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House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was minority.

Topics

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Reform

Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

moved that Bill C-223, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of interest on mortgage loans), be read the second time and referred to committee.

Madam Speaker, it is a real pleasure to rise in the House today to address my private members' bill, C-223.

This bill will be supported by a lot of industries right across Canada. I have had contacts from the housing industry and the banking industry, saying that this bill or this type of Income Tax Act change is long overdue.

This bill will make it more feasible for young families to own a home. When we look at the importance of families to a nation, we see that they are the basic building block of a strong nation. We want a good solid family, a family that has some encouragement and desire to put equity into a home or shelter.

We often forget that these young families will be dealing with a taxation burden never before been seen in Canadian history. Look at the $600 billion of debt which is going to be put on their shoulders in the next century, a debt which they will have to service. The way the government has been going the last three and a half or four years will add another $100 billion to that. We know we have to do something for these young families so that they will have an incentive to continue to pay taxes. Otherwise I think they will feel like giving up and saying “why should I even try to get equity because it is all going to be taxed away from me before I have the interest or the ability to own a home”.

I designed this bill so that it would not be an incentive for home owners to upgrade their dwelling or be favourable to the higher income families. I felt it should address the lower income families, the people who have really been behind the eight ball, giving them a level playing field when it comes to home ownership.

If we look back through history, no matter what happened in the thirties, the twenties and the fifties, home ownership was always something that set the tone for the economy of that decade. When people could afford to buy homes, we had a stronger economy. This is something that was really devastating in the thirties when homes were being vacated and people were moving to lower cost abodes. The country suffered for it. The number of homes built during the last decade was stagnant. A year or two ago home ownership picked up. When I did some research it astounded me that in 1993 there were 350,000 exchanges of home ownership. They were either people who were upgrading to better homes or people who could afford new homes. Out of that 350,000 changes in home ownership 50,000 were new homes. We know there were 50,000 new home owners in 1993. That is when things started looking a little brighter because government was trying to get the deficit under control and people had a little more confidence in the economy.

When we turn that into dollars and cents, it is quite amazing what that does to an economy with 50,000 new homes, plus the furnishings that are put into them, plus the landscaping and whatever that goes with a new home which provides a lot of jobs. That is what this country needs: jobs and the ability to afford to own a home.

This bill also gives these new home owners an incentive to apply their equity which can be used in their retirement. When they have a home to sell when they get to that age where they do not want to take care of it or they are forced into senior housing developments, they at least have some equity to back them up which today is a big problem for a lot of seniors who have never owned a home and have always lived in rental apartments. They find it hard to pay for accommodation later on.

That is another benefit in this bill. It will give people the opportunity to acquire equity that they can in their senior years use as a retirement fund.

For people who have been buying homes lately, who took the gamble because they thought the economy was turning up, I have proposed that this bill, if passed, will be applicable to first time home owners who bought their homes after December 31, 1994. Therefore, there is the opportunity for people who took the chance and went out on a limb because they were allowed to use 5% of their RRSPs to invest in a home, to secure their investment by being able to deduct the interest from the time that the bill is passed.

There was a complaint from a number of people who asked why first time home owners should get this tax break when people who rent out their units do not get a tax break. I was astounded when I researched the Income Tax Act to see what kind of tax breaks rental owners do get. There is a lengthy list which I will not take the time to explain in full but for example, any rental investor who owns a rental unit can declare the property taxes as an expense. They can include the insurance on their rental property, maintenance and repairs, heat, light and water, advertising, interest on the money borrowed, as I am proposing in this bill for first time home owners.

We can see that it is really not a level playing field for the home owners at this time.

People who have rental units can even include automobile expenses that they use for servicing the property, advertizing and commissions paid to obtain tenants. All these things are tax deductible.

That is why home ownership does not always sound feasible because the rental units can be rented at a fair cost compared to servicing the costs of a home. One needs extra wealth and income to own one's home. The bill, for the first time, would give lower income homeowners a more level playing field even if it is not totally level.

I looked at some legislation passed in the U.S. in the 1940s when all mortgage interest became a taxable expense. We are about 50 years behind in our income tax compared to the U.S. There are certain changes in its program I would not want to have in the Income Tax Act, but the U.S. did not look at the issue of how much revenue government was losing. It looked at the issue of how much more money was put into the economy. When taxes are saved they are invested somewhere else, which was behind the idea of writing that into its income tax act.

I found an article written by Hugh Segal. I do not always like what he says. A lot of people have heard him. We must give credit where credit is due. I thought he made some good comments. This is what he said:

Why should the tax system encourage one activity and discourage the other? Why is the family home a target? Why is it less important than an office, a warehouse or a piece of machinery?

That was the way I looked at it. The home is a basic place of shelter, the place where we raise our families with certain moral character, where we try to teach them what is good for the country, what will be ahead of them, what they will have to do and what their responsibilities will be when they become adults. I thought that was a pretty good argument.

In 1979 the Conservatives introduced a bill very similar to this one. However the government of that day did not last very long, only six months, and the bill died on the order paper.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

An hon. member

That was too long anyway.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Reform

Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

We can debate that argument when we are dealing with some other bill. The government would probably agree with that statement so we will not get into that debate.

Then he went on to say:

Middle income Canadians would also experience an increase in disposable and discretionary income. There would be an easier transition from renting to owning and the family home would for once be the beneficiary of an enlightened tax policy as opposed to the victim.

That is the way I have looked at it. Why should a home be taxed? It is fundamental if one wants to raise a family as a unit. It is a lot better to raise a family under those conditions.

Another point struck me when I read the article by Mr. Segal. Many first time homeowners would also like to go into private business. They may have the intelligence to be an entrepreneur or to develop things. This tax break would let them either save money for some future rainy day, education purposes for their families or to start a small business. If they had a small equity or some money they could put into a small business, that is probably the direction they would take. It is pretty well ever family's desire to have a business in the home. We know what that would do for job creation.

It is interesting to see all the benefits. The Toronto-Dominion Bank was referred to in an article in the Winnipeg Free Press . I even got some coverage in a paper that really does not want to give Reform too much coverage. There was an article indicating that my bill would help first time home buyers. It made me feel pretty good I got that attention. This is what the article said:

On a typical 25 year mortgage at 6.35% first time home buyers could claim some $1,700 on their income tax, according to Diane Olivier of the Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Some $1,700 of extra income is quite a bit to a young family starting up or to first time homeowners. It is super. I did not do the mathematics, but I think the bank has the ability and the research people to put those figures together. The article continued:

“Some people can be scared off by the costs of purchasing a first house” said Rischuk Park Realty owner Rusty Rischuk. The proposed amendment would make Winnipegers more confident that they can afford a home. I think it is wonderful.

That is from another sector of the economy. People can have confidence in a certain idea or in something that gives them an opportunity to invest. Referring to last summer when the stock market was booming and interest rates were coming down, the article said:

Nearly 60% of the city's homes sold from January to September were bought by first time home buyers.

We know what that does to the building trade, the furniture trade or any business tied to manufacturing these homes.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

An hon. member

It is a job creation effort.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Reform

Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

It is job creation, very true. In addition, it said:

A record high 25,000 Winnipeg renters could afford to purchase a home.

This was an added incentive. It really surprised me this was an impact of the bill. It would increase Winnipeg's job opportunities or the building trade by 25,000 homes. That is quite impressive.

I hope my colleagues on both sides of the House will see the bill as something non-political that will encourage and give our young people the opportunity to invest, to have a home and to build up equity that in future years can be turned over for their retirement or for senior housing.

The bill also refers to co-op housing. If people buy a condominium or an apartment in a co-op housing project they will be eligible under the bill as living in individual dwellings.

The bill is very well designed. It will not reduce government revenue. Rather it will probably increase revenue and be positive for the economy, not negative as some people presume.

This opportunity has provided me with quite a bit of publicity in the papers. My delight in this regard is that it shows Reform has good ideas. People who have never voted Reform say this is a bill thought out by a Reformer that helps everybody, the whole country, not just Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc members or Reformers.

If the House cannot see the light of day on that and support the bill, it will be very discouraging to keep on working. What are we working for? We are working for the country. We are trying to build the country.

We are trying to set up an economy for the 21st century that will be positive, that will give our young people something to dream about, and that will tell our young people we in this generation look after them. We will try to support them in carrying the huge tax burden because of the debt load and other mistakes made by past governments.

When we look at the past mistakes we cannot say it was just the government that made these mistakes. We as individuals, as constituents, allowed it to happen. It should have never happened. We were complacent. We did not pay attention so the problem is there.

I will just wind up in my remaining minute by saying that I am asking for the support of my colleagues in the House. If there are some amendments that improve the bill, I will not object to them. I hope the bill will do something for young people to encourage them to keep on building the country as did our pioneer forefathers.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, Bill C-223 proposes to introduce an income tax deduction with respect to the mortgage interest paid on the first $100,000 of a mortgage loan by individuals purchasing a first home after 1994.

The intent and spirit of the bill is quite laudable, but I would like to make a couple of points with respect to the current Income Tax Act and then move on to some of the other issues this proposal brings forward.

The Income Tax Act presently does not allow for the deductibility of mortgage interest on principal residences. However, capital gains on the sale of a principal residence are not taxable to the owner either. If mortgage interest rates were deductible, capital gains should be made taxable.

The measure, if limited to first time home buyers at maturity, would cost about $3 billion per year. Limiting the interest deduction to first time home buyers may be somewhat difficult. The proposal would create some significant differences in the tax treatment of qualifying homeowners and would be quite difficult to defend. If mortgage interest deductions were then extended to all homeowners the annual revenue cost would be approximately $6 billion. Admittedly, if the principal residence were subject to capital gains, the revenue decline would be somewhat less.

A taxpayer's choice of accommodation, owning versus renting, is a personal choice. The hon. member attempted to make the distinction between renters and owners and provided an example of those who own rental units rather than those who live in rental units. He is quite correct. Those who own rental units are entitled to write off property taxes, insurance, heat, light, et cetera. It is a business activity. Those who rent units do not carry on a business.

Let us go back to the point that a choice of accommodation is normally a personal decision and the costs associated with it are personal expenses. The tax system does not allow deductions and credits for personal expenses. Accordingly principal residences are not treated as investments for tax purposes. The mortgage interest paid on a principal residence is not deductible. The capital gains on the sale of a principal residence is also non-taxable to the homeowner.

The proposed deduction would also be inequitable to taxpayers without a mortgage. Again it is unwarranted because capital gains in principal residences are non-taxable.

Let us look at the present case. First time home buyers already receive tax assistance under the home buyers plan. Under the plan, first time home buyers are allowed to borrow money from the RRSPs without having to include the amount as income.

This proposal would see the deductibility resulting in a net transfer to homeowners with mortgages from other taxpayers who would have either to pay higher taxes or would receive reduced services to finance the deductibility.

In the spirit of reallocation, to which I am sure the Reform Party is quite committed, if there is an expenditure the money has to come from somewhere. It does not come from the sky. There would be an increase in income taxes or a reallocation from income taxes or reduced services. The Reform Party often makes that point. I would just like to make sure that it understands the point.

Furthermore, benefits would not be fairly distributed between groups of taxpayers. Benefits would be earned disproportionately by higher income earners who are more likely to have larger mortgages. Less than 15% of the benefits under the proposal would accrue to families with less than $50,000 in income.

Quite clearly the proposal would create significant differences in the tax treatment of homeowners, identical in every respect except the timing of their home purchase. For example, a first time home buyer would be able to deduct up to $6,000 assuming an annual interest rate of 6% on a $100,000 mortgage annually, while the neighbour carrying an identical mortgage would be denied a deduction because either the residence was not his or her first home or the residence was purchased before the effective date.

The success of the government's work, its deficit reduction strategy which Canadians have been quite supportive, has meant lower interest rates which have reduced the costs of home ownership. One year mortgage rates have declined by more than 400 basis points since January 1995. This has provided savings greater than $3,000 in terms of lower annual mortgage payments for a $100,000 mortgage.

I have respect for the hon. member, for his intent with this bill and for the hard work he put into drafting and researching it. All members of this House are quite clearly interested in strengthening the economy, in ensuring our economy continues to grow and that our young people are able to participate. Quite frankly, the expenditure of $3 billion that is strictly targeted to first time home buyers or, as another hon. member mentioned, an expenditure of $6 billion annually across the board would result in some reallocation of services or an increase in taxes in order to maintain a balanced budget, in order to maintain the level of services Canadians expect.

Although the spirit of this bill is one that every member of this House would clearly support, the technical challenges that this bill faces and the requirement—

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

It's too simple.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Tony Valeri Liberal Stoney Creek, ON

It is not too simple. It is quite difficult to defend the legislation when one neighbour is able to deduct $6,000 in interest payments and because the other neighbour's home was purchased prior to 1994 and was not a first time purchase, that neighbour would be unable to claim that deduction.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Are you going to pay back all the debt you have created?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Tony Valeri Liberal Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, we hear heckling from the other side but I am trying to bring some context to the discussion.

At this point the bill is not affordable when we are talking about $3 billion or $6 billion of expenditure. It is not necessary from the perspective that the housing industry in this country has continued to soar over this last little while with interest rates being maintained in a certain range. We foresee the housing industry continuing to grow. In essence we feel the bill is unnecessary at this time. A bigger reason is the equity of the bill. We could not discriminate against those Canadians who because they purchased their homes prior to 1994 would be unable to deduct the interest. If we were to extend this proposal to every homeowner it would be a $6 billion expenditure at a time when we have not yet balanced the budget. Yet we are starting to see these types of proposal coming forward calling for all kinds of expenditure.

As a government we are committed to ensuring we bring forward and support the fiscal policies we have brought forward over the last number of years. We want to ensure a balanced budget. We will ensure that any expenditure of this government is done through a reallocation. We will ensure fairness and equity for all Canadians.

While I urge every member of this House to agree that the intent of the bill is quite laudable, I must ask every member of this House not to support the measure. It is not affordable, necessary or equitable.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Madam Speaker, the bill tabled by the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar meets an urgent need to revitalize the construction sector. It also represents an interesting way of helping future first-time home buyers by giving them a tax break on the first $100,000.

As we know, the interest on a mortgage costs the average homeowner a bundle, and this is true throughout the country, including in Quebec. Often the interest on a mortgage prevents young families from buying a home. It is therefore time for the federal government to take concrete action to encourage the housing industry, an important lever in the Canadian, Quebec and regional economies.

Interest rates are now within the reach of most people. It is therefore appropriate that the government bring in legislation to encourage young families to buy homes more suited to their needs. If the government were to go ahead with certain tax measures, it could thus lighten the financial burden on future homeowners.

The Reform member from Manitoba mentions that he would like to see tax deductions for future home buyers. The Bloc Quebecois has some doubts about the Reform Party's intentions.

This deduction, which would be based on individual income, would help the richer members of society, and once again put the less well off at a serious disadvantage. Here again, we recognize the Reform philosophy lurking behind this bill: protect those with higher incomes and forget about the poorer members of society.

It does not surprise anyone that the Reform Party thinks along these lines, because this clearly right leaning party has frequently had its own contribution to make to the social nightmare created by the Liberals since they came to power in October 1993.

I will, if I may, refresh my colleagues' memory concerning the tax measures that have done great harm to our social climate: unemployment insurance reform, and cuts in provincial transfer payments that have created problems in health services, social programs and education.

What have Reformers done about these destructive Liberal policies? I can think of nothing.

The recent Speech from the Throne and the economic statement by the Minister of Finance show no signs of relief for the less privileged in society, and there again Reform members remain silent. We can get an idea in fact of the Reform Party's social conscience when we look at their position in the current debate on the greenhouse effect throughout Canada. The Reform Party acts as if there were only one province involved in this matter and neglects to propose a comprehensive solution to this global problem.

Let us come back to the bill itself. Although its first objective is to improve the social climate, the Bloc Quebecois has serious concerns about the provisions proposed by the Reform Party to amend the Income Tax Act. We believe these proposals will do nothing to meet the real needs of future home buyers.

In its own income tax policy, the Bloc Quebecois is very clear on the issue of tax deductions versus tax credits. In its policy statement, it makes the following distinctions, which I would like now to examine with you.

There is a difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction. Tax expenditures can take the form of tax deductions or tax credits. Tax deductions are taken into account in the calculation of the taxpayer's net income. They are factored in before the amount of tax payable is determined and they therefore reduce the taxpayer's taxable income. They allow him to benefit from tax savings. These can vary according to the tax rate for that income bracket. Tax deductions are regressive, because the higher the taxable revenue, the higher the savings. In the present system, the higher the tax rates, the greater the tax savings provided by tax deductions.

On the other hand, tax credits are subtracted from the amount of tax payable. They are used to determine the net amount of tax payable. Tax credits are neutral. Tax savings through tax credits are the same for every taxpayer, whatever his or her taxable income.

Let us take the example of three incomes: one less than $29,590, one in the range between $29,590 and $59,180 and one more than $59,180. For each $1000, a taxpayer with an income of less than $29,590 would benefit from an identical tax saving, whether in the form of a tax deduction or a tax credit.

A taxpayer with a taxable income in the $29,590 to $59,180 range would save $260 in taxes if he takes advantage of a tax deduction, whereas he would receive only $170 in the form of a tax credit for each $1,000.

A taxpayer with an income in excess of $59,180 would save $290 in tax if he was entitled to a tax deduction, whereas he would receive only $170 in the form of a tax credit.

It can be seen, then, that federal assistance to individuals via a tax deduction can vary enormously according to the individual's taxable income. A person earning less than $30,000 would receive $170 in assistance per $1,000 of tax deduction, while one earning $60,000 receives $290 in assistance for the same deduction.

The better off therefore receive $120 more in assistance per $1,000 in deduction, when their tax savings are compared to those of people with a taxable income of less than $29,590. There is, therefore, a flagrant injustice.

Our party therefore approves of the principle set out in Bill C-223, but we intend to call for a major amendment. We would like to see the proposed tax deductions changed to tax credits, which would, in our opinion, be fairer for all those affected by this bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Chris Axworthy NDP Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to Bill C-223 moved by the member for Portage—Lisgar which sets out to provide mortgage interest tax reliefs to first time home buyers, up to a maximum of $100,000.

It is important that we all recognize the importance of encouraging home ownership. We know that not only a house but a home is an important part of how we provide a good start for our kids and for our families in general. We all share in the concern and the concept that we need to do everything we can to encourage home ownership.

The question is how we go about doing this, in a fair, equitable and affordable way. It is not surprising that the Reform Party would take an issue of some complexity and present a simplistic and unworkable solution to it.

The Reform Party constantly sees complex things as simple. In fact, it consider everything to be simple. Some things are not quite as simple as they appear. Some things require more sophisticated responses than that put forward.

We need to ensure that families can find affordable and good quality homes. The question is how to do that. We know that over the years one of the main disincentives, especially to young families trying to afford homes, has been a high interest rate policy. We now find this reduced. Consequently one of the pressures on home ownership has been reduced.

Let us talk about what this bill does or perhaps what it does not do. First, it does not recognize regional disparities across the country. A $100,000 home in one part of the country may be a mansion whereas in another part of the country may not be much of a house at all. Why treat those who in one part of the country can buy a huge home for $100,000 the same as those who cannot find a very large place in a more expensive community? To treat different circumstances the same way is simplistic and simply will not work.

What about the way in which the bill works? The Reform Party would like to suggest that this is not terribly expensive, that it will encourage growth in the home building market. No doubt it will. We need to cost these issues out. As the parliamentary secretary indicated, this measure would cost $3 billion a year.

As he indicated, and even the Reform Party must know, that money has to come from somewhere. It would come from taxes paid by those who are not covered by this benefit, and I suppose those who are covered by the benefit might have to pay taxes on other things in order to make up that $3 billion difference, or a reduction in services provided to society as a whole through government programs.

That is money provided then by those who do not benefit from this particular provision. I ask why is it fair, why is it acceptable, why is it desirable to have those who cannot afford to have a home subsidize those who can. When was that fair? When was that acceptable? It is clearly simplistic, but when was it acceptable?

What would happen if mortgage rates increased? That is not beyond the realm of possibility. Then the cost would increase even further.

The point has been made that there is no horizontal equity here. What about the person who bought a house some time before 1994 who is struggling to keep that home together and provide a good family life for their children? They will not benefit from this program, even though they may live right next door to somebody who will. One family will benefit to the extent perhaps of $6,000, $7,000 or $8,000 a year in mortgage payment tax credits, tax reductions or tax expenses, whereas the family next door will not. That seems to me to be not only patently unfair but patently absurd as well.

We have a situation which is not fair across groups. It is not fair across families in similar circumstances and it represents a significant tax break to some Canadians who are rather better off than others. We have to ask where would that money come from and how much is involved.

The member who proposed the bill mentioned the United States situation. Some mention has been made of capital gains on principal residences in the United States as a part of that total tax package. I wonder whether the Reform Party through this bill is suggesting that indeed we should have capital gains taxes on principal residences because I am sure Canadians would be interested to learn that.

It is important to recognize the validity of encouraging home ownership. We need to do that, but we need to do it in a fair, equitable and relatively inexpensive way. This bill is an expensive and unfair way and as a result I think will not see the light of day.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-223 and commend my colleague, the member for Portage—Lisgar, for his foresight in introducing such a bill. I think it is worthy of debate and certainly worthy of the Liberal side to examine this whole issue of tax relief on mortgage interest.

I again would like to thank the member for Portage—Lisgar for introducing the bill. It is certainly open for broader reference too, not only for first time home buyers but also for everyone who may own a home.

Since this is my first formal speech in the House, Madam Speaker, during this 36th Parliament, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment and also the Speaker of the House on his election to the chair. I have a great deal of regard for both the Speaker's position, the Chair, and the office. I can assure you that you will have my full co-operation and respect throughout this Parliament.

I would like to thank too my constituents for once again placing their faith in me. I am extremely grateful for the trust they have given to me. I want to assure them publicly that I will represent their viewpoints and wishes as best I can. I will certainly keep them uppermost in my mind as I carry out my duties here in the House.

Canadians have recently suffered through what I would call a terrible recession when we look at the unemployment rates sitting around the double digits over the last little while and now just a little below 10%, 9% approximately. However, the most devastating aspect of all is youth unemployment which is in the neighbourhood of 17%. That is not acceptable.

We as parliamentarians should all be doing everything possible to change that and drive this economy with every means possible to make sure our young people, the future of our country, are working and feel positive about what this country has to offer them in the future. Unfortunately many of them do not feel that their future is all that bright.

Besides the unemployed there are the under employed. Hundreds of thousands of working individuals are under employed. They are barely getting by and most of the time on two incomes and still barely scraping by. I think it is time for the government to take some urgent action to ensure that all Canadians enjoy the rich potential of this country.

As far as I am concerned, this private member's bill is a step in the right direction. Taken in a broad context, if everyone were to be given that relief, it would certainly be a real boon to the economy when one thinks about how many dollars are going to be thrown back into the economy. A dollar in the hands of an employer, an employee or a consumer is much better handled than a dollar in the hands of any bureaucrat, any government official or any parliamentarian.

As the House knows, this bill would provide for the deduction of interest paid by a taxpayer on the first $100,000 of the mortgage on his or her first home. This bill has several advantages which the government would be hard pressed to deny. I would just like to list some of those advantages.

First is a considerably lower tax burden on Canadian families. The member who introduced the bill certainly mentioned families a lot in his presentation. It is very important to recognize the strengthening of the family, the desire that they not be subject to someone else's whims in a way like rental or leasing property but they would actually be able to own their own home.

Second, it would make home ownership accessible to more Canadians. I had a chance to speak to people in the United States who have the advantage of this deduction. It offers them more amenities. One can actually buy a piece of property and be able to afford a few more items that they would not normally be able to afford because of that particular deduction.

Third, it would level the playing field between Canada and the United States. It would make Canada's tax regime more competitive.

People in this country are crying out for tax relief and yet it is falling on deaf ears. Those who are able to do something about it are not doing anything about it. In fact, they are taxaholics on that side. There is no question about that. Taxaholic is a term that our finance critic issued toward the finance minister and I think it is quite acceptable because every time there is a dollar loose somewhere it has to be grabbed. They have to grab as many dollars as they can from those hard working people out there across the country. I do not think that is acceptable especially when it is clear that the people in this country are fed up with taxes. They want relief.

Going on to some of the advantages, again it would increase equity between home owners with mortgages who must pay interest charges with after tax money and those without mortgages.

Most important, here is where my colleague from the NDP falls short. This money placed into the hands of the individual would actually stimulate the economy and create jobs. There is the key to this whole affair.

It is not the tax dollars that have to be replaced. Those tax dollars will not be replaced just by the mere fact that people out there have more money in their pockets and they will do something much more beneficial with it which will generate revenue into the coffers of any government. That is a well known fact.

This government spends precious little time doing anything that would support Canadian families in that regard. This bill would allow the Liberals to have something concrete to demonstrate that their grandiose rhetoric has a bit of substance. There is a dreadful lack of substance opposite.

Owning a home is of great importance to families. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly difficult for many Canadian families to realize their dreams and own their own homes.

Bill C-223 would give many lower income Canadians that extra bit of cash necessary to allow them to afford that dream. It gives that extra little bit of room. It would give first time home owners the breathing room necessary for them to pay down their other debts, to set aside moneys for saving or to spend more on their families and their needs in that regard.

How can the government possibly object to allowing Canadians the opportunity to spend more of their hard earned dollars on their families? I do not think when it comes right down to it that it can legitimately object, although I listened to the parliamentary secretary who made it very clear that it is not acceptable.

Accessibility to home ownership is particularly important to our young Canadians. They need a break and they have been hit especially hard by tough economic times. They suffer from higher unemployment rates on average and they report a terrible rate of under employment.

Again, I know the parliamentary secretary spoke about the shortfall in the tax system, but it is not acceptable. I think many of these adjustments can be made incrementally but unfortunately the Liberal side is not even willing to entertain some of those very significant changes in the tax structure to offer some relief.

Our generation of young people is the first in Canadian history who will likely not enjoy the economic benefits that this generation has, our parents have. If we are not careful, home ownership will be another example.

I can relate what policies like this have done to other countries but I know I do not have enough time to really get into it. It is unfortunate because I think this is a very key issue.

I can only urge the Liberals to recognize a good idea when they see it. They have a habit of stealing good ideas and I think this is one they could steal. I hope in the end they will support Bill C-223.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the short time we have left I would like to make a few remarks on this bill.

This private member's bill proposes to introduce an income tax deduction for interest payments for first time home buyers on the first $100,000 of a mortgage loan where the residence was purchased in 1995 or later.

The intent behind this proposal is certainly laudable. The intent is to make it easier for young Canadians to finance the purchase of their first home. However, we should not allow our sympathy in this regard to interfere with what I consider a sound judgment.

I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, and to my friends opposite that it is possible to laud the intent of an idea without supporting the idea itself. This proposal, despite its worthy aims, has flaws.

Let me begin by noting that the Income Tax Act already provides generous incentives for the prospective home buyer. The capital gains from the sale of a principal residence are not taxable to the home owner. In addition, the home buyers plan allows first time home buyers to withdraw up to $20,000 from registered retirement savings plans to use toward the purchase of a principal residence. These withdrawals are not subject to tax as long as the money is returned to the plan within a period of 15 years.

Another consideration crucial to sound tax policy is that taxpayers be treated fairly. This proposal would confer significant tax benefits upon Canadians purchasing a first home in 1995 or later. This proposal, however, would confer nothing upon Canadians who are renting or who purchased a first home in an earlier year. This proposal would also confer nothing upon young Canadians moving into another residence because their family is growing or because a change of employment requires them to move to another location.

I would find it difficult explaining to these taxpayers why they are not as deserving of tax relief as others.

The taxpayer's choice of accommodation is really a personal decision and the costs associated with it are personal expenses. The Canadian income tax system in general does not allow deductions or credits for personal expenses, and properly so. Personal expenses reflect to a great extent the pace and income levels of individuals. It is not fair for taxpayers at large to subsidize the personal expenditures of others.

Should this proposal be adopted, non-homeowners would find themselves subsidizing the home purchasing decisions of others.

The change proposed by the member of Parliament for Portage—Lisgar would primarily benefit higher income Canadians. Approximately 50% of families with over $80,000 of income have mortgages in Canada today. Compare this with only 10% of families with incomes under $30,000.

The great majority of benefits under the proposal would naturally accrue to higher income earners who are more likely to have larger mortgages. The result would be an increased taxation of all Canadians to pay for the accommodation of the more fortunate. I do not find this prospect a pleasing one.

I also feel this proposal would be sending out the wrong message by providing an incentive to enter into debt and maintain indebtedness. A rational homeowner benefiting from a tax deduction for mortgage interest would see little need to pay down the outstanding principal. By encouraging Canadians to carry larger mortgages for longer periods of time, we would be discouraging saving and financial independence. Surely, this is not the lesson we wish to pass on to young members of our society.

Finally, we come to the issue of cost. The Department of Finance estimates that the federal revenue loss associated with this proposal could reach $150 million in the year of introduction. Moreover, the cost would escalate in future years as more and more home buyers enter the market. Under a mature system the cost to the federal government could exceed $3 billion annually. If deductibility were extended to all homeowners, the cost would reach $6 billion annually. The provinces would also experience a substantial reduction in revenues. This is a very hefty price tag by any standard.

I also wish to emphasize that the lower interest rates resulting from the government's deficit reduction strategy have significantly reduced the cost of home ownership. One year mortgage rates today have declined by more than 400 basis points since January 1995, providing savings greater than $3,000 in terms of lower annual mortgage payments for a $100,000 mortgage.

In conclusion, I am sure that those present here today would join me in improving the spirit of this proposal. I would urge, however, that this spirit not sweep them along into supporting a measure that is not affordable, necessary or fair.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

The Deputy Speaker

Order. The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

Noon

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion LiberalPresident of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

moved:

WHEREAS the Government of Quebec has indicated that it intends to establish French and English linguistic school boards in Quebec;

AND WHEREAS the National Assembly of Quebec has passed a resolution authorizing an amendment to the Constitution of Canada;

AND WHEREAS the National Assembly of Quebec has reaffirmed the established rights of the English-speaking community of Quebec, specifically the right, in accordance with the law of Quebec, of members of that community to have their children receive their instruction in English language educational facilities that are under the management and control of that community and are financed through public funds;

AND WHEREAS section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees to citizens throughout Canada rights to minority language instruction and minority language educational facilities under the management and control of linguistic minorities and provided out of public funds;

AND WHEREAS section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides that an amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province to which the amendment applies;

NOW THEREFORE the House of Commons resolves that an amendment to the Constitution of Canada be authorized to be made by proclamation issued by His Excellency the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada in accordance with the schedule hereto.

SCHEDULE

AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION OF CANADA CONSTITUTION ACT, 1867.

  1. The Constitution Act, 1867, is amended by adding, immediately after section 93, the following:

“93A. Paragraphs (1) to (4) of section 93 do not apply to Quebec.”

CITATION

  1. This Amendment may be cited as the Constitution Amendment, year of proclamation (Quebec).

“Mr. Speaker, on April 15, 1997, the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to amend the constitution and exempt Quebec from the application of paragraphs (1) to (4) of section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

This amendment would essentially put an end to the educational rights and privileges enjoyed by that province's Catholics and Protestants. It would mean that Quebec could reorganize its school board system along linguistic rather than denominational lines.

On October 1, the government tabled in the House of Commons and in the Senate a resolution to amend the Constitution similar to that put forward by Quebec. However, before proceeding with the debate, the government wanted to clarify the issue and allow interested groups to be heard. This is why we decided to task a joint Senate and House of Commons committee with examining the various aspects of the proposed resolution.

The committee thus held public consultations during which about 60 groups and individuals were heard. In the report it submitted on November 7, it recommended that both Houses of Parliament adopt the resolution to amend section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, as tabled in the House of Commons on October 1, 1997, and in the Senate on October 9.

Before I go any further, I would like to congratulate the committee members on the exemplary work they have done. Because of their efforts, it has been possible for many citizens and groups who so wished to express their points of view. It has also been possible for parliamentarians to examine this highly complex issue from all angles.

I urge the House to follow the committee's recommendation and support the resolution to amend the constitution.

Since parliamentarians have had an opportunity to consult the committee's report, I will merely go over the main points, with particular emphasis on the concerns identified by committee members and possible responses to those concerns.

First, there is the issue of the amending formula. In its report, the committee began by looking at the applicable amendment procedure. Backed by legal advice, the Government of Canada held that section 93 could be amended bilaterally, in accordance with section 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Most of the experts on constitutional law that the committee heard confirmed the government's position. As stated in the committee report, “these experts maintained that the amendment requested affects only the province of Quebec, and they therefore concluded that the procedure involved could only be bilateral and required only a resolution by the Quebec National Assembly, the province concerned, and a resolution by the two Houses of the Canadian Parliament”.

The work of the committee will therefore have been useful in dispelling any doubts that some people may have had on the appropriate amending procedure. But what about the purpose of the resolution itself?

Some witnesses wondered whether it was appropriate to do away at this time with the safeguards provided under section 93. Some people disagreed with the amendment on purely religious grounds. They claimed that the right to receive Catholic or Protestant religious education for those who want it should be maintained, without however imposing such education on those who do not want it. Others argued that the creation of linguistic school boards did not require the amendment of section 93. Based on Supreme Court decisions, they claimed that linguistic and denominational school boards could coexist.

Although that last statement is basically true, the committee concluded it was not very realistic to keep a system of denominational school boards together with a system of linguistic school boards. In fact, over the last 15 years, successive governments in Quebec have considered such an approach, and legislation to that effect was even adopted in 1988. All these governments ultimately backed down because of the tremendous difficulties that the implementation of such legislation would have created.

In fact, this would have created six school systems in Montreal and Quebec City, and greatly increased the number of religious schools, resulting in the scattering of resources. This is why the representatives of the Quebec federation of school boards stated, and I quote, “By stacking the linguistic and denominational structures, it would become much more complicated and burdensome to carry out yearly activities related to student enrolment, assignment of personnel, distribution of resources, establishing voting lists and sharing the tax base”.

That being said however, we must admit that the non-application to Quebec of subsections (1) to (4) of section 93 will result in the withdrawal of constitutional safeguards presently provided to Catholics and Protestants in that province. There are however a number of considerations that soften the impact of this change.

It appears that, for all intents and purposes, the right of dissent is limited to the right to determine the religious dimensions of the curriculum. Moreover, it is solely in the territory of the cities of Montreal and Quebec City that section 93 guarantees Catholics and Protestants the right to school boards. In short, the rights and privileges enjoyed by Catholics and Protestants now are as much as, if not more, from legislation than from the constitution.

In this connection, it must not be lost sight of either that the objective of the Government of Quebec is not to make the Quebec school system a lay system, but rather to make school structures non-denominational. As Quebec's Minister of Education, Mrs. Marois, explained in her testimony before the joint committee, the constitutional amendment will have no immediate repercussions whatsoever on the place of religion in the schools. That issue will be addressed in a separate public debate. In the immediate future, therefore, the schools will retain their denominational orientation, and parents or children can continue to request religious or moral education in keeping with their convictions in the public educational facilities, as guaranteed in section 41 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

These considerations have certainly not convinced francophone protestants. A number of members of that community came to the committee to state that protections of a legislative nature can never replace constitutional guarantees. They indicated as well that, not only can the lawmakers modify the clauses currently authorizing religious teaching in the schools, they could also be forced to do so if the courts were to reach the conclusion that such teaching contravenes the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the charters as soon as section 93 ceases to be in effect.

Without wishing to minimize the importance of this problem, we must place in its proper perspective. First of all, a court would have to reach the conclusion that the solutions opted for by Quebec lawmakers in this connection infringe upon religious freedom and equality rights, and would also have to conclude that these restrictions are not reasonable within a free and democratic society.

In such a case, the supreme court could indicate the type of arrangement that was likely to meet the requirements of the Canadian and Quebec charters. Quebec lawmakers might also want to consider various legislative arrangements in place in other provinces to deal with this thorny issue.

A hypothetical consideration arises. The highest court has often indicated that it did not intend to take the place of the lawmakers in arbitrating between the interests of the various groups in the community. There are, therefore, grounds to believe that elected representatives retain a certain degree of flexibility in adjudicating between various individuals' rights.>

As a last resort, the Government of Quebec could invoke the notwithstanding clause. I was obviously very pleased to hear my counterpart, the Quebec minister of Canadian intergovernmental affairs, Jacques Brassard, say that “the notwithstanding clause would be invoked only as a last resort and with great care and diplomacy”. He is perfectly right. It is a band-aid solution and should be used only exceptionally. The joint committee shares our opinion on this.

The fears expressed by the French speaking Protestants are understandable, but the rights and privileges in section 93 apply to all Protestants and not just to those who speak French. Attention must not be paid to a minority within a minority to a point where the growth of society as a whole is paralyzed.

Other groups told the committee that the guarantees accorded under section 93 to Catholics and Protestants are at odds with Quebec's modern pluralistic society. Representatives of the Jewish and Arab communities in particular have pointed out that this section contains a form of discrimination. This point too warrants consideration.

By passing the amendment proposed by Quebec's National Assembly, Parliament will permit an open and full debate on the whole question, which is what the Quebec minister of education promised, in fact, when she appeared before the committee.

In quite another vein, members of Quebec's anglophone community appeared before the committee to call for section 23 to be applied in its entirety so that individuals, whose first language learned and still understood is English but who did not receive their primary education in English in Canada, can send their children to English schools. That was fair enough but the committee concluded that was another debate.

In that connection I reiterate that Quebec's anglophone minority, which has traditionally controlled and managed its own school system, thanks to protections granted to Protestants under section 93, can support amending that provision in all confidence. That is because its rights have been better protected since the coming into force of the Constitution Act, 1982, specifically section 23 of the Canadian charter.

Unlike section 93, section 23 of the Canadian charter has the specific objective of providing francophone and anglophone minorities with linguistic guarantees with respect to education. It has been interpreted progressively and generously by the courts. In effect, section 23 guarantees official language minorities the right to manage and control their own schools and even their own school boards. A number of groups and experts confirmed that during their testimony to the committee.

In that respect the establishment of linguistic school board will enable the anglophone community to consolidate its school population of and gain the maximum benefit from the guarantees under section 23.

I must also mention the concerns of the Native peoples living in Quebec. Two aboriginal groups representing the Metis and Indians living off the reserve have expressed concern over the possible effects of the proposed constitutional amendment. They claim that their rights could be affected to the extent that this section protects the pre-Confederation laws governing instruction for Native peoples.

The Government of Canada is sensitive to their claims and it is certainly a legitimate concern for Native peoples to want to ensure the development of their culture through education. However, we must recognize that this was not the intent given section 93. On a number of occasions, the courts have determined that section 93 provides constitutional guarantees based solely on religious belief. There is no provision for language or race. Section 93 offers no special guarantee to Native peoples, except if they are Protestant or Catholic. The committee shares our opinion in this regard.

Consensus. When I first raised the possibility of amending section 93 with Quebec intergovernmental affairs minister Jacques Brassard, I clearly indicated that the Government of Canada would support an amendment proposal if a reasonable consensus existed in Quebec and if the affected minority agreed.

This consensus was expressed in two unanimous votes in the National Assembly. Indeed, the Government of Quebec and official opposition members testified to this consensus during the joint committee hearings.

Regardless, the fact that no public consultations dealing specifically with the constitutional amendment took place in Quebec raised doubts as to this consensus. That is why the government insisted that interested groups and individuals be heard. In fact, the joint committee said this was one of its primary concerns. These groups and individuals came in large numbers and were given the opportunity to express their views.

The committee noted that the Assembly of Quebec Bishops is not opposed to the amendment. The Quebec Federation of School Boards which represents all Catholic school boards in the province also supports the amendment. The same is true for the Provincial Association of Catholic Teachers and the Centrale de l'enseignement du Québec.

On the whole there is every indication that the vast majority of Catholics are open to the proposed change. That support is not unanimous, as evidenced by the opposition of the Coalition of Denominational Schools. However, it could not be expected that the challenging of the rights and privileges entrenched in the constitution for 130 years would be supported by all.

Nevertheless the government and the committee believe that a broad consensus exists among Catholics who are not in any case a minority in Quebec and will still be able to express their opinion through democratic means.

A substantial consensus seems to exist among Protestants too. Since this will be the most directly affected group, it is important to ensure that a majority of the members of this group support the amendment's objective. The Anglican Church came out in favour of the amendment, as did the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers.

Protestants are not speaking with a single voice. Objections raised by French speaking Protestants must be noted. Testimonies heard by the committee do show however that a reasonable consensus in favour of the amendment exists in this community and that is what the committee concluded.

Many other groups testified before the committee. The vast majority of these groups supported the constitutional amendment proposal. To name a few: the Fédération des comités de parents, which is the largest parents' group in the province, the Coalition pour la déconfessionnalisation scolaire, which is comprised of 40 organizations and claims to represent more than 2 million people, every central labour body in Quebec and representatives from the Jewish and Arab communities.

To conclude, based on the foregoing, there is no doubt that the consensus required to amend section 93 of the Constitution does exist. And that is what the joint committee concluded in its report following these consultations. It reads: “Based upon the evidence received by this committee, there appears to be a consensus amongst Quebec Protestants and amongst Quebec Roman Catholics in favour of the amendment. Overall, it appears that, although some witnesses expressed their concerns with respect to the proposed amendment, there is a consensus in Quebec society supporting this change”.

It is now up to us to act on the joint committee's recommendation and adopt the resolution to amend section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867, as proposed in the House of Commons on October 1, 1997.

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Reform

Rahim Jaffer Reform Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will not be using my entire allotted time because I feel that the issue has been given a fair amount of attention and that many of the key issues have been explored in depth. I would suggest that all members of the House read the majority and minority reports put forward by the joint committee addressing the issue. In these reports my colleagues will find arguments both for and against the proposed amendment.

I support the proposed amendment to section 93 created and passed unanimously by the Quebec National Assembly. I will ultimately be voting in favour of the amendment as recommended by the Special Joint Committee on Quebec Schools.

The Reform caucus believes in free votes when it comes to matters that involve certain moral considerations. While I believe the issue is primarily a legal one, I appreciate the opportunity to be able to respectfully disagree with some of my colleagues.

While I have not polled my constituents directly on the issue, it is my belief that our party's commitment to returning education to the exclusive domain of the provinces would move all of them to support the amendment as well. Furthermore the amendment affects only the province of Quebec in any direct and meaningful way, which is why I believe the constituents of Edmonton—Strathcona have shown little interest in the matter.

The message I have heard is that what Quebec does with its schools should be its own business, provided fundamental rights are not violated.

Putting aside the issue of provincial jurisdiction before making my decision on the matter, I asked myself three questions which I believe are fundamental to the proposal.

The first question I asked was of a legal nature. Is section 43 the right way to approach the amendment, or should the general amending formula be used in the matter?

The second question I asked was political. Is there some evidence that the elimination of section 93 as it applies to Quebec has broad based support?

I also asked a related question. Is there support for the establishment of linguistic school boards in Quebec?

The final question I asked was a moral one. Does section 93 protect religious freedoms, and would these freedoms suffer in Quebec with the passing of the proposed amendment?

I would like to address the use of the section 43 amending formula. There is some concern it is inappropriate when applied to the proposed amendment to section 93. Instead it is argued that a general amending formula, or the 7 and 50 formula, should be used to facilitate the changes to denominational schools.

It is not only argued that this would be more appropriate, but also that it is the only legal approach to the proposed constitutional change.

Ideally the question should have been put to the supreme court as was called for by the Leader of the Official Opposition. However it did not happen and we must now deal with the question in the House.

From the perspective of a constitutional layman it would seem that section 43 is appropriate in this matter. The section 43 amending formula is used for constitutional amendments that apply only to a single province. In this case the single province is Quebec.

The counter argument has been made that the elimination of section 93 will lead to the elimination of denominational schools across Canada because section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will prevent public funding for these schools. Because of this, it is argued that the general amending formula involving all provinces should be used.

However the amendment to section 93 is not the removal of section 93 from the Constitution. It is an amendment that affects only Quebec in any direct and meaningful way. It may admittedly create a precedent for other provinces, but whether or not the other provinces choose to act on this precedent is entirely their choice. Therefore the specific proposed amendment cannot be said to affect religious educational freedom in the rest of Canada.

For this reason I believe that section 43 is applicable in this case.

On the matter of consensus, Quebec seems strongly in favour of setting up linguistic school boards. Even if it seems less likely that it supports the proposed amendment to section 93, such support probably exists.

I am pleased consultations were held in Quebec on establishing linguistic school boards. I was disappointed, however, that they were not held specifically on the proposal to eliminate section 93 as it applies to Quebec. My question to my colleagues is as follows, however: Since it is clear that most Quebeckers are in favour of establishing linguistic school boards, why are they so concerned about how the end they also want is achieved? In other words, I do not think it really matters to most Quebeckers just how the linguistic school boards are set up, as long as they are.

To get back to the matter of consensus, many groups stated that section 93 protects minority rights. They said, on the one hand, that most Quebeckers object to the proposed amendment and, on the other, that the amendment is an example of a majority oppressing a minority. We could say that minority rights are an issue here, but this argument cannot be used in conjunction with the argument that there is no consensus on the amendment.

To put the matter of consensus to rest, I would point out that the unanimous consent the National Assembly accorded the proposed resolution indicates that there is vast support for it. It is unlikely that all politicians from all parties would ignore public opinion. Every time parties agree on an issue, I think it is because the issue raises little controversy. That may not always be true, but I think it is in the present case.

Let us move on to another point. If the proposed amendment is passed, I fear Quebec and the rest of Canada will lose the right to freedom of religion.

That is really the crux of the matter. If freedom of religion were infringed on, a consensus among Quebeckers would not be justified at all.

Having heard the testimony received by the committee, I believe that section 93 is not essential to protect freedom of religion. In fact, it could run counter to this objective.

In a pluralistic society like ours, should the government collect money from Muslims, for instance, in support of Catholic religious teaching? I think not. Under section 93, however, the government could continue to support Christian religious teaching at the expense of other faiths. Is that how we want to promote freedom of religion in our schools?

Our party is often cautioned against using hypothetical cases to make a point. I will make an exception today.

Let us say that section 93 is designed to protect the freedom of speech instead of denominational education. If section 93 protected freedom of speech, but this right was granted only to Protestants and Catholics, one could argue that it recognizes a privilege, not a right, enjoyed only by these two groups. Rights must be universal, otherwise they cannot be considered as rights. Therefore, the exclusive right conferred by section 93 is prejudicial in that it actually impinges on the right to religious teaching.

In addition, sections 21 and 36 of Bill 109 in Quebec provide for religious teaching where numbers warrant. It appears to be necessary to carry out reforms to ensure that the wish to receive religious teaching is duly recognized and taken into account. However, this seems to be another administrative problem that could easily be resolved at the public's request.

A provincial campaign to promote the right to choose among schools whose funding is prorated, or chartered schools, is the only way to help ensure that religious teaching remains an option and this can only be achieved by repealing section 93.

To conclude, I think that matters relating to education should be exclusively under provincial jurisdiction. I think that the amending formula used to expedite the adoption of this bill is a lawful one. I believe there is in Quebec a political will to establish linguistic school boards. And I know that religious freedom in Quebec will not be threatened if section 93 is repealed. I am therefore in favour of this amendment.

I strongly recommend that my colleagues, the hon. members of this House, respect the wish of the Quebec National Assembly and heed the advice of the joint committee. I urge them to vote for the proposed amendment.

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, first I want to thank the previous speaker and I hope his voice will be heard by his fellow party members, so as to create a movement which, hopefully, will reach the Reform Party's top level. Who knows, maybe the leader of the official opposition will surprise us by supporting the constitutional amendment.

This amendment was the subject of numerous debates. The issue before us is deeply rooted in Quebec—I believe the minister said it six times in his speech—since the Parent report was released. Indeed, since the mid-sixties, all Quebec governments, regardless of their political colours, have tried to modernize the province's education system, and this is what we are talking about.

I am grateful to the minister for emphasizing—as he did throughout his speech—that the issue does not concern linguistic rights. Those interested in linguistic rights should read chapter 8 of Bill 101, which contains the information relating to the language of access for the majority and the minority.

The fact is that a majority of Quebeckers feel that school boards should be structured along linguistic rather than religious lines. We could not overemphasize the fact that, unfortunately, some people tried to muddle the real issue, for example by comparing the situation of francophones outside Quebec with that of anglophones in Quebec. I believe that all committee members clearly realized that, as parliamentarians, our duty was to understand the objective sought by the National Assembly.

This is somewhat of a precedent since the National Assembly, which is the only authority that can speak on behalf of Quebeckers, was unanimous on this issue. And all of us here should understand the meaning of the term “unanimous”. It means that when Pauline Marois, the member for Taillon, rose in the National Assembly to vote in favour of the motion, so did the member for Marquette. When parliamentarians vote this unanimously, you can be sure we are on solid ground.

There were, it will be recalled, consultations in Quebec City, because the very purpose of the parliamentary committee on Bill 109, which was also unanimously approved, was to look at the establishment of linguistic school boards. If we were to go a step further, and compare all the witnesses who were heard in the Quebec National Assembly with those who appeared before the joint parliamentary committee, it would be seen that there were, to all intents and purposes, no witnesses who were not heard either in Quebec City or here in Ottawa. So those people who thought there had been no consultation must think again and acknowledge that there was extensive consultation in Quebec.

Therefore, it is clear that there are two aspects to the motion now before us. First, the preamble to section 93 says that education comes under provincial jurisdiction. Everyone, of course, understands that Quebec does not want this preamble revoked since, as far back as 1953, the Tremblay Commission pointed out in no uncertain terms how essential it is for Quebec to have full and complete jurisdiction over the education sector, education being obviously linked, as we know, to identity.

Second, paragraphs (1) to (4), which are based in history, will no longer apply to the territory of Quebec. What this therefore means is that Quebec will simply no longer have a constitutional obligation, particularly with respect to the cities of Montreal and Quebec, to maintain denominational structures based on numbers—I would remind members that, when we have denominational structures in Montreal and Quebec City, there is no numerical criterion, and the right to disagree exists outside these cities—if we as parliamentarians approve the resolution before us.

Why do we think this is important? Why did a man like Claude Ryan, when he was Minister of Education and the MNA for Argenteuil, finally try to modernize the Quebec school system? Claude Ryan is a respected intellectual in Quebec society. Of course, he is no sovereignist, everyone knows that and I must say that, personally, I do not have much hope in that regard. Everyone knows that Claude Ryan is a respected and respectable individual. He even submitted the issue to the Supreme Court. He was constantly faced with this challenge, with the overbearing presence of section 93, especially subsections (1) to (4).

What this means is that when we vote today, and I think it is important to make this clear, it will be so that school boards can be organized along linguistic lines.

I insisted strongly in the joint committee on what this means for Montreal. We all know that Montreal is in a very particular situation. Montreal is where immigrants go; 80% of the immigrants that come to Quebec settle in Montreal. Every year Montreal welcomes close to 35,000 immigrants, or 15% of Canada's total immigration. Close to 225,000 immigrants come to Canada each year. Quebec has traditionally been open to immigrants, a tradition that is based of course on a low birth rate, but there is also a fundamental belief—and this is what the Bloc has been saying since it arrived in this House—that immigration is a force that contributes to the renewal of a society.

About 80% of immigrants settle in Montreal. For both historical and contemporary reasons, the majority of these immigrants enrol their children in English and Protestant schools. What is good about the amendment on which we will be voting is that French schools will truly become public schools, especially in Montreal. This is an objective that must be clearly understood.

Again this will change nothing as far as admission requirements for the anglophone minority are concerned. Bill 101 provide for some very clear rules on which we did not always agree. In the early 1980s, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling requiring the Quebec legislator—and I am sure the Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs will remember this—to replace the Quebec clause with the Canada clause. Recognizing this legal obligation, the Quebec legislator agreed to amend Bill 101, even though the National Assembly was not enthusiastic about it.

So today it is the Canada clause that applies in Quebec. This means that children whose parents received their primary education in English in Canada can enrol their children in English schools in Quebec.

It is very important to understand why this amendment we will be adopting, I hope, will help not only to modernize Quebec schools but also to strike a better balance in the greater Montreal area.

One of the arguments that was repeated again and again in our debate, but to which no one could reply adequately, concerned the principle under which the legislator could guarantee constitutional rights to two religious denominations. Why should Catholics and Protestants, in 1997-98 and in the year 2000, benefit from a form of favouritism? Both the Canadian and the Quebec charter mention the freedom to worship. In a law-abiding society with charters that are constitutional or quasi-constitutional obligations requiring Quebec to guarantee certain rights, one must ask under what principle Catholics and Protestants should be treated with favouritism.

For example, some witnesses reminded us that there were close to 80,000 Muslims in Montreal, and that they are required to enrol their children in a Catholic or a Protestant school, which is contrary to their religious beliefs and I think this is wrong.

It must, of course, also be kept in mind—and it is important that this point be made perfectly clear—that what we are talking about is taking religion out of administrative structures, out of the school boards. It is a good thing to debate the place of religion in the schools and I have some very definite ideas on the subject, but this Parliament is not the one to deal with that.

The Minister of Education, Mrs. Marois, a most extraordinary woman, has mandated a task force headed by Professor Proulx to report to the National Assembly on the place of religion in Quebec in the year 2000. When that report is tabled there will be public hearings, the holding of which is a tradition in Quebec, and the stakeholders will have an opportunity to be heard. At that time, there will be a debate within Quebec society on the place people want religion to have.

What we are speaking of is the end of denominational school boards. We are very optimistic on all sides that the amendment on which we will be voting in a couple of hours will be passed with a strong majority.

The next stage will be that, next year, parents such as those with children in Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc school in Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, will be given the opportunity at the beginning of the school year to choose between religion and ethics, and that will remain unchanged. Where the place of religion in the schools is concerned, parents will fully retain their right to demand a Catholic education for their children. This is a right which is, as we know, also given in section 41 of the Quebec Charter of Rights, which has quasi-constitutional value. In due course, the issue will be debated in the National Assembly.

We have also received all possible representations by eminent constitutional experts. As you know, constitutionalists have done roaring business of late in Canada. They came to us with the opinion that the vehicle was appropriate, for there had been some doubt on this. I know that the official opposition had been assailed by doubts at a certain point, but no constitutional expert could be found to state that section 43 was not the right vehicle.

We know that the 1982 Constitution is complex, hair-splitting even, concerning amendment formulas, since there are five possibilities. We have gone from one extreme to the other, because there was no amending formula for over 100 years. Canada was one of the few countries that had a written Constitution but no amending formula. And now we have a complex and convoluted amending formula offering five options, but, in this case, I think we are making no mistake. We made no mistake as members of Parliament or as members of the committee in stating that, following the representations made before us, the amending formula was the right one.

I also want to stress the fact that a debate was held in Quebec society and that there is a coalition representing some two million people. That is not insignificant in a democracy. There are not too many issues in which a group may come before a committee and say “I am speaking on behalf of 43 organizations”, including school administrations, unions, the CEQ and parents' committees. All of them share the same vision for things and want us to pass the amendment before us. These people are speaking for their individual organizations, and together represent two million people.

That is something pretty important and should move all those members who doubt a debate was held and think that the amendment has garnered little support in Quebec society. I hope they will be convinced, because there is obviously a lot of public reaction on this issue in Quebec.

The other thing that must be taken into consideration is the anglophone community. It represents first of all Quebec's national minority and that will be the case in a sovereign Quebec. I am among those in my party who think that the constitution of Quebec must make more provision for the rights of the anglophone community than was made in 1995.

The minister was very eloquent and I was really pleased when he made the following statement before the parliamentary committee. Of course, political reality will prevail, but the minister was right when he said very eloquently that, from kindergarten to university, the speaking community has access to an integrated school system and control over its structures and institutions.

It comes as no surprise—and it must be pointed out—that, generally speaking, the English speaking community strongly supports the amendment, for two reasons. First, because it provides increased access for that community and, from a management perspective, it means more control than the English speaking community currently has. This is very important. Moreover, it will put an end to the rivalry between the anglophones enrolled in Protestant schools and those enrolled in Catholic schools. It will allow them to consolidate their network and, of course, the teaching resources involved.

What did Mrs. Chambers tell us? In case you do not know her, Mrs. Chambers is the sister of philosopher Charles Taylor. In 1992, the Quebec government approached Mrs. Chambers and asked her to head a working group on access to the school system for anglophones. Something stands out very clearly when you read the Chambers report. The report says that Quebec's school system is not integrated, that there are a number of English language schools, but that the coherence the amendment will provide if it is passed is lacking at present. The Chambers report also asks for the so-called universal clause, but this is a different issue which is outside the scope of this debate.

So, there was a debate on this issue, which has deep roots in Quebec. Senator Thérèse Lavoie-Roux, a woman who speaks her mind, as members of the parliamentary committee noted—some parliamentarians, though not I, even compared her to Tatie Danielle—told us that the issue of linguistic school boards had already been raised in the early sixties. She reminded us about the Pagé report and the unified school boards, which are related to the issue before us today.

If there are people in this House, particularly Reformers or members who were not here during the last Parliament, who think the issue was not debated in Quebec, they are mistaken, in my opinion. The amendment was adopted unanimously, which is somethingquite rare in politics.

We also have to act quickly, since the measure will have a concrete impact on the Quebec school system. While there were 158 school boards before, there will now only be 75, which means that these school boards' boundaries will have to be redefined. The change also involves a different registration process and the redistribution of buildings between school boards. Therefore, it is important to act as quickly as possible, so that by July of next year the registration process and organizational restructuring can have been completed and that by next September linguistic school boards can be in place.

I thank all members of the House, beginning with the minister, for their real co-operation. I do hope the same spirit of co-operation will prevail when dealing with other issues.

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of the amendment to section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

This motion is particularly important because it proposes a constitutional amendment. We must always proceed with great caution when amending provisions of our Constitution, for the impact will be felt for generations to come.

I had the pleasure of sitting on the committee responsible for studying the constitutional amendment. It was my first experience on a parliamentary committee and I must say how much I appreciated the cordial atmosphere that characterized the committee's proceedings. As a rookie in the House of Commons, I found it an excellent opportunity to learn from senators and members with many years' experience. The committee's work was truly motivated by a desire to arrive at a solution that would best serve the interests of Quebeckers and of Canadians.

I would like to thank my colleagues, who spent much time and effort during these three weeks in order to ensure that the groups affected by this amendment could be heard.

During the three weeks the committee sat, we had a chance to meet with a broad range of groups both in support of and opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment. There was not complete consensus, as the Quebec government had led us to believe. A number of religious communities and linguistic groups are opposed to the amendment to section 93 because they are afraid that the rights they have acquired will disappear.

The special joint committee on the Quebec school system therefore had an important job: to consult the people of Quebec and of Canada in order to ensure that all points of view were expressed and heard.

Before looking at all those in favour of the constitutional amendment, I would first of all like to speak about those groups that are opposed. Numerous religious and linguistic groups travelled to Ottawa in order to make their concerns known.

The groups opposed to the amendment to section 93 expressed serious concerns about the status of minority rights in our Canadian society if the amendment is passed. If these rights to education can be constantly revisited with very little public consultation, other minority rights are also vulnerable. They argue that there is a great danger that minority rights will be withdrawn based simply on the will of the majority. This is why it is important to hold public hearings where all sides of the issue can be heard. The Government of Quebec refused to hold public hearings on this issue and the minority concerned hardly had the opportunity to make its views known.

The minorities in question are the Protestants. In Quebec, there are the Protestants and the Catholics. In Quebec, Protestants were the minority. Those groups I heard in committee were minorities of minorities.

As legislators, we often forget that we represent the people. We should never be afraid to consult the people. They put us here and they can take us out.

I realize that the Government of Quebec had a strict timetable to follow, but it has no excuse for not setting up public hearings where people could have expressed their views, especially when the issue is the amendment of our Constitution. Lack of consultation is harmful not only to those groups who cannot have a voice, but also to the health of democracy in our country.

By consultation, I mean consultations through public meetings prior to the implementation of such changes or requests for change.

Despite these difficulties, it is important to note that minority rights in Canada are not being compromised. Amending section 93 of the Constitution is a specific issue that affects Quebec only. It has no impact on the rights of other minority communities in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada.

Groups opposed to the amendment also told us of their concern about losing their denominational schools. It should be noted that the purpose of amending section 93 is the abolition of denominational school boards in the cities of Quebec and Montreal. The proposed changes do not prohibit Catholic or Protestant schools. Rather they affect how schools are managed.

I am concerned that acquired rights are being withdrawn to please the majority. In my riding of Acadie—Bathurst, people fought long and hard to ensure that francophone schools in the communities of Saint-Sauveur, Saint-Simon et Sainte-Rose remain open.

Let us not forget that people took to the streets in protest when the government attempted to close the schools. This is why I say that I am very concerned whenever changes are proposed to the Constitution. We must keep in mind that the RCMP used dogs, tear gas and nightsticks against children and parents. This is why I feel so strongly about constitutional changes affecting schools.

Our children's education is a very sensitive issue. When new strategies on the management of our school systems are put forward, we should make sure that all aspects have been examined, hence the importance of consulting the public through public hearings.

I believe that the present situation in Quebec is one of the very few exceptions allowing us to question the privileges granted Protestant and Catholic communities. Let us not forget that section 93 protects only two denominational groups in two cities. This means that people in the Gaspé Peninsula, for example, enjoy no protection at all under section 93 as pertains to denominational education. Furthermore, all other denominational groups have no protection under section 93. The cultural context of 1867 may have justified the protection of only two denominational communities but the multicultural character of Quebec in 1997 could hardly justify protecting some communities and not the others.

There may not be unanimity in Quebec about section 93 but there is nonetheless a large consensus. Even the denominational groups that are affected support the amendment of section 93 because an amended section would better reflect Quebec's cultural and linguistic reality.

The Provincial Association of Catholic Teachers, which represents 3,000 teachers from 25 school boards in Quebec, supports the constitutional amendment because, under the current system, the English community is divided between two school systems.

It argues that religious education and denominational schools are still possible if the parents request it. Amending section 93 and setting up linguistic school boards will meet the needs of both the and the French community. Most groups that came before us believed linguistic school boards were a must.

If the Protestants and Catholics who are affected are in favour of amending section 93, it would be irresponsible on our part to ignore such a consensus.

In spite of this fairly obvious consensus, our Reform friends would like a referendum. Do they not realize that a referendum cannot reflect the minority's interests? We are talking about minority rights here; the will of the majority is only part of what we have to consider.

I would be more concerned about supporting the amendment to section 93 if all the political parties in Quebec were not in agreement. However, when the National Assembly debated this issue, it was passed not only by a majority vote, but unanimously: 103 to zero. We all know in this House how difficult it is to achieve unanimity on a particular issue. If the National Assembly succeeded in securing unanimous consent on such controversial issues as language and religion, it must be recognized that voters as a whole had to be in agreement too.

I had another concern during committee hearings. When we speak about denominational schools, we are speaking about the importance of communicating, through the school system, values that are fundamental to us. However, we often forget that children are caught in difficult situations when religion is taught in schools.

I have a hard time admitting that Pierre will have to leave the classroom whenever the teacher speaks about Jesus because Pierre is a Jehovah's Witness. We must think very carefully about what it means to teach religion in schools given our present cultural reality. We must respect all the children attending our schools.

I pondered carefully over what was said in committee. I even spoke with several priests in my riding and they think that religious education should be the responsibility of parents and not that of the schools.

The school should definitely convey fundamental values, but the true transmission of values should be done by the family and the church.

One of the most important roles we have as parents is to communicate to our children the beliefs and values that we consider as important. To abandon this responsibility by relying on school teachers to do this job will clearly harm our children.

The amendment to section 93 shows how the federal government can serve Quebec's interests. This situation shows how our country can be flexible in certain circumstances to put forward policies that reflect the specific needs of a province. This co-operation between the provinces and the federal government is the foundation of the Canadian federation and, as a result, Canadians and Quebeckers come out of this as winners.

Even though I support the proposed amendment, I still have concerns about the process that has led us to debate this issue. I have indicated earlier and I will repeat that the Quebec government should have consulted the people of Quebec through public hearings.

The special joint committee, here in the federal Parliament, only had two weeks to hear witnesses. Because of the deadline that had been set, some groups had some difficulty coming to tell us about their concerns. Amending the Constitution should not be an exercise to be taken lightly and two weeks are not enough to go around such an issue.

Despite these problems, I put my trust in the people of Quebec. If there are concerns that have not been expressed through our committee, I hope the population of Quebec will be listened to.

Fundamentally, the New Democratic Party respects Quebec's autonomy to establish linguistic school boards. The amendment to section 93 will allow the Quebec school system to better respond to the needs of the population of Quebec. We now trust that the Quebec government will establish the new linguistic school boards with all due consideration of the electorate's concerns.

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Progressive Conservative Compton—Stanstead, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to share my experience as a member of the special joint committee charged with examining the resolution to amend section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

I believe we have no choice but to pass the resolution as tabled in the House of Commons on October 1, 1997.

The committee heard over 60 groups and individuals and, in my opinion, the message was clear.

As I said in the House at the beginning of this debate, as a member of Parliament from the Eastern Townships, I have some experience of the issue before us today.

The Eastern Townships have been a lead region with regard to linguistic school boards in Quebec for more than 15 years and, I want to say it again, the experiment was a success. It is a good system that works well.

This has not always been the case, however. I remember, when I was young, the priests used to rule people's lives. When, as a young anglophone, I was going to school, I was not called an anglophone because it was understood that all anglophones were Protestants and all francophones were Catholics. I was simply called a Protestant. My French speaking friends were not allowed to enter a Protestant church, under penalty of eternal damnation.

However, I used to go to the francophone church, the Catholic church, and I realized there were more similarities than differences between us. But the priests kept the anglophones and the francophones, the Protestants and the Catholics, apart.

The Catholic Church put religion into the hands of the schools, into the hands of the State. In my opinion, it has been a bad decision. Why? Because most of the teachers used to be brothers or nuns and Quebeckers were already beginning to move away from the Church, a big issue in terms of family values.

Fortunately, things have progressed. Canadian history is a succession of negotiations and partnerships. These negotiations are still going on nowadays.

Just like what made up the 18th century was taken into account when the Quebec Act was negotiated, what makes up the Canadian and the Quebec societies must be taken into consideration as Canada heads into the 21st century.

In fact, the Quebec society is not made up only of French speaking Catholics and English speaking Protestants. The Quebec society is like the Canadian society, but with a little something extra.

Bearing this reality in mind, the Quebec National Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favour of linguistic school boards. A lot was said about protecting the rights of English speaking Quebeckers. In fact, English will be better protected with linguistic school boards.

I would like to come back to one of the most crucial issues I have addressed before, because it deals with what remains a major concern, which is the fact that the Quebec government is dedicating itself to the independence of Quebec. It is important that decisions made on this issue be based on reasonable grounds, and not made only to assuage the provincial government or because we feel threatened by this separatist government in Quebec.

Also, we should not be making any decision only to frustrate the Government of Quebec. This is an important decision that will affect the children and their parents as much as schools and communities.

I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to sit on this committee and to learn a lot about the Constitution of my country. The House must vote in favour of amending section 93 to make all of this possible.

I want to take some time now to address the dissenting opinion from the Reform Party.

When parliamentary debate began on this subject on October 1, I admitted quite candidly that I had much to learn about the constitutional nuances of my country. Today I can say that I learned quite a lot while I sat with the committee, both from my colleagues and about my colleagues on the opposition side and the government side and, of course, from the witnesses who appeared before the committee. However, I will say again that I have much to learn.

I do not want to say outright that the Reform Party has no feel for my country's history. I do not relish telling the House that the Reform Party has no sense of what Canada is and how Canada came to be. I have gone through the Reform Party's dissenting opinion and I feel that it is my obligation to the House and to my constituents to share my findings.

First, the Reform Party writes “the proposed amendment will eliminate the right to denominational schools, a right that has been protected since 1867”. I expect that Reform members will not know about how that great event in 1867 came to pass. Accommodation and recognition of the need for accommodation predates 1867. In fact, the Quebec Act of 1774 provided accommodation between the partners of what we now call Canada. There has always been negotiation in Canada. Indeed, that is what Canada is all about. Of course, I am no expert so I do not think it is my job to say that the Reform Party does not know what it is to be Canada.

Second, the Reform Party writes that changing the constitution should never be done lightly or in haste. This puzzles me. Is this is the same party that when addressing the issue of changing the constitution to address Newfoundland schools in this House just over a year ago led the chorus of “dispense, dispense”? The Reform Party and, in all fairness, the government were in a rush to change the constitution then. As an opposition party, the Reform Party did nothing.

Third, the Reform Party mentions the need for democratic consent to protect minority rights. Does its version of democratic consent not mean majority rule? Is it not the party of referenda?

Must I remind the Reform Party that there was democratic consent in the national assembly, and for this to pass there will be democratic consent in this House and in the other place. I was quite sure this must have slipped in there by mistake. Those things happen. But then I started to think that maybe what the Reform was trying to say was assent of the minority. This, of course, is not the same thing as its version of democratic consent at all.

However, defending minority rights is not what the Reform Party is known for. In fact, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say the Reform Party has a bad reputation with minority groups right across Canada. Of course, defending minority rights cannot be the message Reform wants to send out. That leads me to number four.

Reform says that it would prefer a provincial referendum. Having just defended minority rights, this one is difficult to figure out. In the same dissenting opinion it defends minority rights and then calls for a referendum.

Of course, I am no expert but does the majority not always win referendums? Is this some sort of joke? Of course, the leader of the Reform Party is not known for his rapier like wit but more his rapier like logic. I think his party has written an illogical dissenting opinion and I do not think it is very funny.

To continue with number five, “It is incumbent on its proponents to show beyond a reasonable doubt that an informed majority of the people of Quebec approve the amendment”. Until this point, the Reform Party's dissenting opinion was just a series of contradictions and a little sloppiness.

I am sad to say that this is where the Reform Party becomes insulting. Is the Reform Party suggesting that officials elected to the national assembly cannot represent informed opinion in Quebec? If this is what the Reform Party is saying, I find it insulting and inappropriate.

I am no expert but I believe it is my job to represent the people of my riding in Quebec just as it is the Reform members' job to represent their constituents.

My constituents are informed. They inform me. I inform the House of their concerns. During the last federal election, the Reform party insulted Quebeckers and politicians from Quebec. Is that the pot it is trying to stir now?

Number six, Reform says that those who oppose should be given a clear opportunity to express their view. This is new for Reform. I am curious to know if the new Reform principle extends to aboriginal people, visible minorities and homosexuals.

This new Reform principle allows minorities not only to express their point of view but to be heard in a proper forum. Not being an expert but knowing the Reform Party as I do, I wonder if this too slipped in here by mistake.

If it is meant to be there, I am happy to hear this and I will be watching to ensure the Reform Party upholds its new values.

Number seven, Reform says that the committee should not be expected to decide this matter in haste. I am in complete agreement with that statement. I am happy to see the Reform Party finally sees merit in considering important matters fully.

I wonder if now it has changed its position on the necessity of the Senate of Canada and the sober second thought it brings to parliamentary matters.

The other place has what is called a suspensive veto. This provides for the opportunity for revisiting constitutional endeavours. As long as there is a Senate there are no artificial deadlines. Thank goodness for the Senate of Canada. I am thankful that the Reform Party sees eye to eye with me on this.

Number eight, the Reform Party complains that there was not enough time to study this matter, that it was done lightly and in haste. It suggests that a court decision would have settled the legal issue.

Again, I am no expert but I do not want to unfairly criticize anybody. It is becoming obvious that the Reform Party does not understand the role of Parliament. Parliament makes law. That is what it means to be a legislator.

It seems to me that the call for a court to decide on this issue is a complete abdication of governance and a complete abdication of leadership.

Number nine, in addition to number eight, Reform calls for the best legal advice available. I am sorry to hear that the Reform Party leadership is not confident in its ability to obtain or produce good legal advice.

In our caucus we have good legal advice. We have parliamentarians who meet their responsibilities head on. I am personally grateful to Senator Gerald Beaudoin, a noted constitutional expert who has been most helpful on the committee, helping everyone better understand the issues.

The Reform Party should have listened to him more closely. However, if the Reform Party is looking for the best legal advice available, I invite it to call on our House leader or even our party leader.

Number 10, the Reform Party mentioned guarantees that were vital to the passage of the British North America Act. Again, I do not want to point out Reform's complete misunderstanding of Canadian history, but as far as I know the passage of the BNA act took place at Westminster and quite frankly there were very few people there.

Perhaps what the Reform Party means is that it was vital to the negotiation of the BNA act, but if that is what the Reform Party meant to say, then why did it not say that?

Number eleven, I do not mean to tell the Reform Party what it surely already knows. Although if the Reform Party was aware of this, I do not know how the following got in here. Maybe just another error. These things happen. Once again I quote “provincial statutes are clearly inferior to constitutional provisions protecting minority rights”. It obviously should not be me informing the Reform Party of this.

Less than two weeks ago the Supreme Court of Canada listened to a case, Vriénd v Alberta. In this case the province of Alberta, and if I am not mistaken the Reform Party draws much of its strength from there, stood before the Supreme Court of Canada to defend its refusal to extend protection against discrimination in its human rights legislation. In short, the province of Alberta is arguing that its provincial statute is clearly superior to constitutional provisions protecting minority rights, prohibiting discrimination.

Either there is a blatant area in this dissenting opinion or the Reform Party is in direct opposition to the province of Alberta. In one two-page document the Reform Party insults Quebec and contradicts Alberta.

Number twelve, the Reform Party says compelling reasons for amending the constitution have to be made and then adds no such case was made to committee. Again, I am no expert but I do recognize when a two page document contracts itself over and over.

Earlier in the same document the Reform Party says “we do not question that an overwhelming consensus has been shown”. I do not want to say that the Reform Party does not know what it is talking about, so I put the question forward. Which one is it, an overwhelming consensus has been shown or no such case was made? Surely the Reform Party understands that it cannot be both.

It is not my place to say that Canadians are used to the Reform Party's contradicting itself, but in a two page document you would think that it could get it straight.

It appears its left hand—no, let me get this straight—its right hand has no idea of what the other right hand is doing. The committee heard from more than 60 organizations and individuals, anglophones, francophones, Protestants, Catholics, Jews and aboriginals. There was a strong case made to amend section 93. I suppose the Reform Party was not watching. Maybe it was not listening. Maybe the translation was not working.

I am still learning in Ottawa. It seems to me that Canada is not some box, all segmented, neat and tidy. Canada is messy, Canada is confusing. We are all here to better understand Canada and to make Canada better.

I do not want to say the Reform Party does not understand Canada, but the Reform Party's dissenting opinion is contradictory, uninformed and without merit.

I hope this helps the Reform Party reflect on its dissenting opinion. I invite the Reform Party to reconsider its position and make the recommendations of the committee unanimous.

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I was disappointed that the hon. member spent half the time of his speech on this important historic constitutional amendment making cheap, sarcastic, partisan remarks which were entirely out of place in this debate.

There is a time for that kind of thing in this House but this is not one of those times. This hon. member stooped to pretty low levels in his comments.

One of his first comments was that the Reform Party does not understand his Canada. It is not just his country, it is mine as well. It is our country. I understand this history pretty darn well. Before this debate started I read the Confederation debates from cover to cover. I challenge the member or any one of his caucus to go up in a history test anytime with the hon. Leader of the Opposition who probably knows more about the history of this country in the compact of Confederation than virtually any member of this place.

Sir Charles Tupper said in 1896 that without the guarantee of section 93 for the rights of minorities being embodied in the new constitution, we should have been unable to have obtained any confederation whatever.

What the hon. member is seeking to remove from the constitution today in terms of its application to Quebec is the basic compact of Confederation in the words of the supreme court, in the words of Peter Hogg, our pre-eminent constitutional authority. Part of my objection to this amendment is predicated on our history, on our historical recognition of the rights of minorities and the confessional rights of parents to send their children to the educational institution of their choice.

The hon. member talked about consensus. He said that the members of the national assembly were acting responsibly and demonstrating democratic consent. What about the quarter of a million Quebeckers who signed a petition objecting to this amendment? What about the coalition that represents 600,000 Quebeckers that came before the committee objecting to this amendment? What about half the witnesses, francophone witnesses, Catholic witnesses, Protestant witnesses, witnesses with many different backgrounds who are opposed to this amendment because it removes and extinguishes forever a basic constitutional right and a basic civil right, the right of parents to choose the education of their children? What about those witnesses?

They were not represented at the national assembly because it did not have hearings. It would not know what they had to say about this. There has been no debate about the confessionnalité implications of the removal of section 93. And this member preens on members of Parliament acting responsibly.

I sat as an associate on the committee and I recall this member hardly being at even half the hearings. I do not recall him being at the clause by clause review where we wrote the majority report, where Reform made many positive and constructive amendments which found their way into the majority report. I do not recall that member asking a single question of a witness before that committee, so I do not need to be lectured by that hon. member when it comes to the responsible exercise of our parliamentary responsibilities.

I will ask this member a question. With all partisan nonsense aside, does he not recognize that when we remove section 93, the full force of the charter will apply to the Quebec education system and that if we are to take the judicial precedents in Ontario as a guide we will see that the confessional education elements of the Quebec education act will be found unconstitutional? Does he not recognize the almost unanimous legal opinions brought before the committee that the confessional elements of the Quebec school system will be threatened by the charter if section 93 is removed? Forget the partisan stuff. Does he recognize that or not? If he does recognize it, why is he prepared to undermine the confessionnalité of the Quebec schools that the vast majority of Quebeckers wants to maintain?

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Progressive Conservative Compton—Stanstead, QC

Madam Speaker, I will first answer a couple of quick questions to be clear. I was there when the bill was drafted. I think the member saw me there. I do not understand—

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

I never heard you, that's why.

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Progressive Conservative Compton—Stanstead, QC

Do not forget I was last on the list. We had three senators there. I was taking my information from them. The member does not really understand. That is why I will go back to the basics.

What I am looking for here is the best for our kids in Quebec. I am a Quebecker. I go back seven generations in Quebec and I am looking for the best we can get for our kids. Our school system right now in my area is linguistic. It works well. I know it is going to work. It is giving the minorities a chance. That is why the minorities were going there.

We did not see minorities coming out of areas like Montreal where they do not have it right now. They do have it in our area and it works. That is the bottom line as far as I am concerned. I want something that works that will be the best for the kids.

The hon. member's stuff is in here. I do not know why he is complaining about it. He wrote it down. This is dissenting opinion.

Amendment To The Constitution Of Canada (Quebec)Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I was not going to speak on this but I decided to when the hon. member got up. This is very close to my work throughout my entire life. He suggests we do not know anything about this problem we have.

I suggest to him that the word conservative in the histories of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta as it relates to the school system is a bad word. It is a bad word. So any time a Conservative stands up and tries to tell me that Reform does not know anything about this country I will tell him this. We know a whole lot about the country that he has forgotten or he never knew.

I have in my possession petitions signed by constituents who know what their forefathers went through in the formation of the province of Saskatchewan. There are some from Manitoba as well who say that we should take great care preserving that section. They do not want a repeat of history. They do not want a repeat of Conservative governments in the provincial house in Saskatchewan ordering minorities to close their doors or to take out certain textbooks. Alberta does not want it and certainly Manitoba does not want it.

The three prairie provinces are satisfied with their school systems. Even the slightest minorities are given an opportunity. I want to preserve that. Saskatchewan in total wants to preserve it. We do not want somebody messing around, providing a little break in the armour so that minorities could some day be challenged by another Conservative Party. God forbid that.

I am saying clearly that I have looked at the matter and taken the advice of my people, the people whom I represent. They are worried about the toe getting in the door once more. The minority rights they have enjoyed for three generations could conceivably go out the window. It is not just a one province debate. It covers all of Canada.