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House of Commons Hansard #137 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-48.

Topics

The Income Tax ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-38. On the Order: Government Orders

October 9, 2003--the Minister of Justice--Second reading and reference to the Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs of Bill C-38, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Outremont Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That Bill C-38, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be referred forthwith to the Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion to refer Bill C-38 to a special committee of the House before second reading.

I would like to remind the House that, in the Speech from the Throne, the government made a commitment to modernize the Narcotic Control Act.

Last May, in order to meet that commitment, I tabled a bill which launches a real reform. The purpose of Bill C-38 is to change law enforcement in Canada for the possession of a small quantity of cannabis and to increase penalties for the growing of large quantities of marijuana.

We must make one thing clear right from the start: it was never a question of legalizing marijuana and we are not now legalizing marijuana. It remains an illegal substance and offenders will be always be prosecuted and punished by law. What we are doing is changing the kinds of prosecution for certain offences by proposing new penalties and alternative procedures.

The new legislation will ensure that the law will be applied uniformly from coast to coast and will allow us to devote police resources to operations where they will be most useful.

This bill was not drawn up in a contextual vacuum. It is part of Canada's new drug strategy. A sum of $245 million was allocated to the fight against the root causes of drug abuse and to the promotion of health.

The government is increasing the funding for informing and raising the awareness of the Canadian public, especially young people, about the dangers of drugs.

This decision was made in full knowledge of the facts. We have done our homework. We have benefited from much research, consultation and debate.

The research goes back to the LeDain Commission, three decades ago. Two recent committee reports have also helped us understand the issue: the Senate's Special Committee on Illegal Drugs and this House's Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, chaired by the hon. member for Burlington.

Clearly, the current law is in need of reform to send a strong message that marijuana is illegal and harmful, but also to ensure the punishment fits the crime. We have to ask ourselves as a society whether it makes sense that a young person who makes a bad choice in life should receive the lasting burden of a criminal conviction. It means that the doors to certain jobs may be closed or they may have trouble travelling internationally.

With the reforms that I have introduced, the current criminal court process and resulting criminal penalties would be replaced with alternative procedures and penalties. Those convicted of possessing 15 grams or less of marijuana or one gram or less of cannabis resin will receive a ticket and a fine ranging from $100 to $400, depending on the circumstances. This fine would be higher in many cases than what offenders are receiving now. It is important to know that when a young person is facing a charge, his or her parents will be notified.

Police officers will retain the discretion to give a ticket or summons to appear in criminal court for possession of more than 15 grams of marijuana. The maximum in that case will remain a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. In addition, the new alternative penalties regime will not be available in cases of possession of over 30 grams. Those offences will result in criminal charges.

At the same time that we are modernizing our possession offence, we are taking aim at marijuana grow operations. We know that these large grow ops are sometimes located in residential areas. We know that criminal gangs are often behind those operations. This bill sends a clear message that we will not allow our neighbourhoods to be threatened by these grow ops and we will take strong action to combat organized crime.

Our bill provides for doubling the maximum sentence for large marijuana grow operations. It sets out a number of aggravating circumstances which would require courts to provide reasons for not imposing a prison sentence. With tougher legislation, and more efficient enforcement measures, we hope to put an end to this kind of activity.

I would now like to address certain questions that have been raised with regard to this bill.

First of all, there is the issue of impaired driving. This is not a new problem; I would remind the House that it is already a serious offence under the Criminal Code to drive when impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Thus, we must give the police the tools they need to identify drivers whose faculties are impaired by drug use.

The Department of Justice is currently circulating a consultation document prepared by a working group.

Secondly, there is the question of whether these reforms are reasonable, not only in the Canadian context, but also internationally.

Let us examine what is happening elsewhere in the world.

In some countries, possession of small amounts of cannabis is not a crime. In others, it remains a criminal offence, but it is not prosecuted. Some countries, including the United States, see active prosecution as a key element of their policy response to possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Although drug enforcement is a shared state-federal responsibility in the U.S., 12 states have laws decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis.

The state of South Australia, along with two Australian territories, have adopted fines for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana. Several evaluations to date in South Australia found no increase in cannabis use linked to its policy.

Similarly, in the U.S. no significant difference in cannabis use was found between those jurisdictions that decriminalized cannabis use and those that did not.

While we can learn from what others are doing, our reforms are designed to reflect the Canadian reality. We are taking a comprehensive approach recognizing that drug and alcohol abuse can take a heavy toll in human terms and cost our economy billions of dollars.

Earlier I mentioned that this motion would send this bill to committee before second reading. This demonstrates that the government is listening and willing to consider amendments to ensure we get it right.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, Firearms Registry.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to the minister's speech regarding the decriminalization of marijuana.

Any drug legislation must be comprehensive in our country. For the government to just narrow it all down to decriminalization of marijuana is indeed irresponsible and reckless.

For four years I have been making every attempt to get the government to move toward a national drug strategy that works at the street level. In fact, the government followed a motion that we proposed in the House of Commons to establish a parliamentary committee to look at this issue of drugs.

We made a number of recommendations and lo and behold, at the time that the recommendations came forward, the government, rather than introduce a drug strategy, decided to throw a few million dollars at the two departments that were not doing a good job, namely, the Department of the Solicitor General and Health Canada.

The committee found that they did a deplorable job with the drug issue in this country. The government put a few million dollars into that and said that we had a drug strategy. Now it wants to decriminalize marijuana. That is not the way to go.

We are going to deal with the decriminalization bill, but we are still looking for that drug strategy. It is the responsibility of the government to at least acknowledge that there is a need for a drug strategy in the country. Merely dealing with the decriminalization of marijuana and not dealing with ecstasy, shrooms, or any other drug is reckless.

I want to put our position before the House which will be presented in committee.

We could agree to decriminalize five grams as minor possession of marijuana--five grams is equal to about seven joints of marijuana--providing the following conditions are met.

I must say that any member who stands in the House and says that it could be 10, 15 or 30 grams must understand that that is not minor possession. Individuals holding 15 grams of marijuana on them, which is probably up to 22 or 23 joints, is not minor possession. No one needs to carry 15, 20 or 23 joints with them.

The conditions that we want to see are as follows. We want to see 5 grams not 30 grams because it is 30. The minister says that it is really only 15 because there is a fine and then there is an option of a fine or a conviction from 15 grams to 30 grams. The fact is that it is really decriminalization up to 30 grams. That is the plan.

We must have an understanding with provincial governments and the legal industry that they must deal consistently with criminal offences for amounts over the decriminalization amount. We do not want to see, as soon as the bill is brought into play, someone getting caught with 18 grams or 32 grams and having the judge say that a criminal conviction will not be given for an extra two grams, and that something will be worked out.

If we start that all over again, we will be right back to where we started. We want a commitment that amounts over the decriminalization amount will be dealt with in the courts consistently throughout the country.

We want a progressive fine schedule to be in place. Fines and penalties will have to increase with the number of convictions.

I found it quite deplorable that the Prime Minister the other day basically said that he could have a joint in one hand and the amount to pay the fine in the other. That is the wrong message.

The fact is that if one is caught once there is a fine. If one is caught a second time there is a bigger fine. If one is caught a third time something else happens. It has to be progressive.

A consequence to non-payment of fines must be in place, the point being that if fines are not paid, what happens? Do we just let it go as the communities do in the case of speeding tickets or parking tickets? We want to see something done about that.

We want to see a national drug strategy put in place, not something merely dealing with the decriminalization of marijuana.

We want assurances that growing and trafficking marijuana will be criminal offences. We are glad to see that in the bill, and it must remain in the bill when it leaves the committee.

I was glad to hear the minister talk about drug driving laws and roadside assessments being in place, but he talked about a consultative document. We want assurances that those things will be in place, not just a consultative document that may be in place at some point.

In addition, we want to talk to the Americans on this issue in committee. We do not need any particular approval from the Americans to do this, but we have to understand that this is a touchy issue at the borders. We want some assurances in committee that a dialogue will happen. We will be inviting the Americans to talk to us because we want to hear their point of view.

There is little point in developing a process in this country if we are going to offend everybody south of us. I live in a border community and I see the traffic every day and the harm that is done by the inequity of the drug laws in our country.

There is a problem with the fine schedule in terms of charging youth less for possession. That is the wrong message to be sending to our youth. We must be consistent with the kind of fines we are going to assess.

There is work to do. My colleagues will support five grams, but the conditions have to be met. We will vigorously discuss this in committee. Members should not look for the committee to rush this through because we have no intention of doing that. We have lots of witnesses to hear from in committee. We have many amendments already prepared for the committee.

We do not intend to stall the process of the committee, but the Canadian Alliance will thoroughly analyze and discuss this with young people and others. We will thoroughly review the whole process before we give our consent to go ahead.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-38, which has just been introduced by the Minister of Justice. I will say right off the bat that we are in favour of supporting this bill. We are confident and we truly believe the minister when he says that in committee he will listen to members and make the necessary changes to better define the bill and make it more effective.

Our reality reflects the distinct character of Quebec and we want to share it with the minister and the members of the committee. We are sure that, as was the case with the Young Offenders Act to a degree, after hearing about those differences and the success we have had in Quebec, together we will be able to improve the bill before us.

I will talk about our reservations, but on the face of it, the very idea of decriminalizing simple possession is, in our view, the best solution for the short term because it deals with the most important issue by ensuring that people found in possession of cannabis will no longer have a criminal record.

In our opinion, this option is also one that best balances the need to reduce the harm due to consumption and the need to reduce the costs and problems associated with enforcement. Because Bill C-38 is aimed at decriminalizing the simple possession of cannabis, the Bloc Quebecois, as I said, will vote in favour of the bill.

This option presents many advantages. First, such a reform will inevitably result in huge savings in legal costs and other criminal justice system expenses. According to various studies, it is estimated that the fact that the simple possession of marijuana is still a criminal offence costs about $500 million a year in legal proceedings. It costs $500 million a year to process arrest cases and follow-ups to cases of simple possession of marijuana. Decriminalization could result in a substantial reduction in this cost of $500 million.

If the House will permit, I shall try to explain what decriminalization is. Some people, like the Canadian Alliance just now, are very much aware of this issue and so are we. Too often, the general public thinks that this bill means that young people, everyone, will be walking around with a joint, and there will be no more problems; life will be wonderful. But that is not it.

The difference between decriminalization and legalization is simple to demonstrate. Let us take an example that is easily understood by everyone listening: the highway safety code. If you are going 130, 140 or 150 km per hour on highway 417, sometimes there are police around; if they have you pull over, you are not a criminal, but you have done something illegal and you get a ticket; you pay the fine and that is the end of the matter.

If, each time a person did something illegal like not stopping for a red light or speeding, he or she were charged with a criminal offence, and had to appear in court—each time—our courtrooms would be even more clogged than they are.

What the minister is saying with this bill is that simple possession of a certain amount of marijuana is not permitted, it is still illegal. I will discuss quantities and sorts at greater length later. A person who speeds receives a fine, but not a criminal record.

I am certain that many parents who are listening to us today have children who have had bad experiences. In Quebec, I think that close to 50% of youth under 18 have had an experience with marijuana or soft drugs. Are they future criminals? Yet they get arrested and they get a record.

What happens when they get a record for making a mistake in their youth and getting caught with a joint? What if, one day, they wanted to go to the United States? They would have to get a pardon, which is a big hassle. If one day they became truck drivers and had to cross the border, they would have serious difficulties. If they wanted to become lawyers or police officers, with a police record they would be considered criminals.

Members of all parties have seen it all too often in their offices. This is not a political issue. Young adults come and tell us, “I got arrested 12 years ago, but never thought there would still be a record of that today. It is causing me all sorts of problems in my professional life. Am I a criminal?” No, these are not criminals, just young people who made a foolish mistake.

Our population has to deal not only with soft drugs but also with alcohol. Every year, alcohol kills 3.5 million individuals around the world, while tobacco kills approximately 750,000.

Even if there are no known cases of cannabis related deaths, this substance remains prohibited. How much is spent on alcohol awareness campaigns? I think it will not come as a surprise to anyone if I say that young persons under the age of 18 use it occasionally. The same is true of tobacco. Both these drugs are legal in our societies, and the social costs associated with them are much higher than those associated with cannabis.

That is why we think that this Parliament and this society must keep up with the times and ask themselves questions. Do we want to continue penalizing our adolescents and young adults by burdening them with a criminal record they do not really deserve? Will we keep overloading our courts with crimes which are not really crimes? Should possession continue to be prohibited? Yes, but under the Contraventions Act, by giving a ticket. Simple possession remains illegal, but is no longer criminal.

That is important to us. It is also important that the savings of $500 million a year from the tracking of criminal cases be reallocated to a good awareness campaign. The minister announced, earlier, plans for a $245 million campaign on Canada's drug strategy.

We believe, and this belief is based on blatant and tangible examples, that this $245 million should go to those who are knowledgeable, at the provincial and territorial level, where they deal directly with the people affected by drug use.

The $245 million is fine, but should be redistributed to the provinces to fund more effective awareness campaigns. Why give $245 million to the provinces? The firearms program was originally supposed to cost $2 million. We are now at $1 billion plus and the government still has no control over costs.

With regard to national awareness campaigns against smoking, we still do not know exactly how the federal government is spending the money. We only have to look at the results. We think that, given these disastrous results, the money must to given to the provinces.

Consequently, it is worth reminding members that, with this bill, the possession and production of cannabis are still illegal under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The approach to enforcing the law will be changed. It will now be governed by the Contraventions Act. A minor contravention will therefore be given to the offenders.

In what circumstances will these people get a contravention? The possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana would be liable to a $150 fine for an adult and $100 for a youth. For a youth, a $100 fine is already high enough that he or she would think twice before doing the same thing again.

I will provide some facts, since I am almost at the end of my presentation. One in 10 Canadians uses cannabis. Over 30,000 Canadians are accused each year of possession of cannabis. In Quebec, 80% of the accused are adults, not youth.

There is one very interesting bit of information. Currently, 84% of the population would be in favour of the legalization of marijuana for therapeutic and medical uses, for example. In May 2001, the Canadian Medical Association said in its review that arresting people for the possession of marijuana has more serious social consequences than the moderate use of the drug itself. Thus, arrest is more serious than use.

Consequently, we will support this bill. We hope that some corrections will be made, and we think that this is a step in the right direction.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to debate Bill C-38 on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party.

I will begin by asking a question. What is the motive behind the government bringing this bill in at this late stage? As most of us in the House know, there are probably another four weeks left before the House rises, at least that is the rumour we hear. Is this part of the Prime Minister's legacy? We are not sure. This is serious business we are dealing with right now.

Another point that needs to be brought out is that we cannot legislate or create legislation based upon popularity or trends, especially when we are dealing with a topic as serious as this one. We need to spend a lot of time debating and doing research because something like this will have an an effect on future generations, beyond the time that members in this House spend on it in this session.

The Supreme Court has three cases right now on which it will render decisions in terms of answering the question as to whether Parliament has the power to control such substances as marijuana. There is no reason that this topic cannot wait until after the next election. I also heard that the crown prince in waiting has a different attitude toward marijuana than the current government.

As far as we are concerned, the Progressive Conservative Party would like to see this topic put to rest. We can deal with it in the next Parliament.

Bill C-38 sends the wrong message to current users today. I think people need to be concerned that, yes, there are a lot of adolescents and young adults using marijuana, if not on a daily basis certainly recreationally. What it would do is reduce the severity of the activity from a Criminal Code breach to that of a parking ticket, actually less than a speeding ticket.

We call it decriminalization but in essence it is the first step to legalization. We are decriminalizing it because we are taking one part of an action out of the Criminal Code and saying that under such conditions it is all right to go ahead and do it. In other words, it sends the wrong message.

We need to deal with this subject from a broad perspective. We need to look at the whole realm of drug use, with marijuana being one of them. We need to decide whether we want to legalize marijuana. It is like the problem we are dealing with now of solicitation and prostitution. Little chunks here, little bits there, a little band-aid here does not really work. Maybe in the short term it will make some people happy, the ones who are toking up, but in the long term, when we look at the benefits to society, it probably is not the way to go.

In fact, some basic questions need to be raised. Will Bill C-38 decrease the prevalence of harmful drug use? Will Bill C-38 decrease the number of young Canadians who experiment with drugs? Will Bill C-38 decrease the incidence of communicable diseases related to substance abuse? Will Bill C-38 increase the use of alternative justice measures, such as drug treatment courts? Will Bill C-38 decrease the illicit drug supply and address new and emerging drug trends? Will Bill C-38 decrease avoidable health and socio-economic costs?

The reality is that if the use of marijuana is treated like a parking ticket, there is no doubt that the marketplace will still exist. We must remember that use is driven by market. Where there is demand there will be a supply.

Bill C-38 really does not deal with the big picture. We cannot deal with just the user and forget about the supplier of the marijuana. We know that in recent times the Americans have criticized Canada for being a little too liberal regarding the use of marijuana, especially in comparison with their zero tolerance drug policy across the line.

The fact of the matter is it does affect the trade movement, the movement of goods and services, as well as the movement of people between our two countries. The Americans certainly do not perceive us in a positive way knowing that the drugs laws in Canada are very liberal and easy. I think we need to assess the impact it has on the country as a whole.

The legislation creates a series of fines, as I indicated. The fines are for possession of thirty grams or less of cannabis or one gram of cannabis resin. However the fines for each offence are not being uniformly applied. Adult fines are higher than those for use, which does not make any sense. As well, if the fines are not high, there is hardly a deterrent.

A concern also exists for reducing fines applicable to youth, especially as the federal government is actively trying to educate young people not to smoke cigarettes or marijuana. That is the irony here. Even with the use of cigarettes and tobacco today, retailers have to hide their supply behind a curtain so kids who go into the store cannot see them. If a retailer sells cigarettes to a minor, the fines are monstrous. With alcohol we have the same kind of controls that have been mentioned.

In terms of the system of fines being the same as a parking ticket, what happens if people do not pay their parking tickets? Obviously the tickets pile up. How the system collects will be a huge challenge, not only locally but across provincial boundaries.

It is easy to say we will write tickets and hopefully they will be paid. What if they cannot pay it? What if a youth is caught and cannot afford to pay the ticket? Is that ticket just thrown in the garbage?

There are no provisions for repeat offenders and no increasing fine scale. Each time offenders are fined they simply pay the set amount. If the fine is not paid, then it is turned over to a collection agency. That is a joke. This is hardly an awe inspiring deterrent. Imagine breaching the Criminal Code, receiving a fine and then the fine has to be sent over to a collection agency.

Some U.S. states that have decriminalized simple possession seize an offender's driving licence for failure to pay fines. That makes a lot more sense. As well, some states have increased penalties for repeat offenders.

The aggravated provisions are a maximum penalty of $1,000 or six months imprisonment. However, there are only three aggravated provisions: possession while operating a vehicle, not driving while drug impaired but simply having marijuana in a car; possession while committing an indictable offence; and possession in or near a school. More aggravated provisions could have been added such as possession in or near a sports or community centre.

The MADD organization has serious concerns about Bill C-38, as well as the police organizations in the country. There is a lot more than just saying a person has smoked, he has been caught but we will not make him a criminal. Canada expects more from the House of Commons. We need to put more time into the bill, rather than rushing it through the House at this time.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in the debate about Bill C-38. It has been a long time in coming. We have had this sort of strange situation where on the one hand it appeared that there was a lot of emphasis to get this bill moving, yet we are only today now debating it and sending it off to committee.

I would concur with the comments of the member from the Conservative Party who questioned what the government's real intention was with the bill and whether it would ever see the light of day in terms of something being acted upon, given the time frame in which we are operating. It is sort of politics in the twilight zone.

That aside, decriminalization as a measure to recognize the failure of our prohibitionist policies is something that many people now accept. For sure it is better to have a fine than to end up being in jail and having a criminal record. However there are a number of problems with the bill.

While decriminalization is something that we could see as a progressive step forward in dealing with the failure of prohibitionist policies, the bill as it is presents a very contradictory and confused approach. On one hand it offers a measure of decriminalization. On the other hand the political rhetoric that has been surrounding the bill, and we heard from the minister today, and the system of penalties outlined in the bill actually point to a tougher and a wider enforcement stance.

I want to put forward the remarks made by Eugene Oscapella from the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy. He has said that the bill really perpetuates the myth that the criminal law can resolve problems related to drugs. That is one concern we have. The bill relies upon the premise that somehow if we end up even with a system of fines and it is still within the criminal law that marijuana is still an illegal substance, then we are controlling the drug and controlling the use of it.

As was shown in the special committee report on the non-medical use of drugs, of which I was a member, it became very clear in the evidence that we had that whether a substance was legal or illegal had virtually no impact on its use. In fact we would be far better off providing real education for Canadians about drug issues, about the potential health issues related to drug use and focusing our financial and educational priorities on that.

As we know with smoking, for example, it is not illegal. The decrease in smoking has not come about because smoking is illegal. It has come about because it has been highly regulated and because we have spelt out what can and cannot be done. A vast amount of education has been given to people individually and within society as a whole to make them aware of the dangers of smoking. That is with a legal substance.

The argument of prohibition as a tool for dealing with drug use and the harms that can flow from drug use has been shown to be a failure.

The Senate report on marijuana came out in September 2002 and it was a very wide-ranging and excellent report. The report pointed out that 30% of the population has used cannabis at least once. That is approximately 100,000 Canadians daily. In fact of the over 90,000 drug related incidents that are reported annually by police, more than three-quarters of those incidents relate to cannabis, and over 50% of all drug related incidents involve possession of cannabis. That is from the Senate report.

Given the magnitude of that problem and the use, we have to ask ourselves whether the regime as presented in this bill will respond to the reality of what Canadians are actually doing. Certainly one concern we have with the bill is that it does not contain any provision for personal cultivation. The special committee on the non-medical use of drugs recommended that there should be some provision not only for possession for personal use but also for cultivation.

Unfortunately the government chose not to do that so we have this contradictory position where the government is saying that people will get a fine for possession of marijuana if it is 15 grams or less, but they cannot go out and buy it anywhere because it is an illegal act.

In fact, as Dan Gardner, a critically acclaimed journalist from the Ottawa Citizen , pointed that out in a series of articles he did on the drug issue. In his article on May 28, he said:

Criminologists have often found that lowering, but not eliminating, a punishment results in more punishment. It's called the “net-widening effect.”

Replace charges with fines, and people the police would have let off with a warning and a wave under the old system will instead by hit with a fine. In other words, decriminalization could lead to more people being punished, not fewer.

Then I have an image in my head of the Prime Minister in one hand holding a joint and in the other hand holding his fine. What is this actually saying? Are we saying that somehow by having a fine we are trying to give people the illusion that we will be preventing them from using marijuana? We have the Prime Minister saying, “Oh well, this is the way you do it. You smoke a joint, you pay your fine and away you go pretty happy”.

What is the purpose of the fine? If it is there as a deterrent, then again the evidence will show that as a deterrent it simply has no use. All it becomes is a source of revenue and a widening of police enforcement on the basis that municipalities will now see a way to collect more money.

I did want to respond to the question put forward by the Canadian Alliance that we had to be very careful about this bill and that we would have to talk to the Americans because it had to do with the borders. I know that some Liberal members have been off courting the drug czar and getting all the arguments from the drug czar about why this is so bad.

I truly believe the objection of the Americans to this bill has nothing to do with border crossings. It has everything to do with their political war on drugs, which in effect is a war on poor people, and the fact that they do not want to see Canada take a different kind of approach, an approach that has been successful in Europe in terms of decriminalization. That is what their objection is truly about. I really do not think it has anything to do with the border. It has to do with them not wanting to see another approach that will show the gaping holes and their own failure on the war on drugs.

We very much look forward to the debate at the committee. There obviously will be a whole variety of amendments. The NDP members will be introducing amendments because we have questions about the lack of provisions around cultivation. We have questions about the fines system. We have questions about the enforcement that underlies this, the fact that it continues this prohibitionist policy and that somehow the criminal law will deal with this issue.

We certainly look forward to what goes on in the committee and hearing from the witnesses. Hopefully the bill can be improved to better reflect the reality of what Canadians want to see, given that the use of marijuana is very prevalent in our society. I think there is a very common understanding that we do not want to see Canadians criminalized.

One other issue we will be bring forward is why there is not an amnesty provision for the approximately 600,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for simple possession. There is nothing in the bill that would give relief to people who live under the negative effects of a criminal record, for example, who cannot go across the border.

I know constituents in my own riding have faced terrible situations because they have a record from simple possession. We want to see some of these issues addressed, and we look forward to the debate in the committee.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place among all parties and the member for Churchill concerning division on Motion No. 400, scheduled for later today at the conclusion of private members' business. I think that you would find unanimous consent that if a recorded division is demanded at the conclusion of the debate on Motion No. 400 today, it be deferred until Tuesday, October 28, at the beginning of private members' business.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it agreed?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, discussions have taken place among all parties and I believe that you would find consent to re-defer the recorded division demanded on Motion No. 197 until Tuesday, October 28, at the beginning of private members' business.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it agreed?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, I am sorry that I only have three minutes to debate such a substantive issue but such is the case when one tries to rush debates and provide select committees to put important legislation before the Canadian public without proper knowledge of what is occurring.

I just heard the member and her concern about poor people. I think we are all concerned. However the hon. member, like many in the House, is completely oblivious and ignorant to the fact that in one out of four marijuana grow ops in this country, of the estimated 50,000, children live in those homes.

We understand the implications of those who are farmers and those who are forced to cultivate this product, people who come from other parts of the world and have to pay off the money they owe to the people who brought them to this country, many of whom are of Asian descent and who are kept in a position of enslavement.

I am willing to talk about this issue, but I think it is important that we understand some of the very important implications.

In its most recent document Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario states that there are some 15,000 grow ops in the province of Ontario and 50,000 across Canada. They produce approximately three million to six million kilograms of marketable marijuana. The price tag is about $12 billion a year. If that is the case it would appear to be the largest single cultivation of agriculture product in this country.

Who controls it? Organized crime.

Clearly, when we consider that for a $25,000 investment we can have a return of $600,000 on a given home, is there any wonder there is a proliferation?

The legislation is deficient. It does not provide minimum sentences. It is one of the reasons that the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, just a few weeks ago, as the same the Globe and Mail and others were deriding us because we happened to meet with the American officials to talk about a cross-border problem, pointed out that organized crime was leaving the United States in favour of Canada because we want to have some kind of, relatively speaking, easy legislation as it relates to marijuana.

It is nice to give people a fine for possession. My concern is about the infrastructure of this industry.

While I am on that subject, the fact that there is in this country today, and in this legislation, no provision to provide the equivalent of a breathalyzer test is, in my view, unacceptable. It sends the wrong message to individuals. It does not protect motorists. It does not protect people.

Studies have pointed out very clearly, and I am reading here from several sources, that research has indicated that 5% to 12% of drivers may now drive under the influence of cannabis and this may increase as much as 25% as a result of this legislation. It is clear to us that if we want to prevent the carnage we need to do something to address the issue of no protocol as it relates to people who drive cannabis impaired.

The cross-border issue is a serious one but I am more concerned with the issue of organized crime. These people do not have fanciful discussions about benign products, about the utilization of marijuana. They are in fact there to make money. That money winds up in various other forms of exploitation of the poor, of people who are down and out, of individuals who have no choice but to follow the dictates of organized crime. When one considers $12 billion--

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I am sorry to interrupt but the hon. member will have seven minutes when we resume debate on this motion.

It being 5:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from June 5 consideration of the motion.

Bankruptcy LegislationPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2003 / 5:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Progressive Conservative Perth—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member for Churchill for bringing this very important issue before the House.

I expect all hon. members are interested in better protection for the wages and pensions of Canadian workers. Employees play a vital role in growing and sustaining a company's operations. They put their hearts and souls, often during the best years of their lives, into making the business viable. Through their faith in their employers, workers often invest significant portions of their paycheques into company pension plans.

I believe that all sides of the House can agree that it is unacceptable for a company to shirk its moral obligation by neglecting to pay employee wages and pension benefits.

I have had the misfortune of being on the losing end of deals before and I can assure the House that it is no fun. As parliamentarians, if we are in a position to protect workers from suffering this hardship, then it is my opinion and the opinion of my esteemed colleagues in the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada that we should make sure to take the steps necessary to offer Canadian workers that protection.

This speaks to a sense of fairness that I believe can be found in virtually all Canadians, and that transcends party lines. All too often employees are left in a vulnerable position, both leading up to and during bankruptcy proceedings. Business owners often make the decisions that ultimately lead to bankruptcy. This fate is often as a result of circumstances beyond the control of the business owner, to be sure. However, as individuals charged with carrying out rather than directing company policy, many employees are not in a position where they can adequately assess the risks associated with their continued employment. When a business finally does declare bankruptcy, those same employees are equally at a disadvantage when it comes to assuming those risks through lost wages and pensions.

In my home town a number of years ago a particular furniture company went into bankruptcy. Some of the people who stayed on, employees of 30 and 40 years, to see the receiver through the bankruptcy portion of that company were deprived of their pensions when they finished. Some of those who had quit or retired four and six months earlier received their pensions. It just seemed totally unfair to me.

In this debate the House is being reminded that secured creditors are first in line to claim a company's assets during bankruptcy proceedings. Next in line are the preferred creditors, a group that is further subdivided into categories of preferred creditors. Employees currently stand fourth in line as preferred creditors when it comes to claiming that which they are rightfully owed. Employees also face strict limitations when it comes to exactly how much they can claim.

Current laws in Canada allow for the scenario where an employee has worked his or her entire life for a single company that then declares bankruptcy, leaving that employee with nothing. Now all of a sudden the employee has lost not only whatever wages remain outstanding, but also a lifetime worth of contributions to the company's pension plan.

Clearly, improvements in this area can and should be made. However, in making such improvements, we must be conscious of the unintended consequences of our actions. An unintended consequence of this very motion is that it may make it more difficult for start-up businesses and expanding businesses to obtain credit. We all know that entrepreneurs need capital in order to enter the market and grow their business. Most often this capital is obtained through a combination of equity and credit.

In making the necessary loans, creditors assess the risks associated with the business owner's ability to pay back the loan. If we were to change the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act by downgrading a secured creditor's ability to recover the loan, creditors may react by further restricting the availability of loans by increasing the rate of interest that would apply. This could potentially lead to very serious and negative repercussions on our economy.

Canadians rely on businesses to drive our economy and provide us with new jobs. Without available credit, businesses risk losing the opportunity to expand their operations and hire new employees.

While it is clearly the intention of the motion to protect employees, it is quite possible that Motion No. 400 could actually have a profoundly negative impact on workers across Canada by indirectly limiting their opportunities to secure employment.

The House would be well advised to consider this motion carefully. In seeking to help workers, we want to make sure we do not do more harm than good, a very real concern.

The House had a similar debate in the spring of 2001 when the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre introduced a private member's bill that would have amended the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act so that unpaid wages were ranked first in the order of distribution. In that debate, my colleague from Kings--Hants, who at that time was our party's industry critic, encouraged the House to consider the Australian model of employee protection during bankruptcies. I believe that suggestion is just as constructive and relevant today as it was then.

In Australia, various levels of government work together to provide workers with coverage during bankruptcies in an employment insurance type system. Given the current size of the EI surplus in Canada, it might make sense for us to consider extending employment insurance coverage to include a portion of back wages owed to employees during a bankruptcy. There are clearly other options available to us that would enable us to move forward in guaranteeing better protection to Canadians.

Progressive Conservatives recognize the need to better protect stakeholders during bankruptcies. As we move forward, we owe it to Canadians to carefully consider programs that are available in other jurisdictions. We must work to achieve a better balance between protecting access to capital in order to grow a stronger economy and protecting the ability of employees to secure wages and pension benefits that they have worked so hard to earn.

Bankruptcy LegislationPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure for me to try to find solutions to improve the situation of workers, and I congratulate my colleague from Churchill on her motion.

For some years now, ever since they started to cut employment insurance, it has become increasingly inaccessible. We know that only four people out of ten are now eligible. Things are also getting difficult for workers whose employer goes bankrupt.

When there is a bankruptcy—and I know what I am talking about, because I worked in this field in the past—the workers are lowest on the list of creditors who might benefit in some way from the proceeds of the sale of the company or its assets.

Very often suppliers are first to be paid, and the employees are pushed aside. We also know that the two-week EI waiting period still in effect also penalizes these people.

When workers lose their jobs suddenly because of a bankruptcy, they are penalized and at risk of losing a lot of money and having to give up possessions,. Their well-being suffers greatly as well.

It would therefore be very important for us to pass the motion of my colleague in order to stop employees from being penalized and to allow them to at least be the first to benefit from these two weeks, to be paid from the proceeds of the sale of the company or its assets. The first thing that should be done with those proceeds is to pay the employees their two weeks and then let them apply for EI.

Workers are not in any way responsible for what happened to the company. Bankruptcies are often the result of bad administration, and workers in a plant do not necessarily have anything to do with administration. Very often they have no idea of how the company is run.

We must be clear and we must be honest. I believe this motion readjusts the situation in favour of the workers. If there is no money left after the company or anything else is sold, then let them at least give as much help as possible to each employee to get them through this period in no man's land. They must be compensated as much as possible during those two weeks of the waiting period.

Private members' motions in support of workers do not seem to be very popular these days in this Canadian Parliament. I would like special attention to be paid to this one, as well as to all others relating to workers that will be coming before this House.

We have been trying for a long time to make things better through parts I, II and III of the Canada Labour Code. As my hon. colleague knows full well, we have often worked together to look for ways to improve the situation, on the basis of what is already in place in the provinces.

Some provinces like Quebec are well ahead of their time. In Quebec, the legislation and opportunities are much more rewarding, as well as fair and equitable to workers.

TheCanada Labour Code needs to be modernized. This would promote fairness for all workers. When people who have given 20 years of their lives to a company find themselves without work following a bankruptcy, this is not funny. When you are laid off temporarily while the company tries to get back on its feet, at least there is hope of being called back to work.

But once the company has gone bankrupt, that is it. It is the end. This often means having to find work elsewhere, and getting special training. Those affected really do not need to be further penalized by not giving them their two weeks, which, when you think of it, should be mandatory.

I think that turning to the EI program is not necessarily the answer either. It may not be the one that should pay the two weeks following a bankruptcy. Employers always get some money for the equipment or from the last contracts or what not. I think that an analysis could reveal some possibilities there.

Bear in mind also that it is increasingly difficult to qualify for employment insurance. These people are doubly penalized, and unnecessarily so. We must ensure that they can regain their dignity and re-enter the labour market without losing what they had because their employers were unable to run their businesses properly.

These are often not very well paid workers. Most of them are plant workers earning between $15,000 and $25,000. And $25,000 a year is often considered good money in some plants.

These are not people who can afford to put money aside in case the company goes bankrupt. It is just not possible. They have to live, they have children, it costs money. Often they do put money aside in a pension fund, but they do not want to use it before the time has come. However, sometimes they have to because they cannot get those two weeks, and quite often it hurts a lot.

I strongly support the bill put forward by my colleague from Churchill. I hope she will find enough support in the House to allow for this modernization. The laws and the Canada Labour Code must be modernized. The legislation dealing with workers must be modernized. We must strive for fairness and also for a balance between employers and employees.

Several years ago I introduced an anti-scab bill at the federal level that will soon come back to the House. We must restore some balance in employer-employee relations, so that negotiations are more peaceful and healthy. My colleague's bill would help lessen employees' stress. Should the company go bankrupt, they would no longer have to worry about what is going to happen to them. They would have some reassurance. I believe that if there is money, they should be the first ones to get it. That way, they would have enough money to survive until their employment insurance benefits kick in. One hopes they would have accumulated enough hours to be eligible.

I will support this motion. I hope other members in this House will do the same. As we know, it would not cost the government anything. It would be the responsibility of the company using the money left after a bankruptcy, the proceeds from the sale of the company.

When motions or bills in favour of workers come to the House, I would like to see my colleagues support them, so that workers in Quebec and Canada are dealt with fairly and appropriately.

I will support the motion, therefore.

Bankruptcy LegislationPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to support Motion No. 400 put forward by the member for Churchill. I want to thank the member for Churchill for her initiative because this really is an excellent motion. It is very straightforward. It states:

That...the government should amend bankruptcy legislation to ensure that wages and pensions owed to employees are the first debts repaid when a bankruptcy occurs.

I say, “Hear, hear”. It is about time.

It is really quite astounding to actually look at the current legislation and see that everybody else lines up ahead of the people who actually put their labour into whatever company or business fails.

First up is the government. The government is the first creditor to be paid, through CPP, income tax and employment insurance.

Next on the list are the secured creditors, of course, which could include institutions such as the banks. Of course the banks will make money off bankruptcy, having carried loans secured by company assets.

Third in the current legislation are the preferred creditors, who are placed on a prioritized list.

Then, of course, the employees are at the end, at number four, behind the legal costs and the levy that goes to the Superintendent of Bankruptcy. This really has to be one of the most unfair provisions. Not only have people lost their jobs, they then get slapped in the face and really stuck with it when a bankruptcy occurs. They do not get anything in terms of wages they might be owed or, most importantly, their pensions.

I think this motion for a change in the bankruptcy legislation is needed today more than ever before. We live in a world of globalized capital, of deregulation and, unfortunately, now a world of privatization. Not a day goes by on which we cannot open a major newspaper and see colossal failures of the bastions of capitalism, whether it is Enron, Air Canada or other major corporations going into a tailspin and going into failure.

In this economic climate, where there is an emphasis on corporate concentration, where the bigger fish eat the smaller fish, where there are buyouts, bankruptcies and all the rest of it, I think we really have to look at the question of who the winners and losers are. And in every single case, the losers are the people who work for those businesses and those corporations.

The Alliance may smirk at that, but it purports to represent those workers and yet it is those workers who are being absolutely skewered by the kind of legislation we have in Canada today, which sees them at the bottom of the line, not the top.

I say hats off to the member for Churchill for identifying this as an issue that needs to be corrected and for having the initiative to bring it forward. It will be beyond me if members of the House cannot find it in themselves to support the motion and to say of course employees should be the people who get their wages and their pensions covered.

We only have to look at what has taken place with Air Canada. When Air Canada filed for bankruptcy, I do not know about anybody else, but I got loads and loads of e-mail from people who were terrified that they were going to lose their pension in Air Canada because they knew what the legislation was and they knew they would be at the end of the line and out of luck.

I even had children of Air Canada retirees writing to me because they were so terrified for their mothers or fathers who had worked for Air Canada for 25 or 30 years, who had paid into their pensions, and who had grown up in the company believing that their pensions were secure. They were terrified that suddenly, through the stroke of a pen and proceedings through the bankruptcy laws and so on, their parents would find that their pensions and sense of security were in jeopardy and were threatened as a result of Air Canada filing for bankruptcy.

Surely that one example alone should serve to remind us that the law on bankruptcy as it currently exists is terribly discriminatory toward workers. It puts them at the end of the line.

A couple of weeks ago in east Vancouver I met a constituent who had gone through the most incredible runaround in trying to collect $4,000 that he was owed by a small company that had gone into bankruptcy. He had gone through employment standards, which in B.C. under Gordon Campbell do not really exist any more; there really is no protection for workers. This guy was a hardworking person. He had helped his employer. He had been a diligent worker. All he wanted was his $4,000. He could not get any help from anyone. It was not available.

What caused most of the distress for this constituent was not so much the $4,000. I think he had kind of given up on that at some point. It was the fact that there was nothing there in a legal framework that could actually protect his interests as a worker.

It demonstrated to me the need to have this motion that is before us today. I note that the Canadian Labour Congress has been advocating a package of measures that would ensure that workers' interests are protected in the event of a bankruptcy or an insolvency. It advocated the idea of a federal wage protection fund.

The member from the Bloc pointed out very eloquently that on every side workers are now completely skewered. Workers are not able to claim for EI, which is money that has actually been paid in. There is no government money in EI; it comes from the employer and the employee. Not only can they not get EI but now there is no protection under the bankruptcy legislation.

A federal wage protection fund that would provide employees with some measure of certainty of payment when they are faced with uncertainty in this world is a very good idea.

There is the idea of pension insurance arrangements. The whole scandal around what is happening to pension funds is something that should be sounding off alarm bells in this place.

Here again under the bankruptcy legislation the current situation would mean that someone who has paid into their pension does not have the most basic protection when it comes to bankruptcy. They do not even have protection for where those pension funds end up or who manages them. The administration of the Canada pension fund has been contracted out by the Liberal government, which is costing us billions of dollars. What a scam that is going on. Yet it is employees who are on the receiving end.

In conclusion, this is a very fine motion. It is so easy to shoot something down and to say it does not do this or it does not do that. The member has worked very hard to give responses to members who have raised questions or issues in the House and she will do so again today.

The basic principle of this motion before us which is to say that workers should come first in terms of the wages and pensions they are owed when a bankruptcy occurs is the correct principle. It is where we should start from. If the motion needs fixing when it is implemented and legislation is changed, there is time enough to do that for sure. Let us vote affirmatively on the principle that is being advanced by the member for Churchill.

I encourage all members of the House to support the motion for the very important principle that it advances. It is worthy of support.

Bankruptcy LegislationPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise on this motion today. I would first like to make a couple of comments on the previous commentary.

In relation to the Canadian Labour Congress, it put forward an initiative in the last few weeks. I would like to commend several items in its initiative. One goal is to work toward parity between men and women in insurance benefits. That is an admirable goal and I look forward to seeing what can be done in that respect. I am also quite supportive of its work on behalf of older workers, because older workers have a harder time finding new employment. What our government has been promoting for a few years now is the whole concept of lifelong learning and that people need training not only to get back into the employment field but while they are at work to continue in the employment field.

I also want to add my support for the Air Canada workers and their pensions. When we discussed this at the transport committee meeting, I strongly put forward the position, as did the whole transport committee, that this was something we definitely had to look at and make sure that those pensions were not in jeopardy. They are handled separately from the rest of the bankruptcy. Unfortunately a lot of pensions, including Air Canada's pension, had a lot of reduction because of the investments of the pension plan. The point was, for the part that did not cause the decrease in moneys, the secretariat that looked after pensions had to make sure that Air Canada's payments in that pension plan were up to date so that people will continue to get their pensions.

I congratulate the mover for bringing forward this important topic. I also congratulate her for her recent courage in other major developments in her constituency. Everyone is in agreement with the goal and with the principle. Pensions are so important to people. People work hard all their lives. They certainly depend upon their pensions and we certainly would not want anything to get in their way. I am sure everyone agrees with that and it is just the mechanisms on how best to do it that we are discussing in this debate, as well as other debates.

Parliamentarians have always recognized that pensions are so important. That is why they have put in special mechanisms to protect them so that pensions are not at the bottom of the list but in a separate part where they are protected.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in today's debate on Motion No. 400 which proposes to amend the current bankruptcy legislation to ensure that wages and pensions owed to employees are the first debts repaid when a bankruptcy occurs. I would also like to note that my remarks today especially address the pension issues that were raised during a debate that took place on Motion No. 400 in June.

I would first like to put this issue into context beginning with a general overview of the existing pension plan system in Canada.

The purpose of pension plans in our country is to provide retirement benefits for plan beneficiaries. As hon. members know, our system includes both public pension plans and private pension plans. Public pension plans include the Canada pension plan, the Quebec pension plan and old age security. Private pension plans consist of occupational pension plans, otherwise known as registered pension plans or RPPs. They cover both defined benefit and defined contribution plans which are provided as part of an employment contract. I also want to mention that private pension plans are voluntary but must be registered either federally or provincially.

In addition, the federal and provincial governments provide tax assistance for savings in RPPs and retirement savings plans, or RRSPs, to encourage and assist income replacement in retirement.

As I indicated, today's motion proposes to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to ensure that wages and pension moneys owed to employees would be the first debts paid when a bankruptcy occurs. We discussed the issue of protecting wages here in the House on June 5, 2003. Today my remarks will focus on the issue of securing pension benefits in bankruptcy proceedings.

The main federal statute that regulates private pension plans of companies that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as banking, interprovincial transportation and telecommunications, is the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985, or the PBSA as it is commonly called. While some 1,200 pension plans fall under the purview of this act, close to 90% of all registered plans in Canada are provincially registered.

The PBSA sets out the rules for administration and funding of federally regulated private pension plans. It imposes minimum funding requirements on pension plans to support the solvency and security of the pension fund and its ability to pay out promised benefits.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, otherwise known as OSFI, administers the PBSA. OSFI's role is to protect the rights and interests of plan beneficiaries, having due regard to the fact that administrators of pension plans are responsible for the management of the plans and that pension plans can experience financial and funding difficulties that can result in the reduction of those benefits.

OSFI has a variety of means at its disposal to protect the rights and interests of plan beneficiaries of federal pension plans. Intervention activities can range from meeting with the plan administrator, to asking that a special actuarial report be conducted, to, in extreme cases, replacing the plan administrator with one appointed by OSFI.

In the current environment, OSFI's priority is to identify risks faced by federally regulated pension plans, promote sound management of those risks, and see that corrective actions are taken where appropriate.

The regulatory framework provided by the PBSA, supported by the supervision of OSFI, provides an appropriate framework for protecting the interests of pension plan members, even my comrades in the Alliance.

Federal statutes such as the Income Tax Act also impact on private pension plans. It should be noted that most private pension plans are governed by provincial pension legislation.

As hon. members may know, the PBSA provides protection for pension plan members by requiring the employer to keep the pension fund separate and apart from its own and by deeming the pension funds to be held in trust. In addition, any amounts owed to the pension fund are subject to a deemed trust.

This deemed trust provision protects members of a federally registered pension plan from a scenario where the employer is in financial difficulty and may have to resort to the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act , the CCAA, or Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act , the BIA. In the event of bankruptcy, moneys owed under the deemed trust provision of a federally registered pension plan would be given priority status.

I would like to remind the House that the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce has been reviewing the issue of bankruptcy protection. It is giving the matter full consideration in its review of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. To assist the committee, Industry Canada prepared a report describing the wage and pension protection issue, proposing possible solutions and setting out the views expressed by stakeholders about the options proposed.

I agree that ensuring the promised benefits of pension plan members and beneficiaries is a key priority. That is why I have outlined several measures in our current system that ensure that this goal is met. Let me outline some additional measures that are currently in place.

As I noted previously, the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 requires that amounts of a pension plan be held in trust or otherwise kept separate and apart from the assets of the employer. In addition, the pension plan administrators must reference all factors that may affect the funding, solvency and ability of the plan to meet its financial obligations. These rules are already on the books.

It is clear that the current status already largely meets the admirable intent of the motion. The government believes that the Pension Benefit Standards Act, 1985 and accompanying regulations have established the right climate to ensure that pension plan administrators are responsive to the concerns and objectives of plan members and employers.

Most certainly, ensuring sound, secure pension systems remains a priority for the government. Recent reforms to the Canada pension plan, together with recent PBSA amendments and regulations, demonstrate this commitment. I can assure hon. members that the government will continue to make changes to the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985 when and if required.

Given the built-in checks and balances and the existing duties and responsibilities of pension plan administrators under the PBSA, today's proposal to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act does not appear warranted.

However, I am always looking for mechanisms that will ensure that employees receive the hard-earned benefits that are so important to them in their retirement certainly before less important payouts. I look forward to such other amendments or proposals in the future.

Bankruptcy LegislationPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank all my colleagues who have taken the time to speak on this motion. I recognize that everyone has wonderful accolades for workers and feels that they should be looked after, but somehow they are not willing to take that extra step and actually put them first, in front of banks, in front of the government and in front of other creditors.

Somehow in this country workers are still at the bottom and, quite frankly, still underground a lot of the time, a lot of them dead because of their toil. Somehow most of the members in the House are still putting them at the bottom. I will tell the House that very few company executives or people in business offices end up dying from their work, unlike the workers who are most gravely affected by this type of legislation.

The government representative who spoke on the motion tonight, much like the one who spoke on my motion yesterday, used the argument that “if something's not broken, don't fix it”. But the reality is that the system is broken. We do not have a good pension plan and safety net in place. That is extremely apparent to anyone who has seen the media over the last two years or has read about the risks to pension funds. Everyone knows there is a problem and we need to fix it.

What we are asking is to put workers first. I know that the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions is supposed to ensure that enough money is in the pension fund deposit to ensure that it can be paid out. But the reality is that only a percentage of the amount has to be there and, in a good many cases, just like the Air Canada case, the pension fund has been shorted. In my view, this is legalized theft.

Employees paid into that fund. Their employers paid into that fund as well. That was their agreement: “I will work for you if you do this for me”. In essence, what has happened is legalized theft. Money that belonged to employees was used for something else. We are saying that this needs to be corrected. That is what I am asking for. There is a problem. Anyone who does not think there is a problem has had their head in the sand for the last two or three years.

I brought this motion to the floor of the House of Commons as a result of workers in my riding who right now are working for companies that have not gone bankrupt but who know that their pension fund is short. They know it is short a fair bit. When it should be at about 70% or 80%, it is at about 20% less. Employees have been trying to make sure that money gets put into the fund. If their companies go bankrupt today, they are at the bottom of the pit thanks to everyone in this House who does not make an effort to change this legislation and put workers first. It is bad enough that employees do not get their wages if there is no money, but they will also not get their pensions, which were supposed to keep them secure in their later years for retirement.

My colleague from Perth--Middlesex commented that he has experienced this and that it could have ramifications on both employers and banks. In most cases, banks make up a good amount of the money on the interest anyway and they are in a far better position to be able to survive after a bankruptcy than employees in the workplace.

There are others who suffer as result of this problem. Whole communities suffer. If a business goes bankrupt in a small community and the pension funds and wages are not there, every business in that community suffers. By ensuring that this legislation is in place we are actually stabilizing some of those communities in a good many instances, as far as I am concerned. Most important, we are telling workers in this country that they count, that they are first, that they are number one. We are telling them that we know they have worked and they should be taken into account.

This is the House of Commons. This is not the house of employers. This is not the house for the corporate elite. This is the house of commoners. I know that some people in here get a little high on the hog sometimes and see themselves as a bit better than the carpenter or the miner or the truck driver, but the bottom line is that we are supposed to be representing those people, all those airline workers who are going to lose their pensions. We are supposed to be here representing them, and it is time we did.

Bankruptcy LegislationPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is the House ready for the question?

Bankruptcy LegislationPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Bankruptcy LegislationPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?