House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pope.

Topics

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

November 16th, 2010 / 3 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, in Canada in the year 2010, the government is turning a blind eye to the third world living conditions in Island Lake, Manitoba. These first nations have called on the federal government to partner with them and deal with these conditions by building an all-weather road. Climate change has cut the ice-road season, and this region of 10,000 people and growing needs a stable transportation route to access goods and services for health, housing, education, and economic development.

The province is on board. Why will the federal government not commit to road access and end the third world conditions in our own country?

Infrastructure
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon
B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, of course we are concerned about first nations. We have invested a considerable amount of money on everything from housing to health care to safe water systems.

As to infrastructure, allocations in the last budget were targeted toward first nations communities. Sometimes proposals come through that do not meet the criteria or are not affordable by different levels of government. We do all that we can to meet the needs of first nations and other Canadians.

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, our government and, indeed, all Canadians are proud of the role the Canadian Forces have played in Afghanistan. Thanks to our brave men and women, Canada has helped build a more secure, stable, and self-sufficient Afghanistan that is no longer a safe haven for terrorists. Today the government announced the role Canada will play as we transition out of a combat mission and focus on other critical work.

Can the hard-working and, it seems, much appreciated Minister of National Defence tell the House what role Canada will play once our combat mission ends?

Afghanistan
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Lethbridge, particularly for his hard work with his United States colleagues on the permanent joint board on defence.

He is correct. After 2011, Canadian Forces personnel will end the combat mission but continue training the Afghan national security forces until March 2014. Canada will provide up to 950 military trainers and support personnel to help the Afghan national security forces to become better able to protect their own borders and people.

We know the Canadian Forces will rise to this challenge and continue to make all Canadians proud.

Public Works and Government Services
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, Paul Sauvé said, “I organized the cocktail party after being told that it's part of the game, that it would be well seen, after getting the large contract”.

We heard today from Broccolini that Mr. Padulo had a sales pitch saying that attending the cocktail party would allow guests to discuss contracts with the minister. The minister put himself in a clear conflict of interest. He knew it and he continues to deny it.

How can the Prime Minister keep him in his cabinet?

Public Works and Government Services
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, this may have been the way things operated under the previous government. I note that on Elections Canada's website Joseph Broccolini made significant donations to the Liberal Party in its last year of government.

Of course, when this government was elected, we brought in the Federal Accountability Act. We eliminated the influence of big money in politics: no more corporate donations, no more fat cat donations, and no more union donations. That is what is bringing about more integrity to government, and that is what real leadership on ethics looks like.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act, be read the third time and passed.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to tell you that all four of your House leaders are working very well together.

I did notice the enthusiasm of the member for Winnipeg South Centre, who wanted to pass more crime bills, so I wondered if we could have the unanimous consent of the House to pass all of the crime bills that have been put forward by the good Minister of Justice.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

That is a fairly unspecific motion. I do not know which crime bills are on the order paper.

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the bill was before the House prior to statements by members and question period, the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas was speaking. He has four minutes left to finish his speech. The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will conclude my speech on Bill C-31, which aims to preclude criminals over age 65 from receiving old age security benefits.

My hon. colleague from Hochelaga was quite right to remind me earlier that there are several kinds of victims in society, including victims of crime and victims of economic crime, and that one serious economic crime is depriving people, such as seniors who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, and we know who is doing that. The same is true for people entitled to EI benefits. Yet, the Conservatives have found a way to take away those benefits.

The Conservative government sings its own praises and takes pride in defending victims' interests. But something is not right. My colleague from Compton—Stanstead introduced Bill C-343 in support of victims of crime. In accordance with the will of the majority of the House, this bill was studied by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. But five Conservatives voted against it. That was the first time since I came to this House that a bill specifically meant to help victims of crime had been introduced and, contrary to expectations, the same Conservatives who claim to defend the interests of victims of crime voted against it. That is the real face of this party, which is hypocritical and lies to the public. All it wants is to complicate legislation concerning criminals.

I mentioned this morning that a number of these bills were supported by the Bloc Québécois because none of them were that excessive. The Conservatives have voted against our every effort to make amendments in support of victims.

To conclude, I would like to say again that we will support Bill C-31 because it establishes a balance between those who qualify for old age pensions and those who do not. Of course, criminals do not qualify. However, we strongly condemn the fact that the government is not following through on its commitment to help victims of crime. In fact, it stonewalls all attempts to do just that.

I hope that when the time comes, when we come back to the House for third reading of Bill C-343, all members of the House of Commons will vote in favour of it, including our Conservative colleagues who, this time, might have the heart to support victims of crime.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill is one that all parties support. It is one that really has caused, I think, a good deal of consternation in the country. The NDP will be part of that coalition of all parties to support the bill. However, I do want to make some points about, really, a missed opportunity with regard to this bill.

It is fairly straightforward what we are doing here. We are simply removing, while a person is incarcerated in a federal prison, his or her right to receive old age security benefits. So, it is quite straightforward in that regard. That provision has been in our laws since the Conservative government of Joe Clark, in the late 1970s. The only reason, quite frankly, this bill is coming forward at this point is because of pique on the part of the Prime Minister, who received a letter from Clifford Olson, we all know he is, sort of taunting the Prime Minister about the fact that, now that he was over 65, Mr. Olson was receiving old age benefits.

Unfortunately, as is all too often the case with the current government and the current Prime Minister, there was a knee-jerk response to dealing with the issue.

As I said, all parties agree that federally incarcerated prisoners, as a general rule, should not be receiving both support while they are in custody in a federal prison and old age benefits from the federal government. That is a given. And it is part of the problem that there should not be an absolute rule.

As I have said, this has been going on now in this country for more than 30 years, getting into 35 years now. However, instead of taking the time, rather than taking a prudent, fiscally responsible and, from the perspective of the victims of crime, thorough review of this, we simply had this knee-jerk response by the Conservatives that they would show Olson, that they would take this right away from him and, at the same time, take it away from everybody else.

Here is where the problems lie. This has been through committee and we dug up as much information as we could. There are all sorts of potential situations we are not aware of. For instance, we do not know who is receiving the old age pension, who is entitled to it at this point. The figure we received was a bit vague. There are approximately 600 prisoners in our federal prisons, out of about 14,000, who are eligible to receive it, as they are over the age of 65. We do not know, though, how many have ever applied or how many have actually received the old age benefit. We do not know that. The only people who would have that information are the individual prisoners who are incarcerated. We have never made any attempt within Corrections Canada to ascertain that information. We were told by the commissioner of prisons that it would take literally months and months to go through every single prisoner over the age of 65 to ascertain that information.

We also do not know if, in fact, these moneys are subject to other court orders. Certainly, we see periodically that there are orders for restitution. We do not know if these funds would have been available for that purpose and, in fact, were being used for that purpose of paying restitution to victims of the crimes these prisoners had committed. We do not know if there are any dependants of the prisoner, to whom these funds are flowing.

Had this been done prudently, properly, the way we are supposed to pass legislation in this House, we would have discovered answers to all those questions.

Finally, with regard to what we do not know, is this going to have an impact of any kind on the amount of money that is received by the federal prison system?

There is a provision within section 78 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that allows the corrections authorities to actually take moneys from prisoners for the provision of their food, clothing and one other minor item, but basically for food and clothing. We in fact do that on a very limited basis; it is hardly at all, but we do it a little bit. Therefore we do not know in this case whether those funds would be used for that purpose.

If the bill goes through, which obviously it is going to, since it has unanimous support, we do not know if in fact some money is going to be lost to Corrections Canada in that regard.

We know this. It is going to save the federal treasury some money. I will add to the list of things we do not know. We have no idea, even though there have been estimates from the government, how much it is going to save. It goes back to the point that we have no idea how many prisoners have, in the past, applied for and begun receiving the old age security benefit.

I want to make one point about the bill itself that gave all members of the committee cause for concern. I moved a series of amendments to the bill. There was a provision in the bill that made it very clear that persons could only, in effect, reinstate their pension benefits once they were released from the federal prisons by notifying the minister of their release. Because of the way the section was worded, they could only give that notice of release after they had been released.

On my party's behalf, I moved amendments, and ultimately after some negotiations with the government and the opposition parties, we reached an agreement and we have amended the bill so that, when prisoners are advised of their pending release, they at that point can give notice to the minister of their pending release so that paperwork can begin to be processed.

This is not a reflection on the officials within the human resources department, but we all know there are times when payments get delayed. There was quite a concern that, if delays occurred, we would have the situation of people being released on the street over age 65, almost certainly unemployable, and then either having to receive municipal welfare benefits and having that level of government shoulder this burden, when clearly it is the responsibility of the federal government, or because of being desperate for revenue, committing further crimes in order to support themselves.

For those two reasons we moved those amendments. We got the co-operation of the government ultimately to change the wording somewhat to provide that notice can be given at the time the notice of release is being given. That usually is a minimum of 30 days before the person is released, so there will be sufficient time for the department to process the application.

I will spend a few more minutes on the other missed opportunities that I made some reference to. There was not only an opportunity to take this benefit away from convicted criminals but there were also, had we moved on this, a number of other areas where we could have implemented some reforms that in fact would have aided victims directly.

I want to be very clear that this saving is going to stay in the human resources department. It is not going to go to the victims. The victims' benefit out of the bill is absolutely zilch. That is where the missed opportunity was.

We are not talking a great deal of dollars, but it is a substantial amount when we look at the number of prisoners. It could be as much as several million dollars. We could have, for instance, said that while they were incarcerated all of this money would be paid into a victims' compensation fund. That did not happen.

We could have gone beyond that and looked at other revenue streams and other assets that could have been made available as compensation for victims. This would be compensation for physical injury more often than not, as well as for psychological trauma suffered as a result of a violent crime perpetrated on a victim, or in some cases a victim's family.

Because of what happened in the exchange between Clifford Olson and the Prime Minister, we had an opportunity to make significant amendments to expose those other assets through court orders so that victims would be able to receive the funds directly and be compensated for the injuries they suffered. We missed that opportunity completely.

We could have looked at several areas, such as expanding a source for restitution to be paid, expanding payments directly to victims as a result of individual lawsuits against the perpetrators of the crimes, and exposing other assets. We had the opportunity to look at all of those, but the government chose this knee-jerk response to slap back at Mr. Olson. We must recognize that this does nothing for any of the victims and it is not going to do anything for any of the victims.

Those were missed opportunities. I would urge the government to consider, as I did during committee hearings, those potential amendments.

It was interesting to listen to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation at committee. It stated that there already was a section in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that would allow the government to take money from prisoners. This group is not exactly an ally of my party on a historical basis, but on this we agree, that there are opportunities here to save the taxpayer some money. From my perspective, the government should go after the assets of some wealthy prisoners to compensate specific victims or the money could go into a general victims compensation fund. It is a fund that we are beginning to scratch the surface on with the government. An additional source of revenue would be a great boon to what we could be doing to assist victims of crime.

This was a missed opportunity. I urge the government to take another look at this area for other reforms that are badly needed, which would be useful to the victims of crime.

We will be supporting the bill, but we hope that at some point in the future the government will move on these other areas.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member made a thoughtful and constructive intervention on this bill, which is going to pass.

We are always looking to learn lessons from how legislation has been crafted. Many members will not be able to fully understand the significant forces which come to play on a matter like this one, where we are trying to surgically remove something without unintended consequences. I have a feeling there probably are unintended consequences. That concerns me. It concerns me when a piece of legislation is motivated by public outrage regarding Clifford Olson as opposed to helping victims of crime.

Not having been able to participate on committee and to discuss this issue with officials or expert witnesses, I wonder if the member would care to advise the House about the charter implications of dealing with some people one way and with others another way. This may be affected by their personal wealth, their name, whatever it might be. It seems to me there may be pressure with respect to charter violations in terms of people not being equal under the law.

Eliminating Entitlements for Prisoners Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, at committee I raised the issue of whether this bill was charter proof. I have some doubts as to whether it would survive a charter challenge. From discussions with defence lawyers and some of the agencies that deal with prisoners, it is unlikely there would ever be a charter challenge, and practically speaking, it probably would never happen.

The agencies that deal with prisoners believe that the vast majority of prisoners currently incarcerated do not apply for the old age security benefit until shortly before they get out. That is the general belief. That category of prisoners is not going to bring the application on.

These applications are very expensive. An applicant, in effect, would be taking on the federal government in at least the Federal Court of Appeal if not the Supreme Court of Canada. There is no practical way a prisoner could afford that. Even wealthy prisoners who might be able to afford the fees would look at the minimal amount they would get. They would probably not receive much with the clawback, and they may get as little as zero. There would be no motivation for people who could pay for it. The final issue is whether the provincial legal aid plans would cover it. They may very well not, given what the costs would be.

There were comments made in the response from the minister's office that it was charter proof. It pointed out some examples at the provincial level where benefits have been taken back. When we analyze each one of those benefits, there is criteria that has to be met. It is understandable why the benefit could be taken back or there could be a refusal to pay it while prisoners were incarcerated in provincial institutions. That criteria is entirely different from the criteria of what is needed in order to get the old age pension in this country.

If somebody does challenge it, I think there is a reasonably strong chance it will be overturned, but the reality is it probably will never be challenged.