House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was billion.


Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for probably one of the most enjoyable debates of the day, the most informative at the very least. Not to comment on the excitement of prebudgetary consultations but this debate is clearly engaging some members in the House in bringing before us a fundamental question about how we view our democracy, how we view the responsibility that we share as Canadians.

We often lament to voters who do not come to the ballot box and say that men and women died for this right. People for generations have fought here and abroad in foreign lands for the very right to engage in the political process. Some of the arguments saying that this bill is not good for Canada today are most profound in their simplicity and their lack of vision and courage for the country that we are trying to create for Canadians. I proudly and strongly stand in support of my colleague on Bill C-261.

Engaging young people and engaging Canadians in the debate about where we want to lead this country is fundamental to the very things that we do here each and every day. This bill has been introduced a number of times, twice before by my party, but they were in circumstances where the government of the day was able to run over it, ignore it, dispel it and push it to the background.

Now we have an opportunity. I was most encouraged by the member's choice in coming to all parties and engaging people from all corners of the House to try to find a practical and real way to engage young Canadians in the political process, because by all the numbers and by all the studies we know that they are not. There are very few political scientists, politicians and policy makers who are able to convince anyone in this country that this trend is not going to simply continue down the slippery slope.

We often lament to the Americans that only 50% of Americans vote in their federal elections, decide who the next president, congressmen and senators will be. We are quickly matching them on these numbers. I fear to think about what kind of place we will eventually end up with and what percentage of Canadians will actually decide who sits in the House to pass such important laws, bills such as the one that was proposed by the government this morning, the same sex marriage legislation. How many people will decide this? If we are not encouraging young people to join in on the debate in a real, practical and empowered way, then how and when if not now?

I was speaking to a page yesterday, not on this particular bill but on her experience in the House of Commons to this point six months in. She was very professional in not presenting a partisan view, but she did express her level of engagement and interest in what was going on here, how enthusiastic she was about some of the debates. She said that her friends would return home at night and have discussions about these things. Oh, would that we had this problem in this country with young people, that there were young people at home right now saying, “Did you hear what happened in the House of Commons today? A bill was introduced. What do you think about it? What would you do? What will you be voting on in the next federal election whenever it comes?” We should have this interest level.

The consideration by some of the members present that someone at the age of 16 or 17 cannot be given the sincere and profound responsibility of voting their local representative into the House, yet at age 14 can vote in a potential prime minister through a leadership convention is absolutely absurd. If this is the case, then quickly we must change the way that our parties function, their constitutions and bylaws, to ensure that nobody below the age of 18 has any significant responsibility and decision making in choosing something as important as the leaders of our parties. Clearly we have to change all of our bylaws. If members of the House are looking to strike this bill down, then I look forward to their making presentations at their own conventions to make sure that everything else falls in line.

I had the sincere pleasure of living in Costa Rica for a while and I witnessed one of its federal elections. What a contrast. There were parties in the street and people engaging for months beforehand. The most incredible thing was watching families going together to the ballot box. In Costa Rica there are two ballot boxes, one for below the voting age and one for above. The young people cast their ballots. There is the same list of candidates, the same parties, and the results are released on television at the same time. What this created, and I witnessed this in the houses of Costa Rican friends, was a debate within the families.

A lot of people are concerned that parents will direct the young people. The most engaging all candidates debate I participated in during the last federal election was at a high school. It was a fascinating experiment. In the afternoon the high school classes came in, students who were 15, 16 and 17 years old. Their teachers had prepared them on the issues. The students had thought about and considered the issues for weeks before the debate. In the evening we had a debate in the same auditorium which was open to the community.

Out of the nine or ten all candidates debates we had throughout the course of the election, the candidates all agreed that the debate with young people in that high school that afternoon was the most informed and passionate one. It was difficult for the candidates because the young people knew their issues. They knew what they were talking about. They brought hard questions for the candidates because they cared.

As my hon. colleague mentioned, when we present the issues to young people in Canada, they have opinions lo and behold. They have intelligence. They have enough compassion and commitment to make decisions about the future direction of our country.

The cynical side of many of us would say that this is a strategic decision for parties, to find advantage or disadvantage in allowing young people to vote. I call upon members to have the courage to seek out a vision for this country. They must have the courage to go forth to young people and present their vision of this country, the courage to say that we care passionately about what the young people care about, and that we will enact legislation in this House that positively affects their lives and their future.

This is as opposed to what we do right now in understanding where the percentages are. If we are going to upset one group, is it going to be seniors or young people? Well, let us run the numbers. That is what the cynic wants to say.

I want to present to the House that in this tour that is going across the country, people should ask their constituents. Members should ask the families in their ridings whether they believe that the young people in their lives, be they their children or people in their community, have the intelligence and the capacity when presented with the issues of the day, when presented with the options, the parties and the candidates, to cast a vote in the best interests of their future and the future of their community and their country.

The young people that are engaged, and we have heard testimony here in the House today, clearly have the capacity and the ability to come into this process. The cigarette companies and the cola companies have figured it out. What we must do is engage people at a young age and create the culture of voting. I saw a culture of voting in Costa Rica with turnouts of 80% plus in its federal election. I saw a culture of voting and a culture of democracy which we are sadly lacking.

The last election was meant to be a ferocious debate. It was to be a debate on principles and one which would intimately engage Canadians and the numbers would skyrocket in participation. Sadly, after voting day we saw yet again that Canadians were not being engaged.

After the high school debate that I witnessed in Kitimat, B.C. I went knocking on doors. Many times the people who came to the door were informed. They said that they knew me, that their daughter or their son talked about seeing me. They said that it was the first time that their son or daughter had come home from high school bubbling and talking about the issues that they had been presented with. The young people wanted to engage their families in the upcoming federal election, letting them know when the date was, making sure that they would actually vote. They said that they did not have the ability to cast a vote and that their parents must vote.

The number of people who told me this was astonishing. I made a commitment to visit the schools not for partisan reasons, but for reasons to engage young people, to present the issues, same sex marriage, legalization of pot, all the big issues that the House will be facing in the coming weeks. Lo and behold, the young people have opinions. Lo and behold, they want to do research and they want to find something out.

I wish that were my experience with the so-called adult mature community of this country, that when I engage them they immediately want to go out and study the issues, that they want to find out something about the issues and come back with their opinions.

Recently at York University there was a very tragic scene. Young people were engaging in their right to protest a decision that had been made. During that protest the police came in and rude is the most mild word to use but it bordered on illegal and I hope that charges are pressed. I would encourage the dean of York University to withdraw the charges against the students.

I want to remind the House that in this minority government, in this Parliament that is bringing forth the values and interests from across this region, from across the parties herein lies an opportunity for us to redefine democracy and to re-engage our young people in the passion that we all feel for this great country.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Exploits, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand today to talk about this serious issue, Bill C-261. I thank my colleague from Ajax--Pickering for bringing it forward because it is an issue that is very important to me.

I will start the debate by talking about a situation that happened to me in central Newfoundland. I am from a very rural riding. A 16 year old girl said that she wanted to talk to me about post-secondary education because she had a concern. I said that was fine and that we should talk about it. She brought forward not just some problems with the system for her and her family financially but she also presented some ideas.

She told me that she would never ever bring to the debate just problems. She said that she wanted to bring solutions as well. I listened to her and she made a very good debate. When the election was over, I saw her again and asked her how she felt. I told her that we would, hopefully, be able to move forward on it. What she asked me was whether it mattered and had I listened. Well I looked at her and admitted that I had not really listened because I knew she could not vote.

That is the problem that comes into this. When someone is 16 or 17 they are making life decisions, decisions about careers and family but we did not listen to them because they could not vote. To me, that was the ultimate crime. I want to give her that chance.

The charter states that every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein. I cannot think of a better person than that young lady who talked to me so intelligently about her situation and who brought forward solutions. That is the type of debate we need to have.

I think engaging our youth is the issue in which our communities need to get involved. We need to engage the entire community, young and old, and the community consists of secondary schools.

My hon. colleague from the New Democratic Party talked about the debate that was going on in a school and how informed the students were. If we give them the right to vote, are we going to listen? Of course we will listen and we will take action this time because in the end we need their support.

Imagine sitting at the dinner table with a daughter, like the one I spoke about earlier, who says, “Dad, I don't like your thinking on post-secondary education, I don't like the way you are voting and I think you should vote another way”. The Dad may reply by saying that it was unfortunate she felt that way and then she might reply by saying that she would cancel his vote.

All of a sudden we have empowered our youth. These people are mature enough and engaged enough and we need to recognize that. That is why I am honoured to stand here to talk about Bill C-261.

It is nice to see that we have support from all parties in the House. It is one of those issues that tie us because we have children and we want to engage our children to do this. Voter turnout in my riding was pathetic. It was less than 50%. What a crime. To get 16 and 17 year olds to vote puts excitement into this debate. It allows them to have a say and it elevates them because now they would have an opinion and we as adults would finally listen. They are in grade 11 or grade 12, but when we speak to them, as we have done, we will listen. To me that would be the biggest benefit of this bill because they do believe in these issues. They do have opinions on same sex marriage and on ballistic missile defence. We just do not take the time to get another perspective, but the bill certainly would.

My hon. colleague quoted a fellow Newfoundlander, Rick Mercer. I will quote him again because he was doing one of his typical rants, as he likes to call them. He said, “If I were 16, I would write my member of Parliament, I would complain, except if I were 16 they wouldn't care what I had to say because I don't have the vote and that's the problem”.

My hon. colleague from Newmarket talked about the poll that was done recently of a thousand respondents. One of the questions was: Do you feel a sense of responsibility to inform yourself about public policy issues or is public policy an area that government should deal with on your behalf? Of the young respondents, 27% said that it was their personal responsibility, while 63% said that the government should decide for them. The reason I believe that is so is because we told them that is the way it is.

Now we have to tell them that their opinion does count and that they can take a personal interest in the rest of their lives. Even at 16 and 17 they can make the decisions for the rest of their lives.

Another question was: Would you be very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely or very unlikely to vote in the next election if allowed? The poll showed that 23% said unlikely, while 76% said likely. They say that no government works on their behalf and that they really do not have much say on the issue, but 73% said that if they were given the chance they would stand up. I think it is time we gave them the chance.

One of my hon. colleagues complained that we would be the first country to do this. Why can we not be the first country? Let us be the first country to tell our young people that they can vote, that they can have a say and have the power. I think that would be the greatest benefit of this particular situation.

The last point I want to make is about my home. I am from a rural riding where out-migration is at a terrible level. I was a victim of that out-migration. I was 17 years old when I left my hometown of Bishop's Falls in central Newfoundland, a town of less than 4,000 people.

The first time I ever voted in my life I was in a foreign land: New Brunswick, which is somewhat foreign, but it is foreign when one is from a small town in Newfoundland.

The thing is that I wanted to vote in my hometown. I wanted to get involved in my hometown. If we do not involve our youth in the little town of Bishop's Falls, then we are in trouble.

Let us imagine answering the door and a young lady is standing there. She says that her name is Jessica, that she is 16 years old, and that she is running for town council and wants our vote. Can anyone imagine a 16 year old candidate? I may not vote for her but I guarantee I will remember her. That young lady will inspire me and she will inspire her friends to vote as well. We are dealing with younger people who have opinions and well thought out ideas and now it is up to us to recognize that they have that voice.

I want to do this for rural Canada. I definitely want to do this for rural Newfoundland and Labrador because I believe in it. I believe that our children, 16 and 17 year olds, should have that voice.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

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

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that it is necessary for me to rise today. It results from a question I asked on November 5 on an issue which was and is extremely important to people in my constituency and right across the country. It is unfortunate because had an answer been given, of course, I would have no reason to be standing today. As is the case so often, there was absolutely no answer given to the question asked.

In the background to my question I pointed out a situation to do with Blue Mountain Packers in British Columbia. Some of my constituents have shares and are among the key players in this operation. They had complained to me, rightfully so, that they have been held up in reopening the plant by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They made the point that the local people were very good, and I think that is the case with the CFIA, but once the decision gets to the brass in Ottawa, everything seems to be put on hold.

We desperately need these plants to open to deal with the BSE situation, especially cull cows and bulls. Instead of being helpful in getting these plants open as quickly as possible, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the brass here in Ottawa, seemed to be holding things up. I talked about that particular plant and that problem in my background to the question.

On Monday, lo and behold, something was done. Three people were sent from the CFIA to the plant. Finally, after we had been hammering on this for months and I had made that week a concerted effort to make this happen, the people were sent and the plant did open. Public pressure seemed to be necessary. However, that was not my question.

On November 5 I asked this question specifically:

--how many plants has the CFIA approved in western Canada in the 18 months since the BSE crisis hit?

I asked that question because of the painfully slow process that is going on within the CFIA. Again, the local people seem to be doing their jobs very well and they seem to be very cooperative for the most part. It is when they have to go to Ottawa for some approval that the situation is held up. It is completely unacceptable.

I asked that question and I received no answer at all. I hope the minister will answer it today.

In my constituency on the issue of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency I have had several people suggest to me that the CFIA may have been instructed by people in government, provincial or federal--I have heard both--to actually deliberately slow the process down so that some of the government backed plants, let us say, do not face new competition.

If there is a grain of truth to this, and I do not know whether there is or not, that is simply unacceptable and the government has to deal with it. It should have dealt with this an awful long time ago. In Alberta the two main plants were definitely backed by the Alberta government when they were built. I am looking desperately for explanations as to why the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is being so slow and why it seems to be deliberately slowing the process down; it seems to be, but it may not be. This would be one possible explanation.

I would like an answer from the minister to my actual question. How many plants have been approved by the CFIA in western Canada in the past 18 months? I would really appreciate an answer from the government for a change.

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.


Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Speaker, the member said that he did not get an answer on November 5. I just re-read Hansard and I think he received a very positive answer. In fact, I answered the question myself. I told him that I had talked to individual investors at the plants and that we would be moving ahead. He admits himself, and he says that lo and behold something was done.

Of course something was done. The minister announced on September 10 a policy and a program to increase beef slaughter capacity in the country, and we have been moving ahead doing that.

Regarding the question of how many plants have been approved in the last 18 months in western Canada, CFIA cannot approve plants unless investors have put in place an operation and want the federal inspection system.

I would answer this way. In the last 18 months the CFIA has had one request in western Canada for the registration of a beef slaughter house. Officials of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency worked very closely, and he admitted that himself, with the management of the establishment to facilitate the plant's registration.

On November 9, 2004, the CFIA informed the minister that the application for registration for the establishment was approved and that the plant was licensed and was eligible to begin operations as of November 10, 2004. While the details of the plant's application process cannot be discussed, it is important to note that all new meat establishments must provide the required information so that their application for registration can be properly evaluated by the CFIA for compliance with health and safety standards and requirements of our trading partner.

Currently for beef, there are 29 federally registered licensed slaughter house operations across Canada. One other plant has officially approached the CFIA for federal registration and that file is progressing quite well. We expect to see more requests. In fact, we hope to see more requests, and the CFIA is prepare to do its part as is the minister.

The requirements for federally registered meat establishments are fundamental to Canada's meat inspection program which is designed to ensure that Canadian meat products achieve the highest standards for food safety. These federal standards also allow Canadian meat products to be exported to markets around the world. Requirements vary significantly from country to country, and we are audited by foreign countries to ensure that requirements are met.

In conclusion, the CFIA has in place a well established and recognized process for application review. When the necessary information is returned from the plant ownership, an immediate review and evaluation occurs. That is what the CFIA is all about, to help those plants get registered, to see that our standards are met and to ensure that we are moving product that is safe for the consuming population and meets the requirements of the nations that we export to as well.

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member said at the start of his presentation that he had given me an answer on November 5. That simply is not the case and he knows it. We could read it in Hansard on page 1274. That was no answer at all. Now he has given me an answer of one plant. That is one plant in 18 months. He should be ashamed of that.

He said that only one plant had asked to be registered. That is because plants have to go through the complete process which involves the CFIA at every step before they can request registration. In fact, the CFIA is holding it up and is holding it up in an unacceptable fashion. It has become an agency out of control. We opposed the establishment of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in the 1990s. I was there. We took the right stand. It is an agency out of control and the government is responsible for its actions. It has to take control.

It is an agency which is slowing down the opening of these plants now. It is also picking on individual producers who have come to me in two or three cases for help. Now the CFIA is making life difficult for them in other situations.

The member has to take control, and I look for the minister's assurance that this will happen.

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, as usual we get a rant with no substance from the member opposite. He said that the CFIA is out of control. Nothing is further from the truth. The government itself has responded progressively with the minister's September 10 announcement. In support of the current government's measures, CFIA has decentralized its plant approval process that will see a regional team of experts fully dedicated to new plant approvals. The member knows this, but he just does not want to admit it.

I have seen that in my province of Prince Edward Island with the plant that has just opened. We saw it with the plant that the member mentioned in Blue Mountain. That is working with the operators in a regional--

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake.

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am following up on a question I asked back on November 26 to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Essentially, on November 7 a murder was committed in one of the cities in my riding. A young man was beaten to death by two individuals. One of those individuals was out on parole and the other was out on conditional release. On top of the death and the murder of which they are accused, one of the accused has multiple unrelated felonies which he committed during his conditional release.

We really have to take a hard look at how our parole system works and at how public safety has not become paramount to every decision that has been made. We need to ensure that people on the street are protected from these violent offenders.

We need to get down to the bases of how Parliament and the government has made some bad decisions and on how the entire system works. The Liberal experiment on conditional sentences and on parole hearings has failed, and we have to revamp the entire system.

I also want to follow up with this. Just recently we had two inmates walk out of the Rockwood Institution, a federal minimum security facility in my riding. A total of five inmates have walked out of that facility in the past 12 months, and a total of 15 in the past five years.

Public safety has to be paramount. Correctional Service Canada has a great staff and good management. I am very proud of the job that they do, but they have to do it within the mandate and the regulations presented to them by the government. However, again they are working inside another Liberal experiment.

I ask, when will the government put public safety first and fix the parole system in Correctional Service?

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario


Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on a question raised in the House on November 26, 2004, by my hon. colleague from Selkirk—Interlake.

The question concerned the rehabilitation, release and monitoring of violent offenders by the Correctional Service of Canada.

Correctional Service Canada is mandated through the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to contribute to a safe society by assisting offenders to rehabilitate and to reintegrate into the community. The law dictates certain conditions and limitations on the length of time that an offender can remain incarcerated. Therefore, it is important to recognize that the vast majority of offenders are serving fixed sentences and are eventually returned to their communities.

The National Parole Board is an independent tribunal that has exclusive authority to release offenders. No one can influence its decisions, including the Minister.

All National Parole Board decisions are made following a thorough assessment of risk, which examines the offender's past, his or her present, and his or her future.

In making its release decisions, the National Parole Board considers all available information, including recommendations and concerns of Correctional Service Canada, as well as information from the police, the courts, psychologists and others, including victims of crime.

In order to fulfill its mandate, Correctional Service Canada operates on the principle that society is best protected when offenders are able to re-establish themselves in the community under conditions that minimize their risk of reoffending.

Gradual, structured release of offenders to the community, when it is safe to do so and with proper supervision and support, is effective in ensuring the safety of our communities.

Release is not automatic. Conditional release decisions are based on a thorough assessment of risk, and public safety is always the paramount consideration.

Correctional Service Canada's public safety results are evidence that CSC, or Correctional Service Canada, is fulfilling its mandate. The rates for successful completion of conditional release are among the highest in recent years. Some 94% of offenders on conditional release last year successfully completed their sentences without reoffending and 1% were re-convicted for violent crimes.

The member asked why we continued to release violent offenders into the community without rehabilitation or monitoring. The fact is that this is not the case.

As soon as offenders enter a federal prison, and throughout their sentence, they undergo intensive assessments. These assessments determine the offender's security and programming needs. The assessment forms the basis of the offender's correctional plan for treatment and intervention throughout the offender's sentence. The aim of this plan is to help the offenders address the factors that caused their criminal behaviours. CSC actively encourages offenders to participate in their correctional plans and progress is monitored.

The ultimate goal is to rehabilitate the offender. The more successfully offenders complete recommended programming and treatment, the better their chances of successful reintegration. Released offenders may also be subject to strict supervision conditions. Any violation of those conditions can result in a return to the penitentiary.

As I indicated earlier, most offenders will eventually be returned to the community. However, some offenders will be ordered detained by the National Parole Board.

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I concur with the parliamentary secretary that we have to rehabilitate and reintegrate our violent offenders and our criminals. and ensure that they go through the proper process. However, the current system that we have today is not working. The government has failed on keeping tabs of its violent offenders who are out in the public. That is why we have the crimes that were committed in my riding. The proof is in the pudding.

The Deputy Prime Minister, when I questioned her, made a statement, and I want to ask if it has been followed up on. She said:

However, I have indicated that I am willing to undertake a review of aspects of our parole system. The parole board may need more resources to do its job. I am more than willing to have the justice committee of the House of Commons take a look at this issue. I have been very clear that our goal is public safety.

When is this review going to take place of the parole system and Correctional Service Canada so that we--

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to reiterate that this government is committed to contributing to safe communities across Canada and that public safety is a paramount consideration in all decision-making.

The minister is still committed to reviewing sentencing and parole. One of the roadblocks up until now has been the fact that the justice committee has a very extensive workload. There is now a subcommittee that has been formed and I know the minister, and the government, is currently reviewing how to proceed with this review.

I can undertake to follow up with the minister and make an assessment and a determination of how and when that review will be conducted. I think that it would be in our interest and the government's interest, and in the interest of the people of Canada to review sentencing and parole. We must ensure that we are doing the right thing so that we can avoid, wherever possible, the kind of situation that did occur in the member's riding.

Canada Elections ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:49 p.m.)