House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was immigration.

Topics

Speaker's Ruling
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

There are 20 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-50. The motions will be grouped for debate as follows.

Group No. 1 includes Motions Nos. 1 to 5.

Group No. 2 includes Motions Nos. 6 to 20.

The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 5 in Group No. 1 to the House.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 116.

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 117.

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 118.

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 119.

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-50 be amended by deleting Clause 120.

He said—Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to the bill before us and the amendments I made to that bill.

First of all, I must apologize if my voice is a bit hoarse today. I am so shocked at the provisions in part 6 of Bill C-50 that I can hardly speak, which explains why I am having some trouble today.

But seriously, since this is a serious matter, part 6 of this budget implementation bill deals with immigration and will cause a major change in Canada's immigration system. We condemn the fact that this part has been included in a budget implementation bill when its clauses have nothing to do with financial considerations.

This is just a government trick to limit the debate on this major reform of immigration by burying these changes in a sort of omnibus bill that pertains to a number of completely different subjects. From a parliamentary point of view, we could see the absurdity of this manoeuvre by the government and how the work had to be done in committee. Since Bill C-50 is a budget implementation bill, obviously the Standing Committee on Finance was analyzing its content. But that committee did not have the necessary expertise, knowledge or time to study the immigration clauses.

We received a letter asking the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to study that part of the bill. We hastily looked at part 6 of the bill, but in the end, we had only a week to hear witnesses and make recommendations. We then had to forward everything to the Standing Committee on Finance, which did not take our recommendations into account because the Liberals abstained once again.

This shows that there was no debate across Quebec and Canada. When the witnesses appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, what we heard most commonly and systematically was criticism of making such a major reform without taking the time to properly debate or look at the consequences this could have on the immigration system and on Canada's image abroad.

The committee concluded that part 6, the entire part on immigration, should be removed from the bill. That is the focus of the amendments I am proposing this morning in this House. It is the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I hope that all the parties will agree with this recommendation, especially since the committee stated in its report that it was available to sit down with the government and the minister to examine the issue and work with them to develop a real document. A consensus might even be found if we took the time to work together.

The committee did this with Bill C-37, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act, which had to do with Canadians who had lost their Canadian citizenship. There were talks and debates. Everyone worked together, a unanimous report was written, and then came the bill. It was passed very quickly in Parliament and everything went smoothly. I do not see why we could not do the same thing for such an important immigration reform. Obviously, the short term solution is to remove this part of the bill. The proposed measures will be detrimental to our system.

Basically, the bill provides that the minister may decide of his or her own accord and with the consent of cabinet, to change the order in which immigration applications are processed. The minister may even decide which categories of applications will be processed and which will not. Currently, although there are a number of priorities, the general principle—which is about to disappear—is first come, first served.

Under our existing immigration system, those who apply can be sure that their applications will be processed eventually. Valid applications will be accepted. Even though wait times are too long because not enough money is being invested in case processing, the system is predictable. Applicants know that they will eventually get an answer. Under the new system, people will submit applications that may never be processed though they wait their entire lives.

Naturally, that is unacceptable. The minister says that the new system was created to prioritize certain categories of workers in fields in which Canada has trouble finding workers.

On the one hand, the current points system for applications takes into account post-secondary study, master's degrees, and doctorates—which are all worth extra points—but does not put enough emphasis on the technical skills and trades where more workers are needed now. Even though the department processes these cases, people can be no more certain than before that they will be accepted.

On the other hand, there are already so many priorities in the system that nothing will really be a priority after this. I have compiled a little list, which I would like to share with you. With respect to vertical priorities, we have inadmissibility, application of the law, refugees, visitors, students, work visas, spouses, children, and the provincial nominee program. Now we are going to have another priority. Clearly, this system is not working. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority in the end. We need something much better than this to fix the system.

Another provision in this bill is extremely problematic and involves people applying for permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds. Under the current legislation, the department absolutely must review those applications and if the person is eligible, he or she can obtain that status. If they are not eligible, they will be refused, obviously.

The bill is intended to change the word “shall” to “may”. In other words, the department “may”, if it feels like it, if it is interested, review an application on humanitarian grounds. It is hard to understand how a right could become conditional on the will of the department. A right is a right and if, under the law, one is eligible for such an application on humanitarian grounds, one should have the right to have one's file reviewed.

If not, if the right is subject to the arbitrary decision of immigration officers, then it is not really a right. What is more, a permanent resident application on humanitarian grounds is often used by a refugee status claimant whose case has been dismissed with no chance of appeal before the refugee appeal division—since neither the Liberal nor the Conservative governments have ever implemented it.

The Bloc Québécois has introduced a bill to that effect in order to correct the situation. The bill is currently before the Senate. We hope the Conservatives will stop obstructing it. They always complain about the Liberal senators obstructing work in the Senate; now they are doing it.

Nonetheless, I hope this bill will pass quickly in order to correct this shortcoming. In the meantime, people have been using this process to protect their lives, to be welcomed into Canada on humanitarian grounds, but the government is in the process of closing another door in their faces.

In closing, I hope at least that the parties who supported the report in committee will be logical and consistent and vote in favour of these amendments. Obviously I am counting on the support of the NDP, but more specifically of the Liberals who have been utterly inconsistent on this. They supported withdrawing this reform in the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, but in the Standing Committee on Finance, they kept mum on the matter.

I hope they will have the courage to stand up and vote in this House.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the government, I am pleased to rise to speak in absolute and sincere opposition to the proposed amendments to Bill C-50, amendments that would seek to effectively delete the government's proposed improvements, and I emphasize improvements, to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which are contained in part 6 of Bill C-50.

I note that the amendments originate with my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois, but they are supported by my colleagues down the way in the NDP. Sadly, this is yet another occasion where the NDP, despite its rhetoric, will vote against crucial measures proposed by this Conservative government to help immigrants.

The NDP's track record on immigration is a sorry one at best. In this Parliament alone, the NDP has voted against $1.3 billion for settlement funding, after a funding freeze of 10 years under the previous government. The NDP also voted against the establishment of a foreign credentials referral office. It voted against cutting the immigrant head tax, which our government cut in half, despite the NDP.

The NDP has even voted against providing increased protections for vulnerable foreign workers. Its continued opposition to Bill C-17 is preventing vulnerable foreign workers, who could be subject to abuse and exploitation, from getting protection that they need and deserve.

Despite their talk, the New Democrats do not step up to help newcomers to Canada. This Conservative government, however, does and continues to do so with our immigration changes proposed in Bill C-50.

Our proposed amendments in part 6 of the budget implementation act addressed the legislative roots of Canada's broken and overloaded immigration system. Neither Canadians nor prospective newcomers to our country benefit from an immigration system that, due to its systemic deficiencies, forces prospective immigrants to wait for up to six years before their applications are looked at, let alone processed.

The current system is especially problematic, since by 2012 fully 100% of our net labour growth will come from immigration. The systemic flaws in the current immigration system continue to hinder our country's ability to meet the needs of newcomers and the social and economic needs of our country. Urgent action is required. That is why changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act were included in budget 2008.

“Advantage Canada” 2006 identified that Canada needed the most flexible workforce in the world, an issue that is critical to Canada's future. Without our proposed legislative changes, the uncontrolled growth of the immigration backlog will continue, the backlog we inherited, by the way, from the previous Liberal government, which currently stands at over 900,000 people waiting in line to come to Canada.

This backlog is unacceptable. Urgent action must be taken so the backlog can be reduced. A new and more efficient processing system is desperately needed, a system that is both responsive to the needs of the newcomers and the needs of Canada.

To move toward accomplishing these goals, the legislative changes contained in part 6 of Bill C-50 are absolutely essential. The fact is Canada faces serious international competition in attracting people with the talents and the skills we need to ensure our country's continued growth and prosperity.

Compared to the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, we are the only country that does not use some kind of occupational filter to screen, code or prioritize skilled worker applications. Compared to other countries, Canada's system is simply not flexible enough. While Australia and New Zealand are processing applications in six to twelve months, if nothing is done, processing times in Canada will reach ten years by 2012. As more people submit applications and our current obligation to process every application to completion remains, the backlog continues to grow and Canada's labour shortages worsen.

If we do nothing to address the problem, we risk having families wait even longer to be reunited with their loved ones and we risk losing the people our country needs from other countries. Because those countries are in fierce competition with us for the skills and talents that newcomers bring, our government believes that without this legislative intervention the system is destined to collapse under its own weight.

It is important to note that the legislative changes contained within Bill C-50 are but one aspect of the government's approach to addressing the backlog problem. These legislative changes would prevent the backlog from growing, but let me be crystal clear on two key points about these proposals.

Contrary to the misinformation that is out there, we will not be placing any limits on the number of applicants that we will accept. Canada remains open to immigration and anyone can still apply.

However, under the proposed legislative changes, we will not have to process every application. Those applications not processed in a given year can be held for future consideration or returned to the applicant with a refund of their application fee. Individuals in this category would be welcome to reapply. The result would be that the backlog will stop growing and actually start to come down.

This flexibility in managing the backlog would accomplish three things. It would help reduce the backlog and ensure that immigrants have the jobs they need to succeed and allow our country to continue to grow and prosper.

Once these changes are implemented, the immigration backlog will stop growing and will begin to decrease the long lineup waiting news on entry to Canada through other important measures our government is taking.

Among other things we have committed over $109 million over five years to bring down the backlog.

Other steps that would be taken include: organizing visa officer “SWAT teams” to speed up processing in parts of the world where wait times are the longest; providing additional resources to these busy missions; helping build capacity to meet future levels and increasing demand; and coding applications in the existing backlog with the appropriate national occupational classification code and destination province where they are requesting to reside, so applicants with the skills we need can be referred to provinces for possible selection by provincial nominee programs.

Part 6 of Bill C-50, when combined with these non-legislative measures funded in budget 2008 and beyond, would act to control and reduce the backlog and speed up processing. Because immigration is so important to Canada's future, we need a modern and renewed vision for immigration.

These proposed changes are part of a vision that involves creating a more responsive immigration system, one that allows us to welcome more immigrants while helping them get the jobs they need and building better lives for themselves and their families, because their success is our success.

Urgent action is required. Part 6 of Bill C-50 and all of budget 2008 would deliver this much needed action.

I end by expressing my gratitude to my colleagues opposite in the Liberal Party who have so graciously helped our Conservative government ensure speedy passage of our budget legislation through the House. I am pleased the Liberal Party supports our proposed immigration measures and budget 2008. I am pleased the Liberal Party recognizes that budget 2008 and Bill C-50 are full of positive measures for all Canadians, those present now and those soon to be here as well.

I encourage all members of the House, especially my colleagues in the Liberal Party, to defeat these detrimental amendments to Bill C-50 and continue to work toward its speedy passage unamended.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech of the member opposite.

I have a fairly blunt question for him. What is his response to the many Canadians who are talking about the new immigration component of the bill and saying that it is tantamount to saying to the world, “You're good enough to work here in Canada, but you're not good enough to live here and your family members are not good enough to live here?” Canadians interpret this provision as essentially an overemphasis on inviting workers, arguably whom we need, and de-emphasizing our responsibility to keep our doors open to family members.

Simply put, what does the member opposite say with respect to, “You're good enough to work here, but you're not good enough to live here and your family members are not good enough to live here?”

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the member's question does nothing but emphasize some of the false statements that have been made in and outside the House.

I have spoken to many people who sincerely want to come to this country, people who recognize that the system is broken and that these improvements, through this legislation, would help reunify families.

In fact, I was in Cairo just last weekend. On Sunday morning I drove by the Canadian embassy. There was a huge lineup of Egyptians who wanted to come to Canada. This is just one example. Nobody was standing at the front door, but we have a special immigration door. That is how seriously people want to come to Canada. They recognize the strength of our country. They recognize the opportunities in our country.

However, what have we done to them in the past? We have stuck them at the end of a line of almost a billion people long, I should say a million. When I listen to the opposition suggestions of what the carbon tax is going to cost Canadians, that is where my billions come from.

Many people want to come to Canada. The legislation before us would actually break the back of a broken system and bring us to a system that would help.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary's response demonstrates why this component should not be included in the bill. Despite his good intentions, he is not informed about this file and says whatever comes to mind.

Family reunification applications are obviously treated separately from the regular immigration applications that these provisions would apply to. Family reunifications would not be affected, quite the opposite. If we bring the people who were at the back of the line to the front, that will only slow down the process for the others at the back of the line.

It was clear in committee. Official government representatives even came to explain to us that taking someone from the back of the line and putting them at the front would not shorten the line.

Is the minister at least conscious of the fact that these provisions will not affect the back of the line?

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, these provisions look to the future of how we can improve the system. We have put in measures. We are increasing the number of people in the field who can process the backlog. It is very unfortunate that our government inherited such an incredibly large backlog of almost a million.

The improvements that we would make will process for new applications to help us give time to focus on the backlog that the Liberals left with us.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Vancouver East. We have less than a minute for both the question and the answer.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, if these changes are so important, why are they buried in a budget bill? It is quite scandalous that when Bill C-50, the budget bill, came in, we suddenly found there were—

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker. the hon. member used the term “scandalous”. I referred to the scandalous voting record of the members of the NDP, how they have voted against anything that this Conservative government has wanted to put in place to help immigrants, to welcome them to our country. We put funding in place to bring them—

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the report stage debate on 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.

What concerns me a great deal about the budget is its forecast. As recently as two days ago, the finance minister stood in this House and told us that he stood by the government's forecast for GDP growth this year of 1.7%. Never mind that exports are falling and manufacturing jobs are disappearing daily and never mind that the Bank of Canada revised, dramatically downwards, its own forecast. The finance minister is just going to bury his head in the sand and pretend the economy is doing just fine.

The finance minister is no Pierre Trudeau but he does have one thing in common with Pierre Trudeau. In 1972 some members may remember that Pierre Trudeau ran an election campaign on the theme “The Land is Strong” but he did not do that well. Now, the finance minister, in a similar vein, is saying that we should not worry because the economy is sound and the fundamentals are sound.

That does not surprise me because the finance minister is a person who is out of touch with Canadians. I imagine he could attend a news conference about a factory closure, puff up his chest and say that the Canadian economy is strong without batting an eye.

The problem is that while the finance minister can repeat that the economy is strong a thousand times, it just does not make it true.

Do members know what happened this morning? Statistics Canada released a growth estimate for the first quarter of 2008 which shows that the Canadian economy shrank by 0.3%. This is the first time we have had a quarter of negative growth in Canada since, I believe, five years ago during the SARS crisis.

We have the finance minister saying that the economy is strong and that we should not worry, but we get numbers showing that for the first time in five years, in the first quarter of this year, the Canadian economy shrank.

Do members know what else is interesting about that? The U.S. economy, in the first quarter, grew. The Canadian economy shrank by 0.3%, while the U.S. economy expanded by 0.9%. What does that do to the finance minister's story that his policies are so wonderful and his stewardship is so great that Canada is doing so much better than the United States? It is simply not true according to the numbers we saw this morning.

Indeed, Canada ought to be doing better and, in some respects, Canada is doing better. We have a large resource sector and oil prices are very high. We have people who are somewhat less risk-taking in the financial sector than down south. We do not have the subprime mortgage crisis. We should be doing better, and we are, in some respects, doing better, and yet the news this morning that the Canadian economy has shrank while the U.S. economy has expanded, sends a message to the finance minister--

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe the debate at the present time is on the amendments and I think it would be good if the hon. member made his comments based on what is germane to the debate.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am sure the hon. member for Markham—Unionville appreciates that advice and he now has the floor.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that advice. I will not necessarily follow it but I will come to the subject of immigration shortly.

Since the news of the morning is so timely, I thought the House might wish to know some of the headlines from this morning's Statistics Canada report: “Exports fall”, “Business investment slows”, “Personal spending moderates”, “Housing investment declines”, “Prices move upward”. Those are the things that real Canadians are dealing with right now. The last thing they want to hear is the finance minister telling them that they have never had it so good.

What they do want is an explanation from the government as to how it squandered the $13 billion surplus that it inherited just over two years ago and how it has taken this country to the brink of deficit. The fiscal cupboard is bare right now. Some experts are saying that we are already in deficit. It would not be the first time the finance minister hit a deficit and pretended he was in surplus.

Whether we are in deficit or just a SARS crisis away from deficit, the fact is that the government overspent when times were good, leaving nothing in the cupboard, as the Statistics Canada report this morning suggests, for when times are bad. A prudent finance minister would have spent less when times were good, leaving more money available right now when times are bad with which to support the economy.

The finance minister's stewardship has been so bad that at this moment, when the Canadian economy needs support, he has no money unless he wants to go back into deficit. I would not be terribly surprised if he did go back into deficit. That is what the Ontario government did when he was a senior minister. Indeed, the Ontario government pretended it had a balanced budget and ran an election on a balanced budget. However, when the Conservatives lost that election in 2003 and Dalton McGuinty called in the auditors, lo and behold, the auditors discovered that there was in fact a $5.6 billion deficit.

Since the government acknowledges that it is right on the brink of deficit, I wonder whether the experience of Ontario might be repeated and, indeed, we might already be in deficit but a deficit hidden by the government.

On the question of immigration, the parliamentary secretary is entirely wrong when he says that the Liberal Party supports the government amendments on immigration. As my colleague pointed out recently, the government is changing the picture of an immigrant from a person to a commodity. The fact is that if substantial new resources are not put into immigration, which the government is not doing, that implies that if one group is fast-tracked, by definition another group is slow-tracked.

The parliamentary secretary can talk all he likes about people lining up in Egypt to come to Canada but fewer of those people will be able to come to Canada under the government's rules than would have been able to come to Canada under the previous rules. It is fast-tracking economic immigrants and, given that the resources are pretty well constant or at a very modest increase, that implies that it is slow-tracking family reunification.

I believe it is important that we choose immigrants who are needed in the economy but I do not believe that should be at the expense of family reunification, which is precisely the price the government is imposing on family reunification by its proposals.

Indeed, we do not even know where these proposals will lead because they provide enormous additional powers to the immigration minister. The government is asking Canadians to trust it but it will tell them what it is going to do. Why should Canadians trust the government in light of all of the unfolding scandals that we have been experiencing in recent months?

Whether it is the security problems associated with the former foreign affairs minister, whether it is the in and out Elections Canada scandal, whether it is the emerging new scandal on NAFTA-gate, or whether it is broken promises on anything from income trusts to the Atlantic accord, Canadians have no reason to trust the government.

Therefore, when the government asks Canadians to trust it to do the right thing on the immigration provisions, I do not think Canadians will accept the government's proposition.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, my first thought is, God help us if the Liberals were in government at this time when this country is facing some economic challenges from outside the country and throughout the global marketplace.

The member for Markham—Unionville flipped-flopped, not once but at least three times during his speech. The Liberals are being dishonest with the House and with the Canadian people. They criticized our budget and yet voted for it. That is dishonest.

That member, among all the members of the Liberal party, should know that there is a direct correlation between a low tax regime and a buoyant economy and a direct correlation between a high tax regime and a struggling economy.

Our Minister of Finance knows that giving taxes back to families, back to small business, back to low income people and back to seniors is a good formula for making it through times of external challenges to our economy. That is what that member's party did not do. God help us if the Liberals were in power now.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not detect a question in that spew of nonsense coming from my hon. colleague but I will try to respond to what might have been a question.

In terms of competent management of the economy, I would remind the gentleman across the aisle that it is we, the Liberals, who inherited a $42 billion Conservative deficit, and it is we, who within a few years, fixed that deficit, turned it in to a surplus and for 10 years in a row paid down debt.

It is that party that inherited a magnificent $13 billion surplus from the previous Liberal government and proceeded, in the space of just over two years, to spend like crazy when times were good, thereby shrinking that $13 billion surplus to $1 billion or $2 billion, far less than the contingency reserve that Liberals maintained.

To spend like crazy when times are good is incompetent economic management in the extreme. It leaves nothing available to support the economy when times become bad, as we saw in the Statistics Canada report just this morning.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the speech by my colleague across the way. He may have touched, in some ways, on why the Conservatives included the immigration business in the budget.

The budget seems to deal dishonestly with figures. It also deals dishonestly with the figures when it talks about the impact on immigration that it will achieve with this particular set of amendments.

Does the hon. member not agree that we need decisive action to reduce the wait list, not this reconfiguration of the rules to change the basic nature of our immigration system?

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not detect a question in those comments.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a very simple question. At the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, the Liberals voted against these changes to immigration; at the Standing Committee on Finance, they abstained.

Will they have the courage to stand in this House and vote in favour of my amendments, or will they pathetically stay seated during the vote?

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Markham—Unionville has 30 seconds to respond.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, 30 seconds is not enough time to respond to such an important question.

All I can do in these next 30 seconds is repeat that, in our opinion, the government's immigration policy is not at all acceptable for the reasons that I have outlined during—

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Vancouver East.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak to the report stage amendments of Bill C-50. I thank my colleague from the Bloc for bringing some of them forward because the NDP also supports these motions that would delete clauses 116 to 120 from Bill C-50.

The first point that I want to make is that it is really quite outrageous that here we are debating a budget bill, which of course is a core of any government's agenda, and within that government bill, that budget bill, there are significant changes to our immigration system.

There is no question that the Conservative government tried to quietly slip these major changes through the back door in a budget bill. I think they have been probably quite astounded by the reaction of Canadians and communities across Canada.

In fact, the Conservatives are so worried about the backlash that these proposed changes contain that they have now gone to the extreme of running advertisements in ethnic papers across the country even before this bill has been approved. That is something that is quite unheard of, to put out propaganda and information about a bill that has not even yet been approved.

I think it is very good evidence of the concern that the Conservatives have that the message that they hoped they were getting out there, that they were somehow fixing the immigration system, is very far from the truth. In fact, what we are dealing with in this budget bill are significant changes to the immigration system which will undermine the kind of process that we have had in this country for dealing with immigration and refugees.

One of the deletions that has been put forward for the bill today deals with clause 116. Under the current provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, subsection 11(1) currently says:

The visa or document shall be issued if, following an examination, the officer is satisfied that the foreign national is not inadmissible and meets the requirements of this Act.

With the changes in this bill, which we are now hoping to delete, it would now say that the officer “may” issue a visa even if the applicant has met all of the criteria as set out in the immigration regulations.

The same is true for clause 117, where under the existing process in regard to humanitarian and compassionate applications, it says that the minister “shall” examine these applications. Under the proposed changes it would say that the minister “may” examine these applications.

These are only two of many changes that are included in this bill. We think they are very substantive and we think it is quite shocking that these immigration changes would be contained within a budget bill. It should be part of a stand alone bill. It should have gone to the immigration committee. There should have been hearings through the immigration process so that people could comment on it, but none of that has happened because the government, by stealth, is trying to put these changes through in a budget bill.

I must say that I listened with some surprise to the Liberal member for Markham—Unionville when he spoke so vociferously against the budget bill and against these changes, and yet we know the Liberals are going to support it. How does one reconcile this?

The Liberals get out there and they hammer the bill and say how bad it is, and in committee when there is a chance to vote they vote with the government. Here in the House when the Liberals have a chance to vote against the government, they either sit on their hands or they do not show up and they do not bother to vote.

The same will now be true with these immigration changes. Is it any wonder that people feel so disillusioned about the official opposition members as they are about the government? Here they are hand in glove working together to get through these significant changes.

I am very proud that in the NDP we have taken a strong position, not only against the budget bill on the provisions as a budget bill but also because of these immigration changes that are included.

One of the things that we are most concerned about is that in Bill C-50 there is a shift in emphasis from family reunification, from bringing people to Canada on the legitimate process of a point system, to in effect a dramatic increase in the temporary foreign worker program.

We have seen more than a 100% increase in the number of applications and people being processed through this system. We have seen people brought to this country, who come here as temporary foreign workers. They are working in the tar sands. They are working in the agricultural industry. They have been working on the Canada Line in Vancouver.

These are workers who come here and often end up in terribly exploited situations. They have no rights. In some situations we have had cases where workers were being paid less than the minimum wage for the work that they were doing. It is only because of the advocacy within the labour movement that some of these cases have been taken up and brought forward before the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

Therefore, we are very worried that the changes in Bill C-50, including the immigration changes, are basically giving a signal of this very dramatic change in the way immigration will work in Canada.

Historically, we have seen an emphasis on family reunification. In fact, on the Government of Canada immigration website it was always listed as one of the key goals for our immigration policy. Somehow that has disappeared. It is not even on the website anymore, so this should be sending off alarm bells for people.

We know that organizations like the Canadian Bar Association are concerned. Stephen Green of the Canadian Bar Association said:

Bill C-50 would return Canada to a time when visas were given out on a discretionary basis, without sufficient objective criteria.

The YWCA in Toronto has called on the government to not proceed with these dramatic changes for immigration under Bill C-50.

I know in my own community of East Vancouver we have many people who are recent newcomers to Canada. They came through the immigration system. We have many organizations that work as advocates and help people with their processing for immigration. In a forum that we held just a few weeks ago people were very concerned about what these changes will mean and the fact that it will give so much discretion to a single person, and that single person being the minister.

Why would we want to have a system that allows that kind of power to be conferred on one person? This is something that we should be very opposed to and that is why we are standing in the House today making it very clear that we are opposed to these changes.

We have heard from the government today that this bill and the immigration changes will allow more people to come to Canada and it will be a responsive bill, as I think this is what the parliamentary secretary said. We are also told that somehow these changes will deal with the backlog of 900,000 people who are waiting to come to Canada.

However, the fact is the changes that are before us will only affect applications that are submitted after February 27, 2008. Therefore, in actual fact they will have no impact whatsoever on the backlog that the government claims it is trying to deal with.

We agree that the backlog is there and certainly the lack of support and resources for our immigration system and processing in the previous government created that backlog. That is not an issue. What is at issue is that these proposed changes will not deal with that backlog and will give enormous discretion to the minister which we think is patently undemocratic and unfair.

That is why we are supporting these motions today to delete these clauses in the bill. We will have other deletions as well later on today. We hope that the bill will be defeated. I would implore Liberal members across the way to rethink their position. They cannot go out and tell people they are opposed to these changes, they are opposed to the budget, and then come back to the House and vote for it, and give the Conservative government a majority in that regard. This is something that is quite unconscionable, so perhaps they need to rethink their position.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member as she spoke about what she claimed was propaganda. I have not heard as much propaganda in as short an amount of time as I have heard from her.

Let me tell members about propaganda. She says the government, by stealth, is bringing in Bill C-50. But just before that she said that we were advertising in newspapers some of the changes we want to bring in. How could we be acting by stealth and advertising in newspapers? I guess that is NDP propaganda.

Also, this member and her party voted against every single budget this government has brought in: budgets that have helped seniors; budgets that have helped homeless people; and budgets that are helping veterans today. She and her party voted against low income Canadians. More than 600,000 low income Canadians have been taken off the federal government tax rolls. Yet, she and her party claim to be for the working class.

Yesterday, we were discussing her leader's bill. I believe it is Bill C-377. People working in the auto industry and people trying to earn a livelihood who work in the auto parts industry in my riding, including the CAW, are fearful of that bill.

We heard from witnesses from that industry at the environment committee who said that bill that her leader is trying to bring in is going to kill their industry, an industry that is already in trouble in our province. It is one of the hugest income generators in our province.

How can she say some of the things she is saying when in some parts of her statements she is arguing against herself? There are words for that, but they are unparliamentary. I would like her to respond.

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would be delighted to respond.

Let us just look at what happened. The fact is that this government brought in a budget bill and tried to sneak through significant immigration changes in that bill. For decades, immigration changes would have taken place through an immigration bill.

So, the Conservatives tried to get it through the back door. When the word got out there, people were outraged about what was taking place. If the member has not read the press releases, the letters, the emails and heard the phone calls that have come in, then I would ask him to do a bit of a reality check.

When the information came back in and people understood what was going on, the government then had to react and began its own propaganda advertising campaign. That is the sequence of events that took place. So, my comments are not contradictory at all.

What is contradictory is the fact that this government is trying to make significant changes to our immigration system in a budget bill. That is fundamentally wrong and that should not be allowed.

I would ask the member, why is he supporting such a measure and not allowing a proper examination of changes to our immigration system which should go to the immigration committee?

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier, I asked my hon. Liberal colleague if his party was going to follow the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and vote against part 6 of this bill. I know the NDP has already said it will be voting against it.

Does she know how the Liberals intend to vote? What would she recommend to them?

Motions in Amendment
Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, far be it for me to try to advise these guys how they should be getting themselves in line. They have been, now, contradicting themselves so many times by standing and saying that they oppose the budget, opposing the immigration changes, not coming into the House to vote, and not voting in committee. I think they have to get their own act in order and reconcile with the community where it is that they really stand.

We know where we stand on this bill. We know why this bill should be defeated. I think my colleague in the Bloc knows too and his members will vote that way as well.

However, as far as the Liberals, they are just lining up with the Conservative members and allowing this bill to go through, and that is going to be bad for the people of Canada.

Partnership Group for Science and Engineering
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have long been a regular at the Bacon & Eggheads Breakfast sponsored by the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering, PAGSE for short. I have found these breakfasts to be very educational and inspiring. It is a real pleasure to hear from the brightest and most articulate researchers in our country.

PAGSE is a cooperative association of more than 25 national organizations in science and engineering, representing approximately 50,000 individual members from industry, academia and government. It was formed in 1995 at the invitation of the Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada.

Here are just a few of the topics that have been covered in the past: understanding the brain; bionic limbs; preparing for the next pandemic; nanotechnology; fighting cancer with food; building the car of the future, idea by idea; wind power; fuel cell technology; and the list goes on.

I invite members to visit pagse.org for more information. Also, I invite--

Partnership Group for Science and Engineering
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso.

Arts and Culture
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, last weekend the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay played host to one of this country's musical treasures. The Amadeus Choir of Toronto, under the direction of Glace Bay's own Dr. Lydia Adams, treated concert goers to an incredible evening of music and entertainment.

There was one tune, however, that struck a sour chord with all in attendance. That was the concern people expressed for the cultural institutions of this country. The cutbacks to CBC Radio 2 and the elimination of the CBC Radio Orchestra are further proof that the Conservative government holds in contempt both the national broadcaster and the Broadcast Act.

Programs like young performers and young composers competitions, which have proven to be crucial to venues for the upcoming artists and composers, have also been cut.

Canadians expect much from their national broadcaster and they want a radio which engages their minds and inspires them to greater thought and creative expression.

It is clear that the government is intent on stifling higher thought and argument in this country and has the CBC clearly in its sights.

Rest assured that the Liberal Party will stand up for this country's institutions and diverse needs of Canadians.

Twenty-four Hour Bike Ride for Leucan
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to commend the efforts of Drummondville's TrioMax club, which, in partnership with other clubs such as Cycliste Drummond, Cyclophiles and VéloCité, has organized a 24-hour bike ride to be held May 31 and June 1, with all proceeds going to Leucan.

The public is invited to sponsor the kilometres that will be covered by any one of the 200 expected participants. In addition, three members of the TrioMax club, Suzanne and Jacinthe Lavallée and Alain Croteau, became the honorary champions of this year's shaved head challenge.

I would also like to say hello to young Annabelle Lizotte-Gauthier from Kingsey Falls, who, at only 12 years old, has agreed to be Leucan's spokesperson for the region of Centre-du-Québec. Annabelle suffered a brain tumour at age three and became very familiar with hospitals very early in life. She is an inspiring young girl who knows the importance of chasing your dreams, despite illness.

The Arctic
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, as an observer to the recent international conference on the Arctic Ocean held in Greenland, I was pleased to hear that other Arctic nations have the same view that the NDP has on how to protect the Arctic.

The nations at the conference agreed that the best way to deal with the question of Arctic sovereignty is through cooperation, diplomacy and the international legal system and not through military muscle. This is the same position the NDP has long taken on this issue.

It is unfortunate the Conservatives have chosen the route of military force to deal with Arctic sovereignty. The Conservatives plan to build more military bases and buy a fleet of ineffective slush breakers. Just like their position on climate change, the Conservatives' policy on the Arctic is out of step with the rest of the world.

We in the NDP, and now our Arctic neighbours, believe that the best way to protect the Arctic is through support for civilian enforcement of our laws, diplomacy and improving the lives of northern Canadians.

There is a role for the military in Canada's north through activities like the Canadian Rangers and search and rescue, a need that the Conservatives--

The Arctic
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Fundy Royal.

Luc Bourdon
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to offer my sincerest condolences to the family of Luc Bourdon, who died suddenly yesterday.

Luc was a rising star in the NHL who was well respected by his coaches and teammates on the Vancouver Canucks.

Luc also played for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2006 and 2007, helping Canada win back to back gold medals. At the 2007 tournament in Sweden, Luc scored the third period goal that forced overtime against the U.S. in the semi-final game.

He also played for the Moncton Wildcats. In 2006 the Wildcats won the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship and advanced all the way to the Memorial Cup final.

Luc's hometown of Shippagan, New Brunswick is in a state of mourning today.

On behalf of all parliamentarians, I would like to express our deepest and sincerest sympathy to the town of Shippagan, and to the family, friends, coaches and teammates of Luc Bourdon.

24 Sussex Drive
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier this month the Auditor General of Canada reported on the state of our official residences, including 24 Sussex Drive. The National Capital Commission estimates that rehabilitating that property would cost about $10 million and would require full access to the residence for up to 15 months. In 50 years there have been no renovations of significance at 24 Sussex, except for some roofing work a few years ago.

As the MP for the riding in which four of our official residences are located, I feel that it is my duty to urge the Prime Minister and his family to consider the NCC recommendations because 24 Sussex Drive belongs to all Canadians.

Now that the Auditor General has made her recommendations, I invite members from all parties to respect and support the Prime Minister and his family should they decide to allow the NCC to carry out the required work. It is not only a question of the proper management of our heritage but also of our national pride.

Shawinigan's Economic Development
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was very pleased to read this morning that things are looking up for Shawinigan, a community that was hard hit by the recent closing of the Belgo mill and the loss of 500 jobs.

With the $1 million recently allocated by Economic Development Canada to diversify the local economy, a veritable entrepreneurial culture is emerging with an unprecedented number of applications to establish or expand companies. To date these projects have generated investments of $18 million and led to the creation or reinforcement of more than 1,000 jobs, twice the number recently lost.

Shawinigan is moving away from the ill-advised and restrictive policies put in place by Jean Chrétien in his own riding. The Liberals should be ashamed of having turned communities such as Shawinigan and many others into one-company towns.

The Bloc is no better. While Shawinigan's economy was faltering, what was the Bloc member for the riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain doing? Nothing, because his party was, is and will always remain powerless.

Meanwhile, the Conservative government is truly supporting entrepreneurs by recognizing their efforts and helping them with programs that meet local needs and priorities .

Johanne Daly
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, when tragedy struck Johanne Daly in 2001, no one would have guessed that this garage owner from Varennes would find a new passion as strong as her passion for auto mechanics.

But that is precisely what happened. Through adapted sports, she is living her dream and surprising many experts. She excels at every new sport she tries, as was the case with adapted skiing, in which she won gold at the 2006 and 2007 Canadian championships. The same goes for adapted sailing, where she is picking up wins as quickly as she can compete.

But these days, Johanne Daly has much more to be happy about. This dynamic and determined fighter was chosen to carry the Olympic torch on her wheelchair through the Chinese city of Shanghai on May 23, a choice that was applauded by all those who have been following her progress.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party is willing to resort to old political games and has announced it will attempt to stonewall Bill C-50 in an effort to prevent it from passing before the summer recess in June.

In doing so, the NDP is knowingly putting $1.5 billion in important federal funding at risk, including $500 million to help improve public transit, $400 million to help recruit new front line police officers, nearly $250 million for carbon capture and storage, $110 million for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and much more.

These tactics by the NDP could even delay the implementation of the highly touted tax-free savings account that would allow Canadians to save up to $5,000 every year tax free for life.

These cheap political games prove that the NDP's priorities are different from those of most Canadians, again demonstrating why an overwhelming majority of Canadians will never ever take the NDP seriously.

It is time for the NDP to stop its political posturing, start listening to Canadians and help pass Bill C-50 before the summer recess.

Canadian Forces
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Sunday, Canadians from coast to coast will be celebrating Canadian Forces Day, an occasion that allows all of us to pay tribute to the bravery and courage of the men and women serving in the Canadian Forces.

From Haiti to the Sudan, from the Congo to the Golan Heights, and of course, in Afghanistan, our soldiers continue to provide peace and security in some of the most troubled regions of the world.

The importance of these celebrations can never be overstated as we hold close in our thoughts and prayers those who wear our uniform: our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our friends, who fight for the freedom of the Afghan people and who stand on guard for the security of our own proud nation.

I ask all members of the House to join with me today in celebrating Canadian Forces Day this Sunday, and to thank those who have worn and continue to wear the uniform of the Canadian army, air force and navy. Their sacrifices for our freedoms are their enduring legacy.

Carbon Tax Proposal
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, many of my constituents are concerned about the national carbon tax being proposed by the Liberal leader. They are worried about how this new tax would affect their ability to afford gas, to heat their homes and to keep food on the table.

It is not just my constituents who are worried. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty rejects the federal Liberal contention that a national carbon tax is a good idea. Both the premiers of Saskatchewan and Alberta are concerned that a national consumer based carbon tax would reduce Canada's competitiveness and would kneecap our economy. Even the Liberal finance critic once publicly disagreed with the carbon tax because he felt that it would likely harm the living standards of Canadians.

The Liberal plan would severely impact all Canadians, but especially middle and low income earners. Canadians can rest assured that this government rejects the socially regressive and economically damaging Liberal carbon tax.

Corporate Taxes and Subsidies
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, we know the gap between the rich elites and the rest of us is growing. Recent census figures prove it.

While corporate profits soar, middle class families in B.C. are struggling to get by. Big business makes money hand over fist because of the misguided tax breaks and subsidies they receive from the Conservative government.

Middle class families are bearing the burden of these subsidies. When I meet with folks in my community, they tell me they are working harder and harder for less reward. They are struggling to make ends meet, and once all the bills have been paid, it is a wonder there is any money left at the end of the month.

It is time to join those who are saying this just is not fair. It is not fair for our kids, it is not fair for families and it is not fair for seniors. We are being squeezed because big corporations are getting the breaks.

It is time for the Conservative government to stop doing favours for its friends and insiders. Working families deserve better. They deserve a fair deal. They have earned it.

Human Rights
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hype surrounding the Olympic Games is building. Unfortunately, the situation for the people in Tibet is garnering less attention than it merits and the Conservative government has not advocated forcefully enough for the people of Tibet.

Many of my constituents, including John Kittridge, are justifiably calling on Canada's government to keep this issue on the front burner, as the brutal mistreatment of monks and nuns and the use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

Similarly, my constituents want Canada's government to intensify its efforts to protect Mr. Celil and to have him safely released from a Chinese prison.

Human rights everywhere must be protected.

As the great American, Thomas Paine, said, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good”. A message to the government: do some good for the people of Tibet and Mr. Celil.

Mining Ombudsman
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, representatives from Development and Peace recently came to Ottawa to deliver a petition to the Prime Minister's Office. This petition, with 190,000 signatures, is calling for the appointment of an independent ombudsman to look into human rights violations and damage to the environment by Canadian mining companies abroad.

The Conservative government still refuses to proceed, even though this recommendation already appeared in a March 2007 report. The Conservatives remain silent in the face of the report's recommendations, which the people who signed this petition find disappointing because the industry and non-governmental organizations agree on the idea of an ombudsman.

The Bloc Québécois is asking this uncaring Conservative government to act in the name of human rights and the environment by immediately appointing a mining ombudsman.

Luc Bourdon
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, we were very saddened to learn of the passing of Luc Bourdon, a young defenceman, only 21 years old, from Shippagan. Luc was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2005. He was one of the organization's great treasures. On the international stage, he won the gold medal twice at the world junior hockey championships, in 2006 and 2007.

Luc was a very talented player. He had a remarkable career ahead of him. He showed tremendous passion for the game and had become an important member of the Vancouver Canucks team. He was also a role model for the youth of his community, who followed his career with great admiration. His untimely passing has shaken us all. Luc Bourdon will remain an inspiration for all hockey players from Acadia, an example of leadership for his fans and a hero for his family.

On behalf of the Liberal caucus and all members of Parliament, I would like to extend my most sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Leadership Campaign Financing
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, next week Canadians will be watching to see if Elections Canada will give special treatment to the Liberal leader and other Liberal leadership candidates by extending their loan repayment deadline. The Liberals vying for the party's top job took in millions of dollars in loans from wealthy individuals to finance their campaigns during the latest Liberal leadership race.

Candidates may receive loans during a leadership race. However, the Canada Elections Act states that candidates must pay back the loan within 18 months. The loan becomes an illegal donation if it is not paid back by the deadline. The 18 month deadline is now only four days away. That gives the former Liberal leadership candidates, including the current leader, four days to pay back all their loans.

Will the Liberal leader and other leadership contestants break the law by ignoring the deadline? Will Elections Canada give special treatment to the Liberal Party?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are now over 2,500 international stories about the missing documents, from every continent except for Antarctica. We are now still waiting for the penguins.

We used to be respected as a country. Now we are simply notorious. Given these facts, I wonder, how can the government justify its refusal to call an independent inquiry when we still have absolutely no explanation--no satisfactory explanation--for the seven week gap in reporting missing classified documents?

Foreign Affairs
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, the hon. member has heard me refer several times to the fact that there is a review of the matter taking place. It is being conducted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to determine if there are any concerns that remain with regard to the documents that were left in an unsecured location.

Those documents were of course returned to the government and it was recognized that they were the property of the government.

In conducting its review, the Department of Foreign Affairs can of course draw on the other resources of government that it needs, from whatever agencies necessary, to assist it.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister who just answered well knows, and every Canadian well knows, that it is a basic principle of natural law that no one should be a judge in one's own case.

With respect to the Department of Foreign Affairs, we do not know whether officials were involved in not reporting classified documents that were missing. We do not know whether there were officials in the minister's office who were involved in not reporting classified documents.

Surely the minister understands a very simple distinction between an administrative review carried out by officials who may in fact be implicated in some of these questions and an independent inquiry, which in fact has--

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The hon. government House leader.

Foreign Affairs
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, the error in this case is quite clear. It is the error of leaving documents in an unsecured location. In this case, actually, the individual was his own judge of his own conduct. and that is why the member for Beauce, when he was minister, submitted his resignation, passing judgment himself as judge. It was the correct judgment and that is why the Prime Minister accepted that resignation, so judgment was rendered.

The outstanding issue is the one of security concerns and is one that is legitimately the issue of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is the department's job to assess those facts. It is not the department's job to pass that on to someone else.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government continues to refuse to answer a simple question. For several weeks, we have asked a simple question that the government has continually refused to answer. The question is very simple.

Why not conduct an independent inquiry that would have the authority to speak to witnesses, to speak to everyone and to return a completely independent report so that all Canadians would be satisfied with the results. We do not understand why the government—

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has the floor.

Foreign Affairs
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, the questions for several weeks have been about a personal relationship. We do not intend to have a public inquiry into a personal relationship.

The question of the documents that were left in an unsecured place only arose this week, on Monday. Those members have only asked questions about that since Monday, so certainly they have not been asking questions about that for a long time. With regard to those, we are conducting a review through the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is the appropriate way that this should be handled.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, in his statement on Wednesday, the former foreign affairs minister stated that he informed the Prime Minister as soon as he was aware of the security breach, on Sunday. However, in his letter of resignation, he wrote that he informed the Prime Minister on Monday, in the late afternoon, at least 24 hours after the fact. These are the only statements made by the former minister since resigning and both cannot be true.

Which one is false?

Foreign Affairs
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 have stated quite clearly what the truth is. The Prime Minister became aware on Monday afternoon of the fact that documents had been left in an unsecured place and the breach had occurred. At that time, the minister of foreign affairs tendered his resignation, and that resignation was accepted.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the government fails to get its facts straight, Canadians start to believe they are being sold a bill of goods, so let us try it again. Will the government finally admit that the Prime Minister was well aware of the security breach on Sunday, 24 hours before he alleges?

Will the government also admit that it is not credible that NATO documents were missing for seven weeks without the Privy Council Office even noticing? Or is the government going to persist in spinning false versions of events to cover up the Prime Minister's lack of judgment?

Foreign Affairs
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, I will not tell the House that the Prime Minister was aware of this on Sunday because that would be lying to the House. The truth is that the Prime Minister became aware of the problem with the documents on Monday afternoon of this week. That is when action was taken immediately.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, whether Julie Couillard was issued a red diplomatic passport or a green special passport when she travelled with the the former minister of foreign affairs is a matter of public interest. Why? Because if she had such a passport, that means that an investigation was carried out and that, contrary to what the Prime Minister has said, he knew about Ms. Couillard's shady past.

Will the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons give us a straight answer: did Julie Couillard, as the spouse of the former minister of foreign affairs, have a red or green passport? Yes or no?

Foreign Affairs
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, Passport Canada rules are clear. To obtain a diplomatic passport, one has to be legally married or in a legally recognized common law spousal relationship.

On an entirely unrelated matter, I do notice that the opposition is very interested in the personal life of the former minister of foreign affairs. I am loath to go there, but I will observe that the former minister of foreign affairs was not in a legally married or legally recognized common law spousal relationship when he was minister.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a public security issue, not a privacy issue. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons did not give us a straight answer.

Did Julie Couillard, as the spouse of the former minister of foreign affairs, have a diplomatic passport or a special passport? Yes or no?

I am not asking him to tell us the rules, but to simply answer the question.

Foreign Affairs
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, I am sorry he did not follow the line of what I said, but the policy is clear. To obtain a diplomatic passport, one has to be legally married or in a legally recognized common law spousal relationship.

I am not going to comment on whether any individual had a passport, but I will comment to this limited extent on the minister's private life. The minister was not in a legally married or legally recognized common law spousal relationship when he was minister. I am sure the member can follow that logic.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, the evasive responses from the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons lead us to believe that the former girlfriend of the hon. member for Beauce did indeed have a diplomatic or special passport. An investigation is required to obtain this type of passport and the government is the guarantor for the passport holder.

Since there was necessarily an investigation, will the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons admit that the government has been hiding the truth by saying that it did not know about Julie Couillard's shady past and that it is still trying to fool everyone?

Foreign Affairs
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 will say it again. To obtain a diplomatic passport, one has to be legally married or in a legally recognized common law spousal relationship.

In an unrelated matter, the previous minister of foreign affairs, the member for Beauce, was not at any time when he was minister of foreign affairs in a legally married or legally recognized common law spousal relationship with anybody.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, we know she had a spouse's pin.

We now know that the documents Julie Couillard had in her possession for several weeks contained notes on foreign NATO diplomats. These documents that were deemed classified and very important by the Prime Minister himself were left in the hands of a woman with a shady past.

Now that the news is in the headlines around the world, how are they going to explain that Julie Couillard had access to highly sensitive information on foreign diplomats? How are they going to explain that—

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Foreign Affairs
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, it was improper to violate the rules and leave documents in an unsecured place. That was contrary to the rules for handling classified documents. That is why the minister tendered his resignation. That is why the resignation was accepted.

Health
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, stopping Insite will drive the most vulnerable and often homeless drug users in Vancouver's downtown east side back to sharing dirty needles, risking HIV infection in alleyways, and with filthy conditions and no medical assistance if they overdose. Dead people do not go into treatment.

Does the minister realize the safe injection site is the first point of contact for many users looking for help? In fact, has the minister ever met a person who shoots up? Has he ever taken the time to talk to homeless drug users and ask them what they need to get off drugs?

Health
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, the interest of this government is ensuring that people can get off drugs. The view of the government and the view of the Minister of Health is that supervising injection and supporting injection is not a way to get somebody off drugs.

Injection not only causes physical harm, but it also deepens and prolongs an addiction. We believe that programs to help people get off their addictions should be supported. We believe that to spend money on supporting injection is actually to take money that could otherwise be used to help people get off their addictions and assist them in that kind of program.

That is what this government is interested in doing. That is why the Minister of Health is asking for an appeal.

Health
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what Insite is doing. It is helping people get off drugs.

I am so disgusted by that reply. I have spent decades working in my community to make it safer. We have some minister with a chip on his shoulder who comes along and decides that drug users in my neighbourhood do not deserve to live. Why? Because he claims that the science is mixed.

The science is solid and it says that Insite saves lives. It is an outright lie to say that the science is mixed. It is an outright lie to say that only one life has been saved. I ask again: will he immediately reverse his decision or is he content to see drug users die?

Health
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, the view of this government is that drug addiction, heroin addiction, is very harmful to people's lives, and the way we help people with those kinds of addictions is by helping them to get off those addictions.

The most important harm reduction measure is to get people off drugs. That is why we have incorporated harm reduction into our new anti-drug strategy. It is two-thirds prevention and treatment and one-third enforcement. That is the way we think we can help people.

It does not help to send mixed messages to young Canadians that drug use is proper. It is wrong. We want them not using drugs.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons was trying to compete with the 7 jours tabloid in trying to define the former minister of foreign affairs' marital status. As I understand it, she was known as his spouse and official companion. He did not say whether she received a diplomatic passport or a special passport.

Did she receive a special passport, yes or no? Has it been recovered? Has the government taken care of this? Does she or does she not have a passport?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 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, as I indicated, I am not going to comment on whether any individual had or did not have a passport.

I will observe, though, the following: to obtain a diplomatic passport, one has to be legally married or in a legally recognized common law relationship. That is a legal status. In the case of the former minister of foreign affairs, at no time when he was minister of foreign affairs was he legally married or in a legally recognized common law spousal relationship.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, maybe we have an answer on the red, but we do not have an answer on the green, that is for sure. That is the issue. If she passes as the official spouse and she is going all over the world with the former minister of foreign affairs, it means that she might detain that passport.

The question is simple. Because it has an impact on diplomatic ventures, we want to know if, yes or no, she was detaining a green passport. It is as simple as that. She was supposed to be there officially for the past year. We want an answer and we want it now.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 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 may be some confusion here with regard to the hon. member between the question of a designated traveller, as is determined by the Board of Internal Economy, and I know there has been some public reporting on that, and the question of a spouse as is understood legally.

As I have made clear repeatedly, during the time the member for Beauce was minister of foreign affairs, he was not legally married or in a legally recognized common law spousal relationship.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the last known whereabouts of the ex-foreign minister's secret documents was at the NATO summit in Bucharest on April 3. The missing papers then turned up in a Montreal television studio last Sunday, May 25.

April 3 to May 25: that is more than seven weeks. But the Prime Minister says “don't worry, be happy”, nothing happened in the meantime. In the absence of any comprehensive, independent investigation, how would he know what happened to those documents for seven weeks?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 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 why the Department of Foreign Affairs is going to conduct a review.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, secret documents went missing for more than seven weeks. They were finally repossessed by the Government of Canada last Sunday afternoon. The deputy minister at foreign affairs, the government's security services, the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister's Office all would be alerted immediately, but the Prime Minister said no one told him until 24 hours later, at 5 p.m. on the Monday.

Was all of this a calamitous failure on the part of the PMO and literally all of Canada's senior public servants or are they being forced to hide the truth?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:30 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 hear so many versions of what happened from over there. No wonder some people get confused.

The fact is we presented quite clearly what took place. On Monday afternoon of this week, the Prime Minister was informed of the fact that documents were left in an unsecured place by the member for Beauce. At that time his resignation was tendered and the resignation was accepted.

Official Languages
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, in his report on official languages, Graham Fraser put it clearly: the Conservative government has shown a lack of vision, coherence and, above all, leadership. The federal website for Status of Persons with Disabilities, which is riddled with errors, is glaring proof of that. We have been waiting for an action plan for months now, and the government is delaying for purely partisan reasons. The government could not care less about francophone communities.

Will the Minister of Official Languages give us a plan now rather than waiting and making a splashy announcement in Quebec City in order to look good and hide her incompetence?

Official Languages
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, our government eagerly welcomed the Commissioner of Official Languages' annual report and will study it thoroughly. We have already said that we plan to launch the next phase of the action plan by the end of spring. It will happen. We will be releasing it soon.

Status of Women
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Commissioner of Official Languages said in his report that the cuts to Status of Women Canada have affected the funding of francophone women's groups that bear the responsibility for the transmission of language and culture and that provide French-language social services to francophone minorities.

Could the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages tell us whether she will take the commissioner's comments into consideration, and restore the original criteria of the women's program?

Status of Women
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, our government is working hard for the men and women in our official language communities across Canada. For example, we have allocated $30 million for assistance to official language communities here in Canada.

Securities
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, in response to the Conservatives' plan to infringe upon Quebec's jurisdiction by creating a single securities commission, Quebec finance minister, Monique Jérôme-Forget, vowed to confront all Conservative members who run in the next election campaign.

Will the Conservatives heed the unanimous motion of the National Assembly, which opposes the creation of a single securities commission?

Securities
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, this government will always recognize constitutional jurisdiction when it comes to financial matters in our country.

The finance minister has been very clear. We are seeing some troubling things coming out of 13 separate regulators across the country. We heard many presentations at committee about the asset-backed commercial paper issue.

Perhaps we would not be facing these issues if we had a common securities regulator. We encourage the provinces to take a serious look at this. It is important to our Canadian investors.

Securities
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, instead of implementing a centralized solution that benefits only Ontario, it should allow Quebec and the provinces to harmonize those of their practices that have already proven successful.

Why does the Canadian Minister of Finance refuse to abandon his plan, which has been denounced by Quebec and all the provinces, except Ontario? Does he already think of himself as premier of that province?

Securities
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, let us be factual. There are provinces that recognize the benefits. We encourage those other ones that actually recognize it today that there are weaknesses in the fact that we have 13 separate regulators.

The fact that we were not recognized by the SEC in the United States and Australia was should prove that we need to improve our system to make it safe for investors in our country.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the military commission, pressing charges against Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay, fired the judge overseeing the trial. That is unbelievable. This follows a threat by the judge to suspend proceedings in the case if the prosecutors continue to withhold key evidence from Mr. Khadr's lawyers.

How can the government continue to show confidence in this process when the deck is so clearly stacked against Mr. Khadr ever receiving a fair trial?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Khadr faces some very serious charges in relation to his being captured in Afghanistan, such as murder and violation of the laws of war, attempted murder and violations of the laws of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism and spying.

The Government of Canada has sought and will continue to receive assurances that Mr. Khadr is being treated humanely.

Any questions regarding whether Canada plans to ask for the release Omar Khadr are premature and speculative as the legal process and appeals are still going on.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to read from a sheet that was prepared before the new information came out.

The facts are clear. First, the judge did not have the jurisdiction. He tried Mr. Khadr. Then he was overruled. Now he has been removed altogether for having ruled that the prosecution was withholding key evidence from Mr. Khadr's defence team.

Mr. Khadr is the only citizen of a western democracy still being tried at Guantanamo Bay. Every other country, except Canada, has repatriated its citizens.

When will the government stop ignoring what is happening? When will it bring Mr. Khadr back to Canada to face justice here?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I was clear in my answer. Mr. Khadr faces very serious charges in relation to his being captured in Afghanistan. However, the Government of Canada has sought and received assurances that Mr. Khadr is being treated humanely. Department officials have carried out several welfare visits to Mr. Khadr, and will continue to do so.

However, any questions regarding whether Canada plans to ask for the release of Mr. Khadr are premature and speculative as the legal process and the appeals are still going on.

Official Languages
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, while the minister and the government keep referring to last year's throne speech, nothing concrete is being done about official languages.

Could it be that the minister is too busy with other things? Could she get her priorities straight and immediately announce the renewal of the action plan? Or is she ashamed of her plan and waiting for the House to adjourn? When will the minister stop giving any old answer and finally explain that her government does not want to do anything for language communities?

Official Languages
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, our commitment is clear. It is true that, in the last throne speech, we said that we would support the second phase of the action plan for official languages. The Liberals voted against that measure.

We also said in our budget that we would fund the next phase of the plan, but the Liberals voted against the budget.

We said that we would table our second phase of the plan before the end of the spring, and that is what we will do.

Official Languages
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, we cannot vote against something that was not even in the budget. The budget did not contain any money for official languages. That is not true.

It has now been two months since Canada's action plan on official languages expired. While the government delays, the anglophone community in Quebec has to put projects on ice or cancel them altogether.

Why will the government not stand up for Quebec anglophones?

Official Languages
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, as I just stated, we have demonstrated our engagement toward the official languages program and for the next phase of the action plan. In fact, we stated that we would announce it before the end of the spring, and we will announce it before the end of the spring.

In the meantime, we have ensured that all the current funding for official language communities across Canada will continue during this period.

Child Care
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, last night members of the House were supposed to debate the NDP child care bill, but for the seventh time NDP members have played procedural tricks to delay debating their own bill, a bill that would take away $2.4 billion a year in direct support to Canadian parents. It would also stop the provinces from creating the types of child care spaces that worked best for them, more than 60,000 of which have been announced so far.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development tell the House what effects the NDP bill would have on the progress that our government has made so far on child care?

Child Care
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, for the seventh time now, the NDP has run away from this disastrous child care bill, a bill that it called its number one priority. However, this is no surprise because the bill would hurt every investment in child care implemented by this government. It would take choice in child care away from parents and from provinces. It would scrap the $2.4 billion universal child care benefit that arrives every year for two million children. It would put an end to the creation of more than 60,000 new child care spaces announced by the provinces.

I would run away from—

Child Care
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, reports today suggest that many of our soldiers in Afghanistan are prescribed anti-depressant or sleeping drugs while they are deployed.

This raises very grave concerns about the psychological trauma our troops suffer. We know this war has placed an enormous strain on the Canadian Forces. There are too many rotations too close together.

Is the government so intent on continuing this misguided war in Afghanistan that it condones soldiers fighting, even while suffering post traumatic stress disorder?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, we just spent a few days over there. We talked to a lot of soldiers. We talked to Lieutenant-Colonel Girvin, who is responsible for monitoring the mental health of soldiers in theatre. They do an exceptional job of that.

Every soldier is dealt with on a case by case basis. No soldiers go into combat or into operations when they are not fit to do so. They are monitored carefully. It is all done under the care of physicians and psychiatrists.

We take the care and well-being of our soldiers extremely seriously because they are doing a great job for us and the Afghan people.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have serious concerns about what treatment, if any, will be available when these soldiers return home.

The defence committee, on which the parliamentary secretary sits, has heard heartbreaking stories from soldiers and their families about struggles to get diagnosis and then to get treatment. Defence cannot cope now with the number of soldiers returning from war with psychological injuries.

Has the minister given any thought to what will happen to these soldiers when they come home, or is he simply focused on continuing the combat mission at any cost to our soldiers?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, what we are focused on is rebuilding the country of Afghanistan. We are focused on doing that with the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces, who are doing an exceptional job. When they run into difficulties, whether it is mental or physical, we look after them.

We have made tremendous strides in the last number of years in that area. We have opened new operational stress injury clinics. We have started a new study with Veteran's Affairs to ensure we are treating soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen appropriately when they come home.

We are sparing no expense and no effort to do that. It is a difficult task. We ask them to do a difficult job, and we stand behind them all the way.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, we know the Conservative government's scandal management squad has its hands full these days, but the Prime Minister has now had a full seven months to set up his promised public inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber scandal.

Somebody less trusting than myself might think the Conservatives do not really want a public inquiry into the Mulroney affair. Justice John Gomery says that this is not a priority for the Prime Minister.

When will the government make this a priority and name somebody to head this inquiry?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:45 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, as everyone in the House knows, some time ago the Prime Minister named Professor David Johnston to examine the issue and the terms of reference that needed to be produced for such a public inquiry and to provide those.

Some time was taken up when the parliamentary committee decided to have some hearings on this. Professor Johnston chose to avail himself of whatever information was provided by that, which was very helpful in narrowing the terms of reference that he provided. He has identified the discrete issues that will be examined by such a public inquiry, which will be established soon.

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, we are told the government has a short list for this assignment. I believe all its lists are short in some way, but the government claims that it is having difficulty staffing the job.

Is it not true that the government is really having trouble finding somebody who will abide by its constricting terms of reference, to give it exactly the result it wants?

Airbus
Oral Questions

11:45 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 not going to pass any judgment on the conduct of the ethics committee and whether it might have affected the willingness of people to take on this job. However, I can tell members that the government is actively in the process of putting in place a public inquiry commissioner.

The terms of reference are available now, and we look forward to that taking place soon.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, we now know that a republican operative, Frank Sensenbrenner was employed at the Canadian embassy in Washington. Our ambassador and diplomats did not want him there, but the Prime Minister's Office insisted he be hired.

Was this republican mole on the distribution list for the February 13 diplomatic report about the Chicago meeting with Senator Obama's adviser, yes or no?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:45 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, an extensive inquiry was done by Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council, into the question of the leak, to which the member is referring, of unauthorized, sensitive, diplomatic information. His very clear finding was that the distribution list used by Foreign Affairs in this case was too broad and that the classification of the document was inappropriate.

The one thing we do know for sure is that he did indicate that there was no evidence that Mr. Brodie, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, disclosed any classified information.

We know at least one person was cleared, the person the people opposite said was at fault.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives' refusal to answer shows their contempt for Canadians and for the House.

I will take that evasive answer as a “yes”.

In light of Mr. Sensenbrenner's obvious political motives and given his Republican, Reform roots, was he questioned during the investigation into these leaks, yes or no?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:50 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 want to say a few words about contempt for Canadians because what we have seen from the Liberals in the House for several months on this issue was a jumping to conclusions as they do every time they have any scintilla of any accusation they can dream up.

They would have hanged the Prime Minister's chief of staff. They considered him guilty and were ready to send him to the gallows.

The facts show, instead, that he was not at fault and he has been cleared entirely of any wrongdoing.

However, notwithstanding weeks of raising false accusations, the Liberals do not have the grace and class to get up and apologize for having made those allegations in the past. Perhaps they could take the opportunity to do that and show a little less contempt for the House and for Canadians.

Library and Archives Canada
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on May 20, there was yet another leak in the Library and Archives Canada building on Wellington Street in Ottawa that put precious documents at risk. This incident is another reminder of the need to build phase II of the Gatineau Preservation Centre in order to properly protect all the archived documents. The blueprints for phase II have been available since 1997.

Will the Minister of Canadian Heritage finally show some leadership and authorize the construction of phase II in Gatineau?

Library and Archives Canada
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, indeed, the issue of Canadian archives is exceptionally important. I have no notice or knowledge of exactly where this is but, taking his question very seriously, I will respond to him and give him the information for which he is asking.

Francophone Education and Training Conference
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Comité syndical francophone de l'éducation et de la formation is organizing an international conference to be held in Quebec City in two weeks. These activities are part of the events leading up to the next Sommet de la Francophonie. Some of the invited guests have had their visa applications denied while others are still waiting for a response from the embassies. Only three delegates out of 32 have received their visas so far.

Does the minister realize that this situation is jeopardizing the event?

Francophone Education and Training Conference
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, of course we are aware of this situation. We want the conference to be a great success and we are taking measures to ensure that the delegates are allowed to enter Canada as soon as possible.

Economic Development
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, FedNor.

The record shows that I have been asking for a straight answer on FedNor from the government in numerous parliamentary debates and committee hearings.

The usual Conservative spin over substance has been the sad response. The government's own records show that the funding for FedNor was cut by $6.4 million in the 2006 budget but it continues to deny the facts.

Will the minister now commit to restore FedNor's funding to $51.9 million per year, no spin, yes or no?

Economic Development
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the government remains strongly committed to economic development, including through FedNor. The government has been funding FedNor very generously on an ongoing basis. I know the communities that receive those funds appreciate them.

However, those very same communities, many in northern Ontario, that face very high heating costs and transportation costs are fearing that they will need a lot more support and assistance if they are faced with a carbon tax from a Liberal Party. It would be especially punitive for those who have to travel great distances, as do those in northern Ontario, and those who have to heat their homes a great deal, as do those in northern Ontario.

That is why we are taking care to stand up for northern Ontario residents by opposing a carbon tax.

Health
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, under the former Liberal government, Canadians were sent mixed messages about drug use. While the Liberals sure talked a good game, they did little to nothing to help people get off drugs.

This week, the Minister of Health announced that the government would appeal the decision of the B.C. Supreme Court to allow Insite to continue operating. Reports are now surfacing that the same advocates for the Vancouver site are pushing for similar facilities in major cities like Toronto.

Could the parliamentary secretary please tell the House the government's position on Liberal and NDP initiatives to open drug injection sites all across the country?

Health
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary for Health

Mr. Speaker, as the minister said yesterday, the government will appeal the decision allowing Insite to continue operating.

With regard to Toronto, the Chief Medical Officer of Health has been very clear that a facility similar to Insite would be ineffective and that other proven strategies are working well to help Torontonians get off drugs.

It is absolutely shameful that the McGuinty Liberals are choosing their ideology over the facts by funding the development of Insite facilities in Toronto when its effectiveness is clearly questioned.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's most recent trip abroad puts former Prime Minister Joe Clark's lost luggage in perspective when we consider that, instead of building bridges overseas, the government is undermining our credibility on climate change and Afghanistan.

I would ask the Conservative government if it could confirm that the Prime Minister has landed, is back on Canadian soil and that the international embarrassment tour is finally over.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has returned from his trip and he returned to a country that is better respected on the world stage than it was previously.

For example, let us take the world anti-corruption index by Transparency International. In the 1990s, when there was a Conservative government, Canada was usually around fifth place on clean government. Under the Liberals, it fell to 14th place in 2005. However, our international reputation is rebounding. Since we have been elected we have gone from 14th to 9th place.

We are making Canada stand taller on the world stage and people around the world say that we have a cleaner and better country.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Prime Minister told a well-heeled audience in London, England that his government would fight climate change by an increased use of nuclear power. In his speech, the Prime Minister tried to claim that under his watch Canada would become a clean energy superpower.

Nuclear energy is not clean or green. Nuclear waste remains lethal for thousands of years and no solution has been found to safely deal with this waste. Without a safe solution for toxic waste, how can the Prime Minister call nuclear energy clean and green?

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:55 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, we certainly will not interfere with the provinces' decisions on their energy mix, but Canada is an emerging energy superpower and we are committed to ensuring it becomes a clean energy superpower.

In our government, we have focused on the priorities to really make a difference in these areas, including things like cleaning up conventional energy, adding clean renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency, and nuclear energy is certainly one of the options in that mix.

Health
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health is trying to play both sides of the Insite issue. Yesterday he claimed at committee that he supports needle exchanges and yet he refuses to secure Canada's safe injection site. The minister pretends to have no control over Insite's future as he fights tooth and nail to shut it down.

Why is he using taxpayer money for the court case against Insite's future when the science, the province, the city and the police all say that it works? Why does he insist on ideology over evidence?

Health
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary for Health

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the member has her facts incorrect. The fact is that the science is mixed. The fact is that the government is appealing the decision to allow illegal illicit drugs to be used. Other functions of Insite, like mental health issues, nursing care and a needle exchange, will be allowed to continue.

Our government is dealing with preventing illicit drug use, treating illicit drug addiction and combating illicit drug production and distribution. That is the right balance.

Fisheries and Oceans
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, monitoring, surveillance and enforcement are important elements of preserving our fisheries and oceans.

When our government came to power, we inherited a depleted force of fisheries officers who were stretched very thin in performing their duties. We took immediate action. We reversed the cuts made by the previous Liberal government and we have continued to invest assertively in this area.

Could the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans please update the House on any further investments that we are making in this area?

Fisheries and Oceans
Oral Questions

Noon

St. John's South—Mount Pearl
Newfoundland & Labrador

Conservative

Loyola Hearn Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to congratulate 30 new fisheries officers who recently graduated from the fishery officer training program. This brings to a total of 135 new officers since we came into power.

These young people will now be spread throughout the country to do what fisheries officers do, which is protect our fish and our fish habitat. The added bonus is that a number of them will be stationed in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mining
Oral Questions

Noon

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the people of northern Ontario have always lived with a boom-bust cycle of international mining but what we have learned is that our greatest strength is not the ore in the ground. It is the innovation that we are bringing toward new exploration and mining techniques.

In Kirkland Lake, we have MAJIC, which is the Materials Joining Innovation Centre. In Sudbury, we have the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation. However, we need the federal government at the table if we are truly going to become world class leaders.

I would like to ask the government what steps it will take to work with the city of Sudbury, to work with the Centre of Excellence in Mining to ensure that we take the expertise from northern Ontario and make us a truly world class leader in mining development.

Mining
Oral Questions

Noon

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would advise that FedNor has a limited funding base and it needs to take that into account when it makes decisions. In the case of the particular proposal for CEMI in Sudbury, that is one that would not maximize the leverage of the FedNor money as we would like to see it through northern Ontario.

That being said, I can let the House know that since January 2008 the Sudbury-Nickel Belt area has received $3.67 million in funding for economic development and, in 2007, Sudbury received more funding than any other region in northern Ontario, $5.3 million. That is almost $9 million in funding.

While that particular project might not be funded, I can say that overall that region has been taken care of by this government to ensure economic development opportunities are created, pursued and people there can be wealthier and live prosperous lives in a Canada where the economy is growing.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union respecting its participation at the parliamentary panel within the framework of the WTO Public Forum 2007 held in Geneva, Switzerland, October 4, 2007.

I also have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union concerning its participation at the 15th session of the steering committee of the Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organization held in Geneva, Switzerland, June 14 and 15, 2007.

Main Estimates, 2008-09—Agriculture and Agri-Food
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The following motion in the name of the hon. Leader of the Opposition is deemed adopted:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(b), consideration by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food of Votes 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 under AGRICULTURE AND AGRI-FOOD in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009, be extended beyond May 31, 2008.

(Motion agreed to)

Unborn Victims of Crime
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured again to have a large number of names on petitions, almost 2,000 today. These keep pouring in from right across the country. I am pleased to see this time a number from Sherwood Park, but also a large number of signatures from Abbotsford; Wetaskiwin; La Crete, which I do not know if members have even heard of; Laval; and Montreal.

It is a very great honour to represent Canadians from right across the country who recognize the difference between a woman who wishes not to have a pregnancy and one who wishes to have one, to complete it and to give birth, life, love and care to her child, and that that right ought not to be interfered with by any third party intruder, a violent offender, who would attack her.

Darfur
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from a number of people in Quebec who want to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur.

They note that since 2003, over 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million people displaced. Canada has a responsibility to engage the international community to end these atrocities, and these signatories want us to note that each signature represents 100 innocent citizens of Darfur who have been killed.

Unborn Victims of Crime
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have before me a petition that comes from Niagara and some of the surrounding areas of Vineland and St. Catharines. The petitioners state that when a pregnant woman is killed or assaulted, there is no legal protection for the unborn child, and they believe that this is wrong. This supports my colleague's private member's bill and I would like to present this petition today which has over 200 signatures.

Human Rights
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present two petitions from people in the Winnipeg region and Edmonton. They are calling on the government to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Property Crime
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a petition from my constituents in the beautiful community of Langley who are concerned about, and want Parliament to deal with, prolific property crime offenders.

Property crime is a serious offence which affects most people and often results in huge financial losses and significant emotional upset due to loss of security at home. A majority of property offences are committed by a minority of prolific offenders.

The petitioners point out that it appears that property offences are treated as insignificant and minor by enforcement agencies and the justice system. The fears and concerns of victims are often left unaddressed by enforcement agencies or the criminal justice system.

They also point out that repeated claims compromise the ability of homeowners to receive home insurance, and that the government has a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of its citizens.

The petitioners call upon the House of Commons to enact specific and precise legislation to deal appropriately with prolific property crime offenders.

Canada Post Corporation
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Cardigan, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition from residents of Cardigan in the province of Prince Edward Island.

The petitioners wish to indicate to the House of Commons that Canada Post is switching residents from door to door mail delivery to community mailbox delivery without properly assessing the safety of those community mailboxes to the residents. Many of the community mailboxes being established in the province of Prince Edward Island are no safer than regular mailboxes and have additional problems in terms of accessibility, litter, snow build-up, and the environment.

The petitioners request that Parliament ensure proper consultations with the affected customers and thorough assessment of the location of the community mailboxes before they are put in place.

Nahanni National Park
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present to the House today.

The first petition is from Canadians who appreciate the government's work at the Nahanni National Park Reserve recognizing that it is a UNESCO world heritage site. They continue to ask Parliament to look at expanding the Nahanni to make sure that all of that area and the wildlife in there, as well as the flora and fauna, are protected and that the South Nahanni watershed be expanded.

Sponsorship Program
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is from citizens in my riding.

The petitioners say that it is the duty of Parliament to be accountable and to protect the taxes collected from Canadian citizens. They request that Parliament continue to investigate the location and possible allocation of the $40 million of taxpayers' money which mysteriously vanished under the Liberal Party of Canada during the sponsorship scandal.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, if Questions No. 249 and No. 250 could be made orders for returns these returns would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Is it the pleasure of the House that Questions Nos. 249 and 250 be made orders for returns and that they be tabled immediately?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question no 249
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

With respect to Canada’s fiscal framework: (a) which sectors benefited the most from the tax cuts announced in The Budget Plan 2008; (b) when drafting The Budget Plan 2008, were investments on social or infrastructure projects considered but rejected in order to implement the tax cuts and, if so, which investments were rejected; (c) what is considered the largest source of tax “leakage” by the government on an annual basis for the last five years and (i) what are these losses worth on an annual basis, (ii) from which provinces are most of these losses incurred; (d) which countries, in terms of size of Canadian assets, are considered the largest foreign tax havens and what plans, if any, does the government have to tighten the restrictions on the use of such tax havens; (e) with respect to a comparison between a 0.5% cut to the lowest marginal tax rate and lowering the goods and services tax (GST) by 1%, which of these initiatives would benefit more Canadians, in dollars and people, according to income level; and (f) with respect to a comparison between a $ 500 increase in the basic personal exemption and lowering the GST by 1%, which of these initiatives would benefit more Canadians, in dollars and people, according to income level?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 250
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

With respect to newly implemented tax credits: (a) what was the anticipated cost of the public transit tax credit measure prior to its implementation and how many Canadian transit users, by urban centre, were expected to file for this credit; (b) since its inception, on an annual basis, what has been the cost of implementing the public transit tax credit and how many Canadian transit users, by urban centre, have filed for this credit; (c) what would be the costs of extending the public transit tax credit to users who pay for their transit on a basis other than with a monthly travel pass (i.e. on a daily or weekly basis, or by buying blocks of transit chits); (d) by what margin was transit ridership expected to increase with the implementation of this tax credit, by urban area and on an annual basis; (e) since the inception of this credit, how much has ridership increased or decreased, by urban area and on an annual basis; (f) what was the anticipated cost of the tax credit to promote physical fitness among children prior to its implementation; (g) how many Canadian families, by urban centre, were expected to file for this credit; (h) since its inception, on an annual basis, what has been the cost of implementing this tax credit; (i) how many Canadian families, by urban centre, have filed for this credit; (j) under existing regulations what length of time must a sports program be in operation for a family to be eligible for the tax credit; (k) what would be the costs of extending this credit to families who enroll children in sports programs whose duration is for two weeks or longer; and (l) since its implementation, what are the sports, by category that have most and least been utilized under this tax credit?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

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

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Galipeau) Royal Galipeau

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House proceeded to the consideration of 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, as reported without amendment from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The member for Laval, who has been so patient.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for that lovely compliment. It is rare to receive compliments in the House. I very humbly accept it.

It is my great pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-50, particularly part 6, which would introduce immigration measures that I find somewhat unusual because they would give significant additional powers to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

The government is trying to bring in these measures as part of a budget bill. If we agreed with the bill, we could let it go through, no problem. However, we do not agree with it, because it does not meet our fellow citizens' needs. As everyone knows, the people asked us to request a number of things for Quebec, and we submitted those requests.

What is even more unacceptable is that the government is trying to include these measures in bills that are not intended to change procedures within various departments. That is what part 6 of Bill C-50 attempts to do: change the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act significantly. This bill would give the minister the power to give some people priority over others. The minister would also have the power to refuse entry to some people without having to justify his or her decision.

This is troubling, particularly since we have a government that is known for breaking its promises to people. It broke its promise to women on equity and equality; it broke its promise to seniors on the guaranteed income supplement; and it broke its promise to veterans. Spouses and widows of veterans do not all have access to various programs offered by Veterans Affairs Canada to returning war veterans. All in all, this government was elected because of promises it made on major issues—promises that, for the most part, it has not kept.

We have to wonder what would happen if these measures in Bill C-50 were passed. Imagine for a moment that the ousted minister of foreign affairs became the minister of citizenship and immigration. Who would he give priority to? Who would he deny entry to? Many worries come to mind, even more so given that the minister would not have to answer any questions or provide any justification.

Conservative Party members have also made disconcerting statements about immigrants of certain ethnicities. What would happen if one of these members were appointed minister of citizenship and immigration? I would be worried about giving a minister the sweeping power to decide the validity of an application from someone who wanted to immigrate to Quebec or Canada. I find that very serious.

I even find it a bit immoral that these measures were introduced as part of a budget bill, and I wonder how many others feel this way. At the very least, we know that all of the organizations involved with newcomers, be they refugees or immigrants, are opposed to these measures, and with good reason, I might add.

We know that the committee has also made its views known. It is important to remember that the committee is not necessarily against amending the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

But if amendments are to be made, they must be done properly, through the usual channels. This means introducing bills, having them examined in committee, and hearing witnesses in committee to explain different parts of the bill. This did not happen here.

This amendment to the Immigration Act was sneakily included in Bill C-50, in the same way that a censorship measure was included in Bill C-10 without anyone noticing. We can see the effect that one has had, and the shock waves it has sent through the film community, in terms of copyrights and so on. Members must remember all of that and be very careful before passing Bill C-50 if it contains part 6. Giving a single person the authority and power to determine who will have the right to enter the country is inconceivable. The same thing happened with the Minister of Health with respect to public safety and quarantines. The government did not even keep its promises to those suffering from Hepatitis C. People are dying every day without receiving a cent from the government. This is a right-wing government if ever there was one.

That scares me. When a government that is so far to the right wants to introduce such measures in a bill, I believe that there is more to it than meets the eye. I do not want to have any part of it and I do not accept it. My party does not want to say yes to that. We will definitely vote against the bill. We cannot allow ourselves to give such rights to a party that has already shown its bad faith and ill will.

That was the case for Insite, in Vancouver. They prefer to let people die rather than helping them to obtain services in a place where they felt safe, where they could make important contacts and get help. They would rather let people die. And now they would like us to believe that it would be a good thing to give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the power to decide who can enter Canada. They should not take Canadians or Quebeckers for fools. We see the government's game plan very clearly. We know that the only reason this government wants to introduce this amendment to the Immigration Act is to have even more power and to decide what kind of immigrants will build Canada.

Some 900,000 men and women have been waiting for years to become Canadian citizens. They have been waiting patiently. They have gone through all the steps. They are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect by a government that follows the rules, not a government that changes the rules to suit its ideology and philosophy or to please voters of the same bent.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Laval because I know she holds the same views that we do on this bill, which is that it should be defeated. I know she speaks with compassion. I thank her for using the example of Insite as another example of how callous the Conservative government is toward people.

One of the disturbing things in Bill C-50 are the immigration changes and the way it escalates the use of temporary foreign workers.

Working with the labour movement, we in the NDP have been very concerned with the rate of exploitation that is taking place. People should be coming to Canada as permanent residents. A proper process should be in place.

The idea that the government is trying to deal with the backlog is not correct. What it is doing is shifting the system from the reunification of families and is creating a whole new class of temporary foreign workers, which makes it open season on exploitation.

I would like the member's views on that. I think it is something we need to monitor carefully. We know there are workers who have had a serious loss of rights and some workers who are being paid less than the minimum wage. We also know that some workers are being exploited by their employers and some workers have died because they are not aware of health and safety provisions.

This is a very serious situation that is taking place. It started with the former government and it is escalating with the current government. It is an indication of what is taking place in our immigration system.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question.

As the member is fully aware, we have been fighting for some time on behalf of women who come from the Philippines and work as live-in caregivers. Women who work in this field are often faced with many problems and difficulties, and we have been trying to help them for many years. The government, however, does not seem to want to listen to reason. Of course it changed a few of the rules, but that is not enough to give these women what they need.

One thing is sure, as my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber so aptly put it: any legislation concerning immigration must be debated in committee. That is why I think his position is the soundest and the fairest.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party has very serious concerns about Bill C-50 and in the way it is being brought through the House.

The issue of an immigration policy and how we will move forward as a country is a crucial debate and discussion that needs to happen with all parties working together. It is not the kind of issue that can be slipped in through a confidence bill, in a budget bill, to basically stare down other members of Parliament, to try to sneak through, without proper scrutiny, and then to use the issue of the budget as a way to attack parties like the New Democratic Party, which is saying that this is an issue that needs clear and informed debate.

My family comes from the mining regions of northern Ontario and we were the multicultural society long before the urban centres were called multicultural. In those days, if a person was an immigrant, the person was brought over to Canada on short term work contracts to work the mines and to work the lumber camps.

It was well-known in the early days when my grandparents came from Scotland that they did not want to hire Canadian workers to work in the mines because of the accident rates and the pressures. They were having a 75% turnover at any given time in any of the hard rock mining communities, whether it was Kirkland Lake, Rouyn Noranda or Timmins.

During those times, short term work contracts were given to the Ukrainians, the Bulgarians, the Italians and the Croatians. These men were brought over separate from their wives. If they complained about conditions, they were deported. If they were sick because of their work in the mine, they were sent back to their countries to possibly die there.

The historic records in the north are heartbreaking stories of families, of men. The average life expectancy for a Ukrainian or Croatian man working in Timmins, Ontario up to the 1950s was 41 years of age. These men worked hard and they died.

At certain points in the history of the north, the immigration policies allowed some of the families to come over. We all understand that the immigrants who built this country played an important role, but it was their families who made Canada. It was the women coming over who actually built communities.

We have so many great people in our region. The immigrant women who came over could not speak English. Their kids went to school not speaking English or French, if they were in the Rouyn Noranda mining camp. However, they came here and learned the language. They became part of the community and they built the identity, the wonderful identity that we have in northern Ontario.

We have a long memory in northern Ontario of the exploitation that these families suffered. Anybody in Timmins will tell us about the mining widows, the women who were left basically destitute on the streets when their young husbands died in accidents. They were immigrants and could not speak the language. My grandmother, who was a mining widow, raised me and told me the stories of what they went through.

We are very concerned when we see a dramatic change to immigration policy in Canada that says we need to fast-track these temporary workers into Canada and get them into lower paid jobs so we can basically hyper-fuel an economy without a long term plan.

We all know that the government is here for one reason and one reason only. It is here to ensure that the Athabasca tar sands expands as fast as possible, as destructively as possible and with as much profit for the Texas oil companies as possible.

We are looking now at a shift where we are not talking about bringing in families and building immigrant communities that will actually develop the Canada of the 21st century. We are talking about the short term gain for the long term pain that our country will suffer and these immigrant families will also suffer.

We have a backlog of some 900,000 people who have followed the rules and who have gone through the process to prove they can be proud citizens like anyone else. These people will all be shunted to the side so that we can start to fast-track the workers coming into this country.

As an example, in my region, we are still very dependent on mining, forestry and long haul trucking. A trucker called me and told me that the federal government was bringing in foreign truckers, because with the rates they were being paid nobody could feed their family. Therefore, the government decides to create a special program and starts bringing in immigrant workers to undermine the long haul truckers in our country.

This is not the way we build an economy. It is certainly not the way we build community. That is how we undermine community.

We have seen the government use the threat of non-confidence again and again to bully its friends in the Liberal Party into submission, although I do not think it had to bully too hard. However, we will not bend on the issue of immigration. We will not simply roll over and play dead because the government huffs and puffs and tells us to.

There are so many fundamentally wrong things in the budget beyond this attempt to sneak the immigration bill through. For example, in my region I have two communities where there are no schools. We have a government that says “too bad”, that it does not have money to build first nations schools. This is a government that can buy helicopters to ship to Afghanistan. This is a government that can send money all over the world any time it wants. This is a government that when any of its friends ask for help, the help is there. Yet children of so many communities, whether it is Kashechewan, or Fort Severn, or Attawapiskat, or North Spirit Lake or Cat Lake, are going to schools that are held in former maintenance sheds.

Whenever I raise in the House, I always hear the chuckle of smug satisfaction from the Conservative members. They think it is absolutely absurd that this issue is raised, as though how dare we raise the issue of children in our country who are denied the most basic education rights.

Education is a fundamental human right. When I say it is a fundamental human right, it is not an airy-fairy concept. As defined by the United Nations, a country has to have a plan for education. Even third world countries have plans for education. Yet we see the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development's absolute disinterest in the issue of building schools. He cannot point to a school he has built. He has taken the money from the budget, a very underfunded budget for Indian Affairs, and spent it elsewhere. He tells 13 year old children that some communities are worse off than them, and that is supposed to be some kind of response.

That is not a response. A response is to say that there are 20, to 30, to 40 communities without schools and that we need a plan. That is what a leader does. A leader says how do we address this and a plan will be set up to do so, but not the government.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order, which is on relevance. The member has strayed dramatically from the amendments to the budget. Not only that, his misrepresentations of what he is talking about currently are even further away from the amendments.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George. I think the point he was making had more to do with debate than with a point of order.

In any event, the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay has two minutes left. I am sure he will stay close to the point.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate you recognizing that the issue of how we allocate funding is what we are talking about. This is an amendment to a larger budget bill that is dramatically wrong for Canadians.

In response to my colleague, when it comes to misrepresentations, let us talk about misrepresentations. We have documents that were given to the communities of northern Ontario, which were signed under the office of the previous Indian affairs minister who said that the plans to build a school in Attawapiskat would go ahead. These were documents signed by the Conservative government, yet the present Indian affairs minister said that the government never made any promises, that it did not have any money. Not only that, it does not plan on having any money nor having a timeline.

Any government that has that much systemic disregard for children is a government does not deserve to have the confidence of the Canadian people. Therefore, we do not have confidence in the government. We do not have confidence in its underhanded attempts to rewrite the immigration act through threat and bluster.

We, as New Democrats, will vote against the bill and we will vote against it very proudly.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I suppose one could determine that no matter what the member or any of his colleagues say, the fact that they will never form the government of our country kind of makes their statements pretty much unaccountable because they will never have to fulfill any promises they make. They do that very effectively, make promises which they know they will never have to live up to.

The member talked about fast tracking and allowing people to get in to Canada to perform certain duties. I understand he is from northern Ontario. He will know that all across the northern and rural part of our country there is a dramatic shortage of doctors, nurses and medical specialists who are critical to health care in that part of the country.

The member knows that on a regular basis doctors, nurses and medical specialists are allowed to come in to Canada to fill critical demands in health care, which not only apply to the northern part of my province but also to his.

Is he suggesting that we take away all of the fast track privileges and have people in rural and northern Canada go short on much needed health care? Is that what he is trying to say, or is he just, once again, trying to mix words to support whatever ideological straitjacket the NDP happens to be tied to at this time?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad my colleague asked that question. Everybody back home will see the smug sense of entitlement coming from a government that has been in power for an embarrassingly long 18 months.

He says that we in the NDP have no right to ask him questions because we might never form government. We are elected by the people of our region. They have a right to have a voice, but he might not like to hear it. If he does not want to hear it, then he should go home. Maybe he should sit on a blog site with his other right wing friends and chat each other up.

I am here to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay. Whether I and my party ever form government makes no difference to me. I am proud to represent my communities. I will not sit for a moment in a House like this, when children on the James Bay coast are being denied basic services, and listen to the guff of someone who tells me I have no business speaking, or the 307 members of the House have no business speaking unless the Prime Minister tells them how to speak. The day we accept that principle, parliamentary democracy will be at an end.

In response to his question, the present rules make it possible to move forward when we need to bring in specialists. That is not a problem. I would invite the member to go to Toronto, ride in cab and talk some of the doctors who cannot even get their certifications through. We should start dealing with that issue.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the member is a very strong advocate for his constituency. In a poll of all the members in the House this year, he was recognized as the best constituency MP the House has to offer. That is a wonderful achievement on his part and it speaks volumes about what he tries to do in the House for his constituents.

I too am taken aback by the continued attack by the Conservatives and Liberals toward the membership of the New Democratic Party on the basis of our ability to achieve. Our ability to achieve is large in the House. I have been here for two years and I am been most impressed with the record of the New Democratic Party in making a difference for Canadians. Every day we try to do that.

How should we have handled the bill? How would that have given a better—

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay has 20 seconds to respond.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the simple way of handling this is not to make it a confidence motion. Let us debate this. We need to deal with immigration. We need to deal with bringing skilled workers in to all regions of the country. We need to have a long term plan for not just a strong economy but a strong community. We need to build a sense of citizenship in all Canadians, whether they are new or have been here for many generations.

This is a very important debate and that is why we will—

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member but his colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, has the floor.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Timmins—James Bay spoke well and forcefully on some of the concerns he has about the budget and how it will affect his region and Canadians in general.

With our amendments to the implementation of Bill C-50, we have tried to put in front of Canadians exactly what is in the bill. It is important to recall that initially when the budget was put forward, Canadians found it was a bit thin, in terms of content, and that was remarked in the media certainly. This particularly had to do with the fact that the government had announced in its fall fiscal update over $50 billion in corporate tax cuts scheduled over the next couple of years. I think the government will regret that in the future, particularly when we look at the tight times in the economy. By the time it got to budget, there was not a lot of material to work with because it had essentially stripped the cupboard bare.

When the budget was introduced, people were looking at little finesses in it. Much to the people's surprise they found, I think, on page 106, of a document consisting of approximately 134 pages, the changes to the immigration act. Talk about non sequitur. The government has taken something that is absolutely critical, something that is the foundation of the future of Canada, and that is important facets of our immigration system, and has hidden them in the budget. We have been proud as Canadians to have had a fairly progressive immigration system.

What is so distressing about this is the government either is trying to be strategic to get this thing through and hope that no one will notice or it honestly does not understand how to make policy and where policy belongs in its formation.

If it were a case of trying to pull a fast one, the government clearly did not get away with it. If it were a case of the government wanting to take immigration changes and put them into the framework of the Department of Finance, hopefully it learned the lesson that it was not appropriate.

I will give the example of what happened when I brought forward the proposed changes to my community.

Soon after the budget was announced and it was discovered that the government was trying to pull a fast one, or maybe make policy through the Department of Finance, and either way we look at it, it is the wrong direction, in my opinion, I brought forward the proposed changes to members of my community. I called all the people who worked with immigrant communities, the Catholic immigration service in Ottawa, the OCISO, a wonderful group that deals with issues of resettlement, language training and foreign credential recognition, et cetera, the Jewish family services, which does an excellent job with integration and supporting newcomers, as well as other groups and individuals. I explained to them the proposed changes. The first question was, “Why didn't the government consult us?” I did not have an answer for them because the government did not consult anyone on the bill.

It was more than passing strange that the government would bring in such aggressive changes to the immigration act without consulting anyone. In fact, all it did was come up with this idea, its own brain trust, and popped it into the budget bill, the details of which I will get into in a minute.

However, let us stop right there and consider this. The government brings in these very aggressive changes to the immigration act without consulting the people who work day in and day out to ensure the people who are affected by issues of immigration and settlement will be represented. Many of them are volunteers and they do it because they care about immigration and settlement and want to ensure it is done right and done responsibly. It is more than bizarre. It begs the question, what is it the government is trying to achieve?

If we look at the provisions within the immigration changes that are in Bill C-50 and why we are proposing these amendments, we will find the direction of the government on immigration. The government wants to ensure the ability of the government to bring in temporary workers so that they can be used, and I use that word deliberately, for a short period of time and then get them out of the country.

We only have to hear the stories of people presently working in the tar sands, people who are working in agriculture in British Columbia and other places, people who are working in mining, to know that these jobs are extremely dangerous. They are ones that require robust health and safety provisions. They should have fair wages. What the government has been able to do is meet the needs, not of new Canadians, but of fairly substantive economic interests in this country that will benefit from cheap labour. They will benefit from the fact that the government will bring in people quickly, use them up and then not have them stay around much longer.

What is so distressing is that the government wants to make these changes, just after the government did what I believe is the right thing. We on this side of the House applauded the government when it actually made amends and apologized for the Chinese head tax. I remember well the speeches by members on both sides of the House, by the leaders and the Prime Minister. It was a good day for Canada. I remember going to the Yangtze restaurant in Ottawa's Chinatown. We had a great celebration party. I believe you attended that, Mr. Speaker, and I think you spoke in Cantonese. It was a great day.

It saddens me and it saddens the community in general that soon after that acknowledgement and apology, the government is replicating in the 21st century what was done in the 18th century, which is to bring in temporary workers simply to use them, and when it is finished with them to send them back. That is the problem with Bill C-50.

We have to consider what we could have done. Everyone would argue that we should deal with the backlog in the immigration system. People who work in immigration settlement will tell us to put more resources overseas to make sure that when people apply for landed immigrant status and go through the points system, they know exactly what the situation is going to be when they come to Canada. They will tell us to make sure that rather than having just websites, there be actual human resources deployed overseas to help people with the process. They will tell us to ensure that when people are applying for landed immigrant status, they have all of their background documents in place and to support them in doing that. That would shorten the time period. On the other side of the equation, we have to make sure that here in Canada we have the requisite resources to ensure that we can streamline the system.

As an aside, it is interesting that when the Minister of Immigration brought forward these proposals, strangely enough in Bill C-50, as this is the budget bill, she said that the government had made great progress in streamlining the application process. She said that the department was able to process 40% more of the applications. She said that on the one hand, but on the other hand, she said that the system is so bungled up and has such weight on it that extreme changes have to be made.

It does not balance to say on one hand that her department is making this great progress, lauding herself and her ministry, and on the other hand that things are so grave and awful that we have to make these extreme changes to centralize power in the minister's office. When we look at Bill C-50 and we look at this kind of doublespeak of the government, one has to look at what the government is trying to achieve here. It seems that the government is trying to achieve a fast one, as I said before.

In the end, these amendments we have put forward should be passed so we can make sure we have a fair system for all.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, certainly we have a very unified position in this party about this bill and about the need to remove these onerous provisions from it.

I want to speak about the backlog of applicants. Is it the reality that there is no backlog for student visas, temporary resident visas and temporary foreign workers visas In Canada? Will Bill C-50 take away the rights of these applicants to be given a visa even when they meet all the qualifications?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, if we look at the backlog that the government claims the bill will deal with and we look at these provisions in the budget and Bill C-50, it will not help anyone who is presently here. In fact, the government has admitted that.

The government says there is a backlog of 925,000. Earlier today it was calculated at close to a billion, but I understand that was corrected. We are talking about a backlog of close to 925,000 people. The government says that is the case and we will take the government at its word on that. The legislative changes will only affect applications submitted after February 27, 2008. It will have absolutely no effect, zero effect, on the backlog of 925,000.

Not only does this bill not help the people it purports to help, but the government has a problem with acknowledging there is a backlog and it is bringing in these changes to streamline the system. The government should have consulted with the people who know about the system and who work in the system every day. The government would have found that there are other ways of dealing with the backlog that would be less onerous and would actually open up the system and get the people we need to the places where they should be going.

As an example, there is a challenge here in Ottawa to find a family physician. We also know there are 500 foreign trained doctors right here in Ottawa. That study was put together more than a year ago.

The other rationale the government puts forward is that we need to bring in skilled labour, medical professionals, et cetera. Tell that to the people who are driving taxis here in Ottawa, who have their foreign credentials to practise medicine, but sadly they cannot because the government has not figured out how to streamline the system.

My point is that if the government is making the argument that it needs to streamline the system for the backlog, it is not going to work for that, and if it is for skilled workers, we already have the skilled workers here. What is going to change with the system for them? The government simply says it will get more of them in. What happens when they get here?

Until the government deals with that reality, this bill has no place in this place and it has not been thought out. Those provisions need to be removed. That is why these amendments have been put forward.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, does my colleague believe that the government's significant mismanagement of the economy by eviscerating the financial and economic capabilities of Ottawa is somehow in keeping with its ideology? The Conservative government believes that its ideology is good for Canada. Some of us believe it is significantly damaging to Canada. The fact is the government leadership believes that we are simply the sum of our parts, whereas many of us believe that we are greater than the sum of our parts.

Does the member believe that a strong Ottawa working with strong provincial leaderships would enable our Canada to achieve its potential?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would always support a strong Ottawa. It is something we should all support.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-50, the budget implementation act, and the amendments we put forward to try to bring some rationale to the situation and the future of immigration in this country.

I come from a part of the country which in the past may not have been the prime destination for immigrants to Canada, but over the last number of years that has changed quite dramatically. Immigrants are coming to communities throughout the Northwest Territories. In many cases they face completely different living and climatic conditions. They work really hard to integrate themselves into Canada and into the burgeoning economy in the Northwest Territories. We are grateful that people are coming to contribute to our economy, to live in the north, to work and to support the development of our territory. That is a great thing. In Yellowknife right now there are 27 different ethnic groups. Clearly this is a result of this immigration movement.

It is difficult for people as they have to fight their way through the process to get into the country. We seem to have created a system in which immigrants have to spend much of their time and energy on paperwork, rather than focusing on their goals as immigrants and accomplishing things, like reuniting their families in this country.

My constituency office handles many cases every year. Many of those cases reference the particular hardships that individuals have experienced in establishing their lives in Canada because they cannot get through the system. They cannot accomplish their goals within the system in a reasonable time. The bureaucratic structures are not adequate to give them the support they need to make proper representations in the immigration system. In many cases that leads them to the member of Parliament's office for assistance.

In the Northwest Territories there is only one immigration officer and that person has other duties to fulfill in terms of enforcing other parts of the act. That person cannot act only as a guide to the immigrants within the country who are trying to move forward with their lives. We suffer from a huge shortage of manpower required to make the system work better. That is the case in my riding where we have a total of 43,000 people. Community groups do their best to help out with the situation. We have a structure which I think in some ways is more amenable to supporting individuals, but the fact that this is the situation in my riding suggests to me that it is even more of a problem elsewhere in the country.

Therefore, when we want to propose changes to the Immigration Act, I think it is incumbent upon everyone to get all the evidence. This process that the Conservative Party has foisted on the House to deal with immigration is simply not correct or appropriate for making that happen. It is a back door approach to making changes.

It was outed very early once the bill came forward because of course these things are scrutinized fairly closely. It did not work quite the way the Conservatives wanted, but the opportunities to then work on this legislation were sorely limited because it was handled in this particular fashion.

The changes to the act that in many cases we find most repugnant as Canadians are that we are taking away the democratic nature of the system as it exists now. We are not trying to improve the efficiency of the system or properly build up the resources needed to make the system work.

As well, we are not dealing with the problems we have in many of our embassies in other countries. Rather than utilizing Canadians who are used to dealing with our system in the same democratic and useful fashion, we find that in many cases we are utilizing nationals from the countries where the embassies are located. In my time as a member of Parliament, that has noticeably impacted on the ability of immigrants to acquire visas and move forward in a smooth fashion through the many hoops and stumbling blocks that exist for people who are applying for a visa or trying to be reunited with their families.

These problems are not going to be solved by this bill, because it is going in the wrong direction. At the same time, when we stand to ask for these issues to be removed from this bill, we are by no means suggesting that there is nothing wrong with the Immigration Act. It is just that what is being proposed here does not fit the Canadian model. It does not address the resource issues that are quite clearly dominating many of the problems and leading to these huge backlogs in the system.

The Conservatives, in their few years here, have not been able to even make a dent in that backlog. In fact, the backlog has gotten larger.

Their solution, especially the idea that there will be yearly quotas and at the end of the year all the applications that are not part of the quota will be rejected, is a really bad thing. It will discourage people from coming to this country. It will discourage people from making applications. There will be constant intrigue in the department in regard to trying to find out where these different classifications or directions are going to go.

All of this is going to lead to a complete breakdown in the system and take us away from the values that Canadians have so much pride in. In fact, idealistically, we send our armed forces around the world to try to uphold those values in other countries.

What this bill is doing is creating an arbitrary, authoritarian potential within the department, although it does not necessarily have to be that way. We could argue that the minister could be a most altruistic and wonderful individual who would not use the difference between “may” and “shall” in many of these points to discriminate against applicants. However, human nature being what it is, I think we have found in Canada that the best way to avoid discrimination and maintain a democratic system is to have rules that match up to that.

It is a phenomenon that I see so much in Canada: we do not jump queues in this country. We take our time. We fill the time we have available to us--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am sorry, but the hon. member is taking somebody else's time, so we will have questions and comments. The first question comes from the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my NDP colleague in regard to getting back to the economics of our country. This is so central to the ability of Canadians to have the life they want in order to provide for their families and to us as a Parliament and a government to have the assets to serve our citizens.

Does the hon. member think the Conservative government has made serious errors in what it has done to eviscerate the financial capabilities of the federal government by putting the finances of the Canadian government on the brink of a deficit situation?

Does he think the dropping of two percentage points on the GST was an abysmal mistake? Would it have been preferable to put moneys directly, through a non-refundable tax credit, to the poor and the middle class? Would that have been a much more preferable way of getting money into the hands of those of modest means in our country, those who need it most?

That would be much more preferable than the blanket drop in the GST, which actually preferentially helps those who are most affluent, because the more we spend, the more we can benefit from a drop in the GST. As well, we know that those who are least fortunate in our country are spending money on rent and food. In other words, they are spending their money on items that are GST exempt.

Does he agree that the government has taken quite an immoral position and has been quite cavalier and damaging to our country by affecting the finances of our nation in such a negative way?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, we spoke endlessly in the fall on our feelings about the changes in the tax system that were initiated in that mini budget in November. We are not in favour of them, especially the corporate tax cuts that were made. They were wrong-headed and wrongly directed, because 50% of the corporate profits in this country are made either by the banks or by the oil companies. We saw a huge infusion to that group.

What has happened in the last three months in this country is quite serious. Now that the figures have come out, we see that we have a 0.3% drop in the GDP, but at the same time we have seen a huge increase in the price of resources in the resource industries. We know that our gross domestic product has been inflated by the very high prices of oil and gas, fertilizer and all manner of resources. At the same time, we are seeing a drop in the total gross domestic product.

I would say that the situation is even more severe on that point. The only expansion in our economy is in areas where the resources are being exploited. In the areas where they are not, we are obviously underachieving.

The tax breaks have not interested a lot of people in the manufacturing sector because that is not what they need. They need strategic investment. They need incentives to do the right things. They need money to retool. Those are the sorts of things that industry really requires and that it did not get from the Conservative government.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments. This will be a 30-second question.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, a quick question is this one. Does the member think the Prime Minister's penchant for controlling his ministers and his government through the Prime Minister's Office is an entirely undemocratic and completely ineffective way to run the Government of Canada and this country, and that what he ought to be doing is living up to democratic principles and giving his ministers the ability to do their jobs?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Western Arctic will give a 30-second answer.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I would say the fault lies with the whole Conservative caucus in not standing up for their democratic rights in forming government. They are allowing this situation to continue, whether or not it is through their leadership. We have a mass of MPs here who could be speaking out on it and they do not, so it is their problem, not just the Prime Minister's problem.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings is rising.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I very seldom get up just to offer a comment until I hear something that really does go against the grain of some personal values, principles and beliefs.

I heard the member for Western Arctic state that we are told as individual members and members of a caucus that we have to do exactly what we are told. I am on record here in this House right now as stating that I have never been told what to do or how to do it, by anyone, in the House, in this caucus or in this party.

I do believe that should be on the record to set it straight. To suggest anything else is just simply propaganda that those members wish to formulate for their own particular purpose.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings was not speaking on questions and comments but on resuming debate and now he is subject to questions and comments.

Is the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre rising on questions and comments?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

No, Mr. Speaker.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Is the hon. member for Western Arctic rising on questions and comments?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, this seems to be a rather odd way of conducting business here, but I really do want to respond.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

You have the floor.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

I want to ask the member a question on his speech. Rather than dealing with budget issues, most of his speech was a sort of attack on what he perceived I said. You can check the record, Mr. Speaker. I think Hansard will show that the question was asked of me about the nature of the Conservative government's control from the top down. I said that if that is the problem, then the solution should lie with all of the Conservative caucus. To me, that is part of the democratic process.

The conduct of a particular political party is not simply on the basis of the leadership. It is on the basis of every individual member within it. If the hon. member speaks up on these issues, then that is commendable. Perhaps the hon. member wants to speak up now on what he thinks about the nature of democracy in Parliament.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am actually very proud and pleased and, quite honestly, humbled to be a member of Parliament. I have talked to many people, and I have not only an obligation but a responsibility. I can recall a mentor that I talked to many years ago. He told me that he personally viewed a member of Parliament as having a position of privilege. Although some people might consider that privilege in the persona of perks, he said that was not actually so, that the privilege is in privilege and genuine area of responsibility. As such, I take my responsibilities very seriously, as do most colleagues in the House, I know, when they are not caught up in partisan games. I commend those from all parties who do that.

When I listen to bafflegab in the House that deviates from the normal level of commitment to one's party, one's country, and one's self, and when statements are made for partisan purposes, I find it rather disturbing, but of course that is a reality some people seem to accept as the norm these days. I do not. I leave my statement at that.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government member, who has just spoken, a question about Bill C-50. Within Bill C-50 there are very comprehensive and dramatic changes to Canada's immigration laws.

In my community, which is a community of many different cultures now, people are coming from all over the world to live in the lower mainland of British Columbia. We presented the changes that are proposed by his government and they shared with us their concerns from a variety of communities, from the Chinese Canadian community, the Korean Canadian community, the Somalian community, all of whom have sizeable communities in New Westminster—Coquitlam.

They are very concerned about these changes. However, without getting into the detail of the changes that the government is proposing within the budget implementation bill, I want to ask the member this. He made some comments about performing in the House of Commons, doing things in the traditional way. It is not tradition to put massive immigration changes into a budget implementation bill.

Why would you be doing that and not allowing the immigration committee to have an opportunity to study and make recommendations for changes--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for New Westminster--Coquitlam meant to say why would “he” be doing that, not why would “you” want to be doing that.

In any event the hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings has 20 seconds to respond.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, some people talk about issues, other people get the job done. Under the previous government, we started off with 30,000 or so people on the waiting list, then it jumped to 900,000. That is not acceptable. People have been waiting five and six--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will take what few minutes are left. I understand I will probably be the last speaker of the day on this particular subject, so I think I should preface my remarks by speaking to Canadians who may be tuned in and watching, and try to explain why it is that the House of Commons today is seized with the issue of debating the budget implementation bill.

Yet, virtually all of the speakers have been rising to speak about immigration and how Canada's immigration act is being altered by this bill. It does warrant some explanation. I have to apologize to Canadians because I, for the life of me, cannot give a plausible explanation as to why the government would have slipped in a bunch of serious amendments to the immigration act into the budget implementation bill.

It is beyond me. It is beyond most people. It is underhanded. It is a back-door approach. It undermines democracy, in a sense, because the people who have been assigned to reviewing Canada's immigration laws from all parties at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration are being denied the opportunity to have their fair say. In fact, the House of Commons is being denied the ability to have a fulsome debate on the subject of immigration reform.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

And so are the Canadian people.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

As my colleagues says, and the Canadian people are missing any opportunity for input. If that Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration were dealing with these issues, we might be touring the country, going from coast to coast, to get input from Canadians as to whether they would approve of this massive fundamental overhaul, this huge policy shift in how we welcome newcomers to this country.

The only thing that I can think of is, and I have talked with my colleagues, it reminds us of the further indication of the Americanization of Canadian politics. This is very much an American phenomena that we see in the American Congress. Its budget bills, its appropriation bills, are often stuffed full of a hundred other little bits and pieces that an individual senator or congressman might want in, in exchange for passing that piece of legislation. It looks like the Manhattan phone book by the time its budget bills get passed.

This is sort of what the Conservatives have done here. They have taken a budget implementation bill that has to be passed by the time we recess Parliament. It would give the spending authority for the government to go through with its fiscal plan. It is completely inappropriate and unfair to slip this heavy piece of immigration legislation into the budget implementation bill.

Let me tell members what we should be debating right now, just as an aside. I was hoping that in this federal budget this Conservative government would undertake some of the things it promised to do, such as plug some of the outrageous tax haven loopholes that still exist today.

I remember when the Conservatives were in opposition. I used to sit with them on this side of the House, berating the Liberal finance minister, saying, “Why do you allow people like the former prime minister to put all of their holdings offshore as tax fugitives to avoid paying their fair share of taxes?”, and the Conservatives used to agree with us. That used to meet the old nod test.

Now that the Conservatives have had three budgets and one fiscal economic update, which we could call a third mini budget, they have not chosen to plug those loopholes. One of their own right-wing columnists, actually, Diane Francis, who calls herself a practising Conservative, has written five articles in a row in the last month in the Financial Post, slamming corporate Canada for shielding its money offshore.

She calls it economic treason, I believe that is the term she used, when Canadians willingly avoid paying taxes in the country that allowed them to profit and become healthy, wealthy and wise. Yet, this government repeatedly refuses to address that fiscal concern that could have been an element of this budget that we could be debating here today.

Another thing she pointed out is there is a tax haven option for family trust funds where Canadians can expatriate all of their family trust holdings and allow their kids to live as trust fund kids in Canada, never paying a penny of income tax. Because once they expatriate that money, it is tax free; they pay a one-time 25% exit tax. They set it up in a tax fugitive country where we have a tax treaty and their kids and their kids's kids, generations of Canadians, can be living off of that trust fund never paying any taxes in this country.

She says it is quite frequent and that is appalling. Why we willingly forgo that amount of tax revenue should be debated in the House of Commons. Canadians, I find, do not mind paying their fair share of taxes as long as everyone is paying their fair share of taxes.

Those things should be debated today. Instead, we are put in the awkward position of having to debate immigration policy during a budget implementation bill.

On that line, I come from the building trades. I used to be the head of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America and we used to deal with this issue of temporary foreign workers all the time. I can tell members that this is an issue of our immigration laws that we have to have a look at because there is a tendency to rely more and more on temporary foreign workers.

Let me just say right from the start that it is not a human resources labour market strategy to bring in foreign workers to fill job vacancies. That is not a strategy at all. There is no future in that and it undermines local wage scales. It causes social unrest and social problems in the community where these influxes of foreign workers come in. Often the foreign workers do not receive the same benefits and rights that local workers do.

Let me give one example in the province of British Columbia that was a disastrous thing because the applicants for foreign workers are often disingenuous in their applications.

The Gold River pulp mill in Tahsis shut down. The whole town was out of work. Eighty millwrights were required to tear the old plant down to sell it to China, where it was going to be rebuilt. There were 80 unemployed millwrights in town who built that mill. The millwrights in Gold River knew every nut and bolt in that pulp mill because they were the ones who put it together, but when the company official that bought the mill wanted foreign workers to come in, he filled out all the necessary forms and where it said, “Did you try to find Canadian workers to do this job?”, he ticked off, “Yes”. On the question, “What was the reason you did not use Canadian workers?”, he put down, and we have a copy of this, “The cost was too high”.

This foreign owner who scooped up the pulp and paper mill to move it offshore would not hire Canadian workers to even dismantle the plant because the cost was too high, so he brought in a bunch of South Asian workers from India, sleeping 12 to a hotel room, to tear down the plant, while the unemployed men and women in Tahsis, B.C. were on the other side of the gate looking in while somebody else was eating their lunch. That is a recent example of the temporary foreign worker phenomenon that is sweeping the country. The company got away with doing that.

In another example on the other coast, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald was building a new printing press, a very high tech precision operation. It is a machine that is twice as long as this room and it has to be levelled off to one-one-thousandths of an inch, to the micron, so the paper rollers are running accurately. The Swiss company that manufactures the mill said it could not find any qualified Canadian workers to do it, so the Government of Canada let it bring in its own workers to install it.

We are talking a couple of years worth of highly skilled work for Canadian workers. Guess what? There were 800 unemployed Canadian millwrights in the Atlantic region alone. I know because they were members of my union on the job board, on the dispatch board, from St. John's, Newfoundland and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick. They were all sitting there unemployed while somebody else was allowed in to eat their lunch because the Government of Canada accepted the word of these applicants that would say they could not find any skilled Canadians, that it was far too complex for the Canadian workers.

One guy actually pulled a hair out of his head when he was arguing this to the government, saying, “We have to set these machines thinner than the thickness of this hair”. What does he think Canadian workers do every day of the week? What does he think skilled millwrights do in this country? If they have any hair on their head, they are measuring the tolerances of paper mills right across the country, because we build printing presses in every city in Canada, and we could have built the one in Halifax, Nova Scotia too if the Government of Canada would have just said no and let Canadian workers have those jobs. What is this zeal we have for giving away Canadian jobs?

I will say one last thing on the subject. If there are labour market shortages in the skilled trades, some of the aboriginal communities have chronic unemployment situations. We have--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great attention to my colleague from Winnipeg during his presentation. I know he talked about the whole issue of the changes in the budget implementation act as it relates to immigration.

I have a paper put out by the Canadian Bar Association that asks very pertinent questions. On behalf of the Bar and other Canadians, I want to ask the member a question. The Canadian Bar Association calls these changes to the immigration policy a major step backward in the evolution of Canadian immigration law. Does the member from Winnipeg agree with that statement?

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, yes, the Canadian Bar Association did not pull any punches whatsoever in expressing its displeasure and dissatisfaction with the government's initiatives regarding immigration today.

I should point out that I have a letter from the YWCA. Civil society, generally, is taken aback that the government would try to implement these changes without the usual prerequisite consultation. For a social policy change of this significance, it is unprecedented that the government would try to slam it through and give further discretionary powers to the minister and not go through the ordinary channels of consultation.

We also have a letter here from one of the largest--

Budget Implementation Act, 2008
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member but 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.

When we return to the study of Bill C-50 there will be three minutes left under questions and comments for the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Before we go to orders of the day, I would like to inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 97.1(2) I am designating Tuesday, June 17, as the day fixed for the consideration of the motion to concur in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Finance.

The report contains a recommendation to not proceed further with Bill C-305, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (exemption from taxation of 50% of United States social security payments to Canadian residents).

One hour debate on the motion will be held immediately after the usual private members' business hour scheduled for that day, after which the House will proceed to the adjournment proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38.

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

moved that Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act (quarterly financial reports), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in the House again this afternoon to speak. This time it is with regard to Bill S-201.

Mr. Speaker, before I get started, I want to commend you and the other chair officers who have been working late hours the last couple of nights and yet you are still here on Friday afternoon. I would like to commend you for your diligence in this respect.

Today I am here to talk about Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act (quarterly financial reports).

I will begin by commending Senator Hugh Segal who brought this forward and has been working diligently with respect to the matters that are addressed in this bill and issues of accountability and transparency that the senators and I share.

I know this bill had a previous incarnation in the Senate before prorogation last fall but, unfortunately, it did not get out of committee before prorogation and therefore had to go through the whole process again.

I know that the careful consideration that was given by the hon. senators in the other place, especially within the national finance committee, is greatly appreciated by all members of the House. My private member's bill, Bill C-428, is in the other place and is going through the same consideration, the same thoughtful process that I know this private member's bill has gone through. I would like to commend the senators who worked diligently not only on this bill but also on my bill and many of my colleagues' bills as well.

The bill that we are here to discuss is Bill S-201, which seeks to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act. The requirements that would change are as follows. This would require that all departments, agencies and parent crown corporations would table financial statements on a quarterly basis. The bill would create a more transparent financial management system in government and would allow parliamentarians and all Canadians to see the way the government is spending money and ensuring that it is delivering programs effectively.

I wholeheartedly agree with the objectives of this bill. It would ensure greater accountability and transparency of government. The good, hard-working Canadians who pay their taxes on a regular basis and the people from my constituency really deserve no less.

The objectives are really in keeping with our government's commitment to Canadians to increase accountability of government. Accountability is the foundation of Canada's system of responsible government. It is key to assuring Canadians and Parliament that public resources are effectively and efficiently used.

I am especially proud of the Federal Accountability Act that this government brought forward as its first piece of legislation because it provides Canadians with the assurance that the powers entrusted to government are being exercised in the public interest.

However, accountability does not stop there. It has to be throughout government. An accountable government ensures that Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars are not wasted and ensures they are invested in responsible and effective programs that meet Canadians' needs. In fact, the sound stewardship of Canadian tax dollars ensures they receive value for money, and that is a top priority for myself and our government.

There have been some important improvements brought forward by our government in working to ensure that Parliament has the information it needs to hold any government of any day to account. For example, we have made several improvements to the estimates documents to provide more meaningful information to parliamentarians and make these documents more user friendly.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has worked with departments and agencies to improve the quality of information presented for their individual requirements. This has resulted in better information describing the nature of transactions, including the offset of new spending requirements through the use of existing spending authorities.

In the past year we have made other changes, including provisions of clearer summary tables, a presentation of gross financial requirements for each organization and an explanation of the funds available to offset new spending requirements. These improvements allow hon. members in the House to get a better understanding of the government's spending plans and to ensure that they can hold the government to account.

We are also strengthening the oversight role in the use of public funds. The creation of a parliamentary budget officer is a long realized dream of my predecessor, the member from Peace River, whom I replaced, Charlie Penson.

After a decade of advocating for this officer of Parliament who would provide objective analysis to the nation's finances, Mr. Kevin Page was appointed by the Conservative government as our first Parliamentary Budget Officer, and that happened in March of this year. This is another move to realize a decade long dream of advancing transparency and accountability within government that my predecessor had and for which I know many members of the House have been advocating for nearly a decade.

This new officer of Parliament position was announced in the Federal Accountability Act and is now included within the Parliament of Canada Act. The person has three main responsibilities: first, to provide objective analysis to the House of Commons and to the Senate concerning the state of the nation's finances and trend within the general economy; second, he has the responsibility to undertake economic and fiscal research for House of Commons standing committees; and third, he estimates the financial cost of proposals currently or prospectively under consideration in either the House when requested to do so by a member or a committee of the Senate or the House of Commons, or a committee of both Houses.

In talking with the new Parliamentary Budget Officer, I had an opportunity to discuss the bill that is currently before us today, Bill S-201. I can say that our new officer of Parliament is very supportive of this new bill. It would actually improve his capability of helping out members of Parliament and senators.

In addition to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the government has recently implemented a new expenditure management system as well. This system will rigorously and systematically assess all direct program spending and operating costs of major programs. Further, all government organizations are required to conduct their program strategic reviews to assess how and whether they are first, efficient and effective; second, able to meet the priorities of Canadians; and third, are aligned with federal responsibilities.

The first round of strategic reviews was completed in the fiscal 2007-08 year with departments identifying expenditures totalling some $386 million a year of program that are low performing or programs that are no longer needed.

In the fiscal year 2008-09, 16 departments and agencies are reviewing their program spending. This covers a total spending of $20 billion. These reviews will help us reduce spending in inefficient or ineffective programs and stop those that just do not work. These will help to ensure that every tax dollar that we collect, as government, is spent to deliver the necessary programs to Canadians. They will help us to control the overall growth of government spending.

This is simply good management. It is the same thing Canadian families to ensure they are spending efficiently. When they shift their priorities, they need to ensure they are living within their means. Governments should act no differently. That is good management, good government and it is good leadership for Canadians.

The first fruits borne by this more disciplined approach were announced recently in the savings of $386 million, money that will be redirected to new initiatives within departments or within the government at large.

Taken together with the key elements of this new expenditure management system, it will ensure that taxpayer dollars are well managed, that they are spent in responsible ways and that the management of doing this will ensure that the business of government is responding to the needs of Canadians.

I will now turn directly to the bill we are talking about this afternoon. The bill also supports accountability and the sound stewardship of all tax dollars. I will explain how.

By increasing the quality and frequency of financial reporting to Parliament and Canadians, the bill will ensure that they are informed of recent developments in government operations. As such, it will facilitate oversight by parliamentarians of government spending on a timely basis.

It is imperative that we have the correct information in a timely manner in order to combat waste of money. Every dollar the taxpayers pay must be treated with respect and must be closely monitored.

Let me step back for a second and outline how the current reporting system works. The government prepares a federal budget and summary financial statements on an annual basis. The Department of Finance also publishes a monthly fiscal monitor that reports on the government's overall fiscal results. While this report does contain some departmental information, it does so in such an aggregated way that it really only reflects government's performance overall.

This bill will require that all federal departments, government agencies and crown corporations would have to, in addition, submit quarterly financial reports to Parliament. This would be a substantial increase in the timeliness and quality of information reported to Parliament.

It is important to note that the Senate has already made some important improvements to the bill. For example, it was amended to require that financial statements are made public 60 days after the quarter end. This will provide for a more regular reporting timetable while lessening the burden on organizations. It will also avoid the need to defer the release of quarterly financial statements during recess or prorogation.

These are amendments that I thank the hon. senators for making, because they provide additional transparency for parliamentarians and Canadians.

I would also like to take this opportunity to explain that the government has been working diligently to strengthen financial management across the federal government. A sound system of financial controls improves this organization's ability to manage risk.

In this area, we have taken a number of steps to strengthen both our policy and our practice. For example, by March 2009, we should have in place a renewed financial management framework and policies that clarify the responsibilities and accountabilities of deputy ministers and senior officials within government.

In addition, our audit policy is strengthening public sector accountability, risk management, resource stewardship and good governance by reorganizing and bolstering internal audit functions on a government-wide basis.

This involvement ensures the independence of internal audit from line management by introducing two points. The first is departmental audit committees, which will include a majority of competent and experienced members drawn from outside the federal public service. The second is the organizational independence of chief audit executives, who will lead audit functions and must now report directly to the deputy head.

In conclusion, I want to ensure that there will be no doubt that the government is committed to improving accountability and increasing transparency. We have proven that not only in word but also in action. I will stand with hard-working taxpaying Canadians and support legislation like this bill, which will ensure greater transparency for government expenditures.

We support quarterly financial reporting requirements by all federal departments, agencies and parent crown corporations. The measures that I have talked about today will provide Canadians with the open and honest government they deserve, one that acts transparently, ensures value for money and demonstrates accountability.

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, could the member for Peace River tell me how his government would implement such a bill if it were passed?

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the implementation of the requirements of the bill, there are a number of different points.

It is important for parliamentarians and Canadians in general to know that departments, agencies and crown corporations do in fact collect this financial information on a regular basis. However, the information is not always passed on to parliamentarians and Canadians until the money is long spent. Sometimes that is at the end of the year and sometimes it is even after that.

What the bill will ensure is that on a quarterly basis we will be able to see the money that has been spent within departments. What we will be doing is working with the different agencies, the departments and the crown corporations to bring this information together on a quarterly basis, and then it will be presented to Parliament on a quarterly basis.

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act (quarterly financial reports).

The great riding of Thunder Bay--Rainy River takes 7.5 hours to drive across, over two time zones. It covers 27 communities, of which 16 are municipalities and 11 first nations. The principle of Bill S-201 is certainly something that my constituents would support.

The bill would require crown corporations and the Bank of Canada to submit quarterly financial reports to both the House of Commons and the Senate. I do not see anything wrong with increasing the disclosure and the transparency of these corporations.

In the riding of Thunder Bay--Rainy River, there is an expression that there are two times to plant a tree: one is 20 years ago and the other is today. Is this legislation timely? I believe it is, because from time to time in the House, we see an annual report that raises some serious concerns about the administration of one crown corporation or another. Parliamentarians then jump to action to correct the problem, but of course this is typically after the damage has been done.

If crown corporations are required to table reports on a quarterly basis, it will be much easier for parliamentarians to identify any problems early on and move to correct them before they become too serious. In short, it will help parliamentarians to ensure that the government is properly managing public funds through its crown corporations and the Bank of Canada.

Under existing legislation, publicly traded corporations, including our banks, are required to make quarterly reports to their shareholders. It is not beyond reason to expect that our government-run crown corporations can at least match that standard of disclosure.

Let me give one concrete example of how this legislation would be of use to Canadians. One crown corporation that many Canadians frequently want more information from is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. As of right now, the CPPIB, like all other crown corporations, currently tables one report annually. In that report, the CPPIB discloses all of its holdings so that Canadians can see where their pensions are invested.

Unfortunately, if Canadians want an updated version of the CPPIB's holdings, they are out of luck. They have to wait until the spring of each year to see what has been bought or sold. If they call the investment board with a question, they are told to wait for the annual report.

In the aftermath of the government's broken promise never to tax income trusts, many Canadians wanted to know how much exposure their pension plan had to income trusts. They could look at the last year's annual report and see that the CPP held over $1 billion in income trusts seven months ago, but there was no way to know how much it held at the time of the Minister of Finance's income trust massacre.

With Bill S-201, however, Canadians will hopefully be able to see an updated holdings list that is no more than 90 days old.

There is, of course, an administrative cost to increasing to this level of disclosure. Quarterly disclosures at the Bank of Canada and our crown corporations will certainly increase their workload and they will have to dedicate more resources in order to achieve it. As the managers of public funds, we need to ask if the cost-benefit of Bill S-201 is worth it for Canadians. My constituents would certainly argue that it is.

I trust that when the bill proceeds to the appropriate committee, the members there will perform such a cost benefit analysis that the bill can again be supported at third reading, and I would be glad to do so.

We do have to recognize the input that has already gone into this from the senators, which has been positive, thoughtful and comprehensive. It included many important amendments and ideas.

Regarding the income trust scandal, many people were hurt. And many people here are trying to remember which scandal this is because we have had a few of them and it looks like the record of the present government will pass the previous record of the last Conservative government.

In my riding there was an astonishing number of people who formerly supported the Conservative Party who just could not believe that the Prime Minister would actually break that campaign promise with such devastation to their long time savings.

I was actually not the one who reminded them of the string of broken promises. It was my constituents, again former Conservatives, who have seen the light and who reminded me that it was the current Prime Minister who promised to eliminate the double taxation on gasoline pricing and eliminate the taxation after 85¢ a litre.

I just received correspondence the other day reminding me that since January 2006, gas prices have almost doubled, so hon. members can draw the correlation.

The bill could perhaps reassure people, give them some faith in government, and hopefully recognize in our discourse today that the government will actually take heed.

There was a question from another opposition member about how this would be implemented and how we would actually see the results of it.

I am hoping that the people from crown corporations and the Bank of Canada, who are watching this debate, and are perhaps concerned about their own workload and quarterly reporting will know that for us, who really want to restore people's faith in democracy, we want them to know that the Canadian public service and its crown corporation divisions are of the highest standards of accountability and transparency. That we, as elected representatives, have the utmost faith in their ability and competence, and that those of us in the opposition ranks have a duty to ensure that the government maintains those high standards.

I am hoping that as we proceed through this debate, the bill will succeed. I believe that it should, and that those people who want their faith restored, those elected representatives who want a quicker turnaround in this rapid age of communications to review changes that can still affect pricing and changes in people's investments, we can do this. We can do this in the spirit of understanding that without a strong public service and strong set of Crown corporations, even at arm's length, this is a nation that is built on people who hold the highest of standards.

To that end, I would hope that we could all support Bill S-201.

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill S-201, requiring quarterly financial reports.

The confidence of Quebec taxpayers in the federal public administration has been severely eroded in recent years after the abuse of public funds by the Liberals and Conservatives.

The requirements of a firm financial disclosure policy for federal public administration and Crown corporations and frequent disclosure to Parliament would no doubt lead to more transparency. The discipline of more frequent financial reporting would give early warning of problems to avoid the complications and difficulties associated with big government, and to ensure that the government has credibility with the public.

Departments need to be encouraged to adopt accrual accounting, where this has not yet been done, and, in the same vein, to take the necessary time to do so without delaying the introduction of greater transparency. Some federal government departments and agencies have not yet adopted accrual accounting. The idea is to take what is already underway and create accountability. If we go about this with intelligence and commitment, accrual accounting will eventually be in place for the whole of government.

The Bloc Québécois notes that some organizations, such as Export Development Canada, already prepare quarterly financial reports. These reports are not public per se when they are tabled here, but it is certainly easy to produce them and make them available to the public. On the downside, however, the Bloc Québécois is concerned that producing quarterly financial reports could paralyze the federal public service and increase bureaucracy. The government will have to proceed carefully to ensure that departments and agencies do not get bogged down in details and create additional layers of bureaucracy.

Consider what John Wiersema, deputy auditor general with the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, told the Senate committee when the bill threatened to bog down the machinery of government. We have to take his words seriously. He said, “—we are concerned about the government's capacity to implement all of these initiatives. ... it will remain difficult for departments to produce reliable quarterly financial reports in the time frames required by this bill.”

We must therefore take a very close look at this aspect and ensure that the mechanism to achieve greater transparency can work seamlessly with the machinery of government and not make procedures more complicated.

Perhaps we should also limit the scope of the bill to exclude small organizations and departments and non-commercial institutions. Once again, we must act consistently to ensure that the government is working to meet the needs of the people and is not getting bogged down in red tape and paperwork. We have to ensure that, according to the principle we agree with, the process will be as simple and coherent as possible. The machine has to be well-oiled to meet the need for transparency.

The Bloc Québécois believes that until the government introduces accrual budgeting and appropriations for departments, and until the government is able to produce annual departmental financial statements that are auditable, it will be difficult to implement Bill S-201 as it now stands. There is still work to be done and it must be done in a spirit of transparency, which is something we cannot oppose.

You know as well as I do, Mr. Speaker—you follow politics, as do members of the public—that the Conservatives, like the Liberals, have shattered the confidence of taxpayers. This was said earlier. Quebec taxpayers' confidence in the federal public administration has been shattered by the fact that the Liberals and Conservatives misused public funds.

Under the Liberals, there were numerous scandals involving misappropriation of public funds. There was the sponsorship scandal, the $250 Christmas ornaments, all the attempts to convince Quebeckers to forget their own identity; the Department of Human Resources' transitional jobs fund; the administrative problems of the gun registry, and on and on.

The Conservatives are not much better. The Minister of Public Works seems to be unable to stop the eccentricities of his cabinet colleagues. More than $17 billion in military spending occurred without any real call for tenders. That is what is going on right now and it is unacceptable.

Without a call for tenders, a security fence was installed that cost the taxpayers almost four times more than it was worth—remember Montebello?

The Conservatives conduct two polls every business day. They, who spoke out against this practice, are the champions of it. In fact, as far as polls are concerned, the Conservatives have managed to spend even more than the Liberals.

More and more contracts are being awarded to friends. The Minister of Finance acknowledged awarding a $122,000 contract without a call for tenders to Hugh MacPhie, a former Mike Harris aide.

Andre Harvie, a former Progressive Conservative minister under the Brian Mulroney government, a chemical engineer by training, received a non-competitive contract amounting to $500,000 to act as the lead federal negotiator on the assignment of rights on certain public land in the Northwest Territories.

You are well aware, Mr. Speaker, since this happens in your party, that they make partisan appointments. The Prime Minister has made dozens of partisan appointments at all levels of the machinery of government. Yet he criticized the Liberal government for doing that. It seems the blue Conservative banner and the red Liberal banner are interchangeable.

The following are a few examples. Elwin Hermanson, a former Reform member and former employer of the current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, was appointed by the latter to head up the Canadian Grain Commission.

Leo Housakos, a fundraiser for the Conservative party was appointed—you know where, Mr. Speaker—to the VIA Rail board of directors.

William Elliott, former special adviser to the Prime Minister and Don Mazankowski's chief of staff—from 1990 to 1992—was appointed Commissioner of the RCMP.

Gwyn Morgan, a Conservative fundraiser, was nominated as the chair of the new public appointments commission.

Howard Bruce, former Conservative candidate for Portneuf, was appointed to the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. And there are others. Whether the Liberals or the Conservatives are in power, the recipe for cronyism is the same.

And that is the complete opposite of transparency. The Liberals got themselves into an appalling situation. They will be punished for a long time. I do not even know if they will elect any members in the next election—even in Quebec—because their role in the sponsorship scandal damaged their reputation.

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak for the NDP on Bill S-201. Our caucus had a discussion about this bill. We certainly support the principle of the bill. Quarterly reports for all departments and agencies is something that does increase the transparency, openness and accountability of the federal government, and we think that is something that needs to be emphasized.

We also note that the Office of the Auditor General has raised concerns about the ability of the government to satisfy the bill's requirements. In fact we believe it would cost about $10 million annually to implement this bill.

The Office of the Auditor General, while supportive of these kinds of measures, has said that priority really should be given to other initiatives, such as the ongoing adoption of accrual budgeting, which is a much more current, transparent and accountable form of budgeting, and auditing of departments' financial statements. Although there is nothing in this bill that is contrary to that, it really is just one small item in terms of the larger picture of financial and political accountability of the federal government.

Others have made mention in the debate today that we now have the Parliamentary Budget Officer, another step that was finally taken by Parliament. I want to point out that the proposal to have a parliamentary budget officer was first made in 2004 by the member for Winnipeg North, who was our party's finance critic at the time. She made that proposal because we were so fed up with the ongoing scenarios where the government of the day would make financial forecasts of budgetary surpluses and would usually underestimate the forecasts, really for the political optics. This would occur cycle after cycle and year after year. Our finance critic, the member for Winnipeg North, at the finance committee made some very strong proposals that were adopted by the other opposition parties of the day to bring in a parliamentary budget officer. We are pleased that has actually happened. Again, that relates to the bigger picture of financial transparency and accountability.

I would remind the House that several years ago, Ed Broadbent, a very respected former member of the House of Commons and the former leader of the NDP, unveiled a whole package of ethics which, if it had been implemented, along with a measure like this and along with the Parliamentary Budget Officer, would have brought tremendous ethics and accountability to this House. It is very disappointing that although the so-called Federal Accountability Act passed, it has been an act of many broken promises.

If we had adopted Ed Broadbent's ethics package, floor crossing, for example, would be a thing of the past. A lot of people are fed up with the idea that a member can be in one party and then, because of something that happens or because of political opportunism, the member can cross the floor without first going back to his or her constituents. We have certainly seen that happen here in terms of the member for Vancouver Kingsway. Part of the NDP's ethics package included proposals that would not have allowed floor crossing.

It also included real accountability for leadership campaigns instead of the half-measures in the accountability act, which still has big loopholes. For example, leadership candidates can borrow huge amounts of money, often from their own family members. We have seen that happen in leadership campaigns.

The NDP's proposal would have closed the revolving door for lobbyists in ministers' or MPs' offices. I have to point out that the Conservative government promised to address this in the Federal Accountability Act. However, some of the measures that were put forward to address those issues have not been implemented even now, many months after the accountability act was passed.

Another aspect of transparency and accountability that should be of concern to all of us is the lack of updating the access to information. In fact, I note that the member for Winnipeg Centre introduced a bill the other day, Bill C-554, which looks to update access to information. We see that as a very important tool for media, for organizations and for the general public, to have access to information and to have good processes available to them. This has not happened under the government, even though it was promised.

The list goes on and on around the issues of accountability and trust. It is ironic because it was the first bill the Conservative government brought in when it was elected. It put its brand on it and said, “This is what we are about”. However, when we look at the bill and when we look at what has not brought in, we can see there are many broken promises.

To come back to the bill before us today, we do not see it as a huge step in transparency and accountability, but nevertheless it is a measure that will improve access to information in terms of financial reporting. We need that in the federal arena. It will ensure that record keeping will become more readily available to members of Parliament and of the public, and that is a good thing.

For those reasons, we support the bill, but we must not lose sight of the fact that there are much bigger issues around accountability and transparency in government. We need to hold the government to account on that.

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

An hon. member

Question.

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

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

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Accordingly the bill is referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

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

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 2:16 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:18 p.m.)