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House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was endangered.

Topics

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak to Bill C-33 on endangered species.

I see that the federal government is very concerned about endangered animal species. Unfortunately, it is not as concerned about French Canadians, a species which has been assimilated for the past 150 years, with the result that it has now dropped from 50% of the Canadian population to approximately 25%.

I know that for certain members across the way who are recent arrivals to Canada, this means very little. But I can tell the lady who is gazing charmingly and wide-eyed in my direction that, in case she was unaware, at the time of Confederation there were as many francophones as anglophones in Canada.

Unfortunately, we see the federal government wishing to intervene so that endangered species will have the opportunity to grow, multiply and survive, something, I repeat, that it has always refused Quebecers, whether my colleague likes it or not.

I think that the intention behind the bill is good, except that what we have here is duplication and overlap. What was needed—even the preamble to the bill points this out—is for the bill to pave the way for consultation with the provinces precisely so that this duplication can be avoided.

Six Canadian provinces, namely Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have legislation on this, and a list compiled by scientists and their governments establishing which species are endangered or at risk in the province.

The federal government is going to encroach in a heavy-handed way on an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. I know that, for the member who earlier was yelling like someone caught in a barbed wire fence, this kind of debate on respecting legislative jurisdiction we have on a regular basis is plain gibberish and makes no sense at all.

To say in the House of Commons, in this very parliament, that constitutional law and the constitution are nothing, when in the mind of members of the Bloc Quebecois the constitution is the basic law which governs the relationship among provinces and among private citizens, is to show contempt to a degree that would not have been thought possible on the part of today's politicians.

The constitution is the law of the land. The Fathers of Confederation decided to balance powers. The federal government was to have authority over international relations, the post office, national defence and the telegraph, which transmitted communications from one province to the next.

However, precedent after precedent, change after change, including legal rulings and mainly the abolition of referrals to the Privy Council in London, have turned it into the quintessential joke.

The Supreme Court of Canada, which has always leaned to the same side, has started to set out principles of constitutional law and the related rules of interpretation, and as a result our constitution has more or less lost all meaning.

I will give you a few examples. We had sections 91 and 92, which gave effect to the powers of the federal government and to those of the provincial governments respectively. The Supreme Court of Canada came up with all kinds of wild theories, such as that of unoccupied fields in estate law.

For a long time, the federal government said “The province is not exercising its right to collect taxes on inheritances in estate law”. It is the unoccupied field theory, which means that the federal government can interfere as long as the provincial government is not exercising its jurisdiction in that field. But it so happens that it is a province's prerogative not to exercise its jurisdiction in a particular area.

Look at what is happening. Recently, a decision was handed down regarding federal interference in areas under provincial jurisdiction, such as property and civil law, including estate law, with the reference on the gun control legislation. The Supreme Court of Canada invented yet another theory by saying “Yes, the federal government can still interfere in areas under provincial jurisdictions in matters of public safety for instance”.

The construction of high-rise buildings also has an impact on public safety. Transportation, be it by tractor trailers, trucks, ships or just plain surface transportation, can have an impact on public safety. One thing leading to the other, the provinces are losing all the jurisdictions they kept for themselves when the Confederation agreement was negotiated in Charlottetown starting in 1864.

Today, we have this bill on endangered species. The habitat of species that are endangered and on the way to becoming extinct, be it a seabed or wetlands, often comes under provincial jurisdiction.

Bill C-33 says that harmonization between provincial and federal scientists is desirable. Unfortunately, clauses in the bill indicate that the federal government is grabbing almost manu militari , proprio motu , the right to oversee the whole thing and is asserting its primacy in the field of endangered species protection.

This is unfortunate, because more confrontation is looming. The hon. member opposite, who is a champion of confrontation, will certainly be involved. Quebec is being told that it cannot look after its own resources and the habitat of endangered species.

I think that moderation and conciliation are preferable. The federal government should have provided in its bill that, following consultations with the provinces, a list of endangered species could be drawn up in co-operation with the provinces.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

They went about it ultra petita .

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

My hon. friend from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, who has been studying law at night, really seems to know his stuff. He is using Latin words now. He said they went about it ultra petita .

We asked the federal government to get involved and, as usual and as was pointed out by the brilliant member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, who will get a score in his law courses that will put the Minister of Justice to shame, the federal government went overboard and used its prerogative to interfere in the protection of endangered species.

It is unfortunate. There will be overlap and duplication, with double the costs, double the number of departments involved and all the bureaucracies around them. The Bloc Quebecois cannot support such a process, which is why we will be voting against this bill.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, Foreign Affairs; the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest, Employment Insurance.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Reform Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-33. This is the third time the government has brought forward endangered species legislation. I was the environment critic when some of the other bills came through. The last bill was so weak that even government backbenchers could not support it. This legislation is not much better. It would appear that the government is still going to ram it through and that is wrong.

This seems to be the whole impetus of the government. Rather than talk about voluntary measures, rather than trying to get people to work together to get endangered species legislation that is going to work, it chooses another way. The government has chosen the big hand.

There are penalties in the act that are criminal code penalties. This means, for example, that a logger is in trouble if while doing his normal work of felling a tree and an endangered bird or a bug is in the area. If a farmer drives his tractor over some habitat or a rancher allows his cows into an area where there are endangered plants they too would be in trouble. The penalties are severe.

I talked to a number of people who said that if they found an endangered species on their land it would be gone. They would not allow the government to see it because it would take away their property without compensation. They cannot afford that. That is wrong.

For the greater good, we all recognize that. There may be an area of land for example that has endangered species on it. We all agree we should keep it. However the person who owns the land has to be fairly compensated. They cannot be expected to walk away. This legislation says that the government may compensate, not will compensate. That is absolutely wrong. That is why it has people running scared and understandably so.

This legislation also steps on provincial jurisdiction. It was interesting to note what the justice minister said during question period about how much the government consults with the provinces. The government has not consulted with the provinces. The provinces need to be right in with this. They need to have either parallel legislation or they have to be onside. Right now they are not.

One point that is weak is how a species gets on the list. What about polar bears for example? What is the criteria to get them either on an endangered or on an at risk list? We need to have a scientific body to establish this. COSEWIC is that body and it can do a fairly incredible job if it has the criteria. The situation is worse when politicians get involved.

One species that will never make it on the endangered species list as long as politicians are involved is Atlantic cod. Members know that cod stocks are down the toilet. The stocks are well down and fishing should not be allowed. What happens? An election is called. There was a cod fishery on the east coast which was just about on its knees. That is what happens when politicians get involved.

There has to be endangered species legislation that is arm's length from the politicians. It has to be on a scientific basis and not able to be manipulated by the politicians.

I was in the forest industry and spent 25 years as professional forester before going into politics. There was an issue south of the border in Washington and Oregon that dealt with the spotted owl. Hon. members may remember that. However, the issue was not the spotted owl. It was simply a vehicle for people to use to stop logging. That was the issue.

I am not sure how we get it into legislation, but we need to have legislation to protect the species, not for manipulation which is what happened for years years in Washington and Oregon. It did not have a lot to do with the spotted owl. It had a lot to do with stopping logging.

We also need habitat protection. That is not in the bill. How can we possibly say that we are going to protect a species yet we are not going to protect where it lives? That is nuts.

In summary, there are a number of holes in this bill, so many that it has to go back to the drawing board. During question period the minister said that he preferred that it go to committee. I suspect that this bill is so flawed that it needs to go back to the drawing board. The environment committee will clearly have its work cut out for it.

The bill is so flawed from the beginning that the actual direction needs to be rethought. I said earlier that impetus of the bill is whether it is through voluntary measures by getting the provincial and federal governments together with the farmers and ranchers and saying this is how we are going to do it or having the big heavy hand of criminal justice. The latter is not going to work. People are just going to plough them under.

This bill is bad. It is so bad that it needs to be redrafted and our party and my constituents do not support this legislation.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, the issue of wildlife species at risk or on the verge of extinction is certainly important. It is an issue that warrants our finding solutions that are both practical and in keeping with the constitutional arrangements existing between the provinces and the central government.

The problem with the bill before us is that in several respects the effects it will produce are not necessarily what we might hope for. In addition, it lands squarely in provincial fields of jurisdiction.

A number of members of the House and especially those on the government side have the impression that the federal government is in the best position to decide what is good for the people, for resources and for wildlife. It has been my experience since my arrival in the House, in 1994, that the government has shown itself consistently incompetent in all these areas.

It is not enough, to resolve the problem, to introduce a bill in the House that is supposedly going to protect wildlife species on the verge of extinction. First and foremost there must be a complete strategy in place to ensure that what the right hand wants to do will not be undone by the left hand.

Let me give a few examples of a left hand that is particularly gauche in certain areas. Allow me to remind this House that about a year ago, the auditor general announced, after tabling his report and researching the matter, that many wild species, both flora and fauna, had disappeared from national parks managed, as we know, by Parks Canada.

This was not a fortuitous occurrence. It was not a matter of chance. It was poor ecological management in the practices of Parks Canada. A commission made recommendations and a new law was passed. We can only hope there will be no other such occurrence.

All this goes to show that, with its bill, the federal government has not proposed anything that guarantees that the objectives pursued will be reached. In fact, there is every reason to believe that this bill will not solve anything, since the problems often lie elsewhere.

Here is another example of a problem lying elsewhere. We are going to talk about genetically modified organisms. The idea is not, in principle, to genetically modify plants or wild organisms. But here is what could and will, for all intents and purposes, happen.

Let me remind the House that the whole biological evolution of our planet is largely based on genetic mutations orchestrated by nature itself through cross-breeding, particularly through pollination. What is cross-breeding?

Everyone knows what a plant is, what a flower is, and everyone knows that, at some point, the pollen of the flower will travel and fertilize another flower to create a seed that will ensure the survival of the species. I am, of course, referring to plants.

Sometimes, cross-breeding will occur and a new species will be created. This is how the diversity that surrounds us came about. Nature, through selection, has created a balance that allows us to benefit from an environment that is healthy, provided we protect it adequately.

Let us get back to genetically modified organisms. I will make up a little horror story which, when we think of it, is not really a figment of my imagination. Some companies are currently marketing graminaceous plants. The farmer plants the seeds, so that they will grow and produce fruits. However, while the fruit can be consumed, it cannot replicate itself because the seed is sterile.

I would rather not think about what could happen if that sterility feature was somehow transmitted to another species in the wilderness. That species would slowly stop reproducing as pollen spread that undesirable feature. Some might argue that this is unlikely. But nothing is impossible with nature.

Our very presence on Earth as human beings is a strong demonstration of nature's capacity to yield highly improbable results. Nothing proves that if we manipulate genetically modified organisms we will not obtain results that are both unexpected and unfortunate.

I will talk about salmon. There is a genetically modified species of salmon endowed with an incredible growth capacity. It rapidly becomes a big salmon. Of course, this salmon is kept in fish farms. As long as it stays in its tank, there is no way it can reproduce in the wild, in our waterways or our oceans. However, fish have often escaped from fish farms and gone into the wild. So, I would not see why the genetically modified salmon should be unable to escape, as so many other fish have.

The day the salmon escapes and reproduces, given its incredible capacity to grow rapidly and to be bigger than the other fish, it will, as the saying goes, eat the smaller fish, the smaller salmon, and eventually, wipe out wild salmon, and take its place.

The government is not acting responsibly to protect our environment. This bill will not change the course of events. Much more important measures need to be taken.

In closing, I will give the example of Ducks Unlimited, an agency which was not set up through legislation like the one before us, but which has done wonders for the preservation of our natural environment, and which can be found everywhere in America, even in my riding. Its positive action has led to the protection of habitats, environments and species. Its initiatives should be given help and support on a larger scale, instead of the government introducing a bill which, for all intents and purposes, is going to upset everybody and most certainly will not yield the expected results. The government should withdraw this bill.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise on behalf of the constituents of Calgary East to speak to Bill C-33, an act respecting the wildlife species at risk in Canada.

The title of the bill is the species at risk act. There is no Canadian who will not agree to do something about the risk to endangered species. I have received numerous letters from my constituents saying that they are concerned and would like me to support the bill. Why? Because the term species at risk raises the spectre that we are in danger of losing a species. I do not think any Canadian would accept that and Canadians would like to see something being done about it. When constituents write to me they are asking their member of parliament to do something about it.

I come from Calgary which is very close to one of the best national parks in the world, Banff National Park. Its natural wilderness is very dear to Albertans as it is to all Canadians. People have seen in the past the joys that nature and species bring and hence their concern about this issue.

I grew up in a land which has some of the best national parks in the world, the Ngorongoro crater and the Serengeti national park. Over the years I have seen the decline of the wild species habitat in those national parks. It pains me that they were roaming there in numbers but today they are on the endangered list. There are many reasons that they are on the endangered list. Primarily the loss of habitat has been through hunting, poaching and other illegal activities which put those species in danger.

It would be extremely shameful for humankind that we would be responsible for species being extinct. Many species around the world, even in the Amazon forest and other places, are in danger because of the reasons I have stated and it raises the question of what do we do.

In Canada the issue has been brought up. Many species are on the endangered list and Canadians would like us to take action. Naturally when the bill on species at risk came forward, Canadians felt they should support it.

In principle I do not think anyone in the House could not support the bill when it says species at risk. However the Canadian Alliance, as my colleagues have indicated previously, has a serious problem with the bill, not with the intent of the bill but with the way the bill has been drafted. We would like to make our position very clear. We are not and I repeat not opposing the bill for any frivolous reasons. We support the intent of the bill which is to protect the species at risk. However, we feel there is a different approach to achieve that result and not what the government is proposing in the bill.

I would like to highlight some points. Most important is that the bill gives the government the power to expropriate land. Down the road it may also give the power to the government to lay criminal charges against private landowners.

The government has gone one step further and said that in order to protect species it is trampling on other rights instead of working with a co-operative attitude. The problem with the bill is that when the government tries to do something it adds on something and it creates a situation where suddenly people are opposed to the bill.

It was the same with Bill C-68. We agree with the intent of Bill C-68 in that we want to keep guns away from the criminals, but the government came along with legislation that will make ordinary law-abiding citizens potential law breakers. That is where there is a serious problem with Bill C-33. It is similar to Bill C-68.

The government will come along and expropriate the land. The government will say to the landowners that it needs to take the land because it needs to protect the species and it leaves the compensation blank. There is nothing in the bill stating how the government is going to expropriate the land. What is it going to give? Is it going to give fair market value?

Property rights in our country are fundamental rights. Constitutionally we have the right to own property. However with this bill, while the government recognizes that there are property rights, it will expropriate. The bill does not go one step further to say that there is a fair compensation process. That creates a problem because in order to maintain their land, at the end of the day the landowners may not be in a co-operative mood.

There is a serious flaw in the bill. We would like to support the bill but it is our intention and that of our critic to bring forward amendments to the bill. I hope the government will listen to Canadians and amend the bill in such a manner that is acceptable to everyone.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part today in this debate at the second reading stage of Bill C-33, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada.

As we all know, industrial development in our society has had and continues to have disastrous and often irreversible effects on the environment.

Numerous plant and animal species have disappeared, particularly since the beginning of the 20th century. However, it was not until the last few decades that the need to protect our environment and to preserve our environmental heritage has become obvious, forcing governments to pass appropriate legislation.

As members know, I represent an urban riding, Laval being the second largest city in Quebec. On the initiative of certain individuals who understood the importance of protecting the diversity of our fauna and flora—and I will gladly take this opportunity to salute Jean Lauzon and Michel Aubé for their vision and their extraordinary commitment—an organization in my riding, Éco-Nature, has worked hard to preserve wildlife in the Mille-Îles River area. In co-operation with the Quebec department of the environment and wildlife, Éco-Nature has played an important role in the protection of endangered species for more than 15 years.

The part of the greater Montreal area where Laval is located is already heavily urbanized and development continues to grow. In fact, 75% of the north shore of the Mille-Îles River is developed, whereas in Laval, on the opposite shore, the figure is 65%. Of course what relatively intact habitat remains must be protected.

Since 1998, the Mille-Îles River Park includes approximately 10 islands that have wildlife refuge status. The Mille-Îles River Park is a protected habitat in the heart of greater Montreal. Every year it is host to tens of thousands of visitors.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and skills of many naturalists, the young and the not so young get reacquainted with the habitat of turtles and the great blue heron. In an idyllic setting throughout the seasons, visitors can see beaver dams and species of deciduous trees hard to find elsewhere.

This is an example of the kind of results produced by threatened species legislation such as Quebec's.

Earlier I mentioned the Quebec environment and wildlife department. I must add that since 1989 it has as protection tools the Act respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species and the Act respecting the Conservation and Development of Wildlife.

Quebec uses these tools to identify species at risk, list them as threatened or vulnerable, protect their habitat, and develop and implement recovery plans to adequately protect species and habitat in a precarious situation.

One might well wonder why have federal legislation. What is this legislation going to add to the administrative measures already in place in Quebec? Nothing.

Moreover, it is not the first time the federal government has tried to slip through legislation dealing with this area. Here is a brief historical overview of the legislation.

In 1995, the Minister of Environment of the day, now Minister of Heritage, announced her intention to pass legislation on endangered species. This raised a general uproar, from both provincial governments and environmental groups.

A year later, her successor called a meeting with provincial environment ministers. This was on October 2, 1996, close to four years ago now, the location, Charlottetown, a city with a certain myth attached to it as far as agreements are concerned. The hope was for the ministers of the environment to reach an agreement in principle on endangered species. Thus the agreement on the protection of endangered species.

Yet, when Bill C-65 was introduced, which is sort of the ancestor of the bill we have before us today, the Quebec minister of the environment and regional minister for Laval, my friend David Cliche, rightly found that the federal government's bill did not fully reflect the agreement that had been entered into.

As usual, the federal government is proclaiming the necessity for co-operation between the various levels of government, but as usual when it comes time for action it knows but one way of implementation: blundering in over the lines of provincial jurisdiction. In a letter dated December 2, 1996, the Quebec minister of the environment wrote the following to his federal counterpart:

Nor was it ever agreed that ratification of a treaty by Canada changed anything in the distribution of jurisdictions and gave the federal government exclusive jurisdiction to implement the treaty.

Under the pretext of protecting species at risk, the bill is in fact an attempt to rewrite or reinterpret the Canadian Constitution and the way it gives certain powers to various levels of government.

At that time, the Bloc Quebecois opposed this bill because it intruded in provincial jurisdiction.

Bill C-65 died on the Order Paper in April 1997, when the election was called.

Bill C-33 is almost a carbon copy of the defunct C-65. With the same pre-election climate to boot, we could even ask ourselves whether this bill too will die on the Order Paper for electoral reasons.

The bill ignores provincial jurisdictions and existing laws, such as those in Quebec. This is new useless duplication in a field in which the government of Quebec has proven its mettle. As an example of these intrusions, let me point out that clause 34(2) provides that:

The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Minister, by order, provide that sections 32 and 33 apply in lands in a province that are not federal lands.

Federal lands mean lands of the federal crown. The intent is clear. The prohibitions contained in clauses 32 and 33 of the bill can apply to lands under provincial jurisdiction simply by ministerial order.

In addition, if the minister feels that the laws of a province do not properly protect a given species, the minister may recommend the governor in council make an order in this regard. If this is not meddling in the way the provinces carry out their environmental protection responsibilities, I do not know what it is.

We all realize that the protection of the environment and particularly of the threatened species is a key issue. However, the federal government cannot take action in that area while denying the role that the provinces are already playing. As the Quebec minister of the environment, Paul Bégin, said:

Quebec has always behaved in a responsible and appropriate manner regarding the protection of the most threatened fauna and flora species and it intends to keep on exercising its authority in this matter. We will never accept an umbrella piece of legislation covering all the initiatives in this area.

Bill C-33 only duplicates what certain provinces such as Quebec are already doing, instead of harmonizing what each level of government could do in its area of jurisdiction. Unfortunately, we all know that this is the federal government's way of doing things. To believe that a tempered federalism, a federalism respectful of the existing jurisdictions is here is just an illusion and Quebecers will not be fooled.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Reform

Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, as an outdoorsman, a guy who spends a lot of time in the wilderness, I have a personal interest in this topic and I will approach it from that perspective.

I spend many hours in the wilderness. I have hiked, climbed, hunted and fished in spots that do not see very many individuals. I believe that Canadians have an interest in and a public need to protect species at risk. That is certainly the case in my riding, a riding that extends from Calgary down to the U.S. border and from the mountains out to the southwest corner of Alberta.

I will give an example of a rancher, a landowner, who in my view typifies the somewhat typical western perspective on this. This individual lives west of High River. His name is Francis Gardiner. He is a big, tall, raw-boned rancher, a guy with a cowboy hat and boots. If you met him on the street you would not sass him, but inside him is the softest perspective when it comes to species at risk.

He has a large, beautiful tract of land in the foothills, land that has very diverse countryside. Beaver, deer and elk roam the hills to the west. He has whitetail and mule deer on the grasslands. He and his family have been there a long time.

He has been recognized for some of his achievements with species at risk. He has tried to be very natural in his stewardship on the land. It is titled land but he looks upon himself as a steward of that land.

In the old days there used to be fires throughout the country regularly and the fires took care of the brush. There have not been fires lately. We are good at preventing fires. We take fire prevention measures there so he has brought in animals that will eat some of the vegetation to maintain the grassland because the diversity requires that. His land would have been overtaken by brush. To bring in a bulldozer and push the brush aside and smash all the undergrowth is against his beliefs. This sounds kind of corny but he brings in goats for certain periods of the year to eat the vegetation and maintain the grassland. The grassland is specific to species that might be displaced.

Francis Gardiner, in my view, is a trustee or a steward of the land. Has anybody forced him to do that? Has anybody pushed him with legislation? Has anybody rammed it down his throat? Not for a second. He has done this co-operatively and eagerly. As I say, he has been recognized and has just received some of that recognition here in the House.

One other thing that is not often mentioned is that species are not static. There is a change with species. Raccoons were unknown in my part of the country until a few years ago when they moved in. Raccoons have had an impact on other species, for instance pheasant. I enjoy pheasants but the raccoons have had an impact on them. Here we have interspecies activity. I think we sometimes from our human activities miss that.

I believe that the interests of many of the individuals merge. I have said that I am an active outdoorsman. I believe my interests merge with those of the industrialist who wants to do a sustainable harvest of some of the forests. I believe that unless those individuals and industry look after some of these species they will get shut down completely and the harvest will not take place. Of course, the harvest of a forest, if it is done properly, results in new growth and that new growth sustains and supports species sometimes at risk.

Co-operation is what is necessary. I will not criticize the bill specifically, but I do not believe that co-operation is given the highest profile in this legislation. The co-operation I look at is the co-operation of a fellow like Francis Gardiner. Surely, if there is a species at risk on his property and if he is given the opportunity, he will do what he can do to prevent that species from being pushed aside. If he cannot do enough—remember I said that this was an overall societal good—and it is determined that his land must be taken from him, either through the use being taken away from him, or actually purchasing the land from him, or maybe even expropriating it, if he does not get fair market value compensation it turns this steward of the land into an enemy of the species.

If there is one thing that I urge my colleagues across the way to do, it is to change the clause in the bill that says that compensation may be provided. Compensation must be provided, if the public good says that the land is no longer available to a farmer, a rancher or somebody building an apartment building in a city, it does not matter what the land is designated for, even if it is a a grazing lease. I cannot stress this strongly enough.

To my colleagues opposite who put blinkers on and say that species at risk is the only issue, they know that in other jurisdictions there has been the shoot, shovel and shut up mentality. As soon as a species at risk is found, it is shot and buried and nobody knows about it. It is totally against what I believe the trustees of the land would do if they felt they would be treated properly.

The scientific process is important when it comes to species at risk. We have a big panel that will decide which species do in fact require protection. That panel should also be given the task of looking at how the habitat should be protected. It should also be given the task of coming up with the cost to the community at large to protect that species at risk, and when do the numbers allow us to back away from the program that is so specific for that species at risk.

There have been some remarkable successes. Canada has had a part to play in some of those successes. I think of the whooping crane. We knew how many of them there were in the world but we did not know where they nested or where they went for migration. Early on in these conservation efforts we used tracking methods that were quite primitive according to today's tracking methods and we also made some moves in capturing and raising whooping cranes and then releasing them into the wild. This was a success story and it was done co-operatively.

Luckily, the whooping crane did not have a huge impact on landowners because they did nest far away in the north where there was not very much impact and most of the impact was from accidental killing and activity that was inappropriate as they went through their migration patterns.

There is hope for species at risk. There is an increased awareness of species at risk. The Alliance will vigorously oppose some of the principles in this bill, especially the one with regard to the lack of compensation. If the government thinks that it can take this issue and do it by regulation, it is be sadly mistaken because it will lose the goodwill of many of the individuals, certainly in my riding of Macleod.

The criminal powers in this legislation get completely away from the co-operation I believe is necessary. A person should be encouraged to be trustee of the land and given recognition. That is the way we will go. If land must be taken away, it must be taken away in the public good in the larger sense with fair market compensation.

I could go on much longer about the bill. It is an important one to people like me and to people in my part of the country. It is a privilege to speak briefly in this regard. I encourage the government to look at the issue of compensation because surely that is where the bill will fail.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bloc Richelieu, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise as parliament begins the September 2000 session. First I want to congratulate the two new leaders who were elected and who were introduced in the House today.

They were elected with a rather strong majority, which means they represent two important schools of thought in western and eastern Canada. They will have to make their opinions known in the debates we will have in the coming months, debates that can be heated at times while being respectful of every member who sits in this House. I think that the arrival of these two leaders from two different ridings, one in the east and one in the west, may help the government realize that it is not on the right track in many areas.

On the economic side, there is a strong demand for a reform of the personal income tax system for middle income Canadians. We can also see that the government is making economic decisions that are not at all in the best interests of Canadians and Quebecers.

In the area of health, the provinces have fought hard to obtain an agreement, and yet it was reported in the media today that the federal government is still trying to say that this agreement does not say what it should say. It could simply have restored funding at the 1994 level, as the opposition had been requesting for a long time, and that would have solved the problem.

The government has been making one blunder after another in the arts, in the area of health, as I just mentioned, and in various other areas. I hope these new forces in the House will show the government that it has to rethink a lot of its legislation, including the bill before us today, which deals with species at risk.

Once again, the federal government is clumsily interfering in areas under provincial jurisdiction. We, who are members from Quebec, are proud mainly because the Quebec government has, especially since 1989, made extraordinary efforts to protect these species, requesting zoning changes in some areas and environmental changes to prohibit the dumping of some undesirable substances in specific rivers.

The Quebec legislation is really helping to protect endangered species and supporting the environmental community, which claims to be very satisfied. Of course, they want more, they expect more, but they have someone to whom they can turn.

There is a way for the federal government to get involved, if it wishes to do so, in the protection of endangered species not under its jurisdiction. But why has it, once again, decided to meddle in a provincial area of jurisdiction? It is like a disease the leader of the Liberal Party has and is now passing on to his members, where he gets the urge to forget about the constitution and to infringe upon provincial areas of jurisdiction. In this case, it is so obvious.

It is a shame to see the government members say nothing while the Bloc members, all from Quebec, stand up for the interests of their fellow Quebecers. We have heard the member for Chambly as well as the member for Portneuf talk about the legal issues. We all heard of course the brilliant speech made earlier by the member for Laval East.

These members are telling us how important it is to look at this bill very seriously in order to achieve a greater respect of jurisdictions, the provinces' and Quebec's. The fact that we are asking this government to respect the constitution it enacted is nothing new. It is clear and simple. However, every time we have to go back to square one. We have to repeat the same thing over and over again.

The worse part is that today as we are demanding respect for provincial jurisdiction and the Canadian constitution, the Quebec members on the other side are not saying a thing. They hang their heads in shame. I can see them across the way. They are ashamed their party is not allowing them to speak on the issue. They have to keep their mouths shut to be able to serve in a government, but one that is working against Quebec's interests.

I am surprised to hear that the two new members who crossed the floor of the House said “We are crossing the floor to better serve Quebec”. Did they change sides to tell the Liberal caucus “You are going to change your methods, you do not understand, you are going to have to respect jurisdictions, you will respect Quebec”. No, they did not. They only crossed the floor of the House a few days ago and already they have become meek little sheep who wait for a signal to raise their arm and speak, and no longer think for themselves. Since they crossed the floor somebody else is doing the thinking for them. They now belong to the silent party.

I believe the Liberal party should change its name to the “Muffler Party”, as its members' voices are very muffled. I think this name would suit them very well.

I therefore appeal to the members from Quebec across the way who say they are defending Quebec's interests. Ministers of the government of Quebec, whether members of the Parti Quebecois or the Liberal Party, have always stated clearly that in this area the legislation that Quebec has had since 1989 serves Quebec's interests very well. According to Mr. Bégin, who was quoted earlier by the member for Laval Centre:

Quebec has always behaved in a responsible and appropriate manner regarding the protection of the most threatened fauna and flora species and intends to keep on exercising its authority in this matter. We will never accept umbrella legislation covering all the initiatives in this area.

This is the statement quoted by the member for Laval earlier. The message is simple: the government of Quebec is telling the government in Ottawa that if they each mind their own business, everyone will get along. But who is still promoting discord, unnecessary debate and wasted energy? The answer is this government, which has made this its trademark, its raison d'être.

I see the members from Quebec across the way, including the member for Shefford who has just, as I mentioned earlier, crossed the floor to announce that she wanted to defend Quebec's interests, but who is mum on this issue. Worse yet, she is getting ready to vote against Quebec in her first official action as a member of the Liberal Party when occasionally, as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, she voted for Quebec's interests. In the case of Bill C-20, for instance, she showed courage. But now that has all gone. She has lost her nerve. The election is approaching and it must be won. But do voters feel the same way? We shall see.

The same is true for the members from Quebec for Pierrefonds-Dollard, and Beauce. What does the member for Beauce, who is caucus president, have to say? As president of the caucus in Quebec, he must defend Quebec's interests. How is it that he is silent in the face of such a major assault on provincial jurisdiction? What do the members for Brossard—La Prairie, and Lac-Saint-Louis think? The latter was a former minister of the environment in Quebec. Never, as Quebec minister of the environment, would he have allowed such an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. He was its staunch defender at the time and, moreover, the one that saw the legislation passed in 1989.

I do not know what kind of shot they give people when they become Liberals, but it always has an extremely good sedative effect. It renders people speechless, they never rise again to defend interests, they draw their salary and hope for the Prime Minister's help in getting re-elected.

Now for the hon. members for Verdun—Saint-Henri—Saint-Paul—Pointe Saint-Charles, for Gatineau, for Vaudreuil—Soulanges, I call upon you all as MPs for Quebec. Stand up with us to tell the government to mind its own business and to leave the provinces to administer this jurisdiction as they have been doing, efficiently and effectively.

Where are the hon. members for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, for Brome—Missisquoi and for Laval West when it comes time to speak up? The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Minister of Public Works, the Minister of Amateur Sport, the Minister of Revenue, the Minister of Finance, the Minister for International Trade, who are all Quebec MPs, please understand that it is in the best interests of Quebec to oppose this bill, to make amendments to it if necessary. At least, have something to say. Do not remain silent, earning the label of members of the “Muffler Party”. No, you will surely be something other than that, I trust.

In closing then, I appeal to you all to wake up at last. Wake up, work with us, so that this provincial jurisdiction will be respected and we can avoid yet another federal-provincial squabble provoked by this government.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, who is an excellent parliamentarian. We are of course very pleased to have him with us in the Bloc Quebecois. He is a man with a lot of experience and a sound judgment.

The hon. member clearly showed us how sad the situation is, with the people across the way not speaking up.

I am thinking of the government House leader, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. I am not ruling out the possibility of going door to door in his riding with my Bloc Quebecois colleagues to tell his voters about the real nature of this House leader.

Let us not forget the prowess of the House leader and the current Minister of Canadian Heritage. I understand that, like her House leader, she does not support the Minister of Finance, but supports the Prime Minister, which explains why she is still a member of cabinet. Let us not forget how, when they formed the opposition, these people felt about non-confidence motions. They desperately asked for parliamentary reform and for freedom of expression within the political parties. But where is that freedom of expression when Quebec MPs must protect the higher interests of Quebec?

It is always the same predictable scenario. They cave in, they show no political courage, they let the steamroller go over Quebec, at the expense of our province's higher interests. This must end. Fortunately, the Bloc Quebecois is here. Which party is leading in the polls in Quebec? It is the Bloc Quebecois. What will be the strengths of the Bloc in the next election? We will always be there to protect the interests of Quebec.

Does my colleague, the government House leader, wish to say something? No. Just like his own party, he remains callously silent when the time comes to stand up for Quebec.

I say this in a very cordial way, because here in the House, friendship must prevail. However we cannot let the federal government interfere once again in an area outside of its jurisdiction.

I want the government members to tell me something. Who is supporting such a bill? The Quebec government is against it. The environmental community is against it. Why is the government so determined to use such a tool when it could be acting within its own jurisdiction?

The government is acting as if it has taken some very positive measures to protect the environment. But what has the auditor general had to say about the decontamination of federal lands and sites? He said the government is dragging its feet. What has the auditor general had to say about the ratification of the Rio Convention and especially its regulatory framework? He said the government has been tardy in doing so.

I know my time is running out and that is unfortunate, because I still have a lot to say on this issue.

As the previous speakers and my colleagues from the Bloc have said, we will not let the government interfere once again in an area outside of its jurisdiction. I really hope the House will let me continue with my speech at the next sitting of the House.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

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.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

moved that Bill C-289, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (child adoption expenses), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is good to see you back after the summer. I know you had a busy one. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-289, my bill that was drawn not long ago. I appreciate it being before the House. Unfortunately, although we made a very heavily supported recommendation to the committee from people right across the country, the bill was not deemed votable. However I appreciate this hour of debate in the House. I know many who are interested in this topic are watching today on the network.

The bill states in its own summary that its purpose to enact an allowance for taxpayers, a deduction for expenses related to the adoption of a child that does not exceed $7,000 when computing his or her income for a taxation year. The expenses must have been incurred in that taxation year or in the previous two years. That is the summary of the bill.

Essentially the bill would recognize that adoptive parents make a significant social contribution to our society by adopting children that have a need for parenting, and that this activity should be encouraged and supported for the good of children and for the good of society as a whole.

I submit that this is a very important bill and worthy of being deemed votable. Unfortunately we did not get that, but I would hope that in the future parliament would entertain doing more for adoptive parents. I think we can all agree that adoption is a gentle option to ensure that a child can be placed with loving and generous parents.

However adoptive parents often face significant upfront costs when they embark on adoption, and out of pocket adoption expenses are not tax deductible. This bill would be a first step toward addressing some of the concerns of adoptive parents.

Adoptive parents have unique challenges and expenses when they adopt a child. Even in public adoptions where provinces have traditionally covered the related adoption expenses, we are now starting to see adoptive parents faced with new fees and ever increasing costs such as $1,200 for home studies, et cetera.

In the case of a private or international adoption, couples may face costs in the thousands of dollars in legal fees, home studies and a number of other studies that they must cover off. Such upfront costs may result in the discouragement of couples even thinking of adoption. It would thus serve a larger public interest to allow adoptive parents to deduct expenses related to the adoption of a child to better facilitate and better encourage this act of generosity and love that serves us all so well.

Bill C-289 is essentially an adoption expense deduction bill which proposes to allow a taxpayer a deduction of up to $7,000 for expenses related to adoption.

The introduction of the bill follows consultation with a number of adoption organizations as well as individuals who have personally adopted children. Statistics Canada's national longitudinal survey of children and youth has clearly shown us, in empirical terms, clear measurables, that an environment where there is a mother and a father is an environment where children thrive. Children without parents are at a disadvantage. I believe we should do all we can to encourage families who have the desire to adopt children instead of making adoption a difficult alternative.

We need to send a message of appreciation for the social contribution that adoptive parents make and recognize the inequities that adoptive parents face.

Adoption is under the control of the provinces, but Bill C-289 is a means by which this important institution could be encouraged and supported at a federal level through the means of a federal tax deduction format. Bill C-289 therefore is constitutional and fulfils another of the guidelines that the subcommittee required for a bill to be deemed votable.

Here are some details of the bill. As I said, it would cover off the legal expenses related to adoption. Any kind of illegal adoption or surrogate parenting arrangements would not be covered, but the legal adoption expenses that relate to adoption would be tax deductible up to a maximum of $7,000. The $7,000 figure was used so that it would be the same as the maximum amount deductible for the child care expense deduction currently in the tax code, the CCED, which is essentially a deduction that recognizes the costs of third party care.

If the state can recognize these costs, I believe it is appropriate to recognize that there are costs specifically related to adoption which adoptive parents face. The adoption expense deduction would be available for both domestic and foreign adoption. It would include expenses for pre-adoption home study as well as birth parent counselling and travel expenses related to the adoption of the child. All these are incurred regularly by adoptive parents today with no recognition.

It would be available for the adoption of any child under 17 years old, again matching the CCED provisions. If any expenses are to reimbursed by an employer or by the government, they would not be eligible for this tax deduction. We thought out those aspects of the bill.

The numbers of adoptions are difficult to attain but the Library of Parliament indicates that the total number of domestic adoptions in 1990 was about 2,800. The most recent figures available indicate that some 1,800 international adoptions occurred in 1997. The province of Quebec estimates that the average cost of an international adoption for adoptive parents is $20,000.

The paper that the Library of Parliament prepared for my office used the assumption that Bill C-289 would not come at a high cost to the treasury. The estimated cost to federal tax revenues for this bill, using a $7,000 adoption expense deduction, is approximately $5 million at the current estimated adoption levels.

In addition to sending a message of appreciation and encouragement that parliament could send to adoptive parents through the bill, allowing adoption expenses to be tax deductible would make the tax system more equitable for adoptive parents for two reasons.

First, biological parents have the pre-natal and post-natal costs of having children covered under medicare, but adoptive parents have to pay out of pocket expenses related to adoption costs directly out of after tax income.

Second, currently fertility treatments are tax deductible. According to the Library of Parliament fertility treatment expenses are eligible for the existing 17% federal tax credit for medical expenses provided for in section 118.2 of the Income Tax Act. Thus it could be argued, and this is straight from the document prepared by the Library of Parliament for my office, that among those taxpayers who are unable to have children naturally the current tax law favours those who seek fertility treatment over those who adopt. Yet it could be said that adoption is more socially beneficial since it aims to provide a family for children who already exist.

It is inherently unfair and poor public policy for expenses related to in vitro fertilization to be tax deductible while adoption expenses, which by definition relate to a case where a child has already been born and is in need of parents, are not tax deductible.

In the end I also submit to the House that adoption saves the taxpayer money as many children in need of parents would no longer be under the care of the state with the related expenses that are all paid by the state. It would result in a permanency for the child, which would also result in a stronger society and as a whole more healthy child development with a two parent family.

This topic has been in the media. I just make reference to some of the statements that have been captured in the media concerning this issue. The Winnipeg Free Press on January 4, 2000, in an article by Leah Janzen indicated:

Faced with a critical shortage of loving homes for older children and those with special needs, Child and Family Services is offering paycheques to adoptive parents.

It is not something we are advocating here, but we are advocating through the tax system the recognition of the social contribution made by adoptive parents. Ms. Janzen went on to say:

But so far, with about 700 needy children on their waiting list and only 125 prospective parents in sight, the gap is still heartbreakingly wide.

In the Ottawa Citizen on April 3, 1999, Derek McNaughton wrote:

Between 1997 and 1998, the adoption rate for children from overseas countries jumped by at least 30 per cent. For China, the number of adopted children has rocketed upward by 73 per cent.

He went on to say:

Currently, Quebec is the only province providing tax relief for adoptive parents. And in its recent budget, the Quebec government raised the allowable tax deduction for adoptive parents from a ceiling of $2,000 to $3,000.

A lady whom I have had some contact with on this topic, Judy Grove, executive director of the Adoption Council of Canada, says that the issue of tax relief is rooted in how this country values children. She says that politicians from both federal and provincial governments are long on rhetoric about the needs of children but short on action. She states:

It's very shortsighted, adoption, from the view of the state, is a cost effective process because kids that are adopted are not on the child welfare budget. If you look at the effect of allowing tax breaks, it makes adoption easier and therefore it saves the state money.

She makes a very valuable and valid point. The Adoption Council of Canada has also sent a number of letters to my office. In one of those letters on this private member's bill it points out that there are more than 70,000 children in foster care in Canada. More than 20,000 of these children are available for adoption. One of the main barriers, they pointed out to me, to the adoption of these children is the financial burden adoptive parents face.

Most adoptions of Canadian newborns and infants are facilitated through private adoption agencies which have fees that range anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000, and in some cases even more than that.

This proposed tax deduction will make it more feasible for lower income families or those concerned about the costs to adopt and care for children. That just makes sense. This bill would be a public recognition or a statement on the value of the contribution those parents are making.

What about public support? Do Canadians want Bill C-289 to pass? I would submit that public opinion is very supportive. Since I first introduced the bill in the first session of the 36th parliament petitions of support have steadily been coming into the House of Commons. I have received many e-mails and many letters of support with really no media play or public promotion on my part at all. I was actually surprised by the overwhelming support I have had on the bill without really publicizing it or promoting it in the least.

In parliament there have been about 4,000 signatures on petitions in support of the bill already presented to the House of Commons. I have another 1,000 signatures waiting. I have some petitions that I wanted to present here today but I plan to do that tomorrow, all in support of the bill.

I thank the many Canadians who supported my office and supported me in the endeavour of bringing this bill forward to the floor of the House of Commons. I thank the Adoption Council of Canada, Judith Grove and Connie Premont who created an e-mail list and communicated the intent of this bill to many supporters right across the country. I would also like to thank the many adoptive parents who sent me pictures and letters and encouraged me to contact other members of parliament to support this initiative.

This is good legislation. I urge all members to strongly consider making a bill of this kind something the government would develop legislation for and that we move to recognize the contribution of adoptive parents, especially when we so regularly say how important children are and how legislation needs to be in the best interests of children. Recognizing the contribution of adoptive parents would go a long way to us taking a step in that direction.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, this private member's bill proposed by the hon. member for Calgary Centre would allow taxpayers to deduct expenses related to the adoption of a child to a maximum of $7,000. While I am sure that the member opposite from Calgary Centre has been motivated to present this bill to the House of Commons for all the right reasons, a basic principle of our income tax system is that tax relief is not generally provided for personal expenses, such as adoption costs.

Although the government is aware that parents adopting a child incur relatively high costs, these and other personal expenses do not qualify for tax assistance because they are incurred at an individual's discretion in widely varying amounts and types depending on the individual's tastes, lifestyle and economic status. The higher the socioeconomic status of the taxpayer, the more likely he or she is to incur larger and more varied personal expenses. If these expenses were made deductible, a portion of the personal expenses incurred by some taxpayers would be financed by taxpayers at large.

When tax assistance is provided with regard to expenses, it applies to expenses incurred to earn an income, for example child care expenses, union dues or job related moving expenses, or to largely non-discretionary expenses, such as higher than normal medical expenses.

Let us take the example of child care expenses. As hon. members know, eligible child care expenses are deductible in computing income. The purpose of the child care expense deduction is to recognize that taxpayers who need to incur child care expenses to earn employment or business income, to attend a recognized educational institution or to take an eligible vocational training course have a lower ability to pay taxes than taxpayers with the same income who do not need to incur such expenses.

The child care expense deduction provides a tax deduction of up to $7,000 annually for expenses related to the care of a child under the age of seven and of up to $4,000 for a child between the ages of seven and 15.

Since it would be difficult to separate the personal and non-discretionary components of child related expenses, tax assistance is provided to families with children in the form of a benefit, the amount of which is predetermined, rather than in the form of tax credits or deductions for specific expenses.

As the House may know, the government provides considerable financial support to families with children through the Canada child tax benefit, the CCTB. More specifically, the CCTB has two components: the base benefit and the national child benefit. Under the base benefit families currently receive up to $1,020 per child. In addition, supplements of $213 for each child under the age of seven where no child care expenses are claimed and $75 for the third and each subsequent child are added to the base benefit.

Additional assistance is provided to low income families with children under the national child benefit, the NCB.

As of July 1999 NCB benefits are $785 for the first child, $585 for the second and $510 for the third and each subsequent child. Therefore, the maximum CCTB benefit is $1,805 for the first child and $1,605 for each subsequent child.

Over the last few years our government has proven that it is committed to investing the future of our children. In fact, even before the budget was balanced, the government committed $850 million to the Canada child tax benefit to start building the national child benefit in 1997. In the 1998 budget the federal government enriched the NCB by an additional $850 million. The design of this enrichment was set out in the 1999 budget which also proposed an additional investment of $300 million to extend benefit enhancements to modest and middle income families.

Moreover the budget tabled in the House on February 28 contained a five year plan to increase benefits under the Canada child tax benefit by $2.5 billion annually by 2004. That means that the maximum Canada child tax benefit has increased to $2,056 in July 2000 and will reach $2,400 by 2004.

In the three budgets preceding the 2000 budget, the government invested a total of $2 billion a year in the Canada child tax benefit. With the additional investment of $2.5 billion a year proposed in the 2000 budget, by 2004 over $9 billion will be devoted each year to helping families with the cost of raising children.

Before concluding, I also want to emphasize that the significant tax reduction measures proposed in the last four budgets were especially beneficial to families with children. By 2004-05, the measures in these budgets will translate into a 30% reduction in the tax burden for families with children, compared to 22% on average for all Canadians. The measures presented in the 2000 budget alone will mean a 21% reduction in the tax burden for families with children, compared to 15% for all taxpayers.

The five year tax reduction plan announced in budget 2000 proposes to restore full indexation of the personal income tax system. This will protect families against automatic tax increases and erosion in benefits caused by inflation.

In addition, the plan proposes broad based personal income tax reductions. For the first time in 12 years, a reduction in a tax rate is being proposed. The middle tax rate will be reduced from 26% to 23% by 2004. As well, it is proposed that by 2004 the amount Canadians can earn tax free will increase to at least $8,000, while the income levels at which the middle and top tax rates begin to apply will increased to at least $35,000 and $70,000 respectively. It is also proposed that the 5% surtax be eliminated.

In total, the 2000 budget proposes a minimum of $39.5 billion in personal income tax relief for Canadians.

It was announced at that time that the government hoped to accelerate the five year tax reduction plan. Well, the government is now able to guarantee that it will do so.

In conclusion, the government believes that parents should receive financial assistance to help them meet the needs of their children, and we are giving it to them.

However, it would not be appropriate to ask taxpayers at large to subsidize adoption expenses through the tax system because of the largely discretionary nature of these personal expenses. Therefore, I ask that all hon. members not support this bill.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Saint-Eustache—Sainte-Thérèse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-289, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (child adoption expenses), introduced by my colleague from Calgary Centre.

The purpose of this enactment is to allow a taxpayer to claim a deduction for expenses of up to $7,000 related to the adoption of a child when calculating his or her income for a taxation year.

I remind the House that in 1998 my colleague from the Bloc, the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, introduced a bill similar to this one. I believe the only difference was that we were asking for a deduction of $10,000 instead of $7,000. It is the main difference between the two bills.

It is therefore a bill my party, the Bloc Quebecois, and myself support.

As we know adoption is a provincial responsibility. However the lack of participation on the part of the federal government creates a grey area for adoptive parents.

A federal tax deduction would not only be a welcome incentive for adoptive parents, but also would make the tax system fairer.

Biological parents are covered under the health insurance plan for prenatal and post-natal care whereas adoptive parents must pay out of their own pocket the full cost of an adoption.

It is odd that the costs of in vitro fertilization are deductible when the costs of adopting a child are not. This is neither fair nor wise on the part of the federal government.

Children of the World, one of the largest Canadian adoption agencies, estimates the cost of adopting a child in China at $17,270 per couple.

Two years ago, my colleague, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, adopted a little Asian girl. He has confirmed to me that the adoption expenses were over $20,000 Canadian. These figures include expenses in Quebec and in China.

At this point, I would like to tell the House about a small expense chart that Children of the World sent me. It must not be forgotten that when one wishes to adopt a child internationally, there are administrative expenses, expenses for psychological testing, for parents' birth certificates, marriage certificates, letters from physicians, notaries' fees, legal expenses, law stamps, the embassy, contacts with foreign countries, enrolling with the Canada-China adoption association, translation of files into Chinese. This mounts up to $7,422 before leaving Canada to actually adopt a child. To this must be added the expenses incurred abroad: donations to the orphanage, the fees of a notary in China, passport fees for the child one wishes to bring back, airfare and accommodation, totalling $17,270.

The federal government should recognize, as Quebec does, the important social contribution of adoptive parents in our society.

It has been observed that half of Canadian adoptions are to Quebec families. This is in part due to the fact that Quebec's family policy is far more progressive than that of the federal government.

Adoptive parents face special expenses, particularly in the case of private and international adoptions. I know whereof I speak. Thirty-two years ago, my wife and I adopted a child, Richard.

Many couples who want to adopt a child think about it twice because of all the expenses it entails, which is where this bill comes in.

For almost nine years now, Quebec has undergone a change quite unique in the western world: every year, 700 to 800 children from all over the world finally find in Quebec a family to adopt them.

It obviously would have made adoption easier if the adoptive parents were able to deduct from their income, at the federal level, the child adoption expenses, not by an amount not exceeding $7,000 as is stipulated in this bill, but by double that amount.

We cannot talk about adoption without talking about family. In Quebec, we are proud to have an integrated and comprehensive family policy. The policy includes among other things a tax credit for adoption expenses, family allowance benefits and the development of educational services and day care for young children, what is commonly known as the $5-a-day day care.

Quebec is also developing a parental insurance program based on the needs of families in Quebec.

In short, it is obvious that the federal government is 20 years behind in this area and by quickly passing this bill, it would at least be taking a step in the right direction.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Louise Hardy NDP Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill, which introduces adoption expense deductions.

I am surprised at the argument from the Liberal member across that categorizes this as a personal expense. I think adoption is probably one of the most impersonal expenses anybody can put forth. People will be adopting a child of parents whom they do not know. They will not know the child and they will not know if the child is going to be troubled. If it is an international adoption the child could have been denied love, stimulation and care. They will be facing the problems of integrating that child into their home and their community. They could be adopting a child that has fetal alcohol syndrome or other problems as a result of the parents' actions. So it is an incredibly impersonal expense that a family makes when they decide to adopt. We are talking about families and the incredible struggle they go through to adopt.

I have seen some of my friends go through five years of trying to adopt. What they submit themselves to, no biological parent has to. They have to do a home study in which they are asked the most personal, intimate questions one could ever imagine. No one would even want to answer them, but they have to answer them because they want to adopt a child.

They need letters of reference so they have to go to different people of good standing in the community and ask if they would consider them to be good parents and then get them to write letters for them. They need psychological assessments which at a minimum are probably about $90 an hour. Their religious standards are scrutinized. Their income is scrutinized. Their age, are they too young or too old. Their health, are they healthy and what their family history is when it comes to mental health. I was certainly never asked those questions when I was young and having children. I have four children.

My big expense of having children was to buy a crib that lasted for all four of them. If I had to pay out $20,000 or $10,000 or even $1,000 per child at that age, I certainly could not have done it. However, we are expecting these people, who will be making a contribution to our community and who will be raising other people's children as their own, to do so without any kind of break.

I am again really disappointed at the Liberal approach of categorizing adoptive parents' desire to have children as a personal expense. It is shocking and hurtful to anybody who is willing to go through the expense and the gruelling ordeal of adopting a child.

As has already been mentioned, there are public and private adoptions in this country but they both involve huge expenses. As I have said, the family has emotional expenses as well as financial expenses to go through. I do not think we should promote this bill just because it would save the government money. I think we should support it because it is the right thing to do. We should support it because it would support families and it would be a good addition to any children's agenda.

If we are going to put forward something seriously it is critical that we recognize parents who are willing to adopt. Not everybody is capable of adopting or of seeing those children through all the years of adoption. It is not always easy. These families are different.

I was just talking to a woman today who has adopted three children. It was an international adoption. It is difficult for families to adopt a child who may come from a wartorn country and has been traumatized. Adopting families do not know the child's history or what life holds for them. I do not have to face those questions with my children but we are not willing to give people who adopt children from anywhere, who look after them, love them, care for them and do all the things that we would do for our own children, a leg up or a boost, even in this small way of recognizing the initial financial costs of an adoption.

In a lot of ways we can not ameliorate or lessen the psychological and emotional impact an adoption has on people. It is a gruelling test of their character. Anyone who does adopt should be applauded rather than penalized.

This is a private member's bill that is worthy of support by all MPs in the House. They should stand and say “Yes, we will support you in every way we can because your struggles are different than ours”. It would be another addition to our criteria as a family and there is just no way that what they do could ever be considered as just a self-serving personal expense because it is not self-serving. They have been serving other people for decades by including adoptive children in their families.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Angela Vautour NDP Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, this bill proposes a tax deduction for the costs relating to the adoption of a child, up to a total of $7,000.

Despite the bill's good intentions, I believe that the problem of this country's children is far more serious. Amending the Income Tax Act by adding another clause does nothing but complicate still further a piece of legislation that is already overly complicated and does not solve the real problem. There are 2.5 million children living in poverty in Canada.

The problems that are being experienced by low income families, particularly single mothers, require examination by this government.

Living in poverty is not easy. Being unable to provide one's children with the necessities of life sometimes pushes certain people into making hard decisions.

I believe that this country needs to ensure that a favourable environment is created to acknowledge the good will of those who choose to be parents. Parenting is not always easy, especially in the year 2000, with the high cost of living, and the many challenges our young people have to deal with: drugs in the schools, finding jobs, even if their parents can manage to find enough money for their education.

Becoming a parent involves many costs. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to ensure that parents, that single mothers with children can choose. People must first be able to choose to have children, but they must also be able to decide to keep their children. It is often for economic reasons that young parents are forced to give their children up for adoption. We are very lucky to always find parents who are prepared to adopt these children, to give them a good life, to see that they live in a healthy and safe environment with all the necessities of life.

Clearly we have a duty as parliamentarians to make sure that Canadians have the necessary tools to provide what is needed.

I wonder if the hon. member for Calgary Centre really believes that the solution to the problems facing children in this country lies in tax cuts.

To listen to Canadian Alliance members, one would think that all the problems in this country are tax-related.

Having been been a single mom for a few years, my son and I certainly know, as we all know, that we need some form of tax reduction. We also know that there are many single parents out there who need a lot of different help. Far too often the reform alliance feels that the solution to every problem in Canada is to reduce taxes. I do not believe that reducing taxes solves every problem. We have to address problems in many directions.

Because of the changes to the unemployment insurance program introduced by this government in 1996, many single parents have had difficulty over the last four years because it targeted families at the lower end of the scale when it came to income and jobs. We know it has also targeted families living in communities dependent on the seasonal industry.

Cuts to the provinces' social transfers have dramatically increased the cost of post-secondary education. What is more devastating than to cut off from a teenager the chance to get an education which would permit that young person to get job and have a future? As parliamentarians we do have a responsibility to make sure that when legislation is passed in the House that we are not targeting the ones who do not have a way to defend themselves. It has happened too often in the House that policies are made, legislation is passed and we are targeting groups, especially women and children, and that is not right.

I must recognize parents who have chosen to provide good and safe homes for children across the country. Choosing to become a parent is not an easy task. Every one of us who either has children or who knows parents who have children know it is not an easy task in today's society with all the challenges that our children are facing. Sometimes both parents have to work whether they want to or not. It is a must today in order to make ends meet. If both parents are working in a region where the minimum wage is $5.50 or where there is only a seasonal industry, we can just imagine what the children are living on in winter. I believe 2.5 million children living in poverty is way to many. It is 2.5 million children too many as far as I am concerned.

We can address some of the barriers through tax reduction but we also need to see a commitment on the part of the government that will truly address the real problems of the country: too many hungry children living in this very rich country.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Reform

Maurice Vellacott Reform Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege as a Canadian Alliance member to support my colleague's bill, the member for Calgary Centre.

I have the privilege of having several adopted nephews, four to be exact, and an adopted niece. In a counselling role, I have worked with couples who were sterile or could not conceive a child in the normal way. It was a big concern to them to have the adoption option. It would also have been a big concern to those people to have some kind of support. Some of them did not have a lot of financial means. They came from lower income groups and would have found it to be a a great drain on their resources to adopt children.

Nevertheless, many parents do proceed at great sacrifice because children are dear, special and precious to them, but I do believe that it would be of great assistance to have the kinds of measure that are in the bill before us today.

Bill C-289, as has been said, is essentially an adoption expense deduction bill. We are not talking about an infinite amount of dollars that would be allowed as an income tax deduction, as my Liberal colleague across the way inferred at a point. It is capped at $7,000 for expenses incurred as a result of adopting a child.

As members on this side of the House have said, I would also agree that this is not a simple purchase of a car or some other luxury item. This rates as an altogether different kind of thing. These are couples who want to adopt because they are in some cases sterile or for various other reasons cannot have children by the normal way. It is not purely a discretionary issue or choice as was implied by my colleague across the way.

The deduction would be available for the adoption of any child under 17 years old, matching the child care expense deduction provisions. Expenses to be reimbursed by the employer or by government would not be eligible for the tax deduction.

As has been stated by colleagues in the House in response to the bill thus far, without doubt adoptive parents would face a huge financial burden. It does not matter whether the adoption process is public or private or whether it is in Canada. When it is international it involves travel and involves a great deal more in costs as well. Sometimes these costs are considerable. Sometimes they are prohibitive. Let us consider a few of these costs. Some have been referred to, but I will just reiterate again.

There are expenses for pre-adoption home study undertaken by a couple hoping to adopt. That first base is as far as some of them may get because of the rigours of the whole process. There might be agency fees involved in private adoptions. Even in public adoptions where provinces have traditionally covered expenses relating to adoption, we are now seeing adoptive parents faced with new fees and ever increasing costs.

There might be costs for counselling for the birth parents who must grieve the loss of the baby if the child to be adopted is an infant, or in the case of a mother who is giving up her baby.

For international adoptions my Bloc colleague noted considerable travel expenses, transportation, meals, lodging and other expenses related to the child's immigration into Canada.

Then there are the judicial expenses. We know that lawyers are not cheap. There is the adoption order, whether it is a Canadian one or a foreign one. On top of that, international adoption orders may require that the couple obtain a recognition order in Canada as well so that the foreign adoption order will have the same force and effect as a Canadian adoption order.

This means that some couples will have two judicial expenses, one in each country. Let us not forget the legal fees that will change hands if there are several lawyers involved in the whole process. I think hon. members get the idea that significant amounts of money can change hands in an adoption, especially in the case of private and international adoptions.

The province of Quebec estimates that the average cost of an international adoption is at least $20,000. I believe that it is unacceptable that these expenses are not tax deductible. What is unacceptable is that expenses associated with adoptions are paid with after tax dollars. The tax system in my opinion is quite unfair in this regard. It does not provide a tax deduction for adoption expenses, even though it provides tax relief for couples who become parents through means other than adoption, and I will get on to citing some of those.

In other words, the Income Tax Act is unfair in its treatment of new adoptive parents. I want to look at some of the inconsistencies and the unfairness in the Income Tax Act.

First, the Income Tax Act makes provision for parents of children who are born naturally. Such parents have the pre-natal and post-natal costs of having a child covered under medicare across our country. Adoptive parents, however, do not have either the direct assistance of public funds or even the direct assistance of a tax break, as we are talking about here today. While society pays for the cost of a parent's birthing of a child, an adoptive parent has to pay for the entire cost of adopting a child.

Second, as was said before but I think bears repeating just to show the unfairness or the inequity, the Income Tax Act makes provision for parents whose children are conceived and born as a result of fertility treatments which are tax deductible. According to the Library of Parliament, fertility treatment expenses are eligible for the existing 17% federal tax credit for medical expenses provided for in section 118.2 of the Income Tax Act.

Thus it could be argued that among those taxpayers who are unable to have children naturally, the current tax law favours those who seek fertility treatment over those who adopt. Yet it could be said that adoption is more socially beneficial since it aims to provide a family for children who already exist.

It is inherently unfair for expenses related to in vitro fertilization to be tax deductible while adoption expenses are not tax deductible as things stand. There is really no logical reason for it. There is no consistency at all in its approach.

Third, the Income Tax Act does allow parents to deduct child care expenses. My colleague referred to that. It does not distinguish between adoptive parents and parents who have given birth naturally, or between adoptive parents and couples who have used fertility treatments. They all are allowed that expense under the Income Tax Act.

All parents who use day care receive the deduction. There is another matter of parents who provide care at home and are not given the deduction, which is unfair, but that is another matter for another date.

Therefore it is inconsistent for the government to treat adoptive parents and natural parents the same when it comes to the costs involved in parenting by way of the deduction for child care expenses, yet differently when it comes to the costs involved in becoming parents. I think my colleague, in weighing the logic, is thinking he can understand that there is an inconsistency in that whole approach.

There is no justification for this inequity since new parents contribute equally to society regardless of how they become parents, whether by adoption, whether biologically or whether by in vitro fertilization.

If there were a good reason for this unfair treatment then perhaps we could justify it, but there is no reason. No reason exists. New parents contribute equally to society regardless of how they become parents. A child, its needs and its potential for contributing to society are the same, whether there has been an adoption, in vitro fertilization or a natural birth.

Therefore the logic would suggest that a tax deduction for adoption expenses makes as much sense as medicare spending in maternity wards and as much sense as the current tax deduction for infertility treatments.

Let us think of the benefits of adoptions to society. Children who would otherwise grow up without parents gain parents to love them, discipline them and teach them, parents committed to them for the long term. The likelihood of positive outcomes for such children would be much greater. It translates into better physical and mental health, better grades in school, and a greater contribution as adults in the workplace and in the community.

Parents who adopt love their children. They make deliberate choices and deliberate sacrifices. Adoption is a positive thing for society and it makes sense to encourage adoption by use of a tax deduction.

What loss is there to government tax revenues? Not very much at all. In fact public coffers would be offset by reduced government expenditures in several ways. It costs money for the state to provide care for unadopted children. Adoptions therefore save taxpayer money as the new parents assume financial responsibility for the children. There would be reduced mental health costs, criminal justice system costs and prison system costs.

There would also be increased sales tax revenues from the parents spending on adopted children. Once grown, those children would be healthy, contributing members of society who would pay taxes themselves.

This is an important bill. I would move at this point that it be made votable by unanimous consent of the House.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Wanuskewin has asked for unanimous consent of the House that the private member's bill now before the House be made votable. Is there unanimous consent?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Reform

Eric C. Lowther Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am encouraged by the debate today. I thought there were some good points made, in particular on this side of the House. I hope they registered with the government.

I am struck by the fact that in the House we hear a lot about a children's agenda. We hear a lot about “the best interests of children”. The bill we are debating talks about children in need of adoption. Some 70,000 children are wards of the government and 20,000 of them are ready for adoption today.

We talk about the best interests of children, yet we have a government that will not entertain incentives or recognize legislation that shows appreciation for the contribution adoptive parents make.

We have a government that talks about $2.2 billion for school programs and for children to be cared for in state run institutions. We talk about the child tax credit. There is lots of money through the child tax credit. I am not knocking that. We talk about child tax recognition for infertility treatments. We talk about child tax credits and recognition for child care expense deductions for those parents who choose to go out and work.

However, we will not consider tax recognition for parents who probably make one of the largest social contributions possible by adopting children who otherwise would never have the benefit of a mother and a father. They are stuck as wards of the state and shifted from one foster home to another. Many of us know that the social costs of that kind of damage to a child go on and on. We could do something about it with a piece of legislation like this one.

I encourage making it easier for loving parents who want to adopt but are faced with financial burdens and financial hardships to do it. We could do something about it in the House today if we were to embrace legislation of this type.

That is what the House should be about. I am tired of the rhetoric about best interests of children and a children's agenda, yet we ignore something as simple and as straightforward as this legislation. It is an absolute no brainer.

I heard a consensus on moving in this direction from colleagues in the NDP. I heard it from the hon. member of the Bloc. I heard it from members of my own party. Without too much hard work we might even get the PCs on side.

I ask members of the government to think about the opportunity they are missing. We have had enough of their rhetoric about the best interests of children and a children's agenda. Let us see them demonstrate it in something as straightforward as this piece of legislation which would give a child a mother and a father to love them in a family environment.

In that light I would like to seek unanimous consent of the House to refer the subject matter of the bill to the HRDC subcommittee on children and youth at risk. There could not be a more appropriate place for this item to be discussed.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Calgary Centre has requested that the subject matter of the bill be referred to a standing committee. Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.