House of Commons Hansard #75 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was amendment.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-505—Canadian Multiculturalism Act
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a point of order I wish to make in relation to a private member's bill currently before the House in which it appears could be debated tomorrow. It is Bill C-505. My point of order concerns the constitutionality of the bill. Either the bill is totally unconstitutional or it is in the wrong form, and I will point out where I am coming from on that in my remarks.

It is my view that the bill should either not be debated and/or should be ordered discharged and dropped from the order paper for these reasons. I will read clause 2 of the bill. It says:

The Government of Canada’s multiculturalism policy does not apply in Quebec.

It is as simple as that.

I will also read section 27 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, part of our constitution under the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 27 reads:

This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.

I want to point out, Mr. Speaker, as you know and most members know, private members' business in the House does not receive the scrutiny or check of the Department of Justice that all government bills must do under the Department of Justice Act. Since private members' business is not subject to Department of Justice scrutiny, it is entirely possible that some of the business that does come through might be constitutionally offside. In this case I believe it certainly is offside.

I want to read as well subsection 52(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982. We are dealing with constitutional law here and this is bedrock law.

The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect.

I want to submit also that the federal government's multiculturalism policy and section 27 of the charter, which I just read, are now in law and in practice, flip sides of the same constitutional coin. In fact, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act recites the Canadian constitutional provision, section 27, right in the preamble, they are that connected.

In the House, by section 9 of the same Multiculturalism Act, the House is charged with permanently reviewing the operation of the act and that policy. The constitution is explicitly the foundation for that statute and the statute is the explicit manifestation of that constitutional provision.

A very real example of the constitutional application of multicultural policy beyond the framework of the statute itself is found in the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Keegstra, [1990] 3 R.C.S. 697, wherein the Criminal Code hate crimes are ruled by the court to be a function of the application of section 27 of the charter, that is the multiculturalism section of the charter.

We have the Criminal Code application in Canada, that particular provision, being justified and being related to that provision of our constitution. The bill with which we are dealing purports to say that the multiculturalism policy does not apply in the province of Quebec.

I submit that clause 2 of the bill, which I read, is so inconsistent with section 27 of the constitutional charter that it cannot be sustained. It is unconstitutional and should not be considered for further debate or process. Either clause 2 of the bill should be struck or the entire bill should be struck.

A second possible response to the member's legislative initiative is that the bill is really a constitutional amendment providing for some kind of provincial exemption from the constitution. It is possible that is what the member has intended and he has submitted a bill to do that.

Members can propose amendments to our Constitution, but in this case a bill is not the proper form. Constitutional amendments are, by section 38 of the Constitution, accomplished by way of a resolution of both Houses, et cetera, not by a bill. Resolutions are described in Marleau and Montpetit, at page 794, footnote 184, if the Speaker needs a reference.

My conclusion is that Bill C-505, using the words I quoted, “purports to obstruct, to displace, or to undermine” section 27 of our charter based in the Constitution and must utterly fail, for those reasons, both in law and as to form. Either the bill or clause 2 on its own should be struck and an order discharging the House from further consideration should be made.

Bill C-505—Canadian Multiculturalism Act
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to what my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River had to say. Considering that we just learned that he was raising this issue, we are reserving our comments for later.

I simple want to mention that, despite the fine constitutional references our colleague made in his point of order, as the watchdog of procedure, Mr. Speaker, you know that the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business rules on the constitutionality of a bill and decides whether private members' bills are votable or not.

Through you, Mr. Speaker, I wish to remind my colleague—and I am sure he is a democrat—that obviously his argument did not hold up because the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business has ruled on the votability of this bill.

With all due respect and, as I was saying earlier, subject to comments we may make later, you do not have the authority, Mr. Speaker, to deal with this point of order since the rules are clear and the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business has ruled on the constitutionality of this bill.

Bill C-505—Canadian Multiculturalism Act
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I appreciate the interventions by both hon. members who offered their expertise to the Chair on this matter.

I will take the matter under advisement.

My initial reaction to the hon. member's point of order is that constitutional questions are not for the Chair to decide. The fact that this may amend the Constitution of Canada is not a matter of procedure in the House, in my view, and therefore, on the face of it, the bill would be in order even if it did purport to amend the Constitution.

The question I have, and I will come to back to the House concerning it, is whether a constitutional amendment has to be done by resolution or whether it can be done by a bill. I am not an expert in this area, unlearned as I am, like the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

In the old days it was done by resolution because it was only the British House of Commons that could amend the Constitution. However, since the repatriation of the Constitution, this can be amended now by the Parliament of Canada in certain circumstances. I am afraid I am unfamiliar with the procedure for that, but I will check into it.

In any event, the argument as to whether this constitutes a constitutional amendment remains another issue and I am not sure it is one for the Chair to decide. I will look into the matter and get back to the House shortly with a decision on this point.

I want to thank all hon. members who contributed to this discussion. Thank you very much.

The House resumed from April 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-50, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas had the floor. There are two minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks.

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I had best get going if I have only two minutes. What we are debating is the amendment from the New Democratic Party to separate out the immigration provisions of this legislation because there are very serious changes to Canada's immigration law. We do not believe they should be buried in a budget implementation bill and we do not believe they can best be scrutinized there.

The Conservatives are right in that there is a problem with the backlog. The Liberals did not address the problem with the backlog and in fact created the backlog over many years in office. They stimulated it by not providing the appropriate funding to the department to do the processing and by not providing appropriate immigration targets for the country despite the fact that year after year they promised to increase that target. At one point, I added up all the years in which they missed their proposed target for immigration. If we added them all up, it probably would have eliminated the backlog on hand at that time.

Yes, there were problems. However, what the Conservatives are proposing is not going to fix the problems. In fact, it is only going to make them worse. The kind of discretion that the Conservatives propose to give the minister is just plain wrong. We need clarity in our immigration proposals. This is wrong.

In their immigration policy, the Conservatives are also giving far too great an emphasis to temporary foreign workers. We know that these workers are too easily exploited. They provide cheap labour.

Fortunately, we in Canada have never relied on this kind of labour to drive our economy. Unlike European countries that have had strong guest worker policies, we have never gone that route. We prefer instead to bring people in because of economic need as permanent residents and put them on the track to becoming full citizens of Canada. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are reversing that policy as well. It is one of the serious problems with their immigration policy.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am wondering about the NDP's position on this, quite frankly, and I am hoping that perhaps their members will address this, because this is not an immigration bill. There is no such thing on the table. This is a budget bill. If they want to address the budget, I would dearly love to support them.

However, I have some difficulties with their position on immigration because of what happened when there was an immigration plan on the table. There was $1.4 billion for integration and settlement. There was $700 million for fixing the system by accelerating processing and eliminating the backlog over a five year period. There was $88 million established for foreign credentials recognition. There was $10 million for expanding a student visa program to encourage more students to come into the country.

The NDP members voted against that and precipitated an election as a result. Today they are objecting to a plan they say is there, but I have not seen one. Would they please elaborate for the members on this side, who would like to support them, what specifics of a plan they are objecting to might actually emerge from a bill that is not in the House?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, if the member had heard the beginning of my speech he clearly would have heard what problems we have with this legislation.

The fact is that this legislation, which is buried in a budget bill, would fundamentally change the powers of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, so much so that we could in fact drive a Mack truck right through the immigration act and the immigration provisions. They are very significant proposals. They should not be buried in a budget bill. They should stand on their own. They should be debated on their own. They should go to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, whose members have the particular expertise and experience to deal with those kinds of recommendations, not to the finance committee, whose members' expertise lies in other areas.

What would we do instead? We would make sure there is transparency. We would make sure that we meet a target of 1% of population for immigration every year. We would make sure that we preserve the track from permanent residence to full citizenship in Canada. We would make sure that temporary foreign workers do not become guest workers and get exploited in Canada. We would make sure that family reunification, the most successful piece of our immigration program, retains a central place in our immigration program.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear the member talking about the backlog as if it is some kind of disease. I suggest to him that the backlog of 800,000 people is actually a huge asset in regard to immigrants wanting and waiting to come here. It is a two and a half year wait if we look at the average wait time for those 800,000 people. We take more immigrants per capita than any other country in the world. I am not so sure the member should be calling it a backlog. If we had no backlog, would the member not agree that we would be pulling our hair out and saying that our immigration program is an absolute failure?

Why do the member and his party not simply focus on the committee process? We cannot materially alter this bill here. We can defeat it in the House, but this is a budget implementation bill containing dozens and dozens of provisions and all kinds of financial provisions. We should try to fix this bill at the committee where the clause in question can actually be excised and not adopted. Is that not a better solution than the NDP proposal in this case?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the backlog is actually 900,000 people. I would ask the member to talk to people in his constituency who are waiting for a relative stuck in that backlog and ask them if they do not think it is a problem. It is a huge problem for families looking to be reunited in Canada to have to wait year after year to be reunited with that relative, especially when they were promised when they emigrated to Canada that their family members would be able to join them. We broke a promise to immigrants who came to Canada when we told them that our immigration policy was such that their family would be reunified in Canada.

There are two possibilities. If we did not have a backlog, it could mean that we were in desperate need of immigrants, but it might also mean that the processing in our immigration program was working appropriately and that people were not having to wait unacceptable lengths of time to have their applications processed and to join their family members in Canada. It would mean that employers would not have to wait for employees that they need to do important work in Canada.

We could have an efficient immigration system if we put those resources into place.