Mr. Speaker, I rise to enter into the debate on Bill C-78, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another act. Quite a title for the bill. For the purposes of this discussion, I will simply refer to the bill as Bill C-78.
In essence, what are we talking about? We are talking about a situation where there is a family breakdown. That is what it is and under no circumstances can we imagine that could ever be a positive thing for anyone, for any of the parties involved. However, sometimes making that hard decision, going down that difficult path may very well be the best thing. Sometimes in those circumstances it may well be the best thing and in the best interests of the child as well.
That said, when people have a disagreement, when they have a breakdown, often people's emotions understandably are very high. Marriage generally happens with people declaring their love for each other. Imagine for a moment when that breaks down, what that means. The anger, the hurt, all of those emotions come flooding back and the sadness that goes with it. It is very difficult in the best of circumstances, but sometimes that is a process that adults have to embark on.
There are members in the House who talked about their own personal experiences. Sadly, for me and for many people, I am one of those statistics as well. I, too, am a single mom with two children. It is not an easy path, but sometimes it is the path that we have to take. With that said, I applaud this piece of legislation. I welcome this piece of legislation. Why? Because it attempts to make the process a little easier, a little better, and most important of all, with the best interests of the child at heart.
That is not to say that Bill C-78 would do all of it and will fix everything and that there are not issues with it. I assume when it gets to committee stage there will be opportunities for witnesses to come before the committee and offer their thoughts. Then amendments, if required, would be tabled and hopefully those changes could be made in a non-partisan way with the best interests of the child at heart.
I would like to focus on a couple of aspects of the bill that are important and worthy of support. I come from the community of Vancouver East, where generally speaking, we are not affluent people. People in my community tend to be lower-income, middle-income and when they have to get a divorce, a lot of the time, particularly women, often do not have the necessary resources to fight that fight, to get to court to have custody battles dealt with. The bill attempts to bring forward a more amicable way, a less onerous way in achieving the same results that one would want to see and that is to ensure that the caring of the child, the spending of time with the child, would be divided between both parents. That is of paramount importance.
The bill proposes that whoever wants to initiate this process would be required to get a certification agreement with the other individual that they have attempted and exhausted all the other avenues in resolution of that dispute before it goes to court. That is to say, if people can get resolution, then they do not have to go to court. That is not only in the best interests of the child, it is also in the best interests of the two adults involved in that situation.
Dispute resolution at all times is a good thing, whether it be in other circumstances or in different arenas. Rather than going to court, fighting a battle, being angry and pessimistic about the litigious procedure, dispute resolution is a way to try and resolve things in a more amicable way. That would be in the best interests of everyone involved.
Of course, from the government side, from the taxpayer side, this would be important as well, because it would actually reduce the costs to the courts and the court system. That, too, is a positive outcome. From that perspective, that element of the bill, which is to move toward an alternative dispute resolution process, is absolutely worthy of support.
Of significant importance as well is the situation where domestic violence is involved. In those instances, the bill would require the court to take that issue into consideration, especially with respect to the interest of the child, which is to say that when it comes to the custody of the child, there might be situations where it is in the best interest of the child to be under the guardianship of one parent. It might be a requirement, but that is for the courts to decide. However, making it explicit that it needs to be dealt with in the best interest of the child is an important component as well.
So often we see these situations where there is a marriage breakdown and the children get caught in the crossfire. I have met family lawyers who have told me that the most heartbreaking and difficult part of their job is to have to see the sadness and tragedy because of the tension and animosity that exist. They say that often it is the child who ends up getting hurt, and the adults may not even be thinking about the fact that they are hurting their children. Sometimes they are so caught up in the situation that they are blinded by it and cannot see it, which is a tragedy.
Therefore, the bill would allow for a provision for the courts to ensure that actions taken would be in the best interests of the child, which is absolutely worthy of support.
The bill would also give a tool to the parties to ensure that child maintenance is calculated and provided accurately. I would assume that in the event of the breakdown of a marriage where children are involved, one would want to ensure that the children are supported and have the best opportunities to succeed, and that their needs are met.
It does not always happen that way, and I would say for sad reasons really. There are cases where the child support and maintenance are not there, even when one partner could afford to do so. I do not know why people do that, but sometimes that is what happens. However, the bill would provide the tools to ensure accurate calculations of maintenance contributions for the child and in the best interests of the child, which is also a positive outcome.
In British Columbia, where I come from, for a very long time, people on income assistance as single parents, usually single moms, would have a really difficult time getting maintenance payments. Trying to get that would just be so awful for them. The income assistance system requires them to report the possible access to maintenance.
For a long time in British Columbia we actually had a situation where it was incumbent on the parent, usually a single mom, to pursue that maintenance payment. Then, when she got it, that maintenance payment was actually clawed back from the income assistance payment. It was as though that money received from the ex-spouse or ex-partner would be contributed towards the support of the children, but in reality at the end of the day it was not because that money was clawed back by the government. I am glad to say that law has now been changed, and that is a positive thing.
It is of paramount importance that in the process, we ensure that the maintenance component is achieved in a fair way, and that those dollars go to support the child or children. This bill aims to do that. It gives the tools to achieve that outcome. That is a laudable goal and something I would absolutely support.
There are some gaps within the bill. Those are the areas that concern me. It has already been brought forward by other members in their debate that this bill would not apply to people who are in a common-law situation, particularly in Quebec.
I wonder how we could ensure that this bill and the intention of this bill, which is to act in the best interests of the child or children in the event of a divorce or marital breakdown, would apply to all children in Canada, including in Quebec.
That is worth looking into. I understand and fully accept that Quebec has a different system than the rest of the provinces and territories. That being said, there is a gap. That gap is worth looking into, to see if there is a way to address that.
The government says the bill provides for reducing child poverty. On the face of it, reducing the cost of these kinds of court proceedings is in the best interests of everyone. When we ensure that accurate and fair maintenance is determined in the case of a marriage breakdown or divorce, that supports families, particularly low-income families who sometimes have a tough time ensuring that fair maintenance is provided. I suppose that contributes to it.
I hope, though, that this is not the only thing we will rely on to reduce child poverty. I am a new MP, a first-time MP in this chamber, but I can look back at the history. Back in the day when Ed Broadbent was an MP, many years ago, he actually proposed a motion in this House. It was unanimously passed, by every single member of this House. It said we needed to end child poverty.
However, to this day, we still do not have a national strategy to get there. Why is that? We have one piece here. I am sure government members will get up and say the government is doing this and that, and it is all fantastic and wonderful. However, it is not really. Those are all little patchwork pieces coming into play. Bill C-78 will contribute to that, but it is also just a patchwork piece.
What if we actually brought forward a national strategy to end child poverty, a comprehensive approach that would look at all the different approaches to achieving that goal? Would that not be in the best interests of a child? We would actually be able to realize the words and the intention of this very chamber, when Ed Broadbent brought forward his motion that received unanimous consent so many years ago.
That would be a positive way forward. I hope we can achieve that. It would be a significant piece toward ending child poverty.
The other thing that would be a significant piece toward ending child poverty would be the provision of affordable housing. Many people have a tough time accessing affordable housing. Where I come from in Vancouver it is almost impossible to get access to safe, secure, affordable housing.
The government will say it has put forward a national affordable housing strategy, which was introduced two years ago. The problem with that is that 90% of that money will not flow until after the next election. It is not as if people who are homeless today can say they will sleep under an alcove and feel really good about it until two years from now when the money flows.
Also, when the money actually does flow, having come from the non-profit sector I know it often takes, at minimum, three to four years to get a project built. That means it is another five, six or seven years before someone actually gets access to housing.
Access to housing would be a significant component to the fight against poverty. Would it not be great if in budget 2019 the government said it would flow the money right now, because the crisis is before us right now?
All of that would contribute to this equation.
I have met some women in my community of Vancouver East who are faced with domestic dispute violence but do not feel they have the option to walk away from the relationship, because they cannot access housing and have no other means of supporting themselves. This is heartbreaking.
Therefore, while the bill aims to provide some support for that, we have to look deeper than that. We need to make sure that women and families also have the option of walking away from a relationship by ensuring they have some resources and support with respect to securing housing. That is an absolutely vital component to the equation.
I have met women who have told me they could not secure affordable housing and had to go back to an abusive relationship. That cannot be the way forward, and it is definitely not in the best interests of a child. Therefore, I would like for us to look at this issue in a more comprehensive way.
I absolutely support this bill. I expect that at committee there will be further discussion about it, and that witnesses will provide testimony and comments with respect to it. If there are amendments that come forward, I hope that all parties will work together to bring forward these amendments in the best interests of the child.
Beyond that, I hope the government will bring forward other components to make a difference in the lives of children, especially those who are struggling today. They should always be in the eyes of parliamentarians when we take action in their best interests.