Mr. Speaker, at the outset I must thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for the non-partisan position taken on a piece of legislation that is so vital and important to the House and to the many people it affects. The member for Sarnia—Lambton always has a spot over here if he wishes to pursue the government the way he has.
Believe me, I hope beyond hope there are more members on the Liberal backbenches who will look seriously at this legislation, dissect it and see what it is doing or not doing for what I consider to be one of the most serious issues facing us as a society today. There are pieces of legislation that come before us, in fact we have five or six today, that deal with very important issues. In my opinion, this is without question the most important issue that will be dealt with in the House of Commons.
I am very fortunate and very happy that I have never had any personal experience in dealing with divorce. However, if members looked within their own personal lives, they would find someone among their family or friends who has experienced divorce. It is one of the most acrimonious circumstances anyone could possibly face.
Bill C-22 is supposed to put into place legislation that would allow this particular circumstance, divorce, to take place between two people with some protections.
The history lesson by the member for Sarnia—Lambton was wonderful. As was mentioned earlier, there was a special joint committee which issued the wonderful report “For the Sake of the Children”. It had 48 recommendations which, if the House wanted to follow, would put into place legislation that would deal with the singular issue that it attempted to do, and that was for the sake of the children, protection for the children.
Some of the 48 recommendations have been implemented. I will not be as strongly opposed to the legislation as the member for Sarnia—Lambton. Some have been included in the legislation. However, there are approximately 13 recommendations, very important and strong, absolutely stand-alone recommendations that have not been included and because of that, the legislation has faults. The legislation is not the right piece of legislation to go forward.
There are two issues. First, in any kind of divorce proceeding, we recognize that there will be acrimony. Once people have reached that point in a marriage, there will be acrimony. There will be, unfortunately, too many things that will not be negotiable between a husband and a wife. Unfortunately there has to be a mediator. There has to be legislation put into place to mediate that. Unfortunately as well, when people have reached that point in a marriage, it is usually most detrimental to the children of the marriage.
In “For the Sake of the Children” there are two issues. One is shared parenting. This is a simple concept. When two people are involved in a marriage and from that marriage come children, then in my opinion and certainly in the opinion of the committee and the opinion of the majority of Canadians, both parents must and still have a need for the opportunity to develop those children throughout their childhood. They must have access. There must be shared parenting.
The Minister of Justice does not like the term “shared parenting” and he does not like the terms “custody” and “access”. The term he will be putting in is “parenting orders”. A word is only a word. Shared parenting means that each individual parent has the right and the responsibility to raise the children.
The committee also said that as part of shared parenting there should be a parenting plan. What a great idea. A parenting plan would be negotiated and worked out between two adults which would allow the children to have as close to a normal upbringing as they could possibly have. But no, that is not dealt with in this legislation.
Instead, as was mentioned, they go off to the courts to decide what is going to happen with joint custody and what is going to happen with sole custody. For the sake of the children, it is necessary to have a mandatory piece of legislation which states that in divorce proceedings it is imperative that the first thing is to say that the children are going to have shared parenting, that they are going to have equal access to both parents. That is the equality and that is the fairness that should be developed in this act.
The second issue, needless to say, is financial, obviously whether there is going to be spousal support, child support, or a financial contribution from one partner to another. In general terms it should not be a gender thing. There should be fairness. There should in fact be a simple, basic premise which states that one member of the marriage should not be a beneficiary to the detriment of the other. One member of that duo should not receive substantial financial support to the detriment of another and have his or her lifestyle change so dramatically that he or she cannot cope.
I have reams and reams of the information provided to us as members of Parliament which speaks of the tragedies with respect to so much being demanded of one parent by the courts that the individual just could not cope. When that individual could not cope, unfortunately in some cases it resulted in suicide, and this is not fearmongering, this is a reality. This is an issue we have to deal with and it can be dealt with in fairness and equity in a piece of legislation.
I am disappointed that the Minister of Justice would bring forward this bill without more thought being given to it, without the ability to put into place a piece of legislation that is going to allow divorce to happen in a much fairer and more equitable fashion.
The issue here is not to try to stop the divorce. We recognize that in our society today there are those who, in their own judgment, do not wish to be a married couple. That is a reality. The reality is there. What we must do as politicians and legislators is make sure that the rules are put in place to make this happen in the most fair and equitable way possible.
As I said, there are two issues. One of them is shared parenting and making sure that there is equal access to children. I cannot think of anything worse than being the father of children and not being able to have access to those children, for whatever reason but in this particular case divorce. As part of that, there has to be the opportunity for access for the extended family. We can talk about rights, whether that be rights for grandparents, and we also know that now we have extended families that in fact should have access, either to grandchildren or to nieces and nephews. That has to be protected in this act.
The other issue is support. There has to be fairness with respect to support, and from both parents, from both sides of the equation.
We will see this legislation go forward to committee. I do not think the member for Sarnia--Lambton has in fact convinced the members of his party to stop it at this level. I wish he could, and I hope he can, but if he cannot it is going back to committee. The only hope and wish I have is that members of all parties, and this is not partisan nor should it be, simply listen with an open mind as to how the legislation must be changed, not should be or could be but must be, changed for the sake of the children.
That is what it is about. It is for the children who are going to be growing up in a home divided, but that home divided does not necessarily have to be an acrimonious home. It does not necessarily have to be a home that is going to have one winner and one loser in a relationship. In fact, that is the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to children growing up in a family.
From my party's perspective, we will be at the table at the justice committee. We will be putting forward what we consider to be the necessary amendments to make this legislation so much better. Or perhaps we can start from scratch, by pulling the legislation altogether, and try to put into place what is best for the children.