moved that Bill S-211, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (lottery schemes), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege for me to sponsor a bill originating in the Senate.
I would like to pay tribute to Senator Jean Lapointe who has worked all his life to improve people’s quality of life. Bill S-211 will in fact improve people’s quality of life. Senator Lapointe has fought all his life to combat injustice. He had problems with alcohol himself and he overcame those difficulties. He has been particularly active in combating the appalling ravages of gambling. Bill S-211 is in fact a way to contain one of the most horrible plagues on our youth and on all our fellow Canadians. I am talking about video lottery terminals.
There are video lottery terminals in bars and in restaurants. We all have a family member, a friend or someone with a serious problem because of video lottery terminals. I was a minister in the past and I am now a member of Parliament. The role of a legislator is not merely to make speeches and answer questions. A legislator must play a meaningful role in the quality of people’s lives.
Our role is precisely to make sure that we create an environment that makes it possible for our fellow citizens to have a decent quality of life. Every time we have an opportunity to do that, without managing their lives for them, we must give them guidance and an environment that will help them to prosper in society.
There is a serious problem at present from which too many people and young people are suffering; it is called pathological gambling. The distress we see is serious. We have even heard of suicides. Video lottery terminals affect more than 90% of people who have a gambling problem. That is why this high rate of dependency must be contained. We must find a way, together, to make it possible for these people to have a better quality of life.
This bill amends the Criminal Code. It will give us a means to contain the ravages of something that, as I said earlier, causes countless problems for our fellow Canadians. This bill will not ban video lottery terminals, however. Whenever we try to ban something, we get into the whole question of organized crime and the black market. The purpose of this bill is to confine video lottery terminals to race courses, casinos and associated places like the Hippo Club, which are all managed, and managed only by the provincial governments.
I could produce scores of statistics to show what a scourge compulsive gambling is and how it causes serious problems for Canadians.
In his presentations on video lottery terminals, Dr. Robert Ladouceur, a psychologist at Université Laval and one of the leading researchers in the field of compulsive gambling, has stated that 95% of the people he treats for problems related to pathological gambling indicate that video lottery terminals are their preferred game of chance.
According to the Maison Claude Bilodeau, which opened in the fall of 1999 and is dedicated to helping compulsive gamblers, 94% of the requests it has received since its inception are specifically related to the use of video lottery terminals.
According to the report on gambling prepared by Harold Wynne from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 78% of individuals with gambling problems play video lottery terminals.
Our friend, Senator Jean Lapointe, opened a treatment centre that bears his name. According to a recently study led by the Maison Jean Lapointe on the treatment of pathological gambling, 83% of participants who began treatment said that video lottery terminals were their preferred game of chance.
Furthermore, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec estimates that 9% of people who use video lottery terminals develop a dependency. The research consulted unanimously reports that video lottery terminals represent the primary source of problems for 80% to 90% of gamblers who seek help.
According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, most compulsive gamblers are addicted to video lotteries that they play every day or several times a week. They can stay close to home, therefore, and use the machines in local bars.
Dr. David Hodgins of the University of Calgary said in his presentation to the advisory board of the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction that in Alberta 3% were compulsive gamblers, 2% were pathological gamblers, and 86% of the people who seek help in Alberta play video lotteries.
These statistics alone show what a problem there is with the proximity and availability of VLTs. I am not as knowledgeable or experienced as Senator Lapointe in this regard. However, all of us as members of Parliament go door to door to see people. We walk around and meet people. How often when I go to a restaurant where there is video poker do I see people and youths putting their money into these machines? How did they get their money? Are they going to empty their wallets? Are they going to cash their social assistance cheque and put it all into this? How many times have ladies, mothers of families, come to see me because their husbands play video poker? How many fathers of families do not know which way to turn because their children also play on VLTs?
This is a major problem and our role as members of Parliament, legislators, fellow citizens and responsible people who are supposed to improve the quality of life is to ask ourselves how we could legislate and do our work as members of Parliament to help those people. There is an adage that opportunity makes the thief. How can I ensure that these people do not have too much opportunity because VLTs are so near?
There are some people who love to talk numbers. They say that lotteries donate billions of dollars and generate revenue and that this is about the balance of convenience. I mention the balance of convenience because every time we face this kind of scourge, every time we have a pathetic situation like this one, there is a social price to pay.
Dr. Neil Tudiver of the University of Manitoba found that a compulsive gambler costs society $56,000 per year.
Take, for example, the numbers in Quebec. We did not make these numbers up. They were provided by the people at Loto-Québec, who are lottery experts. They say that Quebeckers account for 2% of compulsive gamblers. So, if we do a little math, we find that 140,000 Quebeckers are compulsive gamblers. Of those 140,000, an estimated 89% are addicted to video poker. That means that 124,000 Quebeckers have a video lottery problem.
If we multiply that number, 124,000, by $56,000 in costs to society, that means the state is spending $6.9 billion per year. Those 124,000 Quebeckers who are problem gamblers with a VLT habit cost us $6.9 billion.
Do you know how much revenue video lotteries generate for the Government of Quebec? Approximately $1 billion. If we do a little more simple math, we find that $1 billion in profits costs $6.9 billion in losses for the province because of compulsive gambling. I think that is a pretty convincing argument.
Yes, people will ask us why we are getting involved because this is under provincial jurisdiction and agreements about gambling were made between 1977 and 1985. Personally, I think we have a responsibility here.
This is about amending the Criminal Code, in a provincial jurisdiction. In 1985, I think, the Montreal casino did not exist, nor did video lotteries.
This is my call to everyone today: let us make sure that, following the second reading, this bill will be studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in order to make some clarifications, if necessary.
I see my colleague from Hochelaga nodding his head, because he understands. In fact such a situation also exists in the Centre-Sud neighbourhood. This is not an issue affecting the poor as opposed to the rich. But we know that more people are affected in some places than in others.
After second reading, in committee, we can then ask questions having to do with the federal-provincial aspect.
Still we should make sure that we can play our role fully as responsible citizens. We are legislators, we are the representatives of democracy, and this is the cradle of democracy. Together we adopted a motion bearing on the recognition of the Quebec nation. What about this nation, how is it supposed to operate?
Every time I have had the opportunity, as a legislator and responsible person—which I have had as the Minister of Sport, the Minister responsible for La Francophonie and the Minister of Immigration—I have tried to find ways of ensuring a better quality of life for people.
Here we are working on accessibility. We saw the consequences of prohibition in the 1920s. The prohibition of alcohol had a direct impact, namely, organized crime. Some people got rich that way. People got around the system and still got their drinks. And if, in a way, we regulate the way how things are done and the video lotteries are relegated to specific places, it will not be any better.
The bill is clever in this regard. Senator Lapointe did an excellent job. We will take three years. There will be consultations; the governments will consult one another, and we will find a decent way of ensuring that there can be a transition period— for example, in Quebec, involving Loto-Québec, the bars, the Government of Quebec, and the rest. We give ourselves three years so that we can achieve our ends.
One person is already too many. I could talk today about statistics, but one person is too many. We have heard about suicides, people who are depressed, people who were not players. But when they began to play these video lotteries, they were caught up in an untenable and horrific situation, a situation that is now worrying.
This is not only an adult problem, it is a youth problem as well.
There was a situation involving a 17 year old kid who committed suicide because of this problem. The kid started at 15 years old. He was going to that restaurant and playing many times. It became compulsive. He thought he would make some money because he played it so often, but it became a disease. One has to wonder if he stole to get the money. Did he have a Shylock or some individual involved in organized crime who passed him the money? If he did not win money, he would still have to reimburse that individual, at an interest rate of 30% or 40%. He was 17 years old. He did not see the light at the end of the tunnel. What was he going to do? He killed himself.
We have a duty in this place to do our job. We need to get the tools to the people who can make things happen.
I have been in politics for 25 years. Next June, I will have been a member of Parliament for 10 years. This is important legislation because it is concrete. We will make a better life for people if we pass the legislation.
I invite my dear friends to strongly support this bill on second reading. I understand that my colleagues from other parties are also going to give their point of view at this stage.
In my opinion, the first stage consists of accepting the basic principle of this bill so that we can then study it in committee.
Obviously we will be open to clarifications but we should continue Senator Lapointe's work and carry on building a better world.