House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

4:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. With due respect, the information the member just gave is incorrect. In fact it is exactly the opposite of what he said.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am afraid we are on a point of debate here.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

4:30 p.m.


Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, he mentioned child poverty solutions. I submit to that member and to the House that the best solution for our children is to lower the tax burden on parents so that they have more money in their pockets instead of shipping it off to Ottawa to be wasted on Liberal patronage programs.

Although the member tried to suggest that he is a defender of families, his actions in the House in support of the government budget, in support of changing the definition of marriage and in support of the other anti-family measures the government insists upon embarking on, to that I say actions speak louder than words and his actions in attacking the family by the way that he votes is deafening.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

4:30 p.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on some points that the hon. member mentioned.

Words like “representation by population” are nice words. Another honourable aspect of that would be to see a collective effort in the country to try to correct our whole correction system. This budget highlights an increased budget for the RCMP. Representation by population is very interesting to me because I believe the correction institutes have a high population of aboriginal people. We have communities that have many run-ins with the law. If we look at the court dockets, many aboriginal people have been lined up on these dockets in many communities and in many court situations.

Maybe the relationship between the law abiding citizens and the law keepers, the peace officers and the aboriginal community would be much better served if there were measures to involve and recruit aboriginal people to the policing institutions and the corrections institutions on an equal basis to have racial tolerance amongst our population as we work together.

Could the hon. member answer that?

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

4:35 p.m.


Jim Pankiw Reform Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of things here. First of all, the hon. member referred to the high percentage of aboriginals in prisons. When we look at the crime statistics in the province that I come from, in Regina the ratio of crimes committed by aboriginals to crimes committed by non-aboriginals is 10 to 1 and in Saskatoon it is 12 to 1, so we would naturally expect that the higher percentage of the prison population would be aboriginals.

I would like to say that a lot of social problems that plague the aboriginal community are caused by the failed policies of the Liberal government. Until we make all of our aboriginal people in Canada full and equal participants of society, we will not have racial tolerance or racial harmony, but instead, continued discriminatory views and the continued cycle of poverty and dependence among the aboriginal community.

I hope that hon. member realizes that and that he will support the Canadian Alliance efforts when we form the government to help aboriginals become full and equal participants of our society.

Message From The SenateGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

Message From The SenateRoyal Assent

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

April 13, 2000

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, will proceed to the Senate chamber today, the 13th day of April, 2000, at 6.00 p.m., for the purpose of giving Royal Assent to certain bills of law (C-6, C-9 and C-13).

Yours sincerely,

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-32, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 28, 2000, be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, Human Resources Development.

I should also advise the House that we are now commencing a period of 10 minutes speeches in this debate.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

4:35 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize to the House. I was a little outrageous with my tirade about the family. I feel kind of strongly about the issue. I do respect the rule of law. We will live to fight another day and defend the sanctity of the institution of marriage, if that is what the member is referring to.

I would like to spend my ten minutes talking about some of the issues that have been raised by the opposition with regard to this budget.

There was some talk about our national debt. I take a great deal of interest in this, being a chartered accountant. People tell us about the size of the numbers and that it concerns them.

I remember not too long ago the Fraser Institute did a research study in which they tried to assess the valuation of Canada. Excluding the land value of Canada, they found that the assets of Canada exceeded some $3 trillion. To put that in perspective, we would probably be in a better position to be able to respond to people who would somehow suggest that Canada would be bankrupt in view of the fact that there was a $577 billion national debt. It is not the case. In fact members have said “There is only $3 billion going into paying down the national debt”.

In this last budget there was that provision for the pay down of debt, but that is not to be extrapolated out for all time to say that it is only going to be $3 billion. In fact the economy continues to grow. Interest rates remain at relatively low levels. Our unemployment rates are lower than in the last 25 years. Canadians are working again and the economy continues to be very strong in Canada. That is good for people to be working and for our economy to be growing. It means that as we move forward and as we address the needs of our health care system as well as the other needs to stimulate and to innovate in Canada that we will be paying down the debt in an accelerated fashion.

When the government took office in 1993, the annual deficit was some $42 billion each year. That was another $42 billion being added to the national debt. We do not just wipe out $42 billion of deficit in one year. The government had a platform of the day to reduce that amount to 3% of GDP during its mandate and it exceeded that. The facts are that the government managed to balance the books of the country to get our fiscal house in order two years earlier than the Reform Party itself had said it would during that election and in its election material.

The debt levels that we see in Canada today would actually have been worse under the Reform Party simply because of its commitments that it made in their own platform.

When we took office the debt to GDP ratio was some 70%. According to the budget documents that the members have and Canadians have that debt to GDP ratio will be below 50% and a full 10 percentage points lower than the recommended level of the auditor general.

One of the members talked about quality of life issues between Canada and the U.S. It is an issue that I would really like to have the House debate and perhaps study. When we consider the differences in the whole mix of the environment in the U.S. compared to Canada, we just cannot compare it and say “The tax level is different than it is over there”. It is not just taxes. Quality of life issues are very expensive. If we are going to have the quality of life that we have in Canada, if we are going to earn the recognition of the United Nations for six years in a row of being the best country in the world in which to live and to work, it takes investment in our people. It takes investment in the country to make sure that we continue to sustain that standard which is recognized around the world.

On top of that the members will know that health care is included in our taxes. We pay for it in our taxes, but in the United States they do not. They have to pay extra taxes. The last time I was in the United States I remember asking a taxi driver about his family. He said, “I have two children. There are four of us”. He said he was paying $7,000 U.S. per year for his health care costs. That is a very significant amount that Canadians do not incur because it is part of our tax burden.

We know that taxes have to come down and we know that they have started to come down. We also know that the finance minister has made two important commitments and that is the money for health care will be there once we get the plan right on how to fix health care. It is not just a matter of throwing more money at the same way of doing health care. We have to fix the system and make sure it is meeting the needs of Canadians. I think that is a responsible thing to do. That is why the provinces and the federal government are talking today about how are we going to address our health care requirements and also ensure that we have sustainable funding for a secure health care system for all time. That is a responsible way to do it, and not simply throw money at it.

The issue of employment insurance came up in a couple of the members' speeches.

In 1993 when the Reform Party came to this place EI premiums were scheduled to go up to $3.10. Today, as a result of the changes made just before the budget and reaffirmed in the budget, the EI rate is now down at about $2.40. That is a very substantial decrease. Hon. members are quite right that there continues to be more premium revenue than there is payouts under EI. It is approximately $6 billion.

It would be easy to say that we should reduce the premiums, but if we were to enter a recession as deeply as we did in the early eighties, in one year alone the deficit under the old rates would be about $12 million. We have already lowered the rate substantially from the levels they were, which means that the deficit on an annual basis within the EI plan could be much more than $12 billion.

We are very fortunate to have continuous growth in the economy. More people are working, which means that more people are paying premiums and less people are collecting benefits. That is very important.

We have been reducing premiums and the government has made a commitment to continue to reduce premiums. That is an important signal to businesses that we are committed to supporting and stimulating the environment through investments, through grants and through other incentives, by working with businesses to make sure there is an environment in which our economy can continue to grow and continue to employ as many Canadians as possible. Those are some of the fundamental objectives.

There was some discussion about CPP increases. When we came here pensioners of the day were getting about $8 out of CPP for every $1 they put in. That is a very generous benefit, but at that time we had five workers for every one pensioner. The actuaries looked at it and along with the consultations between the provinces and the feds it was discovered that with the aging of society there would only be three workers for every one pensioner in the future. This means that level of premium support for the CPP program would not be available to sustain the same level of benefits.

The only way to address it was to pay a level of premiums more commensurate with the level of benefits being given under the Canada pension plan. Based on consultations with Canadians, the provinces and the federal government, it was decided that this was the way to approach it.

I was on the committee during the study of Bill C-2. I also spoke many times in the House on it. Canadians wanted the Canada pension plan saved. I remember the Reform Party wanted to scrap the CPP, to have mandatory RRSPs and to force Canadians to contribute. They do not understand that there are people who do not have the cash to put into such programs. They are living from paycheque to paycheque.

The Canada pension plan is a shared cost between employees and employers. It ensures that all Canadians engaged in the paid labour force will accrue pension benefits for their future. That is a very important aspect.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

4:45 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise, should I say finally, to speak to this bill, which concerns the implementation of the budget.

I reiterate the broad lines of my party's criticism, which were to the effect, for example, that surpluses much larger than those revealed have been accumulated. This created a totally unhealthy situation because these surpluses come essentially from cuts to employment insurance and to the social transfers, which we are still suffering from, despite the government's having put the money back. It is far from returning us to 1994-95 levels.

In 2003, the provinces will still face cuts of $33 billion. Quebec alone will absorb $10 billion, because in the course of the process, the government changed the rules and stopped considering the factor of poverty. In the Canada social transfer, from now on, the factor of poverty will not be taken into account.

This surplus is unhealthy because it is hidden. One of the ways of hiding it was to attribute to earlier years—we are beginning 2000—but primarily to 1999, major spending that otherwise should have been included as spending in 2000 or 2001. Charging the spending retroactively is one way to reduce the size of the surplus.

I want to share with the House an experiment I conducted. I brought together social groups that are used to manage budgets in my riding. I gave them a copy of the budget and said “When you have a surplus one year, can you allocate that surplus to the previous year?” They said “No, you cannot do that, this is not allowed”. But the Minister of Finance has done it repeatedly. This is not good.

It is unhealthy because these surpluses still mean drastic cuts to social transfers. They mean yet another EI surplus that will not be put back in the fund. Annual surpluses of $6 billion are anticipated again, but that money will not be put back in the system. In spite of lower contributions, the surpluses will still be of the same magnitude.

I now want to discuss an issue that few people raised, which is extremely unfortunate. Even though this is a surplus budget and even though the money taken through cuts was not given back to the unemployed and to the provinces for health, education and social assistance, there is a sector regarding which Canada had made major international commitments. I am referring to international development assistance.

In September 1990, Canada made a commitment to the UN general assembly to achieve its objective of allocating 0.7% of its gross domestic product to international development. At the time when this commitment was made, Canada was allocating 0.48% of its GDP to international development. In 1999-2000, it was down to 0.24%.

Let me quote what the Prime Minister said when he went to Senegal, in November:

We are a rich nation and we should be able to share...There are many economic and social problems throughout the world. That is why the federal government's balanced approach, which consists in setting aside money to ensure the development of Canada while continuing to provide international assistance, is important.

He said that it was unacceptable that international assistance had dropped so considerably and that Canadian assistance would therefore increase from that point on, commensurate with Canada's economic growth.

He had said that the level attained was unacceptable. But, with this budget, the amounts earmarked for international development continue to drop in percentage terms.

This is what Bernard Descôteaux pointed out in November, when he indicated that the budget of $2 billion represented no more than 0.23% of GDP.

I find it disturbing, and I repeat what the Prime Minister said, that a rich country is contributing so little to international development and that its contributions are growing smaller, when international development assistance is not just something that concerns others. I have two reasons for saying this.

Countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark have reached, on an ongoing basis, the 0.7% to which they committed. How is it that Canada's proportion keeps dropping?

The other reason it does not just concern others is that poverty has become endemic in many countries. There are billions of people living on incomes of less than $2 a day. Famine is widespread and we know that AIDS has become endemic in Africa.

Rich nations cannot be rich alone. The Bloc Quebecois will continue to urge that Canada finally meet its commitment.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

4:55 p.m.


Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-32, which my constituents need to know is an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in parliament on February 28, 2000.

The bill has seven parts to it. I do not intend to speak to every part, but I do want to mention two parts of it that are actually the government's key fiscal planks from the year 2000 budget. The fiscal health of any country is reflected in the budgets it presents. The budgets indicate where the country is going. The future financial health and security of all Canadians are determined by budgets.

Budget 2000 has been presented by the government as being a very good one with lots of positive things contained in it. I give it some credit for changes that will help eliminate bracket creep, which has been a serious problem. Between 1990 and 1996 bracket creep accounted for $10 billion that Canadians should not have had to pay had their taxes been indexed.

We need to look at what others are saying about the budget outside the House to have an impartial view, neither from the opposite side nor the government side. One of the most respected organizations in the world that looks at all countries and assesses health from an economic point of view is the International Monetary Fund.

The International Monetary Fund has urged the government and the finance minister to lower Canada's debt. The debt is sitting at around $577 billion. Interest payments in the neighbourhood of $40 billion a year are a mammoth drag. Until we are able to reduce them, it limits our economic health and our options as to what we can do to promote the country's well-being.

They state that an ongoing fiscal restraint is also important with surpluses used primarily for further debt reduction and income tax reforms. It has been at least 38 to 40 years since there were any significant changes made to our Income Tax Act.

I would like to refer to another outsider speaking on behalf of the IMF, Mr. Robert Mundell. He is a Canadian-born economist who earned a Nobel prize. This is what he had to say about Canada's fiscal health, and it reflects on the budget that the government brought forward. He stated that there is a major problem in Canada, which is excessive taxes and excessive government spending. He stated that at one time the Canadian dollar was at par with or even a bit above the U.S. dollar. We see now that it has slipped to approximately a 68 cent dollar, with no hope of it coming back.

What does a country do when it gets into that situation? We have had some good examples from around the world of countries that have taken the bull by the horns and turned their economies around. The most recent case that is being used is that of Ireland. Ireland, 10 to 12 years ago, was a virtual basket case in that it was not advancing technologically and had problems retaining skilled and educated people. It began a dramatic reform of its tax system. A large component of that was the lowering of personal income taxes and corporate taxes, which gave the required incentives for private business, not government but private business, to drive the economy and keep the people in the country and working.

Getting to the exact areas that I wanted to mention, let us look at Part 4. Part 4 would enable 13 first nations to impose a 7% value added tax. It would be along the lines of a GST equivalent and would be applied to all sales of fuel, alcohol and tobacco on reserve. I am sure that the first nations have spoken with the government to negotiate an agreement and that this will happen. I am not against first nations raising their own money from their people and sales on reserve.

I think we have to look at some of the most recent issues that have been brought up by the aboriginal accountability coalition, which is primarily composed of people who are not in political control of the reserves. We find that their numbers are quite large and they have come forward with some recommendations to provide accountability on the reserves.

I bring up the accountability issue because as the first nations people gather in tax money, which is just a little different from the grants and contributions idea, there has to be a system in place to put checks and controls on those in power who will spend the money.

Even with the systems we have within the federal government, we have a very hard time keeping checks and balances and controls over a government which operates in the fashion of the Liberal government. The auditor general constantly comes out with reports which show a lack of management, a disregard for the rules and money being wasted.

One of the women I referred to, Leona Freed, was recently in Ottawa. She spoke of the very things that the reserve administrations, the elected officials, must put in place in order to have accountability and the trust of their people in how they use this tax money. I do not think the government has ever really tried to help first nations in that regard or negotiated agreements with that level of government.

One of the recommendations was for an ombudsman who could speak on behalf of the aboriginal people who are not used to dealing with their governments. We have provided an ombudsman for non-aboriginal people, so why should first nations people not have a similar spokesperson?

Electoral reforms are required on some reserves. I have heard of a reserve in Ontario which has an official opposition-type party that tries to hold the elected government to account.

First nations also need a free and independent press.

Recently, as reported in Manitoba, on the Peguis reserve, which is in my riding, an aboriginal newspaper reporter was covering a council activity and some public meetings and was escorted from the meetings by four security officials answering to the chief of that reserve. He was asking some very pertinent and direct questions, trying to ferret out what was actually happening with regard to the issues of the day with that chief and council.

The aboriginal people need an access to information act. That would ensure that if their government tried to hide the facts and figures about what was going on with band money, they would be able to gather information. In our case, concerning the management of the tax money of Canadians, the government always tries to hide things that are damaging to its reputation and which point to mismanagement. We find that with the Access to Information Act we in the opposition parties are able to gather information.

The reserves need an auditor general who would independently check into the financial activities of reserve administrations and report back to the grassroots people of the reserves, who would then decide at the next election who they should vote for.

This budget has certainly brought forward issues which have been discounted by the International Monetary Fund and it has not set in place proper measures for the aboriginal people of this country.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

5:05 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak to Bill C-32, the Budget Implementation Act, 2000, and I would like to put forward some ideas.

First, in my opinion, the budget shows very clearly that if the government decided to restrict its spending to its areas of jurisdiction, Quebec and Canadian taxpayers would get the most wonderful tax cut they ever had in the whole history of Canada. If the federal government decided that it would spend only for defence, foreign affairs and other areas under its jurisdiction, there would be a lot of spending it would no longer need to do.

As a consequence, the federal government would no longer be tempted to impose national standards in areas that are not under its jurisdiction. That would also have a good result at the accountability level for elected members, because people could require adequate social programs from their provincial governments.

If, in a province like Ontario, people voted for a government providing less social programs, that would be the choice made by the population at election time. If, in Quebec, the government decided to provide more substantial social programs, that would be in accordance with the choice made by the population at election time. This would rid the Canadian system of its accountability problems.

As we know, Ontario is a perfect example of that; the Ontario government makes choices and then the Liberal federal government steps in, acting like the saviour of social programs in that province, playing the role of the good guy, of the knight in shining armour, but it is intruding in areas that are not of its responsibility.

The first thing we should hope that the federal government would do in the budgetary area is to withdraw from all jurisdictions where it has no business. This would be great for to all Canadians.

There are people all across Canada who wish to see that happen and we will see this developing in the next few months. It might even be a major election issue in the next campaign. This year's budget, which may be the last for the current minister and perhaps for the Liberal government, does not appeal to us. It tells us that the government wants to continue to intervene in areas that are not its responsibility and continue to collect money while not giving it back to the provinces through transfer payments for example.

Let us imagine how wonderful it would be if the 10 premiers did not have to practically beg for the money they need for health programs, if each province could use this tax field according to its vision of things and assume its responsibility, and the federal government would give it the leeway. This would be a nice way for the federal government to ensure that, in the Canadian system, there is an appropriate accountability. There is no such thing in the current program.

I would also like to emphasize another point that seems very important to me. For the current fiscal year, there will be a $6 billion surplus in the EI fund. In March 2001, the surplus will reach a total of $34 billion. This means that, over the last four or five years, the federal government has borrowed $34 billion from workers and employers across Canada in order to fund expenditures that have nothing to do with the EI system.

If we took $14 billion out of those $34 billion just to cushion the employment insurance system, there would still be $20 billion left, which the federal government has collected and is using for expenditures not related to the EI system.

When pay cheques are issued every week or two, people can see that, as far as EI premiums are concerned, employees and employers are contributing a huge $6 billion a year, which do not go to the EI system.

Just imagine what a boost it would give the economy if contributions to the EI fund were lowered reasonably or if the unemployed received decent benefits. In spite of the $6 billion surplus for this year, the average benefits paid to the unemployed no longer amounts to 55% of their average wages, but to only 50%.

With the infamous intensity rule, the federal government's assumption, four or five years ago, was that the reason why our seasonal workers were not working longer periods each year was because they are lazy. We have on record a statement very typical of the prime minister, describing the unemployed as beer drinkers.

Today, the results are there. The third annual EI monitoring and assessment report includes a study commissioned by HRDC and conducted by Messrs Pierre Fortin and Van Andenrode, two well known economists. According to them, the intensity rule has had no effect on the number of weeks worked. Seasonal workers all across Canada are not working longer, not because they are lazy, but because there are no jobs available outside certain periods.

A 35, 40 or 45 year old worker who worked 15, 18 or 20 weeks in the woods cannot become a computer technician overnight so he can find a job for the winter. A lumberjack cannot turn into a hotel welcome host come the fall. Things do not work that way.

There is evidence. The studies are in. The government is grabbing $6 billion a year from the EI fund while continuing to cut benefits paid to seasonal workers. Seventy seven percent of fishers are affected by the intensity rule. Soon, only 50% of EI claimants will be eligible for benefits.

For those earning $100,000 a year, $10, $15 or $20 a week is nothing. But a 5% cut on $250 a week in EI benefits leaves unemployed workers with only $235 or $240 a week.

These are the $10 or $15 a week that are needed to buy shoes for the youngest one once in a while or are missing to pay the grocery bill every week. It is very frustrating for someone who has contributed to a plan, who has paid premiums, employment insurance premiums in this case, and who sees surpluses being racked up when he or she does not have enough money to survive or have a decent income between two employment periods.

This budget falls far short in this regard. Tax cuts are minimal for 2000. There is no improvement in the condition of the unemployed. Although the unemployment rate is going down, the poverty rate keeps going up. This is due to the fact that, whether the economy is good or bad, in the seasonal industry, there is generally no significant additional income to compensate for the loss of employment insurance benefits.

Some people today have a lower income than what they had three or four years ago, even if they work a few more weeks. When they do receive employment insurance benefits, they get less money during a shorter period.

I read somewhere in a newspaper article the words “If I were a rich man”. The choices made in this budget protect the rich. The surtax has been eliminated. I am very happy to learn that some people have more money in their pockets, but if we do not at the same time make any effort to help those who earn less, it is not worthwhile, it is unjustified and unfair. And yet, this is what is to be found in the budget.

The federal government missed a golden opportunity to restore fairness in two areas, first by making sure it only collects taxes to pay for the services it is responsible for. It is unfair to the Canadian federation as a whole.

It is also being unfair to the unemployed, and is not facing up to its responsibilities to those who contribute to the employment insurance system. The current system is unfair, it is the blatant and systematic misappropriation of the money paid into the system. We still do not know how the government is going to pay back the $34 billion it owes the workers, the employers and the unemployed of this country. Even when times are good, it cannot do it.

I would like to talk about a third issue the member for Mercier touched on in her speech and which seems very important to me. With regard to international co-operation, did you know that 75% of the aid provided by Canada is conditional?

This means that our generosity is not very genuine. During a period of economic prosperity such as the one we are experiencing today, we have responsibilities internationally as well as nationally. I think it is very telling of the government; if it had treated the less fortunate in our society in an appropriate manner, it would have done the same at the international level.

In both cases, it is trying to save face. It is important for international aid to produce spinoffs for Canada, but is just as important to provide aid without any strings attached, to truly co-operate with people and find it a worthwhile objective.

For all theses reasons, I believe the Budget Implementation Act is inappropriate. It does not go far enough and does not restore the fairness we would have expected from a government such as this one during a period of economic prosperity.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

5:15 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to participate in this debate on Bill C-32.

Generally speaking, the bill perpetuates the Liberal government's commitment to ad hoc piecemeal and random fiscal and economic policy.

The most significant change in the bill is the elimination of bracket creep. I join thousands of Canadians and the members of the Canadian Alliance who have been effective in pushing the government to recognize bracket creep. I think the credit goes to the official opposition for that.

The one time increase to the CHST continues to frustrate the provinces. Since coming to power, the Liberal government has cut about $25 billion from CHST. It continues to frustrate the provinces that would like to see stable funding for health care and education rather than the incremental policy of the government.

The extension of maternity benefits simply offers more redistributive thinking. Only half of all mothers currently receive maternity benefits. The maternity or parental leave proposal excludes single income families. It excludes self-employed parents, students and parents in the workforce who do not have enough hours to qualify. It also excludes those who cannot support their families on the employment insurance rate of 55% of regular income.

The changes to the national child benefit, the Canada child tax benefits and the GST credit would benefit low income families. Part 3 returns the administration of the student loans program to the government after it had backed out. Part 4 attempts to harmonize a patchwork of sales tax agreements with the first nations bands. Part 5 broadens the already coercive taxation power of the government by granting further powers to the Minister of National Revenue.

This weak, arrogant Liberal government has tried in vain to portray itself as caring and generous. These arguments can be easily refuted.

The bill provides for no real tax relief for Canadians. Ending bracket creep is not a reduction in taxes. It only means that regularly scheduled tax increases will be postponed. The bill also does not address the government's wasteful spending and the use of taxpayer money at HRDC and other departments.

There was not a single word from the finance minister, any cabinet minister or any member of the government about the wasteful spending in HRDC, CIDA, the heritage department, the industry department or any other department. It continues the status quo by giving Canadians a little with one hand while taking a lot with the other hand.

In addition, it does not address the lack of competitiveness of our economy on a global scale. Nothing was said about international trade or about the competitiveness of the Canadian economy for investors who want to invest and create jobs.

With respect to families and parenting, we believe all families should have greater choice and we have a sound plan, called solution 17, to deliver it.

Let me point out that the political culture of this government is to tax and spend. It has been taxing Canadians to death since 1993. It has been spending and wasting taxpayer dollars and has not been accountable. It has given no information or explanation on important questions that we have been put forward to hold it accountable.

The other day we were discussing access to information. It is a blackout for the government when we talk about that.

The other point I want to make concerns the government's tax record. While the Liberals are trying to take some credit, which I said I will refute, I want to quote some statements made by the finance minister on taxation in Canada. Let us begin with the first year in which he became the finance minister.

In 1994 the finance minister raised federal taxes on the average Canadian family by $898. On February 15, 1994 he said “Our ultimate goal is to lower taxes”. We want to hold him accountable for that statement, but let us see what he said in 1995, a year later.

The finance minister raised federal taxes on the average Canadian family by $779. In his budget speech on February 27, 1995 he said “Furthermore, in this budget, like last year's, we are not increasing personal income tax rates one iota”.

Let us see how we can hold him accountable in the next year. In 1996 the finance minister raised federal taxes on the average Canadian family by another $896. In his budget speech on March 6, 1996—look at his bizarre explanation—he said “This government does not rely on tax increases to hit its deficit targets—”. What does it rely on? It simply relies on tax increases.

In 1997 the finance minister raised federal taxes on the average Canadian family by $1,568. His excuse again in the budget speech on February 18, 1997 was “In not one of our budgets has there been an increase in personal income tax rates. Indeed in last year's budget, and in this year's, we have not raised taxes at all”.

Anyone who knows how to calculate will find out the figures I have quoted are contrary to what the finance minister has been saying.

In 1998 federal taxes on the average Canadian family were raised by another $237 and there was still no admission from the finance minister. He said “Let me begin by reaffirming our goal. It is to reduce taxes. It is to leave more money in the pockets of hard-working Canadians”. That was in the budget speech of February 24, 1998.

By looking at these quotes, it proves that he talks the talk but does not walk the walk, and it has been proven in the last five years that I have mentioned.

The Canadian Alliance is ready to govern because there is only one solution to the problem: We have to replace the Liberals. We came up with a strong initiative, solution 17. Solution 17 would remove 1.9 million taxpayers from the tax rolls, many with young children. It would lower their taxes giving them more income and therefore more options to work part time or full time. It would provide substantial, immediate and direct tax relief for Canadians who currently pay record high taxes. It would also lead to a much more vibrant economy and greater wealth creation. It is fair and it is simpler.

I am proud to be a member of the Canadian Alliance and proud to debate and oppose Bill C-32 in this situation.

Budget Implementation Act, 2000Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from December 1, 1999, consideration of the motion that Bill C-214, an act to provide for the participation of the House of Commons when treaties are concluded, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of pleasure, pride even, that I rise to speak this evening to Bill C-214, introduced by my colleague for Beauharnois Salaberry.

This is a totally modern bill, in that it wishes to ensure that Parliament obtains, takes over, resumes its past role in approving important treaties. This means parliamentary democracy will come into play with respect to treaties, which increasingly concern the lives of ordinary citizens and their role within their state. There may also be very considerable consequences for the provinces.

To clarify what I am about to say, I will remind hon. members that this private member's bill has four objectives. It wishes to require the government to table treaties it has already signed, for reasons of transparency, in order to ensure that parliamentarians and the general public have access to the information.

It also calls for treaties to be approved, in order to compensate for the gap in democracy that arises out of a situation where the greater number of treaties increasingly deprives parliamentarians of power and, in a way, destroys the relationship between the power of parliaments, members' responsibility and the role of the executive of Canada, which is becoming excessive.

I should point out that this requirement for treaty approval applies solely to important treaties, defined as follows by my colleague:

any treaty a ) whose implementation requires

(i) the enactment of an Act of Parliament,

(ii) that Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada be invested with new powers, or

(iii) the imposition of a tax by Parliament; b ) imposing a substantial financial obligation...on Canada; c ) concerning the transfer of a part of the territory of Canada...; d ) under which Canada undertakes to impose economic or military sanctions...;

And continuing:

—including the transfer of jurisdiction to such institutions.

The institutions in question are international institutions.

According to my colleague's bill, these important treaties should be submitted to parliament before they are ratified. I know that certain of my colleagues have argued that already 99% of treaties involve an implementation bill. The problem is that there is nothing to back this figure up, despite the knowledge shown by my colleague who spoke previously on this issue.

Clearly, in the case of an implementation act, it is not appropriate to talk about the major components of this treaty, its relationship with the life of people, with democracy, or about the impact it may have on the life of society or about its implications for provinces.

Finally, this bill aims at guaranteeing consultation with the provinces. There would be an obligation to involve provinces having legislative authority with the implementation of treaties in an area under their jurisdiction. The wording of the bill is precise and was intended that way. The bill would guarantee respect for the jurisdiction of provinces.

In that regard, I emphasise that this was what the provinces called for at the 40th annual premiers' conference, held on August 11, 1999. They published the following text:

Premiers and Territorial Leaders therefore reiterated their long-standing support for an immediate formalised federal-provincial-territorial agreement on the provincial-territories role in the negotiations, implementation and management of international agreements.

I would like to add an extremely important element, which may not be generally known. Since 1966, when parliament approved the auto pact before ratification, no other international agreement was ever submitted to parliament before ratification. Yet, we know that since that time, treaties, by their content, their nature, have increasingly impacted on people's lives. For example, NAFTA has had and will continue to have a considerable impact. Why was it not submitted to parliament?

Of course, some will answer that these are complex issues under negotiation and that as a consequence it had to be done in private, in secrecy. However, what that really means is that powerful lobbies, those who can be heard by powerful people and negotiators for all kinds of reasons, are the ones who really decide.

I would even go as far as to say that, if those treaties are not submitted to parliament before their ratification, it may also be that they are not even given proper consideration at cabinet level.

Why are we so afraid of parliament? Countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are moving towards strengthening the role of parliament with regard to treaties before they are ratified, which means in developing them, integrating them into the statutes and assessing their impact on society. Why are we so afraid of parliament here in Canada?

Of course, I could mention the fact that, in Canada, senators are appointed, that there is no constitutional court that would be legitimate for the provinces as well as for the federal government. I could also mention the fact that we are used to a very strong executive branch. But it is precisely because of that and because, more and more, these international treaties affect the lives of ordinary Canadians that we must convince all our colleagues in the House to give back to parliament the power it once had.

I ask the question again: What are we so afraid of? Would it not be better for democracy and also more effective if we go to see, before they are ratified, these treaties that affect the lives of ordinary citizens?

That is why we will strongly support our colleague. We already know that other parties have expressed their support. We hope to convince our colleagues opposite to take their place as parliamentarians and to play their role with regard to these treaties, which are secretly changing our lives.

In closing, I will say again that we must make sure that the provinces that have responsibilities with regard to the implementation of these treaties be involved, that parliament also be involved before these treaties are ratified, and that government be transparent, show us the treaties it has signed and table the text of these treaties. All these things are essential to democracy, to a modern democracy.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to support this Treaties Act proposal sponsored by the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry. I congratulate the member from the Bloc Quebecois for his efforts. Even though the hon. member and his party have more provincial concerns, they would like to smash our country apart and leave, I share his frustration with the current weak Liberal government that has no vision.

This private member's bill would require approval by resolution by the House of Commons before international treaties may be ratified. The bill also provides that the treaty be tabled with an explanatory memorandum including a summary, implications for Canada spelled out, new obligations to be undertaken, estimated expenditures, proposed conditions for denunciation of withdrawal, a record of consultations undertaken, an indication of any legislation required for implementation and a list of existing legislation requiring amendments.

The bill requires that the provinces be consulted in areas of provincial jurisdiction. It also provides for greater efforts to inform the Canadian public about the contents of the treaties through publication in the Canada Gazette . The bill calls for greater scrutiny of non-governmental parties consulted and sent as participants in negotiations. This seems like a long list, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. The Canadian Alliance would go even further.

The Canadian Alliance wants the House of Commons foreign affairs committee to have greater powers to examine treaties and make recommendations. In matters of international agreements and treaties, a Canadian Alliance government would uphold the vital interests of Canada and our constitution and the individual rights of Canadians, including the right to fundamental and natural justice as being sovereign and paramount.

On behalf of the people of Surrey Central, I will be supporting this bill. But, as I have said, we on this side of the House would go much further.

Treaties are like diamonds. They are supposed to be forever. Treaties have significant and long lasting implications on international institutions, families, our environment, our resources, our economy, our taxes, our investments, trade, competition, employment and financial institutions.

International treaties affect human rights, sovereignty, security, jurisdictions, boundaries and borders, sanctions and virtually every aspect of day to day business in the lives of Canadians.

I wonder if people watching this debate realize how much the weak Liberal government ignores or cuts out the House of Commons in the treaty-making process in Canada. It is remarkable. If it is not undemocratic, it is anti-democratic. The Prime Minister is touring seven nations in the Middle East and writing Canadian foreign policy on the bus between luncheon and dinner engagements.

Most of the members of the House never see the treaties signed by the government. Most of us know nothing about them because the weak Liberal government handles them behind closed doors. Sometimes we do not know who negotiates these treaties on our behalf. Who signs these treaties? We do not know. Canadians only find out about them by reading newspapers.

Between 1993 and 2000, during the life of the Liberal government, it has signed all kinds of treaties and ratified more than half of them. This is typical of the old line traditional parties when they formed the government.

Typically the Tory and the Liberal governments concentrated too much power in the Prime Minister and the cabinet. When it comes to examining international treaties, not enough power is spread around our parliamentary system in the House so that a thorough examination of the treaty can take place.

The current foreign minister said to the secretary general, Kofi Annan, “We want to make the Security Council of the United Nations more transparent, more democratic, more open and to the extent we can introduce alternative options for making decisions”. Why does he not try this idea at home in Canada? His preaching which he is not practising at home is so ironic that he would recommend something abroad and not do it at home.

During the previous hour of debate on the bill that proposes to make the Canada treaty process more open and democratic, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs said “This bill seriously affects the division of powers in Canada and questions certain priority aspects of Canada's foreign policy”. Aside from the panic on the government benches exhibited by his statement, I suppose the parliamentary secretary got it right. We are asking for the priority of secrecy and lack of input from Canadians to be scratched.

He also said “A treaty is strictly the purview of the federal executive branch”. What a shame. “However, the legislative branch is still responsible for implementing the ensuing obligations”. Fair enough, but how can we implement the obligations when the treaty has been signed and ratified with flaws or political positions or other things that the legislative branch of our government cannot possibly endorse?

Reading from the speech handed to him by the foreign affairs department on his way to the House, the parliamentary secretary said in the first hour of the debate “Not only do parliamentarians receive all of the information, but they play an active role in the implementation of the treaties that Canada wishes to ratify”. He further stated “Because of this implementation power, parliament is regularly required to study and discuss treaties”. This was an unbelievable statement from the parliamentary secretary.

He could not say in true consciousness that we on this side of the House or anyone on the backbenches of the Liberal side of the House has any power to implement or should I say prevent the implementation of any treaties signed by the Prime Minister.

This government has broken Brian Mulroney's record of cutting off and shutting down the debate in the House. Yet the parliamentary secretary in his speech tells Canadians that we have the power to implement treaties. What a laugh. What a sham. When has this ever happened? Not since 1993. That is for sure. Like Brian's Tories, the Liberals days are truly numbered.

Then the parliamentary secretary said further that Bill C-214 creates nothing new, but it imposes a tight framework on the Government of Canada for consulting its provincial partners. Good. As an MP from B.C., I know very well the western alienation ailment that the weak Liberal government suffers from. Anything we can do to get the Liberals to work with our province is a step in the right direction.

The government opposes Bill C-214, claiming that the signing of any international treaty lies exclusively with the Canadian federal executive branch. He emphasizes it because the Liberal government does not want duly elected MPs examining the secret deals reached by their Prime Minister and other foreign leaders behind closed doors.

He says “Bill C-214 adversely affects Canadian foreign policy. Crises throughout the world must not be used for partisan purposes”. Are treaties a crisis? No. Is consulting MPs in the House a necessary partisan exercise? No.

I know that my time is limited, but I would like to give one more quote.

The parliamentary secretary stated that Bill C-214 would slow down the treaty ratification process. What is the rush? Why do we not follow the right procedures?

We know how the government signed treaties when it came to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the Kyoto emissions deal and others. We know how it signed those treaties. Canadians are not informed about the implications. There is very little or no debate in the House. The treaties are signed, sealed and delivered behind closed doors.

In conclusion, I will support this bill because it is a step in the right direction. It complies with the Canadian Alliance policy according to which at least five steps are needed to bring sufficient transparency and accountability to foreign policy and treaty making process. Very quickly, those five steps are to require parliamentary ratification, including going before committee; a national interest and impact analysis or assessment; strengthen co-operative federalism with real provincial input; ensure public information; and—

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but his time has expired. Resuming debate, the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, this is an interesting bill before the House and one that is worthy of debate. I want to put a few comments on the record with regard to this treaties bill, an act to provide for the participation of the House of Commons when treaties are concluded.

The key word is “concluded”. I do not think we want the House of Commons or elected members, although we want to be part of the process, involved in the negotiations and this bill clearly sets that straight from the outset. It is not talking about day to day negotiations but being involved once the treaty is concluded. We do understand the importance of government and leadership in government and the need for the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Fisheries to negotiate treaties on behalf of the Government of Canada. That obviously means the people of Canada. However, at the end of the day it has to be put before the people of Canada right here in the House and that is what this bill does.

I just want to bring a few points forward which I think should lead to interesting debate on this bill. The summary of the bill states:

Under this enactment, Canada shall not, without first consulting the provincial governments, negotiate or conclude a treaty

(a) in an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces; or

(b) in a field affecting an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces.

Nothing in the Act in any manner limits or affects the royal prerogative of Her Majesty in right of a province with respect to the negotiation and conclusion of treaties in an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces.

Here is a key phrase which I think is worthy of some more thought on behalf of the member who wrote this bill. The bill further states:

This enactment provides that Canada may not ratify an important treaty unless the House of Commons has first approved the treaty by resolution pursuant to the rules of procedure of that House.

That means this House, the House of Commons.

The key phrase in that is “important treaty”. The member designates that in Bill C-214 as an important treaty and then goes on to define an important treaty, and I think it is important that we step through the definition of “important treaty”.

For the purposes of this enactment, “important treaty” means any treaty

(a) whose implementation requires

(i) the enactment of an Act of Parliament,

(ii) that Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada be invested with new powers, or

(iii) the imposition of a tax by Parliament;

(b) imposing a substantial financial obligation, whether direct or conditional, on Canada;

(c) concerning the transfer of a part of the territory of Canada or any change to the boundaries of Canada;

(d) under which Canada undertakes to impose economic or military sanctions, whether direct or conditional, against a State;

(e) concerning the territorial jurisdiction of Canada, including jurisdiction by Canada over any area of the sea or air;

(f) concerning international trade or investment or Canada's place in the world economy; or

(g) concerning the participation of Canada in international institutions, including the transfer of jurisdiction to such institutions.

This leads me to conclude or deduce where that would leave us in terms of the land mines treaty which was negotiated by the Government of Canada. I think every party in the House has given the government a lot of credit for doing this, the credit going in particular to our foreign affairs minister.

Under the definition of important treaties, that very treaty would have been left out of this bill. I think that is one which should have been debated in the House more than it was.

The other one is the international law of the sea. Where does that leave us? It does mention it, but I am not sure if, under the confines of this particular bill, that definition would fit into what we consider international law, respecting our obligations as a nation on the high seas beyond our 200 mile limit.

I think the member has to take a look at that. It is something which should be referred to committee for further study. It could be an omission but we have to have some expert opinion on that.

If we listen to what is going on in the world today in terms of the refugee problem or crisis and Canada's obligation, where does that leave us? In a sense these are treaties. They are negotiations which take place at the highest levels, expecting Canada to do something.

I am just wondering whether or not that falls into the definition and whether or not it would exclude that type of debate taking place in the House.

Witness the Prime Minister in the Middle East now, making policy up as he goes along. Is that an example of what we should be debating here in the House? We are not sure.

We do not want to condemn everything the government does but we do think that some of those important issues should be debated here on the floor of the House of Commons. We do not want to make it up as we go along, which appears to be happening today.

In the world of globalization, Canada wants to be a player and wants to be involved. This is the place where it should happen.

The other point which has to be made is that there is no mention of the other place, the Senate of Canada, and the role it plays in this bigger debate. That takes us back to a debate which is going on in the other place this very moment in terms of the clarity bill. The admission of the senate in this bill, which obviously upset many senators, did not receive too much criticism here in the House because of that admission. That is one of the issues which has to be resolved that I do not see in this bill.

We look forward to the debate. I am sure the member is going to get the kind of support he needs, on this side of the House at least, to move this forward. We look forward to the member's comments. We look forward to moving this to at least the committee stage for further investigation.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address this important bill introduced by the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.

This bill deserves our consideration. I hope it will make it past this stage and be referred to a committee, before finally being passed.

The first question concerning this bill may be: What is it all about?

Under Bill C-214:

—Canada shall not, without first consulting the provincial governments, negotiate or conclude a treaty: a ) in an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces; or b ) in a field affecting an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces.

It is important to note that nothing in this bill in any manner limits or affects the royal prerogative of Her Majesty in right of a province with respect to the negotiation and conclusion of treaties in an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces.

The bill provides that Canada may not ratify an important treaty unless the House of Commons has first approved the treaty by resolution pursuant to the rules of procedure of that House.

Under the bill, when Canada intends to ratify a treaty, the Minister of Foreign Affairs must table the treaty in the House of Commons, accompanied by an explanatory memorandum on the subject matter and effects of the treaty, not later than 21 sitting days before it is to be ratified.

Put simply, Bill C-214 seeks to promote the participation of all of us in the House, as democratically elected representatives of all Canadians, in the process to conclude treaties.

We may wax philosophical about globalization and its importance in our lives but, at some point, we must be practical and see what it means in real terms.

I think all the members of this House will agree that an increasing number of decisions affecting each of us in our daily lives will be taken at the international level. Whereas in the past, the government or the legislative process was in the hands of people elected in certain countries, including Canada, more and more decisions are being made internationally, not by parliamentarians but by governments.

The process is a bit topsy turvey, in other words, things on various subjects are negotiated internationally and then the governments simply pass them without the people, the elected representatives in the parliaments of the various countries, having a say. This could perhaps be compared to a sort of new piece of legislation created world-wide, where there is no real democracy. We can talk about a lack of democracy internationally and also federally or nationally.

At the end of November, beginning of December, I attended an important conference, which the members followed with considerable interest, the WTO conference in Seattle. One of the points raised in the conference by the opponents of the WTO process, was the lack of democratic control over the WTO. These opponents, demonstrators, had supporters in most of the countries, and they were saying “It is incredible that the governments are negotiating such things without the public being informed or consulted and without the people's elected representatives having their say”.

The people demonstrating against the WTO, whether in Seattle or here in Canada and Quebec, were right in that it is important, in a world where more and more things affecting us in our daily lives are decided internationally, for the elected representatives to have their say. Such participation by MPs could be strongly encouraged if treaties were systematically tabled in the House.

Tabling treaties would have the advantage of informing members of the existence of treaties signed by the government, and that is already something, and of bringing to their attention the legal standards in them that could have an effect on Canada.

Passage of the bill would mean greater transparency in the matter, and we must not forget that greater transparency—

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Mr. Speaker, Her Excellency the Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this honourable House in the chamber of the honourable the Senate.

Accordingly, the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber. And being returned :

Treaties ActThe Royal Assent

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House did attend Her Excellency the Governor General in the Senate chamber, Her Excellency was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill C-6, an act to support and promote electronic commerce by protecting personal information that is collected, used or disclosed in certain circumstances, by providing for the use of electronic means to communicate or record information or transactions and by amending the Canada Evidence Act, the Statutory Instruments Act and the Statute Revision Act—Chapter 5.

Bill C-13, an act to establish the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to repeal the Medical Research Council Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts—Chapter 6.

Bill C-9, an act to give effect to the Nisga'a Final Agreement—Chapter 7.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-214, an act to provide for the participation of the House of Commons when treaties are concluded, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, we had a most inopportune interruption in order to go and see someone who is not elected, but appointed, in a room full of people who are appointed because they are friends of the government. I cannot help but point out that it is sad to see—and I can see you rubbing your eyes with good reason—the work of this House being interrupted, without any consideration for the speeches that are made here.

Speeches in this House are made by representatives who have been elected and therefore have democratic legitimacy, unlike the person who signed and the people in the other place, where you went yourself, because these people are appointed, not elected.

Before this inopportune interruption, I was saying that the passing of the excellent, wonderful and important Bill C-214 introduced by my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry would bring greater transparency to the conclusion of treaties.

Greater transparency also means greater support by Canadians and Quebecers to the contents of the treaties. It is much more difficult to support something that we know nothing about and whose contents we are not aware of, than something of which we know the pros and cons and that we have debated.

Bill C-214 would also confer upon the House of Commons the power to approve what are termed important treaties. During the break, I was informed that my friends over there have decided not to support this bill. I am disappointed that they want to remain powerless.

Over there they could have said for once “Yes, we do want more powers, we do want more control”. Instead ,they have just decided, once again, to be the government yes-men that they are, saying “If the government says so, and does so, then it must be all right, it must be a good thing”.

They are shirking part of their responsibilities, responsibilities they should take seriously. The purpose of this bill is to allow the House as a whole, not one or another party, to have its say, as an instance of the federal government with democratic legitimacy. I suppose when one is used to being powerless, maybe one wants to continue that way. I feel this is a pity.

This bill would enable members to debate the content of treaties, but without limiting the government's leeway in negotiating or signing treaties. The government's leadership is not being challenged here. It is, of course, up to the executive to negotiate treaties. That is the way it is done throughout the world. The desire here is to ensure that the balance between the executive and the legislative is not completely tipped in favour of the executive.

There are also provisions in this bill aimed at involving the provinces in the negotiation of treaties coming under their jurisdictional responsibility, and requiring the Government of Canada to consult them.

I myself wrote an article in the period leading up to the WTO conference, a marvellous document if I do say so myself. Again, the WTO is increasingly important. In my opinion, the provinces must be as closely associated as possible with the process of negotiation, and of representation in the event of trade disputes too.

In closing, I would like to congratulate the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry on introducing this bill, which is intended to enable us all in the House of Commons to have a little more say in Canada's international involvement.

We cannot not pass this bill, not want to have it considered in committee and go on to third reading, where it may be rejected if that be the wish of the members, but we must have the chance to debate it. We must, we the democratically elected representatives of the people, seize the opportunity to have our say on an international matter that affects us increasingly, that will affect our fellow citizens increasingly in their daily lives.

I ask all members of this House to join with my colleague and vote in favour of this bill.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

April 13th, 2000 / 6:20 p.m.


Ian Murray Liberal Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to Bill C-214.

Canada's leadership role in human security, peacekeeping, international co-operation and development is well known. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has just announced the Canadian initiative on the treatment of children in times of conflict. Let us hope that the invaluable experience and sterling reputation which Canada developed during its leading role in the Ottawa process for the elimination of anti-personnel land mines is put to use to help the innocent young victims of war.

Hon. members will understand the importance of having a good system for concluding treaties, one which enables Canada to conduct its foreign policy effectively in the service of Canadians.

The bill introduced by the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry has compelled us to once again give some thought to Canada's mechanism for concluding treaties. Is it as flawed as the hon. member suggests? Does it need to be radically overhauled as he is proposing? Does our current practice prevent us from playing a role and defending the interests of Canadians on the international scene? In my view, our current practice, with its flexibility and capacity to respond to change, already enables us to meet our objectives while recognizing the essential role of parliament in implementing treaty obligations.

The problems facing governments often extend beyond national borders. When countries decide to work together to improve a situation in an area such as foreign trade, common defence, disarmament or international crime, they negotiate and come to an agreement commonly known as a treaty or a convention.

Under our constitution, the power to conclude treaties belongs exclusively to the executive branch of the federal government. It is the executive that agrees to bind and commit Canada to obligations in the international sphere. It was, therefore, the executive that signed and ratified the charter of the United Nations and voted for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was the executive that ratified the North Atlantic Treaty by which NATO was formed, and it was the executive that ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Canada is already party to nearly 3,000 bilateral and multilateral instruments and, with the growing need for states to respond to international trade and political imperatives, this number can only increase.

The member for Beauharnois—Salaberry is suggesting that the House of Commons does not play a large enough role in the process of concluding those treaties to which Canada chooses to become a party. I have trouble following the hon. member on this point. While it is true that the executive is responsible for signing and ratifying treaties, it has always been a responsibility of elected representatives to pass the implementing legislation for treaties in Canada.

The constitutional power to implement treaties granted to the House of Commons and the legislatures under the division of powers and confirmed by the highest courts more than 60 years ago ensures a healthy balance between the federal executive and the people's elected representatives.

The federal executive must secure legislative implementation from the elected representatives before agreeing on behalf of Canada to be definitively bound by a treaty. Without this approval, treaty obligations could not be implemented and Canada would fall well short of meeting its international obligations. Not only is it well advised to consult and obtain legislative approval from elected representatives in order to implement treaties, it is often essential.

When Canada wants to ratify a treaty involving one or more provincial areas of jurisdiction, the executive automatically consults with the provinces. On reading Bill C-214 one would think there was no consultation between the federal government and the provinces and that this legislation was absolutely essential in order to remedy the situation. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, the provinces are continually consulted on the Hague conventions on private international law, which of course fall under the constitutional jurisdiction of the provinces over civil rights. Canada has not ratified some of the Hague conventions because of the provinces' unwillingness to implement aspects falling under provincial jurisdiction.

We have a practice that works, with no need to legislate or to impose any requirement to conclude unwieldy agreements concerning consultative mechanisms with the provinces. We already have consultative mechanisms. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Incidentally, I would like to mention a crucial point brought up by my colleague, the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, in the first hour of debate on second reading of the bill. In his bill the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry attempts suddenly and indirectly to grant the provinces the power to conclude treaties. The courts have been clear that in the Canadian constitutional system the power to conclude treaties for Canada belongs exclusively to the executive branch of the federal government. In other words, there is no provincial power to conclude treaties, nor has there ever been. Bill C-214 would be contrary to our constitution.

The current practice already provides a balance between elected representatives who have legislative authority and the executive which has the power to conclude treaties for the country.

The hon. member claims that members of parliament do not have the opportunity to help formulate Canada's position in treaty negotiations. Let us stop to consider this argument and look at the role played by the all-party Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade when it is consulted about negotiating and concluding international treaties.

The Subcommittee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investment of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade held hearings and produced a report on the conclusion of an agreement on the free trade area of the Americas. In June 1999 the full Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade held consultations and produced reports on the World Trade Organization.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the government presented its response to the committee's report regarding the WTO on November 15, 1999. It is clear from that response that the government greatly benefited from the committee's recommendations in formulating its own position, a concrete example of the important role of parliament.

Committee hearings provide an excellent opportunity for parliament to consult, examine, analyze and debate Canada's international commitments.

Another example of parliamentary participation in concluding international agreements comes to mind. Canada and the United States are currently in the process of concluding an agreement on customs preclearance at Canadian airports. As members know, there are U.S. customs officers at many Canadian airports preclearing passengers who travel to the United States. This reduces the waiting time upon their arrival at U.S. airports.

The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade studied Bill S-22, the purpose of which is to implement the Canada-U.S. agreement before a final agreement is even concluded. Why did it do this? To give parliament manoeuvring room to determine on its own what powers it may want to grant U.S. customs officers posted on Canadian soil. Needless to say, during the committee meetings the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry still found reason to criticize this government initiative.

Parliament is already regularly consulted on important matters that may be the subject of international treaties. Here again the hon. member is not inventing anything new. The advantage of the Canadian practice of concluding treaties is that it is flexible. It provides a balance between parliament and the executive branch in concluding and implementing international treaties and gives elected representatives an important role in debating and studying international agreements. Let us not forget that the government is responsible to this House for the conduct of Canada's foreign affairs, including the conclusion of treaties.

In summary, our system of concluding treaties, including the practice by which it is governed, works very well indeed. Through its flexibility it provides for the effective participation of elected representatives, in consultation with the provinces in areas of provincial jurisdiction, while guaranteeing that the interests of Canadians are fully defended and promoted on the international stage.