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House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was program.

Topics

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is no agreement and perhaps if there are any explanations maybe the members in question could meet somewhere and discuss the matter.

In the meantime we will now proceed to questions and comments.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the questions and comments have been interrupted by a request for unanimous consent which may actually impact on my questions and comments.

I am a little concerned that we were told in the last question from the member for Mississauga South that there was no other option. There is an option. The option is for the minister to do the right thing in terms of widows' pensions by asking this place for unanimous consent. That could have been done earlier. It was done just now, but that was only for the convenience of the government and not for what is right for the widows.

Why has the House been held up problematically on this issue for such an extended period of time and now we are being asked to do something here in the very late stages?

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is entirely correct. The procedure is controlled by the Liberal Party. That is why they are the government. They decide, as they see fit, whether a motion applies or does not apply, whether an amendment is made or not. There are ways, as the hon. member explained, for the government, if it wants to, to get its point across, if it wants to.

Our problem right now it does not want to do this. I repeat what I said earlier. The real problem is that the real struggle that has gone on for this veterans independence program was fought by the widows—and the widowers—who will not be eligible for benefits under this program. They are the ones who were entitled to these benefits for a year, and who complained that the quality of life they wanted was the same independence they had when their husband or wife was alive. That is what they were asking for.

The government agreed to modify the program. The problem is that it has forgotten, deliberately decided not to help the women and men who were receiving the benefits before May 12, 2003.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, the problem I perceive is that veterans affairs is actually a subcommittee of the defence and veterans affairs committee.

The member knows very well that members, especially those from the smaller opposition parties, rush back and forth trying to attend the various committees. When we speak veterans and their families many of them ask why veterans affairs is a subcommittee. It gives it a lesser meaning than a full committee.

Would the member support having the veterans affairs committee become a full standing committee as other committees are in the House of Commons in order to give the veterans and their families the respect that they deserve?

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, veterans and their survivors deserve better, in terms of quality of life. Parliament should create a committee to deal only with veterans affairs.

I completely agree with my colleague. That is the only way to settle disputes and defend the interests, in the knowledge that they will not get tangled up in too much red tape.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the previous questioner had suggested that unanimous consent was going to somehow deal with this. I am not sure, but I think the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel would know that this particular provision is not in the act. It is a matter which is dealt with in the regulations and notwithstanding anything, the order in council can still make a change to the regulations.

From the debate that happened at second reading it appears that this is not a matter of will, it is a matter of money. Certainly it is not a matter that unanimous consent could somehow change regulations I would think. Maybe the member would care to comment on that.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for giving me this opportunity to talk about this. He has finally put his finger on the problem. The problem is money. I had said that I would not talk about the Liberal Party's shameful waste of public funds. But the Liberal member has given me an opportunity to renew the debate on the sponsorship scandal, the Radwanski affair and the major spending by this government.

We have a problem. The government has money coming out of its ears. That is the reality. The Liberal government has a lot of money and is throwing it around like there is no tomorrow and like the veterans have no tomorrow. That is what we are realizing today. Money is being wasted. Money is being invested in areas where administrative cuts should have been made, particularly when it comes to senior civil servants and the upper echelons of the federal public service.

Today, a Liberal member said that the real problem is money. That is true, the problem is that the Liberal government is wasting money, investing every which way but where it should, and then fails to have enough to help the surviving spouses of veterans who only want one thing: to maintain the quality of life they had when their spouse was alive.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party and my caucus colleague the member for Saint John who sits on the national defence and veterans affairs committee. I will represent her but certainly not in the capacity that she could have spoken to the bill.

I do not think there is anyone in the House who would disagree that she passionately supports and defends the rights of veterans as well as the military. She has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that if there is anyone in the House who has the feel for what is happening in the veterans portfolio and certainly with the widows of those veterans, she is certainly the one who could put forward a very passionate plea to the government.

I am a poor stand-in but I will attempt to put our position forward. I hope to convince the government that it has an obligation, a right and a responsibility to change Bill C-50, if not in the legislation, then in the regulations as was explained by the minister this morning. And if it is not changed in the regulations and the legislation, then perhaps it should be fixed when the bill comes back from the Senate. There is an opportunity to sit down with the Senate and negotiate the necessary changes that could fix the injustice that has been articulated by previous speakers.

There is always good and there is always bad in any piece of legislation. However, the omission in this legislation is not only good or bad, it is repugnant. It is targeting a portion of our society that we should be assisting in their years of retirement. We should be providing those individuals with the VIP pension benefits. We should be showing them some respect for the sacrifices they have made and the losses they have experienced on our behalf.

There is good and there is bad. There is no question that Bill C-50 should go forward. We know full well that we would not want to stand in opposition to the bill because there is an opportunity to correct some wrongs in it. However, when the minister stood today and recognized that there is this sad omission, I did not feel confident that the minister would be able to correct it.

I do not have to explain the situation as it has been done before. However, for the purposes of those people who may be joining us just now, the problem is there is a large group of individuals who are excluded simply because of an arbitrary date that has been chosen in this legislation. I said a large group of individuals because I heard that the number is 23,000 but today the minister today said that he does not know. He does not know what the number is. He has to get confirmation of the number before he can actually mention what the number is. That is fair ball. I am okay with that.

Let us assume that the number is 23,000 plus or minus a few. The minister is not prepared to make that commitment to those 23,000 individuals because of an arbitrary date.

There is a mirror image here by the way. The mirror image is the hepatitis C compensation package that was put forward by the government. Maybe there is a model that the Liberals follow. Maybe there is a manual that is put in front of ministers. Maybe they are told that they have to follow this model which makes some people second class citizens and treats others not as second class citizens.

That model is that there is an arbitrary date. That date is May 12, 2003. Before that date those 23,000 people would have obtained these benefits but one day after that date those people do not obtain those benefits. It is not fair. It is not equitable. It is not right.

Quite frankly, we have to make sure that it is equitable, that it is made proper and that it is made right. The way to do that, as has been suggested in a number of fashions, is to change the regulations. Now I hear that maybe it is not just the regulations. Maybe it is not just the legislation. Maybe it is not just a change from the Senate coming forward. Maybe it is a matter of money.

Twenty-three thousand people are being excluded from this. I am told that the dollar amounts may well be anywhere from $23 million to $40 million. It is a lot of money, make no mistake about that, but it is not a substantial amount of money that the people excluded should not take advantage of it.

We have heard that there is ample opportunity for the government to find $43 million or $23 million. As a matter of fact, as I understand it, if we take the lower number, the Governor General spends more than that on an annual budget. I believe that the Governor General, because of her position in our society, should certainly have the ability to have funding. But I also agree that the widows of veterans or the widowers should have the ability to achieve a certain standard of living and a certain level of independence. To not allow that $23 million or $43 million to flow to those individuals in my estimation would be tragedy and a travesty for the government.

Maybe would could look at some of the areas to save that $23 million to $43 million. I think it is there. We are told there is a budget surplus.

However, it may not be money. If it is not money, then the minister must tell us what it is because I did not get an answer to my question.

I have a lot respect for the Minister of Veterans Affairs. He is a fellow Manitoban. I believe he is here for the right reasons and he does what he does for the right reasons. The problem, however, is that perhaps he does not have the influence to put proper legislation forward right now to correct a tragedy and a wrong.

Maybe the minister should get cooperation from his backbenches because I know there are many backbenchers in the government right now who support making this equitable and right. Maybe he should get that support to go forward with the regulations and come to this House today, tomorrow or next week and say he has taken the recommendation and has found the necessary money and, in fact, those 23,000 people will be looked after the way they should be.

There are others who agree with me. There are people who have sent letters to the minister and suggested he resign. Frankly, I do not subscribe to that. I believe that the minister should do what is right. He should fight for the veterans and their widows and widowers as one of his last duties in this House, as his last duty perhaps as a member of Parliament. We do not know. We may going into another election.

He should do what he believes in his heart is right. I believe, in his heart, he is concerned about those people, but unfortunately, he has not delivered. Not to deliver is not doing a job properly. Let us give him the opportunity to make that change and do it properly.

We are approaching Remembrance Day in the not too distant future. As a matter of fact, I have a poppy which is not a prop. I was told poppies can be worn only at a certain time. It is not true that we should not consider what the poppy really represents and what we as Canadians should consider when we consider our veterans and our military.

I can speak from experience. I have a Canadian Forces base in my riding. I can put faces to the people that are responsible for what we wish them to do in the military. We send them to Afghanistan and other areas throughout the globe on our behalf, and they do it willingly. Members of our military are the most professional individuals of any military anywhere in the world and they carry our flag on their arms with pride.

The reason why I mention the poppy and the military is because sometimes, other than November 11, we have a tendency to forget exactly what it is that they provide Canadians. Unfortunately, that is what is being reflected in this legislation. We are forgetting a segment of that military dependency and it is not in the best interest of Canadians.

I suggest that the legislation go forward because it is a good small step in the right direction. However, within the next month or so--if it will be that long that we are in the House and because it involves a small number of people--the minister should find out what that number is and the financial implication. He should then return to the House and tell us that either the change has been made in the regulations or that it will be fixed in the Senate when it comes forward.

It would make me very happy. It would make the Royal Canadian Legion and the widows of veterans very happy. It would make Canadians in general extremely happy to have this terrible injustice fixed. When that happens, we would all congratulate the government and certainly the minister for a job well done. All the calls for his resignation would be moot at that point, as well they should.

On behalf of my colleague who sits on the committee, who fights as hard as she possibly can for the rights of military personnel and veterans, I would suggest that the sitting backbenchers of the current government let their voices be heard and that they cooperate with the minister.

By the way, this should not be so difficult. The Prime Minister is already on record saying that he will fix this problem. Well, he is leaving soon, we think, but I do not think anybody knows just when. I do not even think the backbenchers in the Liberal Party know when, but he has said he will leave and he has said that he will fix this problem.

With his support and the support of backbenchers, and certainly with the Minister of Veterans Affairs having his heart in the right place, this should not even be an issue. This should simply be a slam dunk. The government should be able to come to the House next week and say that the problem is fixed and it is really happy to have fixed the problem.

I congratulate the government for going forward on that basis and I certainly wait with anticipation to hear that it has fixed this terrible injustice to the VIP benefits. I wish government members the best of luck in their deliberations in the not too distant future.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario

Liberal

Ivan Grose LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I will not prolong this, but I am going to defend my minister. The hon. member opposite said some nice words about the minister, but I do not think he said enough.

Let us get this thing in perspective. We have been flogging this horse for so long now that I think it is down to a burrow. What happened was that we reassessed our budget. We had money assigned to programs that we figured we could get away with taking because the programs were not using up all that money and we wanted to use the money to put it where we could best use it.

We had five or six things that were on our “we would love to do” list. We took that money and we managed to do five of the six things. There was enough money left in the VIP to look after the widows of those veterans who died before June 2002. There was a bit of misinformation there. If the widows were on the program on May 12 then they would continue on the program.

That is all the money we had within the budget. Inasmuch as I am not one of these proverbial spendthrift Liberals, I believe we should stay within a budget. It was a re-apportionment of money within a budget. I do not want to go outside that budget, neither does the minister and neither does anyone else on this side. That was all the money there was.

That having been said, the veterans' organizations said, “That is too bad, but let us do what we can”. We might have been better off to say that we would not do anything with the VIP because, after all, there was not much fuss being raised about it so we could have left it alone, but we did not do that. We looked after who we could.

I know the minister is lobbying hard outside the budget to look after those other widows. The Prime Minister has made a commitment to look at it and between the two of them I have hope that it may be done, but all we have at the moment is a hope. There is no commitment, no guarantee, but we did what we could within the budget.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate those crocodile tears coming from the government side of the House.

The parliamentary secretary must know that with the support of this side of the House and all opposition parties there would be support if the government were to come forward with an additional expenditure of $23 million.

We all know that budgets are guidelines. We all know that there are extraordinary budget expenses. We all know this from a previous life. We all know that there are things here called supplementary estimates. We know there are ways of getting additional funds into additional budgets. We see it every day in every department.

Is the parliamentary secretary saying that the Minister of Veterans Affairs does not have the influence to get $23 million to correct what is seen as a terrible oversight, an injustice and a wrong? Is he saying that the government cannot come up with $23 million from departments that have expenditures of some hundreds of billions of dollars? Can the government not find $23 million to come forward and get the support of all opposition parties in this House to help support widows and widowers?

That is probably one of the most insignificant arguments I have ever heard in this House, to say, “It is simply a matter of money. We have done the best we can. There is no way we can do it”.

If that is the amount of fight in the Minister of Veterans Affairs, then I may have to take back some of the nice things I said about him. Frankly, if I were given 15 minutes on that side of the House, I could probably find $23 million to fix this injustice.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague from Brandon—Souris. To blame the budget is simply nonsense.

I would love to ask the government, where did the Prime Minister allocate $100 million for two jets? I would love to see the budget item on that one.

One of the problems veterans and their families have is the fact that veterans affairs is a subcommittee. Many veterans groups are saying it is almost like they are being treated differently than, say, a full committee. What happens of course is that members on this side of the House are rushing from committee to committee.

Would he consider the possibility, in the next Parliament, that veterans affairs become a full committee? RCMP officers are now falling under the veterans' benefits. We have a tremendous number of people and their families under the guise of veterans affairs and it definitely warrants the attention of a full committee.

Would he not agree, or at least agree to look into something of that nature for the very near future, so that veterans and their families could get the respect and attention that they deserve?

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, I do not sit on the defence committee or the subcommittee on veterans affairs, so I do not feel that I am qualified to comment on that.

I do not know what the workload is. I do know that my member puts an awful lot of energy into protecting and supporting veterans. I would suggest that she would have a better understanding as to whether the member's proposal should come forward.

As a caucus member of the Progressive Conservative Party, I would support her recommendation. If it were to go forward with a full committee as opposed to a subcommittee, I would certainly give her my full cooperation.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know of anybody in this place that is not supportive of Bill C-50.

The problematic issue comes down to a matter which happens to be buried in the regulations. I do not know how it was allowed to stay there when, in fact, members of the House were seeking to bring the spirit and the intent of the act as it existed, and incorporate it into the act and not leave that information buried in regulations. It is really unfortunate that it is there.

I do not believe that even the Senate has the authority to make the amendments because it has to do with money matters. I would have to inform myself a little bit more about the purview or the scope of the Senate.

It would appear that the best that we can do now, and I wonder if the member would agree, and not risk losing the rest of the bill, is to collectively make the sincere representation to the minister and cabinet to amend the regulation to provide benefits to all widows.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is probably one of the easiest softball questions I have ever had. It sounds like a Liberal asking a question to a minister during question period.

The answer to the question is obvious. Yes, of course, let us get the assurances from the Minister of Veterans Affairs. Let us get the assurances from the finance minister. Let us ensure that the regulations will be amended, rewritten properly and that they will incorporate these forgotten few. That is all there is to it. It is a no-brainer. I guess that is why Canadians maybe a little cynical about politics right now.

The member for Mississauga South said that it was an oversight, that the legislation was meant to come forward to take care of these issues. Maybe and maybe not. Maybe it is a simple thing like money that the parliamentary secretary has put on the table at the present time. Maybe it was not meant to be funded. Maybe with the pressure that is being applied currently by the veterans themselves, veterans organizations, the opposition, and for that matter, very conscientious members of the backbench of the government has forced the hand of the Minister of Veterans Affairs in a positive way.

Yes, let us ensure we have those assurances. I have said at the onset that we will not be voting against Bill C-50. There is too much good in the bill to stop it. That is not the intention. The intention is to fix what is wrong in the bill and if that is the way we can do it, then by all means the member for Mississauga South will have our support in ensuring that takes place.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak on behalf of the federal New Democratic Party in this very worthwhile debate. Any time is a good time to speak about veterans and their families.

I want to congratulate the minister as well the parliamentary secretary and the government for moving ahead with Bill C-50. We in the NDP support many aspects of the bill unequivocally.

As has been heard during previous debate in the House, there is one very serious flaw with the legislation. Is it money or is it the regulations in the legislation? It is probably a combination of both.

I do not think the government can be so cruel that it would intentionally leave out some widows or widowers. At the same time, it cannot hide behind budgetary remarks or legislative remarks. If the government has the will, with the full support I would assume of many of its own members as well as those in the four opposition parties and the support of many veterans organizations and their families, then there should be a way of moving the issue forward so all of them are protected under the same umbrella.

If the Prime Minister of Canada can, in record speed, allocate $100 million for two jets that even the defence department has said are not necessary, then surely he or the future prime minister can easily make it happen. I do not care what they have to do, but they have to make it happen so all widow and widowers are under the same umbrella. There is no reason in the world why it cannot be done.

We on this side of the House are encouraging the government to proceed with this legislation. It has our full support. Opposition's basic role is to oppose that which is worthy of opposition. However, we will support legislation brought forward by the government that is proactive as is Bill C-50. Many parts of this legislation are worthy of support and worthy of rapid approval to get this through the House.

The reality is all of us in opposition and many members on the government side have noticed a serious flaw in Bill C-50.

I know Mr. Cliff Chadderton quite well and he is not easily prone to asking ministers to resign. Out of pure frustration and out of what I would assume is anger, he has felt the need to do so. I would not want to see the minister resign because he is a decent human being and his heart and his efforts are in the right place. If he resigned, we would have to wait quite a while for the next veterans affairs minister. Then we would have to go through this debate all over again. We cannot ask the minister to do something and then at the same time ask him to resign. That is defeating our own argument. The minister should stay right where he is and a general election will clear up any problems in the future.

The present minister can do this if there is a will within Treasury Board or the finance department or if the Prime Minister says that is should happen.

In my riding of Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore, approximately one-third of my constituents are either in the military, or have retired from the military or are associated with the military in a civilian capacity. These people are constantly calling me on various issues with regard to the military.

There is no question that all of us would like to have more money to do all the things we would like to do. I know the government has to work within fiscal frameworks, but there are certain times when the obvious slaps us on the head.

The obvious situation in this regard is those of the widowers. Many people who are not even in the military have called my office and asked what is going on. They have asked why the Prime Minister has said that he can correct this deficiency and we are still debating it today in the House.

Symbolically, November 11 is coming down the pike. It is what I would call almost a holy day in Canada when we take the time to seriously reflect upon those who have gone before us in terms of defence of freedom and democracy. It was not just the soldiers, airmen, merchant mariners and sailors who fought for our freedoms and victories. What about the people who stayed home, kept the home fires burning and kept the families going?

Those men and women of the military, past, present and those yet to join, pay the ultimate price. They are willing to put their lives on the line to protect us. It does not just affect them, but their families as well. Many of us in Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada sometimes wear what we call the invisible ribbon. That is the invisible fourth arm of the military, the families.

The parliamentary secretary knows very well the great job our military family resource centres do across the country, looking after many of the situations that we are discussing right now, many situations that we hope Bill 50 will correct. However there is one glaring omission. The military family resource centres know very well what this will mean if it is not corrected.

I give credit to the previous admirals, generals and people who made the military family resource centres a very prominent aspect of our military life. I give credit to the previous defence minister who accepted many recommendations in the report of the Standing Committee on Defence and Veterans Affairs on the quality of life. My previous colleague, Mr. Gordon Earle of Halifax West, worked on it with others. The government accepted many initiatives from that. Thus we are, albeit quite slowly in my opinion, improving the quality of life for veterans and their families as well as current military personnel.

We cannot forget the ones who were here before us. When individuals in the military lay their lives on the line and those lives are unfortunately taken, then, as members of Parliament on all sides, we have to ensure that we respect and accept the ultimate responsibility to those individuals and their families. That responsibility is to ensure that when members of the military go overseas or do their duties in the country, if they die because of their actions or their duty, their families will not have to fight with the government to get proper benefits.

Individuals in the military have to worry about their own training and defensive capabilities in order to promote peace and security around the world. The last thing they need is the lingering thought in the back of their minds is if their families will be okay if they are not. That should not even be debatable.

This is something we can correct. I know the parliamentary secretary, himself being a decent individual, would want this corrected. There is nothing stopping him and his colleagues from going to the Prime Minister when he gets back from his trip and telling him they need this corrected now.

The parliamentary secretary and colleagues could explain it to the Prime Minister in their next Wednesday caucus meeting if they have to, but they should get it done. All we are asking is that it get done. Then we will stand up and sing the praises of the government's in this regard. There are many other issues on which we would not. However it is extremely imperative that this be done.

In closing, I thank all the opposition members and those on the government side who have brought this issue forward. I also thank Mr. Cliff Chadderton and all the organizations that have brought this issue forward in defence of veterans and their families.

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1:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Canadian Alliance Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke very eloquently on this subject and pretty much covered all the bases.

One thing continues to concern me. We have a very strong inkling that the minister will make a decision and that he will make an announcement. However, he will make it in his time, not in a time that is convenient for this legislation, not in a time that is convenient for the House of Commons and not in a time that is convenient for widows and widowers, but in a time that is convenient to government members, their electioneering and spin doctoring.

I think that speaks volumes. I ask my friend and colleague if that would sit well with him, if that were the case.

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1:25 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, it appears that may happen. I do not know if it is a political game to show everyone what they have done but the reality is that announcements of that nature should be done in the House when we are sitting. All members of Parliament from all sides of the House representing military families and veterans widows should be able to share in the immediate information that is required.

To announce something outside and wait for Parliament to rise, or to do something of that nature, would be cheap political theatre. I think that would be beneath the current minister from my understanding of the qualities that he displays.

I hope the hon. member for Vancouver Island North is incorrect. I suspect he may be, but I hope he is incorrect and that the announcement will be made very soon right here in the House when we are sitting.

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, throughout this debate people have been speculating about numbers: that 23,000 veterans are being left out; and that costs range, I assume, anywhere from about $200 million to some other number, but only about $20 million to $23 million a year.

I do not know if the member has any information on this, but it has come to my attention that part of the problem may very well be, and I intend to follow up on it because I do support the extension of benefits to all widows, that the total projected costs to widows and widowers would have to be booked in the year in which that decision was taken. All of a sudden it is not so much about finding $20 million this year and $20 million for next year. It is about finding $400 million in one year. This is problematic.

The member may have some ideas on how we can do this. I will certainly pursue this either with the Auditor General or with departmental officials to determine how we, as a Parliament, can get around the accounting obligation to book the entire amount so that we can get on with the objectives that I think we all share, which is to extend pension benefits to all the widows and widowers.

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1:25 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, that is the exact cooperation for which we on the opposition side are looking. I congratulate the hon. member for mentioning that.

The reality is that whatever it takes we should do it. Whether it is the Prime Minister, the leader of our country, or the Privy Council, we should do whatever it takes to get it authorized, get it done and look after these people because it needs to be done. Hopefully the requirements of it will be done right away.

I understand what he is saying and I understand the technicalities around it, but if the Prime Minister of the day really wants this to happen, it can be done. It is as simple as that. If we in the House can rush through pay raises for ourselves with the snap of a finger, then we in the House should be able to look after widowers and widows extremely quickly as well.

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1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Everyone present in the chamber on both sides of the House understands the impartiality of the Chair. I am seeking guidance, and I mean this sincerely. As we get closer to private members' business is it the will of the House to put the question or is it the will of the House to move to private members' business and resume this debate on another day? I simply seek everyone's guidance.

Is the House ready for the question?

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1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 24th, 2003 / 1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Cadman Canadian Alliance Surrey North, BC

moved that Bill C-338, an act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,I am pleased to rise today to debate the private member's bill I have brought forward on behalf of the citizens of Surrey North.

The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code with respect to the activity commonly referred to as street racing. It was introduced because Canadians want the federal government to address the problem.

Street racing is killing or seriously injuring innocent people. The carnage caused by this reckless behaviour is on the rise in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and other cities.

Bill C-338 proposes to do something about it and today I ask the government to take action to stop street racing by supporting its passage.

Bill C-338 would amend the Criminal Code to provide that street racing is to be considered an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing a person convicted of an offence committed by means of a motor vehicle under section 220, criminal negligence causing death; or section 221, criminal negligence causing bodily harm; or subsection 249(3), dangerous operation causing bodily harm; or subsection 249(4) dangerous operation causing death.

The bill also provides for mandatory nationwide driving prohibitions to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed.

On a first offence, a judge must suspend driving privileges for a period of one to three years; for a second offence, two to five years; and for subsequent offences, three years to life. Also, if death was caused on the first or second offence, a lifetime prohibition will be imposed on the second conviction.

Canadians want anyone who seriously injures or kills as a result of street racing to be prohibited from operating a motor vehicle for a significant period of time. They do not want individuals convicted of this carnage to serve a sentence and then be allowed to immediately get behind the wheel of a car. Neither do they want such individuals to simply move to another province to obtain a driver's licence.

Letters, phone calls and e-mails to my office from across Canada have expressed outrage over the carnage caused by street racing and lenient sentences being imposed, including conditional sentences. The victims do not support using house arrest for anyone convicted of being responsible for a street race crash that has either killed or seriously injured someone.

The British Columbia Automobile Association has advised me that its members are clearly in favour of swift and severe penalties for street racers. In its 2002 member opinion survey, its members expressed support for all penalties used to punish racers, including two year driver's licence suspensions, vehicle impoundment, fines and demerit points.

Last February 6 I received an e-mail from Margaret-Ann Blaney, minister of justice for New Brunswick. She has forwarded my bill and accompanying information to her officials in the justice department. She said that the suspension of driving privileges was of particular interest to her officials.

On February 4, Gord Mackintosh, minister of justice and attorney general of Manitoba, wrote me an e-mail concerning Bill C-338. He said the following:

Since the current Government of Manitoba was elected in 1999, it has introduced strong new measures to deal with dangerous drivers such as tougher driver's licence suspension provisions, including lifetime suspensions, and vehicle forfeiture for the most serious offenders. Amendments made to our Highway Traffic Act this past session have given our provincial street racing offence the highest maximum fine and the highest demerit point level available for provincial driving offences under that legislation.

I agree that it is important to ensure that there are appropriate measures to deter individuals from engaging in reckless driving behaviour that puts others at risk. I perceive that the challenge in pursuing Criminal Code changes is to weigh the effect of what may be inconsistencies in treatment between impaired driving and street racing offenders and to ensure that they are all workable.

You have raised an important issue.

In a January 21 letter to me, Robert Runciman, the then minister of public safety and security in Ontario, declared the following:

Street racing is a serious offence that puts all road users at risk and we must not tolerate it on our roadways. I am pleased that your proposed amendment to the Code would address the issue of street racing during the sentencing process. Mandatory driving prohibitions need to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed by the courts. I hope your initiative will succeed.

Ontario responded to street racing by proposing legislation empowering police officers to immediately seize a vehicle and suspend a driver's licence for 48 hours. It also proposed to prohibit the use of equipment and substances, such as nitrous oxide, used to boost the performance of engines for the purpose of racing. Unfortunately, the legislation was not enacted due to the recent election. Hopefully the new Ontario minister of transport will reintroduce this legislation.

Jamie Muir, minister of justice for Nova Scotia, wrote to me on January 22 stating:

Although the police have not reported any particular problem enforcing the Provincial prohibition of street racing in this area, this appears to be an effective tool for helping to control the problem where it exists.

Dave Hancock, the minister of justice for Alberta, wrote on January 9 to say:

Street racing is a dangerous practice, which should be an aggravating factor for sentencing certain offenders.

He reminded me that Alberta has significantly increased the penalty for the provincial offence of street racing in the traffic safety act.

The Alberta justice minister went on to suggest that Bill C-338 could be amended to include impaired driving cases. I would have no problem considering amending Bill C-338 to apply to anyone convicted of impaired driving causing death or bodily harm where it can be established that street racing was a factor.

In my home province of British Columbia, Surrey-Green Timbers MLA, Brenda Locke, called on the federal government to crack down on street racers in a motion she introduced in the B.C. legislature.

With the passage of her motion on April 7 of this year, B.C. sent a strong message. Locke's motion calls on Ottawa to remove conditional sentencing for street racers who kill or maim innocent victims. An amendment was introduced to encompass all criminals convicted of a serious violent crime. Both the amendment and the motion passed in the B.C. legislature.

The motion was brought forward in honour of the lives of innocent victims of street racing: Jerry Kithithee, Constable Jimmy Ng and Irene Thorpe. Those three individuals were brutally killed by young men whose reckless, selfish, irresponsible and deliberate actions stole their lives and broke many hearts. There have been more since.

The motion was an important step in urging the federal government to make the necessary changes to the Criminal Code to make our roads safer. It was a de facto endorsement of Bill C-338, which I introduced in this place months earlier. Bill C-338 proposes the Criminal Code changes that B.C. seeks.

Street racing is the height of recklessness and a deliberate endangerment to communities. British Columbians understand the magnitude and the consequences of this activity and question why the courts treat it so lightly and ineffectively.

British Columbians seek justice for street racers and their victims. There have been numerous incidents where victims simply do not see justice.

A number of support groups in British Columbia support a crackdown on street racing. They include Family Survivors Against Street Racers, Our Angels in Heaven and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

B.C.'s solicitor general and minister of public safety, Rich Coleman, confirms that 60 vehicles involved in street racing have been seized and 180 driver's licences were suspended since amendments were made to provincial legislation in 2002.

Mr. Coleman stated the following:

This government has for some time been telling the federal government that in cases of offences involving violence, death and sexual assault, we don't believe there should be the opportunity for conditional sentences within the law. We have taken that to the table of the federal justice ministers.

Geoff Plant, the attorney general of British Columbia, says that conditional sentences have no role to play in street racing offences. He states:

The Criminal Code needs to be tightened up in the area of conditional sentencing so that conditional sentences are rarely, if ever, available for a crime of this nature.

MLA Locke concluded her remarks on the passage of her motion by saying:

It has been my privilege to work alongside Nina and her family as well as the Member of Parliament for Surrey North and other volunteers. I want to thank the Member of Parliament for Surrey North for aggressively raising this issue in the Parliament of Canada.

I should point out that the Nina referred to in this case is Nina Rivet who is a sister of Irene Thorpe, the woman who was run down by a street racer while out for a walk one evening.

What is the position of the Liberal government?

In response to a letter from me late last year, the Minister of Justice does not appear to be interested in helping to stop street racing. He says that mandatory minimum criminal penalties “do not work from the point of view of general deterrence and recidivism”.

There is no empirical evidence linking deterrence and recidivism as they relate to street racing. In fact, in a recent B.C. case, the driver who was eventually convicted for the street racing crash that caused the death of Irene Thorpe was arrested for speeding while he was out on bail, even though his licence was suspended as a condition of that bail. This counters the minister's contention because it shows clearly that there is a need for legal deterrence. There is a recidivism problem.

The minister also says that driving prohibitions should remain discretionary. He says that sometimes they may not be necessary because of long terms of punishment handed down to street racers who kill or seriously injure. The problem with the minister's contention is that no one has ever received any of these long prison terms for convictions resulting from street racing.

House arrest is being used for street racers who kill or injure people. This is inappropriate from the standpoint of the victims or their survivors and the protection and safety of communities that have a serious street racing problem.

The government also maintains that there are only a few minimum sentences provided for in the Criminal Code and that it is not willing to add more, such as the mandatory drivers' licence suspensions called for in this bill, but there are many areas in the Criminal Code that provide minimum sentences. I counted 26 offences in the 2004 Martin's Annual Criminal Code that carry a minimum sentence upon conviction. And many Canadians agree that there should be more minimum sentences for many more offences in the Criminal Code. Our criminal justice system needs more teeth.

The government also believes that taking account of aggravating circumstances for the purposes of sentencing is a very rare tool provided for in the Criminal Code. The justice minister suggested that aggravating circumstances for sentencing are virtually limited to hate motivated crimes, abuse of position of trust and authority, spousal and child abuse, criminal organization and terrorism.

In fact, there are other examples. Bill C-15A, passed in June 2002, made home invasion an aggravating factor in sentencing for certain offences. A judge sentencing a person for unlawful confinement, robbery, extortion or break and enter must consider it an aggravating circumstance if the offence was committed in an occupied dwelling where the offender was either aware that it was occupied or was reckless in this regard, and where he or she used violence or threats of violence against a person or property.

I point out that when I presented a motion to that effect at the justice committee a year or more earlier, government members called me silly, and yet they enacted it themselves a year later.

Bill C-46, currently before the justice committee, in clause 3 sets out four aggravating factors for sentencing purposes with respect to fraudulent manipulation of the public markets.

The minister's lame excuses betray a lack of serious consideration being given to this issue by this government. There is no requirement to equate street racing with other crimes in order to allow it to be considered as an aggravating circumstance.

I expect that the government will hang its argument against my bill on its refusal to consider minimum sentences and the use of aggravating circumstances when sentencing. Those are not good enough grounds for the government to fail to address the problem of street racing.

Sanctions should reflect the fact that street racing is an activity that goes beyond the regular criminal activities involving motor vehicles that are covered by the Criminal Code. Driving prohibitions must be nationwide to prevent anyone convicted of causing death or serious injury while street racing from simply moving to another province and continuing to drive.

As street racing incidents causing death and serious injury continue to occur in our major cities, passage of Bill C-338 would serve as a deterrent. This is a proactive legislative measure that would provide one step in the fight to stop street racing.

Today the government has the opportunity to support Bill C-338. It has an opportunity to stand up for the victims and to hold the perpetrators properly accountable.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on Bill C-338.

I will read the summary to facilitate understanding of the bill.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to provide that “streetracing” is to be considered an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing a person convicted of an offence committed by means of amotor vehicle under section 220 (causing death by criminal negligence) or 221 (causing bodily harm by criminal negligence) or subsection 249(3) (dangerous operation causing bodily harm) or 249(4) (dangerous operation causing death).

In addition, it provides that any person convicted of an offence under any of these provisions by means of a motor vehicle that was involved in street racing at the time the offence was committed be subject to amandatory driving prohibition, which shall be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed in respect of that offence.

In short, the bill introduced by the hon. member of the Canadian Alliance is intended to increase the gravity of offences if they were committed during street racing.

We, and young people themselves, are beginning to understand that youth often see cars as a means toward freedom, getting out, getting away. WIth a car, a person can do just about anything he wants.

Young men and women—for both sexes are now attracted by cars—see cars as a means of empowerment, but they need to understand that parliaments are enacting legislation to stop them from abusing that power. If, for one reason or another, this member's bill is not passed by this House, one day another Parliament, whether the House of Commons or a provincial legislature, will pass far more stringent measures on street racing.

It is important for young people to understand that no matter how fine the car is—it can become a toy—it can also become a deadly weapon. The races that fascinate young people and raise their adrenalin are dangerous and can cause death. Politicians cannot allow this to happen. We cannot risk having people injured or killed because they happen to end up on the street where the race is being held. We cannot allow this.

Parliament must send a clear message to those who indulge in these excesses. That is the message we must send our young people. The text of the bill before us, at first glance, seems once again to focus on criminalizing the situation. However, the role of Parliament is to try to get society to show self-respect. Young people have to understand that.

It is true they have fabulous machines. Thousands of dollars are spent on these cars. That is great for shows. However, a person who owns such a vehicle wants to see it in action. Increasingly, companies are giving consumers the opportunity to test drive these vehicles on race tracks. I encourage people to use such tracks to see how well these cars perform.

However, young people must understand that they should never use their cars to race on the streets, roads or highways.

Speed limits must be respected. That is the message. It is more important than criminalizing certain activities.

Some may think people are still out to get them. That is not the message. We simply want them to be able to live with the other people in our society, with those who do not choose speed.

Society is making a choice when it puts speed limits on highways and streets. Everyone is expected to obey them, the young, the old, and those in the middle like me. It is important that we all be able to respect each other.

That is, generally, the message we are trying to send. It is important. If there had been no speeding, if there had not been street racing, if there had not been accidents, and often, accident victims, we would not be here today discussing a bill such as that introduced by the hon. member. We are doing so because there have been excesses.

Often, young people do not discourage each other. That is, they encourage each other, when they should be doing the opposite. If they respected themselves and respected their cars, they would tell their friends who speed, “Do not do that, because one day, they will stop us from doing it.”

And that is exactly what is happening. In fact, legislatures are discussing and banning the use of nitroglycerine and many other things.

In my opinion, in some respects, the young people themselves must be able to help each other obey the laws. When the laws are not respected, we, as members of Parliament, must ensure that the majority of the public can lead a peaceful life. That is the purpose behind this bill.

Obviously the method often used to discourage is the stick, not the carrot. An offence must be punished. So we have legislation setting out offences. The bill introduced by the hon. member from the Canadian Alliance proposes to toughen the penalties for street racing.

In that regard, we must commend the bill. Obviously, if it is before us today, it is because there have been problems. However, aside from the fact that laws like this lean heavily on the stick, I hope that young people understand that they have to spread the word among themselves that existing laws must be obeyed.

Obeying the law means going to places specifically designed to accommodate this kind of activity. I commend the business people who, increasingly, are developing facilities for car racing. Yes, they are doing that. There are such facilities. I therefore encourage young people to race in appropriate facilities. Elsewhere, on our streets, roads and highways, they must obey the law.

Obviously, this would have the advantage of preventing similar bills from being introduced and legislation passed because there has been abuse.

That is the point I am trying to make to the young men and women who see their cars as a means toward freedom. That is true and that is good. It is true that you can do anything you want with them. These small cars have more powerful engines than the biggest cars we had in the days when I enjoyed speeding. I am not saying that we did it all the time, but occasionally we went over the speed limit. Still, offenders must be punished. That is how we end up with this kind of bill.

Naturally, I urge all hon. members to support the member for Surrey North, but more importantly, I urge young people to obey existing laws to make sure that bills like this one are never passed in our parliaments.