House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was religious.


The House resumed from December 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-277, an act to amend the Auditor General Act (audit of accounts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously, it is a great pleasure for me to speak today to Bill C-277, an act to amend the Auditor General Act (audit of accounts).

First, I want to pay tribute to the efforts of my colleague from Repentigny, who is expertly leading this battle. Everyone knows he is an experienced, dynamic and clever MP, who has been here since 1993. I hope that Bill C-277, an all-encompassing bill, will therefore receive strong support from both sides of the House and all four political parties, in order that it may pass.

For a long time, the Bloc Québécois has been trying to make the various federal foundations more transparent. In our opinion, the best solution would be to abolish them and ensure that parliamentarians retain control over public funds. If that is not possible, we believe that it is imperative to increase our control over these foundations, as well as their accountability.

So that everyone both inside and outside the House can truly understand what we are talking about, we need to ask ourselves a few simple questions and try to answer as best we can.

The aim of Bill C-277 is to refocus the public debate on the approximately $9.1 billion that has been allocated to federal foundations since 1997.

We are introducing Bill C-277 because the federal government is misappropriating part of its huge surpluses by investing in foundations that are outside Parliament's control, and therefore outside the control of the people's elected representatives and the Auditor General.

This tactic allows the federal government, among other things, to invest in an underhanded manner in areas of jurisdiction for which Quebec and the provinces are directly responsible. So this is a way for Ottawa, in this case, to use the back-door approach when it cannot use the front door.

The way to avoid this is, first, to adopt Bill C-277, which will give the Auditor General the right to examine how taxpayers' money is spent.

Five organizations and crown corporations do not fall under the authority of the Auditor General but would if the bill introduced by my friend from Repentigny were adopted. They are Canada Post, the Business Development Bank of Canada, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the civil service superannuation plan and the Canada pension plan.

As for the foundations, we are talking about those paid $100 million or more. I think we agree that $100 million is a bit more than pocket change. Obviously we are talking about some very large amounts that require at the very least some scrutiny by parliamentarians. In fact, one of MPs' primary responsibilities is keeping an eye on taxpayers' dollars, the various types of taxes that millions of Quebeckers and Canadians pay into the federal coffers.

I certainly do not wish to denigrate the work done by my colleague from Repentigny in any way, but he really has not reinvented the wheel in fact. He merely wants to put into practice within a legislative framework the recommendations of both the Auditor General and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

The idea behind this bill, contrary to what some may have heard, is not a reaction to the sponsorship scandal, although I could spend a lot of time on that. As you know, the Gomery inquiry has almost as large a Canadian TV audience as popular series like Les Bougon . The source of the initiative is not the sponsorship scandal, but rather three specific documents.

First of all, there is the Auditor General's report. I would remind hon. members that the Auditor General is not political; she is instead an officer of Parliament, that is of all of us. In April 2002 she tabled her report, and the accompanying press release reads as follows:

Substantial amounts of public money have been transferred to foundations. I am concerned by the limits placed on Parliament's ability to scrutinize them.

Later, she stated:

The audit found significant gaps and weaknesses in the design of delegated arrangements;

limits on what the Auditor General can look at, which prevents her from giving Parliament proper assurance that the use of federal funds and authorities is appropriate;

the “parking” of billions of dollars of the public's money in foundations, years before it is to flow to the intended recipients;

little recourse for the government when things go wrong; and

limited opportunity for Parliament to scrutinize these delegated arrangements.

We found that the essential requirements for accountability to Parliament-credible reporting of results, effective ministerial oversight, and adequate external audit-are not being met.

So that was back in April 2002. In accordance with parliamentary procedure as we know it, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts examined the report in April 2002, and tabled its report in turn in May 2003. It will soon be two years since that date.

What did it say? There was one key recommendation, which read:

That, for those foundations either created through legislation, or receiving significant federal funding [...] the federal government appoint the Auditor General of Canada as external auditor of these foundations.

The Standing Committee on Public Accounts was talking about $500 million. My colleague from Repentigny wanted to reduce that amount to $100 million, which, in my opinion, is quite reasonable.

However, in response to this recommendation, the government said:

Requiring foundations to accept the public sector type standards and operations as well as establishing the Auditor General of Canada as their auditor as identified in recommendations eight through thirteen, could undermine the independence of foundations, reduce their operational flexibility—

In my opinion, this response is completely false and foolish, perhaps even slightly crazy. I hope this was merely a slip of the tongue by the government and I hope the government will support Bill C-277.

The purpose of this bill is simply to make public funds management more transparent. The Prime Minister is the one who described himself as the slayer of what he called the democratic deficit. One way to get rid of the democratic deficit is to give back to elected parliamentarians all the tools and means necessary to closely monitor the work of parliamentarians, legislative work and governmental work. One way to help parliamentarians do so is to provide all the information they might need, for example: where do taxpayer dollars go? What do the foundations do with these billions of dollars in public money? What do Crown corporations do with this money from Quebec and Canadian taxpayers?

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my congratulations to my colleague from Repentigny for being highly effective in this matter. I urge my colleagues from the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the NDP to support this bill, which I would describe as inclusive, as it is non partisan. Simply put, this bill will provide us with all the necessary tools to do what is required of us under this British parliamentary system, which is to control the actions of the government and thereby help the Auditor General help us.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of Bill C-277. Its summary states that the enactment amends the Auditor General Act in order to allow the Auditor General of Canada to act as auditor or joint auditor of crown corporations, certain other bodies established by acts of Parliament and certain corporate entities without share capital.

Let me turn to another bill for a moment, Bill C-39, which has already been before the House. It is the enabling legislation for the first ministers' accord on health care and it sets up a third party trust for wait times reduction transfer. The Government of Canada will set that money aside this year but it allows the provinces to draw upon that money until 2009. The House will not review that agreement until 2008. That is a lengthy period of time without oversight on how that money will be spent.

If the Auditor General were allowed to audit the foundation there would be transparency to Canadians and all their demands on health care funding. It is absolutely essential that we commit to openness and transparency in funding that is being spent by the government on behalf of taxpayers.

I want to quote from a document I found useful in considering how health care funding is provided. It is from the CCAF and the Canadian Healthcare Association. The document is entitled, “Principles for Governance, Management Accountability and Shared Responsibility”. It states:

Health system partners need to demonstrate commitment to public transparency and accountability. They do this by explaining to, and involving the public in, what they plan to do, how well the system is performing, and the implications of both.

A third party foundation that has no parliamentary oversight is not the way to achieve public transparency. If the government continues to insist on using these bodies as a way of providing funding, we need to provide the public with confidence that this money is being spent well, that the money is providing the benefit the public needs and that any deficiencies are being identified and acted upon. We do not want to see a repeat of needing to implement a Gomery inquiry.

Another part of that report reads:

Reporting principles and standards are key to the integrity and utility of reported information and aprerequisite for fair comparisons and benchmarking.

These are critical elements in terms of what we have seen over the last several years of various private practices in accounting like Enron.

The Auditor General provides Canadians with reporting principles and standards in regard to how tax dollars are spent, principles and standards the Liberals seem willing to ignore by salting money away in foundations instead of spending it in a transparent manner. The bill would give Canadians some assurance that money directed into foundations is being spent appropriately.

I would like to turn to another foundation, Canada Health Infoway Inc. It was set up in 2001 to help develop efficient data systems for health care. Make no mistake, the NDP knows that more efficient methods of health information transfer are absolutely vital to our Canadian system, but how do we know if Canada Health Infoway is providing good value on that strategy? Four years after it was set up, the need for improved methods of health information transfer is still front and centre with the wait times reduction fund, the need to better understand what parts of the country are underserviced by health professionals and as a way of developing a comprehensive pharmacare system.

In a recent article in the Ottawa Sun the headline read, “Suspect Worst of Foundations”. The article reads:

Canada Health Infoway Inc: Set up in 2001 to help develop efficient data systems for health care, the foundation so far has managed to spend $30 million administering $51 million in grants. (How's that for efficiency?)

These are the kinds of facts and figures that cry out for the need to have the Auditor General look at what is happening with these foundations, instead of treating them as an arm's length mechanism to tuck away funds that do not have the kind of oversight that parliamentarians should have over these kinds of funds.

When we are talking about oversight and transparency, another bill is being put forward to the House, Bill C-201, which talks about the need to look at crown corporations and access to information. It is just another example of how private members need to bring forward business to encourage the government and the rest of the House to really walk the talk when we are talking about transparency and accountability.

I would urge all members from all parties to support this very worthwhile private member's bill.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Françoise Boivin Liberal Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-277, proposed by the hon. member for Repentigny.

In principle, the government supports the intent of the member's bill regarding improved oversight of federal government entities, such as crown corporations, as well as not for profit organizations, such as foundations that have received significant federal assistance.

As we have already mentioned, the Government of Canada has made a commitment to improving accountability and has taken practical steps toward more transparency for the Canadian public.

That is the context in which the President of the Treasury Board tabled the report on crown corporation governance in the House of Commons on February 17.

In that report, the Government of Canada promised to amend the relevant legislation, including the Financial Administration Act and the statutes governing crown corporations, to ensure that, first, the Auditor General is designated the sole or joint external auditor for all crown corporations; second, that the Office of the Auditor General has the power to conduct special audits, focusing on value for money in all crown corporations; third, special audits are governed by an audit strategy based on the risk associated with each crown corporation, taking into account each corporation's complexity, field of activity and changes in its operational and strategic environment; and finally, that a protocol should be concluded with the Auditor General to ensure that commercially sensitive information is protected when special audit reports are presented to Parliament.

These amendments would include and go even further than the private member's bill.

In addition we are also concerned, as the hon. member has said, about the need for increased oversight over federal government institutions.

The Office of the Auditor General vigorously supports the measures outlined in the report on governance of crown corporations. It considers this the most complete review done in 20 years on this issue.

The government believes that these proposals are clearly a more efficient solution than that suggested by the hon. member for Repentigny to improving the transparency and accountability of crown corporations.

With respect to not for profit organizations, such as foundations, I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the commitments made in budget 2003 to improve accountability and transparency. At that time the government undertook to amend funding agreements to incorporate, among many other measures, provisions for compliance audits and evaluations, and the recovery of funds in the event of default or wind-up.

It also undertook to strengthen the reporting of plans and results to Parliament. The Auditor General has recognized the improvements that have taken place in this area. She has recognized that the government has amended these funding arrangements to deliver on its commitments of improved accountability and transparency.

The government recognizes that the Auditor General would like to see the government go further in the areas of audit, evaluation and ministerial oversight. In the government's response to her recommendations, we indicated that we would continue to work with the Auditor General to resolve these issues. The government is following through on this commitment and discussions are progressing well with the Auditor General. As we gain a better understanding of each other's views on these issues, we are hopeful that any issues will be successfully resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.

As an example, the office of the Auditor General recently indicated to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and to the Senate national finance committee that the office's thinking has evolved with respect to the audit of foundations. Previously, the office had taken the position that it should be the auditor of these organizations. This has now changed based on discussions with the government and the fact that the office of the Auditor General has no concerns with the financial audits that are being done by private sector auditors on the foundation.

I think this is important. It must not be thought that foundations and non profit corporations are not audited or reviewed.

Its real priority is to conduct performance or value for money audits in these organizations. The government also recognizes the motion from the member for Medicine Hat that was passed by the House on February 22. The government has expressed its desire to work with parliamentarians to address the concerns related to these arrangements.

The President of the Treasury Board has indicated that he would welcome a debate to find a solution to the problem. He has indicated that he does not support the motion in principle as it calls for automatically appointing the Auditor General as auditor. Similar to the Auditor General, he does not see this as the solution or the real priority.

I too do not see the bill's proposals as the best solution. I believe there are more effective solutions possible and support the government working with the Auditor General to find these solutions. One specific concern I have is that the bill would extend the Auditor General's powers into entities created or controlled by other levels of government.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that I support the idea of broadening the Auditor General's role to include auditing or joint auditing of crown corporations, if the mechanisms for implementing this concept are examined more closely.

This government is committed to enhancing accountability and welcomes constructive input from all members of the House. The time we are devoting today to the motion in question highlights our eagerness to listen and consult on all matters before Parliament.

If the bill goes forward I would encourage the public accounts committee to carefully examine it and I expect that the committee will take into account the views of both the Auditor General and the government on the appropriate role of the Auditor General in the audits of independent organizations.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-277 and to compliment the member for Repentigny on his noble purpose in this private member's bill. Without hesitation, I applaud the intention to expand the scope of the Office of the Auditor General. It is a measure that I know the residents of my community feel is long overdue.

The Auditor General has become somewhat of a hero to all of us, but perhaps not to the government, which cringes every time she sheds more light on its mismanagement of taxpayers' dollars.

As an officer of Parliament, the Auditor General serves us well with the thorough audits of the accounts of federal government departments. However, there are currently many organizations, funded with billions of tax dollars, which she does not have the authority to investigate. These federal crown corporations include the Bank of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Telefilm Canada, the International Development Research Centre and the National Arts Centre Corporation.

Beyond these significant corporations that operate with taxpayers' money, there are also numerous foundations that receive the majority of their funding from the government. These include: the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, Canada Health Infoway Inc., Genome Canada, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology and the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation.

There are also endowment funds, which include the following: the Green Municipal Funds, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund Society, the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities, the University of Moncton and Frontier College Learning Foundation.

Other foundations also include: the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Green Municipal Enabling Fund, Precarn, the Canadian Network for the Advancement Research, Industry and Education, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and the Canadian Centre for Learning and Development.

To my mind, any organization established and operated on government funding needs to be open to the appropriate scrutiny to ensure that Canadians are being served well and our money is being spent responsibly.

I sat on the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which gives out $100 million a year, and I can assure the House that what the government is doing pales in comparison to the levels of scrutiny and accountability we faced for $100 million. The levels of accountability were far more significant for only $100 million than they are for the billions of dollars we are talking about here today. I believe there should be more scrutiny of this money.

All Canadians deserve this overdue accountability. During my last election campaign, accountability was the central issue in my community. People have lost trust and confidence in their government and its institutions and, based on a recent survey, I would say in politicians as well. I do not blame them.

It was because of this that I lost trust in this government and decided to run for office and advocate for accountability. Over the past 11 years of the Liberal government we have seen shocking scandals involving grants, contributions and government contracts. This was driven home again last week by the continued revelations at the Gomery commission.

The Auditor General has led numerous investigations into government mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. It is clear that the government is incapable of managing taxpayers' dollars in a prudent manner. Government spending has continued unabated and with little accountability. Funds are too often being used for all the wrong reasons. This government needs a watchdog with sharp teeth and a strong bite to keep it in line.

The federal government spends approximately $18 billion a year on various grants and contributions and another $13 billion annually in awarding government contracts. This is a staggering amount of taxpayers' dollars and we trust our government to spend it responsibly.

Unfortunately, experience has shown us that we have misplaced that trust. Unarguably, a serious review of all government spending is required. Canadians have found out in recent years that the Prime Minister's companies received $161 million of taxpayers' money, not the $137,000 originally claimed by the government.

We have also watched $100 million disappear into thin air as government friendly communications agencies were paid millions of dollars in commissions and fees, with little or no service provided to the federal government or to Canadians. The gun registry was supposed to cost $2 million and is now costing us $2 billion, and $1 billion in grants and contributions at Human Resources Development Canada was misappropriated.

The list seems endless. What is really scary is that these abuses of tax dollars took place in departments that were subject to investigation by the Auditor General. We all have to wonder what other horrible mismanagement we may uncover through the extension of audits to a broader spectrum of the government departments and other organizations that receive government funding.

What we do not know does in fact hurt us. That is why it is so important to find out how federal crown corporations and other bodies established by Parliament and funded by Canadian taxpayers' dollars are managing Canadian resources and funding.

We need transparency and accuracy in all the accounting of government finances, whether that is for a government department like defence, a government corporation like Canada Post or an at arm's length foundation like Canada Health Infoway.

The Auditor General has stated that since 1997 the government has transferred $9.1 billion to 15 foundations. As of March 31, 2004, $7.7 billion was either still in the foundations' bank accounts and investments accumulating interest or was a receivable from the government, yet the government has already recorded these transfers as expenses.

The Auditor General has also stated that she is concerned about the manner in which these foundations are funded, the accounting for transfers and the accountability regime for the foundations. With her current mandate, she has no authority to audit any of these foundations even though this is taxpayers' money.

As a matter of fact, there is absolutely no parliamentary accountability or scrutiny of these foundations whatsoever. Can members believe that this government, which is constantly telling us that it believes in transparency and accountability, has not taken into account the Auditor General's own recommendations, year after year, on being able to review and audit these foundation books?

Nine billion dollars of hard-earned taxpayer dollars have been handed over with absolutely no parliamentary perusal or scrutiny or even a review by the Auditor General. Not only is this reckless, but this government's unaccountability is totally unacceptable.

Again, I agree with the objective of this bill. The Auditor General should most definitely have access to all the government books. I will support this bill's passage in principle. There is some loose wording that needs to be tightened, such as specifying that the Auditor General should be the Auditor General of any federal crown corporation rather than just crown corporations, as the bill currently reads. However, I am certain that the appropriate amendments, which we will propose at the committee level, can address such items.

I also think this bill should be expanded upon. Along with providing access to all government books to the Office of the Auditor General, we need to include access to the books of other outside organizations such as foundations, and we need to provide appropriate resources for the Auditor General to fully and completely execute her duties to the best of her ability.

There is no doubt that the cost of implementing expanded audit services will be substantial. However, the benefits of enhanced scrutiny are well worth the initial cost. The public's trust and confidence in government operations need to be restored and that can only happen through rigid accountability measures.

In fact, I would argue that the Auditor General should be authorized and directed to conduct expedited audits on all federal grant and contribution programs and contracting policies. Granting programs should be reviewed every five years on an ongoing basis at an absolute minimum.

As well, the government should act on the Auditor General's recommendations rather than just let them gather dust.

I would have no problem in supporting increased funding for internal audit functions and I am sure many of my esteemed colleagues would feel the same. The payoff for all Canadians would be tremendous. With a clear and accurate picture of how our tax dollars are spent, we could finally move forward in meeting the concrete demands of Canadians by providing more focused federal government that gives better service to all of us.

We would spend our money more wisely and clean up government waste and mismanagement. As a result, we could provide to Canadians both more efficient government and tax relief.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-277, introduced by our likeable and endearing colleague from Repentigny. Today is a historic day in certain respects, as there is great hope that it will see this bill passed, without presupposing what the House intends to do, of course.

The hon. member for Repentigny, who is our critic for the Treasury Board and public accounts, has been very well advised to introduce a bill which, frankly, adds transparency, integrity and even broadness of outlook to our legislative process. His goal is to ensure that, as parliamentarians, we have total control over the funds allocated by the government. We are not talking about private foundations. I realize that, in very specific cases, foundations would still be able to use private mechanisms. But, for the most part, we are dealing with creatures of Parliament established by acts of Parliament, with respect to which it is appropriate, fair and wise that parliamentarians be able to follow how this funding is used.

As I understand it, the bill introduced by the hon. member for Repentigny has three main purposes. This is a very well-thought-out and relevant bill, as were all the other bills he has introduced in this House. He is a very prolific member in terms of legislation.

First, reference is made to the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, whom everyone holds in high esteem. Can the Auditor General be considered an officer of the House?

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Yes, because her appointment was supported by all parliamentarians. I think I can safely take it upon myself to say that Sheila Fraser has no enemies in this place. She is held in high esteem by everyone. This is a woman who has managed to exceed the expectations we had upon her appointment. In a sense, she is a clairvoyant. I think that all parliamentarians in this House will agree on that.

However, there are limits to what she can do. Even though, as everyone knows, she is a very enterprising and efficient woman, there are limits to what she can do, since there are a number of crown corporations that she cannot investigate. Bill C-277, introduced by the hon. member for Repentigny, would give the Auditor General the means to investigate and review, with her keen eye, Canada Post—of course, we have reasons to think it would be interesting to know more about what Canada Post is doing—the Bank of Canada, the Public Service Superannuation Plan, the Canada pension plan and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

One of the objectives of the hon. member's bill is to allow the Auditor General to act as auditor or joint auditor of crown corporations, which, until now, have not been subjected to her control.

I hope I am conveying fairly accurately our colleague's view when I say that, should his bill become law, what would make him particularly proud is the fact that the Auditor General would be able to follow very closely what is happening with the foundations. For the benefit of those who are watching us, I should point out that, over the past seven years, the federal government has transferred a little over $9 billion generated with Quebeckers' taxes.

At a press conference, the hon. member for Repentigny clearly said that the purpose of his bill was not to question the merits of these foundations, although we never agreed with them. It is the foundations themselves that are targeted, not their mandate or relevance. It is the mechanism through which the government is pursuing, with taxes paid by Quebeckers and Canadians, public policies without parliamentarians having any control over these initiatives.

As I was saying, over the past seven years, close to $9 billion has been transferred to foundations. I want to be a little more specific for the benefit of our viewers. What are we talking about here?

For example, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which conducts industrial research and so forth, was established in 1997. It has received $3.6 billion from Parliament, Treasury Board and the Department of Finance.

There was a problem with the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which was created in 1998 and which has received $2.5 billion. If I remember correctly, all the parties in the National Assembly were uncomfortable with the idea that the federal government could intervene by granting educational scholarships, for excellence in education, since it does not have the relevant or appropriate jurisdiction to do so.

The Canada Health Infoway, created in 2000, has received $1.2 billion. In 2000, its first year, Genome Canada received $375 million. In the most recent budget tabled by the Minister of Finance, its funding was increased, as we all know.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation, created in 1998, has received $350 million. Sustainable Development Technology Canada, created in 2001, has received $350 million. The Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, established in 1997, received $152 million in its first budget, but if I recall correctly, additional funds were allocated during the 2000 first ministers' conference.

Consequently, the hon. member for Repentigny did not tackle some sort of commonplace occurrence. There are billions of dollars going to foundations. So what is the dispute about, what is the basis of the problem? It is that both the Treasury Board and the Department of Finance take for granted that the moneys allocated to the foundations were actually spent by the government. Examples have been brought to our attention thanks to the vigilance of the Auditor General. We have learned that, in certain cases, money lay dormant in bank accounts for years. What is more, as we speak, although foundations were created back in 1999, 2000, 2001 or 2002, we know that the money has not always actually gone where it was intended, whether for research, bursaries, aboriginals or whatever. However, the federal government considers these as expenditures on its books.

This leads to two problems. As far as bookkeeping is concerned, it is dishonest. As far as policy is concerned, it lacks transparency. As far as Parliament is concerned, it is unacceptable, because accountability is obviously lacking.

In some countries this is cause for revolution. I wonder, in our parliamentary history—the hon. member for Repentigny knows the answer since he was a popular history teacher—what was the ministerial accountability in 1848? It was precisely that parliamentarians should monitor the budgets meticulously and with a sense of detail. Throughout our constitutional history, no one has been prepared to give up or cut down on the prerogatives of parliamentarians for that type of control.

The prerogatives of parliamentarians were given up, not subtly, but surreptitiously—there is no other word for it—and it was accepted as normal that the foundations should not have to come under the close scrutiny of parliamentarians.

We must thank the hon. member for Repentigny, and his assistant, for all the vigilance he demonstrated with this bill he introduced in this House. Out of pure respect for the prerogatives of parliamentarians, the best thing that could happen would be for this bill to receive support from all parties, and for it to be sent to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts for improvement, if necessary.

In my opinion, Parliament would be better for it and better equipped in terms of public accounts. This will be a lasting contribution by the hon. member for Repentigny to the development and future of our work.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The debate will continue with the hon. member for Repentigny. Since he is the sponsor of the bill, he now is entitled to a five minute response, which will end the debate.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some emotion that I exercise my five minute right of reply before we conclude this debate. In the life of a parliamentarian, personally developing a bill and introducing it in the House for first reading and then consideration in second reading is a rather long, arduous and at times painstaking process. It is therefore with some emotion that I now see this bill reach the end of a stage. Moreover, throughout the debate on Bill C-277, I have been able to count on the cooperation, open-mindedness and professionalism of my hon. colleagues from all parties.

Some may say there are bad sides to a minority government, but there are good ones too. For instance, in the past little while, motions and bills from all parties have been receiving greater attention and consideration than before.

The week before the latest recess, my friend and colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles moved a motion on reversing the burden of proof. I had the privilege of speaking on this motion, saying that we have to take our blinders off and stop thinking that whatever comes from the Bloc or from Quebec is no good because they are all separatists. Our colleagues from all parties really considered the motion on its merits and content, and not just the messenger. That bodes very well.

As my hon. colleague from Hochelaga said, without presupposing how the House will decide, things are looking very good for Bill C-277 today. It may well be referred to committee and eventually be considered at third reading stage. It could enjoy a longer life, and perhaps even be passed. The process Bill C-277 is going through seems to be moving along very nicely.

At first, some colleagues had concerns about the scope of the bill with respect to private foundations or smaller foundations in their ridings or provinces. As the debate progressed, this irritant was eliminated.

As we had an opportunity to discuss the bill, other hon. members sitting on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts raised certain questions but they have not opposed it. These questions were completely legitimate and proper and caused us to work harder on how this bill was to be interpreted.

The final and most serious question was about the kind of audit done by the Auditor General. For the benefit of the House and Treasury Board officials, I shall quote from part of a reply I received from the Auditor General on these questions:

The new subsection 5(3) stipulates that the Auditor General may make such examinations and inquiries as he or she considers necessary in order to enable a report to be made in accordance with this act. This provision leads me to conclude that my office would conduct management audits only for all bodies other than crown corporations. This conclusion is based on the words “enable a report to be made in accordance with this Act”. The requirement to report under the Auditor General Act concerns management audits exclusively. The opinion expressed under section 6 of the Auditor General Act on the financial statements included in the public accounts is submitted to Parliament by the government.

The Auditor General concludes with this:

I hope that these comments will help you in your deliberations—

It was signed by Sheila Fraser.

I believe that all during the deliberations on this bill, my colleagues have offered concrete and constructive arguments to improve the bill and its interpretation.

I would be very pleased today if the House were to give its unanimous consent to send this bill to committee, for that would enable us to hear witnesses representing foundations, crown corporations and the Auditor General's office. In that way, we would be able to see what practical impact this bill would have on the management of the $7 billion in terms of the foundations.

I hope that everyone will agree that members of Parliament ought to have greater oversight over these foundations and public monies, and that the Auditor General will have the opportunity to audit and review these foundations and crown corporations.

I also want to thank all the hon. members who have spoken on Bill C-277.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is the House ready for the question?

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

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

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Accordingly, the bill is referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick


Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place among all parties and I believe you will find there is unanimous consent to suspend the sitting until noon.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

If hon. members agree, we will suspend the sitting not until noon but, rather, until 12:05 p.m. Is this agreed?

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Sitting suspended at 11:53 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:05 p.m.)

The House resumed from February 21 consideration of the motion that Bill C-38, an act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Rose-Marie Ur Liberal Middlesex—Kent—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate surrounding Bill C-38, the civil marriage act, that proposes to legalize same sex marriages in Canada.

Like many of my colleagues on both sides of the House, I voted in support of the traditional definition of marriage in 1999 and again in 2003. I remain committed to defending this definition, not only because of my personal beliefs but as the elected representative for Lambton—Kent—Middlesex I have an obligation to vote according to the views of the majority of my constituents.

Prior to the vote that took place in 2003, I sent a survey to every household in my riding. Of the responses I received, 90% of my constituents were opposed to same sex marriage.

Since the Supreme Court of Canada provided its opinion on the reference case, approximately 2,000 constituents have contacted my office to relay their continued opposition to same sex marriage, while less than 50 constituents have contacted me in support of the proposed legislation.

In 1999 the House of Commons reaffirmed the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others by a vote of 216 in support and 55 opposed. In 2003 another vote took place and this time 137 were opposed and 132 voted in support. The motion affirming the traditional definition of marriage was upheld in 1999, but was defeated in 2003.

Although I voted to support the traditional definition of marriage both in 1999 and 2003, many others switched their vote. The question I have is, what changed between 1999 and 2003? The answer is, the courts.

Several cases were brought before different provincial courts dealing with this issues, but the most notable was in July 2002, in Halpern v. Canada, in which the Ontario Superior Court challenged the traditional definition of marriage. This controversial judgment was followed by two similar decisions in Quebec Superior Court and the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

Halpern gave the federal government two years to consider legislative options. Before the federal government had an opportunity to complete public hearings on this issue, the Ontario Court of Appeal declared on June 10, 2003, that it would not bother to wait for the government. It struck down the existing law of marriage as discriminatory, redefining marriage as a union of two persons.

When the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was being created in 1981, some opponents saw the charter as a move to reallocate authority from those who attained their position through election to those who attained their position through appointment. The concern was that the power to define law and determine rights was being given to those who were immune to review by the people, the electorate. Since being implemented, the charter has sparked a lively debate over judicial encroachment on legislative authority. The most recent developments concerning same sex marriage is a perfect example of this intrusion.

As a result of these court rulings, a majority of Canadians are now being told that their view of the traditional definition of marriage is contrary to the charter. This pits the charter, which is meant to protect freedom of religion and conscience, against their consciences and indeed their religions on this fundamental matter.

Although the proposed legislation states that “officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs”, the Supreme Court of Canada included in its decision that religious freedoms would be protected, unless there were “unique circumstances with respect to which we will not speculate...” Where there is a collision of rights, the court has stated that it “will find a limit on religious freedom and go on to balance the interests at stake under Section 1 of the Charter”.

While the Supreme Court has stated that there is a level playing field of rights, that is, that no right is superior to another, the way the court has interpreted religious freedom and gay rights leaves gay rights in a superior position.

In the Trinity Western University case concerning religious freedoms, the court said that the freedom to believe was broader than the freedom to act on those beliefs. Respecting gay rights, however, the courts have ruled that protection for homosexual practices is part and parcel of the protection for sexual orientation. If homosexual practices have been protected by the courts without question but religious practices tend to be subject to some more rigorous standards, gay rights will always trump religious rights.

The Knights of Columbus in British Columbia recently refused to permit a gay couple to use their facility for a same sex wedding. As a result, they have been called to account for their actions by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. It seems that the religious beliefs may not be enough to protect them against a charge of discrimination based upon the sexual orientation of their rejected clients.

As a result of decisions in several provinces, the traditional and universal definition of marriage violates the charter right to equality of homosexual couples who want to marry. I find it interesting that other countries have not made the same claim that Canada makes, that marriage as we have known it constitutes a rights violation. The United Nations Human Rights Commission has, in practice, denied that it is a rights violation.

If the charter explicitly guarantees homosexual couples the identical rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, those of us who think same sex marriage is a massive social experiment with unknown consequences will have no basis for criticizing these judges. The problem is that not only does sexual orientation not appear in the equality rights section of the charter, but a motion to include it was explicitly rejected by those who framed the charter. Judges have brazenly put in what the framers kept out.

Since when was homosexual marriage a human rights issue? Same sex is not listed as a human right in the U.S. Bill of Rights, the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the European Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I again ask, what has changed since 1999? How has same sex marriage suddenly become a human rights issue if it is not contained in the charter? In my opinion the courts are putting in what they believe Parliament neglected. Again, who are the legislators in the country?

When the charter was being created, our former prime minister, the right hon. Jean Chrétien, defended section 33, the notwithstanding clause. He saw section 33 as a safety valve that would ensure that legislators, rather than judges, would have the final say on important matters of public policy. This would allow elected governments to correct situations without going through the difficulty of obtaining constitutional amendments. This was a very important tool given to the government.

Section 33 does not permit legislators to override rights but to override the judicial interpretation of what constitutes a reasonable balance between rights. Using the notwithstanding power is a perfectly legitimate response to the courts' usurpation of the legislative responsibilities to make laws such as the definition of marriage. This is especially true in regard to the same sex marriage debate because the courts have added new meaning to the charter that was explicitly rejected when it was being written.

In my opinion we cannot tinker with the fundamentals of an institution like marriage without expecting significant consequences. Marriage is not improved by becoming all things to all people. Changing the public meaning of an institution changes the social reality. It transforms the understandings and practices supported by that institution.

Redefining marriage to include same sex couples may appear to be a simple solution to a perceived present day inequality, but the notion of marriage as an opposite sex relationship is so deeply rooted in our society that its redefinition may have far-reaching effects on the future development of our society that cannot be predicted.

Across societies, marriage has institutionalized and symbolized the inherently procreative relationship between a man and a woman. It has established the societal norm that in entering marriage a man and a woman take a shared obligation to protect and nurture the children who are born to them. Marriage has never been so heavily associated with the wants and needs of adults as individuals. If we focus more on the benefits of adults as individuals, it will be our children and future generations who will suffer the consequences.

The government did not create the heterosexual institution of marriage but it did recognize it as such and gave it status in law. By doing this, the government did not remain neutral but instead chose to affirm that marriage was a heterosexual union. Now as a result of court rulings, we the legislators are being told that the definition is no longer valid and are being asked to support Bill C-38, the civil marriage act currently before Parliament.

As I stated in the beginning, I voted in support of the traditional definition of marriage in 1999 and in 2003. I remain committed to defending the definition not only because of my personal beliefs, but because the majority of my constituents in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex agree with me as well. I believe that redefining marriage will have far-reaching negative effects on the future development of our society. Therefore, I am unable to support Bill C-38.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, as the elected member of Parliament for the riding of Yorkton--Melville for nearly 12 years, I was present in the House when the traditional definition of marriage was challenged back in 1999 and defended by the Government of Canada. Through it all, I have stood not only by my beliefs and values, but those of my constituents as well.

In 1999 I voted alongside my colleagues and with those sitting across the way on the government side, and my vote was in favour of the traditional definition of marriage and so to were the votes cast by the majority of Liberals on the other side, including the present Prime Minister.

In 1999, 215 of 270 members of Parliament voted to keep marriage defined as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others and that the Parliament of Canada would take all necessary steps to ensure that definition stayed true. In fact, the then justice minister and our present Minister of Public Safety reassured Canadians that the definition of marriage was safe when she rose on the floor of this place and declared:

Let me state again for the record that the government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage or of legislating same sex marriages. I fundamentally do not believe that it is necessary to change the definition of marriage in order to accommodate the equality issues around same sex partners which now face us as Canadians.

That promise is being broken by her and the government.

In 2000, speaking for the Liberal government, she said:

We recognize that marriage is a fundamental value and important to Canadians. That value and importance is in no way undermined by recognizing in law other forms of committed relationships.

Had the Liberals stood by their word and their promise to Canadians we would not be here today debating the meaning of marriage. How can Liberals change their minds on something as sacred as the true definition of marriage? Why should we believe them now when they say they will protect the religious beliefs of those opposed to same sex marriage?

My stand on same sex marriage is well known and is unwaivering. I adamantly oppose changing the definition of marriage from its traditional form. I have remained true to my beliefs and true to the values of my constituents. In fact, residents of my constituency have sent me clear messages through letters, e-mails, and faxes. They are also opposed to changing the definition of marriage.

I would like to read today into the parliamentary record a sample of my constituents' letters. These letters are from average Canadians very busy with their affairs yet who strongly believe and support the traditional definition of marriage. They have taken the time to forward their views to me and the Prime Minister. It is only fair that we give them our attention.

Here are some quotations that I want to put on the public record because they say things better than I.

The first letter states:

I have been following the issue of changing the definition of marriage from the sidelines, but now I feel compelled that my views be heard and represented. I strongly support traditional marriage as defined as “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. Marriage between a man and a woman is unique and simply cannot be substituted by any other relationship. Marriage ensures the continuation of a stable and healthy society, for generations to come.

The majority of my constituents strongly hold the traditional view of marriage.

The next letter I would like to quote states:

Just want you to know that I support you and your stand about legalizing same sex marriage and wondering what else I can do to stand against it. Is this really a human right issue as we hear our prime minister say? Is it right that the Supreme Court says that the federal government may re-define marriage but are not obligated to do so? Has there even been a study done in countries where it has become legal, the impact it has on family life? I think this would be a good thing to do before we legislate such.

In fact, the government has not answered the question this person and many Canadians have asked. What studies have been done to see the impact of this on family life and our children?

The next letter to me states:

Thank you for publicly opposing same sex marriage for Canada. I support your position that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. I continue to vote for you because you stand up for moral values and for family. Canadians have to “stand for something or we'll fall for anything”. Please keep up the good work.

The point of reading these letters is that Canadians want to see their politicians stand up for moral values and for the family. These Canadians are feeling threatened by the Liberals' proposed legislation to change the definition of marriage.

This is the next letter I would like to read:

Please continue to fight the same-sex marriage legislation. If the Prime Minister backs up his talk of taking it to the electorate, consider yourself being in the next government! Human rights have become a weapon for the small minorities to use against the average Canadian tax payer. What about a level field? Keep up the fight for all citizens.

Canadians are telling me that this will be an issue in the next election. Clearly, Conservatives support traditional marriage as was put into our policies last week.

Here is a letter from another constituent from the riding of Yorkton—Melville to the justice minister:

Since the beginning of time, marriage has been the means of bringing up children in a strong, healthy family situation and it ensures that children have the best chance of having a Mom and Dad in their lives. Marriage between a man and a woman is a unique relationship which cannot be replicated by any other relationship. A change in the definition of marriage will erode family stability and will require the rewording of all family-related laws. I am writing to respectfully request that you do everything possible to ensure that marriage is upheld.

I read these quotes because they tell it like it is. I could not say it any better myself.

Here is a letter that the Prime Minister received from one of my constituents in regard to the same sex marriage legislation:

Dear Mr. Prime Minister: I would like to ask you and encourage you to uphold, protect and retain marriage as “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. For if you look at this definition, and its far-reaching ramifications, rationally, socially, biologically, spiritually, that marriage is of critical importance to our society. It is perhaps the most important societal institution we have because:

--it provides for the procreation and upbringing of children;

--it provides the strong foundation for healthy families;

--it provides and ensures that children have the best chance to have both a mom and a dad in their lives;

--it ensures the continuation of society and provides family stability for future generations.

Marriage between a man and a woman is a unique relationship that just can't be replicated by any other relationship. Please, Mr. [Prime Minister], do not force a minority desire on the conscience of the majority. If you desire, grant same-sex people the rights for civil unions or contracts, but please don't call that marriage--that belongs to the heterosexual scene.

That lays the issue out quite clearly. Here is another note to the Prime Minister:

Marriage is uniquely dedicated to a man and a woman who have the incredible privilege and responsibility of bringing forth the next generation of Canadians. All rights for all individuals in society are already protected by legislation. Please allow each MP a free vote on the “same sex” issue. It is impossible to use the term “marriage” and same sex in the same thought.

I would like to add that the Prime Minister is really not making this a free vote.

In a world filled with so much uncertainty, it is irresponsible for the government to abolish the definition of marriage. This definition has been in existence for as long as man has walked the earth and it has never changed. We do not know the consequences and the impact this will have on our children.

The vast majority of my constituents view this as a social policy issue, not a rights issue. The Conservative Party is proposing a fair middle ground which allows same sex partners legal recognition with equivalent rights and benefits, while protecting the sanctity of traditional marriage as the very foundation for strong families.

The thousands of letters, faxes, emails and phone calls I have received from Canadians across this great land are asking parliamentarians to do just that. I urge the government to listen. It has been a privilege for me to share some of their letters. The Prime Minister surely does not want this to be part of his legacy.

Let me conclude with this letter to the Prime Minister; I wish he would read it:

I am opposed to the proposed legislation on same-sex marriage. If the definition of marriage is changed to include partners of the same-sex, I will feel as if the state has annulled the last 35 years of my marital life.

  1. First of all, a definition does not discriminate, it only defines. Homosexuals already have the same basic human rights as any other member of our society. If half the definition of marriage can be changed on the human rights argument, then there can be no logical explanation to changing the other half “to the exclusion of all others” to a polygamous union.

  2. The government has broken its 1999 promise to defend the definition of marriage and since then has abandoned the democratic process in dealing with the matter and allowing the lower courts to usurp their constitutional power.

  3. As a nation we also have a responsibility to the next generation who will have to deal with the social consequences when a greater number of children are denied the influence of both a mother and father. What a sad commentary on our nation that the protection of our children of future generations will be compromised to defend and promote the lifestyle of such a few.

There is one more letter to the Prime Minister with a quotation I would like to put on the record.

As Christians, my wife and children and I place a very high value on life and the upholding of moral standards. God has not changed his laws, as evidenced by the timely rising and setting of the sun, the seasons, gravity, and even nature itself as seen in the animals around us.

I have much more to share, but unfortunately my time is up.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Markham—Unionville Ontario


John McCallum LiberalMinister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, on two levels I am an enthusiastic supporter of this legislation. First, quite apart from minority rights and the charter, I believe unequivocally that gay and lesbian Canadians should have the right to civil marriage. Second, the protection of minority rights under the charter is a core responsibility of the government and a defining feature of our country. I will deal with each of these two points in turn.

I believe we should always seek to expand the rights of our fellow citizens as long as we do not thereby reduce the rights of others. We should seek to ensure that no group is denied full participation in society. As members of Parliament, we should not ask the question, why should we extend this right? Rather our question should be, why should we not extend the right? Let the burden of proof be on those who wish to limit fundamental rights.

Furthermore, in continuously seeking a better society, we must be open to changing norms and attitudes over time. There was a time when Canadians struggled with the notion of women voting and being considered equal under the law. Today, Canadians are proud that we can look to the famous five women whose statue stands here on Parliament Hill for daring to imagine a better society. Those women are Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

Today, we cannot imagine Canada the way it was before these women made their contribution. I imagine that there were concerns at the time about what would happen to Canadian society or the Canadian family once women stated voting. History has shown us that these concerns were without foundation and our society was enriched.

Turning now to the subject at hand, I understand that many of my constituents will disagree with me, and I will return to that disagreement in a moment. However, for me as an individual, I ask myself a simple question: will gay marriage reduce the rights of other Canadians? Will gay marriage in any way devalue my own marriage? No, not in my opinion or that of my wife. Will churches or other religious institutions be forced to perform gay marriages against their will? Again no. The Supreme Court of Canada has been crystal clear on this point.

Will this legislation harm children who will be brought up by two mothers or two fathers? Again the answer is no. Without necessarily accepting the premise of the question, it is my understanding that gay couples already have the right to adopt and that this legislation has no bearing on that right.

Will government employees be forced to perform same sex marriages against their will? Since the administration of marriage is carried out at the municipal level, I discussed the matter with Mr. Don Cousens, the mayor of Markham. He told me that if the situation arose in Markham he would simply find someone else to carry out the marriage and there would be no problem.

I conclude that the civil marriage act extends the rights of gay Canadians without diminishing the rights of other Canadians. Accordingly I am pleased to support this bill and I would do so whether or not I was a member of cabinet.

To light a candle from another that is already burning does not diminish the light of that first candle, but rather serves to brighten the room. It is fundamental to our society that we offer basic rights to all. It is fundamental that we strive to extend our interpretation of equality as far as possible.

Let me now move away from my own personal beliefs to address some of my constituents and other Canadians who have a strong preference for the traditional definition of marriage. I believe there are two points of principle that are at stake in this debate: the principles involved in an individual's faith or belief that marriage should be limited to individuals of the opposite sex; and the principle of protecting minority rights as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Many Canadians will want to accept both of these principles: protect the traditional definition of marriage and protect the rights of minorities. The essence of my message today is that we cannot do both. We cannot have it both ways. We must make a choice between traditional marriage and the protection of minority rights.

In terms of individual faith and beliefs, it is important to stress that we are speaking only of civil marriage—marriage conducted by the state, not marriage by churches and other religious institutions.

The Supreme Court has made it absolutely clear that no religious group will be forced to conduct same sex marriage. Moreover same sex marriage is already the law in seven provinces and more than 5,000 such marriages have taken place in Canada. The only effect of the legislation will be to apply the law uniformly across the country.

Notwithstanding these points, many Canadians still oppose same sex marriage for reasons of faith and belief. While I have already made it clear that I am not one of those Canadians, nevertheless I respect those who have a different point of view.

The second point of principle involves the protection of the rights of minorities under the charter. The courts have determined that same sex couples have the right to marry. The government, of which I am a part, believes that the protection of these minority rights is fundamental to our democracy.

One cannot pick and choose between minorities whose rights one wants to defend and minorities whose rights one chooses to oppose. If we do not protect the rights of one group, in this case gay Canadians, we set a precedent that would make it easier to abuse the rights of other Canadians down the road. We do not want to embark on that path.

Let us not forget that before Canada had the charter of rights, there were times in our history when we failed to protect the rights of minorities. Think of the internment of Japanese Canadians, the Chinese head tax, and the abuses of aboriginal people. We must never return to a situation where the tyranny of the majority overrides the rights of minorities, and by that I mean the rights of all minorities, including gay Canadians.

More than a third of my constituents are Chinese and in making this argument to my Chinese constituents, I made use of the very old Chinese parable, due to Confucius, that I will share with members today.

Over 2,000 years ago the two greatest delicacies for the Chinese were the palm of the bear and the fish. Everybody wanted to eat both of these good things. When people could not have both, they had to make a very difficult decision. They could eat the palm of the bear or they could eat the fish. They could not eat both. Today the fish is traditional marriage and the palm of the bear is the protection of minority rights. My message is that one can choose one or the other, but we cannot have both.

It is not the place of a member of Parliament to advise constituents on matters of faith. I am not telling my constituents that they must support minority rights at the expense of their faith, that they must eat the palm of the bear rather than the fish. What I am saying is that we must all choose one way or the other, and we cannot have it both ways.

Unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition is misleading Canadians by telling them that they can have it both ways, that they can eat both the fish and the palm of the bear, and that they can enforce traditional marriage without overriding minority rights through the use of the notwithstanding clause of the charter. This is wrong. The courts in seven provinces have said it is wrong. In a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, 134 of Canada's leading legal scholars have said that it is wrong.

Some parliamentarians, such as myself, will have no problem supporting this legislation. Others, whose faith or core beliefs lead them to favour the traditional definition of marriage, must make a choice. Will it be traditional marriage or will it be the protection of minorities under the charter?

It is my hope and belief that the majority in the House will make their choice in the larger context of a free and equal society. We must remember that justice is blind. Whatever our personal views on this issue, we must ask ourselves if Canada will be enhanced or diminished by taking rights away from a group of our fellow citizens. To me, the choice is clear.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to Bill C-38. I cannot help but think that, somehow, we are witnessing a bit of history unfold and times change.

If I am not mistaken, this is our 10th debate in the House on the rights of gays and lesbians. During each of these debates, we hear the same arguments, sometimes as questions, but other times as prejudice, unfortunately.

The government deserves credit for this bill. We must recognize that it takes a great deal of courage to introduce legislation on civil marriage between same sex couples, not just because this is a minority government but also because many people feel very strongly about this subject.

I also cannot help but think that we are able to discuss such a bill today thanks to people such as Svend Robinson, Michael Hendricks, René Leboeuf and activists who, throughout Canada and particularly Quebec, spoke out to make homosexuality normal, respectable and deserving of the support of parliamentarians.

One might wonder why men and women of homosexual orientation would want to marry. The bill responds to legal issues in the aftermath of a reference to the Supreme Court. It also follows on numerous challenges before appeal courts as well as courts of first instance. There are, of course, some legal realities behind this bill.

They are not, however, the fundamental reason why we, as parliamentarians, must support this bill. I have had an opportunity to discuss this with my colleague and friend, the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, and I thank him for his work on this.

The first reason why this bill must be supported is, it seems to me, a matter of citizenship. I do not believe that homosexual men and women have different reasons for wanting to marry. Nor do I believe that motivations other than those for heterosexuals are involved in the debate.

We all know what it means to be in love. Two people feel right together. They see no one but each other, think only of each other, want to plan a life together. It makes no difference whether the two are homosexual or heterosexual.

People of homosexual orientation, like myself, consider marriage to have to do with fidelity, a shared life, mutual commitment, and support, all very important values.

Some day, our friends the Conservatives, those from the churches and others opposed to the bill, must explain to us how same sex couples' access to the most important lay institution after the schools is likely to weaken marriage. That is what I do not get about this debate.

I can understand that some people may be uncomfortable when they see two men or two women holding hands. I can understand that the homosexual reality is less present in some communities. Certainly, in a major centre like Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto or Halifax, it is virtually impossible to live one's life without knowing someone who is homosexual.

Today's debate is basically focussed on values.

Gays and lesbians are calling for the right to marriage, but there are no statistics on this. To think, until the last census we did not even know how many gays and lesbians there were in Canada. We certainly do not have accurate statistics on the number of people wanting to get married. However, one thing is certain, our responsibility as parliamentarians is to pass the bill that will give them this possibility, so that those wanting to get married can do so.

In my life, I have had three long-term relationships: the first when I was 20, the second when I was 25, and the third began a few years ago. Each time, in my experience as a gay man, I never felt as though the highs or lows of my relationships were any different than those of my twin brother, René, who is undeniably heterosexual—not polygamous, but heterosexual.

All that to say that some arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. The Supreme Court reference includes a paragraph which is very important, in my view, to our debates. It is paragraph 46 and it reads:

The mere recognition of the equality rights of one group cannot, in itself, constitute a violation of the rights of another. The promotion of Charter rights and values enriches our society as a whole and the furtherance of those rights cannot undermine the very principles the Charter was meant to foster.

Why is this paragraph so important? The Supreme Court clearly stated that there is no “conflict of rights”.

When this debate began in 2002, 2003 and 2004, they tried to have us believe that if you were driven by a sense of religion, you could not subscribe to the idea of equality for gays and lesbians. I believe this is absolutely not true. No matter how a person expresses their spirituality, or identifies themselves with religion, I think that in this House we can vote for what I call a supreme value, a value at the core of charters, rights and freedoms, in Canada and Quebec, and that is the right to equality. It is unacceptable to have two categories of people, who pay taxes, who take part in democratic institutions, who participate in community life, who are professionally involved and who do not have the same rights.

We heard the argument that recognizing the right of homosexual persons to marry would open the door to polygamy and polyandry, which would cause the disintegration of all marital relationships or committed relationships as part of a family.

I do not think that that is an honest argument because, frankly, is there one person who believes that the courts in B.C., Ontario, Quebec and elsewhere could have ruled that the lawmakers had to recognize same sex partners, had it not been for the right to equality?

The right to equality excludes polygamy and polyandry. Why? Because this concept that men could have more than one spouse is completely contrary to the right to equality. Women are considered to be so distinct that their relationships have to be legitimized, and using these as a mere bargaining chit within a broader type of relationship is completely contrary to the right to equality. I do not think that anyone in this House could find a court ruling or decision, in any way, shape or form, suggesting that the right to equality legitimizes polyandry and polygamy.

I will conclude with a wish: that this bill be referred as soon as possible to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, a special committee or a committee of the whole.

I hope that all parliamentarians will support this bill, which is a step in the direction of equality, gives respectability to homosexuality and in no way threatens families and the right to loving commitment.

Civil Marriage ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Scarborough—Guildwood Ontario


John McKay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I will be objecting to the bill and I have four preliminary objections: first, to the title; second, to the preamble; third, to the consequential amendments; and fourth, to the so-called religious protection.

First, the title of the bill is an attempt to make a distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage and, as we know, is a distinction without a difference. The bill would profoundly change the meaning of marriage in society. It is simply an attempt to try and sugar-coat the bill a little bit.

Second, the preamble is equally dubious. It does not have the force of law and does not appear in any of the amended statutes. It will not be there for contextualization or interpretation by judges. It, too, is an attempt to sugar-coat the bill. Its shelf life diminishes precipitously with the passage of the bill.

Third, the so-called protection for religious officials is equally, in my view, worthless. There is not a scintilla of doubt that religious institutions and their officials would be the next line of attack. It has already happened. Members are no doubt aware of the Knights of Columbus case in Vancouver. Knowingly, or unknowingly, a homosexual couple tried to use a Catholic facility for a wedding but were denied the use of the facility. They instituted a lawsuit. It does stretch credulity to think that this was just happenstance. My guess is that they will succeed because the protections are only afforded to religious officials.

The clause for protecting religious officials, even if it passes, cannot stand because it implies that religious officials are bigots. A state cannot protect bigots from bigotry. If marriage is transformed, any official who, for religious reasons, defines marriage as being composed of two people of the opposite gender will be considered by society to be a bigot. However, because the state is all gracious and all knowing, it will allow these officials to pursue their faulty thinking and extend to them a fig leaf of legal protection.

Does anyone believe that this protection granted by the federal government in an area in which it has no jurisdiction, namely the solemnization of marriage, is worth anything at all?

It would certainly be better for the government to come clean and say, just as did the Supreme Court of Canada, that religious officials will need to rely on the charter for their protection.

Fourth, I have problems with the amendments that would need to be made to the existing law if the bill were to pass. It is like a massive game of dominoes.

Perhaps the most startling consequential amendment is the removal of the phrase “natural parent” from all statutes and replacing it with the phrase “legally recognized at law”. This might not mean a great deal to some but once the bill passes the phrase “natural parent”, meaning connection through blood, DNA or biology, will be replaced by the expression “legally recognized at law” which, in effect, means anything a court chooses it to mean.

In summary, I believe the title and the preamble are sugar-coating and of no legal force and effect. Were I a religious official or a religious institution, I would be bracing for an onslaught of legal battering.

Finally, the most devastating of all the changes are the consequential amendments that would delink a child from its biological heritage.

At the crux of the debate, however, is the question of whether we ought to deconstruct one of the most critical relational institutions in our society. Fundamental to the debate is a meaningful look at the role marriage plays in our society and how changing one of the fundamental elements of this social institution will affect the functioning of the institution. The question that must be asked is whether gender is a vital component of marriage and by removing the gender component we would be creating a different type of relationship with different underlying assumptions.

To argue for redefining marriage, one must first believe that the gender component is irrelevant. If gender is irrelevant, marriage, by extension, is an inherently couple centric love institution that exists to serve the intimacy needs of adults. Many people have bought into this definition. It arises out of a rights based analysis by advocacy groups and it is how the marriage debate began. These advocacy groups, whose position the government initially opposed and now fully supports, convinced certain Canadian judges that marriage is nothing more than a love institution between two people.

In doing so, they argued that the criterion of marriage was only that which involved two people who love each other and that there was no reason these people must be of opposite gender. This is what is called a circular argument. A McGill University professor, Doug Farrow, pointed out in a recent booklet entitled “Divorcing Marriage: Unveiling the Dangers in Canada's New Social Experiment”, “We need to notice that the main rights argument amounts to a nice piece of subterfuge. Its conclusion is that marriage must be redefined. This distracts us from the fact that marriage has already been redefined in the argument's first move. That is, a new category, “the close adult personal relationship”, has been invented to provide a framework for our understanding of marriage. Once this framework is accepted, it follows that homosexual unions can be marriage-like and in that case, should qualify as marriage”.

The courts initially resisted this line of argument for the redefinition of marriage on solid, historical, religious and cultural grounds. Ultimately, however, once having bought the conclusion that marriage is just two people engaged in a conjugal relationship, their reasons for resisting the argument collapsed. This is what is called a circular argument. We start with a premise that requires a redefined definition of marriage and, to no one's great surprise, we come to the conclusion that marriage must be redefined.

Margaret Somerville, the noted secular medical and legal ethicist, argues that the Government of Canada is proposing to change an inherent feature of a social institution. I would say that it is a critical feature. I would say it is a sine qua non, that which cannot exist without it: the opposite gender requirement. Doing so, Somerville argues, will have a direct impact on the life of the social institution, radically re-engineering marriage and directly affecting the work it does in society.

What will the implications of the engineering project be then for marriage? I will give three suggestions.

First, marriage will no longer act as a unique forum for interplay between men and women in which the gender gap is bridged to create stable bonds between men and women. Marriage is easily the best way in which men relate to women and is easily the best way in which women relate to men.

Second, marriage will cease to provide a social home for the powerful procreative ecology of this bond. Marriage is easily the best way in which children relate to their parents.

Third, marriage will no longer be a unique forum for creating a stable community among children and their moms and dads and the larger society. Marriage is currently the one institution that attempts to enshrine the basic birthright of children to know that they are connected to their mothers and fathers as indicated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This new law of marriage formally rejects these pivotal elements as part of the objective core of marriage.

The Netherlands has had same sex marriage for the last five years. It should be noted that in the first three years of that bill, marriage declined among heterosexuals by 10% each and every year, and in the last year of 2004 it declined between 3% and 4%. There seem to be no other factors to explain this sudden drop in heterosexual attachment to the institution of marriage. Marriage is now dead in Denmark and 61% of children are born outside of marriage.

Quebec has had a form of civil union for a number of years now. Fewer and fewer heterosexuals are marrying. Fifty-eight per cent of children in that province are now born outside of marriage. All evidence suggests that children born outside of marriage have poor socio-economic outcomes and require far greater intervention by the state to compensate for parenting shortfalls. The birth rate in Quebec is demographically not sustainable and its population is contracting as in the Scandinavian countries. Absent in immigration, the contraction would be catastrophic: few marriages, fewer children; fewer children, fewer marriages.

It is my view that when a government and the courts embark on a social experiment of this magnitude, where preliminary evidence suggests accelerated heterosexual detachment from the fundamental institution of society, then the courts and governments have not served us well. Anything that destabilizes the institution, be it minor changes such as the change to the Divorce Act, creates more children born outside of the institution and accelerates heterosexual detachment from marriage.

I have outlined some of my objections: the redefining of a natural parent; the absence of meaningful democratic consultation; the false premise of the bill; and the dismissal as irrelevant all the historical, cultural and religious overlay to the institution. However my most serious objection is that this is not a Liberal solution, not a big L or a little l Liberal solution. This is a winner takes all approach so framed by the courts and adapted by the government is not respectful of diversity, pluralism or tolerance.

We live in one of the most culturally diverse nations on earth. We preach endless platitudes of respect for inclusiveness, tolerance, diversity and pluralism. The bill ignores the diversity of culture and ideas. It fails to include those who hold profoundly different views. It mocks pluralism by taking the most divisive of all solutions. It fails to explore the alternatives to the legitimate aspirations of gays and lesbians to have their relationships recognized and valued.

The bill is a divisive bill that would give overt preference to a specious rights analysis above all others. Ultimately it fails the test of what makes Canada great: liberal respect and accommodation for diversity of views and aspirations.