House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

moved that Bill C-278, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibited sexual acts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-278, which would raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16.

I should make mention at this point that it is the third time this private member's bill has hit the floor of the House. It is the third time there was enough emotion and concern to bring it forward, and that is the viewpoint held by so many people outside the House. I might also point out that I think parliamentarians overall find a universal agreement on matters like this in the House.

The protection of our children is the key point that the bill targets. It brings into focus the concern expressed by the public who want a greater level of security for our children. The bill would not answer all the problems out there when it comes to sexual offenders and how they may act or react against our most vulnerable. There are other variables, such as the early release of pedophiles and sexual offenders, that contribute to the growing number of victims in our society.

I think we all have a differing view on the role of government in this area. However, overall, whether we are Conservative, Bloc, Liberal, socialist or libertarian, there is a general consensus to protect Canada's children.

I think the one word that really describes the reaction of the public when a child, one of the more vulnerable in our society, is attacked by a pedophile or a sexual offender, is outrage. I think we have seen this outrage expressed time and time again in every community across the country.

As a police officer, I remember when a whole community would almost have to hunker down because a sexual offender was released from prison. The sexual offender was so dangerous that the public had to be notified and his picture had to be posted, and yet he was being released.

The big concern regarding that particular individual was the fact that his target was young children. He would not touch 15 or 16 year olds as they were of no concern to him. He was after the younger children, the ones who were 14, 13, 12 and perhaps younger. That took great resources from the community, the police and social services. Partnerships available to deal with this kind of crime must be tied together to combat it effectively. We must put those at risk in a more secure area.

I have a couple of press releases before me that reflect what happens when a sexual offender threatens a community. I will read two very important examples because they do tell quite a story. These stories will have been heard and repeated time and time again in communities.

The first story deals with a 52 year old parolee who had been serving a life sentence as a dangerous sexual offender. He was released on parole. Hardly a few days had gone by when he grabbed a young girl, just above being a toddler, and walked down the street with her. Fortunately, her father was not far away and he was able to intercept and get his daughter back to safety.

The parolee's propensity was to go after the very young and the very vulnerable. He was fully paroled after serving 29 years of a life sentence for brutally raping a three year old girl. Everyone, including the police, were notified about this man's release. The parole board said that it had no choice. The community, in this particular case, was unaware of what was about to happen. Thank God there was some intervention on the part of the father as this individual was attempting to apply his desires upon this young girl. These things should not be happening. The community has a right to know about these kinds of situations.

The second example deals with a repeat pedophile who was infected with HIV, syphilis and two strains of hepatitis. He was freed from prison and moved into a Toronto halfway house. He had four previous charges and was convicted of sex crimes against pubescent boys aged 9 to 14.

These are habitual types of crimes zeroing in on the most vulnerable: children aged 12 to 15. My bill would like to raise the level of protection up to 15.

Some people have proclaimed that they would like to see the age of consent lowered to 12. However, the majority of Canadians do not hold that viewpoint. The House has made an effort to do that. However, that does not reflect the viewpoint of people in my community and it certainly does not reflect the viewpoint of parents who are attempting to keep their children safe and secure and want what is best for them. They want to be able to protect them, and herein lies the involvement of our legislators in government, the people in the House.

It seems, as time passes from one generation to the next, the innocence of childhood gets shorter and shorter. The bill is a very small attempt to restore innocence to youth, to curtail and incarcerate sexual predators who pick on those under 16. For too long we have allowed the exploitation of society's most vulnerable, our children, by those who would extinguish their youth and replace it with mistrust, suspicion and lasting psychological and sometimes physical damage.

Apart from the psychological costs to the victim, the societal costs can be absolutely enormous. On numerous occasions I have had individuals come to me, both male and female, who were sexually assaulted as youngsters. They bear the shame and sometimes feel guilty about their own actions and the fact that they were caught in that situation. Out of fear, or whatever the case may be, it was never revealed. Something triggers it in their lives and they had to confess to someone else what had happened to them.

When we look at the psychological profiles of victims having to bear these dramatic things in their lives, even trying to hide them in some cases, it affects their relationships with others, sometimes their productivity in the community and certainly close relationships like those with family or between husband and wife in future years. They have major problems to overcome.

We will never be able to get rid of all attacks by those who want to exploit children, but we sure can curtail them. We have a responsibility as parliamentarians, as the government today, to bring about a more secure future for many.

We are talking about ending the vicious cycle of one person exploiting another, who exploits another, who exploits another. If it means raising the age of consent to include a larger group of youngsters when they are still vulnerable, still shaping their thoughts and their futures, and putting them under a protective umbrella, that is what the House should do.

Over the past year the House grappled with fallout from the Sharpe case in British Columbia. We were reminded in no uncertain terms through this pedophile and his actions that there were some very dangerous, conniving and manipulative people out there. I believe it is essential to develop and direct the law of the land to protect our children.

It does not matter to whom we talk, consultations with police departments and prosecutors will reveal what must be done and should be done, if only the legislators really, truly and honestly want to compile that information from those two groups of authorities in our land.

Legislators at all levels of government must not shirk their responsibility to step in where society breaks down. In that respect I am very much aware of the rage out there when pedophiles and others attack our young children, as I would suggest most members would be. Far from just a casual number of offences are taking place in our country.

I know too that there are other related offences such as Internet pornography. A registry for controlling pedophiles and other forms of law that require partnerships with social services and the like are certainly required. People who fall into those categories should be consulted.

In conclusion, we are not the same society we were when the current legislation came into effect back in the late 1800s, but we as legislators are in the driver's seat. We must not let changes in society allow the moral high ground to slip away. It is our job to protect it. The bill is about protecting Canadian children. I know we all agree that it is a goal worth pursuing. I urge support for Bill C-278.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Erie—Lincoln Ontario


John Maloney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity this morning to speak to Bill C-278, an act to amend the criminal code respecting prohibited sexual acts, introduced by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

Bill C-278 proposes to amend in isolation several sections of the criminal code where the general minimum age of consent is part of the definition of sexual offences involving a child victim. The current age of consent to most forms of sexual activity is 14, but there is an important exception for consensual sexual activity between young people within 2 years of age and under 16.

Bill C-278 proposes to increase the general age of consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16. The age would also be raised to 16 in the existing exception. The proposed bill would also raise the age to 16 in connection with the powers of the courts to make prohibition orders against offenders who are convicted or who are discharged on conditions in a prohibition order of certain sexual offences against a person under 14.

Bill C-278 reflects valid concerns about whether the current protection provided to young people in the criminal code is sufficient. There appears to be general agreement that the current minimum age consent for sexual activity, which has been in the code for more than 100 years, should be reviewed. At the same time care must be taken that any changes provide comprehensive protection and do not accidentally create an inconsistency in the code or criminalize the consensual sexual activity of young people.

Permit me to raise three distinct points. First, as we know, in November 1999 the Department of Justice released a consultation document entitled “Child Victims and the Criminal Justice System”. The document examines a wide range of possible changes to both the criminal code and the Canada Evidence Act to improve public safety for children. Although the major responsibility for child protection lies with the provinces, there is a key role for the criminal justice system in supporting provincial and territorial efforts in this area.

The consultation paper is a collection of suggestions for change put forward by provincial and territorial officials and others working with children. Three main areas are under consideration: the creation of further child specific offences, including the age of consent issue; sentencing to protect children from those who might reoffend; and additional means to facilitate children's testimony.

The release of the consultation paper invited comments from all Canadians. The public consultation phase is now complete and efforts are being made to complete the provincial and territorial consultation with their co-operation as quickly as possible.

It has been argued that the general present age of consent, which is 14, is too low to provide effective protection from sexual exploitation by adults. The relatively low age allows pimps, for example, to seduce young girls, with the intention of luring them into prostitution without fear of prosecution.

Social workers are concerned that many young people in care may be vulnerable to be targeted by pimps. Canada's age of consent is lower than that of many other countries that use 15 or 16 as the minimum age. However the bill put forward by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast is premised on the belief that the issue is a straightforward one and that all that is involved in addressing the complex issue of age of consent is simply to change the age. With respect that is not the case.

Protecting our children goes beyond a simple and arbitrary increase of the age of consent to sexual activity. It means addressing the broader issues of the safety and well-being of our children. Our objective is to develop and maintain effective, comprehensive measures to support provincial and territorial measures to improve public safety for children and to protect children from serious injury and even death at the hands of adults.

The achievement of this objective rests in a collaborative effort by the provinces, the territories and the Government of Canada. While the provision of services to children who are in need of protection is the responsibility of the provinces and territories, the assurance that appropriate offences and penalties are available for serious harm done to children remains the responsibility of the Government of Canada. By targeting extreme forms of harm through the criminal code, the Government of Canada would provide strong support for provincial and territorial initiatives to protect children.

However Bill C-278 does not maintain a comprehensive approach. It leaves a reference to age 14 in several provisions, for example section 281 dealing with the abduction of a person under age 14, and even more critically perhaps in section 810.1 which allows a court to issue a prohibition order if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an individual will commit a sexual offence against a child.

The provision in section 810.1 has proven to be an effective tool by some police forces and high risk offender teams in providing community monitoring and control of pedophiles. It is unfortunate that these two sections have been left out of the bill. It is also unfortunate that the only remaining child testimony provision that refers to age 14, section 486 which allows child witnesses to have available to them a support person while they are testifying in court, should also have been left out of the bill.

Second, the bill does not address the criminal code consequences of raising the general age at which sexual activity with young people would be criminalized. With respect, by not addressing this issue, Bill C-278 proposes an amendment that is inconsistent with the other relevant sections of the criminal code.

For example, even though the complainant's age would be raised to 16, there is no consequential change to the age of the accused in the exception that prevents criminalizing consensual sexual activity between young people close in age and under 16. The result is that a teenager over the age of 16 who has consensual sex with a person under 16 but who is close in age would be considered to be engaging in criminal conduct. At the same time a younger teenager would be able to consent to sexual activity with a person close in age. This outcome would appear to be not only discriminatory but also contrary to common sense.

The consultations undertaken by the Department of Justice have generally indicated that if the age of consent is raised the close in age exception for these older children must be broadened, perhaps to include within the exception consensual sexual activity between children who are three or even four years apart.

That would allow a child who is just before his or her 16th birthday to engage in consensual sexual activity with a young person who is approaching his or her 18th or even 19th birthday. Otherwise that behaviour, which may be considered inadvisable but certainly not criminal by most Canadians, would be subject to prosecution under the criminal code. Bill C-278 does not address the issue but rather could create confusion and criminalize the behaviour of all children over 16 years of age even where the behaviour was consensual.

Third, the bill does not address the broader implications that arise from the amendment to the general age of consent. Since legislative changes do not take place in a vacuum, we must be aware that a change in the age of consent may have an impact on other legislation.

For example, such changes may impact on the age 14 for providing assistance to child witnesses, as I mentioned a minute ago, for competency to testify in the criminal code and the Canada Evidence Act, and even for marriage legislation in the few provinces that still allow children under 16 to marry.

The question is: Would an amendment to the age of consent to sexual activity require amendments to other age related provisions of the criminal code and other statutes? Furthermore, any arbitrary changes in the criminal code would be inconsistent with the government's commitment to consult with the provinces and territories before introducing amendments intended to support its efforts to protect children from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

During the consultations several jurisdictions voiced concerns about proceeding too quickly on this question and accidentally criminalizing the behaviour of young people.

The Minister of Justice cannot support Bill C-278 for three reasons.

In conclusion, the issue of age of consent is a real concern. Children deserve to live in a safe society and be protected from all forms of exploitation by adults. At the same time, to be effective, people in the community and at every level of government must work together because we all have an important role to play.

We believe all Canadians should be given an opportunity to express their views on the issue. We also believe changes to the age of consent must be practical and carefully considered to ensure they achieve their goal without unintended negative effects. To do so they should be dealt with in a comprehensive package within the broader context of other age related issues in the criminal code. That is why the Department of Justice issued its consultation paper. The results of that consultation process should be used to ensure that the best options are put forward and carefully considered so that children can be given the comprehensive protection they deserve.

Motion No. 285Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think you would find unanimous consent to move the following motion. I move:

That Motion No. 285 be reinstated at the end of the order of precedence for the consideration of private members' business.

Motion No. 285Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Brampton Centre have consent to put forward his motion?

Motion No. 285Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members


Motion No. 285Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Motion No. 285Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-278, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibited sexual acts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate on Bill C-278. I know it has been before the House in previous incarnations and is one that all members take very seriously.

I listened very carefully to the comments of the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. He raises some very good points and very specific technical implications. There are always implications when one looks at a bill as comprehensive as the criminal code.

My overall reaction to his commentary is to ask what is stopping the government. It is a shame that private members bring forward good ideas and that the response of the government and the parliamentary secretary is to simply stand and tear the ideas apart limb from limb rather than embrace them and offer creative and constructive suggestions.

Much of the underlying theme of his commentary was to say that, yes, the government sees this as a problem that could be addressed. However the response is typically that they should study it more, do a survey and somehow engage more of the stakeholders to get their feedback.

That is consistent with the overriding concern of the Liberal Party to make sure it is okay in the polls. The Liberals want to make sure there is sufficient public support rather than take bold action on something that could have considerable impact on the lives of Canada's most vulnerable citizens.

I must begin by commending the hon. member for having the initiative to bring the matter forward, a matter he has been persistent in raising before. I believe it is because of his deep seated concern, having worked as a police officer, for children who are so vulnerable and who are often placed in a situation where someone in a position of trust preys on their vulnerability.

It goes without saying that it is sad that sexual predators are out there. They can be found in every province and every corner of the country. Infamous cases have occurred in places like Mount Cashel and in my home province of Nova Scotia in Shelburne at the school for boys. These were terrible instances where individuals were preyed upon by those whom they should have been able to rely on for protection. Sadly, the opposite occurred.

The life altering and life lasting implications and damage that result from a child being abused in this way is absolutely shocking and abhorrent to Canadians.

We have heard time and again of the horrible events that can occur in a child's life. What better place to address the issue than the Parliament of Canada? What higher calling, what higher cause could there be than to protect children from this fate?

Sexual predators, I submit very firmly, are not always interested in sex but in power, control and severe violence. That reinforces the worry parents have every time their children leave their homes. To properly deal with the situation we need a national sex offender registry, something other parties have called upon the government to enact.

Again, the government's response has been a half measure. It says it has something on CPIC that is similar but CPIC does not provide the early intervention or information that police and communities need to play a truly protective role.

The Liberal government, and the solicitor general in particular, must take responsibility to enact this type of legislation and bring forward a national sex offender registry. The Liberals say it is one of their top 10 priorities but time and again the issue seems to slip through our fingers when we have an opportunity to do something about it here on the floor of the House.

On the other hand, some provinces are taking the initiative. Ontario last Monday launched the first sex offender registry of its kind in Canada. Each sex offender in Ontario must register within 15 days of release from custody. The same applies to those serving sentences in the community. A file will contain the offender's address, phone number, physical description, aliases and list of offences. Such information is critical to police if they are to afford protection to those whose children could be preyed upon.

Anyone sentenced to less than 10 years must report their whereabouts for 10 years. Offenders sentenced to longer than 10 years will remain on the registry for life. This is the type of bold, proactive and, in some instances, harsh legislation we need.

The Ontario government cares about public safety and is reacting to the concerns of communities in the province. Its law was passed in honour of Christopher Stephenson and is often referred to as Christopher's Law. Thirteen years ago young Christopher was abducted at knifepoint from a Brampton mall, sexually assaulted and murdered by repeat sex offender Joseph Fredericks.

It is absolutely gut-wrenching that something like that must happen before politicians and legislators take notice. However, such examples illustrate how important it is to take initiatives that can prevent lifelong suffering, murder, exploitation and terrible instances of sexual assault and intrusion into young people's lives.

Sadly, with the current state of affairs, offenders registered in Ontario can leave the province to avoid tracking because of the lack of a nationwide sex offender registry. Currently we have only piecemeal laws to deal with sex offences.

Former government legislation, old Bill C-7, names pardoned sex offenders and requires them to remain on the RCMP database. Such information would only be released to certain parties under special circumstances and with the approval of the solicitor general. However that is not enough. There is not enough money currently in the CPIC system. There is not enough know-how or infrastructure to allow CPIC to fully address the issue.

The private member's bill before the House is an opportunity to bring forward legislative change that the member, and I think many members of the House, embrace and see as an improvement.

The bill would require changing the current age of consent under the criminal code from 16 to 14. The parliamentary secretary makes a good point in that some implications might be unwanted and unforeseen by the hon. member moving the motion. There is an anomaly with respect to those close in age engaging in consensual sexual activities.

I cannot speak for the hon. member but I suggest he would be enthusiastic and pleased if the parliamentary secretary or someone on the government side amended the legislation to make it more in keeping with his intent: to protect children from exploitation by those who would recruit them for prostitution, lure them on the Internet or in person, or in any instance prey upon them sexual purposes.

The hon. member for Calgary Northeast has brought forward legislation that the Progressive Conservative Party will be supporting. We have moved similar legislation in the past which tried to expand the envelope of protection for children. This bill quite clearly fits into that category.

The number of reported instances gives rise to the need for action on the part of all governments, be they federal, provincial or municipal. We must do more. We must be more pro-active and involved in ensuring children are protected. We must ensure that those who contravene current or future laws are dealt with in a serious and straightforward way. We must do everything in our power because that is currently not the case.

More could be done. The hon. member who moved the motion knows, having worked as a police officer, that the implications are so grave and life altering that public safety should be our sole motivation.

I am pleased the bill has been reinstated in parliament. I encourage all members of the House to support this and other such legislation. If we must amend it, as suggested by the parliamentary secretary, let us do so quickly. Let us make the necessary changes so that it fits cheek and jowl with the current legislation and there are no unwanted consequences. Let us ensure that there are consequences for those who break the law and prey upon children. Let us make this issue a firm commitment and legislative priority of the House.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of the private member's bill introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

The bill would amend sections of the criminal code that deal with prohibited sexual acts committed with children under the age of 14 and in the presence of children under the age of 14. The bill would extend the prohibition to acts committed with children under the age of 16 or in the presence of children under the age of 16.

This is the fourth time the hon. member has introduced this bill. His perseverance and dedication on behalf of children and families needs to be recognized and commended. It is a valuable bill and one that aims to protect the young and vulnerable in our society from sexual predators.

As a former police officer, the hon. member has no doubt witnessed first hand the devastating effects on 14 and 15 year old children who have been victims of the manipulation and coercion of adult sexual predators.

A person under the age of 16 is still considered a child in our society, deserving and requiring protection. Although the law states that a 14 year old has the legal authority to consent to sex with an adult, a person must be a full 18 years of age to participate in pornography. This is because the creation of permanent records of teenagers' sexual activities has consequences which children of that age may not have sufficient maturity to understand.

The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Sharpe, aside from two exceptions, substantially upheld this law. However one could argue that the average 14 year old or 15 year old does not have the maturity, confidence or understanding to make a rational decision to become sexually involved with an adult. With regard to children 14 years of age and older, parents really have no legal recourse if they find that their child has been enticed into a sexual relationship with an adult.

On this note I believe that the reintroduction of this bill is very timely. It goes to answer some of the concerns raised by the secretary of state or the parliamentary assistant to the minister.

With Bill C-15 the government has recently introduced long needed legislation to protect children from Internet predators. Unfortunately, with the current age of sexual consent, this protection is only substantially provided to children under 14 years of age. Many Canadians, including concerned parents, are not aware of this present serious deficiency in the law. For example, a 30 year old man could pose as a 16 year old boy over the Internet, converse with a 14 year old girl and lure her to a private residence or hotel room. Provided that he obtains a so-called legal consent from the girl, he may legally have sexual contact with her.

Canada has one of the lowest age of consent laws in the developed world. Albania, Bolivia, Colombia, Iran, Kosovo, Romania and Serbia are among the nations that have set the age at 14. I do not think that is company we should be proud of being in with respect to this particular issue.

In contrast, the age of consent in Australia varies depending on the region, because of course the criminal law there is state based rather than based on the federal government. It varies between 16 and 17, as it does in the United Kingdom. New Zealand's age is also set at 16. The age of consent for most American states also ranges from ages 16 to 18. Only four states, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri and South Carolina, have set the age at 14.

Simply looking at our counterparts in other developed nations should give us an indication that we may need to rethink our current age of sexual consent. For the member opposite to stand up and say we need to do more studies on this is simply avoiding the problem, trying to excuse years of inaction that the member for Calgary Northeast has identified and, to his credit, continues to raise in the House.

There are a number of groups and lobbyists and others who would like to see the legislation changed, including a very prominent group in my hometown province, Child Find Manitoba. This group has first hand experience dealing with sexual crimes against children and we need to take its concerns seriously. I recently had occasion to meet with members of that group and they are clearly concerned about the current age of sexual consent.

Sexual predators need to be controlled by specific constraints that are set out in the law. Setting the age of sexual consent at 16 would give parents and law enforcement officers the legal protection and authority they need to give these children proper protection from predators. We need to protect these children from criminals who use the current law as a defence as they coerce children into giving their consent.

One need not go very far in looking at examples. Mr. Sharpe, whose case was considered by the Supreme Court of Canada, had the audacity to say on national TV or radio that because children's bodies might be sexually maturing at age 12 he saw this as a God-given justification for allowing predators like him to take advantage of children like that.

I am not going to raise the numerous and lengthy arguments about why that kind of reasoning is perverse. I think every member here recognizes the perversity of that reasoning and the perversity of that individual. However, it does illustrate that there are actually people in our free and democratic society who think in that manner.

The amendment will send a very strong and clear signal from the Government of Canada and from this parliament to the people who look to parliament to establish these guidelines and these rules.

Speaking as a former crown prosecutor and as a member of the Manitoba attorney general's department for many years, during which time I also did child welfare work, the excuse put forward by the Liberal member that this is a complex matter is simply not correct. If there was any concern on the part of government about this issue, this law could easily accommodate concerns raised. Any consequential amendments that would have to be put in place are minor. It is simply an excuse that should not be given any credence here.

The simple reason, the simple answer, is that the government does not care enough to make these changes to protect these children and to give our parents and our law enforcement authorities the necessary jurisdiction.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very serious issue. I want to commend the member for Calgary Northeast for bringing his private member's bill, Bill C-278, to the floor of the House of Commons. The bill would raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years.

This problem is not new to anyone. It is a very serious problem in our society. I come from British Columbia. Saanich—Gulf Islands is my riding and we witnessed last year the case of John Robin Sharpe, who was trying to justify that it is okay to sexually abuse young children. He was trying to suggest that child pornography is okay. That case went to three levels of court: to the B.C. supreme court and the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which actually ruled that possession of child pornography for one's own personal use was okay in British Columbia, and to the Supreme Court of Canada, which thankfully was able to see that it was actually not okay.

There are sexual predators in our society. They are real. They are being released from prison. They are offending right away in many cases. This is just not okay.

The member from Manitoba who just spoke said that this amendment will send a strong and clear signal from the Government of Canada. Unfortunately it will not, because this private member's bill is not votable. The committee that decides on private members' bills decided that this one should not be made votable. Members of the House will not even have an opportunity to vote the wishes of their constituents on this private member's bill, private members' bills being categorized as free votes.

That is not acceptable either. This is not a partisan issue. This is not a Canadian Alliance, a Liberal or a Tory issue. This is an issue which a former police officer, the member for Calgary Northeast, is bringing to the floor of the House of Commons, and it is a very serious concern.

The Parliament of Canada had an opportunity, if it had wanted to make this votable, to send a very clear signal about the age of sexual consent. Children 14 years of age are hardly out of elementary school. They are the most vulnerable in our society today. We are sending the wrong message. In fact I understand there are some hon. members who suggest that the age of consent should be 12. Children that age are still in elementary school.

I personally know that the hon. member for Calgary Northeast is one of the most honourable of men. I have the highest respect for him. He is bringing forward a private member's bill which should be made votable and it has not been. We will not have the opportunity to send this clear signal. That is troubling. Why are we not getting this opportunity?

This is the type of thing that Canadians want us to focus on. Canadians are looking to us as leaders to put forward constructive solutions on justice issues and on so many other issues in health care and finance. I could go on and on. This is just one small snippet. There are many more. This is one area that the hon. member for Calgary Northeast feels is important enough that he has drafted a private member's bill to be brought before the House of Commons. I do not think it is acceptable that this bill is not votable.

This is not a partisan issue. We as parliamentarians have a duty to bring issues like this forward. I want to commend the hon. member for Calgary Northeast for bringing this to the House of Commons. There may be different viewpoints, but I am 100% solidly behind this private member's bill. I think it is excellent.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would first certainly like to thank those members in the House who made very direct presentations in support of my bill. I know that they speak for many others. Just for the record, I would like to thank the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, the hon. member for Provencher and the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

The whole issue when offences like this take place in the community—again I am going to say it—is summed up in one word: outrage.

I was looking through the statistical background of sexual offenders in federal correctional institutions at present. Unfortunately I could not get the most up to date information, but as of December 31, 1997 there were actually 4,591 sex offenders under federal jurisdiction. That does not include those under provincial jurisdiction. That is quite an extensive number of individuals. Twenty-one per cent of the total federal offender population is considered to be sex offenders. The average age of sex offenders under federal jurisdiction was 43 years old. The oldest sex offender was 89 years old.

It just happened that I walked through one of the federal institutions one day not too long ago. That day they admitted an 83 year old man for a sexual offence. This is an issue that does not diminish with the age of the offender. The offender constantly has this propensity to get involved in this kind of criminal activity, picking on our youngest and most vulnerable. The victims unfortunately can be of any age, some as young as babies in their crib. This I gathered from my experience in the police department in Calgary for 20 some years.

I can only encourage and urge all members in the House to push the government side, cabinet or whomever has the final say to bring about real change. It is unfortunate that a vote cannot be taken on my bill. I believe a vote on this particular topic would pass in the House but unfortunately this is not a votable item. However it will not die here. I believe members on both sides of the House will make sure that it will be on the table again.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business


The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item the order is dropped from the order paper.

The House resumed from April 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, an act to amend the Farm Credit Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-25, an act to amend the Farm Credit Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. The first amendment is to change the Farm Credit Corporation of Canada to Farm Credit Canada, both acronyms being FCC.

In 1994 the Farm Credit Corporation had a $3.5 billion loan portfolio. Information from its director given to us the other day in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food was that the portfolio is now in the neighbourhood of $6.8 billion.

There is an obvious need in Canada for the Farm Credit Corporation. The Canadian Alliance Party generally supports it. However the debate today is about amendments to the act that would create this credit corporation in Canada. The vote is about the amendments and not whether Canada should have a Farm Credit Corporation.

The Farm Credit Corporation has a role to play. The question is how big a role should that be? Government lending institutions in competition with private and other government lending institutions, like the Business Development Corporation, is a big question. Is the Farm Credit Corporation the appropriate vehicle for carrying out government policy? Another big question which needs to be answered in this debate is whether it will remain focused on the primary producer? This is a big concern because the original purpose of the Farm Credit Corporation was to ensure that Canada had, as part of its insurance, a viable agriculture sector with the ability to produce food in this country for both domestic consumption and export.

I would ask at this time, Mr. Speaker, for the consent of the House to share my time with the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands.

Farm Credit Corporation ActGovernment Orders


The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent?

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Some hon. members


Farm Credit Corporation ActGovernment Orders


Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, under the bill the leading role of the Farm Credit Corporation would be expanded to allow the corporation to lend to businesses that were not necessarily directly involved in primary agriculture production and did not necessarily have farmers as their majority shareholders. This is the first of three major changes proposed in the amendments being put forward.

The leading role of the Farm Credit Corporation would be expanded to allow the corporation to provide equity financing. This would be accomplished by allowing farm credit to hold non-fixed assets, for example cattle, lend money on that basis and hold the cattle as collateral.

In my time in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police I had quite a bit to do with the federal Bankruptcy Act. There are a whole additional set of problems that come along with holding collateral that is not real estate or real property. This is the area that the Farm Credit Corporation is moving in. It may provide some opportunities but it also provides greater risk.

Bill C-25 would also formalize the Farm Credit Corporation's leasing ability, which could include farm land. One of the things in the bill is that there are no real limits or restrictions on FCC activities. It would allow the FCC to get into a lot of areas that maybe it traditionally was not in and would greatly expand its operations.

The bill would expand the focus of the Farm Credit Corporation beyond its original purpose to provide financial services only to family farms and businesses directly related to primary production. I do not believe it is valid to extend Farm Credit Corporation's involvement beyond farming operations.

In the context of the primary producer, will the farmer benefit? Will the farmer have to compete for the available credit? Will he or she end up in a cross-subsidization situation, where other agriculture businesses would be receiving the FCC funding at the non-primary producer level?

By extending the Farm Credit Corporation's lending abilities beyond primary production, the bill would bring the FCC more directly into competition with private lending institutions and would overlap with government institutions such as the Business Development Bank. We saw the influence that the Prime Minister had with the Business Development Bank in a negative way. We have to be concerned that the Farm Credit Corporation does not go down that same road.

Regarding competition with the banks, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, for instance, is very active in Selkirk—Interlake. We do not want to see competition from a government lending institution that would have the effect of reducing the ability of private institutions such as our locally owned and run credit unions to continue to be a part of the communities, carry out the funding and lending necessary and actually help stabilize our communities.

The Farm Credit Corporation is run out of Regina. Not every small community has a Farm Credit Corporation in town. That is why I caution about the Farm Credit Corporation getting into competition with banks and credit unions. It would be one area where expansion would create unfair competition or competition that would only be there because of government. This is a good reason to oppose the bill.

Bill C-25 would also formalize Farm Credit Corporation's ability to own or lease land. The FCC stated that this was not the intent of the amendment. It claimed the leasing provisions would be for equipment. However this is not clear in the legislation. It is not appropriate for the federal government to be an owner of Canadian farm land on a long term basis.

Allowing the FCC to permanently hold and lease land could result in the Canadian government's holding influencing the market value of farm land. Allowing the FCC to hold and lease land permanently may also provide the corporation with an incentive not to pursue every possible means to allow farmers experiencing financial difficulties to stay on the land.

I made the point and will come back to it over the next few minutes that the Farm Credit Corporation, like every other crown corporation, has as a portion of its mandate the implementation and carrying out of policy that comes directly out of the creator of the crown corporation, in this case the federal government.

Therefore, the Farm Credit Corporation is an instrument of the federal government. The policies and the dictates of the federal government change with the wind sometimes and sometimes for good reasons. However those changing dictates would have the Farm Credit Corporation carrying out government policy. I am not sure that it is always the best vehicle for government policy to be carried out through a lending institution like the Farm Credit Corporation.

Even under the current legislation, the Farm Credit Corporation has become a significant land holder. In the year 2000 the Farm Credit Corporation owned over 360,000 acres, 95% of which was held in Saskatchewan, the province that has been hardest hit by the farm income crisis

While it is impossible for it to avoid holding land for short periods of time, the act should and could explicitly state that the Farm Credit Corporation should divest of any holdings as quickly as possible. The question of having a time frame in there would also be worthwhile looking at. The price of land is determined by market value and that is established over the course of years. Therefore, a time frame could be included, not necessarily one year but five years, for the government to release its holdings of massive amounts of land for whatever reason would be reasonable.

Bill C-25, also extends the Farm Credit Corporation's lending ability into the area of equity financing. This would be done by allowing it to hold non-fixed assets, as an example cattle, as collateral for these loans. This change would allow the FCC to provide farm financing to primary producers who were not eligible under the current legislation. In many cases this would provide financing that would not be available from private lenders. This is a positive change to the legislation, providing the funding is limited to primary producers.

There are good parts to this bill but there is also some serious concern about the massive expanded role.

The Canadian Alliance policy on this issue states as follow:

We will foster a healthy economic environment for the benefit of consumers by pursuing free and open trade at home and abroad, including the elimination of inter-provincial trade barriers. We will withdraw government from areas of the economy where the private sector could deliver the same services more efficiently and will end the unfair practice of providing subsidies to industries, businesses and special interest groups.

We are not advocating that the Farm Credit Corporation be eliminated or disbanded. We are putting in a caution to ensure that it does not provide unfair competition by getting into an area that is being well-serviced by the private sector.

Bill C-25 takes the primary focus of the Farm Credit Corporation away from providing credit to primary producers. The Canadian Alliance believes that this shift is wrong. Members who appeared before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food said this was not the case and that it would still focus on farmers as primary producers. However we all know that as policies change and the government dictates to the corporation what it is going to be doing, that focus could change. In fact it may no longer be the case that the primary producer is the main beneficiary of the Farm Credit Corporation.

When we speak of credit, I would like to deal for a minute on the present situation in agriculture in western Canada. It is more than credit that is needed there in regard to the overall agricultural farm policy and what can be done for the benefit of farmers. What is required is that the federal government get out of the way of farmers attempting to accomplish their economic objectives.

The minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board from Regina has the opportunity to take action with his cabinet and government to move the Canadian Wheat Board along on a voluntary basis to become a marketer for wheat and barley for those farmers who want to have their grain marketed through there. However for those farmers who do not, there should be a choice to market their grain otherwise.

The sole purpose of the Canadian Wheat Board Act is the orderly marketing of wheat and barley according to the various sections contained in the act. It is only incidental if it gets a good price and passes that price back to farmers. That is not its primary objective.

As in the Farm Credit Corporation, what is wrong with free enterprise like the rest of the grains, oilseeds and specialty crops are involved in? What is wrong with free enterprise in the marketing of the personal crops that a farmer grows on his or her farm? This is a major issue. Rather than looking at giving more loans to farmers as the government is saying under the Farm Credit Corporation and cash advance programs, it should be looking at what it could do to lower taxes and change marketing so that farmers can actually increase their incomes themselves.

There is not one other grain, oilseed or specialty crop that is fighting to get underneath the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board Act. If that does not tell the minister something then I do not know what does. It is one area that would lower the necessity for credit if farmers were able to increase the income that they could get from wheat and barley that are currently constrained under the Canadian Wheat Board.

At the present time the Canadian Wheat Board regulates all of Canada outside the designated area as to exports and export permits. The costs of these export permits and the administration of them are paid by farmers in the designated area. Money comes out of the pool account for a service that farmers are not getting in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, but the service is being provided to farmers in other parts of the country. I am asking the auditor general to look into that. That issue will be coming up in the next few weeks and months in the House.

Even if the cost for the regulation outside the designated area was only one dollar, the real question is: Why should farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have to pay even one lousy dollar for a regulation that they receive no benefit from?

Another issue that will be raised over the upcoming weeks, and I am putting the wheat board minister on notice, is why a farmer has to buy back his own grain to export it or, in the case of organic flour producers, to mill it right in Canada? Obviously if Mr. or Mrs. Farmer could get a permit to export the grain or mill their own wheat there is nothing intrinsically wrong or evil in milling flour or exporting wheat.

The only conclusion that I could come to is that the minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board wants to keep farmers under the dictatorial powers of the Canadian Wheat Board, which it gets through the federal Government of Canada, by forcing the buyback provisions on to farmers. That way the minister is able to make sure that it is uneconomical for the farmer to have to sell his grain to the Canadian Wheat Board, buy it back and then export it.

We could talk about all the credit we want but there are many things like changes to the Canadian Wheat Board, including things such as getting rid of the four cent federal excise tax on fuel, that would help farmers directly today. The Farm Credit Corporation Act is supposed to be about helping farmers.

In addition, it is very important that all of us in the House of Commons speak out clearly and loudly to say that there are many other things that could be done to help our primary producers. We have to get on with it.

I was interested to hear the minister of agriculture's remarks. We get some of the real intent of why he put these amendments forward. I will mention just a couple of them.

He said in his speech that the corporation would assist a greater number of agriculture enterprises in creating jobs and economic growth in rural Canada. This points out that it is a clear instrument of government policy. The government is looking at somehow using the Farm Credit Corporation to move agriculture beyond the crisis to which the throne speech referred. I do not know whether additional bureaucracy and instructions from the minister would move agriculture beyond crisis. We should free our farmers up so that they would move beyond crisis if the government in some cases just plain gets out of their way.

The minister also said that there was a definite need for services that help farm families make the transition from one generation to the next, just as beginning farmers need help in getting a solid start. According to the Farm Credit Corporation, it said in committee that it had no plans to be involved in any transition project. The Farm Credit Corporation is supposed to be a self-funding institution. As a result, the question of whether or not the taxpayer would be exposed to a much greater risk is one that would have to be dealt with.

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April 30th, 2001 / 12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

David Anderson Canadian Alliance Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Selkirk—Interlake on his presentation and for sharing his time with me. We are here today to debate Bill C-25, an act to amend the Farm Credit Corporation Act.

The purpose of the Farm Credit Corporation, since 1959 when the Farm Credit Act was passed, has been to provide farmers and those involved directly with production access to loan money. A short history of the FCC shows that major changes have happened over the years, but we can see that it has also maintained its original mandate of providing loans to primary producers over the 40 plus years it has been in existence. It was established in 1959 to provide credit to farmers and specifically to primary producers. At that time the loan rate that money was lent to farmers was set at a legislated rate of 5%.

The 1960s saw substantial changes to the FCC from the initiation of an appeal board in 1965 to the introduction in 1968 of a market formula rate that allowed the FCC for the first time to cover the cost of its borrowing. During the 1970s the FCC expanded and in 1978 it posted its first ever surplus. The 1980s, however, were a much different story. This was a difficult time for much of the agricultural farm sector. The FCC found itself caught in the agriculture squeeze and the federal government was forced to put $600 million into the FCC to keep it solvent.

In 1993 the Farm Credit Corporation Act was passed allowing the FCC more flexibility to fund farmer owned, farmer related agricultural proposals. It was not just farm land that money was being lent on, but farm related businesses could also get loans. However those farm related businesses had to be controlled by primary producers.

In recent years the FCC has been self-funded and it continues to grow, but throughout its 40 plus year history its mandate has always been to fund primary producers in their agriculture related endeavours. We are today again debating the future of the FCC in Bill C-25.

The bill makes several changes to the Farm Credit Corporation. It makes significant changes in some areas and not so significant changes in others. One of the changes involves changing the name of the corporation from the Farm Credit Corporation to Farm Credit Canada. This is not a name change that is necessary in western Canada where everyone is familiar with the Farm Credit Corporation, but it is being done to give it a stronger name recognition in the province of Quebec. I hope that the expense can be justified when it comes to changing the name.

More substantive changes are being made to the bill than just the name change. I would like to talk about three or four of them today. The first one deals with equity financing. This change is seen as a positive change if it is properly done. If the FCC is to be involved in agriculture lending then it needs to move carefully in this direction.

If members were to take a look at some of the developments in agriculture, particularly in western Canada with hog barns being built and feedlots being proposed and built, they would see a situation where people do not have a lot of collateral to put up for these projects. For the lenders to be involved in that they need to be able to take out an equity position in it.

The bill would allow the FCC to do those kinds of things and then to develop its loan portfolio from there. These are projects that have a higher than average risk factor to them. It gives people an opportunity to get some financing. It also gives lenders an opportunity to cover their own interest.

The second change the bill proposes is to formalize the lease financing arrangement in which the FCC has already taken part. Lease financing allows producers some good possibilities as well. For different reasons, people sometimes do not want to buy their equipment. Lease financing allows them to lease it. Leasing for some is also a tax decision. Leasing gives the producer the choice of service that he wants to take part in. It is a good opportunity for producers and for the FCC. The FCC's lease financing in the past has been shared with other institutions, for example, the CU lease program. This would give lenders the opportunity to protect themselves.

One of the main concerns I have about lease financing is in the area of land and how land is handled by the FCC. It was because of the situation through the 1980s that the FCC found itself holding in excess of one million acres of land at one point and it had to do something with it. Some of the land was leased back to farmers. Over the years the acreage that it was holding has been dropping off, which has been a good thing, but the bill does not address the issue of whether the FCC would be into land leasing in a big way or not. From the evidence, it seems that the FCC is not interested in that. If that is the case, it should be addressed in the bill.

The legislation, in order to be supported, needs to clarify that area. Farmers do not need more competition, particularly from a government funded corporation.

The main change I see in the bill, and the one that is most important, is in the loan eligibility criteria. Up until this point loans that were given out by the FCC had to be given to people who were primary producers or the majority of people involved in the project had to have been primary producers.

Bill C-25 proposes to change that. It would allow lending to ag-related businesses that are not producer controlled or producer owned. The argument for this change is that it would help develop value added businesses. The benefits of this argument are outweighed by some potential problems. I would like to talk about two or three of those problems.

First, and most important, the legislation represents a basic change in FCC policy and philosophy. For 40 years the FCC has had one mandate, which is to provide primary producers with access to credit. This would change from farmer oriented to agribusiness oriented and the focus would shift significantly because of the legislation.

Second, I have a concern over a potential conflict of interest in the legislation. We have seen in the past that other semi-independent government institutions have given us examples of conflict that we do not want to see in the FCC. The most prominent of these and the most obvious has been the Business Development Bank. We have watched and we have been assured that it is business as usual for even the Prime Minister to call these institutions to influence loan decisions.

To this point the FCC has been free of those problems and accusations, as far as I know, and it should stay that way. The legislation brings in a potential conflict of interest problem that the FCC and producers do not need.

The third concern is the possibility of large agribusiness corporations or co-operatives coming to the FCC for financing. We have seen businesses of different sizes getting in trouble. For the first time the bill would allow the FCC to make large loans to large scale businesses. The problem with that is if that does happen it would remove the possibility of financing for smaller operators and for farmers.

I would like to wrap up my comments today with some conclusions. First, the equity financing provision in the bill is a potentially positive addition. It would be an improvement if it were properly and carefully managed. We will be pushing for amendments, however, in a couple of the other areas that I have mentioned, particularly in the area of restricting lease financing to equipment.

Although the FCC did have over a million acres in its portfolio, it has reduced that. Two years ago it had 360,000 acres and last year it dropped off to 120,000 acres. From what we see here, it is trying to get rid of the land. We need an amendment that would ensure the FCC does not find itself in the same situation that it did 10 years ago.

Most important, we need an amendment that would continue to require that active producers are the majority participants in order to be eligible for FCC loans. This runs contrary to what the legislation suggests but, in the interest of primary producers, needs to be maintained.

For 40 years the FCC has been concerned, first and foremost, with primary producers and their agricultural operations. It is essential that remains the focus of the FCC business. The bill leads FCC away from that. The FCC should restrict itself to its historical mandate and work to do a good job in that area rather than trying to spread itself all over the agricultural landscape. Bill C-25 needs some amendments to accomplish that goal.

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12:30 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part today in the debate on Bill C-25, an act to amend the Farm Credit Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. Amending an act always has an impact on other acts.

If I understood the essence of the bill correctly, the Farm Credit Corporation is going through an identity crisis. It is normal that, at this time and in the current context, the Farm Credit Corporation finds itself lacking in identity. Is it related to a province, to a country or another country? Thus it was decided to settle the identity problem by changing the name.

I am anxious to meet with the officials, at the stage of the clause by clause examination of the bill, and see whether they can justify why, by changing the name of the corporation and giving it a Canadian identity, they are debasing the French language in the process.

The corporation used to be called “Société du crédit agricole” in French. Now its name will be changed to “Financement agricole Canada”, three words with no link between them and no modifiers. I wonder what warranted such a change. It could easily have been called “Société du crédit agricole du Canada”. Adding “du Canada” would have been enough. Why introduce the concept of “Financement”? That does not tell us how it is organized. This tells us that someone is involved in “financement”. Someone, something, some agency somewhere is providing financing to the agricultural sector.

In my opinion, the effort to find something elegant in French has not been excessive, to put it mildly. I will have some questions on this lack of respect for the French language for I feel linguistics have been rather short-circuited here. It strikes me as unacceptable that they want to change the name while not respecting the essential elements of the language.

On the other hand, the minister has raised three points in his speech, while the summary gives six reasons for changing this bill.

In his speech the minister referred to his desire to extend the corporation's capabilities to provide services.

In itself that is good news because our farmers have told us on a number of occasions that theirs is a sector in crisis. Farmers need to see financial steps taken to allow them to keep going, either to get through bad times, or to develop, create more employment and so on.

So extending the scope of services is, in itself, a good thing. The desire to do so however must not allow the new Farm Credit Corporation to go beyond the primary sector, for example, and to focus increasingly on financing the processing sector to the detriment of the production side.

I did not see anything in the bill in the way of a safety valve—or a guarantee or security—that would enable us to be absolutely certain that farm credit in Canada will not suddenly become obsessed by profit, like all funding agencies, and want to neglect the primary sector, the agricultural producers, in order to make more profit by supporting second level development, for example the processing sector.

The second objective is to help family farms achieve their long term goals. This is good news because we see more and more a tendency where family farms are disappearing.

Last weekend I took part in a symposium in Sainte-Croix-de-Lotbinière where farmers had chosen as a meeting theme “Rethinking Agriculture”. They are concerned, and rightly so, about industrial farm development at the expense of family farming, which is reasonably big and allows a family with a few children to live from farming and to leave a legacy to its children.

When we see the increasingly huge developments in different sectors and, as a farmer put it, when they have to leave $2 million of rigging to their children before leaving them their assets, there are few young people who will be able to become farmers if we do not pay attention to this issue.

This is all the more important because, if we neglect family farm production—the small farm,—our rural communities will be depopulated. A farmer told me that in his village in Kamouraska there is only one child. There are no other children. They have all gone because there is no longer a school. Instead of taking the bus to get to the neighbouring village, people move directly to that village.

In some villages there are four, five or six abandoned farms that were, not too long ago, during the settlement, cleared away and returned to farming, and that are now lying fallow and quite often returned to the forest because there are no other means of supporting the young people who would like to move there.

I hope that the Farm Credit Corporation will always have as a goal the provision of long term support to an increasing number of family farms.

Again, there is an issue which will have to be dealt with and which is a real social problem. It has to do with the third goal of the bill, which is to help family farms make the transition from one generation to the next. This issue will really have to be dealt with.

We will have to find incentives and other measures to facilitate passing on farms from one generation to the next.

When a farmer is unable to pass on his farm to his son because most of it will go to income tax, there is a major problem because people will try to sell their properties instead of trying to find solutions to the situation. We will have to deal with this problem and help families to pass on their properties to the next generation.

After reviewing the goals of the bill we see that, according to the information we were given, there were several series of consultations before the bill was introduced. It seems that those responsible for the Farm Credit Corporation have consulted several agricultural organizations and that a majority of them were favourable to the proposals contained in the bill.

The government of Quebec looks favourably upon the amendments contained in the bill, but it believes that the new corporation should continue to play a limited role in Quebec's agricultural industry.

I think the Quebec government would like the new agency to play fair and avoid providing, in Quebec, loans at below market rates. It would not like Farm Credit Canada to take hold of the Quebec market by offering discount rates, as is already being done to a point.

I heard complaints by some credit unions and information to the effect that in certain areas even the National Bank is a victim of the current Farm Credit Canada, which is providing loans at below market rates.

Obviously this new agency will have to abide by the market rules and abstain from providing lower rates to attract potential clients. It is extremely important that the agency be very cautious with this.

The UPA, or Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec, was indeed consulted in 1999. It agreed with the principles of the bill being discussed then and it should still agree with this bill, provided it has not been changed.

But the UPA has one serious reservation. It is against any direct loan by the new agency to companies that are exclusively in the processing industry.

As I said in my preamble, Farm Credit Canada should not shift its focus from the primary sector to the processing sector.

It is also concerned that that could result in a shift in Farm Credit Canada's mandate where it would end up supporting the processing sector to the detriment of the primary sector, which could jeopardize the great objectives the minister of agriculture was talking about last week and I also mentioned earlier, namely helping young farm families to settle in and to inherit their parents' properties.

If Farm Credit Canada changes and ends up giving preferred treatment to processing, we could have problems.

What led the government to pot for the changes it is introducing today? I can think of three, including the need to give farmers greater choice in financial and commercial services. Per se, that is good news. When a farmer goes to a bank, a caisse populaire or to Farm Credit Canada, he will probably be able to negotiate better conditions if there is competition. He will sometimes be able to find a better account or better loan conditions by comparing. It is very important that the Corporation not make it a policy to offer the lowest rates at all times.

It cannot usher a farmer into its office and say “How much did the bank want? How much did the caisse want? I will give a lower rate to start with”. It should not work like that otherwise it would be really unpleasant.

Another principle underlying the amendments is the need for greater structural flexibility. Farm producers have often told us that greater flexibility is needed. The rules are often complicated and complex. The bureaucracy is heavy and things no longer get done.

If Farm Credit Canada—I have a hard time remembering that name, because it means nothing in French and is impossible to remember—has greater flexibility, it will be farmers who benefit.

The government also wants to create partnerships, which will serve farmers over the long term. This too is very interesting to imagine. Although it is not possible at the moment, we can see that in the economic development of our regions, it would be extremely important to be able to create partnerships because the resources we need are not always available among our young people or farmers themselves. It is important to be able to create partnerships if we are to develop the economies of our regions.

This government should be concerned about examining the state of the regions at the moment. Resource regions are losing their populations. The day the resource remains, but the people have left, we will pay a whole lot more to recover the resources in these regions than we do at the moment.

It is vital we keep our resource regions alive, that is, with an economy to support the existence of the local market, the gas station, the confectionery store, the grocery store, the school, the church, the caisse populaire, and so on. If we do not keep this in our regions, we will wake up to the fact that it will be too late. Special programs will be required to recover the land we gave up. This is very important.

What are the main changes? First there is a name change and the name is not entirely a success. I hope we will get some explanation and at least have a full sentence in the bill. If I get an answer like “The lawyers suggested it”, I will remember that lawyers specialize in the law, not in language, as I have always known. It is because they have such a hard time drafting legislation that we have so many trials. If they were as rigorous with the language, if they took words for what they mean, there would be fewer trials to interpret them.

When I am told that lawyers provide linguistic help I think there is a problem in terms of understanding people's respective responsibilities. A lawyer is competent in the legal field, but language is not necessarily his forte.

The main changes will allow the corporation to provide business services to producers, directly or through a partnership. These services include business and estate planning and also land management.

With our aging population it will be extremely important—and I support the idea—to ensure that this corporation can help our communities in the estate planning area since it is critical to ensure that the land is passed on, under acceptable conditions, to members of the younger generation who are interested in carrying on.

These services are already provided in certain areas, but the bill seeks to make them accessible in every rural area in the country and this is a positive point.

The bill will also allow the corporation to provide lease financing to farm producers. The current act does not prevent the corporation from providing such financing, but the bill will clarify and define its scope.

As can be seen in the automobile industry, an extremely important factor has been to allow people to drive more comfortable and better cars since many are taking advantage of the option to replace their vehicles at regular intervals.

For a young person who wishes to go into farming or take over the family farm but wants to acquire more modern equipment, I think that leasing is probably a more interesting approach for him to consider, or at least to think that it might be available instead of thinking that he has to tie up $200,000, $300,000 or $400,000 in equipment, before even starting to plant.

This would also give producers and farm corporations access to equity financing. The corporation will thus be able to share directly in the business capital or use these investments to attract other investors.

This too is excellent news for our producers, for our farming co-operatives, and for the projects that our farmers are developing in certain sectors short of resources. This is surely a very good prospect for them.

The purpose of the corporation will be to provide financial services to businesses related to farming. Here again—I wish to be clear about this, and we will be discussing this at committee stage—it will be necessary to ensure that this represents perhaps a percentage of the financial products devoted to this and to ensure that the primary sector will not suffer as a result.

Finally, the corporation will be able to create subsidiaries to form partnerships which will provide new services independently of the existing corporation. This too is good news but, again, care must be taken to avoid having the legislator's intention circumvented by the kind of flexibility the government wishes to introduce.

I am pleased to tell the House that the Bloc Quebecois will be supporting this bill and that we will do everything we can to see that it is passed as quickly as possible so that farmers can benefit from the services which this new legislation will offer.

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12:50 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise to speak to the upcoming changes for the FCC. I am speaking on behalf of our agricultural critic, the hon. member for Palliser, who unfortunately could not be with us today.

Also a special hello and thanks to the dozens of farmers in my riding of Musquodoboit Valley. They are some of the best producers in the entire country. I am very proud to stand in the House to represent them and quite proudly say to them that I and my party support the thrust of this bill, although there are always a couple of cautions that need to be addressed.

Overall, we thank the government for these much needed changes. Similar to our colleague from the Bloc, we hope they pass fairly quickly. Above all we hope the constant consultation and dialogue with the main producers and with those people directly affected by the legislation continues. That dialogue is extremely important for the future.

Who could forget the crisis in the agricultural industry over the last few years? Many of us were at farm rallies on the Hill and at rallies held throughout the country, especially in the prairie provinces. Statistics show that over the last two years 22,000 families in the western provinces alone have left the farm. If that does not constitute a crisis in the industry, I am not sure what does.

Being a fairly new MP, going into my fourth year in this place, I always felt that it should be up to the Government of Canada, irrespective of one's political leanings, to look after our agricultural industry. If we do not do this to the best of our ability then unfortunately we will seriously neglect what I consider the most important industry in Canada.

When members had breakfast this morning and when they have dinner tonight, I hope they appreciate the people who are willing to get up at all hours of the day to sow the seeds so our families can be nourished. I think I speak for all members of parliament when I say we are extremely proud of the Canadian agriculture industry. We are very proud of the thousands of farmers and their families who toil in the fields and factories so we can provide nourishment to our families on an ongoing basis. Above all they do it fairly cheaply.

Food costs in Canada as compared to other countries are relatively inexpensive. People who suffer through tight financial times always worry about the cost of putting food on the table. When we look at the overall picture of what it costs to put food on our table compared to other items which we purchase such as shelter, clothing, home heating oil et cetera, food is relatively inexpensive. Therein lies one of the problems we are facing today.

The price that producers get for their product is very low. This is one of the crises we have. Wheat is made into bread and the bread is sold in the stores but the price of that generally goes to the middle man; the marketers, store owners and so on. If a loaf of bread cost $1, I believe the primary producer may get about 6 cents. That has to change so our primary producers who feed us and export to other countries get better value for the work they do.

The FCC is a wonderful institution for farmers when they need to diversify or when they need to purchase new equipment in order to ascertain future funding so they can carry on their business.

A young man from Saskatchewan with his family and many other farmers appeared before our caucus a few months ago to describe the scene on the family farm. I asked this young man, who was about 12 years old, if he was going into farming like his father and grandfather. He said no. I asked if there was anybody else in his classroom who was thinking about taking up agriculture as a livelihood. The young man again said no. That begs this question: Who are going to be the farmers of tomorrow? We know who the farmers are today, and many of them are going through a crisis because they are not sure if they will be able to make out the year.

Nobody likes to go from crisis to crisis year in and year out. Farmers know very well that historically there have been great years and poor years. They have always got through those years. However a tremendous number of farmers from coast to coast, not just in the prairies but in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, are going through a very difficult time. Anything the federal government can do to assist them should be done very quickly.

It appalls me at times when I hear the federal government say that it has a new aid package based on provincial funding and that it will give $6 out of every dollar for aid but the provinces have to come up with the other $4. Nova Scotia is going through a pretty severe debt and deficit situation right now. It simply does not have additional funding to give to its farmers.

Nova Scotia rightfully says that if the federal government is swimming in billions of dollars of taxpayer money then at least it should assist those provinces and others with more funding for farmers, at least to get them through this crisis stage so they can set up long term arrangements for the future.

I know the federal agriculture minister from Ontario is a decent fellow, but he made a comment regarding P.E.I. potato farmers that I am sure he will live to regret for the rest of his days. He said that maybe those potato producers should grow something else because of the recent battle with the United States.

That is easy for someone to say, but P.E.I. grows some of the best potatoes on the entire planet. They have diversified in potato farming. The infrastructure, the machinery, the plants and the workers were set up for that. Then the federal agriculture minister turns around and says that the battle with the United States is pretty tough so maybe they should grow something else.

If the federal minister honestly believes that, which I am sure he probably does not, then P.E.I. potato producers should say “Okay, Mr. Minister, if we are to diversify, what should we diversify into? Is the federal government going to provide the funding for us to diversify?” If that is indeed the case, the minister should back it up with dollars and then maybe some of those producers will grow something else. If the minister is suggesting that they need to grow something else after they already grow the number one potato product in the country—at least that is my biased opinion, coming as I do from Atlantic Canada—then he should at least back it up with some dollars.

Overall the changes in the FCC are positive, as long as the FCC continues to focus on the primary producer. That is essential. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has indicated to us that it has no overall objections to the legislation. Credit Union Central of Canada, representing credit unions across the country, formed a committee to study this legislation. During the consultation process it fully supported the proposal as long as credit unions could participate in some of the services, equity financing and partnerships. This of course would include the caisses populaires of Quebec.

This aspect of it is extremely important. Bill C-8, the financial restructuring act, is now going through the House. It has gone through this place and is on its way to the Senate, ready for royal assent. It will create great change in the financial sector in the country. When all those changes happen it will be extremely important to ensure that agencies such as credit unions and caisses populaires, which play vitally important roles in our country, especially in rural Canada where most of our farms and primary producers are based, have an important say and a role in the future of how FCC does its business. If they do, they will continue to have our support.

The National Farmers Union is concerned that the FCC may soften its focus on family farms and primary production. The government and the FCC have made a commitment that farming and the primary producer would continue to be the main focus of the corporation. That is essential.

In order to maintain the so far lukewarm support of the National Farmers Union, which represents a tremendous number of farmers across the country, it is imperative that the government and whatever party is in government years down the road continue that important dialogue with groups such as the National Farmers Union to ensure that primary producers rural communities and those family farms are indeed integral to any decisions made.

The best way to do that is with open and transparent consultation. The federal government has been blamed many times—I think of the Sea King operation for example—for hiding behind its words, for other concerns it tries to hide from, and for not being completely open and transparent. I beg the government to ensure that it does not do this with our agricultural concerns. That would be a very sad thing.

The corporation's main focus would continue to be small and medium sized operations that contribute to local communities. We have to take the government and the directors of the FCC at their word. If indeed that is correct, they will have our support and the support of many family farms throughout the country.

However, again I would like to remind the government and those in opposition right across the country that it is imperative to maintain that and not lose sight of the main focus in years to come.

In fact, the FCC has only a handful of accounts with businesses that have revenues over $5 million. The majority of its day to day business is indeed with small and medium sized family farms. That is extremely important.

Another concern in regard to a lot of family farms these days is lease financing. Under the new legislation the FCC would offer lease financing directly to or in partnership with agricultural operators. There is a growing need for lease financing in the agricultural industry for operators who want to manage cash flows with increased flexibility. The 1993 act does not prevent FCC from offering lease financing. However, the new amendments clarify the scope of the corporation's service in that area. More important, with a more flexible financial structure the FCC will be able to create subsidiaries to partner with other organizations in offering more comprehensive financial packages.

With Bill C-8 and the concentration of our financial institutions, it is very important, at least in my mind, that farmers and primary producers have the option and flexibility to look for the best rates when it comes to their lending needs. The corporation would have access to additional financial management tools to secure its portfolio and offer expanded services to agricultural operations. A more flexible financial structure contributes to the viability of the FCC and its ability to serve agriculture in the long term. That is definitely what is needed.

The country deserves and demands an agricultural policy from A to Z that really meets the needs of the family farm and medium sized producers and ascertains and tells Canadians once and for all that in this country we will be able now and in the future to feed ourselves. An awful lot of people are concerned that we as a country may be losing our agricultural sovereignty. We simply cannot allow that.

I could not help but notice that one of the greatest fighters for the family farm, a gentleman from Ontario, is in the House today. I thank him for his personal efforts in bringing the issue of the family farm to the House of Commons and to his own government. He should be complimented for his work in creating awareness of the crisis on the family farm.

There are other concerns throughout the country. We would like to ensure that the family farm issue is not just not a debate in the House and is then forgotten. We would like the family farm issue to continue in the House and we would like to ensure that when changes need to occur we can meet those changes along the way.

It gives me great pleasure every September and October when I come to Ottawa to bring with me about 100 pounds of Annapolis Valley apples of various descriptions. I hand them out.

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1:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Bring lobsters.

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1:05 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

My colleague from Brandon—Souris would like me to bring lobsters. I can do that tomorrow if he wishes. We could have lunch together.

I like bringing the Annapolis apples to Ottawa because I pick them right from the trees and hand them out to the first 100 people I see. Those apples are from farmers and producers and their families who are very proud of what they do.

All who go to the beautiful Annapolis Valley will see for themselves the pride of the communities in regard to growing a tremendous product. Anyone seeing the farms in Prince Edward Island will see the pride of farmers in producing those great potatoes. A great songwriter in Canada, Stompin' Tom Connors, wrote a great song called Bud the Spud . I highly recommend listening to that song in lighter moments. It is absolutely fabulous.

We have already debated what farming does for us in terms of being able to feed ourselves and in maintaining an agricultural policy. However, a majority of Canadians now live in urban centres and some of them have forgotten what it is like to be on a family farm. I highly recommend that all members of parliament and their families take time out of their busy lives to visit a family farm and thank farmers for the work they do and for maintaining the high standards of quality of the food we consume on a daily basis. Without farmers the country would be at a severe loss.

On behalf of farmers in my riding of Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, it gives me great pleasure to rise today in support of this bill. We agree with the government that it should be moved ahead fairly quickly so that the farmers and primary producers of the country can get on with their busy lives.

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1:10 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a couple of minutes to first of all address the remarks of my colleague from the New Democratic Party, who touched on the fact that urban members do not seem to really understand the stresses and strains in agriculture, but I know all members of parliament understand that the hourglass is running.

My remarks are for the hon. member and, I hope, for officials in the department of agriculture. On February 20, all of us in the Chamber gathered together to say that we wanted to do more, that we wanted to support our Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food at the cabinet table and make sure there were sufficient funds for this spring for seeding on April 1.

I was home on the weekend and I have to confess that I am absolutely embarrassed. That $500 million in extra money that all members of parliament, all parties under the leadership of our minister of agriculture, managed to get through the system has not been sent out. Farmers are out there. Anybody who takes a drive in the country these days can see everybody is out there planting.

We talk about urban people not really being as sensitive as they should be to the challenges and stresses of the Canadian family farm, but, Mr. Speaker, I would like through you to say to officials in all the ministries of agriculture across Canada and in the department of agriculture and the treasury board, wherever they process that money, to please get it out because it was the unanimous position of the House of Commons that it was to be out by the end of March.

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1:10 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comment. He is right about the $500 million being allocated on February 20. We on this side of the House and others have agreed that was about $400 million short. However the fact is that the delay of that money, which did not get sent out when it should have, is absolutely inexcusable.

I will take just a moment to mention the member for Malpeque, P.E.I., who has been very critical of the department of agriculture for really being out of touch with what is happening on the family farm. I believe his criticism is rightfully placed because the department is simply out of touch with family farms in this country.

I can assure the hon. member from the Liberal Party that I believe all he really has to do is walk over to the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister, tap them on the shoulder during question period and tell them to get on with the job of looking after our family farms. We would be very supportive of that.