Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-41 which deals with child support payments. I think we can say that it was high time something was done in this area. For several years we were faced with a somewhat incongruous situation, and we had to wait until this was settled by the courts.
In the 1996 budget, the federal government unveiled a new child support payment system consisting of four elements. First, support payments will no longer be taxable in the case of the custodial parent, and will therefore be taxable in the case of the non-custodial parent.
We must ensure that this measure, which would seem to reflect a certain sense of equity, does not lead to impossible situations where in the end, the only winner would be the government. It must remain even handed in the way it deals with the parties, and that is part of the approach taken by the Bloc Quebecois when considering Bill C-41.
The second element announced in the budget is that the amount of the working income supplement included in the federal child tax benefit will be doubled, to ensure that no child will be affected by the change. Furthermore, guidelines were introduced for establishing the amount of child support payments, while new measures for collecting support payments were also announced on that occasion.
The Bloc Quebecois has analysed Bill C-41, and on the whole, like the Quebec government at the provincial level, the bill provides the requisite framework for implementing the guidelines I just mentioned.
This means that except in special cases, the courts will no longer allow discretion in determining the amounts allocated for support child payments. Today, we realize that in our society, we should no longer be subject to arbitrary decisions. We have seen situations, not necessarily in this area but in others, where it was clear that depending on the values the judge might have and how that might influence his decision and also due to the fact that women are not adequately represented in Parliament, the decision was not always fair.
I think this is something we can readily perceive, and it is systemic. At least, until the day men and women are equally represented among judges in the various courts of the Canadian judicial system, I think it would be interesting to replace the bill's provisions regarding judicial discretion with standard guidelines that would apply to everyone and help make more appropriate decisions.
It is also interesting to see that this bill shows once again the inefficient duplication in the Canadian system. Since the division of responsibilities is not totally clear, since the federal government always tends to broaden what it sees as its jurisdiction, there is still some duplication with the provinces, which, of course, increases costs.
For example, the Quebec government has designed a model, while the federal government has created another model with different criteria. For instance, the Quebec model's first criterion is based on the real cost of raising a child, while that of the federal model is based on the partial equalization of living standards. Right from the outset, we see that, despite both governments' good intentions, we may end up with different assessments, with situations that make little sense.
Another principle is that, in the Quebec model, the whole tax income plan will be harmonized with Quebec's income security and taxation programs. We are therefore trying to make sure that this does not lead to unfair situations, that another program will not upset the balance. This is not found in the federal model, possibly because, first of all, it should have been adjusted to the various models found in Canada. This shows, by reducing it to the absurd,
that the federal government is overstepping its mandate and cannot take into consideration the various realities in each province of Canada.
There are five basic criteria in both the Quebec and the federal models. However, these criteria differ and result in slightly different approaches. Hopefully, this will not ultimately lead to an inextricable situation.
When the Minister of Justice first introduced his new policy, the Bloc Quebecois welcomed the initiative. The Bloc had long been asking the Minister of Justice to table a bill to balance the child-related financial burden between the two parents. It is imperative that the government take immediate action to meet the expectations of women. This was pointed out as early as May 1995, in statements made by the hon. members for Québec and for Témiscamingue, among others.
So, this was in May of 1995. We are now in the fall of 1996, almost in 1997, and the minister has finally tabled the reform that the Bloc had been asking for so long. The official opposition in a parliament can play a useful role in pressing the government to take concrete action, instead of merely making statements.
However, the Bloc Quebecois had some reservations regarding the implementation of guidelines in the provinces. These reservations, which do not have to do with Bill C-41 itself, but rather to the guidelines, are not met. We are not at all convinced that, with Bill C-41, the government took them into consideration.
Here are some of these reservations. First, let us suppose that a provincial government decides to put in place guidelines for its province, for example Quebec. We mentioned earlier that the Quebec model has specific criteria. These provincial guidelines must have priority over the federal ones. However, this will be the case only if the governor in council, in other words the federal cabinet, decides, through an order in council, that the provincial guidelines are the ones that apply. This is a situation where the federal government gives itself a somewhat paternalistic role.
And it is not the only area in which it has done so and will continue to do so. In fact, Quebecers have been convinced for quite some time, and I am not referring exclusively to sovereignists, I am talking about the 68 per cent of Quebecers who are currently dissatisfied by the federal government, because it has not taken any concrete action to at least clarify relations with Quebec, to clarify everyone's status, so that a proper solution can be found. This is not because of my position as a sovereignist, but, with respect to federalism, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction in Quebec because we do not think we are being listened to, we do not get the impression this government wants to budge.
And here, in a specific example, in a bill where there is agreement on the principles, we again come up against this nitpicking, slightly petty, vaguely paternalistic attitude in the rules of application. In our view, this line is not good enough and is inconsistent with the fields of jurisdiction set out in the Constitution as it now stands.
In this field, we are not asking for anything extra, just that the Canadian Constitution be enforced. And even then, the federal government disappoints us.
We have only to look at clause 1(4), which reads:
1.(4) The Governor in Council may, by order, designate a province for the purposes of the definition "applicable guidelines" in subsection (1)-
This clause could have have used "shall" thus indicating that the government respects the fact that these fields come under provincial jurisdiction.
In addition, the provinces will have to meet the criteria set out by the federal government in clause 26.1, if they wish their guidelines to be approved. The federal government has complete discretion as to whether or not it will issue the order mentioned in clause 1(4).
This confirms what I was saying earlier, that the federal government is behaving in a paternalistic manner. This clause points up the two very different interpretations of this country. In other words, when they talk about constitutional issues and tell us that that is what people want to hear, it is simply not the case. Here again, in this example, how are we going to ensure support for children in cases of divorce, which affect many families? This is real life, we are not on some other planet.
This is another concrete example of the fact that the fields of jurisdiction are not clear, and, in particular, that the federal government has a tendency to interfere in provincial fields of jurisdiction. This creates complications, even in very concrete situations such as financial support for children.
The federal big brother is still keeping the provinces under his thumb. We think this is disgraceful, particularly in a field where change is long overdue, and where there has long been a need for legislation consistent with the new reality of the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.
What is even more ridiculous is that the rejection of provincial guidelines can result in absurd situations. For example, when parents separate, the provincial grid would apply, but not when they divorce, in which case the federal grid would be used. This would result in a double standard.
In Quebec, this situation comes up frequently, because it is the province with the highest percentage of common law marriages. It is a situation in which not all citizens are treated equally. This is not good enough.
Finally, the federal government uses the place of residence of the parent paying support in deciding which guidelines to apply, while the Quebec government uses the child's place of residence. We
think this principle is much more consistent with the thinking in a number of court rulings where the child's interests must take precedence, because the premise of the new approach is that the child must have adequate financial support.
We want to eliminate the battles that sometimes took place between spouses who no longer got along, often working things out at a cost to the child. The bill is intended to resolve this situation. But the fact that the federal government uses the place of residence of the debtor to decide which guidelines apply is somewhat contradictory to the principle of the bill.
It must, however, be kept in mind that, overall, this project is a long-awaited measure. Some of its points may strike us as fairly positive, for example that deadbeats could be refused certain privileges, for instance passports or certain licences. This, I feel, is indeed a good measure, because I have seen cases in my riding where the partner has just skipped town rather than pay up. This type of situation will be avoidable in future.
The bill will also include children between the ages of 16 and 18, as well as students, under one definition. I find this appropriate. In so doing, a clear priority is established for the child, when the former spouse is also demanding support. I think this is an interesting principle.
Overall, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of the principle of the bill. We have been calling on the government for a year to do something along this line. We will be voting in favour of the bill.
It seems to us that the government ought to have made some major modifications in order to bring the bill in line with the flexible federalism they are constantly going on about, which was called for in the throne speech.
We find ourselves in a situation in which what was said in the throne speech does not jibe with what is in the bills. This will mean that, in a year, or two or five, there will be test cases, problematical situations which will mean court additional costs for both the people involved and the government.
The federal government could have shown greater respect for the rules of the Canadian Constitution and produced a bill that would be dispute-proof, one that could not be interpreted or disputed because of a lack of respect of jurisdictions, and could not lead to judgments contrary to children's interests.
I believe that the purpose of this bill is to protect children's interests. The federal government ought to have placed the child's interest well ahead of its unhealthy desire to treat the provinces with paternalism.
Let us hope that, with Bill C-41, the federal government will have settled partially, but significantly, the question of financial support for the children in divorce or separation. The Bloc Quebecois will vote in favour of the bill, regretting that the federal government could not have risen above its centralizing vision of Canada.