House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, while I am quite happy that workers' protection will be considered by the environmental review that is being proposed, the real problem is that the CNLOPB only has two reasons to do what it is doing: one, it is there to ensure that the workers will be protected against any possible harm; or two, that there are serious environmental concerns.

There are no workers at the Old Harry site. I do not see how doing what the government is proposing could possibly help workers who simply do not exist. They have not been hired yet. There is nothing there. There is not even exploration that is occurring at this point.

The only thing left for the CNLOPB at this point is to have invoked its own articles and struck this environmental review based on serious environmental concern. I am pleased that the government is actually admitting to the fact that there are serious environmental concerns that must be addressed but they will not be addressed by what is being proposed.

The only real way to address this is to ask the experts. That is why the Environmental Assessment Act actually proposes a serious, credible system to deal with the problems in Old Harry. The problem is to have the commission struck by the environment minister.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, in some ways the member opposite answers his own question. Our government does take the sustainable development of Canada's natural resources very seriously. He understands that and that is why the proposed Old Harry project in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is undergoing a thorough and transparent environmental assessment. Most projects of this magnitude do that.

The health and safety of Canadians, as he has pointed out, and the protection of the environment are important to our government. The environmental assessment report submitted to the board by Corridor Resources Inc. is part of the environmental screening process that ensures the protection of both workers and the environment.

I would like to repeat that the board and all Canadian regulators will not allow any offshore activity to occur unless they are certain the environment and the health and safety of workers are being protected.

Once the board has updated its strategic environmental assessment, public consultations on the project specific environmental assessment of Old Harry will resume.

The environmental review is on track and that is good news for everyone and good news for all of Canada.

March 8th, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the availability of the parliamentary secretary at this late hour to respond to my further questions on this matter.

I put a question to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on February 27 that related to the interim report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada several weeks ago. Regrettably, the response by the minister dealt with the original mandate for the commission and actions taken, to the credit of the government, to this point in time. I will put the question again to this House and I would appreciate an elaboration on any thought that the government has given to the interim report issued by the commission.

Most profoundly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada drew a very strong and powerful conclusion that residential schools constituted an assault on aboriginal children, families, culture, self-governing and self-sustaining aboriginal nations and that the impact has been ongoing for some time.

I know the minister has commended the commission for its work and I know all members of this House and all Canadians would want to step forward and commend the commission for its work. Having had the opportunity to participate, even indirectly, in some of these sessions at the Assembly of First Nations Conference on Justice and having witnessed the testimony of some of the first nations that are trying to recover from their experience at residential schools, we owe a profound thanks to the commission for conducting this work and doing it in a very sincere and caring way. I know all Canadians look forward to the eventual report that it will issue.

The commission was mandated to look into the harm suffered by residents in the residential schools, to come forward with a plan for compensation, to deliver that compensation and to provide a report to the government. However, the commission, in its thoughtfulness, has come forward with an interim report that puts forward some very interesting and helpful recommendations on a number of matters that have been talked about in this House many times, such as the availability of resources for healing, and health and education for first nations peoples. I will touch on a couple of those.

The commission, in its interim report, recommended the need for the federal government to invest in high quality mental health and cultural support services into the long term. It also interestingly recommended that there be a review of curriculum materials for non-aboriginal students so that we can ensure that all Canadians have a full understanding of the trauma that our first nations friends and neighbours suffered through.

It also recommended that the government turn to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to move forward on its reconciliation activities. As well, it called for the restoration of funds in the coming budget to the National Healing Foundation.

I look forward to the response by the Government of Canada to these recommendations put forward by the commission.

6:20 p.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to say that while I may not always agree with the member on a number of points, I appreciate the enthusiasm and the passion with which she brings these forward, not just in this place but also in the important work we do in our committee and of course in forums like this where we have a chance to talk a little more extensively on certain issues.

I am also pleased to have this opportunity to speak with respect to truth and reconciliation on the bigger issue of Indian residential schools. As a former signatory and legal counsel to that process prior to my political life and from serving constituents in the great Kenora riding, I can assure the member and members of this place that I am well versed on this and happy to make representations on it.

Aboriginal and treaty rights are protected in Canada through a unique framework. These rights are enshrined in our Constitution, including our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are complemented by practical policies to adapt our evolving reality. This framework will continue to be the cornerstone of our efforts to promote and protect the rights of aboriginal Canadians.

More than a year ago Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, illustrating our government's commitment to reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on good faith, partnership and mutual respect. This endorsement offered an opportunity to strengthen relations with first nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada, and to support Canada's ongoing work on indigenous issues internationally.

As always, we will continue to make strides in the reconciliation and fulfillment of aboriginal rights through negotiation of modern treaties and the settlement of specific claims.

I would also like to reiterate that through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, a court approved settlement, the Government of Canada provided $60 million for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to carry out its important mandate. The commission released its interim report on February 24, as is known to this place, and our government will now take the time to review the report and consider its recommendations.

We are committed to supporting former residential school students and their families throughout the implementation of the settlement agreement, including providing access to important mental health and emotional support services. To date, 97% of the 80,000 originally estimated living former students have received their common experience payment compensation, totalling over $1.6 billion. Over 14,000 independent assessment process claims have been heard or settled through negotiations, totalling $1.3 billion.

On January 16, the Government of Canada announced that the advocacy and public information program will allocate $3 million in 2012 and 2013, bringing its total funding over the last six years to more than $25 million. This program began in 2007 and encourages the sharing of information to ensure that aboriginal communities, particularly former students and their families, are aware of all aspects of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and its potential impacts.

The goals of the 2012 to 2013 funding are to support healing and reconciliation, with a particular emphasis on youth and intergenerational issues; to promote a better understanding of the impacts of the legacy of Indian residential schools; and to build new partnerships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

Clearly, our government will continue to work with our partners and other countries for the advancement of the cause of indigenous rights around the world, and we will continue to live up to the terms of that court approved settlement and our commitment to truth and reconciliation.

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his response, but I would appreciate a response to my very specific question.

As the parliamentary secretary is aware, when that agreement and the sums of dollars to be paid out in compensation were assessed, there was an underestimation of the number of claimants who would come forward. Since then, the number has almost doubled.

In addition to that, as I mentioned, the commission has recommended a number of additional areas where funding should be provided, including to educate non-aboriginal people in the trauma that aboriginal Canadians suffered in the schools. More specifically, it has recommended very particularly that the funding be restored for the healing centres. I wonder if the member could address those questions.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly our government is taking action on addressing the concerns of first nations on human rights issues.

The Government of Canada is committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of Indian residential schools and we are committed to supporting reconciliation among aboriginal people who attended these schools, their families and communities, and all Canadians.

As the Prime Minister noted in the 2008 apology, the knowledge of our shared history is an important basis for a new relationship with aboriginal people.

Our government is committed to supporting former residential school students and their families throughout the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, including providing access to important mental health and emotional support services.

Bringing closure to the legacy of Indian residential schools lies at the heart of reconciliation and the renewal of the relationship between aboriginal people and all Canadians.

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was very surprised to hear the reply by the Minister of Public Safety to the question I asked in this House on November 18. My question was simple:

...under the pretext of cutting costs, the government is penalizing our region. While the economy remains fragile, the government's measures are harmful to farmers, tourists, emergency services that have cross-border reciprocal agreements, and all of the families that feel torn apart by these service reductions.

Will the government commit to reopening the border crossings that have been closed and returning the others to their former hours of operation?

Unfortunately, the minister's reply had nothing to do with my question. Instead, he used this exchange to criticize the political party to which I belong. Therefore, I will again ask my question in the House today.

Let me point out to the minister, who accuses the NDP of shutting down the Canadian economy, that the Canada Border Service Agency's decision to reduce the hours of operation of the three border crossings in my riding has directly paralyzed the economy of my riding and, indirectly, that of Canada. In my riding, the border crossings of Morse's Line in St. Armand, East Pinnacle in Frelighsburg, and Glen Sutton in Sutton are affected.

The impact of these cuts to a public service is major. They affect the economy of border communities because they interfere with the flow of goods, services and people. Since these measures were implemented on April 1, 2011, they have had a negative effect on my riding's economic vitality.

People can no longer move about freely. Many American tourists like coming to discover and visit communities in my riding. When border crossings are open only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., people cannot spend the whole day in our region. Families are also suffering because of this change. Many people in my riding have family members in the United States, and shorter business hours at border crossings mean that they see their loved ones less frequently.

Service cuts have also reduced the flow of goods and services. This is a problem for farmers and firefighters on both sides of the border, who have agreements to respond to emergencies on both Canadian and American soil. These measures also hinder socio-economic development and are crippling my riding.

In conclusion, I hope that tonight, I will get an answer to the question I asked on November 18.

6:30 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar
Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, as my hon. colleague is well aware, there are approximately 7,300 uniformed officers who clear over 90 million travellers and process over 13 million commercial releases each year in Canada. I can assure the member that our government is focused on ensuring our border is secure while easing the flow of legitimate travel and trade.

We are doing this through initiatives such as the action plan on perimeter security and economic competitiveness and the action plan on regulatory co-operation. These were both announced by our Prime Minister and President Obama in December of last year. As the Prime Minister said:

We are pursuing an ambitious global trade agenda while at the same time ensuring enhanced access to the United States, our largest and most important trading partner. Together, these agreements represent the most significant step forward in Canada–U.S. cooperation since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

These action plans are a step in the right direction.

Let me assure the member opposite that we have not stopped there. We are also investing in border infrastructure including new lanes at the busiest crossings. We cannot forget that the CBSA must ensure that people and goods are cleared as quickly as possible, without compromising the safety and security of Canadians. I also would like to remind the House that we are accountable to taxpayers. We must ensure that operations are carried out in a cost-effective and responsible manner. That is why it is important for my hon. colleague to understand the actions taken by the CBSA.

With that in mind, I would like to set the record straight about the statement made by the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi about the reduction of hours at three border crossings in his riding. At East Pinnacle, for example, border operations were reduced by eight hours. This port of entry now closes at 4 p.m. instead of midnight. There is a 24/7 port of entry only 10 kilometres away. With only 58 travellers per day, reducing the hours made good sense. The second port of entry in question is Glen Sutton. This port of entry processed 37 people a day. I am sure even my hon. colleague would have a hard time justifying a 24/7 port of entry for only 37 people per day. Since the port of entry down the road, 11.5 kilometres away, also has 24/7 service, it was clear that reducing the hours to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. was more realistic and operationally sound. The last port of entry that reduced its hours is Morses Line. This port of entry is now open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the 84 travellers who use it daily. After 4 p.m., travellers proceed to Saint Armand–Phillipsburg 13 kilometres away where service is provided 24/7.

The rationale for the decisions to reduce hours at ports of entry is to ensure that operations are not only cost effective but also as efficient as possible. These are difficult decisions, but they make sense. The CBSA was able to do this while keeping its mandate intact and still providing excellent service by dedicated professionals. This is good border management which the government expects and Canadians deserve.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, while the government claims to be helping Canada prosper, it is in fact stifling development in my region. It is killing jobs in ridings targeted by these cuts to border services. Border communities have been developing relationships and agreements for decades now. These measures really jeopardize all that work. Whether we are talking about 58 people, 37 people or 84 people, that is not a significant amount in a budget, but for a small community, that is a huge number of people who will have lower levels of service. These measures will jeopardize what we have spent the last few decades trying to develop. People's quality of life and their safety will be seriously affected, yet the savings will be minimal.

When will the government restore normal hours of operation? I am asking the question again. When will the government give the communities in question the means to continue to grow normally, so that no one is left behind?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, the facts really do speak for themselves. When travel volumes do not support long hours at border crossings, they need to be examined. If appropriate, changes need to be made. This is reasonable.

I can assure members these were sound decisions that were made through tight fiscal management and the pursuit of a sound strategic agenda. They were made in a way that enables the CBSA to still meet the needs of the surrounding community without compromising security. Security was not compromised, jobs were not lost and taxpayer dollars are being better spent. I know the CBSA will continue to provide the kind of service at the border that Canadians have grown to expect and deserve, keeping travel and trade flowing while ensuring safety and security.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:38 p.m.)