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House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was animal.

Topics

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Waterloo—Wellington Ontario

Liberal

Lynn Myers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Motion No. 421, tabled by the member for Winnipeg Centre.

As the hon. member has reminded us, the events that led to the tragic death of Mr. Dudley George in September 1995 remain a very fresh and painful memory for many Canadians. As members will be aware, Mr. George was killed in an incident involving the Ontario Provincial Police during an occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park by aboriginal supporters of the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation's assertions of aboriginal land treaty rights.

It is important in my view to remember that the responsibility for these matters is of provincial jurisdiction. As such, it is really the province of Ontario that must take responsibility for ensuring that justice is served in the wake of this terrible tragedy.

To this end, it is well known that Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, the SIU, was brought in to conduct a formal investigation immediately following the incident. On the basis of this review, the SIU called for criminal charges to be laid against the OPP officer alleged to have fired the fatal shot. As hon. members know, the case has made its way through the court system. The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the conviction of the officer on charges of criminal negligence in the use of a firearm.

In addition, I understand that an outcome is expected shortly on discreditable conduct charges against the officer under the Ontario police act. Furthermore, as hon. members may know, the wrongful death suit filed by the George family against officials of the government of Ontario is ongoing at this time.

It clearly would be inappropriate for the federal government to call for a public inquiry. There is no question that the path to justice and healing for the George family and their community has been long and difficult, but they have not walked this path alone. The loss of a loved one in such violent circumstances is an unforgettable, life changing event for family, for friends and for the community as a whole.

The shocking events at Ipperwash Provincial Park in September 1995 affirmed for all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, the urgent need to find better ways and better solutions to settle differences, through dialogue rather than confrontation, through respectful, open negotiation rather than dispute.

We saw this powerful learning applied early in the aftermath of the crisis in the strong collaborative efforts of the Anishinabek police service and the OPP to curb any further escalation of tensions and to maintain peace and order. That was a great example of this kind of collaboration.

Together with the province of Ontario and the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation, the Department of the Solicitor General remains an active partner in the ongoing tripartite arrangement that supports the Anishinabek police service. On a personal level, I have been greatly impressed and encouraged by the positive role this police service continues to play in support of community healing, stability and well-being.

Strong and safe communities are an essential part of the fabric of our society. The Department of the Solicitor General has pledged its full support to broad based partnership efforts with first nations leaders and individuals to bring about the kind of policing arrangements that are needed to sustain safe, vital and healthy aboriginal communities.

To meet this shared goal, the Department of the Solicitor General continues to strengthen its collaboration with the provinces and first nations peoples through the first nations policing program, the FNPP, to build community policing arrangements that are professional, effective, sustainable and accountable to the communities they are sworn to serve. The FNPP offers many success stories in improved government-first nations relations. Just as important, the FNPP responds to the needs and aspirations of first nations and Inuit communities across Canada to assume greater responsibility for public safety and well-being in their communities.

They clearly want to play a key role in making this change happen. Recent surveys undertaken in aboriginal communities across Canada confirm that first nations like most Canadians are most concerned about making progress on the issues which are central to a good quality of life: health care, education, social and economic well-being.

The overall picture shows that first nations like most Canadians are optimistic about the future of themselves, their children and communities. Almost three of four aboriginal people who took part in the survey agreed that providing them with the tools for effective governance would improve living conditions in their communities.

Six years have passed since Ipperwash. During this time the federal government has played a strong partnership role in ensuring that the pressing issues which gave rise to the events at Ipperwash would be addressed and resolved. Officials of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development continue to make good progress with Kettle Point and Stoney Point first nations. They are negotiating to resolve some of the deep rooted land claims and other issues that lie at the heart of this crisis.

The Speech from the Throne reaffirmed the government's commitment to tackle the most pressing issues facing aboriginal people on a priority basis. The Government of Canada is committed to an agenda for action that would improve the quality of life and self-sufficiency of aboriginal people.

This means working with a range of partners to ensure that aboriginal communities would have the ability to acquire the appropriate institution, resources and expertise they need to deal effectively with the complex social and economic challenges they face now and will face in the future.

It is a tragic reality that far too many aboriginal people are finding themselves in conflict with the law. We are committed as a government to taking the necessary measures to significantly reduce the percentage of aboriginal people entering the criminal justice system so that within a generation it would no longer be higher than the Canadian average.

The motion before us seeks to revisit the troubling events of 1995 through a federal call for a public inquiry. Given the clear jurisdictional responsibilities of the province of Ontario and continuing litigation, the government does not support such an action. We have seen real progress in rebuilding trust in the relationship between governments and first nations on many fronts, and I believe this would continue in a very effective way.

Strengthened partnerships are the basis for our government's efforts to bring about real and lasting change in community policing and public safety. They are the basis for broader initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life of aboriginal communities, initiatives tied to land claims, housing, education, governance, and economic and social development.

These efforts would help first nations to establish community governance practices that would be sensitive and reflective of their unique history, values, traditions, and cultural and spiritual beliefs. They would help to ensure that more of the impetus for positive change would be generated by first nations themselves.

The Government of Canada is determined to do its part and would continue to do so to help realize these aspirations and the shared goal of a brighter future for aboriginal people in Canada. It is progress that we would continue to make in helping to sustain safe and secure first nations communities which would confirm beyond a doubt that the lessons we have all learned from the tragic death of Mr. George would never be forgotten.

The commitment of the government would be to ensure that in working in partnership with our first nations we would do the right thing in this important area. That is precisely what we on this side of the House in the Government of Canada would continue to do.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Canadian Alliance Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to participate in this debate regarding the motion to have a public inquiry into the events of September 6, 1995.

As a member of parliament from the province of Ontario where the incident the motion refers to occurred, I believe it is important to have input into the motion as there is a variety of issues at stake. While I commend the notion of a public inquiry, particularly when the public interest calls for it, the reference to the word full is helpful when we look at the potential scope of such an investigation.

As I see the motion there are two directions that could be followed in such an inquiry. First, there is the death of Stoney Point aboriginal member Dudley George. Second, the event leading to the death of Mr. George was, as the motion states, a land claim dispute related to the land treaty and cultural rights of the Stoney Point aboriginal people.

It is always tragic whenever needless death occurs. There is no doubt that broken promises by the federal government to our aboriginal peoples played a significant role which led to the sequence of events on September 6, 1995.

It was broken promises by the federal government that led to the protest by members of the Stoney Point people to occupy Ipperwash Provincial Park. Unfortunately it took the death of Dudley George to get the government to come to the negotiating table to return the Stoney Point lands. However the transfer of lands has still not taken place, so closure is not possible regarding this element of the motion before us.

It is instructive that we are debating the motion today because it was the Liberal government of the day in 1942 that invoked the War Measures Act to expropriate the remaining Stoney Point territory for use as a military base. After the emergency was over the federal government forgot to return the land to its owners.

It is ironic that we see the same parallel today in government legislation under the cover of an emergency act which creates military security zones. Conscientious Canadians have expressed alarm and concern over the arbitrary nature of these definitions. If history is to be our guide and teacher, those concerns are well founded.

The government has a reputation for seeking to remove and reduce the role of democratically elected representatives to perform their historic parliamentary role of scrutinizing the actions of government. As recently as this week Canadians were alarmed by the report of the auditor general and the threat to democracy that the government represents.

While we may chuckle when we read book titles like Benevolent Dictator and references are made to the current Prime Minister, there is a sinister undertone to the actions of the government and anyone who takes time to read these writings fear in their hearts for the future of our nation.

There is another element to the motion which I hope is not the case because if it is, it would be an insult to the family of Dudley George: the effort to politicize the tragic circumstances surrounding Ipperwash for partisan political gain. It is one thing to want to get at the truth of an incident or event. It is quite another to be pursuing an issue for crass political gain.

I was quite surprised to be informed that on the government broadcasting corporation today a feature was being played that gave one side of the Ipperwash events. Sixty million dollars sure buys a lot of government advertising.

It is true that the provincial NDP in Ontario tried to pursue this issue in the Ontario legislature with no success, and today is just more of the same. I understand that it has asked the RCMP to investigate and that the RCMP deputy commissioner responded in writing to the leader of the third party in that legislature, declining the request for a criminal investigation. It deeply disturbs that in the process of calling for in inquiry the opposition in Ontario would be so quick to malign the men and women in the Ontario Provincial Police.

Recently in my office I had the privilege of participating in the swearing in of four special constables of the snowmobile trail officer program in Deep River, Ontario. This program is an excellent example of community policing as a partnership between the OPP and in this case the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs. The OPP is a professional organization and I have the utmost confidence in its ability to do whatever task is asked of it. I reject many of the unfounded accusations that have been directed at the OPP as a result of innuendo from the NDP. I believe we owe these individuals our support and encouragement.

I know that all members of the government of Ontario have expressed their sorrow at the unfortunate sequence of events that occurred at Ipperwash Provincial Park.

It is scandalous to even suggest that any member of the Ontario government would purposely wish harm would occur to an individual who was exercising his democratic right.

This tragedy has affected many lives. As a result of Mr. George's death and the circumstances surrounding it criminal charges were laid. These charges were dealt with by the courts and civil proceedings have begun. Those proceedings are currently before the court.

When we look at that element of the member's motion we can see it is nothing new and nothing that has not already been tried in the Ontario legislature. This is yet another request to short-circuit the judicial process and in this case to get the federal government involved, a request that the federal government has already turned down several times.

A court in the province of Ontario is currently examining this issue. After the court matter is complete I am sure the Ontario government will consider other options should it prove necessary. It would be inappropriate to do anything else while the matter is before the courts.

This is not new; it will not change. It is entirely appropriate that the federal government should respect the court processes. It is worth reminding the House that the events surrounding Ipperwash and the death of Mr. George have already been examined by a court of law three times: during a criminal trial, during an appeal and during a motion to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal.

The offence surrounding the death of Dudley George is the subject of a civil suit initiated by the George family before the superior court of Ontario. I have full confidence in the government of Ontario that it has and will continue to co-operate fully and completely in this ongoing civil suit.

Thousands of documents have been exchanged. Examinations for discovery are well under way and a case management judge has been assigned at crown counsel's request to expedite the case. It is absolutely correct that the federal government has refused to interfere with this case while the legal process takes place in Ontario.

It is entirely inappropriate for members of the NDP to hide behind motions when what they are really saying is they do not like the outcome or rulings from the legal system, one of the cornerstones of our democratic system. If you have no respect for Ontario's judges, courts or the women and men who serve in the OPP, just come out and say it. We must safeguard the system of inquiry from undue political interference. I do not see this happening with this current federal government.

I remind the member opposite about the APEC inquiry. Whatever happened to that investigation? Maybe the courts are not such a bad idea when we look at the stonewalling that went on during that inquiry.

I draw the attention of members of the House to the Somalia inquiry and the disastrous, shortsighted decision to disband the Canadian airborne regiment. We are suffering from the consequences of that decision today as it was almost three whole months before there was any Canadian response to the ground war against international terrorism. We still do not know what that response was as the government refused to bring the issue before parliament to be properly debated before one Canadian soldier left this country.

Just when it looked like the Somalia inquiry would inform Canadians of the duplicitous role played by members of the government, the inquiry was shut down. We may never know the truth.

I certainly would not be dismissing the court system as a means to bring answers to any questions that may need to be answered regarding Ipperwash. If we in the House truly wish to advance the cause of justice, we will not interfere in any way with the judicial process in Ontario.

In concluding my remarks I should like to refer once again to the fact that we have two issues before us with this motion: the criminal and civil investigation and the land claims dispute which was the root cause of this unfortunate incident.

When it comes to matters of federal jurisdiction that will not in any way prejudice any court proceedings we support such an investigation. If on the other hand all we are witnessing is a disingenuous way to circumvent the legal process and fight someone else's political battle in the process, we cannot in all fairness support such an approach.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Before we resume debate, I will caution members for the future. Members of the House should be referred to by their ridings and their constituencies. The reference for that is Marleau and Montpetit, page 522, wherein it states:

The Speaker will not allow a Member to refer to another Member by name even if the Member is quoting from a document such as a newspaper article.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I could try to cool down the partisan tone of this debate.

Indeed, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Motion M-421, sponsored by my colleague and friend, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, urging the government to call a full public inquiry into the death of Dudley George, on September 6, 1995 during a confrontation between police and natives in the Ipperwash provincial park, in Ontario.

This affair continues to be widely reported, and rightly so, after more than six years. The details surrounding this dark and deplorable affair are troubling in many respects. It has to do with the death of a man that took place during a protest over a major land claims dispute involving the government of Ontario. This is a major element of the problem with which we are now grappling.

Moreover, our conscience dictates that we do everything within our power to shed light on a troubling homicide case in which there still lingers today some doubt as to whether or not justice was really served.

The intention of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre is creditable. I agree with him that, because of the very delicate nature of past events, a public inquiry should definitely be held to reveal the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Dudley George.

However, I wonder about the relevance of calling on the federal government for such an inquiry. I understand my colleague's concerns, and especially the desire of the members of Mr. George's family for justice. I repeat, these events were troubling for several reasons and it is our duty as well to promote justice and truth.

I think therefore it should be up to the Government of Ontario to establish such an inquiry. For one thing, the events of September 6, 1995 occurred in Ipperwash provincial park. For another, the tragic events directly involved the Ontario Provincial Police.

As our colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development said on November 29, in response to a question from the member for Winnipeg Centre, the responsibility of the federal government is not at issue in this matter.

The federal government agreed at the time to clean up the Ipperwash land with a view to giving it to the first nations. The handling of the events of September 6, 1995 was therefore not the federal government's responsibility.

I also have a hard time seeing how the federal government could be allowed to become involved in such a crucial matter, which is not within its jurisdiction, when every day we criticize its propensity for interfering in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

I repeat, to make sure I am understood by my colleagues and those involved in the matter, that the Bloc Quebecois supports holding a public inquiry into the death of Dudley George. However, we think the federal government has no business interfering in a provincial matter, since the Ontario government is empowered to conduct such an exercise.

It is a matter of respecting the jurisdictions of the provinces, which, if left alone, would serve truth and justice all the better.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter into debate on the issue raised by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre. The motion reads:

That this House urge the government to call a full public inquiry into the death of Dudley George, fatally shot on September 6, 1995, at Ipperwash Park, during a land claims dispute related to the land, treaty and cultural rights of the Stoney Point aboriginal people.

While I do not agree with everything my colleague from the NDP mentioned, I am supportive of the notion of getting to the truth of what happened at Ipperwash, obviously a tragic event.

In September 1995 a group of unarmed aboriginals gathered at Ipperwash Park to defend an ancient cemetery and advocate other rights. In the course of that protest Mr. George was tragically shot and killed by an OPP officer. A second man, as my colleague mentioned, narrowly survived a very severe beating and others were wounded. It was not a very pleasant set of circumstances.

As a result of the incident one youth was convicted and jailed. In 1997 acting Sergeant Kenneth Deane was convicted of criminal negligence causing death for the shooting of Mr. George and received a punishment of 180 hours of community volunteer work. Many would argue that was not good enough. We cannot go back and revisit that. The process was in place and there was no dispute about that part of the incident.

Since the protest there has been a great deal of concern and a number of people have called for a full public inquiry into the incident. To date none have been conducted, either provincially or federally. In 1999 the Ontario provincial ombudsman recommended an inquiry into Ipperwash in the 1998-99 annual report.

In 1999 the United Nations human rights committee directed Canada to call an inquiry into the affair. The Canadian government answered that Ipperwash was a provincial affair. However the head of the UNHRC delegation, the current secretary of state, promised to take up the Ipperwash matter with Ontario officials, provide further information to the UNHRC and hold a press conference to air the issues raised by the committee.

To my knowledge this has not happened. Mr. George's brother has filed a lawsuit against the premier of Ontario and others for their alleged roles in Dudley George's death. There is a process in place there as well.

I would partly agree with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada that this is mainly a provincial matter although there is some overlap with federal jurisdiction. I believe others may expand on that point. The federal government does have some obligations regarding the Ipperwash affair. It has a constitutionally mandated fiduciary responsibility.

The federal government can call a public inquiry into any matter that relates to peace, order and good government. The Department of National Defence used the Stoney Point territory for more than five decades. The military withdrew from that land in 1995.

It is not our job to assign blame in this matter but it is our job in the House to bring forward issues. I reject the allegation by others in this place that motions should not be brought forward because other individuals disagree with them. We should have an open airing of many issues and we should have an opportunity to vote on them. They are important issues if they make it to the floor of the House of Commons and we should take a stand on them.

If we were to do that we would have government members supporting opposition motions, opposition members supporting government motions and everything in between. It would help to change the tone and give real importance to the notion of private members' business.

A significant number of questions have been raised regarding the events at Ipperwash. As parliamentarians we should respond when there is an issue being raised. There should be an open ability to get to the truth of the matter. Some are saying that a public inquiry is the way to go. Others argue that there has been a process in place to this point.

The public in Ontario who have concerns about this issue should bring them forward and bring them to bear with the current government. It has been called for in the provincial auditor general's report and being mainly a provincial matter should be addressed there.

It is a worthy motion. It is worth the time to debate and consider whether or not it goes ahead. People are concerned that the entire story has not unfolded. It needs to be pursued and adequate answers must be provided through some format or process.

A full hearing of facts is needed and we should not assume that we know what the motivations of people are ahead of time or why people did certain things. Let us get to the bottom of it and move on from there.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, Windsor--St. Clair is in the southwestern part of the province not far from Ipperwash. In fact I spent a summer at the military camp a good number of years ago. This issue has always been particularly close to me because of my knowledge of that area.

I would like to take some umbrage with the member of the Alliance who suggested that my colleague from Winnipeg Centre was bringing the motion to the House for purely political purposes. That quite frankly is offensive given that he is our critic for Indian affairs. He has intimate knowledge of the issue. For the number years since it happened he has followed it and been very concerned about the lack of an inquiry on the part of the Ontario provincial government.

I do not have a lot of time and I will therefore confine my comments to the role the federal government should have in this matter. It is simply too easy and not accurate for the government to say it has no jurisdiction. My colleague from Winnipeg Centre and various authorities have said there are grounds for a public inquiry to be appointed by the federal government under its fiduciary responsibility to the first nations, the aboriginal people, or quite frankly it could be under its treaty power. A number of the issues involved here involve the old treaties with the first nations. It could be under its criminal power. The federal government has any number of bases from a jurisdictional standpoint for it to appoint an inquiry.

This brings me back to the unjustified allegations from the Alliance member. We are faced in Ontario with allegations that put political interference right at the door of the highest elected official in the province. If the premier called the inquiry, and he certainly has shown no indication to do so, there would always be the risk that the people who were appointed to the inquiry would be seen as being in conflict because of the source of their appointment. The terms of reference of the inquiry could be formulated in such a way that it would not be fair to the George family, or it could be perceived that way. The amount of money given to the inquiry could be insufficient for a full inquiry. The list could be drawn out almost infinitely.

Let us use a different scenario around the problems of the provincial government setting up the inquiry and assume that after the next provincial election a different political party is in government. We would hear allegations like that of the Alliance member that the inquiry was being set up from that perspective and that it was being vindictive toward the former government. An additional reason would be that whatever scenario we take, whether it was done by the existing government or by a new government of some other party, there would be a taint to the inquiry if it was done at the provincial level.

We are a confederated country. The federal government has a role to play when we run into this type of conflict. I would strongly urge the government to consider that conflict of interest issue.

When the federal government looks at whether it should be looking into the death of Dudley George and all of the incidents and consequences around it, that alone should be a major motivating factor for it to support my colleague's motion and call this inquiry.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am glad to have a few minutes to wrap up and summarize some of what we have heard.

I appreciate the remarks by the member for Windsor--St. Clair. He added another element to the debate as to why it is appropriate that the federal government and not the provincial government should hold the inquiry into the incidents at Ipperwash.

There are substantive issues that connect the federal government to the events at Ipperwash. I have outlined some of them. Surely, when the federal government sent military equipment to the paramilitary operation that went on there, it was involved. Surely, as was pointed out by another member, when DND used the War Measures Act to occupy the area and create the military base in 1942 and then failed to give it back, which was really the origin of the whole problem, the federal government was implicated. The ongoing fiduciary responsibility to aboriginal peoples and land claims connects the federal government. If there is one more reason needed, CSIS had a plant among the 35 protesters for the whole period of time and was reporting directly to the federal government their opinion that this was to be a peaceful protest and the people were unarmed.

All of those reasons show that the federal government was linked in substantive ways. The only question left is does the federal government have jurisdiction in the matter?

As I pointed out, the federal government can call a public inquiry into any matter that relates to peace, order and good government. It not only has the ability, we believe it has an obligation.

Again, Professor Bruce Ryder cites that federal jurisdiction in relation to Indian lands reserved for Indians under section 91 of the Constitution Act provides a solid constitutional basis for a federal inquiry, and there could be no doubt of the involvement.

What that inquiry would look like and how it would be struck would be up to the federal government. However, there are guidelines under the Federal Inquiries Act, which also gives primacy over provincial statutes that may be inconsistent. It would have the ability to call witnesses. I do not believe it would have the ability to call elected officials who are currently holding office, but it would be able to call witnesses from the OPP to find out what happened on that fateful day when, as we suspect and as a growing body of evidence would indicate, the premier and at least one cabinet minister met with them on September 6 and we believe interfered incorrectly or improperly with the police action at Ipperwash.

Those witnesses could be brought forward and made to testify with the same power of law that any court enjoys and with the same rules of evidence, et cetera.

On behalf of the George family, I am very glad to have been able to bring this motion to the House of Commons. I know that Sam George, Dudley's brother, who filed the civil suit has reiterated his willingness as recently as last week to drop the civil suit if a federal inquiry were called. I can certainly empathize and sympathize with what the family has been going through in trying to get to the bottom of this very tragic event.

Members of the aboriginal community as a whole are very eager to have this issue given the attention it deserves because they take it as an affront. As has been pointed out to me, when kids were pepper sprayed at UBC there was a full blown national inquiry, but when a person was shot and killed at a peaceful protest, we have had six years of silence from the federal government. It could be viewed and is being viewed by some in the aboriginal community as a race based decision in terms of prioritizing these events.

I am disappointed it is not a votable motion. I will go through the futile gesture to ask for the unanimous consent of the House to deem this motion to be votable.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Does the House give consent to the member's request?

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Aboriginal AffairsPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 6.27 p.m. the time provided for debate has expired. The House will now proceed to the consideration of the second item of private member's business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 18 consideration of the motion that Bill S-10, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Poet Laureate), be read the third time and passed.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

December 6th, 2001 / 6:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, it is very pleasant that we are debating a bill on the value of poetry. I will begin by quoting a bit of poetry. I am sure we will hear some more tonight.

What is it that matters most? Is it the busy bustling of the day to day mundane tasks That carry us morning, noon and night? Is it the grand game of gain, Whether items of allure, wealth, stature, power?

We lay waste the value of noble thoughts, noble goals. Is it not these that matter most and Love and truth, Honour and integrity, The beauty of nature and All things well and good?

Often it has been stated that arts and culture, particularly poetry, is the window to the soul of a nation. The value we attribute to poetry, to the arts, is a reflection of deeper meaning things. It is an opportunity to express ourselves in ways that we do not often take time to do in our busy lives. Often we move from one task to another without stopping to enjoy the beautiful parts of our lives, the beautiful gifts of our lives and all the opportunities we have in them. Regardless of our situation or our station in life, we all have an ability to look at things through a positive lens.

I obviously am quite supportive of the bill and the notion of having a poet laureate. As the bill states, the parliamentary poet laureate “shall write poetry especially for use in parliament on occasions of state; sponsor poetry readings; give advice to the Parliamentary Librarian regarding the library's collection and acquisitions to enrich its cultural holdings; and perform such other related duties as are requested by either Speaker or the Parliamentary Librarian”.

My colleague from St. John's West set the bar rather high on the debate earlier. Members may remember the speech he delivered in such eloquent prose. I do not dare attempt to match that lofty standard set by my hon. friend from St. John's West, but I certainly do share his enjoyment of poetry as I am sure all members do.

It is a good opportunity when there is a bill of this sort. I anticipate that there likely will be very little disagreement and lots of good poetry. In the interest of getting to the exquisite poetry that will be offered by our colleagues, I simply will conclude by saying that I support the bill, as do most members of the coalition. I am quite certain most members support this great idea.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC

Madam Speaker, it is indeed a delight to address this particular bill because I believe that poetry in many ways gives beauty to life. In this place many of our speeches are sometimes highly technical and sometimes perhaps even a little boring from time to time. Perhaps it is a good idea to lift our spirits a little higher, to encourage our imagination.

Poetry is very rhythmic and sometimes the rhythm is very regular, other times it is somewhat irregular, but rhythm there is. Rhythm reflects life probably better than anything else because where do we not have rhythm. We have rhythm in music, rhythm in life. We have the rhythm of day and night. We have the rhythm of pain and pleasure. Rhythm is there for all of us.

The poet laureate and the definition of the poet laureate is probably expressed best by the minister of culture in Great Britain. He put it together in a single sentence, which I like. He said:

The Poet Laureate is a voice for poetry and a voice for the nation through poetry.

It is wonderful that that kind of thing can happen. I want to commend the member who brought this forward as a motion to amend the Parliamentary Act so that we would have a poet laureate.

In tribute to poetry, I would like to read a couple of poems that might express some of this as far as Canada is concerned. I would like to begin by quoting a poem written by Robert Frost, which in British Columbia we find particularly meaningful because it has to do with logging.

It is entitled “Out, Out--”.

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood, Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it. And from there those that lifted eyes could count Five mountain ranges one behind the other Under the sunset far into Vermont. And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled, As it ran light, or had to bear a load. And nothing happened: day was all but done. Call it a day, I wish they might have said To please the boy by giving him the half hour That a boy counts so much when saved from work. His sister stood beside them in her apron To tell the 'Supper.' At the word, the saw, As if to prove saws knew what supper meant, Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap-- He must have given the hand. However it was, Neither refused the meeting. But the hand! The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh, As he swung toward the holding up the hand Half in appeal, but half as if to keep The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all-- Since he was old enough to know, big boy Doing a man's work, though a child at heart-- He saw all spoiled. 'Don't let him cut my hand off-- The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!' So. But the hand was gone already. The doctor put him in the dark of ether. He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath. And then--the watcher at his pulse took fright. No one believed. They listened at his heart. Little--less--nothing!--and that ended it. No more to build on there. And they, since they Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

The soul, the experience, the life, the rhythm of a nation of working people, but there is a lot more than that to life. There are also the values that we hold and the relationships we have one to another as this boy had a family, a sister a father and a mother.

William Shakespeare wrote a sonnet which has been with me since I was in high school. It is one of those that I found extremely expressive of what I was going through and what I was thinking. It is Sonnet 116, probably the most formal form of poetry one can write. It is very difficult to do but Shakespeare was a master at it. I really like the sonnet and I would like to read it. I hope our poet laureates will write like this.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments; love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no, it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand'ring bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his heighth be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Would it not be great if our relationships were characterized that way. “Love is not love” but “it is an ever-fixed mark”. That is a beautiful image.

Canada gave an honorary citizenship to Nelson Mandela. When he was with the Prime Minister in the beautiful decor, I thought it would have been nice to have had a poet laureate present. At that time, I was unaware we had this bill coming up. I thought that would be the ideal place to have that.

I thought about the kind of poem I could refer to that would fit that kind of occasion. I looked at the words of Kahlil Gibran some time back. He writes some interesting material. He has written on giving, and I would like to read his words. Our nation gave to another person in honour of the freedom that he exemplified with his life and his dedication to sacrifice for freedom. The book, The Prophet , depicts giving. I would like to read his words into the record.

Then said a rich man, Speak to us of Giving. And he answered: You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city? And what is fear of need but need itself? Is not dread of thirst when you well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable? There are those who give little of the much which they have--and they give for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty. There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth. It is well to give when asked, but is better to give unasked, through understanding; And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving. And is there aught you would withhold? All you have shall some day be given; Therefore give now, that the seasons of giving may be yours and not your inheritors'. You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish. Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you. And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream. And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving? And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed? See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.

That is what we did as a nation. We gave an honorary citizenship to Nelson Mandela.

Three different occasions in life have been expressed by three different poets in a very different form.

It would be wonderful if our nation could give its citizens and our colleagues here in the House the experience, at least once a year, of a poet laureate reading good, solid poetry that he or she has written and would like to demonstrate. It would lift the spirit of our nation a little higher. I support the bill.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of Bill S-10 are deemed put, and a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, December 11, 2001, at 3 p.m.

It being 6.43 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.43 p.m.)