House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was banks.



11 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely Mr. Jim Hart, member for the electoral district of Okanagan—Coquihalla, by resignation effective July 19, 2000.

Pursuant to subsection 25(1)(b) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed on Wednesday, July 19, 2000, my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.


11 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty to also inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely Mr. Scott Brison, member for the electoral district of Kings—Hants, by resignation effective July 24, 2000.

Pursuant to subsection 25(1)(b) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I addressed on Monday, July 24, 2000 my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

Board Of Internal Economy

11 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that Mr. John Reynolds, member for the electoral district of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, has been appointed member of the Board of Internal Economy in place of Mr. Jay Hill, member for the electoral district of Prince George—Peace River.

The House resumed from May 17 consideration of the motion that Bill C-334, an act to amend the criminal code (wearing of war decorations), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, after a wonderful summer it is an honour to be back to represent my wonderful constituents. I believe, Madam Speaker, that you and all other members of the House also had an excellent summer. I look forward to a good session of parliament.

On the first day of the session and as the first speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to support Bill C-334, an act to amend section 419 of the criminal code which will permit the wearing of war decorations by relatives of a deceased veteran on the right side of the survivor's chest. As we know, our military veterans always wear their medals and stripes on the left side of their chests.

The people of Surrey Central would have me begin my comments today by congratulating my colleague, the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast. Not only is he the sponsor of this bill and today's debate, he has also been appointed to the position of chief whip of Her Majesty's Loyal Official Opposition, the Canadian Alliance. We are all very proud of our seasoned parliamentary colleague and are confident that he will do a fine job of whipping us up to the next election.

This initiative by the hon. member is not meant to diminish or dishonour the service, sacrifice and valour of our veterans and those who have been awarded decorations. On the contrary, it is meant to celebrate and recognize the sacrifice in this achievement. It is also meant to recognize and acknowledge bravery, gallantry, patriotism and commitment to our nation.

Those decorations must not be forgotten, put away in dusty boxes or drawers or end up in flea markets just because of a 1920 law that established as a criminal offence to wear war decorations unless the wearer earned them. In those days parliament recognized the need for such legislation. The problem was that these war decorations were being sold and it was not uncommon for someone to purchase them, wear them and thereby falsely give the impression of having earned the decorations they had actually purchased. Legitimate recipients of these medals were concerned about protecting the integrity of these military decorations.

By making it a criminal offence for someone other than the original recipient of the award to wear the decoration, Canadian veterans were sustaining the valour, honour and privileges that accompany these military distinctions.

That was then, but this is now. Today fewer and fewer Canadians are able to wear Canada's war decorations. Our veterans are aging and, sadly, are passing on. The declining membership of the Royal Canadian Legion should give us the common sense to help reconsider the archaic law. It is even more startling since 44% of the members are over the age of 65 and, out of those, over a quarter are over the age of 75.

We need to enhance Remembrance Day services by allowing family members to bring out medals on this day and thereby perpetuate the act of remembrance.

My grandfather fought in the world war and was awarded bravery medals. My brothers, sisters and cousins have perhaps forgotten the stories of bravery of our grandfather. The medals he won ought to be the symbol of refreshing the memory of his bravery today, are locked in boxes somewhere or perhaps even lost. It is because no one after him could ever wear them.

On November 11 at 11.00 a.m. Remembrance Day is celebrated in three legions in my constituency. As an MP, I would like to attend the ceremonies at all three places but I cannot. Last year I sent my younger son Livjot to one of the events to represent me.

I think that Remembrance Day should not only be limited to the older people but rather we should encourage our youth to get involved so that they can get motivation from our veterans to become good citizens.

Livjot also gave a very emotional speech on my behalf, which was highly appreciated. My son said:

The 20th century was a violent century. World peace was won but the human cost defies our imagination. The fear, the sorrow and the horror of war was unimaginable. The price tag of peace was war and 110,000 Canadians dead. Those who came back, no matter how wounded in body and spirit, were determined to build on what they left behind. Together they fought a war and forged a nation, a nation we proudly call Canada.

We must learn from the harsh truths of wars past so that we never repeat humanity's mistakes. Let us remember to pass on their legacy to our children and our children's children, as my dad did today. Love and remembrance last forever. There is a link death cannot sever.

That link is by those medals and war decorations that this bill, if passed, will allow the relatives to wear on Remembrance Day.

The time has come to follow the lead of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, our Commonwealth partners, which have already amended their laws to reflect the need to unveil these decorations and re-commemorate the valour of those who were awarded these distinctions.

We live in a relatively peaceful era. Today's generation is very lucky in that regard. Canadian youth need to learn the value of these medals, how they were earned, why they are so important and the great costs at which they were won. By allowing the wearing of Canada's war decorations by close relatives and descendants of our war veterans, and the wearing of these decorations in a manner different than that of the original recipient, we would be protecting the honour, valour and privileges that these medals command. This is important because these decorations and the stories behind them represent our heritage.

In the previous hour of debate the only problem cited by the government and the Tory Party was the definition of a relative. Who would be entitled to wear the decoration won by a deceased Canadian war veteran? I agree that this is an important definition.

My colleague from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast was generous and showed foresight in leaving the definition of relative open to debate and input from the members and the witnesses appearing before the committee. He did not insist on limiting nor overly extending the category of people who would be entitled to privileges should the House pass the bill.

If the government would allow a free vote in the House, it would be possible to modernize an antiquated law. If the House supports the bill then it will be sent to the committee and the matter of the definition of relative can be decided democratically.

I would suggest that the committee consider requiring a red, green or blue piece of material to be worn on the right side of the chest as a background for the decoration thus denoting that the person wearing the decoration is the first, second or third descendent generation of the person originally awarded them.

I could also suggest that the committee consider establishing a system whereby the person intending to wear the medal must satisfy a requirement that would show they understand the significance of wearing the medal.

Bill C-334 is striving to make arrangements to address these concerns. It is worthy of serious consideration by the House. It is worthy of proceeding to the committee stage so that the outstanding issues can be dealt with.

I urge all members to support the initiative we have with the bill. Let us do the work necessary to examine this matter totally. Let us prepare for the dwindling number of Canadian war veterans who will be among us in the future. Let us prepare to provide the necessary arrangements to allow the direct descendants and survivors of our military heroes to proudly wear the decorations they have inherited. Let us reflect the need of the times in our laws and let common sense actually work.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Sault Ste. Marie Ontario


Carmen Provenzano LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Veterans Affairs

Madam Speaker, I also rise to debate Bill C-334.

Wars indeed are a dreadful indictment of humanity's failure to resolve disputes with civility and reason. Wars mean death and destruction and the slaughter of innocents. Unfortunately, our grandparents and great grandparents were to learn of this reality all too well; on the killing fields of Europe and Asia, in the skies above and the seas below, so many Canadian lives lost.

There are so many acts of courage, many known, countless others unknown and untold. I wonder how many Canadians are aware that more Victoria Crosses have been won by Canadians per capita than by citizens of any other Commonwealth nation. In fact, 94 Victoria Crosses have been awarded to Canadians since the Crimean war, medals for valour for individual acts of courage. How can we know how many other actions were never recorded for posterity.

We were reminded recently of the courage of our young men in battle with the return to Ottawa of Canada's Unknown Soldier in late May of this year. He was disinterred from a burial place not far from Vimy Ridge and formally transferred to Canadian officials at the Vimy Memorial.

We saw how, with all the dignity appropriate to the occasion, he was brought back to the nation's capital to lie in state in the Hall of Honour for Canadian citizens to pay their respects. On May 28, 2000 in a dignified and fitting ceremony televised for all Canadians from coast to coast, the body of this young soldier was finally given his rightful burial spot at the War Memorial.

Now nearly four months later, if we visit the young soldier's sarcophagus, we will find Ottawans and visitors from everywhere still paying their respects, still talking about the event and still putting fresh flowers on the memorial. That is the true meaning of remembrance.

I would like to address two issues about the bill that came out in the debates last spring. First, it was said that by wearing a veteran's medals on the right side of the chest automatically indicates to an observer that they are being worn on behalf of the memory of someone else, namely the deceased veteran.

The hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm in support of the bill said “We all know that an individual wears the medal that he won on a battlefield on the left side of his chest. Therefore, we would immediately realize if a person wears such decorations on the right side of the chest, that person is not the one who was awarded the decorations, but a relative”. This is an inappropriate assumption; in fact, it is an error on two counts.

First, except for those who have served in the military, most Canadians would not make such a distinction. How would they know on which side of the chest veterans should wear their medals? It is not a matter of common knowledge.

Second, and perhaps more pertinent, it presupposes that veterans themselves wear medals on the left side of the chest and never on the right. This is also incorrect. The matter is more complicated than that. Wearing medals on the right does not say anything about the wearer and whether he or she personally earned the medals. Many veterans wear medals that they themselves have earned on the right. These are what could be called unofficial medals.

The rule is this: Official medals are worn on the left; unofficial medals are worn on the right. An official medal is one awarded to a person by the state, while an unofficial medal is one awarded to a person by some other entity. For example, many of the veterans in the parade to install the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier legitimately and correctly wore medals on both sides of the chest. Service medals were worn on the left, and the legion or other veteran association medals and other medals were worn on the right.

The key points are plain. Wearing medals on the right is in no way a valid indicator that the medals are being worn in honour of a deceased veteran. If this bill is passed, wearing medals on the right will then be taken as indicating that the wearer is a relative of a deceased person who earned the medal. These conclusions could be false and would be in many circumstances. Imagine the confusion on Remembrance Day if this bill were to pass.

The other topic that was discussed at some length during the first debate was the issue of what constituted a relative of a veteran since the bill is silent on the matter except for the inclusion of an adopted person. Even those supporting the bill admitted this was somewhat problematic. The hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm said this on that item:

The term relative can be confusing, but it could be clarified. Do first cousins qualify, for instance? Is it only direct lineage or indirect as well? The bill could very easily identify what is meant by relative.

If it is so easy, that task has eluded the draftsman. I am not at all sure it is that easy. Does it stop at grandchildren or great grandchildren?

Even the member for Edmonton East, who is from the same party as the member who is sponsoring Bill C-334, admits that defining the term relative is more than a little problematic. He said:

Where the bill could be improved is with respect to defining the term relative. Relative should be defined to mean the widow or widower of a deceased veteran, or a parent, child, brother, sister, grandparent or grandchild, whether by blood, marriage or adoption. Such definition would appear to provide constructive limitation as to which family members could wear the medals. Nephews and nieces and others not as closely connected to the deceased veteran would not be able to honour him or her through wearing the medals.

Not nephews and nieces. That begs the question, what if they are the only surviving relatives? Could they not rightly claim the same honour to pay their respects to a deceased aunt or uncle?

I quote the hon. member again where he said “The definition of relative could be expanded as times change and circumstances warrant”. Expanding the term relative over time might create ludicrous circumstances. The minute we open a door to allowing those who did not earn the medals to wear them, no matter how well defined, that door will remain wide open forever.

The member then proposed that we define what sort of honour relatives could wear, suggesting limitation to Canadian or Commonwealth general service issue medals as opposed to ribbons, badges, chevrons, other decorations and orders. This is just another slippery slope.

In a similar vein, the hon. member for Saint John expressed like-minded concerns. She said during the last debate:

Who qualifies as a veteran? Other than specifying that adopted relatives are also eligible to wear the medals, there are no specifications on who is wearing and parading around in those hallowed decorations of honour. There are no checks to be maintained or record of who is wearing the decoration. Will a veteran's third cousin by marriage be wearing medals or decorations, or the veteran's eldest child? Understandably this is a decision to be made by each family if this were to pass, but where is the honour that goes with wearing the medals? Where is maintaining and restraining enforcement? Certainly there must be a status of decorum that must be upheld and I do not see that in this bill.

She hit the nail on the head when she said later in her submission:

I believe that once a medal recipient has passed on, the decoration should be treated as a representation of the service and sacrifice of the veteran who earned it and displayed as such. I fear that it will be perceived through the passage of time to be a less substantial piece of jewellery just to be passed around.

Exactly. I am delighted she states our position on this side of the House so eloquently. I commend the hon. member for Saint John, who holds the memory of the sacrifice and heroism of our war veterans near and dear to her heart, for taking the time and effort to call the Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion and the provincial command in New Brunswick, both of which indicated their opposition to the bill. She also noted that her family members who had relatives who served felt exactly the same way.

I end with a quote from my hon. friend opposite, the hon. member for Saint John, who said during the last debate:

I do not believe it is up to the House of Commons to determine for veterans who should be allowed to wear these decorations of honour. I believe we should listen to our veterans as to who they feel it should be.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, on behalf of the New Democratic caucus I would like to extend our warm greetings to all members of parliament, their families and the new pages who are with us for this session. We wish them the best of luck. I send my personal congratulations to all and hope that everyone had a great and relaxing summer with their families and are ready to get down to the nation's business.

It gives me great pleasure to speak on this very important matter. I thank the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast for raising it. I am speaking in favour of this bill not necessarily to contradict my good friend from the riding of Sault Ste. Marie, but to understand why we are doing this.

On a historical note, this is the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. It is the 50th anniversary of the Korean conflict. It is the 90th anniversary of our navy. It is the 75th anniversary of the legion. It is the 55th anniversary of the liberation of my country of origin, Holland. Those anniversaries and special dates could not have been accomplished without the assistance of the Canadian people and their military forces at those various stages of our history.

One certain fact is that Canadian children and students know very little about military history. In fact, when veterans go before school kids, usually during the week prior to Remembrance Day, they are astonished at the lack of knowledge Canadians have about their own military history and the individuals who fought so bravely and gallantly in those battles.

Approximately 120,000 Canadians, mostly the same ages as the pages who are here with us, are buried in over 72 countries around the world. There is a historical cenotaph in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia built from 72 stones. Those stones represent every country in which we have a military person buried, having died as a result of peacekeeping missions or conflicts. Those individuals died so that we could live in freedom, so that individuals such as ourselves could stand in the House of Commons to voice our opinions and battle with words instead of with fisticuffs. That is what democracy is all about.

I attended the 38th annual dominion convention in Halifax. A lot of the veterans said that the greatest homage is, “We shall not forget them; they shall be remembered”. The truth is that a lot of Canadians do not remember because they do not know.

This bill could enable young people and future generations to understand what Canada and its people went through in those battles of yesteryear. We hope and pray that we never have to go through those types of conflicts ever again as a nation, but I do know that our military would be ready at a moment's notice if there were conflicts around the world that needed to be settled.

The unfortunate part is that most Canadians are forgetting. The gatherings for Remembrance Day ceremonies are becoming larger and larger, but that is due to veterans, their families and the legion.

The issue is quite clear. If we do not allow family members or relatives to carry on proudly with the wearing of their uncles', their fathers' or their brothers' medals, that history may be lost. Those medals could eventually end up in a nice cedar box somewhere in someone's attic and left alone and forgotten. The history will be gone forever. That would be a tragic loss.

Some of the nation's most important battles were Vimy, Dieppe and other areas throughout the world. How many people really know the part that Newfoundlanders played in the war effort? They know in Newfoundland, but not many people around the country know that Newfoundlanders fought before it became a province of Canada. When we mention this to young people they say “Oh, really”. They did not know this and it is most unfortunate.

When I went to Holland for the 50th anniversary of its liberation the Dutch children knew more about Canadian history than Canadians do. That is a disgrace. That is very shameful. When this is mentioned to veterans, for example at the Camp Hill hospital in Halifax where many of our aging veterans are living out the last days of their lives, they are very sad and remorseful with the fact that Canadians forget them. Even though we stand up every Remembrance Day and say we will not forget, the reality is that time passes and memory lapses. This bill will bring the memory forward and continue to keep it alive.

My mother, father and oldest brother were liberated by Canadians. My father has now passed away, but on behalf of my family and all Dutch citizens around the world I would like to say thanks once again to the Canadian military and the government at that time for intervening in order to rescue us and allow us to come to this country and live in peace and freedom.

I promised my father and all military people that I would never forget. I have passed it on to my children so they will never forget, but there is no guarantee that they will pass it on to their children. There is no guarantee that other children will remember the sacrifices made by our military personnel. This bill is one way of encouraging the memory of the very brave and valiant soldiers, the men and women throughout our country, who have passed on to their glory with God.

I encourage all members of the House to carefully consider this bill and understand that there are differences of opinion. There is no question there were differences of opinion when World War II veterans wanted to get into the legion and World War I vets were hesitant about that. There were differences when the Korean vets came back to Canada as to whether or not it was actually a war and whether they could get into the legion. There is debate as to whether or not current serving military personnel, RCMP officers or firefighters, for that matter, can enter the legion.

The legions know it is a sin that they are unfortunately slowly closing down in smaller communities. They are changing their requirements for entry on a regular basis strictly for survival. Some of the larger legions in the larger centres are doing quite well, but they are struggling as well in some cases. Entry was changed for me to become a legion member. My father served in the Dutch resistance but does not have any medals to show for it. If he did, I would be very proud and honoured to wear those medals on Remembrance Day or at other special ceremonies.

If the government looks at the bill carefully and understands the historical aspect of what it is trying to do, I am sure it would reconsider and show support for this very important legislation.

On behalf of my family and the New Democratic caucus we will support this initiative and will continue to debate it as it goes along.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, once again let me echo my colleague's comments from Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. In coming back to the House after our summer recess I know that you are happy, Madam Speaker, to see all of us here. I am very happy to see you in the chair.

I am very pleased to speak on behalf the Progressive Conservative Party to Bill C-334 which has been placed before the House. The Progressive Conservative Party supports the rights of families of veterans to honour the memories of their ancestors and their accomplishments. We support Canadian pride in our country's military history, heritage and the sacrifice that has been made on behalf of all Canadians and Canadian society.

As my colleagues have said, the PC Party is not in favour of this piece of legislation. I do not believe that it is up to the House of Commons to determine for veterans who should be allowed to wear their decorations of honour. I believe that we should listen to our veterans on this very important matter. They made the sacrifices; they earned the medals; and they have the right to make those decisions.

The offices of the Royal Canadian Legion have expressed their opposition to this bill. My party supports their position. They understand the intent of families who believe they can promote Remembrance Day by wearing the medals but the veterans associations do not agree with this action.

The Dominion Command Office believes and states that medals are not symbols of remembrance. Rather they are symbols of service and commitments made by those men and women who were overseas. Medals are very personal, awarded to specific people for specific details and specific sacrifice. They are intended to be worn by the person who earned them.

The intent of the bill is clearly to honour our valiant soldiers and their services. However, if the wearing of another medal is permitted, the possibility that medals will start to lose their significance is strong. We have to be aware that those who are wearing medals earned by others for their special acts of valour could offend some living veterans who proudly wear their medals on Remembrance Day. Is that fair to our proud living veterans of today?

I agree with the member from the NDP Party for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. One of the most important functions on a yearly basis that I have to attend is that of Remembrance Day celebrations on November 11. I attend because I have personally suffered a loss in the great war. I lost an uncle in that war, an uncle whom I never knew. When I go to Remembrance Day celebrations it is the memory of that man which makes me stronger as a Canadian, knowing full well that I did not have to fight in my lifetime for Canada. My uncle fought. He gave the ultimate sacrifice. He lost his life on my behalf.

When I go to Remembrance Day celebrations I make sure that I take my children to those services. They must remember too. They never had to fight for the country. They have simply been given a gift by the men and women who have gone before us and who made those sacrifices. That is the remembrance we must have for the people who went before us, not to wear their medals on our chest to show people that we remember. We can remember them in many other fashions or in many other ways.

I am certain that many of the people here today have family members who served with distinction and honour. The family members of deceased veterans certainly have the right to remember the deeds and the valour of loved ones. However I suggest that there are many other ways to honour those veterans than wearing their medals.

A specific problem with the bill is that it does not stipulate who qualifies as a relative. Other than specifying that adopted relatives are also eligible to wear the medals, there are no specifications on who is allowed to wear these sacred decorations of honour. Will a veteran's third cousin by marriage be wearing the decorations of the veteran, or the veteran's eldest child?

Understandably this is a decision that each family would have to make if the bill were to pass. This vagueness brings into question what honour would go with wearing the medals. Where is the maintaining and restraining enforcement? A status of decorum must be upheld, and I do not see it in the bill.

Every November 11 we see veterans marching with their hard earned medal decorations pinned proudly to their chests. On this day of remembrance we acknowledge veterans for the sacrifices they made. If Bill C-334 were to pass, it is entirely possible that we would be acknowledging persons wearing medals they did not earn them and for achievements they did not accomplish. We could not even be certain that these people were the relatives of a veteran. I suggest to the House that this would be demeaning to the veterans who risked and perhaps even sacrificed their lives.

War decorations say something about the wearer. They say “I am proud to have served my country with distinction and with honour”. Were Bill C-334 to pass, this message would be muddled. One could not be certain that someone wearing a medal had served in the military or whether the wearer had a parent who had served, or a brother, or an aunt, or a third cousin by marriage.

As the law currently stands the wearing of war decorations is very meaningful. I fear that allowing anyone other than the person to whom the medals were awarded would depreciate the value of the medals and diminish the privilege of wearing them. We need to encourage remembrance of our war veterans. There are many ways to do it. Let us leave the wearing of war decorations as the exclusive right of those who earned them.

I maintain that we let the veterans themselves tell us what they would like to do. It is their honour and it should be up to them to decide if, when and with whom they would like to share it.

As said earlier the party I represent, the Progressive Conservative Party, certainly extends its gratification and gratitude to all veterans for services rendered to our country. It is they who should wear those medals with pride, not I or any other member of the House, unless in fact we earned them on the field of battle or in the service of our country.

I thank the member for bringing forward the legislation. However the Progressive Conservative Party will not be supporting the proposed legislation.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Chuck Cadman Reform Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, I too wish to welcome the Speaker and my colleagues back to the House after hopefully a summer of relaxation.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-334. This initiative by my colleague from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast would amend the criminal code to permit the relatives of a deceased veteran to wear any decoration awarded to that veteran.

The amendment stipulates that the relative can wear such decorations only on the right side of the chest and would only be permitted to do so on one day of the year, that being Remembrance Day. To do so at the present time would be in contravention of the criminal code.

The current law was written in the 1920s. I can certainly understand why it made sense then. Legitimate veterans of World War I did not want those who did not serve to be able to buy decorations and wear them for personal gain, status or to perpetrate fraud.

The reality of today is that the vast majority of these veterans have passed on. The coming decades will see the passing of the majority of those who served in World War II and Korea. Their decorations for the most part will be relegated to basements and attics, if not lost altogether. They will turn up in flea markets and junk shops where they will be seen as nothing more than just another bauble, their true meaning lost forever.

I do not think this is the way we want to honour the memory of those who are responsible for the freedoms we enjoy today. I will go so far as to say it is offensive, undignified and a dishonour to their memory. They are priceless and should be viewed that way.

This initiative is not intended to diminish the service, the sacrifice or the valour of the recipients of these decorations. It is meant to recognize and perpetuate the memory of their achievements. My hon. colleague has taken this initiative at the request of the relatives of veterans. They fear that the decorations awarded to their family members are being forgotten.

Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand have recognized the need to amend their laws pertaining to this matter and have acted accordingly. I find it somewhat perplexing that Canada has not followed suit. Are we so arrogant as to imply that Great Britain with its long military heritage and tradition is by simply allowing relatives of deceased veterans to proudly parade their decorations on Remembrance Day somehow degrading the memory of those who were all that stood between freedom and tyranny? Are we telling Australians and New Zealanders that we harbour more respect for our veterans than they do for theirs?

If I might be permitted to speak in some very personal terms, my father was a veteran of World War II. He did not serve in what some might mistakenly describe as one of the more glamorous capacities of military service. I use the word “mistakenly” because I have yet to meet any veteran who sees anything glamorous about war.

What I mean to say is that my father was not a fighter pilot or a gunner. He was not a paratrooper or a tank driver. He was not a frogman or a commando. No. My dad drove a truck. He was a convoy driver. He signed up in 1939 when the war broke out and mercifully returned home to Canada when it ended six years later.

He met my mother in Holland when Canadians liberated that country. The site of last spring's ceremonies, the town of Apeldoorn, is my mother's home town. It is where they met. She followed him to Canada in 1947.

My father's brother, my uncle, also served in Europe for the entire war and married a Flemish girl.

In the early 1950s my father did a short hitch with the Royal Canadian Air Force and my family spent two years in northern France. As a child, I played in the forests and fields that had been battlegrounds less than a decade earlier. I visited the still fresh cemeteries in France and Holland. To this day I remember standing before the imposing monument of Vimy Ridge. I vividly remember the bayonetted rifle barrels protruding skyward from the dirt of a backfilled trench.

My father's explanations as to what this was all about had a profound impact on me. Neither of my parents spoke much about the war. They did not have to. My mother's traumatic experience of years under the Nazi occupation was evident in her reaction whenever she heard someone speak with a German accent.

I remember once as a teenager bringing a schoolmate home. He was the son of recent German immigrants. He was tall and lean with sharp square features, blonde hair and spoke with a heavy accent. My mother was very gracious to him but after he had gone she asked me not to bring him around anymore if she was at home. She had no problem and no objection to me associating with him but to be in the same room with him was just too much for her. I learned something that day about the impact of war on people.

As for my father, his demeanour every November 11 was silent testimony to his innermost thoughts and feelings. My dad did not receive any special decorations for distinguished service or valour above and beyond the call of duty. He just got the same service medals given to thousands of other Canadian soldiers.

When he passed away in 1996 my only request of my siblings was to take those medals home with me. They are a constant reminder to me of who my dad was and the debt of gratitude I owe to him and to the tens of thousands of others like him. They also serve as a tangible reminder to me of the oppression and terror suffered by my mother and millions of others under Nazi tyranny. I am sure that many other children and other relatives of veterans could tell very similar stories.

I do recognize that opinion is divided within our veterans' organizations on this issue and I certainly respect the views of those who oppose the wearing of war decorations by any other than those to whom they were awarded. Perhaps that issue could be addressed at the local level through regulation or by some other means. These things could be discussed at committee.

Personally, why anybody would want to deny a spouse, a child or grandchild the opportunity and privilege of publicly acknowledging their deceased relatives' contributions by parading his or her military service decorations on the one day set aside for their remembrance is beyond me in the first place. However, to label that spouse, child or grandchild as a criminal, thereby lumping them with killers, rapists and thieves, is beyond reason. It is ludicrous.

I have heard it said here this morning that it is not up to the House of Commons to decide who should and should not wear war decorations. It is in the criminal code and it is only this place that can deal with the criminal code. What Bill C-334 does is it removes the aspect of relatives of deceased veterans wearing war decorations on Remembrance Day from the Criminal Code of Canada. Persons other than relatives would still be covered under the statute, as would anyone wearing the decorations on any day other than November 11.

I encourage my colleagues in this place to support sending this initiative to the standing committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


David Pratt Liberal Nepean—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I echo the comments made earlier in terms of welcoming yourself, my colleagues and the House of Commons staff back from a long summer vacation.

I am pleased to join my colleagues to discuss the pros and cons of Bill C-334. I will concede that there are responsible, reasonable and well-intentioned arguments on both sides of the ledger. That is why it is difficult to definitively come down on one side or another. However, making decisions is part of our job and in this case the appropriate decision is in my view to deny passage to this bill.

I certainly can see the point made during the last debate on the bill. Our war veterans are a dwindling national resource. As we start this new century we are losing many of them very quickly. Such are the ravages of time and old age. Slightly more than 400,000 of our war veterans are still with us and of those who are their average age is now approaching 80.

This fact of time and history imposes on us a duty to honour our commitment to remember their sacrifice for now and for future generations. The question that arises is how best to do this.

Bill C-334 takes the position that allowing relatives of deceased war veterans to wear their medals is one way to keep that memory alive. I disagree. My colleagues on this side of the House have already made the case of the legion's opposition to the bill and I believe this to be the strongest argument against the passage of the proposed legislation.

That said, I would like to point to some of the remarks made by the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast during the debate in May. Let me just pick out a few of the comments and questions he raised. He said:

My initiative comes from the relatives of veterans who fear that decorations awarded to their family members are being forgotten and put away in dusty boxes and drawers. They, like me, believe the time has come to move with the times and not let these precious decorations collect dust somewhere.

He later said in his speech:

Why should it be a crime for a relative to want to display the decoration and thus honour their deceased relative?

Later still he said:

Would it not be a positive gesture to remember them by allowing their families to proudly display their decorations as their veteran family members pass on?

Finally, the hon. member stated:

I believe these decorations are a birthright for the family members of those who were awarded them and sadly can no longer display them.

There is absolutely nothing in the current criminal code legislation that prohibits the displaying of medals. There is nothing that suggests that medals have to be put away in dusty drawers nor does the current legislation say that it would be a crime for relatives to want to display the decorations. The prohibition simply applies to the wearing of medals by anyone other than the veteran himself or herself.

We all encourage family members to proudly and publicly display the medals of their parents and grandparents either at home or on loan in more public facilities, such as local libraries and museums. They could even consider making a donation of these medals to their local institutions for public display.

I would like to make the case that taking the time and effort to display medals in this way will be considerably more meaningful than the option being considered by the bill: wearing the medals one day of the year and then, by implication, putting them back in a box to be worn the next Remembrance Day.

We should consider this proposition very carefully. One way is to try to picture what it must have been like for those who actually served in war and so reflect on why they might take some umbrage at someone else wearing their medals. For those of us who have not experienced warfare, it is almost impossible for us to imagine what it was like.

In many theatres of operations the weather was often very cold and frequently wet. The battlefields, especially in the first world war, were seas of mud, at times waist deep or deeper. Soldiers carried 40 pound sacks of equipment and provisions on their backs. They ate, slept and fought in trenches or makeshift barricades. They did not see their homeland or loved ones for years and those who were the lucky ones survived. Medical conditions often defied description.

In the first world war there were no antiseptic surgical techniques. Antibiotics were non-existent. Many men who escaped death at the hands of human enemies died from diseases such as influenza, pneumonia or infections. In such conditions the nursing sisters, brave women who often lost their own lives in such hellish conflict, struggled to comfort soldiers' broken spirits as they tended their broken bodies.

Our veterans faced implacable enemies, fiercely determined to fight to the bitter end. It was kill or be killed. It is a wonder that these men and women, considering the things they were called upon to do and what they were forced to witness, kept their humanity at all, and yet they did. When they returned home they picked up their lives and started work on building their country and raising their families. For their service, sacrifice and courage under fire they were awarded medals.

Let us look at the most famous medal of all in the Commonwealth, the Victoria Cross. On it are inscribed two simple words: For Valour. In my view it would be a sacrilege and an outrage for anyone to wear such a medal, relative or not, other than the person who won such a high honour.

The irony of this is that many VCs were awarded posthumously because the recipient died in service to his country and to his comrades in arms. If we could agree that the VC should not be worn by anyone but the recipient, then it would be hard not to see the same principle apply to all medals for service and courage.

Far better and more honourable than appropriating the medals is to honour the memory of our veterans through the retelling of their exploits. We can do that. We can write their histories in places like parks and street names. We can write them in places of dignity and circumstance, like the National War Memorial, and in the glorious landscape we have been blessed with where the names of many of our mountains, rivers and lakes now proudly bear the names of our beloved veterans.

We can write the memories of these brave men and women and the principles they fought and died for in our hearts. We will carry these memories with us from the past into the future.

If we go to any gathering, meeting or convention of veterans anywhere in the country we will see, in their binding friendships forged in the crucible of war, our history laid out plain and clear, living and breathing. We must all reclaim that history. We cannot allow it to perish, not even when the last of our surviving war veterans passes on, especially not then.

The reclamation is not to be found in the wearing of medals not earned through one's own actions. We know what to do. We give our past a future by putting it in the hands of the next generation. It is our duty to tell our children and our children's children the story of courage and sacrifice, the story of Canada's veterans. It is only fitting and proper that we do so. It is their heritage too.

Bill C-334 does nothing to that end. Its passage will cause grief and anger among those who served. I cannot and will not support the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, on the wall of my bedroom there is a picture frame. In that frame there are six war medals. They are the medals of my grandfathers and my father, awarded to them when they served in the first and second world wars.

My grandfathers came home from those wars. Both of them had suffered severe injuries. One of them limped all the rest of his life. The other had considerable pain in his shoulder. One received the wound at Vimy Ridge and the other at Hill 70. My father was in the medical corps of the Royal Canadian Air Force. In his duties he probably saved the lives of many flyers who had crashed during the war.

I am proud to have those medals on the wall of my bedroom. I would be even prouder to be able to wear them on the right side of my jacket on Remembrance Day. Those three men, my grandfathers and my father, are no longer with us. The sad fact of the matter is that within the next 10 years there will be hardly any of our war veterans alive at all.

How will we remember them? Will we be able to remember them adequately?

What this bill simply does is it says that those of us who knew these people, who knew of these people and of their sacrifices for Canada, would be able to put those medals on our chests on Remembrance Day and that at the services around the cenotaph be able to say clearly, articulately and proudly to those who ask “These are the medals that were given to those who fought for, served and gave up their lives for this country”.

When little boys of five, six or seven would come to me and ask about those medals, I would be able to say “Those are the medals of my grandfathers and my father”.

I would ask all members of the House to give their consideration to this bill, indeed their approval of it, send it to committee, get it talked about and to finally put it into the law of the land so that we might have the right to continue to remember these veterans because soon they will not be with us at all. We should never forget.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business



Robert Bertrand Liberal Pontiac—Gatineau—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-334.

Before I get to the specifics of the proposed legislation, I would like to preface my remarks by reflecting on the nature and scope of the sacrifice of Canada's veterans, especially during the last century. It sounds a little bit odd that we can refer to the wars we have participated in as wars of the last century. It is a testament to the sacrifice of our grandparents and great-grandparents that we can now say we have been involved in another world war since the first half of the 20th century.

It is a sad fact of 20th century life that if we want to trace the history of our nation, we merely need to visit cemeteries and memorials here in Canada and in the Commonwealth war cemeteries the world over. During the two world wars, the Korean war and in peacekeeping missions, over 116,000 of our young citizens were slain for the cause of peace and freedom. Of their courage there has never been any doubt; courage in action, in conditions that go almost beyond description. Consider for example the killing fields of the first world war, the so-called war to end all wars.

At the turn of the 20th century, Canada was a small nation in terms of population: fewer than eight million, yet it was a nation full of promise.

During this war, more than 66,000 young Canadians were to shed their life's blood on the battlefields of France and Belgium. At its end, names such as Arras, Amiens, the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Beaumont-Hamel were graven forever in our history.

The death statistics for World War I are beyond belief. In fact, the actual figures will never be known, but this was truly a world war. Of the sixty-five million enlisted, ten million lost their lives. Another twenty-nine million were wounded, taken prisoner or reported missing in action. The beloved sons of so many nations were lost, and along with them the enormous potential of a missing generation.

The second world war would again plunge the world in darkness and cost the lives of over 45,000 of our young soldiers, sailors and air crew. Korea a few years later would take another 516. It is in this context of such carnage that we can begin to discuss the notion of courage and the medals that come to symbolize courage under fire. For indeed by some definitions, courage means medals and citations for bravery.

The Victoria Cross is the Commonwealth's highest designation of valour. When we read the exploits of those who have won it, their acts of bravery are almost impossible to imagine. The irony is that when we talk to veterans about courage, they almost never see themselves as heroes.

In fact, one of our VC winners, Fred Tilston, who passed on just a few years ago, used to joke about it. When asked what it took to win the Victoria Cross, he summed it up in one word: inexperience. I guess he was poking a bit of fun at himself. Fred, like most veterans, was very modest about his courage.

Perhaps English writer G. K. Chesterton had it right when he said that courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die. I guess in many ways that is how courage showed itself for the Canadians who went to war. Ordinary men and women were called upon to do extraordinary things in the most frightening of times. By that measure, all those who served were very, very courageous.

It is in these multiple meanings of courage, service and sacrifice that I want to turn to the specifics of Bill C-334.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member but the time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

I must also advise the hon. member that he will have five minutes when this bill comes back to the House.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, after our summer recess it is important for Canadians to know what business the government has on the agenda, given the events of the summer, the problems at Burnt Church, the organized crime problems in Quebec and across the country, even some of the gasoline and heating oil tax issues, all those things. My question for the government House leader is, what is the business of the House for today and the rest of the week?

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, today it is the intention of the government to commence the debate on Bill C-38, the financial institutions bill, which we would propose to do immediately after this statement. If there is time permitting later today, we would then proceed to Bill C-41, the veterans benefits bill.

Tomorrow it is my intention to call Bill C-33, the species at risk legislation, followed by, if time permits, report stage of Bill C-14, the Manitoba claims bill.

On Wednesday, I would like to call the Manitoba claims legislation if we have not terminated it.

On Thursday, I would like to designate the day as a supply day in the name of the Canadian Alliance.

On Friday, we would like to proceed with Bill C-41, the veterans benefits legislation, if we do not succeed in doing the bill today.

I also wish to inform the House that it is the intention of the government, and indeed of House leaders of all parties, to ask that the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Government Operations hold an informal hearing this Thursday for the purpose of consulting with the interim privacy commissioner. Following that particular meeting, it would then be the intention of the government to bring forward a motion for the appointment of the privacy commissioner at another sitting of the House.

There have been consultations, and so far they are incomplete, in regard to the status of Bill C-3, the youth justice bill, which, shall I be generous, is somewhat stuck in a particular committee of the House. I intend to come back to the House later today once these consultations are complete.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, since we are discussing the business of the House, I intend, as I announced earlier, to ask for the unanimous consent of the House to amend the order of business as follows.

The preliminary discussions I had with my colleagues lead me to believe that the vast majority of opposition members in the House would agree to support the request for the unanimous consent of the House that I am going to submit to the government. That request has to do with the very serious events that have recently taken place in Quebec and that now make the fight against organized crime the top priority. It is extremely urgent that this parliament, which is aware of its responsibilities, look at this issue and make a number of decisions.

I am asking for unanimous consent for the following:

That, notwithstanding any standing order, Motion No. M-428, listed under the Private Members' Notices of Motions, be debated immediately;

That the debate take place during the time normally allotted for government orders;

That any member taking part in this debate not speak for more than 20 minutes;

That it be possible for a member to split his or her time with another member;

That a period of not more than 10 minutes be provided for questions and comments following the speeches; and

That 15 minutes before the end of the debate, the Speaker shall interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question relating to the motion.

It concerns Motion No. M-428, which I made a point of including on the Order Paper so it would be available for all parliamentarians and which reads as follows:

That the freedom of the press and the public's right to know be recognized as fundamental to democracy, this House will not yield to attempts by criminal groups to intimidate democratic institutions, and this House request that the government prepare and bring in, by October 6, 2000—

Of course, we could agree on a different date. Depending on the outcome of our consultations, the date could be changed.

—a bill making it a crime to belong to a criminal organization, if necessary invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Since the members have known about this motion for some time already and the problem is extremely grave not only in Quebec, but in the rest of Canada, although more so in Quebec, I therefore seek the unanimous consent of the House to change the order of proceedings for today.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, there were preliminary consultations this morning. I have not finished consulting members on this side of the House. I am therefore unable at this time to give unanimous consent to this proposal, or to any amendment since the House leader of the Bloc Quebecois himself has said that there may be an amendment.

However, at 3 p.m., immediately after or perhaps just before oral question period, if the member wishes to put his question again, if there is some sort of consent for a debate later today, we could agree on a formula.

One way or another, I would like to raise this matter in the House at 3. p.m. I will therefore have to withhold unanimous consent until such time as a proposal is made, i.e. immediately after oral question period.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Perhaps after routine proceedings.

Is there unanimous consent for the request made by the hon. member for Roberval?

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Roberval will be able to make the request again later this afternoon, after routine proceedings.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, so I understood from the comments made by the hon. government leader.

Since the opposition is unanimous, the government is giving the matter some thought and we will perhaps have a positive response—hopefully, anyway—if I move my motion again a bit later today. That is what I understood.

Business Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I cannot speak for the government House leader, but his statement is available for all members. What is clear is that he has asked the hon. member to put his request to the House again later today.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Willowdale Ontario


Jim Peterson Liberalfor the Minister of Finance

moved that Bill C-38, an act to establish the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-38 concerning our financial institutions, which I introduced to the House last June 13.

This is the seventh major initiative of the government dealing with our financial institutions in the last four and a half years.

Early in 1996 we brought in Bill C-15 which enhanced the powers of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to undertake early intervention with respect to troubled institutions, thereby enhancing the safety and soundness of our entire system.

In 1997 we entered into the WTO agreement on financial services, enhancing the access of Canadian financial institutions to foreign markets throughout the world. Again in 1997 the government brought in Bill C-82 to strengthen consumer protection by prohibiting coercive tied selling.

In 1998 probably one of the most important measures was passage of the bill which allowed the mutualization of some of our major insurance companies and put over $10 billion in the hands of policyholders.

In 1999 we passed the bill dealing with foreign banks being allowed to operate as branches in Canada, utilizing the capital of their global entities in order to enhance their capacity to lend to Canadians.

In June 2000 the money laundering bill was passed, which is a direct blow to organized crime by clamping down on money laundering through our institutions.

Our seventh initiative is Bill C-38. As we all know this is a tremendously important bill in size and in consequences. It amends 22 acts and establishes one entirely new act that covers almost 900 pages. It is so important because as we know our financial services sector is truly a driver of our economy.

There are more than 500,000 Canadians employed in this sector. Its payroll is in excess of $22 billion annually. It accounts for approximately 5% of our gross domestic product, and close to $50 billion annually in exports from this country. It also pays over $9 billion in taxes yearly to all levels of government. This is the most heavily taxed industry in Canada.

Given the direct and indirect importance of the financial sector, one of which I am extremely proud, the strategic framework within which it operates must foster opportunities for growth, for export and for job creation, to the benefit of our economy as a whole.

Bill C-38 implements a policy framework which ensures that the sector continues to make its crucial contribution to our economic well-being by enhancing its ability to compete in the new world of globalization and rapid advance in technologies, by making it easier for these institutions to seize opportunities both in Canada and abroad, and by following a balanced approach that is in the interest of consumers and the sector itself.

As we all know Bill C-38 is the culmination of a process of very extensive consultations. This process began in June 1996 when we announced the creation of an advisory committee to review the payment system. This was followed in late 1996 by the establishment of the task force on the future of Canada's financial services sector, a task force which was known as the MacKay task force and which reported to us in September 1998.

Following that report the House and the Senate finance committees held extensive consultations throughout Canada and reported back to us by the end of the year.

All this advice was considered very carefully in the preparation of the June 1999 policy paper which gave the government response to all consultations and input from colleagues in the House. Over the past year, following tabling of this white paper, more extensive consultations were undertaken so that we could enact in legislation the results of all the undertakings and considerations. I tabled that bill in the House last June 13.

More precisely, Bill C-38 encourages the efficiency and the growth of Canadian financial institutions in international markets, fosters competition within the country, enhances the protection of consumers of financial services, and improves the regulatory framework.

In terms of promoting efficiency and growth we have a holding company structure which will give greater flexibility for these institutions to compete with monoline institutions doing a single type of business. They will enjoy a lighter regulatory regime through that holding company.

In terms of ownership we are permitting up to 20% of the shares of larger institutions to be used for strategic alliances to allow our banks to enter into joint ventures with other institutions both domestically and abroad. We have enhanced the range of permitted investments for our financial institutions.

Through guidelines, we have stressed the possibility of mergers, thus recognizing that such mergers can be a viable strategy. A new transparent review process will be put in place to evaluate mergers and to protect public interest.

In terms of fostering domestic competition we will be allowing new entities to establish with lower capital requirements. We will have three levels of institutions: those with equity exceeding $5 billion, those with equity under $1 billion and those medium size ones in between. Finally large banks with equity over $5 billion will be required to be widely held under the new 20% ownership regime. This new ownership regime will encourage the establishment of community banks.

We have also included provisions whereby co-operatives, credit firms and credit unions could get involved in the establishment of a national service entity. Such an entity would allow co-operatives to adopt a national structure, while fostering competition with large Canadian and foreign institutions.

By accommodating new entries into our payment system for life insurance companies, for securities dealers and for money market mutual funds we will see enhanced competition domestically.

Looking at what the bill does in terms of empowering and protecting consumers, it will ensure access to basic financial services regardless of income or place of residence, including access to low cost accounts and a process that will govern the closure of any branches.

It establishes the financial consumer agency of Canada to strengthen the monitoring of protection measures for consumers and to extend the scope of consumer awareness activities.

It establishes the independent Canadian financial services ombudsman to deal with disputes with institutions.

In terms of improving the regulatory framework we have a streamlined approvals process. We have significant amendments to the governance and oversight of the Canadian Payments Association, and we have new powers for the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to deal with potential risks.

This is an era of extremely rapid change and global competition. We recognize that our financial institutions must have flexibility and freedom to adapt to changing times. The world will not stand still. Nor will the sector. Nor will we. This is why constant attention to fostering competitiveness and to ensuring safety and soundness are so important and are for the benefit of all Canadians.

In keeping up to date we have ensured that this legislation has a five year sunset clause, unique among institutions in the world, to ensure that constant review processes are in place and to ensure that our institutions can adapt.

Second, the government is prepared, if it deems appropriate to do so, to reassess the legislation before the scheduled five year period between reviews, to ensure that the framework remains adapted to a rapidly changing market.

Third, the bill allows for many key elements to be dealt with by regulation so that we will not have to come back to the House through the cumbersome procedure of legislative change in order to allow our financial sector to adapt.

The legislation provides a new policy framework that will keep our financial institutions strong, safeguard the interests of Canadians, continue to contribute to job creation and economic growth, and maintain the safety and soundness of our financial sector.

I thank colleagues for their very valuable contributions to the bill. They will see many of their ideas and suggestions reflected in it. It is because of the extensive consultation and co-operation of all members that the early passage of the bill is supported by consumer and industry groups alike. We in the House look forward to early passage.

Financial Consumer Agency Of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Dick Harris Reform Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I too am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-38. In listening to the secretary of state's words one would think that the Liberal government had run quite a race since 1993 to get all these things done.

In reference to our banking industry and to choices for Canadian consumers of financial services, while the secretary of state talks of seven positive initiatives taken by the government in fact only two will have a direct result by way of possible increased competition and allowing our domestic banks to move into the 21st century and to catch up to what has already happened in many foreign countries.

Probably a majority of the House, and maybe even the secretary of state himself, does not know that Canada has lagged behind other countries including some of our major trading partners in modernizing our banking and financial structure.

The secretary of state may be quite proud of the legislation. There are some good things in it. For the most part we will support it, but I advise him to be cautious when talking about the speed of the race the Liberals have run since 1993 in getting our banking institutions up to par with the countries with which we do business. I am sure the secretary of state is having some second thoughts now that he reflects on that speed.

There are some parts of Bill C-38 that we certainly agree with and parts that we do not. There are even some parts missing which we will likely address with some amendments as the process moves along. With the secretary of state's encouraging words that we help him get speedy passage of the bill, I am sure the government will view the amendments that come from the Alliance Party in particular with an encouraging welcome attitude and will want to see those amendments become part of this great financial services bill.

Let us deal with some of the good things in the bill, which incidentally in many respects were spelled out for the government in the November 1998 banking report by the member for Prince George—Bulkley Valley acting as the official opposition critic for banks and financial institutions. In the 100 page report entitled “Competition: Choice You Can Bank On”, we clearly called for more competition and better service in banking. We also recommended that merger proposals be evaluated under individual merit and that mitigating factors be built into the proposals so that when the Minister of Finance and all those concerned looked at these proposals they would be able to say “Yes, this is a good proposal; it has merit. Let us approve it”, or “No, this one is not. Let us not approve it”. It would do away with the blanket approach to the determination of mergers.

We in the official opposition outlined a plan in 1998. The plan offered choice and competition in the financial sector. It provided an action plan for change that the government is just now beginning to follow to allow our domestic banks to compete more effectively in the global marketplace.

It is about time. The secretary of state knows, as does his government, that the ratings of our big five domestic banks have increasingly shrunk in the global scale. Major banks all around the world, with much more ease than we can imagine, have begun to amalgamate and merge and build their positions to even greater strength, therefore capitalizing on the opportunities in the global marketplace. Our banks, unable to merge, unable to build through acquisitions and other arrangements because of regulations, have had to sit by and watch these wonderful opportunities pass them by and be scooped up by the big world banks that have had the ability to strengthen to a size where they can take advantage of these opportunities.

Only now are our Canadian banks, our big five, going to be able to really look ahead. Madam Speaker, you have to understand, and I am sure you do, that banking institutions simply cannot work on short term planning. They need long terms, longer terms than can be imagined, longer term vision and longer term business plans. That is the nature of their business.

The government has been basically sitting on its hands since 1993. Our domestic banks were placed in the position that they simply did not know what lay ahead from the government in the regulatory field. They did not know what path the government was going to follow which would allow them to make plans 10, 15 and 20 years down the road.

It has not been a speedy process. We are now just getting to the point where Canadian banks can heave a sigh of relief and start to concentrate on some long term plans, to look at some opportunities in the global market. Our Canadian banks will now be able to compete as a result of many of the features of the bill. Let us not allow the secretary of state or the Liberal government to take any credit for the so-called haste with which they have dealt with this issue.

There are some other points we want to talk about. The banks have been calling for a provision that would allow them to break up some of their structure into holding companies so they could operate under a more flexible regulatory system. Finally the government will make those allowances. The banks can now start to make some progress on some of the plans they had put on hold because there was no direction from the government.

We are also happy to see the increased access to the Canadian payment system. It will allow life insurance companies and money market mutual fund security dealers to have increased access, to clear funds themselves without having to go through the banks.

There is something missing in the bill with respect to credit unions becoming more like national banks. I am surprised it is missing because the MacKay task force report recommended that the government consider allowing what it called co-operatively held banks in reference to credit unions. A co-operatively held bank that would evolve out of a credit union simply means that every member of that co-op, which would now be engaged in bank-like activities, would be a voting member of that banking structure. The government has not allowed that and we wonder why it has not. If the government were committed to offering more choices in banking services to Canadian consumers and small business enterprises, why would it not have made this provision?

We intend to introduce amendments during report stage that will give the government a chance to rectify that omission which it allowed to happen in preparing the bill. One thing we are not happy about is the omission of the provision for credit unions to become co-operatively held banking institutions.

We are also happy that the government in its wisdom has maintained a restriction on banks entering into the auto leasing and insurance business. We commend the government for that. At the same time we remind the government that in our 1998 report, of which I have a copy for the secretary of state but I am sure he must have read it in the preparation of Bill C-38, we too called for the government to hold the line on this. Auto leasing and insurance is a very competitive and vibrant business sector in Canada and we felt the choices offered to consumers were very wide and that it was operating very well.

We have a little trouble with the FCAC, the ombudsman office, the financial consumer agency of Canada. Trust the government to come up with a bureaucratic sounding title for what will be, from all looks at this thing, another bureaucracy within the government that will die a slow death because of the inefficiencies that generally evolve out of government bureaucracies.

This could have been quite simple. The government could have made a provision for the setting up of a very independent ombudsman's office for banking, one that would oversee the financial services sector. This office would report directly to parliament, to the elected representatives of the country. But no, the government chose to create the office with a commissioner who will be appointed by the Minister of Finance.

One would think that the Liberals would have run out of Liberal friends by now, but one more is coming down the tube and will be the FCAC commissioner. That office will report directly to the Minister of Finance. Anything that we get from that office will have first been vetted through the Minister of Finance. In other words, we will only hear what the Minister of Finance wants us to hear. We will not be permitted to question the commissioner ourselves. This is significant. It is so like the government to restrict access of the opposition parties to the agencies it creates because it does not fit in its agenda.

We are happy of the government's lowering of the capital requirement to establish small banks. We commend the government on that. We think we will see some movement in the setting up of regional and community banking services. We would like to think that the government will be encouraging more competition from these types of businesses. We support that.

We have a problem with the demands on the government that it must begin to or continue to operate money losing accounts for Canadians as individuals or small businesses. While the government may think that this is a good thing for political reasons, the fact is this is an intrusion on private business. The government is taking this a little bit too far.

How can the government say to a business that it must operate a segment of its business but it is not allowed to make money? In fact it will probably have to lose money, but the government has decided that the business must operate a section of the business on a money losing basis. This is what the government has done in the bill. It has said to the banks that no matter who comes in and asks for an account at the bank, the bank has to pretty much open an account for them. Whether that account is operated in a responsible fashion or not, the bank still has to provide access for that person to have an account at one of that bank's branches. The banks themselves will say that the government is telling them how to run their own businesses.

Bank closures have become a reality in this country. It is common knowledge that the banks for the most part are over infrastructured as far as branches go. In many cases banks are looking to close down this infrastructure because they are money losing branches and banks are simply not in the business of operating at a loss on behalf of their shareholders. As little red tape as possible is necessary to allow banks to make prudent business decisions.

The banks have recognized they have a corporate community role in many small towns across the country. They will not arbitrarily close branches. They will make provisions such as did the Bank of Montreal with the sale of some of its branches to the credit union people. This was a prudent business move. People did not lose their banking services. The name changed but the services are still there. This is just good business. I trust the government will allow the banks to make those decisions themselves as to how they want to structure their operations so that they can assure their shareholders that they will be able to do it by making money.

The secretary of state will get a chuckle out of this one. He may think that I have more guts than brains talking about this, but there is nothing in Bill C-38 that addresses the very real problem of the taxation regime in which the banks are forced to operate. The secretary of state knows that the banks, among all the corporations in Canada, are charged at more levels of tax than any other type of business in Canada. Even companies like Bombardier, SNC Lavalin and Magna International have less structures of tax than banks do.

One of the things the Canadian banks have been telling the government is that if it expects them, as domestic banks, to be able to compete in the global economy and take advantage of the opportunities, they need to be on a level playing field with other banks around the world. The government has yet to address the very real problem Canadian banks have in their global competition goals, which is the taxation regime that they must operate under in this country. We are surprised that the government has not addressed this in the same way that it has not addressed tax relief in so many other areas, whether it is personal income tax, corporate tax, fees, services or EI premiums.

This is not a government that is friendly to people who work hard to be successful and try to earn money. It is the first one in line to penalize success. It has been doing this to our banking institutions for years. It has acted as a disincentive for our Canadian banks which have to compete on an uneven tax playing field.

I will close by saying that we will be supporting the bill. We hope it passes in a timely fashion, as the Minister of Justice would like to pass some of her legislation in a timely fashion. We ask that the government look seriously at the amendments we will be putting forward. We hope that a spirit of co-operation will prevail as we discuss our needs and the government discusses its bill passing needs as far as its timelines.

Our party will be actively involved in the process of Bill C-38 as it moves along.