House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


The House resumed from February 21, 2005 consideration of the motion that Bill C-333, an act to recognize the injustices done to Chinese immigrants by head taxes and exclusion legislation, to provide for recognition of the extraordinary contribution they made to Canada, to provide for redress and to promote education on Chinese Canadian history and racial harmony, be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Roger Clavet Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had a busy weekend, working for the development of Quebec in my riding, in the interest of this future country.

I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-333, to right a great injustice. I would like to start by thanking my hon. colleague from Durham for introducing this bill, as well as the other parliamentarians who have taken part in this debate so far.

For more than 60 years, the Chinese Canadian community has been the victim of racism, but not just any type of racism: legislative racism. This is a dark page in Canada's history. It is like a less than glorious heritage minute that went on for 60 years. Imagine the damage. Between 1885 and 1923, the Government of Canada imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants. This was serious discrimination, which put the members of our treasured Chinese community at a terrible disadvantage.

Chinese workers wishing to emigrate to Canada had to pay a $500 tax, starting in 1903. At that time, it equaled two years' salary. It may seem paltry now but, back then, this was a considerable amount of money. This very House adopted the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923, thereby denying thousands of Chinese Canadians the right to vote and, above all, the possibility of being reunited with their families.

The Chinese community called it the Chinese Exclusion Act. As the title implies, their exclusion was total. The day the bill passed was even known as Humiliation Day. This is evidence of how the Chinese community must have felt that day. It was not until 1967, the centennial of Canada's Confederation, that this hateful humiliation was acknowledged. In 1967, Chinese immigrants obtained the same rights as immigrants from other countries. It took all those years for Chinese Canadians to be recognized as full-fledged citizens.

It goes without saying that these discriminatory measures were tied to strong anti-Asian sentiment in existence at that time. Despite everything, tens of thousands of Chinese people immigrated to Canada during that period and took part in its development, in particular helping to build the famous trans-Canada railway.

In supporting Bill C-333, the Bloc Québécois condemns the discrimination visited on the Chinese community by the Canadian government for 60 years. The Bloc Québécois salutes the contribution of the Chinese community to our economy and to Quebec and Canadian society, and it reiterates the importance of immigration and cultural communities to Quebec's future sovereignty.

A recent Ontario court ruling found that the Canadian government owes the Sino-Canadian community an apology. It must acknowledge this legacy and demonstrate good will. This ruling was corroborated and upheld in a recent resolution by the Montreal city council, which determined that the Canadian government must adopt reasonable measures to correct the injustices visited on Chinese Canadians.

Under Brian Mulroney, the Canadian government already offered an apology to Japanese Canadians for the unfair treatment they received during the second world war.

I wonder if this government could not build on that example and apologize to the Chinese community. That would be the least it could do for having exploited members of this community for 60 years while denying them the right to be full-fledged citizens. How insulting.

The last victims of this atrocity and of these discriminatory measures are still alive, but time is of the essence because, one by one, they are dying off. It is high time for the Canadian government to present them with a decent apology, to prove beyond a doubt that they are full fledged citizens and to promise that, although wrongs were committed in the past, nothing like this will ever happen again.

In 2003, a UN Special Rapporteur conducting a study of contemporary forms of racism in Canada also condemned the fact that the Chinese community in Canada still had not received an apology for being discriminated against during all those years.

In fact, some members of the Chinese community are considering turning to the UN in order to obtain justice. I have the following question. Is this the image Canada wants to project internationally—a lack of compassion toward these people, the Chinese community,who are still central to the larger society? Does it want this image of injustice to be spread throughout the world? In any event, that may suit Canada, but it does not suit Quebec.

The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-333 in principle, for the reasons described by my colleague, the hon. member for Durham.

Two years ago, during a visit to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, I toured one of these tunnels or underground entries that had been recreated, bearing in mind that when the Chinese community was building the railway back then, they were literally hidden in a tunnel or an underground room. They were forbidden to step out into broad daylight. It was acceptable to use the Chinese for their labour in order to build the railway, but they had to be hidden away. It is outrageous when you consider the contribution this community has made to Canada and Quebec.

What is more, the worst part of this 60 year-long heritage minute is that there is a charge of $15 or $20 to visit the underground gallery where we are shown how the Chinese had to hide underground like rats. That is how they were treated. And if a person asked for a pamphlet on this shameful period in the history of Canada, there are none to give. The exploitation continues. I do not know whether this is a private or public operation, but I do know that there is still an opportunity to visit this underground gallery where the horrible memories of the mistreated Chinese community can be revisited.

This bill will remedy that situation. Let us go back to that time, 1923. If the Chinese were good enough to build a railway, they ought to have been good enough to deserve respect. The situation continued for years, and now the victims and the children of those victims are demanding compensation and justice.

As Bloc Québécois spokesperson for Asia-Pacific matters, I take these things very much to heart. There have been attempts made in the past to remedy this injustice toward the Chinese community in private members' bills by colleagues in the Conservative and other parties.

I am seeking the support of the members of this House for Bill C-333. We are in favour of it, although of course there is always room for improvement. We can look into ways of accommodating certain requests from Chinese community associations throughout the country. Time is of the essence, however, and this injustice must be remedied.

I will put myself in the shoes of Canadians for a few moments, even though I am proud to proclaim myself a Quebecker. I do not want people to read the history of Canada and conclude that the Chinese were mistreated and nothing was done to remedy this injustice. I feel strongly that such a thing must not be associated in people's minds with Canada.

The Chinese community has proven without any doubt whatsoever that it is capable of being a full-fledged member of this society. This black mark on its past must, however, be erased, because the Chinese community is worthy of contributing to the economy, and indeed does make a significant contribution.

Bill C-333 is about the humiliation of the Chinese community. I know this community very well, having lived in China for two years. This humiliation must be dealt with now. This is a unique opportunity as all members are aware. The injustice to Japanese Canadians has been dealt with and now it is the turn of the Chinese. Common sense and pure and simple justice demand this. Hon. members, this error must be corrected by supporting Bill C-333.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary North Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Calgary Centre-North and speak in favour of Bill C-333. In so doing, I would note that Calgary has a very large Asian and Chinese population. In fact, my riding has a very large community of Chinese Canadians. It is my honour to rise today and speak on their behalf, and I am very proud to do so.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of two members of this House. First, the hon. member for Durham and, second, the hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette.

I would note that the member for Dauphin--Swan River--Marquette first introduced this bill in the House on December 10, 2003. It was then called the Chinese Canadian recognition and restitution act. Since that time, the hon. member for Durham has brought this legislation forward in the House.

Both members have exemplified leadership in drawing the attention of the House and Canadians to this important issue and to this difficult part of our history. Both members are tireless workers on behalf of their constituents and a credit to this House. I am very proud to serve as their colleague.

Bill C-333 is described as:

An Act to recognize the injustices done to Chinese immigrants by head taxes and exclusion legislation, to provide for recognition of the extraordinary contribution they made to Canada, to provide for redress and to promote education on Chinese Canadian history and racial harmony.

The purpose of the bill is to recognize the extraordinary contribution that Chinese Canadians have made to the building of this remarkable country that we call Canada. It is to acknowledge that they, more than any other group of Canadians, have done so in the face of many years of discrimination and adversity.

The contribution of Chinese Canadians to the building of the railways in this country is an important point of commencement in this discussion. Canada is a country that came to exist along a railway line, a thin ribbon of steel constructed against impossible odds. It was in fact at that time the largest construction project in history.

We know that this railway line could not have been built without the hard work and the determination, and the sacrifice of the Chinese labourers who came to build it. This was just the first of a rich legacy that Chinese immigrants have brought to our nation.

One would have thought that in the era of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway there would have been some measure of gratitude toward the migrants who were coming to Canada from China to work so tirelessly under primitive working conditions to build the CPR.

It is not so. One must return today to that part of Canadian history to fully understand the racism with which our Chinese ancestors struggled. Here is a quote from the daily British Columbia Colonist and the Victoria Chronicle of 1878, which at that time made a plea for restricted Chinese immigration. It said:

The Chinese ulcer is eating into the prosperity of the country and sooner or later it must be cut out.

Here is another quote that the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette may have referred to in his remarks from the Victoria newspaper of 1861:

We have plenty of room for many thousands of Chinamen...There can be no shadow of a doubt but their industry enables them to add very largely to our own revenues.

In the time following the completion of the railway, Chinese Canadians were made even less welcome by a series of legislative measures which were designed to deter immigration. The Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 imposed a head tax, a capitation tax, of $50 per head as a fee to enter Canada, which was payable upon disembarkation.

In 1900, in response to political pressure at the time, the quantum of that head tax was increased to $100. In 1904 it was increased to $500. This was an astronomical sum which at that time equated to two years of labour. Of our ancestors, 82,000 paid the head tax as a fee to enter Canada. Most were men since the legislation and the price severely restricted the ability of women to enter Canada.

Ultimately in 1923, the Government of Canada went even further. It passed the Chinese Immigration Act which essentially prohibited the immigration of Chinese to our nation, with the exception of certain narrow classifications. The act remained in place until 1947. It is remarkable to reflect that only 50 Chinese immigrants were allowed to migrate to Canada during those years. The law was passed on Dominion Day in 1923, a day which Chinese-Canadians marked in some circles for many years as the ultimate humiliation, and in fact many called it humiliation day. Chinese-Canadians were only given the right to vote in the 1950s.

In doing my research for Bill C-333, I chanced upon this remarkable excerpt from the Parliament of Canada. As late as 1958, subsequent to my own birth, a senator rose in the Senate chamber of Canada and said the following about a Chinese member of Parliament, a Conservative member of Parliament at that time. The senator stated:

I know that he is a Member of Parliament, and I know that he is the President of the Young Conservative Association, but he is over in Paris as, I presume, the head of this organization that is mentioned. Is he paid? Are there expenses paid by the Dominion Government? And just whom does he represent, and what right has this Chinaman to make these statements in Paris on behalf of the Canadian people?

This was a senator in this building talking about a duly elected Chinese-Canadian who was at that time a member of Parliament. The quote can be found in the Senate debates of July 10, 1958, at page 306.

Thankfully we have come a long way in the country since that time. I am proud to say that in my own riding of Calgary Centre-North, as an example, Chinese-Canadians are a proud part of our multicultural identity. The descendants of those who paid the Chinese head tax and fought racism for generations are today the community leaders, politicians and business leaders of our society. The commercial spine of my riding is Centre Street and it is so richly populated today by Asian and Chinese businesses that it is referred to affectionately as China Town North. I live only blocks from that street so for me it is very much my home.

The character and compassion of the Chinese community in my riding is exemplified by the work of Mr. Don Jeung and the Wing Kei senior citizens committee. The Chinese Christian Wing Kei nursing home, which is being constructed in my riding, is the largest senior citizen care facility under construction in our city. It is a private facility. It has been the dream of a dedicated group of Calgarians of Chinese ancestry. It is built of bricks and mortar, but it is constructed upon the bedrock of the values that they brought to this country: compassion, respect for the elderly, care and responsibility for one's own family members and individual initiative. On behalf of the House, I congratulate them and we await completion of construction this spring.

In researching for Bill C-333, I also reviewed a book written by a respected Canadian by the name of Denise Chong, entitled The Concubines Children of 1994. In it she talks about what it is like for her as a Canadian to reflect on the hardships that her ancestors undertook to come to Canada. She says:

--Canadian citizenship recognizes differences. It praises diversity. It is what we as Canadians choose to have in common with each other. It is a bridge between those who left something to make a new home here and those born here. What keeps the bridge strong is tolerance, fairness and compassion.

Citizenship has rights and responsibilities. I believe one responsibility of citizenship is to use that tolerance, fairness, understanding and compassion to leaf through the Canadian family album together.

I am proud to speak today in support of Bill C-333 as a bill that will foster community restitution. Chinese-Canadians have contributed so much to the construction of the country. I hope the legislation will allow to explore our history together and to move beyond a difficult chapter in our history.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario


Sarmite Bulte LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, Canada is known around the world as a nation that embraces fairness, equality and respect for diversity as the very basic building blocks of our society. Those versed in Canadian history understand that this national strength is not an accident. It is a product of the deliberate collaborative work of the many Canadians who came before us. Our aboriginal, English and French ancestors laid the foundation of a diverse society. These roots have deepened with the arrival of generations of immigrants from around the world.

Our small population and vast geography dictated deliberate nation-building activities such as our pan-Canadian rail link. Our linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity necessitated a value system based on tolerance and understanding, ultimately giving birth to our first Citizenship Act, the Multiculturalism Act, the Official Languages Act and our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Just yesterday, April 17, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As members know, section 15 guarantees equality before and under the law and equal protection in the benefits of the law without freedom from discrimination because of race, ethnic or national origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. In the 20 years since its enactment, the very notion of equality before the law has become entrenched in our Canadian psyche.

The 20th anniversary of its entry into force is the perfect opportunity for all Canadians to stop and reflect on how far we have come as a nation, how far we have come since the dark days in our history when racism and discrimination dominated our society and how much we have achieved in building the legal framework that safeguards the values we hold so dear today.

The Government of Canada understands the strong feelings underlying requests for redress for Chinese Canadians. They risked their lives to help build Canada's railroad in the 1880s. More than 15,000 Chinese came to build the most dangerous and difficult section of the Canadian Pacific Railway. As soon as their work was done, however, Canadians wanted them gone. It was the beginning of a difficult chapter in history for Chinese immigrants to Canada.

Chinese immigrants to Canada came seeking an escape from the poverty and war at home. What they encountered here was prejudice, personal attacks and discrimination, but the Chinese in Canada persevered. Many chose to pay the head tax for the opportunity to have a better life in Canada. Many took on the most dangerous jobs in sawmills and fish canneries. Many bravely endured separation from family members they could not bring to Canada.

When some 600 men and women served in the military during World War II, Chinese Canadians contributed more manpower to the war effort than any other ethnic group. However, the community's contributions went well beyond providing manpower. In addition to Red Cross and other service work, the community is said to have contributed $10 million to the victory loan drive, more per capita than any other group in Canada.

Over the years, an incredible number of Chinese Canadian individuals have made extraordinary contributions to Canada: community leaders like Dr. Joseph Wong, who chaired the United Way and was bestowed the Order of Canada; artists like Chan Hon Goh or Xiao Nan Yu, who have distinguished themselves as ballerinas at the National Ballet of Canada; and champions like Jean Lumb, the first Chinese Canadian woman to receive the Order of Canada for her work on Chinese family reunification in Canada and her fight to save and revitalize Chinatown in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

There are also internationally recognized Chinese Canadian scientists like molecular geneticist Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, who helped discover the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis. Dr. Tak Wah Mak discovered the gene for the t-cell receptor, a major key to the working of the human body's immune system. Dr. Victor Ling is world-renowned for his discovery of the existence and mechanisms of drug-resistant chemotherapy. Sports stars like Norman Kwong, also known as the China Clipper, is a three times Sports Hall of Famer and Order of Canada recipient who helped the Edmonton Eskimos win six Grey Cups.

Clearly, Chinese Canadians are making important contributions to every aspect of Canadian life, in arts and culture, in science and medicine, in business and education and the professions, and I might also add, in politics. Our own hon. member and Minister of State for Multiculturalism, Raymond Chan, is a Chinese Canadian.

The Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, came to Canada as a Hong Kong refugee during the second world war, rose to international recognition as a Canadian journalist and then became the first Chinese Canadian Governor General of Canada in 1999.

One thing is very clear, Chinese Canadians have more than earned their place in Canadian history and society.

Canada's treatment of Chinese Canadians is one of those chapters in Canadian history that does not make us proud. However, we can be proud of the progress we have made since those days. We can and we must learn from our history.

The Government of Canada is committed to strengthening the fabric of Canada's multicultural society. We are committed to acknowledging and commemorating the significant contributions made by various ethnoracial and ethnocultural groups, including the Chinese.

Already the Department of Canadian Heritage and cultural agencies in the Canadian Heritage portfolio have made considerable efforts to ensure that the story of the Chinese in Canada is known to all Canadians.

Canada's public broadcaster, CBC/Radio-Canada, for example, offers a comprehensive look at the history and experience of Chinese Canadians in their online archives at

The Royal Canadian Mint has struck a two coin set to commemorate the completion of the transcontinental track and to honour the significant contribution of Chinese workers.

Canada Post produced new stamps, commemorative coins and even a chequebook designed with Feng Shui elements in honour of the more than one million Chinese Canadians who were celebrating the 2004 year of the monkey.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage, on the advice of Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, has designated two national historic sites and one national historic event to commemorate achievements directly related to the Chinese Canadian community. One of the sites is at Yale, British Columbia and commemorates the role of the Chinese construction workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

For more than 30 years, the Canadian Museum of Civilization has supported a full curatorial program on East Asian Canadians, including research, collecting and program development.

One of the opening exhibits at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1989 was “Beyond the Golden Mountain: the Chinese in Canada”, at the time the most comprehensive museum exhibit on the Chinese Canadian experience ever mounted.

The multiculturalism program also has funded numerous research programs on the Chinese Canadian experience. In television and film, the National Film Board of Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Department of Canadian Heritage have funded various films and television series which celebrate the history, heritage and contribution of the Chinese Canadian community. This is just the beginning.

In the October 2004 Speech from the Throne, the government pledged its objectives “in a manner that recognizes Canada's diversity as a source of strength and innovation”. We also pledged “to be a steadfast advocate of inclusion” and “to demand equality of opportunity so that prosperity can be shared by all Canadians”.

In line with these commitments, the government is now advancing a number of multicultural and anti-racism initiatives designed to cultivate an even more equitable and inclusive society.

In our 2005 budget we have provided $5 billion per year to the multiculturalism program to enhance its contributions to equality for all. In want to point out one thing as my time is running out. Budget 2005 also provides $25 million over the next three years for commemorative and educational initiatives that will highlight the contributions that the Chinese and other ethnocultural groups have made to Canadian society and it will help build a better understanding among all Canadians of the strength of Canadian diversity.

With this funding, the government is responding to demands from the community in a new way that respects both the concerns of the communities and the government's 1994 policy on this issue. We as a government are looking to the future of all Canadians.

Bill C-333 in its current form asks Parliament to apologize for actions taken by a previous government and to provide redress, but we have to move forward and control the future to ensure that the past never happens again.

To conclude, while the bill may not be perfect in its present form, and no bill is, I would ask all members to support second reading of this bill.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to have an opportunity to speak to the private member's bill before us, Bill C-333, and to indicate that it is absolutely my position as the member of Parliament for Halifax and the position of the New Democratic Party caucus to support this bill going to committee. We will definitely be supporting the bill at second reading and absolutely supporting the objectives of it.

I want to congratulate the member for Durham for bringing forward this bill. As I am sure she would acknowledge, it is picking up where others have left off, others having done a great deal of groundwork over the years to try to get this government to move on taking the kinds of initiatives that are necessary to deal with the reconciliation and restitution owed to Chinese Canadians as a result of a very ugly chapter in Canadian history.

In congratulating the opposition member who has brought forward the bill, I think it is disappointing that the government has not already moved on this. I was listening closely to the comments of the member for Parkdale—High Park. I was hoping to hear that there is an intention on the part of the government to move on the restitution and reconciliation that have to be addressed if in fact we are going to accept collectively that an injury to one, in a society that claims to be committed to equality, justice, inclusion and compassion, is an injury to all. The way in which we can express that formally is to strengthen Bill C-333, which is before us now, and I hope that is what will happen at second reading, because it is needed and deserved.

I want to take a moment to pay tribute to others who have worked very hard over the years on this issue. They are Margaret Mitchell, who was a colleague of mine, and the former leader of the New Democratic Party, the member for Ottawa Centre. Margaret Mitchell was the member for Vancouver East. She was very much in tune with her own community, which included a large number of Chinese Canadians. She began fighting to have this issue addressed to realize the deep injury and out-and-out racist practices that we do not like to think are part of our history but in fact were, and they will remain part of a history that has yet to be corrected until we deal in a more effective way than this bill does with restitution and reconciliation.

I want to also pay tribute to my colleague, the current member for Vancouver East, who, in two previous motions that she tabled in the House, put forward a more stringent program, a more concrete and effective set of measures to outline what we need to do as a nation so that we can heal those wounds, and that means heal ourselves.

I have heard others stand and say, “I have a large number of Chinese Canadians in my riding. I know they are concerned and affected by this, so I am going to be supporting it”. Let me say that I have a small number of Chinese Canadians in my riding, but this issue matters to all Canadians and of course has particular impact and import for Chinese Canadians.

One of the flaws that I think exists in the private member's bill before us is that it singles out one particular organization that represents the interests of some Chinese Canadians and says this is the organization with which the government should negotiate. It is clear that we have more than one organization that represents Chinese Canadians. There are several. It is our view that this bill should be amended to provide for a more inclusive process involving duly constituted organizations that represent a variety of perspectives of Chinese Canadians in order to take those into account, engage in a good faith process and move on.

I think we know who we want to be as Canadians and I think we know how we want the world to think of who we are as Canadians, that is, an inclusive society, one that is free of racism and free of the ugly forms of hatred that can exist. The reality is that the chapter during which Chinese Canadians were actively and aggressively discriminated against is one that is very ugly. It speaks to who we do not want to be.

To put that behind us, to learn the lessons of the past and to keep reminding ourselves of how important it is that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, we cannot confidently and honestly say we are a society that does not tolerate the kind of hatred and injustice that was embedded in the treatment for 62 years of legislated racism in this country, from 1885 to 1947, when Chinese Canadians had to pay the head tax. It does not sound like a lot of money, but a $50 head tax at that time was a hugely onerous penalty and an ugly symbol of racism. Then, of course, between the period of 1923 to 1947, when Chinese Canadians were actually prohibited from immigrating to Canada, we are talking about a very ugly past.

We do not have a lot to be proud about in terms of not yet having redressed some of the other ugly chapters. We do not have it right yet in terms of the treatment of aboriginal Canadians. This government is still dragging its heels on dealing with the reconciliation around the hateful chapter of residential schools, which damaged a whole population, the founding nations of this country.

We have the ugliest of histories to live down in terms of what happened to European Jews who could not find their way into a supposedly compassionate Canada when they were fleeing as refugees from Nazi Germany, from extermination, from the Holocaust. One of the truly shocking chronicles about Canadian history is found in the book that was so brilliantly written by Irving Abella in order to share this chapter of our history. The title, None is Too Many , is taken from the statement made by the Prime Minister of the day, meaning that we would not be welcoming to our shores Jews who were facing extermination. In fact, we turned people back.

Today we have racial profiling going on in this country. It injures all of us. It tears at the fabric of our society when we have the kind of racial profiling that is going on, affecting particularly members of the Islamic faith and those with Arab and Middle East backgrounds.

We need to heal ourselves. It would be very much in keeping with the rhetoric we hear from the government about how concerned it is that we eliminate racism and religious bigotry from our midst if in fact the government would see fit not just to support Bill C-333 but to support a strengthening of the bill. We must do it, because until it is done we cannot hold up our heads and say that we have taken this seriously and taken our responsibilities seriously.

It was my privilege to introduce a motion in the House in 2003. I want to finish my speech by briefly quoting from it because it does give an indication of why the bill needs to be stronger. It stated that the Government of Canada should:

--(a) formally apologize to the Chinese community for the injustice imposed on Chinese immigrants by the government's Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923; (b) negotiate with members of the Chinese community, financial compensation to surviving [Chinese] who paid the tax....

That does not mean just one organization but the legitimate bona fide organizations representing the diversity of Chinese Canadians, because they are not of one mind and they do not exist in just one organization. The motion continued:

--and (c) financially support educational and cultural initiatives developed in concert with the Canadian-Chinese communities to prevent such injustices from happening again.

I note that the member for Parkdale—High Park talked about these kinds of initiatives in general, but I think we are dealing with a very specific ugly chapter in our own history which needs to be redressed. The victims need to be acknowledged and compensated appropriately as well as our ensuring that today's and tomorrow's generations are fully aware of this history and that we move toward the anti-racism kinds of measures which will indeed ensure that it does not happen again.

I want to finish by saying that we have in this country not just those we have already mentioned. We have Acadians, who were the victims of ethnic cleansing. We have Afro Canadians, who still in my own province, I can tell members, are the victims of racism, which is very embedded in our system and needs to be addressed. I hope that with this bill being strengthened we can move on to deal with some of those other issues as well. Prevention is the order of the day.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today in support of Bill C-333, the Chinese Canadian recognition and redress act, brought forth by the member for Durham, a riding neighbouring mine.

I am honoured to offer my support for a bill that acknowledges the astounding contribution of the Chinese to the creation of our nation and the strength that our country derives from our multicultural heritage.

Between 1885 and 1947, Chinese immigrants to Canada experienced a period of extreme racial discrimination which had an irreversible impact on a community of ethnic minorities that contributed significantly to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and, consequently, the development of our nation.

Despite the discrimination they faced, they came to Canada for economic survival, many leaving their families behind. A total of 17,000 Chinese labourers helped build the CPR, utilized by the government because they were reliable, hard-working and willing to work at half the wages of white Canadians.

They were also willing to take on dangerous jobs, which resulted in an estimated four Chinese deaths for every mile of track laid. Many Chinese workers died from exhaustion, while others perished in rock explosions or under collapsed tunnels. Some drowned due to the collapse of unfinished bridges, while many others died of scurvy.

On May 12, 1882, Sir John A. Macdonald stood in the House of Commons and argued against bowing to the pressure of labour groups. He credited the successful and timely completion of the Canadian Pacific railroad to the work of Chinese labourers, stating:

--if you wish to have the railway finished within any reasonable time, there must be no such step against Chinese labour. At present it is simply a question of alternatives--either you must have this labour or you cannot have the railway.

The head tax was imposed by the Canadian government in 1885 immediately following the completion of the CPR, when the demand for Chinese labour ceased. It was originally set at $50, an amount determined by the maximum amount that a Chinese labourer was able to save per year after living expenses were paid.

By 1904 it had jumped to $500, an amount equivalent to two years of labour. The head tax was accompanied by other discriminatory policies such as a rice tax, special taxes on laundries, segregation of schools, and the refusal to give Chinese immigrants adequate social welfare during the Depression. These were the first of many policies put in place by the Canadian government with the sole purpose of deterring Chinese immigration, eventually destroying the Chinese community here in Canada.

In 1923, the Chinese exclusion act was passed, the final chapter in a period of state-sanctioned racism that was aimed at preventing an oriental invasion while allowing the government to profit from Chinese immigration.

Bill C-333 calls for a formal acknowledgement of the harm done to Chinese labourers and recognition of the commitment and contribution of the Chinese to the development of Canada. Unlike the 1996 redress agreement between the government and the Chinese Canadian National Council, Bill C-333 does not seek restitution on an individual basis, as it will do little to rectify the racial intolerance that characterized the turn of the century. It instead seeks to address harm done generations ago by developing a framework to ensure a future free of racism and intolerance.

Chinese Canadians deserve formal recognition by the government that the immigration policies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were unjust and violated human rights as they are understood today. They deserve recognition of their commitment to Canada and their contribution to the development of Canada.

In response to the 2001 UN world conference against racism and related intolerance, Canada made a commitment to engage in a healing process as part of a strategy to combat racial discrimination in Canada. The failure to recognize the inhumane treatment of Chinese Canadians by the Canadian government is to fail in that healing process.

Canada's strategy following the conference also included a commitment to admit past wrongs in order to move forward in the pursuit of inclusive goals. The failure of this government to act in accordance with its own vow to admit past wrongs would weaken its commitment to social justice and cohesion. For the Canadian government to effectively celebrate our diversity today, it must properly address mistakes of the past.

Bill C-333 calls for restitution devoted to educational materials on Chinese Canadian history and the promotion of racial harmony through various projects. A formal acknowledgement of government policies of the past and restitution in the form of educational and promotional material will significantly advance and assist ongoing efforts to eliminate racism and racial intolerance in Canada.

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation is a great example of what can be accomplished when an organization has been given a mandate to build a national framework committed to creating a harmonious future based on equality, fairness and social justice. This organization has accomplished great things, and has done a tremendous job advancing the cause of racial harmony.

However, Chinese Canadians have received little in the way of grants from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. The establishment of a foundation in honour of the Chinese victims of Canada's immigration policies would bring this country one step closer to achieving racial tolerance and one step closer to securing a better future. In the process, younger generations would have the opportunity to learn about the contribution of the Chinese to Canada, past and present.

I ask that all members support Bill C-333 at second reading and that the government affirm its commitment to a healing process whereby past wrongs are addressed in order for us to move forward as a country, proud of its diversity, and the strength that results from our multiculturalism.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, it would be an understatement to say that the Government of Canada understands the strong feelings underlying requests for redress from the Chinese community. The circumstances surrounding the Chinese Canadian claim are not proud moments in our past, nor are they the actions that Canadians today would consider acceptable. That is because Canada today is a far different kind of Canada than that which it was when those events took place.

Canada today values fairness, inclusion, equality, and respect for diversity. Canada today actively shuns racism and discrimination of any kind. Canada today embraces multiculturalism as a source of its strength. For Canada, multiculturalism is a conscious policy of accepting, respecting and yes, celebrating differences. This is what defines us as Canadians. Our multicultural policy encourages us to maintain our ancestral, ethnic and cultural ties, while simultaneously being a part of Canada is one of the reasons why Canadians have been able to live in peace and successfully address their internal tensions.

A quick look back over the past decades reveals just how we have achieved this, and how we have together built a Canada that embraces cultural diversity as a source of strength to be celebrated and not merely tolerated.

From as early as 1950 our cultural diversity has come to be understood as an essential ingredient of Canadian identity. In 1960 the Canadian Bill of Rights recognized and declared that certain human rights and fundamental freedoms existed without discrimination on the grounds of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex.

In 1970 Canada ratified the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. In 1977 the Canadian Human Rights Act proclaimed that all individuals have equal opportunity before the law and with others. In 1982 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognized every individual as equal before the law. The multicultural character of Canada also gained constitutional recognition in the charter. In 1988 the Canadian Multiculturalism Act affirmed multiculturalism as a fundamental characteristic of our society.

To suggest that we have not already learned from our past is to discount the importance of these changes and the present debate must be seen in this broader context. I would suggest that it is because of the Chinese experience that modern day Canada has a myriad of safeguards in place to prevent history from repeating itself.

However, we all know that more can be done to ensure everyone has a voice in society and a chance to shape the future direction of this country. We have the responsibility to help individuals and groups to speak out and be heard, and in order to participate in national debates we need programs that equip communities and organizations to tell their stories, commemorate their experience, and then advance their interests, so that all Canadians in perpetuity understand the total context of their experience.

For this and all generations, we must focus our efforts in areas where abuse and discrimination can be prevented. As my colleague from Parkdale has eloquently pointed out, the government is taking concrete measures to strengthen the fabric of Canadian life by combating racism, prejudice and discrimination. These are forward looking measures. They are positive and they build on the success Canada has achieved in managing the tensions that can undermine our values and goals of society, and they are important in the unique model of Canadian citizenship. While they provide us with an understanding of our past, they will take us further along the path that will take us into our future.

Chinese Canadians have helped build this country in the same tradition that wave after wave of immigrants have and we know how much Chinese Canadians have given despite the treatment they have received.

As with many issues, while there are no simple solutions, Bill C-333 provides us the spirit to take a step toward moving forward on this issue and deserves the collective wisdom that a committee can provide. I believe it is critical to keep the doors open for a more comprehensive and forward looking bill.

For that reason, while we cannot change the past, we can as a government commit to changing the future. I would urge my fellow members of this House to support sending Bill C-333 to committee where we could work toward a more comprehensive, forward looking approach, while recognizing the injustice inflicted on Chinese Canadians, and produce a positive report, conducive to a cohesive Canadian society.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business



Bev Oda Conservative Clarington—Scugog—Uxbridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, for his work over many years on this bill. Without his commitment to this issue and to the Chinese community, we would not have reached this important step in the legislative process. I am honoured to carry this bill forward.

I would also like to thank the many members of all parties who have spoken so eloquently in support of Bill C-333.

Canada has grown and prospered by welcoming the rich diversity of the globe. We have much to be proud of; however, we have at times in our history, faced with our human frailties, succumbed, and taken action that has tarnished our history.

During this debate we have been told of the hardships brought upon the Chinese through the head tax and the exclusionary legislation adopted by previous governments.

There are those who might say that we cannot go back in history and address every wrong done to every group who at one time or another faced challenges in Canada. To them I say Bill C-333 does not advocate going back. I believe it will enable us to go forward as a country. Before we go forward, we must acknowledge that the Chinese were targeted and recognize the racially motivated acts undertaken by our country.

The head tax and the exclusionary legislation were directly intended to limit the Chinese from entering Canada. We cannot go back and undo these acts. We cannot go back and reunite families that were separated over decades. We cannot go back and change the racist attitudes of the times. We cannot go back, but we can go forward and look to the future of our country.

I believe that there is no price that can be paid to make amends. The scars of racism cannot be healed monetarily. We can however acknowledge our actions and provide the Chinese community with the recognition it deserves. Then we can make every effort to invest in our future and future generations. By learning from the past we can make the future of Canada even better and with greater pride.

Currently, we cannot take pride in the fact that the contribution of the Chinese community to Canada and our history, their work and the lives given to build this country, beginning with the railway in the west and serving in our armed forces in both world wars was missing from the history books that I grew up with. That is why Bill C-333 proposes to focus on education and racial harmony.

We can do much to ensure that government and individual acts based on race alone, acts that disadvantage one group over another in our country, will never happen again.

Bill C-333 will not eliminate racism, but for the Chinese community it will acknowledge that Canada and Canadians today do not condone acts taken by a Canadian government, even a past government, based on racism.

Bill C-333 will demonstrate that we, currently in this House, are willing to take that step and further steps to ensure that Canada, today and in the future, welcomes its diversity and the contribution of every community regardless of one's race.

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

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

Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Chinese Canadian Recognition and Restitution ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

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

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario


Mauril Bélanger Liberalfor the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

moved that Bill C-40, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

St. Paul's Ontario


Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of State (Public Health)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-40, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act.

This bill amends the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act in order to bring them in line with a decision by a special panel of the World Trade Organization, whereby certain practices of grain handling and transfer in Canada do not comply with Canada's obligations of national treatment under the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

When we look at all the tremendous accomplishments of the Canadian agriculture and agri-food industry over the past 100 years, the Canadian grain sector stands out as a great success story in its own right. Today Canadian wheat, barley and other grains are known by our customers all over the world for their outstanding quality, consistency, cleanliness and innovation.

Each and every year Canada's grain industry does $10 billion worth of business here in Canada and around the world. Those dollars create jobs and prosperity for Canadians here at home. They support our rural communities, which are the lifeblood of Canada's economy. Canada's grain growers sustain our health and well-being as Canadians by putting the very bread on our tables. We must never forget that; to quote the old saying, “If you ate today, thank a farmer”.

Canadian grain is about much more than bread. It is about a large number of products, such as durum wheat in pasta, oats in porridge, barley in beer, and so on.

Whatever the product in question, when Canada's global customers purchase Canadian grain for processing, they can count on getting the same high levels of quality and cleanliness that they have come to expect, load after load. They can count on knowing exactly how that grain will perform during processing, load after load.

This world class reputation that our Canadian grains enjoy around the globe has been earned. It has been earned in large part through the hard work first and foremost by our farmers. It has also been earned by grain handling companies, by research scientists, and by organizations such as the Canadian Grain Commission, the Canadian International Grains Institute, the Canadian Wheat Board and others.

Today and for the future the Government of Canada will continue to stand behind both the Canadian grains and the Canadian oilseeds sectors. In March we announced a $1 billion farm income payment program of which we estimate about $480 million will help grains and oilseeds producers with immediate cash flow pressures brought about by a number of factors, including weather losses, low market prices and unfavourable exchange rates. These funds will help our producers as a long term strategy is put in place to help the sector deal with a projected continuing decline in grains and oilseeds commodity prices.

Part of the strategy is growing and expanding our export markets for grains. We are working in partnership with the Canadian grain sector to do that. We are also working to secure and maintain the world class grain quality assurance systems that continue to open new doors in marketplaces around the world.

As members of the House will know, Canada's marketing system for wheat has been challenged by the United States on a number of occasions in recent years. Each time the major issue has been the Canadian Wheat Board, and each time the ruling has gone in Canada's favour. Both at NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, panels have consistently upheld Canada's position that the Canadian Wheat Board is a fair trader and that its mandate, structure and activities are consistent with our international trading obligations.

In April 2004 a WTO dispute settlement panel ruled that the Canadian Wheat Board was consistent with Canada's international trade obligations. The U.S. immediately appealed. In August 2004 the appellate body of the WTO upheld the original ruling, namely, that the U.S. had not provided any evidence whatsoever that the Canadian Wheat Board had acted contrary to Canada's international trade obligations.

Once again that ruling confirmed that the Canadian Wheat Board operates within the rules. It further supports Canada's position at the WTO negotiating table, namely, the Canadian Wheat Board is a fair trader.

The WTO did find against Canada regarding certain grain handling and transportation policies. In response to those findings, Canada decided that changes to Canadian legislation could be made that would both serve to meet our international trade responsibilities and at the same time maintain our world-leading grain quality assurance systems.

To summarize briefly, the WTO ruling requires action by Canada on three particular grain policies currently in force under the auspices of the Canadian Grain Commission and Transport Canada.

The first is entry authorization requirements. Under the Canada Grain Act, permission must be sought from the Canadian Grain Commission before foreign grain can enter licensed Canadian elevators.

The second is mixing of foreign grain. Under the Canada Grain Act, permission must be sought from the Canadian Grain Commission before a foreign grain can be mixed with domestic grain.

The third is the rail revenue cap program. Under the Canada Transportation Act, a maximum is imposed on the revenues that railroads may receive on certain shipments of Canadian domestic grain.

To comply with the WTO rulings in these areas, the government is proposing amendments to the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act. First, to address the issue of entry authorization requirements, the amendments to the Canada Grain Act remove the requirement that Canadian Grain Commission permission must be sought before foreign grain can enter licensed Canadian elevators. Instead, a regulation will be added requiring licensees operating grain elevators to report to the CGC the origin of all grain.

Second, to address the issue of mixing of foreign grain, the amendments remove the requirement that CGC permission must be sought before foreign grain can be mixed with eastern Canadian grain. The new regulation will also stipulate that if licensees operating elevators mix Canadian and foreign grain, they must identify that grain as mixed.

Further, all licensed elevator operators will be required to maintain the origin of grains at all times to ensure that grain is never misrepresented. It is essential that Canada continue to have the capacity to assure our buyers that they are getting what they pay for, namely, the consistent high quality they have come to expect from Canadian grain. The Canadian Grain Commission is confident that these changes in no way compromise our ability to do this.

In addition to the amendments to the CGA, amendments are required to the revenue cap provisions of the Canada Transportation Act in order to bring the cap into compliance with the WTO decision. One option would be to simply repeal the revenue cap provisions. Let me assure western Canadian grain farmers that the government has no intention of repealing the cap. It will function as usual for Canadian grain industry stakeholders.

Instead, the revenue cap will be extended to foreign grain that is imported into Canada. It will not apply to foreign grain that is in transit through Canada to some other destination. The government believes this change will not have a significant impact on the grain handling and transportation system.

At the same time, by implementing these changes, Canada will comply with our obligations under the WTO in the same way as we would expect other WTO member nations to do were they in our position.

The deadline for Canada to act in these matters has been negotiated with the U.S. It has been agreed that changes to the acts and associated regulations will need to be implemented by August 1, 2005.

Canada's grain quality assurance system is designed to ensure that the varieties of grain produced in Canada meet the strict quality specifications that customers have come to rely on.

We are confident that the amendments we are proposing today in no way compromise Canada's ability to fully protect and safeguard the integrity of this system, which has won and continues to win so many loyal customers the world over. We believe that Canada can conform with the WTO panel findings in a way that will have little practical impact on the Canadian grain handling and transportation system.

I can assure everyone that the grain sector is on side in the course of action we are taking. In fact, in January the parliamentary secretary for rural affairs held extensive consultations in western Canada with a wide range of stakeholders, including farmers, producer organizations, general farm groups, elevator operators and private grain companies. Overall, stakeholders were broadly supportive of the government's proposed approach and believed that the changes would have little or no impact on the current system.

There was also strong support for Canada to meet its WTO obligations. It is important to note that while indicating areas of non-compliance, the WTO panel nonetheless recognized Canada's fundamental right to maintain our own quality systems.

The WTO panel in no way ruled against grain quality assurance. In fact, the panel clearly articulated Canada's right to segregate grain to ensure the quality of grain shipments. Nothing in the ruling changes, compromises or dilutes Canada's fundamental right to safeguard the integrity of our world class grain quality systems.

The panel rulings back up Canada's position in the WTO negotiations, namely, that no disciplines on state trading enterprises, like the CWB, are needed beyond those agreed to by the WTO members in the July 2004 framework on agriculture.

It also supports our position that CWB is a fair trader, that its mandate, structure and activities are fully consistent with commercial considerations. It is Canada's hope that the decision by the WTO and our compliance in the areas I have outlined will lead other nations to turn the page and put our collective focus where it should be, namely on levelling the international playing field so our producers and processors can compete fairly and effectively in the global marketplace.

As the Doha round proceeds, Canada will continue to work closely with the Canadian grain sector and the entire range of agrifood stakeholders to achieve an outcome that is positive for the entire agrifood sector. We will continue to defend the ability of our producers to choose how to market their products, including through orderly marketing structures such as the CWB.

The whole of the agrifood sector and of the Canadian economy stand to gain from these negotiations. We are seeking prosperity for Canadians through secure access to markets around the world and we are seeking a stable and predictable business environment and a level playing field that will allow Canada's grain industry to leverage its competitive strengths to the maximum.

I am confident that the amendments to the Canada Grain Act and to the Canada Transportation Act which we are introducing today support those goals. That is why I support it and urge other members of the House to do the same.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it was interesting to hear the Minister of State for Public Health from Toronto talk about changes to the WTO requirements that basically will affect western Canada alone. She talked glowingly about the parliamentary secretary doing his cross-Canada farcical, whimsical tour. She talked about all the groups that were in favour of this motion.

This morning my phone has been ringing off the hook from those very people who are not in favour of these recommendations. They do not want to see this fast-tracked through, which the minister has outlined the government is prepared to do that. I am here to tell her that those associations are waiting for their time before the agriculture committee to outline exactly what needs to be done, and not rush this bill through.

The minister also talked about the billion dollar payout that her government announced a couple of weeks ago. The cheques were to be flow in April. It is now less than 10 working days until the end of April. Could the minister stand and tell us how much of that money has been dispersed to date?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am unable to tell the member that. I know the minister will be happy to tell the House as soon as he is able.

The issue for all farmers, even for those of us in downtown Toronto, is that we want fair trading across the planet. What is very unfair is when countries do not change in compliance with WTO rulings. It weakens the whole system and it weakens the playing field for all farmers, particularly in Canada. We must honour our WTO obligations, in the same way we expect our partners around the world to honour them.

We have had every assurance that this will in effect make very little change if no change in terms of grain farmers. This is a matter of coming into line with our trade obligations, both out trade and in trade, and ensuring that it is okay.

We also are confident that this in no way changes the grain quality system or the integrity of the system in Canada. The parliamentary secretary's tour on this was during the week of January 17. A wide range of stakeholders were consulted, as I said in my remarks. There were some general concerns in terms of the impact of the changes. I think assurance was given that there would be huge support for Canada to meet its WTO obligations. For us not to meet our WTO obligations, puts us with no moral authority to insist on other countries honouring theirs.

A number of core groups were consulted directly by Transport Canada or the Canadian Grain Commission. They included the Western Grain Elevator Association, the Inland Terminal Association, Canadian Special Crops Association, Transfer Elevator Operators, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway.

The parliamentary secretary in his groups met with Agricore United, Alberta Grain Commission, Alberta Soft Wheat Producers Commission, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian Wheat Board, Canola Council of Canada, Inland Terminal Association, Prairie Oat Growers Association, Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, the Western Barley Growers Association, the Western Grain Elevators Association, Weyburn Inland Terminal, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, Grain Growers of Canada, Manitoba Corn Growers Association, Canadian Canola Growers Association, Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Alberta Barley Commission, BC Grain Producers Association, Keystone Agricultural Producers, National Farmers Union and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.

That is an extensive consultation. We believe overall that meeting our obligations of the WTO is in Canada's best interest for the whole agricultural sector.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, as the minister has stated, one thing we can learn in the House is that any time a department puts forward amendments, changes in regulations, legislation, project development or whatever it might be, the quality of that program reflects directly on the amount of consultation that takes place.

I know in my own constituency, where we have a great number of coastal communities, the fisheries drive the economies in those communities. It is great to develop a plan in the office space in Ottawa between senior departmental officials or whatever, but how will that play out on the waters and on the wharves?

We speak about the groups that have been consulted, and the provinces play a significant role in this, which was mentioned by my colleague as well. With the consultation that has taken place, what has the response been from those groups? Could the minister give us some kind of indication as to just how that has been received?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food conducted extensive consultations in the week of January 17 in western Canada on the government's proposed implementation.

As I outlined, a wide range of stakeholders were consulted. They included farmers, producer organization, the general farm groups, elevator operators, the railways and the private grain companies. Some stakeholders were broadly supportive of the government's proposed approach. While some concerns were heard in regard to the impact of these changes on grain handling systems, stakeholders seemed assured that the changes would have little or no impact on the current system in the short term.

The Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is well known for his frankness and he has responded extraordinarily well. He has been able to say that what he heard was unbelievably strong support for Canada to meet its WTO obligations.

Transport Canada consulted with the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National on the proposed changes to the revenue cap provision. CPR has expressed concern about the potential impact on the proposed changes on its revenues from the U.S. operations and on its capacity during peak movement periods. CN officials indicated they did not have any concerns with the proposed changes. The officials have let me know that they really do not anticipate any big changes in terms of U.S. imported grain.

The province of British Columbia has reiterated its concern that the revenue cap is discriminatory and should be changed since it applies to domestic movements at Thunder Bay, but not to domestic movements of feedlots in the B.C. Lower Mainland. The government resisted previous pressures from B.C. in 1995 and 2000 to extend the coverage to domestic movements due to its objective of reducing, not increasing, regulation.

The CGC consulted the Western Grain Elevator Association, representing the major licensed primary elevators and terminals of western Canada, the Inland Terminal Association of Canada, representing the producer owned primary elevators of western Canada, the Canadian Special Crops Association and the transfer elevator operators.

Terminal and transfer elevator operators had expressed concern about the potential comingling of non-registered varieties. They feel the grain producers should not be penalized by the CGC for misrepresenting varieties. The CGC does not have the legislative authority to penalize producers, but I think there is a feeling that as long as the grain is labelled mixed, this will meet the obligation.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today on Bill C-40, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act. Before I continue, I would seek the unanimous consent of the House to split my time with the hon. member for Macleod.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

This being in the first round, the hon. member has requested unanimous consent to share her time. Is that agreed?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, last summer a World Trade Organization panel ruled against Canadian policies affecting the importation of grain from the United States. The panel ruled that Canada should not treat imported grain differently from Canadian grain when it is mixed or authorized for entry into the system. The panel also found that the rail revenue cap treated imported grain less favourably than western Canadian grain.

The Conservative Party recognizes that implementing the WTO's decision is critical if we are to respect our international trade obligations. We understand it is important to treat foreign products the way we would want Canadian products to be treated in foreign countries. We recognize that there is a tight timeline regarding passage of this bill. However, if the Canada Grain Act is going to be amended, then the concerns of farmers and others in the grain industry should be formally recognized.

The Canadian Grain Commission is integral to our country's system of grain handling, but unfortunately the commission has been unable to keep up with changes in the industry both in Canada and abroad. The result has been a restrictive approach to regulating Canada's grain industry, an industry that demands that it has influence in establishing and maintaining a seamless grain handling system.

The Western Grain Elevator Association, an organization that represents major grain handling companies, has described in detail to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food how the grain commission is not enhancing the international position of Canada's producers; rather, it has become an obstacle to growth. In order to put the commission back on track to keep pace with the industry, simple amendments to its governing legislation, the Canada Grain Act, are no longer a viable option.

The obvious place to start would be to focus on the single barrier to realizing change, that being the governance structure of the grain commission. It is obvious that the role of the chief commissioner and the entire governing board must be looked at. The current governance structure of the grain commission has created a reporting relationship of commissioners that does not take into account the best interests of the industry. We would like to see the commission led by a more accountable body whose objective would be to serve the industry.

Those of us on this side of the House care about accountability. We recognize that a democratic process requires accountability to ensure that those who are subject to the decisions of a governing body are treated fairly.

This may be shocking to hear, but the regulatory decisions of the Canadian Grain Commission are not subject to appeal. These decisions can and do have far-reaching consequences for producers as well as for the entire grain sector. Nearly all commercially oriented transactions have dispute resolution mechanisms, so why does the Canadian Grain Commission leave industry participants without recourse? The answer is to amend the act to give members of the industry the ability to appeal decisions of the grain commission in a quick and cost effective manner.

The mandate of the Canadian Grain Commission must also be addressed. The principal objective of the commission is clearly stated in the Canada Grain Act. Clearly, it leaves out the interests of participants that handle grain after it has entered the system.

A key role of the grain commission is to protect primary producers from the risks of industry participants going belly up. The commission requires that all elevators post a bond to the commission, an amount equal to the value of the grain they are handling, but a frequent complaint in this regard has been a lack of enforcement on the part of the grain commission. Rather than address the lack of enforcement, the commission instead warns producers that the onus is on them, that they should only deal with licensed grain dealers.

Unfortunately we have seen that despite the licensing regime, the bonding system does not necessarily protect producers from the financial failure of grain elevators. Even if an elevator is bonded, the security held by the grain commission is occasionally not sufficient, and producers are still left with the loss if a company goes under. A requirement that results in such a major lack of operating capital within the industry should at least work.

Last but not least is a serious concern which the minister is well aware of but has not corrected. The issue is surrounding the certificate finals which are issued by the Canadian Grain Commission. These certificates are issued to grain companies identifying the grade of grain stocks that are destined for port. They are not so final. In some instances the grain commission has carried out tests of grain stocks after they have left for port, or even after they have left port. At that point certificates have actually been withdrawn and revised certificates have been issued. As the Western Grain Elevator Association puts it, this is like making an offside call in a hockey game and adjusting the score once the game is over.

Companies cannot manage their risk nor their business under such a system. The issue is so serious that it ended up in a federal court. The court recommended that either testing be done on a timely basis, or that a system of insurance be implemented so that grain handlers are not exposed to unreasonable liability due to no fault of their own.

Unfortunately, the court also pointed out that the commission can simply enact new regulations that allow it to cancel inspection certificates and issue new ones. That is exactly what the Canadian Grain Commission intends to do. This will not fix the problem though. It will simply allow this unacceptable situation to continue. This is indicative of the government's approach to agriculture policy. It is a top down approach with a certain disregard, if not outright contempt, for Canadian agricultural producers.

As previously mentioned, we recognize that there is a tight timeline regarding passage of this bill, but the current state of the Canada Grain Act must be formally recognized. The concerns of producers and others in the grain industry cannot continue to be ignored.

That being said, opening up the Canada Grain Act would be like opening up a can of worms. The worms are the concerns of primary producers and elevator operators, disgruntled participants in Canada's grain handling system. Opening up this legislation would present an opportunity to address many needed changes to the Canadian Grain Commission which is mandated by this act.

From a pragmatic point of view, the reforms needed cannot be made within the timeframe allotted to pass Bill C-40. That is why the Conservative Party of Canada will, among other things, propose an amendment that upon passage of this legislation the government initiate a mandatory comprehensive review of the Canada Grain Act and all organizations mandated by the act to be completed within one year of the bill coming into force.

Our amendment would draw attention to concerns raised both by primary producers and the grain industry. It would ensure that the concerns of the industry were formally recognized in a timely manner, paving the way for a comprehensive bill that would legislate much needed reform for the Canadian Grain Commission. We will be asking for the bill to be amended to reflect our party's concerns and those of the Canadian grain industry.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Haldimand—Norfolk, a great neighbouring riding, for addressing some of the problems that are facing our grain handling system.

With regard to the review of the Canadian Grain Commission, has there not been a comprehensive review of the commission that has already taken place?

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, in response to my colleague from the neighbouring riding of Oxford, the answer is yes. The government has been down the path of reviewing the Canadian Grain Commission. That was done in 2002 by a review panel of producers from the prairie provinces. The industry did have input into that review but sadly, we have not seen the results of it. The report is gathering dust on the minister's desk.

On February 24 the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food requested a copy of the report to be presented to the committee. Unfortunately, some two and a half months later, we still have not seen anything.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-40. I would like to acknowledge the tremendous work that my hon. colleague from Haldimand—Norfolk has done in providing support for this piece of legislation.

I am having a great deal of difficulty supporting the bill. However, I will support it. Once again the Liberal government has dragged its feet for so long on something that should have been fixed a long time ago, but it will not be the Liberal government that suffers if we do not pass this legislation. It will once again be the taxpayers, and in this case it will be farmers. It is with some disgust that I have to support Bill C-40 in its present condition.

I am glad that the hon. member for Haldimand—Norfolk is recommending an amendment to the bill. It is very critical that we address the fundamental workings of the archaic Canadian Grain Commission which is in place for all of Canada but which certainly plays a leading role in western Canadian grains and oilseeds.

This bill to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act would never have come into play if we had taken the recommendations of a study that was done back in the mid-1990s. Justice Willard Estey travelled across the country and consulted with farmers and people in the transportation industry to find out what was wrong with the system.

The Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, not necessarily the Canadian Wheat Board itself but the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, the single buyer of wheat and barley for human consumption in western Canada, and I emphasize in western Canada alone, was found to be very flawed when Justice Estey put forward his recommendations. These recommendations were backed up by a follow-up process by a very well-respected former deputy minister in many portfolios in the government, Arthur Kroeger. He agreed with all of Justice Estey's findings.

Justice Estey would like to have seen the monopoly gone completely, but his recommendation was that we go to a commercial transportation system where the Canadian Wheat Board took ownership of the grain at port. What a wonderful, novel idea, but would the Liberal government adopt that? No. It chose to maintain the monopoly that provides no benefit to western farmers. The emphasis needs to be placed on the fact that it is western farmers alone who are under the control of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly.

There have been similar systems around the world. The Australians had a wheat board. They chose to privatize it. Those who want to participate in it buy shares. It is run like a publicly traded company. It works wonderfully. Can we do that in Canada? No. The Liberal government said that farmers should not have control of their own destiny.

There are a lot of things the Liberal government could have changed so we would not be scrambling at the last minute to change a piece of legislation which, if we do not change it, will once again impact western Canadian farmers. Indeed, it probably will impact farmers all across the country if we do not make these changes.

A lot of what the WTO panel ruled on was impacted by the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly. It was not the first time it had challenged the Wheat Board and it will not be the last time. It will simply tweak the system to make it fit for the present time and I am sure we will be dealing with this again in the future.

I represent the riding of Macleod in Alberta. The majority of farmers in my riding and in fact the majority of grains and oilseeds producers in western Canada are way beyond requiring a monopoly market their own grain. Wheat and barley are only a minor part of production in western Canada. Every other commodity we grow on our farms we market ourselves.

We have heard in the House today about what a wonderful job the Canadian Wheat Board has done by providing excess returns to Canadian farmers. That is not a fact. Our returns have actually been reduced.

We are also faced with the issue of the rail revenue cap. Justice Estey recommended that we move to a commercial system. The reason we have a rail revenue cap is because the Liberal government did not want to adopt the recommendations Justice Estey put in place. Once again we are paying for the ineptness of the government.

As was mentioned previously by the hon. member for Haldimand--Norfolk, the Canadian Grain Commission is an outdated system. I had an opportunity to question the chief commissioner who was before the standing committee a week or two ago, and I asked her why we do not have a Canadian french fry commission if the Canadian Grain Commission is so wonderful? Canada has a huge industry that turns potatoes into french fries, but we do not have a commission to market those french fries. We do not have a commission that grades french fries.

We do have however a grain commission that puts an arbitrary grade on grains. That is part of the reason why we are going to have issues with grain mixing. This piece of legislation attempts to address that problem through our elevator systems.

I need to raise one other concern along these lines. The northern tier states in the United States are captive shippers. There is one railway company that provides delivery for them to the west coast. Their freight rates are not quite double what ours are in Canada, but they are certainly in excess of ours. If we were to include the import of grains, then the way this legislation reads, we would see a huge influx of American grain coming through Canada because it would be cheaper to truck it into Canada, load it on rail cars, and send it to the west coast. What is going to happen to car availability for our western grains?

Farmers in my riding are concerned because their bins are still full from last year. It is a question of whether or not the Wheat Board will actually sell the grain or whether or not we will be able to move it to the coast. Farmers are putting in new crops for this year and yet their bins are still full from last year. We can ill afford to take on a larger capacity of grain to be moved to the west coast.

I wish I had been able to address Bill C-40 as well as the hon. member for Haldimand--Norfolk did. I did want to raise the concerns that farmers in my riding have raised with me. As I have said, we will be supporting this bill, but only with amendments and only with the provision that we take a serious look at the Canadian Grain Commission.

Canada Grain ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest as my colleague outlined some of his concerns with regard to Bill C-40. I wish that he would complete his remarks and give me a little bit of the feeling of what his constituents are saying with regard to this. I will give him an opportunity to complete his remarks that he was unable to do in the time allotted. I feel it is very important to get some of these comments from the people in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba on the record. I hope the member will comment on some of these things.