Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to rise in debate today on what I believe is a very, very important subject for all of us in this House and of course for Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
I would like to congratulate the member opposite for proposing this motion. Even in a very small way the fact that we will spend the day debating this hopefully being watched by several thousands of Canadians, perhaps if that will give somebody the opportunity to have a second thought about getting behind the wheel of a car tonight, then that in itself is important. Of course the whole subject is important.
I am the father of a 16 year old who is going through the process of learning how to drive. I am trying to convey the reality and the vulnerability of a young person, to convey the horror that too many of us have felt when our friends were hurt or killed in needless traffic accidents. Trying to convey that to our young people so that they understand that is indeed a challenge. As a father I know it is shared by parents right across the country to try to convey the importance of that.
Drinking and driving, the abuse of alcohol is a tragedy that too many times is visited upon Canadians and their families. I concur with the intent behind this motion. It is absolutely essential as a Parliament, as a society, and as individual Canadians, that we address this issue. We need to make progress.
I know it has been talked about already in this debate and some people have agreed with it and others have not put as much emphasis on it, but indeed the problem is complex. It involves many things. We need to understand why generally responsible people will sometimes be very irresponsible in their use of alcohol and the activities they choose to partake in, like driving after they have had too much to drink.
It is a complex problem and as a complex problem it is going to require complex solutions. There are going to be solutions that involve the things that are brought forward in this motion. It is going to involve items like changes to the Criminal Code. It is going to involve things like penalties. That is important. Deterrents indeed are important. But the problem, the situation and indeed more important, the solutions go beyond just that, although that is important.
We need to deal with the whole idea of education, as I opened my speech talking about my own personal situation. We need to talk about the whole issue of education. We need to make sure that people understand, particularly our young people as they are beginning in life and are having to cope with new pressures and new responsibilities. They must understand exactly what the costs are and what the responsibilities are for them.
The whole issue of enforcement is important. It is not good enough simply to have the laws on the books. If there are no means to enforce those laws, then we will not have moved toward a solution.
There is also the issue of societal attitude. It is absolutely essential that we continue what I believe to be progress over the last generation in a change in societal attitude. It is no longer an acceptable social practice to drink an excessive amount of alcohol and get behind the wheel of a vehicle. That is simply not acceptable. When people have an opportunity to interact with each other, society should provide a negative sanction against that type of activity.
I recall that I was going to a reception one evening a short time ago and my nine year old daughter asked who the designated driver was going to be. That is a sign of how society is changing and how our school system is trying to get that type of education brought forward so that the upcoming generation will understand and will be responsible in their use of alcohol. That is a very, very important part of what we need to do as a society in order to address this very difficult problem.
It is also very critical as parliamentarians approach this subject, that we understand there is a broad range of individuals and groups in society that need to come together to work on this problem. Obviously, as parliamentarians we have a very specific role. We also need to work with our provincial counterparts who have the responsibility for prosecution and enforcement of the rules and regulations governing drinking and driving.
As I mentioned, we need to work with the education system to make sure it is working in getting the point across. We need to work with organizations like MADD and other groups that have worked very diligently to raise the awareness and profile of the issue. We need to work with groups in our individual constituencies that have specific roles, such as the boating and snowmobile clubs. These are areas where similar tragedies take place because of drinking and driving. Together we need to move toward solutions.
Members have mentioned that we as a government as well as society have implemented steps in this regard. It was in the 1920s when operating a vehicle while impaired became a criminal offence. Since that time there have been changes in the Criminal Code which have enhanced the prohibition of this activity and which have enhanced the penalties.
I heard the Minister of Justice in a reply to a question the other day make a very clear commitment to the House that she will continue to work along those lines. We as parliamentarians have a role to play in that. We need to work with the Department of Justice and others and move toward improving solutions.
Speaking as the representative for Parry Sound—Muskoka, my riding faces a problem similar to many areas, although it has its own particular and unique nature. There are approximately 80,000 residents in that area and in the summer it attracts roughly 60,000 seasonal residents, people who choose to have summer homes there. On a long weekend in the summer there could be an extra 100,000 or 150,000 visitors to the area. The whole issue of responsible recreation is critical and important in an area such as Parry Sound—Muskoka.
I mentioned a minute ago the whole issue of boating safety. It is surprising sometimes that an individual driving the 400 km to come to my area would never for a moment think of having a drink when they got behind the wheel of their car and drove up the highway but then would think nothing of having that drink and operating a boat. That is why I say societal attitudes and societal changes are so important. It has to be as inappropriate to get behind the wheel of a motorized boat as it is to get behind the wheel of a car. That is something where education plays an important role. I am pleased to note that within my riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka there is a wide coalition of individuals and groups working on the whole issue of boating safety, and obviously a big component of that is to not operate a boat.
Two years ago in this House on a Friday morning with the consent of all the parties, the Reform Party, the justice critic whom I had an opportunity to work with, and the Bloc and its justice critic, we passed amendments to the Contraventions Act in one day. Although it does not deal directly with the issue of impaired boating, it dealt with the whole issue of regulations and increased enforcement on our waterways to protect boating safety. That is a small example of things that we have been able to do in this House and something that has a very direct impact on Parry Sound—Muskoka and of course other ridings that have large amounts of water. I was pleased to be able to have a role in seeing that take place. It was something that my predecessor, Stan Darling, who had sat in this House for 21 years, had worked on before.
Also on the issue of recreation in an area like mine in the winter we have the whole issue of snowmobiling. Again we have a motorized vehicle that requires people to be operating them safely and obviously sober. The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs has worked diligently with snowmobile owners and snowmobile clubs over the last several years to educate their membership as well as to make it clear that as a society we do not accept operating a snowmobile while impaired. It actually introduced a program called sled smart where it works with the clubs and with individuals to ensure this does not happen.
In a rural area like mine I must give credit to the Ontario Provincial Police and the detachments in my riding and the officers of those detachments who work diligently on the issue of education and enforcement to ensure that the tragedies we all too often hear about are reduced. I do commend those officers, the work they do within the schools and the work they do in terms of enforcement. I know they, who all too often are the first ones on the scenes of those tragedies, are trying to do all they can to reduce this problem.
Of course in my role as the Secretary of State for Parks, we have a role in the park system to ensure there is not an abuse of alcohol. Our park wardens work diligently oftentimes with local enforcement agencies to ensure that there is responsible consumption of alcohol. There are times during the year when we feel it necessary to put bans on alcohol consumption within our parks. I am committed in my role as Secretary of State for Parks to ensure that we continue that diligence, that we continue to work toward preventing the inappropriate use of alcohol.
This is a critical issue for all of us in this House. In summarizing, I again thank the member opposite for bringing this motion forward because I think it is important to have this debate.
I want to leave the House with one thought. Although the contents of the motion are good and describe part of what we need to do in terms of the solution, let us not lose sight of the other part of it. Let us not lose sight of what the boating community is doing and needs to do in terms of prevention. Let us not lose sight of what the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs is doing. Let us not lose sight of what the Ontario Provincial Police are doing. Let us not lose sight of the actions that we need to take at Parks Canada to make sure this abuse is not allowed. Let us make sure that we deal with the totality of the problem. That is not to suggest that any part is less important than the next, but we must deal with the overall issue.
I feel strongly about this and I am sure my colleagues feel strongly about this. I look forward to arriving at a solution and making progress on this important issue.