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House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ukrainian.

Topics

Department of Canadian Heritage ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has asked an excellent question.

B.C. was out in front. The New Democratic Party when in government was very strong in pushing forward strong, resolute forums. One of the ways this worked was that there was proper consultation on the land base. Again this speaks to the cultural shift that I mentioned earlier, where at times people considered parks a bad thing, particularly in the rural areas, because they were seen as preventing what possibly could happen on the economic base.

People are starting to realize the benefits. I would point to the stunning parks in the Queen Charlotte Islands and many provincial parks within my riding that have done well for the economy by attracting new tourist dollars. I think they were viewed similar to treaties, that they were going to be bad for the economy, that the land would be lost. We need to shift that culture and continue that shift within Canada so that we can present a strong face to the world and a strong face to future generations.

Department of Canadian Heritage ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Russ Powers Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we get into discussions about various legislation, we always find the opportunity to have dialogue on a number of issues that are concurrent to particular legislation. One of the wonderful things about Parliament is that we get the opportunity to not only bring forward ideas and issues that are consistent for our own ridings, but things in which we have a common interest.

Tonight, certainly, that has been apparent through the discussions. We have been able to convey issues that are important not only to our children and grandchildren but also to us.

Bill C-7, which is before us for consideration at third reading, can be perceived as an administrative shift; in other words, the appropriate realignment of the duties and responsibilities of these areas, whether it relates to historic sites or the designation of our parks. It is very appropriate that they be so delineated so they can get the resources they deserve.

The parliamentary secretary addressed the legislative components and, from an administrative standpoint, where it was best suited. I want to now delve into an issue that has been alluded to by a number of others, which is the ecological integrity and the realignment of our national parks as it relates to the realignment under Parks Canada.

It gives me great pleasure to address the third reading of Bill C-7, which is the act to amend the Department of Canadian Heritage Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act and to make related amendments to other acts. The bill would give legislative effect to the government reorganization that was announced on December 12, 2003, as it affects Parks Canada, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of the Environment.

The bill would update existing legislation to reflect two orders in council that came into effect in December 2003 and also in July 2004, which transferred the control and supervision of the Parks Canada Agency from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the Minister of the Environment. The bill also clarifies that Parks Canada is responsible for historic places in Canada and for the design and implementation of programs that relate to built heritage.

As we are aware, the battlefields, as they are known here in Canada, continue to be under Heritage Canada because of the commission that was established back in 1908 for that purpose.

Permit me to take members back a few years to introduce them to what I mean by ecological integrity in our national parks. In March 2000 the independent panel on ecological integrity of Canada's national parks tabled its report. The panel's report was quite comprehensive and contained more than 120 recommendations for action. As it was intended to be, the report was very frank in pointing out not only the deficiencies but the challenges that face our national parks.

One of the previous members referred to the fact that when we talk about identification, whether it is the Canadian flag, the maple leaf or the beaver, the recognition of our national parks ranks with those as being something that is truly Canadian.

The panel's report confirmed that most of Canada's national parks had been progressively losing precisely those important natural components that we as a government and all of us as members of Parliament were dedicated to protect.

Accordingly, the panel called for a fundamental reaffirmation of the legislative framework that protects the parks, together with policies to conserve these places and the appropriation of funds necessary to support these efforts.

Parks Canada committed itself to implementing the report and its recommendations insofar as it was legislatively and fiscally possible. It is now being done in full dialogue with all affected parties, and helped tremendously by the funding announced in budget 2003. I would anticipate further funding will be committed in budget 2005.

Parks Canada's first priority for national parks is to maintain or restore ecological integrity. This is prescribed by the government legislation, that is the Canada National Parks Act, proclaimed in 2001. Subsection 8(2) reads:

Maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity, through the protection of natural resources and natural processes, shall be the first priority of the Minister when considering all aspects of the management of parks.

Why is ecological integrity so important? It is important because the loss of natural features, natural features that are so identified within our national parks and processes, deprive Canadians of the opportunity to use and enjoy these places for the purposes for which they were intended. Loss of ecological integrity contradicts the very purposes for which our parks were set aside and constitute an irreversible loss of heritage to both current and future generations.

Achieving the maintenance or restoration of ecological integrity also means putting science first. This includes traditional ecological knowledge.

Our national parks and our national historic sites are very important symbols of Canada. Canadians, through personal visits and other learning mechanisms, can use these places to enhance their pride in, and knowledge of, Canada and of Canadians.

Parks Canada is committed to an expanded public education and outreach program to convey accurate, interesting and up to date information to Canadians and those who are not Canadians, and perhaps those who would like to be Canadians.

The provision of information via the Internet is a priority for Parks Canada. This type of interactive outreach continues to intensify and is aimed at our urban areas. The objective is, in effect, to bring our national parks and their values to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit them or may visit them only infrequently.

Our marketing programs emphasize the primary conservation purposes of our national parks. Accordingly, visitors are encouraged to understand and respect these purposes and to plan their activities and visits to align with them.

Parks Canada, rightfully so, is committed to improving ecological integrity in a number of ways: first, improving our science, particularly research and monitoring the health of our parks; second, through communication, specifically enhanced interpretation and education activities; third, reducing impacts on facilities; and fourth, implementing up to date environmental management practices and technologies.

I would stress that one cannot sustain economic benefits without enhancing both the natural environment of the parks and visitors' enjoyment of them. I would equally stress that any changes must and will be implemented in full consultation with partners, including the provinces and territories, national and regional tourism, non-governmental bodies and, of course, aboriginal people. If indeed town sites and municipal authorities are so involved, they also will be involved in our dialogue.

A priority area of the panel's report concerned the impact of stressors that have their origin in places external to the park's boundaries. To deal with such factors, the panel called for renewed an expanded partnerships. The proposed transfer of lands is one such partnership. In this respect the panel was coming up from a place with which we are all familiar: the notion that what we do in our own backyard can have significant effects in our neighbour's backyard.

I will digress for a moment and talk about my experiences and understandings. I had the pleasure of serving as an elected individual in a municipal setting for close to 22 years. In that capacity I served as chairman of one of the 38 conservation authorities in the province of Ontario. These were set up in the late 1950s to recognize the major impact of hurricane Hazel which came through and devastated many town sites and certainly our water course system. The legislation that was brought in at the time identified the need for the creation of watersheds. It identified that there were no political or municipal boundaries because a water course begins at its source and ultimately finds itself to its mouth. As a result, it impacts everyone in its course.

We found that dealing with our deliberations in a watershed manner gave us the opportunity to consider all the impacts that would have on our neighbours either internally or externally. This is an approach that we will take with the intervention and involvement of Parks Canada in the program where not only what is within our parks is considered, but also the impacts that are felt from the outside.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of these issues because our national parks have many concerns that are shared in common by partners, such as the provinces, the territories, aboriginal peoples, private landowners and various other interests. There are so many it is hard to name them.

In particular, I have never known nature to recognize or respect a human boundary. One day a grizzly bear may be in a national park and the next day it is in another jurisdiction. Those who are residents in Jasper or in Banff know of the migration or the impact of the flora and fauna on their lives and as a result adjust accordingly. Rivers, likewise, flow through jurisdictions. Acid rain from many kilometres away becomes a park problem when it impacts national park resources. The list goes on and on.

Fundamentally, renewed and extended cooperation among neighbours who share common concerns is the only option toward maintaining ecological integrity. It is in this spirit that the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Parks Canada intend to work together to ensure that the ecological integrity of the Pacific Rim continues to be the first priority.

The bottom line is that we must improve the ways we work together if we are to safeguard the future of our national parks. The nature of the programs we devise to do so will be established in cooperation and consultation with interested partners. Throughout this process the prerogatives of constitutionally defined jurisdictions, as well as the rights of private property owners, will be respected.

I have just sketched for the House a very broad overview of where Parks Canada is coming from and where it hopes to go. In summary, first, the panel report on ecological integrity was an important milestone for the future of the national parks of Canada. Parks Canada has taken it seriously and is moving forward in implementing the directions it recommended. Its implementation in a purposeful yet sensitive way is bringing benefits to us all. Its neglect would have meant untold costs to all Canadians forever.

The provinces, territories and aboriginal peoples are and will continue to be significant partners in achieving protection of our national parks. Viewed narrowly, in terms of jurisdiction alone, Canada's national parks and other federally protected areas fall under the stewardship of the federal government, but they really belong to all of us. They are the legacy of each and every Canadian. Let us enable future historians to say that on our watch we protected this precious legacy and even left it in better condition than we found it.

I urge all members to support the passage of Bill C-17.

Department of Canadian Heritage ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary South Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to add a note to my previous question. In response to my question to a previous speaker, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, he commented on the efforts of the former NDP government in his province of British Columbia to preserve our natural environment. It brought to memory a visit to the hon. member's riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley to witness the salmon run. What a glorious sight it is to see millions of thriving salmon swimming upstream to spawn.

Today that salmon stock is threatened. I hope the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley would join us, the Conservative Party of Canada, in our initiative to save the salmon. Canadians will soon hear more of our efforts to protect the west coast salmon. I welcome the support of those opposite.

Department of Canadian Heritage ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Russ Powers Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the comments of the hon. member. It is very interesting that within my riding, which borders the extreme western end of Lake Ontario, it was only a number of years ago that the salmon were reintroduced to the watersheds in my area. It is an amazing sight even to this day.

The member has alluded to the fact that families have something else that they can relate to from the standpoint of being ecologically impacted. Very clearly, the initiative the member has proposed certainly warrants our interest and involvement.

We have a harbour at the very end of Hamilton that is one of the largest Great Lakes ports. Over the years it became in essence a cesspool of accumulation. Through the intervention of the federal government, with its strategic investment of funds, and with the cooperative efforts of the municipality and the provincial bodies, we have gone a long way toward restoring the integrity of Hamilton harbour. In fact, for over 50 years there were beach areas to which the public had limited access. Now not only are members of the public able to use the beaches for their own purposes, but nature has returned.

Department of Canadian Heritage ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

November 24th, 2004 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

moved that Bill C-206, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,I wonder if members know that beverage alcohol is directly or indirectly responsible for: over 19,000 deaths a year; 45% of motor vehicle collisions; 30% of fires; 30% of suicides; 60% of homicides; 50% of family violence; 65% of snowmobile collisions; one in six family breakdowns; 30% of drownings; 65% of child abuse; 40% of falls causing injury; 50% of hospital emergencies; and over $15 billion of additional costs to Canadians.

That should get Canadians' attention.

Bill C-206 seeks to respond to the need to alert Canadians to the risks associated with the misuse of beverage alcohol. Specifically, it calls for health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages to caution expectant mothers and others of those risks. It should be noted that beverage alcohol is the only consumer product that can harm individuals if misused but does not warn them of that fact.

The intended purpose of warning labels is to act as a consumer lighthouse, sending a signal of impending danger.

When I became a member of Parliament in 1993, I became a member of the health committee. In preparation for my work, I examined the work of the committee in the prior Parliament. To my great interest, I found a 1992 report called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy”, which recommended health warning labels. The report concluded:

--there is no question that maternal alcohol consumption can have devastating impacts on the fetus. The basic fact is that when a pregnant woman drinks, her unborn child drinks also; that is, the alcohol in the mother's bloodstream circulates through the placenta into the bloodstream of the fetus. It is possible that the blood-alcohol level in the fetus will remain at an elevated level for a longer period than that of the mother because the immature fetal liver metabolizes the alcohol more slowly.

The report affected me significantly because, despite the widespread and devastating impact of alcohol misuse, I had never heard the term fetal alcohol syndrome. As an active member in my community who had spent nine years as a director of our hospital, I was concerned that I was not aware, but more important, I was concerned that it might be the same with many other Canadians.

Let me now turn to some facts. In one week, as many as 10,000 babies are born in Canada. Of these, 3 are born with muscular dystrophy; 4 are born with HIV infection; 8 are born with spina bifida and 10 are born with Down's syndrome, but 20 are born with fetal alcohol syndrome and 100 are born with other alcohol related birth defects. This should give members an idea of the nature and the severity of this problem.

Fetal alcohol syndrome, commonly known as FAS, is now called the fetal alcohol spectrum of disorders, FASD. Whatever the name, it refers to a group of physical and mental birth defects. Its primary symptoms include: growth deficiency before and after birth; central nervous system dysfunction, resulting in learning disabilities; and physical malformities in facial and cranial areas. The other alcohol related birth defects I referred to involve central nervous system damage like FAS, but without those physical abnormalities.

Since FAS is incurable, most victims will require special care throughout their lives. Depending on the severity, the estimated lifetime cost for the care of an FAS victim ranges from $3 million to $6 million.

The secondary symptoms are also very important: 90% of FAS victims have mental health problems; 60% will be expelled or suspended from school or drop out; 60% will get into trouble with the law; 50% will go to jail or be confined in an institution; 50% will exhibit inappropriate sexual behaviour; 30% will abuse drugs or alcohol; 80% will not be capable of living independently in adulthood; and 80% will have employment problems.

As well, what is very significant is that both the federal and provincial authorities have confirmed their estimates that 50% of the inmates in Canada's jails suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol related birth defects. One-half of the people in our jails are not getting the care and the treatment they require and we have to do something about that as well.

Tragically, these severe problems could have been prevented if the mothers had abstained from alcohol consumption throughout their pregnancies. In September of this year, the Harvard Mental Health Letter reported that 30% to 40% of women drink during pregnancy. As well, today the Canadian Addiction Survey reports that 17% of past-year drinkers are considered high risk drinkers and calls for increased awareness in prevention programs like health warning labels.

I also want to stress that harm to the fetus can also occur at any time during the pregnancy, even during the first month when most women do not even know they are pregnant.

Let me quote the mother of an FAS victim, who said:

My son has fetal alcohol syndrome. He was diagnosed at age eight. I got pregnant between high school and college. I was a social drinker and I have never had any problems with alcohol. I did not know I was pregnant until I was three and a half months along. I stopped drinking then, but it was too late. The damage was done. Though I did not set out to harm my child, I did, and now I need to do whatever I can to make things easier for him.

That tells us a lot about this situation we are dealing with.

Research findings suggest that days 15 to 22 during pregnancy are critical for facial and cranial deformities. That is why women should not wait until they find out they are pregnant before they stop drinking. Over 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Therefore, if a woman is sexually active and pregnancy is possible, she should abstain from consuming alcohol.

To choose not to abstain is the same as playing Russian roulette with the lifelong health and well-being of the child. There is no recommended safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and therefore the prudent choice for women is to abstain. Everyone in Canada should know that fact and they should have ready access to the information they need.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is often described as the leading known cause of mental retardation in Canada and the United States, and while it is true that it is as prevalent as both Down's syndrome and spina bifida, FAS is not the cause. The simple fact is that the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is the one and only cause.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a societal issue and we all have a vested interest and a role to play in reducing its incidence. It must become our cultural norm that drinking during pregnancy is inappropriate.

Therefore, when we are in the company of a family member, friend, or acquaintance who is drinking and becoming at risk of harming themselves or others, we should intervene in an appropriate fashion to ensure that they do not become just another tragic statistic.

In 1996, health warning labels on the containers of alcohol beverages, as required in the United States since 1989, were unanimously supported by the 10 provincial ministers of health, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Addiction Research Foundation and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, among others.

I should also point out that Canadian companies which export alcoholic beverages to the United States are required to put on health warning labels, because that is the law in the U.S. These warning labels, however, are not included on the same products that are sold domestically. Why is that?

Fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol related birth defects are a reality in our society and the victims suffer a lifetime of tragic symptoms which rob them of any reasonable quality of life. Their needs place enormous demands not only on the parents but on society as a whole. As such, we all have a vested interest to reduce, as much as possible, the incidence of these incurable but preventable disorders.

In December 1999, the Minister of Justice announced that the government was suing the tobacco industry. In her press conference, she stated that “the defendant's goal of making money is inconsistent with the government's goal of protecting children's health”.

The same can be said about the alcohol industry. It is selling a legal product, but since the product can also cause harm, our health objectives should not and must not be compromised.

In December 1995, my private member's bill to require health warning labels for alcohol passed unanimously in the House at second reading and had full committee hearings, but died due to an election call.

In April 2001, the House considered a motion calling for health warning labels and it passed 220 to 11, a 95% support level from the hon. members of the House of Commons. I am pleased that so many hon. members have shown their knowledge of, interest in and support for this bill, which seeks to reduce the incidence of FAS and other risks associated with the misuse of alcohol.

If we could prevent a small percentage of alcohol related birth defects, the savings in health, social programs and educational and criminal justice costs would be many times more than the cost of our national prevention strategy. More important, we could eliminate so much human misery and suffering, and that is the essence of a caring society.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I know that this member has done a lot of good work in this area. He had written a book. I distributed it throughout my riding. It showed that he has a really good handle on the issue. I wonder if he is having any problems in advancing this issue. Does he have any, perhaps, opponents to it? If so, what would they be? What are some of the arguments against this issue?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, back in 1995, the bill did in fact pass at second reading, went to committee and had full committee hearings. There was support from virtually every non-alcoholic beverage company and stakeholder that appeared.

The alcoholic beverage industry is concerned that health warning labels may not work. In fact, it went so far as to say that warning labels on a bottle of beer or something like that might cause a spontaneous abortion. I think that its reasoning was somewhat based on its corporate objectives and not on the objectives of the health and well-being of the unborn child.

I fully expect that there would be the same kind of reaction. There have been many countries since who have undertaken mandatory labelling of alcoholic beverages. The time has come for Canada to join those countries now.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Mississauga South for his bill. It certainly fills a need.

Above and beyond labelling, and that may only be one specific way to help prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, are we moving forward on further education? As the hon. member said, an awful lot of fetal alcohol syndrome happens before the woman even knows she is pregnant. There certainly is a need to talk about drinking during pregnancy. Are there educational programs also being brought forward to help with the labelling program?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed, there have been some very good attempts. Unfortunately, they have not been sustained. Health Canada has contributed the last round in the amount of $11 million in terms of producing educational material.

The most important thing that has happened since the last time I had this bill before the House is that a special research study was done for the government on consumer awareness. Although everybody would think one would know what fetal alcohol syndrome might be, even if they were told the name, it was very clear that was not the case. In fact, most people thought that fetal alcohol syndrome meant that the child would be born having an addiction to alcohol.

I think the myths about it are coming out. As I recall, the principal recommendation of the research study that was done by Environics was that the public education material should appear in doctors' offices where women generally would go for advice.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would in fact have a question on the last part of the reply. I have listened attentively to the debate on this bill, and had already heard about it. I feel that fetal alcohol syndrome is a sufficiently important problem to warrant more awareness.

I know that the hon. member has written a book on this, but does he feel people are sufficiently informed? Would this bill, for instance, make it possible to raise public awareness simply by informing them of the dangers of drinking on alcohol labels? Is that enough?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we consider that the motion of the member for Winnipeg North passed in this place 220 to 11, that is a consequence of the work and the public education we gave in Parliament to ensure that members of Parliament were aware. I am very confident that the campaign to launch shelf warning labels would have similar impacts for the entire Canadian population.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this important debate. The hon. member has done a remarkable job on this issue. So did the former NDP critic on health, who also tabled a bill on fetal alcohol syndrome.

I think I am speaking on behalf of all my colleagues in saying that, of course, we support this bill, which seeks to promote information and education.

If I may, I would like to make a comparison which, like any comparison, is not perfect. I am inclined to make a comparison with an experience that we had a few years ago in the Standing Committee on Health. The committee was reviewing regulations, as required under the Tobacco Act, on the whole issue of the mandatory warnings to tobacco consumers.

At the time, the goal was quite ambitious. Indeed, 18 different messages had to be presented to consumers. They covered half of a cigarette pack. This was such an important issue that major cigarette companies went all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge what they called commercial expropriation. They partly won their case, but I will not get into the details.

This is to say that, as parliamentarians, we must recognize that we have a responsibility regarding the information provided to our fellow citizens. Of course, we cannot force people to stop smoking. We cannot decide, in a bill, that people will live a successful life, that they will eat properly, or that they will reduce their alcohol consumption. What we can do is help people develop an awareness, so that they will change their habits over the short, medium and long terms.

This is interesting, because it is the challenge for the coming years. We know that, even if we were to increase health budgets exponentially, the main variables in the costs of our health care system are the determinants of health.

These determinants are linked to healthy behaviour, that is, whether we eat well, have a healthy diet and sleep well at night and what we put into our bodies. It is obvious there is a link between life expectancy and tobacco use, life expectancy and alcohol, life expectancy and physical activity.

More and more, our governments, in Quebec City and in Ottawa, are campaigning to reduce obesity. There is something very striking about the generation of youngsters who are facing worrying problems of obesity. When I was 8, 9, 10, 11 years old, it was a phenomenon that did not exist. Our parents did push us outside to play a lot more than people do today.

Today there are new technologies and video games and the Internet. All these games mean that young people have more information. They are much brighter, with a larger vocabulary, and more aware of their environment, but the trade-off is that they are more sedentary, with all that means for health determinants, and obesity, of course.

Thus, the hon. member for Mississauga South, who has been working on this issue for a considerable time, is right to ask us to adopt his bill. It will oblige the manufacturers of alcoholic products to add standard labels the content of which, I understand, will be determined later by regulation. Of course, we do not claim it will be the magic bullet, nor will it, in itself, change behaviour. But we are entitled to think that, in combination with other factors, it could reduce the problem of fetal alcohol syndrome.

It is interesting to recall that the hon. member for Mississauga South talked about one child out of twenty in Canada. Fetal alcohol syndrome is not like cerebral palsy or other degenerative diseases which are often accidents of nature and are not due to behaviours per se. Fetal alcohol syndrome is due to excessive alcohol consumption by the mother during pregnancy, exposing the child to an abnormally high amount of alcohol. It is not always so, but this can cause all sorts of problems. I know that the link between fetal alcohol and learning disabilities is very well documented, as is its link with certain nervous system disorders.

Once again, the hon. member for Mississauga South has done an outstanding job. For me, the place given to private members' bills is important. I have known this since my early days as a parliamentarian and I have always been consistent on this issue. I may not have been consistent on other issues but it must be recognized that I have always been very consistent on the freedom members should be given. This is a fine example of the fact that, sometimes, even without the support of civil servants and the various machines such as party machines, it is important that the commitment of members, combined of course with strong convictions, be able to bring about changes.

Last week, we adopted a motion on trans fats put forward by the NDP. I wonder if our colleagues from the NDP had a chance to read the half-page article on trans fats published in La Presse today. If Canada made the regulations the NDP is vigorously calling for, it would be the second country, after Denmark, to ban the use of trans fats, with all the savings this would entail for the health care system.

I do not want to get off track so I will get back to the issue before us, which is fetal alcohol syndrome. I know that the hon. member is quite pleased to have the support of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, which is a not-for-profit agency supported by the Government of Canada. As parliamentarians, we have been able to work with this agency, particularly those of us who sat on the Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs, which considered the whole issue of the use of so-called soft drugs, although we know this term could be tendentious. It is a bit unrealistic to make a distinction between soft drugs and hard drugs.

The fact remains that the hon. member should be pleased with the support from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. He also has support from nurses, whose contribution in primary care we are well aware of. The hon. member also has support from the Canadian Medical Association, which is a credible association. It sometimes has corporative leanings, but it is credible nonetheless. We have met with representatives of this association many times in our work as parliamentarians.

This bill was already passed at second reading. I would not hesitate to recommend that all my colleagues support it. It has the credit of working for information and awareness purposes.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill brought forward by the hon. member for Mississauga South. Bill C-206 asks the government to enact legislation or regulations requiring mandatory labelling of alcoholic beverages with appropriate warnings, such as, “alcoholic can impair judgment” and “alcohol can be harmful to an unborn child”.

I agree with the intent of what the hon. member is trying to accomplish but I have a few reservations about the method. I believe the intent of the bill is to raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol consumption. Although alcohol is widely accepted in most societies around the world, over-consumption for both brief and extended periods of time is recognized as harmful to one's health.

Consumption of alcohol is also harmful to expectant mothers and their babies. The effects of alcohol ingestion during pregnancy are generally manifested in a disorder called fetal alcohol syndrome. The effects of FAS are tragic. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a series of mental and physical birth defects that include cognitive disabilities, growth deficiencies, central nervous system dysfunction, cranio-facial abnormalities and behavioural maladjustments.

FAS has had, and continues to have, a major impact on our society. According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, FAS is the leading known preventable cause of cognitive disabilities and birth defects.

FAS affects one to three children in 1,000 live births. As a matter of fact, it is suspected that at least one child in Canada is born with FAS, with rates potentially higher than that with our first nations people. In 2003 fetal alcohol syndrome cost the United States $5.4 billion in direct costs and about $3.9 billion in indirect costs.

As members can see from my previous remarks, FAS has far-reaching implications for Canadians, whether it be their personal health or the resources that FAS takes in our health care system. I think we can all agree in the House that FAS is preventable and that we should work harder toward preventing it.

In relation to Bill C-206, I believe that one of the intentions of the bill is to educate and warn pregnant women who are considering consuming alcohol. That is a very important aspect.

Another very important issue surrounding alcohol consumption is driving while under the influence. In 2001 it was estimated that 3,021 individuals were killed in motor vehicle crashes in Canada. MADD Canada estimates that at a minimum, 1,213 of these fatalities involved impaired driving. Moreover, the 1,213 person figure is a conservative estimate due to the underreporting that results from the inability to test surviving impaired drivers and the reliance on police reports.

Given the limits on the 1,213 fatalities figure and adding in water related deaths, it is estimated that there are somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600 impaired crash fatalities in Canada each year. That is about four or five a day. This is tragically astounding. There is no reason for people to die when there is a simple solution: stop driving while impaired.

FAS and impaired driving are the two most compelling reasons to support the bill put forward by the hon. member for Mississauga South. However, as I said at the outset, I have some reservations on the methods in the bill.

While labelling is a compelling course of action, we also have to consider the consequences any action Parliament takes on the industries which will have to follow our lead. I have not seen any research or compelling arguments saying that warning labels on alcohol bottles are an effective tool to cut down on the amount of alcohol people consume. If that information exists, perhaps the hon. member for Mississauga South could provide it for me.

However, it is crucial in considering the bill that those statistics be examined closely.

I do not think the member is looking for Canadians to stop drinking alcohol. I do not believe that is part of what he is trying to accomplish. What he is trying to accomplish is to raise awareness to the problems around alcohol consumption in Canada. For that I commend the member.

However I am still concerned about the labelling of alcoholic beverage containers. If we are going to devote resources to raise awareness, I think it would be best to work in conjunction with industry to develop a plan of action of how the government and the various companies and the citizens of Canada can better solve the issue the hon. member has raised in this bill.

If we need to raise awareness of FAS, let us invite the stakeholders to the table and talk about what needs to be done, groups like the Canadian Medical Association and the Association for Community Living and the impaired driving associations. We need to invite groups and people who have a stake in the decisions made by government, such as MADD and SADD.

We also have to be willing to listen to industry because I am sure it is not averse to taking measures to curb FAS or impaired driving. I do not feel that Canadians would be best served by the government unilaterally imposing regulations necessarily on an industry that we could potentially harm if it is forced to use labels.

I wish to reiterate my earlier point. I do not believe the hon. member wants to stop Canadians from drinking alcohol or to run breweries out of business. However we need to have an approach where we consider everyone, all the stakeholders.

With that, I am hesitant to support the bill. However I am open to receiving more information that could support the labelling of alcoholic beverages. I want the record to show that I support the intent of what the member is trying to address and I look forward to discussing this matter further with him.

On a personal note, I do not drink. I have never drank. I do not even know what alcohol tastes like. That is a personal choice and I am pleased to have made that decision. I know that a lot of people who have tragic events in their lives turn to alcohol abuse and other substance abuse. I think that is tragic. Labelling could help address those issues as well. However I do not at any time want to be perceived to be imposing my personal moral beliefs on to Canadian society, particularly in this instance.

I would also like to note that we need to enforce the laws that are currently on the books. Unlike trans fats which we talked about recently, alcohol is supposed to be restricted to those over 18 years in most provinces. There is a higher age limit in other jurisdictions. We need to enforce those laws and make alcohol less accessible to those who are underage. Those laws exist. We need to do a better job in enforcing them. Society needs to do a better job in encouraging our young people and really everyone to reduce their alcohol consumption, particularly when it is used in an abusive manner.

With that, I would like to say that I support the intent of what the hon. member is trying to do. I am open to receiving more information, but at present I do not know that labelling will meet the goal.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to speak in this debate.

However, I have to say that this is a sad day in many ways. We are debating an idea that has already been approved by the House. May I remind members that the essence of Bill C-206 was exactly the intent of the motion passed by the House on April 23, 2001.

The motion I am referring to was introduced by myself, but was the result of previous work done by the member for Mississauga South and reflected a whole history of effort being put into the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome. The motion said that we believe that warning labels are an essential part of a comprehensive strategy for increased public awareness. The motion called on the government to implement the idea of labels on alcohol beverage containers, warning that drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects.

That motion was overwhelmingly supported by members in this place. The vote was 217 to 11. That was three and a half years ago. Three and a half years ago the government could have acted on the will of this place and the wishes of the Canadian people. It chose not to act. Why?

I appreciate the comments of the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, but I have to take issue with part of his comments. The government did not act because of pressure by the industry. The beer lobby is so great in this country. It does not want anything to mar its perfect product. It has resisted every step of the way any intelligent approach to a very serious problem in our society today.

May I remind members that three and a half years ago when the motion was passed by the House of Commons, the then minister of health, Allan Rock, said, “I want to assure the committee and particularly my friend, the member for Winnipeg North, that we shall follow through with a sense of urgency on this issue”.

That followed on the work done by my colleague, the member for Mississauga South, who has championed this issue for many years, which led to a previous bill or two being placed before the House and before the Standing Committee on Health, only to see the Liberal government refuse to take concerted action to implement the will of this place.

I am upset today. I am sad today because in fact we are talking about a breach of parliamentary privilege. We are talking about a denial of democratic rights. We are talking about a snub of the democratic process. It is high time we said to the government: Respect the will of this place. Do not be influenced by the big corporate interests just because it hurts their pocketbook. Do something that makes sense.

In this case, although we do not have reams of data and it is hard to collect empirical research to show the direct link between labels on bottles and the fact that there is less of an incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome, we know that labels work. Even if we do not have reams of data to prove it, we know that even if one person in our society today reads that label and decides not to drink while pregnant and avoids giving birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, we will have done this nation a great service. We will have ensured that that child is able to live in dignity and without costing millions of dollars to the rest of society because of the supports that would have been needed.

Let us get this straight. This is a complementary policy to a broad range of tools that must be used to combat fetal alcohol syndrome. It is one way as part of a broader strategy to reach out and prevent this tragic incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome in our society today.

Let me remind parliamentarians that roughly 3,000 Canadians are born each year with fetal alcohol syndrome. Surely that is enough for us to act. Simply put a label on a bottle so some people will take note and avoid the foolishness of drinking while pregnant.

It has been done in the United States for 10 years. Look at the ludicrous situation here in Canada. We produce liquor, wine and beer and if we want to export those products to the United States, we have to put a label on them. However, here in this country we say that we cannot do it, that it is impossible, that we are going to put our efforts into other things that might make more of a difference.

We are not saying do not do other things. We are saying do this as part of a package. Do it because it makes sense. Do it because it is good public policy. Do it because it is a humanitarian and compassionate thing to do.

I want to commend the member for Mississauga South for his decade or more of work on this issue. I appreciated his support when I introduced my motion back in 2001. He helped me ensure that we had a majority win in this place. Today he is forced to bring in a bill because his own party did not choose to act on the will of Parliament. I commend him for that courageous stance. I hope that this time we can convince the government to act.

Since that day in April of 2001, when this motion was passed, some new developments have happened. Internationally, other countries have taken action. I want to report on the fact that in France, the government has made it a requirement for alcohol manufacturers to put labels on their products warning of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy. Brewers in Britain have begun a campaign of voluntary health labelling. They have taken it upon themselves because they recognize the importance of this issue. In New Zealand, a parliamentary committee has recommended mandatory labels on alcoholic beverages.

We are not talking about some out of date, quirky idea that just does not have any bearing in reality. We are talking about a very specific, concrete initiative that does make a difference, that must be part of a total package if we are going to look at cracking down on the incidents of fetal alcohol syndrome in our society today.

Since my motion in 2001, the Canadian Medical Association has been very vocal about supporting this idea. On September 9, it said:

Canada's doctors once again called for action to help eliminate the “preventable tragedy” of fetal damage caused by alcohol use...“Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one of the most frustrating conditions we face,” says CMA President Albert Schumacher...“It carries a huge economic burden for society and has a major impact on the quality of life of our patients...” Unfortunately, the tragedy is played out in Canada more than 3,000 times a year...CMA policy calls for: the federal government to require warning labels on all alcoholic beverages sold in Canada; [and] a ban on advertising of alcoholic beverages on radio and television and in print.

It goes on to condemn the government for refusing to act on the will of this place and to put in place an important public health policy.

I am sorry we are here having this debate again. We could be debating another issue, but I am grateful to the member for Mississauga South for using his valuable time and limited access to private members' initiatives for bringing this forward again. Maybe, just maybe, it will make a difference. Maybe this time we will not hear just rhetoric from the Minister of Health.

Last night in the House, the Minister of Health said:

When I got here I felt I should take a look at it. I have been very interested in it. I am very supportive of the approach taken by the hon. member. In fact, I support the efforts of our own member for Mississauga South--

He says he is looking at it and that he is serious about it. Maybe this time we will see this important initiative acted upon and implemented before the end of this Parliament.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to discuss this important bill and to congratulate the member for Mississauga South who literally wrote the book on this subject. We thank him for bringing this to the House's attention once again.

Today, on the occasion of the second reading of Bill C-206, legislation that proposes warning labels on alcoholic beverages, I am pleased to have this opportunity to share my thoughts about this important initiative.

Our government recognizes that when it comes to alcohol consumption, the majority of adult Canadians drink responsibly and in a manner that is not harmful to their health. These citizens are mindful of the facts about alcohol and of the hazards of drinking excessively. They know, for example, that chronic alcohol abuse is linked to a host of chronic neurological disorders and diseases affecting the heart, liver and other organs.

They also know that alcohol can seriously harm a child born to a woman who consumes alcohol during pregnancy. An expectant mother who drinks during her pregnancy risks exposing her baby to fetal alcohol syndrome disorder. This is a medical term that is used to describe an array of disabilities and diagnoses associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol.

The Government of Canada has been engaged in a number of initiatives and strategies aimed at raising public awareness about the harms related to alcohol consumption so that consumers can make informed choices. With this in mind, I would like to outline for the House the efforts to date of Health Canada in addressing the potential hazards of alcohol consumption.

I should point out that, since 1999, Speeches from the Throne have included significant commitments to raising public awareness about the harm of alcohol consumption.

During that period, the Government of Canada has made firm commitments to fight FAS in aboriginal communities and has promised to significantly reduce, by the end of the decade, the incidence of the syndrome in affected communities.

I will get back to this in a moment and explain the initiatives undertaken by our government to fulfill its promise to fight FAS.

First, the government's actions regarding alcohol consumption and public health should be put in their proper context.

There are four areas within the federal health portfolio and each one plays a vital role in protecting our citizens: Health Canada's Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch, the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, the Health Products and Food Branch, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Within HECSB resides the drug strategy and controlled substances program. This is the focal point within the federal government for harm reduction, prevention, and treatment and rehabilitation initiatives concerning alcohol, drug use and abuse.

The program works collaboratively with other federal departments, and provincial and territorial governments. It provides national leadership research and coordination on substance use and abuse issues.

The program is responsible for enhancing prevention, education, health promotion and treatment activities. Its efforts seek to reduce the demand for drugs and to address the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption. This program also manages the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations, and plays the lead federal role in the coordination and implementation of Canada's drug strategy.

Health Canada's approach to addressing alcohol abuse has focused on three core areas. First, there have been community-based initiatives undertaken to address prevention, health promotion, treatment and harmful reduction issues.

Second, Health Canada has launched public awareness campaigns targeting young people, in particular, on substance use and abuse, to inform Canadians and help them make educated decisions on health and lifestyle.

A round table for young people will be held in February 2005, under the drug strategy and controlled substances program. The purpose of this event is to engage young Canadians in a serious and ongoing dialogue on substance abuse, including issues relating to alcohol consumption and other relevant matters.

The third area of activity for the department has been to engage in best practices for front line health and social services providers concerning substance abuse treatment as well as rehabilitation. In addition, the department's alcohol drug treatment and rehabilitation program provides funding to provinces and territories to facilitate access to treatment for vulnerable populations such as women and youth. The department continues to engage in activities to reach out to Canada's young people to discuss this social and public health matter.

Let me now turn to what Health Canada is doing to combat fetal alcohol syndrome disorder. We have taken significant strides to improve the outcomes for individuals, families and communities affected by pre-natal alcohol exposure. In January 2000 the Government of Canada announced a sustained investment, a three year, $11 million national initiative. The initiative continues at an annual budgetary allocation that is shared between the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.

There has also been an increase in funding for FASD initiatives. In 2002 the Government of Canada provided an additional $15 million annually, as part of the five year, $320 million federal strategy on early childhood development. This investment was further bolstered in 2004 by a $2 million investment over two years. The funding will help accelerate the implementation of national activities such as screening and diagnostic work on FASD, as well as education and training for health care providers.

These investments to date are making it possible to engage in ongoing public education, increase professional awareness, training and capacity development, as well as develop early identification and diagnostic tools to combat FASD.

If I may, I would like to point out some of the special initiatives designed to fight FAS.

We have undertaken activities to coordinate, cooperate, consult and liaise with our provincial and territorial partners and with non-governmental organizations, aboriginal organizations and other stakeholders.

Canada is also actively involved in the detection, diagnosis, follow up and monitoring of FAS. We are working to improve the diagnostic tools that will help us detect those who may suffer from FAS.

We are also working to develop resources that will help us communicate effectively the lessons learned.

Canada is also investing in national leadership and policy development on FASD. We want to ensure that our country continues to be recognized for its world leading FASD researchers.

In addition, we are finding ways to build community capacity and develop direct program delivery. Health Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to protecting Canada's most vulnerable citizens from the harmful effects of alcohol. It remains just as committed to ensuring that all Canadians have the facts they need to make responsible choices when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Before I conclude my remarks, I would like to take a moment to share with the House some thoughts from an international perspective on the matter of warning labels on alcoholic beverage containers.

Measures to implement some form of warning labels on alcohol have been implemented in nine countries including, Australia, New Zealand, some jurisdictions in the United States, and Canada. The results from these initiatives have not been encouraging. The available data suggests that women at high risk of consuming alcohol during pregnancy do not appear to be influenced by warning labels on alcoholic beverages.

Moreover, while there is still a modest increase in the level of awareness of the labels and their message, they have no impact on either risk perception or on behaviour patterns related to drinking.

That alcohol can be potentially harmful, especially to a child born to a mother who consumes alcohol when pregnant, is not a matter of debate. What remains a matter of much discussion is whether warning labels, be they voluntary or mandatory, are effective in producing measurable and lasting results. That is why the work that awaits the standing committee is so vitally important.

When they review Bill C-206, committee members will have to weigh the benefits of implementing the mandatory or voluntary labelling of warnings about the risks relating to alcohol consumption and they will have to consider initiatives that were taken by other countries, which indicate the measure failed to achieve the expected results.

In any case, I am looking forward to the animated debates that will surely take place in committee on this bill.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, it is good to be here this afternoon to speak to the bill. It is important that we continue to discuss it. I hope some of my colleagues will follow up as well when I am done. It has been interesting to listen to the debate, and I hope we see this through to other stages.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, I have listened to the debate this afternoon, and I would like to compliment the member opposite. As an old police chief and someone who has seen all the issues he has brought forward here today to the House firsthand, whether they be deaths from traffic accidents caused by impaired drivers or the result of fetal alcohol syndrome with young children through into adulthood, I have great sympathy and support for the intent of the bill, which is to bring forward labelling.

All these things are incremental. It is a little here and a little there. My friend on this side has his concerns about whether it is enough. At the end of the day, we will question whether is it enough, but at some point we have to take that first step, which this is. It gives us the opportunity to make people more aware of the danger. It is not that we are without awareness of the dangers of alcohol and all the inherent dangers that come with it.

Whether we can put an end to fetal alcohol syndrome with labelling, I rather doubt it. At the same time, if we do not begin that process, if we do not make some effort, we will not get to the final analysis and put it to rest. It does us no harm to label. It may give some in the industry some difficulty, but I suspect, at the end of the day, equally it will do them no harm to have the mandatory labelling, which will occur if the bill is passed.

At this point in time, I would like to compliment the member for bringing the legislation forward. There is absolutely no doubt he has done a tremendous amount of work in this whole field, and he deserves a lot accolades for that. When this comes to a vote at some time in the future, I am sure many on this side of the House will support the legislation, and perhaps all will support it.

I think it will be talked out. We will go through different stages in this process. At the end of the day, I think we will all agree that it was a good bill to bring forward.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, I want to briefly make a few comments.

In my riding, in particular, we have seen some of the effects of fetal alcohol firsthand. We know that it affects many of our communities in Regina--Qu'Appelle, both urban and rural parts.

I am very encouraged to hear the constructive comments about addressing the serious issue in terms of education and in terms of getting the message out to our young people: that drinking during pregnancy can cause such horrible effects.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

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.

UkraineEmergency Debate

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Pursuant to Standing Order 52, the hon. member for Etobicoke Centre has obtained leave to move his motion.

UkraineEmergency Debate

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

moved:

That this House do now adjourn.

Madam Speaker, dear colleagues, fellow Canadians, tonight Ukraine finds herself on the brink.

Last night I came back from Ukraine, having observed the second round of presidential elections. I have to admit that prior to leaving for Ukraine, I was naively optimistic. I was optimistic because, between the two rounds of elections, I had travelled to Ukraine as part of a parliamentary delegation.

The world condemnation after the first round of fraudulent elections, coupled with the vote results, notwithstanding the systemic massive fraud that was committed, when the people chose the opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko.

As I said, I was naively optimistic. What I saw in the second round was exponentially worse than what took place in the first round. There are hundreds of documented cases of electoral fraud, abuse and intimidation. I would like to categorize what we saw into six broad areas.

The first was intimidation and bribery. During the second round, what we saw was a certain line being crossed. The regime was no longer satisfied with intimidating its own population, its own commissions and election observers. It crossed the line to intimidating Canadian election observers.

On the Friday night that I arrived in Mykolayiv, after having travelled 30 hours, I was given the news that a group of Canadian observers, which included my sister, had been detained hours earlier on the pretext that the group's vehicle was stolen. When I found out, I immediately placed a call to the governor's office and the observers were released.

On the day of the election, one of our first teams headed out at 6:30 in the morning. As they headed out of Mykolayiv toward the village, for three or four minutes a BMW with tinted windows tried to force their vehicle off the road and into a ditch.

During the day, we had observers whose documents were confiscated. An observer from Toronto had her passport taken away from her by the militia and confiscated. Cars were chased through the day. Our observers were physically removed from vote locations.

The second category is falsifications of lists. On the day of and the day just preceding the election, hundreds of names were added to poll after poll. These have been documented by our Canadian observers.

On the falsification of ballot boxes, this speaks to the systemic fraud that was put in place. There was a detention centre that I visited. In the main hall it appeared that the election was proceeding. As I observed, I noticed the commission head and a sidekick would once in a while go through a side door. I took the opportunity to open that door to see what I could find there. I found three ballot boxes, unsealed, spare seals and a stack of ballots. As we had a vote process taking place, in a side room we had everything prepared for a second vote, a false vote, to be put in place.

I have spoken partially to the deprivation of the rights of observers. Our observers were not allowed to vote locations. For example, the head of the territorial commission, which encompassed polls throughout the city of Mykolayiv, a city of a million people, disallowed commission members who were in support of democratic candidate Viktor Yushchenko, and disallowed Yushchenko observers and international observers. This was immediately referred to the state prosecutor who said that the opinion of the commission head would hold.

When the commission head was pressed, he stated that this was based on the decision of the head of the committee for organization and methodical work of the central electoral commissioner. We see that this was organized and it reached to the top of the actual central electoral commission.

What we saw was the de facto coup d'état committed by the current regime, the corrupt criminal regime of President Kuchma, along with the complicity of the Russian President Putin. In the past 10 years this regime has not only robbed the country blind, it has robbed the people of Ukraine. In its last remaining years it has commenced the process of taking away the freedoms of the people of Ukraine. The press is no longer a free press. In fact, the current outgoing president of Ukraine was caught on tape giving the orders to take care of a journalist. This man disappeared a few days later, and his headless corpse was found soon afterwards.

They have now decided that robbing the country blind was not enough, that they would rob the people of their will. The people have had enough. What I witnessed the day after the vote was what I would like to call the orange uprising. Throughout Kiev, the capital, we saw orange streamers on the antennae on cars. Throughout Kiev, we saw people wearing orange colours, orange arm bands. In the centre of the city, on Monday morning, approximately 100,000 people gathered. By evening, it was 200,000 people. By yesterday, it was 500,000 people. We understand there are approximately two million people protesting in the streets.

Since Ukraine's independence 14 years ago, we have talked about a special relationship between our two countries. Sometimes people misunderstand that term. They think it is based on economics. If we take a look at the economic figures, we quickly realize that it is not based on this. What it is based on is the hundreds of thousands of family ties between our two countries. There are 1.1 million Ukrainian Canadians in Canada. Tonight and in the coming days we have to give meaning to those words “special relationship”. We have to make it clear that we do not accept this coup d'état.

Mr. Yushchenko has now become a symbol, just as the colour orange has. It is no longer the man we refer to when we hear the chants of “Yushchenko”. He has become a symbol of freedom. The will of the people of Ukraine has been expressed. We should acknowledge Viktor Yushchenko is in fact the president of Ukraine, and there should be consequences.

Prime Minister Yanukovych, President Kuchma, their cronies and their families should face economic and individual sanctions. They should be prevented from travelling the countries of the free world. We should also send a message to Russian President Putin, who directly involved himself in this election campaign and continues to meddle at this very dangerous point in time.

Finally, I would like to express, on behalf of the people of Canada, that tonight and in the days to come we will stand by the people of Ukraine, just as we were the first country in the western world to acknowledge Ukraine's independence in 1991. In the coming days we will take a lead among the circle of democratic nations in the world.

Finally, our prayers are with the people of Ukraine as they stand on the cold, dark streets of Kiev and all the cities where the people have come out to protest. Our prayers are with them during this orange uprising.

UkraineEmergency Debate

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, it is in the best interests of Canadians and of our country that we have a foreign policy that clearly understands that our best interests are served when we support democracy and when we support democracies especially that are at risk.

Tonight, literally as we speak here, a young democracy is at risk. A young democracy is being threatened. We have heard the words of our colleague. What has gone on in the last few days is documented. It is beyond dispute that democracy itself is at risk in Ukraine.

Tonight we need to raise our voices in this chamber and send a democratic shout that will be heard around the world and heard by the Ukrainian citizens so they will know that they are not alone tonight.

At 5:33 p.m. I received a report, one of the most recent ones, from Ukraine itself. I will reference some of the reports that have come in.

Madam Speaker, I want to indicate to you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Calgary East.

I do want to reference, not just the comment, but the fact that the member for Etobicoke Centre was in Ukraine and has just returned and that one of our colleagues in the Conservative Party, the member for Edmonton East, is still there. Together, in a non-partisan way with all of our colleagues in the House, we are speaking with one voice.

The following are excerpts from the latest reports. Just after 1900 hours, local time in Ukraine, several planes with Russian special military units landed at Boryspil International Airport near Kiev. It is also being reported now that 1,000 Russian special forces known as Vityaz were deployed in Kiev on the eve of the elections and are still there.

Also disturbing to hear, and this is directly from the report, that all members of the Russian special forces are dressed in Ukrainian uniforms and none of them have any identifying documentation on their uniforms.

It is being reported again as of 5:33 p.m. that a three-fold mission has been given to the Russian forces in collaboration with the forces in Ukraine who are thwarting the democratic will of Ukrainians. Apparently the three-fold mission, first, is that these forces should ensure the disappearance of the key opposition leaders; second, isolating, via arrests, several members of Viktor Yushchenko's team; and third, that these forces would provoke violent confrontations and conflicts in the streets of the capital to create conditions for introducing an emergency situation.

It has also been reported from the citizens living in Irpen city, which is outside of Kiev, that another unit of Russian Vityaz special forces are being deployed near the Ukrainian capital. These local residents have witnessed that Russian special forces are being equipped with Ukrainian special force uniforms as well as civilian dress. According to experts on the ground, these particular Russian forces specialize in carrying out special operations abroad.

It is a violation of the Ukrainian constitution for foreign forces to be on its soil without being invited by Parliament, and those forces have not been invited by their Parliament.

One member of Parliament in this report. Yulia Timoshenko, is reporting that foreign armed forces are now located in the courtyards of the presidential administration. Mr. Timoshenko has also witnessed Russian special forces backing Ukrainian police.

Today another Ukrainian MP and colonel of the secret service of Ukraine, Hryhoriy Omelchenko has demanded that the head of the SSU, the secret service of Ukraine, uncover all information on these foreign troops presently illegally in Ukraine. He goes on to say in this report, which we just received, “If this is not done, Ukraine and Russia will be involved in an international scandal with unpredictable international consequences”. This is a very serious moment. These are serious hours for the people of Ukraine.

It was in the early 1990s, just after the fall of the Soviet empire, that I had the opportunity and the honour to be in Kiev and to meet with newly elected officials of the city and new elected national officials. After Ukraine being under the iron fist and the boot of the Soviet Union for over 40 years, it was the first time I was able to meet with people who were duly elected in a democratic process.

It was a time of excitement and of optimism but yet the sense was very clear that the challenges would be daunting and that this would not be an easy task. There was a sense of exhilaration that at long last they were no longer under the suffocating effect of what had been known as the Soviet Union, a totalitarian Communist empire that had suffocated people for 70 years and had resulted in the deaths of millions of Ukrainians, imprisonment, loss of rights and on and on it goes.

History is very clear on how devastating a time that was for the Ukrainian people and then, about 10 years ago, they experienced for the first time the first results of a duly elected process. Those were exciting days. The dreams they had then are literally now at risk.

We have just heard very clear documentation of what has been going on in the last few days, in terms of a true coup of the freedoms, that the very foundations of an emerging democracy are at risk of being toppled as we speak.

We cannot be silent. The reports are telling us that this time, as Ukrainian citizens in Kiev see foreign uniforms and are faced with intimidation and violence, and we have heard some of the cases of that from the member for Etobicoke Centre, they are not running from the streets and into the countryside. This time they are standing in the streets and in the public squares and not just in Kiev but in other cities around the country, at risk of who knows what may befall them. They are standing and they are speaking.

Our colleague, the member for Edmonton East, called me from Kiev several hours ago. He had just spoken to a crowd of over 400,000 people in the public squares of Kiev, just as our colleague did yesterday. When he told those people that we in Canada knew what was going on and that we would not let them down, they cheered a mighty cheer.

The United States secretary of state said that his country was not accepting the results of this election. Other European countries are joining in that chorus. Our voice must also be clear.

The reason the Ukrainian people are standing their ground is that over the last 10 years they have tasted that sweet nectar of freedom. They have breathed the breezes of democracy and have heard the sounds of freedom of speech and this time they are not standing down. They are standing up and we in this House must stand up with them and let them know tonight that they do not stand alone. We stand with them.

UkraineEmergency Debate

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, as my other colleagues have indicated, what is happening in Ukraine is a serious concern and a major world issue that faces all of us. We all have to take a very strong stance in the House in sending a united message to the people of Ukraine saying, as my colleague from Okanagan—Coquihalla said, that we are with the people of Ukraine during this hour of need.

When the cold war came to an end, when Ukraine became independent 14 years ago, there was hope all around that region and in Canada as well that democracy was coming to that country and that people would be able to speak out and have the choices that democracy gives.

Canada has a long history of accepting refugees from Ukraine who left because there was no freedom in Ukraine. They came to settle in this country. They have made a great contribution to this country, including in the House of Commons for democracy. Naturally their cousins in Ukraine, after the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine becoming independent, also had high hopes. As such, they have 14 years of democratic experience.

But with what is happening over there right now, one would have to ask if the cold war is coming back. What we are seeing, as my colleagues have said, is that the Russian president has said they are landing there. I can quote Russian President Putin saying that Ukraine does not need a lecture and congratulating the winner already when there are demonstrations taking place on the streets of Ukraine.

Not only that, but as has been pointed out, independent observers, including Canadian observers and members from my party and other parties, have said with no uncertainty that absolutely clearly this was not a fair election, that this was a hijacked election.

Let me go back. Are we seeing the return of the cold war? I do not think so, but what has happened is that the people of Ukraine have been robbed, as my colleagues have said. They have been robbed of democracy. They have been robbed by fraudulent means because of outside intervention from the Soviet Union, which is trying to keep its sphere of influence over this region because it does not want Ukraine to go.

The challenger, who was not declared the winner, is pro-western. That is okay. There is no such thing as a pro-western or Russian influence, but apparently the Russians feel that they somehow still after 14 years control Ukraine. We cannot allow that. Ukraine is not controlled by the Soviet Union. Ukraine is controlled by the people of Ukraine and they, during this exercise of democracy, made it very clear what they wanted.

We do not know what happened. The results are not fair. It has been hijacked. I do not need to go into the reasons for how this hijacking took place, but all observers are saying that this is what is going on over there. And now we are moving into a very dangerous situation where there are people on the streets. We pray at this time and we are asking the authorities in Ukraine that there not be any violence and that they let the people speak.

We have seen this happen time after time. Civil revolutions have taken place. An example is Serbia. The people took over parliament. That ended peacefully and now Serbia is moving ahead.

We are asking the authorities to make sure there is no violence as people express their disgust at what has happened there. I am very happy and pleased to see that the Government of Canada has condemned this vote rigging and has taken a very strong stand on this.

I am pleased to see that my party, as my leader said during question period, is standing behind the stance that the Government of Canada has taken to send one strong clear message: that an election cannot be hijacked, that no one will be allowed to hijack an election, and that we will not accept this kind of nonsense that has taken place in Ukraine.

We want to say this in no uncertain terms to the Russians. The only leader that is accepting this election is the Russian president, no one else, despite the fact that there independent observers over here. Does the Russian president not listen to the independent observers who are saying quite clearly that what has happened in Ukraine is not a fair election?

Therefore, we want to send a very strong message. Although we have strong relations with Russia, Russia is our friend and there is no more cold war, we must tell the Russian president this. I hope the Prime Minister will tell the Russian president that we hope he will exercise his influence so that there is no violence on the streets of Ukraine and at the same time use his influence to say that this election is not a fair election and we call upon the parliament of Ukraine to dissolve and call again for a new election. In the strongest words, we wish to relay this message and stand with the people of Ukraine.

UkraineEmergency Debate

7 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am delighted today to have this opportunity to speak, late in the Parliamentary day, on the current situation in Ukraine.

I would like to begin by expressing my complete solidarity and fraternity with the members of the Montreal Ukrainian community, in particular those residing in the riding of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. We have a sizeable Ukrainian community numbering over 700.

Today I would like to join with the rest of my colleagues in the House of Commons in expressing solidarity and the desire to assist in any way I can. The people of Ukraine need to know that, in the difficulties they are experiencing, I am behind them all the way, as the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

I feel it is important to start with a bit of an historic overview. On November 24, the Ukrainian central electoral commission officially proclaimed the victory of the pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the Ukrainian presidential election of Sunday. Chief elections commissioner Sergei Kivalov declared Mr. Yanukovych elected.

The commission claims that Mr. Yanukovych was close to three percentage points ahead of his rival, with 49.46% of the votes, compared with the opposition candidate, Mr. Yushchenko, considered to be pro-western, at 46.61%. The latter, who feels he was the winner, immediately called for a general strike. In his opinion, he was robbed of the victory, and he has the power to place Ukraine on the brink of civil conflict.

The opposition has, moreover, called upon the population to block airports, railways and highways. Mr. Yushchenko has declared the proclamation of Mr. Yanukovych's victory illegal. Mr. Yushchenko made the following statement: “We are going to seek a solution in an open struggle. The party in power is escalating the conflict. Any possibility of a political dialogue has been rejected.”

Shortly before the statements were made on state television, Mr. Yanukovych declared that he would initiate negotiations with the opposition as early as Thursday with a view to reconciling Ukrainians. This is a proposal that the opposition is very likely to find sorely lacking.

This morning, the Ukrainian opposition refused to negotiate with the party in power anything short of mechanisms for handing over power. It also announced its intention of challenging the Yanukovych victory in the supreme court this Thursday.

We must remember that the United States and the European Union have spoken with a single voice to denounce this election campaign peppered with incidents, including pressure on the media. Just before the first round of voting in the presidential election, on October 31, 2004, the opposition candidate, Mr. Yushchenko, said it was possible that the election would be neither free nor democratic. The first round of voting, which gave a small lead to the prime minister, was found not to meet democratic standards by the international observers who monitored the election. Since then, Mr. Yushchenko has accused the authorities of manipulating the results in favour of Mr. Yanukovych, chosen by those in power to succeed the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, leader of the former Soviet republic since 1994.

On November 22, the day after the election, the electoral commission put the prime minister in the lead, after a partial count. For several days, thousands of people in the west of the country, where nationalists and the opposition prevail, have demonstrated in the streets against the electoral process.

The OSCE international election observation mission, which has 563 observers, has found many irregularities in the vote held on November 21. The mission is made up of members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Following the second ballot, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that the observers had noticed several disturbing elements, including an abnormally high turnout in certain regions, multiple voting using absentee voter certificates, irregularities with respect to the number of ballots, new people being added to the voters list at the last minute, on the day of the election, and restrictions imposed on voters in the way they were to vote.

This afternoon, in the House of Commons, the Deputy Prime Minister outlined the government's position, which can be summarized as follows: “Considering the allegations of serious and significant electoral fraud from international and Canadian election observers, the Government of Canada cannot accept that the announced results by the central election commission reflect the true democratic will of the Ukrainian people”.

The press had reported that Russian President Putin had already selected his protege, whom he supported very strongly and impressively by displaying pictures in Moscow and setting up hundreds of polling stations in Russia for expatriates. It was obvious from the intervention of Patriarch Alexis II that the Russian president very clearly supported his protege and was directly influencing the upcoming vote.

The Bloc Québécois proposes that, since the whole world recognizes that fraud was committed, we cannot accept the election of either candidate. The government must demand an investigation—internationally secured under the auspices of the OSCE—into the fraud and the electoral process, with international observers, since we cannot rely on a commission or a government being accused of fraudulent action to guarantee an impartial and transparent investigation.

Should the Ukrainian government's response be unsatisfactory, the Bloc Québécois finds that Canada should re-evaluate its relations with the Ukraine. Canada must demand an investigation with international guarantees, as this is the only way to prevent the situation from getting worse.

I remind hon. members that the Bloc Québécois supported the motion presented by an hon. member in this House, to encourage the government to ensure a transparent and democratic electoral process.

With all the difficulties the Ukrainian people are currently going through, we naturally want an investigation to be held under the auspices of an international organization, since we cannot continue to trust the current electoral commission, which has made these results public.

Nor can we trust any longer a government that has repeatedly demonstrated the existence of fraud. We have to make sure there is a transparent process, and only an investigation under the auspices of an international organization with independent observers can help us shed light on this issue.

In the meantime, I want my Ukrainian constituents from Rosemont to know that I stand behind them in solidarity and fraternity.