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House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was recall.

Topics

Public WorksOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Cape Breton—East Richmond Nova Scotia

Liberal

David Dingwall LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question. It is a question that probably should have been directed to the previous administration when this incident occurred.

I want to assure the hon. member that after the error was detected it was rectified within a two-week period at a cost of $150,000. I have given clear instructions to my staff at Public Works and Government Services Canada that that kind of behaviour will not be tolerated.

In essence we have asked for a review and if necessary, disciplinary action will be taken.

CigarettesOral Question Period

3 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is directed to the Prime Minister. He will likely be aware that earlier today his House leader indicated the new government's approach to Parliament and to government was to include all the stakeholders in a decision prior to its being made.

The Prime Minister will realize that nearly 40,000 people die of cigarette related illnesses each year. He will also realize of course that health care which is a major component of this discussion is largely a provincial jurisdiction.

Will the Prime Minister indicate to what extent the provincial ministers of health and the health care community in general have been consulted prior to the decision which he says is coming down tomorrow?

CigarettesOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Saint-Maurice Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, we have been in discussions with the premiers. I hope they are talking to their ministers of health just as I have the pleasure of talking regularly with the federal minister of health. She has good judgment.

Transportation SafetyRoutine Proceedings

3 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec

Liberal

Marcel Massé LiberalPresident of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

Mr. Speak-

er, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the annual auditor's report and financial statement of the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board.

This report covers the fiscal year ended March 31, 1993.

Canadian Multiculturalism ActRoutine Proceedings

February 7th, 1994 / 3 p.m.

Mount Royal Québec

Liberal

Sheila Finestone LiberalSecretary of State (Multiculturalism) (Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, copies of the annual report on the operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act for 1992-93.

I will be making a statement shortly, outlining my vision on this government's new directions for multiculturalism.

Canadian Multiculturalism ActRoutine Proceedings

3 p.m.

The Speaker

Madam Minister, we are at that point now.

MulticulturalismRoutine Proceedings

3 p.m.

Mount Royal Québec

Liberal

Sheila Finestone LiberalSecretary of State (Multiculturalism) (Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I did not anticipate your being ready so quickly.

In 1971 the Liberal government took a timely step forward in affirming the uniqueness of Canadian identity. It proclaimed the multiculturalism policy of Canada showing how we perceived ourselves and how we were viewed by nations throughout the world.

We let it be known on domestic and international stages that we placed a high value on the diverse heritage that history bestowed upon us to share. Many changes stemmed from this policy in the lives of citizens and in government activities. Part of this social evolution took place in 1988 when the world's first national multiculturalism legislation saw the light of day in the House and was unanimously passed.

Through the multiculturalism act we made an emphatic statement that ours is a life story to celebrate a legacy of traditions brought from nations far and near to link our cultural communities as one people united under one banner. The act codified in law the multicultural reality that has flourished since the First Nations settled this vast land, long before the advent of the explorers. We were indeed proud to see respect for our neighbours' origins become the law of the land.

Diversity is a Canadian reality, a reality reflected in this House, in you, in me and among all our colleagues, and among the citizens from all ethnocultural groups who have placed us here to speak on their behalf. The essence of this diversity lies in how we conduct day to day life in Canada, at home, at school, in our neighbourhoods and in the workplace.

It is with regard to where many Canadians work and provide services to the public that I tabled the fifth annual report on the operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. It documents progress the federal departments and agencies made in honouring this government's commitment to reflecting Canada's cultural make up in its daily affairs. It also helps keep these administrations accountable to the people of Canada whom we have the privilege of serving.

In other words, the federal government must play a leading role in Canada's cultural development. This annual report covers the 1992-93 fiscal year. It applies to a time that preceded the return of this government by seven months.

Nevertheless, I have the duty to ensure that the document is tabled.

Some departments and agencies have made great strides in upholding diversity in the workplace and ensuring that all citizens have equal access to government services.

To cite just two examples among the many highlights of outward looking ventures, during 1992-93 CBC prepared a plan of action on equitable portrayal in programming. This led to further progress in the movement toward increasing the presence of visible minority performers and subjects on TV and radio in Canada.

A great number of programs dealt with the fight against racism and hatred as well as with the promotion of cross cultural relations. It included a Canada Day documentary in which five Canadians of diverse cultural backgrounds discovered the meaning of being a Canadian.

Agriculture Canada funded research into the diverse food buying habits of consumers and the opportunities that these trends present to Canada's agri-food industry. The results of this research were provided to producers and retailers in this fast growing sector. We shall do some ongoing nation-wide studying of these trends and help our food processors compete with foreign companies.

These innovative ideas are but a few among the many put forth by a large number of agencies and departments on the front line of diversity awareness. These employees deserve our praise. Other administrations proceeded at a somewhat less

accelerated pace. We acknowledge their efforts and encourage them on.

Finally, a minority of offices have not quite blazed a trail in advancing the benefits that diversity can bring and diversity offers. Hanging posters in the lobby is a good start but one must make the actual message on those posters come to life. Their intentions are honourable but they really could go further.

With this in mind, I have asked program staff to convene a round table of senior officials. These people will explore new ways to highlight the fact that the government demonstrates leadership in bringing about meaningful change in Canada.

Clearly one cannot look to the outside until one has had a thorough scan of the inside.

As my hon. colleagues have likely sensed, this report is a good foundation for a much more energetic plan of action for the remainder of the decade. However one cannot really call it a best seller, not at least right now. Let us wait until I table some reports in the year to come, same place, same time, but I do believe it will be a different story, a story about widespread institutional change.

The portfolio entrusted to me by the Prime Minister is an honour, as well as a challenge.

Our mandate is to articulate the idea that our approach to citizenship embraces all Canadian women and men-seniors and young people-regardless of where they or their ancestors were born. We will be busy during the 1990s and I look forward to every day of it!

At the top of our agenda is the need to enlighten, to educate, to arouse a better understanding and interest, to open the eyes, to drop the lid on the coffin and finally entomb the myths that multiculturalism is merely an immigration issue, that diversity must lead to division, and the misguided musings about quotas.

I have already heard rumblings in this House about ghettoization. It is true there are those who do move into places some people think of as comfort zones. Others might call them ghettos. I do not think that is the right nomenclature, but they move to a place called Canada first. They contribute their skills to a land built by others before them who arrived with courage, hope and dreams.

Canada is a nation where we all enjoy freedom of movement and we all have the right to move to a neighbourhood with stores, with a market and with a community centre that represents a familiar setting. It is a comfort zone. All citizens have that right too. They have every right to tell us to stop focusing on the small picture of who lives where and who does what and to look at the whole screen in panorama.

Let us recognize diversity as the most obvious characteristic of the Canadian reality, thanks to our ancestors from around the world.

Our diversity is at the heart of our identity, and you cannot rewrite history. We know of regimes in this century that tried to do so, and they failed.

I suggest that members see "Schindler's List" if they want a reminder.

Whether people know it or not, multiculturalism will not fail.

Anyone who foresees the end of our respect for neighbours' origins and for their right to become involved in our communities is not facing the fact that all Canadians have equal rights and equal responsibilities.

Embracing all our traditions is an eloquent expression of the Canadian dream. It forms the very lifeblood of our nationhood. It creates building blocks, not stumbling blocks, for one only stumbles when one lives in darkness and cannot see the path ahead.

The federal government intends to follow a path clearly laid out, long before Confederation, by our aboriginal peoples and generations of ancestors.

The finest homage we could pay them is to show that there is no such thing as us and them, mainstream versus immigrants, old guard versus newcomers.

Even the so-called mainstreamers have roots that spread all over the world. We Canadians are one big family. After all we are all made of flesh and blood.

We also have a mission on a broader scale to serve as an example to troubled nations that look to us for inspiration in times of strife when they think of freedom, human rights and shared values. We will reinforce our status as a role model through an alliance of every man, woman and child with a grasp of the responsibilities of Canadian citizenship. We shall pick the route that leads to a land where every person's talent and energy will build on what is great about Canada. We will strengthen our economy through communication with trading partners. It will help us maintain our revered status in the eyes of the world.

The task that faces us all is not an easy one. Yet I can think of little in life more debilitating than idleness, scapegoating, antipathy and apathy.

I speak from my own heart to those who ask if a land of opportunity, equality and fairness is a dream world; who question whether multiculturalism has a value or is a value, has an inclusive policy or is an inclusive policy; or who think that it can happen alone. I say when we cease to dream we cease to grow.

MulticulturalismRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity afforded by the presentation of the fifth annual report on the operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act by the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism to address this important topic.

We are also anxious to hear the results of the round table of senior officials, which will report shortly to the secretary of state on new ways to demonstrate the government's leadership in bringing about meaningful changes in Canada. However, I would like to draw attention to the subtext of the speech by the secretary of state, which implies there is no difference them and us, no difference between immigrants and the citizens of this country, the founding citizens.

How can the government claim to promote multiculturalism while stating there is no difference between the members of cultural minorities and the members of our two majorities in this country, the franco-Quebecois and anglo-Canadians?

The secretary of state appears to use the words multiculturalism and assimilation interchangeably.

Let us look at the facts. In most Canadian provinces, Amerindian and cultural minorities of every description are assimilating in great numbers. In Quebec, however, aboriginal nations maintain their language and culture to a greater extent, and we can even speak of a renewed interest in those languages. Among Quebec's cultural minorities, mainly in Montreal, we see greater retention of their mother tongue by children of immigrants-the second and third generation.

I think the secretary of state was referring to the integration of immigrants in the vast Canadian anglophone majority to which she belongs. Does the secretary of state realize what is happening in her own province? This is a denial of Quebec's distinct identity. Her department's mandate is to encourage a sense of Canadian cultural identity based on the main characteristics of Canada, which are bilingualism and multiculturalism. it is clear that the federal government's policies are more inclined to embrace the perspective of a hypothetical pan-Canadian cultural identity.

Until Quebec has acquired full political sovereignty, we will defend Quebec's right to the recognition of its cultural identity.

When the secretary of state says that diversity is the most obvious characteristic of Canada, because our ancestors came here from all over the world, we must not and cannot ignore the fact that today, and in fact for the past 350 years, there has not been one Canadian reality but three: one francophone, one anglophone and one Amerindian or aboriginal, the reality of the aboriginal First Nations.

This is not a situation unique to Quebec. It is the same for Acadians and the French speaking communities of the rest of Canada.

Waves of immigrants settled in Quebec, coming first from Great Britain, Ireland and Mediterranean and slavic countries, then more recently from Asia, Africa, Latin America and West Indies. Quebecers do not make a distinction. They are all true Quebecers.

For Quebec, the diversity principle must revolve around the French nature of our culture embodied in all our institutions and on which is based Quebec distinctiveness. The contribution of immigrants to Quebec and Canada is enormous, culturally as well as socially and economically. The diversity of our population must allow for differences while encouraging newcomers to blend into the social fabric.

To that end, the authorities having jurisdiction, that is to say Quebec and the other provinces, must have the tools necessary to facilitate this blending in, whether it be job training or French language education.

It is important to establish clearly that a sovereign Quebec has every intention to abide by the treaties and conventions which protect minorities. We will participate fully in the discussions that, at the international level, will focus on the tools developed to better protect minorities.

The multiculturalism policy of the Canadian government has a lot in common with that of Canadian diplomacy. It irons out the reality and distinctiveness of Quebec.

A federation has to give a certain image of itself, whether abroad or to newcomers. In this regard, it appears that our federation hides behind stereotypes the true identity of one part, because it cannot integrate its distinctiveness.

MulticulturalismRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary North, AB

Mr. Speaker, the statement of the hon. minister was long on rhetoric but in our opinion very short on substance.

As the party in power for 17 of the past 25 years and the architect of the multiculturalism policy since 1971, the minister gave two examples today through which she was able to identify progress having been made in upholding diversity in the work-

place in the public sector. One of them was in the form of a plan of action prepared during 1992-1993 to increase the presence of visible minority performers and subjects in Canadian television and radio.

Twenty years after the multiculturalism policy was proclaimed the Canadian Broadcast Corporation finally made plans to be more inclusive of visible minorities. This the minister heralds as a great stride forward. Can we expect to wait another 20 years before this plan of the CBC is actually put into action?

This brings clearly into question the effectiveness of the official multiculturalism policy. Given the identification of the policy with the Liberals, it is particularly surprising that Liberal MPs from ethnic minorities have in the past been openly critical of the policy of multiculturalism. The Liberal MPs representing Toronto area ridings particularly were critical not only of the creation of a separate department but also of what they termed the ghettoizing nature of multiculturalism as a whole.

Expressing sentiments he said were shared by several ethnic minority MPs in the party, the member for York South-Weston argued that while the policy of multiculturalism may have been valid in the past, it no longer plays a constructive role.

I believe strongly that the policy is no longer valid or appropriate today. In effect, the present policy of multiculturalism is divisive. It divides Canadians. It is unfair in that it treats Canadians in different fashions. It is regressive and at times discriminatory.

That statement was by the member for York South-Weston.

In an article entitled Ethnic Pluralism Under Siege-Popular and Partisan Opposition to Multiculturalism from Canadian Public Policy , December 1992, Spencer's commission argues for refocusing official multicultural policy as follows:

We believe that Federal Government funding for Multiculturalism activities other than those serving immigrant orientation, reduction of racial discrimination and promotion of equality should be eliminated, and the public funds saved be applied to these areas.

The Spencer report's criticism of multiculturalism and recommendations for narrowing the policy's scope were reinforced by suggestions that minority and immigrant groups were also critical of the policy.

For example, one writer of Japanese ancestry describes the reality of racism from her experience as a child and adult in Canada that is belied by the rhetoric of multiculturalism. She says:

Multiculturalism, a term everyone loves to use in defining Canada, is admirable in theory but it does not work in practice. Multiculturalism is the name given to the ethnic and cultural diversity of our country. It implies an attitude of tolerance and acceptance, of equality among all regardless of ethnic background. This idea does not stand the test of personal experience. And the experience of individuals provides real insight into what defines our country. Though official policy would have it otherwise, it is hard to be different in this country. For me this is an irony that underlies the very fact of being Canadian.

Still others have gone further to argue that through strengthening the associations between being ethnic and being of inferior status, multiculturalism actually promotes or causes racism.

Similarly novelist Meil Bisoondath writes:

In stressing the differences between groups, in failing to emphasize that this is a country with its own ideals and attitudes which demand adherence, the policy has instead aided in hardening of hatreds.

This brings me to the position of the Reform Party on the current policy of multiculturalism. We call for the abolition of the official multiculturalism department. We call for the acceptance and integration of immigrants into the mainstream of Canadian life.

We have found that Canadians welcome, value and enjoy the wealth of backgrounds and cultures represented by its citizens. This great country was built by hard working and enterprising people who came here from all over the world. Many are proud to celebrate their heritage and ethnic societies have flourished in Canada for generations.

Whatever our ethnic and cultural backgrounds, what binds us together is our tremendous pride and privilege in being Canadians. It ought to be the role of the federal government to preserve and protect those things that we all have in common, and in ensuring equality for all regardless of things like race, language, culture and country of origin. Because of this I urge the minister to use her influence in cabinet to end the use of a definition of Canada as a meeting of two founding races, languages and cultures. This definition of Canada was introduced by the Liberals and is one which they cling to to this day even though it excludes more than 12 million Canadians whose culture and language of origin is neither French nor English.

In addition, those proud Canadians who fall outside the Liberals' two founding races definition are ready, able and willing to preserve those elements of their culture and heritage that are important to them, using their own money and their own resources.

They do not require these activities to be funded by other Canadians through the allocation of tax dollars. Keeping the heavy hand of government out of such activity would also allow ethnic societies to remain free of some of the unfortunate political obligations that have been perceived to arise in conjunction with the allocation of political largesse.

Instead the Reform recommends that federal multiculturalism programs provide immigrant adjustment services, language training and focus on the elimination of racism. These are the services new Canadians really need to help them build a new life in this country.

The Reform's position is that official multiculturalism has indeed failed to respond to historical and contemporary discrimination as well as class and gender based inequities in the workplace.

I suggest to the minister that we ought to focus our energies and resources on the key problem which is removing the tremendous challenges and obstacles to ensuring that every Canadian becomes an effective participant in the economic and political spheres of our country, Canada.

MulticulturalismRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Simon de Jong NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent of the House to be able to place on record for maybe five minutes or so the position of the New Democratic Party on the statement by the minister.

MulticulturalismRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the member's request?

MulticulturalismRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

MulticulturalismRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Simon de Jong NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank you and the members of the House for giving me unanimous consent to put on record our position.

First of all I would like to congratulate the minister on her new responsibilities and position. I have worked closely with her in previous parliaments and I know she will do an excellent job. Her heart and mind are in the right place.

I also wish to congratulate the government for following through on its promise to have ministerial statements and new policy directions being made in the House rather than at press conferences.

It does not bode well for this Parliament when one hears the position taken by the Official Opposition party and by the second largest party in the House. The Official Opposition party is so narrowly focused in its own little world that I am afraid it misses the much larger point and the larger reality that most Canadians are living in.

The position of the Reform Party I also find most unfortunate. They suggest we should focus our efforts on the pride in being Canadians. I have always felt that my support of multiculturalism was my way of celebrating being Canadian. One of the major essences of Canada is the fact that we are not a melting pot and that we celebrate our diversity. In this diversity is our strength.

We see the ramifications of this all over the place. We see people of Ukrainian, Croatian, Chinese or Vietnamese descent opening up trade connections and possibilities with the countries of their origin. This has a tremendous economic plus for Canada.

It also is when one sees throughout history the rise of great nations, those great nations that embraced multiculturalism, different thoughts, different traditions and different ideas. This coming together made countries great. I believe if multiculturalism does its job in Canada it will help make Canada great.

I urge the minister to continue with her work and to redirect some of the things that department has been doing. It can be more successful in some areas. Certainly the concern of racism being on the rise is a legitimate concern. In hard economic times we will have that increase in racism. The department has an important task to fulfil. I extend to her and the department all of our best wishes.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-211, an act to amend the Criminal Code (cattle rustling and range cattle).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present this private member's bill regarding cattle rustling and range cattle problems.

It sounds as though this is a bill that comes out of the 1890s but in fact cattle rustling in the last number of years has become a major problem not only in western Canada where I am more familiar with it but, I am told, across the country per se.

In spite of the reductions in staffing of the RCMP they do an admirable job but it is impossible for them to carry on the necessary surveillance. The various cattle organizations do their best in terms of range land patrol but not are not able to do the job required in such a vast country as Canada.

Over the years when cattle rustlers have been caught, very little normally happens. The case does not make it through the courts. Consequently today people are literally losing thousands of livestock to one form of cattle rustling or another.

The severity of the crime must be reflected by the severity of the punishment. This bill increases significantly the punishment for cattle rustling. It is not hanging. I do not support capital punishment. It goes a long way to making the point that this is a serious offence. It should be dealt with appropriately.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed.)

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know this is an issue of interest to other members. I simply want to say that if people are interested in providing seconders to this legislation, which of course is within the rules, they would be welcome.

Again this is not simply something coming from central British Columbia but it is a Canadian-wide problem.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

That is a good point, but it is not a point of order.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Beth Phinney Liberal Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have petitions with over 5,000 signatures from people from every part of Canada to add to the over two and a half million signatures which have already been presented to Parliament. They are from citizens who feel that there are serious deficiencies in the criminal justice system.

These petitioners are calling on Parliament to recognize that crimes of violence against a person are serious and abhorrent to society. They ask that the Criminal Code of Canada, the Bail Reform Act, 1992, and the Parole Act be amended accordingly.

These petitioners hope that with a new government we will quickly see major changes in Canada's justice system.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition that I have received from several hundred of my constituents in Oxford county.

This petition has been duly certified by the clerk of petitions. Most of the petitioners are citizens of the city of Woodstock. They are requesting that the government ban sales of the serial killer board game and serial killer cards and prevent any other such games, cards or material being made available in Canada.

Questions On Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it agreed that all questions be allowed to stand?

Questions On Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions On Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before recognizing the member for Dartmouth, I wish to inform the House that pursuant to Standing Order 32(2)(b), because of the ministerial statement Government Orders will be extended by 27 minutes.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ron MacDonald Liberal Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure after five years of serving as the member of Parliament for Dartmouth to rise in this place to talk about the changes that have been proposed and put before us today with regard to the standing orders of the House.

When I first arrived here in 1988 I guess I was one of those people who wanted to change the world and do it rather quickly. But at the same time, because I had spent some time working for the previous Liberal administration, I knew that the rules of the House could be used either in favour of reform of the rules and progression of legislation or used to stymie.

Unfortunately, in the first four and a half years I was here the rules of this place were all too often used to stop that type of exchange and that type of debate and in actual fact to undermine the confidence Canadians had in this institution.

The Right Hon. John Turner, the member for Vancouver Quadra until the recent election and who chose not to seek re-election, often said that this place is the highest court in the land. It truly is. It is a pleasure to be sent here no matter what political philosophy one harbours at any time. Indeed it is an honour to be allowed to come to this place and represent one's constituents.

However, what happened in the last session at least, far too often the government of the day even without a great deal of consultation with its own members would decide with rules that were enacted in an archaic way so that only the executive branch of government had any right to know what in the name of goodness was going to take place. Bills were put before the House which were imperfect as most bills will be. Even on the government side good members, nearly all of whom were defeated or retired, were not allowed to have any input. They really saw what was going on when it went to their Wednesday caucus meeting. At that time there was no attempt to seek input so that as legislators or as representatives of the people we could better the legislation and put our ideas forward. It was the government line.

The bill would come down and members would be told: "That is it. You go in the House. You have your marching orders and you support that bill to the death". Members on the opposition side did exactly the opposite. Most times it did not matter if there was a grain or a whole beach full of wisdom in the bill members of the opposition opposed because it was viewed in

that type of combatant legislative set of regulations that was what they did.

The rule changes that are before us today are a step forward. We have seen a few steps forward since this Parliament was elected. We have seen the reform document that was tabled. When the Minister of Supply and Service and Public Works was our House leader, he put forward a number of reforms that we thought if we were the government we would like to try to pursue.

One thing was that we would have free debates in this House so that prior to the government making a decision members from all sides, not just the government side, but the opposition and other parties and the independents represented here would have an opportunity to put their position forward. Hopefully the minister or the government generally would listen and come up with better legislation, better regulations and better governance for the country. These rules start to do that.

I recall that in 1988 after I was elected committees were struck and all too often government members came in and supported bad legislation. As I said, in most cases opposition members would not support even good legislation. But there was one opportunity we saw for change. It was when the then Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs came forward to me as the critic and said: "Look, we have a Bankruptcy Act". It was Bill C-22. "We are going to introduce this thing in the House of Commons". I think the six or seven previous attempts to pass that had failed. It was clearly not in the public interest for anybody who was on that committee to see another attempt at reforming Canada's bankruptcy laws fail. We were in the middle of a recession and we were seeing unprecedented numbers of individuals and companies going bankrupt. I think the Bankruptcy Act dated back to 1948 or 1949. It had never been substantially reformed.

I said to the minister: "If you are prepared to allow us to pre-study the bill or give it to us after first reading and if you are prepared to tell your members on the committee that they have free rein to treat the bill as a draft piece of legislation, I will give you the assurance of the Official Opposition that our members will try to build a bill that can pass the House of Commons, that takes account of the special interests but comes forward with what is in the public interest". That worked and for months we studied that bill. The bill we came up with did not even look the same as it had.

Alas, when it came down to the crunch the government of the day decided it was going to become partisan again. When that happened the business of the committee shut down. That rare period of harmony in the committee changed. We became highly partisan and the bill hit the rocks. It was only because we were able to rediscover that sense of joint responsibility for legislation we were able to pull it off the rocks.

The country is better off today because there is a new Bankruptcy Act. Probably thousands of people are still employed in Canada because that act allows for reorganization of corporations and allows for reorganization of personal debt. It was a fine hour for the House of Commons when we did exactly that type of work.

The changes to the standing orders we are debating today go even further. I am an advocate of reform. If we are to gain back the respect of the people whom we are elected to serve it is important that we be allowed to do our jobs as parliamentarians. It means that members of the Bloc Quebecois, the Reform Party, New Democrats and the independents in the House be allowed as much input as possible into the legislative process.

The reforms before us today indicate that after first reading and before approval in principle when everyone is tied down to a position, bills can be referred to standing or special committees of the House. This has pushed us miles forward from where we were.

If we pursue this vigorously on important or contentious pieces of legislation or those which have various sides to them, members of the Bloc, members of the Reform and indeed members of the governing Liberal Party will be able without fear of reprisal from their whips-God love all the whips-to provide direct input. This is a very positive step for this Parliament.

Through the reading of the proposed amendments we are debating today I also get the sense that committees will or can be asked by a minister to come up with the general direction on a piece of legislation. In other words it can roughly formulate legislation which would then go to justice officials who would put it together.

As time goes on and in practice I hope that these committees will work together. I hope they will find areas in the public interest to conduct their own studies without necessarily a reference or request from a minister and come forward with what they believe is appropriate legislation addressing those concerns.

For example, in the last couple of sessions of Parliament members have come forward with private members' bills. Some of those private members' bills dealt with ingredient labelling. Actually the Deputy Prime Minister when she was in opposition had put forward a couple of those bills.

Suffice to say perhaps standing committees will be able to take that type of subject matter and formulate pieces of legislation. They could then be put before the House finding some process by which they could be properly debated and passed, if they are good pieces of legislation.

I could speak for days on this subject, but in closing I commend my government for taking the initiative so early in this new Parliament to put forward what I hope is the first of a

number of reforms. It will put some respect back into the parliamentary process and will also make this place more worth while for the members who serve here.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain Liberal Guelph—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I say to the hon. member for Dartmouth that I too feel this is a positive step in this new government. When we were campaigning during September and October all members on all sides of the House heard the same thing from the Canadian people. They are not happy with the way Parliament has functioned. They are unhappy with the tight and rigid rules.

This is a step forward, but I believe we do have a long way to go. We have many avenues to explore in order to make all our voices heard in Parliament. Any movement forward will be seen as positive by all Canadians.

I would ask the member for Dartmouth to comment specifically on the areas of reform, such as pensions. In general Parliament has taken a fair amount of heat particularly from the Reform Party in suggesting that perhaps Liberal members are not supportive on reform in the pension areas. I believe that is not true and that a good many members are quite supportive of practical measures to be reformed in the pension area.