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House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was foreign.

Topics

Business of Supply

11 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 81(14), to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That the House call upon the government to address the issue of child care by fulfilling its commitment to reduce taxes for low and modest income families in the upcoming budget, and so as to respect provincial jurisdiction, ensure additional funds for childcare are provided directly to parents.

This motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Calgary Southwest, is votable. Copies of the motion are available at the Table.

It being 11:04 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

moved that Bill C-215, an act to amend the Criminal Code (consecutive sentence for use of firearm in commission of offence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and proud to rise in support of Bill C-215, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the consecutive sentence for use of a firearm in commission of indictable offences.

The purpose of this enactment is to require that a sentence for the commission of certain serious offences be supplemented if a firearm is used. The additional sentence is to be served consecutively to the other sentence and is to be a further minimum punishment of five years imprisonment if the firearm is not discharged, 10 years if it is discharged and 15 years if it is discharged and as a result a person, other than an accomplice, is caused bodily harm.

The offences affected are those specified in the following sections: using a firearm in the commission of the offence or using an imitation firearm in the commission of the offence; and the offences being murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, assault causing bodily harm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, extortion and robbery.

The bill I am bringing forward today is not about incarceration but it is about sending a very clear message. It is a message about protecting society by providing an effective deterrent against serious indictable offences involving guns.

The precedent of mandatory minimum sentences has worked extremely well as an effective deterrent in cases of impaired driving. Many of us in the House will remember a number of years ago when one was stopped for an impaired driving charge and the person would perhaps receive a penalty of a three month suspension and maybe a $200 fine. Unfortunately, that did little to stem the abuse of impaired driving.

Consequently, a minimum mandatory was established of a one year suspension and a $1,000 fine. All of a sudden we started to achieve results. The message was a clear deterrent and that message was do not drink and drive.

We have a precedent, therefore, and it is in these types of sentences that it can work. I truly believe a clear message of deterrence must be applied to criminals who use firearms while committing an indictable offence, and that message being that if a person uses a gun in the commission of an offence he or she will pay a severe price.

Let me be absolutely clear. This proposed amendment is about sending a message. It is about sending a message to our criminal society. It is the message that the safety and security of society must be addressed. We need to send this message not only to those who commit the crimes that they will be punished but we also have to send this message to those who have experienced these crimes as a victim, that we take their protection seriously and that we will take all measures necessary to ensure that their rights and their safety are respected.

Over this past while I have met with many organizations, municipal and interest groups. As a matter of fact, just lately I met personally with the Canadian Professional Police Association that represents over 54,000 members in this country. I have also met with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Both of those associations fully endorse the proposed bill.

I have with me today a written endorsement from these defenders of justice. I will take the liberty of informing my colleagues of their sentiments.

The first one is a written endorsement from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. It reads:

Letter of Endorsement

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is pleased to support Bill C-215, an act to amend the Criminal Code (consecutive sentence for use of firearm in commission of offence), standing in the name of...MP Prince Edward-Hastings.

The Association feels this is an appropriate, serious response to occurrences of violent crime. We support the underlying principles of this legislation.

The letter is signed by Edgar MacLeod, President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

As well, I have an endorsement from the Canadian Professional Police Association. It reads:

CPPA Support to Bill C-215

The Canadian Professional Police Association endorses the principle of creating tougher penalties for the commission of serious offences when they are supplemented with the use of a firearm.

We believe that private members' Bill C-215 provides an effective deterrent against violent gun crimes and applaud the member for Prince Edward—Hastings for introducing it.

The Canadian Professional Police Association, which represents 54,000 police personnel members in every province from across the country believes, however, that, “provisions contained in Bill C-215 should apply to serious offences when they are supplemented with the use of a firearm as well as any other type of weapon”.

As we can see, there are groups and organizations that want the bill to extend into a further reach. I believe the bill is worthy of debate and going to a committee for examination to see if some of these other recommendations from the third party sources could possibly have an effect.

Judicially there are also concerns of the glaring inconsistencies of sentencing and literally the virtual ritual of plea bargaining resulting in the absence of a consistent message of deterrence being sent to the criminal element. If sentences for gun crimes continue to be arbitrarily decided without consistency, then criminals will continue to behave without fear of consequence.

As a former police officer a number of years ago, I have felt firsthand what many victims have been shockingly exposed to, and that is looking down the barrel of a gun from the wrong end. While many of us know what it is like to fire a gun, how many in the House know what it is like to have a gun pointed at them, to stare down the barrel of a gun and have one's life pass by literally in a millisecond?

I can assure members that the half-inch bore of a gun looks like a cannon before the victim's eyes. I would also like to separate the fiction of the entertainment world's perception of firearms from the reality of the real pain and the real suffering.

In the nostalgic days of Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral, the portrayal of gunslingers where they would supposedly shoot at 80 paces and hit the gun out of an adversary's hand was absolutely and totally ridiculous and fictitious of course. Anyone who has any familiarity with handguns, unless they are in the hands of an expert marksman in a controlled setting, would know that the reality is that handguns are absolutely not accurate in the hands of someone who is in an uncontrolled situation with spray patterns literally emerging from side to side.

For instance, if I had a handgun in my hand right now and at point of origin I would just simply wave it, in a non-threatening way of course toward any of my colleagues in the House, literally six-inches at origin, every one of my colleagues from one side of the House to the other would be in danger of being hit by, obviously a weapon. Handguns are totally unreliable and many innocent victims, under circumstances like this, are either killed, disabled or injured as a criminal in an uncontrolled situation is generally in a state of anxiety and has little care, regard or concern for others.

Many people quote statistics and refer to them as numbers, and of course, cold hard numbers they are. In reality, when firearms are involved in these statistics, literally every one is a human tragedy. I would like to draw the attention of my hon. colleagues to the following statistics which clearly demonstrate the scope of human pain and suffering that is not always just physical but on many occasions, scars a person psychologically for the rest of their life. On July 28, 2004 Statistics Canada released its annual report on robberies which stated:

The rate of robberies rose 5%, the first gain since 1996. This included a 10% increase in robberies committed with a firearm. Of the more than 28,000 robberies in 2003, 14% involved a firearm, 38% were committed with a weapon other than a firearm, and nearly half were committed without a weapon.

Over 2,300 robberies that took place in 2003 were committed with a firearm. Of the 161 firearm homicides in 2003, 109 were committed with handguns. Other violent crimes are increasing as well. Attempted murder and aggravated assault were both up 4% and assault with a weapon was up 1% in 2003.

Many people will say that is only 1%, 2%, 3% or 4%, but let me put that into perspective. Over the past 25 years, violent crime has gone up 66%. That is simply not acceptable. The status quo is not working. As these statistics clearly show, violent crime is all too prevalent in Canada.

There are serious problems, particularly in our urban cores with gangs, violence in clubs, and convenience store and gas bar robberies. I would like to draw the attention of all of my hon. colleagues in the House, but particularly those from the metro-Toronto area and those from our urban cores, to yesterday's headline in the Toronto Star which read, “Toronto's Deadly Weekend”. I would like to take the liberty to read from that paper which stated:

Deadliest weekend: 3 dead, 5 injured...a woman fatally shot Friday evening...Two other victims were rushed to Sunnybrook hospital, where they are being treated for gunshot wounds. A woman was shot dead and her husband injured by gunfire...Investigators say a man was shot in the back after a fight broke out on the dance floor, and a woman hit in the thigh.

All of that happened on the same day in one of our major cities. The paper went on to report:

--a student standing in a covered bus shelter...was hit in the arm by gunfire about 1 p.m. Friday.

Those stories all came out of one newspaper.

Walking back to my apartment last night I happened to pick up Sunday's Ottawa Citizen and what did I find in there as well but a story about another person being shot on Friday night in the city of Ottawa. I can probably assume from these kind of activities that if I pick up a newspaper from a major metropolitan area, I will see similar kinds of activities and reporting.

We cannot simply stand by and watch our communities deteriorate further. While respecting the rights of criminals, we must stop this escalation of violent crime. We must turn the corner of this page. We fully understand and respect the fact that criminals have rights, but society has rights as well. We have the right to live without fear of injury or death. I believe that in failing to act to prevent crimes like those that happened last weekend in Toronto, we are failing in our duty as members of Parliament.

Parliament is a body of lawmakers. My hon. colleagues sitting in the House with me today have responsibilities. We have the responsibility to protect the vulnerable in our society. We have the responsibility to provide the tools for our law enforcement agencies. We must follow-through with that responsibility. We must send a clear message of deterrence, protection and prevention.

I believe that we have a duty in this place to support Bill C-215. It is a positive initiative to deal with gun crimes against society. I look forward to comments from my colleagues in the House.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for his comments on the nature of the bill. One of the challenges that we have to engage in with respect to the judicial system, and I used to be a correctional officer many years ago, is how to separate those individuals who are inveterate violent criminals with those who are first time offenders and non-violent.

If someone is an inveterate criminal who commits violent offences, it is our responsibility to ensure that those people do not get out on the street if there is any reasonable chance of them recommitting an offence.

It is very reasonable to put forth solutions that would increase the penalties for those who are violent offenders. I would suggest increasing the penalties for those who use a gun in the commission of an offence to ensure that those charges cannot be plea bargained away, that they run consecutively and not concurrently. In doing so we actually fulfill our responsibility to the public to protect them. I would suggest that this would be a better way of doing that and in fact through the gun registry in its current existence.

Having said that, the head start program for kids is probably the most important initiative we can have for prevention. It focuses on children from zero to eight. Its essence is to ensure that parents have better parenting skills. Strengthening the parent-child bond, by ensuring that parents have good parenting skills and children have their basic needs met, we will go a long way toward addressing a host of social problems including the issue of youth crime. It has been shown that the head start program actually reduces crime by 50% to 60%.

Would the hon. member and his party support a national head start program that focuses on children from zero to eight, its essence being to ensure that kids have their basic needs met and that parents are taught the parenting skills which will affect their children and society at large?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's comments are constructive comments. I believe that the bill by itself is not just the sole answer.

I compliment the member for bringing forward other suggestions to complement and corroborate this initiative. That in itself is not just the only one. There are a number of situations where if we were to deal obviously with the root cause, then we would never have the violent circumstances. That is of course a very broad brush and a very broad scope. It is something that we should continue to look into and evolve.

We seem to have reached a point in society where the pendulum has swung too far. We must put in some form of a wake-up call to grab the attention of society and say that we have gone overboard and that it is not acceptable. We cannot tolerate that kind of abuse. Society demands better.

As a matter of fact, I have had other suggestions that want the bill to go further. We have had a number of suggestions from interested groups and organizations that wanted to include all weapons. I am saying that is fine, but that opens up other arguments and other concerns. Do we then consider a religious dagger a weapon? There are a number of other concerns that are brought into this.

Therefore, for now, let us keep the focus narrow. Let us deliver the desired results with a very clear message. If we muddle this message, it is not going to get through. For example, when we did impaired driving, we did not muddy it. We kept it very clear and very simple. In most cases that is how we have to communicate with the electorate. We have to communicate with the offenders. We have to hit them literally between the eyeballs on this and drive the message home.

Are we open for positive suggestions to reinforce, corroborate and assist? Should this necessarily be a stand alone initiative? Absolute not. I think you and I are both on the same path, my good friend.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

May I remind the hon. member to make his comments through the Chair. By the same token I appreciate being regarded as his friend.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, before I explain why we are unable to support Bill C-215, I want to mention that the motive for the bill is highly commendable. However, the Minister of Justice and I do not support Bill C-215, sponsored by the hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings.

The purpose of Bill C-215 is ensure that strong measures are taken under the Criminal Code in the case of offences committed using a firearm. No one disagrees with the overall purpose of this bill.

However, the manner in which Bill C-215 proposes to realize that objective raises serious concerns. The most glaring concern is the proposal to add a sentence on top of a life sentence in the case of murder committed with a firearm. This is illegal under our law. The novel concept which Bill C-215 proposes to introduce to our law can perhaps best be described as supplementary sentences.

As drafted, the bill proposes to require that essentially two penalties apply for the commission of one offence if committed with a firearm, one penalty for the underlying offence itself and another minimum penalty of 5, 10 or 15 years of imprisonment, respectively, if a firearm is present, discharged or used to injure or kill a person other than an accomplice.

With respect to the offence of using a firearm in the commission of an indictable offence, the effect of the proposals in the bill would be to replace the current one year minimum penalty with 5, 10 or 15 year minimum terms of imprisonment, consecutive to the penalty for the underlying offence. If the weapon used is an imitation firearm, Bill C-215 proposes a five year minimum penalty, again, in addition to the penalty for the underlying offence.

These extraordinary, high penalties for using firearms in the commission of certain offences may appear to some to be appealing at first glance. However, it is important to look closely at Bill C-215 to examine the effect the bill will have if implemented.

It is, however, useful to consider plausible hypothetical cases or scenarios when trying to determine what effect such a proposal could have if enacted.

Bill C-215 proposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years if a firearm is discharged during the commission of a crime.

A plausible hypothetical case would be that of an 18-year-old who uses a rifle to pop the tires of a series of cars parked in a lot. The motive—whether this person did so because of peer pressure or a complete lack of judgment—is irrelevant.

The sentencing judge could not take into consideration any of the special circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence or the delinquent's own situation, even if, for example, it were a first offence. The judge would have to impose the minimum 10-year sentence, proposed by Bill C-215, if property damage exceeded $5,000.

The actual penalty would be greater than 10 years since the bill proposes that the minimum 10 years for discharging the firearm would be in addition to the sentence imposed for the underlying offence in this hypothetical case of mischief.

As parliamentarians, as the country's lawmakers, when examining proposed legislation, it is important that we ask ourselves whether such law would be reasonable and would withstand charter scrutiny. Would it be reasonable to have an 18 year old person with or without a prior criminal record go to a federal penitentiary for over 10 years for shooting out car tires? This is what Bill C-215 would do. Few Canadians would find this to be just.

The bill would provide no flexibility to allow for appropriate sentences to be imposed, given the particular circumstances of the cases that could reasonably arise. We need to ensure that the penalty schemes in the legislation we pass leave room for any and all cases that may arise. Otherwise, the penalty provision itself will be found to be unfair and, consequently, struck down.

The other important factors need to be considered as well. The existence of minimum penalties in the Criminal Code does not provide a guarantee that they will be imposed on those who commit the offence to which the minimum penalties apply, particularly the higher ones. Depending on the circumstances, police are sometimes reluctant to charge a person with a particular offence if it carries an unusually high penalty. The example I gave earlier about the first time offender who shoots out car tires could be an example.

Also, judges and members of the jury can be reluctant to convict an individual if that conviction requires the imposition of a harsh minimum sentence despite the existence of special circumstances.

Mandatory minimum sentences promote an all or nothing approach, which does not serve our criminal justice system. It is much more advantageous, from the standpoint of public security, to ensure a conviction and the imposition of an appropriate sentence, instead of running the risk that an accused will not stand trial or be convicted of the offence he or she committed.

Mandatory minimum penalties also encourage greater plea bargaining. Accepting a guilty plea on a less serious offence, one that does not carry a minimum penalty, is a frequent occurrence in the criminal justice system to avoid the all or nothing outcome described. Whether appropriate in the circumstances or not, I doubt that provoking greater plea bargaining is the goal of Bill C-215.

We should also be mindful that mandatory minimum penalties remove the incentive for offenders to plead guilty. This increases the number of matters that end up going to trial, which in turn increase the case backlogs and cause further delays. Introducing additional and increased minimum penalties would also have cost implications, not only for the court system but also for correctional services. Last, mandatory minimum penalties hamper a judge's ability to make the punishment fit the crime, whether on the high end or on the low end.

Before I conclude my remarks, I would like to suggest that we also ask ourselves why we would want to seriously consider the proposals in Bill C-215. The firearms legislation passed by Parliament in 1995 introduced significantly high minimum penalties for 10 serious offences committed with a firearm. Those minimum four year terms of imprisonment are being applied and upheld throughout Canada. For other indictable offences committed with a firearm, there is ample room for judges to impose as stiff a sentence as is warranted in the circumstances.

Therefore, I would urge all members to resist the temptation to support what may appear an attractive tough response to gun crimes and to consider the serious implications of passing a set of amendments that could lead to inflexibility in our laws or negative, unintended consequences. The existing penalty scheme for gun crimes provides an appropriate range of penalties to ensure that judges have the discretion to impose a sentence that fits the crime.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

February 14th, 2005 / 11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on Bill C-215 to amend the Criminal Code in order to impose consecutive sentences for the use of a firearm in committing an offence. This bill was introduced by the member for Prince Edward—Hastings.

As you know, the bill was introduced by my colleague from the Conservative Party of Canada and was put on the priority list on November 15, 2004. The purpose of our colleague's bill is to require that a sentence for the commission of certain offences be supplemented if a firearm is used. The additional sentence is to be served consecutively and is to be a further minimum punishment of five years imprisonment if the firearm is not discharged, ten years if it is discharged, and fifteen years if it is discharged and as a result a person, other than an accomplice, is caused bodily harm.

I can understand our Conservative colleague's intent. He has told me that he was a military police officer for many years. It is understandable that he would want more severe punishments for certain types of criminals who too often victimize people in Quebec and in Canada.

We feel, however, that minimum sentencing must be used sparingly, because it ties the judge's hands. If memory serves, it is used at the present time for 29 Criminal Code offences. Some feel that minimum sentences have harmful effects on the work of judges, because they are the people best placed to determine the appropriate sentence.

I would, however, like to add a cautionary note. We do not share the aversion to the very idea of minimum sentencing some, too often on the government side, suffer from. The Bloc Québécois has introduced Bill C-303 setting minimum sentences for sex crimes involving minors.

We feel that children are the most fragile members of our society and those who are dearest to us, and when minors are preyed on by a sexual predator there must, in our opinion, be a minimum sentence in order to ensure that children are protected and that the perpetrator receives a mandatory prison sentence.

As the parliamentary secretary is well aware, the debate on the protection of vulnerable persons legislation will afford us an opportunity to bring in the essence of my bill, C-303, and integrate it with that bill.

Thus, we are not opposed in principle to the establishment of minimum sentences. Nevertheless, they must be used sparingly. We believe that, in the case of the clause in Bill C-215, the sentences the hon. member proposes are disproportionate, all the more so because they are added to the sentence already stipulated for the crime. In establishing minimal sentences, the use of a firearm has already been considered and increases the length of a prison sentence.

The sentences proposed in Bill C-215 are even more problematic when there are accomplices. As the House knows, the Criminal Code states that an accomplice may be given the same sentence as the perpetrator of the crime. Let us imagine, in the example already given by my hon. colleague, an 18-year-old, easily influenced, whose friends get him involved in a robbery. This young man, being reticent, agrees to stand lookout at the door of the store. His friends have not told him they intend to use a gun in their crime. During the crime, a shot is fired and a clerk is slightly injured. In such a situation, the young man would automatically be sentenced to 15 years in prison, in addition to the minimum sentence for robbery, which is four years.

A judge will be forced to sentence this young man to a minimum of 19 years of prison for what is certainly a reprehensible act, but one that is certainly not serious enough to deserve such a sentence.

Sentences that are too harsh can also have a negative effect. Rather than handing down a sentence that is too severe, judges might simply try to acquit the accused, in order to avoid imposing a sentence they think too harsh.

In short, this means the Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill C-215. We admire the desire of the hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings to fight crime more effectively. We believe that the proposed sentences are disproportionate and that minimum sentences must be used specifically and selectively. We also believe they must be used in certain cases, including, as I mentioned, sex offences against children, a subject we will be examining again, either in committee or in this House, when Bill C-303 comes before us.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to enter the debate on Bill C-215 put forward by my colleague from the Conservative Party, an act to amend the Criminal Code, consecutive sentence for use of firearm in commission of offence.

I notice the title has the exact same wording as the bill that was put forward by the former member of Saskatoon—Humboldt, Mr. Jim Pankiw, when he was a member of Parliament in the House of Commons. The issue does have merit and it is worthy of our contemplation in the House of Commons today.

Let me begin by saying how frequently issues of this nature come to my desk. As a member of Parliament I represent the inner city riding of Winnipeg Centre, an urban riding and the third poorest riding in Canada. As a result, many of the predictable consequences of chronic, long term poverty, such as crime and safety issues, are very much top of mind for the people I represent in my riding.

I did a survey in my riding about a year ago on the number one issues on which people in my riding wish me to represent them in the House of Commons. Crime and safety outstripped every other issue by a factor of three to one. The second issue is health care. I am pulling numbers out of my head, but I believe 68% of the people listed crime and safety as the number one top of mind issue that they talk about with their partners and their families around their kitchen table. Health care featured prominently but it was down around 25%. I remember that tax cuts, anecdotally, were around 6% of those people I polled. Again, this is not a scientific survey. This is simply asking the people in my riding what issues they go to bed worrying about at night.

However I can safely say without any fear of contradiction that the number one top of mind issue for the people I represent in my riding is their own personal safety, the crimes that are going on around them and the crime and punishment issues of our justice system.

Having said that, gunplay and gunfire is an omnipresent issue in my riding now. Some people in my riding will not sleep next to an exterior wall in their houses for fear a stray bullet will hit them or their children. They sleep in a den or a living room so they are not exposed to an exterior wall, because there is gunfire every night. Someone is not hurt every night but almost every night, I will say young kids because they often are and are often associated with street gangs, guns are being fired in the back lanes and in the parks in certain areas of my riding. Therefore it has become a top of mind issue.

I point out that last week a third young gunshot victim in one week was reported in the Winnipeg Free Press. A 19 year old was shot in the throat but did not die. The reason this is noteworthy is not just the fact that a youth was shot in the inner city of Winnipeg, but that it is the third time in one week.

Just a few days earlier a police officer shot and killed an 18 year old, an issue that is tearing apart the inner city along racial lines unfortunately. I will not comment on that here because it is too sensitive an issue to even raise in more detail than to simply flag it as an issue.

A few days after that, on Friday of last week, a 15 year old boy was fatally shot in a Sherbrooke Street apartment. It looks like the person who shot him was a 13 year old boy who has been charged with manslaughter. This was all in one week in my inner city riding of Winnipeg Centre. There is clearly an epidemic of weapons on the streets of Winnipeg and I do not think my inner city community in Winnipeg is any different than some of the other larger cities across the country.

The NDP government in Manitoba, under the youth crime prevention strategy, has made crime and safety issues its priority since 1999. I know it is not enough because I see the evidence on the street that it is not enough. I see kids dying because of firearms so we know not enough is being done at the federal or the provincial level. However those of us who are concerned with the issue can identify a number of social factors that are more complex and more indepth than simply the punishment associated with wrongdoing associated with firearms.

As instinctively tempting as it is to say that we must throw the book at these guys and lock them up, the empirical evidence shows that in those jurisdictions where there are tougher penalties for this type of offence there has been no corresponding reduction in the number of offences.

In the United States, where the whole social fabric is being threatened by the easy access to firearms, there are far more strict penalties associated with the abuse and misuse of firearms than there are in Canada but that in no way has deterred the number of firearm related offences or crimes, usually material crimes, where the use of a firearm is an aspect of the crime.

I am sympathetic with my colleague from the Conservative Party who has used his one opportunity to have a private member's bill debated, a bill that is compelling and pressing issue. I appreciate the fact that he is tough on crime. I can state quite publicly that I am no bleeding heart when it comes to crime and punishment issues either. In fact, I consider myself tough on crime as well but, as has been pointed out by other colleagues in the House of Commons today, as tough as we are on crime, we have to be equally tough on the root causes of crime. I know the neo-conservative movement has targeted that as a catchphrase. It thinks that anyone who talks about the root causes of crime is pandering to criminals. I beg to differ.

In the investigation of all three of those recent firearm related crimes in my riding in the last week, I guarantee members there will be compelling social forces at play, be it broken homes, be it poverty, be it children without supervision, be it children without opportunity, be it social pressures such as the music they listen to and the movies they watch that glorify the use and abuse of firearms and handguns that desensitize children to that level of violence to where they begin by being fascinated with guns at 13 and 14 years old and getting their hands on guns. They begin to play with those guns in terms of pointing them at each other. It is a short stretch from there to where someone pulls the trigger and, as is the case in my riding, we have gunplay every night and three times in one week a youth is being shot.

This issue does not divide itself neatly on racial lines but it certainly divides itself on socio-economic lines. The empirical evidence is that these incidents occur more frequently in low income neighbourhoods like mine in the inner city of Winnipeg. I try to keep it in perspective. I remind my constituents that this is frequently kids who are involved with street gangs shooting other kids who are involved with street gangs and that the average citizen is not in any particular danger. However that does not change the fact that people are so concerned about this that they are not sleeping in the bedrooms of their house that have exterior walls. Clearly, there is something fundamentally wrong with that.

Speaking specifically to the hon. member's bill, I too, as my colleague from the Liberal Party pointed out, believe that having supplementary sentences or a mandatory sentence tacked on to the sentence when the crime is committed with the use of a firearm is probably unconstitutional, illegal and not possible.

As much as I know my colleague is looking for ways to vent the frustration that we all feel by increasing the penalties, I do not think we can add a supplementary sentence onto the penalty that is being given for the actual crime committed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise to speak to my colleague's bill, an act to amend the Criminal Code to put into place consecutive sentences for use of a firearm in the commission of an offence.

I would point out that the job of government, the prime objective of government, is to protect the lives and the property of citizens. I sometimes wonder if we in the House forget that. Sensible proposals to reach that objective seem to garner nothing but scorn and objection from some corners of the House. It makes me wonder if we have forgot exactly what the purpose of our job and mission is.

I would like to point out that my colleague has proposed that for certain serious crimes, an additional sentence be added to the sentence for the crime if the crime is committed with a firearm. It has been very interesting to listen to the debate, particularly the government intervention.

I can almost guarantee that the member who spoke did not even read my colleague's bill. He could not have read it. He went on and on about why should there be an additional sentence for an 18 year old who shoots out tires. The bill is not about that. The bill is about the use of a firearm in certain serious offences, and the are listed. They include murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, assault causing bodily harm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage-taking, robbery and extortion. Is there anything in there about tires? No. I ask the member to do a better service to Canadians and not speak on a bill that clearly he has not read. That is absolutely irresponsible and should not be allowed.

The Liberal member says that it is illegal to add a sentence to a sentence. Then why in the Criminal Code is there an offence, under section 85(1), of using a firearm in the commission of an offence? Is that not an additional charge? Would an additional penalty be attached to a conviction for that offence? I wonder whether there is any common sense over there or whether there is an opposition to oppose. It seems to me that the government in this intervention tried to do that.

A number of my colleagues in the House have mentioned that the additional offences of five years for using a firearm, 10 years if the firearm is discharged, and 15 years if the shot actually hits an innocent person, is too high. What would be more appropriate? Let us talk about that. Let us not talk about ridiculous things like shooting out tires. If we are really serious about making a difference and about addressing the problem that the NDP member has mentioned is so huge in areas of his riding where people cannot sleep peacefully at night, then let us address what would work. Rather than have some sensible response to my colleague's proposal, there is some weird interpretation of it by the government. I do not understand that.

I cannot let this pass because it was so bizarre. The government member said, what if the 18 year old who shot out tires, which by the way would not be covered by this bill, was influenced by peers or guilty of lack of judgment? Do members get that? What if a criminal, an adult criminal, is influenced by peers or has a lack of judgment?

What is criminal activity but a lack of judgment? I would like to know. I just cannot believe sometimes the kind of intervention that comes from the Liberal government when it ties itself in knots to try to skate away from the responsibility of government to do something concrete to protect the lives and property of citizens. The nonsense we hear is just ridiculous. If the government's prime objective is to protect the lives and property of citizens, then should we not do something concrete?

I commend my colleague for bringing the issue forward and making a proposal. What has the government done? The government has spent, by some reports, close to $2 billion on a gun registry that is supposed to protect women and citizens in the country. That was the government's argument. I heard it on the floor of the House when it said that the bill would protect women and that it would have everyone register their guns.

Again we have the Liberals talking nonsense. They are saying that criminals will obey the law and register their guns. Suddenly, because the Liberals pass a law, criminals will become law-abiding, and they will be caught. How ridiculous, how pathetic and how sad for people, who need that protection, to have this kind of illogic guiding and governing of our country. We know the registry has done nothing to stop criminals from using guns. They do not register their guns. They keep using them. The statistics prove that this waste of money has done nothing to protect the lives and property of citizens to a greater extent. Yet when my colleague, with the support of the police association and the police chiefs across the country, brings forward a proposal that would do just what government is supposed to do, he gets nothing but scorn from the Liberals.

I cannot understand how those people can take their pay and pretend to do their job for Canadians when they have this kind of nonsensical response to a serious effort to address what my NDP colleague acknowledged was the top of mind issue for many people in the country, their own personal safety.

We know there are many causes of crime. We are not talking about causes of crime in the bill. There are other initiatives, other bills, other legislation and other programs, and there should be, to deal with the causes of crime. However, we are talking about deterrence of crime. In spite of all that we can do, all the programs and efforts we make to address the root causes of crime, as we should, some people escape that help and become criminals. They put the lives and property of innocent people in peril. To deal with that, there has to be some deterrence. Surely even the Liberals would acknowledge that. That is why we have sentencing. That is why we have incarceration. That is why we have restitution. That is why we have the justice system, and part of the justice system is deterrence.

My colleague is simply saying that the deterrence is not enough. It is not effective. It is not protecting people. It is not only not protecting people who get injured, it is not protecting people who should be able to sleep peacefully in their own beds, in their own homes and in their own communities. That is how bad it is. Yet when my colleague tries to bring forward some sensible response for debate, instead of debating what he has brought forward, we have all these bizarre, nonsensical interventions, especially by the Liberals, which do not even address the issue that my colleague brought forward.

I was especially amused when the Liberal speaker said that the bill might encourage greater plea bargaining. I wonder if the member has ever worked in the justice system where plea bargaining is a fact of life. No bill will stop it or make it worse. That is what lawyers do.

I have to wonder if the Liberals ever focus on the real issue of greater safety for women and in fact for all citizens in Canada. I have been here with them over a decade and they have done nothing. They have watched the problem get worse but they have done nothing but completely and utterly dismiss and reject any thoughtful proposal to address the issue.

We better get back on track and acknowledge the problem. We need to cut down on the use of firearms. We need to acknowledge that the firearms registry brought in by the Liberals is woefully inadequate and useless for that task. If we have sensible suggestions, such as the one put forward by my hon. colleague from Prince Edward--Hastings, then let us debate them thoughtfully. I appeal to all members to do this. If suggestions need to be amended in a way to make them work better, then great. I am happy to talk about that, and I know my colleague would be happy to talk about that.

Let us not try to confuse the issue or move the debate away from the point of my colleague's bill. Let us remember that the citizens of Canada deserve members of the House to thoughtfully, clearly and determinedly address their need for greater safety and security.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

Noon

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.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-24, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (fiscal equalization payments to the provinces and funding to the territories), as reported with amendments from the committee.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Liberalfor the Minister of Finance

moved that the bill be concurred in at report stage.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Some hon. members

On division.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Motion carried on division.

(Motion agreed to)

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Liberalfor the Minister of Finance

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario

Liberal

John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-24, the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act.

Hon. members will no doubt recall that the Government of Canada's new approach to equalization and the territorial financing formula was first presented to premiers and territorial leaders in September 2004 at the first ministers meeting.

In October the Prime Minister announced the details of the new framework which, subject to approval by Parliament, will increase the support provided to the provinces and territories under the equalization program and the TFF by $33 billion over 10 years. The increased funding will assist Canada's less prosperous provinces and three territories in meeting their commitments under the 10 year plan to strengthen health care as well as other priorities.

As the Prime Minister said at the announcement of the equalization and territorial financing formula framework, this framework reflects the most significant improvement in the program's history. By providing predictability, stability and increased funding, the framework will play an essential role in ensuring that all Canadians no matter where they live will have access to comparable public services.

I will outline the details of the framework shortly, but first it is important to provide some history of the programs and how they work.

The equalization program has been one of the pillars of the Canadian Confederation for more than four decades. It has been with us since 1957, almost 50 years. The territorial financing formula program has been in effect since 1985. That is coming up to 20 years. Both of these programs have been successful in providing support to the so-called have not regions of Canada by allowing them to provide services despite the existence of fiscal disparities with other regions.

I am sure hon. members will agree that the concept that Canadians should have access to quality health and social services regardless of where they live is fundamental to the fairness and integrity of the Canadian federation. Indeed, equalization has played an important role in defining the Canadian federation, so much so that it is unique among federal transfers in that its purpose was entrenched in the Canadian Constitution in 1982.

Section 36(2) of the 1982 Constitution Act states:

Parliament and the Government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.

In other words the intent of the equalization program and the territorial formula financing is to ensure that all Canadians no matter where they live in this great country have access to reasonably comparable public services, without the provinces or territories having to resort to economically punishing levels of taxation to fund the provisions of these services.

I will now explain how these programs operate. Equalization and TFF are the most important federal programs for reducing the differences in the abilities of the provincial and territorial governments to raise revenues. Equalization payments are calculated according to a formula set out in the federal legislation and adjust automatically in response to economic developments in the provinces.

For example, when a province's economy is booming relative to other provinces, its equalization payments automatically decline under the formula, reflecting the increased prosperity of that province. Some think that this only works one way. Conversely, when a qualifying province's fiscal capacity declines relative to the standard due to a slowdown in its economy, its equalization transfer automatically increases.

In this way the equalization program acts as an automatic stabilizer of provincial government revenues. Equalization payments are subject to a floor provision. This provision offers protection to provincial governments against unexpected large and sudden decreases in equalization payments.

Similar to equalization TFF provides payments to territorial governments to assist them in providing services. TFF is based on a gap filling principle that takes into account the difference between the expenditure needs and revenue means of the territorial governments. Federal and provincial officials review these programs on an ongoing basis to make sure that the differences are measured as accurately as possible. In addition the programs are renewed every five years.

I would like to return now to the changes in the equalization and TFF frameworks, the details of which are contained in the bill presently before the House. The framework includes five elements: a new minimum funding floor of $10 billion for equalization and $1.9 billion for TFF for the fiscal year 2004-05; complete protection for provinces and territories against overall and individual declines in payments for 2004-05; a level of $10.9 billion for equalization and $2 billion for TFF in 2005-06; a growth rate thereafter of 3.5%; and finally, an independent panel to advise in the allocation among provinces and territories.

What do these changes mean in dollar terms? Equalization payments will increase from $8.9 billion in 2004-05 to $12.5 billion in 2009-10. This over a five year period is a 41% increase, a substantial increase by any standard and well beyond the anticipated growth in the economy.

Starting in 2005 the Government of Canada will establish a legislative financial framework for equalization and TFF with fixed overall payment levels that provide predictable and growing funding. In 2005-06 the funding levels will be set at $10.9 billion for equalization and $2 billion for TFF, the highest levels ever achieved by these programs. Starting in 2006-07 both amounts will grow at 3.5%. As I already mentioned, the bottom line is an additional $33 billion over 10 years in federal support for Canada's provinces and territories.

The government recognizes that just pumping money into the system is not enough. We need to look at how the current legislation on equalization and TFF allocates money to the provinces and territories. That is why as an integral part of the proposed changes in the funding framework, an independent panel of experts on how legislated equalization and TFF levels should be allocated among the provinces and territories in 2006-07 and thereafter will be established.

Provinces and territories have been invited to appoint two members to the panel. Among other things, the review will evaluate current practices for measuring fiscal disparities among provinces and territories. It will examine alternative approaches, such as those based on aggregate macroeconomic indicators--for example, the gross domestic product, disposable income, et cetera--or expenditure needs.

It will review the evolution of fiscal disparities among provinces and the costs of providing services in the territories to help governments and citizens evaluate the overall level of support for equalization and TFF. Finally it will advise whether the Government of Canada should establish a permanent independent body to advise it on the allocation of equalization and TFF within the framework of legislated levels.

I would like to make it clear that the Government of Canada will retain full accountability and responsibility for all decisions. It will continue to consult extensively with the provinces and territories as before.

The mandate of the panel is that of an advisory one. The government will make decisions based upon advice received from the panel, provincial and territorial governments, and indeed all Canadians.

The expert panel will report back by the end of 2005 in time to provide advice on how equalization and TFF should be apportioned among the provinces and territories in the fiscal year 2006-07. The government is committed to having any changes in allocation for 2006-07 and future years in place by April 1, 2006, about 14 months from now.

The proposed framework contained in Bill C-24 also provides additional floor protection to every province and territory in order to provide greater stability to provinces and territories in 2004-05. That means the Government of Canada will ensure that equalization payments total a minimum of $10 billion over 2004-05, and the TFF payments total a minimum of $1.9 billion for 2004-05.

In addition, each province and territory will be guaranteed its equalization or TFF claims for 2001-02 to 2004-05 will not be lower than what was estimated in February 2004 and included in the budget 2004 for those years.

It is important to mention that equalization and TFF payments are not the only sources of federal assistance for provinces and territories.

At the same first ministers meeting last September, the Prime Minister and all the premiers and territorial leaders signed an accord agreeing to work together to develop a 10 year plan to strengthen and enhance our treasured system of publicly funded health care. The government has committed to provide $41.3 billion in new health care funding to provinces and territories.

Critical to this effort to provide access to quality health care will be the need to improve access to doctors, nurses and other health providers and to reduce waiting times for key treatments and tests.

As so many of the provinces and territories have demonstrated through innovative efforts in select areas, shorter waiting times and better wait times management lead to better care for patients, more efficient health care and greater public confidence in publicly funded health care.

We have created with our territorial and provincial counterparts a shared agenda for the renewal of health care in Canada. The agenda is built on three key elements: one, an agreed upon 10 year plan to ensure that Canadians have access to the care that they need when they need it; two, new federal funding of $41.3 billion in support of the 10 year plan, ensuring that provinces and territories have predictable steady increases in cash transfers for health; and three, support for increased use of evidence based benchmarks and comparable meaningful information on system performance and health outcomes to guide decisions and to allow Canadians to monitor progress.

I trust hon. members can appreciate that putting in place a 10 year plan for health care will require cooperation and collaboration by governments, health experts, stakeholders and Canadians themselves.

Just look at the benefits to Canadians of the health plan when combined with the new $33 billion equalization and TFF framework. That $33 billion put together with more than $41 billion of health enrichments that I just outlined will result in a cumulative increase of $75 billion over 10 years compared to the annual levels estimated at the time of the February 2004 budget. That is a $75 billion increase beyond the base levels in the 2004 budget.

This illustrates the government's willingness to work with the provinces and territories to find new ways to improve the quality of life for Canadians.

To sum up, Bill C-24 underscores the priority that the Government of Canada places on the equalization program and territorial financing formula. Both of these programs help to ensure that receiving provinces and territories continue to have the resources to provide the services their people need and want.

I would like to conclude with a quote from the Prime Minister at the October announcement of the new funding framework:

This new partnership will be essential to our success as we move forward together on the other key policy issues outlined in the Speech from the Throne, such as child care, cities and communities, and the environment.

I urge hon. members to support this legislation without delay.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague explain the legislation; however, I have also listened carefully over the last few days to his good friend and provincial colleague, Premier McGuinty, who is not happy at all with the present equalization arrangements.

This is a fairly lengthy commitment. It is good to see some stabilization in equalization. There is no doubt about that. However, I hear Premier McGuinty express major concerns that great changes have to take place. I wonder if the member could tell us how he sees the pressure now from Ontario, and perhaps some other provinces, to change the whole funding arrangement where it seems for the first time in a long time that we have some fairly lengthy stabilization where the provinces can more or less bank on what is coming down the line. Can he see all of this being disrupted because of provincial concerns?

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for putting the cat in among the pigeons.

Premier McGuinty was present at the negotiations of the health care accord and the equalization arrangements last September. I believe that at the time he was actually the chair of the premiers and was quite instrumental, in our view, in helping secure the deal that was negotiated over those several days in September.

As I said in my speech, that stabilized the funding going forward for both health care and equalization because we heard a predictable refrain from all the premiers. They were having difficulties doing their budgeting, particularly in the equalization formula which went up and down according to the relative prosperity of the provinces and may leave an individual province short from time to time according to how the formula worked or did not work in that province's favour.

At that time Premier McGuinty expressed his views and was greatly concerned that there be stabilization. I recollect, in the joint communiqué issued by the premiers and in fact all three communiqués issued by the premiers, that this formula was acceptable to all of the provinces, including the province of Ontario.

I do not know whether the premier has had a change of heart since September where he heartily endorsed the program. The other comment that I may offer is that the premier is right in one respect. Ontario and Alberta, and now Saskatchewan, are the contributing provinces and one cannot continue to expect that moneys will continue to flow from those contributing provinces to the point where their own fiscal arrangements are impaired. I think that the premier in that respect expresses a concern that is shared by many.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is correct to say that Premier McGuinty was at the negotiations in September and agreed to the terms of this agreement that is laid out in the framework of Bill C-24, but something has happened in the meantime and that is of course the deal signed today on offshore profit sharing with Newfoundland and Labrador.

I know that the panel of experts is going to look at the issues of non-renewal natural resource revenues, as it should have years ago. Would the member comment on how that has changed, having a one-off deal for Newfoundland and Labrador, which we are very happy about on this side of the House?

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me put this into context. I referenced a meeting in September between the premiers and the Prime Minister. At that time the health care deal was struck, which was $41 billion. The equalization deal was struck, which was $33 billion.

The Prime Minister said to the premiers at the time, “I intend to fulfill my electoral obligation to Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia”. He went around the room and said to the premiers that this is what he intended to do. To my knowledge, not one premier raised any objection to the expression of that intention by the Prime Minister, so that was done. The $2 billion and the $800 million to Nova Scotia was done after the $75 billion that was allocated in the equalization and health care formula.

If I may also address the hon. member's question by taking a quote from the premier at the time, which was in October 26, 2004:

We have come to a reasonable accommodation. We think that we have struck the balance between making a fair contribution to the strength of the federation--

Historically, Ontario has taken that very seriously. He went on to say:

--without compromising our ability to invest in the kind of programs that enable us to act as Canada's economic engine.

I do not know whether the premier has changed his mind since that time. I know members opposite were extremely happy that this deal was entered into. They lobbied the Minister of Finance. They had emergency debates. They asked questions in the House. When the deal was finally done, there was a period of muted silence and then we had an outbreak of me-tooism. We are presently in that stage of me-tooism.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to address Bill C-24, a bill that authorizes greater and more stable equalization payments for Canadian provinces and sets into motion a review of the current equalization formula by a panel of experts.

Equalization is an important national program that helps to sustain provincial funding and services, and it needs to be there for the provinces and territories. As the official opposition intergovernmental affairs critic, I want to signal our support for equalization and for the escalator clause that is found within the bill.

We support the provinces in their push for greater stability and predictably within the system. The changes that will result over the next few years and the escalator clause will provide that predictability as will the floors put in equalization and the territorial formula financing. However, the Conservative Party has argued along with several provinces that Canada needs to develop an equalization system that is more sensitive to the local economies of particular provinces. That idea will take up the bulk of my comments this afternoon.

Even with the passage of this bill, the government does not seem to understand the fact that the equalization system and territorial financing do not sit in a vacuum. Instead, it is part of the financial arrangements that shape intergovernmental relations within Canada. These programs need to be considered within the wider scope of provincial economies and the ability of provinces and territories to both provide services and create a favourable business climate.

Finally, and this will come as no surprise to the government, I will comment on the subject of non-renewable natural resource revenues and why we believe that these revenues need to be taken out of the equalization formula.

The Prime Minister and finance minister have, in my mind, waited too long to deal with this issue. It has come back to haunt them first, in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, currently in Saskatchewan, and increasingly in Canada's northern territories. As well the government needs to take note of the current position taken by the government of Ontario with regard to equalization.

Primarily, I want to talk about the legislation but direct my comments more toward the expert panel that will eventually be struck. Sound ideas regarding equalization have been proposed to the deaf ears of the government, especially in the area of natural resource development. It is time the government took these ideas seriously.

My hope is that the panel will find a way to incorporate these ideas so that equalization and territorial formula financing begins to work in concert with the economic and social aims of provinces and territories instead of continually hindering their objectives. We said at second reading that we had no major objections with the bill. We believe that it did not go far enough in making real changes to equalization, but the fact that an expert panel will be established does show two things. First, it shows that the government's acknowledgement of the equalization formula is flawed. This is something that the provinces have said and this is something that our party has argued for quite a long time. Second, it shows that the government is completely out of ideas as to how to change the equalization system.

After the past 11 years it is refreshing to have a government that admits that it does not know what it is doing and that it might need some assistance.

Speaking of assistance, I am glad to see that the provinces will be able to nominate two members to the equalization panel and that the territories will be able to nominate a person to the territorial financing formula panel. As the government knows, there is difficulty in forging a consensus among provinces regarding the formula. The government also knows that different provinces and territories would likely bring new approaches to the equalization formula and it would be better to have these ideas on the table during the process rather than added after the fact.

This is important because Canadian provinces rely on the formula and territories rely on the territorial formula financing whose local economies are most affected by the formula. In fact, we already see provinces coming to the table with their ideas as newspaper reports this weekend have pointed out. Furthermore, whatever changes are recommended by the expert panel, it is fairly clear that provincial officials are going to have a greater sense of how these changes will affect the services that are provided by the provinces or how those changes will affect the business climate in each province.

I also hope that the expert panel will take an expansive view, a look at other measures and other equalization systems being used in federations around the world. As I will discuss later on, the member for Prince Albert has found some interesting statistics that show some of the flaws in the current formula. If there is a better way of measuring not only the capacity but also the fiscal means of each province, I would hope that the panel will have an opportunity to discuss these.

I would like to stress that it is imperative that no province is left worse off by any changes to the equalization formula. If there is one problem that I have with the panel of experts, it is not with the panel itself as much as it is with the government across the way. The government has retained the ultimate decision making authority so it is fair to ask, what assurances do we that the recommendations of the panel will actually be heeded?

It is important from our standpoint and in the view of the provinces that the government puts the recommendations of the panel ahead of political expediency. There are no guarantees in Bill C-24 that this will be the case. Instead we may be left with politics as usual, and given the importance of the equalization system in Canada, we cannot allow this to happen. It is in that spirit that I ask the government to pay special attention to the recommendations made by the provincial representatives on the panel.

I also think it is important in debating this bill that the House not lose sight of the continuing fiscal imbalance in our federation. The purpose of equalization is to ensure comparable services across the country. In Bill C-24, by ensuring stable and predictable funding, the government has at the very least signalled that it realizes that a system which encourages strong, self-sustaining provinces is the best way to ensure high quality and comparable services.

However it is important to remember that until the government recognizes the fiscal imbalance between the provinces and the federal government, it will always use equalization to hold provinces hostage and penalize them for developing strong economies.

Instead of giving more power to provincial governments, ceding more tax room to provincial governments and encouraging every province to continue to build high quality services, the federal government attempts to move into provincial jurisdiction and duplicate federal programs. We saw this last September with health care. We saw the minister's failed attempt at a child care deal this past weekend. It has been an ongoing problem on the Kyoto file. And I am sure we will see something like this in his cities file as well. Of course, the finance subcommittee on the fiscal imbalance will examine the fiscal imbalance and its related issues. However it is important that we keep this in mind over the next year as the panel of experts does its work.

The main point though that I would like to make in my address today is the one concerning natural resources. It is quite an important point and one that has caused great activity among the provinces over the past week. In my comments on this bill at second reading , I mentioned our disappointment with the fact that the contentious question related to natural resources was not solved in this bill, and instead was pushed off to a panel of experts. I also noted that this question would have to be resolved, especially given the Prime Minister's inept handling of the Newfoundland and Nova Scotia question. In fact, I said that any deal with Newfoundland or Nova Scotia would lead to calls from other jurisdictions for a similar arrangement, and today, while the Prime Minister signs deals with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, this prediction has come true.

I would like to spend some time on this subject because it really speaks to the inconsistency of the Prime Minister's position, as well as his neglects of the very issue at the heart of Premier Williams' anger with him, and that is the right of any province to have full ownership over its natural resources. Provinces should be able to develop and enjoy the profits of these resources without the threat of federal penalty, and they should not have to negotiate this right from any federal government, and any province means any province.

No sooner than a week after the offshore deals with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia were finally struck, the Saskatchewan minister of finance asked for a similar arrangement for Saskatchewan's natural resources, which include oil, gas, potash, uranium, diamonds and others. Premier Calvert has asked only that should Saskatchewan again fall below the equalization standard, that the government stop clawing back the province's non-renewable natural resource revenue. This seems reasonable, especially given the arrangement that has been made with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Saskatchewan is quite a special case because it is now considered, via the equalization formula, to be a contributing province despite the fact that by any measures it faces significantly more difficult challenges than some of those provinces that are still beneficiaries under equalization.

As the member for Prince Albert has so astutely pointed out, Saskatchewan faces several challenges, including out-migration, a declining tax base, lower than average per capita income, longer than average wait time for MRIs and other concerns, yet because of natural resource development it turns out that Saskatchewan is considered a have province, but this does not seem to add up.

Yet when the member for Prince Albert asked the Minister of Finance why we still have an equalization formula that obviously needs to be fixed or why Saskatchewan is being penalized for developing its natural resource sector, the Minister of Finance responded that the current system is already more than fair to Saskatchewan. Again, this does not add up.

British Columbia has also signalled that it too would like to ensure that it receives fair treatment for its natural resources. British Columbia may one day develop the natural resources that lie offshore in the Pacific Ocean. Both the federal and provincial government know that there is a great deal of wealth off the coast of British Columbia and the province would like to have the opportunity to develop those resources without a federal clawback.

New Brunswick has also said that it would like to see a special arrangement made with respect to its natural resources. New Brunswick has a mining industry and would like to keep 100% of the revenue from those resources.

Ontario, on the other hand, is upset by the Prime Minister's signing ceremony today. Ontario sees the side deals for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia as unfair and is wondering about other side deals that might be signed by the government.

In response to Ontario's concern, the Prime Minister has said that Canadian is a wide and diverse country and that deals need to be struck to ensure all regions have the opportunity to succeed. We could not agree more. My question, however, is: Are these deals going to be struck under a consistent argument based on logic or are they one-off arrangements made out of political expediency?

For the Prime Minister, expedience carries the day. The problem, of course, is that the Prime Minister found himself down in the polls and he needed to find a way to boost his support in the east. Therefore he thought he would make the same promise that the Leader of the Opposition made.

However, whereas the promise made by our leader was one that he had consistently made and one that he had thought about within the entire range of equalization policy, the promise made by the Prime Minister was hasty and stood in direct contrast to his record on the subject.

The Prime Minister has spent the last 12 years coming up with every excuse possible to not allow Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to keep 100% of the profits from its offshore oil and gas industry. The Prime Minister has also done everything in his power to ensure that natural resource revenues remain within the equalization formulation. While we disagreed with his position, we could at least say that he was consistent.

That being said, when he made the promise to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, he broke his consistency. He should not be surprised that provinces and territories now want him to be fully consistent on this point; that is, they would like him to fully embrace the policy of the Conservative Party of Canada. We cannot have one without the other. The Prime Minister cannot give a side deal to two provinces and not expect other provinces to want to benefit on equal terms. It is, after all, called equalization.

Our party does not have the difficulty that the Prime Minister does. We have always believed in giving Newfoundland and Nova Scotia the benefit of a deal that ensures that they have 100% of their resources , with no federal clawback. We think a deal like that would be good for the local economies of those two provinces. We think that by allowing those provinces to keep resource revenues they would have a fighting chance to develop their resource bases further.

We also think, however, that it should not just be Newfoundland and Nova Scotia that benefit from such an arrangement. Every province and territory ought to have the ability to develop its own natural resources and to keep the profits from those resources.

Of course the answer to all of these concerns is to wait for the expert panel to report. I guess that is what we will have to do.

However somebody should at least advise the finance minister that his Prime Minister has stirred up a political problem and has left him holding the bag. This is a political problem borne out of an inconsistent and not very well thought out position. Instead of developing a plan that would solve this problem up front, the Prime Minister has now shuffled it off his plate, much to the dissatisfaction of Canada's premiers. Either he still has not understood the inconsistency of his position or he realizes what he has done and is trying to find someone else to carry the file forward from here.

In any case, it is clear that natural resource revenues are the major issue for equalization. The right thing for the Prime Minister to do would be to follow the Conservative lead and take non-renewable natural resources out of the equalization formula altogether.

I should also say that it is not just the provinces that are watching to see what the government will be doing with regard to natural resources. We also know that Canada's northern territories are watching this file closely. Territorial formula financing is different than equalization in that there are added components to ensure that the north can provide comparable services despite the fact that it has a small population base spread out over large territories of land.

This legislation is, in the short term, a positive development for the territories in that it would provide stable and predictable funding.

However the legislation itself does not have a wider or a longer view with regard to natural resource revenue sharing or territorial devolution. Of course much of this is found within the northern strategy. However it seems important to me that we start to develop the fiscal framework of devolution immediately.

Given the Prime Minister's musings on territories becoming provinces, one would think there would be something in place in this bill to help all the territories get there.

The file is most urgent for the Northwest Territories, which has an abundance of oil, gas and diamonds that are exported around the world but Yukon and Nunavut are developing natural resource bases as well.

With an appropriate resource revenue sharing agreement in place, there is no question that the Northwest Territories could be a have jurisdiction. This is Premier Handley's point, which is why he has asked for a similar deal to the one that Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are receiving.

The oil and gas fields in the Northwest Territories are rich in potential. Diamond mining is a $3 billion per year industry in the Northwest Territories. The territorial government sees exactly zero dollars from either of these industries.

Nunavut and Yukon would also like to reach self-reliance through resource revenue sharing and strategic economic development, and these territories have both the resources and the capacity to become have jurisdictions over time as well.

In Nunavut, natural resource development is still in its formative stages. One of the challenges that Nunavut faces is that there is not an accurate assessment of the true abundance of Nunavut's resources. The knowledge is there, however, that mineral deposits exist in places like the Jericho diamond mine. The government needs to develop its physical capital as well as its human capital in order to get those minerals out of the ground.

However, as both the Government of Nunavut and the Conference Board of Canada have suggested, the key to this development is ensuring that the people of Nunavut have greater control over the resources and greater self-reliance in the future.

It is becoming clear that when companies find the way to efficiently harvest the natural resources of the north that the north will contain Canada's next resource based economic boom. It is just a matter of getting from point A to point B. However the problem, as it relates to Bill C-24, is that with regard to territorial formula financing the federal government has not made the commitment that is necessary for northern development.

Territorial transfers are based upon an abstract formula that takes into account revenue raising capacity and the capacity gap that exists between provinces and territories. The formula falls short, however, because it fails to address the real needs of the north. The current formula does not take into account the fact that due to its remoteness the costs of energy, construction, transportation and infrastructure, all the things that are staples of government activity and that are necessary for harvesting natural resources, are significantly higher in northern Canada than in the provinces.

In Bill C-24 there is no commitment toward the development of a formula that results in adequate fiscal capacity for the territories reflecting the real costs that face Canada's northern territories.

When we take equalization and territorial formula financing together, with one the government penalizes those provinces that attempt to generate revenue from their natural resource base, and with the other, the government is not taking the necessary steps to ensure revenue sharing and an even larger northern resource development sector.

The system needs to be changed to fairly address the natural resource issue, and my feeling is that this change could be done right now. It does not require a year of study. It is already apparent that this has become a political issue for Canada's provinces, territories and the federal government. For every year of delay, that is more provincial money going into federal coffers and less toward provincial economies.

It is quite ironic that we are debating third reading of Bill C-24 today. For the benefit of the House, it might be helpful to recap the Prime Minister's path to this legislation.

The bill is a result of a federal-provincial agreement that was struck in late October 2004. By looking at Bill C-24, one would think that conference had been a roaring success. However it was at the equalization summit that Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams walked out because he was tired of the Prime Minister attempting to control the natural resources of his province. Premier Williams was tired of having to negotiate a deal out of the Prime Minister just to get the Prime Minister to keep his promise. Today the Prime Minister is signing an agreement that he should have signed on June 29 because that is when this party would have signed the agreement.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, our party supports the bill but the House should not forget about the things that are not in the bill. Bill C-24 would set into motion an entire process of review and it is in that review and a subsequent federal-provincial-territorial meeting that the Prime Minister's handling of the resource revenue issue will come to light once again. My hope is that in the meantime the government will not jeopardize the intent and the spirit of the equalization program.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario

Liberal

John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the speech of the hon. member opposite. As she well knows, the equalization formula is intensely complex and attempts to address fiscal disparities among sub-national governments across the country. Her argument is that one of the elements of the 33 indicia of fiscal capacity, which presently make up the formula and are weighted according to an even more complex formula, namely, non-renewable resources, should be removed from the formula or possibly weighted differently than it presently is.

That, in and of itself, sounds like a bit of a plausible argument. After all, these resources are not renewable. Once they have been dug or pumped out of the ground, they no longer exist, and possibly the sub-national governments should be able to keep whatever royalty revenues are generated from those things. It sounds like an attractive idea.

However, I wonder why her argument that non-renewable resources should be removed from the formula, or at least differently weighted in the formula, should prevail over the argument in the other part of the House, which wants to remove renewable resources from the formula. Specifically in the case of Quebec, it is hydro. It wants to have that part no longer weighted as far as revenue generation capacity in Quebec. Then in other parts of the country we have people working in manufacturing or something like that where there is no particular resource involved, renewable or not, yet that is weighted as an element of fiscal capacity.

I would be interested in her response to why non-renewables should be removed from the formula over renewables or over people who end up working in manufacturing jobs.

Fiscal Arrangements ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rona Ambrose Conservative Edmonton—Spruce Grove, AB

Madam Speaker, my colleague rightly pointed out that there are 33 parts of the equalization formula, which, yes, is a very highly complex formula.

In the preamble to his question, he answered it himself, which is the point about non-renewable resource revenues. I think the situation the government finds itself in right now is indicative of the fact that this is a concern for provinces. A long-standing concern for provinces and the territories has been the issue of non-renewable resources within the equalization formula.

My suggestion in the first reading and second reading of the bill was that this issue be dealt with upfront. My concern is that equalization is an extremely important program and the spirit and intent of the program are being jeopardized by the government not dealing with the issue upfront. Instead it is committing itself to one-off agreements with provinces, as the one that was struck today.

While it is obviously very profitable for Newfoundland and Labrador, and I and my party are very glad to see that deal struck, it is not within the fiscal framework of the equalization program today. What it has done is affect the equalization program for all other provinces and territories. This seriously needs to be looked at immediately.