Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join in the debate on third reading of Bill C-23.
I have had the opportunity, as the bill has moved through the House and through committee, to speak to the bill four times. I do not think it would serve the House or yourself, Mr. Speaker, to go over too much of the ground that has already been covered at some length.
Yesterday's Hansard shows in some detail the 10 very strong reasons why the official opposition felt, and made strong arguments in fact, that Bill C-23 should be withdrawn. We laid that out for the House and we put forward amendments to improve the bill. Unfortunately last night, with the exception of a few on the other side, those amendments to improve the bill were jettisoned.
I noticed that the member opposite talked about the definition of marriage that is in Bill C-23 which has been added due to public pressure by the justice minister. Yes, we are thankful that that amendment was put in there.
What troubles us is that the definition of common law partners, which this bill now defines as any two people, same sex or otherwise, who live together for one year in a conjugal relationship, is continually defined in every statute throughout Bill C-23 repeatedly. Yet, to place a definition of marriage and spouse in those same statutes is something the Liberals have refused to do. They put it at the front end of a bill where it will not appear in any statute anywhere. When someone pulls the Income Tax Act off the shelf or the Pension Beneficiaries Act or any of these acts, there is no definition of marriage there, but there definitely is a definition of common law partners.
In our amendments we asked that the government actually make this definition of marriage substantive and have legal effect because there are court cases coming that will challenge the definition of marriage. It is our position that if we are going to put it in law, let us put it in law. That was our argument, to put it right in the statutes.
Unfortunately, the Liberals have elected to leave it out of the statutes and put it in a place whereby, in the expert legal opinion of Mr. David Brown, a lawyer from Toronto with the firm of Stikeman Elliott who reviewed legal precedents and textbooks on this very matter, the way the government did it would have little to no legal effect when these cases come forward as opposed to the approach that the Canadian Alliance put forward, which would substantively place the definition of marriage in Canadian law.
Why is that so important? It is important because it would send a clear signal to the courts on behalf of the Canadian people that marriage should remain the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all other definitions.
It is troubling that the government would put forward an amendment to appease the concerns of Canadians. We have heard here in this House from the petitions, thousands of them now, probably over the 10,000 mark that have come forward in a short period of time on this bill. It is of concern to us that the government would attempt to appease those concerned Canadians with an amendment to Bill C-23 that really is for show only. As the member for Scarborough East referred to it, the Liberal member in fact, it is a ghost amendment, a ghost bill which is going to float out there but will not have any real effect. Canadians are thinking that it will, but they have been misled by this Liberal government.
It would have been more sincere for the government to actually have adopted the amendments that the Canadian Alliance put forward to have the definition of marriage put in the statutes. It is troubling that it has misled the Canadian people and those petitioners to think that something substantive has been done when in fact it has not.
There is a number of significant problems with this bill that are going to cause it to be very troublesome in its implementation and to which I have made reference before. One of the key areas is this term that the government has added in the definition of common law partners. In fact, it is the criterion for qualifying for all these benefits that we currently apply to marriage and family. The single criterion for same sex couples now is that they live in a conjugal relationship.
Well, it is a term. There are all kinds of terms in legislation but, normally, when that occurs, there is some definition of the term so that it is made clear to those looking at the statutes or the legislation passed by this House who qualifies or who does not.
We have repeatedly asked for a definition to be included in Bill C-23. The government has refused to do that. In committee and otherwise, it has answered by saying the courts know what a conjugal relationship is. What kind of answer is that? That answer says that the courtroom is going to be the determining place for people to to get a ruling whether or not they actually are in a relationship that qualifies for all these benefits.
Just think how inappropriate that is. Here we have two individuals who are living together, assuming they are in a conjugal relationship and later finding out that they are not or vice versa, assuming they are not and later finding out that they are. The confusion, the court cases, the challenges, what happens to the benefits, the obligations upon death, all these questions are left unclear by this piece of legislation.
What troubles me the most is that members opposite, good members, members that have children of their own and families, or that are married, know that this is a fundamental flaw in this bill. They know it. Yet, last night we saw that on the report stage amendments, in spite of knowing that there are these fundamental weaknesses with this bill, the members are going to follow the edict of the Prime Minister and the cabinet and vote for a bill that is so tragically flawed. That is what troubles me more, that good men and women would not stand up for what they know is right, stand against what they know is wrong and fulfill the obligations they made to their constituents a few years ago when they were elected to this House.
It is not the first time we have seen the Liberal government move in a direction that is directed to them by either the courts or lobby groups. There has been a litany of decisions that have been made by this Liberal government that have impacted the Canadian family in a detrimental way. I cannot use any other word, except that the policies of the Liberal government are actually working against the Canadian family.
Let me review some of those. I think it is in keeping with Bill C-23 because it points out that there is a trend here that is consistent in this current Liberal government.
Let us take, for example, a statement made in the House a year or so ago by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance that parents who stay at home do not work as hard as those in the workplace. That caused a big kerfuffle across the nation. Families from across the nation and those who care for children at home spoke out. There were retractions resulting in all kinds of activity, and then questions about that.
In fact, because of the public pressure and because of motions that were brought forward by the Canadian Alliance that addressed the inequity and the tax treatment of stay at home parents or single income families, the finance minister was forced to launch a special committee to look at tax fairness.
The special committee sat for a number of months, had witnesses appear, as is the normal committee process, and produced a report that said there were some fundamental inequities in the way that tax treatment is applied to families that actually made it more difficult for parents to spend time with their children. It actually provided incentives for just the opposite, for parents to put their children in institutionalized care and enter into the workplace. It made recommendations that that should change.
A few weeks ago we saw the budget. The recommendations in that report were not included. We went through the whole report process. We went through recommendations from the special committee to address the anti-family tax policies of the Liberals. There were some good recommendations, but nothing was implemented.
Let us talk about another situation. This issue is by far the number one issue for petitions that the House has seen in the whole 36th Parliament, far greater than any other issue that has hit the floor of the House. Many people who have never been involved in the political process were motivated to get involved on the one issue. We are approaching over half a million signatures. I think we may see one million on this before it is over. Petitions are still coming in to my office in stacks. People listening may recognize the fact that this was the grievous ruling of a court in B.C. that struck down the illegality of possession of child pornography. Just the term turns your stomach. Petitioners across the country are crying out to have this reversed and the law upheld to make it illegal to possess this material.
The Canadian Alliance brought a motion to the floor of the House which was initially supported by some 70 members opposite. It asked the government to use the notwithstanding clause to uphold the law and not let the court strike down a law that protected children and made this kind of grievous material illegal. Unfortunately, only four of the members opposite stuck to their convictions. The rest reneged on their commitment and voted with the whip vote pressured on them by the Prime Minister. The motion we put forward to uphold the law to protect children was struck down again by the Liberals. They deferred it and said “Let us leave this to the courts. We will appeal it. It will all be solved in a month or two”.
Do members know how long ago that was? It is almost a year and a half since the court struck down the law that made the possession of child pornography illegal in B.C. What has happened in that time? Cases have been delayed. Prosecutions have not proceeded. The B.C. case is being referenced in other provinces and has impacted prosecutions on this issue. It is a year and a half later and still nothing has been resolved.
We had the tool in the House to resolve that. We had the tool in the notwithstanding clause. It is part of the charter, not separate. It is there to be used. But, rather than use a tool that they had, a legal, legislative, charter tool, they chose not to do it, to defer to the courts, to put children at risk and make this grievous material legal.
That is not the end. Bill C-23 is part of a consistent trend we see from the Liberal government. Here is another one.
I sat on a joint Senate and Commons committee that was struck after great public pressure and concern about the issue of family law, the divorce act and custody and access because the approach taken by the courts and the guidelines put in place by the Liberal government are not working. They are not working for people when it comes to issues of custody, access and support when there is marital breakdown.
Largely through the pressure of one senator in particular the committee was launched and I had the privilege of sitting on it. The government spent about $600,000 to finance the committee.
We travelled the country and heard from Canadians from coast to coast. They shared painful stories about how their relationships had broken down and they had been driven into the courtrooms. Sometimes it seemed as if the legal profession had actually made the situation worse. Both sides in some disputes were spending all their money and going into debt trying to resolve their family conflicts. Children were caught in the middle. Sometimes the testimony was painful. A couple of times the interpreters who travelled with us had to leave the interpretation booth because they were in tears. They could not interpret any more.
Lots of money was spent and lots of testimony was heard. It was a year of hard work by a large committee. The final result was a report with some good and implementable recommendations, many with which the official opposition agreed. Our dissenting report was very short.
What was the response of the Liberal government when it got the report? Was it going to implement the report? Was it a priority for the government? The response of the justice minister of the day was to say the government wanted to look at it further and it would probably take another three years before any action was taken. That tells Canadians it is not a priority to solve that issue.
With Bill C-23 what is the government communicating to Canadians as its number one priority? Bill C-23 has seen closure at second reading after four hours of debate. It had three and a half days in committee and many people who wanted to appear before the committee were excluded. There is closure at third reading now. The bill is being been rushed through the House and it affects 68 statutes and fundamentally changes some of our social norms and structures.
The government did not act on the custody and access report and it still has not. I still get letters from people who are concerned about when they will see family law reform that was recommended in the report generated by the joint Senate and Commons committee on custody and access. What can I tell them? I tell them to continue to write to the justice minister and let her know their concerns.
Ultimately I do not hold out much hope because the party opposite gives lip service to children. Once in a while it mentions the word family. There was a lot of reference to family and children in the throne speech but when it comes to implementing things that help families retain the money they earn, to protect children, that help marriages succeed, the government is not there. It does not deliver.
On justice issues, there is the Young Offenders Act. Who has been the voice pressuring for changes to the YOA? The official opposition. A member of our party from B.C. brought forward a number of significant amendments and pressured the government to move. Finally we see some movement although there is some concern that again a lot of it is window dressing and substantive changes are not there.
We see cases where the government allows parole to be given to known sex offenders. They are being released into our communities. Families and communities are not aware of the potential danger on their streets.
I can continue with more items from my list but the message I want to get across to the House is that there is a litany of—