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Liberal MP for Charlottetown (P.E.I.)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 39.50% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Canada Pension Plan September 19th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I would like to first thank the member for Hamilton Mountain for that speech. The speech that I am about to give is going to sound quite familiar, although I can assure her that I did not have an advanced copy. Until she said that all good ideas emanate from her caucus, I agreed with almost everything she said.
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on Bill C-591, an act to amend the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act, proposed in its latest iteration by the member for Chatham-Kent—Essex. I understand that this is the member's first private member's bill, so I would like to take a moment to congratulate him on the introduction into the House of Commons of the bill back in June.
Interestingly, my first motion in the House as a member of Parliament for Charlottetown was also concerning old age security. My motion sought to reaffirm the government's support of old age security and asked for a commitment to keep the qualifying age at 65 instead of 67. Of course, we in the Liberal Party know that the motion to protect old age security did not receive the support of the Conservative government benches.
As the justice critic for the Liberal Party, I appreciate the fact that the member for Chatham-Kent—Essex has put forward a solution to an existing loophole in the CPP and OAS legislation as opposed to haphazardly amending the Criminal Code, as so many of his colleagues want to do.
Bill C-591 seeks to amend the Canada pension plan and the Old Age Security Act to ensure that someone who has been convicted of murdering his or her spouse or parent will be ineligible for the CPP victim's benefit, the CPP orphan benefit, and the OAS annual allowance for survivors. As my colleague across the way explained in his initial speech in June, the bill is consistent with the legal principle of ex turpi causa, which means that one should not benefit from his or her own misconduct.
The member for Markham—Unionville has said the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill. We believe this is, in essence, a sensible bill that seeks to close an existing loophole in the CPP and OAS Act. While the Library of Parliament has confirmed that the intent of the bill is currently the existing departmental policy within government, it is not yet law and we agree in principle that the bill is a positive step for the families of murder victims.
However, we have some concerns that we would like to see addressed at committee and many of them we heard from the previous speaker. We also heard earlier in debate from the NDP member for Nanaimo—Cowichan that there seems to be a loophole in the very bill that is designed to close a loophole. The bill seeks to withhold respective benefits from those who are convicted of first or second degree murder of a spouse or parent, although someone who is convicted of manslaughter will still be eligible.
The member for Chatham-Kent—Essex has indicated that in cases of manslaughter, the principle of ex turpi causa does not always apply as clearly as it does in cases of first and second degree murder convictions. In his speech last June, he stated:
Courts have said that the principle of ex turpi causa should not be applied automatically to manslaughter and other offences involving responsibility for a death without examining the specific circumstances of each case.
While it is heartening to hear a defence of judicial discretion from the Conservative benches, this exclusion for manslaughter must be given considerable thought. It presents an issue that deserves more attention and discussion at committee stage. The possibility exists that someone could kill a spouse in circumstances that would otherwise give rise to a conviction of first or second degree murder but be convicted of manslaughter as part of a plea bargain and, as the bill currently reads, be eligible for benefits he or she should not be receiving. Ultimately, this is a bill that the Liberal Party will support because it deserves its time at committee.
I am mildly encouraged by the bill and the solution it proposes. As the Liberal justice critic, I would recommend that the government consider taking further fiscal and legislative measures to address the issue of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse before it results in the death of a spouse or parent.
Intimate partner abuse is a serious issue in Canada, particularly for Canadian women. I would not be doing this topic justice if I failed to mention that it is Canadian women who are overwhelmingly the victims in cases of intimate partner abuse. This is also true in cases of spousal homicide.
I am supportive of the bill and will be voting to send it to committee.
Please allow me to offer some other observations on the approach taken by the hon. member with respect to this legislation, and let me begin by quoting the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development. This is an excerpt from the speech on the bill when it was introduced in June of this year. He said:
The Department of Employment and Social Development already has administrative procedures, based on common law principles, that prohibit a spouse, common law partner, or child from receiving survivor benefits if the department is informed that the person has been convicted of the murder of an individual and is the survivor and consequently the primary beneficiary. The problem is that there is no provision in the law to prevent these provisions from actually being paid. What C-591 would do is give clear authority, raise the visibility, and increase transparency to ensure that no one could benefit financially from murdering a spouse.
I draw attention to this excerpt because it highlights how straightforward the amendments in this specific bill are.
Since 2006, the Conservative government has routinely bundled hundreds of amendments into monstrous omnibus bills. It has used these omnibus bills to alter everything from employment insurance to environmental regulations, fisheries regulations, legislation related to justice and public safety portfolios and, yes, even the Old Age Security Act, so it is entirely fair, and not at all irrelevant to this debate, to ask this question: why is this bill presented as a private member's bill instead of being included in an omnibus bill?
By asking this question, I run the risk of confusing my Conservative colleagues, as difficult as that may be. Let me clear. I am in no way supportive of the Conservative government's reliance on a poisonous combination of simultaneously introducing omnibus bills and time allocation motions to push through bad legislation that has not been properly vetted by parliamentarians.
While the Liberal Party is glad to have Bill C-591 headed to committee for further review, I am genuinely interested as to why, or maybe how, these amendments escaped the pull of an omnibus bill. This fairly straightforward bill is a perfect example of the value in not relying on omnibus legislation. This bill is straightforward, yes, but it could always be better.
The issue around manslaughter convictions as a result of plea bargains that I raised earlier, as did the member for Hamilton Mountain, is just one piece of this bill that should be further clarified. Presenting this bill as a private member's bill provides the time for scrutiny that hundreds of pieces of omnibus legislation never get at committee before they are passed into law.
In the Liberal Party, we believe that giving parliamentarians from all parties the chance to discuss potential issues before bills become law is a sound method of developing balanced, effective public policy the first time around. For this reason, I am glad that this bill, straightforward as it may be, was given the time for debate in the House of Commons. I will vote in support of sending it to committee for further study.
Justice September 19th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have shut Parliament out of the review process for Supreme Court nominees. The minister is doing this because of the lack of confidentiality in the previous review process.
However, he failed to mention that it was his government that was responsible for leaking information to the media.
Despite the risk of self-incrimination, will the minister impose sanctions for future Conservative leaks?
Ethics September 16th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, Conservative Senator Mike Duffy's case is before the courts today.
The Prime Minister is a central figure in this whole affair, and Canadians are just not buying his story when he says it is difficult to imagine that he would have any useful information to add. In fact, the trial will provide the Prime Minister with an opportunity to testify under oath as to just exactly what he meant when he said to Nigel Wright that we are good to go.
When subpoenaed, will the Prime Minister testify?
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns September 15th, 2014
With regard to any travel claim or any other expense claim submitted by any Minister, Parliamentary Secretary or Minister of State, or any ministerial staff: since 2006 and broken down by department or agency, what is (i) the amount of each claim rejected, (ii) the reason why the claim was rejected, (iii) the reason why the claim was amended?
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns September 15th, 2014
With regard to government litigation and statutory validity: (a) for each year since 2006, which federal laws had their constitutional validity challenged; (b) what were the names of each of the cases in (a); (c) what was the outcome of each of these cases at each instance, broken down by court or tribunal and province; (d) what was the remedy utilized by the court in each case; (e) in which cases does a right of appeal remain; (f) in how many of the cases where no appeal remains did the government lose its defence of the law; (g) of the cases in (f), which specific provisions of which laws were struck down, by which courts and by which cases; (h) broken down by case referred to in (f), how much did the government spend and what is the breakdown of these costs; (i) in any cases, did the government concede an infringement of a right in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; (j) of the cases referred to in (i), in which cases did the government assert that the infringement was saved by section 1 of the Charter and in which, if any, did the government concede that an infringement was not saved by section 1; (k) did the government concede, in any case, that a federal law was contrary to the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Bill of Rights; (l) did the government concede, in any case, that a federal law was contrary to the purposes and provisions of the Constitution Act, 1982, other than the Charter; (m) of the cases in (k) and (l), what are their names and citations, sorted by year; (n) in what cases did a court find that a federal law was contrary to the purposes and provisions of the Constitution Act, 1982, other than the Charter; (o) in what cases did a court find that a federal law was contrary to the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Bill of Rights; (p) what are the citations for the cases in (n) and (o); (q) for any case in which a section or provision of federal law was struck down for violating the Charter, the Constitution Act, 1982, or the Canadian Bill of Rights, how has the government responded; (r) in which reference cases was the government’s position not agreed with by the Supreme Court; (s) what is the cost breakdown for the cases in (r); (t) of provisions and sections of laws struck by courts for lack of constitutionality, which have been repealed; (u) what is the government’s approach, plan, and policy with respect to the repeal of legislative provisions found unconstitutional; (v) regarding Reference re: Supreme Court Act, ss. 5 and 6, will the government repeal Section 6.1 of the Supreme Court Act (clause 472 of Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 2); (w) what is the reason for the decision in (v) and what discussions, consultations, and meetings occurred on this point; (x) by what process would an ultra vires or unconstitutional provision be repealed, such as Section 6.1 of the Supreme Court Act (clause 472 of Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 2); (y) what purpose is served by leaving inoperative provisions in statute; (z) what mechanisms exist in the government to identify inoperative legislative provisions; (aa) what mechanisms exist in the government to remove inoperative legislative provisions; (bb) when was the last time inoperative legislative provisions were removed; (cc) in all cases where a provision was struck from legislation, was a report of its constitutionality prepared pursuant to the Department of Justice Act; (dd) where a provision was struck from legislation, was a report of the statute’s constitutionality prepared pursuant to the Department of Justice Act and tabled in the House; (ee) what factors explain why a provision was struck despite a report of its constitutionality being prepared; (ff) what factors explain why a provision was struck yet no report of its possible inconsistency tabled; (gg) what explains the presentation of laws later found unconstitutional despite the reporting requirement in the Department of Justice Act; (hh) in what cases since 2006 has a court, contrary to the contention of the government, read down a law; (ii) in what cases since 2006 has a court, contrary to the contentions of the government, resorted to “reading in”; (jj) what are the citations for the cases in (hh) and (ii) and how much was spent on their defence; (kk) what purposes and policy goals are served by leaving provisions of no force or effect in statute; and (ll) for any of the cases identified in any question herein, did the government ever consider invoking the notwithstanding clause?
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns September 15th, 2014
With respect to Ministers' Regional Offices (MRO) located in each province: broken down by year since 2006, (a) how many full time staff are assigned and based at each MRO; (b) how many part time or casual staff are assigned and based at each MRO; (c) how many contract staff are assigned to work at each MRO; (d) what are the titles and salaries with respect to answers provided in (a), (b) and (c); (e) what is the overall budget to operate each MRO; and (f) what is the list of all staff or titles used in each MRO?
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns September 15th, 2014
With regard to research at the Department of Justice: (a) broken down by year for each of the last ten years, what studies were undertaken by the Department, and at what cost; (b) of the studies in (a), which ones are currently publicly accessible; (c) of the studies in (a) which, if any, have not been made public; (d) how much funding has been allocated to research and studies for each of the last ten years; (e) how much funding was spent on research and studies for each of the past ten years; (f) what policies or directives account for changes in funding allocated or spent at the Department; (g) who determines or determined the policies or directives in (g); (h) with regard to recent research cuts that the Minister has said were carried out “to ensure that we bring value to hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars”, how is value defined at the Department in the context of research and study; (i) what reports or studies has the Minister determined to be wasteful and according to what criteria; (j) what reports or studies has the Department determined to be wasteful and according to what criteria; (k) what reports or studies has the Minister determined do not “bring value to hard-earned taxpayers dollars” and how so; (l) what reports or studies has the Department determined do not “bring value to hard-earned taxpayers dollars” and according to what criteria; (m) with respect to the statement of the Minister that “research is undertaken to obtain information to support priorities of government,” how are the priorities of government identified and what are they; (n) what studies have been undertaken in the past five years to support the priorities of government; (o) have any studies been undertaken that do not support the priorities of government and, if so, what are these; (p) what studies or research proposals have not been proceeded with at Justice because they do not support the priorities of government; (q) who determines that a study or proposal does not support the priorities of government, and according to what criteria; (r) at what stage(s) is a study or proposal for research evaluated to determine that it does not support the priorities of government, and who conducts the evaluation; (s) what does the term ‘support’ mean in the Minister’s comment; (t) what is done with research that is undertaken to support the government’s priorities but yielded results counter to the government’s priorities; (u) have any such studies as in (t) occurred within the last 10 years; (v) in the past five years, has the government not proceeded with any research or study because it believed the results would be unfavourable; (w) in the past five years, has the government not re-released a study because its results were unfavourable or otherwise counter to advancing the government’s priorities; (x) how are research and study proposals evaluated by the Department; (y) what departmental officials recommended the recently announced $1.2 million cut to research within the Department, and with what rationale; (z) who had final approval within the Department to cut $1.2 million from the research budget; (aa) how many research studies or projects were already underway that were terminated as a result of the decision to cut the Department's research budget; (bb) what were the subject matters of research that was affected as a result of the cuts within the Department; (cc) how much money had already been spent on active research studies subsequently cancelled due to cuts; (dd) what process or policy is in place to decide what research is to be undertaken now, and how has that policy changed, if in any way, over the past four years; (ee) is research that is conducted and published within the Department subject to redaction or editing from individuals other than the researchers, prior to its publication; (ff) after research is presented for possible publication, what other branches within the Department are involved with any redaction or editing of that research before publication; (gg) what role does the Privy Council Office have, if any, in approving, editing or redacting any research publications generated within the Department of Justice; (hh) what role does the Prime Minister’s Office have, if any, in approving, editing or redacting any research publications generated within the Department of Justice; (ii) how many times has research been sent to the Minister's office before its publication within the Department or dissemination otherwise; (jj) what is the value for each research contract awarded in the past 5 years at the Department, broken down by year; (kk) what studies are presently underway at the Department, broken down by division; (ll) how many reports and studies does the Department produce annually and what are their titles; (mm) in the past five years, how much of the research and how many of the studies and reports produced are presented to the Minister, and what percentage of the total is this; (nn) in the past five years, how much of the research and how many of the studies and reports are tabled in Parliament, and what percentage of the total is this; (oo) for each of the past ten years, how many FTE research employees have there been at the Department; (pp) what factors were considered in determining the budget for research at the Department; (qq) what qualifications are required of researchers at the Department; (rr) on what evidence will the Department and Minister make decisions in the absence of research; (ss) what will the consequences of research cuts be on the quality and quantity of information the Department or Minister has; (tt) does the Department track in any way how often its research is accessed and, if so, how; (uu) does the Department track the number of page visits to research materials on its website; (vv) what trends and statistics exist regarding the accessing of studies and research on the Department’s website; (ww) are reports or studies posted online viewed by the Minister’s office prior to their publication and, if so, by what process and with what role for the Minister or his office; (xx) have any reports or studies conducted in the last five years been presented to the Minister that are not online and if so, what are their titles; (yy) what briefing notes, decks, memos, or other materials relating to research have been prepared at the Department in the last five years and what are their file numbers; (zz) within the past five years, what briefing notes, decks, memos, or other materials relating to research funding specifically were created at the Department and what are their file numbers; (aaa) what mechanisms, policies, and processes exist to ensure that research is in no way politicized; (bbb) in what ways does the Department benefit from research, study, and analysis; (ccc) what priorities for research have been identified over the past 10 years and what changes in these priorities have occurred over time; (ddd) how many specific research proposals or studies has the Minister not proceeded with in the past five years, what were the proposed topics of study, and why were these not proceeded with; and how many specific research proposals or studies has the Department not proceeded with in the past five years, what were the proposed topics of study, and why were these not proceeded with; and (eee) what factors influence research funding at the Department?
Petitions June 19th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition with respect to the drastic cuts at Canada Post, which will eliminate door-to-door delivery, close post offices, and drastically increase postage rates.
The petitioners, who are from Prince Edward Island, indicate that Canada Post is a public service that needs to be protected. They call upon the government to reverse the cuts and to look at ways to innovate.
Instruction to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs June 19th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech.
First, I would like to speak about cuts. The minister said that there were no cuts, but that is not true. The head office of the Department of Veterans Affairs is located in Charlottetown. This office now has far fewer employees to serve veterans, and the same is true of other offices across the country. It is completely false to say that no cuts have been made.
The question I want to pose is with respect to the view of the government with respect to RCMP veterans. We know there was a class action lawsuit launched by Dennis Manuge against the government with respect to the clawbacks of their disability benefits. We know that at the same time that class action lawsuit was commenced, a companion lawsuit was commenced by RCMP veterans who were in the exact same situation.
The Conservatives settled the case with Dennis Manuge after they lost at the federal court. They refused for months to include the RCMP vets in that settlement and made the them wait for several more months before finally bringing them to the table.
What does it say about the view of the government with respect to the status of RCMP vets in the eyes of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Government of Canada?
Criminal Code June 18th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I have indicated on countless occasions my profound concern about the ongoing effort of Conservative members of Parliament who introduce bills allegedly to combat crime. I have repeatedly made my concerns known that these crime bills are undermining the coherence of the Criminal Code of Canada. Far too often we find backbench MPs introducing private members' bills primarily relating to crime and justice, and more often than not based on input from the Prime Minister's Office.
I am also concerned that these private members' initiatives are not properly vetted to ensure their charter compliance. Unfortunately, that concern applies to government bills in too many cases, which, when introduced, immediately raise serious constitutional issues.
To underscore this concern we need only look at what happened yesterday with the Minister of Justice, who yesterday and again today was telling the House and the media bizarrely that the Supreme Court's ruling last Friday somehow was a victory for his government. More specifically, he was suggesting that there was something in the court ruling that was a victory for Bill C-13 and Bill S-4. Never mind that in the reality in which most of us operate, the court ruling undercuts both of those bills.
When it comes to so-called tough on crime legislation, whether from the government or backbench MPs, we on this side are more than a little suspicious of their motives. Moreover, we are concerned whether or not these bills, and there are many, are constitutional.
Again, the overall impact of these bills is to make the Criminal Code incoherent, which is unfortunate. The Criminal Code should not be used as a political fundraising tool, and I submit that the government has used these private members' bills and other government bills for no other reason than to raise money.
Today, however, as I indicated earlier, we may have a rare exception to that rule. We are debating Bill C-590 in the name of the member for Prince Albert. It was certainly encouraging to hear him say that he is open to amendments that would seek to achieve the objective of the bill.
As we know, Bill C-590 would amend the Criminal Code to increase mandatory minimum penalties for impaired driving where the offender has a blood alcohol content more than double the legal limit.
Currently, there are minimums for drivers over the legal limit and for convictions of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. In most provinces, a minimum jail time does not apply for a first offence. As I indicated in my question earlier, there is an exception in Prince Edward Island. That is how the case law has developed. But in most of the country there is no mandatory jail time for a first offender with a blood alcohol level of 0.08.
The hon. member will be pleased to know that today, after careful consideration and consultation with my colleagues, I have recommended to the Liberal caucus that we support Bill C-590.
My major concern is with the use of mandatory minimum jail sentences. The hon. member would know that we opposed in principle the use of mandatory minimums, and we do so because there is no evidence to suggest that they work or are effective in reducing crime. We believe that mandatory minimums should be the exception and not the rule.
We will support sending the bill to committee because we agree with the objective of the bill, and at committee, hopefully we will have an opportunity to hear how best to achieve that objective.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the member for Prince Albert for his effort. I believe he is sincere in that effort. I believe he is in fact seeking to make our roads and highways safer.
We all know that drinking and driving remains a serious issue in Canada. The number of bodily injuries and deaths caused by impaired driving continues to be unacceptably high. By targeting impaired drivers with a blood alcohol over 160 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood, the act would create a specific deterrent to the class of drivers who pose the greatest statistical risk.
By dealing severely with the worst consequences of impaired driving, which are bodily injury and death of third parties, the act would also emphasize the rationale behind deterring impaired driving. Limiting judicial discretion is problematic, but this is, indeed, a serious enough issue that it merits further examination.
It should be noted that impaired driving continues to be a particular problem in locations and provinces across the country, including, and especially, in my own province of Prince Edward Island. In Prince Edward Island, the provincial government is doing what it can to address this problem. Just in the last session of the provincial legislature, a law was passed that would mandate a special license plate for chronic offenders of the impaired driving laws. This would allow police, but not the general public, to identify those who fall into this category. This is the type of innovative thinking that is required to combat this problem, not the automatic default to mandatory minimum jail time that we so often see.
Also in our province, as I indicated, the case law has grown such that there are sentencing guidelines for impaired driving offences. Those sentencing guidelines require that every single person in Prince Edward Island who is convicted of a drunk driving offence, whether it is at 0.08, 0.16, or whether it is a first offence, should bring their toothbrush, as we say, because they are going to Sleepy Hollow for the weekend, at a minimum.
Here is some relevant background information. The Traffic Injury Research Foundation has found that impaired drivers with a blood alcohol level at 160 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood represent close to 70% of impaired drivers killed in car accidents. According to Statistics Canada, impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada.
Let me focus a bit on fatalities. It is estimated that in 2010, 2,500 individuals were killed in motor vehicle crashes in Canada. Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada estimates that, at a minimum, 1,082 of these fatalities were impairment related. In MADD Canada's opinion, the 1,082 figure is a conservative estimate, due to the under-reporting that results from the inability to conduct alcohol tests on surviving impaired drivers, and from the need to rely on police reports. Moreover, the figure underestimates the percentage of crash deaths that involve drugs, thus the recent sharp increase in driving after drug use was not factored into the 1,082 figure.
Additionally, that 1,082 figure does not include individuals killed in impaired crashes on waterways. It was estimated that there were more 135 boating deaths per year from 2006 to 2008. It appears that more than 50% of those boating deaths involved alcohol and/or drugs. That 1,082 also does not include fatalities arising from aircraft, trains, and industrial vehicles, such as forklifts.
Given the limits on this 1,082 figure, MADD Canada estimates that there are somewhere between 1,250 and 1,500 impairment related crash deaths in Canada each year. That amounts to three to four deaths per day.
I would like to turn now to the matter of injuries caused by impaired driving. In 2010, it was estimated that about 300,000 individuals were injured in motor vehicle crashes. MADD Canada estimates that approximately 64,000 of those individuals were injured in impairment related crashes. That is roughly 175 per day. This figure is limited to motor vehicle crashes only.
There is also information available on property damage. In 2010, it was estimated that approximately 1.7 million motor vehicles were involved in property damage-only crashes in Canada. MADD Canada estimates that approximately 211,000 of these vehicles were damaged in impairment related crashes. That works out to 578 per day.
Finally, there is the financial cost. Using a social cost model, impairment related driving deaths, injuries, and property damage-only crashes in Canada can be estimated to have cost $20.6 billion in 2010. This model is recent, it is based on extensive analysis, and it was prepared for the Department of Transport.
This bill would meet a positive policy objective. People who drink should not drive. That may seem like a simple suggestion to us here, but far too often, people do drink and then decide that they are okay to drive. This is never acceptable and, on that point, I believe the House is united.