate this party's ideology when it comes to respect for procedure. We are ready to discuss the renewal of the action plan for official languages and the committee needs to hear from the minister.

This coalition of Reform, Alliance, Progressive Conservative and failed Liberal members is letting spite get in the way of its committee work. Not all that long ago, the Conservatives were cancelling meetings to prevent debate of the court challenges program. Refusing to invite the minister to discuss the renewal of the action plan is just more of the same; it is obstruction.

Basketball Tournament
Statements by Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Nechako Valley Vikings of Vanderhoof, British Columbia, won the 27th annual New Waterford Coal Bowl Classic basketball tournament final at Breton Education Centre in New Waterford.

This year's Coal Bowl was another great success thanks to the many volunteers and sponsors. The New Waterford Coal Bowl Classic is a premiere national invitational boy's high school basketball tournament, but it is more than that. It is a celebration of culture, academics and, of course, sportsmanship.

This year 10 teams in attendance from across Canada volunteered in a local grocery store to raise money for the families of the seven members of the Bathurst High School Phantoms basketball team who were killed in a tragic motor vehicle accident last month. I am pleased to report that the teams raised over $2,000 for the Boys in Red memorial fund established after the tragic accident.

Congratulations to all for a job well done.

Infrastructure
Statements by Members

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are listening. We have listened to the provinces and the territories. We have listened to the municipalities and their desire to have long term, flexible and predictable funding for infrastructure needs.

We delivered the building Canada fund, world class action to provide world class infrastructure for this country.

We must work together to correct the infrastructure deficit left by the previous Liberal government. Building Canada is a $33 billion seven year plan, with $17.6 billion going directly to the municipalities via the GST rebate and the gas tax fund.

Working together, building Canada means a partnership. Municipalities asked us to extend the gas tax fund and in budget 2007 we acted. We extended it to 2014 and raised it to $2 billion a year.

The previous Liberal government left this issue on the back burner. Our menu is clear: building a better, stronger Canada.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, does the government agree that Canada's mission in Kandahar, which must change to one of training, reconstruction and development in February 2009, must also have a clear end date in February 2011, not a vague approximation around 2011 and not just a review date, but a clear end date in February 2011? Does the government agree with that?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:15 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, throughout the process of working on developing our Canadian position on the future of our mission in Afghanistan, we have been trying to build a bipartisan consensus through the work of the Manley panel headed up by a former Liberal deputy prime minister.

We put a motion on the table. We sought input on that and we have since had input from the Liberal Party. We are very pleased to see there is a considerable amount of common ground between the parties.

We now have what I think can be truly called not a Liberal position or a Conservative position but a Canadian consensus. Part of that consensus is a view that the mission should end in 2011.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the House will begin a debate on Afghanistan a week from Monday. It must follow an open and transparent process. It must be serious, thoughtful and substantive.

I would ask the government House leader how many days of debate is the government prepared to devote to this vital topic beyond the two days that have now been scheduled and what exactly will the House be debating?

Will the government accept the terms of the Liberal amendment?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:15 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, with regard to the latter part of the question, we were very pleased to see the input from the Liberal Party and the position that was provided in its motion earlier this week.

As I indicated, there is considerable common ground on the most fundamental questions about the future of the mission in Afghanistan. Of course, the most fundamental of those questions is, do we wish to see the military mission in Afghanistan continue beyond 2009? On that issue there is common ground between the two major parties in the House of Commons.

The other parties, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, have a different view. That is fine. That is fair, but the important part is that we have worked toward a consensus. We will debate that in the House, but the most important thing is to arrive at a Canadian position that honours the commitments we have made in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the existing commitments run until 2009. It is important to know the change that will occur after 2009.

The government left discussions with NATO about new and additional troops to the very last minute and now there is a mad scramble.

Specifically, which NATO allies have been approached bilaterally so far? Specifically, which ones? What clear commitments have been made to date, if any? When will we know for sure? Parliament needs full disclosure of what the government knows or does not know.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:15 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, there have, as the Minister of National Defence and the Prime Minister have reported in the past, been ongoing dialogues and bilateral discussions with our NATO allies at NATO meetings over the years.

The Afghan mission is of course one of our most important commitments and our commitment to our NATO partners is obviously our most important military and security alliance that we enjoy. We continue to do that.

The Prime Minister has regularly reported publicly and to the House on his discussions with other national leaders like the prime minister of Great Britain, the president of France, the prime minister of Germany and the like. We will continue to do that.

What is important though is that we do have an element of burden sharing from our allies. That is something I know that the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party have in common.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, Liberals believe that the key to success in the Afghan mission is honesty and clarity with Canadians. That is a very different approach from what we have seen so far from the government.

Our amended motion calls on the government to provide more frank and more frequent reporting to Canadians about the mission.

Will the Prime Minister commit his government to this kind of transparency about the mission to Canadians?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:20 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, we are very committed to transparency and openness on this mission. We always have been. I believe there have been 10 technical briefings on the mission in Afghanistan and I believe nine of them have been under this government. We have now instituted that.

We will have those briefings on a very regular basis, so that we can provide, in a very technical and open fashion, away from the political debate, in a realm where people are hearing from the individuals who are involved on the ground and running the mission in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the kind of information that the Canadian public would like to hear. That is something that--

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, today, Canadians have had only secrecy and cover-up from the government when it comes to the Afghanistan mission.

The issue of detainee abuse and torture is a very good example. Canadians' faith in the Afghan mission is undermined when troubling reports of abuse in the Afghan prisons emerged. What was the response from the government? It was batten down the hatches and mum is the word.

Will the Prime Minister guarantee Canadians that this reign of secrecy about the Afghan mission is over and that he will operate with transparency and openness, both to Parliament and to Canadians?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:20 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, one of the most encouraging elements of common ground between the leader of the Liberal Party and this government on the future of the mission in Afghanistan was his statement earlier this week that he did not believe politicians should be dictating operational decisions to our soldiers in the field.

That has been the government's position on the question of Taliban prisoners and those who have been taken by our soldiers in the field.

I am glad to see that the leader of the Liberal Party now agrees with us on the importance of those decisions and what information is disclosed being an operational question for the armed forces. I think that is an important piece of common ground that we have arrived at.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, according to a report by Environmental Defence, the development of Alberta's tar sands is the most destructive project on Earth. According to the agency, the pollutants from this project could cancel out all efforts made elsewhere in Canada to reduce greenhouse gases. The main reason for this disaster is the Conservatives' flawed plan that rejects the Kyoto protocol.

Instead of catering to its friends in the oil patch to the detriment of the environment and future generations, will the government finally come up with a real plan to address global warming? Time is of the essence.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the government does have a plan. It is the turning the corner plan. It is the first time in Canadian history where we have a plan that has mandatory targets and it includes all industries. All the major polluters and emitters of greenhouse gas emissions will need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and that includes the oil sands.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary should know that a real plan to address global warming contains absolute targets for reducing greenhouse gases and not the current intensity targets that will allow the tar sands industry to practically double its emissions by 2020.

Does the Prime Minister not understand that to stop this environmental disaster, his government must comply with the Kyoto protocol and adopt a plan with absolute targets?

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the member is wrong. The turning the corner plan is absolute reductions and those reductions are 20% by 2020. That is the toughest plan in Canadian history.

The big question is why the Bloc is opposed to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In reality, it has never done anything to help the environment.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, The Conservatives are finally adopting some of the Bloc Québécois recommendations on reducing phosphates to deal with the blue-green algae problem. Nonetheless, a report prepared by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment indicates that nitrogen oxides can be just as bad in the spread of the algae.

Will the Minister of the Environment again admit that the Bloc Québécois is right and go back to the drawing board in order to come up with a truly effective plan for reducing nitrogen oxide emissions?

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, blue-green algae is a very serious problem in Canada. I look forward to an announcement that will be made today and I encourage the member to wait. It will be a good announcement. It is another example of this government getting things done and cleaning up an environmental mess left by the previous government.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the real changes did not come from the Conservatives, they came from this side of the House, from the Bloc Québécois.

All the industries that emit nitrogen oxides must reduce their emissions by 8% to 65% by 2015, with the exception of companies exploiting the tar sands. They can even increase their nitrogen oxide emissions by 5% for the same period.

Will the minister stop pandering to the oil companies and finally impose pollution emission reduction standards on them in order to ensure the survival of our lakes?

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that this government has turned the corner on no action. This government is a government of action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cleaning up the environment.

Unfortunately, we have a contest between the Bloc and the NDP on who can be Captain Bluster. In reality, the Bloc has never got it done.

Government Contracts
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, we will never get the politics out of polling if we let ministers and their political staff dole out lucrative contracts to their political friends.

The Conservatives used to scream bloody murder over Liberal polling mischief. Now Senator Porkchop wants to allow a system that invites abuse and political interference, all hidden behind the secrecy of cabinet confidence.

Why do the Conservatives not clean up public opinion polling once and for all and keep their hands off and their nose out of the tendering practice for public opinion polling?

Government Contracts
Oral Questions

11:25 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, I thank my friend for that question because, as he observed, it is a really tough job cleaning up the mess we inherited.

The Federal Accountability Act went a long way but the job still is not done. We discovered, to our alarm, that there was still an extraordinarily high amount of public opinion polling being done at the bureaucratic level. We think that is far too much spending on public opinion polling being done, which is why we are moving to significantly reduce the amount of spending now that we have been able to uncover where it is.

We will continue to do that to ensure that taxpayer dollars are respected and polling is minimized and used only in ways that are appropriate.

Government Contracts
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the abuse in polling contracts, the Minister of Finance is supposed to be the guardian of the public purse, the protector of the nation's finances. What are Canadians to think when he squanders $122,000 on a single speech in an untendered contract to an old political crony?

When it comes to the rules, the Minister of Finance has broken every one. He threw the rule book right out the window when it came to tendering.

I want to know what kind of sanctions, what kind of discipline is being meted out on the Minister of Finance for breaking every rule in the book when it comes to tendering contracts.

Government Contracts
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, we have talked about these contracts before.

The hon. member certainly underestimates the amount of work that went into putting the budget speech together, in fact, the entire budget for 2007. I would invite the hon. member to look on the website. These are all detailed in obvious fashion for the hon. member to see.

What we do not see detailed is the expenditures of the Liberal Party, the $40 million that we are still looking for. We cannot find that on any website.

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Zed Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, today, the Leader of the Opposition announced that all future surpluses over and above a $3 billion contingency fund will be used to address the massive infrastructure deficit facing Canada. This funding will be over and above the gas tax transfer, the GST rebate and all other future infrastructure programs.

Will the transport minister finally see the light? Will he see that his failing Canada plan is simply not enough and will he endorse the Liberal plan for Canada's infrastructure future?

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the Liberal plan would put us into a deficit situation.

However, let us talk about something that was said by the FCM president, Gord Steeves. He said:

[The Prime Minister] received a warm reception from our delegates, who responded enthusiastically to his government's important investments in infrastructure.

That is probably because $33 billion is the most allocated by any government in Canada's immediate history. That is Conservative managed dollars, unlike Liberal managed dollars. We know what happens that way; a million dollars to this friend, a million dollars for that Liberal election. That is not going to happen--

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Saint John.

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Zed Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has already passed judgment on this Liberal plan. It likes what it sees.

Just moments ago the FCM president, Gord Steeves, had this to say about the plan, “Bold, visionary and with the potential to change the face of our country”. He did not say that about the Conservative plan.

The Liberal plan is exactly what municipalities want and what our country desperately needs.

Why does the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities not trust our mayors to invest in our communities?

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Yes, Mr. Speaker, there is no question that it would change the face of Canada because it would put us into a huge deficit.

We were elected more than two years ago to run this country and we are doing so. Let us look at what is happening in Toronto, for instance. The previous Liberal government left us with a $130 billion deficit across the country. What are we doing for Toronto? We have already put in $2 billion for transit.

We are answering the question for municipalities and Canadians. We are getting the job done.

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, according to Statistics Canada, the average age of treatment plants in Quebec is the highest in the country, and this, of course, poses a threat to our streams.

Moreover, as if the collapse of the Concorde overpass had not been a clear enough signal for this Conservative government, 62% of all bridges and overpasses in Quebec have exceeded their useful life.

The minister told the mayor that the federal government had already done enough for infrastructures, and that he should go and knock on other doors.

When will the Conservative government stop treating our mayors as if they were beggars?

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

I want to stress the fact that the Conservative government is providing $33 billion for Canada's infrastructure. The Conservative government supports Canada in this area.

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Quebec government does a lot for its infrastructures. Premier Charest just announced a plan of close to $3 billion for its highway infrastructure.

The previous federal government was aware of the importance of municipal infrastructures, and it took action through the gas tax transfer.

Why is there not any Conservative plan for infrastructures?

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca
Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the previous Liberal government did nothing but leave us with a $130 billion infrastructure deficit across the country. We know that and Canadians know that.

The government is getting results: $33 billion, the most ever allocated toward infrastructure. We are getting positive results for Canada. We have to clean up the mess the Liberals left us with.

Manufacturing Industry
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, Quebec's statistics institute confirmed yesterday that the manufacturing industry has not been the one with the largest number of jobs since 2005. In concrete terms, this means that, in Quebec, 79,000 jobs have been lost in that industry just in the years since the Conservatives took office.

What more proof does this government need that Quebec and the manufacturing industry need the assistance package to be increased to $3.5 billion using the $10.6 billion surplus forecast for this year?

Manufacturing Industry
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, clearly the Bloc Québécois does not understand the manufacturing industry. That explains why it will never be able to help that industry.

Had the Bloc done its homework, it would know that, in January, nearly 18,000 new jobs were created in that industry. Unlike the Bloc, this government provides real support and help to the manufacturing industry.

Manufacturing Industry
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc understands very well the manufacturing industry, as its workers will show in the next election.

For the past year, the Bloc Québécois has been urging the government to take serious action to support the manufacturing industry and its workers.

At a time when Canada's net exports are plummeting due to the economic slowdown in the United States, does the government not understand that the manufacturing industry needs much more than $1 billion over three years in order to go through this crisis?

Manufacturing Industry
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, let us deal with specifics. How many jobs has the Bloc created? None. How many jobs will the Bloc create? Not one. This Conservative government is the one that is there for the workers and the communities.

Quebec Film Industry
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, the 26th Quebec film festival called the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois opened yesterday in Montreal. The Quebec film industry, still not acknowledged by this government, has seen its market share decline since the Conservatives came to power. There has been no significant increase in funding, which has prevented a good number of productions from going forward.

Does the Minister of Canadian Heritage intend to exert pressure on her colleague, the Minister of Finance, to ensure that $50 million is added to the Canada Feature Film Fund in the next budget?

Quebec Film Industry
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity)

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question. I will speak to officials at the Department of Canadian Heritage and to the minister in order to reply to this question as soon as possible.

Quebec Film Industry
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will give him another suggestion. In recent years, documentary feature films have become increasingly popular. Take for example Les voleurs d'enfance, Le dernier continent, and L'erreur boréale.

What is the government waiting for to establish a $10 million documentary feature film fund? Can documentary filmmakers expect to see this money in the next budget?

Quebec Film Industry
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity)

Mr. Speaker, I see that the hon. member is very passionate about this matter. He will have to wait until the budget is tabled later this month. I hope he will support the budget because there will be investments and tax cuts for Canadians, including Quebeckers. I urge the hon. member to await the budget.

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Linda Keen is taking the government to court over her abrupt firing a month ago.

Ms. Keen did not remain silent when the Minister of Health and the Minister of Natural Resources broke the rules and interfered in a quasi-judicial decision. And she has no intention of remaining silent now.

Since the government could find nothing wrong in Ms. Keen's performance of her duties, how does it intend to defend the indefensible?

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, one of the great things about our country is we have access to a fair court system. Ms. Keen has taken the opportunity to access that. Because it is before the courts, we have no comment on this issue.

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister falsely claimed Linda Keen was a partisan hack. He wanted her to do his political bidding, but she would not.

Then he dispatched his ministers to bully her and violate the independence of the regulator's office. Still she did her job. When that did not work they wrote threatening letters to pressure her to break the law, but she would not budge.

Ms. Keen's firing has already cost Canadians' confidence in nuclear safety in this country and around the world. How much will it cost Canadians for the government to defend itself against its unbelievable incompetence and stupidity?

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, one thing was clear. A health risk existed for Canadians. The Liberal deputy leader himself called this a national medical crisis. Parliament made the decision to act, and it was the right decision.

Now opposition members want to rewrite history. Through this whole time period, they have tried to take different positions each week. We have acted. Parliament acted in the right way. We protected the health of Canadians, and Canadians have thanked us for that.

Government Appointments
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, Canadians have discovered that the Prime Minister is not just a nuclear safety expert. He fired the National Science Advisor, so he must be a science expert. He fired the Environment Commissioner, so he must be an environmental expert. He fired the Information Commissioner, which is a bit of a stretch.

Why does the Prime Minister fire any public servant who will not bend to his will?

Government Appointments
Oral Questions

11:40 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, that is certainly not the case. We have been proceeding in a fashion. We are hiring very capable people, very capable appointments.

The folks he talked about, half of them did not leave their positions in the way he described. Some took their retirement voluntarily.

I do not think it is appropriate for him to tarnish their reputations with the way he has made those comments.

Government Appointments
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, what we know is during the last campaign, the Prime Minister said that he would not be held back by the country's professional public servants.

It did not take him long to launch the seek and destroy mission against anyone who would dare stand up to him. We can add to the list the president of the Law Reform Commission, the Ethics Commissioner, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Information Commissioner and the chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, and the list goes on and on.

How long will the captain of the good ship pink slip continue his vendetta against independent experts?

Government Appointments
Oral Questions

11:40 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, I am saddened at this desire by the member to disparage the reputation of individuals, who have served the public well, took their retirement on their own basis, and suggest, for some reason, they had to be fired when they were not fired in any way.

Bernard Shapiro, the Ethics Commissioner, his position was actually extended before he resigned, effective March 31, 2007. The Chief Electoral Officer retired on his own. He himself said there was no political interference. The Information Commissioner, John Reid, his term was actually extended past seven years before he retired. The National—

Government Appointments
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, recently, Yasamin, a 17-year-old girl from Afghanistan, spoke about the improvements her country was experiencing due to the support of NATO and the Canadian government. Yasamin said:

Life is getting a little bit better. There are still explosions and bombs, but it is not like it was before. There is definitely more freedom.

Our government believes in the importance of development. Could the Minister of Foreign Affairs tell us why assisting in the development of this wartorn country remains vital?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, the truth is we are helping millions of young women and women across Afghanistan like Yasamin. We are enabling them to go to school. Millions more girls are in school. We have heard of support of 1,500 women to develop home based gardening. Microfinance credit is readily available throughout the country.

We know, on the democratic side, many young people, millions in fact, are now registered to vote in free and democratic elections in that country. Twenty-five per cent of parliamentarians in Afghanistan are women. Development dollars into health and education across that country—

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, in the throne speech, the Conservative government said that it would protect Arctic sovereignty through several means, including “improving and devolving governance, so that northerners have greater control over their destinies”.

The Premier of the Northwest Territories was hopeful last month that the Prime Minister would want to discuss devolution of governance when they met. Returning from that meeting, he said that devolution was now on the back burner.

Northerners know the Conservative government's promises are hollow. When will the Prime Minister show leadership and do the things he promised?

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, we have made that commitment to devolve government in the Northwest Territories. In fact, we are prepared to return to the table as soon as the territorial government indicates its interest in doing so.

We have made this commitment, and I believe it will be mutually beneficial for the people of the Northwest Territories and Canada.

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I hope this proceeds in due course in the next while.

Examples of how the Conservative government has failed the people of the north are its much ballyhooed improvements to the funding formula for the territories and its lack of any attempt to negotiate a resource revenue sharing agreement with the public and aboriginal governments of the Northwest Territories.

The result is the GNWT is now facing budget cuts of up to 13%, with attendant losses of essential services and jobs. This is hurting the north.

When will the government start working on a fair deal for the people of the north?

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question, as it gives me an opportunity to highlight the incredible efforts that we have made in the north. In fact, the Prime Minister has led our government in a way that we have put a focus on the north, which has not been seen since the Diefenbaker era.

Our government is extending a massive amount of interest to protect the sovereignty of our north. Through our equalization improvements, northern territories are receiving a financial incentive to continue with their negotiations in Canada. I am very proud of the efforts we have made.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, Wednesday night, during an emergency debate on the livestock industry, the minister had an opportunity to propose concrete immediate action, but incredibly, he remained voiceless. Might it have been a prime ministerial gag order?

The minister's minions spouted the same old lines about the useless December announcement. In fact, the Canadian Pork Council called that plan “a cruel joke to our producers”.

Today, Statistics Canada has confirmed what the government refuses to hear. We are losing our livestock industry. Will the minister come out of hiding and act today?

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry
Ontario

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

Mr. Speaker, we seem to be getting just the opposite feedback that the member seems to be getting from our agricultural community. After 13 years of neglect, finally farmers are being put first by this government. Here is the reason we are getting such positive feedback.

Farmers are very happy with the $4.5 billion for program payments in 2006. They are also very pleased with the $600 million that is coming and is being paid right now under agri-invest kick-start. There is $76 million to help farmers combat the hog disease. They are very pleased, and—

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Malpeque.

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

I wish the minister would take the blinders off, Mr. Speaker. The minister has authority to act under the Family Farm Protection Act, but seems intent on destruction, destroying the Canadian Wheat Board, eliminating the interest of farmers in the Grain Act, allowing the tender fruit plant in Ontario to die on the vine and missing in action on livestock, allowing beef and hog producers to face financial ruin.

Is the minister only interested in destroying rural Canada, or is the real reason for not acting due to the incompetence of the Minister of Finance to handle the finances of the nation?

Agriculture and Agri-Food
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry
Ontario

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

Mr. Speaker, I find it incredible that question would come from the member. He has had an opportunity over the last 13 years to help rural Canada, to help our agricultural community. He did absolutely nothing. Farmers were in a disastrous situation.

I will go on with what we are doing: $400 million to cover increased input costs of farmers; $200 million in the eco-agriculture biofuels capital initiative; $145 million for the agricultural byproducts innovation; and it goes on and on.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, when Canada Post failed to mark Saint-Jean-Baptiste day, a holiday for all French-speaking Canadians, on its calendar the Prime Minister's Office described the situation as unacceptable, and rightfully so. Today we learn that the calendars issued by the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of Finance also fail to mark the importance of June 24 to French-speaking Canadians.

Do the ministers responsible believe that omitting Saint-Jean-Baptiste day from their respective calendars is any more acceptable?

Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity)

Mr. Speaker, absolutely not and I thank the hon. member for raising this issue.

Obviously, Saint-Jean-Baptiste day is a historic day in Canada for all Canadians, not just French-Canadians. It is very important that it be indicated on all calendars, as all official provincial holidays are. I remember when a departmental calendar under the Liberal government forgot to include Easter and Christmas.

This must be corrected.

Acadian Day
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' attitude has gone from contemptuous to insulting. The calendars of the Treasury Board and the Department of Finance have left no stone unturned in insulting francophone employees. Not only did they omit Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, but they also completely ignored Acadians. This government did not highlight June 24 or Acadian Day, August 15. This is yet more proof of the Conservatives' lack of respect for francophones.

Do the Conservatives think that Acadians do not deserve to be celebrated or acknowledged? Is that the Conservative philosophy?

Acadian Day
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity)

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals have a tendency to drive wedges in our society on any issue.

Obviously we agree that these important and historic days should be acknowledged, and the government will review the calendar policy it inherited from the Liberals.

Furthermore, I remind the member that the Prime Minister attended the Acadian Day celebrations last year and the year before.

Veterans affairs
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, a soldier in the riding of Verchères—Les Patriotes has asked Veterans Affairs Canada for help but has received nothing. She left for Afghanistan in January, leaving her spouse, a young, gravely ill veteran, at home alone. He needs home care.

Will the government help this man who has been alone since January 4?

Veterans affairs
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his question.

This is a major priority for our government and our Canadian Forces. We always take a special interest in helping military families. The member can give us the details, and if we can help, it would—

Veterans affairs
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

You already have the details.

Veterans affairs
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, please tell the member to calm down. I am answering the question.

Veterans affairs
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, here is another case of neglect toward recently returned soldiers, this one in the riding of Joliette. This soldier was assigned to bodyguard duty in the security division at the Canadian embassy in Kabul and he, along with 33 of his colleagues, is not entitled to the tax treatment that other soldiers receive.

The government has acknowledged its error, but has refused to fix things retroactively. Will the government reverse its decision for these 34 soldiers?

Veterans affairs
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, I repeat, we are always interested in helping our soldiers. It is unfortunate that the member chose to raise this issue here in the House of Commons. Could he perhaps adopt the more productive approach of working with the government to find a solution for these soldiers?

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government made a commitment in its first platform to fund an additional 2,500 municipal police officers across the country. It has been two years since that announcement was made but still there is nothing.

Where is the money the Conservatives promised for an additional 2,500 municipal police officers to make our communities a safer place in which to live?

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, a lot has happened.

One of the observations we made upon taking government was that the previous Liberal government had drastically reduced resources, not just to our armed forces but in fact to our security and safety forces and policing agencies right across the country.

We have turned that around with a thousand more RCMP officers and the funding to see those individuals trained, which is well under way and taking place right now. Also, there is a commitment for 2,500 more police officers municipally across the country. That is on a cost shared basis. We have had great discussions with federal and provincial authorities on how that is going to work. The money is in the budget.

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier this week the Liberals made it clear that tackling violent crime is not a priority for their party. When it came time for them to stand up and vote on the motion to get the tackling violent crime bill passed by the Senate, they got scared and they fled the House.

Next week that bill will continue to be studied by a Senate committee. Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice tell this House why it is so important for the Senate to expedite this bill?

Tackling Violent Crime Act
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Fundy Royal
New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his steadfast support for laws that would protect Canadian communities.

As my colleague mentioned, the tackling violent crime bill remains in the Senate. Every day that goes by is another day that 14 and 15 year olds remain vulnerable to sexual predators and that the police lack the tools they need to tackle impaired driving. Every day that goes by is one more day that dangerous offenders can roam our neighbourhoods.

I hope, as the hon. member does, that when it comes time to vote in the Senate the senators will not slither out of their chamber, as members did in this House.

Community Development Trust
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to tackling the manufacturing job crisis, the Conservatives cannot be trusted.

Well-paid jobs with decent pensions and benefit packages are disappearing and it is hurting Canada's economy and our communities. In London and southwestern Ontario, working families and our communities have been hit hard. In the last few months, London has lost 5,000 good jobs from places like Siemens, Beta Brands and Vytek and across the auto sector.

The government aid package is clearly not enough and the money is not flowing fast enough.

Will the government speed up the process so that working families can get the help they need immediately?

Community Development Trust
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr.Speaker, I find it quite hypocritical that the NDP member pretends to care about workers every time the government brings something forward. For example, last year the industry report contained 22 recommendations for manufacturers. It was a unanimous report supported by her critic. She and her party voted against it.

They voted against the capital cost allowance writeoff for manufacturers. They voted against $800 million a year for education. They voted against $1.3 billion for research. They voted against $500 million a year for training. They voted against $33 billion for things like the Windsor-Detroit border and infrastructure. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Community Development Trust
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadians' confidence in the economy and the Conservative government is heading south.

We on this side helped convince the government to immediately fund the communities that are hurting in the forestry and manufacturing sectors. The government finally agreed. It did not have to wait for the budget.

When will the communities in northern Ontario see this money? They want to know what process to follow. What is the holdup?

Community Development Trust
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, this government took action. We listened to the communities. We listened to the House.

We put $1 billion into the community development trust. It is going to provide job training in sectors where there are labour shortages, and economic development to create new jobs in affected communities. For older workers specifically, we are going to put $72.5 million into the targeted initiative for older workers.

We are listening to the communities. We are getting the job done, but we continue to get no cooperation from that party.

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, the disabled community in Canada is frustrated waiting for the $45 million that was promised to it for the enabling accessibility fund in 2007. The objective of this fund was to help improve accessibility in communities, remove barriers, and improve awareness of disability issues.

Why is the government denying help for those who need it most? Show us the money.

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Medicine Hat
Alberta

Conservative

Monte Solberg Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, this is a serious issue.

This government did announce in budget 2007 the enabling accessibility fund. On top of that, under the leadership of the finance minister, we announced other supports for persons with disabilities. Last spring I was pleased to announce $222 million more in labour market arrangements with the provinces to help persons with disabilities.

The sad thing is it was that member and his party who voted against all of those measures to help persons with disabilities.

Automotive Industry
Oral Questions

Noon

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government invested $55 million in Toyota's Woodstock plant to create 1,300 new jobs.

In January of this year, the Ontario government committed $30 million to the Ford Essex plant to create hundreds of much needed jobs in Windsor, Ontario. The project is on hold, waiting for matching investment from that Conservative government.

Why has the government gone AWOL while we are losing Canadian auto sector jobs? When will it stand up for and invest in good Canadian jobs?

Automotive Industry
Oral Questions

Noon

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, the truth is the Liberals walked out on the auto industry 13 years ago, just as they walked out of the House this week. It is a shame.

The auto industry had five acts for the Liberal government. What did the Liberals do? They took no action. Our government has moved ahead on those five acts. We have followed ahead on our investments in our infrastructure at the Windsor-Detroit border, on convergence of regulations, on investments in science and research and development, and on human resources. What did the Liberal Party do? That party voted against it when it had the chance to stand up for the auto industry.

What--

Automotive Industry
Oral Questions

Noon

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

Kosovo
Oral Questions

Noon

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the province of Kosovo gears up to declare its independence, several European countries and the United States are supportive of this nation's efforts to take charge of its own destiny.

Will the Minister of Foreign Affairs tell this House what the Canadian government's position will be on recognizing the independence of Kosovo?

Kosovo
Oral Questions

Noon

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

That is a good question, Mr. Speaker.

We are awaiting the outcome of the decisions being made in Kosovo. We have a serious interest in that because Canada has always participated in that process. There were discussions at NATO last week on that topic. Together with the other members of the international community, we are waiting to see what decisions are made in Kosovo.

Government Business No. 4--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

Noon

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on Monday, February 11, 2008 by the hon. House leader for the New Democratic Party concerning the admissibility of Government Motion No. 4 standing on the order paper in the name of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform.

I would like to thank the House leader for the New Democratic Party for raising this matter, as well as the hon. member for Mississauga South and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for their contributions on the issue.

The House Leader of the New Democratic Party argued that the preamble of Government Motion No. 4 amounted to a series of arguments that are really debating points. This, she said, is contrary to the practices of this House, which do not allow for motions to be in the form of a speech or to include argumentative clauses.

In support of her argument, she quoted Beauchesne, 6th Edition, citation 565, as well as House of Commons Procedure and Practice, p. 449, which states:

A motion should not contain any objectionable or irregular wording. It should not be argumentative or written in the style of a speech.

In addition, she expressed concern about the procedural viability of the motion due to its length and the fact that it includes conditions that are outside the House’s control.

For these reasons, the House leader for the New Democratic Party requested that the government either withdraw Motion No. 4 and replace it with a motion reworded such that the offending parts are removed, or failing any indication on the part of the government that it would do so, that the Chair rule this motion inadmissible and allow the government to present a new one.

The member for Mississauga South agreed that the preamble to the motion was tantamount to argument which, instead, should be raised during the course of debate. He added that in his experience preambles are discouraged and contended that allowing debate to proceed on this motion in its current form would set a precedent that could lead to some degree of confusion with respect to the procedural acceptability of motions placed on notice in future. In his submission, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House pointed out that in fact there have been examples of motions that were very broad in scope and that on that basis, the motion in question is procedurally appropriate.

In some respects, the House is not unfamiliar with the arguments raised in this case as the whole notion of the procedural acceptability of motions which contain preambles has been raised several times in the past. A survey of relevant precedents, as well as of relevant rulings, reveals that the House has debated numerous motions that were accompanied by a preamble.

While the precedents reach far back into our parliamentary history--the parliamentary secretary correctly referred to a fairly recent example regarding distinct society which occurred on December 6, 1995--in the last session alone there were two supply day motions that are especially pertinent to the present discussion. The first, standing in the name of the hon. member for Bourassa, dealt with Canada's involvement in Afghanistan and was debated on April 19, 2007. The second, on the same subject, was, as the hon. parliamentary secretary pointed out on Thursday, February 14, 2008, sponsored by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth and was debated on April 26, 2007. Both these motions contained a preamble of considerable length made up of several clauses not unlike those contained in Government Motion No. 4. Their procedural acceptability was not contested. This is consistent with the ruling given by Mr. Speaker Michener on January 16, 1961, on page 1074 of Debates where he indicated that “it is amply established that a preamble is in accordance with our practice”.

In that same ruling, Mr. Speaker Michener also dealt conclusively, although with some reluctance, with the issue of length when he went on to say:

The use of the preamble can lead to absurd lengths. By way of example I have only to cite one instance which I found in 1899 of a motion the preamble of which covers 21 pages of the journals. It is, I might say, a procedural monstrosity, but there it is as a precedent.

Clearly, the procedural acceptability of motions is not gauged by their length.

With regard to the inclusion of conditions in motions, it is perhaps useful for the Chair to remind the House that it is not the Speaker's role to judge the effectiveness of proposals brought forward for debate.

As House of Commons Procedure and Practice states at page 448:

A resolution of the House makes a declaration of opinion or purpose; it does not have the effect of requiring that any action be taken--nor is it binding. The House has frequently brought forth resolutions in order to show support for some action.

The Chair is therefore not in a position to conclude that the inclusion of conditions in the motion currently in question renders it inadmissible. Rather, they are simply an additional aspect of the issue contained in the motion that honourable members will need to consider as they debate and, ultimately, decide.

Under the circumstances, I must conclude, therefore, that government motion No. 4 is admissible and may be proposed to the House in its current form.

That being said, the point raised by the hon. member for Mississauga South regarding his experience that preambles in motions are discouraged is one into which I will enquire further. In the meantime, this is certainly an issue the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs may wish to look into with a view, ultimately, to making recommendations.

I thank the House leader of the New Democratic Party for bringing this matter forward and to the attention of the House.

Customs Act
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Customs Act.

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

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, requesting an extension of 30 sitting days to consider Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).

I am also pleased to present the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage with respect to copyright legislation.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

With respect to the fourth report of the standing committee, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1(3)(a) a motion to concur in the report is deemed moved, the question deemed put, and a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until Wednesday, February 27 immediately before the time provided for private member's business.

Justice and Human Rights
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

In accordance with the order of reference of Friday, November 30, 2007, the committee has considered Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cruelty to animals). It has agreed on Thursday, February 14 to report it without amendments.

Pay Equity Task Force Recommendations Act
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-507, An Act to implement the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force.

Mr. Speaker, the right to pay equity is protected by the Human Rights Act and charter, however, current complaints-based pay equity laws do not work. It takes years for these complaints to be addressed. Canada needs proactive pay equity legislation to ensure that all employees are receiving equal pay for work of equal value.

In 2004 the pay equity task force called current pay equity legislation woefully inadequate, recommended a new law, and provided a detailed guide for proactive pay equity. My bill would use this guide to make proactive pay equity the law.

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

Nuclear Safety and Control Act
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-508, An Act to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (Minister).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce today a bill to designate the Minister of the Environment as the minister to whom the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission must report.

Currently, the CNSC reports to the Minister of Natural Resources, the same minister to which Atomic Energy of Canada Limited reports.

This is a conflict of interest for the Minister of Natural Resources, whose mandate is to promote nuclear industry.

Canadians need to have confidence that their government is putting the needs of public safety and the environment ahead of the needs of the nuclear industry.

This simple but effective change provides more ministerial oversight to the nuclear industry of Canada and moves CNSC into a ministry with a mandate more in line with its responsibility to protect human health and the environment.

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

Employment Insurance Act
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-509, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code (extension of benefit period for adoptive parents).

Mr. Speaker, I am introducing this bill today, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code, to ensure that an adoptive parent is entitled to the same number of weeks of leave as a biological mother of a newborn child.

Adoptive parents require time to bond with their baby or their child. In cases of adoption of an older infant or a child, it is essential to build that relationship. By providing the extra 15 weeks to an adoptive parent, the bill would allow them the time they need at home with their new child.

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

Food Products Labelling Act
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-510, An Act respecting the labelling of food products.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Winnipeg for seconding the bill.

I am tabling a bill to improve Canada's food labelling practices that would provide every day Canadians with full disclosure of ingredients in the food items they purchase.

The bill would require the mandatory labelling of the use of hormones, antibiotics and rendered slaughterhouse waste in meat and poultry products, and the use of pesticides or genetically modified organisms in all food products.

When Canadian families put food on their tables, they want to make sure the food is nourishing them and not making them sick. We want mandatory labelling on food products, so we know what is in our food.

Both the current and previous federal governments have refused to improve the laws in order to give full disclosure of food ingredients to Canadians.

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

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, presented on Wednesday, December 12, 2007, be concurred in.

I am pleased today to support my colleague by moving adoption of a very important report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. This report is the result of many meetings with many witnesses over a considerable length of time, which led the committee to make two main recommendations.

Before I read the two recommendations, I would like to mention some of the witnesses who appeared. This is important, because it shows the quality of the work the committee did on the Conservative government's wrong-headed and unjustifiable decision to eliminate the court challenges program.

Gisèle Lalonde, who is known in the area and even across the country, appeared before the committee as an individual. She is the former president of the SOS Montfort movement, and she spoke very eloquently. The committee also heard people from the Quebec English School Boards Association, the Association des parents fransaskois, the Canadian Bar Association, the Centre for Cultural Renewal, the Commission nationale des parents francophones, the Fédération des associations de juristes d’expression française de common law and the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada. We received other representatives of the Montfort hospital and the administrators of the court challenges program: Noël Badiou, Guy Matte and Kathleen Tansey, who was vice-president of the board of directors. Representatives of the Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick and the faculty of the University of Ottawa, as well as jurists and constitutional experts from the University of Moncton and McGill University, also testified before the committee.

Basically, the committee heard everyone who really wanted to be heard. The committee's conclusion is very simple, and it made two recommendations. I will read the first recommendation from this second report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages:

That the government clearly explain to Canadians its reasons for cancelling the court challenges program.

This recommendation is very clear and very simple, and provides the government with an opportunity to explain this decision. It has tried to do that several times. In the beginning, when it announced the abolition of the court challenges program, among others, the government told us there were four categories of abolition. That was the announcement made by the President of the Treasury Board at the time, the member for Ottawa-West—Nepean, and by the Minister of Finance, who were bursting their buttons with pride for having abolished the court challenges program. They classified that decision under the heading of useless expenditures, or even a waste of public funds, a description that was insulting to the public and the people who had benefited from the program.

What was even more insulting that it was an amount of less than $3 million that produced extraordinary results, not only for minority language communities but also for minority communities all over Canada. Moreover, this was only a tenth of what was spent that year on surveys and focus groups. Yet, the government called the court challenges program a waste. That was nonsense.

Later, when we started to ask questions in the House, because we could not accept the decision or the alleged reason for it, the Prime Minister and some other ministers of his government tried another tack. They claimed that the bills they were introducing in this House would respect the Constitution. That is an interesting argument but it is totally false. It is not up to the government to determine the constitutionality of its proposed legislation.

In our legislative structure, two parties determine the manner in which Canadians are governed: the courts and the legislature.

When the government comes before the House and introduces legislation, it is not the government's place to determine whether its bills are constitutional or whether they respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We always hope that the government does its homework and verifies with the appropriate authorities that its legislative proposals would meet the Charter test—to use a legal expression—but it is not up to the government to determine that. It falls first to the legislators, all of us here in this House and in the other place, the upper house, and, finally, the courts.

When the government rises in this House and says the reason it abolished the court challenges program is because it will not introduce any legislation that goes against the Constitution, it is, in the final analysis, ridiculous and unacceptable.

There are other reasons in addition to the fact that it is not up to the government to decide. The objectives of the court challenges program are not limited to bills being introduced by a government. It also applies to all existing legislation. We are talking about laws that have existed for more than 125 years. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been embraced by the country and it has been hailed for 25 years now. The evolution of our legal and legislative system has moved forward because of the decisions of the Parliament of Canada and the judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada. For that reason, it cannot be claimed that, because the government says it will introduce bills that respect the Constitution, we do not need a court challenges program. All the other existing laws are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is why the court challenges program is still necessary.

That is not all. There is all of the provincial legislation, because the Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains language rights and equality rights that apply not only to federal legislation, but also to provincial legislation. There is the whole body of provincial legislation that comes under this aspect of court challenges. Even if the government were truly careful to introduce only bills that, in its view, were consistent with the Constitution, there remains all the other federal and provincial legislation.

And that is not the worst part. Even the bills that this government has presented after canceling the court challenges program are being challenged under the Constitution by other levels of government. In this category there is legislation that has been presented by the government that would change aspects of the Senate and that is being challenged in the courts by the provinces.

All down the line, the government’s arguments for eliminating the court challenges program do not stand up, whether because of existing federal legislation or because of provincial legislation.

There is yet another factor that I can cite to demonstrate that there is no justification for eliminating this program: the question of decisions. Decisions that are made by governments often deserve to be challenged. I can give several examples, in fact, that involve decisions made by the Government of Canada or the governments of the provinces.

One of the most famous examples, to my mind, is the decision in the case of Arsenault-Cameron v. Prince Edward Island. Prince Edward Island has signed the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and enjoys the language and education rights that result from them. The province, however, for some reason, refused to provide schools for its francophone community. The francophone community won its case by bringing the matter before the courts, with the assistance, although not exclusively, of the court challenges program.

In point of fact, the francophone community of Prince Edward Island now has schools because the courts had to rule and state that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies and its scope has been defined. The government of Prince Edward Island has had to get on board and ensure that the francophone population of the province has access to its own schools.

That is a very famous case. It revolved around the absence of a decision, that is, a government decision not to build. That decision was challenged and ultimately we won the case. We could cite the example of the famous case of Mahe v. Alberta. That is a very important case in the development of the right to manage schools in Canada.

In Mahe v. Alberta, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the rights of parents who belong to an official language minority group to manage minority language educational facilities.

I have another example of a decision we are all familiar with. In this Parliament, I have the privilege of representing the electoral district of Ottawa—Vanier, where the Montfort Hospital is located. In that case, the Government of Ontario, the Mike Harris government, decided to close that hospital, the only francophone teaching hospital , the only one that offered training. It was not the only francophone hospital; there was also the hospital in Hawkesbury, we must not forget. Montfort Hospital, however, was the only teaching hospital. In that case, we were faced with a bad government decision that would have done enormous harm to a community. We won that case as a result of a hard-fought battle in the courts, waged over six or seven years, in which the court challenges program played a role in helping the litigants to make their case. Other decisions also played a part in this outcome.

It is interesting that this decision makes reference to two other decisions by the Supreme Court. One was related to the reference re secession of Quebec, where the novel principles underlying the Constitution, including the protection of minorities, were written down for the first time—I believe. In the decision that saved Montfort Hospital, there was a reference to yet another ruling where the Supreme Court recognized the basic rights of the French language community in Canada.

I have just listed a series of reasons why it is useless for the government to say that it will not introduce unconstitutional bills. But that is not the real issue. The issue is that we need a court challenges program that will help enforce the law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We wondered if it was because of poor administration. The Standing Committee on Official Languages, and also the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, asked if it was because the program had been badly managed or if there had been conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest. After hearing witnesses and examining the way the court challenges program was managed, we came to the conclusion that such was clearly not the case. All evaluations and audits concluded that the program was well managed, that there was no conflict of interest and that the program had been structured in a way to avoid all risk of conflict of interest.

We must then conclude that the Government of Canada, the Conservative government, decided—in fact for the second time—to abolish the court challenges program for purely ideological motives. That is disturbing. That is why the committee asked the government to give some explanations. We are still waiting for those explanations.

The other recommendation is interesting. It reads like this:

That the Government of Canada re-establish the Court Challenges Program under the terms of the contribution agreement that was in effect before its cancellation was announced on September 25, 2006.

While it is a bit technical, there are reasons for that recommendation. First, it deals with the full program and not just the language aspect. The court challenges program consisted of two elements. About one-third of the money, slightly less than $1 million, was spent on language cases.

The other two-thirds, a little less than $2 million—I believe it came to about $800,000 in one case and $1.6 million in the other—was devoted to equality cases. It is extremely important to take that into account. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell had tabled a resolution in the House seeking to restore a type of language challenge program. That is troubling because it shows the real reason why the government eliminated this program.

During the first session of this Parliament, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage did almost the same thing as the Standing Committee on Official Languages. The committee met with a number of groups, not only on language issues but on issues of equality rights between men and women and issues of discrimination based on race or sexual orientation. Groups representing persons with hearing impairment and those with disabilities solemnly vouched for the undisputed value of this program. They had some success right after the program was abolished. It must be said that the case was already before the courts. They told us that VIA Rail, an agency of the Government of Canada, was not respecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they operated railway cars that people using wheelchairs could not use. That is a very solid case. It is not theoretical; it is real. It is about people’s lives. There are also issues of equality. Other cases that were supported by the court challenges program before the courts involved aboriginal women and pay equity.

We suspected that the reason the Conservatives abolished the program had something to do with same sex marriage. Indeed, the courts had ruled that the current law does not respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That upset the most “conservative” members of the party. We suspect it was the reason behind the abolition of the court challenges program. That was truly heart-breaking because this was an exemplary program, not only at the national level but internationally. Canada had been congratulated by the United Nations and by many countries for its forward-looking constitutional approach in creating a court challenges program that helped citizens to defend their rights in their country’s courts. Why are they so mean-spirited?Why did they abolish the court challenges program? It breaks our hearts.

However, I am pleased to be able to say the Leader of the Official Opposition has made a commitment to restore the court challenges program when we form the next government. We will not only restore the program; we will double the funding.

I hope we can restore the program in such a way that, 30 years from now, if there ever is another Conservative government, they will not be able to abolish it a third time. I also hope we can make it independent because the Canadian Constitution is not carved in stone; it is a document. I believe that the members of the Supreme Court themselves have described it as a “living tree”. If we want to maintain and nourish this living tree, we have to feed it. The food for our Constitution, for our rights, for our way of doing things in this country, came in large measure from the court challenges program.

I find it absolutely shameful that the Conservative government, out of obstinacy,because of a mean and narrow spirit, has decided for a second time to abolish this program. They refuse to explain their reasons because there are none. On behalf of my colleagues in the official opposition, I can promise that we will restore this program and that we will continue to defend the rights of Canadians.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Gatineau is rising on a point of order.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if I might seek unanimous consent of the House to table a petition. Could I? It is very succinct.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. member for Gatineau have the unanimous consent of the House to present this petition?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Official Languages
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am tabling today a petition signed by 367 citizens from Quebec who support Bill C-482, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act (Charter of the French Language) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

These petitioners demand that the federal governement actively respect the Quebec nation and Bill 101.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not get the entirety of the comments by the member opposite on this question of the court challenges program but this is a subject that has been covered in considerable depth by numerous committees of the House over the last year, including the committee on which I am a member.

One of the key questions that came out of that discussion was the fact that this was a program that initially was intended to help and support minority language rights in different communities right across the country, but less than 10% of the challenges that were heard under this program in fact had anything to do with minority rights. Minority language rights, if I can clarify, represented less than 10% of the challenges.

What has happened is that this program has blown up into something much bigger and different from what it really was intended.

I wonder if the member would have some comments on how this program lost its legitimacy in respect of minority language rights.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, the program did not lose any of its legitimacy, quite the contrary. In my speech, I indicated that the program had two major thrusts: language, representing about one third of the program's funding envelope, and equality, including equality between men and women and equality before the law.

It is conceivable and it makes perfect sense that most cases fought with help from the court challenges program, as they used to be, fall in the equality category. Minority francophones and anglophones in Quebec have absolutely no objection to that other thrust of the program. On the contrary, they support it. In fact, minority language communities say they would not want to see a program that would be based strictly on language issues.

Even in minority language communities, people assert their equality rights. What the member is suggesting is nonsense. I am convinced that was not the reasoning behind the cancellation of the court challenges program. The decision is more likely to have been prompted by the homophobia of certain members of that caucus, that government.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier on his excellent speech and on the work he does to ensure that minorities across this country have their rightful place in our society.

My colleague talked about the court challenges program. Clearly the Conservative government has absolutely no understanding of the needs of minority communities. Sometimes we think that it will finally understand, reason and see the light at the end of the tunnel. But it is not happening. It even seems to be getting worse.

Let us look at the situation. The government cancelled the court challenges program. Those most affected by this decision are francophone communities outside Quebec, francophone minorities. We wanted to believe that maybe it would end there, but it does not. It makes us wonder whether the Conservative government despises francophones.

In fact, we just learned that no mention is made of the national holiday of Quebeckers on June 24 on the Treasury Board and finance department calendars. The government does not even have enough respect to ensure that this holiday appears on its calendars, as well as Acadian Day, August 15, which is even worse. Yet other holidays appear on its calendars. The government does not even respect these communities. It despises them.

In examining the situation, we realize that maybe what we are seeing here is just the Conservative philosophy. Imagine if this government had a majority: a Conservative philosophy that favours eliminating the rights of francophone minority communities, a Conservative philosophy that breeds contempt for francophones.

I wonder if the member for Ottawa—Vanier agrees with that. It is not only one thing, but several things that have been happening one after the other. The Conservatives keep blaming others, but they alone are responsible for the contempt they feel for francophones outside Quebec.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been in this House for 13 years—in fact, I entered into my 14th year yesterday—and I have always been very cautious in my speeches. I will answer the hon. member, but he might not like my answer.

I do not know if that is contempt, but one thing that is certain is that there is a lack of understanding that some might take for contempt. I will leave it at that. The government does not understand the tools official languages minority communities need. I belong to those communities.

I had the honour to be the minister responsible for official languages. I have also been parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for official languages. I had the chance to see all the issues first hand and to realize the importance of certain tools. One of those tools, which is really indispensable, indisputable and essential to the promotion and the development of the rights of those communities was the court challenges program. However, it has been abolished by the government whose only explanation was that it was a waste of money. That is totally unrealistic. One can only conclude that the government does not understand the situation.

I will give another argument. Once or twice already, three times with today's motion, there were votes in this House where a majority of elected representatives of the Canadian population asked the government to re-establish the court challenges program. But the government simply does not care about the will of the majority of elected representatives of the people. It also shows a lack of respect and a lack of transparency and also disrespect for democracy and for the will of the majority of democratically elected members of Parliament.

One can wonder: is it contempt? I will let others answer that question, but there is certainly a profound lack of understanding and a great insensitivity on the part of the Conservative government towards minority communities.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, some of the comments we have heard from members opposite in regard to contempt were nonsense. This government has pledged and is actively listening to comments from Canadians right across the country on the re-examination or re-entry of an official languages program.

The former premier of New Brunswick is just about ready to report on that, as I understand. This is a commitment to francophone language rights and official languages right across the country.

From the size of the court challenges program, members would have us believe that this was somehow the epitome of equality challenges in Canada. Canadians have many avenues they can explore to bring these kinds of questions, not excluding bringing these issues before their own members of Parliament.

Would the member not suggest that there are in fact many other avenues that Canadians can use to bring these important questions in front of the government?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, again this shows a lack of understanding of the very essence of the court challenges program. This program was created to ensure equal access to justice because lawsuits are expensive.

The member opposite says that even if the program is cancelled people will still have equal access to justice. That is not the case. Some communities need financial assistance to have access to the courts. That is exactly what the court challenges program did: ensure equal access to justice.

The member opposite talked about the consultations conducted by Mr. Lord. Newspaper reports today indicate that he has tabled his report. Let us hope that the government will make it public because invitations to these consultations were limited. One could not attend unless one was invited. The discussions happened behind closed doors and the topics to be discussed were determined by Mr. Lord.

I was told that the issue of the court challenges program was raised in these meetings with Mr. Lord. Will he have the courage to report what he heard and include comments and recommendations regarding the reinstatement of this program in his report? I hope so, but when we are dealing with consultations that may be bogus—we did not see how it was done because, as opposition members, we were not invited to attend—forgive me for being skeptical—

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the honourable Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women has the floor.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Beauport—Limoilou
Québec

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, our government is playing its role. It is acting as a leader alongside citizens, provinces and territories in order to strengthen our democratic institutions and to promote our collective heritage, including the two official languages of Canada.

Our government recognizes the importance of promoting both official languages and Canada's linguistic duality. Our accomplishments and our commitments in this area which were stated recently in the Speech from the Throne are proof of that. According to the most recent census data, these efforts are giving results. There are now 5.4 million bilingual Canadians. Never has there been so many Canadians reporting their ability to speak English and French.

Let us talk about the commitment of the government regarding the official languages as well as the future of the Action Plan for Official Languages. I would like to focus on the programs implemented by the Department of Canadian Heritage to support official languages and on the contribution of these programs today.

These programs pertain to minority language and second language learning, service agreements with provinces and territories, community living support as well as the development of both official languages.

I would like to go over each of the targeted programs.

Official languages education is one of the pillars of the government's official languages program. The government has ambitious goals: to improve access to education for francophone and anglophone minority youths in all the regions of Canada and to double the number of young Canadians who, at the end of their secondary school education, have sufficient knowledge of their second official language.

The Government of Canada has been providing financial assistance to the provinces and territories for over 35 years now so that they can discharge their minority-language education responsibilities and offer second-language instruction programs. This relationship is governed by a multi-year protocol negotiated between the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, and Canadian Heritage. For the period from 2005-06 to 2008-09 there is federal envelope of over a billion dollars.

Our investments, combined with those of the provinces and territories, have made it possible to introduce education programs tailored to the particular needs of minority communities. The goal of these investments is to keep the highest possible number of students in minority-language instruction systems and to offer Canadians in minority language communities the opportunity to get an education in their language that is as good as the education offered to the majority.

The department has contributed to the development and support of minority-language education programs; the promotion of French first-language education to eligible students; the recruitment, training and professional development of teachers in official-language minority communities; the enrichment of students' cultural life through artistic activities; the delivery of educational services to improve students' first-language skills; and access to post-secondary education through new technology. These investments also helped draw on new communications technologies and improve the way students' skills are evaluated.

In addition, the Department of Canadian Heritage devotes $80 million a year to second language education programs. Thanks to this funding, more than 2.4 million young Canadians can learn their second official language. Everyone agrees that bilingualism is an advantage for individual Canadians and an asset for our country. More than half of the students across the country today are learning French or English as a second language. We need these young bilingual Canadians so that our institutions can continue to provide services in both languages across the country.

In 2006, the Department of Canadian Heritage also signed a higher number of service agreements with the 13 provinces and territories. The provinces and territories are responsible for delivering a number of important public services. These agreements allow for service delivery in certain sectors of interest to official language minority communities, such as early childhood development, health, and social, legal and economic services.

The program's base budget is $13 million per year, or $65 million over five years. In 2003, the budget received a $14.5 million boost over five years. A service agreement for the anglophone minority was signed with the Government of Quebec, which had not been done in years.

Every year, $36 million is spent to help organizations that are dedicated to developing minority language communities.

For more than 30 years, the Department of Canadian Heritage has directly supported official language minority communities all over the country. Furthermore, our investments have helped thousands of anglophones from all regions of Quebec preserve their culture through the services provided by community organizations.

The agreements signed between the representatives of the 13 communities and the Department of Canadian Heritage provide the framework for the department's financial support. The current agreements cover the period ending in 2009. The current budget of the Cooperation with the Community Sector component is $36 million per year, including the money contributed since 2003.

Members of these communities are now able to pass on their culture and their language to future generations. We are also seeing that learning a second official language is becoming more popular among young people, who realize the opportunities that this may afford, in both their personal and professional lives. These initiatives are just some of the accomplishments of our government. The next strategy regarding Canada's official languages will be announced following consultations. It is important to take the time needed to develop an effective plan. That is what any good government would do and that is what we are doing.

Our government also introduced Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments), which guarantees access to the courts in either official language in criminal cases. That bill was just passed.

Thanks to these initiatives, we are giving Canadians the tools they need to improve their lives in the short and medium term. We are thereby creating a more equitable, open and prosperous society for all Canadians, regardless of their language, religion, cultural origins or any other defining characteristic.

We have to make some choices—sometimes difficult choices—regarding how to best serve our fellow citizens. When our government considers these choices, Canadians can rest assured that our decisions are not taken lightly.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her speech.

She said how important education was at all stages for the advancement and improvement of our youth. However, the education opportunities are not always there for French language minority communities in Canada. It is one thing to make nice speeches on the importance of education, but the reality is that our communities do not always have access to education in their language. Because they are in minority situation, they have to fight to assert their rights and to be able to give their children an education in the language of their choice, which is often French.

I will ask the member to mention just one way, not 25 but just one, that French language communities outside Quebec can have their right to an education and to schools in their language enforced.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect for my colleague opposite, I will not discuss the CCP because it is before the courts. However, I will say this. We allocated an additional $30 million in the 2007 budget and you voted against it. You are telling us that you are defending the official languages?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Before giving the floor to the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, I would like to remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Status of Women to use the third person and not the second.

The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to the member for Beauport—Limoilou, a parliamentary secretary, provide a lot of figures—hundreds of millions, may even more than one billion dollars.

I have a very simple question. Why then did they eliminate the $2.7 million demanded by everyone for the court challenges program? If they are prepared to spend hundreds of millions, why cut $2.7 million?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would say to my colleague opposite that we put $30 million in the budget, which they voted against. Official language minorities will remember that.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the same question.

Why eliminate the $2.7 million demanded by everyone if, as the member said, so many millions were handed out?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would say to my colleague that our record is better than theirs. Ours is several million dollars while theirs is zero.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague concerning the court challenges program.

The member from the Liberal Party asked why we cancelled a program costing $2.7 million annually to run.

I think there is an argument to be made that after almost three decades of jurisprudence in this area the program had helped build a foundation of case law to support not only minority language rights, official language rights, but also other rights as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Does my colleague agree that this program had been in place for almost three decades, had substantially built this foundation in case law, and therefore was no longer needed as it was back in the 1970s when it was originally introduced?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, here is what I have to say in response to my colleague's question. When it comes to spending taxpayers' money, we are committed to improving the lives of people, and we are doing so in a tangible and thoughtful way.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow the line of questioning that came up earlier in regard to the question of whether we have moved along with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms represents one of the most important aspects of Canadian culture. It is a defining fact of our society. We have had it in place for a fair number of years. The complexity of the decisions around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is getting more difficult. The need for court rulings on many aspects of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is probably in some ways moving from more simplistic forms of challenges to more complex forms.

Would this not suggest that we need to put dollars toward this type of activity and that we need to support Canadian citizens in their search for rights and freedoms just as we support citizens in other countries in the world in their search for rights and freedoms?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, our government has played a leadership role. It has invested a lot of money in minority communities. We will continue to do so. We are working on the second action plan and, as soon as it is available, the public will be able to see what we are really doing for minority communities.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know the parliamentary secretary well. We discussed this issue together on a few occasions. I know her to be very caring. She is a francophone, and she lives in a francophone region.

I have a hard time understanding, and I wonder if she could provide an explanation. After hearing many francophone associations outside Quebec say they want the program, to help them defend themselves and preserve their language in anglophone provinces, can she explain to us—as a caring person—why she and her government are totally insensitive to the situation of francophones outside Quebec?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will tell the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry that, when we form a government, we make decisions, and we make thoughtful decisions.

The Bloc Québécois has never made decisions, and it never will. Bloc members can say whatever they want, they can tell anything to anyone, because they cannot even dream about forming the government.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Malpeque should know that there is one minute left for both the question and the answer.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, there is one thing that the parliamentary secretary is absolutely right about and that is the government's record, which she said is better than others, but it is sad that where it is better is in being a record of destruction on policies and programs that matter to people.

I do not know whether she was listening earlier when I talked about how the government is trying to destroy rural Canada through the loss of individual mail delivery, through destroying the Canadian Wheat Board, through undermining the Canadian Grain Commission, and by default on hogs and beef. The government is destroying our international reputation--

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. parliamentary secretary has 20 seconds to respond.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, we will not take any lessons from the Liberals.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to take part in this debate, especially coming on the heels of a speech filled with nonsense, as some of my colleagues said earlier. In my opinion, this shows that this government has very little interest in protecting minorities. It is as if giving groups that represent francophone minorities the financial and other resources to pursue court challenges were something Canada should not do.

It is rather sad to hear the parliamentary secretary say that her government is making reasoned decisions. The September 2006 decision to abolish the court challenges program was not a reasoned decision; it was an ill-advised decision. As a result of that decision, francophone minority communities will have fewer resources to defend projects that they consider important to their growth and development. Francophones account for barely 2% of the population of North America, and this government refuses to understand that because of their minority status, francophone minorities must fight constantly for recognition not only in this Parliament, but also in the courts.

When I see this government abolish a program and say that this is a reasoned decision and that it must carefully assess the purpose and objective of the program when taxpayers' money is involved, I ask myself a number of questions. What sort of savings did the government realize? How much money did the government save by abolishing this program? Only $5 million or $6 million. In fact, the government saved a mere $5 million or $6 million by abolishing this program.

Yet since 1970, the Government of Canada has given $66 billion in tax benefits to the oil industry, in addition to tax incentives to develop the oil sands. According to the government, it made a socially reasoned decision to help those who are harming our environment and destroying our country's social fabric. Yet the government considers it unacceptable and ill-advised to grant a mere $6 million so that francophone communities can fight and go to court on an equal footing.

This is a clear indication of how the government wants to deal with minorities, whether they be aboriginals, francophones, or even organizations that promote women or the status of women. This government quite simply decided unilaterally to abolish a program, the court challenges program, that benefited many organizations.

The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada did not just sit back, because it knew that the money cut by the federal government was essential to the survival of francophone and Acadian communities. On October 25, 2006, it decided to file an official request with the Federal Court to void the decision to eliminate the court challenges program. These legal proceedings before the Federal Court were supported by a number of federations, movements and organizations.

They included the Fédération nationale des conseils scolaires francophones, the Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression française de common law, the Commission nationale des parents francophones and the Quebec Community Groups Network.

Someone in a minority situation in an environment that is 98% anglophone needs to have tools available to defend their rights. It is not about encroaching on others; it is about ensuring that future generations will be able to continue speaking French in Canada, that there will be no language losses over the years and that the children of francophones and Acadians will be able to pass on their linguistic heritage to their children and grandchildren.

Is that not worth $5 or $6 million to the federal government? It seems to be saying it needs this $5 or $6 million to balance the budget, and if it cannot balance the budget, it must cut the court challenges program and take resources away from francophones. Meanwhile, there is a $10.6 billion surplus. Meanwhile, it continues to give financial incentives to the oil industry.

This government's decision was neither budgetary nor financial; it was ideological. The government refuses to help people, to ensure that part of the Canadian population, made up of both official languages in principle, can pass on its culture and knowledge from one generation to the next.

Those generations will no longer be able to defend themselves on a level playing field. They will be able to do so with limited means that deserve a defence. The federal government decided to cut those funds.

The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada believes that when it discontinued funding for the court challenges program, the federal government did not sufficiently consider the impact this decision would have on the development and growth of French language minority communities or its commitments to linguistic minorities under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act.

The federal government has obligations in that respect. Both nationally and internationally, it boasts about how it governs a country made up of two recognized official languages that supports francophone communities.

We believe that linguistic diversity is one of Canada's greatest strengths, and the government likes to brag about this on the international scene.

I have been a member of this Parliament for 10 years and have been a part of many Canadian delegations abroad. Every time, the minister responsible liked to boast about coming from a country with two official languages. Whether Liberal or Conservative, one government after the other boasts about our two official languages. However, when the time comes to protect these communities, we no longer have the financial means to allow these people to mount a defence before the courts in a way that recognizes the historical contribution of the Acadians and other francophone communities to the building of Canada.

Is that the legacy that the Conservative Party wants to leave for francophone communities? Is that the kind of image?

The next time I join a Canadian delegation and I see a minister from this Conservative government bragging about coming from a country with two official languages, I will denounce him and remind him that the situation for francophones in Canada is precarious, that they are in a minority and are at constant risk of being assimilated. I will remind him that this government was unable to find $6 million to give francophone communities the means to defend themselves, while the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act guarantee those rights for francophones.

The government claimed it abolished the program because it was not effective. When it decided to eliminate the program, the government said that the program was not cost effective.That was the parliamentary secretary's argument earlier. She clearly told us that the government had the duty to ensure that taxpayers' money was being used properly. The government felt this program was not cost effective.

Since when does a program to defend the rights of minorities have to be cost effective? Since when do economics apply when it comes to helping francophone communities? A program is not a business. It is a budget and sometimes it is not cost-effective. However, the benefit to the communities from being able to rely on a full defence, is worth its weight in gold. It may not be money and profits, as the government would have us believe when it talks about the cost effectiveness of the program, but it contributes to the development and survival of francophone communities in Canada. The federal government has instead decided to abandon francophones and French-speaking Canadians and to cut funding to those communities.

On the contrary, this program was useful for the linguistic communities. This program enhanced linguistic development in the provinces. The elimination of the court challenges program delivered a serious blow to Canadians’ ability to defend their language rights. Those are not my words. That was not a statement by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. It was a statement made by the Commissioner of Official Languages, who said that the elimination of the court challenges program delivered a serious blow to Canadians’ ability to defend their language rights.

I would add that Mr. Fraser found that the commission's inquiry into the matter showed that the government did not take into account the impact on official language communities before deciding. There was no impact assessment, even though one is usually conducted when assessing Natural Resources Canada programs and other departmental programs. When the Conservatives came to power a few years ago, Treasury Board was ordered to assess all federal government programs from Transport Canada to Natural Resources Canada to Environment Canada. Impact assessments were conducted, but things changed when the time came to assess the impact of eliminating the court challenges program.

The Commissioner of Official Languages was clear: eliminating the program was a major blow to francophone communities. His inquiry clearly showed that the government did not assess or take into account the impact on official language communities.

As I said earlier,on October 25, 2006, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada brought the case before the Federal Court on October, acting on behalf of francophone communities and citizens in Canada who took things one step further. They decided to complain to the commissioner. They felt that their rights had been violated. They submitted over 999 complaints to the commissioner's office, including 117 complaints concerning the court challenges program specifically. These communities did not just appeal the government's decision before the Federal Court; they also decided to submit a formal complaint to the Commissioner of Official Languages—a complaint that we believe is justified and justifiable.

Funding provided by a number of groups was an effective way to advance the human rights agenda in Canada in two areas, one of which was protecting the rights of francophones. Many of the cases funded by the program resulted in important language rights precedents in Canadian constitutional law. They made a significant contribution to official language minority rights in Canada.

I will mention a few cases: Doucet-Boudreau, Montfort Hospital, and Arsenault-Cameron v. Prince Edward Island, which led to the establishment of quality schools equivalent to most existing ones. This ruling is applied in a good number of provinces and territories: Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories. If not for this program, schools equal in quality to the majority of educational institutions probably would not have been built in many provinces.

The impact on French language minority groups of abolishing the court challenges program is catastrophic. In recent months, certain groups—particularly historically disadvantaged groups—as well as French language minority groups appeared before the standing committee to discuss the disappearance of the court challenges program. They talked about the benefits of this program in recent years.

I urge the government to acknowledge the recommendation to clearly explain to Canadians the reasons for abolishing the court challenges program. Based on the explanations provided by the parliamentary secretary for the region of Quebec a few minutes ago, we now find that the reasons are far from clear, far from acceptable.

Was it abolished in the name of good management and cost-effectiveness? Are these the government's reasons? Would we abolish a program that protects the rights of francophone communities because it is not profitable? On this side of the House we find that unacceptable.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to say that the court challenges program was created in 1978. It is very important to say that the program was created at a time when language rights and their impact on national unity were the subject of intense public debate in Canada. The 1969 Official Languages Act, Quebec's 1977 Charter of the French Language, and a number of important language-related court cases were other elements that contributed to bringing language rights to the forefront of political debates across Canada.

It is very important to point out that the purpose of the program is to clarify certain constitutional provisions concerning equality and language rights.

It is incredibly important to remember why the program was originally created some 30 years ago. It established a foundation of case law to clarify not only linguistic rights, but other rights guaranteed under the Charter of Right and Freedoms. Here we are 30 years later and there is a strong argument to be made that the law in fact has been clarified. The law is a living organism and will continue to evolve, but the substantive base in case law has been established, defining these rights. That is an incredibly important thing to remember.

Would the member opposite acknowledge that there is an argument to be made for this, and that there was good reason, in that sense, to move with the cancellation of the program?

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has one minute to respond.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I disagree. The government's arguments are neither justified nor justifiable.

Francophone communities and francophones in North America make up just 2% of the population on this continent. We have to recognize that if these minorities want to survive, if they want to pass down their linguistic heritage and baggage to succeeding generations, they need the means to do so. That applies to the Official Languages Act, which protects francophones, and it applies to the legal means that we have to make available to francophones so they can defend themselves properly.

The government's explanations are therefore unacceptable.

Official Languages
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings on the motion at this time. Accordingly, debate on the motion is deferred until a future sitting. When we return to the second report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will have six minutes left in his question and comment period.

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.

On the Order: Private Members' Business October 16, 2007--Mr. Gaudet (Montcalm)--Second reading and reference to the Standing committee on industry, science and technology of bill C-454, An Act to amend the competition act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Competition Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Montcalm is not present to move the order as announced in today's notice paper. Accordingly, the bill will be dropped to bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 1:31 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, February 25 at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1:31 p.m.)