House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was poetry.


The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Bakopanos)

It is the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

(Motion agreed to)

The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Yolande Thibeault Liberal Saint-Lambert, QC

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Madam Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to take part in the debate on Bill S-10, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act by providing for the appointment of a poet laureate in Canadian parliament.

First, I would like to commend the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine for introducing this bill in the House. I would also like to congratulate Senator Grafstein for taking this initiative in the other House.

The position of poet laureate has been a tradition in several countries for many years. In England, the position of poet was created back in 1616 and this tradition has been retained by several Commonwealth countries.

Since the 1930s, the United States have had their poet laureate. In Canada, Saskatchewan appointed its first poet laureate in the Fall of 2000.

The holder of the position of poet laureate writes poetry that is read in parliament on occasions of state. The poet will sponsor poetry readings and will also be responsible for giving advice to the parliamentary librarian regarding the library's collection and acquisitions. This poet laureate would be appointed for a period of two years.

Some people will think: why do we need a poet laureate in parliament? Dowe not have enough positions already?

Everything is there, in fact. We all know that poetry serves to beautify, but it can also serve as grounds for reflection. Poetry inspires, poetry raises awareness. It transcends the interplay of question and answer. It is a sort of conscience, which reminds us not only of esthetic values, but of philosophical values as well.

Curiously enough, Plato excluded poets from his ideal Republic. Did he think they might question the entire basis of society? It is true that words are not innocent, that they bear meanings. There is no better place than this House to convince us of that.

Yes, I agree that poetry can exorcise some certainties, but it is also a source of inspiration. As the great poet Shelley said, “Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration, the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present”.

In France, over the centuries, court poets have celebrated the armed exploits of the nobility, from Charlemagne to Napoleon.

During the occupation of France in World War II, the entire country was whispering a poem by Paul Éluard. This poem on freedom, Liberté , was a perfect mirror of the soul and state of mind of his fellow citizens.

Éluard is not the only poet to have been inspired by patriotism. There have, of course, been many others.

I will read, if I may, two excerpts from Mon pays by Canadian poet and songwriter, Janine Simard.

More could be said For our country is great And yet it has not; A limitless land And picturesque too But young and unsure Like a child too polite Who is told what to do But does not get it right

Much has been said That my country is cold That my country is great How attractive it is But I say, as none properly have That it is the finest of all!

The poet is a free spirit. He is able to feel the suffering of others, for often he has experienced it himself. This is why he is able to capture it on paper or in song.

If we politicians have the power to change things, so do poets, for sometimes the movers and shakers of this world hear their cry.

Poetry unites us. It allows us to pause and makes us human, for it is the voice of the people. A parliamentary poet laureate would only increase our feeling of belonging to a free society.

Because of poetry's universal appeal, UNESCO declared March 21, 2001 World Poetry Day. This year marked the first official celebration of the day in Canada.

I invite members on both sides of the House to launch this tradition of parliamentary poet laureate by voting in favour of this bill.

The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, this is a very interesting topic. Clearly, human beings among all creatures are the ones with the unique ability to communicate and convey emotion. Certainly through poetry we convey emotion.

Poets are artists and just like sculptors, writers of books and songs, other creators and inventors, they play an important role in society and deserve recognition and encouragement. As my Liberal friend has noted, Saskatchewan has gone this route. I apologize but I cannot recall whether she mentioned that Toronto is also looking at the same idea.

We are faced with a particularly unique challenge in this Chamber, indeed if not in the country. Let me be clear. I think one of the strengths of Canada is that we have two official languages, that we express ourselves in French and English. I want to be very clear on that. It represents a unique challenge because poetry is the putting together of words, words in a sequence and words that have a very specific and precise meaning so that we can convey that specific and precise meaning and emotion to each other. As I started off by saying, that is a unique capability we have as human beings.

The difficulty is with the English language. Perhaps my friend who is very fluent en français will understand some of the difficulties we have in English. Because English was invented by people and not computers, it reflects the creativity of the human race, which of course is not a race at all. Let me give the House an example. The bandage was wound around the wound. Two words are spelled the same, are pronounced differently and appear differently in the context of that one sentence.

I have some more examples. The farm was used to produce produce. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse. We must polish the Polish furniture. He could lead if he could get the lead out. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert. Since there was no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. A bass was painted on the head of a bass drum. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes. I do not object to the object. The insurance was invalid for the invalid. There was a row among the oarsman about how to row. They were too close to the door to close it. The buck does funny things when the does are present. The seamstress and the sewer fell into a sewer line.

I have further examples. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow. The wind was too strong to wind the sail. After a number of injections, my jaw got number. Upon seeing a tear in the painting, I shed a tear. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

I can imagine the poor translators here in the House have had a bit of a time with that, but I think those are examples of the challenge a poet laureate would have.

I have no difficulty with the concept of a poet laureate. My colleagues in my party and indeed my colleagues in the House will have any number of opinions but I have no difficulty with it except that it is a challenge.

For example, let me just include this rather silly part by asking: Why when the stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out they are invisible? Why when I wind up my watch does it start, but when I wind up this speech it ends?

Those are some of the difficulties we have in English in understanding each other. It is a language in which we live and communicate and perhaps we do not always give deep thought to it. I think that a poet laureate, because of the challenge of the two languages, is going to have quite a monumental task.

As I mentioned, there are many ways of conveying ideas. I have been going over some sayings of people and although the person I am thinking of would not be classified as a poet laureate he said some profound things. He happened to be the president of the United States at one time. Putting words together Abraham Lincoln said:

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

These were very thoughtful thoughts of the former president of the United States which he stated in a strong and profound way. This is why I have no difficulty with the concept of a poet laureate.

I have been thinking of people in Canada who might qualify as poet laureates. I was thinking of former finance minister John Crosbie. As I recall, he had a neat poem about Tequila Sheila or something like that. We can apply this whole area of ideas to taxes. Here is a poem about taxes:

Tax his cow, tax his goat, Tax his pants, tax his coat, Tax his crops, tax his work, Tax his ties, tax his shirt. Tax his tractor, tax his mule, Teach him taxes are a rule, Tax his oil, tax his gas, Tax his notes, tax his cash; Tax him good and let him know, After his taxes he has no dough. If he hollers, tax him more; Tax him 'til he's good and sore. Tax his coffin, tax his grave, Tax the sod in which he lays. Put these words upon his tomb: “Taxes drove me to my doom.” And after he's gone, he can't relax; They'll soon be after his Inheritance Tax!

There are any number of ways of expressing ourselves. I have been serious and frivolous but that is one of the beauties of the English language and the way we can communicate with each other.

My inclination with the bill will be subject to understanding exactly how it would all fit together, what kinds of resources would be required for this individual to be able to do his or her job, and, in all seriousness, what we would be able to do about the strength and challenge of Canada having French and English let alone what that challenge would mean to a poet laureate. I would like to understand how that would work. It is not a pejorative question. It is a very real question.

Since we are coming up to November 11 I will conclude my comments with a quick poem which was put together by Rosanna Anselmo, one of my constituents. It is very timely because it is part of a beautiful and haunting song she sings for us in my constituency on Remembrance Day. I will not sing it but these are the words:

We are the Native who dances to the drum. We are the Inuit-- the Metis--Our legacies live on. We are the French--We are the English and languages of many. Let us all bear in mind of what's really meant to be. Let us listen let us hear!

We are the farmer in the field with blistered hands. We are the miner slaving endlessly for riches of this land. We are the lumberjack with saw on back and fishermen at sea. And the multitudes who labour so unselfishly. Ours the hand of need!

Together as one we are a nation. Together as one we are mighty we are strong! A settlement of wondrous creation Canada's where we belong!

We are the children won't you listen to our song. We are young and still learning from those who've lived on. Let the wisdom of our people--who have lived and learned to see, be our eyes into the future of what's really meant to be. Be the eyes that see!

We are many different races--all walking hand-in-hand! A symphony of people--all living on one land! Let our voices blend together--let us sing in harmony! Canada one country--land of unity!

The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I rise today to address a bill from the other place, which was initially sponsored by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine and then by the hon. member Saint-Lambert for, whom I salute.

This very short bill seeks to amend the Parliament of Canada Act by creating the position of parliamentary poet laureate. This is a really nice idea and I can understand why such an initiative looks attractive to Canada, since it is in line with Anglo-Saxon traditions. This is reason enough for a large number of parliamentarians in this House to proudly support this legislation.

However, the Bloc Quebecois will not support this brilliant initiative. This is another example of the different perspectives of our two solitudes on the same issue.

In opposing Bill S-10, we asked ourselves three questions. First: What is poetry and what is the role of a poet? Second: Is freedom not a poet's most precious asset? Third, can a price tag be put on the value of a poet?

What is poetry and what is the role of a poet?

After reading very carefully the speeches made both in the Senate and in the House of Commons, I have to admit that I still do not know what poetry is, and I know even less what the role of a poet is in real life. In order to see if there is a correlation between these realities that transcend parliament and the purpose of Bill S-10, I could have come up with my own definition. However, given the seriousness of this issue, I felt it would be wiser to consult le Petit Robert under the term “Poésie”, for poetry.

Here is what I learned “Poetry: the art of language used to express or suggest something through rhythm, harmony and image”.

How could a poet seriously try to express in a poetic way the rhythm or pace of parliament, its harmony, or better yet, its image? In any case, since I wanted to adopt a rigorous approach and since I hold poetry and poets in high esteem, I decided to consult a great poet, who was also a great parliamentarian. His name is Victor Hugo. Everyone will agree that it is at least worth listening to. “The poet must have only one model, nature, and only one guide, truth”.

If we believe him, the poet of parliament should express the true nature of parliament. This would be a huge undertaking and it would likely be more worthwhile to do something else, such as express the true nature of Bernadette according to the recommendation of Guillaume Apollinaire that, with curiosity and a sense of adventure, a person can write poetry about anything.

Could the great adventure that Apollinaire is proposing to the poet be really to write all about parliament and its hill, which is green or white according to the season?

The second question concerns me most. Is freedom the poet's most precious asset?

I know that it is for me, and there is no end to the number of people who have chosen to die for freedom.

What about poets? Some of the greatest have mouldered in prison in the defence of freedom. As prisoners, they were no less free. Who can name a single poet who agreed to trade freedom for money or power? Honestly, I cannot think of one.

It is true that Bill S-10 would give the poet laureate the great responsibility of writing poems to be read in parliament at official ceremonies.

Could we conclude that the poet laureate is non partisan? Probably. And yet, it is hard not to imagine that finding oneself promoted to the position of poet laureate of parliament for two years would not of necessity create obstacles that, insidiously, would limit later speech and give it serious bias.

How to be free when the choice of poet laureate would be made by a few persons, some of whom had received political appointments? As the saying goes, “Don't bite the hand that feeds you”. “Elementary, my dear Watson”.

I am prepared to bet that the members of the committee will not have many candidates to choose from, because few of them would trade their poet's freedom for a nomination. I have a hard time not laughing at the thought of Fernand Ouellette, Michel Garneau, Gilles Vigneault, Michèle Lalonde or Anne-Marie Alonzo accepting this tantalizing offer.

Those are simply my pretentions, and it will be readily apparent then that I have no problem subscribing to the following extract from the preface of Victor Hugo's Orientales to the effect that art has no need of edges, shackles and muzzles; it says “Go”, and sets one loose in this great garden of poetry where no fruit is forbidden.

The last question is the simplest, finally: can a monetary value be put on the poet's role? My answer is clear and unequivocal: a monetary value cannot be put on the poet's role, for poetry is the soul of a people, it is the awareness of beauty and a revolt against injustice; it is the expression in words of joy, of sorrow, of pain.

Poetry holds a mirror up to us, and that is why it is beyond price. The bill has clearly grasped this well, for it does not seem that the stipend of the parliamentary poet can be lead to any deficit whatsoever. Especially, since some bottles of ice wine could be added, which is totally delectable along with some foie gras or Roquefort.

Who knows, if he or she had such a gift, it might inspire the creation of another poem in praise of wine, another Bateau ivre or Romance du vin . To be convinced of that , I would need take a couple of bottles of ice wine as well, if not more. The more I think about it, the more obvious it seems to me that the official parliamentary poet will be in a pretty funny position, in his minstrel's gallery or his wine cellar. So why not give him some company. What next? When will we be getting our official parliamentary dancer and musician? Both the dance and music have the enormous privilege of being without words.

Of course, the poet will be at a disadvantage because he uses words, in a country that is bilingual and multicultural. This is no simple matter. But I have come up with the solution: the official parliamentary rock singer. Who has ever heard one and been able to understand the words he is singing, or even what language it is in?

Closing on a somewhat more serious note, I would offer a brief reflection. If it is felt that poets should be given the recognition they deserve, let parliament enact measures that recognize their right to earn a decent living.

If their role is essential, why not guarantee them a tax exemption on the first $30,000 earned, or why not abolish the federal tax on books?

This would require a true political will, and no one is naive enough to think that appointment of an official poet to parliament will make people forget how badly the government neglects our artists.

This bill is an unequivocal demonstration of the fact that it is easier to try to subjugate our creative people than to treat them with respect.

The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, before I get into what I want to say about the bill let me comment on what the previous speaker said. I have no problems with the Bloc not supporting the bill. I am not sure whether my party will either. Her first remarks perturbed me a little because she mentioned that it would perhaps entice poets from English Canada more so than poets from French Canada.

There have been some tremendous French writers and poets and perhaps it will take a poet to create a vision of Canada in which members of the Bloc, members of the House and Canadians can find a home where we all feel we are part of this great nation as equals, because as we always say, the pen is mightier than the sword. Maybe we should not cut off our nose to spite our face, as the saying goes.

When the bill was first brought to the House on April 24, I believe, when I spoke on the bill I delivered my speech in what some people might call poetry. I am not sure whether it was or not, but it was in some type of verse. There were two interesting things about that.

One was that because I did it that way I got more coverage than I ever did on any other topic I spoke about in the House. We have raised many topics that are important to my district, important to my province and important to my country. However, perhaps because I did something different, more media were interested in it than they were in the more important topics. I am not sure what that says about the poem, on the one hand, or on the other hand about what the press is really interested in.

At the time it was spring. It was a time, as people say, when a young man's fancy turns to love. I am not trying to say I am a young man, but perhaps my colleague from my party would be considered as such. It was a time when we were approaching summer, a time when we walked out of here and grass was turning green and the flowers were blooming. We thought about the upcoming summer and we thought about sharing it with our families. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood so we could take some time to write such a poem and to be a little trivial in the House. It was a time when we met our friends, smiled at them and said hello. It was also a time that when we met strangers we smiled and spoke to them. It was a time before September 11.

Since that time things have changed. Today I thought about again speaking in verse to the bill, but it is extremely hard to be trivial when we are living in such serious times. I just cannot bring myself to think about things that do not seem important when there are so many important issues. Perhaps like my colleagues from the Bloc who do not support the bill, I am not sure it is a very appropriate time to be talking about something which perhaps is not very significant in the order of things as they appear before us every day.

I talked about looking at our friends last spring when we could smile at them and talk to them. We did not look at them with suspicious eyes to see what colour their skin was or where they were going or what they had in their pockets. Times have changed tremendously since we first talked about this bill. One might ask this question: because of what happened on September 11, do we need a poet to capture the events so that we will always remember them?

I do not think we do. I think of a poem written by a great Newfoundlander poet, E.J. Pratt, who wrote some wonderful stuff. He wrote one poem called Erosion . I may not have every word correct but it went something like this:

It took the sea a thousand years, A thousand years to trace The granite features of this cliff, In crag and scarp and base. It took the sea an hour one night, An hour of storm to place The sculpture of these granite seams Upon a woman's face.

We all know the power of the sea and the losses that occur in a storm. We can imagine what happens to a family who is told it has lost its loved ones at sea.

I asked if we needed a poet to recall the events of September 11. I do not think we do because all of us will have forever indelibly etched on our brain the picture of that plane crashing into the towers in the United States, the picture of those two great towers crumbling. These visions will last forever. No poet could ever capture such memories for us.

Whether there are other events that poets would do a better job of recording, I am not sure. Undoubtedly poets have over the years been instrumental in preserving historical events. In fact a lot of our history has been recorded in poetry, but do we need to designate one individual to do it? We did not have to designate Pratt. We did not have to designate Robert Service. We did not have to designate John McCrae when he wrote In Flander's Fields . These people responded to the challenge, to the events of the time that for them were so important. They penned poetry so that they and we could always remember it.

There was a British poet, Seigfried Sassoon. Reading one of his poems today, I saw that it ties in with the events of September 11 and the memory of war and what happens and the shock that will always be recalled. In part of his poem called The Dugout , which was a place in which soldiers huddled during the war, he says to a young soldier:

And you wonder why I shake you by the shoulder; Drowsy, you mumble and sigh and turn your head.... You are too young to fall asleep forever; And when you sleep you remind me of the dead.

These are very powerful words that send chills down our spines. We remember the horrors of war because of poems like this and because of poems like John McCrae's and those of Robert Service, who wrote many other great poems besides his great poems about the Yukon.

Out there in society we have a tremendous number of poets who rise to the occasion and when a special event occurs they will respond without having us tell someone that they cannot be the poet laureate for this occasion, that we have designated someone who has to do this job. I think, as someone said, that we might be infringing upon the rights of poets, of private enterprise, if we want to say that. Poets now have the opportunity to rise to the challenge.

I mentioned at the end of my original poem that our jury is still out. At the final hour of debate we will decide then whether we will support the bill. I think we have great poets in Canada and I am not sure whether we have to select someone for special occasions when we have someone who may respond in a greater way. We should not inhibit the great abilities of these people.

The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker:

I had rather hear a brazen canstick turn'd... Or a dry wheel grate on the axletree, And that would be me teeth nothing on edge, Nothing so much as mincing poetry.

As much as I am delighted to have a legitimate opportunity to quote Shakespeare in the House, I am dismayed to have to disagree with the bard at the same time, or perhaps disagree with his character. That stanza from Henry IV, act 3, scene 1, takes a view of poetry completely contrary to that of Bill S-10.

I am pleased to be able to speak today about Bill S-10, which would amend the Parliament of Canada Act to create the position of parliamentary poet laureate.

It seems to me there have been many occasions and many poems in which events in history have been immortalized. Contrary to what my friend from the Progressive Conservative Party said, that has happened many times. For instance, I think of the expulsion of the Acadians.

Would we have as vivid an understanding or memory of that event today, which happened so long ago, if it were not for Longfellow's poem Evangaline which immortalized that event so well? Will our descendents, in 200 or 300 years, remember the events of September 11 as well as we do? Obviously, as he said, we will not forget those events; they are vividly etched forever in our minds, in our hearts and in our memories, but how long will they carry on to our descendents?

There is a role for poets in helping to carry on these events and to recognize and immortalize the significance and the lessons of these events for all of us.

It seems to me that there is a role for poetry in so many ways in our lives. It strikes me that, while it is not solely a parliamentary poet laureate who could bring forth poems for particular occasions, nothing in the bill suggests that other poets could not bring forward poems. Surely time, and only time, will tell which poems are the enduring ones, the ones that last and are carried on to other generations, ones that have enduring messages and enduring strength.

The proposed patron of poetry would be responsible for the creation of verse for use in parliament on occasions of state. He or she would also be able to sponsor poetry readings and thereby hopefully improve this veil of tears through which we on the hill so quickly walk.

Parliament exists, according to many, to ameliorate Canada's laws and, through them, Canadian society as a whole.

Over the years, there have been many ideas that have emanated from this place and have gone on to greatly improve the lives of citizens. The government in fact is committed to the cause of lifelong learning. The parliamentary poet laureate would be an excellent addition to this cause.

It seems completely appropriate to me that parliament expand its educational role by having a resident expert wax poetic whenever need be.

The bill before us calls for a poet laureate to be selected for a two year term by the Speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate. He or she would be chosen from a list of three names submitted by a committee chaired by the Parliamentary Librarian and composed of the National Librarian, the National Archivist of Canada, the Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada and the chair of the Canada Council.

The notion of a poet laureate is a longstanding tradition in several other countries. The mother of parliaments, the United Kingdom, has had a poet laureate for almost 400 years. In fact, the position has been a royal office for most of that time.

Our neighbours, the United States, have adopted this practice as well, although much more recently. Their tradition only traces back to 1940, but has an enhanced role. In the U.S., the laureate is charged with increasing the appreciation of reading and writing poetry among the general population.

The Canadian position is proposed to be an amalgam of the two.

Already in Canada there is a provincial example of a poet laureate. In Saskatchewan, my mother's beautiful home province, the laureate exists to demonstrate the province's commitment to the recognition of artists and the arts as a vital force in the community, a force that reaches even into official life.

The provincial poet laureate has worked to celebrate the spirit of the people and places of Saskatchewan. He or she serves as a focal point for the expression of Saskatchewan culture by attending public events, participating in provincial celebrations and writing poems addressing the character, beauty and heritage of the province and its people. We feel it is only fitting that parliament have such a voice.

I am especially delighted to be able to speak to the House today on this topic because my own grandmother, Rose Greene as she was called in her younger years and later became Rose Regan, was a poet in her native Newfoundland. Her work was published in literary magazines in Newfoundland during and after the first world war. She loved to read and write works of poetry. Her poems spoke of her experiences in Newfoundland. That is what poetry does. It is a window not only on individuals but on cultural groups, regions and on all Canadians. It is us speaking about ourselves, telling our own stories in a uniquely expressive way.

Many Canadians would have similar experiences of a loved one or someone in their own community who they know as a poet. The hon. member for Dartmouth is a well recognized poet in our home province of Nova Scotia.

Poetry, like so many other art forms, has not only cultural importance but has a uniting effect. Poets give expression to our deepest beliefs and values, particularly in times of national celebration or difficulty. The ability to craft the written word into something timely but lasting, meaningful but enthralling, engaging but understood, is truly an art. Adding that art to the many other fine examples of Canadian talent found throughout parliament would be a tremendous benefit. It would help us to celebrate our history, our heritage and our diversity. After all, those are the things that make us truly Canadian.

I hope members of all parties in the House will join me in supporting the bill and in seeing it move forward. It is not all that often that private members' bills have the chance to go forward, succeed and become law. It seems to me there is a very good opportunity for this bill to become law and have a real significance and meaning for Canadians, to give a higher place in our country and our society to the role of poetry, the kind of pride of position that poetry ought to have.

We daily use the power of communication here. We use words to express ourselves. Words can be very powerful. When are they more powerful than when in the hands of an expert artisan, in the hands of a true poet?

Words inspire us, they motivate us and they teach us. Poetry does that for us in a way that no other kind of prose can do. I do hope that all members will join me in supporting this worthwhile legislation.

The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I was not expecting to speak to this bill, but after hearing the debate I just could not resist.

I have a lot of respect for the member who has brought the bill forward. It is a Senate bill, so she is basically acting as a messenger. I appreciate her bringing the bill forward because it makes us think about the things we really value.

A colleague from my party made a statement. I think we can judge by the fact he made a very humorous speech that he probably did not care one way or another whether the bill passed. He did not come out strongly in favour of it nor did he say that he was against it, but he used some humour and that was rather interesting. The Bloc member on the other hand mixed humour and objection to the bill and stated it rather forcefully. We heard from the member for St. John's West. These individuals responded to the question of whether we should have a poet laureate and I would like to add a few comments.

Poetry is an expression of something that is way deeper inside us rather than just an intellectual idea. I am a mathematician of sorts and I could help with solving some equations. We could solve some other problems but it would be sort of cold and clinical. However if I were to express some ideas in poetry, they would go much deeper. Some would say that poetry is an expression of the soul and I appreciate that.

Members may find this rather amusing about me, if they can possibly imagine it, but in the good old days when I was courting the young lady who has now been my wife for 40 years, I used poetry. I used to sing songs to her, believe it or not, which caused her a great deal of happiness judging by how loud she laughed. Poetry is an expression of the depth of a person's heart. I have no problem with that part.

However I do have a very severe problem with having a person appointed by the government to express what is called the Canadian soul because I do not think that is possible. We keep saying over and over in the House that we are a country of great diversity. We have two official languages. From a practical point of view I am not sure we could find a person in Canada who is fluent in both French and English and in all fairness, in several other languages to reflect the other 25% of the population that is neither French nor English. To express in both, or more, languages the depth of what we are feeling as Canadians is inevitably not going to work.

Therefore I will come out very bluntly and say that I am going to vote against the bill simply because I do not think it is workable.

Furthermore in this debate I somehow felt a sense of irreverence because of the events that have happened in our world and the fears which many Canadians now have. It seems frivolous and irreverent to me to be discussing the appointment of a poet by the government when we are facing such severe and serious problems.

I would much rather see some greater encouragement for those who walk among us every day who have a poetic bent. In my riding we have several local newspapers and from time to time they feature poetry that is written by some of the local students. Something like that is worthwhile and we should encourage more of that.

Furthermore I do not think that by paying a person some money we can turn on the creativity of that person. Developing poetry, writing music, and I know several people who do that, is not a thing which can be turned on or off. It is a moment of inspiration. They grab it, they write it down and they record the music. That becomes the expression of what they really feel.

When I write a poem or make music, it has nothing to do with anyone else. It comes from me. It is that individuality we should support.

I will defer to my Liberal colleague because he also wanted to say a few words. I have said enough.

The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to discuss the bill that is before the House. In fairness I am taken aback by the member for Elk Island. I think it is vital and important that we express ourselves through poetry. As I read many poems I find that what one sees is the soul in print. To me that is something unique and very special.

When I reflect on September 11 and think about what went on, and having seen what took place that day, I found comfort in some poetry. I would like to take the time to read the poem which I think goes to the substance of the human. Poetry really gives one a sensitive way to express oneself. The poem is High Flight .

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth Of sun-split clouds--and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of--wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air. Up, up the long delirious, burning blue, I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace Where never lark, or even eagle flew-- And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod The high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

On that fateful day in New York City that is what the reflection was for me as I stood in Saskatoon.

Poetry has a special place in our lives. It is unique to each and every one of us. To have someone try to express what the Canadian psyche is, I think is very important to each and every one of us as Canadians. It helps to define us. It helps to bring out our diversity. I am very supportive of the office of poet laureate.

With respect to my hon. friend from Elk Island, I say that we have to look at the possibility that our poet laureate may not necessarily be bilingual. In this particular case we may have a francophone for two years as a poet laureate or we might have an anglophone for two years. We may not simply have a bilingual poet laureate.

I do not think that is a reason to throw out the baby with the bath water. We need to reflect on the benefits that a poet looking at our country as a totality can express about certain events in our country's history.

Today as I look at what has been proposed, I see little or nothing wrong with writing poetry, especially for use in parliament, on state occasions and to sponsor poetry readings. To me it is very important and vital in this place and the country for the betterment of all.

I appreciated the opportunity to take a few moments to express myself on the issue. I certainly will be supporting the bill.

The Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Madam Speaker, let us leave the surreal world of poetry to come back to something that is little more down to earth.

On May 7 of this year, I directed another question to the Minister of Natural Resources regarding his government's unspeakable decision to abandon the Tokamak project in Varennes.

We have never stopped wondering about the real motives that caused the federal government to unilaterally withdraw its annual contribution of $7.2 million to what was the most important research and development project in the energy sector in Quebec.

The fact that the federal government was about to sign the Kyoto protocol, with a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada by 6% by 2010-2012, made this decision all the more surprising. It so happens that nuclear fusion research should lead to the production of a form of energy that is clean, abundant, safe and environmentally friendly.

The federal government first invoked financial considerations to justify this iniquitous decision, which seemed quite defendable in 1994. However, that did not take into account the fact that the federal government could easily recover, in tax revenues, its annual investment in the project and the fact that Canada was also benefiting from the technological spinoff of that project.

Nor did it take into account the tens of millions of tax dollars in public funds that were invested in the project itself and in training nuclear fusion specialists, who, after the project was abandoned, had no other choice than to leave the country in order to put their knowledge and skills to good use.

All this to say that the decision did not really demonstrate careful management of public funds. Furthermore, the budget argument used by the federal government at the time appears completely disconnected today, even out of place, knowing that since 1997, it has accumulated a surplus of some $40 billion in its coffers.

What is most sordid and unacceptable in this story is the government's blatant and shameless duplicity. In fact, it is financing the activities of a consortium that is promoting an Ontario site for the establishment of an international ITER megaproject worth some $12 billion, to build the largest magnetic fusion reactor in the world.

Quebec would have stood an excellent chance of attracting this project, since all of the facilities and expertise required for such a project were already there. However the presence of an important core of scientific skills and very high calibre facilities in Varennes made it virtually impossible to promote another site in Canada for the establishment of the ITER project.

The minister contested the fact that the federal government provided, as I stated, millions of dollars to the consortium to attract the ITER project to Ontario. The federal government will actually be providing $1 million over three years for the project, the minister said.

I am loath to have to make this type of revelation in the House, but unfortunately, in view of the minister's flagrant lack of transparency, I am forced to do so in the interest of the public. The former ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, today a lobbyist for the ITER-Canada consortium, informed me that the federal contribution was approximately $3 million. The least we can say is that the government seems to have something to hide with this issue, and for good reason.

How can the federal government honestly claim that nuclear fusion is no longer a priority, thereby cutting off funding for the Varennes Tokamak project, and then turn around and invest even $1 million in a considerably larger nuclear fusion project, but this time, in Ontario?

The real scandal in this affair is this government's duplicity and double standards, which benefit Ontario, which—surprise—just so happens to be its electoral base.

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

October 18th, 2001 / 6:35 p.m.

Timiskaming—Cochrane Ontario


Ben Serré LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the hon. member for Verchères--Les-Patriotes on behalf of the minister.

The Government of Canada has not contributed millions of dollars to the Iter project. The government agreed to contribute $1 million a year for three years, not $3 million, to Iter Canada to help it to prepare a bid for locating the Iter project in Canada. The federal funding will expire at the end of March 2002.

I want to emphasize that these funds are not for fusion research. Iter Canada has an annual budget of $5 million. The federal contribution is to help Iter Canada cover its operating expenses as it prepares its bid. Further, Iter Canada has pledged that its proposal will not require federal funding for the construction, operation and decommissioning of the project.

Iter Canada plans to fund its share of the project from contributions and loans from the private sector, $300 million from the Government of Ontario, and the revenue from facilities and services provided to the project. Iter Canada is convinced that it can finance its contribution to the project and obtain the project for Canada without any federal funding.

The government's contribution consists in helping this not-for-profit private sector consortium to establish this international project in Canada. This consortium comprises a number of prestigious Quebec organizations such as SNC-Lavalin and the Institut national de recherche scientifique.

From 1981 to 1997, the federal government has devoted some $155 million to research on fusion and related activities. Of that total, $109 million, or 70%, was invested in Quebec, and the remaining $48 million in Ontario.

The Government of Canada was asked to continue to ensure that Iter Canada retained access to the bidding process. To that end, it has given its agreement in principle to providing a Canadian site to the international components of Iter, namely the European Union, Japan and Russia, to carry out fusion research.

Given the infrastructural and cost advantages of the Canadian site at Clarington, Ontario over potential foreign sites, Canada has a good chance of winning the project. A decision by the Iter parties on the local will probably be made in late 2002.

If Iter parties were to choose a Canadian site, the effects would be the creation of jobs for qualified Canadians in the research area, and opportunities in terms of equipment, engineering and building services in Quebec and Ontario, as well as in western and Atlantic Canada.

According to Inter Canada's estimates, the awarding of the project to Canada would mean the buying of in Canadian goods and services over the ten year building period, and $3 billion throughout the 20 year operational stage. Iter Canada also believes that the project would create some 68,000 direct or indirect full time equivalent jobs in Canada, including several thousands in Quebec.

Last but not least, if the project was to be located in Canada, an environmental assessment of the project would have to be meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as well as any other environmental laws and regulations.

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Madam Speaker, I do not think I would be in a good position to contest in any way whatsoever the values and virtues of nuclear fusion and of the ITER project's coming to Canada.

This is not my point. But I find it rather ironic that, after closing the Tokamak project in Varennes, after cutting its annual investment of $7.2 million in this project and obliging it therefore to shut down, the government is discovering the virtues of nuclear fusion.

After investing, according to the parliamentary secretary, over $120 million in nuclear fusion in Quebec and Ontario, suddenly the government cuts everything, saying that it is not one of its priorities and, then, a few months later, once the project has definitively closed, the government rediscovers the virtues of nuclear fusion, the technological and economic benefits of nuclear fusion for Canada.

Oddly, the ITER project is to be set up in Ontario. It is still surprising that the government waited until Tokamak closed to discover the virtues of nuclear fusion.

This is what I question and I do not think the parliamentary secretary succeeded in any way in his presentation—

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Ben Serré Liberal Timiskaming—Cochrane, ON

Madam Speaker, we all know that Bloc Quebecois members like to act the martyrs and to whip themselves into a frenzy.

The hon. member must realize that this new Iter project is not a federal government initiative. It is an international consortium. The federal government will not invest one penny in Iter's international operations.

I also remind the hon. member that the Quebec government had the same option as the Ontario government and Ontario Power Generation. In Ontario, they decided to carry on the merger program. The Government of Ontario invested money and so did the Ontario Power Corporation. The same could have been done in Quebec.

I think the hon. member is telling Quebecers that he is opposed to a project that will create thousands of jobs in Quebec, a project that is supported by SNC Lavalin and by the Institut de recherche du Québec.

The hon. member should talk to his constituents, because I am convinced that all Quebecers will support this project.

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I just want to say that this is an historic day in that we are into the new rules. It is a real step forward. Typically the questions are pre-scripted as are the answers and often they are at cross purposes, so having a little bit of debate in the second round is very profitable. This is after all a place where debate is supposed to be the key to our decision making.

I am rising today in the House to address the role of the office of the ethics counsellor, the official responsible for supervising the integrity and the ethical conduct of the federal government and individual ministers of the crown.

The mandate of the ethics counsellor is chiefly to guard against conflicts of interest and abuses of power by cabinet ministers. In fact before 1993 the Mulroney government seemed to be so rife with scandal and conflicts of interest that a total of nine ministers resigned under a cloud, or perhaps under several clouds.

At that time, as leader of the opposition, our current Prime Minister demanded a very high degree of accountability from the ministers in the Tory government. If there was ever a mistake or a scandal in the department, the Prime Minister demanded the resignation of the relevant minister. I quote the right hon. Prime Minister, speaking on June 12, 1991. He said:

When we form the government, every minister in the cabinet that I will be presiding over will have to take full responsibility for what is going on in his department. If there is any bungling in the department.... The minister will have to take responsibility.

This attitude of responsibility was repeated in the Liberal election platform of 1993. I quote again:

A Liberal government will appoint an independent Ethics Counsellor to advise both public officials and lobbyists in the day-to-day application of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. The Ethics Counsellor will be appointed after consultation with the leaders of all parties in the House of Commons and will report directly to Parliament.

Let us take a look at what happened after the 1993 election.

The current ethics counsellor, Howard Wilson, was appointed on June 16, 1994, to investigate allegations against government ministers and senior officials involved in apparent conflicts of interest or lobbying but was directed to report his findings in secret to the Prime Minister and not in public to parliament. Furthermore, we are told that he operates according to an official code of conduct yet that code, if it exists, has never been made public.

Over the past six and a half years the ethics counsellor has found only one breach of ethics on the part of a government minister. The current transport minister was forced to resign in 1996 as minister of defence over a letter that he had sent to the Immigration and Refugee Board lobbying on behalf of a resident of his constituency.

Despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence, the ethics counsellor has completely cleared the Prime Minister of any wrongdoing in the Shawinigate scandal. He cleared the finance minister over the Canada Steamship Lines contract scandal in which contracts were awarded to ship coal for Devco, a federal crown corporation. He cleared the finance minister over his involvement in the Canada Development Corporation and the tainted blood scandal. He cleared the youth minister for using a government credit card to purchase a fur coat for herself. He also cleared an aid to the defence minister who was lobbying on behalf of a firm seeking a $600 million defence contract.

At best, the lack of independence of the office of the ethics counsellor calls into question the validity of his findings. At worst, we have an ethics watchdog who is appointed by the Prime Minister to uphold ethics but who is really being used by the Prime Minister to whitewash unethical behaviour in his cabinet.

This past February, when the Canadian Alliance proposed a motion to adopt 1993 Liberal reforms calling for an independent ethics commissioner who reports to parliament rather than to the back rooms of the government, Liberal backbenchers voted against the proposition.

My question for the hon. government House leader is the following. Will the government ever reform the role of ethics counsellor and make it a position appointed by parliament, responsible to parliament and with the tools to expose scandal rather than to cover it up?

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Claude Drouin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, voters gave their verdict, as did the ethics counsellor, on November 27. That verdict is to the effect that this side of the House, the Liberal government, works in a transparent fashion, this in the interest of Canadians.

I believe that our current process and approach fully meet the public's expectations. Again, Canadians passed judgment on November 27 and they made it very clear that they appreciate this government's way of doing things.

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I guess that answer has the virtue of brevity but just about nothing else. I was hoping for some suggestions as to how the counsellor might be representative of and responsible to parliament.

Perhaps I will make a suggestion rather than ask a question. We have seen the position of Speaker of the House, which is elected by secret ballot, go from being one which was under some suspicion of partisan taint to being one which is universally respected for its impartiality and its respect for the rules. Again, the secret ballot is the key to that.

I want to suggest that if the ethics counsellor were to be elected by the members of the House through secret ballot, we would find that he or she would have the highest respect of the Canadian people. I would like to encourage the government to perhaps take that possibility under consideration for the future.

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Claude Drouin Liberal Beauce, QC

Madam Speaker, I do believe that in the past the Speakers of the House, even though they were not elected by their peers, treated members from both sides of the House respectfully.

I will simply repeat what I already said--while taking note of the opposition member's proposal--to the effect that the process currently in place fully meets the public's expectations.

The Parliament of Canada ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.48 p.m.)