House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was firefighters.


Excise Tax ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

When debate was interrupted, the hon. member for Wild Rose had the floor. I should advise the hon. member that he has nine minutes remaining in his time.

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4:50 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, when I was speaking yesterday evening I was talking about the loss of jobs that the harmonization plan is going to create.

If the finance minister needs evidence that this policy will kill jobs, all he has to do is read the study from Ontario. It stated: "Harmonization would remove $3 billion from the Ontario economy, and kill jobs and economic growth". That is why Ontario did not agree to harmonization. It knew this policy will kill jobs, jobs, jobs and not create them.

In order to kill jobs, jobs, jobs in the Atlantic region, the Liberals will kill jobs, jobs, jobs in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. The Liberals will remove over $300 million each from the Ontario, Alberta and B.C. economies to bribe the Atlantic premiers into signing on to harmonization.

Have the Liberals no understanding of economics? Do the Liberals not know that if Canadians feel insecure in their jobs they will not spend and purchase more than absolutely necessary? This failure to create retail sales will kill jobs, reduce federal income and force higher expenditures from federal tax dollars to finance unemployment insurance and social services. All this adds up to a bad deal.

The Liberals will cost taxpayers more, create fewer jobs, stifle government revenues just so they can claim to have fulfilled a broken promise from their Liberal dead book.

Since the Liberal policy will lower sales, end jobs and give companies leaner profits, the self-fulfilling prophecy of less retail sales will be reinforced.

Again the Liberal understanding of economics is suspect. An increase in subsidy money acts as an increase in regional money supply, increasing inflation. The bribe money of a $1 billion is a regional subsidy that will further harm regional job creation through inflation. The Liberals have stated many times that inflation is a job killer, yet they will increase regional inflation, killing more jobs, just to keep this Liberal dead book promise.

The Halifax Chamber of Commerce said that harmonization will increase new house prices by 5.5 per cent. Consequently that is going to lead, according to many experts, to much higher property tax within the area, this in an area that has difficult economic problems because of past government policies.

The Liberals will do anything, regardless of the effect on Canadians, to try to prove that they have integrity, even though all Canadians know, thanks to the Liberal dead book, their integrity is very, very low.

The finance minister will argue his harmonization policy to falsely fulfil a Liberal promise will not kill jobs. I would like to ask the finance minister if this is so, why is Greenberg stores closing five stores even before harmonization takes place? Greenberg has run a cost benefit analysis. It knows this policy will reduce profits and have acted accordingly. What cost benefit analysis has the finance minister conducted and will he release this information to Canadians? I think not because it is obvious he had done none.

When the harmonization policy takes effect it will increase the cost of doing business to Atlantic province retailers. This much is already confirmed and known by the studies done in the provinces agreeing to harmonization.

This will simply drive consumers near New England states to cross the line, purchase their goods where taxes are lower and add further problems to our current balance of payments. If the Liberals would only wake up and listen to Reform policies and try to implement something that would be far reaching from sea to sea, involving each and every province, then Reform would gladly have a look at their proposal. But they do things in a piecemeal fashion and cause all sorts of problems, pitting one province against another. It causes nothing but grief. It is no wonder that we are having difficulty in this land, trying to bring unity and understanding.

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4:55 p.m.


Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I listened to the hon. member's comments I wonder if he is aware that when we harmonize two taxes that what happens is there are adjustments. That means some commodities go up and other commodities go down.

The Reform member talked about those things which are going up. He did not talk about the reality that in all of those provinces at different rates, 5 per cent in Newfoundland, 4 per cent in Nova Scotia and 4 per cent in New Brunswick, the total quantum of taxes being collected by government has been reduced. The reality is that money is being added to the pockets of consumers. The bottom line is there will be more disposable income for consumers which will create jobs. The whole philosophy that the member used, that it will kill jobs, is erroneous.

The member talked about the Greenberg company. Its representatives have indicated that many of the Greenberg stores in the maritimes were marginal. They were losing money. They are talking about closing some of them. However, the bottom line is they were going to go out of business anyway. It has nothing to do

with the implementation of tax, but hon. members opposite want to use that as some kind of analysis.

The member did not talk about the positive things. One of the positive things is one collection authority. Right now each individual province has an administration to collect the retail sales tax and the federal government has an administration to collect tax. Why can the Reform Party not see that it makes sense to have only one administration collecting those taxes? Why can Reform members not see the great economic benefit that will be extended to the maritime provinces because they will not have to incur those costs?

Yesterday I talked to a fellow accountant in St. Anthony, Newfoundland. He said it was one of the best things he has ever seen happen in the province. The province of Newfoundland will save millions and millions of dollars. That money will go back into an economy which as we know is very weak. That is a positive benefit of this legislation.

Right now, small and medium size businesses, the job creators in this country, have to fill out forms for the retail sales tax and forms for the GST. There is not one of those small businesses that would not say that just having one form will be a tremendous improvement. Why is it that the Reform Party cannot see that?

Then there is the business about pitting one province against another. We have three provinces now, which is three more than we had a year ago. A couple of years from now we will have twice as many as that again, including my province.

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5 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to answer a question that was a speech but I will try.

It is ridiculous for any member of this House to say: "What are you talking about? This is something which Canadians want. After all, we got three provinces this year and two or three years down the road we will get a couple more and another five years down the road we might get one more". What kind of a planning strategy is that?

What about offering a package to all the provinces and give them a chance to study the issue and respond? No, not from the dictators that we have in this place. It is better just to throw it out there and say: "This is a good deal. If you do not believe it, just ask us and we will tell you".

The Ontario studies have said it would cost that province $3 billion. Ontario is not interested. I am surprised the member who is from Ontario would not take that into account. He should talk to a number of people in his own riding. Obviously a number of people in Ontario are extremely opposed to this.

And the Liberals say that things are going to be cheaper overall. Add up the things which a family with an average income has to buy, like children's clothing, heating oil and other necessities. All of a sudden they will have to pay more for those items. Those families do not buy luxuries by any means; they try to make ends meet. I am talking about the bulk of the people, the people who pack their lunch, put their head down and go to work every day. They have a terrible time trying to make ends meet because of the taxes they have to pay. If the member does not believe that, he should ask anybody who is out there working how well they are making out.

To me this whole thing is a sham. It is a cover-up for a dead book error. The Liberals were going to scrap and kill the GST. They made big, brave statements in the campaign, but when push came to shove they did what we see today. It means nothing. If the Liberals want to make a proposal to the country as a whole, if they want to take Canada into consideration for the good of all Canadians, then they should show us something that does that and they should stop piecemealing around.

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5:05 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand there is only a little time so I will ask the member a very direct question. The member and his party have stated that they are opposed to the harmonization of the taxes. They keep pushing about killing, abolishing and scrapping. Is the Reform Party proposing that the current GST simply be eliminated totally?

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5:05 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is pretty obvious what we have said from the very beginning. Let us have a responsible government, let us balance the books, let us stop spending more than what we have. Get the balancing effect into place, then start giving some people a break in taxes and maybe the GST would be an excellent place to start.

The Liberals are bringing in a harmonization plan that only affects a small number of Canadians in three provinces. It does not address the real issue all across the land. Other provinces are saying no to the plan and some are saying that they do not think so. What kind of decision making is that? Let us get this act together.

It is time the Liberal government started consulting Canada instead of its caucus.

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5:05 p.m.


Harold Culbert Liberal Carleton—Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member's presentation and to the subsequent questions and comments which came forward. I wonder if the hon. member is aware of three relevant points to this debate.

One point relates to small business. I have talked to a number of small business people in Atlantic Canada. They have said that with the harmonization they will have one set of records to keep, one cheque to issue, one auditor to review their books and accounts. This will replace the current two sets of books, one for provincial sales tax and one for GST, two cheques to issue, and two auditors coming in from time to time to review their accounting systems.

They have said this is a tremendous cost saving to them in the operation of their businesses.

Second, in my home province the current provincial sales tax is 11 per cent and the GST is 7 per cent. Is the hon. member aware that currently there is 7 per cent and 11 per cent on top of that 7 per cent on purchases of such items as automobiles, refrigerators, stoves, paper towels, Kleenex, bathroom tissue, paper supplies, all the normal things that we use day in and day out? To harmonize that into one system with a single 15 per cent tax is a savings. There is no question about it.

According to the GST listing there are other products that will go on. For some of those a credit system will come forward but overall there will be a tremendous savings for the consumer and the business person. This proposal is supported by the majority of people in Atlantic Canada.

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5:10 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, it is questionable how much support there is when I see petitions bearing 16,000 signatures of people who live in these provinces and object to the harmonization plan. I find it unusually strange that there has been some careful analysis done by some companies which were going to open new stores in 1997 but decided not to because of what was happening, that it was not good for business.

There has been a very careful analysis regarding retail sales. Many retailers have come to the conclusion that retail sales would be way down. We all know that whenever retail sales are lost there is a good chance of job losses and the overall effect is not good.

I think a very careful analysis has been done by both sides, not just on the cost savings because of the harmonization but also the increase in other problems that may arise. It has all been carefully done by those who have the expertise to do so.

I would ask the hon. member to remember that statements are coming from people who have a great concern about this, people such as those at the Retail Council of Canada.

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5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

I am sorry, but the hon. member's time has expired.

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5:10 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

I thought if I was asked a question, I would have time to give the answer.

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5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue on debate.

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5:10 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Madam Speaker, I am going to speak about improvements to Canada's federal goods and services tax. There are over 130 improvements and the government is introducing them to simplify the GST and to increase its fairness. These changes do go a considerable way toward replacing the GST as we know it with a better system.

The GST as we know has been a source of much controversy. There is nothing as topical as something everyone dislikes and no one likes taxes. That is not surprising.

It was not long ago in this country that nobody paid taxes because there were none. At the turn of this century there were no national income, corporate or sales taxes for anyone to pay, rich or poor. Believe it or not, in 1900 Ottawa got most of its revenues from customs duties. I suspect that this could be the reason our political ancestors promoted Canada as a great trading nation.

But we live in a different time and in many ways a much different country, a country cited as one of the finest in the world in which to live. One of the distinguishing features that makes this country of ours the envy of others is the priority we place on quality of life. We are known the world over for social programs we have devised to ensure a decent quality of life for everyone.

Taxes unfortunately are the duties and dues that we pay for the privilege of membership in this country and this society. The taxes we pay ensure a common richness. And let us face it, the GST is a tax that brings in $18 billion a year, or 13 per cent of the total federal revenues. Without a tax like it, our social programs would be in jeopardy, our debt problems would be deadly, and our national advantage as an international economy would be at risk.

Having said all this, I want to say also that the government has been correct to criticize the GST as it was. In so doing, we were responding to what Canadians told us. Canadians told us that the GST was poorly conceived. They told us it was an outrageous example of overlap and duplication that came out of bureaucracies. They told us that the GST was cumbersome and that in particular it cost small business too much time, too much energy and too much money.

The legislation being introduced now both simplifies and clarifies the application of the GST and also streamlines the administration. In doing this it introduces a greater fairness in the system and lays the foundation for a national harmonized sales tax. Taken together, the measures that we see in the bill represent a major step toward replacing the GST as we have known it. They respond to what Canadians have been telling us.

In looking at alternatives to the GST, the all-party finance committee of the House went to Canadians for advice. It listened to nearly 500 witnesses and read more than 700 briefs from consumers, professionals, businesses and individuals. What did the Canadian people tell us?

Canadians told us to do what is sensible. They told us to fix the problems that were there. They told us not to run off and create some other new or strange scheme to adjust to, to do the same job as the GST and risk the same complexities. They said: "We need the $18 billion, we understand that. The thing is in place now so fix the problems and get rid of the irritants. Fix the duplication and create sales tax harmonization. Fix the headaches that we have by

clarifying the rules and making it simpler and fairer". This is precisely what this legislation starts doing. In so doing, it shows what can be accomplished by simply responding to what Canadians have told us to do.

Our other colleagues in the House will speak to the issue of sales tax harmonization which is in the legislation respecting three of the maritime provinces. Today I do want to comment more on the measures that address the headaches that affect all Canadians in this legislation and which are also being dealt with at the same time.

In developing the changes, many of which are technical and sector specific, this government went straight to many of the groups, organizations, sector leaders and professional associations affected by the tax. We told them we had the tax and asked them what we could do with it to make their life somewhat easier. We wanted to know what we could do to fix their problems with this legislation.

What we heard in response resulted in this legislation with about 130 different changes affecting multiple sectors of our society. The package introduces measures to simplify the operation of the tax for many businesses and non-profit organizations. It introduces measures that make compliance easier and clarify confusing aspects of the tax. It also introduces measures to improve the fairness of the tax both for the consumers and for businesses.

I wish to elaborate on a few points. First, well over one-third of these proposed modifications are aimed specifically at simplification. These include streamlining the tax treatment of charities and non-profit organizations. They include a simplified calculation of employee and shareholder benefits for Canadian businesses. Businesses can now make a one step tax calculation using the same information they use for their income tax purposes. The modifications include measures which simplify transactions related to used or second hand goods, which have become a significant part of the economic activity in this country.

The package also includes proposals to clarify the application of the tax and, in particular, to ease the burden of compliance for small businesses. These changes were done to ensure that there is more precision in the application of the GST and that it does not complicate administration unnecessarily.

They clarify certain educational services such as those provided and what we are now defining as public colleges and vocational schools as well as universities. They involve streamlining the administration of tourist rebates, something that is very important in this country as an industry, and extend the eligibility to these rebates to non-resident businesses.

There is also the much needed clarification of the GST in areas relating to financial services, to trusts and estates and changes to existing partnership rules.

Finally, this package of measures restructures the GST to make it fairer for all Canadians. This is accomplished by ensuring competitive equity among businesses and applying the tax equally to all consumers. A variety of modifications restores the international competitiveness of Canadian service providers, equalizes the tax treatment of health care services and introduces a fairer application of the GST to housing rebates.

The themes are simplification, clarification and greater fairness. These have all been the guiding principles in developing these changes. Many of these measures being proposed are technical and strategically aimed to deal with specific problems in certain sectors.

In the amount of time I have here today it would be impossible for me to review each adequately or in sufficient detail. I know all the members have access to that material. Consequently, I would like to draw the attention of the House to some general examples of the improvements which are in this legislation.

I should first remind the House and its various members of the invaluable contribution being made to the well-being of our Canadian society by Canadians and Canada's charitable organizations. However, when the GST was established the rules were developed to address the activities of the largest charities. Many smaller charities have found these rules to be too onerous for their use. Yet combined together these small charities, precisely the smaller charities, do much of the charitable work in the country.

This legislation proposes new and simpler rules for all charities but, in addition, new rules were specifically designed for smaller charities which will simplify compliance for the GST for the smaller charitable group. As a result of these changes significantly fewer charities, about 10,000 fewer to be exact, will have to register for the GST at all. For those that do remain registered, 10 to 12 per cent of all charities, the rules will be simpler, particularly for fundraising activities, for filing returns and for claiming rebates. I think that is very important and very positive. This will help our charity sector increase the range of its activities in a time that fiscal restraint is forcing many to become more dependent on the network of goodwill that exists among our volunteers and our community based organizations.

Further, a number of changes are proposed to make the federal sales tax system fairer in its application in the health care sector. We all know especially with our aging population how important

the health care sector is to Canadian society and how much more important it will be in the future.

There will be changes to the treatment of services provided by health care practitioners who are not medical doctors or dentists. A greater degree of fairness is being introduced to exempt from GST the services these practitioners provide. For example, the list of exempt health care practitioners will be extended to include dietitians who meet the criteria for health care professionals in five provinces. As a result, using that example, dietitians will be able to provide their services exempt from federal sales tax to individuals, health care facilities and public sector bodies starting January 1, 1997.

An added advantage of this measure is that it increases professional regulation of health care practitioners who are requesting an exemption. This makes their services more financially accessible to the public.

A number of changes are also proposed to extend or clarify the zero rating provisions as they apply to certain medical devices and associated services. For example, the zero rating of hospital beds will be extended to purchases by all health care facilities, including long term health care facilities. Currently the sale of hospital beds is zero rated only when purchased by a hospital or by an individual with a written order from a medical practitioner. I think we can see that there are positive elements in the legislation.

The zero rating of the cost of modifying a car, for instance, to meet the needs of an individual using a wheel chair will also be expanded. Orthopaedic devices will be zero rated when they are made to order for an individual or when they are supplied under prescription.

These are sensible changes which are being introduced at an appropriate time, as I said before, when the needs of an aging population are increasing. I do not think there would be any argument in this House that these are beneficial to certain segments of Canadian society.

I go to another sector, the municipal sector. We used to have various complications concerning the GST, for instance, garbage collection. These will be alleviated under this new legislation. The collection of garbage will now be exempt from GST when it is provided by a municipality or by a government.

Similarly, services to remove snow, ice and water, maintain water distribution, sewage or drainage systems or repair and maintain roads and streets and sidewalks, these all will now be exempt from GST when they are supplied by the municipality. This government proposes also that the collection of recyclable materials be included in the exempt provision for the collection of garbage. That is important when we are trying to help our environment in this country. These efforts, simplification and clarification in the application of GST, will have a beneficial effect for the environment and for different levels of government, namely the municipal level.

There is another sector this provision has a beneficial effect on, the agricultural sector. Here again the list of zero rated supplies is being expanded to include automated and computerized feeding systems, specified mulchers, crop shredders, transportable conveyers and elevators, and certain wagons and trailers.

It is always important when we develop legislation that we treat all the sectors across this country, whether it is industrial, agriculture, municipal levels of governments or health care sectors, that there is something that is going to help a number of the organizations in this land.

There are changes to the existing rules for the benefit of builders of subsidized residential complexes to ensure that they also have equitable treatment for themselves as builders, together with non-subsidized housing.

There is a broader range of goods and services relating to international transportation which can and will also be zero rated, as will services provided by purchasing representatives to non-resident businesses.

These things are technical. I do not think they are the most exciting but I know to the people who are concerned with this legislation they are important changes. They will have a benefit in areas where people were complaining to us before. I know the members of the finance committee heard these complaints, and this legislation is the response.

There are many other proposed changes to the tax treatment of international transactions that will improve the administrative efficiency and the competitive advantages of Canadian businesses. I could go on with more examples but these changes address the inequities, the complexities and the unnecessary obstructions that have made the GST so unpalatable to Canadian citizens, Canadian businesses and different levels of governments.

They bring needed simplicity, clarity and fairness where issues sometimes were cloudy. In making these changes, this government has responded in large measure to not what a government wanted, or the government side of this House wanted, but what Canadians told us were problems.

In addressing these technical amendments to the GST, we are not talking only about the harmonized provinces. We are talking about across Canada. It is a response to the irritants in a system of a badly designed tax and we are trying to improve it. This is not a perfect world. There is no legislation that is perfection that I have ever seen in this House any former House or probably any future House. But we are moving forward with improvements.

That is what legislation does. That is our job as responsible people trying to administer fair taxes, simpler taxes and equitable taxes in a country.

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5:25 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

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5:25 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

It is incredible to listen to people heckling while one is trying to complete a speech but that is part of standing up and debating in this House.

We have to understand that this bill accomplishes a major step in replacing the GST as it was. In my opinion it is moving toward a better system. I would like this country at some point in time to be a fully harmonized system but life is not perfect, we as members of this House are certainly far from perfect, and other legislatures are far from perfect also.

What we do is make improvement and gradually things move in the right direction and maybe one day we will have the perfect solution for people who think there are perfect solutions. Right now we are working toward improvements.

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5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

I will allow a very short question and a very short answer. There is one minute left in this debate.

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5:25 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a very brief question, and I hope the answer will be equally brief.

I listened to my colleague, the member for London West, speak of her pride in being associated with such a bill. I would like to ask her what about this bill she is proud of. First of all, it is costing Canadians $1 billion in political compensation for a political agreement, when Quebec had already gone ahead with harmonization at no cost to the federal government.

Second, how can she be proud of her government, when the promise that it made-and that was part of the reason it won the election-was to scrap the GST, not to conceal it in the price, not to conclude harmonization agreements with the maritimes at a cost of $1 billion?

Excise Tax ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

It being5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

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5:25 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is that I am very proud of my government because it responds to the needs of Canadians. It has travelled across the country and has listened to people. If the hon. member had listened to my speech, many examples were given to him. There are 130 exact examples in this legislation which he can read. Constituents in all ridings, I do not care in which province, will benefit from this legislation.

The House resumed from October 10 consideration of the motion; and of the amendment

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Hamilton West Ontario


Stan Keyes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, along with many of my colleagues in this House I have been lobbied by firefighters from right across the country with respect to the need for a Canadian Operation Respond test site.

Therefore, it is my privilege to rise in the House, on behalf of the Minister of Transport, to announce the government's support for the private member's initiative undertaken by the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway. The Government of Canada agrees with the principle that, wherever it is reasonable to do so, full support should be provided to firefighters as well as to other emergency response personnel. M-241 has this goal in mind and, for that reason, we support it.

I should, however, clarify some of the terms used in the motion. Let me begin with the title "Operation Respond". In the early 1990s the International Association of Firefighters in both Canada and the United States proposed that a system be established to provide firefighters with immediate information on contents of trucks and railway vehicles.

The essential elements were: first, each means of transport intended to carry dangerous goods must be assigned a unique identification number.

Second, on loading dangerous goods the operator of the means of transport report to a central computer the identification number and details of a load. On delivery, the operator would report a second time to have the entry deleted.

Third, computers, similar to those used by police forces for direct access from their vehicles to centrally located computer files be provided to fire department vehicles so that at the scene of a transportation accident the firefighters could access the central databank to find out what was carried in the involved means of transport.

A study conducted in 1993 by the U.S. National Research Council, under the guidelines of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, concluded that the generation and handling of the data needed to give effect to such a system for all dangerous good shipments was too expensive to justify the implementation. However, it was noted that some companies, notably railways, already had the necessary data in computerized form.

The decision was taken in the U.S. to support the development and use of software which could access such existing data. The organization established to do this is Operation Respond Institute Inc.

Since Operation Respond began in 1992 its software has been established in 40 locations. Companies whose data can be accessed using the software currently comprise two trucking companies and 16 railway companies.

Operation Respond is a program established through contractual agreements between Operation Respond Institute Inc. and data providers such as railway companies and between Operation Respond Institute Inc. and data users such as fire departments.

We agree that Operation Respond, as operated in the United States, be demonstrated right here in Canada.

With respect to the statement that the Minister of Transport should move rapidly to establish a Canadian test site, there are no regulatory roadblocks or initiatives required in order for Operation Respond to operate in Canada as it operates in the United States. It would appear from the motion that what is wanted is a champion to promote the initiative.

I can advise that the Minister of Transport will act in this role for the establishment of a demonstration site. To promote the establishment of the demonstration site, the Minister of Transport will request CN and CP to participate in the program. They will be asked to make available their data on the contents of railway cars in the manner required by Operation Respond software.

Further, the Minister of Transport will assist financially in the establishment of Operation Respond software in a Canadian location which includes installation and training. In selecting the Canadian test site referred to in the motion, we considered past accidents in communities which have significant rail and highway traffic. I can advise the House that an informal agreement has been reached between the Burnaby Fire Department and Transport Canada to establish the Canadian demonstration site in Burnaby, B.C.

Although Burnaby, B.C. has not had frequent accidents, it has had a higher rate than similar communities. I am sure the member for Burnaby-Kingsway would agree that a Burnaby test site would be highly appropriate. The Minister of Transport supports the establishment of a Canadian demonstration site for Operation Respond. I encourage all my colleagues in the House to support the private member's Motion No. 241.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on Motion No. 241, a motion which the Reform Party supports. It was put forward by the member for Burnaby-Kingsway.

The motion deals with the protection of firefighters and other emergency health personnel who are often confronted with dangerous situations. In particular, this motion deals with hazardous materials.

The situation that exists currently is that in the event of an accident, firefighters can get their information from CANUTEC. Unfortunately, it takes about eight to ten minutes for this information to be available. This is valuable time that can be used to save firefighters, the surrounding public and the communities where the hazardous situation has arisen.

What the member for Burnaby-Kingsway proposes is that we have a test site for a rapid response situation where information can be determined on site within a minute. All a firefighter would have to do to get information on a vehicle or train that has crashed is put it into a computer system. The computer will then be able to tell them immediately what hazardous materials are actually sitting in the train or truck. The availability of this information will save lives.

The condition of support of this motion is that it does not cost more money and that it does prove to be a more efficient way of protecting firefighters and other emergency health care personnel. The good thing we have right now is that the software is already available because it is being used in the United States. The Americans are prepared to give that to us free of charge.

Firemen also have laptops and modems available to them. Therefore, it is not going to cost more money. Indeed, it will be interesting to see what the outcome will be of the emergency response situation.

Firefighters all over the country have been doing a lot of work in pursuing this idea and, in particular, Ed Pakos, the president of the Victoria Fire-Fighters Society and firefighters on Vancouver Island. The motion is supported by the International Firefighters Association, the Canadian Police Association, the United Transport Union and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.

I would also like to speak on an ancillary topic which is very much related to this issue and involves the protection of firefighters and other emergency personnel. This is something that firefighters have been pushing forward for a long time. It involves the disclosure of the health of individuals if the emergency personnel are confronted with body fluids.

For example, in the case of a car accident, the firefighters, police officers and medical personnel attend to the victims on the site. Glass can be present. Body fluids are around. When emergency personnel come into contact with those body fluids they run the risk of acquiring some potentially lethal diseases such as AIDS through HIV transmission or hepatitis B or C.

The government ought to put forward a bill that will ensure that good Samaritans and emergency health care personnel have a right to this information, a right to know whether the people they are helping are carrying a deadly disease. The government voted against this, much to my shock and disgust, when members of the Reform Party put forward some very strong and persuasive ideas on how we can protect the health of all emergency personnel.

This idea has the support of firefighters, police associations and medical personnel across the country. It seems absolutely unfair that when good Samaritans and emergency personnel respond to an emergency and come in contact with body fluids, they must have the right for their safety and the safety of their families to know the health status of the individuals in need.

The government believes that good Samaritans do not have the right to this information. It believes that protecting the individual who is sick is more important than protecting the individuals who help them. This is not a situation where the rights of sick people are abrogated. This simply makes good common sense.

When Motion No. 241 was put forward, when firefighters came to us with suggestions about the motion, they also suggested ideas for legislation that could be used by them to get information on the sick or injured people they may be dealing with and whose body fluids they may come in contact with.

Unfortunately, we have not seen any motion to that effect put in the House. I believe it is essential for protection of all individuals involved in emergency health care procedures to have the right to know the health status of individuals they are dealing with when they are exposed to the body fluids of these people. As I said before, these body fluids can pose a significant and sometimes fatal risk to the good Samaritans and health care personnel.

The Reform Party supports Motion No. 241, on the condition that it does not cost the taxpayers any more money and that it will improve the current situation. We hope that it will because we believe that the protection of these hard working firefighters, police officers and other emergency response teams who are confronted by these hazardous situations must be protected. They are courageous and honourable people who protect all of us and we in turn must do the same to protect then.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak in favour of Motion No. 241. I would like to thank the member for Burnaby-Kingsway for bringing this to our attention today.

As I have talked about this issue with a lot of firefighters and I have learned a lot about firefighting. The reality is that firefighting is not exclusively about fighting fires. It seems that less than 50 per cent of the time is spent in conventional firefighting and the balance in attending accidents.

The motion is on the movement of hazardous materials and as our society seems to be getting more and more sophisticated, it seems to be happening more and more often.

About a year ago January I was in British Columbia. I took the train through the Rocky Mountains and I probably passed close to the member's riding. I discovered that there had been a tremendous number of derailments out there. It must be very difficult for firefighters who arrive at the scene not to know what the contents of those cars are or exactly how to deal with them.

In an era of technology and software development it appears very appropriate that we develop Operation Respond, which already exists in the United States. As some other members have said, it is very easy to clone that system in Canada.

The minister has been very supportive in requesting that our two major railways participate in that plan. That minister is willing to provide funds toward the purchase of the software and the training of those people who will be engaged in the test site in Burnaby.

It is not just about the contents of these carriers. There is also the issue of training personnel in the evacuation of communities based on what sort of hazardous material is on these carriers.

I would like to thank the Oshawa firefighters, the Clarington fire department, the Scugog fire department, which is a volunteer fire department, and also the one in Oxbridge that brought this matter to my attention.

We talked about this time and time again. I have sent many letters to the minister and so forth. I am very happy that the government and the member for Burnaby-Kingsway have been able to come to an agreement. It shows how a government can work with the opposition. All parties in the House can work together to come to very sensible conclusions and to develop good legislation for the protection of our people.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to private member's Motion No. 241, brought forward by my NDP colleague from Burnaby-Kingsway. He has worked very hard on this important motion to bring it to our attention for which I congratulate him.

Motion No. 241 deals with a subject matter that I also have been supporting and have done a lot of work on over the years. That is why I want to say a few words today. It is important to note that another one of our colleagues from the New Democratic Party, the member for Winnipeg Transcona, has worked very hard on this

issue. We all thank the parliamentary secretary and the minister for responding in the way they have.

The motion essentially deals with the establishment of a Canadian test site for Operation Respond, a computerized database of hazardous materials that would improve safety for firefighters and help save lives and property.

There is no question in my mind that this is a critical motion which every member of this House should support. At the same time the Minister of Transport should be as we speak preparing to establish this test site. As the parliamentary secretary indicated a few minutes ago, I believe that is what he is doing. I am very pleased to hear that tonight and I recognize the support the government has given to this motion.

This is an issue that is most important to Canada's firefighters. It was first brought to my attention by Saskatchewan firefighters during one of their lobby days on Parliament Hill. The firefighters annual lobby effort is one of the most effective I have been subject to in my eight years in Parliament. I congratulate the firefighters on that.

I also want to congratulate Doug Coupar who was the Canadian director of the International Association of Firefighters. His efforts were instrumental in the success of this lobby. During that lobby they told me that firefighters dealing with incidents involving hazardous materials need to know precisely what chemicals are present and how to handle them. The faster they can obtain this information the more effectively they can protect their own safety and that of the community around them.

The situation today is not adequate. Operation Respond, on the other hand, is a system that gives firefighters firsthand access to information that they need by use of a laptop computer and a modem installed in their emergency vehicles. They simply enter a number which has been assigned to each load travelling on the rails or highways into that laptop and within one minute they can know exactly what materials are onboard that vehicle which may have been involved in an accident. They will know what safety precautions to take and how to contain the incident they have encountered more effectively.

Compare that to the 10 minutes to several hours that it sometimes takes under the existing system. The sources of the information for Operation Respond are databases kept by the carriers. The system is applicable to all forms of transportation in its ideal usages, trains, trucks, ships and aircraft. I hope we will be able to find a way to ensure that this happens. Operation Respond makes a tremendous amount of sense.

In May of this year I wrote a letter to the Minister of Transport. I stated: "I have recently met with Canadian firefighters who are interested in securing a Canadian test site for a program they refer to as Operation Respond. I know you are familiar with the proposal and I think you were supportive of the concept prior to your appointment as Minister of Transport.

"The concept of identifying hazardous materials in transit is a very important one because the most dangerous aspect of firefighting is responding to incidents involving hazardous materials. Firefighters in Canada are especially hampered, they say, by a lack of information available at such incidents, especially within the critical first minutes upon arrival at the scene.

"Firefighters in Canada are urging you to make Operation Respond's Canadian test site a priority of your government by committing staff and resources to the project immediately. I am writing today to say that I agree with the firefighters' request and I trust that you will make this commitment without delay".

That was the letter I sent to the minister after the Saskatchewan firefighters along with their colleagues from across Canada visited me here in Ottawa.

In June the minister responded to my letter. A major part of his response to me was that the CANUTEC system, the system in place today, seemed to be working just fine but there was always room for improvement. The minister said there were Canadians currently in the United States monitoring the Operation Respond system and he suggested that perhaps this fall there might be recommendations coming forward to change the way the Canadian system operated.

I am very pleased to see today that perhaps the experience in the United States has had an effect here in Canada and it is as a direct result of the firefighters lobby and their request that these matters take place.

In light of how important this issue is and in light of how supportive of change the firefighters are, I think it is time that we in Canada took action.

The motion in front of us today gives every parliamentarian in Canada a chance to confer with the minister, the cabinet and the department and say that firefighters know what they are talking about. By voting in support of this motion today we may actually be doing something that will one day prevent a serious human accident and perhaps even save a life.

I was proud to support the call of firefighters in May and I am proud to support this motion today.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Motion No. 241 which states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the Minister of Transport should proceed rapidly to establish a Canadian test site for Operation Respond, a computerized database of hazardous materials, that would improve safety for firefighters and help save lives and property.

The previous member mentioned and I would like to repeat that the International Association of Firefighters has done an excellent job of making its case to members of Parliament on all sides of the House. It has provided exceptional information. It has made its arguments clearly and it has asked us to consider its request for this test site.

We are often approached by many groups that would like to see certain initiatives or changes made in legislation. If they all followed the model that the International Association of Firefighters followed, we would achieve many more constructive amendments to legislation if that model were followed.

I want to also commend Doug Coupar, who was the then director of the IAFF. I also had an opportunity to deal with Mr. Elliot Hastings who has been carrying on on its behalf.

There was some concern in the first hour of debate some weeks ago that there was a position being formed. I can assure all members and certainly firefighters that the points raised even in the initial debate had been carried back to the minister.

I know the hon. member for Hamilton West, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, listened carefully and advocated on behalf of this motion because it was the right thing to do. Who else would now better what they can do than the firefighters themselves?

I understand as a result of the advocacy of members on all sides of this House that there is an intent today to have this debate close a little early. That would allow us to have a vote today and not in one, two or three months from now. I believe now, as a result of the work of all the people, including the firefighters, that the case has been made very clear and the very right thing to do is pass this motion and get on with it.

I would like to make one final announcement that the firefighters and the police officers of Canada will be pleased about. Yesterday there was another draw in the private member's process and a motion that I had submitted has been drawn for consideration by the House. That motion is another of the recommendations of the IAFF. It is to establish the public safety officers compensation fund which would establish a fund to receive gifts and bequests for the benefit of families of officers and firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. That will be coming before this place when we return after the Christmas break.

On behalf of all members I want to thank the IAFF for the excellent job it did to make its case convincingly and to earn the respect and the support of members of Parliament.

Hazardous MaterialsPrivate Members' Business

December 4th, 1996 / 5:55 p.m.


Margaret Bridgman Reform Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, I have followed this debate rather closely and I would like to add a couple of words that I have not heard arise in the debate yet.

Firefighters in Surrey have brought to my attention that their main problem was the time element, the time element of getting to the scene, identifying what they were dealing with and taking the appropriate response.

The second point I have not heard in debate and one I would like to put on the record for consideration when this is activated is the nature of the elements they are dealing with. On occasion there is the transporting of more than one particular hazardous chemical. The second one may not be hazardous in itself but when these mix they are dealing with a totally different kind of response than they would if they were dealing with one on its own.

That was stressed very clearly to me by the firefighters that sometimes that entails a second call, a wait and this kind of thing. I would like to bring that to the attention of those who would be addressing this situation in the future to certainly keep that in mind, that this operation or program would certainly cut down that time element and address that issue.