House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would also like to draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of Commissioner Brian Peddle, territorial commander for Canada and Bermuda of the Salvation Army.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask, for the first time as deputy House leader of the official opposition, the usual Thursday question.

To start, I would like to point out that, according to the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, the weekly statement is not supposed to serve as an opportunity to engage in negotiations or debate.

That is unfortunate, because just yesterday, the government saw fit to shut down debate on another bill, Bill C-13. I would very much have liked to remedy that situation by having a debate here in this House on the government's repeated undemocratic actions. However, I hesitate to do so because I do not want to be reprimanded by the Chair. So I will limit myself to saying that I believe that Canadians expect elected officials to debate the legislation before them and not to engage in procedural games.

Could the government House leader tell us and all Canadians what bills he is planning to subject to time allocation next week, other than the 644 pages of Bill C-13, and when the House will have its next supply day? Given the pattern of opposition days up to now, I think we can expect the next supply day on Thursday of next week, but please correct me if the government is changing its pattern for any reason.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as we have said before, our government's top priority is the economy. Despite global economic challenges, nearly 600,000 new jobs have been created in Canada, 90% of them full-time. Through Canada's economic action plan our government has put forward focused and effective policies that have promoted job creation and economic growth in all sectors of the economy. That has been reflected in this week's successful jobs and economic growth week.

Our government will continue to focus on delivering important measures for Canada's economy. Thus, next week we will be delivering results on jobs week, and anticipate passing the next phase of our low tax plan for jobs and growth next week.

Beginning tomorrow, we will move forward on report stage for Bill C-18, Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act. This important bill provides economic choice to western Canadian farmers. I understand that the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre has a number of amendments on the notice paper, but keep in mind that getting this bill passed would give farmers predictability for next year's growing season, which is an objective. I am looking forward to a productive, efficient and civil debate on the legislation, which will finally deliver freedom to western Canadian grain farmers after seven decades.

We will continue debate on Bill C-18 next Wednesday. I am hoping that we will be debating the bill's third reading on Wednesday, if the debate tomorrow turns out to be productive and efficient. In the last election, we committed to moving forward with Canada's economic action plan, a low tax plan for jobs and growth. Canadians gave our Conservative government a majority mandate to implement our plan.

On Monday, we will have the final day of debate on Bill C-13, the Keeping Canada's Economy and Jobs Growing Act, our primary bill in job creation and economic prosperity week. Bill C-13 implements important measures from our budget such as the small business tax credit and the extension of the accelerated capital cost allowance to make our manufacturers more competitive.

On Tuesday morning, we will continue debate on Bill C-7, the Senate Reform Act. The bill has already been debated on three days, so I hope that following Tuesday's debate the opposition will allow members to vote on this bill that will allow the Senate to reach its full potential as an accountable and democratic institution.

On Tuesday afternoon, we will continue debate on the opposition's motion to block Bill C-11, the copyright modernization act. The bill is another of our priority economic bills that the opposition is trying to prevent coming to a vote through what it calls a reasoned amendment.

Bill C-11 would create modern copyright laws to protect and create jobs, promote innovation, and attract new investment to Canada. This will be the fourth day that the bill has been debated. The time has come for members to have the chance to vote on this important economic bill. However, if the opposition continues in its efforts to delay and block the bill, we will again debate it on Thursday.

As is always the case, we will give priority to other important bills that may be reported back by committees. I refer especially to Bill C-10, as I understand that the justice and human rights committee is working hard, even as we speak, to complete its clause-by-clause consideration of the bill later today, I hope.

Finally, the next allotted day will be on Friday, November 25.

Tabling of Document by President of the Treasury Board--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised by the member for Malpeque, on November 4, concerning the tabling of a document by the President of the Treasury Board.

I would like to thank the member for Malpeque for raising this matter, as well as the hon. Minister of State and Chief Government Whip, and the members for Richmond—Arthabaska and Winnipeg North for their comments.

The facts of this case are as follows. During oral questions on Friday, November 4, 2011, questions were posed which made reference to the resignation of a member of the Auditor General’s internal audit committee in protest over the appointment of the new Auditor General. In one of these questions, the member for Bourassa named the individual concerned. Then, after question period, the President of the Treasury Board tabled a document that detailed a political donation this individual had made, referring to him by name twice.

In raising this point of order, the member for Malpeque condemned the minister's action, claiming that:

It is fear and intimidation. It can put the chill of fear into public servants and individuals in Canada donating to a political party that a minister will use that against them. By implication, it can be damaging to a person's reputation.

In response, the Chief Government Whip pointed out that since the document contained publicly available information, no confidentiality had been breached and no offence committed.

Before dealing with the substance of the point of order raised by the member for Malpeque, I would remind the House that ministers enjoy considerable latitude and may, at their discretion, table a wide range of documents in the House.

Standing Order 32(2) states:

A Minister of the Crown, or a Parliamentary Secretary acting on behalf of a Minister, may, in his or her place in the House, state that he or she proposes to lay upon the Table of the House, any report or other paper dealing with a matter coming within the administrative responsibilities of the government, and, thereupon, the same shall be deemed for all purposes to have been laid before the House.

Accordingly, it is clear that the President of the Treasury Board was acting within the established rules of the House in tabling a document for the information of members.

However, the information in the document tabled by the President of the Treasury Board, though publicly available, remains information about an individual in his capacity as a private citizen. Therefore, the Chair would like to take this opportunity to remind all members of what my predecessors had to say on similar matters.

As Speaker Fraser outlined in a ruling on May 5, 1987, the freedom of speech members of the House enjoy is an “awesome and far-reaching privilege”, one that allows our “parliamentary system to operate free of any hindrance”. But he added, at page 5766 of the Debates, that:

Such a privilege confers grave responsibilities on those who are protected by it. By that I mean specifically the Hon. Members of this place.... All Hon. members are conscious of the care they must exercise in availing themselves of their absolute privilege of freedom of speech. That is why there are long-standing practices and traditions observed in this House to counter the potential for abuse.

This same caution is taken up in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 616, which states:

Members are discouraged from referring by name to persons who are not Members of Parliament and who do not enjoy parliamentary immunity, except in extraordinary circumstances when the national interest calls for this.

Cognizant of this fundamental principle and having acknowledged that there is no rule that prohibits mentioning individuals by name in the House, my predecessors have warned members of the potential risks of referring to members of the public in the House.

On April 24, 2007, on pages 85 and 86 of Debates, Speaker Milliken said:

It is incumbent upon all members to exercise fairness with respect to those who are not in a position to defend themselves. That being said, the Chair finds no grounds for further action in the present case.

On May 26, 1987, at page 6375 of Debates, Speaker Fraser went even further, stating:

It is not simply that such people could be slandered, with impunity, without any redress available to them, but that wrongdoing may be implied simply by making a personal reference.

On the same occasion he reminded the House of the immediacy with which remarks are widely communicated, stating:

...We are living in a day when anything said in this place is said right across the country and that is why I have said before and why I say again that care ought to be exercised, keeping in mind that the great privilege we do have ought not to be abused.

I need not elaborate on the fact that what was true in 1987 is even truer today.

It is these wise cautionary remarks that have prompted me to use this occasion to remind all hon. members to use great care when referring to or singling out an individual who does not have a voice here in this House and to avoid circumstances when, by such reference, an individual could have his or her reputation damaged without having the opportunity to respond.

I thank all hon. members for their attention.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in my place to address this important matter.

Before I go too far with what I have to say, I believe my hon. colleague's motion bears repeating. The hon. member for Toronto Centre moved:

That the House call on the Government of Canada to address on an urgent basis the needs of those First Nations communities whose members have no access to clean, running water in their homes; that action to address this disparity begin no later than spring 2012; and that the House further recognize that the absence of this basic requirement represents a continuing affront to our sense of justice and fairness as Canadians.

I thank the hon. member for putting forth this motion and raising this vitally important matter. Our government is strongly committed to the health and safety of all Canadians, whether they live on reserves or off, whether they are aboriginal or not. This remains a priority for all of us in the House.

I also want to inform all hon. members that I support this motion. That should come as no surprise to anyone. Like my hon. friend from Toronto Centre, I, too, believe the government needs to help ensure that all first nations communities have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water. I, too, believe action should continue to be taken to ensure this kind of access. I, too, believe that the absence of safe, clean and reliable drinking water in first nations communities must be addressed.

Thankfully, our government recognizes the scope of the challenge raised in the motion. In fact, when the government assumed office five years ago, we made access to drinking water in first nations communities a national priority.

Since 2006, our government has made important and strategic infrastructure investments to support first nations in operating their water and waste water systems. We also launched a five-point plan of action for drinking water in first nations communities. In fact, our first budget contained important investments to start delivering concrete results from our plan. Moreover, by March 31, 2010, our government has invested approximately $1.25 billion in first nations water and waste water infrastructure. That investment will total approximately $2.5 billion by the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Clearly, this is a government that is taking action, yet the job is not done. We continue to work with willing partners to find and implement concrete solutions to support access to safe drinking water. Our approach continues to be twofold. First, it involves determining with first nations the exact long-term infrastructure developments needed for each first nations community. Second, it involves putting in place an effective regulatory regime based on standards enshrined in law. This regulatory regime is meant to protect the integrity of our current and future infrastructure investments and safeguard access to safe drinking water in first nations communities.

This approach is based on the findings of several key reports. Let me take a few minutes to share some valuable insights from those reports and how these reports are helping our government deliver results and continue to make progress on this important issue.

To determine the exact long-term infrastructure development needed for each first nations community, we carried out a detailed national assessment of existing public and private water and water waste systems operated by first nations communities across the country. This was a comprehensive, independent, third party evaluation.

In fact, we are the first government to ever commission a national assessment of this kind. The size and scope of the assessment was unprecedented. More than 4,000 on-reserve water, waste water, well and septic systems were rated against an extensive set of criteria. The rating is based on the overall system management risk. It looks at whether system design or mechanical features are up to modern standards, for example, or if operators are fully certified.

The report gives us a more complete picture of the challenges and opportunities ahead. The national assessment will help first nations and our government focus efforts on priority areas. It will point to solutions. It will help ensure the most effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

In addition, our government has developed a response plan to address the findings and recommendations of the national assessment. This response focuses on three key areas of action: first, improving technologies and partnerships to ensure the best use of investments in infrastructure; second, enhancing capacity building and training; and third, putting in place legal, enforceable federal standards and protocols.

The assessment is also the government's direct response to a recent report of the Auditor General, who called on the government to do more to monitor the quality of drinking water on reserves. The Auditor General also called for a regulatory regime for on reserve drinking water and waste water systems. The Office of the Auditor General is not the only institution to make this recommendation.

In 2006, the government put together a panel of experts to identify workable options for a regulatory regime for on-reserve drinking water and waste water systems. The panel gathered testimony from representatives of first nations, provinces and territories, along with various experts in water and engineering. In its report, the panel identified three feasible regulatory options. The most sensible option was federal incorporation by reference of provincial and territorial laws, with adaptations required to meet the needs of first nations communities.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development echoed the panel's calls. The commissioner also made a series of recommendations. The most important was the call to create a federally regulatory regime for drinking water on reserve. Indeed, the commissioner stated flatly that until a regulatory regime compatible with that in the provinces was in place, the federal government could not ensure that first nations people living on reserves would have continued access to safe drinking water.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development was not alone. A 2007 report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples came to essentially the same conclusion. After hearing from dozens of witnesses, committee members stated bluntly in the report: “Legislation to regulate water standards on reserve is required. No one, including this committee, argues differently”.

The Senate committee report went on to make another key recommendation. The committee called on the government to undertake a comprehensive consultation process with first nations communities and organizations regarding legislative options, with a view to collaboratively developing such legislation.

That is exactly what we did. In response to this recommendation, the Government of Canada initiated an ongoing consultation process. To be precise, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada published a discussion paper and distributed it to interested parties in advance of a series of focused engagement sessions. Nearly 700 participants, including more than 500 representatives of first nations communities, were given the opportunity to provide their comments and suggestions on the proposal made by the panel experts and endorsed by the government.

This option is to incorporate, by reference, existing provincial and territorial regulations, with adaptation to meet the needs of first nations communities. No other viable option was put forward.

It is that opinion which forms the foundation of Bill S-11, the safe drinking water for first nations act. Why the law? This government understands that standards on their own are not enough. Standards must be supported by the force of law.

As a result of the dissolution of Parliament on March 26, 2011, however, Bill S-11 died in committee. I am pleased to report that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has been dialoguing with first nations on this issue and will be introducing water regulations which will be designed to give the same protection to first nations that other Canadians have. This type of legislation would make it possible for our government to work with first nations communities to develop enforceable federal regulations, regulations that would address the provisions of safe drinking water, effective treatment of waste water and to protect sources of drinking water in first nations communities. Indeed, our government continues to make access to safe drinking water and effective waste water treatment on reserves a national priority.

As my hon. friend's motion attests, the challenge remains. On Tuesday, Ecojustice, a national charitable organization dedicated to ensuring Canadians can enjoy a healthy environment, publicized its recent report on water quality in Canada. The group's report noted the absence of drinking water legislation for first nations communities. I can assure the people at Ecojustice and all Canadians that we recognize the clear need for rigorous standards to uphold the quality of drinking water in first nations communities.

Our government is committed to introducing a federal law regarding first nations drinking water as soon as possible. I can assure Canadians that we have and continue to make important and strategic investments to improve and maintain water and waste water systems in first nations communities.

Our government is committed to working with willing partners to ensure first nations communities have access to safe drinking water. We will continue to move forward with our first nations and other partners to make waste water and water systems solutions a reality.

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this whole discussion today. We are pleased to see the opposition members turning their attention to an issue that we have been spending a lot of time and action on in the past five years. More contemporaneously, I appreciate the member who has been working hard with us on the aboriginal affairs committee.

I have a technical question for him about risk levels as he mentioned in his speech. We have been doing the hard work here with respect to understanding this fully and completely. What do risk levels actually mean? If a community's water system is rated as high risk, does that necessarily mean that water in the community is unsafe to drink? This would be the first in a series of technical questions, but could he start by answering that?

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are different designations of risk. There is high, medium and low. The system risk scores are an overall risk assessment of the management risk and not a measure of current water quality. It is the risk that the system would fail to produce safe water in the event of a problem. In most cases, systems identified as high risk are providing safe water for communities. The identification of a system as “high risk” helps the department direct resources where they are needed most and is a tool used to prevent problems before they arise.

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, as this is the first time I have risen to ask a question in the debate today, I want to thank the Liberal Party of Canada for putting forward this important resolution to focus our attention on first nations drinking water quality and I thank the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia for his presentation on the issue.

I think we are all of one mind in the House and I would like to take partisanship out of it. As long as I can remember, parliamentarians of all stripes have been talking about the scandal that first nations in this country do not have drinkable water. It is a federal responsibility and yet it seems to bedevil the solution.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia, can he suggest how, with new legislation, we could deliver the results we want if we do not back it up with billions more dollars?

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, it has been recognized in the past that we have thrown billions and billions of dollars at this problem. Without a standard of law being put in place, we will not be able to ensure this works well. When we put the regulation in place, it will also be a matter of law to ensure that all systems are run properly, legally, and within the letter of the law.

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member a question regarding Attawapiskat, a community on which I saw a short film, a documentary.

Where does the hon. member rank this community on the scale of how underserved it is in terms of drinking water?

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not have the list that ranks any of the first nations from 1 to 571. They have all been assessed and given priority by this government. They will all be looked at. I can assure the member that the first nations that he is speaking of will be looked at when the measures are put in place.

Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Affairs
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, let me pass on congratulations to my colleague, who I work with in committee, for a fine presentation.

I would ask my colleague to expand a little on the new report that is out and talk about what we have in terms of regulations concerning the water quality that must be adhered to, and how it will help pick up the pace in getting rid of major problems on reserves. Might he have a word or two on the new regulations for us?