House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.


The House resumed consideration of the motion that BillC-17, an act to amend certain Acts of Canada, and to enact measures for implementing the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, in order to enhance public safety, be read the third time and passed.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor once again on Bill C-17. What I was saying before this short interruption—

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but the hon. whip of the Bloc Quebecois has a point of order.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2003 / 5:10 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to interrupt my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, but we would indeed agree with the motion moved earlier by the government House leader. We had come to an agreement earlier, during the meeting of the House leaders.

Thus, the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the motion to defer the vote on Bill C-25 until 3 p.m. tomorrow.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to adopt the second motion the government House leader moved just a few moments ago, to defer the vote on report stage of Bill C-25 until 3 p.m. tomorrow?

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, further to our consultations, I wish to inform the House that Thursday, May 29 shall be an allotted day.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-17, an act to amend certain Acts of Canada, and to enact measures for implementing the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, in order to enhance public safety, be read the third time and passed.

Public Safety Act, 2002Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have very pleased to resume my comments on Bill C-17.

Before this short interruption to deal with the business of the House, I was referring to some of the evidence presented to the committee by officials from Transport Canada and supported by RCMP and CSIS representatives. The government acted upon Bill C-17 as introduced without taking into consideration the amendments brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois and the other opposition parties. They did this simply because what was being proposed, especially by the Bloc Quebecois, all came from members of the civil society who appeared before the committee.

What I am trying to say is that the government fell into the trap. With this bill, it has decided to turn our country into a police state in order to fight terrorism. That is the choice the Liberal government has made.

I will provide some examples. I will be quoting, among others, from the Canadian Bar Association's brief. I will quote some parts of it. First, in the summary, we read:

The Canadian Bar Association realizes that fighting terrorism and ensuring thesecurity of Canadians are important and legitimate government objectives.However, these objectives must be achieved in ways that impair Charter rightsand freedoms as little as possible, through measures that are directly andrationally connected to the desired result. Fear of terrorist attacks cannot be usedto justify increased government power to fight all crime, compromising longstandingconstitutional guarantees.

Bill C-17, the Public Safety Act, 2002, goes further than its predecessors, Bills C-42 and C-55, in safeguarding individual rights. However, it still intrudes upon theprivacy of Canadians in ways that do not always represent legitimate compromises. It continues to allow the RCMP and CSIS to scour airline passenger lists, cross-referencing them with many other databases for possible matches. Bill C-17 has retained subsection 4.82(11), which continues to permit information to be disclosed to any peace officer based on a reasonable belief that it would assist in the execution of a warrant. While the term warrant has been more narrowly defined, it still covers offences that are not always extremely serious and not always linked to terrorism. Canadians currently can choose not to supply personal information to law enforcers, except in certain situations. It is naive to imagine that law enforcement personnel would not act upon inadvertent matches made while accessing passengers’ travel information, even when those matches have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism. We conclude that all references towarrants should be deleted from the bill.

This was not done despite the amendments brought forward by our party. The brief goes on:

Once passenger information is obtained, it should be destroyed after 24 hours,rather than after seven days. The principle concern is passenger safety and security during the actual flight. We support an independent oversight mechanism to both prevent unauthorized use or disclosure of passenger information and ensure compliance with information destruction provisions.

With regard to the 24 hour timeframe instead of seven days, I will give you an example that is very simple. A Quebecker or a Canadian boards a plane. It was proposed that the information be destroyed 24 hours after the plane has landed, but the bill says seven days.

This means that intelligence agencies could retain passenger information for the duration of a trip and could even pass it on to other agencies. We have agreements with other countries, but we cannot guarantee that all these countries have the same respect for rights and freedoms as we do in Canada.

Therefore, personal information could be passed on to other police agencies in other countries during a person's trip, and that person could very well be put under surveillance or be interrogated by local authorities in these other countries without any assurance that his or her rights and freedoms would be respected.

We tried to make it clear that retaining information for seven days could be prejudicial to the rights and freedoms of Canadians. The Canadian Bar Association also criticized this idea but, again, the Liberals did not listen.

I continue with the positions expressed by the Canadian Bar Association:

Emergency directions made by the Minister or the Minister's delegate should be limited to 72 hours, as proposed by Bill C-17. We also appreciate the additional controls the bill places on when security measures may be made.

This is no longer about personal information. This is about different information or different parts of the bill that do not affect personal information. The Canadian Bar Association goes on to say:

The new proposed offence of “air rage” is both unnecessary and too broad, and should be deleted. Other Criminal Code provisions already cover the type of conduct contemplated.

That is what I was explaining previously. There is a new definition where we add “air rage” to the bill. Someone who has air rage becomes a danger to transportation security and is placed on a surveillance list. From there, the person is put on the permanent watch list of the RCMP and CSIS and finally becomes a dangerous criminal.

Thus, what we heard is that we have to be careful with the words “air rage”. There already have been amendments to the Criminal Code. That is what the Canadian Bar Association told us.

After that. the Bar Association gave us a great deal of information that was repeated by other witnesses. As a stakeholder, I read the comments issued by the Privacy Commissioner on May 12, 2002. His comments were posted on the Internet site. I went to look at them on the site of the Privacy Commissioner, just as anyone can do. These things are not done in secrecy. The commissioner even came to make a presentation to the committee. This is what he said:

In Canada, police forces cannot normally compel businesses to provide personal information about citizens unless they obtain a warrant.

Section 4.82 would empower the RCMP, and CSIS, to obtain the personal information of all air travellers without a warrant.

What does this mean? This means they can go through our personal information. As mentioned earlier, the Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP said that in any case, it is information we give out every day. I illustrated that in the bill, the schedule lists 34 items of information we must provide. Clearly, it is incorrect to say that this is information that is provided daily. It is information about our methods of payment, the type of credit card used and so on. These are not things we provide to everyone, every day. It is incorrect to say so, yet that is what the Deputy Commissioner claims.

What is clear is that we have to provide it. On top of that, they will probably keep the information—that is what the Canadian Bar Association told us—for seven days. If ever they have a doubt, this could extend beyond seven days up to a year according to the legislation. After a year, it is up to the RCMP and CSIS to destroy the information. That is the beauty of the system, there is no oversight mechanism.

Of course, the privacy commissioner asked us to make some additions so that he might be allowed to look at the type of information that would be kept for more than seven days. He wanted to have this special power. He wanted a clause on this. He was supported by the Canadian Bar Association. Of course, the association was willing to support the privacy commissioner's request so there could be a provision allowing him to look at this. The privacy commissioner is a non-partisan official who must represent Quebeckers and Canadians, that is, he is supposed to be one of the most non-partisan people. He is responsible for protecting rights and freedoms. Thus, it would have been only right to be able to add to clause 4.82 a provision that would allow him to look at the information that will be kept for more than seven days.

We had hoped that this would have been the information that was kept for more than 24 hours, because we wanted it destroyed after 24 hours. The government would not agree. But the fact remains that it is only the RCMP and CSIS that will decide, along with Transport Canada, what type of information that they will keep for more than seven days and up to one year. It is the RCMP and CSIS that will decide after one year which will be kept and which will be destroyed.

Believe it or not, regarding personal information and the retention of documents, in Canada we have an information commissioner. Of course, members understand that this bill amends the information commissioner legislation. In theory, through the Access to Information Act, any citizen may, under certain conditions, obtain information.

It is even worse if it is one's personal file.

The beauty of this bill, then, is that the RCMP and CSIS have managed to get the government, the Liberal members, to understand as well that the information retained more than seven days, and more than one year, will be part of this data bank and never available under access to information. Never means never. No one will ever know if there are documents about them being retained.

This is what is stated in clause 107 of the bill, which prompted the following comment by the Information Commissioner:

If clause 107 is adopted, this information will need to be kept secret forever. There are certainly no reasonable grounds to justify the adoption of such a measure in a healthy democratic country.

This is a statement made not just by anyone but by the Information Commissioner, on page 10 of his submission to the committee. He is the one saying it, and it was repeated to the Liberal members on the committee. An amendment was moved saying this made no sense.

Believe it or not, in the present Access to Information Act, there are provisions allowing the commissioner not to disclose information for reasons of national security. He already has that right, if ever it can be proven to him that national security is at stake—because it is often information held by a department—he has the right not to disclose it, already has that right. There are already provisions to that effect.

But that is not enough for the RCMP or CSIS, Transport Canada or the Liberals. On top of that, we have to amend the legislation by adding section 107 which states that we will never know if there is information on us within the data banks of the RCMP, CSIS or Transport Canada.

I repeat, and then I will conclude on the presentation of documents. I will reread what the Access to Information Commissioner said to us:

If clause 107 is adopted, this information will need to be kept secret forever. There are certainly no reasonable grounds to justify the adoption of such a measure in a healthy democratic country.

This is not the Bloc Quebecois speaking. We have simply been reporting what civil society is saying. That is what we did in committee. And that is what we are doing once again today by rising in debate on Bill C-17. That is why we keep asking, “Why try to pass legislation that has been amended three times already?”

The government has now introduced in this House three bills, about which the privacy commissioner has the same comments to make every time. There are also recommendations and requests from the information commissioner, the Canadian Bar Association, the Law Society of Upper Canada, and the Barreau du Québec. Everyone is saying the same thing, “Watch out, this bill goes too far”.

We keep asking the same question. What could Transport Canada not do in the minutes, hours and days following the terrible events of September 11 that such a bill will allow it to do? Nothing.

Canada already has the Emergencies Act. It has been used. What the government is doing today is turning our society into an increasingly policed society, our state into a police state. That is what is happening. The RCMP and CSIS have been pushing for this. Transport Canada gave its approval in order to finally be part of those in the know, which includes Customs, Immigration, the RCMP and CSIS. It now belongs to this group of organizations that have information on people. That is something the Bloc Quebecois will never approve of.

We never did, and that is not about to change. I would not want anyone from Quebec, any man or woman from Quebec or Canada to unwittingly fly on the same plane as a member of a biker gang. Should the authorities decide that this person is a threat to security and is a member of a criminal biker gang, the anti-gang law could apply. If this person flew with us, we would all be under surveillance. We would be under surveillance for the entire duration of our trip. Following our seven-day trip, the information provided about us is likely to be retained.

All this because we had the misfortune of being on the same plane as someone from a criminal biker gang. Sometimes there are warrants out for them and they can be arrested, but when there is no warrant, they are under surveillance and we know how the Organized Crime Act works, it is not always easy to prove things. We would be part of a group of people that is being watched because we had the misfortune of boarding a plan with someone who might be dangerous because he has ties with organized crime. I am sorry, but we do not deserve to be treated like this in the guise of fighting terrorism.

That is the message of the Bloc Quebecois. That is also the message of representatives of civil society who appeared before the committee. On four occasions, the committee heard from representatives of the RCMP and CSIS, who told us, “Do not worry about this. You will see, it is not true that we keep records on all sorts of people however and whenever we want”.

I can trust the commissioners, maybe even the deputy commissioners, but there are a lot of officials at the RCMP. There are all kinds of investigations going on about the police. Should we be able to trust all police officers? I would think so, but as with everything, there are always exceptions.

That is not what I would like to see happen to the public, to a citizen of Quebec or Canada. I would not want people's rights and freedoms to be violated inadvertently because we are cavalier about retaining information that the privacy commissioner, the access to information commissioner, and especially the lawyers who could end up defending us no longer have any control over. They have lost their rights in all this.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

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.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

moved that Bill C-325, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is great to be here today, and I thank my colleague from the west coast for seconding my bill.

I feel, as many do in this country from coast to coast to coast, that my private member's bill, Bill C-325, is an initiative that is long overdue.

I would like to thank some people. I would like to thank Mark Osaka, who is a long-time friend and a councillor from the county of Lethbridge, and Sam West, who is the volunteer fire chief in my hometown of Picture Butte, Alberta, for the encouragement they give me to push this forward and to keep this private member's bill moving.

There is a group of unselfish, dedicated Canadians, men and women who lay down their lives on a volunteer basis every day for their fellow man and they need to be recognized in a concrete way for what they give to society as a whole.

My private member's Bill C-325 is proposing an amendment to the Income Tax Act which would allow volunteer emergency workers to deduct $3,000 from their taxable income from any source.

The amendment, and I will give some more detail, to section 60 of the Income Tax Act would add a new paragraph, paragraph (y):

$3,000 [deduction], where the taxpayer performed at least 200 hours of volunteer service in the taxation year as an ambulance technician, a firefighter or a person who assists in search or rescue operations or in other emergency situations.

It would also amend section 60.03, as follows:

In order to claim a deduction under [these conditions], a taxpayer must provide a certificate from the appropriate municipality or other authority verifying that the taxpayer performed at least 200 hours of volunteer service referred to in that paragraph. For the purposes of that paragraph, volunteer service includes time spent carrying out related duties and in training.

That is the legality and that is the way the bill has been presented in the House.

The rationale for me to go ahead with this and include the groups of ambulance technicians, firefighters and search and rescue personnel is based on the similar and unique aspects of their duties. They all require extensive training on an ongoing basis, they all find themselves in dangerous, potentially life-threatening situations and most are on a 24/7 call-out basis, if not all the time, at regularly scheduled times.

The 200 hour minimum annual limit that we came up with was based on four hours of contributing time per week, two hours of training and two hours of active duty. This has been established to reward those who are truly dedicated and to act as an incentive for retention and recruitment.

The record keeping needed is being done in most cases and is included in annual reporting to municipalities or other authorities by the emergency squads. The issuing of appropriate documents for the volunteer to use on his or her tax return would be a simple matter. Therefore, we are not creating another level of bureaucracy and a huge additional workload for anyone.

There is a societal aspect also involved in the timing of this initiative. Our everyday lives are getting more complex and the number of willing individuals stepping forward to volunteer in these critical areas is declining. Also, the risks volunteer emergency responders face are increasing and becoming more complex as well.

There are ever increasing demands being put on volunteer emergency responders, with increased responsibilities, liabilities and expectations. Training is more extensive as the situations these volunteers find themselves in become more dangerous. As our industries, communities, homes and everything become more complex and as society itself changes, the situations our volunteer emergency responders find themselves in become absolutely dangerous many times.

Volunteer emergency responders are absolutely essential in most communities in Canada due to the simple fact that these communities cannot possibly afford full time, paid squads. The dependency on volunteers has become part of Canadian culture and is an accepted part of everyday life. Therefore, the reduction of willing volunteers is an issue that needs to be addressed by Canadians as a whole.

Some of the issues faced by municipalities as they address declining numbers of willing volunteers include the following: the basic problem of recruiting and maintaining adequate squads within the reality of tighter budgets; the increase in commitment of time and energy needed to stay up to date with training and equipment; and the increased possible exposure to an ever changing environment such as new chemicals, building materials and situations changing constantly.

Volunteer emergency responders are called upon any time of the night or day to answer the call to assist anyone needing their help. This takes them away from their place of employment, in many cases without pay, and away from their families often for extended periods of time.

We as a nation need to recognize their contribution in a concrete way. My proposal for a tax deduction for qualifying volunteers is a direct and simple way to say thanks to this dedicated bunch of people, also to act as encouragement to stay on and an incentive to work hard.

Because of my firsthand experience as a volunteer firefighter for 17 years and my 18 years on municipal council, it gave me a good perspective on the critical need for a show of support for our volunteers. Allowing a tax deduction that can be applied to earnings of any source will be looked on very favourably by all concerned and will help maintain the high level of volunteer protection on which we as Canadians have come to rely.

I have received many letters of support from across the country from emergency responders. I would like to read those into the record. These comments come from the people who are doing the volunteer work. They explain in a far better way than I could ever hope to the things they like about the bill.

This is from the Mountain View county. It states:

Fire fighting services in Mountain View County and the urban centres within our boundaries are provided by residents volunteering their time. We appreciate the many hours and significant contribution that these volunteers provide to our community...

Thank you for bringing this bill forward on behalf of the many volunteer emergency workers.

The letter is signed by the Reeve, Ian Harvie.

A letter from the Fire Chiefs' Association of British Columbia, states:

As I am certain you are aware, in communities all across Canada, volunteers deliver a considerable portion of emergency service. This is especially true in the fire services. As more demands are made on these volunteers it is becoming increasingly difficult to retain and attract people. This Bill provides both an incentive to stay and means of attracting people. In addition, it is a concrete means of thanking people for their dedication to their communities in roles than can create a high risk to them in carrying out their duties.

The Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. asks that you support this Bill to ensure that volunteer emergency services continue and are recognized in British Columbia and all of Canada.

The letter is signed by Bruce Hall, the president.

This comes from a mayor of the town of Devon. He states:

As you are probably aware, Volunteer Firefighters contribute greatly to the fabric of local communities and do so without asking for much in return. The Town of Devon feels that any initiative to support and encourage volunteers to be active and stay active is of great value.

It is our hope that you will see the value of this initiative and support it.

This letter is from chief Doug Hamer, acting president of the New Brunswick Association of Fire Chiefs. He states:

I have been copied your correspondence regarding your Private Members Bill C-325, “An Act to amend the Income Tax Act”...

I commend you for bringing this issue to Parliament and you can be assured of our support in this regard. Ironically the New Brunswick Association of Fire Chiefs Annual Conference is being held in 10 days. You can be assured we will put forward a resolution of support of your initiative, and provide the appropriate lobby efforts amongst New Brunswick Members of Parliament to assist in this endeavour...

I am sure, as a former municipal councillor, you appreciate the challenges in maintaining and recruiting volunteer firefighters; this bill should serve to enhance that initiative.

Thank you again.

This is from one from Kenneth J. Brands, the Fire Chief from Hinton. He states:

It is a pleasure to see someone “on the Hill” concerned about the welfare of our oft overlooked emergency service volunteer responders.

This is from the fire chief of the Rich Valley Fire Department, Gunn Alberta. He states:

In response to your letter about proposed Bill C-325 I just wanted to let you know how well your idea went over in our hall. We are delighted that someone finally wants to recognize the importance of volunteer emergency services. As you may be aware, it is very hard to get members in rural Alberta to join our services. Many people don't realize the importance of our service and therefore don't realize the repercussions if there was no service to our residents. Hopefully if this bill goes through it will make our job of getting more people easier.

Here is a letter from the Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs, addressed to the finance minister. It states:

We understand that Bill C-325 is scheduled for debate [in the House]. We strongly urge your support to vote in favour of second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Finance. Our Association's membership consists primarily of Volunteer Fire Chiefs and other fire service personnel and we are all too familiar with the role these volunteers perform in the best interests of their communities. We feel that this amendment is only just and proper for such dedicated men and women. We hope that all Members of the House of Commons from Saskatchewan will give unqualifying support to [this member's] proposed amendment.

That came from Robert Prima, the president of the Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs.

Here is one from Fire Chief Ulla Hansen of LaCorey. It states:

First of all I would like to express my appreciation for your interest in our Volunteer sector. You are to be commended for your efforts to try in every small way to compensate our Firefighters for countless hours of unpaid service.

Here is a letter from the Town of Vegreville. It states:

The Vegreville Fire Department currently consists of thirty-one (31) Volunteer Fire Fighters and eight (8) Junior Fire Fighters. Our current jurisdiction area covers approximately 550 square miles with us responding to fire emergency calls, motor vehicle accidents and medical assists in this area. We are also involved with various fund raisers (Muscular Dystrophy and the Fire Fighters Burn Unit) which takes an enormous amount of effort and time from our volunteer group.

We often forget the volunteer work they do to keep us safe and the volunteer work that they do for the rest of their communities.

It goes on to say:

Our department as a whole is certainly in support of this proposed Bill and we hope that you will represent our support for it when it is scheduled for debate...

Here is one from the mayor of the Village of Acme, Alberta. It states:

We consider the contribution made by our emergency services volunteers to be a valuable asset to our communciate the fact thaity. We appret local volunteers are prepared to make our community a safer place to live for our residents. Therefore the Council ... supports your proposal--

This is a short note from the fire chief of Didsbury. “To let you know that I support your initiative on this bill”.

Here is one from Airdrie. It states:

Thank you for your work on Bill C-325. As a volunteer Firefighter/Paramedic in Airdrie, AB I appreciate what you are doing. I will be sending a letter to my MP [asking for his support].

Here is letter from Longview & Rural Volunteer Fire Department supporting the bill. Elkwater fully supports this initiative. The County of Warner is fully supportive of the $3,000 deduction. The County of Lethbridge and the Town of Coaldale, these are all communities in my riding close to my home.

Here is one from the Village of Nobleford from Marvin VandenHoek. It states:

I would just briefly like to express our support for Bill C-325 regarding the amendment to the deductions that can be claimed by volunteer emergency services personnel. As a member of a small town fire department, I know first hand how much we do to provide this service to our community. Although we do it primarily because we enjoy it, it takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication to keep everything operating smoothly. There is no such thing as doing a half job in this service. People are depending on us and often trust us with their lives. Also, because the service is becoming more and more complex, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit new members. We need ways to encourage people to join. Therefore since we are, in essence, providing a public service free of charge, I sincerely believe that the government of Canada should be doing everything in its power to enable us to continue.

I do not think I could say anything better in any other words, and I appreciate all those letters and support that have come in.

I believe that for the contribution they have made in the emergency responder section of the volunteer section of this country, volunteers do a tremendous job across many sectors. However in this sector, where the training involved is so extreme and so high a level, where the hours are 24 hours on call and where their lives are being put on the line literally to service their fellow man, a recognition by the Government of Canada to these people is essential and would be very welcome.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have one quick question and I am not sure that my hon. colleague will be prepared for this. If he is not, I will accept him getting the information to me later.

The question is in regard to estimates. Has he done any research on what the average cost would be to the federal government in a year? This would be of course based upon the number of individuals and some estimate of which tax bracket they are in to be able to claim this deduction.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Elk Island for that question. Being a mathematician, I should have had him help me with this estimate because I am sure he would have come up with more accurate numbers.

The best numbers we could find were approximately 100,000 volunteer firefighters in Canada and possibly 25,000 to 30,000 emergency responders of other kinds. They are in a 20% to 25% tax bracket. We do not know how many would qualify for the 200 hours. Some people told me it was too high. Some thought it was fine, but two hours a week of practice or training and two hours a week of active duty does not seem like a lot. Maybe this would encourage people to stay active.

Based on those numbers, the cost to the government could be anywhere from $30 million to $35 million or $40 million. Those are the best numbers we could come up with. We could not find any current accurate numbers. When we went back a few years and extrapolated with the population, I compared the numbers I could find for Alberta and worked them out with the rest of the country and it worked out pretty close.

It is not a small item. That is an awful lot of money. However, if we were to look at the dollar value compared to a paid professional person in these emergency response positions, it would be peanuts compared to the value of the service that these people would be giving to Canada on a voluntary basis.

As I stated, there are so many communities in this country that cannot afford to pay. They are getting a wonderful service from volunteers who are dedicated and work hard. I think it is an amount that Canadians would gladly give to recognize the contribution that these folks give to our betterment.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario


Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Lethbridge, for his initiative. The bill proposes a $3,000 tax deduction for emergency service volunteers and this proposed deduction could be claimed against income from all sources. More specifically, it would apply to those who have given more than 200 hours of volunteer service over the year.

Certainly, having been the past chair of a volunteer organization in my community and on the board of directors for 19 years, I can appreciate the valuable contributions that volunteer make. As a former municipal councillor, I appreciate the tremendous work that volunteers do, whether it is the annual Canada Day events or the Santa Claus parade, et cetera. It is very important and no one should underestimate the work that volunteers give to their communities.

I believe all members of the House appreciate that valuable role and we admire the dedication of volunteers who sometimes risk their lives to help their fellow citizens in emergency situations. Emergency service volunteers play a number of different roles. For example, as the member knows, they fight fires, conduct search and rescue operations, and provide first aid. Indeed, these volunteers respond to thousands of calls each year and in doing so expose themselves to danger, such as going into a home engulfed in flames and filled with toxic smoke in order to rescue a fellow citizen or responding to a traffic accident where there may be a risk of explosion.

It is clear that these volunteers contribute substantially to the security and safety of our country and its citizenry. They accept risks and dangers for the sake of protecting others. Their role is of particular importance in many rural communities, as the hon. member has pointed out, that are not in a position to have full time emergency personnel to handle extreme circumstances such as the Manitoba or Saguenay floods. Each Canadian who has been aided by an emergency service volunteer knows the valuable role of those services. Every Canadian should appreciate that one day they may be the ones who need that help. Knowing that these volunteers are there gives us great comfort and for that we should all be thankful.

The government knows that the safety and security of Canadians is a very important issue. To illustrate that, I would like to remind members of the House that the government in 2001 included in the budget a $6.5 billion investment to enhance the economic and personal security of Canadians. Among those investments was $1.6 billion to enhance emergency preparedness. As a result, Canada will be in a better position to respond to its emergencies, such as natural disasters, emergencies that are often responded to by emergency service volunteers.

The priority that the government gives to security is clear and it is also clear that the government readily agrees with the hon. member for Lethbridge on the important role of emergency services. The issue that I want to explore is what is fair and reasonable, as outlined by the hon. member.

The Income Tax Act already recognizes the important role of emergency service volunteers. These individuals can receive up to $1,000 in financial recognition from a public authority without having to pay any tax. Before 1998, this exemption was targeted at volunteer firefighters and was limited to $500 annually. This special provision is fair and reasonable. If a public authority finds reason to provide a small amount to compensate the emergency service volunteers, for instance, because of the costs they incur in providing their services, the rules essentially say that the government will not diminish the value of the compensation by taxing it.

The rules also relieve public authorities of the burden of having to prepare tax information slips for modest amounts they pay to emergency service volunteers. The measure that is now in place is reasonable and, as I mentioned before, has been enhanced in recent years, but the hon. member's proposal is generous to the point of being unfair. It would impose a significant administrative burden on the organizations that engage emergency service volunteers.

When it comes to fairness there are two points that we should examine. First, if adopted, the hon. member's proposal would significantly compromise the fundamental principle of the tax system, the principle that people with comparable incomes should pay comparable amounts of tax.

The proposed $3,000 deduction is a very significant amount of money, and I would like to take a second to put it in context. The proposal before us would permit emergency service volunteers to receive the equivalent of three months pay at Ontario's minimum wage, tax free. This would hardly be fair or reasonable from the perspective of other persons who also contribute to society.

For instance, consider the plight of a single parent of young children working at a fast food restaurant. This person probably has little time to devote to volunteer activities and thus could not gain access to the deduction because he or she is raising young children, and yet the worker's income is fully subject to taxation.

Not only that, but I point out that the bill proposes a deduction. Tax relief provided by a deduction always depends on the person's highest tax rate. As a result, a deduction would provide more relief to those volunteers with high incomes and it would provide no relief for volunteers with little or no taxable income.

The deduction proposed in this private member's bill may also entitle the taxpayer to more income tested tax benefits like the Canada child tax benefit or the GST credit.

On the grounds of fairness, the bill falls short.

I also want to note the compliance burden that the bill would place on volunteer organizations and volunteers themselves.

In order to fairly administer this proposal it would require public authorities to count the hours of service provided by each volunteer. The volunteer, the public authority, and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency all know when the eligibility criteria, the 200 hours of service, has been surpassed. This may prove difficult to monitor in many situations. That is a lot of accounting. There are more than 400,000 emergency service volunteers in Canada.

Perhaps while being well intentioned, Bill C-325 is unfair on a number of levels. It would impose an undue administrative burden on the organizations that engage volunteers in providing emergency services to Canadians. The intent of the proposal is one which we can appreciate but the difficulty is in terms of administration and in terms of fairness.

I have pointed out to members of the House the fact that in this particular case the government has already made progress in terms of this. I must point out as well that we increased the $500 that individuals can receive up to $1,000 of financial recognition from a public authority without paying any tax.

The issue here is the degree which the member proposes which would be up to $3,000, and the difficulty of administering it. The government cannot support the private member's bill that is before the House today.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak on the bill introduced by my hon. colleague from Lethbridge. I find this bill very interesting.

I am thinking of many volunteer ambulance workers and many volunteer firefighters in Quebec, as well as from towns from your riding, Mr. Speaker. These people volunteer a great deal of their time. I am thinking of forest fires and volunteer firefighters who put these forest fires out. I am thinking of volunteer search and rescue workers who look for people lost in the woods in the summer. Often, they have out of pocket expenses. They must fill up their off-road vehicles. They spend their own money to find missing persons.

I am thinking, in particular of the St. John ambulance workers in Quebec. This organization is totally dependent on volunteers. They go to sports and cultural events. They help people injured during a performance. These volunteers need help because they do a great deal of work. The St. John ambulance workers provide a good service to Quebeckers.

The excuse being given for not including these deductions on the income tax return is the difficulty of administering the system. Really. That is complete nonsense. If we can send people into space to build a station, if we can put them on the moon or in orbit around the earth, do not tell me that we are unable to find a way to verify how many hours a volunteer has worked. It is ridiculous to talk about administrative problems, about knowing whether these volunteers worked more or less than 200 hours. Have some respect for people's intelligence. Have some respect for their sincerity. Have some respect for their honesty.

This bill is one that this House must pass. It would be truly worthwhile and it would help young people get involved in volunteering. It would give them some motivation for getting involved. The Bloc Quebecois supports the bill put forward by our hon. friend from Lethbridge. We do not always agree with the Alliance members, but we do support some of their efforts. This is a very good effort.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your indulgence and your attention.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to say a few words on Bill C-325, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, regarding a deduction for voluntary emergency services. At the outset I want to express my support for the bill to the hon. member who introduced the bill. It or something like it should have been introduced in the House of Commons a long time ago. It is long overdue.

The bill is only one page long but it says a lot. It amends section 60 of the Income Tax Act by adding a paragraph to that section. It indicates that an emergency service volunteer could avail of a $3,000 tax deduction if he or she has performed at least 200 hours of service in the previous year. It is a very good bill. As I said, it is a bill that is long overdue and one which we should all support.

Section 60.03 is added. It requires a volunteer to obtain a certificate from the relevant authority attesting to the 200 hours of volunteer service. It stipulates that training time can be included in the 200 hours. It is a reasonable safeguard against the deduction being abused by people who have not put in the necessary time or effort on behalf of their community. As I said, it is a one page bill but it says an awful lot.

We are all very much aware that volunteers are the heart and soul of our community. Volunteers are also part of the economy. I do not know if members are aware that Canada has 7.5 million volunteers. We have 175,000 not for profit organizations. It is a little difficult to believe but those 7.5 million volunteers put 1.1 billion hours of work annually into the Canadian economy for various causes.

Believe it or not, the volunteer work is estimated to be worth about $16 billion annually. That translates into about the budget of four medium size provinces, or four provinces the size of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is $16 billion and it is the equivalent of 578,000 full time jobs. That is remarkable.

In my constituency there are 12 to 15 volunteer fire departments. I very often have the opportunity to attend their various banquets and what have you. I can tell members firsthand of the great contribution these people make to their communities. I feel very lucky to have been the minister of municipal affairs in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador for about three and a half years. I had the opportunity to visit just about every volunteer fire department in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is only when we see the kind of contribution that these people make and we visit so many of them that we actually get a feel and a flavour for all of the hard work they put into emergency volunteer services. We need to be very grateful for the contribution, sometimes of life and limb, that these people make.

Volunteering in the emergency service sector is especially important to our small communities across the country. For many small towns without volunteers there would be no local fire department, no local ambulance service, or no local search and rescue team. While these services are vital to the security of the community at large, they are often a danger to the life and limb of the people performing them. I see absolutely no problem in endorsing a special income tax deduction for people who provide these very important services.

We all have our blue books and red books when we go into campaigns. The Progressive Conservative Party in our blue book, our platform in the 2000 general election, said “A Progressive Conservative government would provide a tax credit of $500 per year to all emergency service volunteers”. Our party's reaction to the government's $1,000 deduction for volunteers in receipt of an honorarium, is it should apply to all emergency service volunteers.

I think it was Winston Churchill who said that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. It is appropriate to make that quote here. Bill C-325 seeks to give back a little to the volunteers who give a lot. As I have said, at times they probably, God forbid, give everything, life and limb included, to make our communities better and safer for all of us. This initiative is even more important in a post-September 11 world.

I congratulate the member for bringing in the bill. I wholeheartedly support moving it forward in the business of the House.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick


Jeannot Castonguay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having this opportunity today to address the members of this House with respect to Bill C-325. If adopted, this bill would entitle emergency service volunteers to claim a $3,000 tax deduction if they provided 200 hours or more of emergency volunteer work.

First, Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more with the member. Emergency service volunteers deserve to be recognized for their valuable contributions to the safety, security and well-being of our communities.

There are numerous examples that come to mind in which emergency service volunteers played an important role: the tornado that whipped through Edmonton in 1987 and left large numbers of Edmontonians homeless, the Manitoba and Saguenay floods, or the crippling ice storm of 1998.

In these instances, disaster relief volunteers provided assistance at critical times. They aided the distressed victims of these natural disasters and helped re-establish calm out of chaos.

There are many kinds of volunteers that deserve some recognition, and there are many different ways to recognize their contributions. This may come as a surprise to some members, but Statistics Canada estimated that there were approximately 6.5 million Canadians across this country who volunteered in 2000. As you can imagine, these volunteers make valuable contributions to their communities in many different ways.

Some volunteers help seniors get around. They coach our children's sports teams. They prepare, serve and deliver meals to others in need. They provide education services and advocate on important issues. And they help protect our environment. In fact, in the year 2000, volunteers freely donated over one billion hours of their time. That is an average of 162 hours per volunteer.

Why do these volunteers give their time so generously? The member's bill reflects a view that emergency service volunteers either expect or need financial recognition for their service. But is this really true?

Statistics Canada has done a very interesting survey that sheds light on this question. Perhaps it should not be surprising, but the survey finds that most Canadians do not appear to expect financial assistance or incentives as a reward for their volunteering.

The National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating asked Canadians why they volunteered. There are a number of reasons, and none of the main reasons are related to financial gain.

Ninety-five per cent said they volunteered because they wanted to help a cause in which they believe; 81% volunteered because they desired to put their skills and experience to work; almost 70% volunteered because they had been personally affected by the cause that the charitable organization supports.

Canadians cited several other reasons for volunteering. They see volunteering as a way to explore their own strengths. They have friends who volunteer and they want to share the experience. They want to fulfill religious obligations or beliefs. And for some, volunteering is a way to demonstrate or acquire skills in order to open doors to new opportunities.

The hon. member's bill is well-intentioned, but it seems to miss the point. Financial rewards are not the reason that Canadians volunteer. Volunteering, first and foremost, comes from the heart.

I reach the same conclusion when I look at the issue from an equally important perspective: the perspective of Canadians who do not volunteer. The same Statistics Canada survey asked Canadians why they did not volunteer or why they did not volunteer more.

You have to search well down the list of reasons to find financial cost. In fact, the main barrier was a lack of time. Seven in ten Canadians cited time limitations, not financial costs, as a reason for not volunteering or not volunteering more.

There are other reasons why Canadians do not volunteer or volunteer more. Some find they are unable to make a year round commitment to volunteering. Some might consider becoming a volunteer, but have never been personally asked to do so. Perhaps they just need an invitation to get them started. Still others cited health problems, or a lack of interest.

At the bottom of the list is financial cost. Barely 10% of all volunteers believe that financial cost is a barrier to volunteering. Again, I respectfully suggest that the bill is aiming at the wrong issue.

Aside from financial rewards, what are some of the other ways to encourage volunteering efforts? There are many ways. Sometimes it is simply raising awareness of the volunteer's cause. Raising awareness is one dimension of the Canadian Volunteerism Initiative. This initiative is backed up with a new investment of $35 million, as announced by the Minister of Heritage last December. This funding will help establish national centres and local networks that, in turn, will help to strengthen the voluntary sector's ability to encourage and enhance the experience of volunteering.

Among other things, these investments will support an outreach awareness campaign, and help organizations develop and test new innovative methods for sustaining volunteerism.

The Canadian Volunteerism Initiative is the first ongoing program to be established under the Voluntary Sector Initiative, a partnership initiative that was established in 2000 to strengthen the voluntary sector's capacity and its relationship with the federal government.

Another way to recognize the efforts of volunteers if through public awards and honours. There are a multitude of awards distributed each year that recognize the outstanding contributions of volunteers. For instance, the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award is bestowed on a long-service volunteer who has contributed substantially to families and groups in his or her community.

I would just like to take a minute to talk about one of those recipients: Mary Fitzpatrick of Newfoundland. Mary was recognized for 14 years of volunteer work. She visited seniors' complexes. She hand-made quilts and donated them to needy individuals. And she knitted finger puppets for children undergoing blood work. Members must have seen those puppets that are put on the tip of the kids' fingers. Mary Fitzpatrick compassionately and freely gave to her community.

Clearly, this is a prime example of how to recognize the contributions of volunteers other than with money.

To reiterate, the private members' bill essentially misses the mark. Providing financial rewards is not the way to recognize and increase volunteer work. Due to the misguided premise of this bill, I would encourage members of this House to vote against it.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add a few words to the discussion on Bill C-325, put forward by my hon. colleague from Lethbridge.

He of course has my undying loyalty since his daughter lives in my riding. I have to pay a great deal of attention to make sure that all my constituents are happy. I have to be loyal to the member for Lethbridge because of that.

I recognize the history, especially in the remote areas of the country, of volunteers for emergency services. We think of firefighters and ambulance drivers. Not that long ago people from all walks of life were doing this voluntary work and they did it to the best of their ability. Sometimes they were ill-prepared for it because of lack of training and lack of proper equipment in the communities. However they do the best they can and have done so over many years.

I remember quite distinctly, when I was probably five or six years old, living on the prairies. I think I have mentioned in the House before that my father was the one who arranged for a new telephone network. None of us had phones until then. My dad was the one who kicked off organizing phones. These phones were the hand cranked ones. The young people here will really wonder whether I have escaped from the museum recently.

However we had these hand cranked phones. I still remember that our ring was two longs and one short. When our phone rang everyone on the whole network could pick up and listen to what we were saying. It was called a party line at that time. The intention was that one of our neighbours was calling and we would respond because it was our ring.

The practice in those days was that if anyone needed help in an emergency they would get on the phone and crank the thing. It was one very long ring in which case everyone would get on the line. We cannot do today because the present technology does not permit it.

However one morning there was a very long ring. My dad answered the phone and found out that our neighbour had been involved in a farm accident. In fact, my dad was one of the persons who arrived there as soon as he could. He found out that the tractor had actually taken the life of one of our neighbours. This was the lady who was calling to her neighbours asking for help. She said that she needed help.

As a little aside, those were wonderful communities in those days. I also remember that was the year all the neighbours got together and harvested Mrs. Pasch's fields before any of them did their own. That was the kind of community relationship that gave rise to the volunteers who then had the opportunity to go for more training and become better equipped to help people when they were in need.

Bill C-325 reflects that that spirit of co-operation and kinsmanship is still very much alive. It is quite evident in all of the small communities in my riding and certainly in others as well.

My colleague has put forward this bill, which, in a very small way, would give a small monetary recognition to the people who work as volunteers. I commend the member for that. He is obviously reflecting the sentiments of many people who believe that those who volunteer in these emergency services deserve more recognition than just sort of a passing thanks.

As has been mentioned on numerous occasions already in today's debate, this provides for a deduction from taxable income of up to $3,000 for a person who volunteers for a minimum of 200 hours. I am sure my colleague will not mind if I say to him that I certainly support his bill in principle. I would like to see it go to committee, but there are a few revisions which I would recommend to my colleague and to the committee when they study this bill. I think that perhaps he might be open to some of these revisions.

First, as an amateur mathematician I have a bit of a problem with the 200 hour cut-off. This is called in mathematics a stepping function, where it has one value until a certain place, at which point it has a completely different value. To explain what I am referring to I will use an example. If someone worked 195 hours, according to this bill that individual would be entitled to nothing. It is the same for a person who worked 196, 197, 198 or 199 hours, but as soon as they get to the 200 hours suddenly they can deduct up to $3,000 from their taxable income and thereby have a considerable saving in the amount of taxes they would pay.

I would like to see some thought given to changing it from a stepping function into one that perhaps has a little more uniformity to it as it goes along. I know there is a bit of a problem in terms of bookkeeping, but I think it could be done. It would make it much more fair instead of having this instantaneous threshold. That is one little suggestion I have.

I also would like to counter the argument put forward by the parliamentary secretary in terms of the amount of book work required. I think this is an item which is already being done in many instances and it is also, just like our income tax system in totality, based on the honour system. I think it would not be a huge increment to ask a person who is a volunteer to keep an annual log that would contain three columns: the date, the time in and the time out. It would show the hours worked that day. Every time a person was involved in an activity as a volunteer in emergency services it would simply be entered into a log. I really sincerely doubt that it should take more than between five and eight seconds, which is my estimate, for that book work to be done. Then in the end the person would simply have to add it up, put a signature to it and declare that it is accurate; of course there is a rule against providing inaccurate information.

There is something else I would like to recommend, and here I agree somewhat with the parliamentary secretary. I think an amendment should be made to make this into a refundable tax credit so that not only those who have other income get this reward. Very often we find that people who do this kind of volunteering are people who have more free time. Many of them do not have a great deal of independent income, so again, what would happen here I think is a potential unfairness. There could be two people side by side, both of whom meet the criteria but one with larger income who can thereby reduce his or her taxable income and get a benefit, whereas the other person may have little or no income or not even be in a taxable bracket. This would thereby not provide for that individual a thank you in a compensatory form.

I would like to close by commending my colleague for the recognition of a very important element in our society: the work of the volunteer, the person who says, “Yes, if someone is in distress I will be there to help. I will put my own life and safety at risk if necessary and I will do what I can to help my neighbours”. I think this is a good step forward.

I cannot resist saying in my closing 12 seconds that we should probably consider very, very strongly increasing the basic exemption for all Canadians since they are all being taxed to death.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I had to wonder if my hon. colleague from Elk Island has a stopwatch on his desk. I see he has a little clock over there that told him he had 12 seconds left. I was both curious and amazed, because in looking around the Chamber I see that we do not have any second hands on the clocks and there is nothing else that can tell us our time is up except the nice indications we get from Mr. Speaker once in a while.

I welcome the opportunity this evening to debate the bill sponsored by the hon. member for Lethbridge.

It seems to me that there are many benefits we receive when we volunteer, as certainly I have received from my own experiences, whether it was coaching minor hockey or being involved in the Metro Food Bank Society in Halifax or other activities. I and volunteers I have talked to through those experiences have all shared the feeling that we often gain more by volunteering than we actually put in.

In other words, the volunteers do tremendous things and give great service to our communities, but many of them would tell us that they actually learn so much and gain so much themselves through their service that it makes it very worthwhile. Those rewards may not be tangible. They may not be dollars and they may not be tax deductions, but I think they are very meaningful to anyone who has volunteered. I would venture to say that everyone in this Chamber has undoubtedly been involved in their community and undoubtedly has volunteered at some time in their life. Probably all members have done a great deal of volunteer work over the years.

Bill C-325 proposes a $3,000 tax deduction for emergency service volunteers. The proposed deductions could be claimed against income from all sources. More specifically, it would apply to those who have given more than 200 hours of volunteer service over the year.

As I have said, there is a variety of benefits people get from volunteering, but I also think we have to consider the real implications and the costs of a provision like this, as well as what possible abuses there might be. We cannot ignore the fact that abuses are possible. If a small community organization gives out receipts or some kind of certificate showing that a person has given 200 hours of volunteer service, we have to make sure that it is being done properly and is valid and that there are no abuses in those cases. In the vast majority of cases, of course, community organizations would not abuse that process, but we still have to consider those possibilities.

In my view, it is not actually any more likely that someone will volunteer because of a tax deduction like this. Hopefully it will not be more likely for a person to volunteer because of a tax deduction. I think people volunteer because they believe in their community, and that really is the best reason for volunteering. People believe in what they are doing and they enjoy it. Volunteering, generally speaking, is very enjoyable. I do not see that this bill is going make it more likely that we will have more volunteers in our society.

I see that I am out of time. I certainly could add a great deal more to my comments. I may not have the actual seconds at my hand as my hon. colleague from Elk Island does, but I see from your look, Mr. Speaker, that my time is up.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I know from past experience that the hon. member for Elk Island is very faithful to whatever amount of time any one member is given and, most respectfully, particularly when he has the floor.

While the hon. parliamentary secretary might have had some time left, I must interrupt him because the time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, on March 18 of this year the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, in reply to a question about agricultural interests blocking Canada's ratification of the Cartagena protocol on biosafety, said, “There is still more work that needs to be done, but we are committed to resolving those uncertainties that may impact the agriculture and agrifood industry before we ratify”.

Canada signed a biosafety protocol in April 2001, yet two years later we still do not know when Canada will ratify it. It is worth noting the Minister of the Environment's statement on January 27, 2000, when he said, “A strong biosafety protocol under the biodiversity convention is in the interests of all nations”.

Now 48 countries have already ratified. The protocol could become operational very soon with the required 50 signatories and possibly hold its first meeting without Canada sitting at the table.

The biosafety protocol is an international convention. Its purpose is to protect the environment, ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of living genetically modified organisms resulting from biotechnology, apply the precautionary principle, and finally, put the environment ahead of trade considerations.

The delayed ratification is dangerous because Canada will be unable to establish controls on international exchanges of genetically modified organisms and, second, will be unable to implement rules and procedures holding biotech companies accountable for the costs and responsibilities of potential damage to health and the environment.

This evening's debate takes place in the wake of two events: Monsanto's application to grow genetically engineered wheat in Canada and, second, Canada's decision to join the U.S. in challenging the European Union's ban on genetically modified food imports before the World Trade Organization.

Presently, large biotech companies are trying to get approval to modify wheat genetically so it can tolerate herbicides made by the same companies. Agricultural groups, including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, are opposed to genetically engineered wheat. Recent polls also show that 61% of Canadians are opposed.

It is worth noting in a paper published in the June 2000 issue of Science that the author, Dr. Domingo, points to just how little is actually known about the effects of genetically modified organisms on health. This study challenges the notion that the safety of genetically modified crops is supported by scientific research.

This is why the biosafety protocol is so important. When it comes into force, it will enable nations to ban the importation of genetically modified organisms because the protocol is not subordinate to international trade agreements and the WTO. When the protocol is operative, European Union countries will be able to ban the importation of Canadian genetically engineered wheat, which will have a severe economic impact on Canadian wheat farmers.

To conclude, in light of all this, could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food inform the House as to when Canada will ratify the biosafety protocol?

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario


Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of the Environment reported to the House on February 27, the government supports the Cartagena protocol on biosafety, its objective which is the protection of biodiversity, and its value to the global community. The protocol focuses on transboundary movement of living modified organisms, LMOs.

Canada signed the biosafety protocol in April 2001 and as the hon. member pointed out it, it is not yet in force. As of today, May 27, 110 countries have signed it and 49 have ratified it. It will come into force 90 days after 50 countries have ratified it, presumably sometime later this year. As the House was advised on March 18, the Government of Canada is on a path to ratification once some uncertainties in the agreement are resolved.

The government held extensive consultations with the agriculture and agri-food industries across Canada. During that time industry correctly identified that the protocol is not a finished piece, that there is need for certainty on some of the key issues that could affect what they have to do once it comes into force.

In order to address these outstanding issues the Government of Canada has drafted an action plan, the key elements of which I am pleased to share with members of the House.

The action plan calls for the government to continue to engage actively in the protocol through participating in all protocol meetings, be they formal or informal, and working groups. The government will use all possible means, including démarches to foreign governments by Canadian missions abroad and through working in other international fora to build support for Canadian positions on outstanding issues of concern, for example, on documentation, transit, trade with non-parties and decision making.

In addition, Canada will continue to act as a model by providing all information called for under the protocol through the biosafety clearing house. In fact, Canadian agricultural exporters are prepared to provide on a voluntary basis all documentation currently called for under the protocol.

Finally, the Government of Canada is seeking to negotiate bilateral agreements with key LMO importing countries that are, or are likely to become, parties to the protocol. Our objective for these bilateral arrangements is to create reasonable market access conditions for our exporters and to address the elements of documentation and transit with respect to interpretation and implementation of the provisions of the protocol.

It is hoped that these measures will provide the Government of Canada with the information necessary for taking a decision on ratifying the protocol in advance of the first meeting of the parties expected early in 2004. I am very supportive of this action plan and the clear mandate it gives officials to go forward internationally.

The government is confident that we can make considerable progress toward resolving the outstanding issues in the coming months so that we can address the ratification question in light of the progress before the end of the year and before this protocol comes into force.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his comprehensive reply.

At the beginning of his intervention he referred to the possibility that this convention may be ratified sometime later this year, but at the end of his intervention he made reference to early next year. Perhaps he could be more precise in indicating what really is the intent of the government because he has not clarified that point at all in his intervention.

The parliamentary secretary made reference to a number of market access conditions, outstanding issues of concern and uncertainties that must be resolved, all of a technical and market oriented nature. He did not mention one concern related to public safety and environmental concerns.

Could the parliamentary secretary give us a more comprehensive elucidation as to what really he has in mind?

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the first part I think I was very clear. The government hopes to ratify it before the end of 2003.

The hon. member may be referring to the fact that we would like to do the ratification in advance of the first meeting of the parties which is expected in 2004. It is the intent of the government to ratify it by the end of 2003, hopefully in advance of the meeting of the parties expected in early 2004. There is no reference to ratification in 2004. It deals with 2003.

On the second part of the hon. member's question, I am not in a position to expand on it much further. I could talk a little with regard to one of the key elements of the plan, on the issue of bilateral arrangements and in particular with importers who are likely to become a part of the process. As we know the Canadian grain industry supports these bilateral arrangements. Again, I would point out that we are in negotiation with a number of countries that are very important in this regard.

Income Tax ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, again I am up on the SARS issue. I have had a number of questions, including an emergency debate, on this issue in the House. To put it very bluntly, I am not completely satisfied with the way the federal government has handled this issue and specifically, the Minister of Health. I am not alone in this. A number of people are saying the same thing. In fact the Canadian Medical Association has come to the same conclusion, that the Government of Canada has done a very poor job in the containment of this disease.

As we sit here this evening there has been a further outbreak in Toronto. It has not been contained. Again I think it lies directly at the doorstep of the Minister of Health.

I want to quote from the edition of Canadian Medical Association Journal which just came out. Most of the major newspapers today have reported what the Canadian Medical Association Journal has said regarding SARS and the responsibility of the government and the way it handled that responsibility. The journal said that politicians responded to the “epidemic of fear” unleashed by SARS by “dining out conspicuously in Toronto's Chinatown”. It went on to say that there is “a real lack of sophisticated health leadership nationally” within the federal Department of Health to deal with that issue.

What we have to be concerned about is that we are coming into another potential crisis. That would be the West Nile virus. On top of that, mad cow disease is another raging issue across the country.

The question would be, does the Minister of Health understand what her role is? If she does have a role in this issue, I wish she would let us know what it was, or at least that she understood what her role was.

One of the lines I used the other night is that the first line of defence in any war should be leadership. There has been no political leadership in the government on this issue. I have suggested that the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister have been partners in neglect on this issue.

The question I put to the minister a number of weeks ago was responded to by her parliamentary secretary. Early in March, this is how the government responded to the SARS issue, and I am quoting directly from the parliamentary secretary:

We know that it is not a real threat because the virus has been traced back to Hong Kong. There have only been a few cases in Canada that have come from there.

That clearly indicates that from the outset the government was not prepared to do what was necessary to contain this disease. There are only two things basically we can do. There is no cure, so we have to contain it. We have to not allow the disease to be imported and not allow it to be exported. That is where the government fell short. That is why I am taking the government to task on that very issue again here tonight.