Last in Parliament November 2005, as Liberal MP for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2006, with 34.51% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Petitions November 28th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House to present a petition on behalf of residents in my riding. They ask that autism be included in the Canada Health Act for therapy treatment and for the inclusion of chairs in the appropriate universities and colleges in all our provinces and territories to teach same.

Clare Laking November 28th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to pay tribute to Mr. Clare Laking, who passed away this weekend in Toronto. He was one of Canada's five surviving World War I veterans. He was just a few months shy of his 107th birthday.

Mr. Laking served our nation proudly. He was a private with the Canadian Field Artillery's 27th Battery during the first world war. He served in France as a signaller, stringing telephone wire along the trenches. In 1929, he married his wife, the late Helen Patterson. They had two children.

Today, on behalf of all members of the House and indeed all Canadians, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Clare Laking and urge all Canadians to follow his example of remembering the fallen.

Canada Labour Code November 22nd, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in debate on Bill C-380. I must, however, disagree with the provisions of the bill.

The member of Parliament for Shefford is suggesting an amendment to part II of the Canada Labour Code, related to pregnant or nursing mothers. The section being amended, section 132, relates to a pregnant or nursing mother who believes that continuing in her job poses a risk to her health and that of her fetus or child. In effect, the member for Shefford is suggesting that such an employee should be able to opt for coverage under the occupational health and safety legislation and related programs of the province where she works.

Certainly we know there are possible challenges facing pregnant women and nursing mothers in workplaces across Canada. There are existing protections under the current provisions of the Canada Labour Code. Part II and Part III of the Canada Labour Code already provide pregnant and nursing employees with generous benefits and strong safeguards.

For example, if a pregnant or nursing worker believes there is a risk to her health or the health of her fetus or child, she can stop work and take the necessary time, with full pay, to consult her doctor to determine if she is really at risk. If the risk is indeed of concern, the employer must modify the job or reassign the woman to another job. If the job cannot be changed or reassignment is not possible, the woman is entitled to unpaid leave with the right to return.

Let me remind the House that part III has very generous maternity provisions. An employee gets 17 weeks of maternity leave and is entitled to 37 weeks of parental leave, up to a maximum total of 52 weeks. Her benefits are fully protected and she has the right to return to the same job or a comparable one.

So it appears that Canadian women are well served by these benefits and safeguards in the workplace; however, the government is not standing pat in its evaluation of the current provisions of the Canada Labour Code. The government has agreed to study not only this issue but an entire raft of subjects that are commonly grouped together under labour standards legislation.

As members of the House know, this government is deeply committed to helping all Canadians succeed in the 21st century economy. Improving labour standards is an important part of that commitment. That is why our labour minister recently launched a full review of part III of the Canada Labour Code. This is our first sweeping review of Canada's labour standards in 40 years.

This review is a great opportunity to engage unions, employers and ordinary Canadians in addressing some of the most important issues of the day, including work-life balance, productivity, and employment relationships. With this review, we want to start a wide-ranging national conversation about what Canada's workplaces should look like in the 21st century. We want to reach out to all Canadians and hear about the workplace issues that matter most to them, their families and their communities.

Issues such as the protection of pregnant and nursing workers will certainly be carefully considered during this review. That is why I believe amending the Canada Labour Code now would be premature. It would be short-sighted to go ahead with this kind of amendment before we have a chance to review the commission's report and its recommendations.

One of my chief concerns is that this amendment seeks to short-circuit the whole policy-making process. When it comes to creating social policy in Canada, we need to take time to consider all the facts and all the views and we need to study our options before deciding on a course of action.

We need to consult broadly with all of our stakeholders, including Canadian employers and unions, labour experts, and the provinces and territories. That is how we can ensure that the deliberations in Parliament are effective in deciding the evolution of labour laws in our country.

The bill raises difficult constitutional questions and would introduce a dangerous precedent in the administration of labour law in this country. Federally regulated employees comprise 10% of the Canadian workforce in sectors of key importance to the Canadian economic infrastructure. They include, among others, workers in banks and in Canada's transportation and communications sectors. This means that 90% of Canadian workers are governed by provincial or territorial labour legislation.

In this complex world, the bill would introduce a precedent. An employee subject to the Canada Labour Code could opt for the provincial program in the province where she works if she deemed it to be more generous. Let us consider the type of world this would create, and the type of precedent this would create in the laws and regulations in federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions.

Imagine a country where individuals or employers for that matter could cherry-pick and choose the jurisdiction and its laws that would apply in their particular case. One could imagine the scenario, “I pick this provincial law for this protection”. However, tomorrow the person could say, “In this case, I choose the federal jurisdiction because it is better for me”.

That is certainly no way to run a federal country. This bill would provide employees with the right to choose their effective jurisdiction. Would we then allow the same option in other areas? That is the question that must be considered. I think not. Let us think of the ramifications. Serious evaluation moves us to reject this course of action.

In short, I think all Canadians would benefit if we took more time to examine the issue as we are planning to do. Let the commission that is reviewing part III of the Canada Labour Code do its job and report back to Canadians.

Once we have listened to the views of all Canadians and have the facts in hand then we can move ahead and take action. Protecting pregnant women and nursing mothers in the workplace is a top priority for all Canadians. As parliamentarians it is our job to take the time to study this important issue. It is our job to do it right.

The Environment November 17th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, as Canada prepares to welcome the world to Montreal's UN conference on climate change, could the Minister of the Environment tell the House what additional measure he announced this morning to make sure that Canada does its share for the future of the planet and for generations to come?

Petitions November 17th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to present a petition on behalf of the residents of the Hamilton area who are asking for the inclusion of autism in the therapy treatment program under the Canada Health Act and the establishment of a chair in the appropriate universities in the provinces and the territories.

Supply November 15th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, there is no disagreement on this side that Crown corporations should come under the jurisdiction. That has created some problems and certainly the move forward to the open government act and the suggestions made by the Information Commissioner will do that.

The fact is that there are ongoing negotiations. I can only surmise what they are because I am not privy to them. The hon. member is certainly more privy to the details of the dealings.

What the legislation would clearly define, which would ultimately become the property of this House, is what should be maintained in a confidential manner and what should be available to whom and when. There are just too many partners involved in this to go in and change it overnight at the whim of a carte blanche motion.

Supply November 15th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, Parliament itself is responsible for legislation and we have a right to ask those particular questions.

As things have evolved, I think everyone recognizes that there is a need for increased transparency. The legislation does require a modernization and an upgrade. I indicated earlier that the legislation is 22 years old and no substantial changes have been made in the way we do business. Not too many years ago we did not have access to emails or the degree of telephone calls or communications. Just for those reasons there is a reason to modernize it. Not only Parliament but the public is asking for transparency and access.

The challenge we have, whether it is the doings or the operations of government, it is like that in our public lives. In other words, in dealings that I am doing on, say, a real estate deal or buying my house or things such as that, there are elements of that business that I realize rightly should be kept confidential. What we need to do, and I certainly think it is the proposal by the minister and it is very clearly the intent of the Information Commissioner, is to de-minimize those but ensure the protection is there.

Supply November 15th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I certainly think the response of the minister in introducing his proposals determined and reconfirmed the complexity of the legislation and the issues before us.

It is clear that there is a desire of the mover of the motion to bring it forward and ask for our consideration. However, when the minister tabled his report before the committee and in responding to the request of a former member of this House, John Bryden, and the initiative by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, he went through that and determined there were too many unanswered questions and reconfirmed the complexity of the legislation. There were over 30 elements within the act that required clarification so he asked us to consult Outreach, which is why his approach was very prudent.

Supply November 15th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to speak to elements of the motion put forward by the member for Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre, many of which appear to be reflected in the draft provisions prepared by the Information Commissioner for consideration by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. I wish to take a brief moment to provide the House with some important background information.

As most members know, the Minister of Justice appeared on April 5 of this year before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. At that time the minister tabled with the committee a discussion paper on access to information reform issues. This paper was presented to the committee with the intent of involving parliamentarians in this important reform process.

During his speech to the committee, the minister made clear his goal. His goal was to present the committee with a paper that described a number of key areas for reform, all of which have proven to be difficult to resolve because of their high level of complexity. This complexity includes the need to balance competing interests of apparently equal importance. During his remarks the minister expressed his hope that the committee would be willing to provide its invaluable assistance with a balancing of interests and the resolution of at least some, if not all, of the difficult issues raised in the discussion paper.

I wish to echo the minister's hope that the committee will indeed become engaged in this fundamentally democratic issue, which is the reform of the Access to Information Act, by hearing the views of interested parties on the questions raised in the paper.

The committee, of which I am a member, chose not to study the issues outlined in the discussion paper. Nor did the committee consult with a wide range of stakeholders whose views are of crucial importance in the area of access reform. Instead, the committee asked the Information Commissioner to prepare legislative proposals to reform the Access to Information Act. At the end of September of this year the deputy information commissioner presented the committee with these legislative proposals.

On October 25 the Information Commissioner himself appeared before the committee to discuss his proposals. During his appearance the Information Commissioner confirmed that he had not consulted certain key stakeholders, by which I mean regular requesters, affected government departments, agents of Parliament, crown corporations and other federal entities, companies that provide sensitive commercial information to the government, and foreign governments that share national security information with us. This may explain why a number of the commissioner's proposals may seem acceptable in concept, but are problematic or even unacceptable as drafted.

For example, the Information Commissioner proposes to clarify that ministers' offices are subject to the act, although it appears that the commissioner's intent is to subject only those records held in ministers' offices that relate to departmental matters. The proposal as is does not clearly exclude records of a personal or political nature. This means that a person could potentially obtain information about a minister's constituency business by means of the Access to Information Act which has nothing to do with ministerial accountability.

As stated in the discussion paper, the government is of the opinion that records in a minister's office should not be covered. The current exclusion of these records allows for the free and frank debates that are required to ensure that the political process functions properly.

Further, confidentiality is required for the offices of ministers to respond to constituents' concerns. Also, ministers and exempt staff are already encouraged by the Prime Minister to proactively disclose information about their travel and hospitality expenses. This information can be accessed on their web pages in a timely manner.

On another note, the Information Commissioner proposes to cover cabinet confidences under the act. Currently, cabinet confidences are excluded from the act. Ministers meet regularly in cabinet to exchange views and opinions on policy matters in order to make decisions on government policy. For this decision making process to be fully effective and in order to foster cabinet solidarity, it is essential that ministers be able to have full and frank exchanges between and among themselves and to have the assurance that these exchanges will be protected. As such, the government believes that the exclusion of cabinet confidences from the act should continue, with one important modification.

The government would enshrine in the legislation the right of the Information Commissioner to go to court to challenge definitional issues. This would allow the Information Commissioner to ask the Federal Court to review the government's determination that information sought under an access request fell within the definition of a cabinet confidence and for that reason was properly not accessible pursuant to the act. If the court did not agree with the determination made by the government, the information would no longer be excluded from the application of the act.

The Information Commissioner on the other hand would make cabinet confidences subject to the act, but they would be protected from disclosure by a mandatory exemption. However, this mandatory exemption would have a public interest override attached to it. This means that any cabinet confidence could be disclosed if it were in the public interest to do so. Even leaving aside for the moment the question of whether cabinet confidences should be fully covered by the act, the commissioner's proposal is problematic for a number of reasons.

For example, the Information Commissioner has now consulted with the Privy Council Office to see what the impact would be of having a public interest override applied to cabinet confidences. Do we actually want the Information Commissioner telling the government when it is in the public interest to divulge the deliberations of cabinet?

As well, the addition of cabinet confidences to the act requires consequential amendments to the Canada Evidence Act, the Privacy Act and the other statutes that refer to confidences of cabinet. These necessary amendments have not been considered by the Information Commissioner. This may seem like a small point, but underlines why the commissioner's proposals cannot be adopted without great care being taken.

The Information Commissioner would also broaden the coverage of the act by including all crown corporations. The commissioner would not provide protections for sensitive commercial information. As I mentioned, the Information Commissioner did not even bother to consult with the crowns when drafting this proposal. It is anticipated that many of the crowns would therefore not be satisfied with the Information Commissioner's proposal.

Further, the commissioner would cover all bodies or offices funded in whole or in part from parliamentary appropriations, as well as bodies or offices that provide services in an area of federal jurisdiction that are essential to the public interest as it relates to health, safety or protection of the environment.

I am not certain that the criteria proposed by the Information Commissioner for covering federal entities under the act are the correct criteria. The government considers that the criteria should be related to stable characteristics of the organization, such as function or controlling interest by the government, and not to criteria that relate to fluctuating characteristics such as the level of federal funding. Further again, the commissioner did not consult with federal entities when developing his criteria to add these organizations to the act.

The commissioner would also cover the five agents of Parliament. Related to this, he proposes to create a mandatory exemption for information obtained from another government institution in the course of a lawful investigation. The new exemption proposed by the commissioner would not, however, protect the information created by the agents themselves in the course of their investigations. Apparently the commissioner does not believe that this class of information deserves protection. We disagree and believe that the agents should have an opportunity to give their views.

In addition, the Information Commissioner would amend the exemptions for provisions that protect not only sensitive federal government information, but also the sensitive information of our government allies and businesses. The Information Commissioner would make most exemptions discretionary, which would give governmental institutions a choice as to whether or not they would disclose the information.

Some exemptions function well being discretionary. On the other hand, certain exemptions need to offer a stronger level of protection. For example, section 13, currently a mandatory exemption, protects information received in confidence from governments of other countries. The Information Commissioner proposes to make this exemption discretionary. There is a strong risk that foreign governments would be extremely reluctant to provide sensitive information to Canada without the high level of protection offered by a mandatory, not discretionary, exemption.

Almost all exemptions would be subject to any injury test. This means that a government institution could only invoke the exemption if it could prove that the release of the record would cause injury. Again, some exemptions already contain an injury test and function appropriately. However, other exemptions would not work properly with the injury test attached.

For example, the exemption for information covered by solicitor-client privilege currently has no injury test, as is the case in all provincial and territorial jurisdictions. Subjecting solicitor-client records to the injury test would put the federal government at a clear and unjustifiable disadvantage vis-à-vis protecting the legal advice it receives.

Finally, all exemptions would be subject to a public interest override. The implications of such a general override have not been properly assessed. As I have already stated, the Information Commissioner did not consult with government departments and other entities that would be affected by such a sweeping change.

Currently, the act protects confidential commercial information supplied by third parties specifically including trade secrets which are not defined in the act. The Information Commissioner proposes to define trade secrets. This proposal may seem innocuous but we feel that it could be potentially problematic. When a term is codified it becomes frozen in time and may not respond to future developments in jurisprudence. If two years from now the generally accepted view of the term “trade secrets” changed, the Access to Information Act's definition would be outdated and stagnant.

As a whole, the Information Commissioner's changes to the exemption could result in less protection for sensitive information provided often on a voluntary basis to the government. As a result, third parties and other governments might refuse to provide information because they felt that their information was not adequately protected by the exemptions. This could impair the mandate of the departments that rely on those exemptions to protect, for example, information received in confidence from the governments in other countries.

Further, the Information Commissioner proposes to repeal section 24 in schedule II which contains over 70 statutory provisions that prohibit disclosure. Without this exemption, however, some government entities may be unable to protect sensitive commercial and personal information they need to carry out their mandates, as other exemptions may not adequately protect these types of information, or because the protection is not strong enough to assure those providing the information that it will not be disclosed.

For example, the confidentiality clauses in both the Statistics Act and the Income Tax Act are included in schedule II. My concern is that regarding the census, people would be much less willing to provide the government with necessary, but undeniably highly sensitive, personal information without an ironclad guarantee of confidentiality which the commissioner's proposal would not provide.

The Information Commissioner also proposes to legislate a statutory duty to create records. The failure to create such a record would be a criminal offence. This duty does not belong to the Access to Information Act. I understand what the commissioner is trying to get at and I certainly do not deny that the deliberate non-creation of records, an important decision, needs to be addressed, but does it need to be addressed in a law? Is a criminal offence necessary here?

Further, what would the operational requirements be to fulfill such an extensive duty? Would this actually help departments fulfill their duties or would it hinder them? Would a civil servant have to make a formal record for every conversation that he or she had with a colleague about departmental matters? This could be a crushing burden. The answers to these questions are not clear in the Information Commissioner's proposal.

The Information Commissioner would also allow any person regardless of citizenry to make access requests. This universal right of access could have significant costs for certain departments. More study needs to be undertaken on the costing and administrative burden of such a proposal before it can be adopted.

On November 3 a motion was agreed to by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics first, to accept the proposed open government act as drafted by the Information Commissioner's office, and second, to recommend to the House of Commons that the justice minister consider the advisability of introducing legislation in the House based on the Information Commissioner's proposed provisions by December 15 this year.

While the minister applauds the movement toward a modernized act that would result in greater openness and transparency within the government, he feels that the Information Commissioner's proposals threaten to disrupt the delicate balance between the need for openness and the need to protect legitimate government interest.

Further, the Information Commissioner did not consult with stakeholders when drafting his bill to reform the Access to Information Act.

Truly balanced legislation that reflects all competing interests and maintains the critical balance between the right of access to government information and the need to protect sensitive information cannot be constructed without full and complete input from all affected parties, including government departments, crown corporations, agents of Parliament, other federal entities, affected third parties and, of course, the media, the Canadian people and foreign countries.

We feel that the access committee, in supporting these proposals, has not taken into account the necessary range of interests and, as a consequence, has acted in haste.

The decision to move ahead with this is that we had spent a period of time with a sense of frustration and a desire to move on. I think there was a desire to do something but in my opinion we had a fair amount of dialogue on the motion that we approved. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre had served notice. We had time to consider it. A lot of consideration took place by all the parties in question and ultimately it was modified.

I think the motion is very positive and there is a willingness to go forward. However, in doing that, it is not something that can be achieved overnight, even though a response has been asked for by December 15.

The Access to Information Act is a quasi-constitutional statute that has been described by the Supreme Court of Canada as a pillar of our democracy. As such, it is imperative that we strike the appropriate balance between openness and confidentiality in access reform. To do this, all elements and angles must be considered before we can move forward with an informed and balanced reform package.

As such, the adoption of the Information Commissioner's proposals to reform the Access to Information Act is premature. The committee needs to call on stakeholders from all sides to discuss potential areas for access reform in order to arrive at a balanced bill that reflects the needs and interests of all affected parties.

As the current Information Commissioner has stated on more than one occasion, the Access to Information Act is a good law. Equally true is that after being in existence for 22 years the act is in need of reform and modernization. On this I know that the Minister of Justice is anxious to proceed with access reform.

However the Access to Information Act cannot successfully be reformed by having people tinker with it in ways that do not recognize the complexities of the act. The Access to Information Act is a fundamental part of our democracy and we are fortunate to have a statutory right to check up on the government. We must not allow this democratic right to be altered in any way that is not entirely thoughtful and cognizant of the all the interests that are at stake.

Iran November 4th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, 65 years ago, statements similar in tone to those made last week by the President of Iran became a reality almost overnight.

The statements are distressing to my constituents, the residents of greater Hamilton and all of Canada.

The Iranian president's declaration that “Israel be wiped off the face of the earth” is not only deeply offensive, it is a major assault against the ongoing Middle East peace process, let alone what else it says about the mindset of the current Iranian administration.

Following this declaration the Iranian president summarily dismissed many senior members of the Iranian diplomatic corps, diplomats who obviously supported the pursuit of normal relations with western Europe and North America.

These events which are unfolding before our eyes in Iran are a very sad and disturbing development. They are producing new and awesome challenges for Iran's neighbours as they seek peace and security.

Without hesitation, qualification or reservation, I condemn these actions by the Iranian president. It is urgent that the international community find ways to engage in meaningful dialogue with moderate elements--