Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the government motions that would allow for the continued business of Parliament in this new session. The motion is very important as it allows for the continuation of committee business and the reinstatement of government bills.
Reinstatement of government bills is a common practice when a new parliamentary session begins after prorogation. In 1999, at the beginning of the session, the opposition allowed a vote on a similar motion to be held without debate. The House of Commons adopted this practice informally more than 30 years ago. A similar procedure is used for reinstating private members' bills. The House agreed to entrench this in the standing orders during the last session.
There is a similar practice in use in the British House of Commons,where they are looking into the possibility of integrating it with the standing orders so that it will become standard practice at the start of a new session.
Over the coming days the government will be seeking to reinstate and complete parliamentary consideration of bills from the last session which were highlighted in the Speech from the Throne. They are: the species at risk bill, the Canadian environmental assessment bill, the pest control bill and the first nations governance bill. The government will also reinstate and advance other bills which were not completed last spring, namely, the human reproduction bill, the specific claims bill, the cruelty to animals bill, the public safety bill, the nuclear safety bill, the Canada pension plan amendments, the copyright bill and the sport bill.
The cruelty to animals bill is one that has received a lot of attention in my riding of Etobicoke North. Many of my constituents would like to see that passed without further delay. Likewise, I have a photography group that would like to see amendments to the copyright bill. I have been discussing that with the minister over the last week or so.
Rather than focus on the general theme, I would like to focus my time on the portions of the motion that relate to the Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. Today's motion would allow for the re-establishment of the special committee so that it can continue its important work.
Drug abuse is a serious problem in my riding of Etobicoke North. We have had close to a dozen murders over the last year and a half or two years that are crime related, drug related and gang related. We have a challenge in Etobicoke North to deal with drugs. This particular initiative is one that is being followed closely by my constituents. The relevant portion of the motion states:
That a special committee of the House be appointed to consider the factors underlying or relating to the non-medical use of drugs in Canada and make recommendations with respect to the ways and means by which the government can act, alone or in its relations with governments at other levels, in the reduction of the dimensions of the problems involved in such use;
That the membership of the committee be the same as the membership of the Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs at the time of prorogation of the First Session of the present Parliament, provided that substitutions may be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2);
That the committee shall have all of the powers granted to Standing Committees in Standing Order 108; and
That the committee shall present its final report no later than November 22, 2002.
Members of this committee have been working diligently and effectively, travelling across Canada and meeting with various stakeholder groups. My colleague, the member for Burlington, has been very active as she is the Chair of this particular committee.
This part of the motion is similar to the motion that established the special committee in the first place, and was passed by the House on May 17, 2001. The motion was moved by the member for Langley—Abbotsford from the Canadian Alliance during an opposition day debate. Therefore, I am struggling to understand why that party would not support the reintroduction of this particular bill.
The committee is a non-partisan body and this part of today's motion should be supported by opposition and government members alike. The misuse of drugs is a non-partisan matter facing all Canadians.
The purpose of the special committee's work, to study and report on Canada's drug policy, is a timely issue. The committee's report in November will be much anticipated by the government and I am sure all members of the House, and I know by the constituents in my riding of Etobicoke North.
Last Monday in the Speech from the Throne the government expressed its openness to changes to Canada's drug policy. The throne speech stated:
The government will also implement a national drug strategy to address addiction while promoting public safety. It will expand the number of drug treatment courts. It will act on the results of parliamentary consultations with Canadians on options for change in our drug laws, including the possibility of the decriminalization of marijuana possession.
I know this particular aspect is somewhat contentious. I find it a challenging issue to deal with because in Etobicoke North we have so many problems related to hard drugs: cocaine, crack and heroin. The police are trying to focus its efforts in combating that type of drug abuse and drug crime. If the police was not seized with the responsibility of dealing with simple marijuana possession, it might reallocate more resources to the fight against these more dangerous and heinous drugs.
I understand the argument and the debate which says the move to the decriminalization of marijuana would perhaps send the wrong signals to youth and might create a culture where drugs are fine. I look forward to the continuing debate on this important topic. However it is obvious that the government is looking forward with anticipation to the work of this special committee. It is clear from the Speech from the Throne that the government is looking for the views of parliamentarians on how to modify Canada's drug laws.
Over the last few years I have had the honour and pleasure to work with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. It has done much research into drugs, the misuse of drugs, and how drugs can create a huge cost societally and economically. We need to be dealing with drugs and combating the misuse of drugs in a serious way. The centre has had some input into the government's thinking about the fight against drugs. I am sure it will be able to contribute in the weeks and months ahead in implementing those strategies and programs that make sense to deal with this important problem.
It is true that the government has already received the report of the Senate committee on drugs, which called for the legalization of marijuana. This may go further than most Canadians wish to go, but it is an important contribution to this debate as well.
It is important that members of the House of Commons are able to express their views to ensure that the government can make an informed decision on the advice of parliamentarians. The special committee has already conducted an extensive amount of work led by the member for Burlington as its chair. Since the special committee was established 56 meetings have taken place to consider Canada's drug laws. The special committee has heard from a broad number of witnesses including officials from Health Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, the pharmaceutical industry, academics, police organizations, health professionals and other non-government organizations.
The special committee considered the subject matter of Bill C-344, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act sponsored last session by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I spoke in the House on that bill, and while I supported the general thrust of the member's bill, I felt that the bill was flawed for a number of reasons and I stated that at the time. One of the key reasons was that we must deal with not simply marijuana use but we must be particularly tough on marijuana pushers, the people who promote the use of these drugs.
In Australia, for example, tickets similar to automobile traffic violations are handed out. These tickets are issued numerous times. People do not pay them, so they end up clogging up the courts. We must ask if that is the best way to proceed; to clog up the courts with a bunch of tickets that people have no intention of paying.
Members will recall that the other side of the House reacted with feigned outrage when the House voted to refer the bill to the special committee for consideration. Imagine that, Mr. Speaker. This was a non-partisan committee of the House and the members spoke with outrage. This was going to be referred for serious study and examination based on the facts and the members on the other side were outraged. This occurred despite the fact that the proposal for this committee came from the member for Langley—Abbotsford, a caucus colleague of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
We have seen a lot of conflicting positions taken by the opposition party but this was an all time high for it. It had two members of its caucus promoting this idea. The matter was sent to a non-partisan committee of the House, and members opposite, who always argue that we should we be engaging parliamentarians more seriously, feign outrage at such a move.
Despite all these antics, it is important to remember two things.
First, the special committee, as I said, was proposed by the member for Langley—Abbotsford, a colleague of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. Sometimes members on the other side of the House forget who their colleagues are. I just wanted to remind them again that these are two of their colleagues who have supported this initiative. It made little sense to refer Bill C-344 to the justice committee, when we already had a non-partisan special committee studying this issue.
Second, the special committee has studied the subject matter of Bill C-344. On April 25 the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca appeared before the special committee to present his bill. The special committee will likely address the bill's proposals in its final report expected next month.
Finally, I would like to conclude with some observations about parliamentary reform. Critics on the other side have alleged that the government ignores the views of parliamentarians on the development of policy and legislation. Of course we know that is not the case. The motion shows that this is clearly not the case.
In this case the government is looking for advice from parliamentarians on how to move forward on Canada's drug laws. This is similar to other initiatives by the government, such as the justice committee's study on same sex marriages. I got into a debate the other day in the House with the member opposite and a member from the NDP. It is very important issue and I agree with the member opposite. It is something that needs our special attention.
I am confident that the government will continue to seek the views of parliamentarians in the development of policy and legislation. It would be an absolute shame if members voted against the motion, as it would effectively put an end to the special committee's work on the non-medical use of drugs. The result of a vote against it would be to act against the very positions of two of their members of caucus, who I acknowledge have had a keen interest in the issue and have done some important work.
I therefore urge all members, not only the members on this side but members opposite, especially members from the official opposition, to support the motion so the government can receive the views of parliamentarians on this key issue. I await with anticipation, as I am sure the government does, the report of the special committee next month.