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House of Commons Hansard #50 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was oil.

Topics

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, it is only right that we say a few words on this bill simply because, as the Minister of Natural Resources just said, it is extremely important to our province and I am sure to Canada as a whole.

I do not necessarily agree with everything the minister said but on the whole we have seen a number of ships over the last few years polluting our waters on both coasts, in the St. Lawrence Seaway and on the Great Lakes. Absolutely nothing has been done and nothing is being done.

The government argues, by introducing this bill, that the fines are not high enough, that they are not a deterrent to boats that dump at sea, which is why they continue to do it. I am a bit skeptical. Perhaps it is because we are approaching an election and we see a rush of things happening, announcements here, there and everywhere. Yesterday we heard three ministers announce that they had issued two citations to two foreign fishing vessels for abusing the regulations on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks.

Over the last 10 years, as I have said, we have issued over 300 citations and the government would not even release information as to how many it had issued. People might say that 300 over 10 years is not a lot. However people must realize that we have very little surveillance and no enforcement on this gigantic area off the coast of my province. Therefore, if, with the minimal surveillance we have, we can detect and issue 300 citations for abuses, we have some idea how much is going on out there.

We do know, through the Access to Information Act, that over 300 citations are on record so why, possibly because it is a week before an election, do we have three ministers rushing out to tell everybody they issued citations?

A citation is like a warning ticket on the highway. It does nothing to stop the abuse. Five boats were boarded and two citations were issued. One of the boats they boarded had been issued three previous citations, one for fishing within our 200 mile limit. That boat is still out there fishing. What are the boats that were issued citations yesterday doing today? Are they in our port? Is the skipper being charged? Is the cargo being seized? Is the boat being seized? No. They were issued warning citations and they are still fishing and will continue to fish. It goes on and on.

Why the hoopla? You know, Mr. Speaker, I know and everybody else knows that it is only to draw attention to the fact that they are doing something. No, we did not do a thing that we have not done in the past, except that we are trying to make a story out of a non-story.

The same thing relates to this bill. For 10 years people have been pushing for stronger regulations in relation to pollution at sea. Year after year environmentalists in my province and the media have done some tremendous stories on wildlife, sea birds in particular, that are covered in oil, get to shore and die on the beaches because of pollution. We have seen some major disasters because ships completely and utterly ignore other people, other countries and just dump their bilge water and excess fuel at sea, and could not care less. We say that the deterrents are not there and the fines are not great enough.

The existing legislation we have is the Species at Risk Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, but let us look at the Canada Shipping Act. Under the Canada Shipping Act it states:

Any person or ship that discharges a pollutant in contravention of any regulation made under section 656

(a) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable

(i) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty thousand dollars...

(i) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding one million dollars, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both...

In reality, there are already fines, not under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, but under the Canada Shipping Act where those vessels can be charged fines anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million. Therefore, already in legislation we have exactly what the government is trying to bring in today to tell us it is going to bring in a strong enforcement mechanism.

There are two things. First, if the fine happened to be $200,000, how many examples have we had in the past where ships have been charged the maximum? It is not the amount of fine that counts if the courts are not going to impose the maximum fine.

We can all go back to a story that is thoroughly documented. CBC did a tremendous exposé of a boat called Tecam Sea which was charged with pollution in our waters. We had satellite tracking. We had over flights and clear cut pictures of the oil coming out of the boat. We had a foolproof case against that boat. The documentation was a mile high. The case was taken to court but, before it ever entered the chambers, on the steps of the courthouse, the day the case was supposed to start, the case was dropped. Why was it dropped? It was dropped because of an internal racket between the federal Department of the Environment and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Games were being played with internal fighting that led to a disagreement about a case where everyone, the officials and the legal people involved, all said that it was a foolproof case.

If we are not going to accept in court, satellite surveillance or the surveillance that we get from our provincial airlines that do such a great job out there, if we are not going to accept that kind of evidence when we are looking at the actual oil coming from the actual ship, it does not matter what size of fine we impose, whether we charge them $1 or $100 million because they will not be brought to court anyway, and if they are, the cases will be thrown out if what our own government people are saying is true.

The problem is not with the fine. The problem is not with the legal people who are there to prosecute. The problem is with the government on the other side of the House. The ministers, who are at the political end of it, do not have the intestinal fortitude to do what has to be done.

This is a sham, introducing a bill a week before an election call when the government knows that to get it through the House, to get it through the other place and to get it back here, there is not any time. It ain't gonna happen.

It is like the bills we saw last week dealing with aboriginal issues and the issue of driving while on drugs. The government can introduce them and go around the country and say that it is bringing in legislation but where has the government been for the last 10 years? The legislation before us should have been introduced sooner or, better still, the legislation that we have on our books should be enforced and we would not have this problem that we have in front of us today.

It is another day and another saga of the election preparation act which is what we should be calling this rather than the migratory bird act or the Canada Shipping Act.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, our colleagues the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Natural Resources and several colleagues on both sides of the House have spoken about the compelling reason to take swift action to protect our marine wildlife from oil pollution.

The intent is to integrate special enforcement and prosecution powers into two central pieces of environmental legislation so that we do not become a safe haven for illegal dumping of oily waste by the few in the shipping industry who have no environmental conscience.

What is so disturbing about this yearly winter tragedy is that the loss of 300,000 seabirds may only be the tip of the problem. Large as that number is, these are only the numbers we can verify off the coast of southeastern Newfoundland. We do know that there are birds oiled at sea in other parts of the Atlantic and indeed the Pacific coastlines. This means it is probable that the actual toll is tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands more than the recorded number.

These are not mere accidents. They are deliberate acts by a few individuals. We have to take note that this is not a new problem. It has gone on for many years. Some ship officials may just figure it is cheaper to break the law than to obey it. They figure that it is a cost of doing business for them.

There is a different cost, which I should address. While some of the species of seabirds affected by this problem are not those whose numbers are in danger, we also must take into account that deaths of this magnitude will begin to take a toll on the viability of these species. We certainly do not want to be adding murres and puffins to the list of species at risk.

Even more important, if the oil that enters our ocean waters has this kind of impact on seabirds, what is it doing to the fish, the shellfish and the marine mammals as well as the plankton and plant life which sustain all forms of ocean creatures in the ecosystem?

To take this one step further, we must acknowledge that there is an even greater impact than the death of 300,000 seabirds, sad as that is: namely, the serious impact on our continuing efforts to conserve biodiversity.

We are committed to conserving biodiversity not only because of international conventions that we have ratified, but because of our own agreements within Canada.

By making these commitments, we are confirming our obligation to sustain every type of living species. Ultimately, we have no choice because sustaining every form of life means we are also sustaining our own lives as human beings.

That is why—and also to take quick and definitive measures—we must adequately increase the penalties to deter the marine transportation industry from violating the law and inappropriately dumping their oil sludge.

I urge support of this legislation that amends, clarifies and reinforces the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. As we have heard, these are not new policy instruments. I would like to mention a few benefits of these changes.

By amending existing legislation--and this is proven and effective legislation--we are able to move early and decisively. We could see benefits as early as next winter. We are taking measures that will ensure enforcement and judicial powers that get results.

For instance, we need to make sure that captains and ships' officers are responsible for acts of pollution from their ships. We know that often ships' operators have mandated ships' officers to pollute our waters either intentionally or through failing to provide proper equipment or training. We know also that we must mandate specific enforcement measures such as the redirection of ships in certain cases.

As well, we will be able to prohibit falsification of records and harmonize our approach with that of the United States. This is especially important. Not only do we need to support the approach taken by our neighbour to the south with whom we share these ocean waters, but we also need to make sure that those who contemplate breaking the law do not think it is better to do so in Canada, where penalties are less stringent or where they are less likely to be caught. We will remove any notion that Canada is any form of safe haven.

Further, we will be able to make an investment in the science and technology we need to move even further ahead. We do not need any new invention. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The technology already exists. We can see oil slicks behind ships that are breaking the law by using satellite and aircraft-borne technologies.

With some further refinements, we can use that existing technology to even better advantage. We can look harder for violators of the law by increasing surveillance. We will partner with the Canadian Space Agency and use Radarsat technology as our eye in the sky.

Anyone who has watched puffins floating on the waves off the coast of Newfoundland, seen graceful seagulls soaring over whitecaps, or heard the cry of murres knows that the disappearance of these birds would not only reduce biodiversity in Canada, but would diminish us all.

It is human beings who cause this annual disaster of 300,000 birds fighting desperately for their lives, because of the tiny hydrocarbon particles that penetrate their natural defences. And it is human beings who must do what is necessary to put an end to this disaster.

To paraphrase a famous saying, every death diminishes us all.

Our increasing knowledge of biodiversity makes us increasingly conscious of the serious impacts of human activity on living species. This bill is a significant step forward for the protection of our biodiversity. I urge all colleagues, regardless of party, to support it strongly and adopt it.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to rise today and participate in this debate on the second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development of Bill C-34, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999.

Our biologists have told us about the hopeless struggle by over 300,000 seabirds every winter who die because oil waste is illegally discharged from some ships off the coast of Newfoundland. They have seen this struggle first-hand as the natural defences of the birds are worn away by spots of oil and by the winter cold of the Atlantic as it seeps through their feathers.

What we also have to assume is that these murres, dovekies, gulls and puffins are not the only forms of marine life that are affected by the practices of these few individuals on board ships. The oily waste that goes into the ocean also washes up on our beaches. It pollutes the habitat of fish and marine mammals such as seals and also whales. The deaths of seabirds are dramatic, but there are other costs to biodiversity.

We also must assume that the same kinds of problems occur on the west coast, where shipping and marine life often collide.

Through international conventions and agreements and through domestic laws, we have stated repeatedly that Canada is committed as a nation to the conservation of nature.

We must address the yearly deaths of hundreds of thousands of seabirds within that context and we must meet our commitments.

We should be proud of the fine tradition we have forged, through long hours of hard work and much study, in the area of environmental legislation. We have good laws. I support the bill before us, which amends these already effective pieces of legislation so that we can take dramatic and swift action to help these birds and other forms of marine wildlife. In fact, I see little need for prolonged debate here.

These are important amendments. They will bring quick results, and we are not only addressing the deaths of seabirds but our obligations in conserving biodiversity. By taking action, we will know that we acted and a polluter did not go free. By taking action through these strong pieces of environmental legislation, we can say we are living up to our commitments.

We have said we would protect the environment. We have said we would protect species. But if so many seabirds die every year, their viability as a species could be threatened.

With this simple approach we will know we did something to prevent some of our most unique marine life from becoming at risk. Put this way, we already have no choice. We are obliged and we should be willing to meet that obligation.

I have concentrated my remarks on the situation on our east coast, but we also know that there must be similar problems off our Pacific and Arctic coasts.

Not only does oil in the water kill seabirds, it affects plant life, marine mammals and fish. In essence, it affects us all.

Yet here is our opportunity to make a difference. I ask all members to seize this opportunity and help us see results as soon as this coming winter with fewer deaths of birds oiled at sea.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate for a few moments in the debate on the bill before the House.

When those of us from eastern Ontario think of migratory birds, the first ones that come to mind are the Canada geese. We see these beautiful birds every spring. They fly great distances toward the far north, probably to the tip—or almost—of Ungava Bay. They spend the summer there and come back in the fall with their offspring, returning south. We marvel at the sight of such splendid birds. We wonder how they are able to tell which direction is north and find their way back to the same location as the year before.

Of course, these large birds also cause problems for some of our farmers, and we know that. Environment Canada is working with the farmers on this. This is still not enough for me as an MP. Nonetheless, the department is making an effort to get rid of them. By that I do not mean kill them. Efforts are being made to drive them out in order to try to preserve the crops that are being damaged.

Despite this drawback, the fact remains that we want to protect these magnificent large birds that fly north. I have mentioned only this species, but there is also the snow goose. We could also talk about all the other birds, especially those along the coasts that have similar migrations. Some of the migrations are even longer because some of these birds go to the very south of South America and come back to Canada's north. That is an unbelievable distance. Anyone who has travelled such a distance, even by plane, can only marvel at the fact that a bird makes this trip twice a year.

Canada and the United States are working together to protect these species. We can be proud of that. We can also be proud of the personal determination of the hon. Minister of the Environment, who works tirelessly on government issues. I was a minister in the previous cabinet for a number of years. The current minister had the same portfolio back then. I had the opportunity to see him at work on these issues at the cabinet table. Without revealing any ministerial secrets, I can say that he is incredibly committed. No one is more dedicated to the environmental cause than the minister.

We can be proud of him and of the commitments made by Canada with other countries of the world. For example, we were the first to sign the Convention on Biological Diversity. We have a tradition that goes back almost a century, in cooperation with the United States, as regards the protection of migratory birds.

We contributed in a significant way, in cooperation with other countries, to the establishment of protected areas, through programs such as the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Canada has been a leader in this area.

Our laws and our international initiatives have served us well. That having been said, we still have a problem, which could even be termed a disaster or a tragedy. It occurs along our shores every winter, regrettably.

As a result of this tragedy that occurs every winter, we are keenly aware of the need to readjust certain legislation, to change our focus one might say, as far as our environmental legislation, of which we are justly proud, is concerned.

As other members have pointed out, some 300,000 birds die every winter because of something humans have done. Their plight is the result of oil spills from certain ships that ply our coasts.

Consequently, there is no question in anyone's mind, in this connection at least, of changing our policy or anything of the like. It is merely a matter of beefing up the commitment that is already in place, in order to prevent disasters from happening because of irresponsible human behaviour.

It is, of course, already illegal to pollute Canadian waters, and it has been for a long time. What is being proposed here is to strengthen the tools available to the government, in order to make our approach to the problems of chronic oil pollution more effective.

This measure is not focused on Ottawa. It is a plea from people who walk or work on the beaches of the east coast, from witnesses and from people who love the ocean view and the rich marine life that is found just off the shores of our coasts. This marine life is such an important part of our Canadian identity that it is found, as we all know, in our art, on our currency and, of course, in our souls. It is an integral part of who we are.

These people support the measures proposed by our government today. I hope that, at the end of today's debate, we can proceed quickly, so that this bill can make a lot of ground in the coming days.

Who supports this approach? On the one hand, we have provincial public servants, members of the House of Commons—perhaps unanimously, but we will see later on today—and, I hope, those who sit in the other place. Perhaps they too will want to pass this bill very quickly next week, if we can send it to them today. The broad support for this initiative includes environmental groups, fishermen in coastal communities, citizens and the media.

I must add that the debate in this House has so far been very constructive and all political parties deserve credit for that. We have a rather wide range of interested parties, and even the term “rather large” seems hardly all-encompassing enough. Such a wide measure of support cannot go unnoticed.

We now are in a position to actually do something about the support which has been voiced and the calls for action from the many stakeholders. As for myself, it is with pleasure that I support the bill and urge my colleagues to do likewise later this day.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill. We see it as a very worthwhile piece of legislation.

It is very difficult to speak against a bill that is designed to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, but speaks to the much larger issue of environmental protection. I would point out that it is one of the few bills introduced by the government specifically designed to protect the environment.

There have been calls from across the country for the government to be proactive and bold in its approach to environmental protection. We saw the government and the committee on the environment wrestle with the species at risk legislation. I think most people would admit that what came out of that process was not very satisfactory.

As I said, it is very difficult to speak against a bill that, if ever sworn into law, would protect the environment in any aspect. My reason for saying this and my introductory point is that I do not believe the bill will see the light of day beyond the opportunity to give it a full debate during second reading. It is a bit of a cynical move. My colleague from Newfoundland pointed out that it would be very difficult to see the bill go though the very steps of the legislative process and actually get royal assent if we are literally four or five sitting days away from a federal election.

It would appear that the Liberal government wants it put on the record that it cares about environmental issues. Here it is introducing legislation in order to dissuade its critics or to answer its critics who can quite rightly say the government never introduces environmental legislation. There is nothing on the Liberals' permanent record to indicate that they give a hoot about green issues.

The only environmental legislation that has passed in the House that has been bold has been put forward as private members' business by a number of opposition parties. They are usually the ones to use private members' bills. I should point out that in the 37th Parliament there were minor initiatives passed regarding environmental issues.

A tax deduction for transit passes, for instance, was an initiative put forward by my colleague in the NDP in the interests of trying to get people out of their cars and into public transit. Employers who gave transit passes to their employees could deduct that as they can deduct salaries and wages. That was tangible environmental legislation.

The other one was an environmental initiative that I put forward on the energy retrofitting of publicly owned buildings. That initiative actually did pass in the House of Commons. However, we have not seen issues of substance coming from the government.

I am not surprised that the sensitive issue of marine waters and ship source pollution has not been a top of mind issue for the Liberal government. I should point out that the current Prime Minister's company, when he still owned Canada Steamship Lines, was given the largest fine in Canadian history for ship source pollution. One of his ships, in polluting the Halifax harbour, was given the largest penalty in Canadian history, not something to which a sitting politician, much less a Prime Minister, would want to draw attention.

As an aside, on the same subject I should point out that at that time Canadian tax law was such that the fine was tax deductible. It is a shameful thing to have to point out. That has finally been remedied after constant pressure, five years of pressure from the NDP benches that we should never reward bad behaviour by allowing companies or individuals to write off penalties and fines imposed by law as a tax deductible expense. We think that is just plain bad public policy.

Finally the Liberal government in the most recent budget has amended the Income Tax Act so that any penalty or fine imposed by law is no longer to be considered a tax deductible expense. I suppose that is something to celebrate.

We come at this issue of ship source pollution, the discharge of oily bilge waste from passing ships, by way of its effect on sea birds and other sea animals as well, but specifically, the bill concentrates on the effect on migratory birds. As such, it seeks to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and in a subsequent way the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

It is true that our current environmental legislation does not address this issue very specifically or to anyone's great satisfaction. Interpretation of the various pieces of legislation left officials with few choices to deal with the problem effectively, even though it is a very visible problem to anyone who lives along our largest coastline, which is the largest coastline of any country in the world. They are well aware of the impact of the noxious habit of discharging bilge waters, especially close to harbours and settled areas, but that is not the point. The fact is that it has had a huge effect on the migratory bird population and certainly warrants being addressed here.

There have been numerous appeals from parliamentarians representing coastal communities to the federal government to deal with this chronic oil pollution problem. We heard the very passionate representations from my colleague from Newfoundland earlier who knows more about this issue than I ever will, coming from the prairie provinces, but that does not mean that the interest is limited to those who live in coastal communities.

Environmental groups have tried to bring this issue to the federal government's attention without bearing fruit until these twilight hours of this Parliament. It is no secret that we are in the final days, the final dwindling hours, of debate in this Parliament. We will all be very surprised if there is one more week of sitting within the 37th Parliament, and this is only the first hours of debate at second reading on the bill. There are many other pieces of legislation that are going to compete for those few hours that are left. I do not have any confidence that Bill C-34, dealing with migratory birds, will ever see the light of day.

As much as I appreciate that the hon. Minister of the Environment has finally convinced cabinet to introduce this type of legislation, it is not jaded or cynical to assume that it was done purely for the optics of leading into the federal election campaign. It really is not fooling anybody.

Environmental issues as they stand are ranked top of mind with most Canadians. It is even more top of mind when they see the prices at the pump. People are thinking about the environment and pollution issues more than usual lately, as they are reminded of the cost of burning fossil fuels compared with the environmental degradation that fossil fuels bring.

In this particular case, with the discharge of noxious substances from bilge water, this is a manageable problem that we can in fact deal with and bring satisfaction to, especially within our own 200 mile exclusive economic zone. As a nation we are calling for better enforcement of Canadian rights within that 200 mile exclusive economic zone. This is one aspect that we could police with far more vigour, with legislation crafted specifically for that reason.

Birds and oil at sea is an issue that brings emotion to most Canadians who have witnessed this problem. We will support Bill C-34, but we regret that we will probably not get the opportunity to vote it into legislation, given the fact that we are running out of time. If the government were sincere about introducing legislation of this nature, it should have done so months ago when it had some prospect of actually being voted into legislation.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger LiberalDeputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have listened attentively and carefully to the member from Winnipeg Centre and his ascribing motives to the government on this. I would like to prove him wrong by stating that if the House were to give its unanimous consent, the government would be prepared to see this bill carried at all stages and referred to the Senate as early as today. If we could obtain that, we could report back to the House before 1:30 today.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I need some guidance, so I will turn again to the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. He is at this time not requesting unanimous consent?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Correct, Mr. Speaker. Because we have a tradition of seeking and speaking with the House leaders of all parties, I will endeavour now to seek that unanimous consent. If we obtain it, I will report back to the House before the end of government business today.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, could the member assure us that in so doing and by referring it to the Senate, that it would go through the Senate and we could get it back here to deal with it before at least the end of next week or maybe earlier than that? To pass it through here is only a charade if we know it will not go through the other place.

Could he assure us that by letting it go through here now quickly, which we will certainly agree to do, that this will become legislation.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wonder if I can make a suggestion. I can understand that there are some very real questions to be asked and to be answered, but in a relatively tight timeframe in over the next 15 minutes. The Chair would prefer if these discussions, questions or answers, which are legitimate, would occur outside behind the curtains in the usual fashion. Then, if necessary, the Chair will entertain whatever motions might be put either by the government or by members of the opposition.

Therefore, I would like to now go back to debate on Bill C-34. Are there any further speakers?

Is the House ready for the question?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to and bill referred to a committee)

The House resumed from May 5 consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, an act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

May 7th, 2004 / 1:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

As I understand it, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre has approximately four minutes left on Bill C-23.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe I have four minutes remaining and then the customary 10 minute question and answer period. I was looking forward to finishing my thoughts on this speech.

When I left off at the end of the day, I was about to say that some of the most draconian measures of Bill C-23 are designed to prop up the credit worthiness of the authority that is created by the bill, apparently almost at any cost.

One of the things that I caution is a gross surrender of sovereignty by first nations that get attracted to and caught up by this scheme. This was the whole point in my speech. For instance, a single missed payment can trigger the takeover of the local financial affairs of this newly created management board. I refer the House to clause 84, for anyone who finds fault with that thought. Once involved in this newly created financial authority, this borrowing club, the first nation can never leave without the consent of all the other borrowing members of the authority. It is locked in.

One elected band chief and council may decide to sign on to this new financial authority, but then they can never get out without the unanimous consent of all the other signatories to the authority. They have forfeited their sovereignty or their sovereign right to set up a different system perhaps or join some other alliance with other bands that may wish to join forces to get a better bond rating or borrowing and lending rates.

This is the caution that we bring to the debate on this subject. A first nation member of this newly created authority can never obtain any long term financing secured by property tax revenue except from the authority. Therefore, they forfeit their right to look at other options.

I am not sure that those who are the boosters of this bill are even aware of these cautionary notes that we bring to the table today. These unfortunate first nations that get seduced into this deal will be cut off from access to normal commercial financing available to all other Canadians because they are now bound by this very narrow prescriptive model.

This monopolistic practice we argue will stifle competition for financing and perversely may even lend to higher lending costs. If the original idea was uniting together as a group to share liability and thus get preferable lending rates, this may have the perverse effect, the opposite effect.

I have pointed out a number of issues. It is very difficult when I am interrupted in my flow of thought to jump back into where we were. The principal constitutional inherent right problem with the bill is the sweeping authority over local first nations laws delegated by federal statute to the federally appointed tax commission and management board.

Bill C-23 stands for the offensive proposition that in the year 2004 the constitutionally protected inherent right of self-government does not include jurisdiction to pass local laws on property taxation and financial management. In fact Bill C-23 asserts that such intimate local laws can only be approved by these federally appointed institutions. It speaks to the inherent right to self-government. We either support that concept as contemplated in the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982 or we do not.

The bill tells me that the government does not embrace the concept of the inherent right to self-government. Incrementally, bit by bit, it is stripping that away even before the courts have finished ruling on the subject and even before Parliament has given true meaning and definition to section 35 of the Constitution.

This prehistoric conception of the inherent right, which has been enshrined in federal statute now, prejudices all first nations whether they are scheduled or unscheduled. This has been our point all along. This is not a bill that will affect only those first nations that choose to put their names on some schedule. The bill will impact all first nations whether they sign on or not.

The optionality of the bill is a myth. I pointed out the last time I spoke on the this that the bill is optional in the same way a driver's licence is optional. It is optional until we want to drive a car and then all of a sudden we need one.

Therefore, if any first nation applicant goes to the government and says that it wants to exercise its right to fiduciary obligations, et cetera, the government would be able to simply tell the applicant to go sign on to the new fiscal institutions because that is the avenue of recourse. The government will be able to tell the applicant not to look for money from the government but to borrow the money on the open market by signing on to the agreement.

There is no optionality at all. I challenge that argument and I challenge anyone who says that it is.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rick Laliberte Liberal Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member to maybe enlighten the House on the parliamentary process that the bill has taken. It is now Bill C-23, but in the previous sitting of Parliament it was Bill C-19.

Bill C-19 was taken into consideration by the Standing Committee of Aboriginal Affairs. Could he maybe enlighten the House, myself and maybe Canadians and first nations who may be listening, on the extent of that review of clause by clause and on the level of witnesses? Did the standing committee travel extensively to economically diverse communities, some of which may have been economically progressive, or geographically or economically challenged, in the far north geographical regions? I just wanted to know what level of activity took place during the standing committee's study of Bill C-19.

With regard to optionality, the member used the example of a driver's licence. I would refer him to something that is more near and dear to us as members, and that is the option program for us to get into our pension funds. A certain group in a certain party opted out of the MP pension plan.

Maybe the member can explain and enlighten the House a little bit more on why all members here are now part of the pension fund. There was a point in our history when members could consider opting into this pension fund as members of Parliament. I think that is a better example of this opting in program for first nations to buy into Bill C-23.

Maybe the hon. member could enlighten us on the Bill C-19 parliamentary process and on the option program that we have experienced as members of Parliament in this House.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think it is useful to back up a bit and look at the chronology of the evolution of this bill. It did begin life as Bill C-19 as part of a suite of legislation that the former minister of Indian affairs pitched as his vision of the first nations governance act, I guess, or the fist nations governance initiative, as he called it, because it was really three acts.

Bill C-19 was one of the most controversial aspects of that. Bill C-7 was shot down almost unanimously across the country. However, when Bill C-19 went before the committee, no amendments were successful. The committee did not tour and embark on any consultation with communities.

However, what we do know is that the Assembly of First Nations passed resolutions opposed to Bill C-19. A small group of bands and chiefs in British Columbia were in favour of Bill C-19 and are still in favour of this bill, but that numbers approximately 30 first nations that stand in support of the bill. There are 633 first nations that are members of the Assembly of First Nations. There are valid current and recent resolutions at the Assembly of First Nations that oppose this bill.

In my view, that is all we really need to know. For us to go ahead and pass a bill that would affect the lives of aboriginal people without their full consent and without even full consultation with them is, in my view, the height of imperial arrogance, a colonial style imposition of our views as to how they should conduct their affairs.

The optionality issue is key and fundamental to this because the government's only answer to the many criticisms about this bill was to try and convince people that it would have no general harm to the inherent recognition of inherited aboriginal and treaty rights because it would apply to only those first nations that sign on and that it is completely optional.

I heard the minister say that first nations could sign on and sign off. I think that is completely incorrect. Our legal opinion suggests that one cannot simply sign on, drop in and drop out willingly. In fact, as I pointed out, as far as the lending authority, the finance authority, once a first nation has signed on, it cannot leave without the unanimous consent of all the other signatories, and that is a rare thing. If there are 30, 40 or 50 first nations that have signed on, they would have to all agree to allow another first nation to opt out and, arguably, weaken their organization. Therefore, the freedom to come and go is severely limited, if not impossible. I argue that this is not an optional bill. This affects all first nations.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to congratulate the member for his speech. As he pointed out, it is not easy to pick up where one left off after an interruption. However, it is sometimes a matter of time.

I would like to ask him if he generally feels that the current Prime Minister, who says that he wants to establish a new, more harmonious relationship with the first nations, effectively gives the signal of a new relation by introducing Bill C-23.

We know that he met with first nations chiefs during a Canada-wide forum just a few weeks ago. At this forum, everyone seemed to show some goodwill. I was very surprised that, in the Attikamek community of Manouane—which will be in my riding after the election, which should come soon—two projects that the community really wanted and in which it had invested a lot—one on telehealth and the other on high speed Internet—were rejected, either by the Department of Industry or by the Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones, in the days following the meeting between the Prime Minister and the first nations chiefs.

I would like to know whether the member feels that, with Bill C-23, we are heading towards a renewed relationship with the first nations and a true acknowledgement of their self-government; or are we simply taking the same approach Jean Chrétien did with Bill C-7?

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Joliette for a very important observation.

The current Prime Minister and the new Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development are occupying their time carrying on with the mess left to them by the previous Prime Minister and Indian affairs minister. There is nothing new, generous or innovative about a new fiscal relationship with first nations involved in dealing with a bill that was overwhelmingly turned down by first nations under the previous regime.

This is a continuation of the same assimilation strategy put forward by the previous Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, and his Indian affairs minister, whom I cannot mention by name because he is still a member of Parliament. This is a continuation of that colonial imperialistic mindset. It does not speak at all to an innovative and creative new fiscal relationship with first nations and aboriginal people.

The current Prime Minister brought in aboriginal people from across the country, three weeks ago Monday, and promised them that things would be different. Under his regime a new relationship would be forged. Yet, we are seized with and occupied by a vestige of the previous regime which most aboriginal people and first nations find offensive.

There is nothing new or creative about this. The Prime Minister is off to a bad start. I would argue that this is a missed opportunity. If I could speak directly to the Prime Minister, I would tell him that Canadians are ready, more than willing, and able to revisit our tragic history with first nations. He has missed the opportunity to do something innovative by continuing to push this bill forward that nobody wants.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I said earlier that I would see if there was consent, but I regret to inform the House that there is no unanimous consent to proceed with Bill C-34 today, so it will be referred to committee.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from March 22 consideration of the motion that Bill C-221, an act to amend the Criminal Code (no parole when imprisoned for life), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Canadian Alliance Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-221.

Canadians cannot imagine how much I would rather be speaking today on a different subject, which would be to remind Canadians of the gross mismanagement, the patronage, the payoffs and, yes, the corruption within the current Liberal government. I would love to be speaking on that and the newest thing, of course, the health care crisis that the Prime Minister finds himself in. That would be a great subject for today.

However, we have Bill C-221, the private members' bill put forward by my colleague from Calgary Northeast, which if passed would certainly clear up the question in the minds of so many Canadians. Why is a life imprisonment sentence given to offenders of the most serious and heinous type of crime, when in fact under the Criminal Code and the provisions that were introduced by previous Liberal governments, the term life imprisonment does not really mean in any way, shape or form life imprisonment?

I have received numerous petitions, letters and calls over the last 10 and a half years from constituents of mine, asking the question, why is the term life imprisonment used in the handing down of sentences for first degree murders and others that would warrant a sentence like that? In fact, it means that they can in some cases apply for parole, I believe after 15 years and some after 20 years. In any case, after serving 25 years of a life sentence they could automatically become eligible for full parole.

There are many Canadians around the country who bring to mind such people as Clifford Olson who many years ago committed multiple murders of young people in British Columbia and was given a life sentence.

We appear to be constantly reminded of Clifford Olson and his crime through the threat that he is going to be able to apply for parole and get out of prison. Canadians could walk down the street in any community, whether it be a city or a small town in rural Canada, and ask the question of people that they met: Do they think that Clifford Olson or people like him who commit such horrible crimes in this country should ever get out of prison? The answer, I am sure all members would agree, would be an overwhelming no. They should never be let out of prison.

Yet, every few years we are reminded of the fact that there is a provision that Clifford Olson can apply. It keeps bringing back the horrible memories of the crimes he committed to the families of his victims. It is something that Canadians in a very large part would like to have dealt with in an absolute fashion.

Life imprisonment should in fact mean life imprisonment for crimes that would qualify or would deserve to have that type of sentence handed down, where the penalty fit the seriousness or the heinousness of the crime.

Members will know that Bill C-221 brought forward by my colleague from Calgary Northeast is not something that is just an idle thought. I am sure members of the House know very well that my colleague spent many years in the service of protecting Canadians as a member of the police force. He was exposed to the most horrible types of crimes.

In serving as a police officer he was able to, of course, follow the proceedings of people he had arrested for committing first degree murder crimes or something that would be deserving of the most serious penalty that our system would provide. He watched these people go through the system--the guilty verdicts and sentences being handed down of life imprisonment--only to find that within a 15 year period people were able to apply for parole and in many cases were granted parole.

This, I am sure, led my colleague to wonder why we even have the term “life imprisonment” in the Criminal Code for sentencing if in fact it does not really mean what it says. I know that most members of the House, in the last three Parliaments since I have been here, have received letters from Canadians, particularly following serious and heinous crimes. Canadians say that it is time for Parliament to make a statement that the justice system and the Criminal Code are going to take a very hard line stance on people who believe that it is okay to kill people in this country knowing that they will have a chance for parole after serving only a portion of their so-called life sentence.

In 1976 the Liberals crafted the legislation which made these provisions. It brought in section 745, now section 745.6, which is known as the faint hope clause in the Criminal Code. This section, as I said, allows offenders to have their parole ineligibility period reduced after serving only 15 years of a life sentence.

In response to the number of criminals that were being freed under section 745, now section 745.6, in 1996 the Liberals brought forward Bill C-45, which introduced some changes to that section of the Criminal Code. Under the provisions of that bill, convicted murderers were no longer entitled to an automatic section 745.6 hearing, but rather there was a screening process put in place. There was also a provision that just boggled the minds of most Canadians. It stated that a person who had committed first degree murder could apply for early parole if only one murder had been committed.

The Liberal government, back in 1996, made a distinction that if someone killed just one person and was convicted of first degree murder, then that individual had a chance of getting out, but if someone killed more than one person, that individual's chances were eliminated.

Therefore, by extending that line of thinking, one could only arrive at the conclusion that it was not quite so bad in the minds of members of the Liberal government to maliciously and viciously kill one person because the criminal could apply for parole and some of the provisions would kick in, but if two or more people were killed, then somehow that was bad. Canadians are confused enough by some of the Criminal Code provisions that were put in by the Liberal government.

In wrapping up, I would encourage all members of the House to support private member's Bill C-221 because we must bring back to this country truth in sentencing and, indeed, life imprisonment should and must mean life imprisonment.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to support the bill introduced by my colleague from Calgary. It is a necessary bill and one whose time has come.

I remember asking my colleague a question about the bill when he first debated it not too many weeks ago. He talked about life meaning life, as my colleague from Prince George just alluded to as well. It is necessary in a criminal justice system to send a message to those who are going to commit a crime such as murder, that if they are convicted to a life sentence, then that sentence should mean life.

Too many times we have run into cases in our ridings where individuals, family members, have been victimized by somebody else's cruel action toward a family member. They have lost not only that loved one but they also have to live with the pain and feelings that go along with that. They are often victimized a second time when the offender who took their loved one's life comes up for parole. They have to relive the whole event over again.

I have been to a number of parole board hearings on behalf of families who have asked me to attend. It is just shocking some of the processes that go on there. I am not sure that many people know exactly what happens in a parole board hearing.

At a parole board hearing the perpetrator of the crime gets to speak to the parole board, to give his or her story about the crime he or she committed. A victim impact statement is allowed to be read by the family but the family has no real ability to have an impact on how the parole board is going to rule on that decision. There is no cross-examination of the offender's comments or testimony at the parole board hearing.

It is often laughable to hear about some of the things that are said. The family members will tell what actually happened in the crime that was committed against their loved one and then to hear the story of the offender, it is often very different, skewed and untrue in many instances. As a result of this kind of process, often individuals who are able to obtain parole are released into the community, often into the same community where they committed the crime and where the family happens to be.

I remember one case where an individual contacted me. His father had been killed by an offender, a family member. The person who committed this terrible, awful and horrible crime had then threatened the other family member that when he got out he was going to come after him and do the same thing to him. The offender was in the same community.

The victim of the crime had lost his father, had been terrified by the other person in the family who had committed the crime. He was being told that this person was very likely to be released into the community under early parole. The family member ended up moving from the community. He was victimized by losing his father and then lived in fear that the individual was going to get out.

The individual was released into the community even though there had been a threat uttered against the victim. The victim ended up having to move from British Columbia to another province to get away from the perpetrator of the crime.

That kind of thing highlights a real problem in our system. My colleague's bill goes a long way to ensuring that victims of crime who have faced this kind of event in their lives will not again be victimized by the early release of someone who was convicted of a life sentence. Life should mean life.

I am sure we could all draw on many examples in our ridings that would highlight the need for this bill to go forward. It is not a difficult bill to understand. It is not long. It is not overly involved. It is very clear.

Other jurisdictions are asking for this kind of bill to be put in place, for these changes to be made to the Criminal Code. My colleague referred to the premier of Manitoba, Gary Doer. He is asking for this kind of change to the Criminal Code, where life means life.

It is for that reason that I would encourage my colleagues from all parties to support this common sense amendment to the Criminal Code. It would, in effect, have the impact of meaning that a life sentence would be a life sentence. The victims of crime would not be further victimized by individuals being released into the community. We would have an enhanced and safer criminal justice system in our country. That would be worthwhile.

We should support our colleague's bill. We should make sure this is something that happens, that the bill is passed into law before we leave this place for the upcoming election.