House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an intriguing question. As a basic principle of what my colleague gave, we do not want to be in a situation where we impede high quality candidates from being able to run for public office.

I am a big fan for merit and I think people who come here are chosen by the public on the basis of merit, not on any particular personal characteristic they have outside of that. The best person in terms of the qualities of intelligence, compassion and skills that they possess should be able to come to this House.

However, what should not be a restriction is the amount of money that one has in one's pocket. One of the things all of us are very proud of is the fact that in our country someone from any socio-economic background can run for public office. That is not the case south of the border where, generally speaking, one needs to be rich to run in an election in the United States. In Canada, thankfully, which is something I am so proud of as a Canadian, someone from any walk of life can run, become elected and even become prime minister and it is not based on the amount of money one has in one's pocket.

If the government, as an outcome of this bill, restricts the ability of those with modest means to run, then we cannot allow that to happen. Every Canadian, regardless of the amount of money they have, should be able to run for public office in our great nation.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, accountability with respect to loans. I think the title, “accountability with respect to loans”, is something that is important to remind the House.

New Democrats will be supporting this legislation. I want to acknowledge the very good work that has been done by the member for Winnipeg Centre who, back in the early days of 2006 when the Conservative government introduced Bill C-2, the accountability act, attempted to have what we see in this bill as well as some other accountability measures introduced into that particular piece of legislation. At the time, however, the Conservative government did not see fit to include it.

However, some things have happened in the House over the last two years and the Conservatives now realize how important it is to talk about accountability with respect to political loans.

I want to put this a little bit into context. The former member from Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent, had put together a package back in 2005 called, “Cleaning Up Politics: Demanding Changes in Ethics and Accountability”. In a preamble to the document, he said:

When they find themselves in the midst of wrongdoing those with a vivid sense of right and wrong have feelings of remorse. On the other hand the defining characteristic of corruption is that feelings of remorse have been replaced by the impulse to deny, perpetuate and cover-up. The Liberal party is losing its sense of remorse.

That was in the context of 2005 when we were in the midst of the ad scandal and the Gomery inquiry. The context has changed somewhat in that the Liberals are now in opposition.

He went on in the preliminary introduction on this under the heading, “Demanding Changes in Ethics and Accountability”, to say:

Canadians are demanding changes in ethics and in accountability. They want a strong Canada resting on strong, ethically based institutions. They want honesty, fairness and transparency to be the rule, not the exception in political life.

In the context of the legislation before us, the legislation attempts, whether the attempt is real or unintended, to stop efforts to circumvent the very good rules that are currently in place in the Canada Elections Act to limit the amount of money that individuals can donate to a particular candidate.

Bill C-29 attempts to stop that circumvention of those rules by closing the loopholes that allowed businesses to loan money to political candidates and sometimes after a period of time those loans were forgiven.

I have heard members in the House talk about the fact that this legislation would damage women's opportunities to run for electoral office. I would argue that most women and men in this country want to ensure we are all playing by the same rules and part of those rules state that we do not get to circumvent the Canada Elections Act just because we happen to have a bunch of wealthy business people in our backyard, not that there is anything wrong with wealthy business people but we do not all have access to that kind of capital.

I would argue that Bill C-29 would level the playing field so that all candidates who run for either a nomination, leadership or political office, are all guided by the exact same rules. By closing this loophole to prevent candidates from either loaning themselves money or having businesses loan them money is a very good loophole to close.

We have had many instances in the House. I want to reference one example, in particular, by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville when he was a Liberal and his business donated nearly $240,000 to his riding association.

By any measure, any of us who could actually loan ourselves $240,000 or have a business friend loan our campaign $240,000 and not have to account for it in the normal process just does not seem fair, reasonable, transparent or ethical.

I applaud the Conservative government for bringing forward this legislation, again, based on the very good work that the member for Winnipeg Centre did in the past.

There are a couple of problems with the bill. The member for Winnipeg Centre has already talked about them, but it is important to highlight them.

One is that the bill is not retroactive and does not deal with the problems from previous loans that were made, like the Mississauga—Streetsville case that I talked about. Also, the bill would not be implemented until six months after it receives royal assent. In our current minority situation we could have an election at any time, so we would like to see that gap closed far more quickly.

One of the other problems we have talked about is with respect to accountability and ethics. I want to quote from a press release from July 5, 2006, issued by the member for Winnipeg Centre. He was talking about the fact that there was no age limitation. He was “urging senators to ignore Liberal appeals to amend the Federal Accountability Act by raising the age requirement for political donations to 18 years”.

In his release, he said:

This is not only a bad idea. It is a transparent attempt to divert attention away from the more serious problem with our election financing rules. We have seen Liberal leadership loans that look more like donations and the continued corporate sponsorship of leadership candidates.

The problem is not the age of donors so much as the source of the dough. It's already against the law to circumvent the donation limits by laundering money through someone else's bank account, whether that person is your grandson or your grandmother. The age issue is a red herring.

He went on to talk about the fact that he attempted to severely restrict political loans under the Federal Accountability Act. He said that “the current legislation is so vague it is evolving with every interpretation”. As only the member for Winnipeg Centre can say it, he said:

Those leadership loans are the equivalent of big money hijacking democracy. There's no collateral required, no repayment schedule registered, and the whole thing can be forgiven. How is that any different from a massive donation or corporate sponsorship?

The member for Winnipeg Centre clearly laid out some of the problems with the existing legislation and the attempts made in Bill C-29 to close those loopholes.

I also want to talk a bit more about changes in ethics and accountability. Again, because the bill is premised on the language around accountability with respect to loans, I think there are broader issues around accountability and ethics. We would welcome further changes to make sure that political candidates and political parties are all operating on the same level playing field that Canadians say is so important.

Ed Broadbent, the previous member for Ottawa Centre, made a number of suggestions in 2005. At that time, we thought we had agreement from the Liberal Party to move forward with some of those suggestions. However, as we were going into a process that would have had some broad public input across the country, the Liberal government of the day backed out of that agreement. I still think some of those proposals are relevant today.

Ethics and accountability cover every action of an elected representative. We are elected to this place as either an independent member or a member of a particular political party. We have a responsibility to our voters to fulfill our obligations. We run under a particular political banner. Should members choose to cross the floor, we feel strongly that any such members should resign and run for their new political party.

Under “Democratic Accountability for MPs”, Ed Broadbent said:

Democratic accountability should mean no MP can ignore his/her voters and wheel and deal for personal gain: MPs should not be permitted to ignore their voters' wishes, change parties, cross the floor, and become a member of another party without first resigning their seats and running in a by-election.

Wherever we can, we must put an end to backroom opportunism in politics.

In the context of political loans, I would say that many people would view them as backroom opportunism in politics. Bill C-29 would provide us with an opportunity to close that backroom door so that all Canadians who choose to run for office play by the same rules.

Comments have been made back and forth on the floor about transparent leadership contests. Under “Transparent Leadership Contests”, Mr. Broadbent said that we should:

Set spending limits and transparency conditions on leadership contests within political parties: Parties are largely financed by the taxpayer and the same principles pertinent to the public good should apply to the internal affairs of parties as they do to electoral competition between parties.

Canada has laws and regulations regulating the financing of general elections. There are limits and there is transparency.

Canadians want to see limits and transparency. They want to know where candidates get their money. They want to know that the same rules apply to all candidates. That should include leadership contests.

With regard to electoral reform, we are one of the few western democracies left with a first past the post system. Many members have spoken about this in the House.

I heard a member on the opposite side talk about increasing the ability of women to participate in the electoral process. There have been many studies done on systems of proportional representation. They consistently have found that in a system of proportional representation the participation of women in the electoral process increases.

Again, we have a minority Parliament. There is a government in place that talks about accountability. If we want to be accountable to Canadian citizens, we need to ensure that the representation in the House reflects the population. Therefore, we need to increase the participation of women in the House.

I am very proud to be a New Democrat. When we were elected in 2006, 41% of our party was women. New Democrats are very proud to run on that record. If each and every party in the House brought that same philosophy forward, we would make far better policy decisions.

Under “Electoral Reform”, Mr. Broadbent said:

--A major source of needed democratic reform is our outmoded first-past-the-post electoral system. There is a serious imbalance in the House of Commons in gender, ethnic, ideological, and regional voting preferences. Our present system does not reflect Canadian voters' intentions. Fairness means we need a mixed electoral system that combines individual constituency-based MPs with proportional representation. Most other commonwealth countries have already moved in that direction.

A major source of needed democratic reform is our outmoded first-past-the-post electoral system. In Canada every vote should matter. Ninety percent of the world's democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have abandoned or significantly modified the pre-democratic British system that still prevails in Ottawa.

As we amend the Canada Elections Act and closely examine some of the other factors that influence how candidates become members of Parliament, I would urge the House to consider reviewing a system of proportional representation as well, to make the system more open, transparent and accountable.

As for “Ending Unregulated Lobbying”, as Mr. Broadbent said, in talking about accountability and transparency, unregulated lobbying is one factor that many Canadians feel very uncomfortable with. Unregulated lobbying is an elitist kind of approach to getting in the back door of government. Mr. Broadbent, the former member for Ottawa Centre, said:

Unregulated lobbying and political cronyism must end: We need tougher laws requiring disclosure of fees and expenditures of lobbyists. We also need to make illegal the acceptance of contingency or profit-based fees. The government must initiate reforms with tough sanctions applicable to wrongdoing in the public sector.

Of course, he wrote this paper in 2005 when there was a different government.

With regard to ethical appointments, again we want openness and transparency. There has been a lot of controversy in the House over some of the appointments, but Mr. Broadbent called for ethical government appointments. He said:

--Unfair and unethical patronage practice must stop in the appointment of thousands of officials to federal agencies, boards, commissions and Crown Corporations. The New Democratic Party proposes that the government develop skills and competence-related criteria for all government appointments, that these criteria be publicly released and that committees scrutinize appointments.

Again, in the name of openness, transparency and accountability, I am sure Canadians would welcome a less patronage-driven appointment process so that Canadians would truly feel that they were getting the best possible person in each and every one of those jobs.

In reference to access to information, in the last two years we have seen even less access to information than we saw under the previous Liberal government. If Canadians do not have the right to know how decisions are being made and what kinds of factors influence them, it puts into question the government's claim of wanting a transparent, open and accountable government.

With regard to access to information, again, I know that the member for Winnipeg Centre has pushed for more open access to information. I know that many members of Parliament have had difficulties in getting information. We have had to complain to the Information Commissioner because information has been unreasonably delayed and denied. We have had to take that further step.

If members of Parliament have so much trouble getting information out of the government, can we imagine what it is like for the general public?

Mr. Broadbent spoke about access to information. Again, in his case he was referring to the previous Liberal government, but we have only seen it getting worse. He said:

The government is backtracking on reforms leading to greater public access to information.

He then listed a number of ways to open up access to information, which included: extending the act to crown corporations and agencies previously excluded; making ministers of the Crown, their exempt staffers and officers of Parliament subject to the act; bringing cabinet confidences under the act; improving public access to government records pertaining to third party contracts and public opinion polling; requiring government records that are more than 30 years old to be automatically opened; and so on. There are a number of other elements that he outlined in his paper.

Although we welcome Bill C-29 and it moves forward toward making sure that we do have a level playing field, the New Democratic Party and I look forward to legislation that continues on that path of accountability around the Canada Elections Act.

I would like to close by saying that in recent years we have seen a drop in voter turnout. One of the things that turns voters off, that turns Canadian citizens off from participating in the democratic process, is that they do not feel their government or their elected representatives are truly representing them here. Every effort we can make to say to Canadians that we are engaged in an open, transparent and accountable process must be applauded.

In conclusion, New Democrats will be supporting Bill C-29. We welcome this as a step forward in that accountable process so we can assure Canadian citizens that all people who are engaged in the electoral process are on a level playing field. We look forward to further legislation that supports this end.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I recognize the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader for a very short question.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would just first point out that retroactivity was not an option in this bill because it would be a violation of the charter.

My quick question would be this. How important does the member feel it is that this legislation be given royal assent prior to the next federal election?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree that this piece of legislation needs royal assent before the next election.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 5:30 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-29, there will be nine minutes left for questions and comments with the hon. member for Nanaimo--Cowichan.

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-513, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (foreign military mission), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Defence Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.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 am pleased to have the opportunity to add my voice to this debate.

As the House knows, this is a government that is firmly committed to the principles of accountability, transparency and openness. We recognize the important role that Parliament plays in upholding these principles.

Parliamentarians, representing Canadians from coast to coast, form the fundamental building blocks of our democracy, which is why, from day one, the government recognized the value and importance of engaging the House.

Through rigorous debates and informed discussions, we have demonstrated our belief in Parliament's relevance. We have shown time and time again that we are committed to strengthening the role the House plays in decisions affecting Canada and Canadians.

However, the government is not prepared to support Bill C-513.

My colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, has already eloquently outlined the many negative implications that the bill would have on the relationship between government and the Parliament of Canada in important areas related to national defence and to our ability to act effectively and rapidly in Canada's interest abroad.

My colleague reminded us of the dangers that the bill would pose to the Crown's prerogative in vital areas of foreign policy and defence. He reminded us that the bill would severely diminish Canada's standing as a reliable ally. He reminded us that the bill would severely compromise Canada's capacity to play a leadership role on the world stage.

Perhaps none of this should surprise us. The Bloc is not in the business of putting Canada first. In contrast to the Bloc, which seems to try everything possible to weaken Canada, our government does everything possible to strengthen Canada. That is why we oppose the bill.

In addition to the countless glaring problems with the bill, which my colleague outlined during the first hour of debate, I will use this opportunity to discuss the technical flaws that plague the bill. In this respect. I wish to speak to three key technical problems.

First, Bill C-513 would require the Minister of National Defence to table the declaration of intention to place Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons and would require the minister to table the declaration to place the Canadian military on active service for a foreign mission, which might include an offensive facet.

In requiring a declaration of intention to place Canadian Forces on active services, the proposed legislation fails to recognize that an order in council already exists that places all deployed Canadian Forces personnel on active service.

By virtue of OIC, PS.1989-583, April 6, 1989, the regular force component of the Canadian Forces is already on active service in Canada and abroad and reserve armed forces serving abroad are on active service. Moreover, the Canadian Forces, its components, units, elements and members can be deployed internationally without being placed on active service. They can be placed on active service without being deployed abroad.

Indeed, the placement of Canadian Forces members on active service has consequences, though upon discipline and the Canadian Forces' ability to retain a member at the conclusion of their service engagement.

For the benefit of the member opposite, it may be helpful to explain what it means for a member of the Canadian Forces to be on active service.

Placing a Canadian Forces member on active service merely allows the Canadian Forces to retain members in the service, if required, and allows service tribunals to impose more severe sentences in respect of some service offences.

The second technical flaw in my colleague's bill is that she fails to define clearly what she means by an offensive facet. The reference “offensive facets” implicitly suggests that offensive and defensive facets can be easily distinguished. One again, the member opposite has it wrong. Bill C-513 has it wrong. To distinguish between offensive and defensive facets of a mission is artificial, meaningless and misleading.

In the complex security environment of the 21st century, to describe the military's role as either offensive or defensive is an unfortunate oversimplification.

While the Bloc member may prefer to divide the world into simple dichotomies, French/ English, separatist/federalist, some things defy strict categories. The role of the military in a mission is not always subject to quick and easy classification as offensive or defensive. The issue is not black or white. All Canadian Forces missions are conducted pursuant to a national defence mandate. Offensive actions may be required while in a defensive role.

The third technical shortcoming of the bill pertains to its failures to include a provision on what would happen if Parliament was not in session, what happen if Parliament had been prorogued and what would happen if Parliament had been dissolved for an election.

In any of these cases, there would be a clear delay in order to secure the kind of authorization for which the bill calls. Such deals for a vital emergency military deployment could be disastrous. It is not difficult to imagine the challenges that would have resulted had Bill C-513 been in place in the summer of 2006, when Canada took action to rescue people in southern Lebanon. Would the member's bill require Parliament to have passed a motion to deploy troops to this rescue operate?

Oftentimes in the course of a rescue mission, soldiers may have to resort to the use of protective fire. When this happens, do the forces in this rescue operation still play a defensive role, Or have their efforts become offensive?

When Canadians elect a government, they entrust the government with an exclusive right to deploy our armed forces. To support the bill would be to undermine that trust. The current framework and system by which decisions are taken to deploy forces abroad is not broken. Bill C-513 would take a well-functioning arrangement and would break it.

Canada's Parliament has a long and distinguished history of considering our military deployments. We take these deployments seriously and Parliament's views are sought. We have held debates to ensure that Parliament is kept fully abreast of the actions of the Canadian Forces as they seek to bring peace and order in conflict situations. Whether 50 years ago, when Canadians were deployed to the Suez as part of the United Nations Emergency Force, or today in Afghanistan, Parliament's views have been heard and have been respected by our government.

In conclusion, while we appreciate the principle behind the legislation, serious and fundamental technical flaws mar Bill C-513. In addition to the technical flaws that mar the bill, the proposed legislation fails to recognize existing levels of parliamentary oversight. It fails to appreciate the importance of the government's authority to act quickly and decisively. In so doing, it fails Canadians.

The famed English philosopher, Edmund Burke once stated, that, “Parliament is a deliberate assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole”. I could not agree more. Here in this chamber we consider the business of all of Canada. As Canada's elected representatives, we carefully deliberate on every issue that will shape our collective future.

Today, we are continuing to build on a legacy that stretches back to the earliest days of our nation. I am proud to be a member of this government, a government that recognizes and honours this heritage. At all times, we have worked hard to advance the principles of accountability, transparency and openness.

However, we cannot support the bill. In attempting to fix a problem that, frankly, does not exist, it would risk undermining our government's very ability to carry out Canada's foreign and defence policy.

National Defence Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-513.

In summary, this proposed enactment will amend the National Defence Act so when a foreign military mission include or might include an offensive facet, the minister must table a motion for ratification of the declaration of the intention to place our Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons.

The bill was introduced by my colleague from Ahuntsic with the best of intentions, a desire to include Canadians in one of the most important decisions that we, as elected officials, can make: the decision to call the Canadian Forces into action.

My riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour is home to thousands of serving members, veterans and military families. They are the ones who bear the responsibility of carrying out the mission set out by the government. They do a tremendous job, and we all applaud their professionalism, their dedication and their courage.

A couple of weeks ago we had an opportunity to travel down to Bridgewater for a support the troops rally. Bridgewater is about an hour outside of Halifax. General Rick Hillier, the Minister of National Defence and a number of members of Parliament, including my colleagues from Cape Breton—Canso, Halifax West, Sydney—Victoria and Willowdale came down for the event. We were proud to stand with our Canadian Forces, with General Hillier, with the Minister of National Defence and with the many people who showed their support for the work they did.

My hearts goes out to the families and friends of Canadians who were lost during military service. They are the ones who feel first-hand the impact of choices made by government with regard to the deployment of troops.

For me, it hit home, on March 2, 2006, in a very personal way. In returning home from Ottawa that Friday morning, when I arrived in Halifax, we received word that Corporal Paul Davis had been killed in Afghanistan, one of the first Canadians to be killed in Afghanistan. His father Jim is a great friend of mine, and Jim and Sharon showed great courage through that whole time. They have continue to support the troops and insist that Paul's death was not in vain.

Listening to the concerns and feelings that Canadians have about the choices we make is very important. It is our job as MPs. We have been elected to represent our constituents.

With the best of intentions, I still do not feel that we can support the bill. I cannot support it and I will tell the House why.

The bill would require the Minister of National Defence to table a motion in the House to approve the deployment of troops overseas. If Parliament were in session, such a motion would be debated on the next sitting day of the House for three hours and then put to a vote. If introduced on a Friday, this would mean the vote would be delayed until the following Monday, again, that is precious time. Even worse, if Parliament were to be adjourned, prorogued or dissolved, it would be recalled within five days for debate and vote.

In terms of rapid response, a week can be a lifetime. Waiting for five days is sometimes simply not an option when we are talking about protecting innocent lives and doing the work that needs to be done. Canadians are justifiably proud of our DART team, which responds to humanitarian crises around the world in an astoundingly short period of time.

Although the bill specifies that in order to be put to Parliament, the mission would have to include an “offensive facet”, that term is poorly defined. I am concerned the bill could unintentionally affect our humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts around the world.

I am also concerned that parliamentarians would be unable to make a fully informed decision on some occasions. Currently cabinet makes the decision whether to deploy Canadian troops. It has access to classified information that most members of Parliament do not, and I think that is important. Much of the information surrounding national security and defence, especially concerning military ops, alone or in cooperation with other countries is classified for the safety of military or other citizens abroad. We need to have access to all relevant information when making a decision of that magnitude.

I am concerned that the definitions in the bill are not complete. The bill specifies that it would only apply to foreign military missions containing an offensive facet, but the definitions of those terms are not clear. The nature of a mission may be different than originally thought when troops actually arrive on the ground or may change when it is in progress. These definitions do no reflect what actually happens in reality during a military mission and would be difficult to apply.

As we have seen in the case of the mission in Afghanistan, there was debate about whether to enter into the conflict. There was no debate in Parliament initially, but there have been two full debates since on the continuation of the mission and the role that the Canadian Forces play in Afghanistan.

There have also been many other debates on specific aspects of the mission as well as reports released by House of Commons committees. As we know, a special committee has now been set up to deal specifically with this mission.

Parliament does participate in these decisions by investigating the issues. There are important ways of bringing our constituents' voices forward, such as by studying these issues in committee and initiating debate in the House. I simply do not think it is practical or desirable to delay military missions that may require a quick and decisive start to be effective. I would suggest that guidelines for regular debate on continuing overseas military operations might be a better way to ensure that Parliament is getting sufficient input into these important decisions.

We could set a timeframe for a regular debate, for example, one or two years into a continuing mission, and mandate that there be a special joint committee of the House and Senate set up for any mission that lasts longer than a certain period of time. We could require that the appropriate ministers update the committee regularly on issues related to the mission.

Parliament has an important oversight role in terms of our military operations overseas. I think we all agree with that. I argued strongly that Parliament should debate the Afghanistan mission. Parliament has this oversight role and it is critical that we exercise it over Canada's military, but in my view, this bill just goes too far.

National Defence Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will speak very briefly. I had not planned to speak to this bill, but it has been interesting to hear the debate. It has been a very core issue in this Parliament about whether or not members of Parliament and Parliament as a whole are involved in Canadian missions overseas. The NDP has been supporting this bill in principle. I would point out that the vote we are going to have on this bill is about whether or not we support it in principle and we certainly do.

The issues that were just raised by the member are relevant. There may be things that need to be looked at in terms of changes to the bill about timing and notification of votes and so on. Those are issues that could be dealt with at a committee. One reason we send a bill to committee is to look at that kind of stuff. In terms of the principle that is being put forward by the member, it is very important that Parliament as a whole be very involved in making decisions about where Canadian troops go. When we call on people to serve their country, when we call on our armed forces to put themselves in very dangerous situations, I believe there should be a vote in Parliament. It should be something that is debated here.

Since I have been a member of Parliament, members have had to fight tooth and nail even to get debates to take place. We have made some progress. Originally when the mission in Afghanistan began under the Liberal government, it was actually a take note debate. That is all it was. There was no vote. We have moved beyond that now. At least we have had some votes in terms of the extension of the mission in Afghanistan. Those have been very important moments in the debate and the history of this session and this Parliament.

The bill before us is taking that principle of what happened in Afghanistan and saying that Parliament has a right to be informed, Parliament has a right to exercise its decision on behalf of our constituents. This is something that is very fundamental to democratic practice. It is very fundamental to our being here and representing our constituents.

From that point of view we believe that this bill in principle is something that should be supported. We look forward to it going to committee so that we can have a much more detailed debate about how the provisions of this bill would actually work. Some of the concerns and the issues can be addressed there. That would really be the proper thing to do. We will certainly be supporting this bill at second reading.

National Defence Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to give my full support to the bill introduced by the hon. member for Ahuntsic.

My colleague has seen with her own two eyes what the expression “war zone” means. She went to Lebanon during the period following the Israeli attacks in the summer of 2006. I believe she knows exactly what she is talking about when speaking about the delicate situations facing our soldiers deployed abroad, especially in armed conflict zones.

I am very proud that my party introduced Bill C-513 and even more proud that it was my colleague who introduced it. In my time as a member of this House, we have had a number of opportunities to debate the relevance, importance and duration of Canadian military missions abroad.

That is how it should be in a parliamentary democracy. In this House, sometimes—let us be honest—we clash on relatively minor issues and we hotly debate bills that involve very small amounts of money. However, it is possible in this country, in this great democracy of ours, to send young people to risk their lives in conflict zones, without any debate in Parliament.

The Bloc Québécois has always defended the interests and values of Quebeckers, but we have always shown the utmost respect for Canadian institutions, starting with Parliament. I would like the government to show the same respect for Parliament and acknowledge that the House should vote on issues as important and challenges as fundamental as deploying our troops abroad.

We often hear that Canadian military missions abroad are geared toward peacekeeping and democracy building. Indeed, that is often the case, but we have to think about applying that rule at home. To do so, the decision whether or not to deploy troops in offensive missions must be made by the public and its representatives, in other words, the elected members.

Sometimes the public is not unanimous regarding its country's military involvement in a foreign mission. That is more often the rule than the exception. In a democracy, it is up to the public to decide on these issues that we cannot leave to the sole discretion of the government of the day.

Let us be clear: it is not a matter of allowing parliamentarians to interfere in the operational decisions of the Canadian Forces. Canada has people who are much more competent and more experienced than parliamentarians to make such decisions.

However, no decision is more important than the decision to deploy soldiers overseas, and that decision must be made by the House.

Soldiers from Quebec and Canada risk their lives to protect local people against attackers, defend our interests or restore and keep peace. We must carefully weigh all aspects of a situation and be sure to make the best, most informed choice possible before sending our young soldiers into harm's way.

We in the Bloc feel that it is important to amend section 32 of the National Defence Act when a foreign mission includes or might include an offensive facet.

Our current mission in Afghanistan is a telling example. Canada decided to join the mission because it is a member of NATO. The objective was to chase the Taliban out of Kabul and capture Osama bin Laden.

When the mission began to go on longer, the federal government began to subtly change what it was saying, implying that Canada was now in Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons. Today, seven years later, far more money is allocated to the military aspect than to the humanitarian aspect of Canada's mission, and Canada and its allies are at serious risk of getting stuck in Afghanistan.

Moreover, we cannot ignore the fact that we have unfortunately lost more than 80 soldiers in Afghanistan.

The House held a vote on whether to extend the mission. That is as it should be.

The Bloc voted against extending the mission. We felt and still feel that Canada has done more than its share and that it is another country's turn to take over in southern Afghanistan.

True to their recent form, the Liberals hummed and hawed, deliberated and split hairs until no one in this House or anywhere in Canada understood anything anymore about their confusing and shifting position.

When the dust had settled, Parliament had voted to keep our soldiers in Afghanistan until 2011.

We are talking about Canadian military involvement that is going to go on for at least a decade. That is longer than Canada's involvement in the first world war, the second world war, the Korean war and the Gulf war.

Moreover, that is one of the main conclusions that can be drawn from this Afghan adventure. We know when the mission begins, but we never know when and under what conditions it will end. That is one more reason Parliament should make the initial decision. It is sometimes more momentous than we might like to believe.

Remember the American intervention in Southeast Asia. When the Americans sent their first “military advisors” to Vietnam at the very beginning of the 1960s, they had not idea that the war would end 15 years later, in 1975, with the American embassy staff in Saigon being evacuated by helicopter.

War is a system, a system with its own inner mechanism that is not controlled by those who first set it in motion. History's lessons are clear on this.

My colleague's bill seeks to require that a motion be moved in the House before each foreign mission that includes or might include an offensive facet.

I would like to remind the House that during the two global conflicts Canada was involved in, the House was able to make its opinion known. It was not with a motion, as my colleague's bill proposes, but rather as part of the throne speech, which outlined the measures that the government wished to take.

So even when world political issues were looming large, Parliament took the time to consider the implications of offensive military action.

Despite these two historic votes, nothing obliged the governments at the time to call on Parliament.

Today the Bloc Québécois is using principles and precedence to argue that, for each foreign mission, the minister should table a motion for ratification of the declaration of intention to place the Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons.

I hope that all of my colleagues, from each of the parties represented in this House, will understand the important issue raised by this bill and that they will support it without hesitation.

National Defence Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today.

The bill before us proposes significant changes to the way cabinet exercises one of its most important responsibilities, which is deploying troops as part of foreign military missions.

I am opposed to Bill C-513. The fact remains that the process we currently use to deploy our troops internationally works well.

As the parliamentary secretary said earlier, the current process helps ensure parliamentary transparency and oversight. There is nothing worse than taking something that is working well and making meaningless changes.

Aside from the fact that the bill does not recognize the extensive parliamentary oversight that currently exists as part of the government's commitment to hold a debate in the House on deployments of the Canadian Forces, this bill is rife with serious technical problems.

The bill requires that the House be summoned after prorogation, or even when Parliament has been dissolved. If we take the example of Parliament being dissolved, the main technical problems with the bill become very evident. The bill does not clearly state whether to summon the Parliament that was dissolved or the newly elected Parliament.

Another problem is the issue of active service, which my colleague also raised. I cannot overstate how wrong it is to assume that the Canadian Forces have to be placed on active service in order to be deployed abroad. That incorrect hypothesis has been made in Bill C-513.

As my colleague pointed out, and now is a good time to repeat it, placing members of the Canadian Forces on active service enables the Canadian Forces to keep troops on service as needed and enables military tribunals to impose various sentences for a number of military offences. That is why we do not really understand why the opposition member has introduced a bill that ties an active service designation to Canada's participation in a foreign mission.

It is important to point out that the Canadian Forces' regular forces are on active service as per Order in Council 1989-583, April 6, 1989. In fact, all members of the reserves serving outside Canada are on active service.

Before continuing the debate, I want to remind the members of the House about the essential work that our troops are doing on overseas missions, on which they have been responsibly and appropriately deployed by the government, using the existing process.

The Canadian Forces are currently deployed to 16 foreign missions on four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Over 2,900 soldiers, sailors and Canadian air force members are currently deployed to international operations. In addition to those already deployed, some 5,000 troops are preparing to participate in overseas missions or are on their way back here.

Our country has taken on an enormous commitment to support peace and security around the world and to promote Canadian values, such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

If Bill C-513 were passed, it would diminish Canada's ability to be a world leader. Why? Because the bill would require us to determine each facet of the mission quickly and precisely. To know such things, one would have to have a crystal ball.

Our troops participate in all kinds of missions around the world, humanitarian aid missions, peacekeeping missions, combat missions, interdiction operations and state building missions.

When it comes right down to it, foreign missions in which the Canadian Forces participate sometimes defy such simple classification.

Current threats and concerns pertaining to security are often multi-faceted and modern military missions dealing with them can be very complex. Often, they entail more than one type of operational activity at the same time. And most of the time, not only do they involve military personnel but they also require partnerships with military forces, governments and various organizations.

That is the case in Afghanistan, where Canada is taking part in a UN sanctioned mission under the direction of NATO and in collaboration with the democratically elected government of that country. The purpose of our mission is to help the Afghan people rebuild their country and establish a stable, democratic and self-sufficient society.

Consequently, the mission encompasses several types of operations. The country must be rebuilt. To attain this objective, our armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces in Afghanistan, help to provide the security needed to create an environment for reconstruction and progress.

The mission in Afghanistan also has a humanitarian component. It is helping to bring back five million refugees. It is making remarkable improvements in the physical health and the human rights of the Afghan people. It is helping them to build an infrastructure and an economy that were completely destroyed by the Taliban, leaving most Afghan citizens suffering from unimaginable poverty, hardship and suffering.

Canadian Forces personnel on the ground are working with our military allies to drive back those creating instability and violence and also with the departments and organizations of the Canadian government engaged in a whole-of-government approach.

This close cooperation between military and civilian institutions within Canada's mission and the entire NATO operation constitutes a new kind of mission. How would Bill C-513 classify that kind of mission? The answer is that this bill cannot classify this mission, because has been conceived in such a way as to meet the specific needs in Afghanistan and because it is constantly changing, for the same reason.

Bill C-513's attempt to define the offensive facets of military missions whose rules of engagement are not limited to the use of force for defence purposes, whether for the Canadian mission, the population or people placed under its protection, is gross oversimplification.

Some overseas missions in which Canadian Forces personnel are participating are of the same kind that became familiar to Canadians of the previous generation.

Some of them are what we could call classic peacekeeping operations, most of which have been going on for quite a long time. For instance, in the Sinai Peninsula, an Canadian air traffic control unit is contributing to the multinational mission to oversee the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which was concluded decades ago.

And this is not the only example of the Canadian Forces contributing to the implementation of a major peace initiative. Elsewhere, in the Middle East, the Canadian Forces are participating in the UN's Operation GLADIUS, to oversee the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Syria, which was reached at the end of the Yom Kippur war.

In closing, the bill before us today does nothing to improve existing legislation. It takes a course of action that is working and tries to replace it in a futile, harmful way. It creates confusion and misunderstanding of the current system.

For all these reasons, I urge the House of Commons to vote against this bill.

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Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Compton—Stanstead for the wonderful speech she delivered earlier in favour of this bill. Once again, I invite all of my colleagues to reconsider their position—in particular, those who have declared that they will vote against the bill—to change their minds and vote in favour of this bill.

I believe that every person here is morally responsible any time our troops are sent abroad on an offensive mission. It is critical that the House be involved in making these decisions each time Canada wants to go to war. We cannot leave it up to the government's whim. We must entrench the government's obligation to obtain the consent of the House before deploying troops abroad in the National Defence Act. As I said, this applies to offensive missions only.

Unlike what my Conservative and Liberal colleagues said, if this bill is passed, the government will still be able to deploy troops in case of an emergency. It is not true that the government's hands are tied. This bill provides for some exemptions related to emergency situations. However, if some members still have concerns, I urge them to vote in favour of Bill C-513 anyway so that the bill can at least be amended in committee. It is very simple. The bill at least needs to be debated in committee.

War is not child's play. We are not playing with toy soldiers here. War is something serious, something fundamental in the life of a people. And I would like to say that in war, there are no winners. There is never a winner. There are only losers. The winner is usually considered to be the one who loses the least. So war is very important. It is not something minor. We are not voting on bills that, as my colleague mentioned, deal with small amounts of money. Aside from the fact that millions and millions of dollars are being invested—just look at Afghanistan—we have blood on our hands. We must never forget that.

When a government decides to go to war against another country, everyone in this House is responsible for the blood that will be shed there. Unfortunately, we cannot even decide on that, but we have the moral responsibility to bear that burden, and that is unacceptable.

In conclusion, Bill C-513 will enable Canada to show the world that democracy is not just a word; it is something that plays a role in all aspects of our institutions, as well as in the decision to go to war.

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Private Members' Business

6:10 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?

National Defence Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.