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House of Commons Hansard #240 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Further to the NDP member's presentation to the House a few minutes ago to remove God from the constitution and the failure of the government yesterday to assure this House that position would not—

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

With respect, that is not a point of order.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

With respect, it is.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

With respect, it is not a point of order.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Randy White Reform Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I ask for the unanimous consent of the House to ensure that the government will not remove the reference to God from our Canadian constitution.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. House leader of the opposition has asked for the unanimous consent of the House to move a motion. Does the House give its unanimous consent?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, in response to the point of order, amending the constitution is not done on the floor of the House by way of a point of order and it is not our intention to amend it using those devices.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The issue is over and done with.

SupplyGovernment Orders

June 8th, 1999 / 10:20 a.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending June 23, 1999, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bill.

In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bill be distributed now?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, today the Reform Party is showing leadership on an issue which is important to Canadians. People have become increasingly concerned that the definition of marriage in Canada needs to be strengthened and protected before the courts, by ruling on one case, tell us that the opposite sex definition of marriage is unconstitutional.

Just in the last two years alone 84 members of the House have presented petition after petition, totalling thousands of names, calling for parliament to enact legislation to define that marriage can only be entered into between a single male and a single female.

In addition, I would like to take note of a few of the recent headlines. “Top Court Rewriting Laws of Marriage”, was recently a headline in the Montreal Gazette . “Ruling Alters Way Marriage Viewed: Family Law Expert...” appeared in the National Post . “Blurring the Line between Marriage and Singleness” also appeared in the National Post . “Redefining our Partnerships: This week's Supreme Court of Canada landmark ruling could send aftershocks into almost every sector of Canadian Life” appeared in the London Free Press . We have recently seen many more of these headlines in Canada.

Are Canadians overreacting or do they have justifiable concerns? Let us examine some of the recent events that have added to the public concern about the erosion of the definition and the concepts related to marriage.

Up until recently Canadians understood the word spouse to be either a husband or a wife in a marriage. The courts and the Liberal government are telling Canadians that they have it wrong.

Just in the last few months alone immigration Bill C-63 was introduced and it will give the minister, or in fact the bureaucracy under her, the power to define spouse as whatever she deems it to be depending on the occasion on any particular day.

Bill C-78, recently pushed through the House, the 52nd bill that the government has forced early closure on, dealt with the public service pension plan. This bill removed every reference of wife, widow and spouse and replaced them with the word survivor in order to extend benefits previously reserved for marriage to same sex relationships.

Last week the Minister of Human Resources Development went beyond the Canada Pension Plan Act to extend pension plan benefits normally reserved for married couples to same sex relationships, even though there has been no legal or legislative authorization to do so.

In addition, a number of court cases have served to erode the distinctiveness of marriage and the concepts, rights and obligations tied to it.

Many Canadians are concerned about this trend. There are two examples of recent court rulings. The Liberals refused to appeal a tax code case, known as the Rosenberg case, when a provincial court redefined spouse to mean two people of the opposite sex or the same sex, even though every dictionary, including legal dictionaries, have always and still do understand spouse to be the husband or wife.

The most recent development, perceived by many as a further undermining of the distinctiveness of marriage and the concepts surrounding it, was the supreme court's decision that the opposite sex definition of the term spouse in the M. v H. case was unconstitutional. With this ruling the complete section 29 of Ontario's Family Law Act was struck down.

Concerned Canadians are watching this trend. Some say that the last thing that remains is the full blown establishment of homosexual marriage in Canada as a normative practice. It becomes somewhat self-evident that sooner or later the opposite sex definition of marriage will be challenged in the courts. If they can rule that the way Canadians use the word spouse is unconstitutional and must include a same sex definition of spouse, why could they not rule that the current definition of marriage is unconstitutional unless it includes same sex and possibly a variety of other relationships as well?

I will be sharing my time today with the member for Surrey Central. All Reform members will be sharing their time today.

I am not intending to target the courts. I am attempting to describe the events which have been an increasing cause of concern for Canadians. The courts and Canadians have been asking for some leadership and some clarification on this issue. Reformers believe that as servants of the people who put us here we have an obligation to provide it.

Due to the lack of accountable leadership from the Liberal government, the courts end up setting social policy, often derived from a single case, using charter arguments. The Liberal government follows with legislation saying that the courts made the government do it and the people of Canada are left out of the process.

Today we have an opportunity to put the people back into the process. Let us respond to the concerns of Canadians and give the courts the direction they have been asking for. Let us start the process today with this motion.

Let me move to the second part of the motion, which states:

...that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others...

Why this wording? This is the government's own wording in response to petitions which I mentioned earlier and in recent letters from the justice minister. The response has been that the term marriage is clear in Canadian law and is defined as stated in today's motion. Therefore, let the government and the entire House affirm this position publicly and commit to proactively upholding this definition of marriage. Hopefully the Liberals will not vote against their own wording in response to private inquiries from citizens. Or will they?

Whatever the case, the vote today will allow the people whom we are supposed to serve to hold each one of us individually accountable, both today and in the future, on this issue. The Reform Party has long advocated greater accountability to the public.

Marriage, as it has been defined throughout history, is significant to people for a variety of reasons. It would be presumptuous of me to try to attempt to adequately capture all of the values and rationales that Canadians have associated with defining what marriage is in Canada.

In general, the institution of marriage has been important to Canadian society from the very beginning of our nation. In marriage, a man in a relationship with a woman gains insights, sensitivities and strengths which she brings to the relationship and vice versa. A lifelong, committed union of a man and a woman in marriage creates a unit that is stronger than the sum of the individuals because their differences complement each other.

In Corbett v Corbett the court said:

(Marriage) is the institution on which the family is built and with the capacity for natural heterosexual intercourse as an essential element.

Marriage provides a healthy biological design for procreation. Other types of relationships are technically incomplete.

What about children? Teachers, and my wife is one, have a saying. They say that more is caught than taught. Intimate, committed marriage provides the best possible learning ground for the socialization and character development of children. Boys who have a lifelong example of a father who is patient, kind, polite, calm, forgiving, truthful, trusting and protective toward his wife are more likely to be that way themselves. More is caught than taught.

The same concept applies for daughters. In fact, both genders learn from a myriad of subtle character messages that children pick up from different gender parents. These models help them to decide and to relate to their own life mate. Marriage provides children with parental fullness, versus the gender deprived parenting of same sex relationships.

This kind of positive character modelling within and across genders does not stay confined to the home but continues with children outside the home and adds to the stabilizing and strengthening component of society as a whole.

Recent Statistics Canada studies report that children in home relationships with both parents have far fewer behavioural problems and have a significantly higher percentage of children who complete high school.

It is also interesting to me that in a recent Angus Reid poll young people in Canada aspire to having strong families. Ninety-three per cent of the youth in the poll predict that their families are the most important part of their lives. Eighty per cent believe that marriage is for life.

It is reasonable to assume that some day there will be a constitutional challenge to strike down the opposite sex definition of marriage in Canada. Why wait until that happens? Why continue to let the courts lead? Why not respond to the people and lead instead of follow?

If we do not act now when the courts say the charter made us do it and the Liberals say the courts made us do it, the question of the use of the notwithstanding clause will come up again.

Would we use the notwithstanding clause to defend the current definition of marriage? Clearly the Liberals have a position that seems to say they will never use it. They will do everything in their power to make sure that no one else does either. We would not even need to enter that debate if the government protected the definition of marriage in statute now.

In summary, the Reform Party is demonstrating leadership today by bringing forward a motion that addresses three concerns: first, the public concern reflected in the media and the weekly petitions calling on the House to protect the definition of marriage; second, a motion that uses the government's own words to define marriage in Canadian law in response to private inquiries; and, third, an opportunity for us all to make a commitment to action in order to uphold and defend this definition both now and in the future.

I hope we see unanimous support for the motion before us as it is a reasonable expectation and certainly our hope.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is important that Canadians witnessing the debate today understand the real agenda here. The real agenda is that the Reform Party not only does not believe in the equality of gay and lesbian relationships but does not believe in equality for gays and lesbians, period.

When that issue came before the House of Commons for a vote, the fundamental question of whether the Canadian Human Rights Act should be amended to include sexual orientation so that gay and lesbian people would not be fired from their jobs or thrown out of their homes or denied access to goods and services, they voted against that basic equality.

When they say today that they want to talk about marriage, let us be very clear what the real agenda is. That party does not believe in the fundamental equality of gay and lesbian people in Canada.

The member for Calgary Centre raised a number of issues. He has made a number of statements to which I would like him to respond in terms of the inaccuracy of those statements. He talked about committed, loving, lifelong relationships. The fact is that gay and lesbian people also enter into committed, loving, lifelong relationships.

I have to ask the hon. member a question. How is it any threat to a heterosexual marriage to recognize and affirm our relationships as well? For gay and lesbian people who seek to marry, why should that right not be extended to them?

The hon. member has said that some day there will be a court challenge. I tell the hon. member that there has already been a court challenge. So much for what he knows. Is the member not aware of the fact that there has already been a constitutional challenge in the Ontario Divisional Court in the case of Layland and Beaulne, in which the court ruled that federal common law restricts marriage to one man and one woman.

Why is he misleading the House on this important issue? Why will he not respect the right of equality for gay and lesbian people?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question. Certainly the Reform Party is committed to the equality of all Canadian citizens before the law.

In what we are doing here today we are not against anyone. We are simply affirming that marriage is an important institution to Canadians. Canadians understand that marriage is a unique institution in a relationship that involves the union of a man and a woman.

Our job is to represent our constituents and Canadians on issues that are important to them. We believe that marriage should remain the union of a man and a woman. It is foundational to family and foundational to the strength of the nation. We believe that strong families make strong nations and marriage is part of that.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, having listened to the Reform member for Calgary Centre today, it seems to me a massive contradiction to say that the Reform Party is committed to equality and is not against anyone.

The motion clearly states a bias and an opinion to which the Reform Party and the member are entitled, but to force that opinion or bias about marriage being between a heterosexual couple on all Canadians, it seems to me, is a direct attack on equality and a direct attack on many members of society.

It is interesting to hear the member also say that a marriage without children is technically incomplete. I am sure that all the heterosexual couples who for whatever reason have chosen not to have children will be devastated to learn that they are technically incomplete.

What authority does the member and the Reform Party have to impose their views on other Canadians if they believe in equality? If they believe in equality, where does that authority come from?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the question although I need to clarify a couple of her points. She is assuming I said that married couples without children are technically incomplete. That was not at all what I said.

I said in my speech that a marriage between a man and a woman provides for parental fullness. A marriage between same sex couples is technically incomplete and is deprived parenting in some ways because one gender is deprived.

The motion indicates what the government and the law already states, that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. We are just saying: let us make sure that we are clear on what the Canadian law is and that the House stands behind it.

Apparently the member who asked me the question does not agree with Canadian law and does not agree with the responses to petitions that have been given in the House. That is a sad indictment of her party.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central in support of the official opposition's motion. The hon. member for Calgary Centre made an excellent speech and I congratulate him on it.

For the benefit of those who do not understand the motion, I will read it again:

That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.

The reason we have caused this motion to be brought forward is simply that the courts and others are asking the House for clear instructions with respect to this matter.

Canadians are concerned about the possible erosion of the traditional definition of the institution of marriage. Our federal government, through the elected representatives in this place, provide our courts with legislation, the laws of our land, for the courts to interpret.

With respect to the sanctity of the traditional definition of marriage, the courts have been left to defining it themselves or calling on the government for direction. Today the official opposition is exercising its responsibility to ensure that the definition of marriage is reaffirmed in our federal legislature.

Marriage should be affirmed. The motion is not about being against anyone or anything but is about being for marriage. The official opposition believes that the term marriage is a cornerstone of public policy and ought not to be unilaterally changed by the courts, by bureaucrats or by cabinet behind closed doors as is usually done. There should be the full light of public input, parliamentary debate and free votes in the House.

Our courts take guidance from parliament on important social policies and other matters. Today's motion is intended to give expression to the will of the parliament on marriage, a cornerstone of our public policy.

It is legitimate for parliament to give guidance on important social policy matters. Parliamentarians can reform the current status of the law, especially given debates surrounding recent court decisions relating to the definition of spouse, et cetera. Today the official opposition motion provides that opportunity.

There have been, there are and likely there will be future court challenges to the definition of marriage. It would be inappropriate for parliament to remain silent about this important social policy term in the midst of great public debate on the matter.

The courts often indicate that they are looking for guidance from parliament on different issues. The motion is an opportunity to clearly express the will of parliament. The motion allows parliament to better engage in a dialogue with the courts with respect to the definition of marriage.

By having a debate and a vote on the matter in parliament we are allowing the elected representatives of the Canadian people to reflect the views of Canadians on what they feel about the definition of marriage, an important Canadian institution. This is properly the role of parliament as such input is not able to take place in court litigation.

The opinion of the Canadian people is very clearly in favour of the current definition of marriage. In the 36th parliament 84 members stood in the House and tabled petitions from constituents calling for parliament to enact legislation to define that a marriage can be entered into between a single male and a single female.

People should not be shut up. They are the ones we came here to represent. We should listen to these people when they send petitions to the House. The supply day motion is an opportunity for members and parliament as a whole to stand by their constituents and communicate so that their voices are heard.

Being a relatively new immigrant and new Canadian, I can share with the House that many people around the world choose to immigrate to Canada because of what they know about our country. When they come they believe they will find the traditional definition of marriage, a union between a man and a woman. They trust that the federal government supports that definition. If we did not, these immigrants might have immigrated elsewhere in the world.

Canada's demographics have changed significantly since Confederation. People immigrating to Canada now come mostly from Asia. They share the social values that include the definition of marriage we are debating today. They believe the family is an institution, a cornerstone or a pillar of society. This strong belief in the traditional family values is another reason they often have joint families.

During the election campaign a young man came to my office and asked for my views on the definition of marriage. I told him I believed that marriage was a union of a man and a woman. He said that he did not agree and that two men or two women could marry. I asked him if he would like to have his own children. He said he did not care, that having children was not important. I told him that if his father or mother had thought the same way he would not be talking to me. There was silence for a moment and then he said he had never thought of that.

Later he told me that originally he would not vote for me, but he was sorry now. He thanked me for making him realize that. He not only voted for me, as he told me afterward, but he became one of my volunteers.

Recently the House dealt with Bill C-78, changes to the pension fund of federal government employees that will allow the Liberals to make a one time $30 billion grab. One effect of the bill was to expand the benefits of the pension plan. It extended survivors benefits outside of marriage to marriage dependent on private sexuality regardless of gender.

When a contributor to a pension plan dies, the benefits go to the surviving husband or wife. The bill maintains that provision, which is good. It also extends the benefits beyond this point in a new way. The government said its intent was to extend the benefits to same sex relationships as well.

The issue here today is not of same sex benefits for couples; the issue is the definition of marriage. No sex means no benefits. This is not the right policy. It has added a new legal expression, a relationship of a conjugal nature with absolutely no definition of what it means.

In conclusion, the official opposition in our leadership role is asking the government and all sides of the House to affirm support for the definition of marriage as being a union between a man and a woman.

I would like to move an amendment to the main motion. I move:

That the motion be amended by replacing the words “in Canada” with the words “within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada”.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

On a point of order, the hon. member for Surrey Central.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to withdraw that amendment and change it. I move that the motion be amended by inserting between the words “to” and “state” the word “unequivocally”.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

My understanding was that an amendment had been moved and seconded and was before the House and could only be withdrawn by unanimous consent. Is that not correct?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The original amendment was before the House. I will just do a little consultation with the clerk to make sure we are on solid ground here.

The amendment had been presented by the member for Surrey Central in debate. It had not been presented to the House by the Chair and in that event had not been formally introduced to the House. It is perfectly within the normal procedure for the member on a point of order to rescind his earlier amendment and revise his amendment, which would then in due course be taken to the table officers and then to the Chair for presentation. We will do that right now.