Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak Bill C-23, the modernization of benefits. I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Elk Island which means that I have only 10 minutes to put together what I think is a strong argument for sending this bill back to committee for further study and input. I would like to quickly go through that.
First, this bill is an example of a very lousy way to develop public policy. Imagine a bill as broad as this one which affects 68 or 69 different statutes and debate has been limited both here in the House and in committee. That is not a good way to develop public policy.
Second, limiting the number of witnesses who could appear before committee is a very poor way to develop a policy initiative that is going to have broad ramifications for years to come. It is a poor way to develop policy and it was done with this bill by the Liberals. It will be to the detriment of this bill in the long run for not having heard from people from all walks of life.
It is interesting that when the government wants to trot out the finance minister's prebudget tour, it sets aside $500,000 and all kinds of time in the House and on the road to talk about whatever the finance minister may want to talk about. However, when it comes to substantive policy initiatives, such as this one, the committee is told to stay here and not to hear from the people who may want to make presentations. The government is going to ram the bill through and Canadians are going to have to live with it.
Third, there is a refusal to acknowledge provincial interests in the bill. The government would not even listen to provincial ministers who had interests in the bill. It would not even consider their concerns on the implications that this would have on provincial interests. It is always a mistake to ram legislation through that does not take provincial interests into account.
Finally, this is a big issue. A bill that will impact on society as much as this one will should have been preceded by a broad public policy debate and initiative to discuss the roles of the government, the private sector, individuals, the family, the charitable sector and other sectors in the society to come. When we talk about 21st century society, these things should have been discussed as a preamble or philosophical underpinning on any future policy debates with as much impact as this one. None of that broad policy debate took place. Instead, we were handed this as a done deal and told we would have to live with it.
It is interesting that most of Canada's public policy initiatives came after the second world war, such as the Canada pension plan, our health system, maternity benefits and a whole realm of social benefits. If we think about it, the 1940s was a different era in Canadian and world history. I am talking about where public policy initiatives should go in the next century. However we are talking about an old system based on the 1940s and the government wants to add another category or two and continue on with the same old set of benefits, and they are old.
The public policy initiatives and interests in this type of a bill should be debated. I am very disappointed the government chose not to have that discussion. We could have settled a lot of issues about who should and who should not get benefits based on public interest in this bill and in many others.
This is such a poorly crafted bill that it should be rejected. It is interesting that throughout this debate the government has failed to adequately define terms, such as conjugal relationship. The courts will decide one day, as they have so often been forced to do because of poorly defined terms, poorly drafted legislation and frankly, the lack of political will on the Liberal side to take a definite position and give it to the courts. Instead the Liberals say that it is a toughie so they will hide behind the courts.
I do not blame the courts. They will have to rule on this, as they should. They will come back and say that because it is so poorly defined they will put the definitions in place. What a poor way to craft legislation that will affect all Canadians for years to come. The Liberals throw up their hands and say that the courts are better qualified than the House of Commons. That is a shame. Lawyers are going to have a heyday. Mark my words, there will be case after case in the courts for years to come.
Evidence that it is a poorly drafted bill is the last minute attempt to define marriage in the preamble of Bill C-23. The minister came to committee, tossed in the definition and said “How about this definition, what do you think of it?” The definition is fine enough and one which the Reform Party now the Canadian Alliance, supports. However, it was strictly a public relations exercise. It does not affect any of the 68 or 69 statutes that are going to be amended. What it does is it allows the government to stick out its chest and say that it has made a small change.
As far as the actual statutes are concerned, there is no change. There is no emphasis on marriage in those statutes. In years to come when we open any of the some 60 statutes, we will not be able to find a single reference to marriage. That is a serious error. It is okay to have it in an omnibus bill but when the courts, the lawyers and departments get involved no one will find those words defining marriage in any of those statutes. That is a huge failure and another sign of a poorly drafted bill.
Finally, there is the refusal to include amendments of substance. My colleague who has been shepherding the bill through the House asked if it was good enough for the preamble of the bill why was it not put in the statutes. Instead of an answer from over there we get absolutely nothing from the government. The truth is that it does not want to put it in because it does not want to give it substance. That is a shame.
The government is going to ask the courts to decide. It is going to ask some bureaucrats to try and fish the information out of somewhere, I guess out of a black hole. The truth is that it refused our amendments and amendments from its own members because it did not want those amendments to see the light of day.
How does a bill that has been so poorly developed, that has had such little debate and has had such a low priority with Canadians, receive such a high priority with the government? That is a question we should ask today.
Would it not have been better to introduce a whole package of measures for which Canadian families have been clamouring? This bill was not in the Liberals red book. It was not on the campaign trail. It was not in any of their literature. It just came out of nowhere.
Instead of addressing the concerns of Canadians, for some reason the bill is big enough and of high enough importance that the Liberals had to get it through the House. They had to push it through using every procedural trickery they could get away with.
What is going on? Why did they not make the tax regime fair so that families and not the taxman make decisions about their children and how they should be raised? Why did they not do that? They did not.
It is interesting that every significant issue related to family and marriage has been brought forward by the opposition as a supply day motion in the House, and nothing has come from the Liberals. A motion which said that the federal tax system should be reformed to end discrimination against single income families with children was defeated by the Liberals.
We managed to get the definition of marriage through, but imagine all the crying and complaining on that side about how it was a divisive and terrible thing to be debating. We brought that forward. We were proud to bring it forward because it ended up being the definition the minister used in her own amendment. We had to bring it forward.
We had to say that health care should take priority over government grants. That was this spring. They defeated it. They want more government grants and less health care. It does not matter what are the issues. It could be the Sharpe case or protecting our children. They would not do it even though their own backbenchers asked them to do it.
The opposition side, which will be the government one day, said that we should be dealing with it and the government said no thanks. I have been here for seven years and the Young Offenders Act is still in committee. We still are not protecting children. The drunk driving bill is still lost in the black hole. The consecutive sentencing issue was never brought forward by the government. It was brought forward by a backbencher.
Conditional release, victims rights, at every stage when we are looking after the family and trying to give families priority from this side of the House, it is opposed by that side.
Why is that? Where are the priorities of government members coming from? I do not understand. They are running scared, it seems, not just from the courts but from Canadian public opinion, not wanting to deal with the issues which Canadians hold close to their hearts.