House of Commons Hansard #230 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.


Report Of Commissioner Of The Environment And Sustainable Development

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to section 23(3) of the Auditor General Act, I have the honour to table in the House of Commons the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development for 1999.

This report is permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

It being 11.07, the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 14, 1999, consideration of the motion, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties and the member for Rosemont concerning the taking of the division on Motion No. 381 scheduled at the conclusion of Private Members' Business today. You would find consent for the following:

That, at the conclusion of today's debate on Motion M-381, all questions necessary to dispose of the said motion shall be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, May 25, 1999, at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders.

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the bill relates to something that is at the forefront of a number of people's minds. It deals with the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Tragically there are a number of people in our country who are suffering from debilitating diseases or are in the process of dying who need hospice care and therapeutics to relieve their suffering. In some cases we have been unable to prevent the suffering they endure in their dying moments or in their time of need and some of those people have turned toward smoking marijuana to relieve that suffering.

We do not know if the effects of marijuana consumed under those conditions are due to a medical or therapeutic effect due to the intrinsic pharmaceutical property of marijuana or whether this is a placebo effect. As a physician, I personally do not care. In my view, if somebody is dying they should be able to participate in whatever it takes to relieve their suffering as long as it does not hurt anybody else.

We have no interest in legalizing marijuana or any other currently illegal drug for general consumption. Some would disagree, but the reason for this is that there is an overwhelming body of evidence to show that marijuana is a harmful drug.

There are over 200 substances within marijuana. Some of those substances do have a detrimental effect to a person's functioning in the short term and in the long term. This is particularly profound among children who sustain cognitive disabilities as a result of the chronic consumption of marijuana. We have no interest whatsoever in furthering that. In fact, we would like to prevent it. The bill deals with the medical use of marijuana.

The government needs to work with the medical community and stakeholders to ensure there is a well defined group of people allowed to use marijuana under certain conditions. We do not want this to become a loophole whereby people can say they have a headache and need to take marijuana.

I congratulate the Minister of Health for asking the Department of Health to undertake studies on the medical effects of marijuana under these circumstances. We would like to do our best to ensure people are taking substances based on good medical science and not for other reasons.

Another problem in our country is how we are dealing with the overall drug consumption. We tend to try to manage these problems rather than to prevent them. I have spent quite a bit of time working in drug rehabilitation and detox centres. What we are doing right now by and large simply does not work. Our response to the terrible problems that drugs are inflicting on our society is to try to prevent this when teenagers are doing it or when adults are doing it. We try to deal with the management of the problem rather than dealing with children very early on in trying to prevent it.

We, along with other countries, invest a lot of money internationally trying to deal with the countries that are producing it. We try to deal with the peasants in Columbia and in southeast Asia who are producing and growing poppies in order to get money to put bread on their tables. Who can argue with these very poor people who want to be able to grow these drugs in order to survive? I would argue that most people in similar circumstances, being faced with abject poverty and an inability to care for themselves and their families, would do whatever it took to ensure that occurs.

To invest money on that side is a losing proposition and we have been unsuccessful. We spend a lot of money dealing with the producers of drugs rather than dealing with the demand. We and other countries must focus more on preventing the consumption within our own countries of illegal substances such as pot, heroin, cocaine, Ritalin, T's and R's and a kaleidoscope of illegal drugs used by many people. If we put more money into prevention to deal with the demand within our own country the supply would have to dry up. If nobody would want to consume the substances production would have to stop. Rather than investing huge amounts of money in drug interdiction in other countries like Columbia, Burma and others, we need to look closer to home and try to deal with our consumption.

We found out that if we start dealing with children very early on when they are eight to ten years of age, we will get the best bang for our buck. Dealing with children early on will have the most profound effect on our future ability to prevent children and therefore adults from consuming drugs. The head start program has had a profound effect in parts of our country, in particular in Moncton, New Brunswick, and in other parts of the world such as Ypsilanti, Michigan and Hawaii. The Minister of Labour has been a leader in pursuing this as has the secretary of state for youth who has taken a very big interest in this issue and has pursued it with great vigour.

If we all get behind the concept of a national head start program that uses existing resources, we can start dealing with children in the first eight years of life. We will deal not only with consumptive practices in teenagers and adults, but we will also try to address the very important issue of fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol effects and the effect of drug consumption while a woman is pregnant. This is no small problem. The leading cause of preventable brain damage in our country is fetal alcohol syndrome. It is epidemic.

The problems for people suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome cannot be understated. These people have an average IQ of 68. They have physical deformities. They have a number of other problems such as cognitive deficiencies. When children who have FAS of FAE go to school, their ability to interact with their peers, to study in school and to concentrate is marred forever. They have irreversible brain damage.

When the child tries to interact at school teachers are often ill equipped and under tasked to deal with them. The child becomes marginalized. The child does not get the help the little one needs and progressively becomes more isolated. Developmental and behavioural problems occur which can manifest themselves not only in behavioural problems at school but also tragically can lead to drug consumption and criminal behaviour.

It is a terrible vicious cycle which is very difficult to break. Imagine if that cycle could be broken and the child's brain had never been damaged by being subjected to alcohol and drugs in utero. The child would have a fighting chance and could potentially be on a much more level playing field.

I implore the government to look at the national head start program. Look at what the Minister of Labour has done. Look at what the Secretary of State for Children and Youth is doing on this issue. Work with members across party lines to prevent social problems rather than to manage them. The benefits of doing this are dramatic on a number of levels. They found a 50% reduction in youth crime and a 40% reduction in teen pregnancies which is a one-way route for poverty usually for both the mom and the child. They found a massive decrease in welfare. Children stayed in school longer.

In short, the head start program dealing with existing resources, strengthening the parent-child bond, teaching parents how to be good parents, learning the importance of play, discipline, setting boundaries, ensuring that children's basic needs are met, the importance of nutrition for a growing child all sound basic, but members would be surprised how many communities across the country lack them. We have to address this now. The longer we do not deal with the preventative aspects for children in the first eight years of life, the longer we will have the tragic situations we see in so many communities today.

In closing, the motion is a good one. It needs to be applied to the medicinal use of marijuana. We would like to see medical studies to substantiate this. We would also like to ensure that this is not going to be a route to legalizing marijuana which we are opposed to.

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Thornhill Ontario


Elinor Caplan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the control of marijuana today from the legislative standpoint and legal obligation. The legislative challenges are imposing but the government is committed to meeting them. The focus of my debate today will be exclusively on the use of marijuana for medical purposes and on the legislative and international commitments to which Canada is deeply committed.

The medicinal use of marijuana is not only a complicated medical and legal issue, it is a complicated legislative issue. Any move to relax controls over cannabis brings into play domestic laws and international treaties, violations of which bring very serious consequences. The legal realities cannot be ignored. That is why I am speaking to the subamendment that has been proposed. It is troublesome from the obligations and legal realities especially of international treaties.

Should marijuana be used for medical purposes it must be done without undermining domestic efforts to control the illicit marijuana market. Canada cannot contravene important international agreements that combat the global trade of illicit drugs. In view of this commitment as well as many other concerns, the government is now preparing a plan specifically intended to help Canadians who are suffering facilitate access to marijuana for medical purposes only.

Allow me to outline these legal obligations and how our agenda for research will address them in Canada.

Cannabis is controlled under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the narcotics control regulations. The CDSA has a clear purpose to control substances that can alter mental processes. These are substances that can harm the mental health of individuals in society if used and distributed without appropriate supervision. The CDSA therefore prohibits the production, importation, exportation, distribution, sale and possession of marijuana in Canada.

The narcotics control regulations meanwhile permit exceptions to the control of substances if certain conditions are met. The regulations authorize the granting of licences to permit the manufacture, import, transport and distribution of narcotics, including marijuana, for medical and scientific purposes. The current regulations therefore permit the use of marijuana for medical and medicinal purposes. The narcotics control regulations contain mechanisms to grant appropriate licences and so on and so forth.

In short, the use of marijuana for medical purposes is already possible, provided the product is of good quality and originates from a licit, that is a legal, licensed supplier and is distributed and used in a proper scientific or medical context. That is where we run into the complexity of this issue. We face many difficulties relating to the securing of safe, legal, that is licit, and reliable sources of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Canada must comply with international obligations under a series of treaties designed to control drugs worldwide. I will expand on this very briefly. For cannabis to be used in therapeutic situations it must originate from a legal source and be of medicinal quality.

The government cares and has compassion for Canadians who are suffering from serious illnesses. For this reason our plan will include access to a safe quality supply of marijuana. We do not want Canadians to gamble with their health in using drugs of unknown quality and drugs which may in fact do more harm. As well, its distribution would need to comply with the requirements of the food and drugs act and regulations to ensure product safety, efficacy and quality.

Health Canada is exploring avenues to provide Canadians with access to medicinal marijuana in a controlled medical setting. In fact Health Canada has already taken the initiative of exploring and possibly securing legal, licit, quality sources of marijuana for medicinal use for the vital research we want to conduct.

There are a few countries, the United States and others, where marijuana is being legally cultivated in limited quantity under strict government control specifically for its use in research. Researchers can obtain marijuana from those sources. The domestic supply here in Canada is also being explored.

The cultivation of marijuana in Canada however involves more than domestic health and safety issues. International obligations must be met. Marijuana is controlled primarily by the 1961 United Nations single convention on narcotic drugs. Canada is a signator and we have ratified that convention. Under this and other conventions, Canada is obliged to exercise control over production and distribution of narcotics and psychotropic substances. We must combat drug abuse and illicit trafficking and report our activities to international bodies. These are our treaty obligations.

As well I would point out that at the present time there is no scientific evidence on marijuana's medicinal values and the safety or efficacy of marijuana. This has not been established in any country.

The government is committed to enabling scientific research into the potential benefits and hazards of marijuana. We want to compile the needed evidence to meet our legislative challenges, and they are many as I have outlined, but more important to help Canadians who are suffering and those who are terminally ill and who feel medicinal marijuana might be of benefit to them. We want to help. It must however be done without compromising Canadian standards for health, safety and security.

I am sure hon. members would agree that this is a prudent yet compassionate and carefully considered plan of action.

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Maurice Dumas Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 381, presented by my colleague from Rosemont, which reads as follows:

That...the government should undertake all necessary steps to legalize the use of marijuana for health and medical purposes.

As the Bloc Quebecois critic for seniors and seniors' organizations, I would like to congratulate the Fédération de l'âge d'or du Québec, the FADOQ, which has supported the application for the legalization of marijuana for health and medical purposes.

It has indicated its support by encouraging the Minister of Health to work expeditiously in this matter. The federation's decision was unanimous, that is 18 members of its 18 member board of directors espoused the cause, while noting that they did not encourage the use of drugs either natural or synthetic.

I should mention that the federation represents nearly 275,000 seniors in Quebec and that its outgoing president, Philippe Lapointe, a very lively 85-year old, is from my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

In addition, we note that seniors are speaking out more and more. They are defending their ideas and their rights. This year, 1999, has been declared the International Year of Older Persons, and this week is seniors' week. I would also like to mention that the fourth World Conference on Aging will be held at the Montreal Convention Centre from September 5 to 9, 1999.

I reiterate my request to the public at large, so we may obtain as many signatures as possible on the postcards the Bloc Quebecois sent out to make people aware of this issue. In fact, the Bloc Quebecois send out over 10,000 postcards, and the response has been positive.

People cannot be insensitive to the suffering of thousands of people in ill health. Many patients who might use this medication are currently forced to take many pills a day and are at risk of becoming sick to their stomach. In a 1997 CTV-Angus Reid poll of 1,500 adults, 83% of Quebecers and Canadians were in favour of legalizing the use of marijuana for health purposes.

The National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation, the Canadian AIDS Society, the Canadian Hemophilia Society, the Coalition québécoise des organismes communautaires de lutte contre le sida, and the dailies Le Soleil , Le Devoir , Le Droit , The Globe and Mail and The Ottawa Citizen all support this initiative.

This is an issue of compassion. The chairwoman of the board of the Vancouver Compassion Club, an organization with a membership of over 700 individuals, also supported the motion. She signed the postcard sent to federal parliamentarians, asking them to support the motion to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The club is a non-profit organization which has been providing safe and high quality marijuana since 1996 to seriously ill individuals.

I addressed this issue on December 9, 1997, before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. At the time, I asked the Deputy Minister of Health to provide clarifications on the use of marijuana for health purposes in the fight against AIDS, to alleviate the suffering of AIDS victims.

I raised this issue following representations made by Jean-Charles Pariseau, of Hull, who regained some strength after inhaling marijuana. Mr. Pariseau is a terminally ill AIDS patient. He uses marijuana to relieve nausea and stimulate his appetite. His attending physician, Dr. Donald Kilby, from the University of Ottawa's health services, supported his representations.

Today, Jean-Paul Pariseau will be protesting in front of Parliament, here in Ottawa, and I want to salute him and reiterate my support for his cause.

Fortunately, there are some judges who are showing some compassion. The Ontario court has already found part of the Narcotics Act to be unconstitutional, particularly where the use of marijuana for health purposes is concerned. Another Ontario judge has recognized the right of a Toronto man, Terry Parker, to grow and smoke marijuana for his own medical use.

It is hard to call upon judges to make a decision on a societal debate. It is unacceptable for a chronically ill person to be liable for six months in prison, in addition to a $1,000 fine, for using medication that may have been recommended to him by his physician.

As I said in my first speech in this House on the legalization of marijuana for health and medical purposes, there have been a number of changes in federal policy on drugs in Canada. The first federal legislative measure in this area, in fact, dates back to 1908 and was particularly aimed at those who smoked opium.

The Minister of Health needs to do more than mandate federal public servants to submit a plan including the holding of clinical trials. He seems incapable of setting any real and reasonable deadline.

In conclusion, I must again point out that this is a matter of compassion. I am proud that the Bloc Quebecois has raised this matter for the first time with Motion No. 381 by my colleague from Rosemont, and I strongly encourage all hon. members to support this motion.

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the New Democratic Party to thank the member for Rosemont for bringing the motion forward.

It was interesting to hear the government side speak about the fact that we must concentrate on health care and health care matters when it was the Liberal government that took $21 billion out of health care spending and replaced only $11.5 billion after five years. In many ways I wish the government would back up its statements and arguments with the resources that are required.

It is also ironic the Minister of Health recently said that there would be studies and clinical tests on the medical use of marijuana for those who have serious illnesses. It is just being done now. Marijuana has been around for thousands and thousands of years and in 1999 the federal government is to conduct studies and clinical tests on the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

I do not think any one in the House could actually dictate to people who are seriously ill, who have AIDS and other ailments of that nature, what they should and should not do to feel better. Yes, we have to put precautions in place. Yes, we have to make sure that the safeguard of all Canadians, especially when it comes to their health, is paramount in any decisions that the House makes or in any recommendations from individuals.

However, we have to take ourselves out of our suits once in a while and place ourselves in the position of those people who are severely disabled through various diseases, especially, for example, when it comes to the issue of AIDS.

In the United States 36 states out of the union have passed legislation endorsing the medical use of marijuana despite a federal U.S. ban. I am sure that ban is in place as the member from the Liberal Party indicated. There are cross-country obligations and international treaty organizations which have to be adhered to in the legal matter. If the Canadian government really wished to and if the people of Canada were really behind it, ways could be found to speed track the issue forward so that relief could be found for those people.

As the father of two young girls there is no question I am very concerned about the future of Canada, what substances will be adhered to, what will be in the schools and playgrounds and everywhere else. The relaxation of any concern when it comes to their health is very serious.

We should try to assist people who are seriously ill and have relied on alternate means of remedies to achieve relief from their pain and suffering. This is one reason the motion brought forward by the member for Rosemont is very appropriate at this time.

I wholeheartedly encourage the government to go forth with its studies in terms of the medicinal use of marijuana. I encourage the member for Rosemont to continue the debate to bring this very serious issue to the forefront.

These are issues which a lot of people do not like to talk about because they give the perception of being seedy subjects. People think we should not be talking about issues of this nature. The House of Commons is exactly where issues of this nature should be discussed and where regulations and legislation should be passed. This is where people on all sides of the debate should have an opportunity to discuss such an important subject.

I trust we will have a pleasant time in the House for the next four weeks as we debate this issue and many other important issues brought before the House.

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

May 25th, 1999 / 11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Nova Scotia for the brevity of his remarks so that I might participate. I say at the outset that the Progressive Conservative Party agrees with comments which have been made with respect to Motion No. 381 put forward by the member for Rosemont. This is an issue of compassion.

A very important comment was made by a previous speaker regarding the government's tendency to borrow opposition motions and previous governments' initiatives. Although no one has a patent on good ideas, Canadians have witnessed a government that has established a record of policy plagiarism.

The hon. member for Rosemont brought forward a motion which calls upon the government to bring about change in our health care system, our medical practice, that would allow for the medical prescription of marijuana in pain control. The most important point to keep in mind about the issue is that the motion is aimed at those who are affected and are currently suffering from very serious illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, MS and glaucoma. These individuals are suffering every day and it appears very little can be done with current medical procedures to ease the pain and ease the mind, particularly knowing that many of these diseases are fatal.

Forcing people to acquire a painkiller like the currently illegal marijuana certainly adds to the mental anguish. We are on the horns of a classic dilemma. We have a legally restricted activity, a social wrong that was created by law, yet a humane need to ease suffering.

I want to be clear. My position or that of the Conservative Party should not be mistaken as advocating drug use for any non-medical purpose. In fact it is quite the contrary. We are advocating a shift in the approach taken to the enforcement of drug use, particularly marijuana that is used for a very limited purpose, that being the medical tranquillity of suffering.

The key words here are health and medical purposes. We are talking about the compassionate use of a substance which is presently illegal in all circumstances. A number of substances are currently being used in the practice of medicine which are prescribed by doctors quite often to control pain, substances such as codeine, morphine and heroin which are perfect examples of drugs that in other circumstances would certainly be deemed illegal. Heroin, for example, has been used with a doctor's prescription since 1985 to ease the pain and suffering of Canadians fighting side effects of illnesses.

We can separate crime from medicine with very definitive, decisive laws. Further research may lead to a chemical production of a byproduct of marijuana which might be taken in a different form, that is taken orally through a pill. The use of a drug to relieve pain in those suffering from terminal illnesses, not for recreational use, is the aim of this motion. Delay in bringing this about will cause further pain and suffering for those afflicted.

On May 6 Jim Wakeford, a Toronto man suffering from advanced AIDS, applied for and finally received permission from Health Canada to use marijuana after fighting in the courts for years. Courts have recognized the humane need. Legislators like the Parliament of Canada should lead, not follow, on an issue such as this one. We cannot make criminals out of those needing our compassion or those who are trying to ease suffering.

The Compassion Club of Vancouver, also mentioned in the debate, supplies marijuana at no cost, free, solely to ease the pain of sick people on the lower mainland. This club is illegal but receives referrals from agencies of individuals suffering from AIDS or multiple sclerosis. It is a secure environment with a very good quality of marijuana, unlike that often found on the streets which might be laced with another substance.

The health minister promised in March that he would take steps toward helping seriously ill Canadians who require medical access to marijuana. The guidance document makes no reference to the severity of illness. It does not distinguish between terminal and non-terminal cases. There is a number of ambiguities.

The health minister is simply taking too long. Hilary Black, the Compassion Club founder, has stated that the slow speed of the minister's initiative means that more people will have to come into her clinic. Those individuals will continue to suffer until legislation is passed.

A fast response and a strict guide or criteria are needed, as is a clear definition that doctors' prescriptions will be granted therefore avoiding litigation, confusion and further delay.

A number of facts about marijuana have been touched upon already. One matter to keep in mind is that when it comes to glaucoma it reduces eye pressure, which reduces pain. It reduces spasms in victims who are suffering from multiple sclerosis. It reduces nausea in the treatment of cancer patients. It helps alleviate depression and regain appetite in those suffering from AIDS. There are no real side effects, aside from some dulling of the senses. As we know, some of the side effects from the horrific treatments which are undergone, in particular I am thinking of radiation, are sometimes worse than the actual symptoms of the illness the patient is suffering.

The Canadian Medical Association since 1981 has advocated the decriminalization of the possession of marijuana. It is encouraging to see that we in this place and in other parts of the country are finally catching up. The Canadian Police Association has taken a very positive view of this step. There are certainly noble reasons to permit the medical use of marijuana.

The Canadian Medical Association however recommends that the federal government, with respect to the jurisdictional aspect, move toward changes in our Narcotics Control Act and our Food and Drugs Act to keep up with this current trend. This position raises concerns about the herbal medicine aspect and the fact that it cannot be patented. The association states that there is a possibility that there will be exploitation of research if guidelines are not put in place. The government can address these problems and make changes to other legislation which will have to be amended.

There is also concern, I might add, on a number of levels, one being the chemical content that may come into play. These plants vary from plant to plant with respect to dosage. There is also concern about the standardization and the reproductability of clinical trials which will be problematic when it comes to putting the medical use forward. It would be almost impossible to conduct blind trials without having some consistency in the approach. There is also concern about the delivery of the drug and it not being reliable from patient to patient as the dose depends on the delivery technique.

These are obviously scientific matters that will have to be addressed in order for there to be consistency and in order for there to be safety, one of the underlying elements which always has to be kept in mind.

There is concern as well about research in this area. Quality research, random control trials and a guide to decision making are very appropriate when it comes to the needed standardized approach. There is no consistency in terms of the product available at this time. The dosage, the length of use and the possibility of addiction are areas that will have to be further researched.

Different drugs will have a different effect on individuals. There is also the aspect of the synergistic effect that marijuana might have when taken in conjunction with other chemicals and in consideration of a person's bodily make-up.

The patient's perspective is something that has to be emphasized. A person who requires marijuana and feels the physical need to use it to reduce suffering even with the mental effect it has certainly legitimizes the efforts to move toward the decriminalization of marijuana for this very limited purpose.

We cannot ignore that drugs are a consistent problem in today's society, but this is not a step toward legalizing marijuana in its entirety. I do not advocate that position at all. With the checks and balances that are needed there seems to be an opportunity before us. If the government is diligent and forward looking in its approach I am sure we can move this matter forward.

We support this initiative cautiously and encourage the government to move swiftly and decisively. I congratulate the member for Rosemont for taking this initiative and we look forward to further debate on the issue before the House.

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Pursuant to the order adopted earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the said motion are deemed put, and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders later this day.

Orders of the day will commence at noon.

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think you might find the consent of the House to suspend the sitting until 12 noon.

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Legalization Of Marijuana For Health And Medical ReasonsPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11.46 a.m.)

The House resumed at 12.00 p.m.

Public Sector Pension Investment Board ActGovernment Orders


Hull—Aylmer Québec


Marcel Massé LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

moved that Bill C-78, an act to establish the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, to amend the Public Service Superannuation Act, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, the Defence Services Pension Continuation Act, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pension Continuation Act, the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act and the Canada Post Corporation Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-78 is a necessary piece of legislation which makes major changes to public sector pension plans. This bill substantially alters our pension plans as we know them today.

I would like to start by addressing the beneficiaries of those plans, who may have heard, among the various arguments advanced in recent weeks, a number of falsehoods surrounding the amendments the government is planning to make. Please allow me to set the record straight.

First, our employees must know that all the benefits for which they have paid throughout their careers will be fully guaranteed and maintained. There will even be certain improvements under the new legislation, which will result in better benefits.

At the end of the day, the government decided to act, its primary interest being to safeguard and improve the financial future of these pension plans. Our employees and those who have retired from the federal public service can thus be assured of the future of their pension funds.

There is no doubt in my mind that our current public sector pension plans must be brought in line with the new realities.

We have been and always will be concerned about fairness both toward our current and past employees and toward taxpayers. Historically, under the Public Service Superannuation Act, the government and its employees have shared the cost of the pension plan according to a 60:40 ratio. The increase in CPP contributions has gradually changed this ratio which is now 70:30 and which would have reached 80:20 in 2003 if the government had not decided to act now.

The government really wants to ensure the long term viability of these pension funds and to improve their financial management. The government also wants to ensure a more balanced relationship between employees' contributions to these funds and those put in by the government as the employer. This is a question of justice and equity for employees and for Canadian taxpayers, which is the very reason behind Bill C-78.

The three current pieces of legislation that govern public sector pension plans impose limitations that other governments and certain private sector firms have already eliminated. We are a government that is respectful of the individual and, as such, we must be fair and equitable with all.

It is difficult to justify that government employees are sheltered from increases to CPP while other citizens are not. It is also difficult to justify that Canadian taxpayers must continue to pay a larger and larger share of the pension plans of government employees as well as finance any possible deficits in those plans.

It is also unfair that taxpayers should be paying more and more to provide for their own retirements while public servants are paying less and less. The principle of fairness must be the same for our employees as it is for Canadian taxpayers.

In recent years, the pension plans of the public service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Forces have accumulated a surplus of approximately $30 billion.

I have said it before and I will say it again: this surplus belongs to the taxpayers of Canada since they have covered and absorbed all the deficits incurred by the pension funds of government employees. They have assumed all the risks.

Bill C-78 will thus make it possible to take into account both surpluses and deficits and will establish mechanisms for disposing of future surpluses. Existing surpluses will gradually be reduced to an acceptable level over a period of up to 15 years.

What would happen in future if surpluses were to accumulate? It would be the Treasury Board's responsibility to determine how those surpluses would be used; for example, by a reduction of contribution rates.

Naturally, if there were to be a mutual agreement to share the risks with employees, I am certain we could establish a co-management arrangement to share any potential surpluses in the future.

Bill C-78 will also ensure the long-term financial viability of our employees' pension funds by establishing a public sector pension investment board, which will be charged with investing future employer and employee contributions in the financial markets. Investing contributions in diversified portfolios will yield a better rate of return, thus guaranteeing a better future and controlling increasing costs.

This new board will be completely independent of the government and the participants in these plans. It will thus be entirely free in its investment decisions. Other public sector pension plans in Canada have already been investing contributions in the financial markets. This board will be of benefit to our employees.

Our employees have nothing to lose and everything to gain with this new organization. If the performance of the investments I have just spoken of fail to meet expectations, I can assure employees that they would receive the same pension as that provided for under the plan to which they have contributed during their careers.

The government guarantees the integrity of the benefits provided through its employees' pension funds. Bill C-78 re-establishes equity between taxpayers and government employees in terms of the funding of these pension plans. It strengthens the long term viability of the plans and will endeavour to reduce the costs for all contributing members.

Bill C-71, the Budget Implementation Act, also proposes improvements to the Public Service Superannuation Act, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act.

In the future pension benefits will be computed on the basis of the average annual salary for the five best consecutive years covered, compared to six years under the current plan. In simple terms this means better benefits for our employees.

Bill C-78 sets out a series of technical amendments, which will enhance the benefits associated with the pension plans of federal employees. It will also reduce the contribution rate for the supplementary death benefit plan and the employees' group insurance plan and will increase benefits.

Bill C-78 will also grant survivor benefits to same sex partners. The Government of Canada would thus be making the provisions of these pension plans similar to those of several public and private sector plans. For example, I am thinking of the Ontario municipal pension employees retirement plan, or similar plans which have been modified in New Brunswick or in Saskatchewan. I can even think of private companies like Sears, Dow Chemical or Shell.

Furthermore, I would note that the approach adopted in Bill C-78 is supported by the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in M vs. H.

I am satisfied that the changes we are planning to make to the three public sector pension plans are realistic and fair.

I would also remind the House that we consulted with our partners, including the unions, over a long period and were unfortunately unable to reach an agreement on the reforms that needed to be undertaken.

For a long time we have needed to take action and we have taken action. This bill is fair and equitable for both the beneficiaries of these plans and for Canadian taxpayers. This bill will modernize and improve public sector pension plans. I am also fully satisfied that the majority of government employees firmly believe that the government is acting to protect and improve their future retirements.

I hope that all members of parliament will see the necessity for the government to act now, will support the government and will vote in favour of this legislation.

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12:10 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, before I start I wonder if you would seek unanimous consent for me to share my time with the member for Calgary Centre.

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12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member to share his 40 minute speech and divide it into two 20 minute sections?

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12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:10 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I find it rather strange that the President of the Treasury Board would stand and tell us how virtually all the civil servants are behind Bill C-78 and that it is going to be a wonderful thing for the civil servants, the employees of the government, to find out that their employer is going to take $30 billion out of their pension plan. He says they feel good about it. I wonder who he has been talking to. I do not think that very many civil servants are enthused about the idea of the government raiding the pension plan to the tune of $30 billion.

The minister talked about the fair and equitable contents of this bill. I draw the attention of members to an article which appeared in the Globe and Mail today on page 2. The headline reads “Old RCMP pension plan leaves widows stranded”. It states:

Twenty-nine days after Eva Fisk's husband died in 1991, she received a letter from the RCMP. The letter said her husband Albert, a Mountie for 22 years, had not left her a pension. The letter also said she was no longer covered under the federal health-care plan.

“It was horrible, so I threw it out”, said Ms. Fisk, now in her late 70s and living in Victoria. “I was cut off”.

If the minister is so concerned about fairness and equity, I would have thought that he would have provided some redress for this particular situation where widows of RCMP officers are left high and dry with absolutely nothing. Based on the rules of the pension plan in the past they are left with nothing.

The article continues:

The RCMP pension plan was amended in 1949 to improve survivor benefits, but participation came with a price for non-commissioned officers and constables.

Lower-ranking Mounties were required to cash out their principal payments and give up the accrued interest they earned in order to join the new plan. Mounties promoted to commissioned-officer ranks were entitled to keep their benefits under the old plan without cashing out their principal payments.

We have very clear discrimination between commissioned officers in the RCMP and non-commissioned officers and constables who were left high and dry and who were forced to cash out their pension plans, give up all the interest they had earned, while the commissioned officers were able to keep all their money plus the government interest and roll it into the new plan. Has Bill C-78 provided redress for this issue? Absolutely not.

It is unfortunate that the minister would use such words as fair and equitable when talking about this legislation. When their husbands die, widows of members of the most respected police force in the world, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, are left high and dry with nothing.

I talked with the department involved and it said they opted out of the pension plan. They did not want to provide for their widows and orphans. They made that election. If they were single and subsequently got married, they were again given the offer. It is rather strange that we would have the situation where people could leave their family members high and dry and the government would agree to it. It cannot be fair.

I asked the department to assure me that members were given the option to opt in to the widows and orphans section of the pension plan when they married. It said absolutely. Back in those days a person had to ask his employer, the RCMP, for permission to get married. He could not go to the local church and get married without getting permission from his employer.

We have come a long way. People no longer ask for their employer's permission to get married. Common law situations are recognized. Bill C-78 now extends that to same sex relationships. It goes beyond that to basically any relationship of any kind is going to qualify.

I was speaking to a person this morning who asked about the situation of two people sharing an apartment, that one could claim to be the survivor of the other. I said yes but the person could dispute that. We are talking here about survivor benefits. When a civil servant dies and is in the graveyard, his companion or roommate, even though there was no conjugal relationship, could claim survivor benefits and nobody could dispute it. As I have said before, the lawyer before the committee indicated they were going to take the person's word for it. Therefore, even if there was no conjugal relationship, we are going to have to pay benefits in that situation.

It seems that the government wants to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to same sex benefits. It wants to have any relationship whatsoever qualify for survivor benefits, but at the same time it has narrowed it down by defining it as conjugal and cohabitation. How it intends to police that, it really has no idea. It intends to leave it up to the courts.

I think of the M. v H. decision that came down last week. It concerned the Family Law Act of Ontario and dealt with the definition of spouse. The definition as far as I understand it in section 29 of the Family Law Act is either people who are married or a man and a woman living in a conjugal relationship for three years.

Bill C-78 deals with pension plans and defines a relationship as conjugal and cohabitation for one year. I understand there are some circumstances where cohabitation for six months qualifies as a common law relationship. I am wondering how soon it will be that after a one night fling one's pension will be at risk. I am sure that would take some of the enthusiasm out of one night stands. The point is we have to look to where we are going as far as these issues are concerned.

In 1949 if a person wanted to get married he had to ask his employer for permission. That went by the wayside. Then people did not bother to get married. Then it did not matter that it was the opposite sex. Then it did not matter how long the relationship lasted and now it is down perhaps to as low as six months. Goodness knows where it is going to end up.

That is the issue we see on the slippery slope where Bill C-78 is not fair and equitable. It wants to hand out money anywhere and everywhere on relationships that cannot be defined, that cannot be policed, if I may use that terminology.

I am at a loss. It is very disappointing. We as parliamentarians are in the House debating a new law of the land. I expect it will become the law of the land because the government is going to ram this bill through later today. Regardless of what we say in the House and regardless of the fact that about eight members on the government side voted against this bill, it is going to get rammed through.

The other day I was reading the M. v H. decision the supreme court brought down last Thursday. It referred on several occasions to parliament's wishes and that parliament knew what it was doing when it passed the legislation.

Here parliament is expressing its serious opposition to this bill that was drafted by the bureaucrats, 200 pages of technical, detailed, complex legislation. The bill would have been passed through committee in 15 minutes had there been the chance but I was able to slow it down to four hours. This is not parliament expressing its will. This is parliament being railroaded into rubber stamping what the government wants.

I would hope that is on the record because if, as and when this is ever challenged in court, I would never want the courts to say that parliament freely expressed its wishes and opinion on this particular issue, because its opinion is irrelevant. It is being railroaded into approving something that has not been analysed, debated or thought through. We have not examined the ramifications of where it is leading us.

We are going to find Bill C-78 finished and voted on in the House of Commons tonight. The government has organized it by cracking the whip and saying “You will be here to vote for the bill”. For those who would like to do otherwise, I understand there are all kinds of incentives to be in other places. We will find out whether they have accepted these invitations later on this evening. What can I say, Mr. Speaker? It is a travesty that the House which should approve the legislation is being forced to endorse the government's legislation.

The $30 billion is another issue which I find rather contemptuous. There is a $30 billion actuarial surplus in the plan today because of a fortunate coincidence that has brought several factors together.

Inflation has come down quite dramatically yet because the money is invested in 20 year bonds the return on the plan is still very high. Because there was a six year wage freeze the cost of pensions has been reduced. Salaries were not so much reduced, but their growth was less than anticipated through the wage freeze. Therefore, pensions are less than anticipated, hence the cost of pension payouts are less than anticipated. Because inflation is down, the cost of pension payments in future years will be reduced. This is the largest fully indexed pension plan existing in the country today. If inflation is down, the cost of these pension payments over the next number of years is going to be reduced.

It is not because of overcontribution by the government. It is not because of overcontribution by the employees either. It is just that these fortunate circumstances have come together to create an actuarial assessment which leaves more money in the plan than otherwise required.

The government wants to take that money. It wants to take the money that was contributed by itself and the employees. It is very distasteful that it would help itself to money put into the plan by its very own employees. In the private sector it is totally illegal. It would not be allowed under any circumstances.

Bill S-3 that was passed by the House a year or two ago laid out specific rules for taking out a surplus from a plan if there was such a surplus. There had to be a vote by the membership. A 50% vote by members was required to remove the money under certain circumstances. In other circumstances it required a two-thirds majority of the members before the employer was allowed to take the money out.

The President of the Treasury Board has told us that many of the members support this. Why did he not put this to a vote? The government imposed that restriction on employers and refuses to apply it to itself.

I again register my opposition to the government's taking $30 billion out of the plan.

There are two other major fundamental issues in the bill. One is to split the payment of CPP and pension contributions into two payments rather than one. Until now civil servants have contributed 7.5% of their salaries as a combined payment to CPP and the pension plan. The government has introduced very dramatic increases in the CPP contributions over the next number of years, increases as large as 73%. If the CPP contributions were to go up, by obvious correlation the contributions to the pension plan would go down. The government says it cannot have that. It wants to put them on the same footing as all other Canadians where they have to pay the CPP contributions and the pension plan as two separate payments.

We do not have any problem with that, but we do have a problem with the fact that it will now increase the civil service employees' contributions to the pension plan from about 30% to 40%. The minister tells us the employees are not accepting any of the risk of the plan yet they will pay a whole bunch more into the plan. The government by definition will pay a whole bunch less into the plan. And the government says it is carrying the risk. It cannot be.

The other one is the privatization of the plan. The money will be invested in the private capital market rather than in government bonds. Perhaps that is not a bad situation. We do not dispute that there is an opportunity to make more in the private sector but we do know that sometimes less can be made in the private sector.

If the plan makes less and the employees are contributing to the plan, they are sharing in the risk. They share in the risk if the return is lower. The value of the plan may not be as high as it should be or could be. Therefore they have to cover their 60:40 split of contributions to the plan to ensure it is a viable plan.

Lots of arguments can be made for the employees sharing in the risk in the plan yet the government would say there is none.

I do not think the government is being honest and forthright. It is certainly not allowing enough debate on this bill. It is 200 pages of complex legislation. It went through committee in less than four hours. Closure has been introduced twice on this bill. What can I say? I call it the great run at the brick wall where the government feels that because it wants to do something the House has to endorse its position.

I find that rather odious. I object to it. I would certainly hope that the bill would be defeated this evening, although I doubt it will because we know that when the government wants something it gets its members to fall in line, much to my disgust.

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12:30 p.m.


Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I add my applause for the member who just made a well reasoned argument regarding Bill C-78. He pointed out some very significant shortcomings in this piece of legislation.

I would like to build on some of the points he made this morning. For those listening and those in the House, let us be clear on what we will be voting on later today. The bill talks about changes to who will manage and oversee the pension funds for federal government employees, what will happen to surpluses that may accrue to the fund, and who will be eligible for benefits.

Through Bill C-78 the government will appoint a board which will be removed from the auditor general's oversight and no longer subject to access to information legislation. Bill C-78 will allow the federal government access to any surpluses in the pension plan provided the federal government, that is the taxpayer, commits to making up the shortfall in the pension plan in the future.

In brief, Bill C-78 proposes to remove the funds from public accountability and let the federal government spend the surplus today with the taxpayer guaranteeing to make up future shortfalls in the fund. These are not false accusations. It is the truth. Every Liberal will probably dutifully do as they are told and vote for it. Constituents will not know the reasons and will not understand all the nuances.

I want to address another aspect of the bill before us which deals with expanding the benefits. It is on this aspect that I will direct the remainder of my time for it is here the government has grossly misrepresented its intent.

When a contributor to a pension plan dies the benefits go to his or her surviving husband or wife. The bill proposes to maintain this provision, which is good, but it will extend the benefits beyond this point in a new way. The government has said its intent is to extend the benefits to same sex relationships as well. This is not what it has done.

There are many types of same gender relationships: siblings, friends, roommates, partners, et cetera, but the only relationship the government wants to include is when two people of the same gender are involved in private sexual activity or what is more commonly known as homosexuality. No sex, no benefits, even if everything else is the same.

More important, Bill C-78 benefits will be extended to any person who has had, as the bill says, “a relationship of a conjugal nature with a contributor” regardless of sex, male or female, two males or two females. The bill refers to the phrase “a relationship of a conjugal nature”.

According to Black's Law Dictionary conjugal means sexual activity. That is how every major Canadian dictionary defines it, but the bill does not define it in any way. It has added a new legal expression, a relationship of a conjugal nature with absolutely no definition of what it means. We are left with assuming it means what the Canadians dictionaries mean.

The government seems determined to make private sexual activity between anyone the primary condition for benefits. This is the focus of the substantive section of the bill.

To further illustrate the point, it was interesting to note that during the debates on the bill the Liberal member for Scarborough Southwest realized that the changes to the bill were specifically designed to extend benefits based on the sexual activity between two men or two women. The bill also excludes those without sexual activity but who may still be dependent on each other. He proposed an alternative. The amendment was intended to leave sexual activity out of the benefits equation altogether. Benefits, according to his amendment, would be extended based on dependency relationships and sexual activity would not be a criteria for benefits.

The member's government ruled his amendment out of order and struck it down, effectively insisting that the expanded benefits had to be based on homosexual activity in order to qualify. This is not a same sex benefit bill; it is a sexual activity bill. The new part of the bill extends benefits only when there is sexual activity between two people of the same sex.

I have in my riding an elderly gentleman who has a friend who was down on his luck, a senior who was living on a very meagre pension. The wealthier person took in his friend. They have been sharing accommodation for years. They basically share everything in that household. They have a very deep friendship, but it has never even crossed their minds to have any kind of physical intimacy in a sexual way.

The bill totally excludes that kind of relationship. The only way for the survivor benefit to be extended to the person who otherwise might be dependent on the public purse is for them to enter into some sort of physical intimacy which they do not want to entertain.

The amendment by the member for Scarborough Southwest would have taken sex out of it and based it on dependency, he said. The Liberal government said no. It ruled effectively that private sexual activity between people of the same gender is now the requirement for new benefits within Bill C-78. This is from the same government that said it would not do so.

I will reference some comments made by various cabinet ministers in the government across the way over the past few years. I will start with one from the current justice minister.

On April 24, 1998 in a letter to a constituent she said that she continued to believe it was not necessary to change well understood concepts of spouse and marriage to deal with any fairness consideration the courts and tribunals may find. Yet they have proposed legislation that has removed every reference to spouse, wife, widow, and has gone to new terminology.

The current health minister when he was the justice minister spoke in the House. He said that notwithstanding sexual orientation was a ground within section 15 of the charter on which discrimination was prohibited the benefits did not automatically follow. That was the law.

On January 21, 1999 the Prime Minister said in an editorial in the Lethbridge Herald that it was not on the agenda of the government at the time when he was asked about spousal benefits to same sex couples.

When asked about extending these benefits the member for Scarborough—Rouge River was not convinced that there was either broad based political support or legal justification for major changes in the current paradigm.

They say one thing and yet we are faced with legislation today which seems to contradict exactly what they told the public and what they stated in response to questions on this topic. This is the same government which is now bestowing benefits based on sexual activity between two people of the same gender.

I am attempting not to purposely overstate this and not to be sensational. I am reporting simply on the effects of the change in Bill C-78. If Canadians do not believe me they can contact me and discuss it with me. What I am saying is clear in the legislation and in the actions of the government.

My colleagues in the Liberal government will probably vote later tonight in favour of sexual activity benefits and not same sex benefits. Is this how we serve our constituents? Does this serve the best interest of those who have put us here?

Beyond the invasion of privacy concerns, I have some personal concerns about how the bill violates those who are sent here to serve. Some may not like what I have to say but I think it is the truth. If we cannot state the truth in the House, I do not know where we can do so anywhere in the country.

It is well documented that physical sexual intimacies between persons of the same gender result in much higher rates of serious illness, particularly when two males are involved. Statistics show that people involved in this kind of activity have a life span just slightly over half a normal life span. From a study out of the United States it has been shown that suicide rates are 25 times higher than the norm.

If we really care about people, why are we requiring people in the same gender relationships to be engaged in sexual activities to qualify for benefits? Why are we making benefits contingent upon behaviours that generally speaking have been shown to work against the personal health and best interest of those involved?

I questioned the treasury board minister in committee. He responded that the courts made him do it and lawyers wrote it this way. Does the government serves the people by letting the courts set policy and lawyers draft the legislation? In the whole process people are left out. Is that what members opposite will vote for tonight?

We live in busy times. The bill will be voted on tonight under the cover of the war in Kosovo, Y2K, tax issues and bank mergers. An ever increasing number of issues overwhelm the daily lives of those who are trying to pay the bills, raise the kids and get some R&R. They will not notice all this.

The vote today will very likely go unnoticed. The significance of Bill C-78 will be lost in the flurry of activity of life in the information overload age. The bill will likely go unnoticed by those who put us here to serve them.

I remind members opposite and all other members in the House of something I saw in the Speaker's chambers. I know that every word spoken in the House is recorded and bound in volumes which are kept there. Everything we say and every vote are recorded. In a sense it is our accountability. In a sense we might say it is the legacy we leave to families or those who follow who may want to reference what we said and where we stood on issues.

I ask members to consider their votes tonight on Bill C-78. Surely we can do better than Bill C-78. The bill needs to be sent back for a redraft which puts the needs of all people first and includes respect for the personal privacies of people and their tax dollars.

If the government is intent on drafting legislation to allow benefits to flow to relationships between two people of the same gender, to make benefits contingent upon their having some sort of sexual relationship, it is in my view inappropriate. Is it not more reasonable to focus on demonstrated interdependencies and the social contribution of the relationship when considering benefits rather than the private physical intimacies of the persons being considered? I encourage all members of the House to send Bill C-78 back for an improved redraft.

In summary, the bill has three key strikes against it. First, it removes the management of public pension plans from public accountability with an appointed pension board, no auditor general review and no access to information. Second, it allows the federal government to access any surpluses in the fund with the guarantee that taxpayers will make up the difference if there is a shortfall in the future. Third, it extends survivor benefits outside marriage dependent on private sexuality regardless of gender.

Three strikes. Three strikes and we should send this bill out. Let us send it out and call on the government to bring forward an improved version, an improved version that makes some sense and actually serves the people who worked so hard to put us here.

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12:45 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, allow me to start my presentation as I did all my speeches on this topic, two weeks ago.

What is remarkable with this government and with the bill before us is how the government ended up imposing its view on this issue. We are increasingly wondering about the type of democracy that prevails in the House of Commons. I am primarily alluding to the government's way of doing things by always silencing the opposition through closure.

The other day, Reform Party members told us that the government used closure 53 times. I imagine this figure applies to the past two parliaments. Based on the figures that we have, from 1997 until now, closure was used 24 times regarding bills reviewed in the House of Commons.

One has to wonder. Does this House truly have the opportunity to do an in-depth review of the bills? It seems that when the government has a priority, it just wants to pass the related legislation. When the government is faced with some opposition, it resorts to closure, to a time allocation motion, and tells us “Unfortunately for you, it is over. This is how we want to proceed. If you are not happy, discuss the issue during the few additional hours that we are giving you and then it will be over and we will vote on the legislation”.

This is what I call the tyranny of the majority. Unfortunately, this tyranny does not exist only in the House. We regularly experience it in the committees as well. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and I note that, in committee, when the government wants to pass a bill and seems to consider that enough is enough, the majority automatically steps in.

I have nothing against the majority, because I think that democracy must function with a majority, but excessive imposition of closure on the opposition makes me think that democracy is sometimes in doubt. In fact I would say that it is definitely in doubt. Two weeks ago, in debates, they did this on a number of occasions.

I thought it important to begin my speech today by saying that, with this bill, closure was once again imposed at second reading, at report stage and is now being imposed at third reading.

By the end of this evening, the members of the government and ourselves will decide the fate of $30 billion, which should belong to the employees. The government imposed closure and is now going to tell us that it is going to take this $30 billion. I find that absolutely deplorable.

I also want to speak of the government's arrogance. When the bill was introduced, the government House leader was all smiles, not only at imposing closure on the opposition, but also at continuing the tradition of imposition in Ottawa, with these employees, in these terms “We are taking over the $30 billion, we are not negotiating with you, we are the ones deciding. The people elected us, and we are deciding that there is a $30 billion surplus in this fund. There will be no discussion with you of sharing. We are taking it and we will see about it afterwards”. Not only is the government using closure to excess, but it does so with considerable arrogance.

If I look at the way it is done in the case of other pension funds, it is clear that, when a government that is both judge and jury—the government is the legislator and the employer—decides that there is too much of a surplus or that it wants to change employee contributions, the situation is very delicate.

I do not want to say that, in Quebec, we are better than elsewhere, but the tradition in Quebec is one of negotiation, which is not the case in Ottawa. While negotiations may be long at times, they may be difficult, pressure may be exerted, a negotiated solution is still better than an imposed one.

Recently, I read through a study in which the government was trying to find out why public servants are so dissatisfied and no longer motivated at work. If one looks at the government's behaviour over the last few years, or even the last few decades, one can see that it very seldom negotiates with its employees. It lets collective agreements drag on even after they have expired, adds 1 or 2% and finally imposes a settlement. On top of that, it limits job action even though it is allowed under the Canada Labour Code.

Job action is allowed in a democracy. When workers are dissatisfied, there are legal means of expressing their dissatisfaction. These are provided for in the Canada Labour Code. Striking is one of them, and job action is another. But this government does not give people the opportunity to use those means. Moreover, as I said earlier, it is both employer and legislator.

Its strategy is very simple. By blocking negotiations or delaying them it forces workers to take some kind of job action. Then it brings in special legislation—like the one passed the other day—to impose a settlement, arguing that employees are holding the state hostage, which, by the way, is absolutely false. The government does not give people the opportunity to carry through the bargaining process.

Let us come back to the infamous special legislation brought in by the government no too long ago, when we spent the night here so the government could force public servants back to work. I give this example because it is particularly outrageous. Personally I found that the President of the Treasury Board was adding insult to injury when, at two in the morning, he came and told us that an agreement in principle had been reached with government employees.

Instead of letting the process run its course and saying “We have done our part; it is now up to the workers to approve the agreement in general assemblies”, the government added insult to injury by allowing debate to continue all night and forcing the employees back to work anyway.

That goes to show the government's attitude, which is to continually impose its views not only on its employees but also on the opposition, always using drastic means like legislation to force public service employees back to work and closure to gag the opposition. That is totally unacceptable and that shows arrogance.

The President of the Treasury Board, who is the sponsor of the bill, just spoke in support of his bill. I would say he hardly spoke more than 10 minutes. Of course, hon. members have limited time to speak, but anyone who does not have much to say and wants to slip a bill through discreetly and rapidly does not spend much time talking about its legal and moral implications. The present government has no moral values and that is why the President of the Treasury Board talked only ten minutes about his bill at third reading.

I would like to quote a statement made by the President of the Treasury Board not so long ago. In 1996, he asked for consultations on the pension plan. He said:

Consultations could lead to a partnership that would establish in the public service the concept of a management committee at arm's length with the government.

But what did the President of the Treasury Board do? Exactly the opposite of what he said in 1996.

In 1998, it was announced in a press release by the Treasury Board Secretariat that the government had agreed to a number of recommendations made by the advisory committee in a report that was the result of four years of painstaking work by union representatives, retirees and government officials. That is what was said in the press release of the Treasury Board Secretariat in 1998.

Now, through the President of the Treasury Board, the government has done exactly the opposite of what it said it would do. When a government sets up an advisory committee, one really has to wonder.

It has said to its employees: “A small surplus seems to be building up, and maybe we should sit down and discuss this”. What did the government do, in the end? Through the bill before us, it is grabbing whatever it feels like. The government is making off with $30 billion.

This leads me to talk about the government's management practices. What kind of management has the Liberal government been practising since it came to power in 1993 and since it was re-elected in 1997?

I have been listening to the finance minister. Like I said, Star Wars is now very popular, and we have long waiting lines outside movie theatres. I feel that the finance minister is the Darth Vader of this House. I will explain why later. His shadow can be seen everywhere he tries to put his hand on surpluses. Whenever funds generate surpluses, the government cannot wait to get its hands on them, and the Minister of Finance always has a say in the matter.

Let us look at how the government has been managing things these last few years. First, it said “We have agreed on a certain proportion of transfers to the provinces”. The province of Quebec, for instance, has lost some $2.5 billion in just a few years.

The government simply decided to cut transfers to the provinces. That created a huge problem for the provincial governments in their own areas of jurisdiction, that is to say anything having to do with health, education and, as far as we are concerned, welfare. That is what they called the CHST.

The government agreed to transfer some funds to the provinces to help them solve these problems. What happened was highly predictable. When the provincial governments, including Quebec, received less than they expected, problems started to emerge: crowded emergency wards, lack of equipment, personnel cuts, budget cuts for health institutions and education. Welfare programs were also affected.

Provinces were crippled by the government's decision to cut transfers. The federal government was able to start reducing the deficit. They kept bragging, saying “This is remarkable. See how well we can manage public affairs”.

Darth Vader himself, the Minister of Finance, came to tell the House “See how we are putting the economy back on its feet—extraordinary”. Transfer payments were the first step: less money transferred to the provinces means more money for the federal government.

The other question that can be raised concerning this government's management style relates to the employment insurance fund. A huge reform has taken place. Before, when people lost their jobs, seven out of ten of them qualified for employment insurance. Now that number is 3.5, or nearly 4. Half of those who used to be eligible no longer are.

As well, this fund is increasing by $6 billion or $7 billion every year. Perhaps $25 billion have gone into the government's pockets in recent years. That same reform also resulted in people having to pay into employment insurance regardless of how many hours they work. In the past some were excluded, for instance students with weekend jobs. Now students and others with weekend jobs have to pay starting with the first cent they earn. They have to pay, but what is shocking is that they will never be able to qualify for benefits.

This fund is continuing to grow and the Darth Vader of this House continues to say that he is managing public funds very well. Several billions are not being transferred to the provinces and end up in the kitty, the EI fund. The government continues to pocket between $6 billion and $7 billion every year.

Another question on the way the government is managing things, getting back to the matter of its employees once again, is the whole business of pay equity. The President of the Treasury Board performed intellectual gymnastics with this. It is incredible how flexible he can be in the stances he takes.

The Liberals initially acknowledged the problem a little bit. Then they were told “You have to pay these people”. During negotiations, the people said that the government probably owed them between $2 billion and $7 billion, because the women in the federal public service are paid less well than in other sectors of employment. This has been proven.

The President of the Treasury Board kept trying to push back the deadline. He began by saying that he would wait for the decisions on this issue for other sectors of the economy, which would certainly have an effect on the government's position.

These decisions were made public a long time ago. There is the problem of pay equity. It has been corrected elsewhere, but it has yet to be corrected by this government. The House's Darth Vader continues to say “The way I manage this economy and the public finances of this government is phenomenal”.

We have just been talking about several billion dollars in the employment insurance fund because the government does not pay fairly women working in the federal public service. The latest discovery of the President of the Treasury Board, surely on the advice of the forces of evil, the shadow in this House, is the $30 billion surplus in the fund belonging to the employees of the federal public service. Thirty billion dollars is not peanuts.

We are talking about a surplus of $14.9 billion for the public service, $2.4 billion for the RCMP and $12.9 billion for the Canadian armed forces.

The government is wondering. Earlier I was saying that they want to do psychological studies to find out why the employees of the federal public service are dissatisfied and are not working up to par. There were also reports explaining why Canadian forces members had so little motivation.

Considering the attitude of the President of the Treasury Board and his government, it is easy to understand why federal public servants, like members of the Canadian armed forces, are often unmotivated. They do not have a say in anything. Again, as I said earlier, this is the tyranny of the majority.

The government imposes taxes, dips into funds, does as it pleases, continues to gag the opposition and keeps imposing working conditions on the whole public service. All this is very hard to accept.

One might understand if the government targeted people who enjoy a gold plated pension, but we are talking about public servants who, as retirees, have annual incomes of $9,400. Who did the government decide to target? It is these people.

The government had other options. It could have negotiated with its public service. It could have said “We realize that there are surpluses. Perhaps we could try to improve the plan. Instead of paying you $9,400, we may be able to give you up to $12,000”. The government could also have said to participants “There are surpluses. Therefore, we will give you a contribution holiday and you will not have to make contributions for a few years, so as to use up some of the surpluses. Afterwards, we will use the same contribution rates but, for a few years, you will not have to contribute”. However, this is not what the government did.

It runs away with the $30 billion pot and then says “Now, we will put in place certain provisions, so that if this situation occurs again, we will be able to react more quickly”.

What will happen when the $30 billion are gone and the federal public sector realizes, perhaps a few years from now—I hope not, but it could happen—that there is not enough in the plan to pay employees retiring in one, two or ten years? The government will probably tell contributors that it is sorry but that its actuarial forecasts oblige it to take action, as it did with the CPP, where premiums were increased. The same thing may well happen.

Once the government gets its hands on the surplus, contributors will probably be told that there are problems and that premiums are being increased. It is outrageous.

A number of terms have been used in the House and I want to mention them again. They are parliamentary. Everyone has avoided using unparliamentary language. In my view, the parliamentary terms used so far are quite significant. They include making off with, siphoning off, raiding, controling, and swindling. I think that they are all descriptive of this government's attitude towards its employees.

I would also like to look at what this will mean. Some of my constituents are listening today. There is a military base in my riding with a large population of Canadian forces members. Members of the RCMP also live there.

Most retired members of these three groups receive an average pension of $9,400 a year. It might be different for members of the RCMP because they earn a little more and therefore receive slighter higher pensions, but Canadian forces members are not extremely well paid and public sector blue collar workers in Saint-Jean are earning perhaps $30,000 or $32,000 a year and will receive a pension of $9,400 a year.

We are talking about regional economy. What will someone receiving $9,400 a year going to do with that amount? Spend it. There is no question of looking into investments, buying mutual funds and playing the stock market on an annual income of $9,400.

These people spend their money in their own ridings, for housing, for clothing, for food and sometimes for a little outing. This is about all they can afford with $9,400.

Now, imagine what would happen if the government decided to upgrade pensions. These people could afford better housing and clothing, higher quality leisure activities, more travel. All that would strengthen the economy.

Just in the case of the employment insurance fund I talked about earlier, the $6 billion to $7 billion stolen each year from the unemployed represent $21 million for the riding of Saint-Jean. This is not peanuts. Further more, if women had pay equity, they could spend more in their riding, and this would be over and above the $21 million.

When people cannot increase their annual income with their retirement fund, this represents another loss for regional economies. The government is siphoning off money not only from the public service but also from the economy of the riding of Saint-Jean and other ridings in Quebec and Canada.

I thought it was important to share these facts with the House. People often believe that the government is doing the right thing and taxpayers ask: “Will that affect me? Will Bill C-78 affect me? NO, this will not affect me, but it will affect employees of the federal public service”. For instance, people who have a business, who sell houses or condos or have a grocery store should understand that the less money there is in ridings, the slower the economy will be.

Earlier, we raised questions about the government's management practices. There are even more questions when it comes to such matters as R&D and the procurement of goods and services. This is one more thing that affects Quebec directly.

Quebec contributes about 24% of the tax base, but when it comes to categories of expenditures that are important to Quebec, whether R&D or the procurement of goods and services, there is no more equity. To give an example relating to R&D, in the Ottawa-Hull region, there are 43 research centres. Of that number, 42 are in Ottawa, and 1 in Hull. That strikes me as a pretty flagrant lack of fairness.

Research centres are real generators of truly high-paying jobs. This is also true for the procurement of goods and services. The government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in Canada, which it would have to be, considering the size of its budget, but instead of encouraging the regional economy, there is a shortfall of several hundred million dollars in Quebec. That is a lot.

It is said that the rate of unemployment in Quebec is higher. What if the government decided to be fair where the procurement of goods and services are concerned? It would buy more in Quebec and this would generate more employment. But it has not done so. It is penalizing Quebec as far as procurement of goods and services, and research and development, are concerned.

As well, it is pocketing money from all the sources I have already referred to: transfer payments to the provinces, the employment insurance fund, pay equity, and its latest discovery, the public service pension funds.

I now wish to speak a bit about same sex spouses. As I said two weeks ago, I think the government is treading on eggshells somewhat with this.

For the series of amendments concerning same sex partners, the government has decided to hold a free vote. I wonder if the government will hold a free vote this evening or whether it will oblige Liberal members who were not in agreement with this clause to vote in favour of it this evening. Some members have expressed very interesting points of view. I had mine, I expressed it and I put it into practice when I voted on the amendment as such.

What is deplorable with this approach, these specificities and the provisions of the bill is that the government is going to force people to perhaps vote against their conscience. In my opinion, the government should have introduced a specific bill on same sex partners.

In Quebec City, the government introduced a sort of omnibus bill, which will really allow, once and for all, a clean-up of regulations and laws in Quebec, because the courts are according more and more rights to same sex partners. We saw this again last week. Decisions are recognizing these people increasingly.

But the problem here is that the government is resolving things piecemeal. This is not the first matter resolved in such a fashion. The other day I gave the example of native women who have no protection on an Indian reserve when a household is being broken up. Instead of settling the heart of the issue, the government introduces bills concerning natives, and women's lobbies want to introduce amendments to each of these bills to take into account the fact that these women are not protected on the reserves.

The same thing is happening here. The government lacks courage. Instead of settling the heart of the problem, it is introducing legislation piecemeal. It just did so in Bill C-78, with all its attendant problems. Some people may agree with taking money from the funds, but they do not agree with there being same sex partners and vice versa. Some people may oppose the bill, but be in favour of measures for same sex partners. They are going to have to make a choice this evening.

The government should have resolved the fundamental issue, since this would have saved time for parliament. Indeed, every time a bill on economic matters comes before the House, some will say “We want same sex spouses to be specifically recognized in this bill”. The government is taking a piecemeal approach, instead of resolving the fundamental issue. I realize that this approach could take more time, because it is a moral issue. There could even be a free vote on this specific bill.

However, for the time being, the government has decided not to use that approach. It is taking a piecemeal approach. There are members from both sides of the House who have spoken freely on the impact of the fact that, from now on, same sex spouses will be entitled to their deceased spouse's government pension. However, it may well be that, next year if not in a month or two, the government will introduce another bill dealing with economic matters, and lobbies for same sex spouses will come back and say “We want amendments on this”. We will once again be forced to have a debate on specific provisions, because the issue will not have been dealt with globally in the first place.

I want to raise another point. Recently, the government has been telling us “You know, we contribute 70% of the public service employees pension fund”. Obviously, one can use statistics to support any position.

It may be that, in the past two, three or four years, the government did contribute 70% of the money paid into the fund. However, if we look back further, we realize that, from 1924 to 1998, the government's contribution to the employees' fund only amounted to 48% of the total. It wants to make off with 100% of the surplus, and that is what is particularly scandalous. I think the government could have been more flexible with its unions and negotiated something more acceptable and equitable, instead of what it finally did. Having contributed 48% for 74 years, it decided to make off with, help itself to, siphon off 100% of the surplus. It is an utter disgrace.

Now I would like to turn to the example the government is setting for the private sector. Last time, I mentioned internationally renowned financiers, now dead. There was Robert Maxwell, a press baron in England. He sailed the seven seas in a yacht financed by his own employees' pension plan. It was scandalous.

These people were all denounced by workers, those who know the value of the $15 or $20 dollars a week they hand over to the government or their employer to pay for a decent retirement.

People know what it means to take $20 of what they earn every week and hand it over to the government. They also know what it means when the government says it is going to help itself to the surplus. They know that it is utterly unfair. The government is setting a precedent. It is going to send a message to employers, particularly those in the private sector. They will be able to say that, if there are any surpluses in their funds, they will be entitled to help themselves because the money belongs to them.

That is how this government, which makes laws and employs people, thinks. It tells itself that, since it administers the plan, it will help itself to any surpluses. The House should consider what this will mean in the private sector.

Last time, I spoke about who this attitude hurt most and I am going to do so again, because it is completely unfair. I am referring to Singer employees. A few years ago, the Bloc Quebecois began to ask questions on this issue. This case was widely publicised. Many people believe that the issue has been settled, that the Singer employees won a victory and that $1.7 billion was shared between survivors. Almost half of the employees are now dead and their average age is 84. Yet people believe that the issue has been settled.

What they do not know, and I want to repeat this today, is that between 1942 and 1967, the federal government was responsible, through government annuities, for the Singer employees' fund. The government, which was the watchdog of the retirement fund of the Singer employees, allowed that company to dip into the surplus.

In 1967, some $400,000 should have been paid back to employees as a bonus. The government decided otherwise. It allowed Singer to dip in the surplus. An amount of $400,000, in 1967 dollars, would be the equivalent of $6 million to $7 million today, an amount which should belong to employees of Singer.

I know what I am talking about, because my father worked for Singer for 45 years. He is now retired and gets government annuities, an astronomical $20 a month. All this because the government allowed a company to walk away with the jackpot under the cover of a holiday on premiums.

Today, we understand, with Bill C-78, why the government of the day acted that way. Three different human resources development ministers told us “This is not our fault, we deny any responsibility and we do not want to pay.”

In 1994-1995, the Bloc started asking questions about Singer. What was happening at the time? The federal public service pension funds were starting to generate a surplus. There were surely some mean-spirited people in the government who decided that they were not about to recognize their responsibility and reimburse former Singer employees. “Because we allowed Singer to stop paying premiums, we cannot do that. If the surplus in our own pension plan, in the federal public service pension plan, continues to grow, we will have to get our hands on it”.

We, in the Bloc Quebecois, realize that the first victims were the Singer workers. But they were only the first victims, because there will be many more to come. The government is paving the way for all private employers, by sending them the message that they will be able to get their hands on any surpluses they have. You have to agree that this sets a precedent. Of course, we are also talking about federally regulated funds.

Last week, I took part in a show about Bill C-78. People told me that, under the provincial legislation, provincially regulated employers acting this way would probably go to jail or pay huge fines.

Employers who have some kind of link with the federal government will feel they no longer have their hands tied. Who will benefit from this bill, the employers or the workers? Who gives money to this irresponsible and arrogant government? Is it the low income workers or retirees who receive $9,000 a year? No. It is the large corporations, the big banks, the large insurance companies, the huge multinationals, those who refuse contributions when we ask for them.

We tell them, “The Bloc Quebecois needs money, but you have to give us a personal cheque”. That does not work. People from Bell Canada tell me, “Look, Mr. Bachand, every time you organize a cocktail party, we have a cheque for you”. But it is a cheque from Bell, and we can only accept personal cheques.

The banks tell me the same thing. Whose interests is this government defending? I think it is defending the interests of the banks, of insurance companies, of Bell. In the report of the chief electoral officer, I see that Bell Canada gives $50,000 or $60,000 to the Liberal Party, and the same goes for Nortel. The Bloc Quebecois gets absolutely nothing. Who is the government favouring with a bill such as the one before us today?

To whom is the government saying that, from now on, they will be able to use any surplus in their pension plan? To the big banks whose profits already total $6 or $7 billion a year, to the big multinationals such as Bell Canada, which will probably have a surplus of $1 billion this year, after having just laid off about a thousand employees.

The workers and the retirees are beginning to understand who really defends their interests in the Parliament of Canada. It is the members of the Bloc Quebecois and those who will oppose this bill today. Those who will agree with this bill are government members, and those who will congratulate the government are big banks, insurance companies and multinationals. They can at last see the light at the end of the tunnel.

For those corporate interests, billions of dollars in profit each year are never quite enough. If there are a few extra billions to be made at the expense of workers or retirees, they will not say no. They are quite willing to grab their employees' pension fund.

This is the kind of terrible precedent the government is setting. I hope the workers and the retirees will understand that the $20 they have contributed every week for years will not be used to help them in their retirement, but for something else. I hope people will remember this when the time comes to vote.

I would like to come back to the financing of political parties. For the Bloc Quebecois, money should not be a factor in a democracy, and we should abide by the principle of one person, one vote. I once told big companies like Bell they could keep the $500 cheque they were handing to me. I will never have my hands tied by big multinationals. Those who vote for the Bloc Quebecois are workers, retirees who have a hard time making ends meet, people in trouble and people who are persecuted by the governments.

We are in a very good position, because we will never want to become cabinet ministers. The Bloc Quebecois will never want to become the government. I think voters do understand who is in a better position to speak on their behalf. Is it the government party, which accepts cheques from major corporations, or is it the small parties, the ones sensitive to workers? These parties will collect $5 or $10 on far flung concession roads or hard to reach streets. We do not have our hands tied.

This is why we can say the sort of thing we are saying today. This is why today we can tell the government that it is arrogant, ill-advised, excessively appropriating money, incapable of managing public finances in a reasonable fashion.

The fact that these workers support us with their $5 and $10 contributions allows me to say what I am saying today to this government. I think people will be grateful to us and, when the time comes to make a democratic choice, it will be one person, one vote, but all of these votes in Quebec will mean that the Bloc Quebecois will be back for the next election, should we decide to come back.

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1:25 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief because the member for Winnipeg North Centre is very anxious to give a long speech in the House today and I want to share my time with her.

We have a very important bill before the House today, Bill C-78, which deals with the pension funds and superannuation of retired public servants, including the RCMP and the armed forces. It has become a very controversial bill because the government wants to use the $30 billion surplus that has accumulated in those funds to go back into the consolidated revenue fund or to the Government of Canada so it can pay down the debt or use for its general operations.

I submit that this is really theft of a lot of money that the federal government has collected in pensions. It should go for pension purposes for retired public servants in the country.

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1:25 p.m.

An hon. member


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1:25 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

I hear a Liberal member on the other side saying nonsense. I wish he would get up in the House and make a speech about this and face his constituents who are concerned about the government taking $30 billion of their money and using it for general revenue purposes.