Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill.
Bill C-41 deals with a specific component of the Divorce Act, child support. It has generated a lot of response not only from the public but here in the House with regard to debating other aspects of the divorce situation which are flawed.
We have talked about the problems of access. I also get letters like the one from Sylvia Richards in my riding expressing concerns with section 15(6) regarding spousal support.
Dealing with the one component, the financial support of children, limits the debate on what could be termed an extremely flawed bill, the Divorce Act. However, I suppose it is a place to start.
When the minister made his address the other day he indicated that there has to be a starting place with the support of children and that guidelines would be the way to go. It is my understanding that the concept of guidelines has been around for some time and the problem is actually identifying the amounts of guidelines.
To move that back one step before we actually get to the support aspect for children, when you look at a marriage it is a contract and the initial or main conditions are the sharing of everything. The second condition would be that the parties agree to do this for the rest of their lives.
When a divorce occurs both those conditions are challenged. If children are not involved in the family situation of the divorce then the sharing component is just a matter of totalling up the assets, deducting the liabilities and splitting the balance and that can negate the rest of our lives with that type of clause and the relationship is finished.
When children are involved, somewhere during the course of that marriage contract it was agreed to by the parties that they would indeed raise and support these children to their adult years. That tends to extend at the divorce time to the rest of our lives or to at least the adult years of the children.
The two components involved with the children are the support and the raising of, which tends to beg the argument that access has a direct bearing. This bill deals directly with the financial support.
In the minister's speech the objective he stated was to introduce child support guidelines as a way of determining what constitutes a proper amount of support according the financial capabilities of the payer. That phrase tends to open a number of possible scenarios, as previously mentioned by one of the speakers in the questions period with regard to the financial ability of the payer. What does this actually mean?
If the payer is not working does it mean that the capability is that he or she cannot pay anything? If the payer is earning $30,000 a year then he or she pays x amount in child support and if that increases to $35,000 does x increase proportionately? Or does it mean that if the payer could earn $60,000 a year but chooses to earn $30,000 a year, then is the support payment based on what he or she is earning or what he or she could earn? It does open up a number of concerns.
The payer's capability is a very broad statement and it would be nice if that could be defined a little more closely. One of the possible problems generating from that is that it certainly does not motivate someone in the paying position to work or to improve their salary.
It reminds me of a situation when the income tax tables came down. Getting a promotion and moving up into the next step, it was possible to actually take home less money. I certainly hope with these guidelines that as one's earning power increases that does not happen.
The minister said that the guidelines provide a starting point. They involved a numerical calculation which takes into account the amounts that families at similar income levels would spend on their children. He goes on to say that in this way child support awards can be consistent, fair and predictable. Yet further on in his statement he makes the comment that there are provisions in the bill which would allow the courts to adjust the award if it causes unfairness because of special provisions made in pre-existing agreements by the party. He illustrates that with an example using the house as being part of the child support.
I tend to caution here that this may violate the principle of sharing equally. We have spent years trying to establish what the equal share or the sharing component of the marriage meant.
It took quite a while to get to the 50:50 aspect of the sharing. I am wondering if we are opening an avenue here that when we look at the marriage situation and the sharing component one can actually take the material assets of the marriage and split them on a 50:50 basis or negotiate one way or another to come up with as close to 50:50 as possible.
I caution that if we start taking these assets and applying them to what I see is a separate issue, the amount of money that it costs to address the raising and financial support of the children, I think we may infringe upon the concept of the 50:50 sharing. That is one weakness I see there.
The other weakness tends to be in wanting to establish a level and fair playing field as far as the amount that the custodial parent would receive in relation to child support. The main argument seems to be that people in similar situations can go into a courtroom and come out with totally different end results. There does not seem to be a standard.
The minister suggests that this bill will certainly address that situation. Yet immediately following that, he makes several possible exceptions. The judge has the flexibility to award up or down. It can be changed if there is a preagreement between the two people, i.e. who gets the house kind of thing. Already we start to get it out of balance. I tend to wonder if we actually solved that problem.
The other thing the minister mentioned is that the bill does not address the access component of the situation. He bases that on input from various organizations, the bar association and this type of thing. I think this is quite a misdemeanour. I find it quite difficult to separate the two; viewing the raising and the financial assistance to the children and separating them totally. I think we will run into problems, guidelines or no guidelines.
There is another thing I would like to address here. In previous debates on this bill, we challenged the guidelines by putting amendments in at various stages but they were all defeated in one way or another. I think that is also a misconception.
The member for Quebec, in her response to the bill, made the point quite clearly that the guidelines provided by the provinces had been totally ignored which is a problem that they perceived. I believe that would be our position as well, that there should have been more in-depth study as to how those guidelines would work into this bill.
The other component I wish to mention at this point concerns the comments made by the member for Quebec. She tended to relate the fact that the divorce component should be given back to the provinces. The marriage component is under civil law and it would logically follow that the divorce component should fall back under provincial jurisdiction. I agree with that. That process of decentralization is an excellent concept here. It is certainly an opportunity for the government to show that when it says it would like to decentralize some of the authority back to the provinces this would be an ideal opportunity. I cannot agree with the member for Quebec that this example of decentralization is a component in recognizing Quebec as a distinct society. This divorce situation is applicable across the country. It does not distinguish any particular province in any special way.
I would also like to make reference to comments made by the hon. member for Port Moody-Coquitlam the other day in response to the minister's statement. She indicated that as the bill only addresses one component, the access problem was still very viable. She also brought to the attention of the House that there are three main principles in this bill.
I would like to quote to reinforce what she said earlier: "The first principle is the importance of families in our society and the importance of government to support those families". On the second principle she said: "We have a government that is seized with its own importance, a government that thinks that government can solve all problems, a government that thinks coming to a bill such as this in an easy, fast manner, that wants to put a legislative, legalistic quick fix to a problem that is much too major".
Basically the message my colleague is trying to get across to the House is we have too much government in our lives. Because of the different jurisdictions involved, we should seriously consider putting the divorce aspect back into the jurisdiction of provincial governments.
The third principle that she makes reference to is the true equality of the process. That brings me back to the sharing concept. When we marry we agree to share everything for the rest of our lives. We spend a lot of time attempting to put some sort of value system on that sharing component, a 50:50 balance system of the assets of that partnership. Children are an added commitment to that marriage partnership. It is a responsibility that is generated during the course of the partnership and indeed should be considered separate.
We have debated this for some time now and discussed almost all parameters. However, I would like to repeat before closing that the moneys that are required for the raising of children, from whatever their age at the time of the divorce until their adult years, I do have concerns that may somehow get infringed on with the 50:50 sharing concept.
I certainly think the three principles mentioned by the hon. member for Port Moody-Coquitlam have been overlooked and should receive more consideration.