Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, the intention of my point of order is to put on the record my concern about rushing Bill S-5 through Parliament, and more specifically through this committee, without proper study and without the much-needed due diligence. It expands upon the concerns I raised at the February 28 meeting of this health committee.
I'm very much afraid of the consequences of plain packaging and how it may increase the use of contraband tobacco, both because of increased cost to the consumer as well as decreasing consumer knowledge of the brand of tobacco product. I doubt that plain packaging will have much of an impact on smoking rates, as we've seen recently in Australia. It may actually lead to an increase in the total consumption of cigarettes.
In Australia, as you may have noted in a recent March 12 article in The Australian, the University of New South Wales questions the effectiveness of measures to reduce smoking that have been put in place in that country, and that was without even considering the black market contraband purchases that are now widely available since plain packaging was introduced there.
Even a small increase in contraband means an increase in funding for organized crime and for terrorist organizations. We heard from Dr. Eyolfson that he considered me ridiculous for confirming the threats to Canada from the sale of contraband tobacco, but, Mr. Chair, these threats have been documented by such groups as the Library of Congress Federal Research Division; the congressional 9-11 Commission; the Cato Institute; the Macdonald-Laurier Institute; the United States Government Accountability Office; the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police-led Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit contraband tobacco initiative; the Ontario Provincial Police contraband tobacco enforcement plan; the federal Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre, which you may more commonly known as FINTRAC; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which specifically cited Canadian intelligence officials who helped prosecute international jihadi terrorists who were using contraband tobacco to fund their activities; Interpol; the OECD; the Center for International Maritime Security; the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe; and the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism. It's quite an impressive list.
None of these organizations that have either researched or directly dealt with contraband and its negative effects in Canada were called before this committee to discuss the potentially negative consequences of this bill. The groups that sell and profit from contraband tobacco are, or have links to, international terrorist organizations and organized crime organizations. This committee did not hear from law enforcement officials, who will have to deal with the mess that this bill could create if we do not do our due diligence.
Mr. Chair, we need to learn from our errors and from the errors of others. In the 1990s, both Conservative and Liberal governments learned about the risks of overtaxing tobacco products. An explosion in contraband occurred, so they lowered taxes on tobacco, and, not coincidentally, that reduced illegal contraband sales.
Unfortunately, recently both the Ontario Liberals and the federal Liberals have increased their taxes on tobacco in their latest budgets. I'm not against increasing luxury taxes on unhealthy products, but I am against it when it drives up sales of illegal contraband that fund all sorts of nasty activities.
Weeks after their forgettable budget, the Liberals seem to be set on giving another potential gift to contraband in the form of plain packaging. Bill S-5 very much feels like an omnibus bill, because it changes very different aspects of the tobacco industry, including plain packaging for tobacco products and regulating the vaping industry, among other measures.
Thankfully, Bill S-5 will not ban nicotine and vaping products as they have done in Australia. I say “thankfully” because many smokers want to quit or at least practise their addiction in a much safer way, but I do have concerns that Bill S-5 could be too strict on the vaping industry as well.
Mr. Chair, the last meeting was a great source of frustration. We had not heard from very many witnesses who could have educated the committee on many different aspects of this bill. Instead, we plowed ahead with clause-by-clause consideration on amendments that we got barely 24 hours before the meeting—some of those amendments being received the day of, in fact, after our arrival in the room for the meeting.
We did not have sufficient time to properly understand the amendments nor what their impacts could be, which is why I did not vote on any of those amendments. I didn't feel that I had been adequately informed about them or that I had an opportunity to see what the consequences, good and bad, could be. I want to be diligent.
Procedurally, when a bill such as Bill S-5 comes before Parliament, it's important that we as legislators not rush the process. It's imperative that we proceed responsibly.
Our responsibilities as members of Parliament are described on pages 404-405 of the fourth edition of Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, published in 1916, and I quote:
All the checks and guards which the wisdom of English parliamentarians has imposed in the course of centuries upon public expenditures now exist in their full force in the parliament of the dominion. ...when burthens are to be imposed on the people, every opportunity must be given for free and frequent discussion, so that parliament may not, by sudden and hasty votes, incur any expenses, or be induced to approve of measures, which may entail heavy and lasting burthens upon the country.
In a ruling from Speaker Fraser on April 14, 1987, regarding the government's use of majority to limit debate on important bills, Speaker Fraser had this to say:
It is essential to our democratic system that controversial issues should be debated at reasonable length so that every reasonable opportunity shall be available to hear the arguments pro and con and that reasonable delaying tactics should be permissible to enable opponents of a measure to enlist public support for their point of view. Sooner or later every issue must be decided and the decision will be taken by a majority.
I believe that we've just scratched the surface on the first part of Speaker Fraser's comments with regard to Bill S-5, and we are nowhere near the “sooner or later” part of this.
Occasionally the House and its committees take the necessary time to consider complex legislation. The Naval Aid bill of 1913 was such a case with regard to granting a $35 million donation to Great Britain for its navy. At the committee of the whole they kept the House going, virtually in continuous session, for as long as two weeks. That was the first time that closure had been used in our chamber. We had the famous and lengthy pipeline debate in 1956, the Energy Security Act of 1982, and we had a very lengthy debate on GST. Mr. Chair, quite frankly, the ability to have such debates is one of the last great tools of a democracy.
Beauchesne's sixth edition Parliamentary Rules and Forms, chapter 3, outlines some elements of the Constitution Act and our system of government that I believe are very relevant to this point:
More tentative are such traditional features as respect for the rights of the minority, which precludes a Government from using to excess the extensive powers that it has to limit debate or to proceed in what the public and the Opposition might interpret as unorthodox ways.
Beauchesne further describes the fundamental principles of our democracy as, and I quote:
To protect a minority and restrain the improvidence or tyranny of the majority; to secure the transaction of public business in an orderly manner; to enable every Member to express opinions within limits necessary to preserve decorum and prevent an unnecessary waste of time; to give abundant opportunity for the consideration of every measure, and to prevent any legislative action being taken upon sudden impulse.
Mr. Chair, I'm citing these points not to have endless debate but rather to gather as much information pertinent to Bill S-5 as is possible and to hear from a wider range of witnesses to provide us with this information. This committee has set everything aside to try to rush this legislation through here and through Parliament without what I believe is the necessary due diligence.
I urge this committee, before it's too late, to listen to more witnesses and seriously consider the consequences of enacting Bill S-5 without due diligence. I ask that the chair reopen the calendar to hear a wider range of witnesses and that the committee commit to getting this Bill S-5 study done right by reopening the study and delaying a committee stage referral to the House of Commons.