House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was relationships.


Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the debate today regarding Bill C-23. I believe it to be a reasonable and sound bill. It is after all an administrative bill which promotes the objectives of the Government of Canada.

I also want to note that several of my colleagues have already provided compelling arguments for the adoption of this legislation. They have, and quite rightfully so, noted that the proposed amendments to modernize benefits and obligations are fundamentally about fairness.

I also want to note that I will be sharing my time with my learned friend and a very prominent person, the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra.

The Supreme Court of Canada in its May 1999 ruling in M. v H. sent a clear signal that governments cannot limit benefits or obligations to opposite sex common law relationships. This bill will ensure that federal laws reflect the values of Canadians, values that are enshrined in that sacred of documents, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The modernization of benefits and obligations act will treat common law same sex relationships and common law opposite sex relationships equally under the law. The act recognizes that same sex couples in committed relationships are entitled to the same benefits and obligations as their unmarried opposite sex counterparts.

Canadians can be reassured that the proposed legislation does not change the legal definition of marriage. Marriage is clearly defined in Canadian law as being the union of two persons of the opposite sex. Although a few European countries, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, by way of example, have limited recognition of same sex relationships, a distinction is maintained in the law between marriage and same sex relationships.

This legislation is in line with what is happening elsewhere in the country. Several provinces have already begun to amend their benefits and obligations legislation. For example, in 1997 British Columbia amended numerous statutes to include same sex partners. In June of 1999 Quebec amended 28 statutes and 11 regulations to grant to same sex partners the same benefits and obligations that are available to opposite sex common law partners. In October 1999, to comply with the supreme court decision in M. v H., the province of Ontario passed omnibus legislation to bring 67 statutes in compliance with the ruling, and it was done within 48 hours.

As well, more than 200 private sector Canadian companies currently give benefits to their employees' same sex partners, as do many municipalities, hospitals, libraries and community and social service institutions across this great country of ours. Clearly a majority of Canadians acknowledge and accept that same sex common law couples should have legal rights and obligations similar to common law couples.

Having said that, it is necessary to make a distinction between common law and dependency relationships. For example, the conjugal common law relationship, be it of the opposite or same sex, is very different from a relationship between members of the same family or long time roommates. A number of adult Canadians currently reside with elderly parents, siblings or other relatives. Extending benefits and obligations to people involved in all of these forms of relationships would have far-reaching consequences for individuals and for society as a whole.

Although many federal statutes currently extend limited benefits and obligations to family relationships, further study is required to determine if it would be appropriate to treat family relationships in a similar manner as common law couples in all or at least in some of the circumstances.

The Minister of Justice, who led off debate last Tuesday on this very important bill, has referred the question of dependency to a parliamentary committee where the proper consultation and discussion can take place. Canadians need to be brought into the discussion and included in an examination of this issue.

I want to take a little time to outline some of the things that need to be looked at and discussed. For example, take the case of an elderly women living with her son and daughter-in-law. Should the younger couple's combined income be included in the senior citizen's calculation of her eligibility for the guaranteed income supplement or under the old age security? I do not know the answer to that. I think we should find out. Or, consider the example of children caring for parents in their home. In one case a daughter supports her widowed father. In the house next door another woman provides for both her mother and father. How would we treat these cases? I do not know, but we should find out.

Would relationships of dependency apply to any two people who live together or to limited numbers as long as they are under the same roof? I do not know the answer to that. Again, we need to find out. Would the government exclude all relatives, as France does now, or exclude only opposite sex common law couples, as Hawaii has chosen to do? We need to study that. More to the point, are Canadians prepared to assume the obligations that are part and parcel of this legislation? The fact is, the issue goes far beyond simply extending benefits. Bill C-23 also imposes obligations.

Our objectives in considering changes to the system should be to encourage rather than discourage people from taking care of each other. While benefits which reflect dependency would likely be welcomed, it is unclear whether the accompanying legal obligations should be imposed on individuals for those relatives with whom they reside. This needs further study to know exactly what that means.

An equally important consideration is that even if such a system were created at the federal level it would only apply to areas of federal jurisdiction. Many pieces of legislation that grant benefits and impose obligations are now divided between or shared among the federal, provincial and territorial governments. More and more of our social programs are seamless, necessitating consultation and co-operation with our provincial and territorial colleagues and partners. This is exactly what the Minister of Justice wants to pursue, as announced last Tuesday.

This bill does not preclude discussion which has already started, and rightfully so. This is a huge and very important issue, not only to the House but to all Canadians, on whether and how to acknowledge the nature and reality of the many types of dependent relationships. The government will carefully examine the findings of current studies being conducted into this issue. It seems obvious that there may be many remaining issues to be resolved. It is important that we take the necessary time to do our homework and get it right.

In the meantime we have an immediate requirement to extend benefits and obligations to same sex partners. The supreme court ruling is clear. It has sent a clear message that same sex couples must be treated equally to opposite sex common law couples.

Canadians are a just, fair and honourable people. They do not like discrimination. They do not like intolerance. They believe in fairness. They believe in tolerance and equal treatment under the law. It is now up to us as legislators to ensure that the laws of the land comply with the direction given to us by the courts and the court of public opinion. By amending these 68 statutes, affecting some 20 departments and agencies, in one comprehensive bill we can quickly and efficiently modernize many laws that are currently out of sync with Canadian values.

I urge all hon. members of the House to vote accordingly and to endorse this necessary administrative legislation.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the comments of the member opposite. He brought up a couple of points which I would like him to clarify. Regarding his plea to have all members of the House vote for this legislation, I can assure him that I will not be voting for it.

He mentioned taking direction from the courts. One thing we must remember is that there was some direction given by the House last June when it voted to affirm the definition of marriage. I would like his comments on why that definition is not affirmed in this legislation.

He mentioned many areas that needed clarification. How are we going to apply this law when it is based on sexual activity and when other relationships of dependency are not clarified? How are we going to do that? If this needs to be done, as I believe it does, then why have we not opened up this bill to more broad public input? Would that input not help to solve some of the problems that he indicated still exist with this legislation?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to inform the hon. member that the definition of marriage is already in law. It is built into the laws of Canada. Therefore, it really is unnecessary in this instance to reassert it.

In terms of the member's second question, we are not about to bring in sex police or anything else that he might have alluded to in terms of enforcement. This is simply an administrative bill that is a fair bill. It ensures that Canadians, whoever they are, are treated with tolerance, compassion and respect. We will do it in a manner consistent with the values that all or at least most Canadians hold, and it is important that we proceed accordingly.

Whether it is immigration, Indian affairs, the Nisga'a treaty, or other issues relating to a whole host of things, it is always amazing to me to hear Reform members talk in code. They talk in code in a manner that is inconsistent with the very fundamental principles of this great country of ours. Canadians reject outright what they represent and the kind of nonsense they promote.

We are not about the politics of hatred; we are about the politics of hope. On the government side we will continue to maintain the politics of hope because that is what Canadians, who are fair, tolerant and compassionate, want us to do.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

February 21st, 2000 / 1:10 p.m.


Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, we should perhaps examine what this bill is and what it is not. It is a response to a Supreme Court of Canada decision, M v H.

Parliament, under our system of modified separation of powers, is a co-ordinate institution with the court and must respond to and accept supreme court decisions in our area of constitutional competence. The only solution other than that is by way of constitutional amendment seeking to override a supreme court decision, and that is a very difficult hurdle; or it is by use of the notwithstanding clause, and by consensus of parliament all parties, since the adoption of the charter of rights, accept that that is not a remedy to be used at the federal level.

We have responded appropriately to the Supreme Court of Canada decision. It is on that basis that I support this bill, and my constituents, as good Canadians, understanding that we live under the rule of law, will do the same.

I say, though, that the nature of the bill, the limited objective that it has, explains what in terms of legal drafting might be called a somewhat inelegant, dull or pedestrian formulation. It is a compendium of 68 different federal laws which are changed as a result of this bill. It is not, however, a declaration of same sex rights or a code of new relationships. That is not its function. It simply establishes certain legal consequences of same sex relations applying to 68 different areas of federal responsibility. That is what the bill is about.

Larger issues were thoughtfully raised by the Minister of Justice and by my colleague, the member of parliament for Waterloo—Wellington, in his address on the larger issue of the legal consequences of relations of dependency. It is one of the interesting things in the multicultural society in which we live, and which is very much present to me as a member of parliament for the city of Vancouver, that the new cultural communities have reaffirmed what has always been part of their heritage but seems to have disappeared in general in the older Canadian society. That is the extended family relationship and the notion that there are categorical imperatives, if we can call them that, of a moral nature but which are observed even more fully than in a legal relationship, between parents and their children, in the relationship of children to support parents, in the relationship of siblings within a family relationship.

The Minister of Justice promised study of this issue and it is an idea that seems historically right for reaffirmation. I know of very many situations of aged parents supported by children. I know very many situations of unmarried sisters or unmarried siblings living in support to each other. It is correct, as the member for Waterloo—Wellington said, that these relationships will involve, if we are to give legal recognition to them, the same sort of intricate study of perhaps 68 or even 108 federal laws, and probably provincial laws, to get an answer, but it need not be a Kathleen Mavourneen situation, that it may be now or maybe never with the study. We can rely on enough pressures within the cabinet and the government to be very sure that when we speak of a study it will be a very timely study.

There have been problems that have been referred to and I will simply say that as a lawyer I do not see the same degree of problem solving difficulty as perhaps some of the people who have already spoken.

It is said that if one gets into a legal dependency relationship one may logically lose the benefit of separate income tax filing benefits that apply to persons operating singly. This is true as the law stands. It may be a case for changing the law. It may, however, also be a case for persons seriously considering whether they wish to offer themselves in a special category of a dependent relationship deserving recognition by the state, especially in our taxation laws.

It has been mentioned that people may change their mind. The son who supports his aged mother may decide enough is enough and run away. I am afraid if we establish legal dependency relation privileges and benefits it maybe one of the things we have to put up with; that we cannot renege unilaterally or casually on a relationship entered into. These are the sorts of things that an intelligent legal study by a parliamentary committee, that is now envisaged for this new type of legal relationship, will get into.

We may also have problems of establishing a bona fide relationship of dependency. I see this problem existing in relation to Bill C-23 as it now stands and any future bill on dependency relationships. It is not an insuperable problem. It is the sort of thing that a good revenue minister is very well aware of because revenue ministers aim to catch up with gaps in the tax system and evasion, fraudulent or otherwise.

What I am saying is that there are problems. They can be studied in depth but the difficulty of solving them are not impossible or beyond the capacities of parliamentary committee of the calibre of an all-party committee set up in this particular House.

I reaffirm that the relationship of dependency, which the minister promised to study, is perhaps the most interesting idea to come out of this particular debate. It is something on which the new Canadian communities have more to offer the older Canadian communities and to remind them of obligations that they have perhaps forgotten too easily, the older communities in the open society in which we live.

Bill C-23 goes a very important part of the way but it is only part of the way. We should, in this sense, accept in good faith the undertaking by the minister and vote for Bill C-23 because it respects our obligation to respect decisions of the supreme court and bring federal laws in line in a timely fashion.

I would have drafted it differently. It is a huge bill with 68 different laws but it is an indication of the complexity of the problem in terms of tidying up the legal details. That work has been done in this domain and the work in the other domain, the larger dependency relationship, will take at least as much time.

On that basis, I commend this idea to you, Mr. Speaker. One could note that in another capacity it seems to me that you, Mr. Speaker, have expressed ideas very similar to my own.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-23 is an act to modernize the Statues of Canada in relation to benefits and obligations is an act to ensure that common law relationships, both opposite and same sex, are treated equally under the law.

Many Canadians believed that this was already the practice in Canada, just as they believed that pay equity was already established. Canadians have had their eyes opened over the last few years as we New Democrats in the House of Commons have had to constantly, week after week, remind the government of its obligations to follow the law and to treat people equally and fairly.

The changes in Bill C-23 are about fairness. They will ensure that in keeping with the Supreme Court of Canada decision in May 1999 same sex common law couples have the same obligations and benefits as opposite sex common law couples. The act will ensure that same sex couples have the same access as other Canadian couples to social benefits programs to which they have contributed.

This legislation is supported by 70% of Canadians. As Canadians we recognize the diverse makeup of families in Canada. We have come to understand and support same sex partners who are committed to each other and their families. With that commitment comes the right to equal and fair treatment inferred by legislation in this country.

This act is not about special rights, as some in the House would suggest. It is not about special treatment. It is about fairness and equality, responsibility and accountability.

I know the government has a hard time with those words when it comes to taxpayer dollars, but in this act that it what is intended: responsibility and accountability.

The bill is a long overdue response by the government to the supreme court. It is a long overdue recognition of same sex couples. The supreme court case, M v H, which led to this act, was about support payments after the breakdown of a same sex relationship: commitment, responsibility and accountability.

The changes to legislation as a result of the bill are not about money. In fact the finance department estimates that changes to the Income Tax Act to extend conjugal obligations to same sex couples will lead to an additional $10 million in revenues for the federal government. I am surprised this did not come about sooner, as we see the government trying to get as many dollars as it can through EI and CPP surpluses and numerous other reasons.

These changes will save taxpayers and litigants expensive court battles which are the result of out of date and contradictory legislation. Some 68 acts will be amended as a result. I will mention just a few: the Employment Insurance Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security Acts.

Several provinces have already begun to amend their legislation. Since 1997 British Columbia has amended numerous statutes, including six core statutes to add same sex couples. In June 1999 Quebec amended 28 statutes and 11 regulations to grant same sex couples the same benefits and obligations that are available to opposite sex common law couples. In October 1999, to comply with the supreme court decision, Ontario passed omnibus legislation to bring 67 statutes into compliance with the ruling.

Parliament passed legislation, Bill C-78, that extended survivor pension benefits to same sex partners of federal public service employees, as have Manitoba, Quebec, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. As well, the majority of large cities in Canada and more than 200 private sector Canadian companies currently provide benefits to the same sex partner of their employees, as do many municipalities, hospitals, libraries, and social service institutions across Canada.

It is important to note that the Immigration Act will not be amended with this legislation. It is understood that requirements for such recognition are distinct from other benefits. However, the minister of immigration has indicated a willingness to address this issue and New Democrats urge the government to move quickly on this act.

The majority of Canadians support the legislation. It is a step in the right direction. I and my New Democratic Party colleagues will be supporting the bill.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is about time we cleared the air a little bit about some of the rhetoric.

The bill does not create equality. For that reason alone this member should be voting against the bill. It is not equal because same gender couples, heterosexual and homosexual, must wait for one year before they qualify for benefits. It is not equal to married couples and the definition of marriage will not be changed in the legislation. The definition of marriage, under the common law of Canada, is defined as a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.

The member is absolutely incorrect. This does not create equality. Many people have said that in the next step they will go after marriage. I can tell the House today that there is no question in my mind that the vast majority of the members of the House will not support the change in the definition of marriage.

The member refers to a cost of $10 million and that somehow the government should have moved quicker on this. The facts are that only 1.6% of all same sex partners will ever qualify for benefits under the changes proposed in this legislation. Officials have estimated that the government will make money on the changes because things like the GST credit will no longer extend to two persons but rather to only one partnership in which the partner income will be a clawback determinant.

Let us be clear. This bill is not about equality between same sex partners and married persons. It is very different. The member should acknowledge that because there is a discriminatory clause that says that there is a one year waiting period which will exclude 98.6% of all same sex partners she should be voting against the bill.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, seeing as that member is from the governing side, I think he should look to his minister to get clarity on the issue. She has spoken in a different tone and has indicated that the bill is about equality and fairness. It is no surprise that on the government side one hand does not know what the other hand is doing.

I agree that the bill does not ensure total equality for everyone. The member is absolutely right. That is at fault in the legislation and we will work hard to ensure that equality.

The issue here is not about marriage. The issue is about benefits for same sex couples to ensure they are treated fairly under the legislation.

There is no question that there needs to be some serious work on that side of the House when members on the backbench come out on one side saying that this is not about equality and fairness and the frontbench ministers saying that it is all about equality and fairness.

As I said, it is no surprise to hear the government speaking one way and then another way. It is whatever fits the mould.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak in favour of Bill C-23.

The provisions of the bill are not only a reaction to the recent supreme court decision but, I would suggest, also reflects the need to acknowledge the contemporary reality of relationships that are not exclusively unions between men and women. I think the spirit of the bill is closely tied to a sense of fairness, tolerance and equality.

I will specifically address a few points that require some clarification. First, there is a misconception that the bill alters the institution of marriage and the definition of spouse.

Second, the bill simply brings the federal government up to date with other governments and the private sector in expanding benefits and obligations to adults engaged in same sex common law relationships.

Third, it is wrong to think that extending benefits will create added or undue physical burdens on the federal treasury and the taxpayer.

Finally, I think it is necessary to point out that the supreme court recently made a ruling that suggested that the federal government might enact statutes that are compatible with that court's rulings and the charter of rights specifically.

The bill and the legal interpretation confirm that changes the bill would bring would not alter the definition of marriage. Marriage would still be defined as the union between a man and a woman with all its past and contemporary legal applications intact. We should point out that Canadian courts, academics and ordinary citizens have continuously reaffirmed the first 1866 British court case definition of marriage as being the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

I would like to digress here by saying that there was also a 1970 House of Lords decision on this very point, the case of Corbett v Corbett, where the individual, who appeared to be a woman had in fact been a man. On the basis of genetics, the court decided that a man was always a man notwithstanding what he appeared to be otherwise. To this day, Canadian courts have upheld the constitutionality of this definition.

Similarly, under the legislation the term spouse will only refer to a married man and woman. Marital status will remain unaltered. Any existing federal statutes that include the term spouse will still only apply to married couples. It is wrong to suggest that the provisions of Bill C-23 will alter the existing legal definitions with respect to the term marriage and all that that entails.

I suggest that some would try to use the legislation so that it might have the effect of turning back the clock to a time when social prejudice forced same sex relationships into the shadows. I would like to think as a society we pride ourselves on openness and compassion and that to ignore reality that is as old as time is not appropriate.

I think of one province in particular. An individual who taught in a school was given high approval ratings as a teacher until such time as it was learned by his employer that the individual was in fact gay. The terms of his dismissal were exclusively on the basis of his sexual orientation. In that province it was allowed to pass because, as I understand it, there was no legislation to protect the individual. I would think as a contemporary society and as a federal government we are long past that.

I am also told that public opinion surveys indicate that Canadians by a two to one margin believe that same sex couples should have access to the same benefits and be subject to the same obligations as any man or woman presently engaged in a spousal or opposite sex common law relationship. I ask those who are opposed to the bill to canvass their constituents to gain an accurate composite of opinion in their constituencies.

I understand there are people who are opposed to the bill. I think that in the House most who oppose it do so on the basis of belief systems and value systems. We have to look beyond our own individual belief or value systems to the wider, larger picture.

It is also reasonable to expect that same sex couples should be treated in the same way as other conjugal relationships. The time is long past when it was acceptable to characterize same sex relationships as deviant or odd, as some people would call them, or acts of rebellion against social conformity. Same sex relationships for some are just as natural and regular as other types of relationships and it is not for us to treat them otherwise. That opinion reflects my views on the matter.

Last year in the city of Sarnia in my riding there was the first gay pride parade. I was approached about participating. I had no problem whatsoever; I am not so insecure as to be afraid of a gay pride parade and I participated in it. The shame of the whole thing was that not one other elected person in my riding was present, municipal or provincial; they could not find a councillor, a mayor or anyone who would go in the parade. There were 500 people in the city of Sarnia who participated in that parade. I was quite proud to be there.

I am not so insecure as to think that if I went to the parade that somebody would start a whisper campaign. My mother said to me that if I went to the parade, people may say things about me. The next day I happened to go to another event at the Polish Combatants Association. I called my mother and said that I was concerned that people were starting to whisper saying they thought I was Polish.

My children who are in university and below were quite proud of me that I would go to the gay pride parade. In this country there is a continuum of opinion, but I think a part of it is related to age. Young people understand that there is equality in this country, that we are not all made the same and that we cannot all be the same. It is like fingerprints; no two are the same. In this continuum of relationships, one could argue in this continuum of sexuality, young people inherently understand that if somebody is different from someone else, it is not a big deal. It is not a criterion on which we want to discriminate or even to point out differences.

My children were quite proud that I would participate. I felt it was important to show everyone that alternative lifestyle choices are in some respect mainstream, no big deal, or nothing to get upset about and that they crosscut every facet of social identities. Alternative lifestyles, although not perhaps my lifestyle, are valid. There is no legal, social, fiscal or political reason to treat those choices as anything else but legitimate.

Bill C-23 is being described by some, and it is fair to make comment, as trend-setting or innovative because several provincial governments, including good old Ontario, that hotbed of liberal thought, British Columbia and Quebec have similar same sex laws. Also, in my riding private sector companies such as Dow Chemical have had them for a number of years. Large corporations in particular have been extending benefits to same sex couples for some time.

There has also been some expression of concern with respect to the confusion between federal and provincial laws, in other words, the federal statutes would in some way cause confusion with the provincial statutes. I fail to understand how this would be the case because proposed federal legislation will only affect existing federal statutes. Provincial laws fall under corresponding provincial jurisdiction.

Just as the proposed federal legislation will not impact on provincial jurisdictions, it will not affect private sector companies nor non-governmental organizations. In fact over 200 companies and organizations in the private sector have already extended benefits to adults in same gender relationships, as have many municipalities, quasi-governmental organizations such as some hospitals and other public or municipal institutions such as libraries.

Bill C-23 brings us up to the same level of benefit coverage that is available in several other provincial jurisdictions and in the private and municipal sectors. Even if the supreme court ruling had never been handed down, I would suggest it would have been odd that the federal government not introduce legislation similar to what is included in Bill C-23.

There has also been some talk that by extending benefits to same sex couples, an undue fiscal burden would be placed upon the federal government. This legislation aside, certainly when legislation is introduced for which there may be a fiscal implication, it is a fair question to ask having regard to the cost of a piece of legislation, having regard to the sector of the population which may be touched by the legislation, what the overall cost is, what it means to the taxpayer, the taxpayer being somebody whose sexual orientation is not even known. It is important to study fiscal implications of any bill regardless of a person's sexual orientation.

In this case, if we take the time to examine the bill and consider the overall ramifications, we come to the conclusion that the changes would be revenue neutral. It is important to remember that while the provisions of Bill C-23 extend benefits, which is one thing the public has latched onto, they also extend obligations to same gender couples. Any financial gain a couple would have gained would likely be offset by a higher taxation obligation, as a different status would require such things as income to be assessed jointly rather than separately.

I am sure there are cases where one could make the argument that in a particular instance there is a benefit to this. But we are talking about the overall envelope and what the Department of Finance has studied and what it has concluded.

Another example of obligation is how the GST credit can be claimed. Currently two individuals involved in a same sex relationship can individually claim two separate GST credits and file two separate income tax returns based on separate individual incomes, increasing the combined value that their credits are worth. Under the bill this practice would not be permitted. Extended benefits would likely beget higher total taxation obligations. In this case any extra money flowing out of the treasury to cover the cost of extended benefits would be recouped by the added money that would come in on the revenue side. All indications are that this is a revenue neutral matter.

What would cost taxpayers money would be the ensuing legal costs of contesting personal discrimination suits that could be launched because of federal government refusal to conform with the charter of rights and freedoms. Those who oppose this legislation might address this concern. There is a rising awareness in this country of the importance of the charter and of its application in a myriad of situations, this general round being one of them.

This brings me to my final point. I would respect anyone's right to oppose this bill but we should consider the consequences of not proceeding with it. I want to emphasize that I understand that there are people who see this from a different perspective. I appreciate that. I might have been the same way at some point in the past. I understand people's right to oppose this because of their religious beliefs and value system. I completely understand that. I am not saying that mine is superior to theirs. I just think that at the moment this is where the mainstream and the majority of Canadians are.

Bill C-23 fits in with the overall philosophy of fairness that the government ascribes to. We must not lose sight of last year's supreme court ruling that gave effect to this bill. It prodded it along. In M v H the supreme court ruled that governments cannot limit benefits and obligations to married and opposite sex common law relationships. If this bill had not been introduced, or if the House chooses to defeat it, we must understand that the federal government's general operations would run afoul of this constitutional obligation as laid out by the charter.

Our constitutional system demands that its governments strictly adhere to its precepts and that includes the charter of rights of freedoms. It would not be able to operate indefinitely without doing so. One can argue that if it did, a constitutional crisis could develop. That might be taking it a distance, but it undermines the respect for the charter. No government can operate outside the constitutional box for that long. For this reason Bill C-23 is necessary.

I would like to think that this is not a piece of legislation that has been ordered, that the supreme court has held a gun to our head saying that we must do this. The supreme court is there to tell us whether a piece of legislation is consistent with the charter, whether it is consistent with the spirit intent of the charter, and whether a particular piece of legislation which is sensitive to the rights of minorities in this country, stands up to that very important standard as laid down in the charter. The bill simply brings us into line with what the supreme court has interpreted.

It is fair for some people to say that the Supreme Court of Canada should not be telling the Parliament of Canada what to do, and I agree. In this place we can ultimately decide what we are to do, but we should be mindful of the charter. Unless there is some overriding reason to opt out of the charter, and I suggest that would have to be a very severe case, we should be mindful at all times of the rules of fairness, equity and equality. The only way we could ever get out of it is by invoking the notwithstanding clause and in this case it would a no-go, a drastic response.

If we were to operate indefinitely by invoking the notwithstanding clause every time certain interests suggest we should, we would end up undoubtedly questioning the legitimacy of the charter which guarantees the rights we hold very close as a democratic society and as citizens of Canada.

Some might choose to diminish the supreme court ruling by trotting out the bogeyman of judge made law or by saying the supreme court interpreted the charter in the wrong way and therefore the House can ignore it, just disregard it.

This line of thought is extremely dangerous. By deploying such characterizations critics are effectively delegitimizing the entire judicial system by suggesting that some legal rulings are not as sound as others. For our constitutional system to work we must faithfully accept that rulings made by the Canadian judiciary are sound and appropriately reflect the present meaning of the constitution.

I reiterate that there may be some point in the future where the supreme court makes a ruling that flies in the face of all logic, flies in the face of where we are as a country. There may be that odd ball exception every 10, 15, 50 or 100 years where the notwithstanding clause could be invoked, but this is clearly not the case.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to address the House on this matter. I hope by offering my views on Bill C-23 that I have been able to allay some concerns people in my riding have expressed to me. I welcome any questions or comments at this time.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appeal to the professional knowledge and legal background of the hon. member opposite who just spoke. I am sure it is extensive because I have watched him in other arenas. The hon. gentleman deserves to be commended for some of the things he has done. I also commend him for his independence from time to time. He does say things a little differently than some of his colleagues.

I appeal to the member's interpretation of the 1999 supreme court decision in Ontario in the M and H case. The court struck down a provision in the Ontario family law act defining spouses as married persons or partners in a heterosexual relationship who have lived together for more than three years. The court ruled that it was unconstitutional to exclude same sex couples from the second category but it left the issue of marriage untouched.

I would like to ask the hon. member three questions. First, does he agree that the supreme court left the issue of marriage untouched? Second, would he agree that the bill on a legal basis changes the status of marriage vis-à-vis where it stands at the present time? Should Bill C-23 be cognizant of and take into account what was passed in June 1999 when the definition of marriage was endorsed whole heartedly by the House as being a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others? Could the member address those questions?

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for those questions. There is a certain level of fear that is not based upon any reality.

Let us look at this piece of legislation in a continuum of time. Who would have thought 30 or 40 years ago that we would be in this place talking about something that is popularly referred to as gay rights? Who would have thought 25 years ago that there would be a movement not just in Canada but on this continent that would be called the gay rights movement? It was inconceivable, but we have to recognize that society is changing, certain values, beliefs and attitudes. Attitudes tie into the belief system and value system.

Marriage is a relatively old institution. The basic institution called marriage will not be undone in this place or in a provincial House because of a social movement which may have started 20 years ago or because of changes in attitude toward people who are generally referred to as homosexual or lesbian. That will not destroy the institution of marriage.

There is concern expressed that one day the nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada will wake up and say that this has been around for 20 years, that they have read about it in newspapers and that they will undo marriage. The supreme court is not about to undo marriage. The only way that marriage can be undone is through the collective action of this House and the 10 provincial houses.

When a man and a woman are about to enter into a marriage, who lays down the regulations about who can marry? It is the provinces. They dictate everything from who is qualified to perform a marriage. I cannot perform a marriage but I have some friends in the clergy who are licensed to do so.

The provinces also lay down degrees of consanguinity which deal with my being unable to marry my sister or my first cousin. The idea that this place or the nine justices down the street will wake up one day and say that marriage is over after eons of civilization is slightly paranoid. Marriage is defined not only by the courts but most recently reaffirmed in the House a year ago. There is a conspiracy theory, which is the toughest to deal with. There is an ongoing whisper campaign that somehow we will overturn it.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for his speech on this very important piece of legislation and raise a couple of points he referenced in it.

The first concerns the fact that some individuals would like to portray this debate, this issue, this bill, as trend setting, groundbreaking and innovative. I wonder if it makes more sense to portray the legislation in terms of housekeeping and necessary work on our part to bring federal statutes in line with the values of Canadians and with numerous judicial and legislative rulings in the country to date.

The second point is the fact that the member referenced differences of opinion on the whole issue of extending the benefits to same sex couples that exist now to opposite sex couples. He referenced that there were differences that should be respected. I agree with that. However, I wonder if he shares our concern that positions have been stated in the House which are thinly veiled attempts to promote and endorse discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I wonder if we are really talking about acknowledging the rights of every person in the country to participate as equal citizens and about ensuring we acknowledge loving and committed relationships whether they are same sex or opposite sex.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for those questions. On the question of housekeeping I totally agree. I recall in the last parliament we amended the federal rights act regarding employees of federal institutions. That was also regarded as an attack upon the institution of marriage. Even in my moments of free association I could not make that connection. As I pointed out, there are provinces that have already enacted similar legislation.

In the case of the earlier legislation we were 12 years behind some provinces. We were 10 years behind good old Ontario and 12 years or thereabouts behind the province of Quebec. It is housekeeping. We are getting caught up although in this case we are not terribly behind in terms of the pack.

With respect to the other point made, this is about a societal shift. We have become more aware of society saying that people who are labelled homosexual or lesbian are part of society. They are just as important and equally vital to society. They should be recognized as part of society and extended the same benefits and obligations as those we extend to others who happen not to be homosexual and happen to be something called heterosexual.

Modernization Of Benefits And Obligations ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

It being nearly 2 p.m., we will now proceed to Statements by Members.

Heritage DayStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, today is Heritage Day, a special day set aside each year to recognize and increase awareness of the country's diverse heritage.

Each Heritage Day celebrates a different aspect of the people, places and events that have helped to shape our country. This year's theme is our farming heritage and it focuses on two areas: the heritage of place, the buildings and the sites across Canada that reflect our farming history, and the important story of the growth and production of food in Canada.

In my riding on Saturday, February 19, I had the pleasure of co-hosting the Heritage Day celebrations at the Parkdale Public Library. Our celebrations began with the Parkdale Collegiate Institute ensemble, followed by performances by the Portuguese, Tamil, Indian, Mexican and Estonian communities.

The afternoon gave my constituents the opportunity to celebrate and share in the country's diverse heritage by celebrating the diverse and rich cultures of our country.

British Columbia Winter GamesStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, with only three days until the opening ceremonies of the B.C. Winter Games, get ready for the snow to fly. The city of Quesnel is proud to host the year 2000 winter games.

British Columbia is known for its winters and especially for its winter sports. Many athletes who have honed their skills at the B.C. Winter Games go on to represent their province at the Canada Winter Games. More than 2,000 athletes from across B.C. will compete in over 20 events.

I commend the more than 1,600 volunteers busily preparing the food, accommodation, transportation and security arrangements necessary to welcome athletes, coaches, parents and chaperones to Quesnel and to what surely will be one of the best winter games ever.

I am pleased to be attending the games. I am particularly proud to participate in the opening ceremonies and to bring greetings and best wishes from all of Canada. We congratulate the people of Quesnel, British Columbia, and all the athletes and volunteers for the months and years of preparation, and now this festival of competition and camaraderie. The spirit lives on.

Summit Of The AmericasStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, last week, our Prime Minister inaugurated the secretariat of the Summit of the Americas, which is to prepare the event planned for April 20 to 22, 2001, in Quebec City.

The summit will bring together the heads of the countries and governments of this hemisphere.

In addition, this event will be the high point of two years of important events organized by Canada, beginning with the Pan American games in 1999.

Canada was chosen at the previous summit, in 1998, held in Santiago, Chile. In the middle of last May, Mr. Chrétien made the choice of Quebec City official.

Thirty-four heads of state and government are expected in Quebec City. It may be justifiably proud of being chosen to host this event, and we wish the organizers of the summit every success.

Summit Of The AmericasStatements By Members

2 p.m.

The Speaker

I would remind the member that we must use only the name of the riding or the title of the member.

Inuit Circumpolar ConferenceStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to inform you that the municipality of Kuujjuaq, in Nunavik, has been chosen to host the general meeting of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in 2002.

I would like to recognize the hard work done by Johnny Adams, the president of the Kativik Regional Government, Michael Gordon, the mayor of Kuujjuaq, Pita Aatami, the president of the Makivik Corporation and their team, in making Kuujjuaq the host city for this meeting.

My hearty congratulations to the Inuit of Nunavik.

Budget 2000Statements By Members

2 p.m.


Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance will soon bring down budget 2000, the first of this newborn century. The Government of Canada has assured us that it will be a balanced budget with a balanced approach, a budget that will set out a multi-year tax reduction plan and one that invests in children, knowledge, creativity, innovation, environment and health.

This balanced approach reflects the Prime Minister's vision of the Canada of the 21st century: “Where prosperity is not limited to the few, but shared by the many; where every child gets the right start in life—young people have the chance to be the best—and citizens have access to the skills and knowledge they need to excel. Where citizens—regardless of income—receive quality health services”.

The Prime Minister has spoken and we share his vision. Budget 2000 will make Canada the place to be in this new century. Indeed the Minister of Finance will deliver.

Heritage DayStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Inky Mark Reform Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, today is Canada's Heritage Day. Canada is a country with a rich history and heritage. This year we are celebrating our farming heritage.

The rural culture today is at risk. Farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan need farm disaster relief.

Safe firearm use on farms is also a part of the rural culture.

Today Canadians celebrate the contributions of our aboriginals an Inuit peoples, our pioneers who opened up this land and our men and women who laid down their lives in times of war so we can live in a free society.

Canada must show the courage to acknowledge the bleak moments of history, such as the internment of the Ukrainians at the turn of the century and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923.

Today we celebrate our heritage knowing that all Canadians, wherever they originated, have made significant contributions in building this country. Our history reflects this diversity. This history must be passed on to all Canadians, young and old.

Heritage DayStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Paul Bonwick Liberal Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, today we celebrate Canada's Heritage Day.

Canadians are well aware that our country's heritage is unique. It reflects our shared and diverse symbols, the languages we speak, our natural and historic sites, the special places of aboriginal people in Canada, and the diverse groups who have built this great country.

This diversity is certainly evident in my riding of Simcoe—Grey. Expressing our heritage means promoting a plurality of choices. It means encouraging the individuals who create as well as those who form audiences. It includes building the capacity of our institutions, communities and industries to promote out culture. It means connecting Canadians to one another and to the world.

Following question period today in Room 200 of the West Block the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust will unveil 12 audio-visual pieces of Canada's heritage that have been preserved and restored for future generations. As a member of parliament on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage I encourage all members to attend this event.

Bill C-20Statements By Members

2 p.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, for several weeks now, the Bloc Quebecois has been questioning the government about its haste in passing Bill C-20, but has not received any useful answer.

On Friday, the group Pro-démocratie criticized the government's haste, adding:

While it is true that Ottawa has made a habit of resorting to unilateralism, denial of justice and rights, and repeated violations of ethics, we will never get used to it. On the contrary, we will always condemn this—After 1982, after the tens of millions of dollars spent on the 1980, 1992 and 1995 referendum debates, after the unilateral adoption of the social union framework, after all these violations of fair play and ethics, we want to condemn this most recent show of force and ask for the withdrawal of Bill C-20, because this bill is an attempt by the federal government to set the rules and to subordinate the people of Quebec to its authority, when in fact the people of Quebec has exclusive jurisdiction over these issues.

The message could not be any clearer.

Heritage DayStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Larry McCormick Liberal Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, today we celebrate Canada's Heritage Day 2000.

Each Heritage Day celebrates a different aspect of the places, people and events which have helped to shape our country. This year the theme is “Our Farming Heritage”.

One of the oldest sectors of the economy, farming in Canada is a story of nation building. Much of Canada was first settled by farmers. The historic patterns of farm settlement and distinctive farm buildings in the various regions of Canada are permanent features of our landscape.

Today more than 98% of all the farms in Canada remain family owned and operated. Agriculture has contributed significantly to Canada's wealth, despite the fact that only 3% of Canada's population farms and only 6.8% of land in Canada is being farmed.

Being one of our top five industries, agri-food is also one of the most dynamic, high tech industries. It provides a wide range of high quality products from all of Canada's regions, playing a vital role in the strength of our economy and making significant contributions to rural communities.

I am proud to celebrate our farming heritage today and encourage Canadians to do so throughout the year.

Firearms ActStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, during the debate of Bill C-68 in 1995 the justice minister appeared before the standing committee on justice and testified that he had consulted with the provinces.

Today we have six provinces and two territories challenging Bill C-68 in the Supreme Court of Canada. Four provinces have even refused to help the federal government implement the fatally flawed law.

The former justice minister's consultation with the provinces was a complete and utter failure. The current justice minister's failure to ignore reality is just adding insult to injury.

In 1995 the Liberals ignored reality by ramming Bill C-68 through parliament. Now they are trying to ram it down the provinces' throats. This is the Liberals' style of co-operative federalism.

The government claims the registry is a success because of all the firearms licences it has refused and revoked, and all the gun sales it has blocked. Better background checks are responsible for this new success. The firearms registry contributes absolutely nothing. It is—

Firearms ActStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.