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House of Commons Hansard #40 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cards.

Topics

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take a few moments to briefly talk about Bill C-27, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Enforcement Act.

I listened to what some of our colleagues said earlier in this House. For instance, a Bloc member praised the senior official managing the agency, who happens to be my former deputy minister. He is, in fact, a career public servant, who has worked at the Privy Council and previously at the Treasury Board. He is very familiar with sound management practices. The member was right to praise him. He is highly qualified and very capable of managing the agency, which he is already doing very well.

However, I heard other things, which I do not agree with. The Bloc member compared the Newcastle disease to the mad cow disease. She said that, when the Newcastle disease struck the United States, Canada decided to segregate and import only from some states and not from the states fighting the disease, and so on.

That might be so, but let us not forget that the decision was made by the importing country, namely Canada. But that is not how things are working out this time around. Canada did not decide to stop exporting beef to the United States because of the discovery of a single case of mad cow disease almost two years ago. Every country in the world stopped importing Canadian beef. It is not the same thing. I am sorry, but we cannot say that a measure should apply to one, two or three regions of Canada. That is not how things are done.

Foreign countries decided to stop importing products from all over Canada. That is my first point.

Second, naturally, I am told that the incubation period for a disease such as Newcastle disease is very short. We can say there are some cases in this province, in that country, meaning the United States, and that there are none in others. It is not the same for mad cow because the incubation period is much longer. Furthermore, there has been no proof, to date, that any other importing country said yes, there is a case in Alberta but it does not apply to Saskatchewan, Quebec, Ontario or elsewhere. No other country has shown an interest in saying that the animals could come from one province instead of another.

That is why I think that the hon. member's comments do not apply whatsoever to mad cow. If it is applicable, I would really like to have an example proving that the animals could come from one province and that the United States has shown interest in opening the border.

But it has been proven, and it is very clear, that there is no such interest. It has been proven to all the international organizations, including the World Health Organization and others, that there is no proof of contagion, that it concerned a single animal, that there were no other cases and all the rest. Even so, the United States has not re-opened the border.

Knowing there is none anywhere in Canada, they still have not opened up the border. Even if they had been told there was none in the other nine provinces, they would not have opened it any more promptly. There was none anywhere. That is why I feel that was has been said here a little earlier was not valid.

I have been listening to my colleague from Timmins—James Bay speaking about certain measures relating to provincial abattoirs. I do not share his opinion. I think that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has always had very high standards and that the standard in a given province must not be reduced at any point. If the provincial agencies want to raise their standards to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's level, that is fine with me.

The hon. member said that standards must not be lowered, safety compromised and so forth. We cannot have it both ways. He cannot claim, as far as the abattoir in his riding is concerned, that the Government of Canada ought to have lowered its requirements to the provincial level—and these are not either interprovincial or international standards—and also say that the standards ought not to be lowered.

I think that instead an effort ought to be made to have all provinces raise their standards where applicable. I am not accusing any province specifically, not saying that one has standards absolutely identical to the federal ones while others' standards are higher or lower. An effort needs to be made by all provinces to have a standard that is as high as the federal one.

Perhaps we need to have a dual rating system. So if a company did business within a province, the stock could be slaughtered in a provincial abattoir, but if there was going to be interprovincial or international export, a federal abattoir would have to be used. That way the higher standard would be used.

I do not believe that it would be appropriate to bring provincial standards down in order for bring them in line with the standards in some other province. The reverse should be done, in fact, in order to maintain our excellent world reputation.

Even in the case of mad cow, we know that was an isolated case that did not spread, as I have already said. So even there we have every reason to be confident.

One thing that is interesting to note is that in the case of the mad cow disease, contrary to what occurred in Europe, particularly in Britain, there was no reduction in consumer confidence in our country. I am very proud of that. I am very proud of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for its part in that. After the mad cow incident in Canada, beef consumption actually went up in our country. A sympathy on the part of the Canadian consumer manifested itself. That is the exact opposite of what occurred in Europe.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

It had to do with the price.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Some members are saying that it had to do with the price. Where was the evidence of lower price at the retail level? As a matter of fact that has been a complaint. There was no evidence of that. Still there was an increased demand on the part of consumers. I am very proud of that and very proud of what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency did in that regard. I see this is agitating a few people as I mention this in the House.

One final point is the issue of whistleblowers. I am in favour of what the hon. member said about whistleblower protection, but I do not think we should put that in individual pieces of legislation. We should have an overarching whistleblowing law that applies to all federal government departments and agencies and not insert an amendment in every single bill.

The problem is we would have whistleblower legislation for one department and not for another. It would be a checkerboard across the government. I just think that is bad policy making. Instead, I would favour an overall one. I know the government has presented something in that regard. It is being worked on, possibly improved if that is what needs to be done. I am not in favour of the checkerboard approach, even though the idea of the hon. member is one which I do support, but I support that it should be across government departments.

Those are the brief comments I wanted to make in favour of the bill that is before us. I wish the agency continued success in defending the protection of the health of Canadians and our excellent reputation for the food that we grow and sell in this country.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to make what will probably be the final presentation on this bill for tonight. I really want to speak to this bill because I have some very serious concerns about it.

This bill would broaden and enhance the powers of the CFIA, especially the top brass in the CFIA. Most of the people on the ground are excellent people, very capable and really do a great service for Canadians in providing food safety. Unfortunately, the top bureaucrats simply are not like that. They interfere way too often and they have proven that they can hurt business and food safety. They can really be a negative body when it comes to providing agriculture production. For that reason, I will not support this bill.

Part of the intent of the bill is certainly something that I desire and that my party desires. We would like to consolidate and modernize the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the responsibilities that it has. However, until such time that we see clearly that the top bureaucrats are reigned in and made to work for Canadians rather than to protect their own interests and to protect some possible difficulty they would have in facing the consequences of decisions they make, I will not support any legislation which will give them more power.

In fact, when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was presented as a concept by the government back in 1995, I opposed it and my party opposed it. We opposed it for the very reason that establishing an agency presented us with some concern that there would not be proper ministerial control of that body, and that bureaucrats could get out of control. Eight years of operating under the CFIA has demonstrated that it was a very legitimate concern. It has happened and has led to some very disastrous consequences for Canadian farmers in particular.

There are four different issues that I want to tie in with this presentation, by pointing out that the top brass of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are simply providing unreasonable barriers to Canadian farmers.

The first is the packer issue. If we look at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's people on the ground, most of them have behaved admirably through this period where we desperately need new packers to start up. However, again and again, the top brass in Ottawa, people who really do not know what is going on in western Canada or across Ontario or Quebec, have interfered with good decisions made by people on the ground.

This is truly a bureaucracy out of control. As a result, we had to fight with the top brass of the CFIA kicking, scratching and shouting to even get the Blue Mountain Packers operating. All the CFIA people on the ground indicated this should go quickly. It took months for it to finally happen.

We desperately need at least two more packers, but two more that are well on their way to being built, so that we can have the packing capacity we need to deal with this BSE crisis. We need to process our beef right here in this country instead of exporting live animals to the United States. The CFIA has provided roadblocks for these packers that are completely unacceptable. It will continue to do so until the bureaucrats here in Ottawa are reigned in. Until we see a different attitude on the part of the top brass in the CFIA, I cannot support any broadening or enhancement of their powers.

The second issue comes from two different small business people in my constituency who want to import beef products from the United States. They have been doing this for several years. They have come a long way toward building up very successful import businesses. These are products they could not get in Canada, although I hope that will change over the next few months. There is no reason at all that we could not be producing these products in Canada, but that is another story.

Both of these people have had their businesses destroyed due to unreasonable intrusion by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In spite of my efforts and efforts of others to get the CFIA to look at this in a reasonable fashion and to back off from unreasonable interference. It has interfered to the point that these people have, in effect, gone out of business. They cannot continue to make a profit operating like this.

The third area where the CFIA is intervening and interfering, in a way that is negatively impacting farmers and business in this country, is in the area of interprovincial trade and agriculture products in particular. It is a matter of empire building and protecting an empire which has led to this problem.

We all know that provincial meat inspectors are as good as any federal inspectors anywhere in the country. Alberta meat inspectors are trained with the same standards as the federal inspectors. Why on earth can we not have provincial inspectors inspecting beef at small plants across the country and then exporting that beef to anywhere else in the country, not out of the country? We need the federal inspection regime for exports.

We need to have free movement of beef within our country for farmers to deal effectively with the BSE problem. Yet, here we are complaining that we cannot get free trade with the United States because there is unreasonable interference in moving our live animals and some animal parts to the United States. That is a problem, and it is unreasonable the way the United States has held that up. But it is shameful that we cannot get beef moving freely within our own country.

It is costing farmers their farms. It is costing plants because they could expand and become much better businesses, and create even more jobs than they are creating right now in our local communities. That is holding them back. I blame the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to a large degree and its empire protection. I blame it for the fact that we still have no free movement of meat products across this country. That is unbelievable. That is the third area.

I have heard unreasonable talk and unreasonable action coming from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. That is another thing that leads me to believe that it should not have its powers expanded until the top bureaucrats are reigned in.

I want to repeat again that many of the employees at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are truly marvellous employees. They provide a great service for Canadians by inspecting various agricultural products and ensure a safe food supply. It is the people at the top who are to blame, the people who are locked away in some room here in Ottawa and cannot understand what is going on. Rather than face a tough decision, they put decisions off that cost farmers unbelievably and also cost consumers because those decisions drive up prices.

There is a fourth area and one that I was involved in quite closely. It involves certain elk herds in Alberta and Saskatchewan which were destroyed when chronic wasting disease came along a few years ago.

I have talked on several occasions with the Ferrances and McAllisters, who own elk farms in Alberta and Saskatchewan. They understood the need for their herds to be destroyed. It was tough on them, but they did not argue with that. They argued with the disgusting way that the CFIA carried this out. I must admit that they were absolutely right on.

CFIA put restrictions on the production of other livestock such as bison or cattle on these farms. It told these farmers that they simply could not produce any ruminant livestock in spite of the fact that there was no evidence that chronic wasting disease could spread to other animals. The CFIA told them this in spite of the fact that the McAllisters and Ferrances went to great cost and great effort, and spent probably $100,000 cleaning up the land so that they could put other livestock on it. After they went to that expense, then and only then, the CFIA stepped in and said they could not produce bison or cattle or any other livestock on that land. That was wrong.

As a result of those heavy-handed actions and poor judgment on the part of the top brass in CFIA, I am not going to support this legislation. I do not believe my party will either and I hope other members will do the same.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

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.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Inky Mark Conservative Dauphin—Swan River, MB

moved that Bill C-331, an act to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Ukrainian descent and other Europeans who were interned at the time of the First World War and to provide for public commemoration and for restitution which is to be devoted to public education and the promotion of tolerance, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jean Augustine)

Before beginning private members' business I would like to read a ruling on Bill C-331, an act to recognize the injustice that was done to persons of Ukrainian descent and other Europeans who were interned at the time of the First World War and to provide for public commemoration and for restitution which is to be devoted to public education and the promotion of tolerance.

The Chair has examined Bill C-331, the Ukrainian Canadian restitution act, to determine whether its provisions would require a royal recommendation and thus prevent the Chair from putting the question at third reading.

The Chair has considered the restitution provisions in this bill and has concluded that they do not require a royal recommendation as any payment is contingent on the successful completion of a negotiation process, the details of which are hypothetical at this point.

There is, however, a question in my mind about the clause that proposes the establishment of a museum at the site of one of the first world war internment camps.

At first glance, it appears to me that to build, maintain and staff even a small museum would require public funds. Since the necessity for a royal recommendation can be a complex question, I am raising the issue at this moment in order to invite the sponsor of the bill and any other members interested in the matter to make a submission to the Chair explaining their views on whether or not this bill requires a royal recommendation.

I want to give hon. members enough time to look into the matter. I would suggest that interested members contact the private members' business office to schedule their interventions.

I have asked these officials to coordinate such submissions, so that they can take place before the bill is next debated, thus allowing the Chair time to consider their arguments when making a ruling at the resumption of the second reading debate.

Today the debate on the motion for second reading will begin. We will now proceed as scheduled.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Inky Mark Conservative Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Vegreville--Wainwright for seconding the motion.

It is a great honour today to rise to debate Bill C-331, an act to recognize the injustice of the Ukrainian internment. Bill C-331 has been tabled in the House three times but never debated.

Madam Speaker, I welcome the information on the bill that you have presented this evening.

The first time the whole issue of Ukrainian redress was debated was through a motion in September 1991 that was put forward by the member for Kingston and the Islands. This motion received support from all parties but had no effect on the government.

How did Bill C-331 come about? Bill C-331 was put together through collaboration with the Ukrainian community in Canada, which today numbers close to one million. It is supported by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

At this time I want to thank the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Paul Grod, for his support. I want to thank the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association chairman, John Gregorovich, and Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk and Borys Sydoruk. I also want to thank the president of the Taras Shevchenko Foundation, Andrew Hladyshevsky. There are also thousands of other Canadians of Ukrainian descent who have worked very hard over the last two decades.

Bill C-331 is in essence a bill that belongs to the Ukrainian community of Canada. The Ukrainian community in Canada has been calling for redress for internment for over 20 years. That is a long time. Most of that time, this call has fallen on deaf ears. There have been numerous broken promises throughout the last two decades, promises made by politicians, the people who sit in this House.

The most famous promise was made by our former prime minister, Jean Chrétien. In fact, tonight I want to read for the House a letter that he wrote to Mr. Thor Bardyn, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in June 1993, when Mr. Chrétien was leader of the official opposition. He stated:

Dear Mr. Bardyn:

Thank you for your letter and the copies of the “Economic Losses of Ukrainian Canadians Resulting from Internment During World War I” and “Submissions on Behalf of the Ukrainian Canadian Community on the Matter of Redress for Non-Pecuniary Losses Occasioned by Internment and Other State-Inflicted Injuries.”

The Liberal Party understands your concern. As you know, we support your efforts to secure the redress of Ukrainian-Canadians' claims arising from their internment and loss of freedom during the First World War and Inter-war period. You can be assured that we will continue to monitor the situation closely and seek to ensure that the government honours its promise.

As Leader of the Opposition, I appreciate the time you have taken to write and bring your concerns to my attention.

Sincerely,

Jean Chrétien.

Jean Chrétien as prime minister had many opportunities to deal with Ukrainian redress over his three terms as prime minister.

Obviously he learned nothing from the settlement of the Japanese redress settled by the Mulroney government previous to that. The Mulroney government did the right and responsible thing and brought resolution to the Japanese redress. In fact, I was told that during that time period there were no private members' bills or motions debated in the House on Japanese redress. Yet the government of the day knew what the right thing was and did the right thing.

Let me take some time to talk about the internment, because many of us in this country, and I include myself, did not learn about the internment of the Ukrainians. I did not learn of it until I became a member of Parliament back in 1997. This is not recorded in our history books. It is an event that no one knows about. Obviously the government of the day wanted it to be wiped out. As Canadians, we want to know our history. We need to learn from history. That is why it is important to acknowledge and recognize that the history actually took place.

Bill C-331 calls for that recognition. I must emphasize again that it is a recognition of and not an apology for “the injustice that was done to persons of Ukrainian descent and other Europeans who were interned at the time of the First World War and to provide for public commemoration and for restitution”, which really means the return of properties confiscated by the government of the day. In other words, at that time the private property of the internees was confiscated by the Government of Canada. To this very day it has not been returned. That is what restitution means.

That restitution amount, whatever may be negotiated, is to be devoted to public education and the promotion of tolerance and the role of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That sounds Canadian. It sounds rational and it makes sense.

In other words, Bill C-331 calls for two things to be done.

One is acknowledgement that this internment took place and is part of Canadian history. We in this country cannot run away from our history. We must accept our history. We must accept the past. We have to accept the past; we cannot change it.

Another point, too, is that the government of the day must sit down with the Ukrainian community and work out the establishment of an education foundation for the purpose of telling the internment story to all Canadians so that hopefully this story and this history, this negative event, will not be repeated in the future. That is the main purpose, the main drive behind this redress issue.

It is time for the government to bring resolution to all redress issues. Is it not ironic that the government of the day will be sending up to 500 observers to Ukraine and is willing to pay the bill to ensure that democracy will be protected in Ukraine?

I support the government's decision. There is nothing wrong with it. Yet at the same time the government continues to deny that democratic rights were taken from the Ukraine community in Canada between 1914 and 1920, when over 88,000 Ukrainians were made to register like common criminals. They had to report monthly to the police and have their registration card stamped. Over 9,000 were interned. They were put in prison camps; internment is just a nice word for prison camps. In fact, they had it worse than prisoners of war because under the Geneva convention a country cannot force prisoners of war to work, to do domestic labour, which is actually slave labour, at no cost to the country.

Over 9,000 people were interned, of which over 5,000 were Ukrainian Canadians. The government has run out of excuses after two decades of denial. The internment of Ukrainians in Canada is a historic fact. I asked the question of the government, “Is acknowledging this too much to ask?”

It is time for the government to do the responsible thing and to acknowledge this historic wrong. I am sure that most Canadians would agree with me. It is time to deal with this issue and other redress issues.

The responsible thing is the acknowledgement, as well as working out a resolution with the Ukraine community. This is a matter of justice. After all, we Canadians like to see ourselves as a just society. In fact, we brag all over the world that we are a country based on rules, justice, tolerance and acceptance. Maybe it is time that we accept our own history for what it is and learn from it.

Justice is long overdue for the Ukraine community in Canada, which is one million strong. I know I am starting to run out of time so I will read for the House a poem written by Kari Moore of Victoria, B.C. A couple of summers ago, this poem was put on a plaque dedicated to the internees at a memorial park on the site of Canada's national Ukrainian festival. The name of the poem is Internment . It really tells the story:

With this commemorative plaque

We confer upon you the honour

Of paying the ultimate price.

The price of losing your freedom

In a country that invited you

And promised you work and freedom.

You laboured with a pickaxe and shovel

In the neighbouring mines and forests

Laying the rails for transport

Of your days' work to help the economy.

Then history changed your world,

Overnight you became an enemy alien

To be feared and unjustly interned.

If history could repeat itself

You could tell us your shame

And your unimagined confusion.

You still worked with an axe and shovel

But from behind a barbwire fence.

And for years you carried the stigma

Of becoming an unwanted citizen.

This plaque shall stand in your memory

And serve as an educational tool

To remember this part of our dark history,

And assure us that future Canadian governments

With the stroke of a pen shall not

Again put any citizen behind a barbwire fence.

I close by thanking all members who are taking part in this first hour of debate on Bill C-331 for their support.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, I commend the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette. I agree with the thrust of his private member's bill. It is important for Canadians to put this issue in context. What is so important for us as members in the House and for Canadian society to understand is that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms did not come to us out of a vacuum. It is based on injustices that occurred while our country evolved, which is why we have come to the kind of society that we are today.

When we look specifically at the question of what happened to the Ukrainians and the internment during the first world war, it is important to understand some of the history. Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an unwilling part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I might add. Many Ukrainians left Ukraine and came to Canada because they were not particularly happy with the subjugations they were put under in Ukraine. They came to Canada to find a new life, to become Canadians and to be part of Canadian life.

However, then the first world war comes along and we introduce the Enemy Alien Act where people who were from the Austro-Hungarian Empire were forced to register and something like 5,000 people were interned, most of them of Ukrainian descent.

One can just imagine how disquieting it would be for new arrivals, new immigrants to this country, to all of a sudden find themselves, because of something that is happening somewhere else in the world, to be interned by us. As the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette said, if people were interned they then had to register with the police on a weekly basis.

How do things like that happen? They happen because at that time there was racism. We had superior races and inferior races. It did not only happen to the Ukrainians. As the member said, it also happened to Canadians of Japanese ancestry who suffered the same horrors during the second world war. We also know that as part of our history we had the Asian Exclusion Act and the Chinese Head Tax. We discriminated against all sorts of minorities. It was a fact of life at that time.

However, I think it was the suffering of all those groups, including the Jews, who, during the second world war, when they were looking for refuge to escape Nazi Germany, were turned away. Given all the suffering in the past, we now have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The member talked about doing a more general kind of redress. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes that, which is why we have it. The charter is our guidance for the future so we do not repeat those mistakes.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Inky Mark Conservative Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Madam Speaker, the member is absolutely correct in what he said and hopefully the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will protect us down the road.

However, the fact is that we must accept our past history for what it is. The point the bill tries to make, with all redress issues, is that until the country accepts this, it is like alcoholics, until they accept that they are alcoholics they cannot see the future. I think Canadians expect greater things from their government.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Madam Speaker, the Government of Canada understands the strong feelings underlying requests for redress for incidents in our nation's past. As Canadians we all share in the responsibility to learn from the lessons of the past and to ensure that the history of our country in certain instances does not repeat itself ever.

I know firsthand the issues that are being addressed today by the hon. member opposite. My riding of Parkdale--High Park is home to a great number of Ukrainian Canadians, and this is a matter that I have spoken to members of the community about.

The Canadian Multiculturalism Act lays out principles for these adjustments. It gives specific direction to the federal government to work toward achieving equality in the economic, social, cultural and political life of the country. The multicultural program turns those principles into action. Its activities help to combat racism and discrimination, to break down barriers that prevent all Canadians from fully participating in society, to promote freedom and equal opportunity, to improve inter-group relations, and to foster social harmony and a shared sense of Canadian identity.

As Canada becomes more culturally diverse, the challenge we face is maximizing the benefits of a multicultural society, which means respecting differences and being willing to adapt to change.

Since the introduction of Canada's multiculturalism policy in 1971 and the adoption of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in 1988, Canada's population has continued to become more diverse. This rich ethnocultural, racial and religious diversity has been fostered and supported by a strong multiculturalism policy that encourages people to maintain their culture and identity within a Canadian framework that values fundamental human rights and freedoms.

In order to keep pace with the needs of our evolving and increasingly diverse society, the multiculturalism program focuses on three overall policy goals of identity, social justice and civic participation. Within these policy goals, four priority objectives have been identified for the multicultural program: first, fostering cross-cultural understanding; second, promoting shared citizenship; third, making Canadian institutions more reflective of Canadian diversity; and fourth, combating racism and discrimination.

The government recognizes that creating and maintaining a strong and cohesive society free of racism and discrimination is critical to the continued growth and success of our country. As part of its commitment to fight racism and as part of its forward looking approach with regard to historical acts, the Government of Canada established the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in 1996. As members know, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation is an important asset in helping to build an inclusive society based on social harmony. In establishing the foundation, we have committed to building a better future for young Canadians and a better country for all of us.

The mission of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation is to build a framework for the fight against racism in Canadian society. The Foundation sheds light on the causes and manifestations of racism. It provides independent, candid national leadership and contributes to the pursuit of equity, fairness and social justice.

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation is the articulation of the Government of Canada's commitment to fostering racial harmony and cross-cultural understanding. The Canadian Race Relations Foundation is to a great extent at the core of what the Ukrainian community and this bill are asking for: an educational foundation.

Through the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, I am pleased to say that many groups have had grants for initiatives in specific projects against racism. Along with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Government of Canada has and will continue to promote initiatives to improve understanding among Canadians, such as the March 21 campaign of the Department of Canadian Heritage, which is designed to raise the awareness of Canadians against the dangers of racism and racial discrimination.

The March 21 campaign was initiated in response to the need to heighten awareness of the harmful effects of racism on a national scale and to demonstrate clearly the commitment and leadership of the federal government to foster respect, equality and diversity.

For more than 10 years, the March 21 campaign has mobilized youth across Canada to rise up and to take a stand against racism. Through their participation in the campaign, Canadian youth have spoken loudly and eloquently. There is no place for racism in their lives.

Each year on March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, many activities are held throughout Canada to raise public awareness about the problem of racism.

The national video competition “Racism: Stop it!” is one of several federal government initiatives to fight racism and encourage thousands of young people from across Canada to stand up and condemn this problem.

Why youth? Youth are the future of our nation. It is only by looking to the future that we will achieve our common goal of eradicating racism and discrimination.

We know that youth are the heart and soul of the annual March 21 campaign. They have the energy, commitment and creativity to advance the struggle against racism. They are the voice of the present and also of the future. They are among the most exposed to racism in their schools and on the streets in villages, towns and cities across Canada. The March 21 campaign engages youth to transcend the boundaries of race, ethnicity and religion, and to embrace diversity.

Historically speaking, this country represents a coming together of many peoples and traditions. It is because we were and are so different in our backgrounds and our beginnings that Canada has learned over time to place an extraordinary premium on respect, equality and mutual acceptance. This is what sets Canada apart from other countries.

The challenge is not to lose what we have gained through past experience, not to assimilate this diversity into a simple mould, but to harness it for the common good.

As we move forward in this new millennium, it is the youth of the world who stand poised to lead us out of the intolerance of the past which too often results in terrible human suffering.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of understanding and preserving our complete history, including those times when we have strayed from our shared commitment to human justice. Through various departments and programs, it has supported a wide range of commemorative projects that have helped the Ukrainian community tell their story in their own voice.

The bill before us today asks for commemoration of the historical events by means of the installation of memorial plaques at the site of the internment camps. I would like the hon. members of this House to know that Parks Canada has already worked cooperatively with Ukrainian Canadians to present the story of the first world war internment.

As part of an exhibit to interpret the events associated with the first world war internment in the context of human history of Banff National Park, several interpretative panels were installed as part of the permanent exhibit at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site of Canada, as well as at Mount Revelstoke and Yoho National Parks.

Parks Canada has also supported Ukrainian Canadians in their efforts to install a permanent plaque and statue at the site of the Castle Mountain camp in Banff and permanent plaques at the Jasper camp, Mount Revelstoke camp and Yoho camp. The Department of National Defence has also enabled the placement of a plaque on the Niagara Falls armoury.

The National Film Board of Canada has produced an internment and exile film package that includes a segment entitled, Freedom Had a Price , which describes the experience of Ukrainian immigrants during the first world war.

In addition, the Department of Canadian Heritage has provided funding for the production of a television series entitled, A Scattering of Seeds , which celebrated diversity in Canada and discusses various topics, including the internment of Ukrainian immigrants.

Yes, people of Ukrainian heritage have experienced challenges during their time in Canada. We acknowledge this chapter of our past and vow never to forget it.

The member opposite did say that nothing has been done but many things have been done. When I was parliamentary secretary to the former minister of Canadian heritage, Sheila Copps, she brought the Ukrainian community together to meet with her officials and dialogue was started. Is there much to do? Absolutely. The dialogue has been started. Let us now continue the dialogue.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker , since Bill C-331 concerns Ukraine, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all those Ukrainians currently fighting for the sake of their democracy to continue this difficult struggle.

The freedom of peoples is not easily achieved. This is why I want to reiterate the support of the Bloc Québécois for all those who are currently defending their right to democracy. In 2004, every nation should be able to choose its own government. The will of the people must not be thwarted by pressure or fraud.

I would also like to congratulate the Parliament of Canada for the second time in as many weeks, since, once again, it is about to correct an error it made in the past. Last week, it concerned an error in judgment regarding legislation made 25 years ago. Today, even if the events in question go back more than 90 years, it corrects behaviour unworthy of a democratic society.

At the beginning of the 20th century, history witnessed great victories, but also some darker days. Today, we must reflect on one of those days. I do not by any means want to forget the brave soldiers who went to fight in Europe. They stood tall on one of the toughest fronts in history. They gave their lives for loftier ideals than the world itself, and we should never forget that.

Bill C-331 is about the plight of over 5,000 poor people who fled abject living conditions and immigrated to Canada 10 to 20 years before the 1914-18 events. These people were later interned in labour camps during World War I. Through an order in council, the status of those who did not have their certificate of naturalization was changed. They became “foreign enemies”, because their territory of origin was under the control of the Austro-Hungarian empire. They were no longer just Ukrainians, people in exile, as they had been when they arrived here. They had become Austrians, and Austria was an enemy of Canada.

We understand that, throughout this painful period, Canada respected its international commitments on the treatment of prisoners of war. We do not share the view that these people were indeed prisoners of war. We really wonder why these camps were maintained until 1920, considering that the war had ended a couple of years earlier. However, taking cover behind treaties and conventions does not excuse the fact that the treatment given to these people was unworthy of a democratic country. The events for which Canada is blamed should be recognized. To forget them is to risk repeating them again.

I remind hon. members that these prisoners were subject to hard labour, rations and curfews. They were not only prisoners of war; they were forced to work. They were interned in labour camps and deprived of their freedom. The Canadian government really took advantage of them. It used these helpless people to build or repair houses, to clear land, build drains, construct roads between properties and public roads, etc. These people were forced to work hard and they were shamelessly used by Canada. It is high time the government acknowledges this blemish on Canada's record.

I want to remind the House that we did not imprison them because they were fighting against our troops, overseas or at home, because there has never been a single battle between these enemies and the state that took them prisoner.

We took them prisoner because they were from the Austro-Hungarian empire and because they had Austrian passports. Can we blame people, who never had the chance to choose their own destiny, for the colour of their passports? We think not, and that is why we feel that Bill C-331 is logical.

Furthermore, we accepted these people who were fleeing hardship and had come here in search of a better life, as immigrants. Ukrainians were an integral part of the immigration plan back then. We opened our doors to them and then we put them in prison. We told them, “come” and then we told them to “work”, at the end of a gun. To us, this is a perfect example of how absurd Canada's immigration policies are.

The Bloc Québécois condemns and regrets the way Canada treated Ukrainians but we are proud to take part in a debate on a bill that seeks to remedy the inexplicable behaviour of a country that, even then, considered itself open and modern.

We join all those who wish to reinstate their personal names, the name of the Canadian government, and who want to say sorry for this unworthy decision adopted by order in council. We ask all the members of this House to support in principle Bill C-331.

It is never too late to learn from our mistakes, to confess and set them right. Parliament has an opportunity today it should not miss. We implore it to do more than the small tourism plaques affixed here and there among the national parks. This is the best thing it has done to date to remedy this enormous error in judgment with regard to an innocent people. It is an insult.

We put our guests in labour camps and we subjected them to hard labour. That is called slavery.

Slavery in the 20th century, in any country, is too serious an issue to pretend it never existed. I defy any member of this House to dare to deny that. Turning a deaf ear for 90 years is already a crime in itself. It is time to tell the whole world that Canada does not agree with decisions it made in the past.

Ukrainians were not an enemy nation: they were invited. We welcomed them as they were, truly welcomed them. We gave them land and the right to work and settle, and then we took those things away. The labour camps were something you might find in a fascist state, not a free and democratic nation. The disgraceful and abominable treatment of a nation of invited immigrants, might, in other times and places, attract much more serious punishment and much greater consequences. We think the Canadian government has a golden opportunity to come out of this with its head held high. We ask the government to support this bill and recognize what it means.

This Parliament could, at least, take responsibility for past actions. The federal parliament must recognize the wrongs that have been done to the Ukrainian community.

Members of this House, fellow MPs, let us not repeat the errors of the past again. When we invite people in with open arms, let us not treat them as second-class citizens. Let us not offer them the privilege of becoming citizens but recognize their full right to citizenship. Let us agree to recognize our affront to the Ukrainians. Let us be the hosts we claim to be. Let us not invite people in with one hand and wave them away with the other. Let us show that we are worthy of a society with 400 years of shared history. Let us offer our wealth to everyone who, because of the twists of fate, have not had the same opportunities we have had here in North America.

Canada must live up to the ideals it proclaims. It must be able to recognize when it has made errors that contradict these ideals. In order for history not to repeat itself, we must seize every opportunity. This is a great one. It is a start. Recognizing the wrongs of the past is a way to make it possible to head into the future in justice and serenity.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the New Democratic Party in support of Bill C-331, the Ukrainian Canadian restitution act, introduced by the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette. I want to commend him for his persistence in getting the bill on to the floor of the House this time around. I also want to commend my colleague from Vaudreuil-Soulanges for her speech this evening.

The bill seeks justice for Ukrainian Canadians and other Europeans from the former Austro-Hungarian empire who were imprisoned in special internment camps in Canada during World War I. It is a group of about 9,000 people. The bill calls on the federal government to acknowledge the injustice that was done and to provide restitution for those imprisoned.

The bill mirrors a motion passed 11 years ago in the House, a motion that was proposed by the member for Kingston and the Islands. It is unfortunate that Bill C-331 is still necessary, given the unanimous consent that the 1991 motion received in the House.

At the outset of World War I the War Measures Act was implemented and almost 9,000 people in Canada were deemed enemy aliens, rounded up and forced into internment camps. More than 5,000 of them were Ukrainians who had immigrated to Canada. Another 88,000 Ukrainians in Canada were required to report regularly to police and security authorities during that period.

Between 1914 and 1920, two years after the end of the first world war, these people were held in 24 internment camps. They were forced to do heavy labour under trying conditions. Their assets were seized and they were subjected to state sanctioned persecution.

Never at any time was any evidence presented to show that Ukrainian Canadians were a threat to Canada. In fact, Britain had even advised Canada in 1914 that Ukrainians should be considered friendly aliens.

The bill does not seek direct compensation for the victims of the internment operation, but rather it recommends educational and commemorative measures. We must preserve the memory of these events. Our collective memory of the experience of Ukrainian Canadians here in Canada will help call us to make sure that we never again repeat that mistake as a nation.

Bill C-331 calls for commemorative plaques to be installed at the 24 camps. These plaques would describe the events that took place in the history of the internment. It also recommends a museum be created in Banff National Park, which was the site of one of the largest internment camps.

The park infrastructure of that beautiful natural site was partially built by forced labour. When observing the natural wonders of Canada, one should be reminded of the contribution made by the interned Ukrainian Canadians.

This museum would provide information on the operation of the camp and would acknowledge the role that Ukrainian Canadians played in the building of Canada, then and now.

Bill C-331 also recommends a restitution payment be made to compensate for the confiscation of property and assets from Ukrainian Canadians. Much was taken from them, but not all the confiscated wealth was returned.

This payment would be used to develop and produce educational materials that fight racial intolerance and discrimination, which would be distributed to schools and universities. The materials should reflect and promote the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, broad on the understanding of other religions and cultures and ultimately protect Canadians from future injustices. Other educational projects could be developed in consultation with the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

In addition, a set of commemorative stamps would be issued. This would serve again to keep the memory alive and to ensure that such unjust treatment never takes place on Canadian soil again.

Finally, the bill calls for a review of the Emergencies Act by the Minister of National Defence who must report back to the House with possible legislative changes that would prevent similar atrocities in the future.

In this post-9/11 world where security concerns are top of mind for many Canadians and for our government, I find this point particularly resonant. We must not implement draconian security measures at the expense of the rights and dignity of people, based on ethnicity, country of origin or religious belief.

I wish I could stand here today and be clear that we had learned from our mistakes. I fear, however, with our security certificate process and the detention of some Canadians and people in Canada, of special rules for evidence and special trials that are now allowed in Canada, that we are travelling down that road once again. I fear that racial profiling of some Canadians is taking us there yet again.

I am concerned that proposals to allow for the revocation of Canadian citizenship will set up a system where there are two classes of Canadian citizenship. I am glad that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has spoken very clearly to that particular issue and the proposals that were made in the past.

These are all issues that demand our attention in light of the experience of Ukrainian Canadians. Should the bill pass, these are all issues that might be addressed in the kind of educational work that would be undertaken.

Canadians rightly take pride in the multicultural nature of our society. At the same time we recognize that we have not always treated all groups equally. We must not forget the Japanese internment during World War II, for which an apology has been made and redress has been negotiated.

We must not forget the experience of Chinese Canadians who were forced to pay a head tax and were subjected to the Asian Exclusion Act. I hope that Parliament will soon address the matter of redress for those who paid the Chinese head tax. Justice must finally be done for Chinese Canadians as well.

We have seen the War Measures Act used against our citizens in other troubling ways in 1970.

I understand that there is only one Ukrainian Canadian who was detained and is still alive today. Mary Manko Haskett was detained at the Spirit Lake internment camp in Quebec. I was moved by a plea written by her in 1994. One of the things she wrote about was how Spirit Lake camp no longer appeared on maps of Canada. She was unable to show her children and grandchildren where it was on a map of Canada.

At the same time Mrs. Haskett was in detention, another Ukrainian Canadian was fighting in Europe as a member of the Canadian armed forces. Philip Konowal was born in Ukraine in 1887 and immigrated to Canada in 1913. In August 1917 he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during battle in France. Mr. Konowal returned to Canada and became an employee of the House of Commons, where he served until his death in 1959. Commemorative plaques honouring Mr. Konowal can be found here in Ottawa, Toronto and New Westminster, B.C. It is indeed ironic that while so many Ukrainian Canadians were being held in internment camps here in Canada, Mr. Konowal was distinguishing himself as an outstanding member of Canada's armed forces in Europe.

We have a choice. We can allow our collective memory to fade about the internment of Canadians, becoming like the map that no longer shows the location of Spirit Lake camp, or we can remember and celebrate the many contributions of Ukrainian Canadians to our country, people like Mr. Konowal.

We must take steps to ensure that this troubling part of our history is remembered, that restitution is made, and that through remembering and rededicating ourselves to ensuring basic human rights for all Canadians, that it is not repeated. That is how I understand the goals of Bill C-331.

I am pleased to reiterate the NDPs support for the bill. We were committed to the bill's previous incarnation in the 37th Parliament. As well, we made our support for redress for Ukrainian Canadians imprisoned during World War I very clear during the recent federal election campaign.

We believe that Parliament and the government should act now to acknowledge and preserve the memory of this and other shameful incidents in our history. Let us ensure that this unfortunate episode is not repeated, that no other ethnic or religious minority ever suffers as Ukrainian Canadians once did. As we do so, let us celebrate the many contributions of Ukrainian Canadians to our country.

In recent weeks members of the House and indeed people all across Canada and around the world have been following events in Ukraine very closely. We have expressed our concerns and our hopes about fair elections and democracy in Ukraine. This legislation gives us the chance to show Canadians and people around the world that we as a nation can face up to the challenges and shortcomings of our own history and that we seek to ensure that justice, equality and freedom are enjoyed by all Canadians.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased and proud to take part in this very important debate on the bill proposed by the hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette.

I want to thank him personally for allowing me to represent the Conservative Party in this debate and also to commend him for the passionate advocacy that he brings to this issue and many others. I see him, as do his constituents, as one of the most diligent and conscientious members of the House.

The bill is really about correcting an historic injustice. Clearly, the issue of restitution and redress is part and parcel of how we do that. We will never be able to dial back the clock and somehow give back the lives, the possessions, the lost time and interests that individuals of Ukrainian descent suffered at the hands of a Canadian government.

I find something quite ironic, as mentioned by other members who have spoken eloquently on this issue, At this very moment in Ukraine we are seeing such strife and turmoil and an historic sea of change taking place in that country. The landmark decision to rerun its election bodes well for the future, and I am very confident.

I take this opportunity to congratulate those men and women from Canada who will participate in that process and add to the success of future democratic institutions in the Ukraine.

At the core of democracy, should sit freedom, and the expression of our will to recognize the wrongs of the past. What matters most in the debate is the fact that we are standing ready to recognize the injustice of what was done to persons of Ukrainian descent and persons of other European descent during the first world war. The bill is a great first step in addressing the considerations of a generation of Ukrainians who were made to sacrifice through no fault of their own. Only by virtue of their homeland, their country of descent, were they stigmatized and removed from Canadian society at that time.

Canadians, with justification, take great pride in their country, as a land of cultural diversity. We measure our success based on the interpretation of our citizens, our allies and the global community as a whole. As a multicultural society where freedom of speech does not hinge on one's ethnicity, we know that we are regarded as one of the best countries in the world in which to live. Yet it is something we should never take for granted.

As we have seen throughout our history, there have been dark days in this country. There has been reference made to the internment of Japanese and Canadian persons of Chinese descent. Within our country's history, we have sadly seen people fleeing their home because of severe oppression that was brought to bear and boat loads of refugees from Germany of Jewish descent who were turned back during the second world war.

This I believe is in that category. This is another dark chapter of Canadian history that sadly is a blank chapter. It is not written.

As my colleague from Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette has indicated, much of what we are doing in this exercise is simply setting the record straight or putting in place at least a recognition of what did happen. We cannot start to heal if we continue to cover this up. This situation, as it occurred, did not happen overnight. It was a long process. It was something that was then put to one side, and for generations there was an attempt made to simply forget it.

However, my colleague's motion is not without precedent. In the past, the government has taken action to right the wrongs of previous injustices. We have seen this with Japanese Canadians and their internment. There is a very real precedent that we can look to, the loss of property that they suffered during the second world war. The Conservative government of the day took the opportunity to do the right thing. I would suggest that this is very much at the root of what the bill is about: simply doing what is right in addressing this.

Unlike previous matters of recognition, the motion does not call for a specific monetary redress to individuals or families who suffered the fate, albeit perhaps justified. Rather the bill calls upon the government to return what was unjustly taken and to make restitution in the form of educational materials, dealing with Canada's past internment policies and activities.

I am told that he removal or the confiscation of personal items was somewhere in the range of millions of dollars. It included farm implements and personal items of great sentimental value that could never be replaced. Those who were interned were forced to work unpaid labour, something again that was highlighted and which was not even inflicted upon prisoners of war.

Within our country, we like to embrace the fact that we are a tolerant society, that we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect the rights of minority groups within our boundaries. Yet at that time those protections clearly did not exist. During the war between the years 1914 and 1920 the Government of Canada unjustly confiscated untold dollars and property from Ukrainians and other Europeans. That money was never returned. The bill would see the government at least return a contemporary value of what would be applied to the various educational projects through this incentive to have a commemorative and educational project recognizing this historic injustice.

I am reminded that the War Times Election Act disenfranchised 140,000 Ukrainians of their vote, another element to this which dehumanized Ukrainians of that era.

My colleague from the NDP referenced the name of Philip Konowal, a Victoria Cross recipient who, as a Canadian of Ukrainian descent, fought in the battlefields of Europe for which he was recognized with the highest military honour. What perverse and sad irony that he would return to his country only to toil for years here in the House of Commons, having served the country in such a substantive way. and only to see his countrymen of Ukrainian descent interned in our country. In many cases they were taken away from their homes to several provinces, thousands of miles away, to be interned.

I believe it is very important to recognize that the bill would benefit the country as a whole. There can be no substitute for education. If we are to avoid the failures of the past and if we are to avoid those same failures in the future, we must take lessons from what occurred, not only recognizing the injustice of those of Ukrainian and European descent, but through the construction of a permanent museum in Banff National Park, a permanent fixture in which future generations could learn from those mistakes. We would be sending a message of tolerance and understanding to those future generations.

From experience that has been passed on to me by my grandfather, who met some of these same Ukrainians when they came through Pier 21 in Halifax to work in the forests of Nova Scotia, many of whom continued across the country and helped to populate the west, Ukrainians were among the most hard-working, dedicated and industrious of Canadians of that generation. Again, simply recognizing what took place is a giant step forward in restoring the dignity of the families of those Ukrainians who were interned.

The bill, specifically clause 2(1)(a), calls upon the government to erect these plaques at concentration camps, which currently do not support those insignias, describing the events which occurred and the regrets of present day Canadians. These plaques would be of course in both official languages as well as Ukrainian. At the gateway to North America, I referenced Pier 21, which would be an appropriate place to commemorate these injustices.

I know the member for Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette also hails from a region that is rich in those cultural differences. Through his hard work and perseverance, he has brought the bill forward a number of times. It has also been noted that the bill appeared as a motion by the current Speaker of the House of Commons in 1991. In Canada's Ukrainians: Negotiating an Identity is a chapter entitled “Peopling the Prairies”. As the member will know, this is exactly what the Ukrainians did. As they immigrated to Canada, they settled in Manitoba, in constituencies like Dauphin, Shoal Lake, Cook's Creek and Whitemouth, to name but a few, and travelled to larger urban centres. The vast majority stayed and worked on the land. Without those settlers, Canada would not be the country it is today.

All members should be quick to embrace the bill that brings about a historic address and redress of this injustice. The Conservative Party as well represents the face of Canada with the diversity of members of Parliament within our caucus. We are very supportive of our colleague's effort.

The bill would go a long way in answering the unjust practice of interning Ukrainians and other Europeans. I am proud to stand in support of my colleague from Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette and his efforts to bring about this historic redress and historic healing that the bill represents. I would ask all members to similarly support this effort.

Ukrainian Canadian Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

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.

Pursuant to order made Thursday, December 2 the House will now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 6.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 6, under Mr. Proulx in the chair)

Credit CardsGovernment Orders

December 7th, 2004 / 6:30 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this committee take note of credit cards.

Credit CardsGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Chair

I would like to begin this evening's debate by making a short statement on how the proceedings will unfold.

Tonight's debate is being held under Standing Order 53.1. It provides for a take note debate to be held following a motion proposed by a minister following consultation with the House leaders of the other parties. The motion providing for tonight's debate was adopted by the House on December 2.

Each member speaking will be allotted 10 minutes for debate, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments. The debate will end after four hours or when no member rises to speak. Pursuant to the special order adopted earlier today, the Chair will receive no dilatory motions, no quorum calls, and no requests for unanimous consent.

Pursuant to the rules used in a committee of the whole, members are permitted to speak more than once, provided that there is sufficient time. At the conclusion of tonight's debate, we will rise and the House will adjourn until tomorrow.

We will now begin tonight's take note debate. The Chair will recognize the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.

Credit CardsGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario

Liberal

John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Chair, the debate is on credit cards and of course that is a bit of a broad topic. Nevertheless, I know that Canadians have an interest in this particular subject from time to time. I hear at a constituency level from those Canadians who are in fact interested.

I want to make a few points about the general environment in which we find ourselves with respect to credit cards. The first and foremost point has to do with the fact that a credit card is a payment tool. It is a form of payment, whether one wants to use a credit card, a cheque or cash.

The benefit of putting it on a credit card as opposed to paying cash or cheque is that one can get up to 51 days of free credit. In other words, the money does not come out of one's account until upwards of 51 days. Most credit cards do not offer that kind of privilege, but nevertheless there are credit cards that in fact do that.

It also gives a form of unsecured credit to those who might not otherwise obtain credit. I will use my son as an example. He is in third year at the University of Toronto. He has no assets, his income is sporadic, and he is in school. He would not be considered by most banks and lending institutions to be credit worthy, yet he has a credit card and he is building up a credit record with the use of his credit card in a judicious and strategic fashion.

It is a form of extension to credit to those who would not otherwise qualify for credit. This is a 24/7 worldwide access. One can pretty well travel almost anywhere in the world and get access with a credit card. That is an enormous benefit for those who are both in the larger urban centres but also in more remote areas as well.

There are apparently something in the order of about 30 million worldwide outlets that use credit. This is quite advantageous for small and medium enterprises because these SMEs use this as a form of controlling their costs and a form of payment security. They much prefer to receive a credit card for the transaction on which they know they may have to discount it maybe four, five or six points. It will actually provide a security of payment versus a cheque which may or may not clear the account. It is a form of cost control. It is also a form of security for small and medium enterprises.

It also gives consumers options. The credit card can be linked to a line of credit, both a secured and an unsecured line of credit, and of course the more security given the bank or lending institution, rates on the card will come down. Some credit cards come are calculated at a point or two points above prime. I was reading some statistics that said one can get an unsecured credit card at 1.9% above prime.

Canadians seem to love their credit cards and they seem to be getting quite enthusiastic and sophisticated about the most advantageous use of credit cards. Statistics show us that 68% of Canadians pay off their credit card balances on a monthly basis. That leaves about 32% of people who carry balances on their cards. That has actually been declining over time. Canadians realized that carrying a balance at an interest rate is not always advantageous to them and either they pay cash and pay off that line of credit or they switch to more advantageous forms of credit in order to be able to pay down the balance on their credit card.

Apparently, there are 50 million credit cards in circulation in this country. The population is only 32 million, so that works out to well over one card per person in the country. That is quite an interesting statistic, but apparently it pales in comparison to the U.S. rate. The Americans have four credit cards for every American citizen.

Interestingly, only about 10% of credit card users max out on their balances and run it right up to the limit. Most pay off on a fairly regular basis. Interestingly as well, the delinquency rate is relatively quite low. It is only 2.4% and members should bear in mind that the 2.4% is among folks who might not otherwise get credit in any other circumstances. That compares to the Americans who have a delinquency rate twice that of Canadians. Canadians tend to be fairly conservative or prudent may be a better word. They certainly have seen the light and are not big C Conservatives. They in fact use the credit cards the way they are intended to be used, as a credit facility, a convenience payment and in fact pay down the balances over time.

Canadian institutions have in fact been leaders in the evolution of low rate credit cards. Canadians enjoy a huge competition among a variety of people who put forward credit cards.

Apparently, there is something in the order of about 600 credit cards that Canadians have to choose from, so that they can make choices among interest rates, the amount of money they have to have, the period of time that there is to pay it off, the benefits that are on the card, the rewards that are tied to a particular affinity program, et cetera. Canadians have enormous choice among the 600 cards to basically fashion a credit card that most suits their lending needs.

We also have a fairly decent level of protection. We have disclosure regulations that are required under the Bank Act when these credit cards are set up. In 2001 we made changes to the Bank Act which created the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, FCAC. That is currently headed by a former NDP member of Parliament, Mr. Bill McKnight from Saskatchewan. He has been the head of that agency and by all reports he is doing quite a good job in terms of communicating to Canadians their rights, protecting them by way of a good regulatory environment, and informing them about things such as the cost of borrowing.

Canadians are urged to go to the website. There is material there to assess the kind of credit card that a person should have. Individuals fill in certain blanks as to the interest rate they are prepared to pay, the credit limit that is required, their income, availability for income, the payment frequency, and things of that nature. It will work out a chart for the cost of your borrowing.

The FCAC also protects consumers on application disclosure requirements and also on the agreement disclosure requirements. The Government of Canada protects vulnerable borrowers with very aggressive prosecution of corporate fraud and market illegality. The government has allocated something in the order of about $30 million annually to pursue those who would otherwise take advantage of vulnerable borrowers.

As well, the government has received the Wise Persons' Committee report, which is suggesting a single securities regulator. That is a good way to go when there too many jurisdictions competing in a regulatory environment. All it does is create an endless stream of paperwork, ratchets up the cost and for no discernible purpose.

We take the view that being involved in the marketplace and capping rates, and things such as that, as has been suggested by others is not the brightest idea that will ever see the light of day. In fact, the market provides a whole range of low cost credit cards that are currently available to Canadians and a very strong regulatory environment.

We also take the view that it would have the unintended consequences, if the government decided to cap rates, of cutting people out of entitlement to credit who might otherwise not be entitled to credit. The FCAC actually helps people shop for a card. It breaks out people's budgets and give them their limits. Then people can pick a credit card that most suits their particular environment.

Credit CardsGovernment Orders

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Chair, I have listened with interest to my colleague's speech. The figures I have on credit card use are slightly different. According to them, in 2003, approximately 65% of Visa and MasterCard holders paid their account in full every month. This means that the other 35%, or about one person in three, was paying 18% interest most of the time.

He explained that when people can afford it, they pay off their card monthly. That may be true, but I remember when I was 20 or 25. We did not necessary have the same means then, particularly in the period leading up to Christmas with the pressure to buy consumer goods.

I would like to know whether my colleague would consider it appropriate to follow up on a bill introduced by a senator aimed at lowering the maximum percentage that can be charged. At the moment money-lenders can charge up to 60%, Ought that not to be brought down to around 35%?

That would have an effect not only on the maximum that could be charged. Might it not also be an incentive to have lower rates in general? We cannot say that the Canadian financial system is in dire straits at this time. The surpluses reported by the banks are sizeable, we must admit, in the context of a healthy economy.

Are there not a couple of messages that ought to be being sent out by the federal government? For example, the maximum allowable rate could be dropped. It would become illegal to charge over 35%, for instance. Other means could also be developed for informing people who are in dire financial straits. It must be acknowledged that the people most likely to misuse credit cards are often the ones most in need of short-term credit.

Would my colleague be prepared to take steps to get his government to look at such measures?

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6:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Chair, the member properly points out that there is a usury rate set out in the Criminal Code. If any institution or any entity charges a usurious rate they of course will be subject to prosecution under the Criminal Code.

The problem with the suggestion put forward by the hon. member, which is essentially a regulatory interference by the Government of Canada into what is essentially a market economy, is that it would create a variety of unintended consequences. The very people he wishes to help, for example, those who are the most vulnerable, those who are the least creditworthy, those who cannot possibly get credit under any other circumstances, those who have no assets, those who have sporadic income, those who, so to speak, meet the profile of my son, would simply be cut off credit. They would be forced back into either a cash economy or a cheque economy, because the institutions would not therefore be able to shape their credit card according to the risk profile of the individual.

In my view, rather than helping people who are in difficult economic circumstances, he would in fact be creating greater difficulties for those in difficult economic circumstances.

As I said earlier in my speech, we must bear in mind the fact that most Canadians are very sophisticated about their use of credit. A very small percentage, something in the order of 2.1%, actually end up in delinquency difficulties. I would suggest that there is a bit of the tail wagging the dog. I do not think we need to modify our current aggressive regulatory regime in order to be able to address something that affects a very limited scope of people.

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6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Chair, I want to make a brief comment and then perhaps the hon. parliamentary secretary could respond. I listened very carefully to the member's speech and was quite interested in it.

There was one small discrepancy that I would like to give him the chance to correct. He mentioned a former distinguished member of the House, Mr. Bill McKnight, the former member for Kindersley. He was quite right; Mr. McKnight was distinguished. He was a former minister of national defence. However, my colleague should be aware that the member came from Saskatchewan and in Saskatchewan there is no greater offence than to call a Conservative a New Democrat. I am pretty certain my colleague misspoke. To be referred to as a socialist for people from my province who believe in free enterprise and hard work is something which I am sure we would not want to be left on the record. I will give the hon. parliamentary secretary a chance to revise his remarks.

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6:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Chair, I can appreciate that being called a socialist if one is of a conservative persuasion is something of an insult beyond all insults, but nevertheless I thought I was referring to Mr. William George Knight, who is presently the head of the FCAC. His profession is that of teacher. His political party is that of the New Democratic Party. He was elected in 1971. He was re-elected in 1972 and defeated in 1974 and 1979. I thought I got it right.

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6:45 p.m.

An hon. member

You said McKnight accidentally.

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6:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

I apologize. Thank you.

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6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was quite surprised to hear my colleague say that if the criminal interest rate were lowered from 60% to 35% it would hurt people who need credit. This same argument was used 100 years ago; if people needed money they could borrow it at a rate that the lender was prepared to charge. It is justification for a usurious rate. The attitude is that the market must completely regulate and standardize the situation.

Does the government not have a responsibility to ensure that at the end of the day people are treated fairly? In many cases laws are there to protect people from themselves and from their own positions.

According to the Canadian Bankers Association, in 2003 there were 22.2 million accounts with unpaid balances and 50 million Mastercard and Visa cards in circulation. These unpaid balances totalled $49 billion.

I would like the hon. member to reconsider his position a little and tell me whether he would not find it more pertinent—it is not a question of creating a situation whereby people would no longer have access to credit—for people to have access to reasonable rates.

Bringing the current maximum rate of 60% down to 35% is not really a measure that would stop people from getting credit. Furthermore, someone who is willing to pay 60% to borrow money has more serious problems that should have been resolved ahead of time. The solutions on this side are much more directed toward having the means to fund agencies to help people in difficult situations like that and to allow the market to simply move forward.

If the entire population heard this type of remark this evening, it would say this is not what a society would want at the beginning of the 21st century.