House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.


Prisons And Reformatories ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The vote is deferred until the end of Government Orders this day.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-41, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Canada Shipping Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, as we resume debate on Bill C-41, I will explain a bit about the bill. It is an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Canada Shipping Act.

The purpose of Bill C-41 is first, to establish federal guidelines for child support; second, to open Revenue Canada databases to searches in cases of payment default; third, to deny passports and certain licences to individuals whose support payments are in persistent arrears; fourth, to provide for the garnishment and attachment of federal public service pensions and wages of individuals working at sea.

Unfortunately, in today's world, between 40 and 50 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Even more unfortunate is the fact that when a divorce occurs, children are often the last to be considered.

In spite of the fact that our courts and our laws use the phrase in the best interests of the child, all too often the outcome is actually what is in the best interests of the custodial parent. We need to change this situation to ensure that the outcome ends up being what is in the best interest of the child.

Many non-custodial parents either do not pay their child support payments or are in arrears. Since non-payment of support hurts the children and the families, this situation must be remedied by some type of penalty for the offender. Bill C-41 addresses this situation. The non-payment of fair child support should not be tolerated.

Last year the Reform caucus called for nationwide guidelines and for increased enforcement of maintenance orders. This bill addresses these two issues. However, like many other pieces of legislation introduced by the government, Bill C-41 only goes part way. The bill represents a piecemeal approach to amending the Divorce Act. Once more the Liberals have given Canadians only part of the loaf, not the whole loaf.

While the Liberal government has continually stressed the need for comprehensive family law reform, the bill once again only deals with one small part of this large problem. Canadians need a comprehensive approach which benefits the children of divorce.

I would like to speak briefly about what I believe a comprehensive approach to amending the Divorce Act would include. First, it would include compulsory mediation as a first step in the divorce process rather than going straight to the courts.

In a court battle, parents through their lawyers and often encouraged by their lawyers so often attack each other in adversarial combat over who gets the property and who gets the children. Eventually, neither parent wins the battle. Inevitably the lawyers are the only winners in these cases. In too many cases the children are the big losers. Mediation would lessen the bitterness of divorce as both sides attempt to compromise. Most parents truly want to do what is best for the children but emotions get in the way in adversarial combat such as we see through the court system.

With mediation, parents are encouraged to put bitterness aside to do what is in their children's best interest. The result is often a less hostile relationship between the parents. A good relationship between the parents is essential since children exist through and thrive on the relationship that exists between their father and their mother. Even after divorce, the well-being of a child is directly related to the continued shared responsibility of the two parents for their child.

This morning, some members opposite said that having two parents is idyllic. I am not talking about an ideal situation. I am talking about the best possible situation under a very difficult divorce procedure.

The second element that I believe should be included in comprehensive reform is the access of grandparents to grandchildren. Children need to know that they are loved by both sets of grandparents, regardless of the divorce.

One of my constituents sent me a copy of her letter to the Minister of Justice in which she stated: "I am a victim of your indifference to the rights of grandparents. Your rock solid image has been eroded by your unwillingness to uphold the very principles you pretend to stand for. You have shot down the inherent rights of innocent children to have and to know their immediate families. You have disregarded the voices of countless grandparents who have personally experienced the pain caused by the flaws in our present justice system".

That is from a constituent to whom I talked on several occasions and who, unfortunately, I could not assure that there would be something done in this place that would improve her situation.

What is said by the experts in this area? I quote Jim Gladstone, an associate professor of social work at McMaster University who has studied the relationship between grandmothers and grandchildren after divorce. He said: "A grandparent can offer a grandchild sanctuary from divorce materially and emotionally. The grandparent's role is especially important considering the child's parent is likely preoccupied with his or her own healing".

Not only my constituent but the so-called experts in this area stress the importance of grandparents having access to their grandchildren. Common sense also says that. Children whose parents are divorced are no less deserving of maintaining family ties. In fact, during these difficult times, children need even more to have these ties maintained.

A third factor to be considered in a comprehensive approach to amending the Divorce Act would also include access provisions that are enforceable. In talking about enforcing access, I would like to speak about a situation that happened to me over the last year and a half or so. It happened without one knowing what the other was doing. I had both the mother and the father in a divorce case come to me with their grievances which were quite different.

First the mother came. She was the custodial parent. Her concern was that she was having an extremely difficult time in paying what was necessary to raise her children. Part of the reason was that the non-custodial parent, the father, was not making child support payments. As I listened to her, I could see the difficulty, the stress that she was under. I could see also the less than friendly way that she talked about the non-custodial parent and the fact that he was not paying support. My heart went out to her. She was in a very difficult situation and in fact it was very difficult even for me to hear what was happening. I could not understand how the non-custodial parent, the father, would withhold child support payments.

Then it happened. I do not believe the father had any idea that the mother had been to see me. Some time later the father came to me with his concerns. He was torn apart because he had been denied access to his children even though the court had granted access. The mother, the custodial parent, had denied access even though the court had said that it was a requirement of the divorce settlement. I heard the other side. This father, who so desperately wanted to be in touch with his children, had withheld support payments because he so desperately wanted the access that he was being denied.

It is clear that the government, dealing with legislation on child support, should not only look at one part of this issue. It is critical that it also consider the issue of access. It has been completely ignored in this legislation. Once again, it is piecemeal legislation when comprehensive legislation is needed. That really makes this legislation of very little value.

The issue of access by the non-custodial parent is crucial, as the example which I used pointed out. As I said before, children exist through and thrive on the relationship that exists between a father and a mother. I would like to add that children also thrive on the relationship that they have with each parent individually. These relationships need to be continually strengthened as the child grows and matures. This is every bit as important in a situation where the parents are separated by divorce and where both parents do not have continual access to the children.

The relationship between the children and both parents is the fundamental building block of our society. It is how values and culture are protected and transferred from one generation to the next. The maintenance of these ties is crucial not only to the child's development but to the social stability of our society. It is that fundamental.

Family ties have a profound impact on our economy, culture and social structure. I do not think we can overstate the importance of these family ties.

It is therefore just as important that children whose parents are divorced continue to have access to both parents unless the courts have determined that there is some substantial particular reason that one or both parents should be denied access.

Unfortunately Bill C-41 does not deal with the problem of the lack of fairness in enforcing maintenance orders. I am getting back to maintenance orders and away from access. One of the major flaws with the bill is that Bill C-41 does not deal with the problem of the lack of fairness in enforcing maintenance orders.

On April 5, 1995 the Reform caucus approved an issue statement on child support, payment and taxation. It called for nationwide guidelines and for increased enforcement of maintenance orders. As I previously mentioned, this bill provides for both these points to some extent. However, the Reform Party stressed that provisions must be fair. The child support issue is not simply a woman's issue. It is a family issue.

While Bill C-41 imposes and enforces support obligations on non-custodial parents, it does nothing to ensure that custodial parents meet their obligations for example on visitation rights. That is unacceptable.

Many non-custodial parents who do not make payments refuse to do so because they are denied access to their children. It is not uncommon. This denial of access produces anger and weakens the ties between the non-custodial parents and their children. I know that with improved access many more non-custodial parents would

meet their obligations in full. This in fact has been verified by people with considerable experience in tracking down non-custodial parents for non-payment of child support. My colleague, the hon. member for Mission-Coquitlam, this morning documented that very well. It is clear that most parents do want to do what is best for their children.

Besides these issues, there are other issues which were ignored by the legislation which I will not go into in detail.

The process of putting the legislation in place through order in council is typical of the government. It happens all the time. It is a non-democratic process which I have spoken of before so I will not get into it at length now.

Another concern about the legislation is that it could invade the privacy of the non-custodial parent. The bill makes data banks at Revenue Canada available to be searched for information regarding addresses and possible payment sources but does not provide protection for other information in Revenue Canada files. That is a concern under the present system and it will be even more of a concern when this legislation passes.

There is the issue of revoking passports. Bill C-41 contains clauses which allow for the revocation of a passport of a person who is in default in their child support payments. The revocation places such a person in jeopardy if he or she must travel outside Canada with their employment. How can a person earn money and meet child support payments if they are being denied access to their place of employment?

A constituent of mine spoke of the problems which he had and how much more serious the problems would be because of this bill. He went to work outside the country. He could not get a job in Canada and could not afford to make the payments but he could with the job outside Canada. He was concerned that the legislation would completely cut off child support payments.

By opposing the bill, the Reform Party is not supporting people who do not pay child support. Clearly that is not our intent. The problem is that Bill C-41 lacks meaningful substance and in particular it lacks fairness.

What Canadians need is a comprehensive approach which focuses on change which benefits the children of divorce. By opposing the bill the Reform Party is attempting to force the government to adopt a comprehensive reform of the Divorce Act so that matters such as compulsory arbitration and access are also included. With respect to child support, as in all government decisions, Reform believes that the well-being of the family should be the top priority.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to take the opportunity to speak on Bill C-41, an act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and the Canada Shipping Act, at second reading.

Throughout most of the debate today the commentary has been more on family values than it has been on the substance of the bill. The last speaker raised some interesting points about the bill, about whether or not it goes far enough in certain aspects. There are aspects such as the garnishee without notice, the ability to open up the support arrangements and of course the grid for the determination of support payments. The member spoke about the issues of fairness and the need for change in the Divorce Act.

In listening to the debate I was saddened that so many members talked about the demise and breakdown of the traditional Canadian family. They tended to talk casually and lightly about the situation of divorce and family breakdown and how prevalent common law relationships were. There was very little support in this place for the traditional Canadian family. I was a little concerned that maybe Canadians were wondering if there was anybody in this place who was speaking on behalf of the family. I want to make a few comments about the family.

When I first came to the House of Commons and joined the Standing Committee on Health, one of the reports we received was on the strategy of our health care system. One of the most significant statements that was made in that report from Health Canada was that we spend approximately 75 per cent of our health budget on curative measures for problems and only 25 per cent on prevention. The issue of prevention versus dealing with the problem after it occurs is applicable in the case of this bill and many other items that come before the House.

I can recall giving a speech in this place on Bill C-10, the borrowing authority legislation. It was just after the Thibaudeau decision had come down. There was a lot of talk at the time about the family and about issues relating to family breakdown. That was the first time I rose in the House to give a speech without notes. I know many members have experienced the hesitation to speak from their hearts on what they believe. We have prepared texts and members will stand in their places and sometimes read canned speeches. I think that night I spoke because I really believed in something and in my own heart and mind I knew what I was talking about. I can remember a particular quote from that speech. It was that if the family were strong, the deficit would be gone. It is a little bit of a cliche.

Having heard all of the debate from time to time in the House about the family, there is no question in my mind that there is something terribly, terribly wrong taking place in our society. The respect for the family continues to erode. The respect for families

who choose to provide care for their children in the home is no longer there. When we talk about bills like this one dealing with divorce and enforcement of support orders and access orders, it is about things that we can do to take care of something that has gone terribly wrong.

This morning a member rose to say that according to Statistics Canada anywhere from 3 to 3.9 marriages out of 10 end in divorce. That is 30 to 39 per cent of family breakdowns end up in divorce. The member also went on to say that maybe it should be 50 per cent because of what she sees in the family. It really got to me and saddened me that there was someone in this place who actually thought there should be more divorce to take care of family problems. It seemed like an ironic solution to a problem and it caused me some concern.

Strong families make strong countries, there is no doubt in my mind. Although this bill has to deal with certain aspects where families have in fact broken down, it is important to have fair rules to ensure that the needs of the children involved in those family breakdowns are paramount in terms of the rules of care for them. There must be no compromise in terms of that priority.

There is a lot of talk in this place about child poverty, how terrible it is and that we have to do something to solve the issue of child poverty. All members will know that if a couple with children decide to break up, assuming there are no other changes in their economic circumstances, one significant thing will change: when two people living together decide for whatever reason to live apart, there will be the cost of a second residence.

Residences cost most families about 30 per cent of their disposable income. We are all aware there are certain levels of principal residences one can acquire, but even a simple apartment could cost even in this city $500, $600 or $700 a month. Who in this place could absorb that additional cost with no change in their family income, or at least the incomes of two people who have split up?

There are undoubtedly cases where family breakdown is a direct cause of child poverty because quite simply there is not enough income for those two people to support an additional residence. We cannot get blood out of a stone. There is no amount of legislation, court enforcement or coercion that could be imposed to make more economic means available for the care of those children.

We are fighting a losing battle on child poverty if we do not win the battle with the family. The family that stays together, the strong, basic economic unit of our society, is the solution to child poverty. I honestly believe that.

Child poverty is a function of social decay. We have the means and we have the right.

Earlier today a member rose in his place and said that we have to be big enough and tough enough to tough out our responsibilities to our children even when the marriage is having some difficulties. Today it seems it is just too acceptable and far too easy for people to get a divorce in our society. There is no respect for the family.

If we think it through, there is no question that a strong, healthy family in our society is less of a burden and a cost to our social programs, our criminal justice system, our health system and the productivity of our businesses than families which break down. There is no question about that.

We are losing the battle on child poverty. We will lose the battle on child poverty and make no progress on it whatsoever if we do not first make some progress with regard to the family.

We have had far too many casual comments in this place about the state of the family, the prevalence of divorce and the prevalence of common law relationships. We have to reaffirm the social value system we have in this country.

Our income tax system was originally structured to recognize the fact that families play a predominant role within our society. There were various deductions and family allowance. There were all kinds of provisions to ensure that the family had the flexibility and the options to provide the kind of care to children and to relieve the stress and pressures on families so that things such as divorce and separation would not occur as often.

But as we had changes in the mechanics of the Income Tax Act, things have changed to the point that it discriminates against families. Members will know, I present a petition almost every day about managing the family home and caring for preschool children being an honourable profession which has not been recognized for its value to our society.

The Income Tax Act discriminates against families that choose to stay together. It discriminates against families that choose to provide for their children and be responsible, to tough it out in those tough times.

This summer I had a great opportunity to reflect on my own life. My wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in August. We sat together. We went through the albums. We talked to our children. One has moved out and has a job. One is away at university and the other attends high school.

We did take the opportunity to get together and talk about what has happened in our family. We concluded that family is memories, making memories. Family is making sure you are with your family members in good times as well as bad. Lord knows we have all had

our problems. Lord knows we have the ability to tough them out. But it is far too easy to say no.

As a matter of fact, in many states of the United States-it might even be a federal requirement-before someone can even have a divorce there is a requirement that they go through some sort of 12 week program. It is almost like a reality check for couples who are contemplating divorce. It is that reality check that says to them did you know that if you do this, here are the economic implications; if you do this, here are the implications to your child, to your lifestyle, to visitation, to access, to support payments. Your entire life is going to be affected, and that is the least of it.

Everybody in this House agrees that family breakdowns with children involved affect no one greater than the children themselves. That is the issue here.

Social assistance for single parent families accounts for, subject to check, about 80 per cent of the income of those families. That means it is hard to defend the situation that family breakdown is somehow a solution to something. In fact, it is going from one problem probably to a more serious problem.

I am not naive. I understand things like spousal abuse. I was a board member of Interim Place, our shelter for battered wives, for five years. I know about spousal abuse. I know about abusive relationships and child abuse and I know the best thing to happen in most cases is for that marriage to stop.

It is our responsibility to make sure the custodial parent and those children are properly taken care of regardless of the impact to the at fault party, as it were. If we have an aggressor in the relationship who is the source of the problem and causes that family to break down, that is the party who must bear the responsibility for their actions.

It really comes down to a principle and a value that is extremely important to our society, that we must start again to be responsible for our actions and our inactions.

The issue of spousal abuse is a very important one to me. I spent a lot of time in my former life working in a shelter as a treasurer to raise money. We tried to understand the problem. One of the things I found as a man in that situation was that I was not often accepted by some women who were advocates on behalf of other abused women. It appears that there is this bias on behalf of some that all men are bad.

It was very difficult for me to be on that board. It took two years before the others even asked me what I thought about certain situations. But I learned a lot and I learned a lot when I drafted the bill on health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages. My research, which was based on the 1995 report of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, showed that 50 per cent of family violence in our society is caused directly or indirectly by the misuse of alcohol.

In the summer there was a bilateral forum on women's health in Canada and the United States. One of the facts that came out of this was that spousal abuse in our society in Canada costs us some $4.2 billion.

When we get a situation like that we have to ask ourselves whether there is something we can do, where are the other things. I think I hear that from members in the House that we have to do more. I do not think the more that we can do is within the context of this bill. It certainly does make the argument that we have to look for better ways to prevent problems from occurring, to be proactive, to intervene and do whatever it takes to make sure our families, our friends, our acquaintances do not become tragic statistics. That is a value that I have. That is a value that I think many members have in this place.

I heard a member say that common law relationships are more prevalent now and everything is fine. One of the things I do know is that if we look at the incidence of spousal abuse in common law relationships versus married couples, a two to one ratio, almost 66 per cent, of family abuse situations occur in common law relationships. We have to ask ourselves the rhetorical question why. Is there a reason? We have to look at those things.

When this place has the opportunity, I hope all hon. members will remember this premise or strategy about prevention versus dealing with problems after we have them.

We have situations raised by hon. members in this place which have identified, even though it is outside of the context and the scope of this bill, that we do have problems that we can deal with. I hope all hon. members if they care will do what they can to make sure that family breakdown, divorce and the need to have stronger laws to support enforcement, garnishees, support payments and access rights will not be as large a priority as it is in this place today.

The Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Saint-Léonard Québec


Alfonso Gagliano LiberalMinister of Labour and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it was not possible to reach an agreement pursuant to Standing Orders 78(1) and 78(2) with respect to the proceedings at third reading of Bill C-45, an act to amend the Criminal Code (judicial review of parole ineligibility).

I therefore give notice that, at the next sitting of the House, pursuant to Standing Order 78(3), I will be moving a time allocation motion for the purpose of allotting a specified number

of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at that stage.

The Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the Reform Party members could stop talking, perhaps we could debate this bill.

I am pleased to speak on Bill C-41 regarding child support.

As all the members of this House know, the safety, well-being and health of our children should always come first. As a single parent of two myself, I am qualified to speak on the issue being debated today.

We must realize that things have changed considerably these past few years and that more and more couples divorce; it is a fact of life. I heard my hon. colleague from Mississauga South talk about divorce as if it were inevitable. Personally, I think it is a choice you make.

When two people can no longer live together, they are better off separating than continuing to live under the same roof and putting their children through hell. True, there are more divorces but divorce is a free choice made by the man, the woman or both partners. They decide to go their separate ways for their own good and also for the good of their children. This is 1996, not 1930. This is my personal opinion, but I think that a number of my colleagues may share my views.

We must accept that life has changed a great deal. Divorce already comes as a terrible shock to children. No argument there. Some children even take full responsibility for their parents' decision. They feel responsible for the divorce, which makes their lives terribly difficult.

If, on top of that, these children do not have all the resources they need to grow up in a healthy environment, they end up in the kind of situations we are all familiar with. Juvenile delinquency has reached enormous proportions. The parent, who is generally a woman, does not have enough money and, as a result, she may suffer from depression and make her children's lives miserable.

I have seen cases that were totally unacceptable. One mother of three in my riding found herself without money before Christmas. She was looking for ways to give them presents, to feed them during the holiday season. Such situations occur when the former spouses decide they do not have time to pay child support, because they are too busy or because they are travelling. This is a terrible situation.

I have seen many such cases. One December 24 in my riding, I had to go looking for resources for a mother and her four children as she needed milk, bread and other staples. Her former husband had decided that he would not pay child support, but he had gone to Florida. He saw nothing wrong with this. It is not always like this but in many cases, this is the reality. One must be able to deal with these situations.

I think that all parents have a primary obligation to support their children financially. Last year, Quebec passed legislation to ensure that, as soon as child support is awarded, the court orders for child support are automatically recorded by the clerk of the superior court in which the case is heard. In the case of workers not earning regular salaries, the program requires the deposit of a guarantee equivalent to three months' support. In the case of salaried workers, a deduction is made on their pay cheque. These measures aim to make child support more accessible.

Let me quote an article published in Le Droit , on February 6, 1995, and which concerns Quebec. The minister responsible for the status of women, Jeanne Blackburn, did not wait long to introduce a bill at the National Assembly whereby child support will be directly deducted from the pay cheques of former spouses. This will not happen next year or in six months, but this April. This measure has nothing to do with feminism, machismo or sexism: it has to do with elementary justice and plain common sense.

Only 45 per cent of former spouses-let us not forget that, eight times out of ten, men are the ones who have to pay support-are considered to properly fulfil their obligations. As for the other 55 per cent, it is estimated that they represent about 25,000 deadbeat fathers.

When there is a divorce, more often than not, the mother gets custody of the children. The mother's hard life becomes miserable when her former spouse does not pay support, or only does so on an haphazard basis. Why do so many men become irresponsible, considering that most of them are perfectly able to pay? According to Quebec's council on the status of women, it is primarily for personal reasons. The person providing support lacks interest in a family life he is not involved in; he ignores, or wants to ignore, the reasons why support was awarded; in addition to the deep feeling of resentment generated by the divorce, there is a very tenacious grudge, which is partly due to the conditions applying to visiting rights.

The automatic collection system is still the most effective way. One of the advantages is that the person owed money does not have resort to the government's collection service. Although the latter is generally reliable, few women use it: in 1993, fewer than 6 per cent of those owed money used this service. Why? There are probably

many reasons. However, fear of retaliation by an ex-spouse, especially if he is violent, is certainly a factor. The bill will make life easier for women who live in poverty and fear.

Predictable feelings of frustration and anger may arise among those who are forcibly reminded of their responsibilities. These are self-centred individuals who, although they know they are wrong, want to punish their ex-spouse. They tend to forget that in 94 per cent of these cases, children are the only ones to benefit from the support system. And besides, they could hardly demonstrate their disagreement by demonstrating with placards and the rest: they would merely attract the opprobrium of 88 per cent of the population. That is the percentage of respondents to a poll who spoke in favour of the bill.

The new provisions will not be sufficient to catch all individuals who default on their payments. But they will increase the effectiveness of a system which women were afraid to use. Besides, the new legislation should modify the behaviour of these new debtors. This change in course is not revolutionary at all: three other provinces in Canada, including Ontario, have also introduced a deduction at source system.

The reason this bill has become so urgent is above all because of the children. It will give thousands of children a chance to have better health, better food and, in a word, receive all the necessities of which they are deprived. Too many children live on the margins of society in sometimes sordid conditions. Without being a cure-all, the new legislation should improve their situation.

This is the provincial legislation we have in Quebec.

I have another report here which appeared in La pauvreté des enfants au Canada , and I would like to read a few excerpts.

It says here that the number of poor children has increased 55 per cent. A record number of children in Canada, 1.47 million, live below the poverty line. Today, more than one child out of five lives in a poor family. [-]

[-]With a poverty rate of 60.8 per cent, children in single parent families are four times as likely to be poor as children in families with two parents. [-]

[-]In more than 70 per cent of the cases, women become single parents as a result of separation or the decease of their spouse.

The number of children living in families that need social assistance has increased 69 per cent.

More than 1.1 million children live in families that at some time or other in 1994 needed social assistance. The increase of 69 per cent since 1989 can be explained by higher unemployment rates and an increase in the number of poor workers. The number of families with an income below $40,000 per year has increased by 26 per cent.

Looking at all that, and saying "jobs, jobs, jobs" does nothing for the cause of the children, who are again paying the price.

We are therefore in agreement with the principle of the bill, but again existing provincial legislation must be taken into account, in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick among others.

The federal government has brought in this bill in order to, if I may put it that way, complement the actions of other governments in the battle against poverty.

In 1990, there were 78,152 divorce decrees in Canada, which gave rise to 48,525 judgments concerning child custody. In 1988, 98 per cent of those receiving child support payments were women. Two thirds of divorced women with three children live below the poverty line. One child in five does not have enough to eat. I could go on and on.

I have said we are in agreement with the substance of this bill, but-and I must emphasize this, and hope I have time to do so-there are some negative aspects to it as well. I feel this needs to be pointed out. There ought to be amendments made to it, if we can reach agreement with the government. It might be worthwhile to have an act which, one day, just for once, would work for everyone. But of course I doubt that is possible.

First of all, if a provincial government decides to put guidelines in place for its province, these would take precedence over the federal ones only if the governor-in-council designates by order that the provincial guidelines are the applicable guidelines.

Subclause 1(4) reads as follows:

The Governor in Council may, by order, designate a province for the purposes of the definition of "applicable guidelines" in subsection (1)-

What I wish to point out here is that "may" ought to be changed to "shall". When the word may is used, this does not mean it is absolute, whereas when an order is involved, there is a notion of "shall", or an obligation, if you prefer.

The provinces therefore will have to meet the criteria designated by the federal government in clause 26.1, if their guidelines are to be accepted as the applicable guidelines. In this way, the government retains an absolute discretionary power as to the acceptance or non-acceptance of the order. Once again, the usual paternalism of the federal government is evident. Great care must be taken here.

In conclusion, as I said, the Bloc Quebecois will vote in favour of this bill at second reading. However, some major amendments are required to bring the bill in line with what they call flexible federalism, as usual, and with existing provincial legislation.

Any overlap between a federal law on child support and existing provincial legislation would penalize women, children and families because we will end up fighting over whether it is a federal or a provincial jurisdiction. This will create confusion.

I would like to close on this and say that I am happy to see that the federal government has taken such an important initiative. As I said earlier, if we can come up with amendments that satisfy all the parties in this House, we may be taking a big step for the future of our children and women, as well as their safety and everyone's well-being.

Divorce ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member made a statement that this is 1996 and not the 1930s. With that statement, notwithstanding her other comments, she summarily dismissed the family as the basic unit of society. We are changed. Get with it. Divorce is a regular thing, no big problem.

People in this place should know in this place, in the gallery and who are watching the debates on their televisions that there are more members in this place who honour, respect and need the family than that member has demonstrated in her speech. Strong families make strong countries and the member should not be dismissing the family in this place.

My question has to do with another statement the member made. That was her assertion that in Quebec the payments grid, the formula, goes a long way to solving the problem of child poverty. The member will well know that if two people making a certain level of income separate and continue to have the same level of income, their economic circumstances are deteriorated for one reason and one reason alone. Two people living apart need a second residence, a very expensive proposition in terms of the utilization of disposable income.

How does the member rationalize that somehow any formula to distribute the income of two people is going to improve the situation of children when another major liability has been assumed by those two people for the rest of their lives?

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5:10 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, there must be a bad connection with the hon. member for Mississauga South's interpretation channel or something because I never said that divorce was normal. It is however an integral part of our culture. It is part of our reality nowadays.

Should parents be forced to stay together in this day and age because they have children or because it makes economic sense? What about their feelings? What about those who are really incompatible? What about women battered by their husbands? Should they be told: "You must not leave, stay with your husband, you will be better off"? Come on, Mr. Speaker, let us get real here. In real life, people go through divorces, and no one in this House has the right to pass judgement on a divorce case. Divorce is a decision made by two individuals, and I respect that decision. I did say that we had a frightening high divorce rate, but we are in 1996, not in 1930.

I am very pleased to see that the hon. member for Mississauga South has been married for 25 years and that he is happy with his children. That is great, and I congratulate him on that because this really is a rarity today. There is a growing number of single-parent families. Changes should be made to this bill. And I am convinced that, if we come to an agreement, this bill will go a long way to reassure our children, and women in particular, since they are the ones who are home with the kids and have to provide for them after a divorce. They have to go to their ex-husband and beg for money to support the kids.

Having children is a decision we make, a decision parents make together.

I am sorry the hon. member misheard what I said. Perhaps there was a problem with his interpretation channel, but divorce is a fact of life today and we have to live with it.

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5:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, again I concede to the member that family violence is a situation which in the majority of cases the property course is probably for charges to be laid and for the relationship to stop because no one should be subject to that kind of abuse. I am very familiar with that.

The member asked what about emotion; a friend said they split up because the love went out of their marriage. Yet the member also said as a result of family breakdown there are children who do not have enough food to eat.

I would like to ask the member very directly, what is more important to the member. Is it the equality of emotion in the marriage or the food in the mouth of a child? It cannot be both ways. The member must make a choice.

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5:10 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member for Mississauga South is really lost today. He definitely has a comprehension problem. I am not here to preach. We are here to discuss concrete issues; we are talking about family, about women with children. Sure, feelings are important for couples. They are important because they affect the whole family, particularly children. When a woman is abused in a home, children often are abused too and the family lives in a violent environment day after day.

The hon. member says we will put a stop to this, no problem. These things are not so easy to stop. Do you know a woman who relishes the idea of getting beat up every day? To be sure some choices and decisions will have to be made. I do not understand

why the hon. member almost sounds like he is opposed to this bill from his own government. There is something wrong somewhere.

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5:10 p.m.


Ed Harper Reform Simcoe Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-41, which addresses some of the issues surrounding divorce and child support payments.

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5:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Excuse me. The Chair forgot to do something which was supposed to be done before five o'clock. Will he permit me to read something that has to be put directly?

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Parry Sound-Muskoka, Justice; the hon. member for St. Boniface, French language communities; the hon. member for Regina-Lumsden, Gasoline pricing.

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5:15 p.m.


Ed Harper Reform Simcoe Centre, ON

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.

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5:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague for his presentation on this issue.

I have a question. We heard a little earlier today from a member of the governing party bragging about the number of justice bills that the government has brought before the House. In this area of reforming the Divorce Act what we were looking for was some substantial, comprehensive legislation which dealt with a wide range of issues. All we have had is piecemeal legislation which deals with only one aspect. I would like to ask the hon. member to comment on that.

As well, the member for Halifax was suggesting that the divorce rate should be higher than it probably is, if more people would give up on marriages which they should give up on. Then we had the member from Mississauga saying that there should be much more substantial change in this area. Yet those members are all from the governing side.

The government has the power to make the changes that are being recommended and not just to tinker with so many different bills which really do so little. I would like the hon. member to comment on that also.

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5:25 p.m.


Ed Harper Reform Simcoe Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Vegreville for the question.

What is demonstrated in this bill is a lack of commitment on the part of the government to deal with the real issue of divorce and family breakdown. Like so many bills, it is a halfway measure, trying to walk down the middle of the road and be all things to all people. The tragedy of course is in the failure to deal with the root problem.

We had on the floor today in excess of 100 of our Olympic athletes. Those athletes are living testimonials to commitment and dedication in what they have done to overcome obstacles to make them the very best in the world. The commitment and dedication which was demonstrated on the floor of the House today by those Canadian athletes is what is missing across the aisle in government members. They should show the same commitment and dedication to the basic family unit and the important role it plays in this great country of ours. Sadly it is lacking and I wish we could instil it.

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5:25 p.m.


Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary North, AB

Mr. Speaker, we are debating Bill C-41. The title of the act is rather long and boring. It is an act to amend four other acts. The real purpose of the bill is to deal with the enforcement of child support, to ensure that non-custodial parents continue to support their children financially.

The main provisions of the bill are to set guidelines for child support so there is more certainty and uniformity in the manner in which child support awards are handed down. New access to Revenue Canada databases will be granted in order to search for and locate defaulting parents. The bill will allow public service pension benefits to be garnisheed. Finally, the bill provides for the withdrawal of federal licences. Federal licences are defined so as to include passports.

The purpose of the bill is to give some teeth to the legislation and to provide greater certainty that parents who are ordered to support their children financially do so.

Those are the four main points about which we are talking today and I would like to address them. However, Mr. Speaker, I do not believe I have the time to get into those four provisions, so with your permission perhaps I could speak to them tomorrow. This is a sensitive matter. We are dealing with children, families, divorce and all the difficulties which that entails. We need to be very balanced and careful when we talk about these issues. I will certainly attempt to do that tomorrow.

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5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Calgary North will have the floor tomorrow when we return to this matter.

The House resumed, from September 27, 1996, consideration of the motion that Bill C-44, an act for making the system of Canadian ports competitive, efficient and commercially oriented, providing for the establishing of port authorities and the divesting of certain harbours and ports, for the commercialization of the St. Lawrence Seaway and ferry services and other matters related to maritime trade and transport and amending the Pilotage Act and amending and repealing other Acts as a consequence, be referred now to the Standing Committee on Transport.

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5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion by Mr. Anderson regarding Bill C-44.

Call in the members.

(Motion agreed to on the following division:)

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6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill is referred to the Standing Committee on Transport.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee.)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-53, an act to amend the Prisons and Reformatories Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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October 1st, 1996 / 6 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on second reading of Bill C-53, an act to amend the Prisons and Reformatories Act.

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6 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the House would agree I would propose that you seek unanimous consent that members who voted

on the previous motion be recorded as having voted on the motion now before the House. Liberal members will be voting yea.