House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.

Topics

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

An hon. member

It is $162 million a year.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is $162 million a year. I am reminded by one of my colleagues from Ontario that is the amount.

There is $2 billion in the gas tax fund. The Liberals suggest it was their idea. We have heard a number of things in the House that were their idea but did not get implemented. That is the unfortunate part of this.

However, we actually have to stop and thank the hon. members of the Liberal Party for recognizing the benefits that will come from this budget and for supporting it.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Egmont, PE

Mr. Speaker, on page 71 of the budget papers, with respect to the employment insurance program, the government announced that it is going to form a crown corporation to set rates. There does not appear to be any other function but to set rates.

I wonder why the government needs a crown corporation to set rates when that expertise is in the department and it could set rates at the stroke of a pen, really. I do not think it would take a crown corporation to determine what a proper break-even rate is.

It says it will be a new, independent crown corporation and proceeds to say that the maximum annual charge set by the CEIFB will be 15¢. If it is free, an independent should be able to set those rates on its own.

My main question is why a crown corporation, why set up a whole new bureaucracy merely to set rates for EI?

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with an hon. member who said that is a good question. If the Liberals were honest with themselves, they would realize that question is leading them down a path that they probably do not want to go. There is a reason that we are creating a crown corporation. It is because of the abuse that happened under 13 years of Liberal government to the EI account.

We have guaranteed there will be $2 billion put into this and it will be run completely separate so that no party that is ever in power can get its hands on the workers' money.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I thank the parliamentary secretary for the riveting speech, I hope he did not overpay for it.

I will be splitting my time with the member for Halton. I have only a few minutes left, so I take it that I will see everyone in the morning.

We have all noted that the finance minister has been running around the country for the last three or four months saying there is no money in the cupboard, the cupboard is bare, we are broke, and telling us to not have any great expectations of this budget, and for certain yesterday he delivered on that expectation. There were very low expectations and he certainly met those low expectations.

Interestingly, the Globe and Mail this morning in its editorial picked up on that very theme and talked about Minister of Finance's “empty cupboard”. The point of the editorial is that it was the Minister of Finance that emptied the cupboard in the first place, so naturally he does not have any money for anything. As a consequence, we see what we see in this rather pathetic budget.

What is really sad is that the Conservative government started out with a fiscal surplus. It started out with 13 years of sound fiscal management. It started out with one of the most prosperous economies in the G-7.

Also, interestingly, it started with almost $100 billion in a five year planning surplus, going from 2005 through to 2010. But where will we be in 2010? If we look at page 25 of the government's budget, we can see that the surplus will be down to $1.3 billion. I do not think that even Paris Hilton could spend it that quickly. These guys are in a league by themselves. I am sure that Paris Hilton is probably watching this debate and wondering how in heaven's name they did it.

Again, I direct members' attention to page 25, which is really the only page we need to read in the budget. The rest of the budget is a 415 page spin document. Let us look at their document. The Conservatives actually increase their revenues over a four year period by $16 billion. Over the same period, they increase their spending by $30 billion.

I do not know how other members do their budgeting, but in my house and I dare say pretty well all the members' houses, people cannot actually spend more than is brought in. Households cannot be run that way. Businesses cannot be run that way. Certainly a government cannot be run that way. It is an incredible testimony to the incompetence of the minister.

I do not want to disturb the Minister of the Environment in his reading of Frank magazine, which constitutes his briefing materials most days, but even he would understand that we cannot spend faster than we bring the money in. It is pretty simple.

For the particular year that the government actually presents for this year, the fiscal year 2008-09, the government has actually reduced the revenues by about $2.5 billion. Meanwhile, the government's expenditures in the same year go up by $7 billion, the consequence of which is that this country actually ends up perilously close to a deficit.

The government has canned the whole idea of prudence money. When a Liberal government was producing budgets, we had a minimum contingency of $3 billion and frequently built into the budget another $1 billion, $2 billion or $3 billion to actually create cushions for unanticipated events. For instance, SARS was an unanticipated event. As well, the peso crisis was an unanticipated event.

The incompetence in this budget is manifest. We are very close to a recession. Certainly there is a recession in the U.S. The government has actually taken its GDP numbers and reduced its GDP numbers in the last three months by 25%. That brings them right down to the edge.

Again, if the hon. Minister of the Environment could actually read his own budget, he would realize that he was one of the ministers who was left out. The word “environment” is virtually not mentioned in this budget.

Here we have $16 billion going down the drain. We simply cannot carry on this way. Traditionally in prudent budgets, we do build in some cushions, but that government and those particular members do not seem to understand prudence. They do not seem to understand that we cannot spend more than we get in. It is rather amusing to hear them traipse on about how they think this is a good thing--

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member because the House was just getting so lively. However, it being 5:30, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

moved that the bill be concurred in at report stage.

(Motion agreed to)

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I want to personally thank all the members of the justice committee for their work on my private member's bill. I very much enjoyed my time before the committee when I had an opportunity to present. I presented along with representatives from the car insurance industry, members of the RCMP and other interested stakeholders who have long been asking for government to make some changes to the Criminal Code to better address the problem of motor vehicle theft in our country.

While I am disappointed that some major tenets of my bill tackling car theft were taken out at committee, I appreciate the fact that the committee passed several aspects, which remain in the bill we are debating today. The portions that were cut out all pertain to the mandatory jail times for repeat car thieves.

I think that was a mistake because it is precisely the repeat car thieves that we need to get tough on. Every region in Canada has been affected by the theft of cars and trucks. Indeed, lives have been lost. In addition, there have been billions of dollars of costs for car owners and insurance premium payers.

However, what remains is something that organizations have been asking for. If the bill as currently worded passes today, we will be establishing a separate offence for theft of a motor vehicle. This is something that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has long been asking for.

The bill also sets out some maximum sentencing provisions. As the maximum penalty is 10 years as the bill is now written, this brings about an interesting set of circumstances. In the last year, the government passed Bill C-9, which limited the use of conditional sentences such as house arrest.

The passage of this bill means that people who commit certain offences that carry maximum penalties of 10 years or greater are ineligible for house arrest. They must actually face time in prison. While theft of a motor vehicle does not automatically fall into this category, Bill C-9 has the effect that crimes which fall under section 752 of the Criminal Code are not eligible for a sentence of house arrest.

In addition to those crimes listed, any “conduct endangering or likely to endanger the life or safety of another person or inflicting or likely to inflict severe psychological damage on another person” falls into this category. This would mean that when car thieves steal a car and, after perpetrating the crime, proceed into a high speed chase or dangerous driving, for example, in which they endanger the lives of other motorists, they would be subject to this provision.

So at least some positive aspects of the bill have remained.

I truly believe that when people are convicted of stealing a car or truck for the third time it is time for them to face real consequences. The bill as originally worded contained this provision. It was a “three strikes and you're out” provision, whereby upon the third conviction of theft of a motor vehicle the minimum sentence would be at least two years in jail. I think most Canadians agree that a two year prison sentence is not too harsh for a person who has stolen cars or trucks three times.

The problem is that too often our neighbourhoods are made to be rehab centres. Honest Canadians are forced to live close to all kinds of dangerous and repeat offenders because of a legal system that too often puts the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of honest citizens.

However, in a minority Parliament I understand that compromises are going to be made, that the opposition has the ultimate say in what kind of bill gets passed, and that there has to be cooperation among all parties. I am very pleased that all parties were able to work together at committee to come up with a version of the bill that was palatable to all the justice critics of the parties and to all representatives on the committee.

I will conclude here. I know that I have an entitlement to a 15 minute time slot, but I have had a number of conversations with members of the other parties and I think that the bill as it is currently worded is acceptable to most members. I am going to conclude my remarks early in the hope that we can finish debate at third reading very quickly to speed up passage of the bill and get it over to the other place in a timely manner.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

There is provision for a five minute question and comment period. Are there any questions or comments for the hon. member?

If not, resuming debate, the hon. member for Hochelaga.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to congratulate our colleague on his bill. For several years I have been advocating within my party and elsewhere that we should all have the opportunity to submit a motion or a bill to the House, and that there should be two hours of debate each day for private members' business. The government has a lot of influence in our parliamentary system, but when it comes down to it, we are all parliamentarians. I think this idea will be well-received by the likeable member for Joliette.

That said, today we are discussing the very important matter of car theft. Anyone who has studied law in recent years will know about the distinction made between theft over $5,000 and theft under $5,000. Today, if the House passes this bill—and this seems likely—we will amend section 334.1 of the Criminal Code, so that there is no minimum penalty.

The Bloc Québécois was uncomfortable with the first version of the bill. We do not deny that car theft is an important issue. We believe that car theft is not a victimless crime and that, in some communities, car theft can limit the mobility of individuals and families and can prevent them from earning a living. We agree with having an offence system in the Criminal Code that deals specifically with car theft.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights worked very hard to satisfy the bill's sponsor and to build consensus among all of the parties represented on the committee. We agreed to remove mandatory minimum sentences, and to create a maximum sentence. Now, to reflect current legal practice, a distinction will be made between summary convictions, which carry a two-year prison sentence, and indictable offences, which result in criminal records, require fingerprinting and carry a maximum sentence. The procedure is to be determined by the Crown prosecutor. Judicial independence will be respected. Judges will be given the power to assess each case on its merits. For an indictable offence of auto theft, the maximum sentence will be 10 years in prison.

We have been told that some communities, such as Winnipeg, are deeply concerned about this phenomenon. Winnipeg citizens and the city's chiefs of police appeared before the committee to talk about it.

I would like to conclude with a quotation from Mark Yakabuski, President and CEO of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, home and auto insurance. His statement was compelling, and I would like to close with what he said about the growing auto theft phenomenon.

For a number of years we have seen not only the costs associated with auto theft rise, but the increasing implication of organized criminal activity in the stealing of automobiles across this country. Because the current penalties associated with it are so lenient and the profits are so great, auto theft has become a major focus of criminal organizations in Canada.

He explained that organized crime rings are interested in stealing cars. He went on to say that:

Organized crime steals vehicles, chops them up to sell parts of specious quality, uses the vehicle identification number to change the identity of another stolen car then sold to an unsuspecting consumer—

Under the Criminal Code, that unsuspecting consumer could be charged with possession of stolen goods.

He went on to say that:

On top of that, [organized crime] exports thousands of vehicles through Canada's ports each year to Africa, eastern Europe, and the Middle East, where they can fetch a much higher price than they can at home.

In 2006, a total of 159,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada. The cost to auto insurance policyholders was approximately $600 million—

This is clearly a major phenomenon. As a result, vehicle owners and insured drivers have seen their insurance premiums rise by $40.

The last point I want to make is that a separate offence will be created for auto theft. Depending on the procedure, it may be punishable by sentences of two to 10 years. This bill deserves our support. Auto theft is not a victimless crime. I think that insurance companies have made it clear just how attractive this kind of theft is to organized crime rings, and they have explained how it affects consumers.

I would like to congratulate the bill's sponsor. The Bloc Québécois would like to see this bill passed and receive royal assent.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I echo the comments of my colleague from Hochelaga. This was a good initiative on the part of the member from the Conservative Party who brought this forward. I would like to think that it would have been one of those that the government would have actually moved on at an earlier stage. In any event, we are at that point and it has all party support.

We heard in the course of the testimony at committee that a number of the provinces and their prosecutors at the provincial level felt strongly about the need to create a separate offence. Auto theft had always been covered historically under the general theft provisions of the code, but what they needed to do, because of the high incident rate of auto theft in the country, was to create a separate offence and then be able to deal with it in terms of penalties, with that new evidence going in that it was a specific theft, in the form of an auto theft, particularly if we had repeat offenders, that they could be dealt with more harshly by way of using indictment rather than a summary conviction.

All too often we were hearing of cases where the summary conviction approach was taken, with theft generally, where penalties were being meted out that were not adequate or responsive, particularly, and this is one of the other points that came up repeatedly, with the amount of organized crime that is involved in auto theft now where organized crime figures will actually assign individuals to steal specific cars and then sell them, oftentimes, offshore. We needed stiffer penalties to deal with this specific crime.

We have all agreed that we will shorten our speeches but I want to make one other point, and that is that additional work needs to be done in the preventive area of auto theft.

We took a fair amount of evidence from, and I will signal up your home province, Mr. Speaker, the province of Manitoba and the work it has done on requiring immobilizers to be placed on all vehicles in that province. Immobilizers are a new technology which makes it impossible to steal a vehicle and, so far, the immobilizer has not been broken by either organized crime or thieves generally. If there is an attempt to steal the vehicle, the immobilizer just shuts the vehicle down. It cannot be operated and, therefore, the vehicle is no longer available to be stolen.

The Province of Manitoba has mandated that to have car insurance in that province, people must have an immobilizer on their car. This is a major step forward in simply making it impossible to steal cars. The auto manufacturers, both in Canada and internationally, need to take some lessons from that experience and provide this technology on all new vehicles as they come on to the market. The federal government could be playing some role in that, at least from a policy standpoint, to ensure that happens. If that does occur, this section of the code may, at some point in the future, become one of those sections we go back and repeal because we will no longer have auto theft in this country.

I am maybe being a bit optimistic on that ever happening but hope springs eternal in the human breasts.