Mr. Speaker, this morning when I watched the news a representative of a particular group said “It is sad that parliament will be debating the continued discrimination against a certain group of people”.
I came into the lobby this morning and a staff member walked in. It was quite quiet in the lobby. The staff member made a comment to the effect that “The motion today is about marriage. Boy is that boring and inconsequential”. It is neither boring nor trivial. In fact it is a very important motion. It comes down to some fundamentals.
I often hear in this place talk about the broader issue, which no one wants to mention, about the proverbial line in the sand. The line in the sand, apparently, for many has to do with marriage. That is the line in the sand.
Policy by its very nature is discriminatory. It has to be discriminatory. Otherwise we would not need laws to identify who is included and who is out, who gets benefits and who does not. Policy by its very definition, by its very nature, is discriminatory.
To say that is to raise the issue of the context of discrimination. Earlier I spoke about the definition of discrimination. It is clear that if we look to many sources we will see that discrimination has negative connotations, prejudice, bias, victimization and so on. It also has the connotations of distinguishing between groups or favouring or identifying distinctive characteristics. There are other applications. In our laws we have many forms of discrimination which discriminate in favour.
I will highlight a couple of examples. On the income tax return for Canada there is a line for old age security. We get it because we are 65. It is age discrimination. It is in the charter of rights that we cannot discriminate on the basis of age, but we do discriminate because if a person is 65 they receive old age security. It is discrimination in favour of seniors.
Why is someone not here saying that we all have to be equal? Should we not all be equal?
What about disability benefits? There is discrimination in favour of those who are disabled.
There are a number of provisions for things such as investment income. A couple can pool their income. One can invest all of theirs and declare all the income. A single person with a partner cannot do that. There is discrimination on the basis of recognized partnership.
Alimony is another example. Another is registered pension plans, RRSPs. We can buy a spousal RRSP which can be rolled over upon death. These are all discriminatory in favour of a particular group.
If we look at child care expenses, we discriminate in favour of those situations in which both persons in the union are working. They receive a deduction, which is not available to those families who have one spouse providing direct parental care. It is discrimination, but it is discrimination in favour of something.
On that point I look back at history. It was brought in initially to take care of the situation of lone parents, because of that unique situation where there was hardship. It was a social benefit. It was not an employment expense. There is a debate on that as well.
There is an age for the non-refundable tax credit. When a person is 65 they receive it. There is the Canada pension plan, the transferability of tuition fees and education amounts. I could go on and on. That is simply from the Income Tax Act. We could imagine how many examples there are in our system of taxation and of benefits which are discriminatory by their nature. They are discriminatory at the discretion of parliament, reflecting the social values and the will of the Canadian people.
We should not talk about discrimination solely in the context of a negative. I think it is important for the House to stop using the word discrimination and start talking about valuing. How do we value things?
I have heard members of the NDP today, from Burnaby—Douglas, Churchill and Vancouver East, all demand that we need equality among people. The equality they are seeking is equality of individuals. NDP members are asking for the equality of individuals as represented by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our constitution. They want individuals to be the lowest common denominator.
Everyone should be treated the same, but the issue is, if we are going to treat everyone the same in regard to the context of this debate, it will then lead to the question of how we treat everyone with regard to all of our other tax laws and policies. Should we not treat everyone the same? Should we not reduce ourselves to the lowest common denominator? Should we not just be a vanilla society? Should we not just say that relationships do not exist in our laws? Why do we not just say that we are all individuals? There is a very good reason. It is because we are a society and a society, by definition, is more than a collection of individuals. There is a synergy in a society. There are certain things that happen.
Some will object to my doing this, but I want to note that the Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, wrote a letter concerning Bill C-78, which, as members know, has something to do with this issue. He talked about the family. We have not talked about the family yet and whether we put the family on a pedestal because the family has an important role to play. I would throw in that there is one definition of family that we all have in common, which is a child with a biological mother and a biological father. That is the family.
The Cardinal referred to the family. He said “They and their children constitute the family—the original cell of social life”. He quoted Pope John Paul II:
In their primary mission of communicating love to each other, of being co-creators with God of human life, and of transmitting the love of God to their children, parents must know that they are fully supported by the Church and by society.
We are here representing the interests of that society, not a collection of individuals. In fact we are also here very delicately trying to defend the family, trying to defend that fundamental basic unit of society without which we would cease to exist.
There is a special role. It is the procreative role that a couple has, a man and a woman. It is that role which we hold very dear, which we put on a pedestal, of which we discriminate in favour. It is why we have spousal benefits, spousal transfers, survivor benefits and all kinds and manners of benefits for the family.
I challenge anyone in this place to look at history, at the debate on all of those items on which some would say there is discrimination, to find one example of anybody who suggested that the reason it was being done was to be detrimental to some other group.
The debates underlying the laws of Canada are clear that discrimination within our system is affirmative discrimination. We discriminate to reflect values. If we did not do that then it would be a vanilla society. It would be a society which has no values, no vision for a millennium, nothing to pass on other than we are all individuals.
The issue here also has to do with the courts. Some believe that the courts have made law to the exclusion of parliament. Some believe that the courts have gone too far, that the pendulum has swung too far. Some are calling for parliament to stop the pendulum and to revisit this issue. Are we going to discriminate?
The very definition of marriage, to the exclusion of all others, which has been part of British common law since 1866, is discrimination: “to the exclusion of all others”. However, it is affirmative discrimination on behalf of the Canadian people who value and cherish and have great pride and joy in the Canadian family.