That, in the opinion of this House, the government should never exclude elected provincial government officials from any briefings or negotiations with provincial civil servants concerning legislation, regulations, treaties or agreements of any kind.
Mr. Speaker,I am pleased to rise to speak to this motion. The motion arises as a result of my personal experience as a provincial justice minister dealing with negotiations with the federal government on the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
While I was a provincial minister I was told by my staff that I could not attend negotiations or discussions with federal officials, nor could I be briefed by my own staff with respect to these meetings with federal officials despite the very real financial, political and administrative interests the provincial government had in administering not only the Young Offenders Act but the new act that has been put in its place.
I initiated the motion after the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights barred the appearances of provincial attorneys general during hearings on the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Bill C-7. The newer members of the committee, such as myself, were told that it was a rule or a convention of the committee to not hear from elected provincial officials. The government members voted down a motion supported by all four opposition parties to waive this rule. As a result, the committee was only able to hear from non-elected provincial officials.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which replaces the Young Offenders Act, is enforced on a day to day basis by provincial officials and authorities. While the justice committee regularly hears testimony from the federal attorney general, unbelievably we were prevented from hearing from the officials who are actually responsible for implementing the legislation, paying for it and for making it work: the provincial attorneys general.
Despite the numerous concerns expressed about the lack of consultation with provincial authorities in the ongoing debate over this bill, astonishingly the government members on the justice committee said that they did not believe it was appropriate to invite elected representatives from provincial governments to make representations here in Ottawa. While they discussed matters with staff, they would not hear from the elected representatives who are politically accountable to the people of the various provinces.
Given that the provinces are often shouldered with the burden of the costs in implementing new laws, it is a tremendously important issue for provincial attorneys general or any other provincial minister administering a federal law who have to justify to the taxpayers the moneys they will have to spend. As elected officials responsible for the expenditure of funds and working in partnership with the federal government, there can be no relevant objection to them explaining their views and concerns to parliament.
On the issue of funding, I recognize that the federal government has indicated that it is willing to spend more money to implement the Youth Criminal Justice Act but we know that it will never reach a 50:50 partnership as the act had originally intended. Essentially the provinces will continue to bear about 75% of the cost of this act, and possibly even more in the years to come.
The provincial attorneys general and the taxpayers they represent who are shouldering the bulk of the financial burden of this act could simply say that they will not enforce this legislation or any other legislation the federal government imposes on them in the future. This was done with Bill C-68 where provincial attorneys general said that they would not co-operate in that federal act because it did not meet the needs of the people of their provinces.
The attorneys general of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba are not required to enforce the new youth justice legislation. They could simply say “Forget it. Let the federal government do it”. They could refuse to accept the delegation to prosecute under that act or to indeed spend any moneys under that act.
Even if that might be an unlikely possibility, and even though in Bill C-68, for example, they did refuse that delegation, common sense, good government and co-operative federalism demand that the provincial attorneys general be allowed to come to Ottawa to explain the difficulties they may foresee in making the legislation work.
It is critical that the federal government continues to work co-operatively and in good faith with the political figures who are responsible to the taxpayers of their respective provinces.
The motion also indirectly addresses the fundamental concerns of parliamentarians who often see committee work as ineffective or irrelevant. During the justice committee hearing in which we discussed whether or not to hear the elected provincial officials, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice at the time, the hon. member for Erie--Lincoln, said:
With respect to the ministers, they have more than ample opportunity to speak to the Minister of Justice at various federal-provincial-territorial meetings that go on frequently, and went on with this specific legislation. They've had more than ample opportunity to present their views to the minister.
Even if that is in fact correct, which it is not, having had that experience as a provincial justice minister where we were not consulted nor did we have an opportunity to discuss the act with the federal minister, as the member for Winnipeg--Transcona so aptly pointed out at the committee, it appeared that it did not even occur to the parliamentary secretary that perhaps the justice committee might form a different opinion or might even be a different entity in some respects from the federal justice minister.
The parliamentary secretary sat in his chair and said that ministers of justice in the provinces can talk to the federal minister of justice and that was good enough. This lack of democratic consultation is exactly what many Canadians, including parliamentarians, find so disconcerting about the entire legislative process.
There are only two significant ways for individual members to contribute to the political process under the process that we presently have today in parliament. One is through the introduction of private members' bills and the other is through parliamentary committees. However it is now apparent that even these avenues are being shut off. This was demonstrated recently when the Prime Minister rejected the extensive work of a committee reviewing the contentious species at risk legislation, Bill C-5. All Liberal members in the House were instructed to vote against the committee amendments, including amendments that would have guaranteed compensation to landowners for land expropriated under the legislation.
Similarly, last week the new Minister of Justice rejected the recommendations of the parliamentary committee that proposed important changes to protect the interests of children caught up in bitter custody battles after divorce.
Those are but a couple of examples of why so many Canadians, including parliamentarians themselves, have become disillusioned with our political system. What is the point of an all party justice committee when the Liberal majority on the committee is simply an appendage of the justice minister?
Although the motion will not necessarily address issues of democratic reform in parliament, it would go far to remedy one particular consequence of the dysfunctional nature of parliamentary committees. The motion as worded would give parliamentarians the opportunity to confer on a number of fronts with both elected and non-elected provincial officials regarding any matter crossing areas of provincial and federal jurisdiction.
By working more positively and proactively with the elected political figures who are responsible and accountable to the people of their respective provinces, the House could demonstrate an unprecedented measure of good faith that would go a long way to improving co-operative federalism in the country.
Although the motion is not votable, I would hope that it would be a starting point for future discussions on this matter.
I have the minutes from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as of April 4, 2001. I want to read a few of the comments that were made by members in voting down hearing from provincial officials. When I stated:
I understand there is a standing rule that prohibits elected officials from coming here, and I think that's unfortunate.
The member for Winnipeg--Transcona then expressed his concern and the chair indicated the following:
The rule, the tradition, the convention predates the chair's being a member of the committee, but my understanding is that there are technical aspects of this the provinces would have to be responsible for administering, and we wanted to bring in the technical people who would be doing that. Therefore, what we wanted to do was bring in deputy attorneys general and representatives of the government, rather than elected officials. That was what I understood.
The member for Winnipeg--Transcona then raises other points, saying that on this kind of bill there are political matters in the very best sense and there are federal-provincial issues with respect to the allocation of resources.
The parliamentary secretary then said the following, and it was astounding. He said:
Mr. Chair, I stand to be corrected, but the suggestion that we have not heard from the provinces before this committee would be inaccurate. We have heard from officials. To my recollection, certainly in the case of the Province of Manitoba, the Province of British Columbia, the Province of Ontario I believe...invitations were extended to the provinces as well. We're certainly very happy to hear from the individuals who work with this legislation day to day.
With respect to the ministers, they have more than ample opportunity to speak to the Minister of Justice at various...meetings...They've had more than ample opportunity to present their views to the minister.
The point is however that they were not allowed to present their views to committee.
Perhaps the height of Liberal majority arrogance on the justice committee was seen when one Liberal member stated the following with respect to the motion in favour of having elected representatives there. He said:
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to say that I would not be supporting the motion on the basis that I've spent two years as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and I can see that changing our convention would be simply opening it up to a series of fed-bashers. They would come here, the way they do, with the media in tow, and get into that. That's why I think the rule or the convention makes sense, to have officials who aren't going to be here to play the political game. As much as we are discussing political issues, I don't want to be captive to a round of fed-bashing, which I think this would inevitably lead to.
We are talking about the elected representatives of the people of the various provinces. They are responsible for administering and enforcing the legislation.The point of view of the parliamentary secretary is that this is simply fed-bashing. That is the problem with this government. Liberal members think that unless they can absolutely control any discussions to arrive at a predetermined result, it is simply fed-bashing.
This is a federal system. The federal attorney general has the right to speak to the provincial attorneys general. However we, as justice committee members or any other committee members, should be entitled to hear from these elected officials. They are responsible for the payment of this in large part. They are responsible for prosecution. They are responsible for administration. This is a shameful example of how the government refuses to co-operate with the provinces.
The provincial attorneys general could simply say that they will no longer prosecute under the criminal code and that they will leave it to the federal attorney general. They can say they will no longer prosecute under the youth justice legislation. However they are attempting to work co-operatively with the federal government, but unfortunately the Liberal majority on that committee refuses to hear from those who have significant input on this matter.