Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party to take part in this debate. The hon. member for Calgary Centre has brought forward an issue that raises a great number of questions, perhaps more questions than we will be able to deal with in the time allotted for this debate.
The difficult aspect that I have with the motion and the wording of the motion is that it talks of the need to deal with this issue, which suggests that it is one of timeliness. I have to take some umbrage with that. I find myself agreeing with much of the discussion and the debate that is taking place, in particular when it was stated clearly by the Minister of Justice and echoed by other members that the definition of marriage already has quite a clear definition in common and civil law in this country. The acceptance of that reality in Canada is such that it leads me to question the necessity for this debate at this time, particularly given some of the very topical and more timely issues that exist.
We know of the strife that currently exists in places like Yugoslavia. We know, as well, that within our current justice system there is much that needs more full and open debate. We know that there is a crisis on the agriculture scene in western Canada, where most, if not all, Reform Party members find their homes. We know that tremendous challenges are being faced by our citizens in Atlantic Canada because of high unemployment and downturns in traditional industries like the fishery.
That is not to say for a moment that this issue is not one of importance. It is certainly one that I would suggest raises a great deal of emotion, which sometimes leads to extreme lines of thought.
Although it is an important issue, and is indeed important for those assembled here today and for those across the country to reflect on, I would suggest, given the amount of time that we have and the issues that are currently before us, that this is not something in which we should become bogged down. In acknowledging that marriage has very sacred and religious connotations and implications, and that there is always the need for the involvement of the church in this type of debate, there is also a need to acknowledge that there is a great deal of tolerance and clear thinking that has to be put forward before one draws clear legal definitions in the sand.
In my previous statement I said that the definition of marriage remains in place and intact to this time. To suggest, as is presumptive in this particular motion, that this is somehow under attack and is an issue of panic or urgency for Canadians is a misrepresentation.
This motion is very broad and asks for an affirmation, I suggest, of what already exists. The motion restates the current state of the law, both common and civil. Therefore, I question the nature of the motion, but I also question the motive for this debate. I cannot help but suggest that it is a presumptive and provocative attempt to raise what is considered a very divisive issue.
That is not to undermine the importance of the issue. There are many who would argue, in fact we have heard the argument today, that there is an erosion of social morals and that it stems from a decline in the institution of marriage. I personally do not prescribe to that thought. I believe that it runs much deeper and is far more complicated. My friend, the previous speaker from the New Democratic Party, spoke very eloquently about the intimacy and the personal elements of marriage. I believe that to be very true.
This motion does not call for specifics. It does not call for an amendment to current legislation, particularly the Criminal Code. It does not speak of charter amendments. It does not speak of highlighting one particular right over another. It calls for the Government of Canada to acknowledge that this is an important issue. I think we have been given fairly concrete and static assurances from the Minister of Justice in her appearance in the House today.
What the motion does not do is dwell on the important issues which, in a sense, I feel we have perhaps a higher degree of responsibility to respond to in a timely fashion. We do not talk about jobs, health care, education, a desire for a better quality of life or deal with conflict where we find it. In fact, this is an attempt to seek out a conflict on a moral issue. I am afraid that leaders sometimes simplify issues that divide instead of bind our Canadian people.
Some day there may be a challenge to the constitutional definition of marriage. We heard from a speaker today that this has occurred in the province of Ontario, and it may occur again. Again, it underscores that there is a sense of paranoia that the courts will completely betray us. There have certainly been controversial decisions made, but they will be remedied over time. There will be an opportunity for us to reflect on them and to make corrections when needed in this legislature.
Why on the last day do we find ourselves, before we are to grant supply to the government, discussing an issue such as this? I cannot help but suggest that there is some degree of an attempt to raise ire and hackles and to divide individuals, not only in the House amongst party affiliations but around the country, for crass political gain.
We are going to be exercising our rights in the House of Commons today to raise grievances before voting on all of the money that the Government of Canada is going to spend in the coming year. To a certain degree this allotted day is a little different than any other day. This day has a greater priority. We have an opportunity to bring grievances to the Government of Canada. This is an ancient right that we can exercise in this place. It is an opportunity for us to remind the government that there is a greater degree of accountability and responsibility that it should be exercising.
I suggest that the government has in many ways abused the privileges and its relationship with parliament. To a degree we know this is happening. There is strife within the caucus of the government.
We have an opportunity to send a message to the government today with respect to our confidence in the job that it is doing in representing Canadians. One of the messages that I believe should be sent is that we are not having enough opportunity to interact directly with ministers of the crown at committee or in the House. Time and time again we see important announcements made in the press gallery instead of here in the House of Commons. We have a very limited opportunity to interact at the committee level. We have one hour wherein we might be able to pose a handful of questions and receive very packed, evasive, non-informative answers.
There is a message that can be sent tonight with respect to the confidence that we have in the government when we stand in our place to vote. I believe that, in and of itself, it is an important message which should be sent and received by the government.
Turning back specifically to the motion before the House, I do not profess to stand to speak for every member of the Progressive Conservative caucus when I say that this is a motion of importance which needs to be flushed out. It is not the priority of the government at this time, nor should it be. This motion is an attempt, I believe, to somehow give Canadians the sense that a crisis exists and that is simply not the case.
I believe that we should be having consultations. I am sure the mover of this motion has heard from his constituents. I know that in my constituency of Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough there are many who have very strong and very reasonable attachments to the institution of marriage. That is fine. That is the way it should be. I do not believe that the institution of marriage is under attack or is in jeopardy, as this motion might suggest.
There are two very separate and distinct issues. I believe the hon. member would acknowledge that the issue of financial security, the issue of same sex benefits accruing to partners, is quite separate and apart. I do not believe the suggestion that one leads necessarily to the other. The courts themselves have given very clear rulings. The legislatures throughout the country, provincially and at the federal level, have in some cases led and in some cases followed. However, I do not believe that in this forum, in this debate today, we are going to find the magical answers that will preserve or fortify the institution of marriage. That is not going to be accomplished.
Again, I do not believe that the institution of marriage is in jeopardy. I believe that it is going to remain a very strong and important institution. When we talk of family and family definitions we find that traditional views of family have changed and they will continue to change and evolve. That is not to say that they will change necessarily for the worse, where there will be a clear reversal of what we have traditionally viewed as family. The importance of fortifying values in this country is recognizing what is safe, what is healthy and what is going to create a better citizenry.
I am afraid that this debate will not further that, at least not to the desired end. When we have an opportunity to vote this evening, the Progressive Conservative Party will be voting individually.