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Liberal MP for Malpeque (P.E.I.)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 42.40% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, when it comes to decisions, there is no problem with Liberals making them. We balanced the books and turned over a surplus to this government. We put in place the infrastructure program in the beginning. It was the Liberals in government that brought in the gas tax that went to municipalities. We put in place university scholarships and foundations.
We made lots of decisions—some tough ones—and when we turned the government over to the Conservatives, we gave them a surplus with which to work, but all they did ever since was to bring in deficit budgets.
On March 31, the health accord ended, which Paul Martin signed. All the money that went into health in recent years resulted from the decisions of Paul Martin in 2004, not from that government.
The member was talking about the point I made yesterday that dealing with the Minister of State for Democratic Reform was like playing chess with a pigeon. We were hoping that maybe the minister would fly the coop.
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I really did just answer that question, and members will note that the Liberal Party, in introducing this debate, wants to try to do what is achievable.
We know Conservative members on the other side could not support not limiting debate on everything. They could not do that for various reasons; but we wanted to do what was possible, what was achievable.
These two pieces of legislation are fundamental to our democracy. All Canadians know, with Bill C-23, how the regime over there would undermine our democracy, would actually take away the right to vote from some. Experts after experts have talked about their concerns on the bill, so Canadians know this is a bad bill.
This is the opportunity to put a motion that deals with two pieces of legislation, the foundation of our democracy, that any members in this House should be able to stand and support, whether they are government or opposition.
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I really think the member's words, “golden opportunity”, are right on. There is a golden opportunity for backbench members on the Conservative side to actually stand to support the foundation for our democracy and give it the due respect it deserves.
I hear them heckling me over there.
I know they get up all the time to talk about their government, “my government”, they say. The backbenchers are not members of the government. They are members of the governing party. They do not have to take direction, as cabinet ministers do, and be absolutely whipped into shape.
On this one, as my colleague said, there is a golden opportunity for Conservative backbench members to stand in this place to support proper debate, discussion on the various pieces of legislation that are the foundation for Canada's democracy.
I look forward to watching them stand in the House to take a position as MPs, rather than being whipped into line by the Conservative whip.
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I think the answer is quite a simple one. I mentioned in my remarks that there are some times, in the course of doing business, when governments do have to move legislation through, and that is understandable.
I think we have a serious problem, though, in terms of the way the government is using budget bills, omnibus bills, and tying in other pieces of legislation that do not have anything to do with the budget whatsoever. Those bills should be carved out so they get the proper debate at the proper committee.
In terms of the member's motion, the Liberal Party's opposition motion that is on the floor today, this would deal with two very important fundamental pieces of legislation that are the foundation of our democracy. We looked at what was possible in determining that motion and we see it quite possible that anybody who really believes in the debate, the discussion that is necessary under those fundamental pieces of legislation, that even backbench Conservative members can—
Business of Supply April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I am most pleased to support my colleague, the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, on the Liberal opposition day motion.
I will not read the actual motion, which is rather technical. The motion speaks to a very serious flaw in Canada's democracy. That flaw was especially revealed in the way that the Conservative government has operated with respect to Bill C-23, the fair or unfair elections act, whatever members want to call it, depending on their perspective, and how the regime would impose its will to the exclusion of all other views. That is a part of what is forcing this motion today.
I listened closely to the member for York Centre earlier, going back through a lot of history and where closure, time limitation, and debate have been used. There is no question that sometimes it is necessary in regular business as a government, in terms of doing the business of a nation.
However, let us understand what has been happening in recent years. There have been omnibus bills, 400 pages in length, dealing with sometimes as many as 40 different pieces of legislation that have nothing to with the budget. In previous times, most of those pieces of legislation would be broken out so that they could go to the appropriate committee. They would be debated here and would have a full hearing.
It has to be noted that in terms of this motion today that we are only dealing with the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act. What more important business could Parliament have than with those particular acts, which are the underpinnings of our democracy?
We need to ensure, at least on those particular pieces of legislation, that a slight majority government in Canada cannot impose its will in this place. It is one of the flaws in our democracy. The government needs to get things done, but it does not have the majority of the votes in the country.
The Conservative government, in particular, fails to operate for all Canadians; it tends to operate for a certain ideological base. As a result, these laws are not debated and analyzed in a proper, open, and transparent fashion, with the necessary witnesses. As I said, the government is imposing its will on the people and without proper debate.
The rationale behind this motion is that changes to legislation that are fundamental to our democracy should only be made through a consensus-based process. The Conservatives are treating Bill C-23 as another piece of partisan legislation to be rammed through Parliament at their convenience. This needs to be prevented from happening, now and in the future. That is what this particular motion would do. It would ensure that there is the proper debate.
Again, I listened to the member for York Centre, when he said that if we had the opportunity to debate every bill over the course of a term, members would only get to speak on eight bills in the whole term. Nobody is talking about every bill. We are talking about the way that government members continue to operate. They try to misrepresent and mislead the facts by saying something that is spinning it a little, that is a bit close to what the motion is talking about but is not the real thing.
How many hours would it take up in the House of Commons if the committee studying Bill C-23 travelled to every region of the country to hear what Canadians have to say on the bill? Would that not be the proper thing to happen in a democracy, that a committee goes out there to the country with the bill in hand, with all the parties present, and allows witnesses to have their say directly in their own areas, rather than either transporting them to Ottawa or doing a video conference? It should get out in the country where people can be heard, where people from the countryside can come into the meeting, rather than in the kind of bubble that is Ottawa.
Changes to legislation like the Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act, which are fundamental to our democracy, must be achieved by broad consensus and be backed by solid evidence. That is what the proposal by my colleague, and this motion, is all about, that there be proper debate, in a proper forum, with the proper amount of time on these two pieces of legislation. That is why we, as a party, have introduced the motion today that will change the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to prevent any government from using time allocation and closure to shut down debate on changes to the Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act.
As a member of the Liberal Party, I would point out that if the government continues to run roughshod over Canadians by forcing through its bill, our leader has committed that a Liberal government will repeal the Conservatives' undemocratic changes to our country's Elections Act. That is a sure thing.
How serious is this particular bill? There was an article in iPolitics this morning that fairly aggressively states where Canada will be left if this bill is passed. The article in iPolitics is entitled “The Fair Elections Act is a global disgrace”. It is written by Anita Vandenbeld.
Ms. Vandenbeld worked for a number of years internationally, on democratic development with the United Nations Development Programme, the National Democratic Institute, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Parliamentary Centre. She has considerable experience on viewing democracies around the world.
I will not go through all of our arguments; I will go to some of the witnesses before committee. However, I would encourage people, and especially the Conservative backbenchers, that rather than just accepting the speaking points from the PMO, to read this article. She spells out the serious flaws and how Canada is becoming an embarrassment around the world with the way the current government is operating and how it is trying to seriously undermine the main foundation of our democracy.
The key point she makes, which in stark reality shows what her view is on this particular bill and the way that the government is handling it, is this. She states:
The last time I worked in a country where a government used its majority in Parliament to ram through changes to an election law without public input was in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011. I never would have expected this in Canada.
That tells us how the people with the experience in looking at democracies around the world are looking at the actions of the government.
I have to say this because I hear some chirping from the backbench over there.
People who are on the back bench have to understand that they are not members of the government. The cabinet is the government. They are members of the governing party. They have the right, if they so desire, to stand up in their own right and represent their constituents and Canadians. They do not need to follow the whipped moves from the PMO.
They can stand up and express their own opinion, and on something as fundamental as Canada's election laws and the Parliament of Canada, I would love to see them tonight, or whenever the vote is held, standing up in support of this motion. We would applaud them for showing that, under this regime, democracy could even work in this place. That would be quite startling, and I would love to see it.
Legislation affecting our democratic institutions is too important to be rammed through in a partisan manner by any government. Such legislation should be able to get support from at least one other party in this place. We are all here representing constituents. We cannot be that far apart on issues such as democracy.
One would think that the government would be able to get at least one party on side in support of its legislation. As a result, though, of its not gaining that support, we are seeing an abuse of processes in this place in situations like those with Bill C-23, which is horrible legislation in my view. It seems there is no support from anyone other than the Conservative Party, but it intends to ram it through Parliament.
As such, I maintain that this is an affront to our democracy. Canada was previously seen as a model for other developing democracies, with Elections Canada, government representatives, and spokesmen being asked to profile how we operate in Parliament, how we run elections in this country.
That is all going to be gone, because we are now seen, such as at the United Nations, very differently from we used to be. We are no longer seen as a global leader in terms of peace and democracy around the world. It is because of the way the government operates.
The member opposite says it is because of Bill C-23. No, it is because of the attitude and the way the government has operated in the last eight years. This is a government that came in talking about accountability and transparency, and we have not seen it be accountable for anything.
The minister certainly does not stand up, apologize, and be accountable for what he said to the Chief Electoral Officer. There is no such thing. The minister was responsible, and if the Prime Minister would show some leadership, he would force that minister to apologize for the way he is treating parliamentary officers in this country.
It is an attitude that has pervaded that whole Conservative Party since it came to government, which is making us disrespected around the world.
We are now witnessing in Canada the undermining of debate on bills. I have heard others say this and I think it may in fact be necessary for us in the next election to ask for United Nations observers to come in to observe the election.
The members are laughing over there. However, when we look at this bill, we can see that we may need United Nations observers in this country of Canada because the government is undermining democracy so much. Moreover, as we will see when the vote comes up, not one of those backbenchers will be willing to stand up for Canadians. They are only willing to stand up for their Prime Minister.
Bill C-23, the so-called fair elections act, is quite literally nothing less than the most comprehensive voter suppression effort in Canadian history.
The bill was designed to exclude, to manipulate, and to undermine the democratic process in Canada, which is the bedrock of our democracy: our election process. The Minister of State for Democratic Reform has performed his task well. He has delivered for his leader the kind of legislation that would only serve to increase the cynicism among Canadians as to the political process, with the result, the Conservatives hope, of driving more voters out of the system, young people in particular.
All one has to do is listen to some of the witnesses who were before committee and listen to what some people are saying in the press. This is a government that views the manner in which Canada conducts federal elections not as something that all parties in the House have an equal share in ensuring works properly but as a system it manipulates to its advantage. That, to the Conservatives, is acceptable.
There are only two kinds of Canadians according to the government party opposite: good Conservatives or bad Canadians. Those who oppose the government are less Canadian, unCanadian, the enemy, subversives. That is the kind of government this legislation is revealing to Canadians that we have in Canada at the moment. There is something suspicious about a government that is attempting to manipulate the democratic system to ensure the disenfranchisement of Canadians, while fearing to allow thorough, open, cross-country public hearings to hear the voices of Canadians. A government with any integrity would have worked with all parties in the House on this legislation and, if not that, would have had the integrity to take the legislation into the country and road test it. It can still do that, if it really wanted to. It could go out and hear from Canadians.
As I said earlier, backbench members over there have the opportunity to stand up and be counted to ensure that there is proper debate, long-term debate, cross-country hearings where everyone can be heard on the Parliament of Canada Act and the Canada Elections Act.
This legislation, Bill C-23, to which the motion today relates, has to be placed in the wider context. That is the fact that the former auditor general, Sheila Fraser, stated that the government would undermine the credibility of virtually every arm's length agency of the government that performs any kind of oversight. Ms. Fraser said, according to The Globe and Mail of April 9, that the attack on Mr. Mayrand “disturbed” her greatly, was “totally inappropriate”, and that such comments “undermine the credibility of these institutions”. She also warned that the bill would unduly limit the Chief Electoral Officer, threaten Elections Canada's independence, and block people, including her own daughter, from voting with the tightened ID requirements. We all respect Sheila Fraser. She is a former auditor general. When she makes those kinds of serious comments, it is time we listen.
Let me list the bill's critics so far. They include Mr. Mayrand; Commissioner of Canada Elections, Yves Côté; two of their predecessors; Ms. Fraser; former Reform Party leader Preston Manning; provincial chief electoral officers; Harry Neufeld, the author of an authoritative Elections Canada report; law school deans. There was a list on March 11 of well over 100 university professors saying this bill should not go through as is.
I will conclude by saying that this motion would lay down criteria where proper debate has to be held on the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act. I encourage backbench members to stand in their own right to support it.
Points of Order April 10th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I want to make the point that the Liberal Party may want to come back on this point that has been raised. The member articulated his point and his side of the argument. I would point out, though, that the compensation he is talking about in the amendment would not actually be going to the people who are really hurt, which are the farmers. It would be going to the shipper, which is not the farmer in most cases, unless it is a producer car. Therefore, the compensation in the bill would not get to those who are most injured by this particular problem in terms of the supply chain and the transport of grain.
Points of Order April 9th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak. As I said earlier, it is a fairly lengthy point of order, and my apologies for having to disrupt the chamber right after question period.
I was closing the quote on Sue O'Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, who stated in evidence on March 25, on Bill C-483, “At its core, this bill”, and what she meant was the original bill, before the amendments: “At its core, this bill aims to bring a more transparent and inclusive process to victims of crime. I fully support this shift and the benefits it brings to victims”.
Another witness, Kim Hancox, spoke in support of Bill C-483 stating that “Accountability is severely compromised as a result of this closed-door process”. She was referring to the process whereby prison wardens are empowered to grant escorted temporary absences. She continued by saying:
There is a lack of consideration for victims, which impedes progress of victims' rights and recognition in the criminal system. This practice undermines the public's confidence in a system that is supposed to keep them safe from violent offenders.
Krista Gray-Donald, director representing the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, an organization that the committee was informed had been working closely with the member for Oxford on the legislation, was clear in her testimony before the committee, on March 27, as to what she believed the legislation would terminate, namely, the ability of wardens to grant escorted temporary absences. She said:
The board of directors of the CRCVC feels the process that allows wardens to grant ETAs to offenders serving life does not assess risk as thoroughly as the release decision-making process undertaken by the Parole Board. We believe this allows offenders to avoid accountability for the harms they have caused and closes the decision-making process to the public.
I believe it is important to place on the record the statements made before the committee by both of the commissioner of the Canadian Parole Board, in testimony on March 25, 2014, page 13 of the evidence, and the Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada, in testimony on March 27, 2014, page 8 of the blues. Both stated that with respect to the ETA program that their agencies are responsible for permitting and overseeing, the success rate is 99%.
At no time, and I repeat, at no time, did any member of the committee, government members in particular, challenge either commissioner on the success rate of the escorted temporary release program. This program is by all accounts a success, with no demonstrated risk to public safety.
On April 1, 2014, and this would be after the above witnesses presented, the government presented its amendments to Bill C-483 at the public safety committee, and that is where my concerns arise.
At page 767 of O'Brien and Bosc, it states with respect to amendments made to legislation which may be found to be out of order:
The committee's decisions concerning a bill must be consistent with earlier decisions made by the committee. An amendment is accordingly out of order if it is contrary to or inconsistent with provisions of the bill that the committee has already agreed to....
I would also remind the House of the ruling of Speaker Fraser on April 28, 1992, at page 9801 of Debates:
In cases in which the Chair is asked to rule on the admissibility of committee amendments to bills, any modifications which offend a basic principle in the legislative process are struck from the bill.
However, the amendment from the government has undermined that principle. It reads in part as follows, which was presented to the House in the third report of the committee.
On clause 1.1, and I am reading from proposed subsection 17.1(2):
If the Parole Board of Canada authorizes the temporary absence of an inmate under subsection (1) for community service, family contact, including parental responsibilities, or personal development for rehabilitative purposes and the temporary absence is not cancelled because the inmate has breached a condition—
This is the critical section:
—the institutional head may authorize that inmate’s subsequent temporary absences with escort if the institutional head is of the opinion that the criteria set out in paragraphs (1)(a) to (d) are met.
In my view, this would change the principle of the bill.
The witnesses all came before the committee on the original bill and claimed that they did not want the institutional head to be allowed to make those decisions. That was the basis of the witnesses' presentation at committee.
That whole thrust changed with the amendments from the Government of Canada.
In speaking to the amendments presented by the government, the following exchange illuminates the concern I have with respect to the principle of the bill having been changed as a result.
I put the following question to the director of policy for Corrections Canada on April 1, 2014:
As I understand it, the original bill was ensuring that the warden would not be in a position to allow any temporary absences at all during the last three years of a sentence. Now with this amendment, the Parole Board will be involved in the first request for a temporary absence during that three-year period, but not anymore after that unless there is a problem with what happened on the temporary absence.
The response from the director of policy stated, in part:
You are correct...in that once that lifer reaches the three-year window before their full parole eligibility, once the Parole Board grants a positive decision for a rehabilitated ETA and that ETA period is successful—in other words, the offender does not breach their conditions while on that ETA—any subsequent ETA decisions can then be made by the institutional head.
Therefore, I am suggesting that the government amendments to the bill are inconsistent with the original principle of the bill as articulated by the member in whose name the bill stands, by other members of the government during second reading and at committee, and witnesses appearing before the committee. Namely, that as a result of this legislation, it was expected that the Parole Board, and only the Parole Board, would be involved in the granting of escorted temporary releases as they apply to offenders convicted of first and second degree murder.
Given that evidence as to the success of the ETA program, evidence which was available prior to the tabling of Bill C-483, I would submit that the principle of the bill as originally passed at second reading, has, by the government amendments, been completely undermined.
The principle of the original bill has ceased to exist and has been replaced.
Again, while the intent of the member for Oxford is not in question, the ability of his legislation to achieve what he committed to this House and, more important, what he committed to the victims of crime in whose name he presented the bill, has been refuted through government amendments.
As such, I would submit that the amendments have placed the bill as reported from committee within the context of being out of order.
I would conclude by reminding Canadians that as we undertake a debate on Bill C-32, the victims bill of rights, that they examine the text of that bill closely and match the content of that bill with the rhetoric of the government with respect to what has been promised.
It is my submission that Bill C-32 is worthy of support. It will fall to the government to explain to the victims why the legislation would likely not achieve the promises that have been made.
Let me sum up in layman's terms. These private members' bills are becoming a shell game. Witnesses come before a committee, the promoters promote their bill on the basis of the original bill, and on the basis of what the promoters of the bill have said relative to the original bill.
However, after all the witnesses have appeared before committee, the justice department's legal counsel, also from the government side, then come before committee and either water down the bill or change it in such a way that the original principle and intent of the bill is undermined.
Thus the bill no longer does what the promoter of the bill, in these cases backbench Conservatives, said it would do. Therein lies the problem. That is my point of order; that the bill no longer represents the principle and the intent of the bill brought in by the backbench Conservative member. In fact, government lawyers, themselves, changed the intent of the bill at committee, after all the witnesses had appeared.
Points of Order April 9th, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I would agree with you. I indicated at the start it would be a fairly lengthy point of order, and I would be willing to do it later. The key point is that the bill is substantially changed from the principle that was introduced in the House and that it came back to the House as a different bill. However, I will conclude those remarks when you give me the point in time later.
Points of Order April 9th, 2014
With respect to Bill C-483, I would like to cite a number of references made by the member for Oxford and other members of the government with respect to what the intent of the bill was and what in essence the principle of the bill was.
The bill proposes to grant the Parole Board of Canada authority for the full length of the sentence to grant or cancel escorted temporary absence for offenders convicted of first or second degree murder.
...This would mean that the wardens of federal prisons would no longer have authority to grant temporary escorted absences to inmates convicted of first- or second-degree murder, except in a medical emergency.
There is no ambiguity in the statement by the member as to the intent of the legislation. The bill was written to specifically remove the ability of wardens to grant escorted temporary releases.
Under the current legislation, Correctional Service of Canada, through the wardens of federal institutions, has the authority, when offenders serving a life sentence are within three years of their eligible parole date, to grant escorted temporary absences.
The reason the member has moved, through Bill C-483, to undertake these changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, were stated as follows during second reading debate on November 21, 2013, at page 1236 of Debates:
...for some victims' families, the decision-making authority of wardens to grant escorted temporary absences to murderers has been a matter of great concern. ...
...no hearings are conducted, as decisions are made on an administrative basis by institutional heads. In contrast, when decisions by the Parole Board of Canada are made, hearings are conducted....
The member continued by saying:
...when the Parole Board of Canada conducts a hearing, a victim or a member of the public who applies in writing is permitted to attend....
During the course of second reading, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness contributed, at page 1241 of Debates, November 21, 2013, to the declaration as to what Bill C-483 would achieve. She stated:
...the bill we are here to talk about today relates to escorted temporary absences from prison. More specifically, it is about ensuring that only the Parole Board of Canada has the power to release prisoners except in very limited circumstances.
There is no ambiguity as to what the member for Oxford or the parliamentary secretary believes Bill C-483 would bestow upon victims. They would have a direct role as participants in the escorted temporary absence system from the first day of incarceration until the last day of incarceration of those convicted of first and second degree murder.
The parliamentary secretary continued at page 1241 by stating:
As the member for Oxford has said, we continue to hear calls from victims of crime who feel that decisions on these absences should remain with the Parole Board, rather than an unaccountable official.
During the course of the hearings on the legislation before the public safety committee, the statements related to the key principles of the bill were restated a number of times. I will not go through all of those particular statements from witnesses, other than to say that as noted on page 11 of the Evidence, Sue O'Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, stated on March 25:
Bill C-483 seeks to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to shift the authority of the warden to authorize the escorted temporary absence, or ETA, of an offender convicted of first- or second-degree murder within three years of full parole eligibility to the Parole Board of Canada. At its core, this bill aims to bring a more transparent and inclusive process to victims of crime.
Let me sum up in layman's terms.
Points of Order April 9th, 2014
I want to begin by stating that my concerns are not related to the intent of the bill. I also want to acknowledge that the member for Oxford placed this bill before the House and the committee with the best of intentions, and in his remarks both in the House and at committee, he stated eloquently and with conviction the intent and principle behind the bill.
However, I would submit to the Chair that in the process of the committee's examination of both the bill and the amendments that the government was compelled to bring forward, the bill as amended has in fact moved a great deal away from its original intent and principle as articulated by the member for Oxford, as well as other members of the government in speaking to the bill and witnesses who testified before committee in support of the bill, all of whom were in support of the bill prior to the government amending the bill, but which is now substantially different from what those witnesses and members were speaking to.
At this point I would also draw to the attention of the Chair the fact that each of the private members' bills by government members that has come before the public safety and justice committees have required amendments that most often have exceeded the number of original clauses in the bills.
This, I would submit, is a situation of either bad drafting of bills or of government members insisting upon a specific course within their private members' bills, resulting in legislation that is so flawed that the government, with its legal advisers, literally has to redraft the legislation through the use of amendments.