House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.


Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

May 30th, 2001 / 4:05 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario


Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers be allowed to stand.

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

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4:10 p.m.

The Speaker

There are 12 motions to amend on the notice paper with respect to report stage of Bill C-11.

Motion No. 11 is the same as an amendment presented and negatived in committee. Accordingly, pursuant to Standing Order 76.1(5), it has not been selected.

The Chair has considered and reviewed all the other amendments and finds them to be in order and accordingly they will be grouped for debate as follows.

Group No. 1, Motions Nos. 1 to 4.

Group No. 2, Motions Nos. 5 to 8.

The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 4 to the House.

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4:10 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec


Lucienne Robillard Liberalfor the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration


Motion No. 1

That Bill C-11, in Clause 3, be amended by replacing lines 1 to 7 on page 3 with the following: i ) to promote international justice and security by fostering respect for human rights and by denying access to Canadian territory to persons who are criminals or security risks; and” j ) to work in cooperation with the provinces to secure better recognition of the foreign credentials of permanent residents and their more rapid integration into society.”

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4:10 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC


Motion No. 2

That Bill C-11, in Clause 5, be amended by deleting lines 1 to 4 on page 5.

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-11, in Clause 19, be amended by replacing line 11 on page 11 with the following:

“resident or a protected person to enter Canada if satisfied following”

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec


Lucienne Robillard Liberalfor the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration


Motion No. 4

That Bill C-11, in Clause 30, be amended a ) by replacing, in the French version, line 7 on page 15 with the following:

“30. (1) L'étranger ne peut exercer un emploi” b ) by replacing, in the French version, line 14 on page 15 with the following:

“exercer un emploi ou à y”

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4:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise to debate Bill C-11 at the report stage. Let me begin by complimenting the members of the committee for doing a great job during the public hearings. We heard from over 150 witnesses. We travelled from Vancouver to Montreal and received excellent presentations from a very broad spectrum of witnesses.

When we came back to the House and the committee met, we spent three long days going over the amendments. I must say that it was an atmosphere of co-operation on all sides of the House. Government members as well as opposition members worked on this bill. That is about the amount of positive input that I will make today.

Unfortunately the good work of the committee through the hearing process is not reflected in the bill.

It is so unfortunate that House committees spend so much time and effort on the road at the expense of taxpayers and then find that other than a few cosmetic changes to the bill, the bill has basically remained intact.

I must say at this point that these are the kinds of public responses that we received from the 150 plus witnesses who represented various organizations throughout the country. Witnesses stated that they felt the language of the bill placed undue emphasis on enforcement and criminality, as opposed to language that highlights the waffly nature of Canada's immigration and refugee program. That is very true.

The irony is in the amendment put forth in this first group of amendments. The minister wants to amend clause 3 by replacing lines 1 to 7 with:

(i) to promote international justice and security by fostering respect for human rights and by denying access to Canadian territory to persons who are criminals or security risks; and

We certainly agree with that. In fact we know that is what needs to be done. The minister could do the same thing without the legislation. She could do it by putting more people in the field and putting in a good front end screening vehicle so that we keep out criminals.

The minister always talks about closing the back door. Maybe the government needs to close the front door a little so that we let in people who we think will become positive contributors to the country. The irony is that the system creates its own problems.

This is a good time to reflect on the Sklarzyk case that happened during the past couple of weeks. The Sklarzyk family had its visitor visa extended three times. That makes absolutely no sense. If Canada did not want the family here in the first place back in 1994, it makes sense that the family should have been told to leave and go home.

Why did the government extend the visa? At that time two of the children had been born in Poland. By extending the visitor visa three times the government was extending a sign of welcome. It makes absolutely no sense. The government creates a lot of these problems. After the family had two children here and had been here from 1994 to 2001, close to seven years, the government asked the family to leave.

Through the public hearings we have heard many witnesses say they were stateless. In other words, they had no status. Some have been in Canada upwards of 10 to 15 years. They came here as refugees. They have had children here. Their children are in school and they still have no status.

One of the points raised continuously throughout the hearings was the whole issue of permanent residence. People who have permanent resident status are referred to in the bill as foreign nationals. Many witnesses who came before the committee were offended by that approach. It is unwelcoming and un-Canadian. We should not be doing it.

I will tell the House what the changes were to the definition section. Under interpretation a foreign national will be changed to mean:

—a person who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, and includes a stateless person.

The irony is that throughout the bill permanent resident and foreign national are printed side by side. This is worse than leaving it the way it was. I cannot understand it.

One amendment that members of the opposition all agreed with was that changes needed to be made and in a positive manner. They should be made in a manner that deals with different classes. A member on the government bench indicated that if a person lands in Canada we should perhaps give him or her landed status as in the old days. However that has not happened in the bill.

Another concern raised was the whole issue that this was framework legislation. As framework legislation much of the authority to carry out immigration and refugee objectives would be found in the regulations. The regulations would therefore be substantial and would contain much of the detail regarding implementation of the act. Many witnesses supported the idea of all new regulations being reviewed by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Even government members agreed. They agreed that the regulations should come before the standing committee and be reviewed. I compliment the chairman of the committee for the good work he did throughout the hearing process. He stated that the committee should be scrutinizing the regulations.

What do we see in the new bill? We see nothing, absolutely nothing in terms of the amendments. I think many members of the opposition were led down the garden path with the clause by clause exercise we went through.

Ten minutes does not give anyone a lot of time to deal with the complexity of the bill. I will close by again noting that a number of witnesses suggested creating and including in the bill a mechanism whereby members of the general public could submit complaints about any aspect of the new legislation. Several witnesses suggested creating an ombudsman to organize and centralize submissions and report regularly to CIC and to parliament.

I did that very task. The Canadian Alliance put together an amendment to allow the minister to create an ombudsman vehicle for people with complaints. We need oversight for the department and I look forward to speaking to the second group of amendments.

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4:20 p.m.


Joe Fontana Liberal London North Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise at report stage of Bill C-11. I will begin by complimenting all members of the committee who undertook some very hard work in a very short period of time.

The last time Canada had a good look at the Immigration Act was in 1978. The committee acted in a very co-operative manner, as critics from the Alliance and all the other parties have suggested. As we travelled we were impressed by the commitment of Canadians to immigration. They spoke in glowing terms about the value of immigration to the country in terms of its history and how it has contributed to our social, economic and cultural well-being. They spoke about how Canada had been built by immigration from all parts of the world and how much that immigration had been appreciated.

Bill C-11 and its predecessor Bill C-31 would build upon our great tradition of inviting people from all over the world and continue our great historical tradition of being one of four countries in the world that recognizes its responsibility to protect refugees, people who are persecuted or displaced, people who find difficulties where they live and resort to all kinds of unusual methods to leave their homelands.

The fact that this great country has been home to thousands of refugees is a tribute to the generosity of all Canadians in each and every region of the country. When we travelled that is exactly what we heard from witnesses. They told us how we could improve Bill C-11. They told us that our present Immigration Act was a great foundation but that we needed to move forward.

Bill C-11 would do that. It would open the front doors even wider. It would make it possible for families to be reunified because it would expand the definition of family class to mothers, fathers, parents and grandparents who would be able to be sponsored. It even talks about working with our partners, not only the provinces but stakeholders, municipalities, all the communities that have a part to play in welcoming immigrants and helping them resettle.

Throughout our trip from Vancouver through to Montreal, and speaking also to the people in Atlantic Canada, I heard one constant message: We need more immigration. We need to make sure the front doors are opened wider in terms of the family reunification independent class to attract the best skilled people and professionals from around the world.

We have a great need for people who can help build our economy, meet the needs of our businesses and meet our labour requirements. Most people indicated that we need more immigration, not less, and that we ought to do more in terms of the compassionate part of the bill, which is refugee protection.

The amendments introduced by the opposition and the government at the committee level have improved Bill C-11. We can recognize the great worth of immigration and make sure permanent residents who want to be Canadian citizens are further protected.

We all heard a term that was rather un-Canadian. Everyone who was not a citizen would be referred to as a foreign national. We heard loud and clear that this was not how we wanted to define ourselves. We have amended the bill to recognize the status of landed immigrants and permanent residents who we hope will want to be citizens. Everyone else who comes to our country on a temporary basis, be they visitors or students, would be referred to as foreign nationals because it is a term that is recognized around the world.

The bill would also give landed class opportunities to students or temporary workers who come to Canada and decide to stay. The process must be improved so we can process the paperwork better, more efficiently and more fairly.

We hope the committee will talk about resettlement and resources that we give to our foreign posts. The committee heard loud and clear from people across the country that they want to be involved and they want the committee and parliament to be involved in the regulatory aspects of the bill.

Motion No. 1 from the minister says that one of the bill's goals and objectives is to acknowledge that people, when they come to Canada with great professional attributes, be they doctors, nurses or skilled workers, should have their accreditations quickly recognized. Even though accreditation is a provincial jurisdiction, we must work closely with provincial governments, stakeholders, organizations, regulatory bodies and associations to make sure that people who come to our country can achieve their full potential.

We need to work with our partners to make sure we do a better job. Motion No. 1 would ensure that people's professions and careers are recognized and that they will be able to work in their professions in Canada.

Motion No. 2 from the member for Laval Centre and Motion No. 3 in terms of regulations were well received. For the first time our committee will be very involved in the making of regulations. We will be able to hold public hearings before regulations are put in place because we understand that the regulations will determine how we implement the bill.

The bill is framework legislation. It talks about values and principles but the regulatory framework is perhaps the most difficult and challenging. We must be very vigilant in reassuring the hundreds of witnesses, who talked to us about the regulations, that the regulations will be set up in a fair, equitable and compassionate manner. The committee will be involved in the fall with the make-up of those regulations. It will invite members of the public to again look at the regulations and it will put in place a process to ensure the regulations are fair and equitable to all people.

The bill, in its final form as we debate it today, with the amendments the government and members of the opposition have put forward, has been greatly improved. We wanted to make sure that people who, for one reason or another, were denied a refugee claim but whose circumstances had changed or who could not disclose the true reason they were being persecuted, could receive a second hearing.

We have built into the bill another layer where a second hearing could take place to ensure that a person who was perhaps denied protection or had been denied a refugee claim but could not put forward all the reasons could essentially come back for a review.

The bill would provide greater assurances in terms of permanent resident status. As we know, the old act says that if people leave the country for 180 days they could lose their permanent resident status. The bill now says that permanent residents do not have to worry if their jobs or families take them out of the country or that they have to be in Canada two years out of five.

We understand the global economy and that people have to travel. Sometimes people have to leave Canada but at the same time they have not given up on Canada. Their families and businesses are here. We must understand that in a global economy people have to be mobile. That is why we would protect permanent residents by assuring them that if they are outside Canada they do not have to worry about losing their permanent resident status.

The government has put forward a number of positive amendments in the bill. I look forward to debate on the other amendments members will put forward, but there is a good reason we cannot support them. In fact we believe we have taken them into consideration under Bill C-11.

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4:30 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, for the benefit of television viewers and perhaps of members in the House, I would just like to briefly recap how the minister introduced Bill C-11 in February.

What the minister said at that time was that Bill C-11 was a bill that could be described as tough. Its purpose was, of course, to open the door wide to the hundreds of thousands of people who want to come here and whom we need if Canada and Quebec are to continue to make progress. However, the government also wanted that door to be tightly closed to people unacceptable to our societies.

What I can say is that the great majority of the witnesses we heard were in agreement with the minister. The bill is extremely tough. In fact they are concerned. People are concerned.

In committee, we considered the bill clause by clause. There were hundreds of amendments presented by the opposition parties or by the government.

I must agree with my colleague for London North Centre that there have been improvements. I acknowledge that. They are not enough, however. They are very much insufficient, and this bill continues to be an object of concern. It is perhaps the fashion, however, in this Liberal government, to take a hard line. Last night, for instance, the bill we voted on in third reading, Bill C-7, was another fine example of this hard line.

In the first group there are four amendments, two presented by the government, which I can assume will be passed with great unanimity. Two others are presented by the Bloc Quebecois.

The first amendment by the party in power, which I shall read for the benefit of our audience, is really within the framework of what this bill is about. The amendment proposed by the minister at clause 3(1)( i ) is to promote international justice, and I quote:

—and security by fostering respect for human rights and by denying access to Canadian territory to persons who are criminals or security risks;

Understandably, no one can be opposed to such an addition, and this focuses on the importance Canada attaches to human rights. We can only hope that the proof of this will be forthcoming in future years, and that there will not be any slip-ups as far as the respect of human rights is concerned.

What the second part of the Liberal amendment is really about is replacing the word néoquébécois, which is not anywhere in the bill, with the term permanent resident.

The second amendment, this one brought forward by the Bloc, is much more important. My colleague from London North Centre mentioned that under this bill the minister will have to table the regulation in the House and refer it to the committee.

All of the witnesses we heard were concerned about the fact that much of the enforcement measures will be dealt with in the regulation. The legislation itself is rather vague.

However, in the bill as amended in committee, under clause 5 that stipulates that the regulation will be laid before the House and then referred to the appropriate committee, we have noticed that a small provision, clause 5(4), was tacked on, which reads as follows:

5.(4) The Governor in Council may make the regulation at any time after the proposed regulation has been laid before each House of Parliament.

Therefore, the governor in council would be able to make the regulation as soon as it is tabled. In some ways, this provision undermines that amendment agreed upon in committee.

What we want is for clause 5(4) to be completely deleted. Since the previous speaker referred to this amendment, I do hope that the government will understand that clause 5(4) needs to be deleted.

The third amendment is also from the Bloc Quebecois. I may still be naive and somehow that makes me proud, but I truly believe that we will have the unanimous consent of the House on this one, because all it does is add the words a protected person. Clause 19, which this amendment deals with, refers to the right to enter and remain in Canada. The current provision only mentions the right of entry of permanent residents.

What we are proposing is that the officer allow a permanent resident or a protected person to enter Canada, a protected person being someone who has refugee status, if satisfied following an examination on their entry that they have that status.

It must be noted that in committee the minister clearly indicated that obtaining refugee status could indeed be considered as a travel document. Therefore we think this amendment must be passed by the House.

Finally, the last amendment in this first group is from the government. It is rather interesting, because it is of a cosmetic nature. We have before us a most important bill that affects people and families, that will have an impact of the future of tens of thousands of people, and the government is bringing forward a cosmetic amendment. It is replacing the word travail by the word emploi in the French version.

Now that I have gone over the four amendments, I will continue to speak about this bill, which is aimed at dispelling certain theories that we hear out there, particularly in western Canada. What we hear is that Canada has really become a haven for people who have something to fear from the justice system, very often for good reasons.

It is perfectly understandable that a country such as Canada would not want to have such a reputation. However, this has nothing to do with reality. Recently, we had the Amodeo case. Clearly, he should never have entered the country, but he did.

However, does a single case become a majority? No, there are a few cases, as there are everywhere. We have to realize that people in organized crime and professional terrorists are highly intelligent and very capable and that the best organized law will probably never keep them out entirely.

The dangerous part in this bill arises from our desire for an impenetrable border, which means we risk rejecting honest people who want to contribute to Canada's economic and social growth. In this regard, for Canada to do without this essential support, which is a bit like oxygen, is a very poor choice.

As I said earlier, at the moment hundreds of thousands of people are awaiting approval. Will they or will they not be able to come to Canada? Four hundred thousand people is a lot. We know the minister puts the figure at 300,000 a year. We never reach it.

The aim of the bill is to perhaps improve the record management process, and we support this goal, because everyone here, especially members from large cities, knows that we have an incredible number of people waiting months and years.

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4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester, Health; the hon. member for St. John's West, Finance.

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4:40 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on report stage of Bill C-11 and to put on record our continuing deep concerns with the legislation.

Before proceeding I want to indicate how positive the process was at the committee level. It is not often that we have reason to make positive comments about the standing committee process in the House of Commons. However, in the case of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, the chair, the member for London North Centre, provided very good leadership. The participation of all members from all parties on the committee was productive and respectful.

I want to put on record our thanks for all the work done by the staff tied to the committee and for the help we received from the research staff of the Library of Parliament and from the drafters in the legislative counsel office who provided us with remarkable turnaround on our proposed amendments. I also want to put on record my thanks to two individuals in the legislative office of the House who did an incredible job of writing and drafting some 80 amendments in a very short period of time for myself and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party. Those two individuals are Amadou John and Susan Manion.

We were operating close to the wire. We were under considerable pressure to move quickly after the public hearings. We had very little time to craft our amendments and to have them drafted properly. Again I thank the two individuals I have mentioned and many others. We were able to ensure that thorough consideration of the bill was executed and that many amendments were proposed.

It was a pleasure working with colleagues from other political parties such as the chair, the member for London Centre and the member from Mississauga. I also want to mention the member for Dauphin—Swan River, the member for Laval Centre and the member for Fundy—Royal. We worked hard and covered a lot of material in a short period of time. One of our greatest regrets was that the bill was pushed rapidly through the process, and we did not have adequate time to deal with the significant topics at hand.

I too want to thank the 150 or more witnesses who gave serious and thoughtful testimony before the committee regarding the bill. We had a remarkable committee process covering many parts of the country. It was an enlightening experience for all of us.

However, given these niceties and having congratulated and thanked members for a productive process, we failed in making a bad bill into a good law. We all say that we failed in improving a piece of legislation that was seriously flawed and was far from visionary. It is far from the kind of bill we thought was necessary after the 25 year period since the bill was first introduced and passed in the House of Commons.

We tried hard to convince the government to improve the bill. It was not for lack of trying. In the case of the New Democratic Party, we proposed over 80 amendments. However most of them were defeated by the Liberals at committee. I am grateful for the few that were accepted. However the amendments which were approved at committee were relatively minor in nature. Our concerns about the bill remain.

We have to put on the record the concerns of Canadians. In reviewing the evidence presented to us at committee and the testimony of the 150 or more individuals and organizations, there was very little support for the bill. Canadians who spoke out on Bill C-11 were very upset, disturbed and angry that the government failed to use this golden opportunity to put forward a bill on immigration and refugee policy that was visionary, progressive, inclusive and clearly a benefit to Canadians who wanted and believed in maintaining our traditions for an open immigration policy and always operating on the basis of humanitarian, compassionate grounds.

It has always been the vision of members of my caucus that we maintain as much as possible an open immigration policy, that we be respectful and responsive to the needs of refugees and displaced persons around the world, that we always, at all costs, ensure due process and that human rights are respected and adhered to. On all those grounds we failed.

The bill does not meet the task at hand. The amendments before us today go a little further toward improving the bill. We will support them, but we have not dealt with the fundamental flaws of the legislation. We hoped Bill C-11 would dramatically improve our immigration and refugee policy and programs, which are under serious scrutiny and evoke great concern on the part of Canadians. This has placed us in some disrepute internationally because of our failure to abide, in full force, by the international conventions to which Canada is a signatory.

We analyzed the bill from the point of view of several perspectives.

First, was it true to Canada's traditions and set of values around openness to immigrants and refugees from around the world? Did it fulfil our commitment to celebrating, respecting and enhancing the multicultural diversity of this land? That was the first criteria we brought to the bill.

The second was the issue that was raised by my other colleagues this afternoon already and that was: Did the bill, the new law, which we would have for many years to come, ensure that the authority rested in this place and that true democratic process was followed and adhered to?

The third criteria we brought to the bill was the belief that no bill could be entrenched into law that maintained any kind of bias, whether we were talking about gender, race or undue emphasis on wealth and economic position in society. If so, that bill would have to be changed to reflect those concerns.

I want to end on the three points I raised as priorities, which were: progressive immigration policy, along with of course an open humanitarian approach to refugees; legislative authority in this place with democratic process and adherence to human rights and civil liberties; and the eradication of any bias within the law itself. Those were our objectives and we failed miserably. The government failed Canadians by not ensuring that we went forward with a bill that had addressed all those concerns.

I look forward to continuing the debate and trying to improve the bill with the time remaining.

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4:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity, especially at this point in time, to speak to Bill C-11 at report stage.

I have concerns with respect to the legislation which we are discussing at report stage. The Liberal Party of Canada has had a very strong reputation with respect to new Canadians throughout its history. After all, this is the party of Wilfrid Laurier, Mike Pearson and indeed Pierre Trudeau. From what we saw at committee for the most part, the irony was the Liberal Party of Canada was most reticent to support the rights of permanent residents and immigrants and moreover, the human responsibility with respect to refugee protection. As we go through report stage we will flesh out a couple of those issues on which clearly we should have spent more time.

I want to compliment the hon. member for London North Centre. He was very welcoming and collaborated in putting our debate together. The two immigration critics for the Canadian Alliance, who represent ridings in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, provided first class representation. I saw that across the board with the Bloc and very much with the NDP. We had an opportunity to have a very pioneering piece of legislation.

The reality is this the bill falls short of that particular mark. These days the government of this multicultural, multilingual land built on immigration sounds disappointingly less welcoming than it should. The minister of immigration's proposed reform of the 25 year immigration act, Bill C-11, falls far short of the standards which Canada should use in treating immigrants and refugees to this country.

As Progressive Conservative opposition critic on the immigration committee, I sat and listened to the testimony of over 150 witnesses and groups. They almost all repeated the very same serious concerns. They were concerned that parts of the bill were draconian and even un-Canadian. Even Liberal members on occasion referred to the bill as being un-Liberal. That was the result of the testimony which we heard.

We had a myriad of caring Canadians, who embraced human diversity and human rights, say that this bill missed the mark to protect refugees to the degree that we should. I would like to add quite clearly and succinctly that refugee rights are in fact human rights. Our inability to protect refugees in need, and by perhaps not having the appropriate checks of due process in place, can result in the torture, injury and even death of individuals. That is why due process is a fundamental aspect of our judicial system. That is why due process is something we believe this particular piece of legislation is short on. I will have more to say as we proceed toward the next days.

I will refer to the particular motions in play that we have.

The first motion, Motion No. 1, by the government is somewhat technical and replaces lines 1 to 7 on page 3 of the bill. The original legislation stated “to promote international justice, respect for human rights and security”. The government is advocating a reversal of that. It is saying that we would, in co-operation with the provinces and territories, and of course we would agree with that part of it, secure better recognition of foreign credentials of new Canadians to make their integration more accessible.

Essentially the first motion, by reversing the language, speaks to the potential security risks as opposed to the well-being and the good fortune the country has with respect to immigration.

The second motion, proposed by the Bloc, refers to lines 1 to 4 on page 5, clause 5. The motion calls for the Government of Canada, parliamentarians and particularly the immigration committee to have far more input and a much larger opportunity to participate with respect to reviewing the regulations.

Members may be aware that this piece of legislation is framework legislation. This means that it is not necessarily what is in the act that governs the bill, it is the regulations themselves. If these issues were done order in council and not scrutinized by the committee, the role of parliament would be usurped.

I commend the chair, and the immigration minister who is doing something that is quite uncommon. She is willing to provide the regulations to the committee for scrutiny before they are implemented and published in the Canada Gazette . That is not very common. I must give proper credit to her for what I consider a very progressive, yet conservative initiative.

I would like to refer to Motion No. 3 which is also a Bloc motion. It is an amendment to clause 19 on page 11, at line 11, which is the right of entry of permanent residents. This initiative actually dovetails with an amendment passed at committee which was introduced by the Progressive Conservative Party. I want to thank all members of the committee who supported that initiative.

Essentially it would provide a status document to all permanent residents. Once they obtain that particular position it would ensure that they could travel, work and make a valuable contribution, and their children could go to school in certain circumstances. As we know, there are a number of individuals who are sometimes caught in limbo and do not have the capacity to work or to educate their children and so on.

The Bloc motion refers to the right of entry for refugees in addition to permanent residents so that they would have a status card, a travel card so that they could actually have the capacity to re-enter Canada. This recognizes that in this global world people do travel. Those people are protected. Those refugees clearly need to be able to get on with their lives after they have escaped persecution.

The fourth motion is quite simple. It is a technical amendment on an issue related to translation.

The wording must be consistent in both official languages, which is why the Progressive Conservative Party is in favour of this amendment.

I thank the House for the opportunity to participate in debate on Group No. 1. There are two more groups to go. We look forward to the debate.

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5 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to put my comments on the record at this stage, as other members have done. I think I am the longest serving member of the citizenship and immigration committee and I must say that I have seen quite a change in the function of that committee.

I do not think there is another issue that causes such ranges of emotion and passion to come out, not only from Canadians who come before the committee but from members of parliament on all sides. I say that not having sat on the justice committee, which might be equally interesting and entertaining at times, or on the health committee in regard to certain issues.

Immigration is such a passionate issue for all of us because at the end of the day we are all immigrants or sons and daughters of immigrants or, at the very least, grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants. That is what this nation is built upon. The very foundation of this country is that over the years, regardless of who is in office, we try to develop policies that will allow for resettlement of people from other parts of the world. Whether it is the people who came here in the fifties, who could be called economic refugees in some instances, or the people who are coming here now from places in Africa or China who are modern day refugees, they are coming here looking for new opportunities and new hope. In my view, hope is probably the number one issue in citizenship and immigration.

I say that because I have seen such a change in the committee from the first year I was on that committee four years ago. It was incredibly partisan. We could not have a debate on any issue without shouting, frankly, even in committee. Often it happens in here and we know this is a little mini theatre from time to time, but it should not and often does not happen at the committee level. That is where MPs roll up their sleeves and get to work trying to work out the best solution for all Canadians. In my view the committee was dysfunctional at best in the first year.

I do not want to be unfair or unkind, but I have seen a terrific change that I think is due partly to some changes in personalities and getting away from the clashes. Also, we have grown together as a committee to understand the importance of immigration to Canadians and to understand that partisanship, in the case of immigration, should be put on the back burner.

I extend congratulations. I tremendously enjoyed working with members opposite. The member for Fundy—Royal was great fun to work with and insightful. He put forward suggestions, a couple we might have adopted and many we did not, but he understands the process. The member for Winnipeg—North Centre, representing the New Democrats, did a tremendous job in representing her caucus and in putting forward arguments that of course many of us did not agree with, but that is the democratic way and the process. We had an opportunity to debate back and forth as to why we did not agree. Those members, with the member for Laval Centre, the member for Dauphin—Swan River and the member for Blackstrap, who was at most of the meetings I was at, all made contributions that are extremely important.

Those contributions are particularly important today because we are functioning in a political atmosphere that is in danger of becoming dysfunctional. What do we read in the newspaper every day? It is either something an MP said on this side of the House about someone, or a battle with internal caucus fights on the other side of the House, or something that someone did wrong. It is just not stuff, frankly, that should be of consequence or important to Canadians.

This is what is important to Canadians: amending the immigration bill and changing the system. I know that members opposite get tired of hearing the catchphrase about closing the back door to open the front door, but that truly is what the minister wants to do. It truly is what we on this side of the House want to do, and I believe members opposite want to accomplish the same thing.

How do we get there? We will arrive at this through a process. I unfortunately was unable to travel with the committee as there was a death in my family and I had to attend a funeral in England, but I did read the briefs. I certainly listened to many people who appeared before us here in Ottawa. As a person who has been on the committee for four years, I like to think I have some familiarity with the issues of concern.

However, the committee travelled in good faith across the land and met with people, but it did not have the luxury—and this is perhaps one of the downfalls of committee travel—of taking with it senior citizenship and immigration staff, the deputies and the lawyers, to respond to the issues put forward, whether they were from the Law Society or an immigration consultants association or just a Canadian concerned about immigration.

It all seemed like a great idea at the time. It sounded fair and reasonable, but when we finally got into the clause by clause back here in Ottawa, in which I had the pleasure of participating, we got the answers to the questions that were put forward and realized that while it might have seemed like a good idea it posed some problems and difficulties.

It is not that we did not listen to Canadians at all. The member for Winnipeg North Centre says we have failed. I appreciate her perspective as a member of the opposition, but I strongly disagree with that statement. In fact I think we have succeeded beyond what I thought we might be able to accomplish in terms of making changes and amendments to an incredibly important act that affects every one of us and every one of our constituents. At the same time, we built some goodwill among members of all parties, even with me on the committee, so there is something to be said for that.

I want to address a couple of issues on which we spent an almost inordinate amount of time. One of them was the issue of foreign nationals. People from across the country who came before us in Ottawa said they did not like to be referred to as foreign nationals but as landed immigrants. If were to go to the ceremony at Pier 21 in Halifax or to Pearson airport in my community of Mississauga, we would meet people who have applied, who have sweated, who have gone through the proper process. They have not come in the back door. They have applied to become landed immigrants.

I look across the floor right now and I suspect there are people sitting there, including you, Madam Speaker, who took that step of becoming a landed immigrant before applying for Canadian citizenship.

People said they or their parents or grandparents were landed immigrants, not foreign nationals. It was almost an affront; people were offended to be referred to as foreign nationals and the government agreed with that. I certainly agreed with that.

What we are talking about in terms of definition might seem inconsequential and a small point, but philosophically it says to people who live in this country as permanent residents, which is exactly the same thing as a landed immigrant, that we recognize that landed immigrants are permanent residents. It is such an important thing.

Foreign nationals are referred to in the bill. If we are talking about refugees or illegal migrants who we are dealing with through a detention system or something of that nature, then we have to use that terminology because it is used internationally when dealing with other people around the world.

I know I have run out of time, but I just want to close on this section by saying that one of the major differences in themes in this bill, which we dealt with and disagreed with, is in regard to dealing with people who are permanent residents, who have been convicted of a crime punishable by 10 years and who actually served 2 years in jail, the 10 and 2 rule. We dealt with whether or not we should have the authority to deport those people without giving them a myriad of opportunities to appeal all the way up to the supreme court. It is a reputation that Canada has to change. This bill would change it. If a person lives in this country as a permanent resident and commits a crime serious enough that the person goes to jail for two years, then the government would have the opportunity to deport that person without that person abusing the legal system. It is one of the key issues in this section of the bill.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to participate in the report stage debate on Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.

Before I begin I would like to thank the 150 witnesses, a broad spectrum, who appeared before the committee. They have given us insights into the practical life of dealing with immigrants and into the various angles or perspectives from which they looked at the immigration process.

I would also like to extend my thanks to the members, the staff and the researchers of the committee. Appreciation is also due to the chair of the committee, who has been very fair so far. I guess he would have been more fair if he had accepted all 30 amendments put forward by the official opposition, but I appreciate the work done by all the members as well as the co-operation that existed. The process was very productive and positive and really it was fun to work with the committee.

However, I am really disappointed that the output is not proportional to the input in the committee. Everyone worked hard, but the outcome could have been much better. I am a little disappointed with the efficiency ratio of output versus input in the committee.

While we are on thanks, I would also like to thank the chief critic for the official opposition of Canada, the hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River, who really worked very hard on the committee. He put forward over 30 amendments. All those amendments were to the point. They were very serious and non-partisan amendments and I regret that most of them were not accepted by this weak Liberal government.

While the bill has much needed changes with respect to immigration to Canada, which I acknowledge, it also has serious flaws. I will be talking about those flaws at third reading of the bill if I get the opportunity. For the time being I will say that while the legislation may be well intended its outcome may not serve its stated purpose.

Immigration to Canada should be simple. It is a matter of common sense. Either the criteria to enter met or are not. When legislators are working hard on the bill they need to use common sense and put various aspects of the bill in perspective.

The lack of clarity, prudence and real enforcement behind the legislation will ultimately cause more trouble than the legislation it purports to replace. Bill C-11 will not deliver what it intends to deliver without proper accountability and management in place.

The minister has been talking about front door and back door scenarios. Let me remind the House, although I am sure members who have been here for a long time will remember, that when I was first elected in 1997 I gave an analogy in my first speech on immigration that the immigration system in Canada was just like a home.

When a person knocks on the door or rings the doorbell the owner of the house has the opportunity to open the door and invite or welcome the person into the home. Sometimes the person is offered tea or coffee, a conversation may take place, and he or she becomes a guest.

On the contrary, it is surprising if the homeowner wakes up one morning and finds a stranger sitting on the couch in the living room having a cup of coffee. Perhaps the stranger discovered that the back door was opened, entered the house while the owner was asleep and sat on the couch.

I remind the House that with respect to our immigration process we have to open our front door so that legitimate immigrants similar to the ones who built the country can enter Canada through the front door and be productive. We should welcome them. We should also welcome legitimate refugees who come to Canada through the front door.

At the same time we must close the back door because we do not know who is entering through it. It could be a criminal, a bogus refugee, or anyone who is not wanted in the country.

In my speech in 1997 I urged the then immigration minister to open the front door and monitor them but to close the back door and plug the loopholes.

The minister borrowed my analogy and repeatedly made references to the front door and the back door. However she installed a revolving door between the front and back doors and prospective immigrants are caught in it for a long time because the system is plugged. The plumbing system in the immigration system is comparatively clogged.

There are many instances of appeal after appeal, just like someone peeling an onion one layer at a time. Sometimes people are caught in the system for eight, nine or ten years. I have given a list of 40 of my constituents to the minister who have been caught in that revolving door for 10 years or so. I am a little disappointed. To use my analogy, the minister should eliminate the revolving door, close the back door and open the front door.

There are four motions in this grouping. I will deal with Motion No. 4 first. It is an amendment to the French version. It is technical in nature. It is a housekeeping type of amendment. I do not have any problem supporting it.

Motion No. 3 in the name of the hon. member for Laval Centre deals with the right of entry of a permanent resident and reads as follows:

That Bill C-11, in clause 19, be amended by replacing line 11 on page 11 with the following:

“resident or a protected person to enter Canada if satisfied following”

In her amendment the words protected person and resident are added. Those who are under Canadian protection are refugees. They should be afforded the full extent of our protection. It should not be limited to those with status only.

When talking about refugees, Bill C-11 is a direct attack on legitimate refugees. We support and reaffirm our policy of taking in our share of genuine refugees but subclause 3(2)(d) states that Canada is:

—to offer safe haven to persons with a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, as well as those at risk of torture or cruel and unusual treatment or punishment;

This translates into meaning that every criminal or otherwise undesirable person entering Canada who claims to be a refugee would be under Canadian protection from extradition to another country if there is reason to believe they would be under a threat of harm.

Motion No. 3 would improve the effectiveness of the bill. Our party will support the amendment.

The definition of refugee in the bill needs further clarification. Most Canadians know what a true refugee is. We will do our part to help those who are truly in need. Keeping them clogged in the system is not helping them, especially when they are found not to be genuine refugees and are deported. Their lives are ruined after so many months and years. The bill also gives refugees, as well as refugee applicants, full charter protection.

Motion No. 2, also in the name of the hon. member for Laval Centre, takes away the regulation making authority by order in council. Regulations should be made in committee. I was the co-chair of the standing committee on scrutiny of regulations. I can say that the government is in the habit of governing through the back door and not by debating regulations in the House.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, thank you for allowing me to take part in debate on Bill C-11, even if my time will be quite limited.

Bill C-11 deals with immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.

I am very glad to have this opportunity to speak to this bill. I remind the House that when I was the critic for my party a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to debate this bill, which was called Bill C-31 at the time.

The purpose of Bill C-31 was to amend Canada's immigration law, which dated back to 1976.

We all agree that the time has come to review the legislation. Why? Because, as my colleague from Laval Centre pointed out earlier, those who live in an urban riding, especially in Quebec and in the greater Montreal area, realize that many citizens and families must face incredible tragedies and go through hardship because of the inconsistencies in the current immigration legislation.

With regard to the Immigration and Refugee Board, the minister tells us that from now on it will take 72 hours for a refugee claim to be filed with the IRB, which will have to bring down its decision within six to nine months. Why do we support an improvement in the process? Because the present system is much too slow.

IRB figures from December 1999 indicate that the average time to process a claim is about ten months. Right now, there are 7,000 asylum seekers waiting for a decision from the Immigration and Refugee Board, and this is in Montreal alone.

We can imagine that while a person is waiting for a decision from the IRB a certain degree of integration into the Canadian and Quebec society inevitably occurs, and we must not be indifferent to that. We agree that it is important to reduce the processing time.

Motion No. 2, brought forward by my colleague from Laval Centre, is an attempt to prevent the government from making regulations outside the legislative process. We would like the government to include these regulations in the future federal immigration act. Why? So that the legislation will be understandable and consistent with needs.

When I was my party's citizenship and immigration critic, I remember meeting privately with organizations such as the Canadian Council for Refugees, which is located in my riding. I took the trouble to meet with them in my office.

I started off by asking them “What do you think of the bill to amend the Immigration Act?” Representatives of these organizations replied “This is not an easy question to answer, because the bill is difficult to evaluate. The government wants to pass a series of regulations, rather than include important measures within the bill”.

This is why the member for Laval Centre's Motion No. 2 is important. As parliamentarians, we must not be cut out of the loop. We must ensure that the bill is as complete as possible and not leave a large number of measures outside the process, outside the bill, in draft regulations.

Another important aspect of this bill has to do with automatic detention. It will be recalled that when the minister announced her bill a few weeks before the last election was called, her intention was clear. She was introducing a tough bill. Why? Because she naturally wanted to respond to the repeated demands from certain provinces west of Quebec seeking a tougher law.

This is consistent with other legislation, such as Bill C-7, which aims for tougher treatment of children. When I asked the government in committee to exclude minors from the detention process, I was told that this would be included in future regulations. What I wanted was for this to be a provision in the act. This would be a clear sign of the government's willingness.

A number of international conventions are mentioned in the bill. I am thinking of the convention on the rights of the child—

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hon. member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie will have three minutes and twenty four seconds left.

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-209, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (Public Transportation Costs), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


John McCallum Liberal Markham, ON

Madam Speaker, as I said a few weeks ago, I agree in many respects with the objectives of this bill, which would allow individuals to deduct a portion of their public transportation costs for environmental reasons.

The purpose of this legislation is definitely in line with the objectives of the government. Measures dealing with public transportation provide greater hopes than before, particularly since the President of the United States has rejected, at least for the time being, the Kyoto agreement.

In principle it is definitely on the right wavelength and certainly on the same wavelength as the initiatives of the government. The measures the government has put in place are arguably superior to the proposed bill in terms of achieving the desired consequences for the environment.

I will outline briefly a number of the government's measures. I am not suggesting they are in and of themselves fully adequate so I will comment on possible future directions in which the proposals in the private member's bill could play a part. However it would be premature to adopt the bill before considering all the alternatives.

In general, the government has committed $1.2 billion over five years to environmental projects of one kind or another. I will mention just a few of these. The government has committed $100 million to the sustainable development technology fund, principally to reduce greenhouse gas.

The government has also committed $25 million and $100 million respectively to the green municipal enabling fund and the green municipal investment fund which are both administered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. These funds help the municipalities to determine the feasibility of and best approaches to renewable energy, building retrofits, water conservation and so on.

The green municipal investment fund also supports projects in areas such as energy and water savings, urban transit, which is related to the proposed private member's bill, and waste divergence to strengthen the sustainability of communities.

Other measures announced in the budget tried to achieve similar ends. The budget provided $210 million over three years for the renewal of the climate change action fund and other federal energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

Finally, the budget expanded the existing federal green energy procurement pilot initiatives. These measures were supplemented in the fall economic statement and update with the announcement of a $500 million federal contribution toward the national implementation strategy on climate change.

When we put all those measures together they will contribute in a substantial way to reducing gas emissions in the transportation, electricity, oil and gas, buildings and agriculture sectors. They will also support Canadian projects in other countries.

The government also announced a $2 billion infrastructure Canada program to support municipal infrastructure development. Most urban transit investments are eligible for assistance under this program. Eligible projects include fixed transit assets, such as bus lanes and rail lines, as well as transit vehicles which use alternative fuel.

All these measures show that the environment is a high priority for the Government of Canada. They are the result of extensive consultations with various stakeholders and we in the government think they are likely to achieve a greater impact at lower costs than the proposal in the private member's bill.

I do not want to give the impression that everything is done and that no more initiatives are needed. Because of the difficulties in the Kyoto area, initiatives involving public transit as a means of attacking air emission problems should receive a high priority.

What the member suggested is one alternative. The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy is studying a large number of alternative tax measures under the general rubric of green taxes. There is also the possibility that initiatives in the area of public transit will come out of the task force on urban relations as well.

In conclusion, while the objectives of this bill are laudable, more studies conducted with the tools I mentioned are required to develop a program that will have a broader scope before we can decide whether or not we accept this proposal.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Madam Speaker, it gives my great pleasure to speak to a motion put forward by my colleague from Jonquière, whose great concern for the environment has endeared her to everyone in this House.

So that everyone knows what we are talking about today, let me remind especially the heritage minister that we are dealing with Bill C-209, which would provide tax benefits to those who use public transit. I am told that the heritage minister likes to use public transit, that she takes the subway or the bus every time she can and that this brings her closer to her constituents.

The hon. member for Jonquière has introduced a private member's bill that would allow Canadians to deduct certain public transportation costs from the amount of tax payable.

This is an important piece of legislation that comes at a time when environmental issues are of great concern to society. As parliamentarians, we have to wonder how we can, individually and collectively, promote public transit. To promote public transit is to take any measure possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In essence, the bill introduced by the member for Jonquière deals with pollution.

Let me tell you something. I am 39 and I have never owned a car. Early in life, I decided that I would use public transit. I never really had a car. I went to write the test and I had three months to practice. I have to admit that I was not a very good driver. It is out of courtesy for the community that I do not own a car. Beyond the wisdom of such decision, however, is concern for the environment.

Of course when you live in Montreal, it is easier to organize your life around public transportation.

I would like to digress for a moment, Madam Speaker. Every Sunday, from three to five o'clock, whenever I have a chance, I visit your constituency, because I train at the Claude Robillard Centre. I know that you share my loyalty to that institution, which provides Montrealers with access to equipment of great value.

I now go back to my main point. If, as parliamentarians, we were to adopt the bill put forward by the member for Jonquière, that would give us an opportunity to show our solidarity towards public transportation.

I want to cite one statistic that will particularly enlighten this debate: 80% of workers have access to subsidized parking. The fringe benefits package offered by employers includes the possibility of a parking spot.

We can imagine the kind of competition public transportation is against. This is why the member for Jonquière says that if nothing is done to correct the situation, there will be an increase in the use of cars.

The member for Jonquière was telling us about the following experience: in Quebec, all the cars that are driven to work would, bumper to bumper, represent a line going from Montreal to the Gaspé peninsula. People are used to driving to work. The member for Jonquière is quite right to wish that as parliamentarians we could provide benefits that would be a little competitive.

I hope that all members in this House will want to immediately give a good hand of applause to the member for Jonquière, who has been forward looking and who is proposing through her bill that public transportation be competitive. I also ask the President of the Treasury Board to share our enthusiasm, because she is also from Montreal.

I have my own card here. A transportation card, that we call a CAM in Montreal, costs $48.50. I buy it at the beginning of every month. I always use public transportation. According to studies, public transportation users pay about $1,000 a year, while car users pay $8,000. Can members see how it could be socially beneficial to reinforce public transportation and to have tax deduction measures accordingly?

The most interesting thing, when we compare pollution generated by cars, as is the case for all those people who are driving to work is that public transportation is responsible for 32% of greenhouse gas emissions. I know people living in the suburbs cannot always do otherwise. It is different for them than for people living in Montreal, in Quebec City or all those living in urban centres.

In these statistics, I noticed that a single bus can carry as many passengers as 40 or 50 cars. In addition, its toxic gas emissions per passenger kilometre are a mere one-quarter of those produced by the cars. When efforts are made to use public transit, it means as many as 40 or 50 fewer cars on the road.

Public transit is interesting not only from the point of view of savings, but also from an environmental point of view, since greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to one-quarter. I think this is the most valuable aspect of the bill introduced by the hon. member for Jonquière.

There is a link we should establish with Canada's international obligations. I think the hon. member for Jonquière was our environment critic when Canada signed the Kyoto protocol. If my information is correct, when the Kyoto agreement was ratified, Canada undertook to reduce by 6% domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 2010. If we compare the 1990s to the 2010 decade, we, as Canadians and Quebecers, should reduce our greenhouse gas by 6% under that international agreement.

However, the hon. member for Jonquière told us that if the present situation remains unchanged and nothing is done for public transit, Canada will not only be unable to keep its commitment, but emissions will actually increase by 35%.

What does that mean? It means that, in the end, we do not have much choice but to encourage more people to use public transit. Among the solutions available to us to meet the targets agreed to in Kyoto is the need to increase the use of public transit.

It is also interesting to note that the United States, a country to which we like to compare ourselves with regard to certain social measures, has measures similar to what the member for Jonquière is proposing.

I am happy to tell members that in the United States non- taxable bus passes have led to a 25% increase in the number of people who use the public transit system. That experience was conducted in a society similar to ours, with large cities and extremely busy roads. That initiative was successful in discouraging people from using their cars.

Since my time has expired, I will conclude by saying that I am hopeful that all members of the House will support Bill C-209 and that a few years from now when we assess the success of environmental measures, we will be able to say that we as parliamentarians helped to reduce pollution.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Durham Ontario


Alex Shepherd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to enter the debate on Bill C-209. I congratulate the member for Jonquière for bringing this very important issue to the floor of the House of Commons.

I live not too far from Toronto and have occasion to go there from time to time. One thing we have in that area, which I am sure Montreal and other urban centres in Canada have, is traffic gridlock. There is an inability to travel down the roads in any kind of meaningful timeframe. More important, as other members have mentioned, is the impact on greenhouse gases and the fact that the family automobile is contributing to our environmental problems.

I am told that the average automobile will inject the amount of C02 emissions into the atmosphere equal to four times the weight of the vehicle every year. We can see that this is a detriment to our health and also to our road safety.

There are many different ways to deal with the whole issue of greenhouse gases. An area I am involved in is what we call ecological tax reform. That is the ability to shift taxes toward polluters and away from people who are undertaking environmentally friendly practices. It is in that vein that I look at this legislation and enjoy the ability to engage in the debate.

I have had the advantage of being on public transit systems all over the world. When I was in Moscow I was amazed that its subway moved about a million people a day. This is really a tremendous feat. It shows what could be accomplished if we could get more people onto the public transit system. It is a very useful piece of legislation.

The problem we have when we deal with these kinds of issues is the question of the choice. In this case it is the choice of different types of policies to achieve the objective of lowering greenhouse gases.

I started to study this legislation and some of the other studies which have been around. For instance, recent studies showed that on average a tax subsidy of this nature would only increase ridership by 15%. This was in view of the fact that ridership was at a very low level in the first place, with only 19% of available people using public transit. People who have studied this issue have said that this kind of incentive would have a very low effect on increasing ridership.

We have to look at it in that vein, because if it only increases ridership by 15%, it means that the other people who are already taking public transit are the ones who will get the lion's share of the benefit. We really have not influenced public policy or the culture of people to be more sensitive to the environment and use public transit as opposed to vehicles. It is that issue which is essential to the whole issue of greenhouse gases. We need to change our culture toward how we handle ourselves in the environment and how we use our automobiles and so forth.

When I look at the legislation, it is unclear to me whether it will have that impact on changing people's choices about how they carry on in the environment.

I will take it one step further. This is an overview of the environmental concerns. When I started to read the legislation I got a little confused because it talked about providing receipts for transportation costs. For instance, from time to time I take OC Transpo. I buy some tickets at the store. I give the bus driver the tickets when I get on the bus but I do not get a receipt. That is the normal course of business on most public transit systems. The reality is, in a majority of cases people do not have receipts. However the legislation requires people to provide receipts for this tax deduction.

It talks about reasonable amounts paid by the individual in the year for the use of public transit. I do not know what reasonable means. However it is clear to me that the income tax system is designed to find people's taxable income, and taxable income is usually considered to be earnings from employment. We do give some a blanket deduction for employment expenses. The bottom line is that we pay tax on the balance.

The legislation would change that to some significant degree in the sense that it would allow people to claim expenses which would be personal in nature. For instance, if somebody went to a hockey game in Montreal, presumably they would use the public transit and this would be allowed as a tax deduction. This seems a very strange way to reward people. I presume we are saying that if somebody else walked or whatever they would not receive a benefit from this. For that reason, these kinds of changes to the Income Tax Act would help one group of people and would be a detriment to another group.

Another issue we are talking about is that of people who live in urban areas where there is public transit available. My riding is fairly large and has about 125,000 people. However we have very little public transit. The only public transit we really have is when Toronto's GO system sends a bus to our area from time to time. In other words, it is basically a rural or semi-rural area. These people have no choice but to use their cars to go to work.

What the legislation says is that people who live and work in urban centres will be given a benefit and those who live or work in rural areas will not. For that reason it is a terribly unfair piece of legislation.

There is no question that we need more people using rapid transit. The question is, how do we do it? It may be effective for rapid transit systems to use more alternative fuels like ethanol as opposed to gasoline driven engines. This might have a more positive effect.

There is a whole gamut of different policy tools that governments could look at in the fuel cell technology. The government has been very supportive of Ballard Power and developing that kind of technology. There are all kinds of other different technologies out there that desperately want our support.

Government to me has always been about choices. We obviously cannot accomplish all the wonderful things we would like to do to reduce greenhouse gases. It is clear that we must start doing more than we are today.

The member has not mentioned it, but I suspect we are talking about millions of tax dollars going into a project of transit passes, only to attain an increased ridership of no more than 15%. We may well ask if we could take the same money and use it more effectively in new types of technology to reduce greenhouse gases.

Vancouver is debating municipal legislation that would require a special driver's licence to drive in the city. That would represent a quota system in which only so many licences would be issued and a person could not drive in downtown Vancouver without one. It is a way of pushing traffic out of the downtown core.

We need to put more emphasis on public transit. One of the things I am trying to do in my riding is get the VIA Rail train to be a commuter train. That would be a positive way to get people off the roads and onto the rail system.

First, giving an incentive for transit passes would not achieve a great deal. Second, it would give benefits to people who already use public transit. Third, it seems unfair because a lot of communities in Canada do not have the advantages of public transit.

In conclusion, I am opposed to the legislation although I thank the member for Jonquière for bringing the issue to the floor of the House of Commons.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise to participate in the second hour of debate on Bill C-209. The purpose of the bill is to allow tax reductions for users of public transportation services in Canada.

I begin my remarks in support of the bill by congratulating my colleague, the hon. member for Jonquière, on her hard work in bringing the matter before the House. It is a notable effort to protect our environment. People where I come from highly appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

It is a very simple bill. It proposes to enable Canadians when filling out their income tax returns to subtract a percentage of the money they pay for public transport from the amount they owe in taxes.

In 1999 the House of Commons, by a vote of 240 to 25, adopted a motion asking the weak Liberal government to review the issue of tax exemptions for users of public transportation. However the Liberals have done absolutely nothing about it since passing the motion.

In the lower mainland of British Columbia where I come from, transportation is a very serious problem. The city of Surrey is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada and traffic congestion is a very real concern for the people there. Transportation is a very serious issue for all the population of British Columbia's lower mainland.

The Greater Vancouver Regional District is planning to extend the TransLink service deeper into our lower mainland to connect commuters to downtown Vancouver. In fact, construction is going on. However there is no federal government support to encourage this type of extension which would take traffic off our already congested highways and streets.

To assist in paying for the infrastructure extension, the Greater Vancouver Regional District was planning to levy a vehicle tax on users.

Members can imagine how annoying it was. It was a very irritating idea. People were very upset about a levy on their vehicles. There was a huge public outcry for even suggesting that another tax must be paid by transit link commuters. I am surprised that this public outrage has not made any impact on the Liberal government in Ottawa. From its point of view, all the money it collects from gasoline taxes goes to general revenues. The government does not have the courtesy to put money where its mouth is, where there is a high demand, a high need, in our infrastructure development and public transportation.

Last November during the election the finance minister flew in a helicopter over the city of Surrey. He wanted to get a tour of the city. Probably he saw there was not enough support for him and his party in that area, so he chose to tour the city by helicopter. He admitted to the media that he was not aware of the transportation needs of this area. Talk about alienation. I do not want to elaborate on that, but he is a federal cabinet minister and claims he was not aware of the transportation concerns of British Columbians living on the lower mainland.

I challenge the finance minister on what he saw at that time. He is aware of the needs of transportation in that region. What has he done so far or what is he planning to do in due course? I am asking today: what is he prepared to do about the problems he saw during his trip?

When we compare the tax on gasoline with the tax in the United States of America, we see that 95% of the revenue in the United States is spent on roads, on highways and, most important, on public transportation. In contrast, in Canada something like only 3.5% of the revenue from gasoline taxes is invested in roads, highways or public transportation. On one side, south of the border, it is 95% and here at home in Canada it is just 3.5%. There is a big divergence or gap in the way that revenue is invested in transportation and so on.

This is a very good motion. At least it encourages commuters to use public transportation. Again, though, it is the responsibility of all levels of government to make sure that infrastructure development is there and that the public transportation system is there when the public needs it.

There are many benefits of adopting this motion, particularly in terms of pollution control, health and the environment. I will give some statistics on what is happening in Canada with respect to these three things I mentioned. Seventy-five per cent of Canadians consider that air pollution affects their health and 16,000 Canadians die prematurely every year because of the poor air quality. Between 1980 and 1990 the number of children hospitalized because of asthma increased by 23%. Health costs resulting from automobile use in Canada reportedly total over $1 billion a year. Motor vehicles are the principal source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 32% of the total amount. A single bus can carry as many passengers as 40 or 50 cars. It is equivalent to that. Its emission percentages per kilometre are only one-quarter of those of cars and other vehicles.

This bill is an ideal tool for meeting our Kyoto commitments. We promised that by the year 2010 our emissions would be 6% lower than 1990 levels, but if the current situation continues Canada will actually exceed those levels by 35%. Rather than a decrease of 6%, experts estimate an increase of 35%. That is very alarming.

There are certain economic benefits. Some 80% of people who travel to work are entitled to a subsidized parking space, while very few workers receive any benefit for using public transportation. When workers do receive such benefits they are required to pay taxes on them whereas most people who are entitled to a subsidized parking space pay no taxes on that benefit. This situation greatly discourages the use of public transportation.

Public transportation provides access to urban centres, thus promoting the development and economic growth of those centres and communities. The bill would increase the use of public transportation services. In the United States, for example, tax free bus passes led to a 25% increase in the number of public transportation users.

In the U.S. there is a $500 billion initiative to develop the transportation infrastructure during the next five years. I ask this weak Liberal government what its plan is. How much money does it want to put into this big investment area? Canada is the only G-8 country that does not have a national transportation infrastructure program. The Liberals have no plans to implement one. Bill C-209 offers one solution. I urge the Liberal government to stop resting on its laurels and do something to provide incentives to promote the use of public transportation in Canada.

I will also very quickly highlight the fact that I had a meeting with the disgruntled B.C. public transportation employees who are on strike. Of the three levels of organizational structure, they did not know who their bosses were. There is no responsibility at any level of public transportation organizational structure. I urge the federal government to show leadership and address the issue.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in today's debate on second reading of Bill C-209, an act to amend the Income Tax Act.

It is not every day that we have a private member's bill with such an objective. Why would the Income Tax Act be changed? To provide tax credits to people who use public transit to go work or for occupations other than work. We know that there are now a lot of volunteers.

Before going into this bill in more detail, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the work done by my colleague from Jonquière. The hon. member for Jonquière was an extremely dynamic and active critic when she was involved with environmental issues. Everyone in the House surely remembers the determination and the passion with which she pursued the government on the issue of MOX. Our colleague is someone who believes that the environment is everybody's business, that it is the responsibility of each and every one of us.

If it is an individual responsibility, can you imagine what an essential responsibility it is for governments? There was a predecessor to the bill introduced today, which was proposed in 1999 by the hon. member of the NDP, Nelson Riis, who was a colleague of ours, as far as I am concerned, from 1993 to 2000.

At that time, the motion introduced by Mr. Riis called on the government to examine the issue of a tax credit for the use of public transit. That motion was very clearly passed: 246 yeas, 25 nays. It was quite a surprise.

What is even more surprising is that since 1999, after recognizing the need for such a study, the government that was re-elected for a third term with a huge majority has forgotten everything about it. They do not talk about it any more.

We know that governments are like citizens. Sometimes they need incentives. The bill introduced by the member for Jonquière acts as an incentive. Will the government agree to consider and implement this bill? I wish I could count on it, because it would send a clear message to everyone in Canada and in Quebec.

We realize that the environment in increasingly deteriorating, especially in overindustrialized countries, like Canada and Quebec that are in the shadow of the United States.

The recent decision by President Bush to ignore the commitments make in Kyoto is very worrisome, just like the lack of a strong response from Canada to that decision.

Vehicles are accountable for 32% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Thirty-two per cent is a lot.

I have been living in Laval since 1967. In the last 30 to 35 years, I must say that the number of cars has increased. Of course, with the development of the suburbs traffic towards downtown Montreal has increased significantly.

In 1976, I could leave Laval at 7 a.m. and get downtown in 20 minutes.

Now when I come to Ottawa, and I do it at least once a week, I must be in my car by 6 a.m., and I can assure hon. members that I am not speeding; I cannot drive fast. It takes me between 40 and 50 minutes to leave the island of Montreal at 6 in the morning.

Does this mean that ten years from now people will have to get up at 5 a.m. if they want to avoid spending two hours to cover 20 kilometres?

My colleague is asking that there be a tax credit. The hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve referred to subsidized parking spaces. Of course, here, as members of parliament, we have a parking space that is in addition to our salary. It is the same at General Motors. My point is that there are many places where this is provided.

The alternative is to get a bus pass. However, if I live in Laval and work in Montreal, I must spend twice as much money on that pass, because I must go from Laval to Montreal. Worse still, if I live in Laval and work on the south shore, I must get three different passes. These costs add up.

Why not recognize that a tax credit should be given to those who are lucid enough to decide to leave their car in the driveway and do their bit to help reduce pollution? Why not do that?

I know that the Minister of Finance has tremendous responsibilities. I know that tax abatements are very difficult to implement, but I also know that certain large corporations already enjoy sizeable ones.

Why not average citizens? Why do people who earn their living and must travel not get a break? Perhaps this would have some effect on the thousands of motorists who jam the Jacques-Cartier, Champlain, highway 15 and highway 13 bridges every morning. Perhaps this would motivate them to do their bit too.

Personally I hope that the government votes in favour of this bill. We are about to head off for the summer and it would perhaps be a nice thing we could all do for ourselves to pass this bill and be able to look forward to a cleaner environment.

We know that asthma and allergies are on the increase. This would eliminate these problems for our young people. Our seniors, for whom air pollution is a big concern, particularly for those suffering from pulmonary or cardiopulmonary problems, as many do, might perhaps be able to enjoy a quiet walk through the parks in metropolitan Montreal. They could say “My God, the air is a bit better”.

I know that I am dreaming, but when one stops dreaming, one has already died a little. I claim to be full of life, just as full of life as the member for Jonquière, and just as full of life as the majority of the members who are going to vote in favour of the bill introduced by the member for Jonquière.