Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-41, a bill which addresses some of the issues surrounding divorce and child support payments.
I listened with interest as the member for Mississauga South spoke with some eloquence and certainly directly from the heart about how important the basic family and family values are to him, which I appreciate very much. However, he represents a party that is in the majority in this House and is able to do something about reinforcing family values and indeed they are the building block of society.
There are things that are not covered in this bill such as the way the Income Tax Act discriminates against married couples. The very high tax burden discriminates against couples in that a second job is no longer a choice but a necessity. We think that is a deterrent to keeping families together. Also, of course, there is the failure to recognize the very important role that one of the partners would play in staying home to look after the children.
Therefore, while I acknowledge and appreciate his support of the family, it is a voice in the wilderness and the views are not shared by the majority of the people on that side. He even made reference to the fact that in debate today a member rose and suggested that the divorce rate perhaps should be even higher. What he did not mention is that the comment came from a member of his party and certainly did not come from my party.
I believe it is important to recognize that whenever we address this issue we are dealing with a great personal tragedy. It only becomes necessary to discuss child support when divorce is occurring. A broken marriage is one of the most painful situations in life that people must go through.
Unfortunately, Bill C-41 is only one small step when what is required is a major overhaul of government policy with respect to families. Federal tinkering with this largely provincial area of jurisdiction may satisfy some vocal special interest groups, but the proposed changes will not deal with the root problem of family breakdown.
We have identified some specific problems with this bill which we believe should be addressed before this legislation is given approval. It is clear that all parents want what is best for the children. Even though their marriage is falling apart, the child's best interest remains central to the parents. It is therefore extremely important for us as legislators to understand the emotional impact and do our best to remove unnecessary tension and aggravation from the legal system.
This is one reason why the Reform Party has expressed its support for developing the concept of a unified family court. Rather than having to visit two and even three different courts in the course of divorce proceedings, all family law matters would be dealt with in one court with a greater emphasis on mediation.
We believe that in these difficult situations the law should be a servant to the parties and not a further frustration. Unfortunately, the minister has not even begun to address this important aspect of family law.
A troubling aspect of Bill C-41 is its insistence on rigid payment levels for support. A full year in advance of this bill, the Reform Party recommended the publication of guidelines for support. We said that Statistics Canada could be relied on to provide basic data about the average cost of raising children in the cities, towns and rural areas. Judges and interested parties could then use the data as a benchmark or starting point in their negotiations for support awards.
We believe the federal government should keep out of provincial jurisdiction and continue to allow judges the right to make the final decision about awards based on the long established legal principles of demonstrated need and ability to pay.
The justice minister's Bill C-41 imposes a made in Ottawa formula without giving judges the ability to serve just awards. The formula is inflexible and fails to take into account the differing needs of different families.
Just one example of where the formula falls short is that it fails to account for direct expenditures made by non-custodial parents on their children. These include transportation, food, accommodation and entertainment on access days. The minister's formula and
many bureaucrats fail to recognize these considerations, a judge would not.
Children need both their parents. The jurisdiction for custody, access and support is a provincial jurisdiction. Under Bill C-41, however, the federal government is going to assist the courts in matters of information gathering and enforcement of court orders for support.
Although we endorse this initiative, we believe it is important for the legislation to reflect that assistance in the area of access in custody as well. When parents use the children as tools against each other, the biggest losers are the children. It is vital for our legislation to reflect a concern for the access of a child to the love of both parents, not just the money of both parents.
We have said that we oppose this bill because of its failure to deal with significant aspects of the results of divorce. More disturbing than this is the complete lack of response to the deeper social problems of divorce and family break-up that have caused the need for us to deal with the child support issue. These underlying issues have been aggravated by well meaning but faulty government policies stretching back decades.
Progressive taxes that discourage hard work and high taxes that lower real family income are an impediment to financially stable families. Day care subsidies restrict the choice parents have when it comes to child care. Tax credits that discriminate against stay at home parents, including the expanded working income supplement proposed as part of these measures, are examples of government making choices for parents but not always in the best interests of the child.
The government has affirmed other relations as equivalent to marriage, even granting some of them taxpayer funding in the form of benefits. This new policy has demeaned the special status that marriage should enjoy in society.
The government has opened the borders further to the importation of increasingly graphic and violent obscene materials, materials that demean persons and relationships and strip them of their dignity. Our cultural institutions, many of them taxpayer funded, teach a false stereotype of love and marriage as being purely physical relationships. It is no wonder that so many of our young people have such difficulty in making a success of relationships because relationships require so much more.
Reformers believe in lower, flatter and fairer taxes. We believe in supporting marriage as a special institution and as the best place to raise children. We believe in subsidizing parents, not day care centres, and we believe in a civil society where activities, behaviour and material that undermines strong families are restrained or prohibited.
Leadership in society on this issue is sorely lacking. I cannot remember the last time we heard a member of the federal cabinet get up and extol the virtues of marriage and family and the vital importance of parents in bringing up the next generation. They have spent a lot of time talking about the value of other types of relationships, but not one word about marriage.
During the past year I have had the honour and privilege of attending many 50th wedding anniversaries. The end of the second world war was in 1946 and those brave young Canadians who returned were getting married and starting a new life. Through hard work and perseverance they managed to develop a successful relationship that should be a model for our young people. We can all learn a great deal from the love and commitment these couples demonstrated one to another.
Perhaps for a few there is no possible alterative to divorce, but for many others the worth of marriage has been so devalued by our modern throwaway society that divorce has appeared to become an easy and reasonable option. All too often, however, those most important damaged by this newly casual option are the children.
If we believe in the value of strong families, then we need strong leadership to stand for what we know to be right. Over the past three years I have heard many members of this House talk about child poverty. Today I stand to agree with them. There is a massive problem with child poverty in Canada.
It is not, as some claim, an economic problem. In fact our society is quite wealthy. There is no need for even the lowest income families to do without the basic necessities. The child poverty I am talking about is the emotional and spiritual poverty that a child of divorced parents suffers. With only one parent at a time children of divorce suffer from a love deficit.
This is borne out by the myriad studies which prove conclusively how much harder life is for these youngsters. Children of divorce have an increased likelihood of failing or dropping out of school, using drugs, committing crimes, suffering depression, mental illness and suicide and having interpersonal relationship problems, including a greater likelihood of divorce and family violence themselves.
Child support needs to be about more than just financial payments. It is about meeting all the needs of children including their need for both parents' love and attention.
Reformers are exercising leadership on the child poverty issue by attacking the root of the problem: family breakdown. If the Liberal government and the justice minister think that the Canadian people do not care about this basic problem, that Canadians only want to apply a band-aid solution like Bill C-41 to one of the symptoms of the problem, they had better think again.
Canadians care about families. They care about child poverty. They care about their neighbourhoods and communities. What they do not care for is impersonal big government, its high taxes and the social manipulation and interference it brings.
More programs and more spending are not the solution to this problem. Exercising leadership and making the necessary legislative changes are part of the solution. I ask all members to join me in opposing Bill C-41.