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House of Commons Hansard #9 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was going.

Topics

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I do not think the agreements that are made between House leaders are ones that are binding on the House. The motion was moved and the question was put. The yeas and nays were called. I have expressed my view. Five members rose, so I do not think we have any choice. I order the bells to be rung to call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

February 12th, 2004 / 4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to respond to the Speech from the Throne.

Among the kinder words that I could use to describe the speech to open the third session of the 37th Parliament of Canada are uninspiring, directionless, and indistinguishable from the Liberal throne speeches of the last 10 years.

The Prime Minister's throne speech was nothing but a list of recycled promises and empty rhetoric. It was full of cliches and a few vague promises regarding the environment, cultural programs and post-secondary education. Its most striking quality is the fact that it simply ignored many key issues.

In fact, the speech contained almost no references to the most crucial issues for most ordinary Canadian families: tax fairness, health care and safer communities. There was zero mention of the failed billion dollar gun registry boondoggle, only a vague reference to protecting children, and no strategy to reform our failing criminal justice system.

As justice critic for the official opposition, I hoped to hear at least a few words on these matters, but the Prime Minister avoided any mention of them.

The throne speech indicated the government would reinstate the child protection legislation from last year. This legislation, Bill C-20 now reintroduced, came before the House of Commons after years of calls for stronger legislation to protect our children from sexual predators. It is an entirely inadequate response to a growing problem.

When Bill C-20 was in committee, key witnesses advised members that there was little or no improvement to the current law. It did not raise the age of sexual consent for adult-child sexual contact. It did not eliminate the controversial defence of artistic merit.

What we heard was that children would not be protected any better under this bill than they were before. In fact, lawyers spoke in front of the committee. A lawyer of eminence, David Matas, said in fact that the defence of artistic merit opens up further loopholes in the law.

Child advocates criticized the bill. They included representatives from: Project Guardian, the Office for Victims of Crime, Beyond Borders, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canada Family Action Coalition and the Toronto Police Service. These advocates were asking that the age of consent be raised from 14 years of age, one of the lowest ages of consent in the western world.

They said that the bill's vague promises to protect children from so-called exploitive relationships would be too difficult to prosecute. They were asking that all defences for the criminal possession of child pornography be eliminated to fully protect children. However, the bill does not do that.

Despite the mounds of evidence to indicate the Liberal proposal would not be effective, there have been no signs from the government that the necessary steps would be taken. Police continue to be handcuffed by archaic legal procedures and a lack of financial resources and manpower.

This is not the only front on which the Liberal government has failed Canada's justice system. Since 1996, child predators, killers, rapists and impaired drivers who kill have had the opportunity to serve their sentences in a fictional prison. In fact, they serve it at home.

House arrest or conditional sentences were introduced into the Criminal Code in 1996 by the Liberal government, not for the purposes of rehabilitation or the safety of Canadians, but simply to lower the incarceration rates in Canada. Since that time, thousands of conditional sentences have been imposed for violent crimes, despite the promise that this is not what the law was intended for.

There was a recent house arrest in Winnipeg. A man by the name of Erron Hogg was sentenced to a two year period of house arrest. It is an appalling sentence to most Canadians and demonstrates a pressing need for law reform. Twenty-three year old Hogg beat a 25-year old university student, Michael Marasco, so violently with an object that he suffered brain damage and spent two months in hospital in August 2001. That individual's dreams of attending law school have been shattered.

There was no relationship between the accused and the victim. It was a cold blooded beating of an innocent Canadian citizen. What do we have? Justice John Scurfield said:

The level of violence was horrific...The results were tragic...This is clearly a case where a period of imprisonment is warranted.

He noted that there was an element of premeditation in this offence. Even Hogg's lawyer agreed that in the usual circumstances a prison term would be imposed.

However, defying logic and common sense, Justice Scurfield gave this individual a two year house arrest. He serves time at home.

The law setting out principles for judges to apply is vague and unclear. Essentially, judges have made their own law. In doing so, they have sent the wrong message to the community, namely that what Hogg and other offenders of his type did was not all that bad and that the consideration of victims comes second to the consideration of what should happen to an offender in these circumstances.

A Conservative government would ensure that conditional sentences are not applicable to serious violent offences, serious sexual offences and offences involving weapons. The laws in sentencing must be changed to ensure that conditional sentences are never available for these crimes.

Despite promises of democratic reform and listening to more ordinary Canadians, the Liberals remain committed to forcing their own MPs to support the greatest debacle of the Liberal regime in terms of the sheer volume of money spent, and that is the problem plagued gun registry. The Prime Minister has supported the registry from the very beginning. He wrote the cheques as the costs were escalating, as ministers stood up and said this was only going to cost $2 million.

In the background the present Prime Minister, the then finance minister, was busy writing the cheques. He knew the cheques were adding up beyond the $2 million. He said nothing. He remained silent and his Liberal friends stood up and said that everything was under control, that it would only cost $2 million. Well today that cost is $1 billion. That is where the auditor essentially ran out of the paper trail. We are spending approximately $200 million a year to implement the registry.

The Prime Minister voted to pour even more money into this black hole, even after the failures became evident to the public through the efforts of the Auditor General. And he has put the former justice minister, now the Deputy Prime Minister, back in charge of the registry, the person who poured the most amount of money into this and indeed told Canadians that this was only going to cost $2 million. She is back in charge with the Prime Minister's blessing.

I would also like to comment on the manner in which the marriage debate is being handled by the government. The recent announcement by the Liberal government to expand, and more important to postpone, the reference on same sex marriage is just another cynical, public, political tactic.

The Liberals' unprincipled approach to the issue of same sex marriage has permeated this debate. Delaying the case until after an election represents blatant manipulation of this issue regardless of whether one is in favour of same sex marriage or not. By bowing down to the courts instead of bringing this issue before Parliament, allowing Parliament to debate legislation that the Prime Minister has brought forward so that we can vote on it as elected representatives of the people, means that the government has clearly disregarded its duty to address the democratic deficit. In fact, it has shown total disregard for the democratic process.

The issue of the definition of marriage should be brought before Parliament and determined by Parliament in a bill before the next election to ensure that Canadians are heard on this important social policy issue.

I would like to comment as well on some of the issues that my constituents are very concerned about, which the Prime Minister and his government have failed to address.

Agriculture was mentioned only in passing during the throne speech. At a time when our farmers are in greatest need of assistance, the Liberal government refuses to commit any level of funding to ensure that the agricultural industry remains viable in Canada. This is not surprising considering that as finance minister, the Prime Minister slashed agricultural funding by half over the last decade. Under this Liberal government agricultural spending has decreased from 2.8% of the total budget in 1993 to 1.4% of the total spending in the last number of years.

At a time when our farm economy needs an immediate cash injection of anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion so that farm families can survive, he provides nothing, not even the false comfort of another Liberal promise. He is simply continuing his shameful practice of shuffling farmers to the bottom of the pile. He does not even need to make promises. He is simply ignoring our farmers.

His broken promise on a dedicated fuel tax for infrastructure funding for municipalities will hurt many communities in my riding of Provencher and right across this country. When the Prime Minister was campaigning for leadership, among the $34 billion of promises that he made he promised to share gas tax money with the municipalities. Since he assumed the mantle of leadership, he has not even raised the issue in a substantive way.

In Winnipeg he said that half of that fuel tax should go to municipalities. Now he says, “Let us negotiate”. He was willing to give half of it. If he wants to negotiate the other half with the municipalities and the provinces to which those municipalities belong in a constitutional sense, he should now give that half and then deal with the other half later. He simply has no concrete plans to transfer gas taxes to the provinces and municipalities.

The GST rebate for municipalities is simply a drop in the bucket in terms of what is needed to sustain infrastructure. He takes in $7 billion in gas tax revenues every year and this year he plans to give back $580 million. That is like taking a dollar from a person's pocket and giving back eight cents. That is what it is all about.

The rebate to municipalities means that one of the largest municipalities in my riding, the city of Steinbach, may receive, depending on what it spends because this is a rebate, about $100,000 in the next year. If the past funding practices of the government are any guide, that $100,000 will be subtracted from the overall infrastructure programs in Manitoba, so that in the end, we will not even be getting the eight cents as new money, we will be getting absolutely nothing.

He takes a dollar away, gives back eight cents and then reduces the infrastructure programs accordingly. That is the name of the game. That is how municipalities in the province of Manitoba are being deprived of the ability to create the infrastructure that creates the wealth in this country. In the end, even the eight cent rebate, as I have stated, is lost.

Last, I would like to comment on recent developments of which we are all aware. The Prime Minister's throne speech statement said that he is marking “the start of a new government, a new agenda, a new way of thinking”. This again is a cynical attempt to rewrite history.

It reminds me of the technique used in the Soviet Union when history was regularly rewritten and former prominent government officials disappeared from the books and disappeared even from the photographs. It would be like a picture of all the distinguished speakers and deputy speakers and suddenly your picture, Mr. Speaker, would simply disappear. We would all walk around saying that you were never there. That is what is happening. As our Prime Minister is attempting to rewrite history, he is dissociating himself from the government of which he was a key individual over the last 10 years.

All of the lofty promises in the Prime Minister's throne speech ring hollow when measured against the weight of the corruption that has characterized the sponsorship scandal that has digested his old friend, former ambassador and former cabinet colleague, Alfonso Gagliano, and which is now consuming his government. “Alfonso Gagliano?” the Prime Minister says, “I do not know the man. I was not even giving advice in Quebec when I was the finance minister, when I was an MP from Quebec. When I was in the cabinet, nobody asked me about Quebec. It was all this conspiracy of the 14 individuals”.

It sounds a lot like the conspiracy of the 12 monkeys. One could never really find those 12 monkeys. Now we have a greater conspiracy. We have the 14 conspirators and they are the ones we should blame now. They are the ones we have to ferret out.

The Prime Minister claims that he knew nothing about the improper allocation of funds for the program. This stretches his credibility beyond what is palatable given that the Prime Minister himself has bragged about the amount of input he had into cabinet decisions over the past 10 years, given the fact that he was the vice-chair of the Treasury Board that reviewed the sponsorship program and given that he was the most powerful minister in a government and represented a riding in the province where the scandal arose.

I want to make one thing clear. This is not an issue about the people of Quebec. This is an issue about the corruption in the Liberal Party in Quebec. This has nothing to do with the people of Quebec. His government should be ashamed that his party has dragged that province into this scandal. He should be standing up and apologizing not only to the people of Canada but to the people of Quebec specifically.

In view of these facts, that he was the most powerful minister, that he bragged about his decisions and his influence, how can he say that he knew nothing? He says he knew nothing despite the fact that other caucus colleagues have publicly stated as late as yesterday that they raised concerns inside the Liberal caucus about the program as far back as 1999. The former heritage minister said he must have known, the inference being that everyone else did. Why did the then finance minister who is now the Prime Minister not know?

The truth is that the Prime Minister turned a blind eye while his Liberal friends stole tax dollars. Then Parliament was misled. How much was stolen we will never know. We know that $250 million was wasted in this program. How much was stolen? Let us assume it is the moderate amount, relatively speaking, of a quarter of a billion dollars, maybe $100 million, certainly much more than the couple of million dollars that the former prime minister thought might have been stolen and which was no big deal to him.

What does $100 million mean? That could have paid for eight years of salary for 222 police officers. It could have paid for the annual salaries of 2,500 nurses. It could have paid for almost 100 MRI machines to be installed across Canada.

The Prime Minister's platitudes on fixing the democratic deficit cannot be taken seriously by even the most detached observer. It is a sad time for Canadian democracy. Nothing the Prime Minister could say could change the course of a government that has developed and nurtured a culture of corruption for over a decade.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the very comprehensive reply to the Speech from the Throne by my hon. colleague from Provencher. He raised a number of excellent points in his speech.

Dealing with the last point that he raised, I have been maintaining over the last couple of days that as more and more facts about the sponsorship scandal leak out, it is becoming increasingly clear to Canadians that where the Prime Minister is concerned, there is only one of two possibilities. Either he was completely and utterly incompetent in his job as finance minister in not knowing what was going on in his own government and in his own home province, or he had to be complicit, he had to have weighed his options and then elected to remain silent. It could only be one of those two things. Regardless of whether it is the fact that he was completely incompetent or that he was complicit, why would Canadians trust him to run the affairs of the country?

The other issue I want to raise is an exceedingly important issue that my colleague, the justice critic for the Conservative Party, raised during his remarks. It is the issue of the gun registry. He knows as I do that like his riding of Provencher, my riding of Prince George—Peace River has been vehemently, utterly and absolutely opposed to the criminal misuse of over $1 billion since the gun registry's inception.

I wonder if he could comment and draw a comparison between a government that is trying to portray itself as a new government entering a new era, yet it has failed to bring forward a workable sexual predator registry at the same time as maintaining a huge drain on the public purse with the gun registry.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River for that question. I had the opportunity to be in his riding a while ago and saw the hardworking cattle farmers, farmers and small townspeople who pay their taxes regularly. Sometimes they do not like it but they pay those taxes because it is our duty as Canadian citizens. We as parliamentarians in the government have an issue of trust that has now been breached. It is not just that government but it is in fact the people there.

Why trust the government? My learned friend says that it is either incompetent or it is complicit. If it is complicit it suggests that the Prime Minister has been involved in theft, and I cannot make that kind of suggestion in the House and I will not. Therefore I am left to say that it is utter incompetence and there is no reason to trust the Prime Minister and his gang of cabinet members.

The Liberals talk about the failure of the gun registry and say that it is something new. No, it is not. Small arms have been registered in Canada since 1934. This was not a new concept. It was a stupid concept but not a new one. They could have expanded the old one, as stupid an idea as that would have been, but this is not a new one. Again, this demonstrates incompetence.

Yet, in trying to apply the same principle, not to honest farmers, hunters and people who use a .22 rifle as a tool on the farm, they had no problem applying that to the innocent, but when it came to the criminally judged guilty sex offender, there was suddenly a constitutional problem. I remember the minister saying that we could not register convicted sexual offenders because there were issues of double jeopardy and issues of presumption of innocence--

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:20 p.m.

An hon. member

Privacy concerns

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

--privacy concerns, and they were all nonsense because the same government disregarded all those concerns in respect of the innocent and yet applied them to those who had already been found guilty. It is unheard of and simply not acceptable.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, implicit in what is in a background or the subtext of the whole Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister is saying “vote for me because I have past experience, but then, by the way, don't associate me with my past 10 years when I was Mr. Chrétien's most influential cabinet minister”. He cannot have it both ways, but that is the subtext of so many of the points that are made in the throne speech. I would like the member to comment on that.

I would also like him to perhaps allude to a number of the things that we positively oppose. We can point out the inadequacies of the throne speech and its generalization of where it is going to go but we do not oppose for opposing's sake. We have a positive agenda, a very positive alternative, a belief in Canadians that we can do better than what I call these lousy Liberals, to have an alliteration there.

I would like the member's comments on two points: the double-mindedness of the Prime Minister's intent about saying “vote for me but then I have to divide myself from myself”; and then the positive things that we propose as a constructive alternative.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from New Westminster for bringing that question here to the House and to my attention.

Yes, it has puzzled me how the now Prime Minister was able to take credit for what he saw as the best aspects of the Chrétien government and yet has refused to associate himself with those issues in which he was most closely involved as a Quebec minister, as a vice-president of the Treasury Board and as the finance minister.

We look at the HRDC boondoggle; billions of dollars. He was the eye of the needle, as the new finance minister says, through which all spending went. We did not just have the camel going through this eye of the needle. We had the whole caravan going through, and the finance minister, who is now the Prime Minister, saw nothing. How does one fit billions of dollars through that eye of the needle and never figure out that money is disappearing at an alarming rate?

It is the same with the gun registry. Here he is, the eye of the needle, and it is just pouring through there.

What he has demonstrated consistently is that for those programs, for which his government has been most proud, he was in charge of the money and the money disappeared. He was able to do that when he avoided the House for the last year, when he was off on his Liberal leadership campaign.

Now we see the results of trying to live on both sides of that coin. Every day there is another news conference trying to explain why things are not quite the way he explained them the day before.

I want to point out that as a new Conservative Party we have not simply come out of thin air. We draw on a rich history of democratic reform that comes from the old Reform Party and the Alliance Party. We come from a rich tradition of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. We looked at the policies and brought those policies together in one party. We have now put together a fairly extensive policy book that will be worked on as the leadership campaign goes forward and we will present to the people of Canada the real alternative to the corrupt, tired Liberal regime.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, over the last number of years the agriculture industry in the west has been in a crisis situation. This has been aggravated greatly by the BSE problem. I am not comforted by what I see in the throne speech as it relates to agriculture, and representing the west, I was wondering how the member feels about it.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member from Newfoundland. We have a member from New Westminster and Newfoundland, and we have every one of these members in a new Conservative Party, from east to west.

As I indicated earlier in my response, the Prime Minister said nothing about agriculture. He did not even have to make any promises in terms of agriculture. His actions have already spoken louder than any words or promises could ever have spoken. He has slashed agricultural funding as a total percentage of the budget from 2.8% in 1993 to 1.4% today.

Many farmers are telling me that the programs the Liberal government brought forward to help farmers have not made their way to the farm gate. The Conservative Party has told the Liberals over and over again that the programs were not getting there. Now the farmers in my riding are coming to me and saying that within a couple of months that will be the end.

Where are the promises? Where is the commitment from the government to treat farmers across the country equitably?

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, my first observation on the Speech from the Throne, which is what we are debating today, is that it contains a lot of words. It reminds me of the opening line in Joseph Conrad's novel Under Western Eyes , when he says “Words...are the...foes of reality”.

Those are sobering words for us here in the Chamber because a lot of words come out of this Chamber. In fact, if the words are not backed with appropriate action, then the words that are uttered here actually become the foe of reality.

I listened carefully to the Speech from the Throne and I read the document. As I was listening in the august corridors outside the Senate chamber, it first struck me that whoever wrote it, although we understand that it has to be ascribed to and responsibility goes to the Prime Minister and the government, but those who joined together to write it had, what appeared to me, an utter disregard for the constitutional jurisdictions upon which this country should run.

Mr. Speaker, you have heard a lot of responses to Speeches from the Throne and responses to things that the government has done. When the Speech from the Throne was read, I listened carefully, took some notes and read the document, and only then did I respond to various media outlets that wanted a response, as they do from all members of the opposition.

I went out on a limb. I knew what it was like, having been in government at the provincial level, to produce a document, maybe a speech from the throne or maybe a budget, and then having to listen to opposition members dismiss the entire work as having nothing of value or believing the whole thing was a farce.

I thought to myself at those times that if I ever became a member of an opposition party, and I guess one must be careful what they wish for, although I certainly did not wish for it, that I would try to find something positive to say about what the government does with a particular piece of legislation, a document, a speech from the throne or a budget.

I therefore did look through this Speech from the Throne and found some things in it that I felt I could fairly comment on to the media, some positive things that were said, some positive direction. At some risk to my colleagues here who might get upset with me, I will admit that I publicly declared that I had found some positive things in the Speech from the Throne. My remarks were published in some national and local media. However when we say those things we become accountable and our constituents look to us to take some kind of responsibility for the things we have said.

However, one of the first items out of the four or five items that I found in the Speech from the Throne that I thought was positive was totally contradicted within 24 hours by the Prime Minister. I had gone to bat for him. I had named an item in the throne speech that was a good thing and said that we should give credit to the Prime Minister for it. I stuck my chin out for him. I have not received a thank you card yet, but I did stick my chin out for him. Within 24 hours and certainly in the days following, one after another, those positive elements that I saw in the Speech from the Throne began to come crashing down around us.

The first reflection I would like to make is related to the utter disregard or misunderstanding of why we have a Constitution and why we have this separation of powers and duties in the Constitution. This is very important. Constitutional jurisdictions are boring for people to listen to but they have a huge impact on our lives.

I would encourage the seven or eight people across the country who usually tune in to what is going on in the Chamber at this time in the afternoon not to leave us now just because we are talking about constitutional jurisdiction. It is very important.

In the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister invaded countless areas of provincial jurisdiction. That means there will be federal government programming going into provincial areas of jurisdiction. If the government has the money to do things in provincial areas of jurisdiction, there is a constitutional process that it could follow.

It is in the Constitution that the government can, through a series of transfers, transfer money to the provinces, as the federal government should, and as it should do more often than it does. It should transfer the funds, but transfer them without the programs, without the incumbent bureaucracy, without the redundancy, and without the lack of efficiency that would erode the programs. And, ironically, without robbing the people in the provinces who desperately need those funds because they have been deflected through a series of federal programs. Instead of the money just going straight to the provinces, to those areas of need, the government is cutting through the constitutional transfer process.

My friends from Quebec, the citizens of la belle province, have known for a long time why the government is bent on interfering in provincial jurisdictions. My constituents do not always understand why Quebeckers are sometimes not pleased with the federal government. It is because, most of the time, the government does not understand the Constitution and does not respect provincial jurisdictions.

It creates the problem through its lack of understanding and through its wilful intervention into provincial areas.

There was a court ruling in Quebec only a few days ago which ruled as unconstitutional the provision of a federal program into Quebec in a provincial area of jurisdiction. I happen to believe that the court was right. The government is creating huge problems and creating a giant waste, and a depletion of resources badly needed by people in the provinces.

There is another area of concern when the government invades provincial areas of jurisdiction. When our framework of democracy was set up, a framework was developed. There was an understanding coming from some of the initial thinkers in this area in the 1500s and 1600s in Great Britain, and later on in France and in the colonies which later became the United States. In all of these jurisdictions there was a distinct and a proper distrust for individuals as they became imbued with power. They knew, and we should know, if we give somebody power we must put in place a balance to that power or the power will first invade their hearts and then start to effect their heads.

That is why there are distinct separations of power in what we call the British parliamentary model under which we operate. There is a legislative area of jurisdiction. It is the House or the legislatures in the provinces. There is an executive. There has to be a government, a cabinet that makes the decisions. There has to be a judiciary which is also separate. It is designed purposely to balance off these areas of power which, if unbalanced, can go to a person's head and democracy could turn authoritarian. The Prime Minister has neglected, ignored or not understood the importance of these separations of power.

I was looking forward to one of the areas the Prime Minister was suggesting to put in check and that is the area of the courts, especially the Supreme Court. The courts wade into areas in which they should not. He understood that. Part of this division of powers is that elected people must be accountable for the decisions they make.

The public needs the opportunity to look at the laws we make and if it does not like the laws then it can throw us out and bring in people who will either make good laws or repeal bad ones. However, the Supreme Court, which should be independent and which should not be interfered with politically, has an increasing tendency--and this is not just a Canadian phenomenon, we know it is international--to wade into areas in which members of Parliament or members of legislatures should be the ones accountable.

It would do us well to go back to the words of Montesquieu who said “Again, there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers”.

The courts should judge on the law and the intent with which it was written. Members of Parliament should be responsible for the laws. When we start to allow that transfer of power, it is just as dangerous as allowing a legislature or the House of Commons to be sitting in a court of judgment and telling people they are guilty or not and sending them off to jail. We would not want that to happen. We could think of some people spoken about today who maybe should be headed to that place, but that is a dangerous power to give to elected people. I am not talking about the legislature invading the area of the judiciary; however, the judiciary has gone too far in too many cases.

A few years ago, an honourable and esteemed judge made this comment to his colleagues on the various benches across the country. He said that if judges want to make laws they should step down from their bench and run for office. He said judges were privateering on the sea lanes of democracy.

We would do well to listen to the words of the English Parliament of 1641 regarding the King's Court of Star Chamber, as it was called. That is where the term comes from. It is an ominous term today. Any star chamber reference has sent shivers up our collective spines, and so it should. It actually came in 1641. The Parliament of the day was fed up with the King's Court of Star Chamber continually invading legislative areas. It passed a statute and closed it down.

The statutes stated:

—but the said Judges have not kept themselves to the points limited by the said statute, but have undertaken to punish where no law doth warrant, and to make decrees for things having no such authority--

They finally had to take things into their own hands.

We have that ability in our Constitution. We have the ability to respectfully say to the court, without drawing our swords, “Notwithstanding what has been said, honourable judges, we are not going to do that.” That covers a variety of areas, not all areas, but it covers a variety of areas.

We have the ability to have a respectful dialogue, and that is what the chief justice has called it. The notwithstanding clause is a dialogue. It has somehow taken on this air of being thermonuclear, “Oh, do not touch the notwithstanding clause. My goodness, it would be devastating to anything that we value as good or right.” No, it was put there very clearly and very specifically.

It is something that could be used if people had the desire to do it, for instance, on the question of marriage. The question of marriage should not be defined or redefined by three judges in a provincial Ontario court, as happened last year. If it is to be changed, it should be done here in this chamber. Members of Parliament, accountable to the people, should change a definition which happens to predate government, churches and synagogues. It was wrong for the courts to stray into that area.

In the Speech from the Throne the Prime Minister said he was going to put some kind of check in place by taking our idea, from this side of the House, of vetting people who want to go to the bench. We would vet them in some kind of public way, not a shredding process as we see in the United States, but through a process where we would have an indication if a hopeful judge would be an activist or was going to take a proper view of ruling based on how the laws were written.

Within days or even hours after the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister was already backing away from that commitment. It became more difficult to support the things that the Prime Minister had been saying. He will get away from the question of marriage by avoiding it during an election by coming up with what he thinks might be all right. Before we even get to debate it here, he tosses it to the Supreme Court. It is turning the democratic process on its head.

MPs should stand and speak up for whatever their view of marriage or whatever the issue is. They should be accountable to their electorate. If people want to take a law to the Supreme Court because they think it has violated the Constitution, then so be it.

This will continue and exacerbate a process. What will happen? Will it be that for everything we want to do here? Will we have to write a reference and fire it off to a group of non-elected people first? I do not think that is appropriate. The Prime Minister backed away. I was congratulating him and he backed away, and he did it quickly.

The Prime Minister said he would allow MPs to vote freely in the House of Commons. I spoke with a number of media representatives after he said that in the Speech from the Throne. I was quoted publicly as saying that it was a good thing and I supported the Prime Minister for that. Allowing MPs to vote freely is basic and academic, but it has rarely happened in the House.

The next day, within 24 hours of the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister backed away. He said his MPs would not be allowed to vote freely on this disastrous issue of the billion dollar failure of the gun registry. Whatever people feel about the gun registry, there was a commitment that we would be able to debate it freely in the House of Commons. We, as the official opposition, clearly said that we would not view this as a confidence motion. We were very clear about that.

However, he used that excuse. He browbeat his MPs. The brand new Prime Minister, looking to set a fresh record on the democratic deficit, browbeat his own MPs into saying that they would lose the government if this went down.

No, they would not. We would not make it a confidence vote. All they would lose is a sinkhole of another billion dollars which is a disaster for this country. He backed away from that one.

The Prime Minister had an opportunity, when he talked about democratic deficit, to look at the Senate. He does not have to go to the Constitution. He continues to use that as an excuse. We have one province where 500,000 people--10 times almost more than ever voted for the Prime Minister--elected a person to be in the Senate and the Prime Minister says no. When an opening comes up for Alberta in the Senate, he will not put an elected person there. This would not require any constitutional change. All he would have to do is respect democracy. He says that he will not respect democracy.

My colleague who spoke before me already referred to the promise. We had a vote in the House to let a bigger portion of the GST and the federal taxes that we pump into our tanks and vehicles every day come home to the taxpayers that sent it there.

He made a commitment to do that. Now we find out how hollow it is. At one point, as my colleague pointed out, half of that money used to come back to the needs of municipalities and perhaps now 8¢ on every dollar and along with it a whole mess of federal programming. There will be federal brass plaques to present. There will be big documents and other layers of bureaucracy set up. The money that is so badly needed for infrastructure by our growing municipalities will not come. I had to retract another area where I said that is a good thing and I gave him credit for doing it.

When a government focuses on areas which it should not even be focusing on, which are none of its business, it loses its ability to focus on the main areas, such as national defence. People ask why does the government not get involved in national defence and properly fund our armed forces. Because it is focused on too many other things, too much minutia that does not even belong to it in the Constitution.

Why has the government not negotiated with any kind of strength on the softwood lumber deal? International treaties are the purview of the federal government, but it is so scattered on running around trying to invade other areas to buy quick votes with its plaques and its pictures in areas of provincial jurisdiction that it neglects and does not have the dynamic force, the intellectual force or the moral force to really involve itself in the area where it should be, such as international treaties. The softwood lumber file has been a disaster. Communities in my constituency, Merritt, Keremeos and in Princeton still have not received the community funding that was promised by the federal government to help them absorb the impact of its own failed negotiations.

Area after area that the federal government should be involved in it abandons. The areas that it should not be involved in it gets into and we continue to lose out.

Our foreign affairs policy continues to be deficient. This country does not have a foreign affairs policy which simply states that our government will support democracies and stand against and resist dictatorships. We see that acted out all the time. Our government, whether it is giving strong statements in support of Taiwan, when 400 missiles in mainland communist China are lined up on the border aimed at Taiwan right now and why? Because it wants to have a referendum and our government will not speak about that.

When the foreign affairs minister from Taiwan wants to visit here, we will not even let him in the country, but when the mainland Chinese communist minister of defence wants to come to the country the government lets him in, and we should let him. We should have dialogue. When the foreign affairs minister of the democratic jurisdiction of Taiwan wants to come here, we send him home. It is all upside down because the government is not focused on the things it should be focused on.

The government is too involved in the minutia. With the money that it says it has that is surplus for all these federal programs and the intrusions into provincial affairs, we could use that transfer of money into our area.

In Westbank in my constituency a bridge needs to be built. There is a commitment to do that but we need sufficient federal funds. We still have not seen the funds come home. He starts the Speech from the Throne with this, but we have not seen the funds to repair the devastation of the forest fires that happened. I have a sneaking suspicion that just before the election we are going to see the big Liberal trucks rolling into town with dollar bills, plaques and pictures of federal ministers. Our people need the funds now.

Health care institutions and post-secondary institutions, yes, they all need money. Transfer the funds but get the federal programming out of it. Get rid of the redundancy. Get rid of that.

As I close my remarks I want to comment on the billion dollar sponsorship scandal. For a number of years I sat around tables with finance ministers and with the Prime Minister when he was a finance minister. He knew in great detail the money he was taking out of provincial programs, but the money that he shovelled into this federal program he says of which he knows not.

I cannot support the initiatives in the Speech from the Throne as I did at the outset, gamely, bravely and giving the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. He has now proven me and all Canadians wrong by backing away from almost every commitment he has made in the Speech from the Throne. We need a government that will not back away from its commitments.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, just very briefly, let me say that I appreciate the member's statements regarding the power of judges and the power of the legislative arm of government: that they need to be separate and apart.

I also noted the comments about the charter of rights and our Constitution. Liberals always say that the charter protects minorities. The charter does not protect minorities. What the charter protects are principles. Whether a majority ascribes to them or a minority ascribes to them, it protects principles. My concern is that the court has stopped using a principle based approach and simply goes to a minority based approach, which is an unconstitutional way of proceeding.

Specifically to my question, on the democratic reform proposals, I notice in the Speech from the Throne that these proposals really came from the old Reform Party. I am just wondering whether my colleague found the same kinds of similarities between that sort of democratic reform brought forward by that old Reform Party, and I say that never having been a member of the Reform Party.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, in his usual incisive and astute manner, the hon. member has brought forward some interesting items here.

I too was not a member of the Reform Party, nor was I a founding member during its formative and growing years through the late 1980s and into the 1990s. I was a member of provincial government, as was my colleague. I was in fact a Conservative, a Progressive Conservative as it was called. I did note that these were elements not just of the Reform Party. Certainly the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta at the time, under Premier Lougheed, was looking at a number of these items. As a matter of fact, in British Columbia as far back as 1984--an ominous date, I know--and then moving through 1985 and 1986, people like the then Premier Bennett at the time were talking about a reformed Senate. He called it a Triple-E Senate.

These notions, which thankfully the Reform Party of that day coalesced into some clear, principled, articulated stands, came from a variety of people, individuals and groups who understood what democracy was all about. Reform of the Senate came from a number of different places, but it clearly was a part of the plan. And free votes for MPs, my goodness, that is so basic to what citizens ask for and expect.

This is what happens. As we know, the federal government has a great tendency to poll. The Liberals poll almost nightly, depending on the issue. What the government does is watch the opposition proposals. The Liberals do not like them because they go against what their view of a small-l liberal is; theirs is a highly centralized authoritarian form of government with one person at the top cracking the whip on everyone else. They do not like our notions of individual democracy and individual rights, but they carefully poll on these items. If they see our suggestions getting some lift or getting legs, they will watch for a while. When a particular item is getting legs, they say, “Let us to try to weave it into our program. Or we will say we are going to do it and that will take the pressure off the public to think of voting for the opposition. We will just kind of look like we are doing it and then after the election we will not”.

We have done a very close analysis of the red book promises. Over 68% of them, year after year, are not fulfilled. The hon. member will recall that just before the election in 2000, one thing that was polling, among a number of things, with the popularity of our new party was our tax proposals. So right before the election, two days before, as a matter of fact--I give the Liberals full credit for their strategic impulse--they stole a couple of those planks.

So it is that there is a demand from the public for members of Parliament to speak freely. I am not blaming senators. We know most of the senators. They are actually good people, but they are good people trapped in a bad system. More people are saying to reform that chamber. They are saying that the money is wasted and the senators are unelected and unaccountable. They are saying to reform it.

In all these areas, we could reduce the democratic deficit and put more democracy back into the local area. Democracy is safest in our local areas. It becomes more dangerous when it becomes centralized. In all of these areas now, the federal Liberals are polling. They see which ones are resonating and say they will take them. They will give something a head nod of assent and after the election they will forget about it because they do not like sharing democracy with the rest of the world or the rest of the country.

That is the process. I am glad the hon. member raised that point.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member just mentioned free votes. Of course one of the big planks in the Speech from the Throne and undoubtedly one of the planks the government will try to use as we head into an election and talk about the democratic deficit is free votes. Free votes should be the central part of any dealings with improving the situation in the House, but then we find that the party opposite, the governing party, is being told that there will not be a free vote on the funding for the gun registry. I wonder what the member thinks of that.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, again another astute observation, and I congratulate the member.

This is such a basic question. Obviously our concern related to the gun registry is quite simple: it just does not work. It simply does not work. Crime with firearms is going up, especially in a couple of our urban centres, which is very distressing.

We are for gun safety. We want to promote those gun safety courses that are out there, and most people take them.

The handgun registry has been in place since 1938. We are not saying we should get rid of that. The federal Liberals have an ongoing tendency from which they cannot shake themselves and that is to always put more emphasis on the rights of those who break the law than on the rights of those who keep the law. Canadians are getting fed up with that, such as the parole system where serious, repeat, violent offenders demand and get their right to automatic parole before their sentence is up.

This has to do with the gun registry. In just that area alone in the last 25 years, 480 innocent Canadians have been murdered by parolees out on parole: 480. It does not make sense. There is no commitment to change that system just as there is no commitment to change the gun registry system. It is indicative of how the Prime Minister is going to be acting as a Prime Minister, because he made certain comments.

The polls are being done nightly and they say that this thing the opposition is saying about the gun registry is resonating with people, it is a waste of money, it is $1 billion, and the government said it would be a revenue generator. Not five or six years ago, the government said it was going to generate revenue. Then it was $1 million short and then it was $2 million. The Prime Minister, who was the finance minister then, presided over that whole disaster and never blew the whistle once. Then, when it has come to such a head and there is a firestorm about this right across the country because $1 billion could pay for a lot of nurses, doctors or police officers, the Prime Minister says there will be a free vote allowed on the gun registry. MPs will be allowed to vote freely.

Something happened in the 24 hours from the time he said that in the Speech from the Throne. Who got to him? What pollster ran up to him with a skewed poll and said, “Never mind what is right or wrong, look at this poll, Mr. Prime Minister”? He flipped, he flopped and he dropped that whole commitment.

It is a false notion for him to say he has whipped his brand new MPs into shape, the MPs who boldly stood him by through the tough times, because the government will fall if they vote for a change, for more money for the $1 billion sinkhole. That is what it is. People watching or listening should realize that this is not even about repealing the law. The Liberals want more money for the disaster.

He said no, that he was not going to let MPs vote on it freely because the government would fall, when there was a commitment from all of the opposition benches. We have said no, it is not a confidence vote. It is a common sense vote. He said too bad and has whipped his MPs into shape. I hope some of them are thinking about their commitment to support him when he has so quickly turned against such a clear promise that he made not days ago.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Repentigny.

In my life, I have had the opportunity to experience, hear, debate and criticize a number of throne speeches. In Quebec City, I seized each opportunity to speak because it was a golden opportunity to talk about the problems in my riding, the contents of the throne speech and what it was lacking.

I must admit that, in Quebec City, the throne speech was delivered by a premier I really admired. He had so many plans and ideas for Quebec's future that the throne speech debate could have lasted a long time. The throne speech was not short on content. Mr. Lévesque was recognized as being a good writer who had something to say. His throne speeches were rich in substance.

I also had the opportunity to work with the late Claude Ryan, whose funeral will be held tomorrow. Claude Ryan was not a member of my party, but I must recognize that, in the Quebec Parliament, while he was there and I got to work with him, I saw that he made a positive contribution. His speeches were always well thought out. I enjoyed working and discussing things with him, even if I disagreed with his ideas.

I also want to take this opportunity—surely the Chair will not object—to express my condolences to his family, who is now mourning their loss.

I was terribly disappointed by this throne speech. First of all, because it makes a fundamental oversight. There is absolutely no mention of seniors. This is disappointing and scandalous. If we live in a country that we love and want to develop, be it Quebec or Canada, if we can express ourselves today, it is because others went before us and worked hard. They deserve not only our respect but also maximum benefits during their old age, or at least the benefits they are entitled to.

Since I arrived in the House, I have worked on matters relating to seniors, including the guaranteed income supplement. A terrible and unpardonable injustice has been done here. I met at least 3,000 people who work with seniors' associations. I met 15,000 seniors and held a total of 37 meetings in all the regions. Everyone condemned the fact that seniors had not been treated fairly enough.

Even the government recognized it, because it did improve things. So, as a result, over the past year, there are probably some 25,000 people in Quebec out of 68,000 have started receiving the guaranteed income supplement to which they were entitled but which they did not receive before. Thus, some work has been done. Still, there are many people who have not been found. Even among the ones who have been found, some have truly been robbed. There are people who are owed money.

Two weeks ago, I was in the parish of Notre-Dame-des-Anges-de-Montauban, in my riding. A couple wanted to speak to me. Both were 70 years old.

They said to me, “Thank you. You came to give a talk and you opened out eyes. Ever since, we have $4,000 more each year; $2,000 for each of us”.

“Monsieur Éthier, how old are you?”, I asked, and he answered, “We are both 70”. I asked further, “Have you been getting the supplement since you turned 65?” “No,” he replied, “this is the first time we have got it, and they told us we were only entitled to 11 months of retroactivity”.

That is outrageous. These people, this couple, were entitled to $4,000. This is $20,000 over five years. I have met people like that all over Quebec. These are people who were eligible, but, for various reasons, had not received any money, and no one had made an effort to give it to them. These are people who, for various reasons, were unaware. About 14% of seniors eligible for the guaranteed income supplement are not receiving it.

In all of Canada, that means some 270,000 people. I would have thought that in his throne speech, the new Prime Minister would have talked about these people and righted the injustice that has been done to them, but no. Every time we talk about it, they tell us that the retroactive period is only 11 months. But listen carefully to me.

This same Prime Minister, who was finance minister and owner of Canada Steamship Lines, among others, had legislation passed in 1997 or 1998 retroactive to 1995 so that he could pocket $100 million, money he could have paid in taxes to the government if he had not conducted his business with a tax haven in Barbados. He managed, in a roundabout way, to get $100 million to put in his pockets.

With the $100 million he pocketed, based on an average of $4,000 a year—for seniors who were denied the guaranteed income supplement, which ranges between $1 and $6,000, the average being $4,000 a year—25,000 seniors could have received the guaranteed income supplement. With the $100 million he pocketed, every senior in Quebec whom we could find could have enjoyed 24 months of retroactivity instead of 11 months.

However, retroactive legislation was possible for him. This is something I personally will never be able to accept. Rest assured, the general public does not accept this either. In my view, this scandal is almost as bad as the sponsorship scandal, which has been the talk of the town all week.

I am disappointed to see that, in this Parliament, in this government, people have such bad memories. There are people who see things happening, but yet it seems that they have heard nothing, seen nothing. For example, the Prime Minister told us today, in connection with the Barbados business, that he fought against it. He fought against it, yet got $100 million out of it.

Why could there not have been something in the inaugural speech about restoring justice to older Canadians? Why was there nothing? I find this unbelievable. I will not have time to talk about the sponsorship scandal, although much is being said about that these days.

It seems that the same man who was able to make retroactive legislation back in 1997 in order to line his own pockets had no idea there was any scandal going on, that a bunch of Liberals were lining their pockets through the sponsorship program. The amount involved is around a half million dollars. Approximately $100 million went into the waiting pockets of a lot of little Liberal friends who were buddy-buddy with those in power.

Now it would appear that the same Prime Minister, who used to be finance minister, who used to be Treasury Board vice-president, did not know. He signed the cheques, gave out the money, but did not know there was anything dishonest going on. So there is another $100 million that could ensure that those seniors I referred to before receive 36 months of retroactive payments instead of 24 on the money they are owed.

This is why we are disappointed in this government. There is nothing in the throne speech to improve the situation.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Champlain, our critic for seniors' issues, who has done great work. It is quite an undertaking to go all around Quebec trying to make people understand that they are losing money. The government did not help us; this is a victory by the Bloc Quebecois. Yes, we have made some progress. I congratulate the hon. member for Champlain because the system has been improved, as has the form that was extremely complex for those who tried to fill it in.

Nevertheless, only 25,000 seniors out of 68,000 in Quebec have been located. I would like my hon. friend to explain why we could not track down the others. It is not easy. The government tells us we are in the era of computers and electronics, but it is not easy for seniors to understand everything, with the Internet and all that. It is up to the government to adjust to the level of the public and not vice versa.

I would like my colleague to explain how difficult it is for seniors to get what they deserve, to try to obtain the guaranteed income supplement, and how we can act together to do something so that seniors will get what is owed them.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. In fact, it is difficult.

As I said earlier, from travelling around Quebec and meeting people, we realized that, often, the people who do not apply for it are, for one reason or another, unable to fill out the form. For example, I met a person who lived alone. This individual had had several strokes and suffered some memory loss but was in good health. Even if we are helping makes things easier, it is still hard for this person, who lives alone, to get the benefits owed. It was hard to make them understand that they were entitled to this money. Other people have to take on this responsibility.

During this tour, someone said, “You still do not want to go door to door”. I answered yes, that is one possibility. There are enough organizations taking care of seniors that we could, in fact, ask a seniors' club to do this. If we wanted to give them their money, we could. The system has to become more human.

It is true that the sick and the disabled, for one reason or another, have trouble communicating with the government by Internet or otherwise to get what they are entitled to; there is a way to make the system more human. We managed to do this to a certain extent over the past year, but more needs to be done.

We could if the will was there, as much will as it takes to pocket $100 million while one is finance minister by finding a way to make legislation retroactive. Throughout Quebec, I met people prepared to help us, who are already helping us to track down people entitled to these benefits.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, like my colleagues,I too am pleased to speak in reply to the Speech from the Throne.

It is a bit awkward to talk about nothing, about a vacuum, about empty air. So I will read a few excerpts from the throne speech if I may. I will then offer very humbly a speech that might inspire the PM or the government, or another leader for a speech just as empty of meaning as this one. Then, having acknowledged the vacuum left by this speech, they may make an effort in future, out of respect for parliamentarians and the people of Canada, to have something with a bit more consistency to it.

I will give some concrete examples. I am not joking and I did not get this from the Readers' Digest humour section. I will read for example a most edifying paragraph from page 2

We want governments to reflect our values in the actions they take. This includes living within our means; investing as we can afford; and looking to the future.

You will see that a class of philosophy or literature students could spend a long time pondering the underlying meaning of this statement without coming up with any answer.

Later on, on page 3, we read:

We want a strong economy for the 21st century, with well-paying and meaningfulwork; ready at the forefront of the next big technological revolution; and built ona solid fiscal foundation.

They could have gone on to mention motherhood and apple pie. Then:

It is time to take our place, meet our responsibilities, carry our weight.

They go on to say:

Today the Government is proposing an ambitious agenda to set our country on this path. An agenda that should be measured and judged by the goals we have set and by the resolve and constancy by which they are pursued.

If we pay a little attention to the throne speech, we begin to notice that it may contain some pretty phrases, but their meaning is pretty vague. Here is one that is a bit less so.

The path to achievement begins with making sure that Canadians believe their government, so that they can believe in government.

That is on page 3, but I would remind hon. members that there has been another Auditor General report this week. Let me repeat:

The path to achievement begins with making sure that Canadians believe their government, so that they can believe in government.

Allow me to read an excerpt from the Auditor General's report, page 20. We live in a civilized country. The problem is that the sponsorship scandal even affects the police in this country. We are at a point where the government has been corrupted by laundered money. The police being asked to conduct an investigation into this corruption are involved in the scandal. Imagine. Yet, we were told a few weeks ago that we must act in such a way that would allow Canadians to trust in their government.

Listen to this. It is not sovereignists, but the Auditor General, who said about a $1.7 million grant for the 125th anniversary of the RCMP:

A separate non-government bank account was used for all deposits and payments to the RCMP's Quebec Division; this was a contravention of the Financial Administration Act. The internal audit report mentioned that the Receiver General account was not used and approval was not obtained for a departmental bank account—a requirement under Treasury Board policy.

I think the Treasury Board policy was probably put on ice. A billion dollars was lost on the firearms registry and the Treasury Board president did not notice. Two planes were purchased for $100 million and the Treasury Board president did not notice. Some $250 million was spent on sponsorships and the Treasury Board president did not notice. But never mind.

In addition, all transactions for Quebec Division were recorded in a manual accounting system rather than in the RCMP's corporate accounting system.

Séraphin also worked it out by hand.

We were unable to verify the transactions from the Quebec bank account—

Why?

—because some of the supporting documents had been destroyed.

The RCMP destroyed documents for an illegal bank account that used a manual accounting system.

The Speech from the Throne says:

The path to achievement begins with making sure that Canadians believe in their government—

Keep it up and we will believe in it.

Further in the Auditor General's report, it says:

The RCMP used some of the sponsorship funds it received for its own operations... for the 125th anniversary celebrations, and six horses and two trailers were purchased for $107,268.

With the money that was transferred for sponsorships and publicity, they bought six horses. They must be Canadian horses on which the flag of the former heritage minister has been stamped.

And further:

[the RCMP] agrees that the Financial Administration Act was contravened—

By the police. However, it says:

—the RCMP's own administrative review concluded that this was due to a lack of understanding by local managers and not malicious intent.

It is certain that there was a lack of understanding; they are usually involved in legal activities. This time, it was not legal. They did not understand and therefore were caught. Canadians must believe in their government.

The throne speech is like that all the way through. I shall offer the House another speech and give the author's name at the end. I hope I will have time to read it all. Here it is:

We are at a turning point in our collective existence when, more than ever before, democracy must speak. It must speak out loud and clear so that its voice is heard by all those to whom it carries, so that no one can be oblivious of the deeper meaning or deny the objective reality.

In short, the time has come to act. To believe. To dare. To move. To do something. To overcome the obstacles that await us in our path toward prosperity. The time has come to outdo ourselves. Our destiny is calling. Will we answer “Present”? Will we snatch the golden ring and take this opportunity that will never come again until the next time? The answer is obvious.

You can see that is just as deep as the throne speech. In the article I am quoting, it says “Quebec”, but we can change that to “Canada”:

[Canada] is a complex society, ever changing, even restructuring, and we will never solve problems by running away from the solutions. But [Canada] is also a mature, modern, open society that cherishes its identity and cultivates its distinct character, a society that has confidence in itself—

This is irony here. I would not want anyone to think seriously that these remarks are mine.

—to turn towards new horizons. This is the [Canada], with the true values and concerns to which we can all identify, that I invite to fully play its role and face the issues that confront us.

This is as serious as the throne speech.

In order to achieve that, we need specific objectives and promising, unifying and structuring projects based on reality. We must also decide, unequivocally and while fully realizing the work and sacrifices involved, the type of world in which we want to live. There are many ways to play, but there is only one way to win. And we will win, because there is no other alternative for those who want to succeed. And we want to succeed.

Dear friends, I have a plan.

Better still, I have a vision.

That vision is an ambitious desire to give ourselves the tools to build. To fulfill together our legitimate aspirations, to affirm our vitality and to strengthen our ideals. To perform also, to the full extent of our abilities, by relying on our energy and on our tremendous resourcefulness.—

And, at this critical turning point for our common future, we would put our affairs in the hands of these denigrating and narrow-minded souls who are out of touch with the reality, these people who hinder growth and who keep us from developing at our pace? No, my dear friends, never. We have better things to do; we deserve better than that.

And I will tell you what we deserve: we deserve to be, in every respect, who we are, who we have always been, who we will always be, and who we are proud to be, without any ulterior motive and without envying anyone. This is the [Canada] to which we must aspire, this is the [country] where I want to take you and where I want your children, my children and the children of your children and of my children to fulfill themselves totally and lastingly. I want a [Canada] where life is good, a [Canada] that meets our expectations.

So, the time has come to reinvent ourselves without repudiating our traditions, to give ourselves new momentum while preserving our gains, to make things differently without knocking everything around. Of course, everyone will have to work at this. Concerted efforts and an ironclad solidarity will be necessary. Such is the price of the consensus building process—

I will leave the nice rhetoric and the empty words to others: the public is intelligent enough to put things in perspective. And I bet that, ultimately, it will endorse the ideas that I am putting forward. It will use its past experience with today's ideas to build a better tomorrow.

Together, we can do it.

This ironical article was written by Jean Dion. It sort of looks like the throne speech. It is one thing to be ironical, but the public deserves better than to be made fun of with a meaningless speech.

In quoting this article, I wanted to send to the Liberals the message that trust is something that is earned.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, we know that the throne speech was very inadequate.

Some of the things I would have wanted to appear on the positive side are visions. Among these are the freedom of Canadians to pursue their enlightened and ethical self-interests within a competitive economy; the freedom of individual Canadians to enjoy the fruits of their labour to the greatest possible extent, and the right to own property.

I would want to see a belief that a responsible government should be fiscally prudent and should avoid programs which cannot be discharged reasonably by the individual or others; a belief that it is the responsibility of individuals to provide for themselves, their families and their dependants, while recognizing that government must lift and affirm those who require assistance; a belief that the purpose of Canada as a nation state, guided by reflective and prudent leadership, is to create a climate where individual initiative is rewarded, excellence is pursued, security and privacy of the individual are provided, and where prosperity is developed by a free and competitive market economy.

I would also want to see a belief that the quality of the environment is a vital part of our heritage and existence to be protected by each generation for the next; a belief that Canada should accept its obligations among the nations of the world and be an international leader for basic freedoms; and a belief that good and responsible government is attentive and accountable to the people it represents and has representatives who conduct themselves in an ethical manner and display integrity, honesty and a concern for the public best interest.

Those are just some of the things I would have wanted to see in the Speech from the Throne.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca advised me in writing that he would be unable to introduce his motion during the hour set aside for private member's business on Friday, February 13, 2004.

Since it has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence, I am directing the clerk to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence.

Private members' hour will therefore be suspended, and the House will proceed with the business before it.

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.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved that Bill C-436, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in the House to speak to my bill, Bill C-436. In actual fact, we had an hour of debate on the bill before the House was prorogued, but under the changes that have taken place we are now going back to the first hour. I am pleased to have this opportunity to have another debate and to hear from other members about the bill.

Since we debated it the last time in that first hour of debate, I did want to let members know that I have had various meetings across the country in various communities. There has been tremendous support for this bill. We have received petitions, postcards and feedback from organizations in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and other places that I visited. There has been tremendous support for the idea that is contained in the bill.

Just to briefly recap, this is a very straightforward proposal. It is a proposal that builds on a policy that already exists within our immigration system, and that is to support the reunification of families.

Under this bill, a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident would be provided with a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a relative who would not otherwise be qualified or considered as a member of the family class as it exists now. What this bill would do is strengthen and assist family reunification in Canada.

We believe that the current family class sponsorship rules are very restrictive. In fact, in a question and answer paper that I sent around to members of the House, we laid out who it is that can be sponsored now under the existing rules, but there are many relatives that cannot be sponsored. Therefore, the purpose of the bill is to simply allow a permanent resident or a citizen to select a family member who does not qualify under the rules. A person could apply for it and bring a family member to Canada.

I do want to deal with some of the questions that arose during that earlier hour of debate. I think that while there was general support for the principle of what was contained here, there were questions such as, for example, would this not create a huge backlog within the immigration system? I would reply to that by saying that I think all of us know--and certainly members who have participated in the citizenship and immigration committee are very aware of the fact--that there are huge problems with the current immigration system. In fact, there are backlogs that exist now. The citizenship committee has, on a number of occasions and in a report just a few months ago, called for additional resources to be provided to deal with this chronic backlog.

This is a much larger issue around needing adequate resources within this department. I have said many times in the House and in committee that I always feel that the lack of resources in this department is one way that the government actually, through the back door, finds a way to not meet its own commitment of saying that the level of immigration would be about 1% of the Canadian population each year. That policy is on the books, but the way the government gets around it is by actually ensuring that this backlog exists.

My point in debating and seeking support for this bill is that hard-working families should not bear the blame of the problems that are plaguing the citizenship and immigration department. We need to fix those problems. We need to provide adequate resources to that department. For example, one thing we could do is make sure the money that is created through the landing fee is actually going back into the supports and services in that department.

So the criticism was made that we would be adding to the backlog. I understand that point, but I think we need to address that as an overall issue. In fact, bringing this bill to committee I think would allow us to open up the debate and to look at the issue of resources that are within the department.

Second, there were some questions about how many people we are talking about. If this bill were approved, what potentially would we be talking about in terms of people coming to Canada? That is something I cannot answer categorically, of course, because if this bill were approved it would allow a potential for permanent residents and citizens to sponsor someone.

However, I will say this. In 1993, the number of people sponsored under the family class provision was 110,000. Today, though, the projection for the arrival of family members is much lower. It is now at around 60,000. I think members can see that there has been a shift in the program and that the family class program has actually decreased over a number of years.

I feel that Bill C-436 would allow a bit more flexibility. It is not about a major overhaul of the system, which I could argue on other occasions desperately needs to be done. This is actually a very modest proposal that would simply provide more openness and flexibility under the family class rules.

I would also like to point out that the idea of doing this did not come from me, although when I heard about it I thought it was a great idea. It actually came from a former minister of immigration. When she was in Vancouver, this idea was put out to the community. It was not just floated; it was a fairly concrete idea that was suggested by the minister at the time. Of course it received tremendous support immediately, both within the local media and within the community. Within a very short period of time, a large number of petitions went around the community supporting the idea of a once in a lifetime bill.

Subsequent to that, the minister moved on and the idea was dropped. I thought it was a fabulous idea and asked myself why we should waste this kind of good, creative approach that would provide a modest change to the system. I picked up the idea as a private member's bill. I wanted to make that point because the bill actually originated from the government side.

I do think that Bill C-436 is related to larger issues around citizenship and immigration. Today I was very proud to be joined at a press conference by two of my colleagues, the member for Windsor--St. Clair and the member for Winnipeg Centre, where we spoke about this once in a lifetime bill. Also, today we introduced in the House a bill to ban racial profiling in Canada. We also introduced a new website launched by the NDP called Canadians4Justice.

We have done these three things as major initiatives because we are concerned about what is taking place in our society. There is more targeting of people of visible minorities or of different religious backgrounds. We have seen this particularly in the Canadian Muslim community and the Canadian Arab community. Even here in Ottawa an outrageous incident took place in a restaurant not far away from Parliament Hill where the police in effect raided the restaurant and were quite, I would say, over the top in their actions. They handcuffed all the black people in the restaurant and left the lone Caucasian white person alone. So there is the whole issue around the targeting of minorities, both in terms of individual incidents and also in a more systemic way in terms of how the system is functioning. For example, we are seeing an increase in refugees who are being put into detention. We are also seeing more people being stopped at borders by officials.

We are very concerned about this, so we launched these three proposals today. I think this issue is very much resonating in the broader community, because people are very concerned about the targeting of immigrants and visible minorities. Some are people who have been here for generations but happen to have a different colour of skin. This is something we should be concerned about.

I feel that Bill C-436 is a small step in making our system fairer and more accessible to people. I do feel that sometimes it is not very politically popular to talk about immigration or to be supportive of immigration--sometimes it is and sometimes it is not--but I feel that as members of Parliament we have a responsibility to make sure that the system is working and to point out its shortcomings.

Today this bill is really put forward in that spirit. It is about saying that we can support families in this country. It is about supporting diversity. I had a very tragic case in my own riding of Vancouver East that I think dramatizes what the bill is about. I am sure some people may be aware that a young Filipino boy was murdered by other young people near a park in east Vancouver.

The tragedy of the story is that the mother had come from the Philippines as a live-in caregiver, a domestic worker. She had three sons. She was only able to sponsor two sons because one of them did not qualify under the family class. One of her sons was murdered, the youngest one. There was a huge outpouring in the community about this situation. I attended the funeral. There were probably a thousand people at the funeral as well as all kinds of political representatives. There was just such an outpouring of grief about what had happened to this family.

We actually helped the family get the older brother from the Philippines to Canada on a special ministerial permit so he could attend the funeral and support his mother--this is the oldest son--and his middle brother. He came to Canada on a special ministerial permit which we luckily, with the support of the minister, were able to get in a day.

The irony is that this fellow will now have to go back because he came on a visitor's permit. He will not qualify. I feel that this is a very good example of where a policy such as this one, based on family reunification, would allow this mother to bring her oldest son to come to Canada to help this family make it through, because there he is, thousands of miles away. Because he is over 25, he would not qualify under the family class as it is now.

I know there are many other situations and really heartbreaking stories. I know that members in the earlier debate spoke about some of those stories.

What do we do about it? The system is not working properly. I hope very much that even if there are questions about the bill, members will support the principle here, the principle of family reunification and allowing this little bit of flexibility within the system to say that once in a lifetime a person could sponsor someone who would not otherwise qualify. All the other rules would apply. There are all kinds of screenings that people have to go through and so on. All of those things would apply.

I hope the bill can make it through debate and go to committee where it can have a thorough examination, as we do in committee. We can hear witnesses and all the rest of it. Then a decision will be made.

I seek the support of other members of the House for the bill, in particular members on the government side. I seek their support for the bill to allow it to go to the next step. When it was first debated the government was not that sympathetic to the idea, but I know that we have a new parliamentary secretary, the member for Vancouver Centre, who I know is very familiar with these issues. I know that she is very supportive and understands the importance of family reunification and what it means to people in our community of Vancouver and certainly in communities across the country as well.

I am hopeful. We have a new minister who I understand is very close to the issues and what is happening. Therefore I am being a little optimistic that with a new minister and a new parliamentary secretary we will get a little shot at this. Instead of them closing the door and saying, “It is a private member's bill, shut the door on that one”, I am hoping that we might have a good debate, that the principle of what is being put forward will be supported and that we can seek the support of other parties as well. I look forward to hearing comments and debate from other members of the House.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-436.

The bill seeks to amend Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act by granting every citizen or permanent resident the opportunity to sponsor, once in the sponsor's lifetime, one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the family class.

The concept of once in a lifetime sponsorship is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed whether such a provision would be workable for several years.

All of us believe in the principle of expanding the family class and making it easier for people to sponsor their loved ones abroad. However, the one time sponsorship option such as that proposed in Bill C-436 is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.

Past experience indicates that even with more resources, the increase in the backlogs and processing times for this and other categories of immigrants that could be generated by such an open ended system would seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the whole immigration program.

Bill C-436 will have the effect of adding a new class to the immigration program and introducing new opportunities for fraud. Since relationships outside the nuclear family are often not well documented and usually are very difficult to verify, the government would need to significantly increase resources to investigate and confirm each claim for sponsorship made under this new section.

In 1988 family intake nearly doubled over two years, thanks to a similar arrangement to include all unmarried sons and daughters in the family class. The escalated number of backlogs arising out of this program, despite its termination in 1993, affected the Department of Citizenship and Immigration for many years.

Even putting aside the potential for huge backlogs, Bill C-436 would undoubtedly undermine our efforts to prevent marriages or common law relationships of convenience and adoptions of convenience since these persons could be sponsored without regard to the merits of their relationship with the sponsor.

It could also undermine the economic component of the immigration program, as many failed economic immigrants have distant relatives in Canada who could easily sponsor them.

We have already made provision for sponsoring individuals outside the family class under certain circumstances. There is little reason to duplicate this in a separate piece of legislation with such serious problems.

Canadians and permanent residents today can sponsor a foreign national who is not a member of the family class, provided that they have no family residing in Canada or abroad. Section 117(1)(h) of the new immigration refugee protection regulations defines a foreign national as a member of the family class with respect to a sponsor regardless of age if the sponsor does not have a spouse, common law partner, conjugal partner or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad. Individuals can also apply to sponsor a non-family class relative under section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act itself which allows a minister to grant a foreign national permanent residence status or an exemption from any applicable criteria of the act on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

As well, the government passed a series of new regulations just last year to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad and significantly expand the family class in a well managed and sustainable way. These changes provide for equal treatment under the law for common law couples of the opposite and the same sex by expanding the family class to include the terms “common law partners” and “conjugal partners”.

They also expand the definition of “dependant child” to better reflect the longer child dependencies in certain instances. They also reduce the age at which Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to sponsor from 19 years to 18 years old.

These enhancements to the family class reflect the government's policy intention of easing family reunification while ensuring that the immigration program itself maintains an appropriate balance between the intake of refugees as well as economic and family class immigrants.

We have expanded the family class in a well planned and responsible way. The government has made provision for individuals who wish to sponsor an individual not included in the family class without jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration program itself.

I therefore find it difficult to support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will not vote in favour of the fundamentally flawed scheme set out in Bill C-436.