House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

First of all, I have taken full note of the debate this evening. I followed it from the lobby and in the House. I am heartened by the fact that members on both sides of the House have such a keen interest in pursuing this issue.

The member for Drummond who sat on the committee in the last Parliament that dealt with C-47 has done a valuable service by reintroducing this bill in the House because it has begun to focus the attention of all members. In fact, she will know that the minister and the department were already focused on the issue again.

Taking a look at it and the principles associated both in her bill and with Bill C-47 which preceded it in the last Parliament, it is I think the intention of all members in the House, of course, with the minister and the department to ensure that the bill which did not make it through the entire legislative process in the last Parliament will be revisited again. This would take into consideration at the same time all the changes that have transpired in the interim.

While the member for Drummond introduces this as an amendment to the Criminal Code, she will of course acknowledge, as I think she has today and in the past, that this is a most important social and health issue.

It will be dealt with as an issue that pertains essentially to the health of Canadians everywhere, particularly as did Bill C-47 to women and children. They are much more the focus of Bill C-47.

I think the member has done a service to the House by ensuring that those of us who are new to the issue can come back, revisit it in its principles, its details and in its particulars. I am hoping that members will be as co-operative when the bill is reintroduced in the House as they have been tonight.

I thank all members for intervening in the debate.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

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.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, on November 17, 1997 I asked the government, in light of the millions of dollars and the forced apology of the Liberal government, who was responsible for the Airbus affair scandal. Scandal is the appropriate word.

I also asked the government when it would withdraw the bogus letter and accusations which were sent to the Swiss authorities. It appears that the Liberals, when faced with the reality that they have done something completely wrong and at a cost to Canadians—needless to say this is not the first time nor the last—they refuse to answer questions, and the word helicopters comes to mind.

Canadians know better. Canadians know that the Airbus affair was political revenge from the Liberals extracted upon a man from whom they had been stealing ideas and programs since they were elected in 1993. I mention free trade and GST as a few examples there.

Canadians deserve answers when the cost is millions of dollars from skulduggery. The former prime minister was recklessly and falsely described as a criminal in a Canadian document which was sent to a foreign state which obviously the CBC and the RCMP bought hook, line and sinker.

The government acted on the fictional prose of Stevie Cameron and the mysterious Mr. Pelossi. The Government of Canada admitted that there was no basis for the conclusions, apologized to Mr. Mulroney and paid his legal fees.

Yet, the letter falsely accusing him is still in circulation and the government refuses to withdraw it. On top of that, the RCMP say they are still investigating, incredibly and increasingly so I am told.

Is this truly in the criminal investigating tradition? Is there any likelihood of conviction? What are the reasonable and probable grounds that will even bring this to a charge?

Many journalists last November said that this was an astonishing expression of cruelty and personal attack on Mr. Mulroney by the government. Sadly enough, this is only part of the continuing scandal.

Corporal Mike Niedubek of the RCMP came out last November and said something that people already knew, that was that the whole thing was highly political and that the RCMP were being asked to cover up a government mistake.

Staff Sergeant Fiegenwald, the designated fall guy, has mysteriously disappeared from the scene, something that the former Minister of Justice said that he lamented.

Here we are again. The government is faced with a very important issue which relates directly to integrity and accountability. It is all talk and no action.

I would like to pose some very serious questions that need answering. Who among the cabinet knew and were responsible for this scandal? Why is the government fighting so hard at the supreme court level to retain the anonymous and arbitrary power to exercise search warrants against Canadians abroad without judicial review, something two courts have already ruled on?

When is the government going to withdraw the letter containing the false allegations which they admitted were false? Why is the RCMP still conducting this abortive, futile and ill-founded investigation for which there has been no basis?

Further, how many more resources—and I am talking about money and manpower—will be sunk into this farcical witch-hunt? Who speaks for Canadian taxpayers on this issue? When the investigation grinds to its inevitable halt and no conclusions are reached, who will be held accountable?

If they are really investigating, why has Mr. Mulroney never been questioned?

Will the government do the right thing, clear the air on this sordid affair and call a public inquiry into the Airbus scandal? If the Prime Minister and the present Minister of Health had no roles in this affair, surely there is nothing to hide. When this happens, Canadians will be allowed to finally see the truth.

I have to ask the question: What is the government afraid of? If the Prime Minister and his government really cared for this country and the reputation of fairness and democracy, they would themselves call for a public inquiry and present themselves as witnesses.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec


Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to assist the hon. member one more time in bringing forth the actual facts in the case and to familiarize him with international assistance in legal and criminal matters.

Police agencies must follow a clearly established process to seek the assistance of another country when carrying out an investigation.

When a police force is conducting an investigation which takes it outside Canadian borders, the police force's request must be channelled through the international assistance group of the Department of Justice.

This group is a Canadian authority administering incoming and outgoing requests for assistance from and to other countries. The group's main focus is to ensure that the requests for assistance meet the legal requirements of the country receiving a particular request or those of Canada in the case of incoming requests.

In the Airbus affair, the international assistance group sent a request for mutual legal assistance to Swiss authorities on behalf of the RCMP. The RCMP was and is responsible for this investigation. It was always clear to both the Canadian and Swiss authorities that the request for mutual legal assistance contained allegations that were the very subject of the police investigation.

So that this would be perfectly clear, this point was repeated several times. Certain turns of phrase wrongly left the impression, however, that the conclusion had been reached that there had been some form of embezzlement.

The Government of Canada apologized for this and reached an out-of-court settlement with Mr. Mulroney.

In addition, changes were made to the mutual legal assistance process in November 1995 to ensure that this does not happen again. For example, counsel within the international assistance group will now review all requests to consider whether they contain conclusory statements or statements inconsistent with the investigative nature of the request.

The statement reached by the parties, I repeat, in January 1997, speaks clearly to the inappropriate language of the letter. It specifies that the letter is part of an—

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The hon. member for Qu'Appelle.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, on the 22nd of October last I asked the Minister of Finance about bank service charges and whether or not he would work toward bringing down bank service charges on behalf of ordinary Canadians.

Since then, of course, a lot has happened. We have had reports of bank service charges being excessive. We all know they are very regressive. They hit all Canadians in the same way. Whether wealthy or poor, people pay the same for a particular transaction. That is why these service charges should be investigated, not just by the Minister of Finance, but by a parliamentary committee of this House representing all five Canadian parties which have been elected by the people of Canada.

These service charges are regressive. We should have a certain number of service charges which are free of cost to every single Canadian, like they have in some American states. After eight, nine or ten charges there could be a fee. I think that a basic life-line account such as that would be a very progressive step.

Since that time, of course, we have seen a number of other things occur. We have seen the profit reports of the banks. Their profits in the last year were the highest ever in the history of this country. The profits amount to $7.5 billion. Those are very high profits. Surely to goodness the banks can afford to reduce their service fees for the ordinary and poor people of this country. There is no excuse whatsoever for them not to do that.

It is interesting to see the government across the way defending the big banks, rather than saying to the big banks “Reduce your service charges”.

Since then we have had the proposed mega-merger between the largest bank in the country, the Royal Bank, and the third largest bank, the Bank of Montreal. It is the largest proposed merger in the history of the country in terms of corporate Canada. The two banks are worth about $40 billion in terms of their stock market value. They have assets under their control totalling over $450 billion. Yet the Minister of Finance will not give the Canadian people or the Parliament of Canada a parliamentary committee to look into the proposed mega merger until next fall. That is a real shame. The people of this country deserve to make a decision on whether or not this merger goes ahead.

If this merger goes ahead it will set off a chain reaction. There will be more mergers not only in banking but in other financial institutions including the insurance industry. The doors will also be open for more foreign banking into this country. If our banks are going to be in other countries around the world, then our doors will also be open to foreign banks coming into Canada. Eventually we will have the foreign takeover of the Canadian banking system and the establishment of financial supermarkets across this country.

That is why we need a parliamentary committee with full hearings into this merger, a parliamentary committee that would travel around the country and allow the Canadian people to speak their minds. I hope after we get that process going we can convince the Minister of Finance to say no to this merger. This merger should not go ahead. It is not good for Canada. It is not good for the future of this country. We need a public forum to help convince the Minister of Finance that is the way Canadians feel.

In my comments I wanted to wrap the merger issue and the bank service charges issue into one. We need that parliamentary committee with the power to travel the country, to hear witnesses, to subpoena the banks, to provide a forum for ordinary Canadians, to televise those hearings. That is what parliamentary democracy is all about. It should be the representatives who are elected to come here by the people of the country who make very important decisions. It should not be the Minister of Finance by himself.

The government must approve the mega merger. The competition bureau has to approve the mega merger. A new bank licence has to be issued, but that should be done only if it is approved by the Parliament of Canada in a very transparent, open and democratic way. That is what I am calling for in the House this evening.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.

Stoney Creek Ontario


Tony Valeri LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, the government recognizes the importance of Canadians having access to a broad range of services at reasonable prices. The government does not generally regulate the prices that financial institutions charge for their services. We believe consumers are best served in an environment where financial institutions have to compete for business and where consumers have access to sufficient information to make educated choices.

For this reason our focus has been on promoting the clear and thorough disclosure of information relating to service and service charges on an ongoing basis. This helps reinforce the legislative requirements for financial institutions to disclose fee information when a deposit account is opened and when fees are changed.

Consumers can shop around for the account or products that best suit their needs. There are a number of competing financial service providers to choose from which include Canadian foreign banks, trust companies and co-operative credit associations. They offer a wide variety of account packages ranging from low cost no frills packages to specialty premium packages.

However, the government recognizes that on occasion consumers find it difficult to compare charges across institutions. As a result we are working with the banks and Industry Canada to simplify and improve dissemination of fee information. The government continues to monitor this issue to see if there are additional areas in which we can help consumers.

The task force on the future of Canadian financial services will also be examining the issue of interest to consumers of financial services and is scheduled to report back to government in the fall of 1998. At that time this government will instruct a parliamentary committee to consult with Canadians. Unlike the NDP, we will not allow banks to set government agenda. We are firmly in control of this agenda. ATM does not stand for approve the merger with respect to this government. It does stand for approve the merger when it comes to the NDP.

As the minister has said on numerous occasions, we will consult with Canadians at the appropriate time, and we certainly look forward to the interventions by the hon. member at that time.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

7:15 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, the funding crisis affecting our colleges and universities threatens more and more young Canadians every day. Tuition fees are rising and federal funding is shrinking. The post-secondary education institutions of this country are increasingly becoming establishments for the rich and privileged.

The impact of federal cuts to post-secondary education are quite clear. Reductions in federal transfers of over $2.29 billion since 1993 have driven up tuition fees by 240% in the last 10 years.

Average student debt is now $25,000. In 1980 Stats Canada reported that tuition fees comprised 13% of university general operating income. Tuition fees paid in 1995-96 accounted for an average of almost 30% of general operating income and as high as 40% for universities in Nova Scotia.

Access to post-secondary education is being severely compromised and there is no getting away from the fact that the Liberal government is largely responsible.

It is shocking to hear the pious concern expressed by the Liberal government while more and more students are graduating into poverty. The recent national day of action organized by the Canadian Federation of Students was a clear demonstration of how students really feel about the hypocrisy and the cutbacks.

In a 1997 survey of high school students in the maritimes, 40% of students not going to university said they were not going because they could not afford it.

Young people are told how important it is to have a post-secondary education but then they get hammered with huge costs and debt. According to the CFS increases in tuition fees are now one of the major causes of inflation. What is the government's response? We have the announced millennium fund. What a convenient name but it does not help students who desperately needed assistance yesterday. They cannot wait for the year 2000 to suit the Prime Minister's political timetable.

We in the NDP believe that urgent changes are needed now to deal with the crisis of post-secondary education funding. Student aid must be grounded in the following principles. Accessibility must be a new national standard in higher education. Principles of accessibility and affordability must guide any reforms. Student aid must be based on need rather than on merit. A national system for grants for post-secondary education must be a priority with a tuition freeze.

Will the Liberal government admit that the millennium fund is a misguided political exercise? We do not need yet another scholarship program. Students need a national grants program now based on financial need.

I challenge the federal government again to follow B.C.'s lead and institute a national tuition freeze. It can be done if there is political leadership and commitment to make post-secondary education affordable and accessible. Students deserve nothing less. Student debt must be reduced and tuition fees frozen, combined with a national grants program. Does the government have the guts to really stand up for young people and advance the principle that post-secondary education is a right, not a privilege to only those who can afford it?

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

7:20 p.m.

Kenora—Rainy River Ontario


Bob Nault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Madam Speaker, let me begin, as I have on a number of other occasions, by reminding the hon. member that education, including the establishment of tuition fees, is the responsibility of the provinces.

The Government of Canada cannot intervene directly in this matter. That is not to say, however, that this government does not recognize the financial difficulties of students. We do and we are taking action. The Government of Canada has been listening to concerns of young Canadians who are anxious about job prospects and about the level of student debt.

In addition to supporting post-secondary education through fiscal transfers, the Government of Canada provides support of $1.4 billion to 340,000 post-secondary students through the Canada student loans program.

In terms of student debt, the government took a number of important measures in the last budget to help ease the debt burden. One was the interest relief that was extended from 18 months to 30 months. Education credits have been enriched. The registered education savings plan has been increased from $2,000 to $4,000 to help parents save for their children's education.

Students will also benefit from greater opportunities to pursue research careers in Canada through the creation of the $800 million Canada Foundation for Innovation.

In the throne speech the government also promised to continue to reduce barriers to post-secondary education through further changes to the Canada student loans program, increased assistance for students with dependants and new scholarships to encourage excellence and to help low and moderate income Canadians attend university or college.

On Tuesday the budget will be before the people of Canada. Obviously we would not be talking in the Speech from the Throne of ways of helping students if we had no intentions of following through on our commitment. The member opposite should wait until Tuesday to see where this government goes.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7.25 p.m.)